The Donkeys

The Donkeys

Thompson Springs, The Singleman Affair

Tue, July 24, 2018

9:00 pm

The Hideout

Chicago, IL

$10.00

The Donkeys
The Donkeys
As we watched the Donkeys perform one of the first of their nearly 150 shows in support of 2014’s Ride The Black Wave, on the clattery rooftop stage of the aptly named SXSW venue Cheers Shot Bar, Craig Finn (he of literate-rock luminaries The Hold Steady) turned to me and said something on the order of “you can just feel that they’ve played with each other since high school…they’ve got that thing, and you just can’t get it otherwise.” That thing, an elusive, intuitive musical hive-mindedness informs every note the acclaimed San Diego quartet ever play, live or on record, but is especially present on Midnight Palms, the mini-album due for release February 12th on Easy Sound.

Tracked largely live-in-the-studio with veteran producer, longtime friend, and fellow traveler Thom Monahan (Vetiver, Fruit Bats, Devendra Banhart), Midnight Palms oozes with the sticky, syrupy energy of a band fresh off the road and “in rare form,” as the expression goes. Recorded as it was at the end of one of the bands blitzkrieg road runs (which might see the band playing as many as 28 shows in 29 days), the collection’s lived-in live feel should surprise few.

The core founding trio of Tim Denardo, Anthony Lukens, and Sam Sprague drive the proceedings. Drummer Sprague alternately (and effortlessly) sets a lock-step driving pace, as on album opener “Hurt Somebody,” a bouncy girl-group groove (“Day by Day”), or a lazy gallop, as on the languid “Star Bird,” which the drummer also sings. Meanwhile, bassist Denardo falls easily into any of those pockets, and takes his own lead vocal turn on “Down the Line,” a dusty roots-pop tune as laid back as the men playing it. Lukens, of course, provides the by-turns warm, slippery, punchy and liquid keyboard lines that are the album’s bedrock, while lending his direct, earnest vocals to three of the album’s five tunes.

The fourth Donkey on Midnight Palms is The Hold Steady’s Steve Selvidge, stepping in after the (amiable) departure of long-time guitarist Jesse Gulati. Selvidge hopped on stage with the Donkeys that night at Cheers Shot Bar and would end up joining the band for a fair number of those 150 RTBW shows. His pointed, tasteful leads are peppered throughout Midnight Palms, most notably on the searing “Hold On To You.”

In all, the Donkeys have crafted in the Midnight Palms mini-album a fine, half-sized document of their singular sound. At once accessible, adventurous, nostalgic, and progressive, it can only be the Donkeys.

- Stephen Brower, Easy Sound Recording Co.
Thompson Springs
Layers run deep when the train runs wide. Influenced by the Utah desert, the winds of Chicago, and the Memphis bluffs, Thompson Springs released his first EP, Artifacts, in 2016 with Rob Laakso of Kurt Vile and the Violators.
The Singleman Affair
The Singleman Affair
"The End of the Affair" was recorded and engineered by Andrew Hernandez in an abandoned barber shop, where the band had built a recording studio to capture the more intimate moments of the new material as a live collaborative effort as well as utilize the larger space to capture all of the musicians together. The songs the band tracked live in the barber shop studio became the foundation of the “End of the Affair.” These songs were then augmented by various late night session at Daniel Schneider’s home recording studio, utilizing an expansive collection of vintage microphones and a 1970's EMT plate reverb that harnessed both the urgency of the full band recordings as well as the delicate intimacy found in some of the acoustic guitar and vocal tracks. All of these recordings were then handed off to long time Singleman Affair stalwart (engineer/producer) Graeme Gibson, who mixed the album, following some additional recordings to create the dynamic sounds that make up “The End of the Affair.” Additional musicians who contributed to this record were Gillian Lisee (Cairo Gang), multi-instrumentalist and drummer Graeme Gibson (Fruit Bats, Disappears, Houndstooth), and viola and banjo player Liz Payne (Town and Country, The Zoo Wheel). The End of the Affair will be available June 16th as a collaborative release between Cardboard Sangria Records and Strange Weather Records (on LP/CS/DL).

In the years that followed the release of their second album, The Singleman Affair performed almost exclusively as a live band, integrating the different moods of the first two records into a live experience. The musical relationships established by the band formed the foundation of their third full-length album, “The End of the Affair”, a new, frenetic emotional tryst that personifies darker, heavier tones within their dense psychedelia. What was once the singular bedroom recordings of Daniel Schneider is now a full multidimensional band, backed by Adam Vida on drums (U.S. Maple), Gary Pyskacek on guitar and pedal steel, Jacob Smith on organ, and Sam Wagster(Cairo Gang, Fruit Bats) on bass. The band mixes influences from late 60s British folk, early 70s stoner psychedelia, outsider noise art, surrealism, film noir, and their own love of improvisation and experimentation. Thematically, “The End of the Affair” is a meditation on anxiety and the fleeting faces seen through the eyes of an aging folk troubadour. From the Stooges-esque opener “Be This Way”, inspired by (Luis Bunuel's) surrealist masterpiece “Un Chien Andalou”, one hears the worried notes of a man never finding the morning light, of never waking up…”Lets open every eyelid/lets cut them open brightly” which resonate with the image of a singular eyeball being sliced open referencing the notorious eyeball-slicing scene found in "Un Chien Andalou". The bombastic single, "Gray Hairs", highlights a Fairport Convention ideology refracted through a verbose John Cale lens, raising the frustrations of aging ("And my hair it starts to gray/As I fade away") to a boiling point by the furious culmination of the song. One of the most crushing singles on the album is “In Response”, a song that cuts past pretense, leaving one reflecting on the raw, naked realities of a relationship that just didn't work, showing both sadness and resolve: "You can shine so bright, and hang out with the lights/but the lights don’t shine anymore.” Themes of personal frustration and loss, are further explored in the quiet paranoia found in the Floydian jam “I Know a Witch”, where notes of distrust culminates in a final night of furious passion as can be heard in the dense synth heavy outro. The album concludes with the fated sea shanty “Lady of the Sea”, where the listener finally finds acceptance within these tales of anguish and longing, as echoed in the repeated mantra “I will remember you…I will remember you…” A final sense of peace and realization. This is psychedelic music stripped of artifice, imagery of bitterness, loss, and beauty. The true anti-hero who never wins.

Facebook comments:

Venue Information:
The Hideout
1354 W. Wabansia Ave
Chicago, IL, 60642
http://www.hideoutchicago.com