Friday, November 18, 2011



Friday November 18, 2011 @  Burt's Tiki Lounge 
313 Gold St SW Albuquerque NM
                                                 photo by Wes Naman

You can’t judge a book by its cover. Nor a band by its name. Except… sometimes. When a band name starts with “The”,  there’s a good chance you’ll hear some sort of rock and roll or psychedelia. An active verb in the name ? A 99% chance of emo. Or if you’re lucky, crustcore. Any band with a name that couples words like “bleeding” and “fetus” should be avoided at all costs. So what is one to make of a tag like Mother Death Queen? My first guess would be a bunch of big hairy guys with Flying V guitars and too many crash cymbals. Wrong!

Before a Blackbird Buvette show in September, I knew that drummer Cara Tolino ( The Roxiehearts, The Hopefuls) was part of Mother Death Queen but when she and guitarists Ella Brown (Bulgarian brass band The Romantics, I Is For Ida ) and Amy Clinkscales (Gamelan Encantada, Jenny Clinkscales) and bassist Alexis Adams Vilorio (bass) marched in with instruments, I knew something good was about to happen. I was right. It ripped.

There’s a difference between “cover bands” and bands that play covers. Mother Death Queen is working up originals but the covers are outstanding both in execution and choice. I mean, nobody wants to hear your band play “96 Tears” but a well chosen cover is like a secret handshake to other music nerds and a revelation to new listeners. The band has picked little known songs of Nirvana, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, Liz Phair and the Blackbird show crowd favorite (which shows it was a hip-- or is that hipster?-- crowd) the Amps.

The sound is post-Breeders but predates the deranged “metal is punk” mentality. Amy’s and Ella’s killer leads show a lineage from Mick Ronson through Crazy Horse to Seven Year Bitch. Alexis has only played one or two sets before with Tony Sapienz (Unit 7 Drain) so Cara’s statement that Mother Death Queen is “publicly popping her cherry” is fairly apt. As Alexis tells it, she and Ella took a nine girl trip to Palm Springs and “I propositioned that we mess around with some music, so we brought our guitars and amps. While the others were lounging by the pool, we broke them out.” Around the same time, Cara called Ella with a similar proposal. A few practices in, the three agreed something was missing. That something turned out to be Amy who figured a little grungy rock would be a sweet diversion from the Indonesian music project in which she’s involved.

Amy and Cara previously  worked together in The Hopefuls. That outfit began when Ben Hathorne (Naomi)  decided (as he told me at the time) that he was tired of dealing with “musicians” and-- besides the experienced Amy-- assembled a band with “some hot girls who don’t know how to play.” Thanks to his stellar songwriting and whip cracking, The “Hopes” were one of the best things going just over a decade ago. Cara in fact remains grateful to Ben for “pushing me to do something I’d never done before.”

I met Ella when she joined Unit 7 Drain but as I soon found out, she was influenced by her mom’s friends, the musically inclined couple Beth Cohen and Randy Edmunds ( The Rebbes Orkestra ) who I’ve known since my old hippie days. In another synch moment, it turns out that at the time I cut off that old hippie hair and started hanging around punk shows, Alexis’ dad Pat Adams was booking at The Golden West. At a tender age she was exposed to many kinds of music and got to meet people like pre-fame Sarah McLachlan. All of this backstory helps put Mother Death Queen’s inspirations in perspective and remind us that not all 90s “alternative”  music sucked.

Which brings us up to date except being invited to Alexis’ living room a couple of weeks ago as the band practiced and I mooched beers.  I didn’t catch any titles of the originals since they were mostly referred to as “that one that goes da-da-da at the break before the drum fill” but trust me: these songs will slide smoothly into the Mother Death Queen set list. As smoothly as rocking your face off can be.

this appeared in a slightly different form at

Mazzy Star-- Common Burn/ Lay Myself Down Rhymes Of An Hour Records (2011)

Ethereal pop duo Mazzy Star haven’t recorded since 1996’s Among My Swan but fans are abuzz about the as yet unnamed full-length (and tour) due in 2012. Stylistically, Hope Sandoval and David Roback’s new double single is nothing new and that’s actually a wise move. “Common Burn” takes up where Swan left off while the major chord strums and lilting slide of “Lay Myself Down” harkens back to 1990 minus the paisley mystique. This pair of songs, as comfortable as an old and cherished sweater, is a familiar fit that will warm old devotees as well as lure new ones.