Austin Chronicle Reviews ‘Hong Kong Cab’

Ingebrigt Håker Flaten’s Time Machine

Hong Kong Cab (Self Sabotage)

Texas Platters

Bass solos are all well and good, but why listen to an album’s worth of unaccompanied thrums without the band dynamics that make the grooves come alive? Happily, Hong Kong Cab, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten’s fourth solo bass album, is a different breed. Unconcerned with unadorned rhythm, the Norway-born/Austin-based jazz maverick uses his instruments as paintbrushes, expressing himself with slashing strokes and controlled splatter like Jackson Pollock. He bows his double bass like a butcher cutting meat on “Hotel Isabel,” plucks his Rickenbacker into echo oblivion on “Time Machine,” and disintegrates his gear on the title track. Even when he just plain grooves on “Guts” and “All or Nothing,” Flaten stretches the boundaries of what it means to be in the pocket.


C-Ville Weekly Reviews Brawls in the Briar

Album reviews: Adam Ostrar, Jamila Woods, Gun Outfit and Soundspecies & Ache Meyi

Album reviews: Adam Ostrar, Jamila Woods, Gun Outfit and Soundspecies & Ache Meyi

Adam Ostrar

Brawls in the Briar (Super Secret)

Adam Ostrar, né Busch, former Charlottesville resident and WTJU DJ, was also a main mover behind Curious Digit, Manishevitz and SONOI. On Brawls in the Briar, Ostrar is joined by members of Califone and White Rabbits, and combines characteristics of all those bands. The tracks gently stir, rooted in acoustic guitar and Ostrar’s genial croon, adorned with countless touches—early-Floyd organ, triangle, borderline Frippertronics guitar, etc. Ostrar issues plenty of enigmatic lines, but also achieves emotional liftoff, as on the coda of “Another Room”: “The day is ending / the sun is setting in the spoon / I don’t want another room / I want yours, dear.” Understated and beguiling, Brawls in the Briar feels like a secret album that people share and bond over. Ostrar returns to Charlottesville, appearing at Low Records on October 23.

Austin Chronicle Review of Crack Pipes’ Beauty School

The Crack Pipes

Beauty School (Sonic Surgery)

Texas Platters

When a band known for garage rock makes its Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the results usually don’t live up to either its ambitions or its prior achievements. That’s not the case for the Crack Pipes’ Beauty School. Originally released in 2005, the third LP from the Austin quartet revels in its music nerd membership raiding their substantial record collections for inspiration beyond Sixties garage psych sampler Nuggets or blues-punk archivists Fat Possum Records. Not satisfied to simply regurgitate the signature hard-rocking sound of the latter institution, the Crack Pipes instead showcase a wide but logical diversity, expanding on its foundation with successful excursions into soul, country, and psychedelia. Given the variety of approaches documented here, the band bolsters a sonic palette beyond its guitar/bass/drums/harmonica core. Horns, guest vocals, prominent keyboards, and even, on the instrumental reprise of the title track, strings and autoharp all throw in. Despite setting off in so many directions, the album doesn’t feel like a various artists compilation. The avant-garde electronics of “East Side Injections” contrast with the James Brown funk of “Make Out Party,” yet both tracks feel cut from the same Cracked cloth. The album’s heart resides in “Q&A,” a flowering mini-epic that begins with soulful spoken social commentary before erupting into a frenzied blaze of rock & roll. Revived as a double LP set with improved artwork and a careful remaster that makes the music really sing on vinyl, this definitive edition of Beauty School is the Crack Pipes’ masterpiece.


Chicago Reader Praises ‘Brawls in the Briar’

Adam Ostrar, also known as Adam Busch - GEORGE MCCORMACK

  • Adam Ostrar, also known as Adam Busch

It’s not unusual to have your identity stolen on the Internet. What happened to Adam Busch is a little less common, a lot less sinister, and a bit more complicated. Busch, who moved to Chicago in 1999 from Saint Louis, lived here until 2014, and during those years he fronted two excellent bands, Manishevitz and Sonoi. Shortly before leaving for Austin, Texas, he made his first solo record, River of Bricks, with assistance from another former Chicagoan who’d headed south, Michael Krassner of the Boxhead Ensemble. As Busch started playing out under his own name and readying the album for release on his Meno Mosso label, he discovered he had an identity problem: there was another Adam Busch.

“I noticed the omnipotent Internet presence of ‘LA’ Adam Busch,” he recalls. “I don’t seek fame or anything, but I was just buried in Google searches and on Youtube.” The other Busch has been acting since his late teens, with recurring minor roles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the USA Network’s Colony, among other series; he played one of the leads in TBS’s Men at Work and the character “Indie” on the YouTube series MyMusic. Earlier this year he appeared in Rebel in the Rye, a film about the wartime experiences of J.D. Salinger. He also makes music, sometimes with people Busch knows.

“Turns out he’s a good friend of Tim Rutili and played on Califone’s Stitches, which caused some folks I know further confusion,” Busch says. Fortunately he had another identity to fall back upon. “Ostrar was my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. She was a concert pianist early in life and taught at the Chicago Academy for the Arts until retirement. I’ve always used Ostrar for my publishing name.” Brawls in the Briar, the first record Busch has recorded since moving to Texas, is credited to Adam Ostrar. For clarity’s sake, I’ll switch to that name too.

For Brawls, Ostrar is working with a label besides his own for the first time since 2007, when Catbird Records released Manishevitz’s swan song, East to East. Richard Lynn of Austin’s Super Secret Records came to one of his solo shows. “He bought a copy of my last record and ended up inviting me to play one of the music series he runs, called Austin Jukebox,” says Ostrar. “He became an advocate and was quick to say ‘yes’ when I asked him about releasing my next record. He’s all about you making the record you want to make, where you want to make it, and when you want to make it.”

With a label backing him, Ostrar says, “All I had to worry about was writing good songs, figuring out who I wanted to record with, and where and when I wanted to record. We made a better record because of that.” He demoed the new record at Michael Krassner’s home studio in Phoenix, Arizona, with Krassner on guitar. Along with keyboardist-bassist Wil Hendricks, drummer-keyboardist Stephen Patterson, and violinist Josh Hill, they repaired to Sonic Ranch, a studio in the border town of Tornillo, Texas, where the likes of Swans, Mountain Goats, and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top have recorded. “It’s very secluded and you stay on the property and have all your meals there,” Ostrar says. “Point being, there aren’t any distractions. We recorded it live, all in the same room. I guess I made a record the way lots of people have made records, but it was a first for me. I’m used to piecemeal recordings and piecemeal recording budgets.”

With its uplifting melodies and atmospheric arrangements, Brawls in the Briarsounds like a logical extension of River of Bricks. But where the earlier record exudes a warm sense of wonder, the new one conveys unease. “I wrote the bulk of the songs in 2016, which was collectively an awful year for obvious reasons,” Ostrar says. “I was also experiencing cognitive dissonance unrelated to the election, personal stuff. All of it worked itself into the material. I suppose the backdrop of 2016 is the briar. The songs are the brawls.”

The video for “Spare Me,” the new album’s latest single, debuted this week.

The standout track “Cossacks in the Building” layers bright piano accents over gamboling acoustic fingerpicking. Its verses allude to an impotent CIA and bonfires built from tires, and the chorus poses the question, “There’s Cossacks in the building, who let them in?” Ostrar doesn’t come right out and say it, but Russian meddling in U.S. elections doubtless feels a fair bit creepier to you if you’re from a family that has already felt the heavy hand of Russian authoritarianism and racist scapegoating. “I remember my grandfather telling me who the Cossacks were and what a pogrom was. I know there was a pogrom history on his side of the family, and his parents and aunts and uncle ultimately immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s because of persecution.”

Ostrar’s first tour under his new professional name will be solo, not with a band. But since one of the opening acts at Sunday’s Hideout show is multi-instrumentalist Joe Adamik, who used to play with Ostrar in Manishevitz, we might get to hear a bit of their collective past as well.

Soundblab Review of Brawls in the Briar

 by Ljubinko Zivkovic Rating:9 Release Date:2017-10-13  
Adam Ostrar - Brawls In The Briar

If you have never heard of Adam Ostrar before and, by some chance, you get to hear his album Brawls In The Briar, you might be tricked into thinking that you have run into a great talent out of nowhere. The assurance, the quality of the songs, their variation…

Ok, sure, there is such a possibility, but such occurrences are extremely rare. Not in this case. You see, Adam Ostrar used to be Adam Busch and he’s been around the music scene for more than twenty years. For those a bit more familiar with the output of Jagjaguwar label in the late Nineties they’ve certainly run into Adam, as he was the driving force behind bands like Curious Digit (interesting) and Manishevitz (very good). He was also involved in various projects by the Chicago greats Califone and has later had a project called SONOI.

None of the above are such big household names except maybe Califone, but being involved in making or creating some solid, quality music can give you the assurance to come up with an album as good as Brawls In The Briar. It also gives you the ability to think out your composing and recording process, because throughout the album you realize that Ostrar had an amazingly thorough plan. This album was recorded over a mere five recording days – without rehearsals. Thus, to be able to come up with anything that resembles good results you really have to have everything thought out and a crew that really know what they’re doing. Having Wil Hendricks (Califone), Michael Krassner (Boxhead Ensemble) and Stephen Patterson (White Rabbits, Spoon, Hamilton Leithauser) obviously helped.

What is really striking is the musical variety that Ostrar introduces on this album, from the Velvet Underground circa Loaded opener of “Enemy,” to Kevin Ayers/Robert Wyatt-like “Another Room,” to Bert Jansch-style picking on “Warlock,” Seventies ‘soft rock’ of “Spare Me,” to a cross between Tim Buckley and Skip Spence on “Drinking From A Candle.” And that’s only halfway through the album. What is most interesting is that  Ostrar, across all of these genres, manages to present a unified musical picture, no matter where certain elements were picked from. That is why, as the album progresses and songs like “Cossacks In The Building” come up, you simply stop picking out the influences and start enjoying what you hear.

So, no surprise talent dropping out of nowhere, but a surprisingly good album from somebody (albeit under another last name) that even the most ardent followers of the indie scene have left somewhere in the corridors of their extensive mental archives. No reason to forget Adam Ostrar now.