The Cloud Room with Benzos
Wednesday · Southgate House (Parlour)
What a difference a decade can make. When bands in the '90s tried to attach the music of the '80s to create their own, they were derided as artless poseurs, unoriginal revivalists or worse. Maybe there's more perspective on the '80s now or maybe bands are just making better and more informed musical choices when it comes to referencing and revisiting that devalued decade's sonic highlights. New York's Cloud Room has learned the lesson well, mixing New Wave's melodic Pop, synthy bounce and spiky Rock with Punk's martial rhythms while updating the whole concoction to reflect their awareness of their place in the current musical milieu. Frontman J started the band last year when a promised internship with indie filmmaker Hal Hartley fell through and he found himself transplanted from California to Brooklyn with no other prospects. In a very short time, The Cloud Room (named for a famed speakeasy located in the Chrysler Building) has proven itself worthy of a number of impressive and deserved comparisons.
On their recently released eponymous debut album, J delivers a vocal that combines the tremulous vulnerability of Stephen Malkmus and the power and swing of David Bowie while the band (keyboardist Ben Nugent, bassist Jon Petrow, drummer Jason Pharr) follows a similar path, blending the cool synth Pop of New Order ("Hey Now Now"), with the arty Pop of Pavement ("Waterfall"), the poppier moments of The Cure ("Devoured by Peace"), the frenetic lockstep groove of Gang of Four ("Beautiful Mess," "The Hunger") and the dancehall Pop of David Bowie and Ray Davies ("We Sleep in the Ocean"). If you want to hear the band's Pet Shop Boys/New Order-tinged take on Willie Nelson's "You Were Always on My Mind," you'll have to hit the show; they haven't approached that one in the studio as yet. The Cloud Room succeeds by recalling and accentuating the human aspects of their '80s desires without succumbing to slavishly replicating the era for the sake of being retro, preferring to incorporate their influences into their contemporary musical vision. (Brian Baker)
The Sailing with Medic, The Terrors and Pale Beneath the Blue
Saturday · The Holy Grail
"The name The Sailing is exactly what we think we sound like," explains Tech Honors, keyboardist and singer for the Dayton quartet.
"Not necessarily sailing on a sailboat, but more like sailing through space." Though they've been together for three years, they're just recently taking the first steps from their formative cocoon. Definitely worth the wait, as the band boasts some amazingly thought-out artsy Rock with big balls. The Sailing has some familiar sounds, but they consistently dodge the "derivative" bullet. A combination of soft/loud/soft guitar-driven grooves recalls Radiohead and Muse, but Honors' vocals are too unique and varied to allow pigeonholing. There's also a greater focus on keyboards, but again rather than fall in line with today's mob of piano balladeers they liberally employ a host of patches, from tinkling toy piano to pipe organ. Plus, there isn't a hint of melancholy in their music anywhere. Even when it's low key, The Sailing's sound is very majestic and cinematic, offering an uplifting brightness to cling to.
"Inspiration mostly comes from anything epic," Honors explains. "Epic video games, movies, books and anything else that makes us want to raise one fist in the air and holler out a war cry while we reach for our light sabers and prepare for battle." Oh yeah, you read that right. The Sailing is not shy about their geeky tendencies. "Gus (Stathes, drums) is a Photo Hunt master, he scored over a million points once," Honors continues. "James (Webster, guitar) has never lost at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, never. Michael (Kirkland, bass) can do an amazing impression of Golem. Honestly, it's mind-boggling, and really creepy."
Honors himself works at Skyline and won a coney-making competition last year, a title he'll defend this month. "In summary, we're all really big dorks," he clarifies. More specifically, really talented dorks, an Ohio tradition that the local bands on the bill should also be proud to share. (Ezra Waller)
Hockey Night with VCR
Saturday · The Comet
It's not easy to come up with something original within a music industry that "elects" its Pop stars from a pool of karaoke singers and sees no problem with consultants suggesting a playlist of the same 112 songs for every radio station in the country. Luckily, Hockey Night comes from Minneapolis/St. Paul, where they have a history of routinely ignoring the status quo in favor of full-throttle originality. Following in the erratically trailblazing footsteps of The Replacements, Hüsker Dü and Prince, Hockey Night turns the idea of the Rock quartet on its ear by offering two guitarists (Paul Sprangers, Scott Wells) fronting two drummers (Alex Achen, Adam Harness) in the service of lo-fi Indie Pop that nods toward the naive classicism of Jonathan Richman, the sophisticated innocence of Pavement and the calculated spontaneity of Brian Eno.
The band actually began as a trio in the late '90s with Sprangers, Wells and Achen offering hot-wired Punk jams as The Renegades, a band that was often affectionately compared to Mr. Westerberg's loveable hometown screw-ups. Almost simultaneously, Sprangers embarked on a solo project consisting of 4-track bedroom demos under the banner of The Hockey Night, which eventually merged with the Renegades and became simply Hockey Night for the project's widely acclaimed debut, Rad Zapping, in 2002. In the intervening three years, Hockey Night has added Harness as their full-time second timekeeper and honed their skills on the way to their sophomore album and debut for Lookout! Records, Keep Guessin', where they expand the concept of Pavement intersected by the Modern Lovers, The Strokes, Brian Eno and the 'Mats, with flecks of the Velvet Underground and Crazy Horse and hints of Art Rock, Baroque Pop and Indie Punk. Hockey Night channels their various influences and directions with a tremulous harmony and an innate sense of both history and vision. (BB)