Archive for Daily Riffage

Gear Reviews: MI Audio Crunchbox

Posted in Gear with tags , , , on August 3, 2010 by stevenreedkelly

This is it.  The ultimate distortion pedal.

I’ll back things up a little bit.  See – I bought a Mesa Boogie Lone Star (1 x 12 combo) about 3 years ago and despite falling head over heels for the amplifier in almost every way imaginable, I found that the dirty channel was a little too lightweight.  At the time, my limited pedal set included a Tube Screamer (TS9) but that’s still a pretty subtle overdrive pedal.  What I was looking for was some outright ballsy distortion.

My first attempt at finding a high-gain pedal was a huge fail.  I bought an Electro-Harmonix Metal Muff pedal after playing it in a busy guitar store downtown.  When I got it home, I couldn’t help but notice that my wonderful amp sounded like a box of rocks when the pedal was engaged.  I advise everyone to stay away from this pedal unless you’re into that sort of sound.  If you are, shoot me an email – I still have the pedal.  It’s increasingly difficult to sell these things because EHX made a ton of them and you can find them all over eBay for a fraction of what I paid at retail!  Buyers market, fellas!

So after that disaster, my desire for a really good distortion pedal still was not quenched.  I visited a local guitar store (30th Street Guitars – hands down, my favorite store in New York) and Bogarted their amp room for 45 minutes while I test-drove several different distortion/overdrive pedals.  I tried the RAT and a Keeley Fuzz pedal and then I stumbled upon the MI Audio Crunch Box.  I was instantaneously floored.  It’s designed to give you the crunch of a Marshall (“British Overdrive” is how they describe it), but Marshall’s always sounded way too much like playing through a tin can – you can actually reign in your treble in this pedal.

Another thing I like about the pedal is that at low gain settings, you can still get that subtle overdrive tone.  It’s nice to have the versatility to go from very low subtle gain to borderline fuzz in one pedal.  Needless to say, I bought the pedal and it’s been the keystone in my rig ever since.

Depending on the pickups, my comfort zone for the knobs looks like this:

Volume: Right around 10 o’clock seems to be the setting where I don’t hear a volume drop or boost when the pedal is engaged.

Tone: I keep this right around 2 o’clock for my telecasters – and my strat is a little muddier, so i’ll crank this up to about 4 o’clock when I’m using that axe.

Gain: For humbuckers, you don’t have to go much past 9 o’clock for full-on distortion.  For single coils, you can wind up to about 12 o’clock.  Anywhere past that is almost too much.

To give you an idea of what this pedal can do (and because I’m too lazy to record my own video), Here’s a video from Pro Guitar Shop.  They do great demos.

Category Five – a retrospective

Posted in Bands that died, Recommendations with tags , , , , , , on July 8, 2010 by stevenreedkelly

How could I not do a post about my old band?

It’s been roughly 10 years since I started playing music with Justin Stewart, Blake and

In the fall, Blake's moving from NYC to Boston and attending Harvard Business School! He always was the brains behind the band.

Colin Boeh in Category Five.  We called it quits in the summer of 2004, so I guess it’s been almost exactly 6 years since we played our last show.  Seems like all the places we used to play have since changed hands or closed down completely – which is a little sad.  Hell, even the websites we used to maintain have closed down (mp3.com has been gone for a long time and I lost our homepage domain when I graduated from Penn State – we still have a Purevolume site though!).

I know the chances are that if you’re reading this, you already knew the band.  I guess at the end of the day, I wanted a place to share and post the music – and to post some of the demos that you never got a chance to hear!

Nervous & Worried (click to download the album)

Colin grew out his hair and his beard - depending on the season you can find him in Maine or Idaho. Usually somewhere away from crowds.

Shortly after joining Category Five (formerly Exit 3) in 2000, we started looking for a place to record an album.  At this point, we were opening for the Buzz Poets at Banana Joe’s in the Pittsburgh Strip District and playing with other kids at the Cyber Golf (a mini golf course that used to be a movie theatre) in Butler, PA.

When we finally started tracking at Soundscape Studios, we were really wet behind the ears.  None of us had any idea how to record an album.  I think we blew through almost $10,000 making the album – we even had Justin’s dad take out a $5,000 loan to finish it up.  I remember at the end of the recording process, we won a battle of the bands at Club Laga that afforded us the ability to record two new songs for album – they ended up being “Freezing Rain” and “White Houses”.

One of the things I’ll always remember about the studio was hiding in the vocal booths and writing the music for “Lucky Summer Sky” on an acoustic guitar.  In the dark.  It was a really emo time in my life.

When the album was finally finished, Justin and Blake drove to Canada to pick up the albums from the manufacturing plant because it was somehow cheaper than getting all the boxes shipped to us (we pressed 1000 copies).  I remember them tracking me down in the halls of Seneca Valley when they got back to school and dropping a copy into my hands.  I don’t think I had ever been more excited about something in my entire life!

Justin quit vet school - and at the ripe old age of 30, he still spends most of his time traveling to video game conventions.

These days, I can pick the songs apart a little bit.  Our songs sounded very similar to each other.  The single guitar parts, the lack of depth in the bass, the way Justin interchanges “she” and “you” in “Lucky Summer Sky”, making for a somewhat confusing lyrical experience – they all drive me a little nuts.  We were young though, and I’m still extremely proud of this album.

Low Tide (click to download the song)

We recorded this song at Mr. Smalls Funhouse in Millvale – I want to say in late 2001.  This was for a local Pittsburgh band compilation that we had a chance to be a part of – and I think it just provided us a good opportunity to get back into the studio and record something new.  Aside from that compilation and shows – I don’t think we ever posted this on our website or Mp3.com or anything.  I think this was in our transitional period where we were in the middle of trying to find a second guitarist to fill out our sound.  We did eventually re-record it, although that version was never completed.

2002 Demo Tracks (click to download the EP)

As we were starting to play better shows (we got to play Warped Tour in 2001, opened for Billy Idol – and played at the Pittsburgh rib and wing fest!), Joe Seles (who was a stage manager at Club Laga at the time) asked if he could play guitar in our band.  Having tried a couple other guitarists in the past, I think we were all a little weary, but Joe actually showed up to the first practice with parts written to most of our songs.  He was an technically savvy guitarist and it actually allowed Colin a little freedom to start exploring different chords and riffs and improve his own playing (although I would say it took a while for Colin to feel comfortable with another guitarist in the band).  Shortly after Joe joined, we moved our gear into his basement in Pittsburgh and drove out to his place 2 nights a week for practice.

In the late summer of 2002 we started recording a brand new EP of songs.  We re-recorded “Dub Vee” and “Low Tide” and laid down the 4 new songs that we had written with Joe.  Tentatively, I think all the songs were titled “Genitals and Scissors” with a number associated with them (it was an inside joke revolving around a trimming accident) – but most of them were renamed (except G&S1).  We recorded drums for the EP at some place in the Northside of Pittsburgh.  Blake was a champ and knocked out most of the songs a lot quicker than he ever had before.  The rest of the recording was done at our producer’s home-studio in Dormont.

Joe got married... he basically has the ultimate punk rock family. An adorable wife and several pit bulls.

During the middle of recording, I went off to Penn State.  Joe ended up quitting the band in the late fall and we scrambled to pick up the pieces a little bit.  Justin finished 3 of the 6 tracks on the EP, but the other three still don’t have vocals on them, sadly.  When we attempted to get the studio tracks back from our producer, it turned out that he had actually lost our hard-drive.

I still listen to these tracks often – I think they ended up sounding a lot more mature and listenable than our earlier material (a lot of that can be attributed to Joe – and us growing up a little).  It’s a shame that we never ended up with a finished product though.  I still think “Genitals and Scissors” would’ve been a great song, had we finished it.  Fun fact – I have since gotten a HUGE tattoo of the lyrics to “Our Finest Hour” on my chest.  Oh yeah, I’m EXACTLY like that highschool quarterback that can’t let go of the glory days.

Last Songs (click to download the songs)

Tim moved to Florida and started a new band... And I assume took a lot more drugs.

After Joe quit the band, we played a couple shows as a four-piece again (one of them was opening for Brand New and the Movielife at Club Laga) but we intended to fill the spot eventually.  Our friend Tim Lease stepped in and played guitar for us starting in early 2003 (I vividly remember a weekend spent hanging in his garage teaching him the songs and lounging in his hot tub).  We finished out my freshman year at Penn State by winning a battle of the bands and playing at the student run “Movin’ On” festival at the end of the year.  That was a pretty triumphant time for us.  I think we all felt like we could still be a band even after Joe (who was a pretty strong influence on us all) had bailed.

We spent the following summer attempting to write new material.  The result was one song that we labored endlessly over.  I think we may have only ever played it once or twice to a crowd and we never recorded it.  Stew and I were both working for my dad doing construction and it felt like we barely ever attempted to play any shows.  The next year we didn’t do much together – but we did get together and play one last show in the summer of 2004.

As for me, I'm just kinda hanging out. Workin' in New York. Drinkin' too much.

At the end of college, I started to get really into recording songs in Garageband.  So our final opus wouldn’t ever be completely forgotten, I attempted to recreate it in demo form.  I also recorded an electric version of “Lucky Summer Sky” because I’ve always wanted to see what that might sound like.  They’re a little rough, but I’m satisfied with the results.  Maybe not as satisfied as if we had recorded them both as a band.  Who knows what’ll happen in the future though.

Pacifica

Posted in Recommendations with tags , , on June 27, 2010 by stevenreedkelly

I got badly sunburned on my trip to the beach on Saturday – so today’s the perfect day to sit around and blog a little bit.

My recommendation for the day comes from a band that started following me on twitter (www.twitter.com/dailyriffage).  I hadn’t ever heard Pacifica, but after some investigation, I found out that they’re giving away their brand new EP for free on their website – which is always a great way for new bands to gain a fanbase.

According to their bio, Pacifica hail from Hawaii – although they’re recently packed up and moved to Southern California.  Based on their name, locale and the spiritual pose they’re striking on their website, I expected Pacifica to sound like some dub/reggae band – I was pleasantly surprised by the prog-rock that came through my speakers.  The band sounds like equal parts of Thrice, Incubus and Circa Survive – with swirling feedback and effects-heavy guitars (the pictures of various pedalboards on the bands website are evidence of this).  Kika Diama’s vocals howl like a higher version of Brandon Boyd.  And finally, the rhythm section is tight and frantic – so it’s safe to say that all parties involved are extremely talented.

The band’s new EP, The Process of Illumination, is a brief listen at only 4 tracks, but they all sound professionally recorded and at the price of FREE, you really can’t lose.  You can download the EP here.  You can also leave an optional donation via PayPal for the band if you’re digging the tunes, so be a decent human and drop Pacifica a few bucks for their art.  To tantalize your musical tastebuds, here’s an audio glimpse of their new EP titled “Trading Sleep”:

Spontaneo releasing debut album next Tuesday.

Posted in Recommendations with tags , , , on June 25, 2010 by stevenreedkelly

Ah, Pittsburgh.  My home.  Home of several other things I like – such as Primanti Bros. sandwiches, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the band Punchline and also my parents.  All of those things start with the letter “P”.  Here’s something that doesn’t though – Spontaneo.  They’re the most recent signing from Modern Short Stories (a label started by Steve Soboslai of the aforementioned Punchline.)

Spontaneo, at the core, is a pop rock band.  Before you start cringing, I have to admit that everything I’ve heard from this band tastefully walks the line of being expertly crafted and produced without sounding too glossy.  I spent a few minutes trying to think about who they sound like – I wanted to say Weezer, but that’ll offend someone.  And Weezer sucks these days, so that’s not fair.  I wanted to say Ultimate Fakebook, but that’s slightly obscure and they’re a little more dissonant than Spontaneo.  There’s not a band that comes to mind that can write mid-tempo songs with hooks this big besides maybe Punchline themselves (on their lighter numbers) – and I’m not entirely convinced that Spontaneo doesn’t do it better!

Comparisons aside, Spontaneo is an awesome band that warrants your time and consideration.  Their debut album, For Those Who Can Whistle, is being released on next Tuesday, June 29th and you can pre-order a copy for a paltry $9.99 here.  For a limited time, if you buy the album, Punchline will send you a track from their upcoming album.  (Way to leverage your popularity and market a relatively unknown band!)

Also for the time being, you can download 3 free Spontaneo tracks by signing up for the Modern Short Stories mailing list here.  There’s nothing I love more than free music.  Except maybe Primanti Bros. sandwiches.

To persuade you to give this band a shot, here’s the first single from their upcoming release, titled “Bad Weather”.

Rest in peace – you funky, child-loving man

Posted in Bands that died with tags , on June 25, 2010 by stevenreedkelly

Seriously.  How awesome was Michael Jackson?

Man, we’ll be celebrating the anniversary of his passing for years.  If you don’t think MJ was as big as (if not bigger than) Elvis, you’re kidding yourself.  Remember last year… Michael Jackson broke Google.  Michael Jackson caused MTV and VH1 to resort back to playing music videos.  At Sony Music, MJ single-handedly bolstered the record label for the financial year.  Unbelievable.

Regardless of your opinion on his personal life – the man made some funky jams… even in his crazier days!  Hell, “You Rock My World” from Invincible is classic!  I don’t know if anything tops Thriller though.  7 singles… on a frontline album… and they all reached the top 10!?  Are you kidding me?

Rest in peace, Michael Jackson.  Thanks for the tunes.

In the ol’ inbox

Posted in Recommendations with tags , , , , , on June 24, 2010 by stevenreedkelly

So a couple weeks ago, I set up an email account for the blog (dailyriffage@gmail.com) and some new music has been trickling in, which is kinda awesome.  Here’s a glimpse:

Washington Square Park
Part of the New Jersey pop-punk revival, Washington Square Park seem to be one of the younger groups in the pack.  They kinda have the same blue-collar work ethic as fellow defenders of pop-punk, Man Overboard.  The band’s new self-titled album is full of catchy – if not slightly lyrically weak – hooks.  You can hear the musical influence of now-defunct NJ pop-punk bands like Hidden In Plain View or Saves the Day (well, they’re at least dead to me) pretty clearly, especially with the desperate vocals on tracks like “Ladders” and “No Medication”.

My one problem with Washington Square Park (and to be fair, it’s not just them – it’s Man Overboard, Bright and Early, etc.) is that their definition of pop punk dates back to about 2002.  I don’t hear any influence from those great Epitaph bands like Millencolin or Pennywise.  I don’t hear the NOFX or the MxPx.  If you’re going to bring back pop-punk, force your roots to grow a little deeper.

Despite my qualms, this is a band that clearly wants to separate itself from the so-called pop-punk bands from the past 5 years that brandish neon t-shirts and swooping bangs.  They’re bringing back the punk a little bit and I commend them for it!

Here’s my favorite track, “No Medication” – you can buy the band’s album here.

Anne
A relatively young band – having formed as recently as February, Anne is a shoegaze/punk band from Portland, Oregon.  The sound is reminiscent of 80s bands like Joy Division or the Smiths, but I can also hear some hints of bands like Radiohead and Elliott (circa Song in the Air).

About two minutes into the band’s demo, my coworker stopped me and asked who I was listening to, which is a pretty good indication that these guys are legitimate.  There’s a mixture of arena-sized guitar swells and synth textures – and sometimes vague and inaudible vocals – that create a whole new atmosphere for the listener.  This was a real pleasure to receive in the inbox.

You can pick up the band’s recently completed demo for free here.

Here’s my favorite track, “Collection”

It’s a face that only a mother could love.

Posted in Recommendations with tags , , , , , , on June 22, 2010 by stevenreedkelly

You know… sometimes if you give hipsters a chance, they’ll surprise you!

My friend Charlie asked me to go see a show in Williamsburg by this daffy-looking cross between Richard Simmons and Napoleon Dynamite.  His name is Darwin Deez – and he’s possibly the most unfortunate looking guy I’ve ever seen.  At first glance, I was sure that this show was going to be packed to the rafters with silly looking Brooklynites donning hi-tops and skinny jeans.  Despite my reservations, I agreed to check it out.

Well, I’m happy to admit that Charlie and I ended up getting wrecked and having a great time.  More importantly, the show wasn’t crowded at all (reinforcing my belief that hipsters just don’t know what good music is) – and Darwin Deez was incredible!  I think we may have even danced.

At my request, Charlie sent me the album a week later.  It’s full of these little pop gems – all with these incredibly imaginative lyrics (for example, a post-apocalyptic love song and a track about losing your chromosomes) – set to the sound of a Squier Stratocaster (and I’ve never heard one sound so musical).  Deez recorded the entire album in his apartment on his own computer – which is a big slap in the face to all those recording spaces for rent in the outer boroughs.  And while this album is taking off in the UK (I hear he has like three different singles at radio right now) no one in the states really knows who this guy is!

Yesterday, I spent most of my drive from Pittsburgh to NYC (7 hours) listening to the album.  Coincidentally, yesterday Darwin Deez released the second video from the album for a song called “Up in the Clouds”.  It must be serendipity – watch this video and check out this ridiculous (and ridiculously catchy) guy.