Mo Lowda and the Awesome at Bourbon and Branch

One of the first bands that brought me back into the swing of music this summer was Mo Lowda and the Humble. Their gritty alt rock release Curse The Weather had me singing and dancing in my truck, around the greenhouse and on the streets of North Philly as we worked on cleaning up The Lot.

This album has great lyrical content and really stellar hooks. I can’t get enough of it.

So when I was finally in the city to see them at their last performance at Bourbon and Branch for the season, there was no question about going. And they were playing with a bunch of other bands I’ve heard about over the past few months but didn’t have a chance to look int – Air Is Human and Commonwealth Choir. If you haven’t heard of these bands, or live in Philly and haven’t seen them, you are crazy and must get up and do that this instant. I mean now. Go.

We caught the last couple songs of opener Richie Digiorgio, a friend of the other bands with a beautiful voice. I’ve never heard such a pretty male voice in a live setting, and he absolutely killed it. I want more of this, Richie, Where do we get it?

Next up was Air is Human, starring Jeff Lucci and Josh Aptner. I’ve never really seen a straight instrumental set outside of Lollapalooza, and truthfully I’ve always been a little skeptical. But these guys were freaking incredible. Josh is a percussion wizard. His drumming was absolutely mesmerizing. And that’s how I’d explain the sounds. Lots of pedals and tones and loops and hypnotic sounds. At one point they started messing with a record player, looping phrases and changing speeds and more or less blowing my mind. It’s beautiful and strange and totally works in a spooky, trancey, melodic way.

They play at Ortlieb’s on October 31st. Go get your mind blown.

Then came Philly indie-rock champs Commonwealth Choir, who I had heard so much about but not heard. They do a cool Philly Tapes Philly project with other city bands and had a really jazzed crowd in attendance.

Indie pop makes me wildly ecstatic. It’s like the first time I heard Los Campesinos! or Swimclub. It makes me want to dance. I’ve missed that. And Commonwealth Choir has some of the tightest, catchiest, danciest stuff in town. And have you seen Will dance? Man, that guy is a maniac. And clearly stoked to be on stage. It was great.

Like them here, follow them here.

They play the Milkboy on October 17th and The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on October 25th.

And, finally, Mo Lowda. These guys just threw a great vibe from the second we walked into the venue. They were friendly and eager to watch the other bands play. They kept reminding the crowd throughout how great the other acts were. True gentlemen badasses.

I was only familiar with the content off Curse The Weather, but the other stuff is all in that vein of the edgy alternative rock that helped them garner a pile of fans through the last couple years. People were dancing in the crowd – and these were people who, by first impressions, aren’t public dancers in a typical setting.

Shane not only killed it on the drums here, but stepped in and played a couple songs with the Commonwealth guys as well. Jordan’s voice is a force, and Nate is the sturdy, consistent bass player bands dream for. It was a fantastic set. Mo Lowda and the Humble – you got that? Get the album, like them on Facebook, follow them @MoLowda.

And keep an eye out for their shows. You’ll want to see this before they hit the big time and leave Philly.

It’s going to take me a spell to get back into writing these things, and I’m sorry that the first real return writing had to be such awesome bands I can’t do solid justice for at the moment. But believe me – if you’re looking for new music, or you live in Philly or around the city and ever feel like you’re bored, or you want to get your drag coworkers to move their feet in the office, you need to download these bands (they’re albums are like $5 on Band Camp, for goodness sake!), and get your rock on.



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Let’s Call This The Comeback

So. It’s been awhile.

Years, in fact.

It’s a weird feeling to come back to something after so long. I even forgot this existed for awhile, my like high school Myspace Page or my pre-high school Xanga (you ever revisit that shit? It’s hysterical, my friends).

Anywho. As my real-life season winds down, I look forward to winter with some trepidation…in theory. Usually I am bummed about the forthcoming months, begging for glimpses of sun and warmth and sleeping way, way more than the average human the second a snowflake lands on my car. But after picking up a career that keeps me sleepless and sweaty from spring to mid-fall, it’s a welcome release to think about unwinding. And maybe finding some part-time work that isn’t digging potatoes.

I do like potatoes, though. Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew...

I do like potatoes, though. Boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew…

But I don’t want to be sleeping and slugging while my body recuperates. From about 2011-mid 2013, I sort of forgot about music. For a good while it was forgetting about new music, but for a hot minute there it was almost like forgetting about all music, and that was just awful. Miserable, terrible. I never want to be there again.

I met some folks this summer who reminded me that not only is there an amazing, exciting and often-surprising music scene right in my home city of Philadelphia, but that music keeps growing and changing and I would be at fault for not exploring this further. I’ve heard amazing stories and cool band names. I’ve seen the folks at my old haunts from college and met people who love the bands that I loved six or eight or ten years ago. And I want that energy back.

I’m like a troglodyte in most aspects of my life as it is. I just got a smart phone that I can use now, but that first month was a painstaking, embarrassing waltz of asking folks for help. And I still can’t use an IPhone, so keep that shit away from me. My beloved truck, a Chevy Cheyenne from ’93 with no power anything, is about to suck up another month’s paycheck for a new exhaust system. I tried to listen to the radio for three months last year after the tape deck gave out, and it damaged my psyche more than I realized until a friend gave me a CD player and more or less saved my soul. There are plenty of radio tunes I get down on, for sure, but overall it just hurt my heart to listen to such sad and angry vibes all day. The oldies rock stations were okay, but the commercials. God damn. Painful. I don’t have cable, as many don’t these day. But I don’t have Netflix or a television, either. Just this Toshiba laptop, once repaired after a season of screen grabs and floor crashes, and a couple of box set gems we will discuss further at some point. So I’m kind of out of the loop in all regards.


The most updated thing in my truck is a pair of googly eyes…so…

The point is, I need your help. I’ve been led to a couple great, new acts from friends and random wanderings, but I’m looking for whatever you got. Or even if it’s not new, odds are it will still be to me. Give me your tunes, your jams, your musical vibrations yearning to be shared. I wants ’em.

But, FOR NOW, let me tell you about this show I saw last month.

I’ve known Adam since we were in middle school. He’s a life staple, and even after we went to schools at opposite ends of the state, we kept in occasional touch and I saw him when I visited out West and vice versa. I’ve always had a collection of surrogate brothers from home, and Adam is my easy-going, up-for-anything friend-brother.

So when he called me to invite me to see a show he had tickets for in beautiful Bethlehem, I immediately jumped at the chance. I had no idea who The Avett Brothers were, but seeing Adam during his brief trip home from North Carolina would make it all worth it.


Turns out that the Avett Brothers were freaking amazing. I really had no idea what to expect. “Southern rock,” “country/folkish” and all that lingo can go a lot of ways. What it was was dance-folk-guitar-STAGE PRESENCE-shouting-unbridled excitement. And I was blown away. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve just showed up to watch a band without knowing any of their music, and I was totally (and happily) floored by the confident lyrics and full sound and every chord on that piano that made tears spring to my eyes just because beautiful keyboards do that to me now.

Here’s the band bio:

“If you put your ear to the street, you can hear the rumble of the world in motion; people going to and from work, to school, to the grocery store. You may even hear the whisper of their living rooms, their conversation, their complaints, and if you’re lucky, their laughter. If you’re almost anywhere in America, you’ll hear something different, something special, something you recognize but haven’t heard in a long time. It is the sound of a real celebration.It is not New Year’s, and it is not a political convention. It is neither a prime time game-show, nor a music video countdown, bloated with fame and sponsorship. What you are hearing is the love for a music. It is the unbridled outcry of support for a song that sings to the heart, that dances with the soul. The jubilation is in the theaters, the bars, the music clubs, the festivals. The love is for a band.The songs are honest: just chords with real voices singing real melodies. But, the heart and the energy with which they are sung, is really why people are talking, and why so many sing along.”

I mean, come on. How can you not like that?

Joe Kwon danced around like a maniac with his cello. The folks onstage took a lot of turns playing different instruments and leaning into the microphones. I forgot how cool a banjo can sound. And the brothers’ harmony was just phenomenal.

This is the kind of folk rock, southern twang, cow-punk orchestrated noise I can get behind. Adam and I held back on the dancing, but I bounced around in my spot and promised myself that next time, next time I saw these guys, there would be dancing.

“There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded with light/And I’m frightened by those who don’t see it.”

That one. That one right there. That took my breath away.

Thanks, Adam, for being you and taking care of my soul (even if you don’t realize it). Thanks for being the brother who would say, “Hey, Liz would go see this thing with me,” and reminding me that I care about music. Thanks, Avett Brothers, for making sounds people should hear and get excited about. And thanks to Hop Along and Hannah Zaic and all the humans and musicians who I’ve met and watched this summer who make me want to like music harder than ever. Being an adult doesn’t mean you have to get bored. I forget that sometimes.

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Hot Chip still hot all grown up

My working knowledge of Hot Chip isn’t very encompassing. A couple summers back I bought Made in the Dark, and I listen to it from time to time without a whole lot of musical thought. The band makes cool dance hits, but for some reason it didn’t catch the way the Scissor Sisters or LCD Soundsystem did.
Of course, when I sat down to review this British electro-pop band’s newest release, One Life Stand, I went back to Made in the Dark and realized how much I did like the album I had neglected for two years. It’s fun and sexy and exactly what a dance album should sound like.
More importantly, One Life Stand follows suit pretty successfully. But this album has a mature twist that I didn’t notice in Hot Chip’s previous work. It makes sense—I mean, the band has been putting out albums since 2003, so it figures its music would grow up with it—but the maturity does take some of the raw edge off its sound.
Opener “Thieves In the Night” is indicative of this fundamental change. Raucous beats have slowed and the drum and synthesizer combination hits a mid-tempo pace and levels out. “Happiness is what we all want / May it be that we don’t always want” sings Alexis Taylor. It’s an adult wish and becomes a sentiment that is continued throughout the rest of the album.
“Hand Me Down Your Love” and “Brothers” follow this pattern of more restrained dance tracks, but that doesn’t affect the quality of the sound. They are all solid tracks, and they sound more like a band here than anywhere else.
“I Feel Better” has beats and effects that rival today’s radio hip-hop and retains a club feel all its own. “One Life Stand,” kicks up the sexy factor, but Taylor’s message is one of a more grown-up kind of love: “I only wanna be your one life stand / Tell me, do you stand by your whole man?” It’s affectionate and cute and refreshing to hear in this genre of music.
But these tracks aren’t without neat little caveats, like the sing-song, humming intro to “Slush” that continues through the rest of the track or the bareboned singing in “Alley Cats” that gathers strength with a slow instrumental increase.
The track “We Have Love” is definitely the most reminiscent of the band’s old flavor. With a faster drum beat and the electro backing vocals, this one will make a listener want to get close to someone. Along with closer “Take It In,” these tracks are the most club-friendly of the album.
Alexis Taylor told interviewers before the album dropped that One Life Stand would be a calmer creation than previous releases. So we knew it was coming. But what Hot Chip has done with this album is not wussing out by any means.
It’s a soundtrack for intimacy, but for a more mature intimacy than the basement dance floor of a frat house.


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Saying Yea! (or Yay!) to Yeasayer

Any band who hangs with koalas is okay in my book.

When I heard Yeasayer’s “I Remember” off the experimental rock band’s latest album Odd Blood, I immediately asked for the album.

It was the first time in awhile a band I’d never heard of had caught my attention, but I loved the beat and the nearly dance-like quality of the track. It was a synthesizer-driven, melodic song, very pretty and very well put together.

Little did I know that the rest of the album would be radically different track to track. But folks, don’t let that deter you from this album. If you like synth, catchy beats and vocals that are easy on the ears, Yeasayer is a solid bet. Just bear in mind that these guys are an experimental, psychedelic rock band, and some of the music they make is pretty peculiar.

Opener “The Children” is a little bizarre right from the start, with a voice modulator skewing any sense of normalcy the vocals could have had. A simple piano beat repeats in the background, and it would almost turn me off from the album for sheer creepiness if I didn’t know how much fun the rest of the songs sounded.

“Ambling Alp” is a prime example of that.  A short glock rhythm leads into a poppy little jam about sticking up for yourself. The song has goofy little psych-pop interludes of abstract sounds and synth chords, but they don’t detract from catchiness of the track. Singer Chris Keating jumps from solid tenor lines to crazy, Scissor Sisters-like falsettos, but somehow it all works.

The following track, “Madder Red” is slower, but still as intricate as the previous. It’s a pretty, heartbreaking number, one that uses smatterings of electric guitar and steady drums to add a darker shade to the melody. “Even when my luck is down / I take joy in knowing that our love grows / But if my vices are a burden / Please don’t let me off / Cast me from your home,” Keating sings, and even though it’s a simple song, he does a phenomenal job of pulling off the sincerity. And the humming intro and underlay is really neat, too.

For as different as each song sounds, none are long enough to be overly off-putting. Half the album clocks in at less than four minutes a song and a couple of tracks are less than three.

Keating’s wild falsetto comes back with a vengeance in “Love Me Girl,” but three minutes in the lyrics drop away for a lengthy instrumental interlude. The vocals pick up again in the last minute and the song skirts the edge of a major style change, throwing in snatches of new age sounds just to be confusing.

“Rome” takes the album in a whole new direction. Think a more electric Franz Ferdinand (from the newest album, anyway).  Romping bass lines juxtaposed with some almost horn-like synth tones and buoyant lyrics give this one a surprisingly jazz feel. And it totally works.

Echoing verses, light clapping and layered beats give “Strange Reunions” a world-music feel, running the gambit on psychedelic sounds.

And then Yeasayer is off again with a whole new sound in the pounding, clapping, bass-heavy “Mondegreen,” (which, on a silly aside, is a word that means the misinterpretation of a lyric. It may be because of this intimidating title that no one has tried to post the lyrics for this one online yet).  Your hands might get tired of clapping after the first couple minutes, but you will definitely want to dance through this song.

The back half of the album is definitely the part dedicated to excessive, clapping beats. But interestingly enough, each one is so varied that it’s a subtle repetition.

Closer “Grizelda” takes the sound back to the more lilting numbers like “I Remember” and “Madder Red” as Keating sings about running from a regrettable act. The lyrics and the vibe of the song don’t really match up, but it’s still an awfully harmonious song.

Though Odd Blood is Yeasayer’s second album since 2007, you don’t need to be familiar with All Hour Cymbals to appreciate the new album.

Every track has its own unique take on Yeasayer’s feel, and they all work as solid tracks both on their own and as an album.


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There is nothing sexier than Timothy Olyphant in uniform

Righteous fury has never been so attractive.

This spring break marked my third trip with Project Appalachia and the southern organization Christian Outreach For Appalachian People. Thirty-seven students spent a week painting, cleaning and rehabbing houses in Harlan, Ky. It was an amazing experience, and for many of us who attended, Harlan is a place of fond memories and hopes for a town still suffering from the ill-effects of coal mining.

But a strange thing happened on our return: instead of sighing when trying to explain our typically obscure destination, people began to nod emphatically at the mention of Harlan. “With the coal mining, right?” they would ask. “And the drugs and the skinheads?”

Though we did not encounter any of the latter during our stay, these statements weren’t far off. And my mother finally cleared up my confusion when she called to rave about the premier of an FX show called Justified, which features the always-attractive Timothy Olyphant as a U.S. Marshal who gets relocated after a public shootout in Florida.

Once she was done gushing over his big brown eyes and southern drawl, she explained that Olyphant gets shipped back to Harlan County, Ky., where he grew up.

And suddenly everything made sense, from the cursory references to the region when we had spent spring break to the allusions to Time articles about the area for the first time since the unionization attempts of the ’70s.

Justified has put Harlan back on the radar. Still riding the glow from the service trip, a bunch of us settled in front of our TVs to check out the place that had recently been our home.

And though it may not be an accurate representation of the county, it was still pretty kickin’.

The action-driven show is full of smart dialogue, references to the area’s history and eye candy for all. Raylan Givens (Olyphant) is sent to bust fugitives in Harlan, some of whom he knows from his youth. He tracks these goons to backwater abandoned churches that now serve as skinhead training centers and meets up with an old crush who just murdered her husband with his own shotgun.

Writer Elmore Leonard’s Harlan is a wild place, and though it is by no means the one we stayed and worked in, it makes for some excellent television.

Olyphant is experienced in the ways of the western from his protagonist role in three seasons of HBO’s Deadwood a few years back, and he carries the remnants of his time as a sheriff in the lawless town in South Dakota.

Givens is intimidating and scary and enthralling all at the same time, and the show really plays to that. Though his attire is typically dark, his weathered white hat stands as the symbol of the good guy, giving him the ambiguous vibe that is synonymous with the role. When he speaks with old friend Boyd Crowder, he says “Boyd” with just enough condescension in his voice that he could be saying “boy” as the two glare at each other. His fearless riffs as he stands in front of people pointing guns at him is breathtaking. He has clearly mastered this role.

What is accurate in the show are the surface allusions to the world of coal and the sense of unfulfilled potential that runs through the characters living in Harlan. Country songwriter Darrell Scott wrote a song called “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” and the show reflects that mentality.

The men with the swastikas on their chests are running from the mines and looking for some sense of purpose, however warped, to keep them out of there. Ava, the avenged wife, serves dinner in her dining room two days after cleaning up the blood from where she shot her abusive, miserable coal-miner husband. Givens is stunned that he is returning to Harlan, the home he tried so desperately to escape.

Justified is an amazing show, whether you like the idea of a modern western, are feeling nostalgic for eastern Kentucky or just don’t feel like moving from the couch on Tuesday nights after your Lost fix. It has action, emotion and beautiful, beautiful Olyphant. What more could you ask for?


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Get Foxy (and just generally awesome) with these Philly garage rock boys

Foxy AND delicious.

Today I offer an ode to one of my favorite Philly acts.

Are you looking for some garage rock with some panache? Maybe some fun chant-along choruses and infectious drum beats? Turn away from your Web browsers. Close Pitchfork and R5 and look around you. The band you’re looking for is staked out right here in Philadelphia, and its name is J.Fox.

There is no band that acts or sounds quite like this threesome. They boast a low-fi edge that immediately calls to mind early Pixies or a teenage Isaac Brock screaming gibberish into a telephone. The guitar is raw, the drums are tight and the lyrics skirt the line between genius and nonsense (regardless of which, they sure sound way cool). The band’s fans are zealous, and its newest EP is a 7-inch split, appropriately titled Banana Split, with MATT = TANK, a side-project from fellow local band Algernon Cadwallader.

J.Fox’s 2008 release We’re Happy to Be Here is pretty indicative of this band’s prerogative. The songs are racy and fun, with tracks about everything from Brooklyn to girls and drinking to catching catfish down at the lake and frying them while listening to the Cure.  Sound silly? The band certainly is, but in a really spunky, smart way.

Singer Justin Miller has a mastery of lyrics that goes unmatched in the area. The songs are rough and typically on the shorter side of things, but they are chock full of character. Drummer Joey DeLorenzo lays down some of the most fun beats I’ve ever heard (and they are rife with tambourine, which gives me a personal bias from the start). Dan Weisberg possesses a stage presence that is simultaneously suave and affectionate.

Though the band has put out another CD since We’re Happy To Be Here, there was no better way to kick off the group’s solid career.  The more recent release, 5/6, has a darker sound overall, but still keeps the low-fi spirit that this band harnesses so well. Song “Bam Bam” is primarily that line over and over again, but who can’t love a song about the Trash Can Man?

And the best part? These are also three of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet. At a show in South Philly last weekend they gave away free copies of its 7″ to anyone with a record player.

They banter with their audience and always seem to be enjoying themselves, whether they are playing in a bar or the back room of a warehouse.

Check J.Fox out at for free tunes, silly cartoon music videos and news on these guys’ escapades. You won’t regret it.


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Gonzo gives gratitude to our favorite journalist

We can't stop here! This is bat country!

Whether you know him as Johnny Depp racing across the desert toward Las Vegas with a drug-addled Benecio del Torro at his side or you have read of his radical, political viewpoints and cross country search for the American Dream, Hunter S. Thompson was a legendary journalist who captured the counter culture of a unique age in America. No one since has held the same disregard for typical American ideals while creating such a huge, reverent following.

Though you can still pick up nearly all his books in the nearest Barnes and Nobles and watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas while pining for the glory days of substance abuse and rebellion, there is nothing that compiled the wide array of Thompson’s life, attitude and works quite like Gonzo, the documentary-turned-memorial complete with personal interviews and footage from every period of the famed journalist’s life.

This movie includes everything from Thompson’s work with Rolling Stone and his attempt to run for sheriff of his town to excerpts from his works read by Depp. The film covers Thompson’s extensive projects, from his first major book about his year spent with the Hell’s Angels to his political coverage (including a rumor about an alleged pill-popping presidential candidate) to his Fear and Loathing exploits in Las Vegas.

Television interviews show him relaxed and confident as he converses about his journalistic endeavors while others show him talking and laughing as he lights a joint while on air. This movie reveals some of the crazier nuances of Hunter’s life. Family and friends reflect on his childhood in a lower-class family that sparked his initial bitterness toward the upper crust and instilled his belief that the American way of life was rigged.

As a young man, he typed The Great Gatsby repeatedly so he could better understand the rhythm of a keyboard. Later in life he had a pet bird named Edward that he would bounce ideas off of during his downtime. Though none of this was particularly surprising for a man with such an eccentric character, a run for sheriff certainly was. But that’s exactly what he did in Aspen County, Colo.

In the film, Depp reads Thompson’s platform about legalizing drugs and sewing the roads with grass seed while wielding a pistol. Thompson’s television ads show him riding through the mountains on his BSA Lightning motorbike, and election footage portrays him draped in an American flag and a gray-haired wig. He lost, if you couldn’t guess—but not by much. Thompson is known most for two things—his political journalism and his drug use.

Fear and Loathing was just the start: Countless friends blame him for introducing them to acid, from famous illustrator Ralph Steadman to lawyer Oscar Acosta (del Torro in Fear and Loathing). He was a proponent of civil rights and liberal political leaders, voicing his support for 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern. After McGovern lost, Thompson felt himself internalizing his politics, only to emerge from his Wild-Turkey haze when Jimmy Carter quoted Bob Dylan in a speech.

Though the wild side of Thompson is the one known most by fans and followers, he was a man who could be inspired by underdogs and thunderstruck by governmental hostilities. His first wife, Sandy, only ever saw him cry twice, once after he returned from the riots in Chicago. Even the close of his life is well-documented in the movie. His former wives confirmed that Thompson felt he was losing his edge as a writer, and he told his family time and time again that he would end his life through suicide.

And on Feb. 20, 2005, the legendary Gonzo journalist shot himself. It’s a powerful ending. Scenes of Thompson’s memorial service, complete with a two-thumbed fist monument and the scattering of his ashes are juxtaposed with an interview with Thompson where he stands on the very hillside where the monument would be erected and described what he wanted done for his funeral. Thompson was more than an eccentric writer who changed wigs in the middle of conversations and taught the world about drug use in a public, functional setting.

He was a journalist who broke down the barriers of professionalism and instilled a new energy in a medium that now faces extinction.

The world of the Gonzo journalist may be waning, but Thompson’s legacy lives on in the wild ride of Gonzo.


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