Reviews, May 2014



antigravity_vol11_issue7_Page_29_Image_0007AMY WUELFING,  STEVEN DILODOVICO
To create a music venue and scene in one of the worst areas of Trenton, New Jersey—and to keep it going for a good fourteen years—is one thing, but to book a great variety of punk, new wave, hardcore, and ska bands (as well as an occasional headliner who could fill a much larger venue) in the same place and sustain a welcoming atmosphere to all is something else. Former City Gardens regulars Amy Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico dive right back into the ‘80s and early ‘90s at the former car dealership-turned-punk club that  brought the Butthole Surfers, Black Flag, and the Circle Jerks to town, as well as the Ramones (22 times), Joan Jett, Sinead O’Connor, and Green Day to Trenton, while nurturing the likes of Ween and the Rollins Band. Everyone from Henry Rollins to club manager/booking agent/DJ, Randy “Now” Ellis to bartenders (like The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart) to bouncers to club regulars seems to have been hunted down and interviewed for No Slam Dancing. And just when it seems like accounts of skinhead violence and band antics threaten to overwhelm the narrative, there are reminders of the work it took to keep it all going in a time before internet downloads and cell phones (the stresses of which finally convinced Randy to throw in the towel in 1994), the openness of 90¢ Dance Nights, and the thrills (or the letdowns) regulars and employees got upon meeting their musical heroes. No Slam Dancing is a potent time capsule, a window on a fierce underground scene that was tapped into and sustained by venues like City Gardens. Too bad not every club can get this sort of treatment. —Leigh Checkman


antigravity_vol11_issue7_Page_30_Image_0003J.J. ABRAMS & DOUG  DORST
If starting to read a recently published novel poses the same challenge as attempting to make the acquaintance of a strange new person at a loud bar on a busy night, this book would be more akin to the gathering of a secret society in an undiscovered cave off the coast of a familiar shore. Those who feel at home among the dusty stacks of their local library will love the aesthetic of this project, conceptualized by J.J. Abrams and executed by Doug Dorst.

It bears all of the markings and seals of an authentic, albeit unreturned, library book, including haphazardly placed reference materials hidden  between the yellowed pages and notes scrawled along the margins of each page by a couple of college students attempting to uncover the mysterious codes and symbols contained in the “Ship Of Theseus.” With the increasing digitization of the written word, it is inspiring that Abrams and Dorst are exploring the possibilities of tangible  text, but there are so many disparate voices competing for your attention, while simultaneously attempting to conceal their true identities from an unconvincing threat, that the characters materialize only as Platonic  shadows whispering over each other in the dark. —Alex Taylor



antigravity_vol11_issue7_Page_30_Image_0005UNDER THE SKIN
An extraterrestrial wearing a Scarlett Johansson body suit prowls the Scottish Highlands in search of lean lads with lonely hearts whom she can lure into the black lagoon of her tenement lair. I know what you’re thinking, you pervert. Where do I join the queue? But before you dive into this nightmarish vision, be advised that this isn’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill science-fiction-comedy-horror- erotica. Glazer foregoes traditional cinematic conventions such as dialogue, exposition, and a protagonist capable of empathy, relying instead on the unsettling visual tension between the beautiful and the grotesque and a score that expertly ferries the audience across an ocean of unplumbed emotions as deep as the universe is vast. As you enter the theatre, expect to lose yourself in the landscape of someone else’s dream, and as you leave, don’t be surprised if you find that a peculiar, alien feeling has crept in under your skin. ––Alex Taylor



antigravity_vol11_issue7_Page_28_Image_0002BIG SAM’S FUNKY NATION
The fifth album from Big Sam Williams and his Funky Nation bandmates is full of highs and lows, possessing funk rock tunes that feature just as much Vernon Reid-esque guitar from Joshua Connelly (and sometimes more) as they do on-point trombone and trumpet from Williams and Andrew Baham. All this sitting alongside some filler and wham-bam-thank you, ma’am grooves that cut off almost as soon as a listener gets into them. Granted, the Funky Nation’s filler is most other  bands’ good stuff, but when the band rolls through roller coaster rock like “Freak,” “Gimme Dat,” and “I Need Ya,” as well as one of the funkiest breakup songs ever, “Bad Karma,” it shouldn’t get dragged down by such lapses. Evolution’s head of steam starts running down a little with “Tweet,” a blessedly short yet still kind of catchy exhortation to tweet at Big Sam on Twitter, and though there are some attempts to kick it back up with “Coffee Pot” and “Love On My Side,” a track indebted to Sly and the Family Stone, the album comes to an abrupt halt with “Addicted,” and none too soon. The Funky Nation’s take on evolution lands on the better side of the meaning  of the word, but just barely. What I do know is they’re too good to be wasting their time on throwaway tracks. —Leigh Checkman


antigravity_vol11_issue7_Page_28_Image_0003BLACK JAMES FRANCO
It’s almost always a good sign when it’s difficult to pin down a band in terms of genre and influences. On the 8-song Sun House, Denton, TX trio Black James Franco kidnap you for a half-hour joyride through their neighborhood, and it’s so exhilarating that you don’t care about about trying to define the experience until you have to try to describe it to someone else. Comparisons to Firehose are inevitable, and fitting, in a good way. Like Firehose’s better stuff, the tunes  are rhythmically and dynamically  adventurous, with Elliot Edmonds’  muscular bass lines turning on a dime as drummer/vocalist Eddie Terrell nimbly shifts gears. Vocally, Terrell drapes compelling narratives in soulful melodies and delivers them in a passionate tenor, with an air of conviction that’s arresting and refreshing. Do I hear echoes of the Pixies in the mix somewhere? (Black James Frank Black?) Like Joey Santiago, guitarist Julio Sanchez likes to mesmerize you with purdy melodies  and subtle textures, only to suddenly  sneak up and kick you in the gonads with a blazing solo. Even with all those  volatile heavy elements bouncing  around, BJF manage to create a sense of space in the songs. Sun House never feels crowded, but instead has an inviting intimacy about it. Hop in the back seat, there’s plenty of room and it’s a great ride. —Lou Thevenot


antigravity_vol11_issue7_Page_28_Image_0004GRANDMA SPARROW
Where is Piddletractor? What is a pettiskunk? Who is Grandma Sparrow?  I have a few answers for you. The man behind the beak is Joe Westerlund, who drums with North Carolina slow- folk band Megafaun when he’s not contributing to Califone, Gayngs, or Mount Moriah. For context, forget the experimental vibe-rock scene for a moment and consider the history of goony drummers’ projects.  There’s “Yellow Submarine,” the Replacements’ Chris Mars rapping,  and Keith Moon’s first and only solo album, Two Sides of the Moon. These are the friends you keep because their personality (hubris, perhaps) is so large that it broadens your understanding of human potential. Grandma Sparrow is the exuberant sound of a grown man running wild with scatological humor and a full orchestra. There are influences—Frank Zappa, Harry Nilsson, and Julian Kostner’s wonderland circus band The Music Tapes spring to mind. The label describes it as “a psychedelic children’s song-cycle for adults,” featuring a Piddletractor Children’s Choir with dubious names like Goulbreath Spellington and Kremlin  Turtlepresents. The average song is barely two minutes. Scarcely has the marching band begun when Grandma strikes up storytime, interrupted at any moment by an organ or accordion.  Briefly, the confusion resolves into a glorious gobbledygook gospel called “Existential Mothersnakes,” allowing collaborator Matthew E. White’s production chops to shine through. The insanity is orchestrated. Grandma Sparrow & His Piddletractor Orchestra is just the second full-length release  from White’s Spacebomb Records, which is quickly positioning itself as an insider’s outsider label with an appetite for the absurd. Instead of releasing  advance singles, Westerlund appears in YouTube clips called “Ask Grandma Sparrow,” frolicking in afghan blankets under the pretext of offering personal advice. It’s silly, but I’m keeping an eye on these guys. They’re fun. —Anna Gaca


Punk-ska locals Joystick teeter on a boundary between hardcore shouts  and Green Day-esque guitars on one side, bombastic horns and strong,  boyish vocal harmonies on the other, exemplified by tunes such as “Randy Savage Is Dead,” which veers into some strong horns from Josh Bourgeois (trombone), Justin McDowell (saxophone), and Trace Barfield (trumpet) after lead singer Paul “Duck” Tucker lays down some vocals about the late WWF wrestler. There are occasions when the horn arrangements tend to fall apart––the complexity of some bars in “WOW That’s Kinda Neato” barely holds together, picked up only by Michael Retzlaff ’s guitars  and the sure drumming of Dante  Graziani. Overall, though, the band proves itself to be a rough and ready party bunch, its best tunes being “Roll With The Punches,” “Famous Last Words,” and the quick change-up of “Bandwagon.” What does not serve this group well is when it falls headlong into baser impulses that seem to revolve around bassist Clay Aleman. It’s one thing to have a catchy tune called “Kick Clay Real Hard,” another thing entirely to have a pointless prank call at his expense that serves no purpose whatsoever on this or any recording. At least the prank is at the end of the album so one doesn’t have to listen to it. Lay off your bass player, fellas, and keep up with the music instead. —Leigh Checkman


antigravity_vol11_issue7_Page_28_Image_0006MADLIB AND  FREDDIE GIBBS
Eagerly anticipated since 2011 and preceded by a slew of EPs, the full- length album by the underground superduo of Madlib & Freddie Gibbs (or as some have coined them, MadGibbs) is finally here. And while the ambition is there, the two never seem to gel as one would hope. Madlib’s usually jazzy beats prove too soft for Gibbs, who is at his best when in full braggadocio mode, trying to prove he may be the last true  gangsta rapper alive. That’s not to say there aren’t moments where he proves he’s up for the challenge, whether he’s reflecting on his drug dealing past (“Knicks”), the city he’s grown to love (the Los Angeles tribute “Lakers”), or a one night stand (“Shame”). But Gibbs really shines when his gun talk has a target, as evidenced by the Young Jeezy diss track “Real.” It’s one of those surprising diss records where Gibbs seems genuinely disappointed in someone he once saw as a mentor, all while evoking Jay-Z’s “Takeover,” to establish that battle lines have been drawn. And while Madlib’s space funk may be better suited to the likes of MF Doom, he goes straight up boom bap on the aforementioned “Real” and the posse cut “Pinata,” which features popular stoner rapper Mac Miller, who sounds like he belongs. It’s an experiment between two people at the top of their class and while it’s worth  checking out, in the end you can’t help but feel that the instrumental version  will be better. —Brandon Lattimore


antigravity_vol11_issue7_Page_29_Image_0005MAC DEMARCO
Mac DeMarco is a bit young to reflect on mortality. That’s weighty stuff for a second record. Don’t 23 year-olds feel invincible nowadays? The balmy jangle of Salad Days is the sound of darkness and anxiety in the light of hard-earned self-awareness, and I know it was hard-earned because it looks effortless. So simple are DeMarco’s tricks as a singer-songwriter that they can almost go unnoticed. “Calm down, sweetheart, grow up,” he sings in “Blue Boy,” matching pitch to lyric with a predictability that’s both a comfort and an admonishment. Clearly, DeMarco’s been big on personal growth  lately. Salad Days is full of lingering  insecurities. He’s rejected a few sources  of support: drugs, religion, a woman he didn’t love. Coming off the other side feels good. “Repeat the mantra when you’re stepping out of line,” he reminds himself in “Goodbye Weekend,” calling on the kind of personal spirituality familiar to disillusioned churchgoers and former addicts alike. Keep on making up for yourself, until you’ve apologized to everyone who stuck it out beside you. “I was made to love her/Been working at it,” he declares, marking no contradiction between destiny and effort. Understandably, he’s hesitant to become a voice of judgment himself. “Treat Her Better” delivers a romantic warning out of compassion, without a trace of the ego animating a classic like “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl.” The album closes on languid, psychedelic slow jams and a quick wink to Jonathan Richman called “Jonny’s Odyssey.” Ever earnest, DeMarco follows up with a thank you note: “Hi guys, this is Mac. Thank you for joining me. See you again soon. Buh-bye.” It feels like the signature at the bottom of a letter from a friend. At some point a signature becomes an autograph, and there’s no more chance of appearing free of pretension. Here’s hoping Mac DeMarco never gets that old. —Anna Gaca


If 2012’s Rules Aren’t Real was Nasimiyu Murumba’s exuberant throwdown, the Dirt EP presents her as a maturing artist layering on instrumental accompaniment more discerningly, serving to bolster the best instrument of them all: her voice, which continues to expand in range and expression. It’s evident from “Even In The Dark,” the EP’s opener, that a more contemplative singer is at work; she shows off her virtuosity in what is, fittingly, an anthem of focus and independence. Though the cover of Dirt is reminiscent of that of Erykah Badu’s Worldwide Underground, Nasimiyu has her own distinct sonic vision and knows full well how to bring it about––whether it’s the beatboxing slink and slow funk of “Dig Deep,” the call to rise, discover, and conquer of “The Hunt,” or the stylish strength of “The Biggest Drum,” she exudes a mastery that one can only wish could have been drawn out for longer than a mere five songs. The sparse, hauntingly dissonant piano of “Kaleidoscope” leaves listeners longing for more, which is probably the best flaw an EP can have. The glorioushole Dirt has us dig leaves us looking at the stars, where Nasimiyu has been all along. —Leigh Checkman


antigravity_vol11_issue7_Page_29_Image_0003RODNEY ASCHER
Like a nightmare brought on by too much cheap Benzedrine and odysseys through space, the soundtrack to the spectacular Room 237 is cold, alien and so familiar it feels like the ghost of a friend. Crafted using almost entirely vintage synthesizers, the music is both cool in its embrace of electronics without any attempt to mask their  synthetic nature and warm in that  these analog instruments have an imperfection, a crackle to them that’s not diluted by the minor amount of modern digital work. Indebted to the Euro-goth Horrormeisters Goblin and the pulsating scores of John Carpenter, Room 237 wears its influences plainly. Here I am at my desk now, record  spinning, a swarm of analog bees buzzing in relief against the steady heartbeat of a Roland SH-101, the music breaking into mad Argento-Funk and I’m waiting for the killer to kick down my door. This music hits so many buttons for me that it’s hard to express  my demented joy, recalling the horror movies I love, that irresistible vintage synthesizer sound and those moments when someone said, “Why can’t disco sound possessed?” Less an homage to Kubrick’s The Shining, (though that film uses sparse electronics alongside well picked classical pieces), Room 237 is the soundtrack you’d expect to hear as a well worn cassette of the film gets played over and over and over. —Mike Rodgers


antigravity_vol11_issue7_Page_29_Image_0004VARIOUS  ARTISTS
The Numero Group, long known for their choice collections of soul, funk and psychedelia, have finally decided to dip a toe into the icy black depths of heavy metal. And what an amazing  pool of ballpoint-inky blackness and motor oil fumes to draw from! Like bearded ghosts from some forgotten past, these tracks inhabit the spirit of music long-dead. Absurd, clumsy, boneheaded and absolutely beautiful, the songs collected here reek of ditch weed and wallow in half-baked images of stardom, wizards and Satan, but with all the earnest drive of a bunch of stoners trying to fill their garage with sound. Darkscorch Canticles, even the name lives somewhere between a good joke and totally awesome. This is monster music, covered in graphite dust and gruesome doodles, filling the air behind a particularly intense dungeon crawl with its bluesy heft. The playing throughout the record  isn’t always the smoothest, but there’s a caveman intensity to something like Sonaura’s “Song of Sauron” that wipes away precise lines with a meaty fist. Some of these bands were nothing more than a group of Midwest outcasts with a lust for loud feedback, but there’s a basement band infectiousness in every fuzz-crackled riff. For anyone who has sat in a cramped, concrete room while a group of buds made the loudest sounds  they could together and thought, “That kick drum could use a dragon,” this is a go! —Mike Rodgers