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Posts Tagged ‘Kyle Minnick’

TRACKLISTING:
1. Firebears (17:52)
2. The Eternal German Infant (8:11)
3. Mister Freeze (6:49)
4. I Shall Consume Everything (9:26)

LINEUP:
Dan McGowan –  lead vocals (2,3,4),  backing vocals, acoustic  and electric guitar
Patrick McGowan – electric guitar, lead vocals (1), backing vocals, bass (2)
Becky Osenenko – keyboards
Charles Batdorf – bass (1,3,4), guitar (2)
Joe Rizzolo – drums

Additional instruments by R McGeddon

New Jersey band The Tea Club seem to follow a regular schedule in the release of their albums: indeed, their third effort, bearing the snappy title of Quickly, Quickly, Quickly, comes two years after Rabbit , which in turn had come two years after their debut, General Winter’s Secret Museum. In the span of those four years, the band went from a trio of brothers Pat and Dan McGowan and drummer Kyle Minnick  to a four-piece with the addition of keyboardist Becky Osenenko, then, in the months after Rabbit’s release, added two more members (bassist Charles Batdorf and guitarist Jim Berger) and replaced Minnick with Joe Rizzolo. Quickly, Quickly, Quickly was recorded by the band as a quintet, with the mysteriously-named R. McGeddon providing additional instruments. At the time of writing, the band have reverted to a trio format, with only Rizzolo left of all those “new entries”.

In spite of the permanent state of flux of their lineup, The Tea Club have been actively pursuing their own artistic path, which has marked them as one of the most interesting and original acts of the contemporary progressive rock scene. In the two years that have followed  Rabbit  – an album that has earned them the attention of those prog fans that the more straightforward nature of General Winter’s Secret Museum had left somewhat unimpressed – the band have appeared at ProgDay 2011, supported Swedish act Beardfish in their 2012 US mini-tour,  produced a number of videos, and written 80 minutes worth of music for their new album, half of which is featured on Quickly, Quickly, Quicky. As a non-fan of excessively long albums, I commend their choice of splitting the material in two parts – as Radiohead (one of their undisputed influences) did in the early 2000’s with the sessions that led to Kid A and Amnesiac.

The caption “pastoral post-rock blending into proper progressiveness” proudly featured on The Tea Club’s website effectively describes the band’s musical direction, which acknowledges their membership of the vast, somewhat indistinct “prog” universe, while at the same time distancing them from anything smacking too much of nostalgia. Indeed, the band – for all their constant shape-shifting – have succeeded in retaining their own recognizable sound, painstakingly refined over the years, and characterized by a masterful handling of post-prog’s trademark quiet-loud dynamics. The high-pitched but always tuneful voices of the McGowan brothers – often twined in heady harmonies – also anchor The Tea Club’s sound to the modern prog aesthetics, evoking iconic singers such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Muse’s Matt Bellamy or The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord, or even The Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala – though avoiding the occasionally whiny, abrasive tones that can make those vocalists an acquired taste. Indeed, the brothers’ voices are treated more like additional instruments than as something separate, complementing  Quickly, Quickly, Quickly‘s largely lyrics-oriented nature.

The Tea Club’s allegiance to traditional prog modes is revealed by the increasing length of their compositions, which comes to full fruition on Quickly. Quickly, Quickly. In spite of the title, the music is anything but quick to sink in, and – as in the case of Rabbit – it may take a while to click. Interestingly, throughout the album the guitars are used more as an accent than as the main event, and the sleek, pulsing interplay of Charles Batdorf’s meaty bass lines, Joe Rizzolo’s authoritative drumming and Becky Osenenko’s layers of keyboards (including piano and Hammond organ) suggest the expertly rendered contrast between softness and angularity of Yes at their peak – though with a distinctly contemporary slant. Rizzolo’s trademark, surging drum rolls, on the other hand,  may often recall The Mars Volta, particularly on their genre-defining debut, De-Loused in the Comatorium.

The band’s choice to open the album with the  18-minute workout of “Firebears”, which somehow sums up the band’s vision and their evolution of the past four years, is undoubtedly a brave move – as epic-length openers all too often render the album top-heavy, to the detriment of what comes afterwards. However, things are balanced by the respectable running time of the  remaining three songs. “Firebears” kicks off in unmistakable Tea Club style, with majestic drum rolls, soaring vocals and jangly guitar riffs, then gradually slows down to a rarefied, pastoral middle section, with half-spoken, almost whispered vocals: then things pick up again, and the final part of the song sees all the instruments converge in an exhilarating, intense climax. Although the song might have benefited by some trimming – as it is packed with good ideas that do not always coalesce into a perfect whole – it showcases the band’s potential in tantalizing fashion.

Like the previous track, “The Eternal German Infant” opens on a high note, building up and then slowing down in an intriguing ebb-and-flow structure. Soothing, almost Beatlesian vocal harmonies (which, together with Dan McGowan’s vocals, put me in mind of Echolyn), pastoral keyboards and gently chiming guitar coexist with tense, jagged moments that, however, do not neglect melody. In contrast, the dark lullaby of “Mister Freeze” reprises the spirit of “Royal Oil Can” on Rabbit, while spacey keyboards and bits of Hammond organ add to the vaguely menacing atmosphere – again, bringing to mind The Mars Volta, and even some of King Crimson’s subdued yet tense pieces. The almost 10-minute “I Shall Consume Everything” wraps up the album by bringing together all the strains and themes introduced by the previous numbers, juxtaposing moments of pastoral gentleness with flares of sheer intensity, surging like a wave propelled by a remarkable instrumental synergy.

With its visionary, sometimes slightly disturbing lyrics, paralleled by Kendra De Simone’s customary quirky artwork, Quickly, Quickly, Quickly is a bold statement that thankfully eschews the pitfalls of  pretentiousness by keeping its running time at a restrained 42 minutes. Not an easy album to get into at first – unlike the band’s punchy, more streamlined debut – but rewarding in the long run, it shows a band that is constantly evolving, in spite of the growing pains manifested in in their frequent lineup changes. In any case, this is a fine release that is likely to be appreciated  both by fans of modern prog and more traditional-minded listeners.

Links:
http://theteaclub.net/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Simon Magus  (6:23)
2. Diamondized  (6:33)
3. The Night I Killed Steve Shelley  (9:07)
4. Royal Oil Can  (5:15)
5. Out of the Oceans  (7:17)
6. He is Like a Spider  (6:20)
7. Nuclear Density Gauge  (7:21)
8. Tumbleweeds  (4:09)
9. Astro  (11:30)

LINEUP:
Patrick McGowan – vocals, guitar
Dan McGowan – vocals, guitar
Kyle Minnick – drums
Becky Osenenko – bass

With:
Tom Brislin – keyboards

In 2008, New Jersey-based trio The Tea Club’s debut release made waves on the progressive rock scene, and sparked a lot of interest in this youthful new band. A completely self-produced effort, General Winter’s Secret Museum brimmed with freshness, enthusiasm and not inconsiderable chops. Moreover – most important in this age of manufactured, cookie-cutter musical outfits – it sounded original, not sporting its influences too openly. The Tea Club were at the forefront of the new generation of ‘crossover’ progressive rock bands, fuelled by the raw energy of post-punk and indie/alternative rock, with an eye to melody and another to complexity –  a power trio for the new millennium, with enough quirkiness and intricacy to appeal to the old-school set, and contemporary-sounding enough to make headway with the younger fans.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the release of Rabbit, the band’s sophomore effort, was eagerly awaited in prog circles. Due to their ideal location right in the middle of the ‘prog hub’ of the US Northeast (the main subject of the documentary film Romantic Warriors), they have been able to gain a loyal following, as well as the opportunity to increase their visibility by playing relatively frequent live shows. Unlike other bands of recent formation, they have never suffered from overhype, and still retain an endearingly down-to-earth attitude. On the other hand, Rabbit comes across as a clearly more ambitious project that its somewhat stripped-down predecessor. With the basic lineup augmented by bassist Becky Osenenko, longer track times (including a couple of almost epic-length numbers) and the unobtrusive but constant presence of the keyboards (manned by an experienced musician such as Tom Brislin, known for his associations with the likes of Yes and Renaissance), the albums marks a shift away from General Winter’s… immediate, hard-rocking impact into more nuanced modern prog territories.

This time around,The Tea Club are a tad less restrained about letting their sources of inspiration show – though this does by no means spell derivativeness. The band occasionally sound like a toned-down version of The Mars Volta, an impression compounded by the McGowan brothers’ high-pitched vocals – even though they go for a distinctly more melodic approach than Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s occasionally abrasive tones. There actually are some numbers that bring to mind the generally low-key mood of Octahedron, the Volta’s latest release. The first two songs, “Simon Magus” and “Diamondized”, are both sophisticated, well-constructed numbers, the former with a more dramatic edge, the second relying on atmosphere rather than power. Indeed, Rabbit’s most remarkable distinguishing feature is its slower pacing, seemingly light years removed from General Winter’s… exhilarating urgency. Its reflective, somewhat attenuated mood cannot but bring to mind  the haunting atmospheres created by bands like Radiohead and The Pineapple Thief. A song like the 9-minute “The Night I Killed Steve Shelley” (one of the undisputed highlights of the album) seems to bring together the two strains of the band’s creative impulse, alternating understated, almost meditative, moments with bursts of intensity driven by fat bass chords, eerie keyboard effecs and high-energy riffing.

True to their new direction, The Tea Club also throw a couple of slow-burners into the mix – namely the muted, mesmerizing “Royal Oil Can”, with its solemn drumming and tinkling guitars, and the gentle, percussion-less “Tumbleweeds”, reminiscent of Radiohead circa OK Computer. While the closing epic “Astro”, in my view, is not a completely successful endeavour, reproducing in some way the stop-start structure of “…Steve Shelley” (though featuring a nice instrumental section with one of the rare guitar solos on the album, as well as assertive keyboard touches and commanding vocals), Rabbit’s real highlight lies in the powerful “Nuclear Density Gauge”, a kind of mellower yet subtly menacing version of a Mars Volta number spiced by jagged drum patterns, neat bass lines and haunting vocal exchanges.

Although I suspect Rabbit is one of those albums that will slowly but relentlessly grow on me, I also have to admit that, at least on the first couple of listens, it did not grip me in the same way as General Winter’ Secret Museum. As a whole, the album seems to lack the ‘peaks and valleys’ that made its predecessor such a compelling effort, and sometimes the tracks seem to blur into each other. I also found the ubiquitous vocalizing a tad off-putting, as if it deprived the music of some much-needed energy. Personally speaking, I would be glad to see The Tea Club adopt a more ‘back to basics’ approach for their next release, recapturing some of the edginess and vitality of their debut and blending it with their newfound sophistication. However, in spite of these shortcomings, Rabbit is undeniably a lovingly-crafted effort from a band that oozes potential. With a striking cover in gorgeous hues of blue and green (courtesy of  Kendra DeSimone), the McGowan brothers’ own quirky artwork gracing the booklet, and intriguing, thought-provoking lyrics, it offers a complete package in the finest progressive rock tradition.

Links:
http://www.theteaclub.net

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