Welcome to the first installment of our new weekly feature, Sound Off, where I will be joined by a different guest each week to listen to and discuss three tracks from local Phoenix artists. If you would like your songs to be considered for future Sound Off columns, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Today's guest is Jay Bennett, editorial operations manager at New Times, author of last year's massive Nothing Not New series, and guitarist in local rock 'n' roll band Scorpion Vs. Tarantula.
Today, Jay and I take on tracks from post-punkers North Dakota, hip-hopper Chad Krystals, and masters of sludge Twingiant.
North Dakota, "Thing"
North Dakota are a post punk trio featuring folksinger Michelle Blades, Emily Hobeheidar of Sisterbrother, and Morgan Neuharth. The group will be playing playing every Friday night in September at Long Wong's in Tempe.
Jason Woodbury: So what did you think of that one?
Jay Bennett: Isn't Michelle Blades supposed to be kind of a folkie? A "ukulele/banjo playing type person?
Yeah, most of her stuff is. She plays ukulele, and it's kind of Joanna Newsom meets Cat Power.
This is the most abrasive thing she's done.
Based on what [Steve] Jansen wrote about her...he made her out to be this savant, kind of a genius in the making.
Well, yeah, she's got a really famous uncle, Rubén Blades...
I like it. Very Slits/Raincoats, that post-punk thing. The Fall.
Definitely got that. Somewhere between post-punk and the riot grrly stuff. Positioned somewhere between the two. I didn't like when they did the little --
No, I like that, through most of it, but --
The vocal affectations?
No, just the little "nanny nanny boo boo" bit...
Oh, the little quote in there? I didn't mind it. It king of brought down their anger a bit. Kind of diminished the anger. The overall tone of the song about not feeling a thing, you know? "I don't know what it's like to not feel a thing." Don't they seem awfully young to be so jilted?
[Laughs.] Yeah. I liked the "never wanted you" line. I liked that because so many songwriters like to play the heartbroken as opposed to the heartbreaker. Not only is it cool to hear someone be more straightforward about it, but it says something coming from female performers. Not that it should mean more, but it takes people aback. So many people are used to the "Since U Been Gone," Kelly Clarkson-thing.
I like the sparseness of it. There's minimal guitar, drums, zylophone or a keyboard. Gang vocals sound good. The vocal affectations are not necessarily my thing, but I get what they are doing.
I thought it was pretty cool. I didn't realize it was live till the end.
Yeah, it sounded pretty good. I liked that they were getting up there live without making a racket, and their asses, all three of them, are hanging out in the breeze. It will be interesting to see how a band like this is perceived in a place like Long Wong's. They book a lot of weird bands now, but I think it's still has this, "party bar" - I think it will be weird to see a band so sparse. You're not supposed to be comfortable listening to a band like North Dakota.
Chad Krystals, "Kocaine" (Ft. Keepa Green Leef) Chad Krystals is a Phoenix-based emcee. His album, Mind Games, is available on Amazon, iTunes, and his official site.
"Kocaine." With a "K." What did you think?
For all the stuff he talks about crowds going crazy, and girls going crazy...I thought it was kind of low energy [laughs]. I like the cheap-ass drum machine. That's a cool and vintage machine.
I thought the beat, the kind of discordant thing --
I wondered if it was intentional, at first. It sounded like a saxophone, but I'm sure it's a synthesizer.
I feel like the production of the tune is what stands out the most. I mean, I don't know what kind of budget Krystals' is working with, but the album cover looks cheaper to me than this song sounds. I thought the production was really impressive. The vocoder was an interesting nod to the 'old school,' and --
I just didn't think it was exciting at all.
It didn't sound like "Kocaine" with a "K" to you?
It is pretty mellow.
I think it's hilarious that this guy's self released CD has the parental advisory label on it.
That's a thing with rap. It lends a serious amount of credibility to it.
I think so. I could only assume. I don't see why any one would want to put that label on something themselves.
I just assume, unless it's Christian rap, it's going to be fairly PG-13 to R rated.
Overall I like this song, but I think it's, like, the third verse before I even realize what he's rapping about. 'Cause he raps a lot, and it seems good, he's got good flow, everything is working, but I just don't have any idea what he's talking about until then. I guess it's kind of a hype song.
Yeah, he's talking about selling a bunch of bourbon to people. It sounds like he's in a club, and he's trying to get people riled up, excited -- amped up --but it just didn't work for me. It was almost too lo-fi.
So you think it should have been --
Maybe it should have just been "cocaine" with a "C." Or, "Chad Krystals is the caffeine pills."
Twin Giant, "A Drift in Space" Twin Giant is a Phoenix-based doom metal outfit. The band's music tells the tale of the Space Hobo, "a drifter - a derelict. Drunk and disheveled...He sleeps on benches, pushes around hovercarts, buys forties using galactic credits he pan-handles from the repulsed aliens." The band is scheduled to perform at the Palo Verde Lounge on Friday, September 30. Jay Bennett: I would have liked to have heard what some good production would do for that.
Jason Woodbury: Yeah.
Because that kind of music, it's got to sound as big as it's meant to sound. When it's that kind of cheapo recording...
The drums were just lacking the oomph that I wanted to hear.
Exactly. That's my very first impression, was the drums.
I feel like every element is so clearly there. They are good at what they do. There's a weird little tinny thing to the vocals, and that's a weird choice, but I could see it working with everything else sounding properly massive.
They've got good riffs. It just sort of sounds like it's a waste of good riffs and a cool song with that kind of goofball, growly monster voice. I get that the voice is more of an instrument here than a conveyor of lyrics, but I still feel like it's kind of a waste. I would just rather...I want to know what the guy is saying, or at least some of it.
The cook monster vocals are a big thing.
Yeah, I know it is...cause I've seen bands like that.
It's just kind of a standard thing. For me, I want it to go extreme in either way. I want it to be so fuzzy and blown out that you can't even tell it's a person, or I want it to be clear and throaty, and a "dude." I want it to be one or the other. I feel like with proper production, these guys are going to blow everyone away.
I'm sure they are way louder in their studio, and it's killer and you feel it in your body.
I think they are playing Palo Verde, and I think they are the perfect kind of band to see at P.V. Just a band that clearly is loud as shit and doesn't give a fuck, and I like that. I hear that in the song. I hear the record these guys are going to make. Or at least I hope they make.
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I hope so, too. It seems like they recorded this in their practice space, or at home, not a real studio. If it is, they're not doing it right. But the opening riff is essentially "God of Thunder," backwards and sped up a little bit, and that kicks ass. They've got different parts of the song that are really good.
There's good lead work. I love sludge rock, but a lot of times bands miss that lead element, or they just don't do it. This has some...
Yeah, it's cool. They know what to do with the song. I just think -- if you like Cookie Monster vocals, go for it. But if that's at all a turn off to you, this doesn't work. Like I said, it was a waste of good riffs to me.