Monday, July 9, 2012

The D.I.Y. Ethic - Featuring Fire and the Wheel, My son the Bum, and Arise Within

It's been a while since I did a true D.I.Y. Ethic column, one entirely devoted to the independent musician, slogging it out on their own.  Rising above the countless obstacles to produce the music they love.  So, let's jump in, shall we?

Fire and the Wheel - S/T

Truth be told, it was when this album plopped out of postman Sal's bag that I got inspired to write another D.I.Y. column.  Along with the album, was a very cool personal letter from Donny Potter of the band mentioning how he knew we appreciated D.I.Y. efforts, how the album was recorded with nothing but Apple GarageBand software, and how even the album jackets were hand spray-paint-stenciled and stamped and numbered.  D.I. Y. to the nth degree.

And it sounds anything but.  The needle hits the groove on the red vinyl.  Delicate synthesizer atmospherics leak out followed by a lone and mournful drum beat.  Bass picks up underneath, low and heavy, very post-punk in it's vibe.  Then the guitar drips in in a descending melody, thick and moody.  By the time the vocals kick in, I'm already hooked, but I haven't even reached the kicker yet.  After the first few verses, following the elegant post-punk, dark psychedelic theme, I get my first real surprise.  Full on Spanish-styled trumpet.  Holy crap!  Didn't expect that and, oh my God, does it sound good.  From there the song picks up in pace and luster and I'm off.

Sounding like a cross between Jesus and Mary Chain post-Joy Division moodiness, Pink Floyd scope and sense, and the spacious, desert-fueled hypnotics of Calexico, Fire and the Wheel insidiously worked their way into my cortex and now I can't seem to get them to leave.  The album is an epic concept work, about friendship and mental illness.  But to be honest, I don't really hear that.  I just hear gorgeous harmonies, low pulsing bass runs, grand prog expansiveness, and those damn horns.  Those killer horns. 

A surprising tilt of articulate indy rock.  A definite keeper.

My Son the Bum - Flipside of a Fairytale

M.S.T.B.  have been churning out high-quality, slightly-left-of-center, D.I.Y. rock over the span of several albums now, and collectively, they show no signs of slowing down or growing up.  Constantly growing and expanding their sound, Flipside of a Fairytale is their latest, and probably their strongest to date.

With a name like My Son the Bum, you may get the impression that the cats don't take their music seriously.  Not the case here.  We're talking strong songcraft, memorable melodies, and some kick-ass riffs when the crew want to tear it apart.  "Money is the Whip" shows all this in abundance.  After a gentle intro lead-in,  and some harmony guitar, the band get's all down and dirty, ripping through a hard rock riff with abandon.  Harmony guitar parts break down to some fretboard pyrotechnics, as guitar solos fire and sparkle, before we drop back to that killer main riff.   For some reason, I can hear this song blasting out of a beach-side bar on a sunny summer day, the patrons slowly getting sloshed inside and gushing about how MSTB are the greatest band in the world.

Now, that doesn't mean these guys take themselves all seriously however; I mean, the liner notes do include the phrase "No senior citizens were harmed in any way during the recording of this album."   Songs like "Cerebrum", "Caffeine Blues" and " Dangerous Playground"  rock with a tongue-in-check playfulness that only adds to their impact.  Then you get the unabashed silliness of  the country-vibed "Wig City" and you realize these guys revel in their own side-skewered eccentricity.  

Basically, My Son the Bum is about rocking hard but not taking yourself too seriously.  A fun album from a fun band looking for some fun.  And what could ever be wrong with that.

Three album and a sampler are available for free download at

Arise Within - Vol 5

Something about Arise Within scares the shit outta me.  Best as I can tell, Arise Within is a two man project, duties shared between Paul Hill and Stephen Mcneer.  Also, from what I can deduce, these cats live way out in bumfuck Mississippi and probably do nothing all day but construct doom-laden metal and kill things.  Or something like that.  I've seen Swamp People.  I know the score.

And fuck, when they want to get into it, they get into it and write some killer doom tomes.  Opening track, "Into the Void Again" is one pissed-off, mental-state snapping assault of detuned metal mayhem and bile.  The riff is grinding nonstop as if it wants to punish me for living.  Guitar chords sear through the fuzz like stabbing slashes of a piercing blade, and Paul Hill borders on the edge of sanity as he screams out;

"I keep on pushing like I'm motherfucking crazy/I'll never go down, you're never gonna make me/I broke the law but the law didn't break me/you made me see and now you fucking hate me."

Yeah, I'm scared. 

These guys are D.I.Y. in a "locked-up-in-a-small-cabin" sorta way.  No website.  Hand xeroxed album covers, personally cut with scissors in not even close to straight lines.  And it's all so brilliantly done.  If scaring me was their intent, then they fucking hit the bullseye.  There's 20 songs on this CD (which further convinces me that the guys got nothing to do than kill things and construct doom epics) and with that many, the quality is bound to vary.  Not every cut hits the mark here ("Prisoner of Persecution" leaves me flat . .  I can't find the groove) but when they hit the target, they fucking destroy it.  No .44 caliber here, they use a bazooka.  "Ashes of It All" surprises with some delicate guitar and a nice melody that gives way at just the right time to some chugging riffs.  "Blood of One" is so angry it spits in my face.

Overall, production ain't the album's strong suit, and it could probably use a little editing.  But if you're intention is to find some doom that really hangs on the mental edge, this is for you.


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