In the key of fall

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It surprises me how often people are dismissive of local music. People will say they love music, but they'll have zero awareness of the great diversity of bands, singer-songwriters, rappers, orchestras and musicians in their own community. (These are often the same folks that, when asked what kind of music they like, will say “all kinds,” as though their iPhone carries Balinese gamelan music, Indian ragas and 17th century operas. Three or four classic rock albums, a couple of current hip-hop singles, and a Garth Brooks greatest hits mix does not constitute “all kinds” of music.)

Sure, the inclusive, supportive attitude of much of the local scene means there's a higher tolerance of mediocrity than would be found in more discriminating communities, but, that said, there's some great music here in the valley.

Sun Damage

Synthesize Her

For a couple of years, from May 2011 until this spring, I wrote a monthly column for the RN&R called “In the Mix.” In each column, I’d review two local albums, assigning them each a rating between 1 and 5. (By “album” I mean a collection of songs or other pieces of music, regardless of format—could be a vinyl record, a CD, a cassette or just streaming online.) I rated a lot of 2s and 3s, a few 4s, and a 1 or two. But no 5s—I didn’t hear an album by a local artist or band that I felt warranted a perfect score. (There are a couple of older Reno albums I’d say deserve that perfect score—Pontiac by the Atomiks; Bad Move Space Cadet by Zoinks!; Walk Together, Rock Together by 7 Seconds. …)

Until recently. Sun Damage by Synthesize Her is a perfect 5 (See “Days of summer,” Musicbeat, Aug.22). Drawing on the swirling, psychedelic sounds of shoegazing bands like My Bloody Valentine and Swervedriver, multi-instrumentalist producer Alex Kortinsky and singer-songwriter Alex Crowe have crafted a catchy, addictive album. Their recent first live show, which the members claim will be the only one, more or less fulfilled the promise of album, with an all-star band and amped up energy.

In years past, our Fall Guide has been an opportunity, among other things, for me to recommend new national releases that seemed ideally suited for autumnal listening. Sun Damage is not that—it has a distinctly summer vibe. But, with this year’s focus on local media, I’d be remiss not to recommend Sun Damage, one of the best local albums in years.

Sleep Less Where the Heart Is

Buster Blue

Sleep Less Where the Heart Is, the latest by folk band Buster Blue, one of the area’s more universally admired groups, is definitely a fall album. The happy, smiling people in their publicity photos and the upbeat atmosphere of their live shows belie how somber, bittersweet and downright sad the band is willing to be on record. Especially on their recent releases, like this and last year’s Still on Conway EP, they’ve matured into a band that can write heartbreakers—and present them in tasteful, spacious, Spartan settings.

In fact, the group’s use of space is one of their more impressive attributes. Sometimes it feels like whole measures rest between notes. Unlike a lot of contemporary folk groups, there’s no frenzy or hurry here, just good songs played by six musicians playing very quietly. I love, for example, the melancholy reed instruments that open “Leave Me in Coeur d’Alene” or the falsetto vocal hook of “Streets of Laredo,” a song with the great, atypical, ear-grabbing lyric, “It’s not the time for bloodshed, but I always like the taste.”

We Drink Together


Sometimes, after listening to something with as saturated emotional colors as Buster Blue, you want to listen to something upbeat, so I’ll end by talking about a couple of fun recent local punk rock records. The first is Beercan!’s We Drink Together, a record whose opening lyric is a happy exclamation of “She likes beer!” It’s fraternal punk rock, derived from the Bad Religion and NOFX lineage, with quick rhythms, pinned-to-11 guitars, and fists-in-the-air gang vocals. These guys have been doing it so long they’ve really honed their craft. The sound is good, the songs are catchy, and the album is well suited for its intended purpose: drunken sing-alongs with your bestest buds.


The Flesh Hammers

Reno band The Flesh Hammers draws on even older rock ’n’ roll traditions: leather-and-spikes punk, Cramps-style rockabilly, and ’60s style garage rock. On the band’s new, third album, Bullseye, the B-movie inspired song titles give a strong indication of what they’re about: “Monster Maker,” “The Devil Wears Wingtips” and “Woman in Prison.” There’s some classic CBGB’s era sounds. Derek Olijar’s guitar leads often sound like they come straight from the Stooges’ Raw Power or an early Dead Boys record. Rhythm guitarist Pamela Lee Campbell and bassis Blackie Crabtree both sing, telling tales of shooting guns and partying at Motel Six. The album artwork fills in some of the gaps of the story: the band members, dressed in black, holding guns, fresh from target practice in what is unmistakably the Nevada desert. This is music that comes from the place where we all live.