Must Be Funny: The Memory and Music of Space Alien Donald

space alien donald 02by Jason Kron
Contributing Writer

April 20 marks the anniversary of Space Alien Donald leaving our planet in 2015 at age 79.

He was many things: loner, scientist, writer, voracious reader, anarchist, vegetarian, freethinker. Having lived a nomadic life, he spent the last four years of his Earth time residing in Phoenix, and instantly became a celebrity amongst the community.

Not only was he well-known for being a genuine eccentric, but he was also a proud outcast before many subcultures were formed to give outcasts a home (hippies, punks, etc). He was a big fan of science fiction, and empathized with the intellectually advanced alien characters who tried to open the minds of Earth people and were punished as a result (such as in Slan, his favorite book).

As he explained in Ben Kitnick and Saxon Richardson’s short documentary Funny World, “I’m not saying I’m really from outer space, I’m saying I’m alienated.” For many others who have also felt alienated, he served as a guiding light.

Donald always tried to turn the spotlight away from himself and onto other artists he admired. He scoffed at the idea of being called a musician, though he was secretly an amazing pianist. He also didn’t think of himself as a wordsmith, though he was a published poet and authored at least two books (he threw most of his book copies in a dumpster during the 1990s).

Yet he started performing at age 74 and came to be known as “The World’s Oldest Gay Canadian Rapper” (a moniker thought up by Abe Gil from Treasure Mammal). The album Must Be Funny (a nod to the Prescott parody religion of the same name) was recorded by Jalipaz at Audioconfusion and released on Ryan Avery’s Related Records label seven months before Donald returned to the cosmos. Let us thank Mars that he decided to leave this documentation behind in the nick of time. The album is a perfect reflection of Donald: one-of-a-kind, fearlessly weird and effortlessly insightful.

Must Be Funny is not a quirky rap novelty album. I wouldn’t lump it in with any other genre either. The music is jarring and disconcerting, matching the varying lyrical shades of idiosyncrasy throughout. Donald’s one-take-or-bust vocal tracks show a laid-back cool that embodied him as an individual. He wasn’t trying, and that’s what made the album work. It’s comfortable and sincerely itself.

The title Must Be Funny sums up the album’s theme as well as summing up Donald’s worldview. Some of the sillier topics include felines from outer space (“Cats”), a hamster on wheels (“Skateboard”), and how cyborg fornication is only morally acceptable if the androids are physically attractive (“Ugly Robots Shouldn’t Have Sex”). These songs fit in with the more overtly philosophical tracks on the album because they all attack mindless seriousness. This lyric in “Funny World” (named after the Heaven-esque destination in the Must Be Funny religion) says it all: “Serious world is based on empty belief.” Donald believed in maintaining a sense of whimsy as an act of rebellion.

Similarly to Devo (one of the first things we bonded over), the Space Alien questioned the notion that humankind was evolving forward. Mixed in with the album’s zaniness are genuine pleas to improve the planet’s condition by thinking for yourself and putting the kibosh on bureaucracy and dogma. As he proclaimed in “Human Zoo”, “If you are dumb, if you have greed, on planet Earth you can succeed. Those who run this planet seem to be part of a foolish, unwise regime.” (Sound familiar?)

Though he had a rightfully pessimistic outlook on the human race, he also had faith in the ability of the alienated to fight the idiocy. In “Happy As Can Be”, he spoke for his extraterrestrial brethren who merely want peace for us all: “Space aliens are gentle. We didn’t come to invade. Space aliens are lovers too, caring as can be.” As has been the case with a lot of the best sci-fi, Donald used the analogy of the misunderstood Martian to highlight humankind’s fear of the other, and to emphasize the point that maybe the other shouldn’t be feared after all.

space alien donald 03
Photo by Ryan Avery

Seventy-nine years seems like a decent quantity for most lifelines, but Donald seemed especially youthful for any age group. He saw every Disney movie in theaters since the 1940s, introduced himself to every stranger as a space alien, wore costumes whenever he felt like it, and spent some of his last days in a hospital bed designing a spacesuit that could withstand temperatures on Mars. He jokingly told me many times that he had no intention of dying, that his brain would be transferred to a robot body and he would thereby be immortal.

Evoking a childlike wisdom, he observed the stress of the adult world and wondered why these grown-ups spent so much of their time upsetting themselves with pointless hooey. It’s not that children don’t understand, it’s that they haven’t been conditioned to self-destruct yet and can see the world more clearly than we can. Such was the case with Donald, who lived a full life but still seemed to have a lot more to do. But as he foreshadowed in the song “Hey Hey Hey”, “Space Alien Donald just shook his head, got back in his ship and away he fled.”

Must Be Funny is a testament to how much can be done with nothing more than imagination and honesty. Like Donald himself, the album somehow screams a message of “FUCK YOU” without being hateful. Its silliness is serious business. If you haven’t listened to it, please do so. If you have listened to it, please listen again. Donald was a magical being, and it’s incredibly important that he and his ideas be remembered through what he left behind. When I find myself succumbing to fear and conflict (which is far too often), I often return to this album so that he can guide me through these petty human emotions the way he used to in real life.

I hope that any listener takes from Must Be Funny what I took from seeing Donald perform for the first time. It was at the 2010 Real Coachella festival at The Trunk Space, the second time I had ever met him (the first time was also at The Trunk Space). As I watched this being be so unbelievably himself, and saw how little of a fuck he gave about what anyone thought of him, I thought to myself, “If he has the guts to do this, any of us can do anything.”

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Read our original review of Must Be Funny by Space Alien Donald here.

For the Record: Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold

mudd 01

by Mark Anderson
Senior Editor

Holy hotcakes, Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold have (finally) released their debut album and it was certainly worth the wait. It’s good. Damn good.

Given that they joined forces in 2012, five years may certainly seem like a longer-than-normal time frame for a band to release their first album but it’s certainly not unheard of. Within that time the duo, Tyler Matock (vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica, kazoo) and Jesse Gray (banjo, electric guitar, suitcase drum) have amassed quite the local following and are known for their hootin’-hollerin’-boot-stompin’ shows all across the Valley.

For you see, Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold play a “bastard child of rock, alt-country, blues, Appalachia, and bluegrass.” The music gets rowdy sure, but it also gets down right contemplative and even sweet.

“You Never Loved Me” is the perfect opener for the album, Jesse’s banjo setting the immediate tone. As Tyler’s guitar and then vocals come in with “Don’t change your mind/Go grab your things/I got the time honey/You got your dreams” you’ll know right away what you’re in store for with Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold.

Although they do a tremendous job on their selection of covers (“Killing Floor”, “Bad Gasoline”, “Mole In The Ground”, and “Rex’s Blues”), I prefer their originals with “Ain’t That Bad”, “Goodbye Mama”, “Fight the Urge” and “American Dream” some of my top songs right now by any band locally or otherwise.

I was able to catch up with Tyler and Jesse via the Internet and ask about the new album, what’s upcoming, and, yes, even their sense of style.

YabYum: How long have you lived in Arizona? Are you from here?

Tyler Matock: I’m born and raised here in Phoenix. A second generation at that.

Jesse Gray: I’ve lived here about 6 years. I was born and raised in Kansas and Missouri, and also spent a few years in Portland, Oregon.

mudd 02
All photos copyright and courtesy of Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold

What drew you personally to the music of Appalachia? Who are some of your influences as songwriters?

Tyler: As far as Appalachian music goes, I really hadn’t been exposed to that particular type of music at all until I started jamming with Jesse. I think its impossible to be around (a real banjo player) without being exposed to Appalachian music. However, I was listening to music very similar in sound both regionally, and aesthetically before I had met Jesse.

After my dad had taught me how to play a few simple chords on guitar, I tried learning songs that worked with the chords that he had taught me. Early country and blues music lead me straight to an affection for any thing out of the American South – which is responsible for almost all genres of music to this day.

I discovered this music by becoming a “nerd” for finding my influences’ influences. I became compelled to research what influenced Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, John Prine, and the endless list of iconic songwriters. It was like my own crash course for understanding and appreciating the heart and soul of what American music is, and all about. That being said, as much as I write, I never try confine myself into to sounding just like those guys – that just sounds exhausting and not very fun to do, because that stuff was so groundbreaking for it’s time, and it’s almost damn near untouchable still to this day.

I just think with all those older influences in tow (Jimmie Rodgers, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Tom T. Hall, Lee Hazlewood) and combing influence from more contemporary artists and songwriters I like (early Avett Brothers, Langhorne Slim, Ryan Adams, Dr. Dog, Neutral Milk Hotel, and maybe one of my top 5 albums of all time called, Return of the Frog Queen by Jeremy Enigk) – I sort of subconsciously draw from the past and the present in hopes to make something that is relevant to myself and of course the audience or listeners as well.. Wow, that’s a really long answer.

Jesse: Part of what drew me to the music of Appalachia was having an intense love for the mountains. Some of my favorite memories are of finding gold with my family in the mountains of Colorado. When I first heard Clarence Ashley’s “The Cuckoo”, it completely captured that feeling for me. Though not technically Appalachia, I think the feeling is the same.

When I started playing banjo, I naturally gravitated toward that feeling. But I wanted to rev it up, too, and add some rock, punk (just in the sense of being aggressive) and blues to the mix. Then I discovered Roscoe Holcomb and Dock Boggs, and found that they were already playing clawhammer and “oldtime” banjo in a really aggressive, dirty, bluesy style way back in the ’20s and on, before that style became a bit diluted. They really crystallized that “mountain” sound. I think it’s a beautiful sound, and I can only hope we catch a little of that in what we do.

It’s incredible to find out Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold was the late Dan Somers last record he worked on. Would you speak a few words about him for those who didn’t know him?

Jesse: Dan Somers was an amazing guy, and I really miss him. He was so intelligent – but with a modesty that often doesn’t go with that – funny, genuinely nice, and fun to hang out with. Truly one of my favorite people I’ve met since I’ve been out in Arizona. He added so much to the album, and I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with him – the album wouldn’t be the same without him – but I really just miss him as a person. Weird to say that about someone you only hung out with a handful of times, but some people you just feel an instant connection to. I’m glad people got wind of the things he had to say, because I think they’re really important. All I can hope is that his words saved some people from having to go through the things he went through.

Tyler: I couldn’t be more honored to have met and been given the opportunity to work with Dan. It pains me to this day knowing now, what he may have been suffering from then. I’ll always remember how sweet of a person he was – how kind and insightful he was – how hard he worked – his poignancy and wit. He immediately lead me striving to be a better musician and most importantly a better person. His band, Lisa Savidge, remains to be one of the coolest bands I’ve ever heard come out of the local scene.

mudd 05You guys have played a lot of shows. Any one in particular stand out in your mind that’d you care to mention? The release show looked like it was a grand ole time!

Jesse: There are a number of shows that really stand out, and we’ve had the privilege of playing with some really great bands at some great places. But the release show is a night I’ll never forget. Last Exit was packed, and when we got up on stage, virtually everybody had moved up front waiting for us. We wanted to give them everything we could, played for an hour and a half, and every song felt top of our game. We got to show them a lot of newer songs, expand, and go to different places with the music that we can’t often go to during shorter sets. And the crowd was right there with us from start to finish. We have a lot of sides to our music that people haven’t heard yet, and we’re excited to show them.

Tyler: I’d just like to sort of echo what Jesse said. The CD release was such an unforgettable show for us amongst so many others we’ve had prior to that. I think why its one of my personal favorites was to see all the hard work that was put in to make it happen. I had put a lot of pressure on myself to reach out to everyone I knew. I even mailed out letters with a flyer invitation and a little note to family members and close friends. To see almost all of them show up and support us – and then to deliver them a show to remember was quite the achievement. We’re a live band and a good performance is very important to me. Giving the crowd everything we’ve got and leaving it all out on the stage is the ultimate goal. I feel like we made that happen, and I can’t wait to show more people what our live show is all about.

You played with a drummer for your Tiny Desk Concert submission. Have/would you ever play with other musicians or is the music you create as Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold inherently a two-man show? I can certainly hear fiddle, washtub bass, mandolin, mouth organ, and any other manner of instruments joining in with the sound…

Jesse: We’re definitely open to playing with other musicians. I think the first step would be adding a rhythm section. Then other musicians could come in on top of that. The music has been moving in different directions that would call for that type of thing, so it’s definitely something that could happen. We’re both drawn to expansion and different sounds – rock, garage, soul, psychedelic, shoegaze, etc – and have no intent on staying exactly the same, being purists, or treating the music like a museum piece.

Tyler: The songs I wrote on this album came to me when I was pretty young as a songwriter. Most of them were the product of being a young 20 something-year-old. And I personally don’t regret or discredit any of those songs because we still play most of them to this day, however, they were written at a time with no expectations and more of just a catharsis for myself. I think now, as a growing and practicing songwriter, I’m adapting to the world and life around me as a 30 year old – which brings a little more expectation upon myself to adapt with music artistically.

A lot happens in life from then until now. People change. People grow. And just like music or art, they grow and change as well. The growth seems to be a natural progression into what can be the best possible way to create our best art, or in this case, our best possible songs. Jesse and I are naturally comfortable working with the “less is more mentality” because that’s all we’ve ever known as a band – but we’re now also beginning to realize the potential of adding more parts and tools to follow what the songwriting is currently calling for.

mudd 03You guys sport some awesome threads. Are these thrift store finds or are there certain Western stores you’d care to name drop at all?

Jesse: For me, the threads are all thrift store finds. Being in a band gives you a bit of a license to dress like a fool, and we have fun with that. I’m still looking for assless chaps – that’ll be the holy grail.

Tyler: First of all thanks for diggin’ the threads haha. I think fashion and style has always been something important to me, even before music. That being said, I don’t AT ALL claim to having any “cool” fashion sense, but rather just wear what makes me feel good on a “trial and error” basis.

When I first started playing out, (just for open mics), I would wear the best 3-piece suit I could get my hands on. Even if it meant literally piecing all different types of brands of clothing together (old & new). Somehow though, I think I made it work. I think Justin Townes Earle, Pokey LaFarge, and Langhorne Slim, all have great styles, and I realized they pulled from American classics. So that’s what I try to do. Just pull from what I dig all the greats wore. Jimmie Rogers and Samuel Lightnin’ Hopkins were two of the coolest, sharpest dressed dudes in music, in my opinion.

Clothes make me feel good. Especially well made clothes – old and new. I feel like I can perform better when I’m dressed right. I consider clothes as my tattoos, except I get to change them whenever I feel like it. I’ve worn a hat as long as I can remember, I’d love to have my own signature Stetson someday. Retro Ranch, Buffalo Exchange in Phoenix /Tempe, and Incahoots Vintage Clothing in Flagstaff might be one of my all time favorites for go-to threads in AZ.

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Follow Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold on Facebook and listen to Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold below.

For the Record: Kinship by The Wanda Junes

wanja junes 01by Carly Schorman
Senior Editor

The Wanda Junes journeyed up from Tucson to record a new album at Fivethirteen Recording in Tempe and the band carried the feel of that dusty desert divide they traversed straight into the studio. Kinship, much like its title suggests, has a familial, kitchen-table atmosphere. The album sounds like a bunch of old friends (of really talented, musician-type friends) hanging out while hashing out some tunes.

The singing (and songwriting) duties get passed around the table which only adds to the communal feel of this recording. One person tells a story and then the next recounts a tale. From the rambling ballad “Green Pastures” to the wry look at acceptance offered on the album’s closer, “I’m Home”, Kinship offers listeners a storybook of Americana.

I find I’m rather taken with the bittersweet sound of “For Now”, but Kinship glows with an interior warmth from beginning to end. There are moments of humor and sorrow and joy to be uncovered in the homespun stories of The Wanda Junes.

The album was released through Baby Tooth Records on limited edition cassette tape last month.

I’m just starting to wonder… do you have to play an instrument to hang out with The Wanda Junes’ crew? I mean, can you just bring some snacks to share and take it all in? I suppose I’m willing to take the next best thing: hanging out at my own damn kitchen table with the music of The Wanda Junes. You can do the same. There are still some copies of that limited edition cassette available so head here to score your copy.

I had the opportunity to ask Bobby Carlson of The Wanda Junes about the new album, communal songwriting, and what this Tucson band has in the works next. Check out our chat below. But, first, take a gander at the new album, Kinship. 

YabYum: Quite a cast of players you’ve gathered. How did The Wanda Junes join forces for the greater musical good?

Bobby Carlson: It hasn’t been the smoothest process. And not the most exciting tale.

I moved from Flagstaff to Tucson in June of 2012 to start the Wanda Junes with Steve Soloway. We had already begun sending recordings to each other and when Steve recruited Jesus Robles, we had a set of songs and he fit right in. A year later, we had our first album Factory Plaza finished, Jesus had bailed, and Steve set off to Maine to start his family.

The band actually played a “last” show and had every intention of breaking up. By then, we’d picked up Thom Plasse and Jeff Henderson, and, at some point, the three of us decided to just keep going, or to try, at least. We played one show as an acoustic-ish trio, but by then Adam Frumhoff, an old friend from Flagstaff had joined, and we had recruited Karima Walker soon after as well. That was just to play banjo. How little we knew!

We recorded half of Hi Fi Record Album and then Allison McGillivray joined and she helped us finish it (she actually introduced us to Karima). Later, Karima quit, and we got Nathan Fenoglio. We recorded Kinship and Allison quit to go save the world from nuclear annihilation, and Nathan quit to save his world. My old roommate, Tony Ballz moved in with me, and naturally into the band. When Allison and Nathan left, we were demoralized and unsure of what was going to happen. We got writing and things currently feel solid, like a car commercial with a Bob Seger soundtrack…

I noticed that the band makes the trek to Tempe to record over at Fivethirteen. We love that studio but I’d like to know what keeps you coming back?

Well, we love it too. I was introduced to Catherine through Abe Gil and Owen Evans, separately and together, when I still lived in Flagstaff, and it’s been my go-to spot ever since. I get the impression that they like working with us. I wish we had the budget to just have a standing weekend with them every other month or something. The recordings that I’ve done there, if I’m unhappy with anything, it’s either with my songwriting or the performances. It’s always on my end. At this point, it’s really comfortable, which when you’re recording, is pretty important. I’m perfectly happy making this entire interview a testimonial for Fivethirteen.

Songwriting and vocal duties seem to be shared amongst the band members. I would imagine that lends to the sense of camaraderie. Is that the result? Does the band feel more like a gathering of friends than perhaps other bands you might have played with?

It is a gathering of friends, which is the only way I’ve ever done it.(Somehow it’s still stressful at times.) I’m not a good enough player to do it any other way. The result, we all hope, is a better record, and a better live show. Nothing more exciting than white dudes playing guitars, am I right?

Can you tell me a little about how the band approaches songwriting? Does it vary per person?

It does vary. Adam and I are the two main songwriters right now, and the process is a little bit different with each song. But the songs are arranged by the band, and it’s pretty rare for there to be a lot of notes from the songwriter when we’re all writing our parts. The strongest songs, or our favorites at least, have been ones with the heaviest collaboration, which is good news for all those co-ops and communists out there.

What’s next for the band? Writing new songs? Shows? Tour? Music video? Please tell us all the things.

We’re playing some shows around Arizona, trying to put this Kinship album on all the top ten lists. We’d love to release the album on more formats. We’re recording at Midtown Island [in Tucson] at the end of April. (We still love you, Catherine!) We’re thinking that will be the beginning of our next thing–either as a single or several [singles], and/or the beginning of the new album. We just stay focused on songwriting and we hope the rest takes care of itself.

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Radio Phoenix Podcast: Blaze Rock

blaze rock 01Blaze Rock joined us at the Radio Phoenix Studios for our latest episode of The YabYum Hour. We talked a lot of AZ HipHop, got schooled on some cats we never heard of, and definitely head-bobbed the whole time. As always, our guest brought some great tracks down and the complete playlist can be found below. Click on the artist name for more info.

Make sure to tune in every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month at 7 PM for each live episode of The YabYum Hour, only on radiophoenix.org.

Complete Playlist:

Blaze Rock “Defy Gravity”

BP Mercenaries “Boogeyman”

HYPR BST “Level Up”

ROKNOWLEDGE “Time Is Like A Promise”

Blaze Rock “Fearless”

Black One “Status Quo”

Blaze Rock “Failproof”

Blind Man ft. Purita “Gladiator Pen”

Cross Platform “Loved By You”

Mega Ran “Kickin’ In Doors”

SPAN PHLY “Joy”

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Recorded live on March 15, 2017

Milo Surf: Before the Gnar

milo surf 01by Joe Golfen
Staff Writer

The only bio description on Milo Surf’s Bandcamp is a simple phrase: “I can’t surf.”

That funny bit of winking self-deprecation is actually the perfect introduction to Milo Surf, a project by Gilbert songwriter Joshua Capati [of Phantom Party fame]. The music is all surfy echo pedals and snoddy vocals, with plenty of revealing personal details and a wry sense of humor.

“Cherry Bomb” starts the record with a 55 second blast of surf punk perfection, giving way to “Stellarphonic Melancholy,” the standout track from the EP. A full-throated croon that sounds a bit like Nightmare of You, finds Joshua Capati singing, “I glamorize/The science of suicide/’Cause it crossed my mind/I got some new wounds for the Sun rays to cauterize.” It comes off a lot more melodramatic than it looks when written down.

Any song that can match reverb guitars with a “ohh ohhs” has my seal of approval, and “Orange Crush” is as sweet and bubbly as the soda that bears the same name. Plus it contains the line, “I’m so sorry that I’m not attractive/I wrote this song in hopes of making things happen.”

“Liv” plays with punky doowop while name dropping Dr. Who, Weezer cassette tapes and Tempe Town Lake, and “Maybe Baby” is a classic pop song Buddy Holly would write if he lived by the beach.

Milo ends the EP with a somber rendition of the The Everly Brothers’ “All I Have To Do Is Dream” which sounds much more wistfully when delivered in Capati’s croon over a softly strummed surf guitar. It’s a sweet ending to a quick fun record. Check it out below.

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joe golfen 100Joe Golfen has been writing about music since 2007, appearing in the Arizona Republic, Phoenix New Times and Tone Audio Magazine. He also plays guitar and sings for desert psych band The Lonesome Wilderness, and plays the organ in power-poppers The Breakup Society.

The Venomous Pinks: We Do It Better

venomus pinks 01by Mark Anderson
Senior Editor

The Venomous Pinks are back with their SquidHat Records’ debut, We Do It Better, and they’re kicking more ass than ever before.

Their third proper EP after 2014’s PinkMeat 7″ Split w/ Swapmeat, We Do It Better ramps up the songwriting of their previous effort Exes & Whoas!, and kicks up the energy too.

The title track opens the record with a feisty attitude and a “You’re never bringing us down, man” chorus. One of my fav lines of the whole EP is at the very beginning of the song with Drea Doll screaming, “They tell you all your life/You gotta be a little wife – FUCK THAT!/I’m telling you now, I got that punk sound/ain’t nothing bring me down!”

“Nightmare” begins with Gaby Kaos’ bass guitar and Jukie’s floor tom rumble which leads into matching guitar chugging and a break into a wicked Corrie Zazzera intro guitar solo before becoming a classic punk rock song. The backups throughout this song are what make it happen for me and I can certainly hear the band’s Joan Jett influence as well.

If you didn’t know the title of the song, “Pizza Slice”, you might honestly think it was condemnation of damning proportions. However, once the secret is revealed, it becomes a pretty humorous hardcore song.

“Mantis” is probably the fastest song on the record and throws out a big “FUCK YOU” to all the people who would do each other wrong. I enjoy the quick, 5-second ska-breakdown in the middle, but I’m a sucker for that sound.

Album closer, “Radar”, just sounds like one of those classic “closing album” songs right off the bat. You know the ones, even if you’re hearing the album for the first time and don’t have the tracklist in front of you, you know it’s the end of the road. The line “It’s time to say goodbye” certainly helps lock that in that sense of drawing a conclusion.

Released to a packed house at the Yucca Tap Room on St. Patrick’s Day, check out We Do It Better by The Venomous Pinks below…

Luau: Gone EP

luau 01by Joe Golfen
Staff Writer

The Gone EP by Luau is a nighttime record.

The shimmering guitars float by like streetlamps out a car window, the insistent bass and drums conjuring up the speed and dread that can take hold in a dark city, and lead singer Evan Hallock’s pained vocals sound like a man driving with nowhere to go.

On their debut offering, Luau does a great job of weaving their influences together so that it becomes their own singular sound, taking notes from indie rock of bands like The Weakerthans as well as classic Sunny Day Real Estate-era emo. Production from Matt Keller of Lydia makes the most of that sound, filling the drums and bass with the right amount of attack, while the guitars sound both shiny and urgent.

Opener “Keep Talking” announces the record with a low organ and softly interplaying guitars, then the drums and bass come crashing in, and somehow everything floats back up as the vocals arrive. A great exercise in dynamics and tension, and one of the band’s finest songs.

Hallock’s reedy tenor is a key component of the band’s sound. Though he’s been compared to Doug Martsch from Built to Spill, he has a lot more of an edge to his voice. Just listen to the way he spits out the first line of the excellent “Darling,” in which bassist Jon Collins lays down a heavy post-rock groove that keeps building until you think it can’t go any bigger. Which of course it does.

“Diffuser” starts with one of the coolest moments on the record, as Eric Thompson’s insistent guitar tornado suddenly cuts out, echoing away until it’s only drums, leaving room for the guitars to come firing back in. The song is also one for the hardest, most infectious grooves of the record, and a great way to show off drummer Joel Knight.

That track slowly fades into “Spin Your Web,” the quietest, slowest song, though there is still a sense of forward momentum happening here. Hallock gives a great vocal performance, nailing the melancholy of lines like “All of my ghosts/I loved you the most.”

First single “Anchor” is the perfect synthesis of everything the band does right: intricate, angular guitar attacks, a growling bassline, that avalanche of drums. Plus, it comes loaded with a shimmering, majestic chorus that is deceptively catchy. You’ll be surprised how much you end up singing it to yourself after one listen.

Built on a rumble of drums and chiming guitars, “Soak It In” finishes the EP off with one of the darkest sounding songs on the record. Gone is a great first offering from this band on the rise, be sure to hear them play it live at their EP Release Show with Fairy Bones, Saddles, and Huckleberry at Crescent Ballroom on April 8th

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joe golfen 100Joe Golfen has been writing about music since 2007, appearing in the Arizona Republic, Phoenix New Times and Tone Audio Magazine. He also plays guitar and sings for desert psych band The Lonesome Wilderness, and plays the organ in power-poppers The Breakup Society.