Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Suntrodden - Suntrodden III

 
Suntrodden - Suntrodden III  


Suntrodden might seem like it's a band. Honestly, the name sounds like a band name. The music even feels like it would be produced by a group of twenty-year old guys. That's because it sounds a lot like the post-prog, dream-pop, shoegaze based stuff that's so popular in certain circles these days. Of course, if it were one of those bands, this project would probably have a name like "Yesterday I Went to the Store" or "I Saw A Dog Walking Down the Street." In any event, this is actually a project of just one guy, Erik Stephansson of Atlanta, Georgia. Yeah, I know, another misconception. You hear "Georgia" and figure you are about to get some country music or Southern rock. This is definitely neither of those.    

The first song, "There's a Place,"  reminds me of some modern progressive rock. It has a trippy kind of element that works really well. "Pure" doesn't gel as well as the first one did. It manages to rock a bit more in some of the later sections, but it's less progressive rock oriented to me.   

Next comes one of the most purely progressive rock oriented things here, "Moonflower." The song has some interesting changes and really works well. It's one of my favorites of the set. The prog elements aren't as prominent on "Never Again." The tune doesn't seem as strong, either. It's a decent song by itself, but doesn't hold up against the rest of the music here, really.   

I make out more of that moody modern prog sound on "The End (Haunt Me)." It is another solid track that works well to drive it to the end. I suppose you can't get much more appropriate than titling the final song, "The End."  

Overall, I think this does best when it strives for that proggy territory and lands in the general vicinity of it. The rest is definitely not bad. It's just not as strong as the prog-based stuff. It's obvious that Stephansson has talent. He also does a great job of seeming like a full band rather than a solo artist. I think that when he gets the most ambitious is when his skill set really shines the brightest. When the music is written closer to a "play it safe" mode, it just doesn't soar quite as high.   

If I were to make another complaint, it would be that Stephanson should work on incorporating a bit more variety into his music. The falsetto vocals that are all over this are fine, but they lend a monolithic feel to the sounds in a lot of time. Using a different vocal style or just including an instrumental to break things up, would go a long way toward creating more variety.   

Similarly, there isn't a lot of change from song to song in terms of pacing or tempo. A really slow tune added in or something that's at a fired up and moving beat set between some of these tunes would really allow it to retain a fresh vibe throughout.    

The thing is, those complaints or just of the "keep it in mind for future work" variety. What we have here works well as is. Sure, there is room for improvement. If there wasn't, it really would be pointless to go on, right? 


Steve Rafferty

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Sam Green And The Time Machine

 
Sam Green And The Time Machine 


Sam Green And The Time Machine, from Melbourne, Australia’s CD Which Way Left?, is a collection of folk songs that stay threaded in his surrounding area. The songs deal with everything from love, life, wilderness and confinements to city life as well. There is nothing too serious or playful about them. They stand on they stand on their own feet both separately and together as an album, which is one of the best things to be said about it. You either like folk music or you don’t, but if you do, you’ll be able to appreciate this CD and others available by him. The track list runs at fourteen with a minimalist approach to length. But that is the usual case with folk-laden pieces. And each tell a story as usual too, so this is nothing new whatsoever, and neither is Sam Green. But he’s not trying to be, he’s playing for the sake of the song. You get that feeling in the first several tracks, and it goes from there. If you’re a folk lover you will get it, if not, you can still be turned on by something about it. I’m not saying it is a masterpiece, but Sam Green is no rookie either. The songs have-to speak for themselves and hold up on their own as well as together for any album to work. It’s clear that he’s an artist that knows how to do that.

It's safe to say these are all true stories, but you never know, so it’s up to anyone to make that call and whatever else can be said about it. But reading up first never hurts unless it’s raked over the hot coals, which also safe to say, there is no reason. Beginning with “Dandeong Ranges” the story about the hills of Melbourne, he comes off vocally-gruff at first. This doesn’t really change anywhere in the number, but you get used to it as the music takes control and within the first track that is a non-issue. He shows he knows his way around his own numbers both musically and vocally, but most of all lyric and melody-wise. The difference between singer-songwriters and rock performers is clear as a bell to anyone, and there might be some pop-qualities on this release, but nothing to write home about there. Make no mistake, this is much more of the Gordon Lightfoot than the Josh Grobin variety. But it’s not even that so much as being able to get across both a musical and socio-political statement, with some nature and life’s creature comforts thrown in. You get all these determining factors and more, or you won’t get it at all from jump. There is essentially no turning back after the first number, which is not always the result.

“Love For A Moment” explores both sides of the artist by showing his influences and his softer side, which almost enters the soft-rock territory but not quite. The point is you get where he’s coming from, as where some songs might lose the listener as to exactly what they’re about. It’s personal that way and doesn’t make any difference because it's still up to anyone to interpret how they wish. Liking it or not doesn’t always depend on what it may or may not be about. Take “Melbourne Town” for instance. One doesn’t have to live there to sing about it, but if one does, the picture can be drawn by experience to make a better effort. You’ll hear all that, “Mist Of The Dersert” and more if you get wind of Sam Green And The Time Machine’s new release. 
 


Kevin Webber

Paul Kloschinsky

 
Paul Kloschinsky 


Paul Kloschinsky was born in Saskatchewan in 1963. He attended the University of British Columbia in the 1980’s and received a BSc in Computer Science and an MD. After living and working across Canada he has returned to his hometown of Delta, BC, Canada. He has played in a few rock bands in the Vancouver area since High School. He is now a Folk-Rock Singer Songwriter. He won the 2007 MusicAid Award for Best Canadian Songwriter for his original song Wearin’ Blue. He released his first album, Woodlands, February 24, 2009 on Prism/Universal in Canada. In addition to being a songwriter, he is also an avid poet and photographer. He has come a long way with several releases in-between, but I feel the need to firstly mention not to miss my take on “Gates Of Heaven” if you get that far in this review of what mostly comes off to me as a frustrated Canadian artist, as many are, even the most brilliant ones of them all. “I’m Still Waiting” kicks off the eight tracks of Crime Of Passion on a pretty high note, if you don’t get too wrapped up in the lyrics and how the vocals pace the track on with a prodding effect. It goes from sounding like a general lecture to a music lesson by the time it’s over. But there is also an excellent tune behind it to save it.

Things get more evenly better on “Crime Of Passion” even though it’s considerably slower. It shows the stronger side of him anyway. You have-to like and appreciate the American folk heroes of the past to really fir the demographic of this artist but not the song. You might even get a distinct feeling you’ve heard this somewhere before, and that takes it up to the second-best track I’m focusing on. There is even an Elvis quality to this somehow. But if you don’t get off on the old school ways, you won’t like anything on this album. That should be made as clear as possible before continuing to read. His hurt feelings come from obvious experience to comes up with a track that oozes his pain so well. It’s brutal, but it’s not the only moment of such caliber among these songs. As I mentioned it’s only one of them, the other comes later. “I Believe” has all the potential in the world, but doesn’t stand out like a few others. The same goes for others like “Sooth Me” and Johnny Cash meets folk sounding “House Upon The Hill” to name a couple. They’re not the shiniest pieces in the bunch, but still worth noting. The sound of his voice is great but not enough to call the two tracks exactly memorable moments.

“Poignant Point In Time” is where everything meets in the middle for a generally positive tune from front to back and back to front. It’s the third most listenable track on the album if you ask me. This once again proves there’s something there in him to look back into the catalog of. And “Gates Of Heaven” proves the most promising effort on offer for that and any other reason worth giving to get his music across to the masses. This is worth the wait, and you can at least trust in that much from an artist that should be exposed a lot more along the illustrious path he’s been paying dues on for all this time. 


Kevin Webber  

Kazyak

 
Kazyak 


Kazyak find themselves in a natural setting before and after some experience there, on Happy Camping. This can all be found in the unfolding press about it, but the album contains six good songs that hit right on the money with a great combo, or not at all if you don’t welcome genre combos of this extreme. Fortunately, they have what sounds like a winning formula anyway. Maybe it’s just that new to me, and could be an illusion to other critics, but that’s the risk we all take with or without bias. Meshing Americana with other flavors doesn’t break any rules here. In-fact it could be part of a ground-swell. If tracks like “Sundial” and “Basin” don’t get through on their own efforts then it’s too bad, because they’re two of the best on offer. Just as opening with the likes of “Sacred Cow” proves to slam dunk. Easily contending for the-best they can muster, this embodies what the core ideas on this album are trying to get across. It is awesome when it boils down to it, but unfortunately not everything on Happy Camping is this epic. The tracks all check out from good to better, but the reality is some go the distance others can’t reach. I’ll explain where the light and shade meet with heavy and otherwise fluffy but good clichés.

The heavy prevails on the first half of the album, but the lighter half which is less exciting still takes you through a smooth exit in the process of can’t be described without mentioning the sub-genre factors about it. “Sundial” itself proves that too. And “Basin” should get some rundown for what it brings to the table on both levels. It almost makes it hard to ride on the subject in the first place. But none of it is done without excellence, that’s for sure. There is no knocking what might come out of the woodwork for all we know. All we do know is that we have-to listen then see, in that order not the other way around.


“When I Lived In Carolina” is where a different animal comes out and the country in Kazyak really plays the most important part. But don’t just think country, think folk too, for a definitive Americana song between the two. They get downright spooky in this track that could so easily be heard on both TV and radio in regions calling for it. They succeed at that all over the album, but I hear out the best on this one. It plays out like a dream that struggles between the present and the past, with a brooding approach as it keeps you interested all the way. This is definitely-one-of the “epic” variety. But what follows isn’t as smooth of sailing, as it goes.


One of the shorter travelling tracks on the other hand to be fair, is “Darker” which flirts with more pain than pleasure. But to also be fair, they do flirt even more with it on “Sundial” but it works a lot better if you compare them. Both are still somehow good, but if there is anything weak to single out, this is the place I’d start. It’s about looking on the brighter side, but not without getting into the where, the how and especially the why. So the struggle on Happy Camping is real, and they get a chance to crack a go at explaining it on the final track. The best thing of all is they succeed at it in the end, but not without challenges.


Todd Bauer

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Don Rousell – My wife and my Girlfriend (feat Shane Regal)


Don Rousell – My wife and my Girlfriend


Don Rousell just released his latest single “My wife and my Girlfriend (Feat Shane Regal). Right from the start I like everything about this track. His answer to mundane music is to deliver something unique, and powerful full of rock n’ soul.  
 
In this cut and paste industry with a plethora of DIY Musicians coming out of the woodwork, armed with nothing more than a PC, Microphone, a guitar and a crappy sounding CD – it’s nice to know there are a few artists out there that can still deliver music that will make your jaw hit the floor while plucking your heart strings at the same time. These new artists I speak of manage push their music out to the world and much of it is, do I dare say substandard in nature. So enter a guy like Rousell who breaks through the mold. So what do artists like Professor Longhair, Levon Helm, Taj Mahal, Doug Sahm and The Spinners have that Rousell ddon’t? Not much if you ask me save the multi million dollars promotional machine and major record label support. Rousell and his red hot band break the mold with his classic 70’s sound and amazing movements that will mesmerize both the novice and advanced listeners alike. “My wife and my Girlfriend” is shall I say a top-flight single delivering singing and songwriting that  has deep seeded classic blues-rock roots but also possesses elements of Soul-Americana, Blues so many adore. “My Wife and my Girlfriend” has a solid feel to it while tugging on your heart strings a bit. The playing skills of Rousell and his band are all over the map but manage to never cross into “freak show” territory. But getting back to Rousell - he is a premier talent that makes this whole experience special. His voice is intoxicating like a drug, and with his arsenal of experiences he gently takes you by the hand and leads you down an impassioned musical journey entitled “My Wife and My Girlfriend”. I especially like his trailing vibrato within each phrase. 
 
Right now after hearing Rousell’s music I must say he is the quintessential Soul artist the world needs right now. I don’t say stuff like that often. He’s a bit modest armed with a wise man persona - sings, plays bass and performs songs the way they were meant to be sung - confidently avoiding any over the top vocal “showboating”. All in all “My Wife and My Girlfreind” is a great musical advent. Apparently there are still a few composers, arrangers, musicians, and vocalists out there believe in playing music the way it is meant to be played.  


by Savanah Bryan 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Elle Casazza - 'Proof'

 


Elle Casazza - 'Proof'

Elle Casazza is a pop singer who has been on the music block for several years now. Her latest album, Proof, is a nine-song collection of some of the best neo-pop from the artiste to date. Throughout the album, Casazza uses her silky-like vocals to give narratives that portray her emotion to her audience. The album's songs spring various genres, with neo-soul and jazz strings standing out for most of the collection. Some, like “Hey” and “Cooking,” bring back the ‘60s funky soul. 

Looking at individual songs throughout the album, a few things stand out. In “Cooking,” Casazza sings a love ballad that explores the sizzling nature of sensuality in fascinating beats that make fingers just tap the air with their own ‘da, da, da’ rhythm. The five-minute “Isn’t it Good” track also brings out a little singing-in-the-shower quality lyrics to the mix. Casazza seems a little bit more experimental with “Isn’t it Good,” allowing for a strikingly high-low vocals combination that makes the song very appealing to listen to.   

“Last Word” and “Save Me” are jazzy, funky and good songs for dancing along to because of the complementary instrumentals. Between the two songs, ladies might appreciate “Save Me” more because it has a very distinct feminist quality to it. Casazza exploits her high-range vocal quality to voice her independence as a woman in a way that makes one think of a woman standing on a dais and declaring that “I’m here!” 

Proof is also a display of Casazza’s creative depth and musical diversity. While she gets away with sultry vocals and cheeky lines in songs such as “The Body Knows,” it is intriguing to see how she balances those with other genres on the same album. Take “Too Bad” for example, she talks about lost chances at love with reggae-like accompaniments. The vocals are smooth, the lyrics relatable and the song so slow that it’s just right for nights by the fireplace with a glass of wine in hand.  

The moods in Proof are diverse. Casazza’s defiant songwriting stands out in the more soulful “I Listed” and “You,” ballads whose vocals are enough to give a few goosebumps. In “Hey,” “Cooking,” “Last Word” and “Isn’t it Good” the tapping beat, vocal crests and troughs create funky treats that make for some good dancing music. “Save Me” is demanding, “The Body Knows” is hair-raisingly persuasive and charged while “You” well, it just makes it seem good to be in love.    

Overall, Elle Casazza’s Proof album is a great addition to the more daring jazz, soul and pop jam fan's collection. Her vocals are powerful enough to engage even the most stoic listeners, and the instrumental complements will fascinate anyone who is more into beats than vocals. The songs are easy to sing along to (“The Body Knows” is especially catchy) and slow and low enough for those long and tired evenings. However, tracks like “Hey” might just be too instrumentally busy for those with a taste for strong, clear vocals at the forefront.  

Sonia Temple

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Prison Escapee - Locket and Au Revoir


Prison Escapee - Locket and Au Revoir 


The name Erik David Hidde has chosen to adopt for his musical project, Prison Escapee, is more than just a stage and recording persona. Instead, it’s an intelligent nod to Hidde’s description of his own music as “field recordings”, along with other elements like post-rock and electronica, which makes the case. It is a clear reference to the relatively low-fi approach he takes to the recordings = the songs are cut in his living room, but they never betray any loss of quality due to the modesty of their budget or surroundings. The term field recordings, though, has connotations reaching back further and there’s a discernibly traditional air emerging at moments during the songs “Locket” and “Au Revoir”. The two tracks are quite different in many respects, but both share a common grounding in what has made popular song so effective over the centuries – strong and certain melodies. Prison Escapee’s more modern touch comes with his talent for filling out these melodies with synthesizer, post-production effects applied in just the right way, and post rock affectations carry the material to whole other level. 
 
“Locket” has a memorable build reliant on a fat, repetitious synthesizer line filling out more and more as the song progresses. There are other musical elements that soon come into the frame – there’s a solid bass line and accompanying percussion that never leaves a busy presence on the song but, rather, achieves a consistent see saw effect that holds everything down. Both of the songs here deal with the personal – in often general ways anyone can relate to and, at other times, with deft flashes of imagery surely all his own. “Locket” artfully conveys the longing that defines much of the track and much of the responsibility of its ultimate effects comes from Hidde’s well turned vocal. He’s a talented singer who never needs to cheapen the composition with needless histrionics and even the light treatment his voice receives isn’t enough to compromise the immediacy of his singing. 
 
“Au Revoir” is even less cluttered than the aforementioned song and focuses much more on conventional instruments like piano. There’s a startling intimacy to this song and much of it comes from the interplay before the piano playing and Hidde’s voice. There’s less post production performed on this song and the way it allows his vocal to be much freer increases the emotional impact of the cut. These are two powerful examples of what he’s capable of and certainly evidence of the excellence we can expect from him in the future. “Locket” and “Au Revior” are fascinating efforts any serious musical devotee is likely to respond to and have a fiercely personal spirit quite unlike anything else on the independent scene today. 


William Elgin 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Joshua Lukas

 
Joshua Lukas 


London based singer/songwriter Joshua Lukas has been living in the UK since he was a child. He was born in Tehran to Armenian parents. He writes from the heart with a focus on meaningful lyrics and simple memorable melodies. He believes a song can inspire, motivate, reduce one to tears or just simply act as a forum of escapism. Now armed with everything he needs, this singer-songwriter has recently released his first EP entitled Beautiful Promises containing three songs; “Beautiful Promises,” “Just Because” and “Father Gone.” The title track also has a music video that was filmed in London, showing some of its iconic sites, such as Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral and London Eye. The Beautiful Promises EP is a spiritually uplifting trio of tunes based on the faith of Joshua Lukas, but they also cross over into mainstream music lover territory. Where music speaks for itself, Joshua lets it do its own magic and manages to enhance it all with fantastic vocals, as well as adding some female backing vocals by whom I do not know and cannot find credited anywhere, but should be credited for the contributing. This artist is primarily a folk-driven singer/songwriter but the gospel side is just as evident, and they blend with perfection. But with only three tracks to review, the EP begs for a follow-up LP.

Joshua Lukas is certainly capable of expanding on this, as the songs prove that much with flying colors. They’re all evenly produced with the same heartfelt approach to both the music and the lyrics. These are three very good numbers to take him to the next level, the first being “Beautiful Promises” itself, which a promotional video can be found to help circulate it. This is a track with many layers and a lot of great melody, and with or without watching the video you get drawn in within the first few bars. But then it picks up and becomes hypnotically strong with some orchestrated parts before the next verse takes over.

The piano helps the powerful message and it cannot be denied how delicately it all blends together. The acoustic guitar lines are also brilliant, making for a full circle of elements to finish off a commanding piece of music to lead the three tracks off. If you’re not able to follow the excellence displayed by this artist by the time this track plays out, you’ll have to settle for whatever it is this does not contain. But let it grab you for all it is worth, and that can’t happen. As this is the strongest of the three tracks on the EP. But of-course there is a lot more to explore in the following songs.

“Just Because” begins with a completely uplifting sound that stays on the lighter side of the previous track. It deals with not wanting to be judged before, during and after a relationship with anyone. Love is the word, and Joshua spreads it generously here with another fine song. But it doesn’t exactly top the opener. It rather sits well between it and the closer, “Father Gone” which like “Beautiful Promises” contains some more seriousness. This is a track which gets back to the more religiously driven title piece. And together they all come out in the end to belong together in one release. Enjoy the love, pain and sorrowful three songs which make for a heartfelt EP. 
 


Larry Toering

Monday, June 26, 2017

Impuritees - 'Nothing Matters'

 
Impuritees - 'Nothing Matters' 


The sound of the group "The impuritees" is hard rock with the unmistakable element of reiterative pop music in the non-commercial style. The 80's and 90's are calling and they want to remind you (part of) how things were done back then. 
 
For those nostalgic of those times of garage bands, baggy pants, 'Nothing Matters' will be a good deal with an organic sound that could remind us of bands such as red hot chilli papers (And I'm not even joking, this sounds like a possible parallel project by Anthony Kiedis himself, no joke) and -perhaps- to the Cramberries back in '93.
 
The project, published and recently released on June 16th of this same year, starts with the title track, which in turn serves as opening as the first track 'Nothing Matters' begins with heavy base guitars that a just a pair of compasses later are then accompanied by a melodic guitar with simple riffs, then Duncan Lee begins to sing in a duet with a female voice for most of the song. The piece shows a Form A, not containing great variations and constant re-exposition of the main theme and tonality. The riffs of the first verse are repeated in the second and during the bridge to finish without any rhythmic variation or modulations. This may be tedious for those who are looking for something more elaborate and might press the stop button. 
 
The next track 'Acceptance' begins in a relaxed way, just like riffs and Lee's voice making falsettos here and there. Once again we have the form A with a simple theme. 
 
Moving forward, we have the third track, 'speak to me' which seems to be a very long coda from the previous track. The mold once again repeats itself and (honestly) if it was not because I saw that another track was playing I would’ve thought that I was still listening to the second song still. This song has a somewhat melancholic vibe, despite being simple evokes the feeling very well. 
 
'Easy way' is the theme that gives closure, that as the title says itself, it was the simplest (or easier) way to end this project, the subject is rather loose and does not contain anything that distinguishes it from the previous tracks, again, some riffs are appreciated, simple thematic exhibition, without variations, nor modulations. 
 
Duncan Lee’s project 'The Impuritees' does not have a proposal that can be pleasing to a very diverse public, since it is extremely minimalist, repetitive music and this can be tedious for some listeners who may have tastes for more elaborate creations and with more resources, however, sometimes, less is more and those who just want to be in their rooms starring at the ceiling and pondering about life and its ups and downs this could be a good background music. 
 
As for the visual concept, it looks very careful and according to the name of the band, it is not scandalous and does not have the courage to arouse controversy or ambiguities, but if it leaves you thinking about the meanings that the symbology used may have for Lee.  

Anyway, I still recommend taking a good listen to the songs and make your own opinion about it. 


Jose Carlos

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Yellowline - Almost Something

 
Yellowline - Almost Something
Straight from the water’s edge of Seattle Washington there is a fantastic music artist with a great new musical sound of acoustic ambient rock. Its edgy Seattle flair is sure to take you on a transcendental movement of the soul. The Album "Almost Something" by the musical group Yellow line music is set to be released June 27, 2017. Brian Ackley is the singer and solo artist for this band, but also gives credit to Jeff Barrs on drums for song number three "The Same". Their eclectic mix of acoustic, heavy metal guitar, percussion with a bit of a Seattle Ska flare is sure to add a new flare to the music world. It's edgy sound with almost dreamlike qualities takes a person to the edge of reality and back again. 
First song of their newly released album "Almost Something" is Drag the Harbor is an edgy mix of Alternative acoustic guitar with heavy metal undertones. The innovative avant-garde sound gives it that gritty off-beat sound. Which would be great for a late night relaxing and kicking back letting the mind clear some space. The style which I heard it was described as being a mix of Morrissey and Leonard Choen, but I say it's more like Leonard Choen and Morphine without the sax. "This" the second song in the album "Almost Something" is a more vibrant mix of pellucid high-pitched clear tones. Which lucid and free flowing style makes it easy to just sit back and enjoy the rhythmic progression of the song. Next song in this album is "The Same" is mainly acoustic guitar with light percussion does not over power the ease to which the song seems to effortlessly progress and is largely uncomplicated, easy laid back style makes it undemanding on the ears and is easy to listen to. "Undertow" is acoustic guitar with metal mixed seems to have a bit of Ska style with an element of metal undertones with an edgy Seattle flavor. It takes you on an acoustic trip of different rifts and textures. "Empty Wish" has an acoustic guitar introduction with distinctive stylistic vocals which is meshed with instrumentals combined to almost give it a dreamlike feel. "Signal and the Noise" Sixth song in the album "Almost Something" is metal guitar with drums an eclectic mix of ambient rock with a Ska feel. The last song of the album is "Trance" an eclectic mix of instrumental sounds and tones that seems to take the listener on an auditory trip. 
The album "Almost Something" is a fantastic edgy mix of acoustic ambient rock and with dreamlike qualities takes a person to the edge of reality and back. What I loved about it was its edgy Seattle flavor. Only I wished the final song "Trance" had some vocals it seemed to have something missing although it may have been the artist giving us a taste of just the ambient sounds of the streets, but overall the album was fantastic and I am really looking forward to what they come up with next. If acoustic ambient rock and trance music is what you like I would suggest checking out the Brian Ackley's other albums on yellow line music.
 
 
Aura Stiers

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Parker Longbough - Bridges to Nowhere/Delirium in Lo-Fi

 
Parker Longbough - Bridges to Nowhere/Delirium in Lo-Fi 


This songwriting opus from Parker Longbough, Bridges to Nowhere/Delirium in Lo-Fi, is the second studio effort from Anchorage, Alaska born singer/songwriter/musician Matthew Witthoeft and represents a long-delayed follow up to the project’s first release Commander Comatose. Longbough doesn’t have any sort of fixed lineup, but Witthoeft’s songwriting has an unity of sound and intent that’s further refined on this release than we ever heard on the debut. His unique confluence of electronic pop textures with alt country flavor isn’t like anything else you’ve heard before. The band performance is stirringly rugged while still maintaining a high degree of musical value – that isn’t an easy tightrope to traverse for even the most fleet footed and seasoned of musical units. Matthew Witthoeft and his collaborators manage the feat with grit and artistry. Bridges to Nowehere/Deliirum in Lo-Fi is a weighty musical and written work that succeeds on multiple levels.
 
There’s a steady simmer to the way that the opener “Hall Pass” builds that makes it ideal for its starting slot. There’s a singsong quality to some of Wiithoeft’s vocal melodies, but it never gets tiresome because he fills the songwriting with such exceptional writing and the phrasing is always quite in tune with the demands of his words. There’s a strong urgency to the arrangement, particularly from the drumming and singing, but the guitar work makes everything richer as well. “Super Shitty” undergoes a patient transformation from its airy, keyboard driven opening passages into a much more raucous guitar-slanted attack. There’s some particularly effective keyboard playing near the song’s end in a way you rarely hear such instruments used. “The Bell Jar” is one of the album’s unquestionable highlights and Witthoeft deserves plaudits for the imagination he shows in capturing a disordered mental state through musical invention alone. The lyrics maintain a terrifying clarity in the face of this and Witthoeft brings listeners a vocal treated with some post production effects, but nonetheless practically leering at times with wild-eyed emotion. This, overall, is probably one of his finest singing performances on this release. 
 
“Pressure Receptors” invokes the spirit of alternative rock guitar and post punk at its most raucous, but never belabors its credentials and keeps things memorably simple. “Saint Jude” has some surprising pop song strengths, especially a good vocal melody, and the gentle swing of the tune is peppered just right but some expertly laid out guitar playing. Melody is an underrated part of his presentation because he doesn’t always approach it the way more commercially minded performers might and it hits the mark nonetheless. “April 23rd, 1991” has some of the same alternative guitar rock feel of the earlier “Pleasure Receptors”, but the velocity is looser here and there’s more of an emphasis on melody. The album’s penultimate tune and last lyrically driven song “Smiling Second Row” could have served as the final curtain for this album. The vulnerability, specificity, and desperation wafting through this relaxed and deliciously ramshackle tune sums up the album as a whole quite nicely. Bridges to Nowhere/Delirium in Lo-Fi hits in ways you might have given up on in modern music. Consider your faith restored.  


Montey Wright

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Nathan Oliver - Head in the Sand


Nathan Oliver - Head in the Sand 


The improbably named band Nathan Oliver is led by its primary songwriter Nathan White and marks a triumphant return to the scene with their third recording Head in the Sand. This marks the project’s first output since 2009’s Cloud Animals and the world could have scarcely changed more in the interim. Some of the tenor of our times is reflected in Head in the Sand’s six songs, but never in a heavy handed way. White’s songwriting, instead, channels more than that – it brings together a living fidelity to the alternative rock style of his youth and has the same personal, yet imaginative, touch that distinguished the band’s prior releases. White works with bassist Duncan Webster and drummer Robert Biggers on this release and they prove early on to be ideal collaborators for this material. White is, certainly, the main mover behind this release, but there’s also no question that Head in the Sand never sounds like a solo vehicle in disguise. This is a real band and they establish that on each of the EP’s six cuts.  
 
“Marbles” shows, if nothing else, that Nathan White is eager to reassert this band’s identity. The first track is a near unrelenting blast of post punk raucousness with a lung-busting vocal from White and a viscerally recorded instrumental attack. Much like the other songs on Head in the Sand, “Marbles” doesn’t waste a second of the listener’s time and recalls the spirit of its influences without ever sounding beholden to them. The band’s songwriting has a real habit of making unexpected excursions and proves that for the first time on this release with the song “Clean Sheets”. This song, at its essence, is a track about longing and White embodies that emotional quality with ease. The poppier aspects of the song are quite a surprise following the slashing guitar chords and intensity of the opener, but the jarring effect produced from juxtaposing these songs is pleasing rather than challenging. “Little Belle” has a much more outright retro feel and shares some similarities on guitar with the previous song. The vocal presentation is a little more traditional as well, but it never lacks the same energy and effectiveness as White’s earlier singing performances. 
 
“The Exquisite Wait” wraps up a dollop of social consciousness, a helping of the personal, and some individualistic turns of phrase into a song that marries the best aspects of tracks like the opener with some of the relaxed commercial feel of the previous two tracks. White’s wide-open singing is another appealing aspect of track. The final track “Kim Mi Young” ends Head in the Sand with the same punch and musical variety that we’ve been exposed to on the preceding five songs. There’s no question that White’s capable of finessing his singing approach, but he has some great vocal muscle as well. The closer illustrates that quite nicely. Nathan Oliver’s Head in the Sand may be their first recording in nearly ten years, but it’s obvious that the project still provokes White’s songwriting imagination in memorable ways and Head in the Sand stands among the best alt rock releases in 2017.  


Robert Elgin

The Johnny Mac Band – Ace


The Johnny Mac Band – Ace 


The first single from The Johnny Mac Band’s second album Ace is the title cut of the release and an excellent introduction to what is certain to be an important moment in this band’s history. “Ace” is the kind of single that most bands dream of being able to lead off a new album – it exemplifies all the best qualities of the band’s initial release, Destination Memphis, while showing continued growth in the band’s songwriting ability to impart more and more of themselves to their original songwriting. This is a critical distinction between The Johnny Mac Band and a number of other bands mining the dependable veins of blues, soul, R&B, and rock is that Johnny Mac and his creative partners bring something of themselves to each performance rather than relying on a variety of poses and clichés that pander to the audience but offer them little more.
 
Johnny Mac’s guitar makes its presence increasingly felt throughout the duration of the song. He’s, initially, content to blend in and the song’s first quarter does an exceptionally strong job of establishing the tune’s primary elements before shifting into another gear after that. The steadily mounting musical intensity from the midway portion on makes this a more rewarding performance as it develops. Mac’s fluid talent for moving back and forth between unadorned blues guitar runs and scintillating slide guitar passages enriches the song even more and strikes just the right balance. It helps, of course, that Mac has such a powerful instrumental presence. He has that classic warm brown sound with a combined approach of attack and feel that will appeal to both longtime admirers of the style and newcomers alike.  The production certainly sets him up in the front of the mix, but it never depreciates the contributions from other musicians in the band. 
 
The lyrics are, likely, the weakest part of their package. This reflects more on the merits of the performance’s musical and vocal merits rather than reflective of any deep flaws with the words. Mac certainly makes the most of the metaphors a title like “Ace” makes available for him, but it’s never to such a degree that it sabotages the track. Predictability isn’t always a bad thing. It helps, naturally, that his emotive vocal gets these things over so artfully. The passion at play in the song, however, makes the words and music all the more meaningful. The mix of biting guitar, solid rhythm section play, and a powerhouse production highlighting all the song’s best qualities make this a great introduction to the band’s second album. The Johnny Mac Band have earned their stripes in a multitude of ways and songs like this serve notice that they are far from done. “Ace” hits listeners in the gut and keeps them entertained throughout the course of the song.  


Bradley Johnson

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Paul Childers - Naked Poetry

 
Paul Childers - Naked Poetry 


Sometimes you just know. It’s easy to get a sense that Paul Childers is meant for sticking around before the first song ends. He has such smooth assurance, such certainty about his delivery, and a sharp sense of what he wants to accomplish with each song. The thirteen songs on Naked Poetry are polished while still quite connected to visceral, engaged vocals that never sound one step removed from the experience of the song. Childers’ unusual command over sometimes complex material lacks any sense that Childers is uncomfortable and his effortless melodic and vocal glide through the individual performances is truly bracing to hear. His skills are obvious from the first, but they never threaten to overwhelm thanks to the artistry of his performances and the excellent production he receives is a big part of its appeal. Naked Poetry is a powerful statement to open a career and its resounding impact cuts across genre lines and makes it a wonderful listening experience.  
 
It will move many from the first. “Music Will Pull You Through” reflects an essential truth about Paul Childers’ art – even at its most serious, Childers’ songs never abandon hope entirely and believe brighter dawns are ahead with the help we have in our lives. The message in the opener isn’t new, but the single mindedness he shows in this performance gives it bracing urgency. “The Art of Being Twenty” doesn’t have quite the same sense of urgency, but it does strike a memorable groove, the second of many memorable grooves on this release, and Childers serves up a highly evocative vocal that vividly dramatizes the lyric. “Why Don’t You Stay” finds him taking his first swing on the album at an R&B ballad and the results are quite satisfying. There are few outright instrumental breaks on the album; this is a collection where the band genuinely plays as such rather than sounding like a group of soloists tossed together and chomping at their bit. When there are some brief instrumental spotlights, like on this song, they are quite memorable. 
 
“At Our Own Pace” shows a little sleight of hand. It seems to begin as a piano driven ballad, but soon shifts gears into a delicious mid-tempo saunter that oozes confidence. “My Love of the Rain” goes in a much different direction. It opens with classical overtones before transitioning into an exquisitely crafted ballad. It’s quite amazing to hear how much Childers does with such a seemingly simple emotion and love. Another of the finest pop moments on Naked Poetry comes with the effortless charm surrounding “No One Goes Dancing Anymore”. He has a real penchant for crafting top notches choruses that sweep listeners up into the song’s world and this is one of the album’s best examples of that serving the release so well. The singer/songwriter sensibility informing much of the album reaches another high point with the tracks “Perfect Man” and “Disclosure”. They are both moodier than most songs on Naked Poetry, but the latter is more so. One of the album’s best qualities is this sort of diversity. Paul Childers is rarely content to follow one route and the wide-open creative vision he shows makes this collection all the more memorable. 


Alonzo Evans

Jupiter in Velvet - In2 the Arms of Love

 
Jupiter in Velvet - In2 the Arms of Love 


It’s virtually impossible to not be excited about this album and music. Jupiter in Velvet delivers an action packed sixth release entitled In2 the Arms of Love and it’s the same formula that’s made his previous albums stand out refined just a little more than before. No one should mistake this for implying a creative rut. It is clear, instead, that Jupiter in Velvet raises the bar for himself with each successive release – challenging himself to dispatch his idiosyncratic material in a manner that proves compelling each time out. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Jupiter has a message crossing national and personal borders with its universal themes of love and togetherness. This isn’t a performer mired in self-pity and morbid self reflection. Jupiter in Velvet, instead, is connected with joy and life on every song. It makes for one of 2017’s greatest listening experiences to date.
 
Title tracks don’t always start albums and it’s worth noting it when they do. “In2 the Arms of Love” has an affirmative rush carrying listeners along from the first. Much of Jupiter in Velvet’s material has an upbeat attitude and few songs embody that better than this number. The second song on the album “’Till the End of the World” has a physical presence few other songs on In2 the Arms of Love possess. The guitar playing sounds like it is too Neanderthal, too simplistic to work but it’s precisely the reason why this song is so effective. The drumming matches its tribal energies and the two sonic elements, in tandem, become the song’s defining musical moments. “How It’s Gonna Be” has a distinctly different air thanks to its use of acoustic instruments, but electric guitar makes its presence felt here in a much more artful fashion. “Supercharged” does an one hundred eighty degree turn from the aforementioned song into some manic guitar pop with a restless rock and roll spirit thrashing away deep within. It really hits its stride with the chorus and Jupiter in Velvet proves capable of matching the song’s energy without a single lull in his performance.
 
The album’s second half concerns itself less with guitar and more with pop overtones. Few songs make this clearer than the track “Nowhere 2 Run”. The high point of the song is another fine chorus that rouses listener’s spirits. Other tracks in the album’s second half have a more broad based musical approach that doesn’t favor the guitar but, rather, incorporates it with the overall modern sound. The electronic, rock, and pop elements never sound like they are working at cross purposes. “Mars Ain’t That Far” leans more towards the rock side of the spectrum, but there’s some inventive keyboard work enlivening the song and sweetening its punky edge. “Bang On” is one of the most melodically strong songs on the album while still retaining enough guitar firepower to give the track gravitas. Jupiter in Velvet’s In2 the Arms of Love has musical unity and coherence we rarely hear these days and it’s without a doubt born from the artist’s total confidence in his aims. He succeeds here in a big way. 


Dale Butcher