EAR TO THE GROUND: NEW ORLEANS
by Various Artists
Of all the great music that's come out of Louisiana - jazz, zydeco, Cajun - it's surprising New Orleans has never had more influence in the rock world. There ha...ve been some middling national acts (Better Than Ezra, Cowboy Mouth), some great metal (Pantera, Zebra), and a few one-hit wonderboys that wouldn't even make a good pub quiz question.
In the last few years, that's been changing - especially since Hurricane Katrina. The city's DIY approach to recovery has been applied to the local music scene as well, with great results. Theresa Andersson's one-woman acoustic performances (taped in her kitchen) have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube. Just this month, New Orleans' top power-pop combo, Generationals, were named to the New York Times' "Nifty 50" list of upcoming national talent.
These are just two of the artists spotlighted in EAR TO THE GROUND: NEW ORLEANS, a collection curated by the staff of Gambit, New Orleans' alt-weekly paper. We still love our jazz and our brass bands, but this collection is like wandering off Bourbon Street and going deep into the neighborhoods where the people live and play. Enjoy!
GIVERS - "Ceiling of Plankton"
Meet southern Louisiana's Of Montreal or Dirty Projectors. The Lafayette quartet sends rainbow waves of shining Afro-beat, sing-along psychedelics and colorful dance-pop, all wrapped around mountains of smiling guitars and electronics and the playful harmonies of vocalists Taylor Guarisco and Teddy Lamson. (Alex Woodward)
One Man Machine & The Powers That Be - "Get My Sound"
The one man in One Man Machine, Bernard Pearce, is the perfect mascot for this new age of New Orleans music: he's both challenging and rewarding, gregarious and scarily intense. "Get My Sound," the title track from his 2008 debut, offers a typically narcotized haze of psychedelic texture, brass-band exuberance and unbridled funk. (Noah Bonaparte Pais)
Lovey Dovies - "Sheepskin and Stone"
The latest effort from the veteran punks (read: Red Beards, Big Baby, Faeries, Hatchback) is another reliably brilliant notch in the members' belts. Lovey Dovies genuflects at the altar of '90s indie rock, recalling shoegaze with pop hooks and loud, loud, loud rock 'n' roll, à la Sebadoh, Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur Jr. (Alex Woodward)
Big Rock Candy Mountain - "Rocketship"
Trumpet-for-hire Michael Girardot takes center stage with this nascent quartet and proves his singing voice is just as impacting as his instrument's. The lead-off track from the band's 2009 debut, Hey Kid, "Rocketship" veers from searing guitars and synthesizers into a mellifluous vocal base jump. (Noah Bonaparte Pais)
Caddywhompus - "Fun Times at Whiskey Bay"
The psychedelic thrash duo bounces from light-hearted head-bobbing gymnastics to total sonic explosions, sometimes in the same breath. Drummer Sean Hart and vocalist/guitarist Chris Rehm take their cues from their noise-pop contemporaries, as well as pop deconstructionists Animal Collective and the ear-destroying duo Lightning Bolt. (Alex Woodward)
Giant Cloud - "Rainbows"
Songs by this Ruston-cum-New Orleans quintet play out more like movements in a rollicking psych-rock sonata. The opener of its debut EP, Old Books (Park the Van), "Rainbows" is all moody melody: angelic vocals and keyboard and guitar arpeggios raining down on shimmering cymbals for seven dramatic minutes. (Noah Bonaparte Pais)
Loren Murrell - "Watching the Clouds"
With a busker's aesthetic and the pull of a pied piper, Grand Rapids, MI, transplant Murrell entrances using only a reedy, windswept voice and feathery guitar work. "Watching the Clouds" is his "Long and Winding Road," a player-piano backing track and soft gospel chorus lending a lush, dreamlike quality to this '70s soft-rock crush. (Noah Bonaparte Pais)
Silent Cinema - "Sleepy Time on Bourbon"
Micah McKee's whiskey-caked growl carries the fire of New Orleans music, performed none better than by these old souls in new bodies. A brass duo and perfectly in-the-pocket rhythm swim against reverb, guitars, and keys, all bursting with melancholy and joy - barstool blues and a chorus in concrete heaven. (Alex Woodward)
The Pharmacy - "WAYDWYL"
These Seattle transplants shacked up in the Bayou St. John neighborhood and turned into New Orleans music fanboys. Warm soul now punctuates the garage rock trio's approach to classical pop - all the fuzzy melodies and psychedelic hooks of the Kinks and Zombies for punk-rockers. (Alex Woodward)
Theresa Andersson - "Birds Fly Away"
Swedish-born songstress Andersson metamorphosed on 2008's Hummingbird, Go! (Basin Street) from roots-rocking fiddler to wings-spreading pop seraph. "Birds Fly Away" shows off her proficiency with recording pedals, layering handclaps, girl-group harmonies and drums, and pizzicato plucking - all played and looped by Andersson. (Noah Bonaparte Pais)
Thou - "The Song of Illuminate Darkness"
This is the shift from the southern sludge of the likes of Down and Eyehategod. Thou revels in Black Sabbath worship and doom-like drone, preaching from the pits of the bayou. Sharing thrones in both Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the band rules a demon world of crushing, low-end obliteration and endless riff dirges. (Alex Woodward)
Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship? - "No Blood, No Blooms"
Big Ship performs the songs for when the music stops. It's apocalyptic folk, the stuff you'd expect the Bywater septet - all brass, banjos, accordions, and other miscellany — to glean from rotten streets and the gloom of lifeless neighborhoods, capturing a decayed city better than any post-Katrina bluesman. (Alex Woodward)
The White Bitch - "Hurricane Party"
Music teacher Michael Patrick Welch co-opted the derogatory handle awarded him by some pupils, so it's no surprise that his "Hurricane Party" is the ultimate Katrina deflator: a nostalgic New Wave intro, funky Of Montreal falsettos, and the ne plus ultra of Dirty Coast refrains ("There should at least be a fuckin' beach"). (Noah Bonaparte Pais)
Big Blue Marble - "Had Enough"
BBM has been quietly churning out quality pop-rock without much flash for the better part of the past decade. Led by singer/guitarist Dave Fera and supported by a cast that reaches 11, the band is at its best on "Had Enough," whose staccato strings and forlorn tones give way in the last minute to a heartbreaking, hair-raising finish by Fera. (Noah Bonaparte Pais)
MyNameIsJohnMichael - "Misery Runs"
Singer-songwriter John Michael Rouchell's 2008 song-a-week recording project blossomed in 2009 into a superior live act, with a performing polish and kinetic prickle that's unmatched in New Orleans outside of jazz circles. Slick showcase "Misery Runs" glides by on group-shouted hooks, a wistful brass bridge and galloping percussion. (Noah Bonaparte Pais)
Fatter Than Albert - "Panda King"
This six-piece ska powerhouse started building its empire in high school. Now twenty-somethings, the crew (West Bank born and raised), grew up with a steady diet of jazz, reggae, and hardcore punk, and thrives with constant tours, sweat ethic, and a DIY attitude. (Alex Woodward)
Brass Bed - "Summertime"
With a strong dose of '60s nostalgia, this sunshining pop-rock outfit smothers bright, fuzzy riffs over doo-wop country-folk, with the happy psychedelics of the Elephant 6 collective and the current indie-pop sensibilities of the Apples in Stereo, The Shins, and Olivia Tremor Control. (Alex Woodward)
Rotary Downs - "Indian Summer"
Stalwarts of the local rock scene, Rotary Downs broke out in 2007 with Chained to the Chariot, which balanced pop appeal and the band's spacey experimentalism. "Indian Summer," the first single from the group's as-yet-untitled 2010 album, pushes the former even further with four-alarm guitars and a transformative "ba-ba-ba-ba-ba" vocal bridge. (Noah Bonaparte Pais)
Generationals - "Faces in the Dark"
Sepia-tone soul butts up against Casiotone pop on Generationals' 2009 debut, Con Law (Park the Van), whose songs sound not just like they came from different bands, but different eras. Consider "Faces in the Dark" the time machine: a shuffling Spoon strum, bubbly Motown bass, and a lovely, loping Brill Building chorus. (Noah Bonaparte Pais)