El Sportivo & The Blooz

When you're seeking out powerful rock n' roll, you search below the surface. There is the shiny and pristine and then there is the subterranean and the primitive. The latter journey will take you across tequila-tangled guitar lines bashed out in basements all across America. This is where you'll find El Sportivo & The Blooz, a crew who understand the necessity of rawness, urgency, and the sacral strength of working under dim light.

"We wanted to let things be loose and about inspiration, not about trying to hide the imperfections," says Daron Hollowell, A.K.A. El Sportivo, about his LP debut Nights and Weekends, released on White Iris on Feb. 26. "We were just trying to capture ourselves in the room, in the moment, no over-thinking the performances or the mixes."

The original room was a dingy basement practice space in Brooklyn, covered in wall-to-wall cut outs of 70s rock magazine covers. Neil Young. Dylan. The Band. This is the spot that Hollowell rented in the dead of winter, to record the demos that he brought to the LA-based producer Lewis Pesacov. When you hear the record, you can hear these heroes breathing in the steel guitar and the searing guitar lines. Don't mistake it for some hastily conceived, crudely cut record that you'll forget about five minutes after it stops spinning. There are also subtle hallmarks of deep thought and consideration—deliberation that gets discarded at the moment of recording, allowing for inspiration and improvisation.

You might have initially caught the boozy vapors of El Sportivo & Co. two years ago. They released an eponymous EP on White Iris, the imprint that Hollowell co-owns—one of the first to release records from Best Coast, Fidlar, Fools Gold and Foreign Born. Lewis Pesacov, the lead guitarist of the latter two bands, produced the entirety of El Sportivo's sessions. The other proprietor of White Iris, Pesacov was instrumental in the sculpting of El Sportivo's sound, overseeing everything from equipment set-up to the right alchemy of alcohol.

Despite the rollicking country saloon vibes, you can sense a deeper musical understanding. Hollowelll has spent the last several years building Black Iris, his premier agency at creating music for film, television, and advertising. Before that, he spent his late teens and early 20s gigging in various hardcore bands that toured the world. His players, The Blooz, boast a sonic agility that can only come from years of mastering their instruments.

"Being involved with music on a day-to-day level can get detail-oriented," Hollowell says. "This was the opposite, five or six musicians playing together—whatever came out, we captured and documented."

You can hear it in the first single, "Waking World," a hazy and romantic odyssey of the broken promises, big dreams, and words left unsaid that haunt most relationships. Backed by the beautiful vocals of Nashville songstress Nikki Lane, El Sportivo thrust you into a world of all-night drives, frantic door knocks, desperate longing, and eventually, a bittersweet resolution.

Or submerge yourself in the bad trip blues of "Darkening My Door," a track that channels '70s Neil Young at his most bleak and beached. " "Along the Way" matches the pain-wracked vocals of the Country & Western side of the Rolling Stones, to lyrics that examine the ambuiguity and regrets of everyday life. "The Night's So Cold" taps into the fatalistic desperation of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.'

The band recorded in Los Angeles, seeking to capture the dark Santa Ana vibrations that sweep through the eastside hills every fall. Like many great records, it attempts to understand the feeling of both being trapped and being free. It wants to know what's beneath the crust and mantle.

"I found what I was looking for—a way to balance all my feelings and thoughts about music," Hollowell said. "Making this album reminded me why I started. It was about holding a guitar, writing songs, and playing them in a room with people who understood.

Hills Like Elephants

With the addition of samples, a couple guitars, and live traps backed by programmed beats, Hills Like Elephants announces their presence on the national scene with a dance-friendly re-imagination of indie rock, lo-fi disco, and what frontman Sean Davenport calls "Motown with drum machines."
On their sophomore effort, Feral Flocks, San Diego indie soul stalwarts grow from a solo project of keyboard crooner Davenport (Gun Runner, Abigail Warchild) into a full five-piece band.
(Feral Flocks REQ06 Requiemme Records/BMG Chrysalis – March 26, 2013)
Only months after the release of their debut The Endless Charade, Hills Like Elephants were crowned Best New Artist at the 2012 San Diego Music Awards and went on to play a series of hometown performances to venues so full, not even Hemmingway could get a drink.
"On The Endless Charade, I was harping on the idea of past relationships, but I was also trying to move on," says Davenport. "Feral Flocks is more about noticing the subtleties of life, but I'm not trying to be profound. If I wouldn't say it to you at a bar, I won't say it lyrically."
Engineered by vintage aficionado Christopher Hoffee at CHAOS Recorders, Feral Flocks attests to the fact that Davenport's fire is not fueled by grief and heartache alone. Rather, the band finds an uplifting groove that tells of newfound inspiration.
Opening number "Ninjavitus" sets the tone with shimmering keys Greg Theilmann , a whimsical, mock-Orient guitar lead Andrew Armerding, Daniel Gallo’s driven bass lines, and beats backed by the calculating rhythms of Carlos Ortiz from Davenport's prior outfit, Gun Runner.
The band recently completed a video for “Ninjavitus” (directed by Eric Casas) poking fun at the daily promotional chores of just about every contemporary band, which requires everything from internet solicitations to sign spinning skills on a street corner.
"Splendor," continues the coltish resolve with a chorus that, minus the track's New Wave abandon, could come off as bitter: "Oh, there you go, walking slow, and I need you there."
Instead, it rings of admiration.
"Mystifying Oracle" elaborates on Feral Flocks' quixotic disposition with expansive guitar hooks, ecstatic builds, and a star-crossed breakdown which wonders, "Am I ever gunna wake up where you are?"
With a tour on the horizon (first stop, SXSW 2013) and two knockout albums under their belt, there's no saying where the band will wake up next - but who cares?
After all, up here in the Hills, the view is extraordinary.

The Far Country

The Far Country is an American tour de force, capturing a snapshot of the entire country's tragic depths and persistent hope through one man's personal struggles. Front man Kyle Neal has played guitar for Brother and toured with Robert Jon and the Wreck for two years. He's been writing music since he was 14 and his latest EP, Morning Light, shows the kind of maturity that can only come from having toured coast to coast experimenting with everything from love to alcohol to Jesus Christ.

The songs on the Morning Light EP come from a place of brutal honesty. Brimming with hymnal triumph, The Far Country takes you to the depths of their personal hell and back, finding reasons to still rejoice along the way. Kyle Neal's voice is inflected with a biblical cadence and weight that brings to mind the poems of William Butler Yeats, if Yeats drank Southern whiskey and could carry a tune. At the end of the bottle, The Far Country manages to strike a uniquely American sound that is at once both unflinchingly honest and true to experience.

The Copper Gamins



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