General B and the Wiz /// Skeleton

Let’s be honest here – it’s probably been a while since you’ve heard someone say the phrase “check out this great hip modern blues band”.  Blues music is something that’s more and more been relegated to bars you don’t go to and that one hall of fame that deals with rock and roll, or whatever.  The most popular modern blues acts are successful because they either take away or add elements to a tried and true formula; the White Stripes did it by taking out everything but some drums and a blown-out guitar amp, and the Black Keys did it by adding…  well, Danger Mouse.  Up until this point in their career, General B and the Wiz have been one of these few-and-far-between hip modern blues bands.  However, I’m not so sure of that anymore.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re hip as hell and absolutely stellar, but I struggle to call much of this album blues at all, or even the ‘indie-blues’ they describe themselves as.  Surprise – I think that’s a good thing.

That’s not to say the group have abandoned their blues roots entirely.  Opener “The Line” is as straight-up as it can get, but knowingly, they cut this jam off after less than two minutes, leading into the fantastic “Hold Up”.  That track is an early highlight on Skeleton – it’s easygoing indie rock verse/chorus gives way to a jaw-dropping bridge, featuring easily the most incendiary guitarwork the band have been able to showcase on a studio recording yet.  Things begin to get a little weirder on “This Town”, which weaves beautifully 80s acoustic and electric guitar arpeggios with what sounds like an upright bass to mesmerizing nearly-muzak effect before busting into a more traditional rock format.  It’s almost a shame when this change happens – yes, a whole track of this chilled-out sound may have been a little much, but it shows that General B and the Wiz surprise and delight when they step out of their comfort zone.

Luckily, the album seems to have these types of moments in spades.  Some of the band’s strongest work up until this point has had a certain off-the-cuff genre playfulness to it – their 2012 album Right in the Head‘s opener “Is it Enough” incorporated some progressive art rock-isms, and ‘All I Want’ featured some Wilco-circa-YHF music box sounds that have been reprised in spirit in the bridge of the aforementioned “Hold Up”.  Detailing each of the little sonic experiments on Skeleton would take the rest of this review though, so I’ll spare us both the time.

This album also finds lead vocalist Quincy Voris using his unique timbre in the most effective way possible.  When the rhythm section falls out, he spits out words as percussively as possible, and he stretches and molds sentences to add color and personality (case in point – “come on baby, I’m forLOOOORNNN” off “House”).  Likewise, the rest of the band seem to have expanded their already extensive musical palette.  The rolling funk of “Candi” and “These Days” contrast the Beatles-isms of “(In)finite” or the manic robot-rock of “Everything’s Fine” in a great way.

However, there are a couple missteps.  The four-on-the-floor groove of “House” is something they’ve done more than once before, but the vocals and tongue-and-cheek lyrics help make up for it – a certain line about a tire swing comes to mind.  Unfortunately, the Prince-indebted pomp of “Candi” doesn’t fare quite as well.  Voris’ falsetto is strong enough, but the band doesn’t lend their sound quite as well to this style compared to some of the other tracks on the album.  Regardless, with the amount of stylistic variety present here, it’s amazing these are the biggest complaints I could find.  The few issues present here are all more than redeemed,

The album is their best yet, but the title is a bit of a misnomer.  The songs on Skeleton are full-bodied, fleshed out pieces of music; the arrangements get dense and busy, and even the more brittle and incendiary guitarwork is often backed with powerful walls of choral wails, soothing layers of organ and synth, and sounds taken from many discrete parts of the musical spectrum.  These elements come together to form a body greater than the sum of it’s parts.  It may be a bit of a genre-hopping Frankenstein monster, but it’s a disarmingly well-put-together one, and there is flesh on these bones.

Weekly Spotlight

Sounds of Sleeping Jesus, Private Interests

Referencing our idols in art is a dangerous road. Go too far with the homage and you run the risk of being accused of bland recreation, but reign it in too much and you run the risk of not capturing whatever magic that piece of art may have had to begin with. Famed music critic Lester Bangs once said, “Personally, I feel that real rock ‘n’ roll may be on the way out, just like adolescence as a relatively innocent transitional period is on the way out. What we have instead is a small island of new free music surrounded by some good reworkings of past idioms and a vast sargasso sea of absolute garbage.”

To be clear, none of this is to say that the musicians I’m highlighting today are unoriginal whatsoever – far from it! However, there is no denying that the nostalgia runs deep in both these acts, and I believe it’s worth recognizing. As far as I know there is no truly original band in the area if we take the most literal usage of the word, and if there was it would probably sound pretty off-putting to us. The way we use our influences to craft something new, exciting, and unique is what sets us apart – that’s where these two bands shine. After all, Lester Bangs did also say “All humans are the same sex, except albinos”, so we should probably take his words with a grain or two of salt.

Sleeping Jesus released their debut EP Perrenial about a year ago, and it’s very rare that a band’s first release is so fully formed, so singular in sound. The jangly, soft wash of clean guitar, the occasional swell of organ, and the soft melodic vocals of frontman Nick Elstad all recall the sweet radio pop of the 50s and 60s. However, it’s the more modern touches he adds that really grab the listener. The playful surf guitar line that appears in Goddess and the easy groove that follows are a perfect example. The closest contemporary I can come up with is critical indie darlings Girls, but while Girls’ find restless teenage mania in their music, Sleeping Jesus are content to just sit back and enjoy life, letting beauty come to them rather than madly hunting for it. Elstad just finished recording a new EP to be released this fall, with a single coming later this summer. You can find them at Icehouse on June 21st.

Goddamn. Private Interests rock. Never do I want to live in the aforementioned Lester Bangs future of rock being a ‘phase’ if that means no more bands like Private Interests. To be staunchly, proudly rock in a time when Ed Sheeran’s frankly disgusting rap-folk single ‘Shape of You’ drags the radio even further down the deep chasm of hell isn’t a status of genre, it’s a statement. And state rock they do. The band is power pop at it’s finest, but less Big Star-balladry and more The Replacements-ruination. Both tracks on their recent split with Chicago-ites MAMA are stellar, demonstrating a deep understanding of their chosen genre and a clearly defined sound. The band aren’t all retro swagger though – the band plays tight and clean, and their rhythm section lends a restraint that eschews the all-in approach of many of their influences, like the moment around 2:30 into Finest Hour. No shows on the books, but tune into their Facebook page for updates.

Weekly Spotlight

Sounds of Lazy Scorsese, Wetter, Kazyak

You’re driving to work. You’re going westbound on 94, or south on 169. Traffic is probably terrible. Your iPod is plugged in; if you’re listening to the Current or Radio K, you’re in the minority. You probably know but don’t consciously realize the fact that there are bands all around you, right here in your hometown. Not just bands, but good bands, who make good music that you would like if only you heard it.

This is the first post here on Suspended Play – inaugural, but think about it for a second – this is probably not your first exposure to local music. Some of us might have a friend in a band, or a cousin who makes beats, or even just a coworker who noodles around on their acoustic guitar when the mood strikes.  David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) writes in his stellar book How Music Works about how engaging with ‘music’ only took it’s current shape of passive listening once recording technology became sufficiently cheap and accessible, putting record players in every home.  Prior to that, ‘music’ was going over to your friend’s house to try to play that new John Philip Sousa piece with your families in the living room. Of course, I’m not suggesting we all pick up instruments and go full-on Arcade Fire here. I just want us to maybe consider engaging with music in a more active way – starting by connecting you to some local acts that, heaven forbid, you might even like.

With that in mind, this maiden voyage of a post will highlight three bands based here in the Cities. Come back next week for another few, and keep your eyes peeled for upcoming interviews, reviews and features. It’s all very exciting stuff.

The slow-burn of Lazy Scorsese‘s Fear & Love in MPLS proves two things. Psychedelia is not dead in the Twin Cities, and it can soothe just as easily as it can…  Discombobulate. The relaxed groove the band settles into is precise, smooth, dreamy, and just eerie enough to keep you wary the whole way through. Especially impressive is the range of instruments the band is able to weave in without making the track feel overstuffed or too busy. You’ll hear sweeping string sections, electric piano, of course plenty of psychedelic guitars, and is that a hammond organ? Of the songs message, frontman Anthony ‘Oz’ Oslund says it’s “about internal hardships as well as external fears … and how someone close to you can make that all disappear for a moment just by looking at you a certain way”. You can find the band this Sunday playing from the rooftop of the BP gas station (!) on 36th and Lyndale, but they do have more traditional shows coming up that you can find on their website.

You’d be forgiven for getting halfway through Wetter‘s Truth Song and asking yourself ‘where is this going’? (which coincidentally seems to be a question singer Melissa Jones is answering with this song).  However, about two minutes in, the track begins to take new shape.  The instrumentally minimal preamble gives way to a rewarding indie-rock payoff – or ‘bummer-wave’, as the band describes their sound on Facebook – and a syncopated vocal hook that would make Frankie Cosmos jealous, sounding somehow world-weary and empowered simultaneously. This level of compositional restraint elevates the track, making the payoff all-the-more rewarding. Their more recent single, entitled The Big Disappointment (bummer-wave, remember?), is equally as poignant and can be found on their bandcamp page. The band’s next show is June 13th at Reverie Cafe + Bar.


Kazyak put out an EP a couple years ago – See the Forest, See the Trees. I’ll admit, I’m late to the party on this one, but damn if that EP didn’t blow me away. It melded a love of acoustic instrumentation with forays into electronic sound-glitchery, showing an ear for angular, mathy riffs and a post-rocker’s mind for composition – all in the name of folk! However, it’s been a couple years, and the band have recently released a new single in support of an upcoming summer release, Happy Camping. This single – Sundialing – distills that same spirit of acoustic experimentation and sprawl into a shimmering 4-minute indie folk song. It’s the sound of a band who previously threw everything at the wall and saw it stick take this experience and turn it back into a near-perfect summertime folk track to chill out to. Repleat with layers of double-tracked acoustic guitar, understated strings, and a soaring vocal line that begs us all to close our eyes and feel the sun on our skin; after the thinking music of See the Forest, See the Trees (which is still amazing), I have to admit it’s nice to zone out and let this one sink in. You can find the band June 13th at Icehouse, with their new EP coming a week later.