Artist of the Month

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November 2015
The Old No. 5s
The Old No. 5s’ second album, Steam, is first and foremost a blues record. But it shouldn't be pigeonholed. A self-proclaimed rock/roots trio, members Brock Alexander (guitar/lead vocals), Derek Tucker (bass/vocals), and Aaron Thomas (percussion/vocals) prove they can play the blues with the best of them, but also have the chops to bust out some serious soul, bring the funk, or simply construct a nice power pop song.
The majority of the 11 tracks are fairly straightforward blues rockers, beginning with the album's first song, “Going Nowhere.” A perfect appetizer, it gives listeners a taste of what can be heard throughout the album: solid vocals, nimble guitar, and one of the best rhythm sections you'll find on a local or national release this year. There is an undeniable Stevie Ray Vaughan influence on this and several of the other true blues tunes, including “Starting to Show,” “Easy,” and the harder rocking “Hill Country.” While few guitarists can match his licks, Alexander certainly dials in Vaughan's tone, and has plenty of salty riffs himself.
Alexander's vocal style varies. On “Easy” he is confident and powerful, channeling a cocky Jimi Hendrix. He shows off a deep soul sound during “Keep Lovin' Me Baby.” On “Little Man,” a jazzier number, he is a bit more transparent and vulnerable, much like a young John Mayer. While he is very capable at each, I couldn't help wondering which one is Alexander’s real voice.
The standout track on Steam has to be “Barn Party.” A tightly wound ball of energy, it combines ferocious slide guitar (sounding very similar in this case to a pedal steel), brilliant bass, and a shuffling beat to create foot-stomping fun. Reminiscent of Robert Randolph and the Family Band, it starts uptempo and only gets faster, ending at a blistering pace. Be sure to have your air instruments handy for this one.
The Old No. 5s display a more unique style on the album's final track, “Just the Way I Am.” While remaining true to the band's bluesy vibe, the song has a catchy pop sensibility—with an impressive jam in the middle—and should appeal to a wide audience. The trio seems to find their own identity here, something I hope to hear more of on future recordings. 
Steam is filled with truly fantastic music that taps into several genres. The songwriting and execution is top-notch. The expertise and use of each instrument, tempo changes, and drawn-out solos make it one of the most enjoyable local albums I've heard in some time. As the band continues to mature and distinguish itself, The Old No. 5s should become a force to be reckoned with—both locally and beyond.

--Brad Scott 

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Album review: The Electric Lungs - Simplified and Civilized

Album review: The Electric Lungs - Simplified and Civilized

Every person that picks up a guitar for the first time does it with at least some amount of notion that it will make them a rock star. After all, any musician who tells you that they never wanted to be Brian May circa 1976 is a goddamn liar. But there comes a time in almost every musician’s life where he or she realizes that dream is just not in the cards. Not for lack of trying or talent, but sometimes that lightning just doesn’t strike. So, what to do? Some go hang up the amplifiers, squirt out four kids, and buy a split level and a Kia. Some go the dreaded, dreaded, dreaded, dreaded cover band route. But the lucky ones are able to realize that there’s so much more to the making and celebration of original music than being uber popular for it. The Electric Lungs are in this wonderful place. They play THEIR music, THEIR expression, stripped of any notion of what it’s “supposed” to sound like. With Simplified and Civilized, they play the role of trendsetters, not trend followers.

The band provides us with ten tracks of energetic, punk-tinged, keyboard rock. Tripp Kirby fronts the bursting arrangements with the overzealous spasticity of a carnival barker. His voice is perfect for these songs, his moments of tenderness and sincerity in songs like “Every Ending” and “Eternal Smile” equally as effective as his red throated scream-singing in “Illium Works” and “(It’s not the) Bones That You Break.” The rhythm section of Marc Bollinger and Eric Jones does more than just lay the foundation. Together they shape and manipulate the dynamics of these songs, building and breaking them down to great effectiveness. The wildcard is the final gloss applied by Jason Ulanet’s keyboard work. Whether synth, horn, or a just simple piano, he further propels these songs into another category. In the end, you end up with something punky, something rockabilly, something proggy, sort of like Yes and Black Flag sharing a Bloody Mary at Brian Setzer’s wine mixer.
“Catching Up” is their take on the good old murder ballad. With equal parts psychopath and bubble gum, The Electric Lungs would like to remind us that under every serial killer there is a sweet little boy. Or something like that.
“Every Ending” is such a beautifully orchestrated song, cleverly organized and woven together perfectly. It is a funky little breath of fresh air in the middle of a wolf pack of punk songs.
“The Shit that I Eat” bursts at the seams, kind of like Sum-41 slave-driving an old-timey jazz band. The sullied horns and old-timey piano provide a wonderful counterpoint to the otherwise straight-forward and shit-kicking punk song beneath.
The album closes with one of the best efforts “Away to Stay (Hey)”. With all cylinders firing at the brink of explosion, this two-and-half-minute song is the perfect amount full of pounding drums, driving bass lines, fierce guitars, howling synths, and group-shouted “heys.”
This is a super strong record from the first strain to the last. The band has managed to take a group of very familiar rock music elements and spin them into something most decidedly new, something most decidedly themselves, something most decidedly The Electric Lungs.
The Electric Lungs will be playing tonight at Coda, after Dolls on Fire and The Hillary Watts Riot. Show starts at 9:30 p.m. All ages, $5. Facebook event page. If you can't make it tonight, they'll be at The Riot Room on Friday, June 7.
--Zach Hodson

Zach Hodson is a monster. He once stole a grilled cheese sandwich from a 4-year-old girl at her birthday party. He will only juggle if you pay him. I hear he punched Slimer right in his fat, green face. He knows the secrets to free energy, but refuses to release them until "Saved by the Bell: Fortysomethings" begins production.

He is also in Dolls on Fire and Drew Black & Dirty Electric, as well as contributing to various other Kansas City-based music, comedy, and art projects.

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