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We spent a portion of our lunch hour today securing tickets for Tobin Sprout at Brighton Music Hall on April 23rd. It’s been a little over 17 years since Toby played a solo show in Boston, if we’re counting his performance in the fall of 2000 with his one album affair, Eyesinweasel. That memorable evening in Central Square yielded the Live EP Live In The Middle East, so suffice to say that this is a cant miss show for us.

In other cities Tobin is playing some co-headlining shows with the likes of Elf Power and Sebadoh, but at this point no other acts have been announced for the BMH show. So, I’d like to be put on record that I am herby casting my vote for Boston’s nearly unclassifiable indie pop titans, Hallelujah The Hills. Is that a thing? That should totally be a thing.

Tobin Sprout will hit the road in April in support of the just released set, The Universe And Me available now on Burger Records.

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Like many local music fans I first became aware of Allston’s grunge pop heroes Sneeze in 2011 with the discovery of their debut, Grandma In The Trenches and have followed along as the trio have accumulated one of the Boston music scene’s most impressive catalog, which was cemented this fall with their exemplary 2016 EP, Rot. In advance of the bands appearance at this weekends Noise For Toys III benefit I caught up with Sneeze fronter, Derek Desharnais to discuss the bands next full length, playing basement shows in Akron, OH, and the bands favorite releases of 2016.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Your latest release the 6-song EP Rot found you working with Justin Pizzoferrato once again. Can you tell me what that experience has been like and how it’s effected the new set as well as 2014’s Wilt?

Derek Desharnais: Working with Justin is wonderful. He is so down to Earth and just makes everything feel so comfortable. He works real fast and is very good at coaching, especially when I am doing vocals for 2 days straight. He has great ideas and pointers to make our sound bigger and fuller, which was exactly what we were looking for. Overall he made it much easier for us to produce tighter and cleaner recordings with a huge sound.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Earlier this fall you completed a tour in support of Rot which reached out to the Midwest. How did the reception differ in places like Akron, OH as opposed to the New England shows?

Derek Desharnais: Rot was very well received on this tour. The shows were very similar to the New England area but since we don’t head out that way too often the crowds were much more enthusiastic. This year we got the honor of playing mostly all ages shows and basements which made everything much more personal. We met a lot of amazing people as well as saw some missed friends.

AGP: We first got our taste of Sneeze’s hook laden cacophony on your debut, Grandma in the Trenches. How has the bands approach to writing, recording, and playing Live evolved since then?

Derek: Shortly after the Grandma EP, Sneeze almost fell apart. It originally started as a side project. But with the breakup of my other band I had a lot more free time that the others couldn’t pull off. Unfortunately they had to depart (all on good terms of course). The line-up has been consistent since I’m Going to Kill Myself to present (Danny Boyd and Julian Moore). Before, I did a lot of the writing and bringing the full song to practice, recently it has become much more cooperative. We are now all on the same page to the direction we are moving which makes playing live and writing much tighter and energetic.

ACP: What can we expect from Sneeze in 2017?

Derek: We plan on a new full length on a new label (TBA) as well as a few tours. I’m getting married in June so it will be a busy year but we already have 4 new songs complete so fingers crossed. Realistically I think we should have a new LP by early 2018.

AGP: Over the past 5 years Sneeze has played numerous shows in and around Boston in basements and traditional venues alike. How has the scene changes since your early shows?

Derek: The scene has changed both for the better and the worse. We saw the defeat of all Boston basements, now it’s on the rise again but it still is quite difficult to nail an all-ages show down. Over the last 5 years we have seen tons and tons of new bands pop up, with not enough safe spaces to play most places get booked up 3-4 months in advance. It’s tough.

AGP: Saturday you will play the 3rd annual Noise For Toys III, Toys For Tots Benefit at O’Brien’s so I’m compelled to ask you what was your best and worst Holiday present?

Derek: Personally, I grew up pretty poor person so holidays were more about the dinner and family than anything else. Some years I would get clothes donated from the local shelter to one year I was lucky and got a N64 which was rad.

AGP: With each ending year blogs like this one and others compile their favorite records of the year. We would love to know what was in heavy rotation this year for the members of Sneeze?
Derek: We all came to an agreement on these 4 records:

Culture Abuse – Peach
Del Paxton- All Day, Every Day, All Night (this actually drops in 2017 but it’s hands down the best record we heard this year)
Tyrannamen: S/T
Latishia’s Skull Drawing – Romanticized

Saturday Decemeber 10th The Ash Gray Proclamation, Coaches, & Clicky Clicky Music Present Noise For Toys III, A Toys For Tots Benefit featuring Sneeze,Elizabeth Colour Wheel,Coaches, & Lilith @ O’Brien’s Pub. Admission is Free with presentation of an unwrapped toy valued at $10.

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Prior to tonight’s Boston return of the newly reconstructed Guided ByVoices, we feel obliged to point out two recently released LP’s from Robert Pollard. Bearing in mind the arduous task of keeping up with Bob’s unhuman like output is no easy feat, however when he turns in two LP’s of the caliber of Guided By Voices’ Please Be Honest and Robert Pollard’s Of Course You Are,we feel compelled to share some thoughts on two records’ who’s songs haven’t left our headphones for very long since their respective release dates.

Back in March Pollard released Of Course You Are. For his 24th solo, full-length he enlisted assistance from his Wicked Ricky collaborator and current GBV guitarist Nick Mitchell to take on all instrumentation, recording and production duties. The LP finds Pollard delivering his most concise and accessible song cycle in recent memory.

The 12 track album reaches just over the 30 minute mark with each song exhibiting Robert Pollard’s unmatched ability of delivering skewed and exhilarating rock songs drenched in pop, prog, and psychedelia. It’s been 30 years since he released his first official Guided By Voices recording, yet somehow he continues to create material that presents a tenable argument that his best work may not be behind him. Pollard has taken to performing a handful of songs from Of Course You Are during the current GBV tour, and for good reason. With tracks like Promo Brunette, I Can Illustrate, and Collision Daycare, Robert Pollard delivers an album filled with beautiful melodies and arresting pop hooks.
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Reportedly, it wasn’t until Please Be Honest was near completion that Robert Pollard realized that he had recorded a new Guided By Voices record. Pollard wrote, recorded, and played every instrument on the album. Understandably, the LP has gotten comparisons to classic GBV LP’s like Bee Thousand and Vampire On Titus,due to the lo-fi aesthetics at work here. We prefer to stay away from comparison’s to the bands most revered recordings and let Please Be Honest stand up on its own merit, to which it has plenty. The album is one of the more varied and at times challenging sets in the GBV cannon, with immediate and infectious tracks like The Quickers Arrive and Kid On A Ladderwhich finds Pollard blending the guitar pop of late era GBV with those beloved recordings that took them from the basement to indie darlings in the early 90’s. Additionally, on Please Be Honest, Pollard discharges off kilter sludge rock on Glittering Parliaments, Hotel X (Big Soap) and horror post-punk on the jarring yet captivating Nightmare Jamboree.

On the albums blissful and melancholic title track is where we find Pollard’s strongest and most memorable melodies of the new set. With the dissolution of the “classic line-up” there was plenty to be skeptical of when Pollard announced he was releasing a new GBV LP that could’ve easily been a solo or side project, however Please Be Honest sounds undoubtedly like a Guided By Voices album; superb songwriting with massive pop hooks and Pollard’s one man show musicianship is the albums surprising secret weapon. I’m reminded of one of the interview segments in Banks Tarver film Watch Me Jumpstart (and I’m paraphrasing) where Pollard is asked where all his songs come from and his dead pan response rings truer today than ever,  “Hey, I’m Guided By Voices” . Indeed Bob, indeed…

Guided By Voices play The Paradise tonight with support from Nap Eyes.

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I distinctly remember the first time I heard Buffalo Tom come blaring out of a cheap pair of car speakers in the wee hours of a hazy Sunday morning in 1990, the now defunct WFNX was playing Birdbrain, which provided that rare eureeka moment, where nothing else mattered but what was being transmitted through those crakling speakers. The fact that a band like Buffalo Tom existed, never mind existed in my back yard was remarkable to me. For nearly 30 years Buffalo Tom have established themselves as one of the Boston Music Scene’s most revered bands and tonight’s sold-out show at The Paradise further proves the strength and consistency of their catalog, as well as their prowess for delivering exhilarating Live performances. Just yesterday we had the chance to catch up with Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz to discuss the legacy of his band, playing guitar based rock music at 50, and the fact that tonight the band will be debuting a few new songs.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: When it was announced that Buffalo Tom would be playing its yearly summer show at The Paradise, word came that the band would be debuting some new songs. What can you tell us about the new material?

Bill Janovitz: As always, the songs are instantly recognizable as Buffalo Tom, but with some new directions. Maybe we are the only ones who detect the novelty of certain new songs sometimes. But then again, fans like certain things and not others about certain records and songs and I view it all as a continuum in the long view. We will play 3 or 4
new ones that are still in various stages of evolution.

AGP: How do you decide what songs get relegated to Buffalo Tom as opposed to your other projects like, The Needy Sons?

Bill: It more depends on what project is ahead of me more than any aesthetic choices. But some songs are so obviously BT, whereas I mostly write for the Needy Sons with two-guitar interplay in mind. Having other projects helps me grow and there is a mutual influence back and forth. When I don’t have any impending projects, I tend to not be as inspired to write. Sometimes ideas will float and I will not put guitar in hand, or roll a recording to capture them. Once I am engaged and we have a few songs for one or another project, a snowball starts to roll and pick up other ideas.

AGP: What can longtime fans and new ones expect from this weekend’s performance?

Bill: Two sets starting at 9:00(Sold out). A broad range of material from pretty much all the records.

AGP: With the bands early years being spent in Western MA, I was wondering how you feel about the new crop of bands coming out of that area over the past few years, that seem to be following a similar path set by bands like Buffalo Tom?

Bill: While we did begin out there in Northampton, we did not really feel part of any local-based scene. Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh were pretty much the only things really cooking out there, but even then it was more about Boston and NY.

AGP: With the success of your Rolling Stones related books, Rock Off – 50 Tracks That Tell The Story Of The Rolling Stones and Exile On Main Street from the 33 1/3 Series can we expect future literary efforts from you?

Bill: Yes. I am casting around a few ideas right now. But as I am not a full time author, I am feeling a bit frustrated at my lack of progress with a new one.

AGP: With nearly 30 years under your collective belts what does the future hold for Buffalo Tom?

Bill: Death is a constant for us all. Ha. Only half joking, I just turned 50 and just feel lucky to be able to draw a few people at a time to hear us play guitar-based rock music, never mind people who travel to see a sold out show. I hope we can tour, but that means making a record. As this is no longer our full time vocation, it means trying to get us all on the same page, which is difficult with three different careers and families.

AGP: One of the most memorable Buffalo Tom gigs I’ve witnessed was 1993’s Shake A Leg Benefit in Newport, are there any performances that stand out for you?

Bill: That was a truly special show. I never remember the sets themselves, but I almost always remember the people, the band, the weather, the settings, etc. I especially remember when other musicians would come to early shows, like Paul Westerberg on one of our first tours. Or playing with bands that were characters, like Courtney Love. The big festivals are always memorable. But the ones I love the most are small-medium Euro festivals, like the Cactus Festival in Bruges. Buffalo Tom has played that twice and I played it a third time solo. Amazing location in the center of that medieval city.

AGP: Let Me Come Over seems to be a go to record for many fans, but I was wondering what album you’d chose from the Buffalo Tom catalog, if you could only choose one?

Bill: They honestly all run together. That one probably has the most songs that we almost always play or play the most. But we are entertainers and like to please people who come. I like digging deeper as well. As a fan, I always want to hear lesser-played songs by my favorite acts.

Buffalo Tom will play to a sold-out crowd tonight at The Paradise. The band will perform two sets beginning at 9PM.

Thermals 1Some artists have the ability to stop me dead in my tracks upon first exposure. That eureka moment that causes one to drop everything they are doing and run to the record store or, if you must, the digital music shop. Upon hearing and subsequently freaking out over The Thermals No Culture Icons in 2003 I immediately jumped in the car, drove to my local Newbury Comics, and snatched up a copy of the band’s full length debut, More Parts Per Million. Since that day The Thermals have gone on to release six more LP’s, including We Disappear, which the band recently issued on Saddle Creek Records and are currently supporting on their current U.S. tour.

Since re-opening in 2011, Providence’s Columbus Theater has played host to an impressive line-up of national and regional acts, but inexplicably I had never set foot in the 90 year old venue until this past Tuesday evening when Portland, OR’s noise pop outfit, The Thermals made their R.I. Live debut. As I walked into the theater I was ushered upstairs to the intimate 200 seat theater which resides above the venues namesake and 1492 capacity room. After a raucous and impressive set from openers Summer Cannibals, The Thermals took to the stage and wasted little time before kicking off their set with the1-2 punch of Into The Code and My Heart Went Cold from their latest LP. With assistance from bassist, Kathy Foster, Drummer Westin Glass, and lead guitarist Jessica Boudreaux (of Summer Cannibals), Hutch Harris led the quartet through a rousing set of cherry picked tracks from the bands catalog, with particular focus on the new material found on We Disappear as well as their critically lauded 2006 release, The Body, The Blood, The Machine. Having Boudreaux on board only aided the band to unleash dynamic and bounteous layers of guitar fuzz which in turn allowed Harris to ditch his telecaster at times, channel his inner David Byrne and whip the crowd into a frenzy. The set drew to a close with some the bands strongest material, for hair raising performances of Power Doesn’t Run On Nothing and I Hold The Sound. After a short break, The Thermals kicked off their encore with the very song that stopped us in our tracks 13 years ago with just as much ferocity and grit as they demonstrated on their debut, albeit with a little more sweat and swagger.

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During the spring of 1995 I caught my first Archers Of Loaf gig, not something I’d soon forget. Witnessing them open for a certain be speckled buzz band of the time, was so impressive that I exited the venue prior to the Happy Days themed video stars first song. Since then Archers Of Loaf have broken up and reunited only to be retired again. During this time front man Eric Bachmann has built an impressive solo career, with various recording vehicles such as Barry Black,  Crooked Fingers, and most recently releasing a self-titled LP under his own name which follows 2006’s To The Races and has been met with commendatory reviews.

Eric Bachmann is currently out on the road supporting his latest release, so on Wednesday my wife and I hopped into the car, (because every blogger deserves a lovely co-pilot) and made the short drive across the state line into our country’s smallest state to catch Eric Bachmann at The Met in Pawtucket, R.I. With little notice or fanfare Eric walked on stage with a workman like fashion and sat behind his keyboard draped in a rose covered cloth and launched into a stark and albeit hair raising performance of Modern Drugs. From there Bachmann was accompanied by an accomplished backing band and two female backing vocalists. The first half of the set was dedicated to the new LP with Bachmann turning in stunning renditions of Dreaming, Carolina, and a goose bump inducing version of the albums lead single, Mercy. With Bachmann alternating between keyboard and bass most of the evening, the second half of the set found him digging into his Crooked Fingers catalog, for standout performances of Crowned In Chrome, You Can Never Leave, and Sleep All Summer. The set came to a close to the cheers of the small but attentive crowd with the throbbing bass groove of Archers’, White Trash Heroes. One thing that struck me all night was that reportedly Eric Bachmann considered walking away from music prior to recording his eponymous new LP, which would’ve been a shame given the strength of the material he continues to release and the dynamic live performance I was thrilled to witness in Pawtucket on a Wednesday night in April .

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For over a decade now, Boston’s Hallelujah The Hills have been responsible for, in our estimation one of the most consistent catalogs in American indie rock. A quick refresher for the uninitiated, or those not up to date on the saga of HTH. After releasing their first two LP, with Misra Records, their debut Collective Psychosis Begone and 2007’s Colonial Drones the band found themselves in label limbo and decided to turn to their fans for assistance via a Kickstarter campaign for No One Knows What Happens Next and continued to utilize crowdsourcing for the recording of  2014’s high water reaching Have You Ever Done Something Evil? So, when the band announced that their latest set and overall 5th LP, would be titled, A Band Is Something To Figure Out,  to be issued on the bands own Discrete Pageantry imprint, it made perfect sense.  It’s common place for bands to release advance singles and engage in various forms of promotion leading to a new release, but Hallelujah The Hills took things a bit further when they a launched a web site dedicated to the theory that Woody Guthrie predicted punk , premiered the raucous new track We Have The Perimeter Surrounded and even caught the attention of their local office of the F.B.I.

One constant for Hallelujah The Hills is their ability to push their sound into new exciting directions with each successive release and A Band Is Something To Figure Out not only continues that fortunate trend, it’s proving to be the bands finest hour. A Band Is Something To Figure Out opens with an earnest distorted chord progression of What Do The People Want which buoyantly floats above the bands varied instrumentation for one of albums most memorable and infectious tracks, that effectively sets the tone for the entire LP. Some of my favorite records share a similar trait, that trait for  exercise sake we’ll call schizo song syndrome: that euphoric feeling you find that with each listen to said album you unexpectedly discover a new song to obsess over. ABISTFO makes a strong case for this fictitious syndrome, for instance this morning while driving to work Hassle Magnet hit me square between the eyes with its layers upon layers of fuzz and intelligent wordplay, meanwhile last night I was fixated on the massive pop hooks of I’m In The Phone Book, I’m On The Planet, I’m Dying slowly. What makes this album so immediately enjoyable is that the band continues to push their limit as a recording unit while chief songwriter, Ryan H. Wash’s delivers a new and compelling set of lyrics and hooks that wind up sticking with you long after the final track, Realistic Birthday Music has come to a close. I’ve tried to find a failed experiment or perhaps misstep within the 5th LP from Hallelujah The Hills, but I’ve found none. The album follows a logical progression for the band and seamlessly picks up where they left off with Have You Ever Done Something Evil, but somehow manage to pull off the arduous task of improving on their past efforts and delivering a dark and fuzz drenched opus that finds Hallelujah The Hills turning in their best LP and what is sure to be one of the finest rock records you’ll here all year.

Hallelujah The Hills will celebrate the release of A Band Is Something To Figure Out on May 12th at Great Scott.