Danny, Bo and Robin of Calabi Yau aren't much for stage banter, as anyone who's ever seen the band's incendiary live shows can attest. Outside of a few "thank y'alls," their band/audience communication is usually limited to what's coming out of their collective instruments.
Which is plenty, you understand. While this is math rock of the highest order, it's of the "beautiful mind" sort: impassioned, nuanced, and containing just the right amount of freakout insanity.
Speaking of "out": singer/bassist Bo has a voice that might take some getting used to, but it's worth the effort. Words and phrases bubble up from his unconscious like an equal mix of Touch and Go and Tourette's. The effect, both Southern and slurred, adds a wonderful contrast to free-for-alls like "Must Be That Kind," "Scrape That Tongue," and the consumer beat-down "High Definition."
Frankly, Charlotte hasn't seen a lot of bands like Calabi Yau over the years, which makes their ascendance even more exciting. "Verse Chorus Verse" music is everywhere. The Yau deconstruct the model, to the everlasting gratitude of grad school kids and record store clerks everywhere. "Ve Cho Rse Se Ver Us" anyone?
--Timothy C. Davis
Shadowflag formed after Ben Jackson (guitars, vocals) and Matt Olin (piano and keyboards) performed together in a Charlotte theater production of the glam-rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Drummer Jason Maner was added later when the duo decided to take their back-up theatrical rock into the realm of a full-time band. The trio fine-tuned their sound playing regional venues and recorded this self-titled E.P. Chalk it up to the environs of a rock musical that much of their work, in fact, sounds like a rock opera. It's inflected with piano, operatic vocals and a moody vibe. Call it gothic, progressive rock where Queen and Queensryche exchange riffs while Olin taps out maniacal piano rolls. Visualize a prog-rock combo jumping from the 70s into the 21st century. There are five studio tracks and a live song recorded at Charlotte's Double Door Inn.
Lindsey Horne Band>
Lindsey Horne Band
A friend of mine used to give me shit about not liking enough female singers. I told him that I hated the overly breathy voice popular with female singers at the time, and compared it, Mars/Venus-like, to the dreaded, drawled Scott Stapp yawp.
Real good voices are another thing altogether, especially when paired with the kind of literate, emotionally naked songwriting that Horne evidences on this disc. Most of the songs here are relationship-based ("Good Girl," "Katie," "Don't Come Around") and pull no punches when it comes to getting to the heart of the matter (or merely the heart). All of them are mid-tempo, acoustic- and piano-driven affairs, but Horne's gorgeous voice and measured elocution drive this collection of love songs and laments (and some songs that seem to be both at the same time) over the top. And I don't mean over-the-top in the Barenaked Ladies sense, either. Rather, "over the top" meaning that I'm surprised some enterprising record label hasn't picked her up yet. Better get on it, boys. As this collection proves, Horne's not exactly the kind of lady you want to scorn.
--Timothy C. Davis
Cast Iron Filter >
Falls of Rough
Cast Iron Filter have evolved beyond "irongrass," their self-proclaimed moniker of infancy. This is where mandolin and banjo lead the musical parade while a hefty-voiced singer (check Darius Rucker from Hootie and the Blowfish) lays down the proverbial accents. The band's latest release, Falls of Rough, straddles acoustic pop and bluegrass-influenced rock with writing and playing that infuses Latin and other globe-hopping influences. The result plunges their aforementioned moniker further into fusion. There are 14 tracks on Falls of Rough, ranging from the rambunctious opener "Model T Ford" to the reflective "Chronicles," where the mandolin jumps in front like a lead guitar and the banjo tags along. There are a couple of somber instrumental tracks, and "Murder Makes A Crimson Sky," with its jazzy mandolin, could be a cut from a film noir soundtrack. There's also the jubilant pep of "Redemption," which incidentally has the best chance of becoming a hit or a concert sing-a-long tune.
Surf! Surf! Surf!
A smokin' slab of vin-, er, plastic and data, Surf! Surf! Surf! is a classic entry in the Dick Dale/Ventures-inspired school of instrumental surf rock, all reverb-and-whammy-bar guitar buttressed by a rock-solid rhythm section capable of any speed or style. And that's the great thing about Surf rock -- those who ignorantly refer to it as a one-trick pony are dismissing a host of styles all at once. Not wise, brother. Incorporating Middle Eastern and Eastern European influences, as well as elements of jazz, rockabilly and pop, Surf rock's influence can be heard in groups as disparate as Calexico and Social Distortion. Led by the pyrotechnic guitar work of C-Bob Nelson and Jeremy DeHart, the solid basslines of Jimmy King and Darrell Ussery's stellar stick work, Surf! Surf! Surf! more than holds its own with current Surf rock proponents like Los Straitjackets. Through 15 cuts, most of them of the 2-minutes-and-out variety, the "Lads roar through all manner of styles, including the traditional sounds of the title track opener (penned by Nelson while in the Mighty Diamelles), the Spaghetti Western-tinged "Rodeo Gals," the Bedouin exotica of "Oasis," and the Burt Bacharach-esque "The Dog." Now one of Charlotte's longest-running acts, the Aqualads put to shame several misguided notions, primarily that a band four hours from the closest beach couldn't know anything about Surf rock. After all, with music as diverse and universally loved and admired as this, why shouldn't a band from Carolina lead the pack?
Gigi Dover >
A solid collection of songs from one of Charlotte's long-standing roots rockers, Gigi finds the former Rank Outsider's lead woman Gigi Dover stretching out into some new territory, including the funk groove of "Higher Ground," the Middle Eastern flavored "Back When We Were Young," the Pretenders-like rock of "Easy Love," the jazzy torch song "Blue Lonesome," and the gospel undertones in "Why." Part of the reason for the exploration is the presence of Eric Lovell on a host of different guitars, as well as sitar. Given some of the current drek being peddled as "authentic" roots rock from some female artists, it's a shame Gigi hasn't garnered a bigger audience.
The Quick and the Dead
Formed in 2003 by Chandler Martin (One Six Conspiracy) and Jason Howie (Near The Never), The Verdict (who also sport Emily Moore on piano and guitar and Kurt Leuschner on bass) are, to these ears, one of the more intriguing under-30 acts on the local scene. Despite their age, there's a lot crammed into the band's sound -- a little alt.country, a little Beatles-y pop, a little emo -- and all of it sounds tailor-made for a Seth/Summer scene on The O.C. Weirdly, the reference I keep coming back to the most while listening to this fine disc is Ryan Adams. Granted, the vocal style is similar, but there's also a similar kind of attention to detail here -- emotional detail, not so much every tom and hi-hat -- that ought to serve them well over the next few years. The Verdict? One to watch.
--Timothy C. Davis