- 1146 miles

Cole Cash – “Alkaline”

Sometimes the only way to break up monotony in life is to thrust yourself into an unfamiliar situation. It can be a dramatic, “pick-up-and-move-to-a-new-city” kind of decision or something more subtle. Take, for example, when 1146’s own Matt asked if I wanted to check out a concert in Annapolis a few weeks ago. I had not ever heard any of the acts, and I intentionally decided not to listen before the show in the hopes of being happily surprised; indeed, I was. The first band to play was Baltimore’s caustic yet joyous SUN CLUB. They were followed by an excellent set by the very talented Friendly People. But the biggest surprise of the night, for me, was the closing act: an acoustic set performed by two members of Annapolis’ own Cole Cash.

I had already chalked the night up as a success by the time 1/2 of Cole Cash (multi-instrumentalist Thom Beall and vocalist/guitarist Bri Ong) took the stage; their performance elevated the night of music from really good to something truly special. Their mournful melodies backed by gentle yet complex guitar arrangements instantly caught my ear as being uncommonly beautiful. My favorite song of the night, which if I recall correctly is entitled “Perturbed”, was revealed to be written about a girl in attendance at the show who apparently left. (I’m very curious if they would have played it if she stuck around!)

Thom graciously handed me a CD of their 2012 LP Radio, What Radio?. It’s been my companion in the car ever since. Album opener “Faded” leads in with a math-y electric guitar figure reminiscent of a Danny Elfman theme. “Humanity” has an alternative groove a la classic Pixies. But my favorite track does an excellent job of representing their acoustic talents: the folky “Alkaline” (listen below). The song’s harmonies and optimistic shuffle never cease to hit me right in the gut. The group’s lyrics are earnest and poetic without ever feeling forced. I hope to see them again live, in either a full-band configuration or another acoustic set. Until then, I’ll keep replaying “Alkaline” and singing along in the Mazda, butchering the melodies and harmonies to my heart’s content.

The Penguins – “Earth Angel”

I find it hard to believe that 3 months have passed since my vacation to Iceland; I enjoy the memories from the trip on a daily basis. One of my favorite moments was the last meal of the trip, at a restaurant right in the center of Reykjavik. I can’t remember the name of the place (and probably couldn’t pronounce it while I was there), nor do I remember what I had to eat. But I do remember 1) falling madly in love with the waitress and 2) the stereo drifting a lovely doo-wop playlist throughout the room. I don’t think the two were mutually exclusive.

Ever since that trip, I’ve been obsessed with rock and roll’s predecessor genre. I bought a compilation album, Great Doo-Wop Classics, and have been belting out the tunes in my apartment and car ever since. My current favorite from the batch is The Penguins’ “Earth Angel”. A staple of the genre, you’ve likely heard it in one form or another. Green Day even covers it in concert occasionally.

“Earth Angel” features a chord progression familiar to anyone alive in the past 60 years. There’s just something about the song’s dusty piano track, pleading vocals, and heart-yanking harmonies that defies explanation. *cue deep late-night radio voice* Maybe it’ll bring back memories of a junior high dance, a mid-20’s fling, or (if you’re lucky) that special someone sitting right next to you. *end radio voice*

Ok, back to translating “I’ll have the salmon, and will you marry me?” into Icelandic.

Cotton Jones – “Gone the Bells”

I’m no stranger to western Maryland. This gorgeous, weird land has much more in common with John Denver’s vision of West Virginia than The Wire’s Baltimore or spring break in Ocean City. Driving through the formidable valleys and sunny plains always feels like traveling back a bit in time and space; it makes total sense that Cotton Jones and their earthy sound hail from these rolling  hills.

The sound of the folk quartet hearkens back to the psychedelic folk days of the mid 1960’s; their production style reinforces the dusty-vinyl aesthetic. “Gone the Bells”, the fourth track from their 2009 release Paranoid Cocoon, evokes nostalgia that Instragram only wishes it could emulate. The harmonies between frontman Michael Nau and his wife Whitney McGraw are dreamily nestled between the floating acoustic and electric guitar lines. A swirling organ sweetly fills out the instrumental passages.

I’ve known about Cotton Jones for a while, but didn’t get truly sucked in until I saw them open for Dr. Dog at the 9:30 Club this past winter. I was totally engrossed by the soaring melodies and focused performance. After their set, Dr. Dog thanked them for opening, and mentioned that ‘those guys are the real deal’. I couldn’t agree more.

While some may question their dedication to old-school stylistic choices, I can’t get enough of it. So excuse me while I don some bell-bottoms and light the incense. And by bell-bottoms, I mean sweatpants. And by incense, I mean Glade Air-Fresh Gingerbread candle. Hey. It’s not like I’m in the band. But I will certainly play “Gone the Bells” about 8 more times tonight. Mmm… gingerbread.

Gone The Bells

Photo Credit: Culture Bully

Tera Melos – “Sunburn”

The flicker of the “ON-AIR” light. The smell of the fuzzy microphone cover. Phone calls from listeners in other countries. These are all things I miss about being a radio DJ (at The Lion 90.7 FM!). But one thing I still get to enjoy is the thrill of hunting new, weird songs to share with the world. Gals and gents: Tera Melos is back.

The trio’s previous album, 2010’s Patagonian Rats, has only grown on me since obtaining it after one of their concerts in Baltimore. The band expertly crafts frantic, stuttering time signature shifts lightly peppered with catchy hooks and melodies. If you seek the more bizarre edge of indie rock, Nick Reinhardt (guitars, vox) and the boys will gladly light the path.

“Sunburn,” the first single from the band’s upcoming LP X’ed Out, bounces about with a springy guitar riff before diving into the beach bliss of the chorus. John Clardy, the band’s unrelenting drummer, pummels the track with frenzied drums that offset the innocence of the vocals. Imagine the Misfits and the Beach Boys had a child. A very weird, biologically-improbable child. It might slightly resemble this song.