JUSTIN HUBER: Drums
ABBY SHERMAN: Vocals, Bass Guitar, Trumpet
HENRY STOEHR: Guitars, Keyboards
JORDAN ZAMANSKY: Vocals, Guitars
Music and lyrics by Abby Sherman, Jordan Zamansky with Jake Witz
Recorded and mixed by Henry Stoehr
Mastered by Alex Leeds and Henry Stoehr
Released May 22, 2015
If any of you dear readers and listeners are regular visitors to this site, then you are more than aware that over the past year, I have been writing about my experiences with two bands local to Madison, WI, Post Social and Modern Mod, through album reviews, extensive interviews with band members and reports from their live performances. Through all of these chronicles, I have not only been introduced to their wonderful, inventive, ambitiously joyous music, I have also begun the gather larger peeks into the wider world of the Madison music community, one that was lavishly upon great display at both The Know-It-All-Boyfriends' charity performance with all-star guests at the Barrymore Theater this past December as well as Modern Mod's farewell concert at the High Noon Saloon in January of this year.
At both events, I became acquainted with 22 year old Madison musician/producer Henry Stoehr, a gregarious young man and warm conversationalist as well as a true guitar wizard who sent me into six stringed bliss with his heroic solos during performances of Modern Mod's cover of David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream." It was through his role as an auxiliary member of Modern Mod (when he stepped in for guitarist Cal Pocernich for some performances) where I discovered that Stoehr is an active member of not one but two other Madison based bands: Trophy Dad and Barbara Hans. At the Modern Mod farewell concert, Stoehr graciously handed me a copy of the latest Barbara Hans EP and that night also introduced me to Trophy Dad in a live setting.
After that wonderful night of Madison music from a community of our younger musicians, I was ready to hear what lies beyond Post Social (who are in the midst of recording their third album), the now defunct Modern Mod and even Dash Hounds (the new project by Modern Mod bandmates Alivia Kleinfeldt and Brendan Manley) as their new material is forthcoming. I was so ready after that night, I headed straight to the Trophy Dad Bandcamp page to purchase and download a copy of their EP, "Shirtless Algebra Fridays," and as with the other Madison bands that grabbed me instantaneously, winning me over fully with their considerable gifts with songwriting and performing, you can easily add Trophy Dad to this exclusive list of musical surprises that feels very much in league with their musical compatriots but also extends even further.
According to Trophy Dad's Bandcamp page, the group describes themselves as crafting "bedroom pop," a term that makes instantaneous sense once you hear the six tracks that make up their EP. These are introverted, turbulent, darkly romantic songs that feel like the thoughts that race through everyone's heads when caught in the throes of some relationship, whether real or imagined, yet always emotionally urgent and intense.
With its warbled lead guitar and an art punk vibe evoking shades of nothing less than The Velvet Underground, "Shirtless Algebra Fridays" opens with the clever, chugging "Hypatia," possibly a lovestruck ode to the beautiful Greek Mathematician and philosopher (or maybe an unrequited note to an equally beautiful and sharply intelligent dreadlocked, lesbian skateboarder--hey, the Urban Dictionary has got to be good for something shouldn't it?). What struck me instantly about this opening shot from the band aside from the solid melodic punch, were the terrific boy/girl vocal harmonies displayed through the deep bass vocals of guitarist Jordan Zamansky merged with the glorious voice of bassist Abby Sherman. The twosome lock into a vocal symmetry instantly, perfectly providing the ear candy of the song as they repeatedly chant the chorus "I'm still here and I don't know why," and in just a hair over two minutes and a florid blast of Sherman's trumpet, the song concludes and the EP heads into deeper emotional waters.
Opening with a brief, meditative guitar intro, and augmented by Justin Huber's confident drums, the multi-sectioned and layered "Shut Up" is easily a standout track as it utilizes both of Sherman and Zamansky's vocals to great effect. Tracking a turbulent relationship set to an intimate mid tempo beat (much like Fleetwood Mac), Sherman recounts a series of transgressions against her partner.
"I don't like it when you talk too loud
Wish I didn't have to hear that sound
You didn't do anything that wrong
I just wish that your stories weren't so long
What the hell are you saying?
Wish I could understand you
What the hell are you trying to say?
Wish that I cared anyway..."
Which, of course, she does.
"Shut Up" continues in this vein for the second verse but soon finds itself in a quieter and especially fragile interior moment featuring Zamansky's side of the relationship where he admits, "It's hard when you realize you're small...I'll pretend that I'm big when I'm with you." Augmented by Stoehr's keyboards, Sherman's trumpet and Huber's more dramatic drum accents, Trophy Dad soon bursts from meditation into an almost jazz influenced portion before then blasting into the EP's third track, the furious (and brilliantly titled) "Trichotillomania," Abby Sherman's impassioned rant against a romantic rival.
With a melody that instantly sticks like glue and propelled by the band at full throttle, Sherman proclaims that she can "see right thru her," expresses that "she fooled him once, she'll do it twice," grudgingly admits, "I guess she's pretty," and questions "is she really in love with him?" before sneering "well I DON'T THINK SO!!!" and concluding with an ear splitting shriek that signals the band to throw themselves around as if caught within the throes of a tantrum.
From rage to bliss, the EP continues with the reverb drenched romantic dreamworld of "Into U," which showcases some of Sherman's finest, most melodically inviting and infectious vocals of this release. Trust me, you will be singing along with this track on first listen as you are completely swept away in just under two minutes. The storm clouds return with the self explanatory "You Never Responded And I Made Up Wild Stories In My Head That Turned Out To Be True." Again, Sherman and Zamansky blend their voices beautifully, almost suggesting that both sides of the relationship are experiencing precisely the exact same emotions ("I don't want to break/But I know I will/And there's nothing I can do")...if only the other person possibly knew.
After all of the tribulations and heartache, Trophy Dad sum up "Shirtless Algebra Fridays" by proclaiming that "Life is so sad being a trophy dad" as the band flows into the EP's final track, "Theme From Trophy Dad," which almost feels like an end credits scroll to the music itself.
I am unable (and happily so) to place my finger on whatever is in the water these songwriters and musicians have been drinking but just as I have experienced with Post Social and Modern Mod, the collective of Trophy Dad have amassed a most impressive release that only continues to reward with each subsequent listen. Also as with their contemporaries, this is music made without ego as the song is the star, not an individual band member. Even so, I again have to heap some specialized praise onto both Jordan Zamansky and Abby Sherman for their vocal blend and harmonies which are perfectly matched and enveloping. Sherman, in particular, possesses an inexplicable timbre within her voice that arrested me from the first song as her confidence, strength, melodicism and skills as a vocalist are undeniable.
Running a mere 19 minutes in length, I was deeply impressed with how much music was packed into such a small frame of time as the songs are intricate yet wholly accessible, rambunctious yet textured, lyrically complex and clever and all too recognizable as the band consistently finds and nails an emotional truth time and again.
Additionally, the actual compositions and performances from the band showcased a certain density as to how the songs have been constructed, performed and recorded, often suggesting that the music they envisioned was, perhaps, larger than the low-fi/D.I.Y. recording aesthetic utilized for this EP. The band has confidently arranged and ensured that their material would not only be worthy of repeated listenings, it would enthusiastically demand your attention. The sheer immediacy of "Shirtless Algebra Fridays" grabs your interest and curiosity. The artistry definitely keeps bringing you back!
So impressed I was with this release that I am already anxious for whatever new material should arrive in the future, something that I am hoping I may not have to wait for terribly long as Stoehr has informed me that new material is indeed forthcoming.
But first, there was Stoehr's other band to tend to...
ALEX LEEDS: Vocals, Bass Guitar
TEDDY MATTHEWS: Drums
HENRY STOEHR: Vocals, Guitars
All music and lyrics by Leeds/Matthews/Stoehr
"Mind Movies," "Killing Time" and "Bone Us" all recorded, mixed and mastered by Alex Leeds
"Bad Kids" and "Paper Dreams" recorded and mixed by Henry Stoehr Mastered by Alex Leeds
Released June 8, 2015
"It's mostly a description of the dynamic and juxtaposition of emotions we are trying to achieve in our music. The music tends to oscillate dynamically between more dreamy, washed out sounds and very heavy and high energy parts. In terms of emotions, I'd say we try to create a dissonance between the content of the music and the way it's conveyed, like using a cliche with positive associations to describe something dark, the darkness of which is highlighted by the way the music eventually oscillates to darker and heavier instrumentation.
I think...ha ha..."
Those words were delivered to me by Henry Stoehr when I asked him to elaborate upon the descriptive term of "dream punk," an illustration associated with Stoehr's other band, Barbara Hans. While he may chuckle at his own definition, it feels to be precisely correct as the five tracks of the band's EP entitled "Slow Pulp" also contain a low-fi/D.I.Y. aesthetic which feels designed and definitely achieves a thrilling immediacy while also crafting a psychedelic landscape of shape shifting songs that feel like a short series of daydreams to get lost inside of.
"Mind Movies" expertly sets the stage "on the edge of seventeen" with an almost go-go dancer beat that I could only describe as being legitimately "groovy" augmenting more "bedroom pop" interior thoughts where our narrator exclaims about the object of his affection, "all the movies in my mind are starring you/all the acid dreams, they coming true." The guitars superbly jangle and buzz. The drums propel along nicely. And suddenly, the track slides down a sonic rabbit hole to a bluesy pool of those aforementioned "acid dreams" before climbing back upwards to the song's original groove and a terrific, ebullient guitar solo.
"Bad Kids" wondrously swaggers and sways, much in the vein of what we might hear upon a Tame Impala album as Stoehr's lead vocals distort and reverberate, echoing into the ether and taking us fully along for the ride. The languid "Killing Time," with its loping arrangements, Alex Leeds' seductive bass playing, Stoehr's delicate guitar work, drummer Teddy Matthews' in-the-pocket beat and dream haze vocals nearly approaches funk, instilling a mental image of George Clinton himself sitting in a backyard easy chair taking a long, relaxed inhale and exhale of his favorite illicit substance.
"Paper Dreams" is easily the EP's most dynamic track as the band somehow weaves surf rock, a blues tempo, a psychedelic interlude just this side The Flaming Lips' "Pompeii AM Gotterdammmerung" crossed with a section from Pink Floyd's "Echoes" and a false ending/coda with effortless and even fearless ease. "Slow Pulp" concludes with a brief sound collage, the oddly named "Bone Us," which seems to leave us listeners stranded within the dreamworld Barbara Hans has created for us. It is almost as if the familiar, bouncy landscape presented in the opening moments of the EP have vanished entirely, making me wonder if the band is indeed setting the stage for more more magical mystery tours in their future music.
As with Trophy Dad, Barbara Hans, in the span of just 15 minutes, has packed their EP to the gills musically and sonically. They are seemingly unafraid of mixing musical genres and making the altering time signatures and audio wizardry snap together richly in their unique musical jigsaw puzzles. Also as with Trophy Dad, Barbara Hans has ensured the songs are the stars of their elaborate show, making every second count musically while the psychedelia also feels ready to burst open from the low-fi production, which makes me more than curious to hear not only how their sound will continue to develop but whether they will find themselves within a more traditional studio setting so they are more able to craft their clearly widescreen musical visions as lavishly and as spaciously as possible.
And so, with both Trophy Dad and Barbara Hans, I have found two bands that seems to have flowed from the pop side of Modern Mod and the prog rock side of Post Social, incorporating both styles while also crafting musical identities that are completely independent from those bands as well as each other, despite the considerable presence of Henry Stoehr in both bands. For me, these are truly exciting musical times, to be able to hear sparkling new music that is fiercely independent, uncompromising, entirely inclusive, superbly invigorating, deeply inspiring, spirit lifting and compulsively listenable from young musicians who are obviously serious about their craft due to the skill, energy and joy they have delivered.
I know that I did not steer you wrong in any way with Modern Mod and Post Social, so I enthusiastically urge you to give both Trophy Dad and Barbara Hans a much deserved listen. I firmly believe that you will be happily surprised.