Monday, May 20, 2019

The Respectables release The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll (LP)

The Respectables really weren’t doing themselves any favors in their last record Sibley Gardens, but in The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll, their latest full-length album, they wisely play to the handful of strengths that have gotten them this far in the industry with moderately positive results. While there’s a bit of excess where I was least expecting to find it here – the acoustic wailer “Limousine,” the haggard hybrid “Mardi Gras” and Steppenwolf-style “Give Some” – there are also moments of genuine originality, such as in the pop-rocking “That Girl” and jittery “The Shotgun Seat.” The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll doesn’t live up to its name by any stretch of imagination, but it’s got enough zeal to qualify it as an accessible offering from a band that seems to be headed (mostly) in the right direction.

Though slightly overproduced, “Oasis,” “As Good as Love Gets” and the countrified “18 Wheeler” (which sports a really sweet swing in its rhythm) are a lot more streamlined and concise than anything we’ve heard from The Respectables before. “Wheel in My Hand” drags on longer than it needs to because of its cringe-worthy abuse of a blues riff, but disappointing tracks like this one are balanced out by more acerbic material like “Highway 20.” The title track has got the bones of a classic rock song, and even though I would have made the drums a little less prominent in the master mix, the hook that serves as the song’s bread and butter gives it a texture that I really wish I could have heard more of across the tracklist.

It’s not an album that would recommend to anyone other than diehard supporters of the band, but The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll is nevertheless a big upgrade for The Respectables’ nonsensical Sibley Gardens, which contained only shades of the focused style of attack that this record’s most sterling songs employ liberally. The gap in time between the two LPs gave the group some time to hone their craft a little more and get into a more relevant mode as songwriters, and possibly in this second phase of their career, they’ll at last find the perfect counterbalance between alternative rock and traditional pop that has evaded them so torturously for the last thirteen years.

Joshua Beach

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Victor PEDRO releases “Call Me, I Miss Ya!”

Like sparkling city lights, sparse synthesized notes flicker and dance in surreal slow-motion in the intro to “Call Me, I Miss Ya!,” Victor PEDRO’s brand new single. Somewhere in the background, a vocal harmony is growing out of the silence and cutting into our hearts from afar. The melody is warm, but the tone of the instruments is cold, removed from this world and unlike the vivacious vocal that will come soaring into the sky only moments away from now. Victor PEDRO is engaging all of our senses in “Call Me, I Miss Ya!,” and if you thought that he couldn’t top some of his previously released material, you’d better brace yourself for the most dynamically stylish single released thus far in his career.

PEDRO repeats himself more than once in the lyrics to this song, but it isn’t because he’s aimlessly looking for words to fill up the space in the track; in fact, quite the contrary indeed. To emphasize his point, he will reiterate a statement once, twice, even three times if he deems it necessary, and rather than elaborating on his point by getting descriptive in his adjacent verses, he keeps his commentary as sharp and uncompromising as he can. PEDRO doesn’t want to bore us with a lot of patronizing placations or, for that matter, a stale beat that’s been reheated after a decade in the freezer (see the new Logic collaboration for such trite dribble). Instead, this Nigerian singer and songwriter is pushing his sound into the experimental, and coming up with some wildly imaginative results.

The theme of the song comes full circle in the chorus, which marries the question with the self-explaining answer through little more than a simplistic prose and a poetic disposition that makes the track so much more relatable than the plastically-stylized pop fodder of PEDRO’s contemporaries to the west of his home country. Lyrics are supposed to be the centerpiece of hip-hop, and PEDRO never tries to skew them with a lot of uselessly indulgent instrumentation here. He might not be the most famous rapper in the world, or even in Africa, but he’s got one thing that countless others who came before him never did – self-awareness. His music isn’t plagued with the same problems that we hear in mainstream rap, because both he and his aesthetic are lacking in egotism on (basically) every front.

“Call Me, I Miss Ya!” wraps up in a gentle thrust that leaves anyone with a taste for hard-hitting R&B and affectionate hip-hop ready to take on the night and whatever heartbreak it might have in store for us, and in terms of promoting its star composer and performer, it does more for Victor PEDRO’s moniker than any of his other work ever has. PEDRO has a very special talent that he’s putting to good use in this song, and if we’re lucky, it won’t be the last time that he puts all of himself into a wicked experimentation. I’ll be following his progress in either case, and I would tell anyone who loves real, urbane rap to do the same.

Joshua Beach

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Makes My Blood Dance release LP


Makes My Blood Dance are living up their promising handle and executing one of the sickest, slickest and most stylish metal tracks that you’re going to hear this quarter in their official debut single “Beaming Right Up.” Using a sonic vortex that originates from a sizzling bassline, “Beaming Right Up” sees its creators using every weapon in their war chest to overwhelm us with their staggering musicality, unrelenting rhythm and symphonically synchronized swagger. 

The drums are fiery and fierce, blanketing us in a discomforting rigidity that is only broken up by the feverish riffs adorning every verse. Lyrically, Makes My Blood Dance pull out all the stops to deliver unto us something that doesn’t draw too heavily from the well of their predecessors but nevertheless flanks its modern construction with a vintage familiarity tethering it to the metal gods of yore. “Beaming Right Up” is only their first single, but it boasts so many impressive facets that it would be hard for anyone to make the argument that these guys aren’t going to win over some hearts in this interesting period in rock n’ roll history. The production quality here is top of the line from every angle, highlighting all of the unconventional nuances in their depth of songcraft without focusing too much on one aspect of the band’s sound over another. There’s a lot to Makes My Blood Dance; their beats have a very club-oriented feel to them, the mix is varnished in an equalization that is more common in pop music, and their method of attack (when it comes to structuring a melodic vocal inside of a hurricane of vicious harmonies) is unlike anything that I’ve heard in the glam revival movement that has been concentrated around the Northeastern United States. Their hooks remind me a little of Diamond Nights, but their violent churn is straight out of the Queensr├┐che playbook. 

The progressive undertones here are something that could definitely be exploited in an album setting, but I think that it’s still too early to tell what Makes My Blood Dance are going to do with this template as the future unfolds. They’ve certainly got no shortage of options with a versatile sound like this, and that alone makes their brand a more than worthy follow for heavy metal disciples everywhere. If this is but a sampling of what we can expect out of Makes My Blood Dance in future recordings, then it’s safe to say that you can sign me up for more. 

There’s a moodiness in “Beaming Right Up” that just isn’t there in the bulk of material that I’ve heard out of their closest rivals in 2019, and to call it a fascinatingly experimental way to start off their career just wouldn’t be doing this work justice. I’m excited to see what my peers in journalism think about this band, but for my money, there simply isn’t another group making the magic in the studio that Makes My Blood Dance are, and that’s no small statement to make when considering how inspired the scene that spawned them has been lately. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Francine Honey To Be Continued (LP)

Francine Honey’s To Be Continued… will likely be considered a breakthrough moment in the Ontario singer/songwriter’s career. Her previous two albums are fine enough, even exceptional, but this third collection goes even further towards establishing Honey as a songwriter possessing an uniquely personal vision. “Snowflakes on My Eyelashes” serves as an excellent introduction to how she’s elevated her game; the lean poetics of the lyrical material is unquestionable. The song’s lead musical instrument is guitar, but it never takes a spotlit role – Honey, instead, opts to use the instrument in an ornamental way and the color it brings fills in the spaces left by the song’s percussion. Few songs are as patient as this; it never gets in any hurry and evolves at a luxurious pace, but it pays off in an impressive way.

“To Be Continued”, the album’s title song, might remind some of the first track in the way it develops. The same patient approach to arranging is presented, but the spartan array of instruments on this cut is centered on the melodic piano runs Honey drops into the song along the way. It’s a fascinating song in a lot of ways, but one that leapt out to me is how much detail is laden into a comparatively short tune without ever seeming too much. “Honey” is very different fare. Honey’s focus turns towards a more blues-oriented sound with this song, though there are strong country influences working here as well, and the slide guitar near the song’s end highlights the former’s contributions. Honey’s having a great deal of fun with this one and it’s an infectious experience for listeners.

The video released along with the single “Shacked-Up Sweetie” makes for an entertaining one two punch sure to garner To Be Continued… some much deserved attention. Her video for the song reminds me of the prime years for music videos; it plays up the song’s comedic potential without ever reducing the song to a novelty number, obviously benefits from being helmed by top notch video professionals, and presents Honey in the best possible light. The song, on its own, is fine as well – a familiarly rough and tumble country/blues rock number that doesn’t aim for the lowest common denominator but makes great hay from pouring old wine into new bottles. It’s obvious why Honey selected this song for such an important spot.

There’s a virtual duet fueling the track “Space” – Honey’s voice and the accompanying violin pair for a deeply moving exchange culminating with a chorus you won’t soon forget. Coming where it does, after “Shacked-Up Sweetie”, the song might be a sleeper gem on this release, but it easily ranks with the album’s best songs. “Open Road” is another more overtly commercial track, retro sounding all the same, but the personal touch it derives from the lyrics helps make it stand apart from songs cast in a similar mold. Acoustic guitar forms a lot of the bedrock sustaining “I Wish”, but the country sound of the song is inescapable and the piano lines running through the track provide a lightly played melodic lift.

Francine Honey’s To Be Continued… is an appropriate title. The latest chapter in Honey’s musical development has her reaching heights previously unavailable and signals she’s in this for the long haul; there isn’t a single hole marring this release, no filler at all, and the apparent care she took making sure each song strikes the right chord for listeners results in one of the most unified efforts in recent memory.

Joshua Beach

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Hughie Mac releases "Let’s Get Away” Single


It takes a very specific kind of singer to make a cover song feel like an original, and time and time again, the talented Hughie Mac proves more than adept at doing just that. In his brand new single “Let’s Get Away,” he dispenses a charismatic vocal from behind a tenderly-produced microphone that serves as our bridge from 2019 into the gilded age of midcentury bop. Here, and really with the entirety of what all who give Hughie Mac Sings Some Great Songs, Pt. 3 a spin this spring will discover in its enormous tracklist, Mac crushes us with his emotive singing style and finds a way to spellbind us with little more than his elegant voice and a simplistic backing band inside of nearly three minutes of play.

The instrumentation in this single is very brooding and emotional from the get-go; in more ways than one, Mac is holding all of the pieces in the jazzy backdrop together with his slick vocal, and making it so that the lyrics are the central flashpoint of all the action going on in the track. He’s front and center in the mix, but his singing doesn’t drown out the colorful piano melody that is framing his words and providing some fluidity to the somewhat rigid percussion. “Let’s Get Away” has a streamlined, radio-ready production value, but believe me – it’s hardly the artificially-faceted pop that you’ll commonly find lurking around the commercial side of your FM dial.

This track really captures the energy of Hughie Mac Sings Some Great Songs, Pt. 3 profoundly. Mac is never afraid to take on the challenges that come with covering some of them most important songs ever written in the history of pop music, and with “Let’s Get Away,” we get to experience the full scope of his vocal palate without the source material’s historical value clouding our analysis of the song. I’ve been a lifelong Sinatra fan, but I don’t necessarily think about him when I listen to this single. I’m taken aback by the lyricism and drawn into Mac’s web of melodic grooves without ever thinking about the story behind the song that’s being played for me in real-time. I’m not even close to kidding when I say that this is one of the most refined skills that any recording artist could ever hope to possess.

Say what you will about contemporary pop music, but as far as I’m concerned, Hughie Mac is doing more than a good job of keeping things interesting from the underground and beyond with songs like “Let’s Get Away.” We’re living in one of the most incredibly diverse times for music and the people who make it, and though there’s no shortage of smart young songwriters making a big impact in 2019, it’s guys like Mac who embody the spirit of pop better than anyone else on the planet, transcending age, race, gender and culture. He’s undyingly committed to his craft, and as a result of his devotion, we’re treated to some of the strongest musicality we’re heard since the original version of this song first saw release so long ago.

Joshua Beach

Monday, March 11, 2019

Sprout EP, Luxury Single by Stephanie Rose

You hear some singers for the first time and know, beyond doubt, they are born for song. These are the sort of singers who wear music like a loose garment, as natural as breathing itself, and treat every word with the same gravity no matter the composer. Stephanie Rose has long since proven she is that caliber of singer, but her new EP release Spout, the second in her young career, catapults her into rarified air. The EP’s six songs shows her mettle tackling various types of modern country, but also a willingness to overturn the expectations of newcomers and reminding them that country music is an elastic, rather than static, thing. She has a keen-eyed acumen for looking past the surface of her subjects and a skill for storytelling we hear from few performers of her ilk. This is the sound of a gifted artist willing to take chances, but still more than capable of entertaining the masses.

Stephanie Rose is in full control of the first song, “Sprout”, from the moment her voice rises out of the mix. She sounds energized by both the song’s sentiments and musical performance surrounding her, but demonstrates the loose yet well placed consideration for never overstating herself. Everything she does fits the song. This is further away, nominally, from a typical country style than the EP’s later songs, but the organ and horns added into the song only make it more enjoyable rather than sounding like needless and arbitrary touches. Horns aren’t unheard of in country music, but you nevertheless should admire the daring in attempting to reintroduce them to modern audiences.

“Rusted Love” has songwriting showing how Rose can write about well worn topics with her own voice and she has an eye for telling imagery capable of opening a song’s meaning for listeners. The best songs, invariably, allow listeners to form their own personal associations, however, and though much of Sprout is written from a presumably autobiographical slant, Rose is never so nakedly specific about her life that it breaks the songwriting spell. “Rusted Love” is an excellent example of a song that might resonate in different ways with very different people. The drumming is a big reason for the song’s dramatic push, but it has strong dynamics that draw you in.

The song “Luxury” is quite unlike the two preceding numbers. There’s no striding rock beat or horns – instead, there’s a level of intimacy present here Rose never aspires to in the first two numbers. She takes us into the life of a family living on the financial margins and preserving through it thanks to their love for one another – there’s no easy answers offered up in this song and Rose’s voice confronts the its details and subject matter with a wide ranging emotional vocal.

“Same Old Same Old” is a lot more light hearted, by far, and has a balance between sensitivity and wry detachment that I like, but it wouldn’t be nearly as successful without such an on point arrangement. The bare bones tempo, harmonica and guitar, and instantly memorable chorus are greater than the sum of their individual parts. Sprout shows how to write and recording a meaningful EP release while making it sound easy. Anyone who knows music and songwriting well understands, of course, these six songs are the result of much effort, experience, years of honing a craft, making the necessary connections with sympathetic collaborators, but Stephanie Rose makes it all come across like these songs were there all along and only waiting for her to arrive and give them voice. It’s the highest compliment I can give and worth every syllable.

Joshua Beach

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina - Little King and the Salamander (demos)


When you take zany lyrics, spacey riffage and stylish, cosmopolitan drumming that owes as much to the old school jazz construct as it does contemporary experimental post-rock, you end up with Little King and the Salamander (demos), the masterpiece album from The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina, which is out now wherever independent music is available. Little King and the Salamander (demos) is, as its name implies, a demo anthology of unreleased material that the east coast three-piece developed in-studio, and it’s a golden moment for the band to put it mildly. “Jeepers Creepers,” “The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina,” “Thinking of You” and “Together” are easily the most unruly and relentless sonic experimentations from the band to date, but alongside the other ten songs that make up the track listing, they bring us into the eye of the hurricane that is this profoundly engaging trio of musicians.

There’s a lot to be explored in Little King and the Salamander (demos), and it all starts with the folk songs “She’ll Do Anything,” “I’ll Be (Kisses at Your Door)” and the bristling balladry of “Fade into the Night.” The acoustic tracks are the cornerstone of this album’s charisma, and they pepper the contents of the record with a humble, accessible strain of folk-pop that is just as heavy and unforgettable as the more rock-centric songs like “Hey Everybody,” “Jeepers Creepers,” and the surreal “White Light and Lullabies.” Although it has a sprawling collection of different sounds for psychedelic aficionados to spend hours picking apart, the band included no filler nor throwaway tracks (a nice change of pace from what most so-called demo albums have to offer).

I’m halfway inclined to be skeptical as to whether or not some of these songs really are rough demonstrations of raw material, only because of how calculated a delivery they sport. Tracks like “Slip Away (Dreamin’ Again)” and “The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina” don’t sound like a band trying to find their groove and figure out the direction of a composition still in its infant stages of development; they sound like single-worthy powerhouses that could have just as easily made their way onto Act 3 in their present state of production. If any critics questioned whether or not The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina were firm in their style of attack prior to this album’s release, they’ve got a pretty assertive answer in these songs, which prove once and for all that this band is totally in touch with their creative direction and utilizing the full capacity of their collective talents.

For those of you who haven’t gotten into this group’s music yet, Little King and the Salamander (demos) offers the perfect segue into the universe of mind-bending psychedelia and folk balladry that The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina have singlehandedly conceived. Everything has been falling into place for this threesome to break into the mainstream American consciousness, and this record has a chance to bring the band a degree of international attention that their caliber of play demands and, quite honestly, deserves. They’re riding a wave of renewed interest in postmodernity to the top, and their latest LP ensures that they won’t be escaping the limelight anytime soon.

Joshua Beach