Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Album Review: Dinosaurs In Vietnam "Long Island Excavation Vol 3"

Thanks for joining me, AllOne family!!!
     While I've been working "behind the scenes" on my new album "Rapologues" and my short story collection "Water Coolers & Camp Fires" and other such personal creative endeavors, I've taken it upon myself to do a few external projects with talented friends.  One place that I've met a lot of ambitious and personable audio/visual artists, business folk, creative types is a new gathering called "The Rendezvous" that was started by my brilliant friend and collaborator Pete DeMaio.  It's sort of a "networking group", but more on that later, as it grows and is able to invite and accept more and more people to share ideas/resources and help one another achieve their goals.  One opportunity that came my way was the chance to listen to and do a write up the Dinosaurs in Vietnam's 3rd compilation "Long Island Excavation".... lets get into it!  The project is free to download and a great treasure so I'll start by saying that I recommend you go right now to listen to it and download it immediately, but I'll get into more of it below!  EVEN IF YOU DON'T READ THIS LENGTHY REVIEW, PLEASE JUST CLICK THE COVER ART BELOW AND LISTEN TO THIS PROJECT, I PROMISE YOU THAT YOU WILL FIND AT LEAST A FEW NEW FAVORITE BANDS!!!

"Long Island Excavation is a compilation being re-released July 8th
at the Huntington Cinema Arts Center. Click this caption to DL FREE!

Dinosaurs in Vietnam is the brainchild of the talented and generous Long Island musician, engineer, friend and mastermind of many mad hats Will Forthman.  (Will actually played some role in at least half of the tracks, be it instrumental or production oriented!)  DiV has been in existence for nearly a decade, a DIY label based out of Lindenhurst run by passion and a belief in the flourishing creative scene. I asked him for an explanation of DiV (and the history and details behind this compilation) and he had this to say...

"Dinosaurs in Vietnam was started in 2007 ... Originally intended as a label, it morphed into the moniker I used to promote local shows. I booked a number of tours for Massapequa-based bands.... In 2009 I relaunched DiV as a local DIY label--- the original goal-- and released the first comp "Save Our Heads For The Future", which featured two songs from six bands. I released Volume 2, "Crude Oil" in 2010 featuring 15 bands. Both of these comps stayed true to Wrong Islands DIY aesthetic which I always appreciated... In 2012, my uncle finally completed his basement studio. Dubbed "Lindy Studios", DiV entered its third phase. Now we had a studio and I started a number of recording projects...During this time I started the beginning stages of volume 3 of the compilation series. I had a hand in about half of the 21 tracks on it; the other half were pre-existing tracks other artists contributed. With the help of Mike McManus, I finalized the track listing and Paul Motisi created the cover art, something that was kicking around in the caverns of my brain for years.... Together with Mike and Paul, volume 3 of the series "Long Island Excavation" was born. It is my most ambitious project to date and I am very proud of it. It encompasses all of the passion and belief I have in our local art community here on Long Island, and it is a photograph of a mere sample of the astounding talent we have here."

The Tracklist (click the band names to visit their site)
I've highlighted my absolute favorites,  that I can't get out of my head and/or returned to obsessively:
1. Tom Moran Band - "Pushing The Drug"
2. Joyce Nancy - "The Confessor"
3. The Grand Cannons - "Dead By Dawn"
4.The Boys Club - "When We're Up Again"
5. Killer Wails - "Four Four For Sure"
6. Rice Cultivation Society - "Cell Phone"
7. The Vigilance Committee - "Ordinary Things"
8. Yankee Longstraw - "When The Son Of A Bitch Comes Back"
9. Helicopter Goes Kaboom! - "Electrotease"
10. Moon Tooth - "Storm Pill" 
11. Bdee + The Venomous Oranges - "Cold"
12. Don Miguel - "Braille/Messages From Big Truck
 (ft. Steve Rey, SamueL & Nick Lee)"
13. Monsignor Ghost - "Better Down Than Up There"
14. Sugarskull Piledriver?! - "Highspots"
15. AfroDJMac - "I'd Never Leave You (Crashed)"
16. Jay Briggs - "Catalyst"
17. My Summer - "Compromise"
18. Motion Ocean - "High With You"
19. Unaware Wolf - "We Come True Too"
20 More Than Skies - "White Pine Way"
21. Plutonium Lovecraft - "The Butcher"
22.The Final Composite (For You)

A diverse collection
     This project is sort of an eclectic Long Island music scene starter kit.  Still, the fact that this lengthy compilation is just skimming the surface is a remarkable truth, speaking to the depth of activity and talent in the Long Island music community!  Will has valiantly arranged for us a delectable sonic smorgasbord featuring a myriad of styles (as any compilation could be expected to) but even more so since DiV isn't necessarily a label so much as a scene-support-hub-collective.  Despite the diversity present here, McManus and Forthman have tastefully arranged the tracks so that the transitions between song styles and genres are relatively natural and comfortable (save for the jarring switch from the catchy chanting Yankee Longstraw song into the Helicopter Goes Kaboom! track, but to be fair, H.G.K.'s music is unique and would stand out anywhere).   Many of these songs are so cleanly mixed and arranged that you'd think they come out of a retail-bought CD (Tom Moran Band, Joyce Nancy, Moon Tooth, Don Miguel, The Grand Cannons, The Vigilance Committee some examples) , while others are more lo-fi, raw and gritty (The Boys Club, Monsignor Ghost, Sugarskull Piledriver?!, Helicopter Goes Kaboom!, Plutonium Lovecraft to name a few) .   It's a healthy balance of these two types of presentations that maintain the DIY authenticity that Dinosaurs In Vietnam treasures, while also proving all of these reputable grassroots artists have considerable pride in their work.
     A cool little background informational side-note speaking to the familial quality of creativity in this scene and on this project is that many of the performers on these songs are interchangeable from band to band.  Brian of BDEE + the Venemous Oranges, also produced the Monsignor Ghost track.  Brian and Mike McManus make up Helicopter Goes Kaboom! while Mike McManus a.k.a. Don Miguel also drums on the Tom Moran Band track.  Lauren Diehlman sings on that song as well as in Killer Wails and Unaware Wolf.  Phil Corso recorded the drums for The Vigilance Committee's song as well as the More Than Skies track.  Nick Lee is the madman virtuoso guitarist from Moon Tooth and is also featured on the Don Miguel track.  The designer of the DiV logo Paul Motisi is also responsible for the final track by Plutonium Lovecraft.  Those are just the creatively incestuous connections that I am aware of.  The point being, not only is this collection a testament to the great music that can be found in our area, but also the great congregation of people and creative types dedicated to the enjoyable and social process of creativity and music.

...Thoughts on the music..
     The balance and comfort of the track listing for the first eight tracks is mostly achieved by staggering the uptempo and mellower songs.  Tom Moran Band's unrelentingly catchy opener, "Pushing The Drug" starts the collection, juxtaposing an uplifting sound with somber lyrics written with signature wit communicated with beautiful melodies and harmonies.
     The Joyce Nancy track is more openly downtrodden, but the frankness and gentle strength of her voice and the lyrics it sings make this song a powerful and addictive listen as opposed to being a maudlin deterrent.  The Grand Cannons song immediately picks the mood and tempo back up, their sound is somehow familiar and this won't be the last time I'm saying it, but I feel like it'd be perfect for a skate video.  The Boys Club track is so short and low-fi that it feels like a voicemail interlude to the fantastic Killer Wails track "Four Four For Sure".  Everything in this song, from the vocals and arrangements, the guitar tones and the oddly catchy drum parts make me feel good and it plays in my head. constantly.
     The mood mellows out again when Rice Cultivation Society comes in, an entrancing sincere sort of song about our dependency on technology.  It feels like lullaby that'd be in the credits of an independent film, and while it's a great song, it's a little slow going for me personally to get hooked on it.  The Vigilance Committee picks the pace back up with one of the most addictive songs from their debut album "Lost Again", "Ordinary Things" never lets up on the musical changes while still holding down an impressive accessibility.  They deliver another song whose guitar parts, vocals and drum patterns take turns embedding themselves in my mind.  Yankee Longstraw brings in an epic track with clever and visual lyrics "I'm a paleontologist, I've got a bone to pick with history..." and chanting lyrics and a grand arrangement.
      The album has a majority of indie folk/rock and delineations around these labels, whatever labels mean, be it folky and nearly country vibes or progressive elements.  Tracks 9-14 dip into a sort of interlude of alternative/experimental deviation from the indie-rock starting off with the aforementioned "Helicopter Goes Kaboom!" track (a band that could be lauded for being paradoxically "typically atypical"), leading into the fantastic technical metal track by Moon Tooth.  Followed by a  BDEE + The Venomous Oranges track that feels like Block Party in space, that I could totally imagine being in a skateboarding video.  Then a two song foray into hip hop with Don Miguel and Monsignor Ghost, which is admittedly a case where the production outclasses the emcees.  Steve Rey and SamueL take a sort of message route lyrically that isn't bad but it doesn't necessarily feel like anything we haven't heard while Monsignor Ghost takes the laid back humorous approach.  Sugarskull Piledriver?! pulls us roaring back into the rock realm into a wild lo-fi song with many varying parts giving shine to each instrument.
    The remaining set of five songs all (to me at a least) possess a common denominator that is a sort of nostalgic and beach/summery (no pun intended) vibe.   AfroDJMac gives us a sweet love song of sorts that makes me feel like I'm driving in the beach in the 50s, despite what his name might have you think.  Jay Briggs' song "Catalyst" slipped by me a few times (one thing that could be said to be faulty of any project of this considerably length is that songs just get lost amid the track list, particularly towards the end) However, upon repeat listens this is one of my favorite tracks and it saddens me that I can't seem to find any information on his music.  This is another song that is totally enveloping to me in its presentation, so many layers and the vocals drenched in reverb and the mix is just great.  It reminds me a little bit of Band Of Horses, which probably (I'll say it for the third time) feels like it'd be the backdrop to someone's part in a Transworld Skateboarding video.
     The next track, "Compromise" is one of my favorites on the compilation.  I caught a My Summer live set a few months ago and they played so tightly and with a great energy.  They're easily a new favorite band of mine (I think you'll find a lot of new favorite bands in this compilation, and will certainly be inspired to start seeking out the obviously verdant music scene that is thriving on Long Island).   The song has beautiful parts on all instruments and the vocals are wonderful.  While the majority of the parts are really bright, the lyrics are rather sad and the song ends saying, sincerely and poignantly, "we've all been used, some of more than others...I'm not a sucker for a happy ending anymore...we've all been had, then they sell you the box you die in.".  To juxtapose this final sentiment we have a direct and upbeat singing and dancing ukulele driven song by Motion Ocean.  Simply and obviously dedicated to just hanging out with friends, smoking pot and chilling.  Not my cup of tea, but an infectious song that I could see plenty of people loving and dancing and really enjoying, I've been to some shows of theirs and they're great people and musicians and their performances are excellent..
     Everything about the Unaware Wolf (aside from their badass name) song reminds me of hanging out on an island, I feel like it could be in a Pixar short film.  It's fun, its mellow and cute, good feelings.  More Than Skies shares a single from their monstrous triumph self-titled double album "White Pine Way" brings back a more indie rock feel with a catchy guitar lick and lovely lyrics and a more complex arrangement than we've heard in a few songs.  I love this song and knew about it prior to this compilation because I follow More Than Skies and love Adam Tomlinson's work, but of all of the ones on the double album I feel the mix of energy and oddly familiar reminiscent nostalgia of this song is the perfect choice and placement for the compilation. It's enjoyable and digestible while having plenty of substance and structure to puzzle over and enjoy.  For the final song of the compilation, Plutonium Lovecraft delivers us a lengthy relaxed song fronted by deep vocals and a catchy melody.  "The Butcher" handles the big responsibility of ending an epic compilation rather well, with a very outro feel fading out of a big fun silly part with busy drums and gang vocals and a repetitious catchy ending vocal line.
     Will Forthman and Mike McManus end the compilation with a hilarious conversational thank you to the listeners and the bands involved.  This ending is unique and flawed and silly and sincere and I think it is the final comprehensive statement literally and figuratively with their genuine joy in being a part of such a scene and a lifestyle.

     Please listen to this incredible compilation, rife with talent and imagination manifested in all sorts of audible goodness!  Be comforted in knowing each and every one of the people involved in this project are excellent human beings who make music and live life with unapologetic ambition and a seemingly ceaseless amount of skill!  So go ahead, stream it, download it and share it, I promise you will find a handful of bands that you love.  Another reminder, Will and the gang are re-releasing the project Wednesday July 8th and celebrating this momentous occasion with a show at the Huntington's Cinema Arts Centre, one of Will's favorite Theatre's on Long Island!  The show will feature artists that are included on the CD.  The physical copies will be $3 but the compilation will always be for free online at www.dinosaursinvietnam.com .

-Bruce "AllOne" Pandolfo