Thursday, June 30, 2011

Boston hearts the 9tz: Today's hot new crop of local bands have (sorta) old souls

Photo: LARA CALLAHAN


Check out this piece I wrote for Stuff Magazine Boston <3s the 9tz: Today's hot new crop of local bands have (sorta) old souls about how the nineties are the new eighties in Boston, and probably everywhere else too but who cares. And while you're there go read this piece in my usual Liquid column about how being in a band and being a bartender are the exact same thing and the rest of the cool stuff in the Music Issue here.

I was walking down Boylston Street a couple of months ago, past the spot where I used to smoke cigarettes (and try to get people to notice me smoking cigarettes) back in my days at Emerson. And I realized all the kids were wearing XXL flannel shirts, cut-off corduroys, and giant socks billowing out of dirty Doc Martens. I thought to myself, "Weird, I guess we're doing this '90s nostalgia thing already." Then I got depressed about my inevitable mortality, but that's pretty standard. 


I should have seen it coming. We've already wrung every last drop of neon synth juice out of the '80s by now. And these nostalgia feedback loops tend to run in predictable cycles. Here we are about 15 years from the grunge decade's meaty nucleus, and the train is arriving right on schedule. With Portlandia, the IFC satire of the quintessential '90s city, Fred Armisen of SNL and Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein are rehashing ancient hipster clich├ęs for gags. The quintessential alternative video show, 120 Minutes, is coming back this year to MTV2, presumably with actual videos and definitely with affable '90s bro Matt Pinfield at the helm. Young bands like the UK's Yuck are blowing up on the back of their Dinosaur Jr. and Yo La Tengo shtick, while Austin's Ringo Deathstarr are blowing minds - and eardrums - with their MBV and J&MC noise attack (that's My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain, young'uns). And recently reunited '90s grunge-metal icons Soundgarden are about to embark on a summer tour.

Oh man. Remember the '90s? It was so rad. Boston music fans probably love the '90s more than most, because that was the decade were we were the most relevant on the national rock stage. You could actually see a half-dozen Massachusetts bands on MTV on any given day back then. Weird, right? Just this year, we've seen shows from big Boston bands past like Buffalo Tom and Papas Fritas, even a few shows from Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield (the most swoon-worthy '90s drug buddies ever). And late-'90s Boston rock heroes the Sheila Divine have officially reunited and are recording their first album of new material in years.

"I definitely notice the '90s coming back," says Aaron Perrino of the Sheila Divine. "I'm hearing lots of bands influenced by shoegazer stuff, and then I hear a lot of bands doing Smashing Pumpkins- and Pavement/Dinosaur Jr.-type rock. Our culture continues to recycle itself, and it seems like the echo chamber is happening a lot faster. I am definitely excited for the resurgence of Brit pop, but scared to death of a return to grunge."

Nate Rogers has noticed the trend too. The organizer of the Mixtape series, which brings Boston bands together for one night to perform covers of songs from a single year, was gearing up for the 1997 edition in early June when we spoke. "The '90s editions definitely get the most pre-show buzz," he says. "I'd have to say it's a coming-of-age thing. When I chose 1997 for this edition, it was met with some dubious responses, because my peers, aka fellow ‘olds,' were like, ‘Dude, that music was terrible - "Semi-Charmed Life" and "Sex and Candy." ' But like it or not, this was the seminal music for some kid out there who got his first handjob in the car to ‘Bittersweet Symphony.' And now those very kids want to relive the glory, either by starting '90s-flavored bands or coming to Mixtape shows."

And those very kids include the six buzz-worthy Boston bands you'll meet in the next few pages. They're coming to an iPod and stage near you, so read up on their stories, sounds, and upcoming shows - and their major soft spots for the '90s. And then get listening: taken together, they make a perfect throwback soundtrack to summer.

Photo: STEPHEN LABOLLITA


FULL BODY ANCHOR
Influences:
Quicksand, Archers of Loaf, My Bloody Valentine, Deftones, and Dinosaur Jr.
Hear them now:
on The Restless EP at fullbodyanchor.bandcamp.com.
Hear them live:
on July 15 at O'Brien's.

"I really do see [the '90s coming back] on a local level," says singer Eric "Rice" Edmonston of the Boston-based indie-rockers Full Body Anchor, who formed in 2009 and turned a lot of heads at this year's Rock 'n' Roll Rumble at T.T. the Bear's. "[There's] the shoegaze crew like Dirty Dishes, Static of the Gods, and Endless Wave, or some of the more Chapel Hill-type bands like Butterknife. Of course, Varsity Drag has that '90s edge too," says Edmonston. "It's great to see local bands sharing in their love for such a great era of music." 

The band's latest, The Restless EP, their third release, is a collection of five songs that straddle the line between romantic and anthemic. Think a heavier Buffalo Tom, with the screamy fuzz of Archers of Loaf and the fiercely droning effects of Hum. 

The members of the five-piece were in high school in the early '90s, Edmonston says. "That's when we really started playing and exploring music. We still love and listen to a lot of those bands that we grew up with, and it really plays a major factor in what and how we write songs as a band. I would have to say my fondest musical memories are getting to see the bands I fell in love with in small venues in Boston, like Sloan and Idaho at T.T.'s, Creeper Lagoon at Bill's Bar, or Low and Soul Coughing at the Paradise." Now they're playing Hub stages and inspiring quite a few band crushes of their own.

Photo: LARA CALLAHAN


 
DIRTY DISHES
Influences:
Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana, Deftones, Stone Temple Pilots, and Fugazi.
Hear them now:
on In the Clouds at stolenapples.com.
Hear them live:
on July 31 at Great Scott. 

It's only natural to be influenced by the era of your youth, Dirty Dishes' multi-instrumentalist Alex Molini says. His outfit, by the way, is my new favorite Boston band of the year. I've been describing the band as Juliana Hatfield singing songs from Gish with J Mascis on guitar. A friend said it was the Breeders having a baby with Minus the Bear. But whatever their forerunners, they may be the most likely of the new crop of bands to make it out of here alive, if shows like their recent appearance at the B.O.M.B. Fest, where they opened for the likes of Weezer and Best Coast, and their nomination as best new act in the Boston Phoenix/WFNX Best Music Poll are any indication. 

The young Allston/Somerville four-piece, who played their first show in February of '09 and released a debut EP later that year, are currently in the process of finishing up a forthcoming record. You can count on it having some '90s sheen. "Musicians are influenced by the music they grow up around, and those who stay true to their inspiration and why they got into music in the first place will always leave traces of that in their current music," Molini explains. "It's embedded in them as artists. People think musicians and bands just appear out of nowhere and that it's some coincidence that musical styles and genres are cyclical, when in fact being a musician is a lifelong process."

 "I remember buying Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins when I was in sixth grade," Molini adds with a smile. "I have yet to stop listening to it."
Photo: LARA CALLAHAN



THE YEAR MILLION
Influences:
Nirvana, Radiohead, Oasis, Jane's Addiction, R.E.M., Failure, the Stone Roses, Jeff Buckley, and Shiner.
Hear them now:
on The Year Million at music.theyearmillion.com.
Hear them live:
on July 16 at the Middle East Upstairs.

"It's been bubbling up from under the surface for a while now, I think," guitarist Jason Calieri says of the '90s resurgence. He and his band mates, who call Brighton HQ, have had it in mind since they released their first EP, The Year Million, in 2010. "There seems to be a slight shift towards guitar and away from synth, and you're seeing bands pop up with shoegaze or grunge influences. If we start to hear some bands drawing upon early-'90s post-hardcore (Quicksand, Helmet, Orange 9mm), hey, that would be cool too. Hopefully nu-metal will stay dead and buried, though. I don't think the world needs a resurgence of wallet chains and baggy pants." 

I hear a distinct Incubus vibe in his band's sound, though Calieri points to Jane's Addiction as one of the most important influences. Either way, theirs is a hypnotizing, sexier slant on the muscular '90s guitar sound. "There was a really awesome time for music - sort of a holdover from late-'80s alt rock, right before all the Seattle bands hit, when some great stuff was happening. And that's when I first heard Jane's, and was completely blown away. [They were] gorgeous and epic."

Photo: LARA CALLAHAN



GUILLERMO SEXO
Influences:
Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, Sonic Youth, Guided by Voices, Archers of Loaf, Swervedriver, Lush, Pavement, Built to Spill, the Pixies, and My Bloody Valentine.
Hear them now:
on Vivid Nights at guillermosexo.bandcamp.com.
Hear them live:
on July 16 at the release party for their forthcoming record, Secret Wild, at Precinct.

"I think it's cool that this is happening," says guitarist and vocalist Reuben Bettsak. "But like with any resurgence, there are bands that do it well and bands that just suck at getting the sound right, or maybe they just suck at writing songs." Guillermo Sexo certainly don't fall into the latter category, though they do mine the tinny, feedback-heavy '90s for their sound; they even record with Justin Pizzoferrato, an engineer who has also worked with Dinosaur Jr. and Thurston Moore. 

Even before Bettsak (the only original member left in the group) founded the band in 2004, he was enamored of the '90s Boston sounds - think Syrup USA, the Dambuilders, the Wicked Farleys, and Swirlies. Bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth further shaped his guitar playing, and such influences are evident in the band's shouty, danceable, high-energy rock, which somehow ends up being a lot more fun than those style markers might make you think. "I can't help but dial in those fuzzy, distorted delay sounds of the '90s," Bettsak says. "It's part of our sound. Our goal is to take those influences and create something that sounds different." 


Photo: JEROME ENO


 
YOUNG ADULTS
Influences:
Dinosaur Jr., Fugazi, My Bloody Valentine, Lifetime, Number Girl, Green Day, Nirvana, and Sonic Youth.
Hear them now:
on Black Hole at youngadultsma.bandcamp.com.
Hear them live:
on July 2 at Great Scott and July 16 at Precinct. 

"It was only a matter of time before the overtly '90s sound came back around," says guitarist and vocalist Chris Villon of the swirling, noisy rock three-piece Young Adults, who've been punching it out in the Allston trenches for about two years and released their first LP, Black Hole, in Europe last fall. "But I feel that in part it never went away. I just think that the more overlooked (in popular culture) bands from the '90s are now being championed as the true torchbearers of that sound, which they certainly are. Instead of Pearl Jam and Blink 182, we're talking about Sebadoh and Yo La Tengo. That's a way better discussion." But he does admit that one of his own fondest '90s musical memories involves major hit-makers. "This is gonna make a lot of people feel old, but bringing home Green Day's Dookie was an exciting moment in my life," he says. "I played that thing until it was scratched to shit." 

Drummer Kurt Villon, Chris's brother, agrees that the '90s are having a moment, both locally and nationally. "I have noticed this not only with music but an overall image. The fashion and sound are making a comeback. Just like any time period, the '90s are most definitely being rehashed. . . . We played a show a little while back, and three of the four bands were grungy. Someone asked if we were at a show in the '90s."

Photo: LARA CALLAHAN



MOONS
Influences:
Hum, Swervedriver, and Failure.
Hear them now:
on "Jupiter Drive" at wearemoons.bandcamp.com.
Hear them live:
in August at a TBD locale.

"There's some kind of trend happening, and it's been slowly building over the past couple of years," says multi-instrumentalist and singer Aaron Cerretti of the spacey fuzz-rock outfit Moons, who are set to release their debut record, Stasis, in early summer. (And if the rest of it is as good as teaser track "Jupiter Drive," they could be jumping to the head of the line soon.)

Guitarist Sean Delay agrees. "Look at [recent] tribute albums for bands like Failure and Hum, for example. A lot of amazing music came out of that decade. Part of it might be the generation gap creeping up on people who missed out the first time - including us, to a certain extent. Whatever the reason for the trend and whatever you want to call the trend, it's really great to see a revival of crunchy, guitar-driven, riff-oriented rock with hooks, real singing, and some balls." 

"We all come from metal and hardcore backgrounds, but '90s rock is a big, conscious influence on us," says drummer Liam McCabe. "Our '90s time machine will never power down."

Stuff

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