Posts by Tyler Sonnichsen

Writer, Comedian, Traveler, Archivist, Journalist... I would love to be able to make enough money to live off of one of these things. For now, I do it all but remain poor yet humble. I enjoy wandering, mainly.

The Coup: Pick a Bigger Weapon

Coup CD coverCD Review >>

The Coup
Pick a Bigger Weapon
[Epitaph, 2006]
Rating: 7 (out of 10)

During The Coup’s explosive full band performance at the Operation: Cease Fire rally at the Washington Monument last September, a awkward moment of nonverbal discord passed between Ray “Boots” Riley and his resident hype man. Halfway through their set, the hype man grabbed a “Bush Must Go!” picket sign from the front row and hoisted it in the air. Boots’ rock-solid demeanor, for a brief moment, turned into one of marked disappointment. It appeared that Boots, like many other patriotic dissenters, had grown tired with anti-Bush rhetoric as it has been driven into the ground since the man waltzed into office. When The Coup made waves with their last album Party Music in 2001, 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Patriot Act, the Christian Taliban, the actual Taliban, Duct Tape, domestic spying, etc. were all looming under or out of our nation-state’s subconscious. Continue reading →

Sondre Lerche: “Duper Sessions”

Sondre LercheCD Review >>

Sondre Lerche & The Faces Down Quartet
Duper Sessions
[Astralworks, 2006]
Rating: 7.5

No better way to mark the beginning of Spring than the stateside release of Sondre Lerche’s new album “Duper Sessions,” featuring the Faces Down Quartet. The man has already generated at least two albums’ worth of sunny, romantic, elegant pop that simply brim with class and sophistication well beyond his twenty-three years. In fact, the level of sophistication that Lerche reaches on “Duper Sessions” nearly immortalizes him as one of pop music’s great anomalies.

He was only 18 when he recorded most of what would become his stellar debut album “Faces Down.” Following its stateside release in the fall of 2002, legions of critics, who had little else to pick the young Norwegian apart for, repeatedly cited the inevitable obstacles he faced writing lyrics in his second language, yet still lavished him with well-deserved comparisons to Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. I found it impossible to hold the language barrier against him. He still wrote better songs than a majority of Americans who got any attention from the mainstream press that year, which is sad in a way. Few artists anywhere near the realm of popular music have drawn such heady comparisons to artists two to three times their age in this context. Was Lerche trying so hard to emulate those soul-infected, bossa nova stylings and appear well beyond his years, or simply aiming to separate himself from a slew of other “sensitive” Euro-indie acts? Truthfully, for myself and many others who had the good fortune to discover the man early on, the songs on “Faces Down” and its follow-up “Two-Way Monologue” were too damn irresistible to worry about his intentions.

Continue reading →

“An Impression: Dischord Records” at the DC Independent Film Festival

An Impression: Dischord Records

For a subject with as interesting a history as Dischord Records, the documentary “An Impression: Dischord Records” (Produced by Leena Jayaswol & Kylos Brannon and featured in this year’s DC Independent Film Festival) crams a fairly concise portrait into a slender fifteen minutes. For the uninitiated, this doc is a great stepping-stone with which to approach the history of one of the most storied, notorious, and organically run record labels in the world. For anyone who owns more than one Fugazi record or who knows who Ian Svenonius is, “Impression” is a superficial review. Despite an attractive opening sequence, juxtaposing gritty DC scenery with flyer and album art from the label’s early days, nothing leaps out visually. The short film’s key strengths are in the content, which brings a steady barrage of eye and ear candy for any DC punk aficionado. Continue reading →

Revolution Records: Supporting the DC Music Scene

Nayan Bhula in the front room of his store, Revolution Records in Van Ness
Nayan Bhula in the front room of his store, Revolution Records
– photo by Tyler Sonnichsen

Van Ness-UDC is a bizarre Metro stop. Thousands of people pass in and out of it every day; the apartments in the neighborhood are among the most popular housing for young professionals in the district, and the city���s only public university hosts thousands of commuter students daily. Other than that, Van Ness offers no tourist attractions or utilities that one couldn���t get elsewhere. So, as Nayan Bhula and Fred Burton faced all of these questions upon opening Revolution Records, the good incentives won out.

���The biggest [positives] for us were the availability of this second-floor space, and the price,��� said Bhula. While still far from a steal, the property value would be much easier to maintain than that in more of a cultural hotspot like Dupont Circle or U Street. Regardless, Bhula and the Revolution staff of six have taken advantage of what they do have. The store���s 10% discount for anyone carrying a college ID, for example, has meshed well with the UDC commuters.

Despite the inevitable trials and tribulations that any independent music store faces, especially in a town like DC, Revolution has grown considerably in customer base and presence within the local music scene.

Bhula and Burton play together in local indie-rock trio Gist. On the legs of their latest album ���Diesel City,��� released under their own production company Red Stapler Records, the duo, along with bassist Finley Martin, have taken on the challenge of balancing their touring and promotion with running and maintaining the store. Continue reading →

Supergrass Rides Road to Rouen Through DC on Sunday

Supergrass – photo courtesy Parlophone

Britpop was one of the most bizarre cultural phenomena to occur in most of our lifetimes. It attacked, circa 1993, with a massive wave of bands that issued a cluster of trademark albums and subsequently conquered the UK, and in select Gallagher-related cases, the US charts as well. However, certain bands, like Supergrass, releasing their sensational debut ���I Should Coco��� in 1995, caught the tail end, and so they found themselves clumped together with a movement that their frantic energy and sense of humor simply transcended. Most pointedly, they���ve survived a number of ���waves��� of British music, gained critical praise consistently through five albums, and most relevantly, amassed and maintained a dedicated audience over here. This Sunday night, they���ll be playing to the longtime faithful and newcomers alike in a much-anticipated show at the 9:30 Club.

Indeed, Gaz Coombes and the boys, despite being dubiously hailed as ���everyone���s second-favorite band��� and ���the world���s ugliest band,��� have been producing consistently vibrant and altogether unique British Rock music for more than ten years now. Some thought they were throwing in the towel with last year���s Supergrass is 10: The Best of 1994-2004 compilation. But, like the ���Grass has done so consistently, they threw in a hook (well, tons of hooks, in a different sense) last year with the intricate, expansive Road to Rouen. Of course they���re not throwing in the towel anytime soon. They���ve been around for more than ten years now, but Gaz Coombes still has yet to even turn 30.

According to accounts of their Road to Rouen tour thus far, the quartet���s been mixing in a healthy blast of punchy old numbers like ���Sitting up Straight��� and ���Sun Hits the Sky��� with plenty of the newer gems like ���St. Petersburg��� and ���Grace.��� Few know exactly which surprises the hirsute Oxford lads will be pulling out on Sunday night, but finding out will only be a fraction of the fun.

Considering Supergrass��� long-standing underlying fascination with both psychedelic and American Roots Music, Texarkana ambient avant-pop outfit Pilotdrift will be opening. Their website will completely blow your mind, if their music doesn���t already.

Supergarass is playing the 9:30 Club this Sunday, February 12th. Doors are at 10 PM.

Crooked Beat Records: an Epicenter for Local Musicians and Music Collectors

Bill Daly at Crooked Beat
Bill Daly checks up on some of his vinyl merchandise. Photo by Tyler Sonnichsen

“This building’s magic,” Henry Rollins once told Bill Daly of the edifice that currently houses Crooked Beat Records on 18th Street in Adams Morgan.

Daly, the owner and operator of Crooked Beat for the past year and a half, has plenty of great stories to tell about his stores and his own experience as a music collector and fan, and his own surprises keep on coming. As it turns out, and Rollins was one of the first of many to point out to him, his building was once the original punk haven Madam’s Organ.

‚ÄúA lot of [DC hardcore] legends had their first shows upstairs,‚Äù said Daly, ‚ÄúBad Brains was even like the house band—they played every Monday night.‚Äù

Consistent with most venues that hosted punk bands (and invited them back, subsequently), the building itself was never in top shape, and the lower level, where the shop is located, is now an exhibition of maintenance problems. Between a few floods, one of which occurred last summer, measured approximately four inches deep, and cracked the paint job on the floor, as well as constant hydraulic seepage from Maggie Moo‚Äôs Ice Cream parlor next door, it‚Äôs a miracle that minimal amounts of their merchandise have been destroyed; even more so because their indie selection and specialization ranks among the finest in record stores in the East Coast. Continue reading →

Army of Me, Monopoli and The Sketches at the 9:30 Club

Live Music Review >>

The Sketches
The Sketches

Upon Sketches singer Charlie Bernardo���s first mention of local rock station DC101, something strange occurred to me. DC music has rarely been regarded on a national level as at all mainstream. The league of Georgetown punks of the early 80���s, the emo progenitors of the late 80���s, and rhythmic bitch-slaps like The Dismemberment Plan and Q and Not U have all well represented the DC area���s musical spirit and image through the end of the century. But we have to accept the fact that The Plan and Q are through (despite successful shows by Travis Morrison and Chris Richards��� respective new outfits in the past few weeks), and Fugazi has been on hiatus since 2001���s excellent The Argument.

But as I fell headfirst into the straightforward music of quartets The Sketches, Monopoli, and Army of Me, I realized how this show was a veritable showcase of the three bands vying to be DC���s next breakout. Considering how most of the area���s best-known bands are off the national hipster radar at the moment (Thievery Corp, and Medications notwithstanding), it would be strange but refreshing having Army of Me as the face of the District.


Despite not being the ruthless musical innovators that Fugazi and the D-Plan were, The Sketches, Monopoli, and Army of Me still have plenty to offer. All three bands have had some exposure on the ClearChannel pawn DC101, which speaks volumes of both their hard work and their radio-accessible sounds. In fact, Army of Me���s dark, hooky single ���Come Down to DC��� has been added to 101���s core play list, a major accomplishment for a band not backed by a major label.

The Sketches kicked off the show with magnificent harmonies and generally solid songwriting from brothers Tony and Charlie Bernardo. Most of their set, including highlights like ���Fly Baby, Right Now,��� maintained a mid-tempo flow until they sped up within their last few songs, concluding with a faithful, beautifully done medley of ���Bohemian Rhapsody��� with other 70���s staples. Continue reading →

The Pietasters and The Slackers at The 9:30 Club

Live Music Review >>

���Dude! You���re in a three-piece? Christ!���- one fan to another, exiting the sauna of a 9:30 club at 1:45 AM, 1/8/06

The Slackers
The Slackers
The Pietasters
The Pietasters


Being a true ska fan takes dedication. Having to countenance declarations that ���no one likes ska anymore��� and ���it was a fad��� in the pages of glossy, mainstream music magazines gets aggravating after you read them a thousand times. True, the scene and the art form took a hit ca. 2000 after MTV realized that they could make more money with boy bands, and when Moon Ska Records (the issuers of the Pietaster���s breakthrough Oolooloo) closed up shop, but the best bands survived the fall, emerging stronger and smarter. Two of them, NYC���s trad-ska powerhouse The Slackers and DC���s own indefinable The Pietasters, performed to a packed, bouncing house at the 9:30 Club on Saturday night.

The band���s respective sets perfectly displayed why they are both such strong outfits. Singer/keyboardist Vic Ruggiero, the consummate New Yawkah, made it a point to establish a good ground with the DC crowd right off the bat, with the political ���Propaganda.��� He soon got off it, though, since he realized halfway into their first song that he���d be preaching to the choir anyway. The Slackers played an hour-long set that only for brief moments lost its luster. Prodigious saxophonist Dave Hillyard, and bombastic trombone player Glen Pine, who has assumed elevated vocal duties, for better or for worse, added a dramatic flair to Ruggiero���s outstanding pieces of songwriting. Considering how much energy The Slackers emanated through the likes of ���The Nurse,��� ���I���ll Stay Away,��� a notably an uproarious rocksteady version of the Jewish traditional ���Dreidel Song,��� their new rotation seems to be heading in the right direction. Continue reading →

Scrooge and A Christmas Story: The Two Greatest Yuletide Films

No matter where you live or how you spend the Holidays, the odds are that you’ll probably wind up hearing a pantheon of Christmas-themed music and movies oriented around the said Holiday. I grew up celebrating both holidays, but considering how omnipresent Christmas is in our culture, and that Hanukkah isn’t the most vital of Jewish holidays, I gravitated towards the former. But considering how brutally hyper-commercialized Christmas has become since…well, Santa was created for such a purpose, are there any pieces of music or film that actually capture the essence of what the holiday’s about?

Short answer: Music- no, Movies- yes, though not too many. When filtering through the seemingly endless barrage of normally terrible Christmas-related films, two rise to the top instantly for diverse reasons.

A Christmas StoryA Christmas Story (1983)

The first, A Christmas Story, starring Peter Billingsley and Darren McGavin, is not only one of the greatest Christmas movies, but one of the greatest coming-of-age films, one of the greatest period pieces, and one of the greatest comedies ever produced. Novelist Jean Shepherd (who also wrote the screenplay) hits a bulls-eye with every character he creates and every scenario he draws from his romanticized 1940’s Indiana childhood. The protagonist, Ralphie, captures that precise moment from childhood that anyone can understand. We’re getting old enough to help change a flat tire, pick up dirty words, and fight back against meatheads like Scut Farkus and Grover Dill, but are still young enough to believe Santa or the Tooth Fairy, and for your whole kid-year to revolve around Christmas, as Shepherd put it in the introduction narration.

When all is said and done, A Christmas Story presents the ultimate wink-and-nod to the ideal of Christmas in America. The Parkers even wind up going out for Chinese in the end, which is an appropriate nod to Jewish customs, and the scene concludes an endlessly rewatchable and quotable cinematic gem. TNT has seen to create its own tradition around it; they show it every Christmas day 12 consecutive times.

ScroogeScrooge (1951)

As terrific as A Christmas Story is, it still can‚Äôt compare to 1951’s Scrooge, starring Alastair Sim. Charles Dickens‚Äô classic Victorian romantic novel ‘A Christmas Carol’ has become possibly the best-known of all the holiday stories not taken directly from the Bible, but until director Brian Desmond Hurst adapted it for the screen, nobody had nailed it.

Sim, the quintessential onscreen Ebenezer Scrooge, played the part with such reverence for Dickens’ tragic character that we sympathize with him from almost the beginning. Never for a second is any character reduced to one dimension, especially since Hurst’s version beautifully spells out Scrooge’s life during his journey with the Ghost of Christmas past. We see every major change in his life, and in the world surrounding him, that leaves an emotional scar- the growth of industrial and commercial interests, his beloved sister’s death during childbirth, the loss of his true love Alice- all played with such perfect intropection and no pretentiousness whatsoever. Noel Langley’s script does not forget the vitally important sense of humor as well, injecting clever, perfectly paced dialogue throughout.

Hurst’s version also benefits greatly from the breathtaking cinematography, grandiosity, and excellent score. Victorian England lends itself to the ideal romantic fantasy story, and certain shots burn themselves into the back of your mind, never letting up, even as Scrooge’s transformation shakes the screen. Moments like when Scrooge greets Marley on his deathbed, as well as when, during his reformation on Christmas day, he appears at his nephew’s Christmas party to make amends, rank among my favorite movie scenes of all time. Both scenes, among many others from this film, are just as moving and entertaining at anytime of the year.

The reason that both of these movies are so great is because they see far beyond the holiday itself. They build off the widely interpretable Christmas, and create wonderfully didactic stories that stay in our minds and hearts, as the Spirit of Christmas Present says, “not only one day of the year, but all three-hundred sixty-five.”

Afro-Punk: One Night Only!

Special One Night Screening at Warehouse >>

Afro-Punk photophoto courtesy and © Afro-Punk

���Punk rock is black music.���

So say two interview subjects in James Spooner���s documentary Afro-Punk, including Carla Mad-Dog, who has been deep within the punk rock scene since it began in the 1970���s.

���In short, this film [reflects] my life story,��� says Spooner, ���I felt that I needed to validate my experience as a black person in a predominantly white culture.���

Afro-Punk logo���Afro-Punk,��� which has been an ongoing project for the past five years, features a number of interviews and depictions of various protagonists from within the black punk and hardcore community. One of which, ���Moe��� we see come to Howard from Long Island, where he fronted a hardcore band. The film juxtaposes his life at the all-black Howard with his life at punk shows, often the only black person there.

Spooner, 29, grew up between New York and California an avid skateboarder, where he noticed the chromatic difference between the two punk scenes from an early age.

���In New York, the majority of any audience would still be white, but you���d have a much greater black and hispanic presence,��� he said, ���Outside of New York, DC, and other places on the east coast, though, I���d really notice the discrepancy.���

Spooner���s experience within the punk scene runs deep. He had been influenced by SST bands such as Black Flag and The Descendents early on, and by the time he was 17, he began Kidney Room Records, which grew to prominence by releasing the first Swing Kids 7���.

���I still get that ���Wow! That was you!?��� reaction all the time when I mention that,��� Spooner laughs.

Today, having completed the film a couple of years ago, Spooner and his partners often organize events related to the project around their home base of Brooklyn which turn out a predominantly black crowd. In the past two years, the film has been screened over 200 times all over the country.

���The film has definitely created its own scene,��� says Spooner. This Friday night, 7 PM at the Warehouse-Washington Downtown Arts Center, anyone from the DC area has the opportunity to become a part of it. The screening will be hosted by Visions in Feminism, and sponsored by Positive Force.