Sunday, June 28, 2015

HIGH, WIDE, HANDSOME: THE BEST WESTERNS

It's been years now since I first encountered The Best Westerns. For a band that reads as MONTANAN as this one, seeing them at the Union Club was perfect. As Missoula bars go, The Union Club is the near-embodiment of Country and Western. Walking into a crowd of pearl button shirts amid the Westerns' mourning pedal steel and Isaak Opatz's baritone drawl, it was hard not to become a convert. I've never professed any undying love for Country Music but man, it's hard not to give in when you're watching these guys play. Call it charisma, call it just having a ton of really great songs, call it whatever you need to, The Best Westerns are fantastic and they'll be repping that Montana flag high, wide, and handsome all over Total Fest XIV.



They've come a long way since playing the fest a few years ago. Since then, they've released a stellar record, High Country, that's cemented their reputation as one of premier alt-country, electric folk, or whomever bands in the region, if not the country. The Best Westerns are tireless, gig a ton when one of their members isn't living in Nashville, and deliver some of the most moving performances I've ever seen. You're gonna love it, folks. Even if this country thing isn't in your wheelhouse, I'm certain you'll come away a fan.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

THROUGH A MELTING PYRAMID OF: HOT VICTORY

Music can be a hell of a lot of things, but as far as opening doors to another plane of consciousness? That's the kind of description I'd generally throw at the feet of some Yanni lookalike with a pan flute, not the heavily stylized mostly-just-drums duo Hot Victory. In reading their own description: "Hot Victory has created an all-enveloping cybernetic structure of electroacoustic music powered by a relentless human pulse, opening portals deep into the hybrid mind and exposing the warped mathematics to their own theory of everything, transporting you to innerspace as much as it will to outerspace with its sci-fi vision of the future where man still controls the machines, where humanity still shines through a techno-trash society" it's hard to know if they're playing this tongue firmly in cheek or if they actually believe 100% in what they're about. I don't really care. This sounds like a cross between a Krautrock band and a Gamelan orchestra. I like both of those things. I like Hot Victory.
I guess you better prepare to lose your Total Mind, people. Hot Victory is playing Total Fest XIV. 


TOTAL LOCAL: NO FANCY

Another day, another killer Missoula band we get to announce and it's...NO FANCY. They're one of the newest, most stellar local trios operating right now. For reference, let's just say they kinda remind me of The Magpies in one sense, perhaps without the latter's serious wall-of-noise, but with that same propulsive garage-y nod to 90's indie rock. No Fancy is a little moodier, I think, and that's one of things that sticks out for me. I love those moods.

Some other things you might be interested in knowing: No Fancy has been hard at work and (last I heard) is nearly done with recording their first album via Missoula's recording-brain-trust Black National. The first result of which you can hear below. Ray, No Fancy bassist extraordinaire (the guy with the mustache) is also a member of Missoula alt-country-faves The Best Westerns. Dude is a talent. Hell, all three of these No Fancy folks are talents and man, I'm really excited they're playing Total Fest XIV.

 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

NOVACRON

St. Paul, MN's Novacron doesn't necessarily need me to list off their pedigree, because really they're just pummelingly awesome, but I'm just gonna do it anyways and see if it changes anything for you. Three-piece heavy loud band, yeah, that's typical, it's Total Fest, but wait, these are the bands these dudes come from (in no certain order): Seawhores, Vaz, Hammerhead, Skoal Kodiak, Cows. I hope I've piqued somebody's attention because you are in for an apocalyptic good time. We've spilled a lot of virtual ink on this blog extolling the intensity of (and our love for) Vaz, Hammerhead, and the Amphetamine Reptile label, and I just wanna tell you people that Novacron is TOTALLY WORTHY. I hear they haven't been around for a while but you know, I'm almost certain they've just been asleep, like some Cthulhu of the Midwest. 2015 is the year and they're not only up and risen but planning on invading Missoula's sanity just in time for Total Fest XIV.

They were once known as Jet Legs, too. Here's some footage from AmRep's 25th Anniversary Post Show BBQ: 

LIFE DURING: WARTIME BLUES

For long (or even part) time Missoula residents, the mere mention of chamber-folk juggernaut Wartime Blues will elicit a wave of feeling. For you non-Missoulians, I'm here to tell you that the wave of feeling(s) are pretty much guaranteed. Wartime Blues are a force of nature, a surprisingly weird force of nature, in a consistently staid genre of music. They're also one of the few Missoula bands in recent memory to have made a name for themselves in national circles, especially those circles that run counter to much of Total Fest's classical "genre." We haven't been the same festival for years, people. Wartime Blues isn't your run-of-the-mill cello-a-guitar-and-a-folk-song jumble. They're 1,000x the greatest band you haven't seen. They're as sprawling as their subject matter and absolutely HUGE live. It's always been a treat to see 'em and you're in luck because they're totally playing Total Fest XIV.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

LIQUID SUMMER: VASAS

There will always be summer and, it seems, there will always be bands like Sacramento's Vasas, who mine the season into a sunny kind of soft-psychedelia. That's not to short-change anything these guys do, mind you, Vasas are great and there's something definitely hypnotic about these songs. It's the kind of pop I can really get behind. Sweet while avoiding the pitfall of being overly syrupy. Refined without turning into a skronking mess.   

I also didn't think I'd be saying this is 2015, but some of these songs really remind me of Modern Life Is Rubbish-era Blur. That's the thing though, in the heyday of Brit-pop, like 1993-1995, there was a massive neo-psych influence floating around and whether consciously or no, Vasas has totally picked up on that sound. Twenty years on, it's weirdly cool to hear it again, especially when "psych" these days is so disparate it's really hard to know what you're getting into.

We're excited to have Vasas this year at Total Fest XIV and considering neo-psych, just check out this video:


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

TOTAL LOCAL: SHAHS TOTALLY LORDING

Full disclosure: Elisha and I love Shahs so much they played our wedding.



Shahs has been a project / band since 2005, and I can't provide you with all the ins and outs that happened other than some awesome, humid, rainy day recordings are out there. The first time I saw Tom Helgerson play was at the ZACC with 10yoGF in 2011 (I think). He was a recent transplant from Minneapolis but had already inserted himself firmly in Missoula's music scene. It was a simple set with only two members at the time (I think maybe Cassandra played along on a couple tunes), but Tom's ability to effortlessly tie the set together piqued my interest. Then and there, I knew that we were lucky to have him. Along with fellow transplant Colin Johnson, Tom quickly added value and variety to our small, transient, and, at times, homeless underground.



I experienced Shahs for the first time without distraction at the Badlander (again, I could be horribly mistaken, but this is the first time it hit hard). For a duo, the level of complexity of the songs is hard to fathom. They were definitely tinny, poppy, and quirky but there is this hard to grasp hypnotic feel brought on by the series of loops, calypso-influence, wide-range of samples, distorted guitar, keyboard, and oddly soft vocals. Everything is so layered that it's hard to single out the individual instruments until you're fully under its spell. Once there, and I don't know why, there's the strange feeling of isolation that runs counter to almost everything the music accomplishes.



The newest incarnation features Tom, Nick Ryan, Lukas Phelan, Javier Ryan, John Sporman, and Jenny Fawcett. It's criminal for so much talent to play together. The music is even more complex as they navigate through the delicate waters of creative freedom and orchestration. It's pop noise, or self-proclaimed tropical psychedelic, or corroded ambiance, or visceral weirdo stuff, or synchronized cacophony, or ... Whatever it is, it's some of the most fun, engaging, challenging trips that music can take you on. There's a dreamy party vibe cutting through each song that reflects both Tom's personality and influences as well as each member who, to my perception, has slotted in perfectly.



Tom is one of the most sincere, fun, reflective, kind, talented, intelligent, and warm people whom I have the privilege of knowing. Watching Shahs develop and continually import amazing talent into its roster is impressive in itself. The immeasurable and intangible effects Tom has had on Missoula is even more impressive. As musicians, their shows and recordings feel like a book that you routinely return to and discover connections and allusions that you missed the prior reads. Shahs sets a bar against which I'm not sure it's fair to compare other bands. As people, Shahs are unnecessarily humble. As for that creative crooner Tom, I can listen to him laugh until the oceans dry up. He's that good.