Ape School

Junior Violence begins with a death rattle of the most optimistic sort. Half-synthesized and half-howled, the first song on Ape School's new album sums up birth, death, and the guilt you face as you drop the needle on side A:

Did you know you fucked yourself?

Everything is on the other side of that question. Answer it and you'll wonder why you're just now fessing up. Tell your truth and the Oberheim OB-8 will cascade like a waterfall. The bass line will try to feel you up. It's all foreplay for the anthemic "Marijuana's on the Phone" and the nine tracks that follow, adding up to the second album from Ape School, the flaming sigil for a man named Michael Johnson. Junior Violence is part confession, part blitz, part hangover, and part ascension.

Over the past three years, Johnson built and demolished with equal fervor. Junior Violence was constructed version-by-version, through the controlled burns and tropical storms of experimentation, collaboration, a well-timed Eventide sponsorship, day jobs (teaching), and night jobs (playing and recording with friends War on Drugs and Kurt Vile). Part of Philadelphia's musical fabric for a decade, Johnson started life in Florida. Born into that solid-state bed of Def Leppard and Van Halen and the subsequent pan-generational cures of Jane's Addiction and Dinosaur Jr., Johnson went from building guitars out of legos and smoking joints at church talent shows into the Gainesville d.i.y. scene and a pile of bands—including Holopaw. Touring, joining the Sub Pop label, album-crafting with Brian Deck, and Johnson's first taste of digital recording meshed with his march toward professorship at an art school in Philadelphia. That geographic shift coincided with tourmate Sam Beam (Iron and Wine) introducing Johnson to Kurt Vile, an IDM love affair giving way to a lifelong relationship with Daedelus (who took Ape School's record to Ninja Tune after it was mixed at Rastafari studio in Brooklyn), and Johnson playing in the last audible breaths of Lilys.

The Ape School equation, worked out in real time on the I-95 corridor, is audible in Junior Violence's forty minutes. Experience, context, the skill to build a raging fire, and the confidence to toss ideas straight into the blaze drove Michael Johnson to embrace first takes, to fuck up, to play match maker between Pink Floyd and Prince, between Soft Machine and Queen, and to build a band out of geniuses. The album and live lineup features Eric Slick on drums, who joined Ape School while he was playing with Adrian Belew (King Crimson) and who went on to join Dr. Dog. Liz Boyd, Scott Churchman, Adam Ravitz, Zach Poyatt, Beachwolf, and a rotating roster of former students perform as Ape School and round out its undeniable wall of sound.

"If it sounds like it is directed to somebody else, it's probably directed at me." Johnson can tell a story for every song. "Marijuana's on the Phone", the album's lead single (out on a 7" this June), began as drunken strum into a tape recorder that was rounded out the morning after with Slick, an ARP 2600, and that swinging baritone sax. The pulsing "Carry On" was based entirely on a Ras Michael reggae beat. Electrified with Boyd's vocals, an addictive chorus, and that clear-ringing guitar line, you might catch a whiff of meaning: acute perception can be a real pain in the ass; sometimes you just want to be stupid. "Ready for Duty", a nod to Captain Beefheart, calls out the oil-filled Gulf of Mexico lapping the shores of Johnson's hometown—a suicide note and a love letter, all at once.

Michael Johnson declared to all, "I've got sourpuss down to a science," and, indeed, Junior Violence is an acidic pop exploder. It sends bullets flying and knives thrusting, but it does so in the golden light of Summer. This album professes love in its exploration of all the parts of life that hold you back from that very pleasure. It declares passion in its obsessive care and quality, and in its respect for and exaltation of moments of trouble and chance. It's an ode to invention, to the sonic recipe that calls for everything from synth to sax. And when you think about life and all us living it, there might be no better name for it than Ape School.

You don't just get there straight out of the blue; those haunting humming synthesizers at the beginning of "Paragraph Nights," the melancholy piano chord changes, the emotional pull the song has on your psyche. It's a process, you know? It comes from years of growth, experimentation, revision, looking at the scene from another angle, considering the possibilities. "Take a picture, make it last, make it different," sings Dominic Angelella. And that's very much the road DRGN KING has taken.

Our story opens with Angelella onstage at a North Philadelphia rock club, his hair flailing, his guitar strings rattling, his face beaming. It's 2009 or thereabouts, and he's performing with one of his old bands, a punky Americana group with such high energy, folks are hanging out after the show to shake his hand. A couple months later, a different venue, a different scene entirely – an eclectic hip-hop outfit, and there he is again, rocking out on guitar. Later still, Angelella's face keeps showing up in band photos, on show flyers and venue websites. His enthusiasms run the gamut – experimental lo-fi psych, indie rock soul, arty grunge throwbacks. The question has to be asked - are you in every group in Philadelphia? He laughs, responds: No man, just a bunch of projects.

Meanwhile in South Philly, Brent "Ritz" Reynolds was holed up in a studio, making a name for himself as a young hip-hop producer. He cut tracks for The Roots, worked with Mac Miller and State Property alum Peedi Crakk. Reynolds knew his stuff and had the moxy for the hard haul of being a freelance recording guru. In early 2010 he and Angelella connected in a chance recording session, and the doors of possibility were blown open. Angelella's songwriting would become a prototype for Reynolds to test out his lush, imaginative production skills into the rock world. Conversely, Reynolds' studio alchemy would place Angelella's broad-spanning tastes and musical interests under a single umbrella. You don't have to be in a dozen different-sounding bands and call them a dozen different things. You can do it all, and call it DRGN KING.

DRGN KING debuted in a well-received warehouse show that fall. Angelella and Reynolds deemed the experiment a success, and kept it moving. Various musical collaborators were brought in, shows got played and new songs were written. Then they retreated into the studio, recorded, refined and recorded some more. Paragraph Nights comes after two years of nose-to-the-grindstone work, and its song are bursting with life, excitement, self-discovery, possibility. Listen to the pensive, introspective electronic pop of "Warriors." It's a nod to the community of artists and musicians in Philadelphia, and ruminates on crafting an identity through art: "People tell me I got no purpose," Angelella sings. "They're not wrong but it's allright."

Lux Perpetua

Lux Perpetua is the brain-child of Justin Wolf from Charlottesville, Virginia. With influences ranging from folk, to garage, and country, Lux Perpetua's music is rooted in abtract dialogue and melodic chord structure. He has recorded and played with artists such as The Extraordinaires, Folkskunde, and Look Alike, and currently finds himself living in South Philadelphia releasing new music on Punk Rock Payroll. His band features members of Man Man & Mountain Man.

$10.00

Tickets

add to your calendar

Who’s Going

Upcoming Events
The Boot & Saddle

Ticketfly

Ape School with DRGN KING, Lux Perpetua

Saturday, November 30 · Doors 8:00 PM / Show 9:00 PM at The Boot & Saddle