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Artist of the Month
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August 2015
HMPH!
"Headrush
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Simply stated, the music of HMPH! could be described with a term like math rock or experimental jazz fusion. But these terms, while accurate, don’t paint a complete picture of the sounds created by guitarist Ryan Lee Toms and drummer Jonathan Thatch. “Just when you think you got the groove, we switch it up, add a few beats, or throw in a chord from another key,” says Thatch, whose mastery over the drum kit is jaw-dropping. And while rhythmically complex, progressive compositions have become a cornerstone of the math rock genre, HMPH! additionally incorporates elements of jazz, ambient rock, alternative, and metal.
 
On Friday, the duo will be releasing its debut album Headrush (Haymaker Records), a 36-minute instrumental effort that showcases HMPH!’s dedication to push the envelope while keeping its music interesting. Nine of the 10 songs clock in under 5 minutes, keeping a fresh, brisk momentum for the entirety of the album. The listener has a chance to delve in to each song, but is pulled out before it becomes indulgent or formulaic.
 
Many of the songs start with a basic guitar riff that is bent and twisted in multiple directions, meandering from its original shape but always returning to it. From a polite jazz lick to a climactic rising arpeggio, Toms designs unpredictable, jagged noises with his guitar. “The harder it is for us to wrap our head around a riff, the more fun it is to write and the more enjoyable it is to dissect as a listener.” His combination of intriguing guitar sounds with Thatch’s intricate drum work shows that they’re very much up to the challenge. “Sometimes it starts with a complicated polyrhythmic drum part from Jonathan and I’ll create a progression to that. Other times, I’ll zone out and write arpeggios while thinking of decrepit medieval castles that kind of remind me of all the video games I played as a kid. Then I bring them to Jonathan.”
 

At the same time, Thatch is creating his own variegated sounds with just a five-piece drum kit. He often provides a countermelody to Toms’ guitar, building upon dynamic layers with odd meters, polyrhythms, subtle dynamic shifts, and rhythmic intensity. “One quality we strive for is to keep people guessing,” he says. This even includes retooling songs on the spot. “Our songs tend to keep evolving over time. We might be playing a song live and try something new, and we like the new sound so we keep playing it that way. Sometimes we don't even talk about it; we just both know how it goes now.” 

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scene blog

Show review: Crossroads Music Festival, 9.8.12

Show review: Crossroads Music Festival, 9.8.12

(Photo of Rural Grit All-Stars at The Brick, taken by Michelle Bacon)

By the time I had made it to the Crossroads Music Festival, entertainment was in full swing. I had opted to take the "knowledge" approach to the fest, seeking out only bands that I had yet to experience. Thankfully, the lineup was packed with fresh names, mostly due to my overwhelming tendency to not leave my house.

Due to a pants/dryer fiasco that had plagued me for the better portion of the evening the first set I was able to catch was The Hillary Watts Riot at the Midwestern Musical Company stage. The first thing I noticed while walking in was the room. With guitars at every angle and pop art and vintage toys lining the walls, the space is easily in the running for Kansas City’s best hidden gem. Shove the extremely energetic Hillary Watts Riot in the room and you’ve got a winning combo. Though the band will fuck with your mind like a drunken kitten, the Devo meets B-52 mashup is the type of music you have to stop, think over, digest, process, then accept. However, unique is the fact that while deep and complex it remains fun and approachable on the surface. With a pinup doll look and sunglasses-at-night image, the pedal-heavy band kicks in your teeth with plenty of reverb and a chaotic sound. With glimpses of punk reflecting off the glitters of glam, the band’s sound bounces all over the place. 1990s sound bites bleed through the 1980s influences. Mixed with their witty banter, this band is entertainment at its best. Show up to catch them if not only to catch their drummer (Sergio Moreno) rock his flashlight hands mid-set.

From there, I wandered downtown towards The Brick to catch Victor & Penny. I had wanted to catch their antique pop set for a while, but could never manage to get their schedule to align with mine. In addition, their tour schedule has been nothing to scoff at. Neither is their live act. Victor (Jeff Freling), who runs his vocals through a vintage throwback radio, is a treat to watch. His guitar chops are stout and his rockabilly licks are well-rehearsed and down pat. Paired with the beautiful Penny (Erin McGrane), who rocks a tiny uke and a sunshine smile, the group is unstoppable and refreshing. Her act has a bit of snarl to it, growling when you least expect it. She is also in full control of her facial expressions, turning them on at all the appropriate moments. She is the perfect front lady and in full control of her craft. She knows her charms and makes certain that her audience is enlightened of them as well, as she swims through her 100-year-old material. Of all the sets of the night, this one was the hardest to leave early.

Begrudgingly, I meandered toward the Czar Bar to catch John Velgne & The Prodigal Sons. Sadly, I wasn’t able to get a fair judgment of their sound due to an overwhelmingly extreme use of soundboard. Turned up to 11, the band’s layers and depth were missing, buried somewhere in a clutter of echo and earplugs. You could, however, gather the way the horns filled the room. Making note of their E Street ways, I gave my ears a break and headed back toward Midwestern Musical Company’s setup for Dim Peepers.

Sporting a suitcase bass drum, kazoos, a homemade washtub bass and tiny horns, Dim Peepers won my heart and the award for the fest’s most unique band. With a fantastic do-it-yourself sound, the band owned the room, the crowd, and in my humble opinion, the fest. Requesting that I not be afraid to get drunk and make a fool of myself, I lived wildly. I didn’t take notes and instead danced a little. Just a touch. Not enough to be noticed or lose my reclusive wallflower status, but enough to feel silly. Good times.

From there, I lurked at the Midwest Music Foundation tent, listening to Hearts of Darkness and watching cougars shimmy across the parking lot. Even from my lawn chair, I found the set enjoyable. The female vocals belted across the city skyline as people danced (poorly and drunkenly) in the wood chips. After a nice break, I bolted for Appropriate Grammar down the street.

Shifty eyed and crooked smiled, the band brought its best chops and left their R-rated jokes at home (due to parents in the room). With great guitar riffs and power-pop hooks slamming into the occasional alt-country structure, the band is somewhat unique to Kansas City. Think Rhett Miller without the band bleeding all over the stage emotionally. The charming female "ohs" blended well with the male vocals and seemed to fit flawlessly over the band’s epic drum usage. Sadly, battling Hearts of Darkness, the band played one of the fest’s most promising sets to an almost empty room. Take note of that and catch them when you can.

Starhaven Rounders would serve as my next adventure of the evening. I mean, can you think of a better follow up to power-pop than a country cover band? Nope. I didn’t think so.

There is a bit of irony to my catching this set. As I sat in The Brick in a purple emo hoodie, rocking a fairly impressive-sized jewfro, one would never assume me the type to catch the latest gossip at the honky-tonks of Nash Vegas. But honestly, is there anything better than a good, solid country band? With slide guitar, violin (called a fiddle in this case) and sad bastard lyrics. The interactions of a good country band are without question better than anything that any other genre can offer. There is nothing more real in music. Hearing our local member crank out Don Williams, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Cash makes me both proud and disappointed in Kansas City. This sound is something we could use more of (says the emo kid). We can debate this if you want, but before we do, I challenge you to catch this band and tell me that they don’t possess some of the finest instrumentation in the 816.

If you can debate convincingly, I’ll buy you a beer. I’ll be the one wearing the cat shirt.


The Hillary Watts Riot at Midwestern Musical Company (Photo by Michelle Bacon)


Bill Sundahl, Crossroads Music Fest organizer (Photo by Todd Zimmer)

 
Kasey Rausch, Mikal Shapiro, and Shane Ogren at Czar (Photo by Michelle Bacon)


Thom Hoskins at Midwestern Musical Company (Photo by Todd Zimmer)


The Supernauts at Crossroads KC at Grinder's (Photo by Todd Zimmer)

--Joshua Hammond

After stints drumming for both The Afternoons and Jenny Carr and the Waiting List in the Lawrence/Kansas City music scene, Joshua Hammond found his footing as a music journalist, launching the national publication Popwreckoning. After running the show as Editor in Chief for 6 years, Hammond stepped away from the reigns to freelance for other publications like Under The Gun Review and High Voltage Magazine. This shift allowed the adequate amount of time for him to write passionately, allow the Kansas City Royals to break his heart on a daily basis and spoon his cats just enough that they don't shred his vinyl. 

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