It’s been a year and a half since Silkenseed released their first CD Spawn. The sophomore effort finds the members becoming more comfortable in their roles within band and maturing as an ensemble; while growing as individual musicians. Vocalist Hamilton Sims is a talented lyricist, with a poets eye and an incisive way with words. Guitarists Edwin Paroissien and Carlos Marcelin layer elegant tapestries of sound over Randy Montgomery’s bass and Eric Flint’s sure-handed drumwork.
But, as with the first outing, flautist Monica Arce remains the instrumental locus. Her uniquely versatile approach to the flute evokes a wide array of instruments: warm organ tones, soaring guitar phrases, dense melotron and violin sounds, a dusky saxophone, One local critic recently claimed that this style was some sort of a departure from some former Jethro Tull-like musings. Obviously the writer never listened to Silkenseed’s first album. This time out, she has better effects to work with and a better idea of how to use them. Check out, for example, her ethereal, pedal-steelish theme on the piquant “Dead Letter.”
Arce is not, however, the only bright spot in this talented sextet. Sims’ supple voice and thoughtful lyrics decorate “Benchwarming” with a certain shoe-staring charm. Combined with Paroissien’s solid harmonies, Sims emits a certain earnest boyishness that gives the vocals a distinct Simon and Garfunkel feel. Arce’s unusual flute solo, sounding something like a backwards guitar, adds a soulful touch to Sims’ heartfelt lyrics. “Leave us lying in our tears/The poster-child and the come-back of the year/Let ’em kiss the great unknown/ ‘Cause I’ll bet the farm on the loser/He’s moving much too slow.”
“Typhoid Mary” is a dense, symphonic piece, with Marcellin and Paroissien adding swirling twin-guitars to the mix, creating an emotionally charged atmosphere. A vaporous guitar figure circulates against the rigid chords of guitar and bass in the intro to “All Head/No Hang,” an air of violence looming just beneath the surface. Like a coroner, Sims inspects the remnants of a dead relationship with cold detachment, “There’s your shoelace & some underwear/But I can’t dissect this suitcase, Not anymore/’Cause not a bit of me is in there.”
“Safeway” calls to mind The Dream Academy, an ‘80s band, who were disciples of Paul Simon and had a hit with a song “Life In A Northern Town.” That group utilized Kate St. John’s curious abilities on double-reed instruments such as the bassoon and cor anglais, in much the same way that Silkenseed rely upon Arce. Jangling acoustic guitars sustain the momentum as Monica overlays a cascading flute line. A fine breakdown between a droning electric guitar/ bass motif and Flint’s jungle toms generate a feverish mood. One of the best songs of the set.
As with several other songs, a small quandary arises on “Stress For Breakfast.” Often times Sims seems aimless in his approach to a melody for his words. Though Paroissien generally offers imaginative riffs and chord progressions, Sims doesn’t always construct memorable melodic passages. Choruses, especially, seem absent or lacking in melodic focus. Here is an arresting arrangement: chunky guitars and a flute theme seemingly strained through a Leslie speaker. However the vocal melody registers only faint traces upon the memory. Sims has a supple and evocative vocal instrument, and impassioned words to sing. But he fails to convey the passion through his melodies.
The quizzically poignant tale “Virlie Graves,” nearly creates a melodic foundation, but falters, as Sims seems content to simply follow the arrangement, rather than giving the musicians a vocal melody from which to build their parts. “Virgins Everywhere” is something of an improvement in that area. Over soaring guitar, Sims collects enough of a tune to suit the muscular arrangement. Especially satisfying is the break, where one guitar repeats a roiling riff as the other wails with feedback over Flint’s syncopated attack. “Heartburn” uncovers one of Sims’ few lyrical flaws— his penchant for dropping mythic and historic names, such as Persephone and Demosthenes, without integrating them into his thematic structure, producing an air of pretentiousness that is, ostensibly, unintended.
Silkenseed are an inventive and intelligent band, with a lot to offer the discerning listener. While they have yet to reach their final musical destination, they give every indication of having the wherewithall to reach their goal. If they are willing to work on their few shortcomings, honing their skills in the areas where they are weak, there is every reason to expect that they will be a band that endures.
7 Chain Dragon Style
The seeds of Henry Moon’s plan for world domination were sown long ago in a dimension far away from here and now. However one would be most careless in presuming that the Moonies have failed in their quest, simply because the general public is unfamiliar with their name. The bent and skewed attittude they have toward their chosen artistic medium: the Rocknroll Pop song, defies easy categorization. The well of their influences is as deep as it is murky. Their musical skill-levels are as keen as they are arcane.
Just try to draw a bead on this savvy trio of misfits. As they ask in their brilliant promotional package— “… the question becomes ‘what isn’t inspiration?'” Their influences run near and far afield from weird, cross-eyed Jazz to jackboot scootin’ Country storm trooper two-steps; from Zappaesque irreverence to XTC-like piquance; from hopped-up Rockabilly to rocked-up Hip Hop to monsta Funk. If ever a band had multiple personalities, this one is like The Three Faces Of Henry.
Of course it could be said that bassist/vocalist Erik Hilden, drummer Dennis Elmer and guitarist/vocalist Tom Wells are too damn versatile for their own good. But it is obvious that Henry Moon suffer too from attention deficit disorder, unable to sustain a musical thought from one song to the next. Their disabilities would be paralytic for most groups. But Henry Moon seem to gain Samson-like strength from the many unshorn hairs of their shaggy musical disposition.
“TeeVee” combines Wells’ gliding electric and acoustic guitars with Byrdsian vocals, performed by Wells and Hilden, to create a blissful ambience. Wells’ jarring slide guitar solo serves to shift the direction before deferring to the original motif. The unrelenting two-step abandon of “Oceanic Buffalo Wet Dream” is interupted only by operatic interludes of the Zappa ilk and an odd chorus, manifesting a non pareil collusion of discord.
The dizzy hammering of Wells’ acoustic guitar arpeggios, intimating Adrian Belew, leads headlong into an ominous, Butthole Surfersish rap in “Headway.” A catchy chorus (for which the Moonies display a decidedly bent knack), slides sideways across a slippery waltz time signature. The instrumental middle section is an exciting exursion in time and space. Wells’ skittering guitar figure on the odd instrumental “Pork Pie,” is supported by Hilden’s strange Disco bassline and Elmer’s deftly precise drum execution.
“What The Fuck” starts off with a sinister Hip Hop groove (complete with pick-on-guitar string “scratchin'”), an ominous organ droning in the background; then breaking into a quicker, funkier mode. Elmer maintains the familiarly requisite Hip Hop beat, laying down a fiery pattern. Perfect for sampling. Someone alert Beck! Speaking of Beck, he and Zappa come to mind during the croaky rap in the verses. Mostly, weird instrumental tones provide the forward motion, a rubbery synth bass sound, a surfy guitar/organ combo during a solo section, a wicked fade out: where several vocal tracks vie in evil counterpoint, toward some rueful armageddon.
“Stream” flows in another direction. Squirrely guitar riffs interplay with squishy bass runs, as Wells comes on vocally, as if David Byrne were singing “Suck My Kiss” with Red Hot Chili Peppers. A wily piano part triggers the chorus, a fairly memorable ditty— before breaking into an intricate interplay with guitar; giving way to a bit of a guitar hoedown and, eventually, back to the body of the song. A twisted gem.
Henry nods heavily in the direction of REM with “Danny Post,” but with a little tougher stance, moving in the breaks to areas the REM boys would probably never explore. Elmer cuts loose with a raging tom flurry in the fade, demonstrating why he is considered to be one of the finest drummers in town. “28 Little Pills” is a rollicking number, redolent of latter-day Jeff Lynne (ELO), and as straight-ahead as the Moonies ever get. True popsters. But the listener might be misled who listened only to these two tracks. A mistaken impression might ensue.
Just try to pigeonhole Henry Moon. They won’t fit. Their exemplary musicianship is exceeded only by their outlandish craftsmanship. When will the world catch up with these guys? Perhaps by 2008. That should give mankind the time they need to prepare for the takeover. Tell your family and friends.
Remember The Future
Blue Honey have been treading the local pines for a couple of years now, honing their chops. Last year’s eponymously entitled debut CD helped to introduce the singing of Matt Demarinis to the world at large. Demarinis is joined by guitar stylist Mitch Willett, able bassist Tom Nieder and skilled drummer Ty Downing.
Alan Glickenhaus, whom we last heard with Higher Ground in January of this year, joined forces with Blue Honey shortly after that release, to contribute his multi-instrumental services to the mix. Here he adds violin and occasional backing guitar. Demarinis writes the lyrics to which Willett, Nieder or Glickenhaus set the chords and arrangements. This works out surprisingly well. For while Demarinis wordplay is not likely to draw comparisons to Ezra Pound or WB Yeats, he incorporates his poems nicely with the musical accompaniment; delivering the his with power and conviction.
The band cuts through a wide swath of musical turf, from Jazz flavored Folk, to Country colored Rock, to Bluegrass tinged Pop, with a touch of traditional Blues thrown in for kicks. But when the band works best, they attain a sound that recalls, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and especially the late, great departed Byrd, Gene Clark. At other times they exhibit Doobie/Dead tendencies, which is, of course, a dangerous menace to us all.
A bluesy, feel informs “Wapiti,” with Dimarinis vocally insinuating Stevie Winwood, in his Traffic days. Willet lays in a tasty solo as Nieder holds tight to a funky bassline. Willett and Glickenhaus combine for a pretty guitar/violin duet on “Pisa,” an otherwise unmemorable tune. The bands take on the apparently traditional Blues number “Fiddy Fiddy” is a strong one, showcasing Dimarinis’ expressiv Blues voice and some fine guitar solos by Willett and Glickenhaus.
“Missing” is a strong song, a Western tale performed at a brisk canter. Glickenhaus’ lonesome fiddle cries across the windswept prairie of the rhythm section, as Dimarinis echoes the early, “Desperado” period Eagles. “Augusta” seems to meld Blood On The Tracks era Dylan with CSNY’s “Ohio,” and a touch of Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down To Georgia.” Odd. “Perfect Place” distills elements of “Orange Blossom Special” and Dave Matthews Band into a spirit worth taking in moderation. “Wet Paint” could easily be mistaken for America.
But “Live Here” passes for an outtake from Gene Clark’s legendary solo album, No Other. Over a simple Am-F-G progression on acoustic guitars, Dimartinis’ voice is a dead ringer for that of Clark: a raspy whisper imbued with desolation and raw-emotion. Perhaps the best track on the album.
Another Western song with possibilities is “Bottom Hill,” but awkward lyrics hold the song back. Dimartinis handles the Van Morrisonish swing of “Burden Of Truth” like a pro, assured and effective. Willett serves up a fine solo in the middle, with throaty tone and fluid motion. Blues-tinged “Jellyfish” compares favorably with “Season Of The Witch” from the Stills/Kooper/Bloomfield Super Session of the late ’60s. Chunky wah-wah guitar phrases mingle against Dimartinis’ Stills-like delivery. Several extended guitar jams result (thisis a live recording. after all). The band kicks up the pace to double time in the final series of searing solos.
Blue Honey are a better band with Alan Glickenhaus as a member, devoting his energies to the project. Here is a substantial ensemble who have a lot to offer. With a bit more attention paid to detail: strengthening a chorus here, a verse there, tightening a lyric or a melody, the band show enough ingenuity and originality to win themselves a large, devoted following.
Unspun— Lucas, Shayne, Ken and Al, are kind of a schizy band. On the one hand they play sludge Metal at tempos of near-death pulses; on the other, they execute a rather unique brand of grungy, acoustic guitar-laden Rock. Lucas, especially, displays a singularly robust guitar technique, nailing down impressive solos nine times out of ten. Shayne is a decent singer, with a touch of Layne, a dash of Ozzie and even an occasional hint of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson evident in his vocal stylings. Bassist Ken and drummer Al are capable sidemen. Each exhibits shining moments throughout the course of the twelve-song set.
Of the Sludge and Metal tunes, most have something special to recommend them. Lucas’ great, volcanic solo, at times in the style of Eddie Van Halen, lifts “As You Were.” Shayne’s vocal chops come to the fore on “Chuck Chuck Weeb.” Lucas adds solid accompaniment and a solo that takes up where the previous one left off. Lucas contributes nice riffage to “Lost.”
But the other side to Unspun is as musically diametric to the aforementioned as the far side of the moon. Acoustic guitar flourishes abound. An entirely different bearing and demeanor surface. Some of the songs, such as “How Long” and “Under The Eye” are mostly inconsequential. But “Rusted Man” works well. Shayne is a dead-ringer for latter day Ian Anderson, before evolving away after the first few verses. Lucas’ attendant acoustic guitar garnishes further enhance the Tull allusion.
Three songs stand out among the dozen as being far better conceived and rendered than the rest. “Precious Life” rides upon Lucas’ plucky acoustic work and Ben’s bouncy bassline. Shayne’s vocal melody insinuates Madonna’s “Material Girl,” until Lucas interupts with a jagged electric guitar interlude. Emulating the spirit of Bush’s Gavin Rossdale, Shayne manages a hoarse catch in his voice during the choruses. Lucas’ Page-ian riffs ornately decorate “Boring,” a song of darkness and foreboding.
The Grunge/Pop “I’m Gone” is sure hit material. Lucas establishes a smart chord progression with chunky electric guitar tones over Al’s insistent beat. Shayne guides the song through exultant verses, arriving at a scintillatingly memorable chorus. Lucas’ diversion in the middle section creates an ominous, Blue Oyster Cult-like ambiance. A superior performance.
Unspun have yet to reach their full potential, There is a sense about this project that the band is dabbling in styles, as yet unsure as to which way to proceed.. Fortunately, they have provided themselves with a built-in answer to their conundrum. For if they could just compose an album’s worth of songs of the caliber of “I’m Gone,” the path ahead would light up before them like the road to Shangri La.
This, of course is easier said than done. But if the band can grow into their individual roles within the band and continue to better themselves as musicians, there is every reason to think that Unspun could be spinning for a long time to come.