Evaluation Station: feat. Kid Is Qual, Imaginary War, Preteen Zenith, Town Hall, And Jeremy Benson (Roadside Graves)

By Matt Ascone, Staff Writer
Twitter: @asconem

Ladies Choice by Kid Is Qual

Grade: 8.2 – SIMGEssential

If you’ve ever been stroking your beard, pondering your existence and the music that is its soundtrack, and stumbled onto the sudden conclusion that, “This song, and my entire reality, lacks the appropriate amount of bass,” then stop what you’re doing right now and listen to Kid Is Qual latest release, Ladies Choice.

The bass rockers have returned to unleash their twin low-end attack on the world with their latest EP Ladies Choice. The three tracks contained within find KIQ unleashing an epic onslaught of high-speed, super-distorted electronic Dance-Punk. Each one of the tracks checks in at less than three minutes, but make no mistake, the outfit does more with that time than many other groups could.

“A.O.T.Y. (Ass of the Year)” starts things off with an infectious, turbocharged, dance groove and auto-tuned vocals singing about the aforementioned badonkadonk.  Next up is “Conflict Girl,” kicking things off with a womp-womp beat reminiscent of something Skrillex might cook up and can be filed as another high-energy, frenetic, bass-romp in the Qual catalogue.

The EP concludes with “Fat Boy, Easy On My Whiskey,” featuring a demonic vocal styling and an ass-pummeling lead by Jon “Dr. J” Sullivan, formerly of Jack’s Mannequin fame, which pave the way for a progressive Industrial-Rock head banger.

Kid is Qual is not merely great at what they do…they are one of the very few who do what they do. This is not your prosaic cast of players, one does not come across a band with dueling bass pluckers (Sullivan and Mike Bryant) plus a human beat miner that is Kevin Whilouby.  Most music relies on guitar as its backbone, and to forge forward without the six string is a bold and innovative choice, and one that has clearly paid off, as KIQ has developed an expansive underground following for a group that only recently dropped its second EP.  But on the back of Ladies Choice and the strength of its 2011 debut, Damn Son, Alternative Press hopped on board naming the three-piece one of its Top 100 Bands You Need to Know in 2012…we recommend introducing yourself.

MUST HEAR TRACK: “A.O.T.Y.” is super funky and bouncy, this track was born to get people moving.

The Angel’s Share by Imaginary War

 Grade: 7.4

“Never been wrong/Never been right,” Imaginary War lead singer Tom Dunphy cries at the outset of their latest EP, The Angel’s Share. “Still I’m running/Still I’m running for my life.” Reinvention is a common theme in music. As a band transitions from one album to the next, it is inevitable that parts of their sound will change. For the Asbury Park four-piece’s latest effort, the band sought out a harder, more Rock N’ Roll sound as opposed to the Folk and Alt-Country twangs of its past. The band’s Springsteen-Americana influences have remained, but the distortion knob has been turned up substantially.

The Angel’s Share announces its presence with force, finding guitarist Levon Syers plucking out an opening riff that could trace its lineage to Angus Young; the rest of the band soon joins in to set the table for Dunphy’s soaring vocals, which are a treat in their own right. Dunphy and Syers are a formidable one-two punch throughout the record: Dunphy provides lyrical, imaginative storytelling while Syers lays down a skillful solo, as drummer Brian Sawyer and bassist Joe LaCarrubba round out the foursome’s heavy rhythms.

The teamwork is especially evident on tracks like “Asbury Park,” a detailed account of the group’s love/hate relationship with their home city and its hipster denizens that recalls Mr. Springsteen’s bemoaning of a tpown that “rips the bones from your back.”

MUST HEAR TRACK “The Spirit of ‘76” is feel good blues-stomper and a sing-along siren song to an angry youth and all of its wares.

Rubble Guts & BB Eye by Preteen Zenith

Grade: 7.5

What happens when Tim DeLaughter brings together members of two of his old bands (The Polyphonic Spree and Tripping Daisy) to create a bold, new project? The answer is Preteen Zenith, based out of Dallas and spearheaded by front-man and his ex-Tripping Daisy bandmate Philip E. Karnats.

Back in February of 2009 DeLaughter began writing and demoing songs in Dallas. Karnats invited him out to Chicago in the hopes of improvising some new material together. Unbeknownst to DeLaughter though, his wife forwarded the demos to Karnats, who fell in love with what he heard. Upon arriving in Chicago, the two hammered out the details and the rest, as they say, is history. Their work yielded Preteen Zenith’s first album, Rubble Guts and BB Eye, due out May 29th on Good Records Recordings.

The album is rife with psychedelic guitar licks and vocals – in fact, many of the vocals are dual-harmonized in an MGMT circa Oracular Spectacular fashion. Seemingly random sounds play a large role throughout the album – tribal drum beats blend seamlessly with crescendoing feedback and dive-bombing guitars. This cacophonous blend of traditional and nontraditional, random and expected, gives the listener a truly psychedelic listening experience. Preteen Zenith embraces the notion of psychedelia as a concept, not just a guitar running through a fuzz-inducing effects pedal.

The records owns a flow about it, as though it were one long musical movement. It gives the album a sense of depth and adventure. It beckons the listener to not pick tracks out at random, but rather to experience this artistic imitative as a whole.

MUST HEAR TRACK: “Damage Control” feat. Erykah Badu is a spacey, chilled-out jam with haunting melodies. One complaint – I wish Badu’s cameo was more easily discernible. It sounds as though she’s been buried in the background of this one.

Roots & Bells by Town Hall

Grade: 8.3 – SIMGEssential

Brooklyn-based three-piece Town Hall has a bevy of stories to tell on its debut full-length release Roots & Bells. Some are uplifting, some are, quite frankly, depressing but each takes the listener on a captivating ride from start to finish.

Members Stefan Weiner, Phoebe Ryan, and Jesse Kranzler (as well as a full cadre of guest musicians playing everything from glockenspiels to vibraphones) are masterful at crafting these tales both with compelling lyrics and skillful instrumentation.

Weiner and Ryan’s vocals shine through on this record, especially when the pair is entrenched in series of harmonization. Weiner has a unique way of articulating and drawing out words to fit his melodies, not unlike Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, while Ryan’s styling possesses a magnetic breathlessness that draws the listener in close.

Town Hall has a gift for composing gorgeous melodies that span a wide range of genres. While the group’s clear influences are indie-folk, there is a distinct country flavor as is evidenced on the Jenny Lewis-esque track “The Strongest of Hands.”

This is an album to be savored – one that takes many repeated listens to fully appreciate the musical intricacies. The quality of musicianship rivals anything that is on the indie scene these days. While some of the Ryan-led tracks do sound somewhat similar, one of Town Hall’s greatest assets is their ability to never “sit still” within a song. They move gracefully from verse to verse, all the while weaving in and out of catchy riffs and fills without it feeling jumpy or disconnected.

MUST HEAR TRACKS: “Rockefeller,” is a tale of a man down on his luck who finds a one hundred dollar bill.

Darksongs 2 by Jeremy Benson (Roadside Graves)

Grade: 7.1

Jeremy Benson knows his fair share of pain. Broken relationships, disappointment…it’s all covered in the form of Benson’s second solo effort, Darksongs 2. The album’s May 7th release will come eight years after the songsmith’s solo debut Darksongs. The time in between has been spent touring the country as a multi-instrumentalist for indie folk-rock band Roadside Graves.

There is a sincerity in Benson’s voice when he urges you to emerge from the rising titular waters of the album’s second track, “Under the Flood.” His voice is drenched with emotion as he makes his plea.

Benson’s painful emotions continue to flow: “When all your friends abandon you/when things get rough/take care of yourself like you would the ones you love,” he begs in “The Ones You Love.”

Benson is able to evoke emotion without words as well. On the album’s opening number “Ditty in G,” Benson paints a picture of a peaceful countryside, while upon “Stinger,” his impressive ability to create so much passion without uttering a single word captivates.

However, Benson is at his lowest point, fittingly, at the end of this record. “How long was I sleeping for?” he ponders in a mournful croon on “The Latern Song.” Like a true country boy who’s been down this trail one too many times, Benson doesn’t bother to wait around where he knows he’s not wanted. I already know the way.”

MUST HEAR TRACK: “The Lantern Song” is Benson’s most melancholy lament.

About rote7123

Chris graduated from The College Of New Jersey in May 2011 with a Bachelor Degree in Journalism and Professional Writing, as well as a degree in Communication Studies. He has held down a position in the Asbury Park Press’ Sports Department since September of 2010 and is a contributor to the outlet's Arts & Entertainment section, and has contributed to The Aquarian Weekly all while being the sole operator of Asbury Park's premier music news outlet Speak Into My Good Eye.
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One Response to Evaluation Station: feat. Kid Is Qual, Imaginary War, Preteen Zenith, Town Hall, And Jeremy Benson (Roadside Graves)

  1. levonjames says:

    Reblogged this on The Jawbreaker Express and commented:
    Hey everyone,

    This is just a review of my band Imaginary War’s latest EP, “The Angel’s Share” by the great staff over at Speak Into My Good Ear. If you are into local music, or if you wanted to find a resource that can point you in the direction of well respected local New Jersey acts, I highly suggest that you check their blog out! As for my band’s photo: I know, I know…we are working on getting the album cover up on the screen as I type!

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