Posted by: Necci – May 11, 2012
Tungs and Heavy Midgets are two RVA-based indie groups who've been on the rise in the RVA music scene over the last little while. Along with a few others in the local scene, they've been leading the charge away from the softer, more accessible sounds that dominated indie rock, both locally and internationally, during the previous decade. In contrast to the Death Cab For Cuties and Animal Collectives of the world, both of these groups know how to crank up the guitars and rock out, and both of them do so without losing touch with the melodic sense that's always differentiated the indie-rock scene from straight-up noise. Now these two groups have combined forces to release a split vinyl LP, entitled Sisters, and this LP will receive a formal release at The Nile this Sunday night!
The 13 songs on Sisters are excellent, regardless of which side of the LP you're listening to. The Tungs side does a good job of capturing the artistic growth that's occurred as the band has continually refined both their sound and their lineup over the past two years. Spending most of their time together as a trio, Tungs were forced in the past to have members Alex Criqui and Paul Himmelman alternate between drums and guitar, depending on who was singing a particular song. Now, with Matthew Thiem onboard as a full-time drummer, they've been able to put both Criqui and Himmelman on guitar, and in so doing, thicken their sound considerably. This new, fuller sound can be heard to great effect on the album's opening one-two punch: "Yossarian's Blues" and "Tapestry." Both tracks are rather primitively recorded, which makes the guitars seem noisier but does nothing to dampen the power of the melodically sung choruses. In a time when bands seem less and less willing to experiment with lower-fidelity recording, Tungs clearly recognizes that a modicum of rawness can be a good thing, and they utilize it accordingly here. Later, on "Bosses," Tungs's longest track on Sisters, they engage in a drawn-out psychedelic jam that features quite a bit of feedback, and closes out Tungs's side of the LP in fine fashion. On the whole, their sound here is a mixture of several styles, some of which are unusual at this point in music history, and all of which sound fresh and welcome when Tungs delivers them.
Heavy Midgets, photo by Ben Harsel
Heavy Midgets are a newer band than Tungs, having released their first EP only a few months ago, but they've got a pretty well-developed sound for such a recently formed band. Their songs are assembled more conventionally than those of Tungs, with the standard pop template of verse-chorus-verse dominating. Nonetheless, Heavy Midgets distinguish themselves from plenty of other bands that play in this style with well-constructed melodic hooks played through some slightly off-kilter guitar tunings. Under other circumstances, their guitar riffs might be said to jangle, but instead, it seems that Heavy Midgets guitarists Charlanne McCarthy and Ian McQuary tune their instruments unusually enough to give their riffs a strange resonance that I can't quite describe. It's not unpleasant in the least, and actually works quite well during heavier, more distorted moments, but when they strum their guitars cleanly, it's impossible not to notice. Ultimately, though, the distorted melodies that shape the choruses of Heavy Midgets' songs are what really make them stand out. Side-ender "Safe On Your Mountaintop" is particularly noteworthy in this respect, as McCarthy's vocals and McQuary's guitar leads start out pleasant and build over the course of the song's three-and-a-half minute length (like Tungs, Heavy Midgets choose to end their side with their longest song) to a dramatic climax that's equally driven by loud, feedback-laced guitar and high, clear vocal melodies. The contrast captured at this moment demonstrates exactly what separates Heavy Midgets from the guitar-pop masses.
In an age of download-only releases and highly overpriced commodities, it's nice to see two small local bands coming together to create a quality physical release like this one. What's even nicer is that it's affordable--the vinyl LP can be ordered through the Bandcamp pages of Tungs and/or Heavy Midgets for $10, while the cassette version is an unbelievable $4! Of course, if you order them through Bandcamp, you'll have to pay postage, so why not make it easier on yourself and come out to The Nile on Sunday? You'll be able to purchase the LP in person, as well as catching live sets by both groups, plus openers The Diamond Center and Tideland. It promises to be an evening of great music--one that you really shouldn't miss.
WHAT: Tungs/Heavy Midgets Split LP Release/Tour Kickoff Show!
WHO: Tungs, Heavy Midgets, The Diamond Center, Tideland
WHERE: The Nile (309 N. Laurel St.)
WHEN: Sunday, May 13, 10 PM
ADMISSION: $5 suggested donation
Both Tungs and Heavy Midgets have recently released prmotional videos for the album, which we've got for you to check out below. Tungs's video is for their song "Tapestry," and was directed by guitarist Alex Criqui. It's a foreboding black and white clip, filmed in Hollywood Cemetery, which retains the kaleidoscopic psychedelia vibe of their earlier videos, while integrating a stronger narrative approach that is reminiscent of B-movie horror films from the 50s and early 60s. The film stars Heavy Midgets singer/guitarist Charlanne McCarthy, who is also prominently featured in the no-frills live clip of "Safe On Your Mountaintop" that Heavy Midgets recently released. Filmed by Ben Harsel at a basement show in mid-April, the clip has surprisingly clear audio, and documents a solid performance of one of their best songs. Enjoy!
By Andrew Necci