A lot of labels are kicking things off by putting out tapes and then slowly easing their way into releasing vinyl. Massachusettes-based Counter Intuitive Records has shown themselves true to their name by plunging directly into the deep end and releasing vinyl from the start. With bands like Bay Faction and Motel TV causing a bit of a stir in the indie rock scene (and a very intelligent response to some controversy surrounding Motel TV) Counter Intuitive has gotten off to a great start. Below is an interview I was able to have with label head Jake via email.
Rob 1340 (RF): Can you please tell me the story of how Counter Intuitive Records came to be?
Jake Sulzer (JS): In January 2015 I was browsing the subreddit /r/emo when I came across a post that was titled “Hey guys I'm in a small band out of Boston that like to think that we have a lot of both R&B and emo influences. Anyway if you care to, check this new demo out.” I listened to it through the speakers of my iPhone 4 in bed at 2 AM and thought it was the coolest thing I had heard in awhile. I was just about to start my last semester of college and felt all the standard things that come with that; lack of direction, mostly. The band was called Bay Faction. I immediately sent them a message asking if they had any interest in getting the demo pressed on 7”. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to do it or not, I had only thought about pressing a friends band once before but never thought about it seriously, but I figured I’d at least see what they would say. They responded the next day saying they were writing a full length and that might be better to work on. 8 months later I put out 500 copies of Bay Faction’s self-titled 12” LP as my first release and found a small amount of direction.
RF: Where did the name Counter Intuitive Records come from?
JS: I had committed to Bay Faction for a few months and was running out of time to decide on a name before I had to put in the artwork for the vinyl with my logo. I was gonna go with Underwater Ally Records for a while after watching the Napolean Dynamite Loch Ness Monster scene. I was stressing over it and basically said to myself that wanting a clever name to catch people’s attention is counterintuitive to just getting their attention by putting out good music.
RF: What are some of the things you learned putting out your first release?
JS: There are a lot more expenses than what you expect when you look at the first quote you get for vinyl and think “that’s not that much”. I try to budget hundreds more than I need for every release for the stuff I overlook and don’t realize I need until a week before the albums are gonna start shipping.
RF: What is your current roster and where did you find these bands?
JS: I currently have 4 bands on the roster. Bay Faction, Plainclothes, Motel TV, and Weakened Friends.
Bay Faction were the first release, followed by Plainclothes which I put out shortly after Bay Faction. They had already put out their album digitally when I saw a tweet from Washed Up Emo that said they were a new band to look out for. Turns out they were mostly based out of Worcester which is less than 30 minutes from me, and their album was amazing so I got in touch and convinced them to let me press it on 10”. They have been really great to work with and have become friends of mine. They are the first band I went on the road with after I booked them a 3 day weekend in mid May.
Motel TV came about because I wanted to try to broaden my horizons a bit within the umbrella of indie rock. Although Bay Faction are pretty indie, they are still pretty fast paced. And Plainclothes is more of an emo/punk band, so when I heard Motel TV’s relaxed vibes I really was able to get into them quickly and imagine it being the type of EP I would have gotten stoned while listening to every day when I was 19. They really have the ability to take you away. This new EP they wrote has some really epic songs for a short little 4-song release and I’m very excited for it to come out this summer and for people to hear what they are capable of.
Weakened Friends came about when I saw that they were playing a show in Lowell with a friends band. One listen to their sound live and you can tell that not only are they all tight/talented musicians but Sonia’s voice is ridiculous. I chatted with her at that show and wanted to see if they were interested in working together and then after 6-7 months of back and forth online we came to a solid agreement to not only put out their new EP, but their debut EP, and another single all on one 12” vinyl. We just put out their first single from the new EP at the start of May!
RF: You’ve released vinyl for every band on the label. A lot of other labels that would fit the same mold as you choose to do a lot of tapes/cds before plunging into vinyl. What made you decide to stick with wax?
JS: I wanted to set myself a part when I first decided to put bands out because I didn’t think many labels my size were doing vinyl (turns out a lot more than I thought are). I also love vinyl and have been collecting for years now. I understand wanting to do tapes/cds to begin with, and some labels I’m friends with are killing the tape/cd game right now. It’s just all about where you are at financially when you decide to start and I was lucky to have been saving for awhile before I found Bay Faction. I stuck with wax because I felt it was the format I would want to buy the most, and I figure other people feel the same way.
RF: What is your dream for the label? When would you feel like you ‘made it’?
JS: I used to sit and listen to albums in my room at college, read the lyrics along to the songs on the vinyl insert and try to immerse myself in the experience. I distinctly remember listening to Hoffman Manor by State Lines and looking at the Meadowbrook Records logo on the back and thinking, “man, it is so cool that they got to be a part of this album.” So I guess my dream is that somebody out there is listening to one of these records, finding the same merit in it that I did, and thinking that same thing to themselves when they see my logo. Maybe that could inspire them the way it did for me. That would mean the world to me.
In terms of feeling like I made it, obviously the ability to pay my bills from this would be satisfying, but I think the most validating things would be selling out a record much faster than expected, or having one of my bands get picked up by a bigger label that has put out the bands that I’ve been following for years.
RF: Do you fear getting burned like some labels do when an artist takes a release to a larger label? Do you have contracts with your artists at all?
JS: I really wish the best for all my artists and want them to get as much exposure and opportunity as possible. I’m not too worried cause I trust them all to at least not screw me over. I have simple 1-page contracts with a few of them just to get rights to the vinyl pressing.
RF: What is the thing about your label that makes it important to you?
JS: It’s important to me because it is allowing me to actively participate in a community I believe in. Especially in my area (MA/New England) but also the online community. It’s ridiculously lucky to be in an area where I’m surrounded by so many good bands and so many friends that are incredibly talented musicians... it’s just something you can’t find as easily in like 80% of the country.
I can book a show and have some of my favorite current bands play it. I can save a few thousand dollars and press some of my favorite current bands on vinyl. I can go to a show every weekend and see people my age that feel the exact same way I do about music and watch them support each other and create friendships based on this mutual feeling. And I can post bands online to communities where people can connect to the ideas and feelings in these songs from around the globe. Even on a small scale it feels nice to contribute.
I met a fellow label owner when I was out in Cali recently and he was putting on a show that I was able to attend and I got to see an amazing band play and it was a highlight of my trip. I’ve spoken to people around the world that have reached out just to talk to me about what I’m doing and what they are doing. I only started like 8 months ago and I’ve already met a lot of great people because of it and it’s created opportunities for me to really enjoy music on a more personal level.
So I guess to sum it up, the community it allows me to participate it is the most important part.
RF: If you could sign any band out there, who would you sign?
JS: This is tough but I would have loved to be a part of Donovan Wolfington’s latest album How to Treat the Ones You Love. Best band name also.
RF: How can people find out more about Counter Intuitive?
JS: I only post more important “press release” type stuff on the facebook page but I’m always on the label twitter talking music stuff so please interact with me. Also, I post all the cool pics on insta...I’ve got a lot of free time. Anyone should hit me up on any social media/email and I’m happy to talk about everything and anything music/label related.
Fb link: http://facebook.com/counterintuitiverecords
RF: Thank you very much!
David Bazan is, ironically, a religion. For a legion of fans--typically college-age males from a more or less religious background--Bazan's songs soundtracked a journey parallel to their own, from a place of fervent devotion to reserved skepticism. A man who thought nothing about committing a cover of "Be Thou My Vision" to record became the man who penned "You heard the voice of the Spirit begging you to shut the f*ck up / You thought it must be the devil, trying to make you go astray / Besides, it could not have been The Lord because you don't believe he talks that way." And that was before he started changing the lyrics to his songs live to make them less devout ("And why I still believe" from "The Fleecing" became "And why I don't believe").
Curse Your Branches was Bazan's first full-length after abandoning the Pedro moniker, and his first record after "officially" parting with his faith. It stands as his most fully formed statement, a collection of tunes alternately sunny and somber, turning his full focus on matters of faith and loss, of what love and joy mean in the face of a world no longer illuminated by the surety of religion. Strange Negotiations, the follow-up, was best characterized by the title track, a dour criticism of our political systems that prioritize corporations over people. It was heavier and darker, recalling the anti-nationalism of his electronic recordings under the name Headphones.
It's fitting, then, that his movement from personal to political would bring him back to electronic sounds, but Bazan has taken an unexpectedly intimate turn. Despite the shift from acoustic guitar to electronics, the songs are immediate and human. The sound is immediately reminiscent of Headphones: big, slow synths, arpeggiated riffs, his voice, ever darker and more richly ragged, holding everything together, providing weight. But lyrically he has doubled down on personal narrative, no longer addressing people-cum-states like Virginia (or even Arizona). Bazan is slowly shedding his characters and his stories and talking more as himself.
It's classic Bazan, and it sounds like a Bazan we've known, but it's an entirely new beast, something predicted in an odd way by his cover of "The Man in Me," a Bob Dylan song affixed as a bonus track to Curse Your Branches. The two facets of Bazan's writing have always been the interplay of his two primary influences: Dylan and Randy Newman, the personal and the political, the earnest and the sardonic. Although the electronics would seem to be an inhuman canvas to work with, Bazan uses it an opportunity to swing towards Dylan and take his most personal turn in years.
"Both Hands" opens in a swirl of bleating electronics that almost mimic horror movie strings before opening up into his lament, "It still feels like / Both hands over my eyes." It's an image of despair, and it's a confession as well, the desire to blot it all out. For a singer who's been world-weary from the first, this darkness is heavy, indeed.
"Oblivion" feels like it might begin a more philosophical theme--"Hello again / Oblivion"--but it again unfolds into the personal: "It's no good to complain / Of fatigue and existential pain / On a six-week solo drive / While your friends work nine to five." Bazan's catalog is filled with characters who go to hell and back, drunk and crashing cars, philandering and ending it all, but Blanco finds him increasingly speaking, we might assume, as himself, the ceaselessly searching singer. "Now is not the time for second thoughts," he says as if chastising himself for dwelling in skepticism. It's not as if we're opening Bazan's diary, but there's less daylight between the narrator and the songwriter.
"Kept Secrets" brings the guitar back to the forefront and provides the album's first truly remarkable chorus, destined to become a live mainstay, with or without the synths. "With You" bounces along on an insistent bassline, and "The Trouble With Boys" absolute floats, a singular, glistening, heartbreaking moment on the album.
There will be those that bemoan the return to the Headphones sound, and for good reason. Bazan isn't an electronic auteur; the sounds aren't often surprising and, at worst, feel a little clumsy, like on the shuffling "Teardrops." However, the gravitational center of Bazan's music has always been his voice, and it has never sounded more full or assured than on Blanco. When he sings "Sit and think / and think / and think / and think / and think" on "Little Landslide," it sounds like a progressive revelation, each successive pronouncement turning it a new way in the light.
Sure, Bazan has been a little somber lately, and this record could have used, at the very least, a "Level With Yourself." It's a slow album, and the echoing drums begin to feel claustrophobic instead of spacious. But under all the reverb, Bazan is as raw and exposed as he's ever been. "Over Again" finds him "Under the covers / Finally alone / No one is listening / No one is home," finding a place to hide from the world, from himself. This record exposes that hiding place takes the hands from over his eyes, and meets our gaze squarely. Fans that find the shift away from guitar disconcerting are missing the gift that is here: the artist as himself, talking as directly as he is able. And with Bazan, the result is a revelation.
Reviewed by: Keegan 1340
Metal Blade Records
Release Date: April 8, 2016
After twenty years of dues paying, T-Roy has arrived at Metal Blade Records with Aquatic Occult, his best effort in a very, very long time. While Sourvein has always been known in Sludge/Doom Metal circles, they have also always graced the outskirts of it. This album brings them to the forefront though with its powerful guitar work and back alley grit.
The album kicks off with “Tempest (of Desire),” an instrumental that leads into the Sabbath fueled “Avian Dawn.” The band grooves right on with their murky, mystical fuzz front and center topped by the straightforward, street-wise vocals. “In the Wind” is another standout moment. The guitars come to life like a background vocalist with their huge sound and creepy tones. The song twists and trudges through the heavy tones and melancholy vocals and in the process it becomes something truly unique and refreshing. “Aquanaut” stood out to me as well due to its faster tempo and almost progressive feel. While it’s still got plenty of doom and gloom to it, the verses and breaks are like sirens calling reminding me of the very early works of Savatage musically. There is a lot of psychedelia incorporated into the songs as well, which helps lend credence to the album title and theme.
Overall, this is an excellent record from a pretty underrated band. Sourvein doesn’t make records that often so when they do, T-Roy always makes it count and Aquatic Occult is no exception! As a matter of fact, this one is a lot more amped up than Black Fangs if you are looking for a comparison. If you enjoy Sludge/Doom Metal then you don’t want to miss out on this one. It’s as pure as they come.
Reviewed by mark1340
Desire’s Magic Theatre
Release Date: April 29, 2016
While I enjoyed London, England’s Purson’s debut, their switch to Spinefarm Records seems to have been good for them. The band return with a 60s/70s inspired Psychedelic Rock album that leans way more towards the “rock” than their debut did. Sophomore jinx? Successfully avoided.
Desire’s Magic Theatre is much more of an event than I was expecting. The band sound a little brighter here musically, allowing their Doors, Steppenwolf, and Iron Butterfly influences to creep in and steal the spotlight. The end of the album’s namesake track is a good example of this with its jazzy improvs and rockin’ flute that leads perfectly into the groove-heavy rock of “Electric Landlady.” Cunningham’s seductive vocals carry the psych rock to new places by beckoning you deeper into the fuzz-laden guitar vortex while the solos make sweet love to each other. It all feels rather naughty I must say. It’s probably best if we don’t tell my wife.
“The Way It Is” is another of my favorite moments. The trippy vocals are pushed along by the clean leads and backed by bouncy horns and electric piano work. It’s a helluva lot of fun while maintaining its nostalgic sound. “The Bitter Suite” brings the album to a close, sounding like the bastard child of Amanda Palmer and Jethro Tull being directed by a young Alice Cooper. Clocking in at a little over seven minutes, this one is epic in both its psychedelia and its underlying 50’s Pop vibe.
Desire’s Magic Theatre is miles ahead of The Circle and the Blue Door. It’s a lot more upbeat and loose, shedding some of the Occult Rock aspects and allowing some new influences to take their place as the predominant features of the band. This is a great album if you are looking for something retro, fun, and rockin’. It’s a flippin’ burrito filled with cool and you should eat it.
Reviewed by mark1340
Run For Cover Records
Release Date: May 13, 2016
The first album was an accident destined to become a success: a collection of absurdly wordy, talk-singy anthems of heartbreak, twitter, weed, and heartbreak again. It was relatable to the point of being a little embarrassing, it was neurotic and funny, and it was more melodic and hooky than the band's earlier even more, nasal work. Dual lead songwriters Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens bounced off of one another, alternating songwriting credits and trading lines, feeding off the other's energy. The follow-up album, You're Gonna Miss It All, was an expected smash, doubling down on the neuroses and ramping up the tempo. It cemented their place in the Philly hierarchy: less serious than Sorority Noise, less jangly than Radiator Hospital, less punk than The Menzingers, but arguably more likable. They were plaintive, honest, and always strumming faster than hell.
Everything about Holy Ghost indicates a heavier, more mature record. Holy Ghost is darker, the distortion muddy, the vocals less all over the place, at times hinting at a gothy Cure homage (The Cure are referenced explicitly on "Hiding" and, along with U2, seem to be an inspiration point for the band in pushing their sound larger). There's the subject matter: depression, addiction, and the specter of religion. The record opens with Ewald invoking the album's namesake: "He's been haunting my dreams alright / I've been hollering at Him in the dark, trying to find the right switch." The album as a whole feels haunted, plagued by self-doubt and unanswered questions.
Then there's the two halves, one for each songwriter, which in itself feels like a Statement, an assertion of the band's ability to do more than just social media jokes. Giving Ewald and Lukens each their own extended statement is an intuitive call for a band who I legitimately didn't realize had two vocalists until I saw them live. Although they have their own brands of nasal delivery, the exact distinctions between songwriters wasn't always clear. The split feels like an overdue introduction to two songwriters who indeed each has a lot to offer.
The real surprise here is Lukens's half. The much-talked-about struggles with addiction and depression are here, but due in part to the brevity of the songs, they feel like extensions of themes he's previously addressed. The music, however, is like none he's written, jittery and anxious and full-bore, a salvo of sub-two minutes barbs. "Coding These To Lukens" rips with purpose, wasting zero seconds and still finding time for one of his best choruses: "I know it can't be in my head / it must be one of you who keeps pulling me aside / to chit-chat about what the deal is with / who I was once." He's still lovelorn--see "Breathing In Stereo"'s plaintive cry of "Why does it take two thousand miles for me to say 'I love you'"--but he's singing to us from a place of expanded perspective. The sophomoric pains and problems from earlier records are recontextualized through the lens of genuine suffering. "Just Another Face," the sole Lukens song over three minutes, starts with the baleful proclamation, "I'm a waste of time and space / I'm drifting through my selfish ways / I don't know how I got here." When he sings "I'll be with you the whole way," it sounds like a promise that carries a lot of weight from a person who knows what it means to be there for someone on dark days.
The unexpected consequence of the 50/50 division is that the sequencing suffers. The songs themselves are uniformly excellent, but the split layout may have done more for PR than for the record. By the time "What If..." roars into its breathless chorus, the Lukens side has begun to feel a bit assaulting, something that mixing in Ewald's more varied offerings could have alleviated.
In fact, Ewald's half holds up a bit better to repeated listens. The varied song length and pacing creates a natural rise and fall, ending in the genuinely affecting and anthemic "Hiding." The struggles with religion are inconclusive, and intentionally so. On "Wedding Singer," the most musically upbeat offering on the album, Ewald spends a moment talking to a deceased relative: "Said goodbye on the front porch / I always wonder if you're looking at us or looking away / I'd ask but either way I feel sorry for ya'." The answers aren't coming, and maybe they aren't so consequential after all. "Note To Self" takes the old theme of self-loathing and injects a new vitriol--he seems genuinely angry with himself as he howls "Drunk and worthless / spewing bullshit / all across the stage." "Every Day," also, is wearier than we've previously heard Ewald, and the intensity makes for fewer sing-alongs but is a welcome evolution.
Modern Baseball is exactly where they should be: older, more mature, more sure of their big gestures and self-aware enough to trim the fat. And they sound like themselves, an important caveat for a band with such an enormous personality. The chord progressions lifted from The Weakerthans are still here, but they're now being modified, twisted to fit a purpose. MoBo's influences, while not yet invisible, are being integrated into a whole that feels increasingly unique and vital. Philly's most lovable goofballs have years of experience and a little newfound gravity, and it looks good on them.
Reviewed by Keegan 1340