Staff Trax: The Futureheads, Fake Problems, Small Black, Ashley Ray, Alex Parks

Welcome to Staff Trax, the weekly feature here on DC9 where we shed some light on the music we've been enjoying of late, regardless of the touring or album release schedules that tend to bear the focus of most of our coverage. Consider it a chance for you readers to get some more insight into our own personal tastes. Maybe you'll find something you like, ya dig?

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The Futureheads -- "Heartbeat Song"



I've harped on The Futureheads plenty enough this week--last week, I caught up with frontman Barry Hyde over the phone in anticipation of the band's Monday night show at The Loft--but the band, very clearly, remains fairly underappreciated; Monday night's performance was a sparsely attended one. Lord knows why--maybe it's just your standard Monday night doldrums or perhaps post-ACL hangovers that are to blame--but only 50 or so folks made it to The Loft to see the band perform one of the best live shows I've seen in some time. Ten years into their careers, these guys have become phenomenal showmen, vamping for the crowd, striking ironic poses and never skipping a beat with their on-stage harmonies or their congenial back-and-forth banter with the crowd. And though it wasn't a huge crowd, it was certainly a very appreciative one--something the band could notice right away, what with the audience's incessant dancing along, its willingness to participate in singalongs and its shouting out of requests spanning the band's career, from its self-titled debut and up to this year's fourth full-length, The Chaos. That latest release is a good one, too, that shouldn't be overlooked. At times, it finds the band exploring more progressive, almost theatrical songwriting techniques. But it also expands upon the fast-paced, harmony-heavy, Elvis Costello-influenced post-punk it best proffers. The above song, "Heartbeat Song," is a good example of the latter, and the video, similarly, provides great insight into the band's ever-present sense of humor. This is a band that is still improving. Here's hoping that Monday night was an anomaly; it'd be a true shame to let a band this fun, this catchy and this consistently good go as undervalued as it did at that show. --Pete Freedman

Fake Problems - "RSVP"


I was pleasantly surprised by Fake Problems when I saw them open for The Gaslight Anthem last Friday. I can understand the comparisons to Against Me!, but I wouldn't say these guys are a junior version. Sure, the band's members are young, but the band (especially frontman Chris Farren) doesn't sound young or directionless. The band released their third album, Real Ghosts Caught On Tape, a few weeks ago and here's an acoustic version of one of its tracks. --Eric Grubbs

Small Black - "Bad Lovers"


Brooklyn's Small Black has a dense, electronic-based sound that reminds me of a less hostile version of Suicide--the legendary protopunk duo, not the act of self-annihilation. Distortion, feedback and garbled vocals are all major elements in Small Black's dark vision. "Bad Lovers" is a great song from the band's 2008 debut EP, New Chain. Small Black's soon-to-be-released full-length is supposedly a bit more refined. Whatever the case, Small Black makes its way to The Cavern on October 30 (my birthday!) and I, for one, hope the band's seediest tendencies are on full display. --Darryl Smyers

Ashley Ray - "Hurricanes"


Ashley Ray's self-titled EP provides proof of a rising talent. Even the thin, whiny voice of Eli Young Band's Mike Eli, who duets with Ray on the standout track, "Dirt Cheap," isn't enough to dilute the aching, yet powerful presence of Ray's distinctive, country vocal. Comparisons to Miranda Lambert will be inevitable, but Ray does enough with her debut that few folks will have a hard time differentiating between the two twangy spitfires in the coming years. This collection boasts a couple of understated girl-power anthems that display vulnerability while still cutting a powerful, defiant figure. --Kelly Dearmore

Alex Parks - "Mad World"


No, it's not the first cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" to bubble up. Probably not the last one, either. But Alex Parks does this version simply and gorgeously. The production on the song was done with a lot of TLC, too--first it's non-existent, then sparse, and, lastly, just enough to complement the vocals. Well done. --Alan Ayo
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