Local CD round-up: The Blind Shake and Gospel Gossip

Two generations combine for the love of experimental punk while local buzz-rockers keep buzzing.

PHOTO COURTESY LEARNING CURVE RECORDS

Ashley Goetz

PHOTO COURTESY LEARNING CURVE RECORDS

Michael Yonkers with the Blind Shake ALBUM: âÄúCold Town /Soft ZodiacâÄù Label: âÄú Learning Curve Records Michael Yonkers, 62, is a noise-rock legend. The Blind Shake, in their early 30s, is a punk band with nerdy noise experimentation inclinations. Together, both have joined forces, ignored stigmas about the inherent wackness of hanging out with old dudes and co-opted on the very solid split record âÄúCold Town /Soft Zodiac.âÄù At just under a half hour, the LP is scorching, albeit brief, nod to the past that is still wholly relevant today. First, a little history. Michael Yonkers is steeped in underground rock lore. In 1968, he recorded his seminal LP âÄúMicrominiature Love, âÄù which didnâÄôt find truly wide audiences until its Sub Pop re-issue in 2003. The record established Yonkers, the consummate techie geek, as a forefather of noise rock. In 1971, Yonkers was crushed in a warehouse accident, leaving his back severely injured. Those same spine issues are now forcing Yonkers into live performance retirement, but his recent split with young noise-punks The Blind Shake proves heâÄôs still capable in a studio. âÄúCold Town/Soft ZodiacâÄù is split into two parts. The first half has Yonkers on lead vocals with The Blind Shake serving capably as his backing band. To say that Yonkers sounds ageless would be disingenuous âÄî but thatâÄôs not to say he doesnâÄôt sound good. On his eight tracks, Yonkers utilizes his deep sing/talk delivery and thereâÄôs an added quiver that is easily reminiscent of late Johnny Cash recordings. As for the songs themselves, Yonkers and the Blind Shake mesh splendidly. The opening, âÄúWhat Can I Do,âÄù features the Blind Shake providing a guitar scratch/screech-fest while Yonkers paints a bleak lyrical portrait. The Clash-channeled âÄúI Want to Tell You,âÄù and the fist-pumping anthem âÄúWhen YouâÄôre FallenâÄù are other standouts on the Yonkers end. Come track nine, âÄúWise Mr. Owl,âÄù the Blind Shake take over and while things are markedly different, they carry the same general tone. The guitars do less swirling and more riffing; the vocals have a youthful surge and the tempos, generally, are faster. The driving title track âÄî at three and a half minutes, epic, by this discâÄôs standards âÄî is a standout, as well as the urgent punk of âÄúBad Times.âÄù As a whole, âÄúCold Town/Soft ZodiacâÄù works on a few different levels. Firstly, because itâÄôs a swan song of sorts for Yonkers, itâÄôs endearing to hear his underappreciated, influential voice again. Speaking of influential, another reason this split works is itâÄôs a living, breathing case study on YonkersâÄô influence. ItâÄôs obvious the Blind Shake look up to the old timer, and what better way to celebrate that than with collaboration? Finally, this disc works because The Blind Shake is a fine local act; any recording by them is a welcome one. The addition of Yonkers is simply icing on the cake. Gospel Gossip ALBUM: âÄú âÄúDreamland EPâÄù Label: âÄú Guilt Ridden Pop When a local band gets as hyped as mope-rockers Gospel Gossip, thereâÄôs almost a Pavlovian twitch by listeners to trash talk their next offering. Gospel Gossip certainly fits the hyped bill (their debut LP âÄúSing into my MouthâÄù was one 2007âÄôs biggest local releases). But try as they may, itâÄôs impossible to dislike their recently released EP âÄúDreamland.âÄù âÄúDreamlandâÄù opens with a wall of sound that sees the bandâÄôs sounding rising like an electric wave. Then, it crashes. The bass and drums keep on pounding away, but the air is clear for singer/guitarist Sarah Nienaber âÄôs stunning vocals. Her voice itself isnâÄôt exceptional, but her candor and personality befit the song perfectly. The wall of guitar returns and the rousing track goes on to be the EPâÄôs finest, but that break for NienaberâÄôs first utterance demonstrates her enigmatic frontwoman potential. From that point, thereâÄôs the jangly, Cure-derived âÄúHome,âÄù the stellar six-minute tempo shifter narrative âÄúPre-Med (Just in Case)âÄù and the nearly instrumental rock jam âÄúSpace/Time.âÄù The EP closes with two five-minute-plus tracks that are studies in the groupâÄôs differing vibes. âÄúBig SteerâÄù starts with an arbitrarily delicate indie rock mull and veers into the bass-heavy grunge rock that makes up the bulk of the solid song. Finally, the title track closer’s sparse arrangements and noise experimentation represent the other, less prudent direction this band could take. When âÄúSing into my MouthâÄù came out, local critics were quick to tab the band as âÄúshoegaze.âÄù True, the group crafts mid-tempo rockers with amorphous guitars, but at heart, and especially on âÄúDreamland,âÄù itâÄôs clear theyâÄôre more simply a rock band. While itâÄôs all well and good to make artier comparisons to what Gospel Gossip hints at, attention should be paid to what they are: one of the CitiesâÄô most capable and well-executed rock âÄònâÄô roll groups.