Tobie Milford - "Fear of Music"
For many years, I have considered Tobie Milford to be one of the most talented musicians in Phoenix. This is not only when he has played with Whisperlights and There Is Danger, but especially when he pursues his solo work. It's been five years since he released his solo debut, the masterpiece Aloysha, and now he has readied a new album at long last, this time joined by the Downtown Chamber Series. "Fear of Music" is the opening track from Listen to the Trees Grow, and it's one of his finest moments on an album filled with grandeur. This one gets me every time. It's about facing fear and realizing the joy in artistic creation, the ecstasy of immersing oneself in musical expression. While Milford is best known as a violinist, here he has switched to keys while maintaining the helm for his fascinating vocal gymnastics. He leaves the rich tapestry of strings to the amazingly capable hands of Leslie Frey Anderegg (violin), Megyn Neff (violin), Mark Dix (viola), and Peter Anderegg (cello), and the percussion to Mark Michaud. The dazzling results of this collaboration are clear in this song, while his sense of composition has expanded beyond what half-decade would suggest. My favorite part is the monologue he delivers in the middle, which asks "the problem is, nothing feels better than this and what if there's something to it?" Milford will release Listen to the Trees Grow this weekend with shows this Saturday and Sunday at Legend City Studios.
Mill's End - "Run and Hide"
I've been waiting for a few years to have the opportunity to write about new music from Mill's End since I discovered their first full-length album, Monkey, a bit too late in the game. Just last month, they released the four-song EP The Swann Sessions, a concise portrait of where the band stands with its Americana rock in 2015. Every song could be a single, but the one that sticks in my head, the one that I carry around after giving the new EP a few spins, is closer "Run and Hide." It may not be the single, but it sounds like the feeling you get from their live shows more than anything else, it is the quintessence of Mill's End in my mind. I also have to say this is my favorite vocal by Jeff Bump to date, and that's because it's part Southern-fried rock and part Jayhawks. Mill's End is Mike Eckert (drums), Geoff Butzine (bass), Jeff Bump (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), and Keith Perillo (lead guitar, vocals). There's not a moment of this song that lets you down, whether it's the killer guitar, the aforementioned singing, or just the rousing energy that they present here. From the guitar intro to the harmonica flourishes, it appears that Perillo has also put his heart and soul into this song as well. It might be fall, but this sounds like an instant summer backyard barbecue classic.
Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold - "Killing Floor"
Years ago, I was talking to Jalipaz from Audioconfusion about what he was working on, and he mentioned the debut album from Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold. He also mentioned they were some of the last recordings he got to work on with the late Dan Somers (Lisa Savidge). Then I heard nothing about the record, which always struck me as odd. At long last, that album, featuring "Killing Floor" will soon see release. Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold are Tyler Matock (vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica, kazoo) and Jesse Gray (banjo, electric guitar, suitcase drum), and together they put out some great punkgrass tunes that always remind me of a blend of obscure Athens, Georgia band Chickasaw Mudd Puppies with a touch of Chapel Hill, North Carolina's Flat Duo Jets, both from the early 1990s. "Killing Floor" is a perfect introduction to their sound, and I cannot wait to hear the rest of this album, which I've been excited about since its first mention. It's simple — just under three minutes — and you can imagine it being performed on a front porch somewhere in Appalachia with jugs of moonshine being passed around, while everyone dances barefoot wearing faded, stained overalls, sweating buckets in the humid backwoods. At least that's what comes to mind when I hear it. It's a refreshing whirlwind delivery of some rootsy-as-hell music that goes easy on your ears and best listened to with a grin above your chin.
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Manic Monkeys - "Lawman"
I've listened to Manic Monkeys sophomore new EP, Go West, nearly 30 times and every time I do, I look over at the display to see that it says "Lawman." Granted, it's only a three-song EP, so there are pretty good odds that I'd keep seeing one of the titles again and again. Nevertheless "Lawman" has become my favorite track of the three. Manic Monkeys are Tiffany Hilstrom (vocals) Mike Hilstrom (guitar), Joel Ekdahl (bass), and Derek Fernandes (drums). Together they produce a great blend of Americana and rock 'n' roll. With Go West, the emphasis is definitely on the rock. Tiffany's voice has grown considerably since their debut, Mike's guitar rages better than ever, and the rhythm section has solidified in a magnificent union. I have to admit that another thing that I truly love about "Lawman" is that it's one of the rare occasions with the Manic Monkeys when the Hilstroms deliver a duet, a truly rocking duet at that — which makes them one of the coolest damn couples found in a local band. It's an upbeat number, as most of their songs are and it has its roots as much in rock as it does in 1960s pop, which has me immediately sold on sound alone. It's also just a hell of a lot of fun. It comes off heavier and more involved in live performances, but here it's just head-bopping, hip-shaking perfection.
Spiritual Warfare - "Tiger by the Tail"
For the past two months, Joel Marquard (Gospel Claws) has been putting out some of the most fascinating music available, under the moniker of Spiritual Warfare. He has released no fewer than four records, each uniquely different in genre and theme, but each carefully crafted with the signature Marquard charm. The third release in this series is a full album called Double Voices, which is, by his own description, "American pop songs with Indian percussion laying the foundation for classic golden-era Bollywood sounds and instruments written by Spiritual Warfare." Having listened to all four records released by Moone Records, I have difficulty deciding which is my favorite, but it may well be Double Voices for its weird yet catchy experimental appeal. While most of these records are just Joel on his own, "Tiger by the Tail" features drums by Greg Muller (What Laura Says) and backup vocals from the amazing Rodetta (Ellen Werner). Though he's using Bollywood themes and Indian instrumentation, the american pop comes shining through like a bizarre variation on Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime," somehow. There are a lot of treasures on Double Voices to be sure, but this groove and the total kitschy vibe of "Tiger by the Tail" steals the spotlight from the entire affair. This is easily one of my favorite songs of the year and I hope that these records by Spiritual Warfare are not the last that we hear from Marquard's unique pop aesthetic.