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Album review: Pilot For A Day - Better AIr

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve heard an album with this much pop sensibility come out of Kansas City. Maybe I’m just not in sync with what’s actually going on, or maybe this really is the new generation pioneer for KC pop-punk music. Either way, Pilot For A Day’s debut full-length album, Better Air, is quite the refreshing listen.

Better Air is a record, that, in its entirety, emits positive vibes. Songs of hopeless romanticism, adolescent angst, girls, and life ambitions in general compose the 10-track, 40-minute album. And no matter how melancholy the lyrics become, the overall essence of every song leaves you feeling good.
Pilot for a Day hits hard on the home opener of Better Air, “Take This Chance.” Synthy siren sounds pop into your audible field first and foremost. The poppy and upbeat diddy that follows instantly lifts your mood. It is a defined precursor to the remainder of the album. “Take This Chance” presents itself with bold lyrics and positive energy, much like the remainder of the album.
Possibly the best track on this album is number three, “Extraordinary Life.” This four-minute anthem features the vocal work of close-to-legendary St. Louis rocker Andrew Volpe of Ludo fame. Pilot’s singer Nolan Smith’s chilling, low-toned voice on “Extraordinary Life” is extraordinarily complemented (see what I did there?) by Volpe’s voice on the chorus. The two have a great vocal chemistry that sounds like something you want to hear more of. The bad news: you don’t hear more of it on Better Air; the good news: the rest of the album is just as incredible.
Consistently keeping the upbeat tempo, there is no clear shift in motifs through Better Air. It is really quite refreshing to know that you don’t have to power through that slow song stuck in the middle of the album just to reach the more poppy ones. The first eight tracks are all equally as dancy and synth motivated as the rest. One thing you can count on is the shift in the last two tracks “From Somewhere to Here” and “Midwestern Kings.” These last two tracks form an appropriate outro.
“From Somewhere to Here” takes the cake for most somber song on the album. Accompanied by the perfect ballad chords of a piano, Smith takes on his haunting tone yet again, setting more of depressing tone. The song does pick up, but maintains that ballad persona. As the song progresses, it picks up more and more throughout the rest of the song.
The final track, “Midwestern Kings,” has the brilliant theme of starting a new life. This is probably the best way to end Better Air. As if saying throughout everything in life, there is always a chance to start again. 
--Steven Ervay 

Steven Ervay is super rad. 



Album review: The Blackbird Revue - Glow (EP)

2013 is shaping up to be another very fine vintage for local music, with several quality releases already available and a slew of eagerly-anticipated albums coming soon to fine retailers and Bandcamp pages near you. Add to this list Glow, the third EP (and first since 2010) from The Blackbird Revue. Husband-and-wife team Jacob and Danielle Prestidge have established themselves as purveyors of an ear-pleasing sound that combines Americana, folk, country, and indie pop in various layers, and their vocal harmonies continue to astonish and devastate. Glow shows the twosome, with the help of several skilled musicians, bringing these skills to the listener in fine form.

The lead track, “When You Are Mine,” shows The Blackbird Revue at the height of its harmonic powers. Those of you who have taken singing lessons or been involved in choral music for any number of years will understand this: both Jacob and Danielle show great ability at singing over the notes. Coming at the music from above gives the vocals an airy, lilting quality during the softer moments at the beginning of this song (and throughout the EP), but the second half sees the tempo change from a gentle breeze to a howling gale, lifting the listener up and carrying said listener on a Thelma and Louise-esque ride straight over the cliff …
… where the title track awaits to catch you and cradle you in its gentle comfort. Glow paints a lyrical landscape with such verses as “fade / our sunsoaked yesterdays / to sepias and grays,” with the intertwined voices alternating in the roles of both palette and canvas. “Winter Rest” is the most pop-sensible track of the four, with undeniable hooks that make toe-tapping a near certainty. The EP concludes with “Lone Swan,” a winsome ballad that offers an encouraging word and a shoulder to lean on for someone whose burden has grown heavy (“this world is cruel this world is kind / and sometimes love is hard to find / so if you need to clear your mind / take the keys and take your time”).
When you listen to Glow, you hear music that pleases with its honesty and directness, but the notes that spring from your speakers don’t tell the entire story. Listening to Danielle and Jacob work together, harmonize together, and just be together, you realize that they have … something … indefinable, yet unmistakable. This isn’t just a musical duo, and this isn’t just a married couple. This is a union of two spirits and souls that complement each other perfectly as no other could. The underlying intensity and obvious passion shine brightly throughout this 14-minute love letter from the Blackbird Revue.
I hope someday we all get to experience that same glow.
The group’s next performance will be next Friday, March 8 at River’s Bend Restaurant and Bar in Parkville with Jason Craig and The Wingmen at 8:00 pm (Facebook event here). The Blackbird Revue will also be a part of the HomeGuard Festival VIP party on Saturday, March 16 at The Midwestern Musical Co. at 7:00 pm.
--Michael Byars

Michael Byars may or may not be pickling things at this moment. It’s possible that he’s already had four or five bottles of Mountain Dew by now. There’s a chance that he is at a hookah bar somewhere. You may say he’s a dreamer. But most of all, he spells pretty well and he works for free, so we let him write stuff for us sometimes. 

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Album review: The ACBs - Little Leaves

The ACBs return with a rapid and manic compilation of mentally unstable orchestrations masquerading as two-minute pop songs. Extremely compact arrangements treat fluff like a four-letter word as the Kansas City foursome cruises through thirteen tracks in roughly 30 minutes.Seriously, only two tracks on this album crest the three-minute mark. Often they halt suddenly without cause or warning, which actually works well within the scope of Little Leaves, as each song almost serves like a poetic prelude into the following one.

The music is mostly driven by the pretty-boy sounding guitars, all cleaned up and ready to be taken home to meet your mom. Occasionally, they are allowed to dance with the distortion pedal which provides just enough 5 o’clock shadow to thicken the sonic landscape. The rhythm section and additional instrumentation are solidly envisioned and executed, rarely providing more than just the perfect amount of foundation, dynamics, and drive. Lead vocalist Konnor Ervin vocalizes with an unsure innocence, often coming across like a preteen Ben Gibbard or Connor Oberst just on the verge of hitting puberty. At times it is hard to tell if he is unwilling to commit to the idiosyncrasies of his voice, but in the scope of the whole record, the vocal performance becomes a sporadic, almost neurotic force of dynamics and mystery.
Thematically, Little Leaves is deliciously sinister. Under the sheen of ‘60s go-go girl guitars and booty-shaking beats, there are real issues being thrown around here. While other smiley pop songs are out pining over girls and living up the good life, these tracks are popping Xanax and cutting themselves. They know exactly how many times they can hit their heads on the wall before they pass out. It is an extremely interesting and impressive contrast of style and substance. Not too many bands can be so musically joyful and thematically self destructive at the same time.
The album kicks off with “All Over,” a perfect candidate for the background music to that montage from your favorite romantic comedy where the guy and girl desperately scramble to try to get over each other (only to later realize at the height of some sort of arbitrary “emergency” that they are destined to be together). But just as you are preparing yourself for a quiet and reserved collection of introspective lullabies, the album rushes through a handful of more straightforward pocket-sized burners, most effective being “Oceans.” Almost channeling the more recent work of The Get Up Kids, this song features some of the best usage of additional instrumentation on the record, slowly slipping into just enough sonic cacophony to separate it from the rest of the bunch.
“Underweight,” with its fraught longing and simplicity, seems like a cathartic demo that didn’t quite make the final cut for consideration on Pinkerton. Just a super gorgeous slice of sorrow.
(lyrics transcribed the best these musician ears can understand)
When we go up state
I won’t search for you I promise
Up till now I’ve been honest
I’m probably gonna find you there
I don’t want to be trapped under my weight
I don’t want to be trapped underweight and hated
 “Xanies” is another stand-out effort. It is a terrific microcosm of the whole album: a funky and dancey track on the surface, yet under the veneer actually more morose than the one-eyed dog from the saddest late-night Sarah McLachlan soundtracked commercial you’ve ever seen.
The ACBs have taken great strides to keep their often bubble gum sound heavily saturated with bittersweet layers of modern living. Overall, these thirteen tracks brilliantly sucker punch the gut with a deep neurosis full of anti-depressants and coping mechanisms, yet remain pleasant and bouncy enough on the surface to engage the casual radio listener. We’ve been anxiously awaiting this sophomore effort for quite some time. Safe to say, this beautiful collection of reality-sodden pop gems exceeds all expectations.
Little Leaves will officially be released this Tuesday, but The ACBs will celebrate the release of the vinyl on Saturday, March 9, at Vinyl Renaissance on 39th St. This free, all-ages show will kick off at 1:00 pm with The People, She’s A Keeper at 1:45, and The ACBs at 2:30. The ACBs will also be performing at Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest from April 4-6. Specific set times and venues TBA.
--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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Album review: Bloodbirds - Psychic Surgery

Bloodbirds’ latest release, Psychic Surgery, takes no prisoners as it roars across a hyperdistorted punk psychedelic landscape. At times, the album oozes with a raw and spastic energy similar to that of Nirvana’s Bleach. Other times, it meanders down swirling passages of thickly affected instrumentation. Either way, it is truly impressive how much pleasantly overbearing noise is conjured up by this three-piece group, consisting of Mike and Brooke Tuley (of Ad Astra Arkestra fame) and Anna St. Louis.
Driven by what seems like more guitars than Billy Corgan could count on both hands and feet, this album is fuzzy, buzzy, yet well executed. Underneath the torrent of distortion, the solid beat and bass combination of Tuley and St. Louis keeps things grounded and moving along, while paying close attention to not clash with the siren of guitars wailing above them. And although the material does get a tad formulaic at times, it is a damn solid formula: chaos noise incarnate loosely trapped within the parameters of pop structure.
“Bad Animal” sticks out for me. The intro fools the listener a bit with 26 seconds of Bob Seger-esque guitar noodling before launching into an all-out sonic blitz. Reminiscent of early Queens of the Stone Age, it is a furious four minutes of song, almost too saturated at times with antagonistically distorted guitars, but nicely counterpointed by the stripped-down, daydream verses. Being one of the more straightforward and less meandering efforts on the album, it packs a blow worth noting.
“Patterned Sky” prominently features restful female vocals and flexes the psychedelic and dreamy muscles that Bloodbirds has to offer. The main guitar finds itself clean, verbed to almost surf rock in a way. This track gets in and out pretty quick and provides a nice breather to the otherwise resonant assault.
Perhaps some of the album’s most interesting guitar work is featured on its title track. All too often guitarists in this genre can get inane or annoying when trying to fill time with random effect noise. Tuley avoids that pitfall in “Psychic Surgery,” putting together a solid and dynamic performance. With what I assume is at least a handful of effects, he coaxes his guitar through a variety of emotions in a nice compact instrumental section. From wailing to pouting to singing to just random robotic musings, it is clear that Tuley is very aware, in control, and discreet with this performance.
The album ends with a bombardment of riffs called “Time Battle.” This song screams like someone beating the shit out of a banshee. It may just be the perfect summation of the rest of the record. There is just enough breath to the verses to make you think you might have some chance of keeping your eardrums intact, but all hope of avoiding the dreaded rrrriiiinnnggg in your ears while trying to fall asleep at night is lost once the vocals give way to the cavalcade of searing guitars. It is a fierce bitch slap to the face, the perfect way to finish off the sonically engorged LP.
All in all, Psychic Surgery will make your audiologist incredibly pissed at you. Bloodbirds do not hold anything back. There is no mute button left on any track in the final mix. If their live show is anything as powerful as this record is, I would suggest earplugs inside earmuffs inside an old deep sea diver’s helmet for protection. Or chance it. Bloodbirds would be a wonderful thing to go deaf to.

Bloodbirds was recently selected to play Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest, which is curated by The Record Machine and runs from Thursday, April 4 to Saturday, April 6. Details on schedules and venues will be forthcoming.

--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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New single: "Wonderful Daze" by Chocolate Wurms

The #1 in under- underground Kansas City trash pop meets an indie art rapper scientist of lyricism in this laid-back groove single with a purpose. I had actually quite literally just dusted off an older Chocolate Velvet CD from the early 2000s the other day to give it a spin when I saw on Twitter (which is both CV’s and Wurm’s social media of choice) that this collaboration had happened. Having also known, worked with, and been a fan of Wurm’s for many years, I was certainly intrigued what this seemingly odd duo would come up with. After listening, the pairing makes perfect sense.
For the most part, the beat is super chilled out, almost sounds like something you’d hear on a TLC record. It’s a groove you can easily throw on and sit back, sip a drink of whatever color liquor you prefer, and just enjoy.
Wurm handles the verses with his usual deft and quick-spit rap stylings. Whereas I don’t listen to rap enough to have a developed ear to understand everything he is saying, the pace and intensity of his vocalization provides a nice contrast to the silky track beneath. The hook is supplied by Chocolate Velvet and features spaced-out, dual-octave, half-sung/half-spoken vocals that have been a staple of his sound for almost a decade.
Thematically, this song is a celebration of making art for art’s sake. This idea is by no means a new one, but this duo is able to paint a new shade on it that keeps it from being just another starving artist anthem.
Got no money in the bank, I know where I stand
Summertime comes and I soak up a tan
If you want to make music, don’t call it a brand
Wurms made of chocolate never made a cent
I admire the fact they finish up the song at a swift and enjoyable three minutes and nineteen seconds. It is just enough to make their point with passion and get out the door without beating the listener over the head with a monotony of holier-than-thou excess. It does exactly what pop music should do, leaves you wanting more. I certainly hope they do just that.

Chocolate Wurms is the combination of the main creative forces behind Chocolate Velvet and Wurm & the Madness. “Wonderful Daze” is its debut single.

--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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