The music scene in Providence – and throughout Rhode Island – is insane. We’ve got more badass, super talented and hardworking musicians per capita than any other city in the world (don’t look that up, just go with it). But what’s more is we’ve got everything covered. Folk, rock, hip hop, punk; name a genre, cross pollinate it with another, hell just start making things up (Death-funk surf-rap!) and there’s almost definitely someone in RI doing it.
So where to start? We’ve assembled a crack team of musicians, promoters and supporters all plugged in to the local scene to give you your official 2015 local playlist and to tell you who you should be keeping an eye on. We’ve also got our five favorite records of the year, plus a look back at some shows that we felt best represent the eclectic nature of music in Providence.
Top Five Albums
Other cities should be jealous of what our artists are doing here. This is not a contest, but when forced to make a choice, these are our five favorite records of 2015.
B Dolan, Kill the Wolf
After five years since his last full length album, B Dolan dropped Kill the Wolf on a world lost and desperate for some sharp-tongued reason. Social unrest and injustice, a culture of paranoia, class inequality; it all fuels this tight, 11-track machine.
“Safety Theater” plays like cyberpunk hip hop, all buzzsaw synth and 8-bit loops while a disembodied chorus tries to sell us an Orwellian state while B counters that “protection is a fantasy balancing on a precipice.” “Memory of Bombs” addresses the police violence and racial tension that has plagued our headlines.
On “Alright” B declares that “If the world burns I’ll provide the soundtrack.” The West Coast is literally in flames and there’s metaphorical smoke all around us. I’m not saying that I feel good, but I feel all right knowing B Dolan is using his mic to fight those fires.
Brown Bird, Axis Mundi
March saw the bittersweet release of Brown Bird’s final album. Arriving a year after David Lamb lost his battle with Leukemia, Axis Mundi is built from demos David recorded during treatment. Completed by his wife and bandmate MorganEve Swain, it’s hard not to read deeper into this one. There’s a lot of pain in parts, but there’s a strength in its commitment to being a Brown Bird record first and foremost. There’s still plenty of folk and plenty of the band’s Romani influence, but it also rocks a bit harder than prior releases. Tracks like “Sackcloth and Ash,” “Pale and Paralyzed” and “Smoke Rising” certainly reflect that shift while still hanging in close orbit to what one expects from a Brown Bird record.
Whether you’re coming to Axis Mundi with the heavy heart of a longtime fan or the open mind of an eager new listener, you’ll leave it feeling like you’ve experienced something truly profound.
Ravi Shavi, Ravi Shavi
Few things are better than a good old rock and roll record, and right out of the gate Ravi Shavi’s self-titled LP is nothing but. Tinged with a slight surf twang, covered in a fuzzy layer of garage rock grit and dripping with laidback, effortless cool, Ravi Shavi is a nice, even ten cuts of perfect summertime listening.
Frontman Rafay Rashid harnesses the raw sound of garage rock and the early days of punk into a raucous album that’s never short on thrills. From the gonzo rocker “Indecision” through the New Wave leanings of “Vacation Holiday,” this record put a grin on my face that lasted for days. This is an album that demands to be played loud and with the windows down. While the weather will allow it I suggest you do so, and if it’s getting too cold, do it anyway. See what goes higher, your heat or your speakers.
Dylan Sevey and the Gentlemen, New Mischief
On their second record, Dylan Sevey and the Gentlemen beat that ancient evil: the sophomore slump. Armed with a killer pop sensibility and a more confident vocal performance, Dylan proves to be a formidable frontman. As the first thing audiences will react to – the blessing and the curse of being the face of a band – he guarantees from the get go that they’re in good hands.
But honestly the band is operating in top form across the board. When I reviewed their debut Join the Club I had suggested it played like a proof of concept and that their next record would be their statement of purpose and I’m glad to report that New Mischief turned out to be exactly that. If their first record and their consistent live performances hadn’t convinced you, this record will.
Roz and the Rice Cakes, Close Encounter
Any excuse for a trip to Saturn and back is a good one, but since that’s not an option, Roz and the Rice Cakes are the next best thing to shooting off into space. Superficially, Close Encounter is just two songs but as always, the band finds a way to surround you in their cavernous soundscapes.
Building off of the Big Bang that was last year’s Need to Feed, Roz and the Ricecakes’ desire to experiment and get a little weird continues to expand outward towards an unknown cosmic horizon. All aboard the Starship Ricecake.
Scenes From the Scene
The Providence scene is young, it’s weird and it has little use for strict lines between genres. Here are some of the moments from 2015 that show just how good we’ve got it when it comes to local live music.
Public Alley Wins the Rock Hunt
It isn’t every day that you get to experience a Mighty Ducks-level underdog story IRL but it happened at The Met when Public Alley came out of nowhere (or East Greenwich) to sweep this year’s WBRU Rock Hunt. The odds were pretty heavily stacked against this (mostly) high school band as they slipped in on the wild card ballot. No one expected the set they put on, and to be honest we don’t think they did either. They were just a bunch of crazy-talented high school kids who never thought they could win, so they played their guts out inhibition free. Our deeply cynical Grinch hearts grew three sizes that night.
Concert At The Ruins
The Providence International Arts Festival was an amazing spectacle and an overwhelming success, bringing our own little world of art and creativity together with incredible international talent. But one of our favorite moments didn’t happen on Washington Street or in Kennedy Plaza, but rather in the shadow of the Providence National Bank. Ravi Shavi, Medusah Black, The Low Anthem, Tapestries and other local acts led the crowd well into the night and showed beyond any shadow of a doubt that even without a United Nations of artists assembled in our streets, Providence’s artistic community is as gifted, powerful and diverse as any other.
Arc Iris and Friends Play Hunky Dory
When local psychedelic space wizards Arc Iris set up shop at Aurora for a month this spring for their Zoetical Festival, it was a safe bet to say that whatever they had up their sleeves was going to be an experience. Guests throughout the month included Death Vessel, The ‘Mericans, Math the Band and Big Nazo’s Intergalactic Creature Band, but on one particular night of their month-long residency on Westminster Street they invited a Murderer’s Row of Providence musicians to join them in a full cover of David Bowie’s 1971 classic, Hunky Dory (see our photo gallery of that show here). Chris Daltry, Allysen Callery, Roz Raskin, Joel Thibodeau and and others joined Arc Iris as they tapped into cosmic frequencies to channel Ziggy Stardust himself.
2015 PVD Playlists
We’ve asked ten contributors from all areas of the local music scene to come up with our PVD 2015 mixtape. Grab a blank cassette and a fistful of AA batteries; this one won’t be leaving your Walkman for a while.
Tony Pacitti, PM Editor and Music Columnist
1. “The Conversation” by Roz and the Rice Cakes
2. “This Will be the One that Kills Me” by Dylan Sevey and the Gentlemen –Answering the question, “Can you slow jam classic rock?” with a definitive, five-minute-long yes.
3. “Patiently Waiting” by Brown Bird – Surfy, mysterious; this is the Brown Bird song most likely to appear on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack.
4. “Romeo” by The Dust Ruffles
5. “Whether or Not” by The Sweet Release – Like Ween injected with a big dose of Iggy’s raw power, these are the rock and roll smartasses you didn’t know you were missing.
Davey Moore, Midday Records/Satellites Fall
1. “Lessons Learned” by Forest Fires
2. “Shy Hinges” by Wild Sun
3. “Floor Boards” by Roz and The Rice Cakes
4. “Leave The Chemicals (Behind Us)” by No Plateau
5. “Stygian Night” by VulGarrity
Mike Delehanty, Booker for Lupo's and The Met
1. “Safety Theater” by B Dolan – On this track from his new album Kill The Wolf, B points out the paradoxes of safety and perceived safety during our war on all.
2. “Never Forget Her” by Eric and the Nothing
3. “Summer’s Halo” by Twin Foxes – Twin Foxes reminds me of when lo fi indie and emo punk merged around the end of the ‘90s.
4. “All We Are” by Math the Band – This one finds Party Punk Providence impresarios away the kitchen sink for a straightforward indie punk blast while going for the throat.
5. “The Drought” by Bloodpheasant
DJ Nook, WRIU’s Real Rap Radio
1. “Jailbreak” by B Dolan
2. “Bed Bugs” by Atlantic Thrills
3. “Want Want” by Beta Motel
4. “Next Up” by Four Oh One and DJ Mekalek ft. Milez Grimes, Kee-Words and Big G’s
5. “Shut ‘Em Down” by Everybody Luv Black
George Dussault, Producer at Galilee Productions
1. “Bruise Pattern” by Pistol Shot Gypsy – A powerful song by a powerful band, heavy and melodic with great musicianship and stunning vocals.
2. “Pasadena” by Consuelo’s Revenge – Great, rootsy music with echoes of Cajun, Bluegrass and Blues with excellent musicianship and vocals.
3. “The Uninvited Song” by Viking Jesus
4. “Beauty” by Tammy Laforest
5. “Inside of Me” by SEXCoffee – The lyrics are about searching for the courage to face a potentially deadly personal trial. I’m overjoyed to say that there was triumph both personally and musically.
Chuck Staton, Senior Discount
1. “Threshold” by Trophy Wives – To me this song comes across like New Found Glory’s poppiest singles were re-done by Atreyu – and that’s a wonderful thing.
2. “All I Ever Wanted” by Ten Cents Short
3. “ShamROCK!” by Sweet Babylon – A fun and funny song like this is a serious asset to a setlist, and I’m jealous I didn’t come up with it first.
4. “Overdose” by SoundOff – Edgy enough for people who like some clarity with their violent overtones, but will certainly keep the pit punching and yelling.
5. “Howl at the Moon” by Copacetics
Anjel Newmann (Medusah Black)/Director of AS220 Youth
1. “Never Falling” by Big Flizz – This track reminds me that strength is not determined by how hard you fall, but by how intensely you get up.
2. “You Ain’t Change It” by Plan B-Eye – I love this song because it’s raw and accurately describes the system’s inability to hold themselves accountable for the development of our youth. Call ‘em out B-Eye!
3. “IDK Bruh” by Almty Ceez
4. “No Black Aqua Man” by Vatic – Stereotypes are poison that can seep into our consciousness and persuade us to build false narratives based on someone else’s ignorance. Pure genius.
5. “Come Clean” by Dieverse
Wendell Gee, Program Director WBRU
1. “Memory of Bombs” by B Dolan ft. Roz Raskin
2. “Loretta” by Public Alley – If you meet these guys and watch them interact, there’s a sense of constant fractured attention spans and crackling energy. Some bands feel miraculous, and this is one of them. Somehow they harnessed it.
3. “Fat Slobs” by Bros. (and not the British pop act) – This is my in-the-office need to get psyched up to do a good morning show song. Fast and loud. Sometimes that’s all I need.
4. “Outside Boston” by We Were Astronauts
5. “Like Gold” by Forest Fires
Roz Raskin, Roz and the Rice Cakes
1. “Accidental” by Ravi Shavi
2. “Bruja Cosmica” by Malportado Kids – A super energized stage show, electronic punk to get you pumped.
3. “Come On Cowboy” by The Horse-Eyed Men – Two brothers playing disgruntled americana, some of the funniest smart songwriting I’ve heard in a while.
4. “Arrival” by Way Out
5. “The Long Way to Paradise” by The Viennagram – These guys also have a kick-ass live show, almost a mix of musical theatre with spacey – and haunted house themed punk.
Mark MacDougall, founder of 75orLess Records
1. “Stay” by Bob Kendall – Longtime Newport legend Bob Kendall is an indie pop magician, with echoes of REM, The db’s, and George Harrison.
2. “Double Nickels on the Dime” by Groundhawgs
3. “Huge Bruise (Live at Dusk)” by Black Oil Incinerator – Crusty gentlemen blowing out your eardrums with catchy hooks buried beneath an avalanche of amps and pedals.
4. “Credit Score” by Jodie Treloar
5. “Damn Unicorn” by Suicide Bill and the Liquors – A short, heartbreaking ballad; it’s the undiscovered anthem for all the schmucks you know still getting up at 5am every day for a job they hate.
Bands to Watch
You’ve got your required 2015 listening, now here are the ten acts you should be keeping an eye – and ear – on in 2016.
Sean Murphy’s vocals are reminiscent of some of your favorite ‘No Idea Records’ bands from back in the day – Against Me! (past and present), Small Brown Bike, Hot Water Music and Bridge & Tunnel. In a music scene that is quickly becoming dominated by lo-fi garage rock, not many bands coming out of the Providence scene today are doing what No Plateau has managed to accomplish. They have crafted a sound that perfectly captures the passion and raw emotion of the post-punk era. –Davey Moore, Satellites Fall/Midday Records
Forest Fires and We Were Astronauts
These are the acts that I think could/should increase their audiences in 2016. I like what both Forest Fires and We Were Astronauts have done so far, I am just waiting for “the song” from them. You know the one. –Wendell Gee, Program Director WBRU
The chemistry between Mekalek and Four Oh One on their last releases make their upcoming 2016 EP, The Barfly, something to raise your glass to. Along with veteran emcee and local hero, Swann Notty, the trio delivers a soulful nine tracks that will definitely remain on repeat. I’ve been looking for something that has the complete package when it comes to authentic hip hop sound, style and a crazy live performance, and these guys are it! –DJ Nook, 90.3 Real Rap Radio
Doom folk sounds terrible on paper, but Bloodpheasant make it work out loud. Elements of stoner metal and post punk guitars played while toying with grunge and indie rock to perfection. While some bands that play with the soft/loud dynamic like the Pixies foreshadow when they are going to a predictable ending or climax, what I like about Bloodspheasant is I have no clue where they are going, but happy to be along for the ride. The instrumentation on their song “The Drought” is a great example of their range; different instrumentation of genres layered upon each other creating whatever you feel like calling it. –Mike Delehanty, booker for Lupo’s and The Met
ZuKrewe is more than a rap group; they are a social movement. These young people have dedicated their talents and creativity to create true social change. That’s what hip hop is all about. –Anjel Newmann, AS220 Youth/Medusah Black
The Down and Outs
Super-talented, super smart, and they care about what they’re doing. Their’s is a marriage between ultra fast skate-punk and pop sensibilities, not an easy mix to get right – and you have to be super good (as well as meticulous) when it comes to songwriting, to strike that balance of energy and poeticized truth. The D&Os can and do. I’m excited for what’s next. –Chuck Staton, Senior Discount
Not by any means a newer band, but the full band version of this project started this year. Cam Healy is a radical composer. The songs are unique, mathy and experimental. Look out for them! –Roz Raskin, Roz and the Rice Cakes
Feng Shui Police
A trio of Brown University too-young-to-care weirdos from Newton, MA who have managed to successfully channel the influences of Half Japanese and Pavement with the charm of Jonathan Richmond. The local champions of Spazzy doo-wop and Elephant 6-influenced pop hooks. They are currently recording the follow-up to their 75orLess EP Thank You. –Mark MacDougall, founder of Providence indie music label 75orLess Records
The Dust Ruffles
I won’t go on too much about The Dust Ruffles here (read all about them in our October music column here) but I will say this: Tammy Laforest and company are a rock and roll force to be reckoned with. A Dust Ruffles album for 2016 has been teased. You’d better keep you fingers crossed. -Tony Pacitti, PM Editor and Music Columnist