Now Hear This

Reviews of new local releases
Mother Superior and the Sliding Royales
by Mother Superior and the Sliding Royales

Label: self-released
File under: soul, R&B, funk
Sounds Like: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators, Ann Peebles

“Soul” is a vastly overused and often diluted descriptor of rhythm and blues. It’s an intangible quality that’s as difficult to attain as it is to define. One doesn’t just exude soul simply because he or she writes soul music. You either have it or you don’t. On their self-titled debut record, Mother Superior has it in spades. It’s not surprising — the Seacoast-based eight-piece band boasts some of the area’s most talented musicians who’ve performed with the likes of Ben Folds and Seal and currently play with the Soggy Po’ Boys, Chris Klaxton, Shango, and Tan Vampires, among others.

Their debut is a seamless combination of the old and new, a recording that would fit as comfortably on the Stax record label in the ’60s as it would on Daptone records today. It’s a throwback that sounds familiar, but not one you can place in time, as if your favorite R&B musicians finally went back into the studio for the first time in 50 years and explored new influences and pop nuance along the way.

Soul can be difficult to pinpoint in a recording, but if we had to, we can start with Taylor O’Donnell’s fiercely prodigious voice. With a sharp-edged swagger and a vocal range bigger than Louisiana, she consistently steals the show. And soul is certainly rooted within Stuart Dias’ songwriting and guitar work. It’s also found in Matt Langley’s sultry sax solo on “Hold On,” and Mike Walsh’s percussive groove — with Greg Glasson’s basslines — on “James Brown” and “Hollow.” It’s subtle sometimes in the atmosphere of Mike Effenberger’s keys, and overpowering in Zach Lange’s trumpet blows on “Firewater.”  Finally, it’s the way it all coalesces in Christopher Chase’s brilliant production aesthetic.

The album’s eerie opener and stand out, “James Brown,” is a testament to New Orleans-style swamp blues, featuring calls and responses from oozing saxophone notes to a bursting trumpet and O’Donnell’s beautifully gritty delivery to ghostly chain choruses. The Royales can be just as affirming, as on the soaring track “Hold On.” And on funky barn burners “Hollow” and “Fly Away,” O’Donnell’s Janis Joplin-inspired vocals are as infectious as they are powerful. At every turn, the Royales’ scintillating debut and talented cast meet lofty expectations.

Geomancy I

Label: Deafening Assembly
File under: atmospheric sludge, post-metal, instrumental
Sounds like: Mouth of the Architect, Year of No Light, Isis, Morne

A discussion on metal’s subgenres is likely to produce more disagreement than not, but in a field so diverse, this is to be expected. While each new label signifies metal’s progression, it can also confine it. Such is the case with post-metal, which eschews traditional song structures and genre rules and encourages experimentation in atmosphere and shoegaze. It’s where some of today’s more compelling songwriting is found.

KYOTY’s new release, “Geomancy I,” is an exceptional example. Regardless of how they’re labeled, the Seacoast trio has been challenging conventions and destroying eardrums for five years now, earning distinction for their dynamic live sets and recordings. Where 2012’s “Undiscovered Country of Old Death and Strange Years in the Frightful Past” had an ethereal glow to it, “Geomancy I” is more angular, more jarring, and an even better representation of the band’s sonic force. The soundscape is still immensely melodic, but inspires more anxiety than calm thanks to an erratic, noisier, and more industrial sound. Nick Filth’s guitar tracks sound even more profuse and raw, and the drums throughout are far more thunderous and unrelenting, even if there are fewer notes.The band has grown more adept at managing the empty spaces in between, opting for echo and less organic noise to highlight the more kinetic riffs.  However, they don’t get bogged down in tedium.  Here, three tracks consume 20 minutes and every second is used effectively.

While there are no vocals, KYOTY indeed speaks. On “Carcer,” Filth’s guitar communicates volumes with flourishes of improvised extras and sky high ostinatos over Rob Brown’s pulverizing percussive assault. Under it all, like an incoming quake, Nathaniel Parker Raymond’s bass rumbles and dislodges every sound into the void. A well-designed book accompanies a vinyl version of the album and includes a series of photos and text that expound on the band’s themes. KYOTY is adroitly building on the post-metal genre and tearing down limitations.

by Sam Hill 

Label: 75 or Less Records
File under: classic metal, stoner metal, rock
Sounds like: Black Sabbath, Pentagram, Saint Vitus

Nate Laban was born to rock and roll. He’s been an integral part of the Seacoast music scene for more than 20 years, always with a contagious smile on his face. His career has spanned a multitude of solo incarnations and bands including Brook, Bear and The Elephant, The Frosting, and Wallos. Over the years, he’s done it all, from anti-folk to skate punk to country; his quirky storytelling works in most any genre. When ex-Satan’s Teardrops drummer Jason Lara steered Sam Hill, their newly formed group, toward playing metal, it was a natural fit. Their debut album, “Sonja,” is a fresh throwback to metal’s classic days of mythical creatures and tales.

It’s not surprising Laban’s vocal stylings and pop know-how work well over galloping riffs and Tony Iommi-influenced solos. His powerful voice and registry have always been suited for metal. Never one to settle into a genre or project for long, Laban indulges in this chance to let loose a torrent of epic songs. The result is an inventive alchemy of an accomplished songwriter’s take on a new genre. Recorded by the band, “Sonja” has a slightly lo-fi sound that gives it a nostalgic feel — think “Day of Reckoning”-era Pentagram meets newer Saint Vitus.

The opener, “37 Rings,” is a stoner metal jam that chronicles a tree being cut down in winter; it doubles as an introspective story and features a chorus that shows off Laban’s hook-y aptitude. “Scourge of the Warm Blooded” displays his writing chops in an epic about a frozen giant who has come to destroy man: “He has had as much as he can take, enormous the patience, equal in rage.” And their cover of Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral” is spot on. In Sam Hill, Laban has found a transcendent medium for his harder-edged endeavors. Let’s hope it lasts.