One of the blessings of our local music scene is its sheer magnitude and bounty. It's also a curse. Seven Days receives so many album submissions that we often don't find space to review everything that crosses our path in a timely fashion. But our mission is to get through everything that comes across the music desk. No matter what.
Here are four local albums that maybe flew under your radar. Some represent the outermost boundaries of local music. Others simply slipped through the cracks. All are worthy of your attention.
Rick & the All Star Ramblers Western Swing Band, Green Mountain Standard Time
(Airflyte Records, CD, digital download)
Once a cowboy, always a cowboy. Rick Norcross is Vermont's go-to guy for the thigh-slapping sounds of Western swing. The Academy of Western Artists has nominated Norcross and his sextet, the All Star Ramblers Western Swing Band, multiple times at its annual awards. Norcross even took home the prize for Best Western Swing Song in 2015 for "You Can't Make It Up." Green Mountain Standard Time is his latest collection of Vermont-via-Lone-Star-State tunes.
Traditional Western swing blends hillbilly country, Dixieland jazz and even polka with traditional swing. Norcross and co. are the local masters of tight, three-part harmonies, whirling organs, plucky accordion, bouncing bass lines and lots o' strings.
Included on the album's nearly 40 minutes are both covers and originals. Norcross takes on Hank Williams' novelty song "Fly Trouble" as well as fiddler contemporary Larry Franklin's "Texoma Bound." On the original songs, Norcross' signature Western style melds seamlessly with iconic Vermont, often making hyper-local references that only a Vermonter would get.
"Shelburne Yesterday" is an example. Norcross yearns for the days of yesteryear when his beloved Chittenden County life was simpler. Well, maybe not simpler, but more familiar. He recalls eating pickled eggs at the Shelburne Inn and Halloween shenanigans involving outhouse tipping on the Shelburne Green.
"They Say You Can't Take It With You (When You Go)" is a gospel-inspired number that turns the similarly phrased colloquialism on its head. According to Norcross, he can take it all with him, and he delivers a silly litany of items with which he plans to cross over. He sings, "I'm gonna take your burger flipper / I'm gonna take your rowboat skipper / I'm gonna take it with me when I go."
Subversive Intentions, Every Sound Is a Drone
(Zero Sum Recordings, cassette, digital download)
Raise your hand if you've ever been in the middle of making, say, scrambled eggs, when you took a look at your whisk and thought, I bet I could make a pretty rad noise album with this. We're not sure if that was the train of thought that led Subversive Intentions' maestro Nick Dentico to begin experimenting with kitchen utensils. But it's our working theory for now.
Dentico, a musical nomad who called Maine home before recently settling in Middlesex, has been experimenting with "bowed whisk" since at least 2013. On his latest release, Every Sound Is a Drone, he scrambles found sound with stainless steel kitchenware, resulting in an eerie, ethereal half hour of ambient noise. It's a fascinating, if challenging, listen.
Released on the boutique Brooklyn, N.Y., cassette label Zero Sum Recordings, the tape consists of two side-length movements. Each totals precisely 14 minutes and 54 seconds. Side A, "giving in to our autocratic robot masters," opens on three minutes of an unidentifiable circular noise that resembles marbles rolling around on an uneven floor. Eventually, this hypnotic sound is joined by a resonant, synth-like swell and what might be loon calls. Dentico's alternately soft and steely textures vie for space, ebbing and flowing with a curious synchronicity, though the inorganic sounds — our robot masters, presumably — ultimately dominate the soundscape.
Side B, "the branches that fell in the shrubs," continues the push and pull between natural and unnatural clamor. It's a darker, more ominous composition, flecked with almost inaudible crowd noises that ripple beneath a sheen of warped sirens and alarms. It's unsettling, as much for the vagueness of its opaque sounds as the vagueness of the shifting emotions it evokes.
Daniel Waterhouse, Feng Shui Croquet
(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Daniel Murphy is a Waterbury-based musician and producer. He's a guitarist and vocalist for the world-beat, funk-centric band ONEoverZERO. He also recently opened the Logic Base, a brand-new recording studio in Waterbury. As his first project in the new digs, Murphy wrote, tracked and produced his first solo record, Feng Shui Croquet, which he released under the name Daniel Waterhouse.
Throughout the album's six tracks, Murphy delivers a blend of alternative rock that yearns for grunge's heyday. A fondness for the Seattle sound echoes through every chunky guitar riff and languid hook. Vocally, he even recalls Soundgarden's Chris Cornell. At other times, Murphy veers away from the flannel-clad set, conjuring up a little bit of Beck in his delivery.
"Oversoul," the album's flagship song, takes its name from the Ralph Waldo Emerson essay "The Over-Soul." Conceptually, it's about an omnipresent spirit that's essentially the impetus of all creation. The song thumps by like a pep rally for existential enlightenment. A vocal ensemble rallies behind Murphy as it cries out over a slinky, unified guitar and bass line, "Light! Love! Grace! One! Might! Right! Truth!"
Murphy pays tribute to a cavalcade of musicians, writers and philosophers on "My Friends (That I'll Never Know)." He name-drops Bob Marley, Henry David Thoreau, Chuck D, the Dalai Lama and Kurt Cobain — just to name a few. He plays around with an unflashy, basic four-chord song structure, allowing his idols and their various ideals to take center stage.
The opening cut, "Melt Away," is all mood and atmosphere. It's as sparsely composed as it is eerily produced. Heavily plucked guitar and bass underscore Murphy's lament, "Don't live what I dream / Don't think what I say / Can't help but feel / My essence is betrayed."
Our Holy OrgasmicCosmic Rays, DEAR LORD, PHASE US
(Self-released, digital download)
Since 2014, Plattsburgh's Our Holy Orgasmic Cosmic Rays have been building to ... something. Each of the band's first three albums suggested that a larger diabolical plan for world domination was afoot. The deliciously fucked-up Phase One fired the first warning shot. Phase Two and Phase Three followed, naturally, ratcheting up the intensity — and volume — in increasingly unhinged measures.
The anti-supergroup's latest and most brazenly bizarre release, DEAR LORD, PHASE US, represents the band's long-awaited, full-frontal assault on humanity. And ears. And sanity.
As with OHOCR's previous works, DEAR LORD is not a particularly pleasant or easy listen. But, like a bad 1950s sci-fi flick, it has certain undeniable charms.
Front man Christopher "Tex Rex" Ribzbee preaches degenerate poetry with frightening derangement — imagine Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs leading a noise band. His bandmates indulge his mania with a gleeful frenzy of their own, often evoking low-budget sci-fi sound effects amid the lunatic stomp and crunch of guitars, drums and the occasional death ray.
DEAR LORD diverges from OHOCR's earlier works in that it doesn't solely rely on punishing noise to enslave listeners — though there is plenty of teeth-rattling cacophony, such as in "Sand in His Butthole." Instead, the band takes a softer, almost nuanced approach on cuts such as the oddly serene "Mosquito Requiem" and the goofily robotic "GO!" This suggests OHOCR has achieved something close to artistic sentience, which might be the most terrifying thing of all.