Thursday, May 31, 2012

Charm City Rockers: Roomrunner

Look. I'm the first to admit that when I google a band and see a handful of links that include and, I'm more likely to start eating meat again than I am to buy a record. It burns that deep. It's not hipster resentment or anything like that; I just see those two rags as good filters for stuff I don't need to pay attention to.

Too much? Maybe.
Point taken.

I could have started out talking about how the only things I know about Baltimore are: The Wire takes place there; I lost more than one skateboard there; I was punched in the face five separate times there; G.I. made funny comments about skinheads from there; Dan Deacon and Double Dagger are from there.

I'm sure Baltimorites would be pissed at me. They should be. I missed a lot. I always thought we were friends, or maybe estranged cousins. Truth is I dig that city. I felt bad for it, in a way. It existed in D.C.'s shadow for too long. Cal Ripken, anyone?

Enter, Roomrunner.

The Charm City's quartet of Denny Bowen, Dan Frome, Sam Garrett, and Bret Lanahan (Yes, Bowen of this band you may have heard of) does successfully what many bands fail at: being interesting and relevant while resurrecting that 90s sound that we've all grown to love. So they're influenced by Nirvana, who isn't? It's feedback and riff heavy, but it strips away all the marketing zeal that's taken place over the past two decades and replaces it with a self-generated reverence for simple rock. The music swims through waves of abrasive noisiness but wraps it in catchy hooks that leave your head wondering what continent you're on. It drips with that Pacific Northwest feeling, but it Baltimorizes it, adding some crazy, tweaked vocals and muddy guitars. You can head bang and bounce all at the same time. With two albums under their belt, S/T and Super Vague, these cats have found a way to weave in a revitalized aesthetic that you could only find by digging through your tape drawer. Oddly poppy, fantastically brash. It's like they took the textbook of indie-rock, carved out the center and found those juicy morsels, chewed 'em up and put the book back on the shelf. Hopefully you find it before the roaches and ants do (oh, wait. I already mentioned spin).

Simple: This is good. Total Fest and Missoula are damn lucky to have them. It's the stuff your pants and socks want. Eat, drink, be merry.


This is a hard band to write about. Their music is brutal, funny, dark, cynical, etc... etc... basically, hardcore for brainy (no pun intended, har har) nihilists who like to wax philosophical about the profound freedom one hopes to attain by creating something unrelentingly bleak, in turn, harnessing that negative energy into world-destroying fun. HUH?

Like I said, tough to put your finger on what makes them so special. Take their song "Bargains" for example: the manic chaos of the rhythm (their drummer is incredible); the "guitar solo" (in the most VOID sense of the term); the near indecipherability of the lyrics--that is of course'til you catch that perfectly, almost cartoonishly punk sneer of "BA-R-GENS". That lone utterance conjures such a weird context of possibility: what the fuck could this song be about? Ostensibly, bargains, right? Wait, what? Oh. Okay, cool.

Their blog, Hardly Human, is no shortage of awe inspiring, bummed out hilarity. Simultaneously, they're a band acutely self-aware of their existential futility and gleefully anarchic, irreverent, and drunk. How could you not be thrilled to straddle those awkward, clashing possibilities with a tape called "WHATEVER MAN FUCK EVERYTHING"? Is this complicated position becoming any clearer? Sure, you can say "fuck everything," but you're still taking the time and energy to do it. It's this contrarian spirit that pervades every drooling lyric, guitar tear, bass bend, and drum hit. It sounds like the act of smiling at someone as they kick your teeth in: inexplicably joyous despite the threat total destruction. Feels good to know you can feel something. I guess.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Call us, or just me if you want, hopelessly nostalgic or whatever, but man there's something about a good, loud guitar band in 2012. Especially those that are totally unconcerned with how new or Ohsees-like their stuff sounds.

Dreamdecay's stuff really reminds me of what I like so much about Vaz and Unwound. Loud, kind of solid state ringy guitar tone, and cold, but human hammering repetition. "Noise rock" gets overused here at Total Fest, but I mean, I think we kind of seek it out, and are also pleasantly surprised when it noise rock, done well, finds us. Like for example with this Seattle group called Dreamdecay who popped out of exactly nowhere, onto all of our highly anticipated groups list. They seem to be playing shows with rad bands like Gun Outfit and Milk Music, and have a pleasantly basic blog. I also hear the Mayyors somewhere in this.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pins of Light: Visions of the Future

We're excited to welcome San Francisco's Pins of Light out to Total Fest this year. We've hosted many a great bands from their neck of the woods in the past (Street Eaters, PIGS, Saviours, Wildildlife, etc) and have been hearing whispers about this rad and relatively new band over the past year. They recently released their debut album II on the ever-excellent Alternative Tentacles earlier this year, had a song or two featured on a Thrasher skate vid (linked below) and come from a long lineage of equally awesome and explosive punk bands from the past and present such as Dead and Gone, Hightower, Triclops! and others.

Their LP's opener 4112 blasts off into a galloping, NWOBHM-inspired jam, and as the record powers on, the band explores some spacier territory with plenty of earth-shaking riffs and dark, futuristic themes (as if the record's cover art was not an indicator). We're not the first to compare bassist/vocalist Shane Baker's vocals to KARP's Jared Warren or even Motorhead's Lemmy, and for obvious reasons, we probably won't be the last. While the band draws influence from those mentioned above they cover quite a bit of ground with their driving and all-over-the-place mix of heavy metal, punk, prog and stoner rock. It's hard to 'pin' down but it is some extraordinary stuff, none the less, and we're looking forward to having them in Missoula this August.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dikes of Holland: Keeping Austin (and Missoula) Wired

Since the emergence of early 21st century marketing strategies encouraging our respective cities to keep themselves “weird,” I’ve heard many a road worn traveler--myself included--note comparisons between Austin and Missoula: semi-isolated, progressive strongholds in spite of the surrounding area’s more red-state proclivities; thriving music communities; a shared love of river floating; a deep communal urge to praise Jah Himself through the inhalation of the stickiest of ickies; etc... etc... We two towns also have a deep tradition of producing and having a serious love for Thee Good Time Rockin’ Garage Band™. Recently, Missoula has seen an avid resurgence of appreciation for these kinds of party tunes, and our fair share of new local bands stylistically obliging to go with it. It’s an appreciation that never really left--but seems stronger now than ever. Weird stuff? Sure. Also amped up, rowdy and playfully destructive. And not to sound presumptuous, but I suspect we Missoulian’s are going to cotton pretty hard to Austin’s Dikes Of Holland for this very reason.

Take the song “No Desire” off their self-titled record. It starts off with a single anxious, pulsing guitar chord. The band kicks in. Alright, man. YES. It’s droning and shaking like Swell Maps took a detour on their way to Marineville in favor for Germany in 1972, with a dash of freakbeat ah-ah vocals. Brief melodies and hooks pop in and out of the tide. This shit is cruising speed. Suddenly, the band drops out. A plaintive chord and voice proclaim and repeat: “Ain’t got no more desire.” Is this defeat? Are you leaving us so soon? The band responds with a demonic NOPE as they kick back in sounding like a particularly agitated Hot Snakes on some new amphetamine shriek. It’s the sonic equivalent to flaming double middle fingers from someone who’s teen-wolfing a hearse on their way to the blood bank for lunch. It’s dark. It’s fun. It’s fucking cool.

Their whole record rabidly rocks and rolls like this. Vibes from the Cramps and the Sonics shine through; maybe a little Mummies, the Fugs. Attitude music. Stuff that reminds you school is a waste of time and Sunday nights are just as good as any to party. And without fail, every time you think Dikes of Holland are about crash for the night with that half full beer in their hand, they’re back on the coffee table screaming, telling you how much they hate your parents. I want to hate my parents too.


Straight from Olympia, Babies! Broken Water is a three-some of self-declared feminists and grunge-aholics. In an interchanging instrumentation of bass, guitar and drums, Abigail, Kanako, and Jon blend together punk and pop with shoegaze and psychedalia. If you enjoy Total Fest veterans like RVIVR, Milk Music, and Gun Outfit as much as I do then Broken Water is a must see/hear/experience. Just consult Maximum Rock and Roll if you don’t believe me (specifically issue #320) or check out their new full length Tempest released by Hardly Art. I can’t wait to watch this band and fantasize about being them. Broken Water is not gender specific and watching them is like watching three ambiguous people hum together, it really doesn’t matter who has the dick. Maybe it is not okay to say that, but their songs like “Stop Means Stop” and “Boyfriend Hole" lead me to believe that their brand of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm so well hidden in their tunes overcomes the suffocating political correctness that surrounds the topics of gender, sexuality and politics. Stop being so sensitive and let the music stroke your gender, whatever that means.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Breaking Bread with the Dragon: Sandrider Returns

We're happy to welcome back Seattle's Sandrider to Total Fest this year. They were a freshly assembled band back in 2009 that melted more than a few unsuspecting faces. Why people were so surprised was a bit baffling. The three members, Jon Weisnewski, Nat Damm, and Jesse Roberts have quite the pedigree beneath them. Jon and Nat hail from (the all too fresh ashes) of Akimbo, and Jesse from Ruby Doe. The band is extremely solid and sound like they've been playing together for more than just a few years.

For a variety of reasons, their self-titled, and highly anticipated, debut LP didn't come out until 2011 on Good To Die Records, but Sandrider built-up a solid reputation based on their thunderous live performances. For my money, it's one of the best albums of last year, and the tastemakers have been flipping their heads with new adjectives to describe the band. They've been dubbed approachable stoner rock and described as slightly less violent chaos, but it's hard, and ultimately unnecessary, to find an adequate definition for a band that meanders and crushes all at the same time.

The tempered screams are tracked by forceful riffs and punctuated with colossal drums. It's more than just a genre, Sandrider exposes all the raw nerves and muscle that makes you realize that heavy music is best when it's felt. They're still one of the most fun, well-rounded, volcanic bands that I've seen. The band has erupted from its once dreaded "side project" status into one of the most hard hitting, power trios in the north west. In one way, Sandrider marks a resurrection of Seattle's heavy heydays, but, much more so, the band is building on that sound, taking it in new and exciting directions that should force us all to realize how damn lucky we are to have them return.

You have your warning this time; don't look so surprised when they slap you in the face.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Be Helds: A Jangly Garage-Pop Explosion

As they were one of my absolute favorite bands to play in Missoula, I was pretty bummed when I learned that The Be Helds were venturing out of our little mountain hamlet for the greener pastures of Austin, TX. First seeing them at the Top Hat (opening for another MSLA favorite and TotalFest IX veterans Rooster Sauce) I was blown away by the uncomplicated, infectious energy that the garage rock duo brought to the stage. I don't do this often--especially with local bands-- but after dancing through their whole set, I immediately walked over the to merch table and plopped down a measly $10 for their LP, Vol. 1.

With their multi-layered, yet decided lo-fi sound, The Be Helds exemplify everything garage rock is supposed to be about. Jordon Lybeck's simple bass-snare-tambourine beats are the perfect backbone to Ralston Coorough's retro inspired jangly, fuzzed out guitars while both halves of the duo contribute to the rowdy, riotous vocal harmonies that really tie the band's slightly out-of-focus pop melodies together.

If it weren't enough that they make such terrific music, Lybeck and Coorough are also two of the nicest young gentlemen around, and both seasoned Totalfest veterans as spectators. But for Totalfest XI, we're really really excited to welcome them back to Missoula as performers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Little Big Fiction

It's no surprise that we are massive fans of all things sludgy, noisy and abrasive - what with Wantage USA's history of scuzz-heavy rock releases and bands like Hammerhead, Black Elk, Akimbo and others laying waste to Total Fest crowds every year. 

So when Big Fiction's new slab of rumbling thunder, Prison Van, arrived in our mailbox earlier this spring, we were overjoyed at the nascent group's take on an old familiar sound.  These four fellas call Arlington, Texas home, and though they've only been around for a couple years, their blown-out long player caught us off guard, hooking us right from the start. It's loaded with caustic riffing, a pummeling rhythm section and a raw, frenetic energy that harkens back to old Total Fest favorites, yet, carries a youthful punk rock spirit all its own. We're stoked to have them (and their prison van) out to Missoula this August for Total Fest XI - our little celebration of big riffs under a big sky.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Nothing quite captures that feeling while your moving around the concrete labyrinth like buildings. Not exactly the band, here, but those towering structures that help form our pathways. What's more fundamental to a cityscape than those brick, glass and granite effigies we build in celebration of our mastery over nature? Sure buildings like to pretend that they're slick, impenetrable facades (ok buildings don't, but their designers do -- or at least attempt to choreograph our experience, but, the truth is, they're covered in shit. From literal shit to graffiti to the residual elements in the air, buildings are virtual sponges that silently record and fossilize the miniscule strata we're lucky enough to leave behind. Here, in Missoula, we like to pretend that buildings don't dominate our landscape. The silhouettes of the Wilma, Millennium Building, and First Interstate are dwarfed by the lumbering profiles of Jumbo and Sentinel. Hell, MB and FI hoped that their glass facades would  efface their presence by reflecting the surrounding skyline. We're not idiots; we realize that we need to go indoors to accomplish certain things, but, somehow, we pretend that buildings aren't part of our landscape. It's a nice luxury. (Did we mention musings in the initial post?)  ... Missoula presents an interesting, if not outright contradictory, intersection between development and conservation. We like it, and we loathe it. Our blood boils over every roundabout, pedestrian path, condo, box store, renovation project. That's the rub of it. We exist in our space, but we willfully ignore or nostalgically pine ....

Minneapolis's Buildings is one of those occasions that don't melt into the peripheral. They're hard, mathematical, straight-forward, and mercurial. Reminiscent of Jesus Lizard, there's an explosive, yet reserved aggression that builds up to an infinite series of releases. Fuck, man -- kick the genre-police to the curb. it's good, old fashioned hardcore pressed through 20 years of frustration of being mired in "post" this or "post" that. It shovels its own shit. They've been around for six plus years, but 2012's Melt, Cry,Sleep is an album that announces itself. I don't remember how or when I first heard them, but I was absolutely blown away. I stalked them on the internet for a few and waited patiently for a show close to home. It didn't happen. Next option? Bring that hard-hitting stuff to Missoula. So here we are: a Building's structured demolition. Unlike cheap-shot, one-trick pony, media hounds like Howler, Buildings re-situates and erects (pun intended) Minneapolis as a benchmark for music. There's no entitlement going on here. Hardworking dudes, pounding out riff after riff and layering it with that rejuvenated, pissed-off scaffolding that allows us all to breathe a little easier. 

2012 Begins Now

We've been promising this for a few weeks. Apologies for our delay.

We received an overwhelming number of great submissions this year. A few evenings spilled into a handful of marathon listening sessions, followed by days of talking through the crazy amount of talent that came through the submissions inbox. By no means is it a perfect system, but we, here at Total Fest, feel like we've come up with an awesome, well-rounded line-up that will get your blood moving. We have a limited amount of slots, and we're saddened by some of the bands that we have to leave out of the festival. It's tough, but it's a welcome problem to face. Thank you to everyone that put their hat into the ring. Submitting to a festival can be a tough, cold process, and we hope that we add a little more of a human element to things. We appreciate all the support  that you give us. Although it seems trite at times, it simply cannot be said enough -- Total Fest does not and cannot exist without you.

Lamentations aside, we're frickin' stoked about this year. We have approximately 45 bands lined-up, and there's not an out in the bunch. It's rewarding to see this come together, and we hope you'll erase that pencil and solidly ink in your travel plans for the 16th-18th.
A few changes: We'll be posting more as the days go by, but, unlike previous years, we'll throw-up a dozen or so bands at a time and follow-up with some write-ups and general musings on individual bands. So, without further ado here is the first installment for Total Fest XI:

Big Fiction    Arlington, TX
Brain Tumors    Minneapolis, MN
Broken Water    Olympia, WA
Buildings    Minneapolis, MN
Dikes of Holland    Austin, TX
Dreamdecay    Seattle, WA
No-Fi Soul Rebellion    Bellingham, WA
Pins of Light    San Francisco, CA
Rock n Roll Adventure Kids    Berkeley, CA
Roomrunner    Baltimore, MD
Sandrider    Seattle, WA
The Be Helds    Austin, TX

Stay tuned for blog posts on these bands with more updates to follow in the coming weeks!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Mucho Waito, Newso Soono. 
Seriously, we know. It's been so dang long since we let on anything. Just take a look at Freddie, watch this weird Blind Shake vid. and chill your proverbial nugz, mon. We'll be turning loose some meganouncement tres soon. Promise.

We've just gotten through about four nights worth of work checking out radical submissions, emailing and calling all sorts of folks, and let's just say, it's gonna be a big year.