Two great Cincinnati-based bands take over Over-the-Rhine’s MOTR Pub (motrpub.com) this weekend to celebrate their excellent new releases with free shows.
• On Friday, rockers Frontier Folk Nebraska will trumpet the release of their third full-length, Frontier F**k Nebraska (the cover of which is presented to the right), which was recently released nationally by No Chaser Records and made available as a digital download (via frontierfolknebraska.bandcamp.com) and on cool multi-colored vinyl (which can also be ordered through the Bandcamp site). Friday’s 10 p.m. record release show will also feature a performance by Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker from Wussy.
FFN will continue its release party weekend at Saturday’s free Longstone Street Festival in Milford alongside Cleveland, Ohio’s The Lighthouse and the Whaler, plus local favorites Shiny and the Spoon, Ben Lapps, Noah Smith and many others (visit longstonestreetfestival.com for complete info).
Frontier Folk Nebraska’s previous albums have gradually upped the Rock factor; the quartet’s 2009 debut, Pearls, and 2011’s self-titled full-length blended distorted rockers with some rootsy moments and lovely acoustic-based tunes. Though the band fairly consistently reminded fans and new listeners that, despite its name, it wasn’t a “Folk” band, the acoustic pieces and subtle twang still caused confusion for some.
With Frontier F**k Nebraska, the band goes into full-out Rock & Roll mode and only barely lets up over the course of the album’s 12 superb tracks, putting the “Folk” association to rest fully. Perhaps that’s why there are a couple of asterisks in the album’s title, where Folk once stood. (Are the asterisks a “f**k you” to those who wouldn’t let the Folk expectations die? Who knows — maybe the word is “fork” or “funk”?)
The new album kicks off with the soaring “Desert Car Chase” and “I’m Electric, Call Me Lighting,” full-throttle, ragged-glory rockers with piercing melodies that stick hard and fast (you’ll have the “I’m electric, I’m electric/Call me lighting, call me lighting” stuck in your head for hours after your first spin through the record).
The often high-register vocals are especially strong on Frontier F**k Nebraska, distantly reminiscent of Jim James, Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell and, somewhat oddly, U2’s Bono. The songwriting is also impeccable, with tracks like “Coward in Skin,” “French Made Dress” and “The Well” veering into catchy Pop Rock territory. There are a few sublime gentler moments on Frontier F**k Nebraska that are riveting; the slow swaying “Smoke King” features beautiful, dripping slide guitar riffs, while stellar closing track “The Glass House” is an atmospheric, melancholy acoustic gem.
Other highlights include the yearning stomper “Buffalo Summer” and the rollicking “TV Spies,” which sounds like it could’ve been stolen from the stockpile of great songs Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard has hidden in his bunker.
From start to finish, Frontier F**k Nebraska is an engrossing listen. It’s an album in the mold of Wilco’s Being There or My Morning Jacket’s Z and is not just one of the best Cincinnati-spawned LPs of the year, but one of the best Rock & Roll records you’ll hear in 2014 from anyone.
• Saturday night, local Indie Rock duo Pop Empire returns with its third album, Future Blues. The band will have copies of the CD version of the album — featuring special artwork and hand-printed sleeves — available at Saturday’s release show at MOTR, where Pop Empire will be joined by locals Little Lights and Austin, Texas’ Love Inks for the 10 p.m. performance. The album will also be available for download via popempire.bandcamp.com.
Pop Empire’s membership is a little different this time around. Future Blues is the first album from the band to feature new guitarist Ryan Back, who steps in for Cameron Cochran (who now plays with Jeremy Pinnell and the 55’s). There’s not a huge difference in the sound though, with Henry Wilson’s vocals and production remaining at the band’s core. The album still takes elements of Blues, Pop and various shades of Rock (plus some light electronics and subtle moments of experimentalism) to come up with a magnetic sound that straddles the history of Rock & Roll. Wilson’s charismatic voice sounds like a mix of Marc Bolan’s swaggering cool and Buddy Holly’s elastic earnestness.
Highlights from an early preview promo of the album include “Ain’t Got a Cent” and “Psycho,” with their shimmery guitar bends and beachside haziness sounding like something David Lynch might put in a film, and “Blue Circle,” which buzzes and struts like T Rex. Elsewhere, “Drop in the Flood” boogies with the sunshiny melodics of a lost ’60s Psych Pop nugget.
After Future Blues is released, Pop Empire plans to perform frequently across the region and release videos and artwork related to the album through collaborations with various artists in Cincinnati and beyond. Keep tabs on what’s coming next from the band at popempire.com.