The BasementsStrange Noises EP
One thing I love about our punk scene here in Louisville is that it’s not a bunch of bands trying to sound like each other or any other bands, instead all doing their own thing their own way. Case in point: The Basements, who at least to my knowledge, don’t sound close to any other Louisville punk band — past or present — instead refining a sound closer to that of late ‘70s/early ‘80s English punk and oi, with just a tinge of the new wave of British heavy metal from the same era. A plethora of great bands cross my mind here: U.S. Bombs, The Damned, The Clash, Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers, Sham 69, T.S.O.L., Dead Boys. I’m hearing little touches of all of them throughout this all-too-short EP. And, surprise, the vocalist is actually a vocalist. Rather than follow the formulaic in-your-face, aggressive, shouting style that far too many punk bands conform to, frontman Todd Johnson instead chooses to sing the lyrics in a style reminiscent of early English punk rock, and thankfully does it without resorting to using a fake British accent. Four tracks of catchy, fun, old-school punk rock played by actual old-school punk rockers — the highlight here being “Down the Drain” with its fist-pumping, high energy sing-along chorus. Not your average punk rock band, The Basements certainly proves they have what it takes to, indeed, come upstairs.
There really is no better fitting title for this pulverizing slab of sludge/doom/stoner metal from Lexington’s CROP than “10-56,” which is police code for intoxicated pedestrian or possible suicide. Slow and plodding with depressive lyrics in which the refrain: “Sick and tired of being sick and tired. Sick of being at all,” is repeated over the chorus. Obviously this isn’t for everyone. Now let’s talk about the word heavy. Because I’m not sure you quite understand what heavy is until you hear something like this. This is pummeling, soul-crushingly heavy. The kind of heavy that makes the band Sleep sound happy by comparison. If you ever wondered what Eyehategod and Crowbar might sound like if they tuned down even further. This music will physically hurt you. And I fucking love it. With his distinct southern drawl, vocalist Marc Phillips has one of the most unmistakable voices I’ve ever heard, yet it’s impossible to adequately describe. Kind of like if the late, great Ronnie Van Zant were screaming at you like a banshee, yet singing his ass off while doing it. It’s remarkable to say the least. How Marc can speak after even one song is beyond me. But there is no better vocalist for this style of music, and CROP is hands down one of Kentucky’s best metal bands. You need this!
“Risk a Little Skin” single
Louisvillian Ryan Lane, formerly of the Milwaukee-based alt-rock band North Breese, has certainly mastered the art of writing and crafting extremely catchy, hook-laden songs. Initially begun as Lane’s solo project during the pandemic, Quiet Confidence is quickly becoming something much, much bigger. I had previously called the debut single “All Messed Up” a “beautiful alt-pop masterpiece,” and the follow up track, “Risk a Little Skin,” is certainly nothing less. It’s a huge alt-pop song that takes on elements of pop punk, emo, even a little hint of modern country in the way Lane sings in certain spots. Per Ryan, the song is about “The thrill of meeting someone new and the anxieties that go along with it, not knowing if you’ll just be burned yet again in another relationship. But also a metaphor for new sonic territory for Quiet Confidence.” He also mentions a strong influence of The Chainsmokers and ILLENIUM in this song, which I can certainly hear. But, elements of Imagine Dragons, Coldplay, Twenty One Pilots, maybe a little Ed Sheeran also come to mind. This has Top 40 radio hit written all over it, and the potential here for mega-success is overwhelming. With a fully-backed (and then some) Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a full-length album, big things are certainly on the horizon. Simply put, Quiet Confidence is a multi-million dollar check just waiting to be cashed.
“Turn it Inside Out” single
Fresh on the heels of his late 2022 full length album Project 2022, New Albany native Andrew Aebersold and his one-man band Radianation are back once again for his latest, and perhaps best track yet, “Turn it Inside Out.” Andrew describes the song as “a dance-pop song with synth and electronic roots,” with lyrics about “Getting through the chaotic work week and going out on the weekend with your friends.” For a guy who took a 16-year break from writing music, (until his Project 2022 album last year, he hadn’t released anything since 2005), Abersold seems to have come back with a fire in his belly, and a head full of great song ideas. He’s churning out the best tunes of his career (Radianation dates back to the mid-90s). A wonderful blend of modern pop and electronica with an 80’s new wave feel. The chorus of this song is so insanely catchy and upbeat that I haven’t been able to get it out of my head for days, nor do I want to. This song is the musical embodiment of the feeling of clocking out of your job for the weekend. If you’re not smiling by the end of this track, you’re gonna need to check your pulse.
Ryan Hahn and The Believers
“Little Town” single
“What happened to my little town with them two stoplights and a tiny courthouse, where nobody loves no one, only care about themselves, only care about their guns,” Ryan Hahn sings in a scathing review of his hometown of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, on “Little Town,” the second single off Ryan Hahn and the Believers’ forthcoming album From the Country to the Concrete. Influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement across the US, “Little Town” gives voice to Hahn’s frustrations and disappointment of the negative reactions of Lawrenceburg residents towards a peaceful protest in support of the movement. Although now based in L.A., Hahn remains proud of his upbringing on a tobacco farm and seems to bring that spirit to life in his music. Influenced by the sound of Steve Earle, “Little Town” comes through as honest and powerful as anything Earle does. It’s Americana steeped in bluegrass, country, and indie rock. Not a sound you’d think of when thinking of music in Los Angeles, but further proof that you can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy. From the Country to the Concrete is set for release on May 19th.
I read a great quote about Mia Zapata in River Cities’ Reader; “She sings with such conviction, ferocity, and expressiveness that the lyrics become irrelevant.” I’d say this accurately describes Shitfire vocalist Blannah (Hannah Blakeman) as well. Now I’m not saying Blannah is the reincarnation of Mia Zapata, but I’m not ruling it out either. Much like the Louisville-born Zapata, Blannah is a force of nature onstage and in the studio, with powerful yet sincere vocals that cut through the music like a knife, making her impossible to ignore. And much like Zapata’s band The Gits, Shitfire has been lumped into the punk category, when in reality there is so much more to their sound that it seems almost criminal to label them at all. Nowhere is this better showcased than on the beautiful Americana-tinged acoustic tune “Old Time” that closes out the EP. It’s also here where Blannah takes full advantage of her talents and truly opens up her bluesy, soulful voice to its full extent. But that’s not to say that Shitfire isn’t capable of playing punk, as the 46-second long “Violence” proves in spades. Actually given the talent here, I’m fairly certain the band could play any style of music accurately and make it sound good. Hard hitting opener “In Yr Head” is already a contender for one of my top local tracks of 2023, and in short, this ep is a can’t miss!
Regarding his latest album, Still Life, Louisville singer/songwriter/musician Stuart Wicke describes it as being “conceived as a folk album without stuart-wicke-still-life acoustic instruments.” And he seems to pull that off flawlessly, creating a sound not unlike Dawes and Jim James, and My Morning Jacket, and maybe a bit of Grateful Dead. Intimate and cozy, yet simultaneously broad and expansive. While the tracks are great, they more or less serve as a vessel for the lyrics, which are the real centerpiece here. And he certainly wears his heart on his sleeve with deeply personal lyrics which “explore relationships, friendships, and time, with attention to how the digital world influences them,” according to Wicke. There is also quite a bit of introspection within these lyrics as well that seem to find him dealing with and coming to terms with past decisions. In 2018, he moved from Louisville to Galway, Ireland, for a while before moving back here, and this seems to be an underlying factor in a good amount of the lyrics here. Having now released five albums and two EPs, Stuart Wicke certainly knows not only how to craft catchy songs paired with emotional, narrative lyrics, but has also has quite the knack for the recording process. All 10 tracks here came out sounding bright, clean, and with very rich tones on all instruments. “Still Life” is quite the experience and the journey.
“Derby is Love” single
Sadly by the time you read this, the greatest two minutes in sports will have already been run and the world will forget about us for another year. But for all us locals, Derby love is year-round. And who better to carry that torch than Louisville’s own folk punk supergroup The Char? Fronted by Louisville music legend Chuck Baxter, who spent time in some of Louisville’s very first punk bands, (ModernHeirs in 1981 – 82, then Poor Girls from 1982 – 86), The Char’s ”Derby is Love” is a fun, upbeat, toe-tapper of a tune, and quite possibly the only song ever to name-drop former WAVE3 anchorwoman Jackie Hayes. Imagine the Violent Femmes covering a Dead Kennedys tune, or vice-versa. Chuck’s enthusiastic vocals grab me as a cross between Jello Biafra and Elvis Costello singing in the style of Johnny Rotten. It’s almost infectious, and you’re gonna smile. With the great opening line “Don’t have to buy a tradition, with hype or rendition”, the song embraces the local spirit of the Derby without actually talking about the horse race itself, and I’m quite sure Churchill Downs will steal the phrase “You’re the spires” as a tagline and stick it on a shirt at some point. Cheers to The Char for keeping the Derby love alive!
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