Before 2015, Animal Circles Go to 'Summer Camp'

Plus, Zak Morgan and The Guitars offer musical celebrations for Christmas

Dec 22, 2014 at 3:34 pm
click to enlarge Animal Circles' 'Summer Camp'
Animal Circles' 'Summer Camp'

Dynamic Indie rockers Animal Circles appear to have the final Cincinnati-spawned release of 2014, dropping their new eight-song effort, Summer Camp, in conjunction with a release party this Saturday. The 10 p.m. show at MOTR Pub (1345 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, also features a performance by excellent locals Mardou. The show is free.

Summer Camp is the trio’s follow-up to last year’s superb full-length debut, Eva Lee, and shows even more diversity. Frontman Jeff Gowdy guides Animal Circles with his fantastic vocals and eclectic guitar playing, but the contributions of drummer Zaq Fox and bassist Matt Crone should not be overlooked. Their playing is melodic, intuitive and creative, proving to be a perfect match for the often unpredictable song structuring.

The release begins with “Big Greed Machine,” a fast-paced, bug-eyed slab of Punk energy, before slipping into the reverbed-out Surf Rock of “Children.” Though built around a surf-y vibe, “Children” quickly morphs into a great Post Punk song, a testament to Animal Circles ability to shape-shift at moment’s notice, even mid-track. It’s that kind of creative blending of influences (along with the core writing) that makes Summer Camp such a thoroughly entertaining listen from top to bottom.

For “Copper,” the group dips into Country Punk mode, while “Vestidos del Sol” swaggers on a bluesy strut before exploding into its riled-up chorus, and “Devil” sounds like a lost collaboration between Arctic Monkeys and Reverend Horton Heat. After the short but sweet Indie Pop closer “Summer Song,” the band sneaks in a “bonus track” of sorts, an endearing, woozy lo-fi tangent that features just Gowdy’s voice and piano.

Despite the disparate influences behind Summer Camp, the band has developed a strong gift for blending various styles into its own distinctive sound. Whether employing Surf guitar or riding a Psychobilly rhythm, every track on Summer Camp sounds like Animal Circles and no one else. That’s a testament to the group’s great songwriting and arrangement skills; in lesser hands, Summer Camp might sound like simple genre tourism. Though it came in just under the wire, Summer Camp is certainly one of the better 2014 releases by a Cincinnati act.

For more on Animal Circles visit To stream and/or purchase Summer Camp, go to

Local Music for the Holidays

• Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Zak Morgan, best known for his creative music for kids, has released a collection of Christmas songs for the holidays. Simply titled Christmas, the album is a collaboration with esteemed local producer/guitarist Ric Hordinski. Hordinski produced the album and plays gorgeous acoustic guitar on it; he also provides the crafty arrangements for almost every track and composed one of the album’s highlights, “Waltz for Martha,” a lovely, emotive instrumental. (Dan Dorff provides drums and percussion on the album and Andrea Summer provides background vocals on a few tracks.)

Though the album is credited to just Morgan, Hordinski certainly deserves his name on the LP’s cover, too. He helms the instrumental tracks, which make up about half of Christmas. Besides the aforementioned “Waltz for Martha,” Hordinski shines on instrumental cuts like “Greensleeves” and Bach’s “Chorale 191,” while giving Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” a jazzy, slanted twist. Meanwhile, Morgan and Summer combine voices to great effect on charming versions of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and an especially superb rendition of “Silent Night.” Though Morgan’s children’s music has often been praised for being “adult friendly,” Christmas is truly an album to be enjoyed by the entire family.

Christmas is available through Morgan’s website (, so you might not get it in time for this year’s festivities, but it’s well worth picking up for future holidays. The site does offer samples of each track and if you order by the end of the year there’s free shipping.

• Once the presents are open and your family members become unbearable, there aren’t a lot of “going out” options for revelers on Christmas night. Local Rock/R&B/Pop crew The Guitars remedied that situation when they began hosting a free Christmas show. Thursday marks The Guitars’ fifth annual Christmas performance at MOTR Pub. The band has a fairly substantial collection of holiday tunes in its repertoire, some of which can be heard on its 2009 release, A Very Guitars Christmas, which includes great versions of Christmas classics like “Run, Rudolph, Run,” “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” and “Don’t Believe in Christmas,” a down-and-dirty ditty by Pacific Northwest Garage Rock pioneers The Sonics. On Thursday, the band will also reportedly be unveiling a new Xmas cover tune —

Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday.”

Visit to stream or download (you name your price) A Very Guitars Christmas as well as their 2011 single, “Guess I’ll Spend Another Christmas (Wishing You’d Come Home to Me).” 

MOTR opens at 8 p.m. Thursday night.

CONTACT MIKE BREEN: [email protected] or @