Album Review: Royal Bangs - "Brass"
Knoxville's Royal Bangs teams up with producer/Black Keys' drummer Patrick Carney for Brass, an album that combines gritty guitar work with some deliciously fuzzy bass lines.
Modern Art Records
Knoxville’s Royal Bangs prove there’s a whole lot of music happening in Tennessee besides in that other town a few hundred miles down the road. And though it’s a touch difficult to slap a label on exactly what this band is because of the varying styles, tempos, and sounds throughout, their fourth full-length record is still a cohesive batch of tunes that exude energy.
Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney discovered and signed the band six years ago, but this is the first record he’s produced for them. With all the shimmer and shake of the three opening tracks, one might start to think the Bangs are a grittier version of the Strokes, but there’s more going on here. There are flavors as far ranging as Ben Folds Five with all the deliciously fuzzy bass to Radiohead and the Replacements. The guitar work in the opening of “Hope We Don’t Crash” recalled Joy Division for a moment before the song morphed into more of an indie-rock anthem.
Brass is best served up loud, and it evokes that feeling of stumbling across an edgy, kick-ass bar band you haven’t seen or heard before. It’s raw, honest, and a lot of fun. —Rich OsweilerMust-hear tracks: “Better Run,” “Laurel”
Catalinbread Echorec Review
Catalinbread’s Echorec is one of the first compact stompboxes to specifically attempt to replicate the sounds and functionality of the original Binson model.
Though it’s not exactly a secret among the effects cognoscenti, the Binson Echorec may be one of the most widely heard effects nobody ever heard of. That so many have enjoyed the strange, lush atmospherics of the Echorec—if not it’s name—is thanks largely to Syd Barrett and David Gilmour. The latter’s embrace and front-and-center use of the Binson has, over time, made the Echorec a Holy Grail for Pink Floyd-fixated tone hunters. In Barrett’s hands, however, the Binson’s unusual multi-head design and capacity for convoluted, syncopated, and interstellar repeats helped shape the foundations of U.K. psychedelia. All told, that’s a pretty significant musical impact for an echo generator long since eclipsed in fame by a half-dozen others.
Though the Binson Echorec has been the subject of high-powered DSP and software-based approximations, Catalinbread’s Echorec is one of the first compact stompboxes to so specifically attempt to replicate the sounds and functionality of the original. That’s because the original was a freak of audio engineering so brimming with switches and knobs that it looks more like an old organ or primitive analog drum machine. In short, it ain’t easy to make an Echorec. Yet the relative mechanical and operational complexity is part of what made the Binson so musical and expressive. Though Catalinbread’s take on it performs different from an original, it too prompts inventive approaches, opens up rhythmic possibilities, and sounds excellent.
Pillars of Sound That Catalinbread was able to boil down so much of the Binson’s wild functionality to five knobs is impressive. The originals had four fixed playback heads, a magnetic drum, and switches to activate combinations of playback heads. Many controls on Catalinbread’s gold, Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii-inspired version will be familiar to vintage Echorec users, though they differ a bit in practice. Swell is essentially the feedback control, though increased levels also emphasize modulation and warble in the repeats, which can be adjusted via an internal trim pot. The powerful tone knob has a considerable, very organic-feeling effect on repeats, modulation, and how the two interact.
Unlike original Binsons, which had four basic delay times based on the position of the fixed heads, the Catalinbread can go from 40 ms to a full second. It also maintains a uniform division between repeats in a multi-head setting—a 100 ms setting is 25ms between heads, a 1,000 ms setting is 250 ms between heads, and so on—which really expands on the original’s potential. The mix control works conventionally, moving from totally dry to completely wet. But it’s the program select knob that’s the key to the Catalinbread’s magic. Just as on the original Binson, it’s a 12-position dial selects nearly every possible “head” configuration. It cracks open a universe of very intuitive, easy-to-tailor rhythmic delays and unique, positively expansive ambient textures. An internal switch also let’s you select trails or buffered switching modes.
Sonic Vesuvius The Echorec’s basic voice is lovely—organic and colorful without being overly so, with a fascinating combination of digital precision and analog fuzziness. Repeats taper away with a natural but slightly metallic-sounding decay that honors the magneto-mechanical repeat origins of the Binson. I preferred setting the internal modulation pot fairly deep and then fine-tuning with the tone control. Bassier tones are key to finding the pedal’s subtler side. Treblier settings, however, emphasize overtones and complex oscillation harmonics—quite like listening to the wobbling waves of decay you hear from a big church bell at close proximity. These settings are a wonderland for spacious leads or solo instrumentals, reward a dynamic picking approach and suspended-chord- or open-tuning-based compositions with ringing open strings. And if you like a lot of reverb, you’ll love how the densest repeat modes almost eliminate the need for one—especially position 12, where all four “heads” create a regenerating wash that’s rich with overtones and ghost oscillations.
One of the biggest upsides of the Catalinbread is its rhythmic delay potential. A setting that takes one “head” out of the mix and adds another creates a basic syncopation that you can accent and enhance with the delay time. The beat- and tempo-shaping power of the delay time control in these syncopated settings is probably the biggest improvement upon the original (that and eliminating the need for mechanical maintenance), and the ease with which they work together is one of the most significant differences between the Catalinbread and other delays.
Unique, enveloping, atmospheric, and organic delays that inspire and turn heads. Rhythmic delays are simple to dial in.
Simpler, more conventional delay sounds can be tricky.
Ease of Use:
The pedal’s 12-position control is perhaps its only weak spot—it doesn’t have detents that click so you know you’re in the mode indicated by the miniscule print on the chassis. That means there’s potential for fairly excruciating lost-in-the-woods moments on a dark stage, especially given how adjacent settings can have very distinct rhythmic signatures that could significantly disrupt a performance. In a well-lit room, this isn’t a huge deal, but addressing these issues would make the Catalinbread much more practical for gigging.
The Verdict Few delays have ever so deftly and creatively mated digital’s definition and analog’s earthiness as the Echorec. Even fewer have felt like such a cool and elegant departure from convention. Catalinbread clearly put a lot of love, research, and engineering resources into this pedal, and it pays off spectacularly in vintage authenticity, musicality, and creative potential.
At 230 bucks, it’s on the expensive side—exorbitant for players with basic delay needs. But ambient adventurers, post-rock texturalists, pickers with cinematic sensibilities, and players who love vintage Pink Floyd and golden-age-of-psychedelic sonics will probably consider it a bargain, plug it in, and go wild like sugar-crazed 8-year-olds in a toy store—even if it takes a little saving for most of us to get one.
Devi Ever FX Drone F*** Drone Review
Devi’s pedals sound great, and her creative streak yields many unusual tones and control sets. The all-analog Drone F*** Drone combines two of Devi’s most heralded fuzzes, the Bi-Fuzz and the Soda Meiser/Noise Floor.
In the decade since Devi Ever FX burst on the stompbox scene, the delightfully irreverent Portland, Oregon, builder has created a line of fuzz boxes that should make gearheads weep with joy. Used by the likes of Trent Reznor, Depeche Mode, ZZ Top, Wilco, and My Bloody Valentine, her pedals suit just about taste in the distortion/crunch/fuzz realm.
Devi’s pedals sound great, and her creative streak yields many unusual tones and control sets. The all-analog Drone F*** Drone, for instance, is the fifth Devi Ever pedal to employ a joystick. (The actual product name doesn’t include the word “F***,” but we’re pretty sure you can figure that one out.) The control lends an extra dose of expressive potential to a circuit that combines two of Devi’s most heralded fuzzes, the Bi-Fuzz and the Soda Meiser/Noise Floor. Together they generate an absolute maelstrom of noise, and for good measure there are a couple of extra switches that may leave you wondering whether you’ve blown up your amp, the pedal, or your town’s entire power grid.
The Fuzz Pilot
Throw a joystick on a guitar pedal and everyone will notice. You’d be forgiven for mistaking the DFD for an RC helicopter remote. Each of the two footswitches activates one of the fuzz circuits, with the status indicated by a tiny blue LED. The Bi-Fuzz on the left has only two knobs: volume and BF drone. Turning the drone knob fully counter-clockwise generates a steady fuzz tone. As you roll deeper into drone territory, the output becomes increasingly laced with white noise, descending into a hot mess of atonal delight. You can use the joystick to pinpoint various frequencies throughout its 360-degree range.
The adjacent Soda Meiser fuzz has similar controls and shares the joystick functionality. Higher SM drone settings produce modulation akin to R2D2’s whistle. Here the joystick alters both the frequency and the modulation rate. Fully counter-clockwise, SM drone produce the slowest wave. Rolling it down increases the speed until it decays into swarming fuzz. There are two additional switches under on the Soda Meiser channel: noise and chaos. At tame SM drone settings, chaos adds a layer of broken glass harmonics and upper-octave hair. Turning on the noise switch (with chaos off) transforms the siren tremolo into an air raid klaxon.
The design and build quality are excellent. There’s nothing special about the unfinished Hammond box, although the top decal—littered with .jpeg artifacts and oozing heinous fluorescents—certainly makes a statement. A peek inside revealed focused wiring, ultra-secure suspended PCBs, and a Garbage Pail Kids trading card thrown in for good measure. I was lucky enough to score Pasty Pierce.
Pros: Two very heavy fuzzes plus drones. Joystick adds an extra cool functionality.
Cons: Steep learning curve. Recreating specific drone sounds can be a little difficult.
Ease of Use:
Devi Ever FX
You’re Deaf and Your Mind is Melting
At its simplest level, the Drone F*** Drone houses two very cool fuzzes. The Bi-Fuzz has lot of breathing room and is nearly silent when BF drone is turned down. Playing a Stratocaster and a Twin Reverb with the joystick around 9 o’clock, I captured the sharp, nasally yowl of a Tone Bender. Banking hard right on the stick cloaks the fuzz in a darker tone, like something you’d hear from Warren Ellis on a Grinderman record. Chords lurch, crumble, and then morph into one big note.
The Soda Meiser nails that doomy, Smashing Pumpkins-like sound of an op amp Big Muff. Coupled with an Orange OR50, this huge sound feels like ten layered Big Muffs, especially when using single-coils. Double bends feel like they’re ripping at the fabric of time. Kicking up the SM drone just a hair introduces the death rattle of a dying battery. Flipping on the chaos switch with a less intense SM drone setting coaxes a bristling attack that made me think of the opening of Boris’s Pink album. A Les Paul with humbuckers compresses some of this hairiness—not bad thing for “civilized” solos, but a little less fun.
You can also cascade the two fuzzes, producing the audio equivalent of a scrambled cable signal. (This cascading sounds better if you increase one fuzz’s volume to compensate for the colliding, canceling frequencies of this fuzz soup.) Another option: Run one drone while using the other as a more conventional fuzz voice. This can create mammoth walls of sound, though it can get disorderly, depending on how high you mix the drone.
Experimentally minded players will love how the Drone F*** Drone transforms their guitars into tone generators or demented synthesizers. I found some really dirty 8-bit tones with SM drone at 2 o’clock and both switches engaged. Introducing a Boss Loop Station opened the gate to endless tweaking. Thumping, brutish power chords provided a percussive foundation over which I could twirl the frequency stick and drop in input from the chaos switch, creating industrial chatter. Maxing both drones obliterates your input signal, generating a nightmarish wash.
The Verdict Buying a Bi-Fuzz and a Soda Meiser would set you back about $250. The Drone F*** Drone fetches $300—a substantial price, but oh-so worth it if you want to take fuzz way out of the box. Controlling the joystick with a foot in a live situation could get dicey, though the hardware is sturdy enough. There’s no end to potential studio applications—not just for guitar, but also keys, bass, and just plain noise. Adventurous players willing invest the time to explore the Drone F*** Drone will be repaid in spades.