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Mahler & Me

We made the drive to the Fort Wayne International Airport yesterday to drop my wife off. She flew down to Raleigh, North Carolina for training. It’ll be an all week affair down south, so the children and I are left to our own devices. There will probably be lots of nothing happening, which I’m grateful for. It’s close enough to the end of the school year that nobody has anything going on after school. My wife’s birthday is tomorrow, so she’ll be celebrating 41 years of livin’ south of the Mason/Dixon line this year. The kids were bummed about this(especially our son), but after bribing them with books, toys, and a new comforter(as well as fries and shakes) everyone seemed content for the moment.

Fear not little ones, for we shall celebrate your Mama’s birthday when she returns. We pick her up at 9:40pm Friday night, but I imagine we will do that celebrating thing Saturday or Sunday. We did, however, have a pre-birthday lunch at the always tasty Polito’s in Mishawaka, IN after our oldest daughter’s band competition on Saturday. Rigatoni in vodka sauce, Philly Cheese Steak, deep dish pizza, spagetti in marinara sauce, and a stromboli were served, as well as some excellent breadsticks.

So back to yesterday, I treated myself to a couple “my gal’s gone, so I need to buy something to fill the emptiness” records. The first was, of all things, a Gustav Mahler album. To be exact, it was Bruno Walter conducting The Columbia Symphony Orchestra. It’s on the Odyssey Label via Columbia Records. The piece is Mahler’s Symphony No.9, and up to the point I saw the vinyl in the bin I really knew nothing about Mahler or his damn symphony. Truth is, I bought this record on the look alone. The album art completely sold me. Columbia had a way with art design back in the day, and especially with their jazz, classical, and more avante garde artists. This one, with its cube design, photos of the artist, and the giant number “9” amongst clouds, mountains, and trees really grabbed me. Hell, this could’ve been a Muppets album and I would’ve snagged it. Whoever was the art direction head for Columbia back in the day, kudos to you my friend. Kudos to you.

So you’re wondering “How is it, man?” Well, it’s full of that pomp and circumstance you would expect to hear from a late 19th century Austrian late-Romantic composer. “I. Andante comodo” and “IV. Adagio: Sehr langsam und noch zuruckhaltend” are my favorite movements, but it all flows with an intense, emotional rapture that the Austrians are known for. I will listen to this quite a bit, and not just because I love the sleeve design(though I will stare at it quite a bit.)

I also picked up Oneohtrix Point Never’s Commissions II, the RSD 2015 release I couldn’t get my hands on last weekend. It’s a totally different experience than his other albums. Side one is falling into industrial territory, with “Bullet Hell Abstraction I” exploding through the speakers like Skinny Puppy or Nitzer Ebb on a Wendy Carlos bender. It’s intense and stuttering, like buzzsaws set to destroy. “Suite from Magnetic Rose” is a 19-minute epic that takes up the whole of side two and it’s beautiful and vast and like a stroll through the milky way. It’s Daniel Lopatin at his best.

Okay, so that’s where I’m at. I’ll miss m’lady this week, but she’s getting some training that will ultimately help her do her job even better. I’ve got some new music cooking up myself, and with some new mastering software I’ll be getting these tunes ready to share with all of you. Look for that very soon.

All right, get back at it.

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Language of Shapes : ThunderKryst EP

Language of Shapes seem to be on quite the creative wave as of late. Barely six months agoLoS the band released their excellent sophomore album Mother Mountain. On that, the band pushed their organic and psychedelic sounds into new sonic territories. The songs breathed more. They were more expansive and lingered somewhere between here and outer space. Not to sit on their creative laurels, LoS have given us the exquisite ThunderKryst EP. Four songs, two of which are re-imaginings of songs off their 2012 debut album, one off Mother Mountain, and one new track. Further proof that if given the chance, Language of Shapes will indeed rule the universe, people.

There is one distinct difference between the Language of Shapes of 2014 and the Language of Shapes of today, and that is Patrick Mackay. Patrick Mackay has been welcomed into the LoS fold as guitarist extraordinaire and his contribution is immediately heard on opening track “Push Hard and Swallow”. This new track, if an indication as to future musical directions, is quite promising indeed. Not losing any of the band’s immediacy, the track has a vitality and urgency to it that carries you along. With Mackay adding more nuance than melody, he helps to build up the vocals of singer/multi-instrumentalist Tristram Burden and singer/mandolin player J.E. Seuk. As usual, the rhythm section of Courtland Miles and Bobby Goldberg add both depth and a solid backbone that steadies the songs delicate and immediate nature.

“Jaws of a Friend” and “Now We See The Dead”, off of Language of Shapes excellent 2012 debut have been given the LoS 2015 treatment. They both now possess a vastness and a big-eyed, existential melancholy to them thanks to three years of figuring how to properly set up room mics and the masterful use of reverb. The new versions of these LoS classics absolutely shine.

The band has not only developed their songwriting and musician skills, but they have become quite adept at making themselves sound damn good in the recorded realm as well. The fact that they record everything at home gives them the freedom to experiment and let things grow organically. Organic is an overused word at times, but in the case of Language of Shapes I feel it’s a perfect descriptor for these lovely souls. ThunderKryst EP is a perfect example of their organic and natural growth as artists. If it’s any indication as to what we have to look forward to in the future, then the future doesn’t look quite so bleak.

8.5 out of 10

 

Ben Zimmerman’s ‘The Baltika Years’

ben zimmermanI just love coming across new and exciting things. Why just yesterday I came across a garlic press that doubles as a watch and defibrillator. And last week I came across a pen with an eraser on the end of it. Can you believe it?? Erasable ink?? We are living in futuristic times, people. We truly are.

But this post isn’t about heated underwear or zero-gravity beards, no this is about the amazing release coming in June via Daniel Lopatin(Oneohtrix Point Never) and his Software label. The Baltika Years is a double LP collection of music Ben Zimmerman created on a Tandy Deskmate computer between 1992 and 2002. Who is Ben Zimmerman you ask? Well, until reading about this record I had no idea. Apparently he’s a Brooklyn artist that sent a bunch of tapes of music to Software in 2013 and Lopatin was compelled to release this music.

Upon listening to the first track, “Pausebreak pt.1″ I can see why he was compelled to release it. Imagine Trent Reznor alone in a tiny apartment with nothing but a crappy Radio Shack computer and lots of lonely moments to make music. Well, I should say that the song begins that way, then quickly morphs into this dystopian-sounding dream world. Breakbeats mixed with longing and emptiness.

I was enthralled immediately. It has the feel of Boards of Canada, though this song may have been created before there was a Boards of Canada. I don’t know. Either way this is exciting. It’s electronic music that puts you in a state of existential longing. Much like Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never, it feels more intellectually alive than the typical “beep bap boop” run of the mill electronic stuff.

Looking on Software’s website it seems there’s some interesting musical fodder to immerse yourself in. Like this one, it’s called….

I’m getting ahead of myself. Ben Zimmerman’s The Baltika Years comes out on June 9th, 2015 through Software. Check out “Pausebreak pt.1″ below and preorder the album here.

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Built To Spill : Untethered Moon

I am a late bloomer when it comes to Built To Spill. I didn’t hear a Built To Spill album till 2008, and that album was Keep It Like A Secret. Hell of an album to be initiated into the BTS fraternity, for sure. When I first heard it I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. Up to that point my idea of Built To Spill was completely off from the reality of Doug Martsch and company. I thought they were one of those twee indie bands that hatched from some ultra sensitive egg laid in the Pacific Northwest by long gone dinosaurs of an indie rock prehistoric era. Maybe some of that was right, but most of what I thought Built To Spill were was completely and utterly wrong.

Still, after two listens to that 1999 album I was hooked. There was something about the way Doug Martsch wrapped his heartfelt, Neil Young-esque voice around the buzzing, jangly single coil riffs that felt almost like an out-of-body experience. You felt as if you were floating above yourself as you listened these songs of existential longing and “might-as-well-drink-another-beer-cause-what’s-left-to-do” indifference. These were slacker anthems for the slacker that grew up and got the job and family and mortgage. The guy that sat at the kitchen table at 1am and worried about how he was going to pay the bills for the month. Music for the suburban blues.

Martsch may not have been singing to me, but he was singing to me, man.

I’m coming to Built To Spill at a time where they’ve been established. Doug Martsch is no longer building his empire of heavy-hearted, tortured clock punchers and everyday Joes and Janes. His empire is established. His artistry has been proven. He’s the bearded poet for the disenfranchised and the clock punchers. At this point everything he creates in Built To Spill is for him. You like it? Great. You love it? Great. You wish it sounded more like (insert favorite Built To Spill album here), well go listen to (favorite Built To Spill album) and be happy.

Untethered Moon isn’t something new. It’s not a game changer. It’s not the dismantling of the BTS sound and that sound rebuilt into something completely different. Untethered Moon is Doug Martsch simply writing songs only Doug Martsch can write. Unlike There Is No Enemy, this new album is concise, to the point, and engaging from start to finish. Compact, existential musings on what it all means. Beautiful pop melodies buzzing with life and overloaded into warm, glowing tubes. “On The Way”, “Never Be The Same”, and “Horizon To Cliff” are up there with the best. Folksy and whimiscal, with a hint of sadness under the surface. “All Our Songs”, “Living Zoo”, and “Another Day” buzz like bees in a kicked coffee can. “Some Other Song” even sports an opening riff not unlike Rush’ “Working Man”. Not a bad thing, man. Not at all. “So” sounds like Jimi Hendrix sitting in with The Jicks on a sweaty summer jam somewhere in Boise. And “When I’m Blind”? It’s an all-out guitar assault that has Built To Spill at their most consistently rocking since “Conventional Wisdom” brought tears to my eyes as I stood a mere 10 feet from Doug Martsch and company playing it live in 2009.

I may have come to the Built To Spill party a bit late, but if Untethered Moon is any indication the party won’t be ending anytime soon. Well into a storied musical history, Doug Martsch is still writing vital, poignant, and beautifully jangly rock n’ roll songs. What more do you need?

8.5 out of 10

 

 

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Lower Dens : Escape From Evil

Escape From Evil feels like a breezy reprieve from the dense, claustrophobic world of LowerLowerDensEscapeFromEvilCover2400-press_1_zpsefgrlqyo Dens’ previous album, the dark masterpiece Nootropics. On that 2012 record, singer/songwriter Jana Hunter wanted to create this world within the grooves. A world not easily found. Only after a few spins did that record’s genius show itself. With Escape From Evil it feels as if Lower Dens have opened the shades and let some light shine in. It’s gloriously catchy and shimmers like a cross between Talk Talk and Cliff Martinez’ Drive S/T. There’s nothing to dig through on here. Even the dark lyrical content can’t bring this album into the doldrums. Escape From Evil will slink into your brain and not be easily exorcised.

Jana Hunter has a unique voice. It’s gruff yet smooth. She can carry a pop melody beautifully and not burn you out with saccharine-y overzealous abandon. “Suckers Shangri-la” has an almost Til Tuesday sway to it. Shimmering synths, reverbed percussion, and processed guitars give you the impression we’ve set the wayback machine for 1982. Slight touches of melancholy permeate the chorus. It’s mournful pop gloom. “Ondine” is subtle and longing as Hunter sings “I’ll treat you better”, either a cry for a second chance or a chance to do better than the current lover. This holds some of Nootropics dark motorik tendencies, but with more emphasis on the radio dial. “To Die In L.A.” is almost giddy in its upbeat rhythm and Hunter’s exquisite vocals. The War On Drugs and Merchandise aren’t the only current artists that can ape the best of the 80s beautifully. Lower Dens proves a true knack for recreating the decade of neon lights, Michael Mann, and gated reverb.

Lower Dens gives in to their pop tendencies completely on this album, and it’s a beautiful thing. “Quo Vadis”, “Your Heart Still Beating”, and “Non Grata” are all steeped in electro grooves, 80s dance floor lights, and an unabashed love of melody. “Company” has a krautrock backbone and jagged synths that buzz in your ears as Hunter anchors the song firmly for us to crawl inside of and get lost in. The chorus has a gallop to it that is hard not to get lost in.

From start to finish, Lower Dens’ Escape From Evil is a catchy, pop-fueled record that captivates and sucks you in. When a band can take the essence of the 80s and use that decade’s musically sunny disposition and mix it with the earthier, darker elements of what’s transpired within those 30 years in-between it can be a riveting listen. The War On Drugs, Merchandise, and Diana are bands that take that love of the 80s and can reinvent it into something new, creative, and vital. Lower Dens has done that as well, and quite masterfully.

8.5 out of 10

 

Good Weekend

hotelOkay, I’m beat. It was a jam-packed weekend of record store visits, car rides to the big city, good food, incredible live music, and swanky hotel room living. I’ll tell you the short version as I’m tired and ready to sleep for 12 hours.

This was Record Store Day weekend. There wasn’t a bunch of stuff I was particularly excited to get, but what I did want I was able to snag early Saturday morning at Karma Records of Warsaw. Built To Spill’s Untethered Moon and Of Montreal’s Snare Lustrous Doomings were the two albums I really wanted and I was able to snag them no problem. As a bonus I grabbed High On Fire’s Surrounded By Thieves on blue vinyl. Karma Records had their best turnout yet and I’m happy for the folks over at Karma.

In the afternoon the wife and I headed three hours south to Indianapolis to see Sufjan Stevens. We stopped at Luna Music in Indianapolis and I snagged the one-time pressing of the score to Big Bad Wolves courtesy of Death Waltz Recording Company(it’s absolutely incredible.) We had reservations at the Hilton in downtown Indy. The hotel was nicely swanky. We drove over to the Murat Theater and parked. Ate in the wonderful Bier Garden of The Rathskeller. The food was great and the Rathskeller Seasonal Bier I had was quite tasty.

The show? It was started out by a band called Cold Specks. Very good band with a bit of soul and indie grit. Great band. But the highlight was Sufjan Stevens. Easily the best show I’ve seen in ten years. What I expected was a nice, low key show with some great songs. What I got was a wildly unpredictable show, with some amazing reworkings of songs from his newest record. Speaking of the new record, Sufjan and his band performed Carrie and Lowell in its entirety with a quick detour towards the end. The songs still retained their intimacy and earnestness; but Sufjan reinvented these tracks with some of the electronics he’s been toying with for the last few years. The results were absolutely stunning. The last track on the album, “Blue Bucket Of Gold”(and one of my favorite songs on the album) turns into this absolute cathartic noise explosion. I can’t put into words how intense and emotionally overwhelming this song was live. In fact, with the visuals(several long screens behind the band that showed old family home movies, as well as beautiful landscapes and abstract colors) as well as the lights took you to another place watching the show. Sufjan spoke of his great-grandmother and how her death affected him. It was a funny and poignant story. For the encore, the band returned to the stage to play some classics from Sufjan’s past, closing the show with his classic “Chicago”.

I was moved and literally blown away by Sufjan Stevens. I haven’t been this moved since seeing Wilco up close and personal in 2002 at a small club in Columbus, Ohio, just a week before the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Thank you Sufjan for giving me a show I will never forget(at least until dementia hits.)

The wife and I grabbed some breakfast in downtown Indianapolis before stopping off in Noblesville for some clothes shopping. We made it home around 3:45pm today.

That’s all I got. Time to finish this Imperial Russian Stout and then crash in my chair. Hope you all had a great weekend(though I’m sure it wasn’t as good as mine.)

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Photo by Adam Garland

Low Down Swing : The Sounds of The End Times Spasm Band

 

by EA Poorman

So way back in 1995 I was this lowly cretin working a sad 9 to 5, chugging away at life and not really sure what I wanted to do with it all. Clock in and clock out. Eat and sleep. It was a cycle of monotony that would lead to nothing but paychecks and paid bills. Okay, I guess. Just nothing truly satisfying. No wild oats were being sewn. No barriers breached, if you will.

On one trip home from the daily grind I heard a story on NPR about a band called Squirrel Nut Zippers. They were this band out of North Carolina; a bunch of Chapel Hill freaks that made a dirty, dark sound with a mixture of delta blues, gypsy jazz, and swing music. While they were eventually tossed into that generic wicker basket with the rest of those “swing revival” bands(a huge mistake, btw), for that afternoon it was like a spiritual awakening for me. I immediately snagged their album The Inevitable and obsessed for months. It felt like a reprieve from all the “alternative” rock I’d been gulping up to that point. I wasn’t necessarily a newbie to the likes of blues and jazz. I’d dabbled in some Chick Corea, Thelonious Monk, and Herbie Hancock by that point. I also owned the Robert Johnson box set and had marveled at Django Reinhardt’s scratchy recordings. But the Squirrels were different. While their songs were definitely steeped in jazz and blues, they added darker elements. There was something eerie about them. Like they were all possibly ghosts. Or just modern freaks dabbling in the dark arts and Klezmer. There was also something very organic and earthy about them. Hands on.

Imagine my surprise when I first heard Fort Wayne’s The End Times Spasm Band. It was like being transported back to 1995, sitting in my Nissan Sentra and being utterly amazed. Bart Helms and Lyndsy Rae are very much steeped in that same spicy and quirky musical jambalaya that the Zippers were in, but put their own twist on it. They swing hot, pull inspiration from both the dark and the light, and name drop french poet Charles Baudelaire on their newest E.P. Baudelaire. They even cover Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose”. They’re not messing around. Or maybe they are.

Currently the band includes Lyndsy Rae on vocals, Bart Helms on all things stringed, Ryan Holquist on drums, and Andy Rice played bass on Baudelaire, as well as covering bass duties for the local release shows. I sat down with Lyndsy and Bart and talked to them about the band and the new e.p.

EA Poorman: So for the uninitiated, give us some background on The End Times Spasm Band. 

Bart Helms:  Lyndsy and I met in 2008. We started performing as The End Times Spasm Band a year later. Ryan and Andy started performing with us in 2013.

Lyndsy Rae: We saw Ryan and Any playing our songs at Locals Doing Locals at the Brass Rail as part of The Illegitimate Sons. Andy had a sparkly jazz twinkle in his eye.

Bart Helms: And he was adding Mingus riffs to our song “High Wire Lover”, which was actually based on the chord progression to “My Jelly Roll Soul.”

Lyndsy Rae: So we had to snatch him up.

Bart Helms: So many drummers do only one thing, but Ryan has such a range and a subtle touch. These guys just understood what we were after instantly.

EA Poorman: Talk about some of the influences here. I hear some Django, early Louis Armstrong, and some Billie Holiday in the vocals, with some modern touches thrown in. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Squirrel Nut Zippers, as they were the gateway band for me at 21 years old in 1995 that introduced me to this world. Who were the artists you all connected with in the band?

Bart Helms: I’m glad you said the Zippers. Hot and Perennial Favorites are two of the best produced albums of the 90s, and it’s a shame critics lump them into the otherwise forgettable swing craze. On this EP, I wanted to experiment more with tone and layering in my parts, so I was definitely listening to those. Bringing back the baritone uke for the chord melody lead on “Little Bird” is an unabashed nod to Hot.

Lyndsy Rae: Lyrically, I think we get inspiration from a lot of sources outside of jazz. For me, it’s Edith Piaf and Zaz. I know Neko Case inspires Bart. For “Archaeologies”, I knew it was weird to insert tap and scatting, but I was inspired by Zaz, who uses her mouth and hands to make music outside of the norm. If Bjork can be weird, I can be weird.

Bart Helms: “Baudelaire” was meant to be a Django tune from the start. Estock(producer Josh Estock) was skeptical about doubling the rhythm guitar part, but knew it was the only way to get that sound. Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five recordings are just all-round inspiration for me. That band is the sound of pure joy.

EA Poorman:  Tell me about the newest EP, Baudelaire. Where was the ep recorded?

Bart Helms: We recorded it in Champaign Illinois with Josh Estock.

Lyndsy Rae: Estock is one of Fort Wayne’s greatest treasures. His ears are fine-tuned to find details, and he hears things I will never hear. As a musician you get to a point where you don’t want to hear it anymore, but he doesn’t have that. When he recorded with Lee Miles, he became another member of the band. He gets more passionate about the recording than the band. I can’t believe he’s in Fort Wayne and my friend.

Bart Helms: It had been so long since we recorded last – all our previous attempts fell through – that even though we didn’t have the funds for a full-length, we knew we had to record something and get it out there. Lyndsy and I had learned so much on the road those two years, and with the addition of Ryan and Andy, we just had to capture what we had as quickly as could to let people who maybe hadn’t seen us in a while know what we were up to. When you aren’t immediately accessible on a stage in someone’s town, you can be quickly forgotten.

Lyndsy Rae: We said we wanted to get snowed in at the studio, and sure enough we did. We were all together, sitting there together, listening to each others’ parts, exchanging ideas. I’d never experienced that, and that’s probably the most memorable thing for me.

Bart Helms: One of the failings on High Wire Lover was we kind of cookie-cuttered the arrangements. We spent a lot of time getting the sounds right for each song individually this time.

EA Poorman: Are the songs on Baudelaire ones you specifically wrote for this ep? How long did it take to record this album?

Bart Helms: One weekend in Illinois. A couple of afternoons trying kazoos.

Lyndsy Rae: And how to record tap shoes. With the song “Baudelaire,” I wanted to explore the concept of how he’s this dark, infectious writer. It’s enchanting to see how he’s able to infect people throughout time. In that way, there’s a parallel between his poetry and the music we perform and write.

Bart Helms: The rest had been in our songbook for a while but were specifically chosen to fit with “Baudelaire.” I actually wrote “The Figure of the Dance” before I met Lyndsy. We tried to record it for High Wire Lover, but that version just didn’t work. We specifically chose these six around a couple of themes. Bones pop up in some of the lyrics, for example. These were also the songs that we thought worked best without horns. We saved a lot for next round when we hopefully have a bigger budget.

EA Poorman: Tell me a little about the songwriting process in The End Times Spasm Band. Does someone come up with a riff or melody and you all get together to hammer it out in rehearsal? Who handles lyrics? Where do your lyric ideas come from?

Bart Helms: Obviously we leave a lot of room for improvisation, but End Times songs tend to be compact in a way that you can’t reach while jamming on a riff. The melody and words have to hit hard and direct, and after that it’s just details. How do you start, how do you stop, who takes a solo.

Lyndsy Rae: Another thing that’s amazing with Ryan and Andy is we present them with a framework, and it ends up being very Ryan, very Andy, very Bart, and very Lyndsy. There’s a lot of individual style. It’s fascinating how that always seems to peek through.

Bart Helms: The inspiration for my lyrics tend to come from what I read, which can be anything from poetry or a book on the history of mathematics.

Lyndsy Rae: It’s totally the same for me. Whether it’s a book you’re reading or an artwork your seeing – if it’s a vulnerable day, it turns itself into a song. Writing “Baudelaire,” I was lacking adjectives. They don’t surface naturally in another language. I was looking at an art book by Bacon, with a lot of exposed bones and rib cages, and I tried to visualize that.

Bart Helms: To write End Timesy material, we both benefit from setting ridiculous songwriting challenges. I think this year one of the rules is no more love songs because those made up two-thirds of our Nosferatu score.

Lyndsy Rae: We both subscribe to being a scholar. We need deadlines. We were in college too long.

EA Poorman: The band covers Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” on Baudelaire and I have to say it’s an extraordinarily beautiful rendition. Lyndsy Rae did a fantastic job on the vocals. How did the band decide to cover this song? 

Lyndsy Rae: Thank you.

When we were on the road, people kept asking which album had the French one on it. Supposedly in America, people want you to speak American, but here they were asking for the French song. Keeping that song alive is important to me, and that’s what we do. We couldn’t really skip over that one if we were including other French songs. Besides, if we’re going to sing a long song, it’s good for it to be in another language so nobody will know.

EA Poorman:  What’s the future hold for The End Times Spasm Band? Could there be another full-length at some point?

Lyndsy Rae: World peace.

Bart Helms: I hope we get to do a full-length soon. The original intention for the EP was to help raise funds for a full-length and to teach us more about using a studio. As performers, we can’t wait to bring in more collaborators next time, and as songwriters, a full length would be fun because it would let us explore some more complex themes.

Lyndsy Rae: Expect to be unexpected. Expect for the experiences we create to pop up out of nowhere. Anything from busking to another orchestra performance.

Bart Helms:  We try to surprise each other with ideas. Hopefully more of them see the light of day in 2015.

Expect the unexpected on May 9th at CS3 when The End Times Spasm Band plays songs from Baudelaire for the masses. They’ll also be playing The Phoenix on June 6th. You can keep up on future shows and all things End Times Spasm Band at http://endtimesspasmband.com/tour/.

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Photo By Adam Garland