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
 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

We the Dreamers

 
We the Dreamers 


We The Dreamers isn’t necessarily remaking the musical wheel, but they do provide an unique listening experience on the modern scene. Myke Wilken and Ethan Rose, respectively, comprise the lineup of this Southern California based outfit. Their songs engage listeners on a physical level while still pursuing lyrical goals usually far beyond the purview of pop music. The seven songs on their debut release are referred to as an EP, but they clearly reach far beyond that as a whole and have the sort of resonance we expect from the best music. We The Dreamers never over extend themselves throughout the course of these seven songs – instead, they embody their intellectual approach quite capable in their music and it results in one of 2017’s most memorable collections of music. Myke Wilken and Ethan Rose have accomplished much with this release and we can feel rest assured that more will be coming from their camp in time. 
 
The opening track “Crystal” gets the duo’s debut off to an immensely stylish beginning. Myke Wilken’s singing is ideal for We the Dreamers’ material. He has just the right balance of forcefulness and delicacy, never going too far to one side or the other, and his phrasing is outstanding throughout, Piano plays a big role in many of We The Dreamers songs and “Crystal” is no exception, but the influence that it exerts over the songs never makes them sound more formal. It gives them a more pronounced emotional quality because of the restraint that Wilken and Rose show incorporating it the instrument into their larger scheme. “Parasol” has a much more luxuriant feel despite a noticeable increase in tempo, but the more commercial edge it manifests never makes it seem like less of a song. Instead, this seems like a much more emotive turn than we customarily hear from these sorts of bands and partnerships, but it works anyway because of the dramatic heights this particular duo are able to achieve. 
 
“A Spark” takes listeners back to more artful territory than we’ve traveled over the first two songs. This is never an outright pop song or outright anything; instead, this has a command of melodic fundamentals while still having just the right amount of theatricality to distinguish itself from a mere musical performance. “Wiser” has Ethan Rose’s guitar playing factoring into the final results in a bigger way than we’ve heard so far, but the songwriting continues to stress over striking the right balance between the electronic, rock, and pop elements in We The Dreamers’ songwriting. They close the EP with the band’s songwriting masterpiece, thus far, “Time”. It is lyrically reminiscent of the earlier cut “Wsier”, but it reaches further than that cut and aims for a more ambitious swirl of various musical elements. We The Dreamers have scored big with their initial release and the talent here promises that future work from this duo will score on an even larger scale.  


Raymond Burris

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Alex Lopez – Slowdown


Alex Lopez – Slowdown 


Alex Lopez’s initial musical inspiration, The Beatles and British blues/rock bands, can still be heard in his music. He has, however, considerably transformed that inspiration over the course of three albums and this latest release, Slowdown, surely ranks as his most individual and successful work yet. It is a product of both his natural growth as a songwriter but, surely, the scores of live appearances he’s logged with his band the Xpress at major venues and festivals throughout the southeast. His style now owes much more to artists like Buddy Guy and B.B. King than Clapton and others of his ilk, but Lopez’s desire to tether his style to longstanding icons like those men should never indicate he is beholden to their playing. His guitar work, instead, clearly filters it through his experiences and subconscious into something that owes debts, but is ultimately uniquely his own.
 
He gets things off to an ass-kicking start with the wah-wah infused guitar fury of “Dangerous”. Lopez’s snarling licks come crashing through the mix and lightning strikes of flash elevate this performance several notches above the norm. He possesses the needed vocal grit to make this sort of exercise work out – there’s not a sliver of weakness in his singing. Hard-bitten blasts of slide come through on a number of songs but few of its uses have a better effect than those we hear on “The Wildlife” – it augments the song’s inherently hard charging nature and gives it an appealing rough and tumble quality. The title track is a bit more nuanced than the aforementioned tunes, but Lopez succeeds just as well with the simmering intensity he wraps around this track. Lopez has a knack for making personal statements through his songwriting in a musical style that rarely showcases such talents. His instrumental talents are considerable, but on more than half of this album or better, Lopez makes the case that he’s a songwriting deserving of our serious consideration as among the best today.  
 
There’s a strong and nice echo of Led Zeppelin’s blues posturing heard in the track “Words of Wisdom”, particularly on the chorus, and the guitar does an excellent job of slightly aping Page’s guitar heroics without ever lapsing into outright imitation. The first of the album’s shifts in mood comes with the song “Enough of It” – it’s a sleek, sinewy number that pulls back on the guitar’s reins just enough to produce a notably different effect. Though the tempo is a little amped up for the comparison, this song might pleasantly remind some of the Rolling Stones spiked with a dash of rockabilly. “Exodus/Long Long Time” is far and away the moodiest number on Slowdown. It begins with the brief first half, a waterfall of electric guitar clustered together claustrophobically, before dispersing into the jangling folk song gloom of the song’s second half. Lopez’s plaintive whine in his vocals is particularly effective here.  
 
“Stolen” is the album’s purest example of slow, gut wrenching guitar blues while its following track “I Love You, Blues” takes on a smokier nightclub flavor and doesn’t rely so much on six string theatrics. The album’s final song concludes Slowdown on an important note. “War Without a Face” is another personal effort on an album filled with such moments and clearly conveys his passion for the subject matter without ever overwhelming listeners. Alex Lopez’s talents have earned him spots on some of the nation’s biggest stages and, with the release of Slowdown, that trend is sure to continue.   


Frank McClure

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Forever in your Mind - Smooth


Forever in your Mind - Smooth 


Forever In Your Mind are produced by Dustin Atlas, Eau Noir and Josh Gudwin (Justin Bieber, Bebe Rexha), and co-written by the band, the songs pair up well, tackling the mysteries of a relationship on the edge. Sporting a serpentine groove and sleek blues riff, “Smooth” dissects the competitive nature of love, while the equally sophisticated “Missing,” with its wailing harmonies, laments a relationship fractured beyond repair (“All that remains is my broken faith”). The two tracks “reflect real emotions everyone feels,” notes Liam. “We wanted to be as real as possible, because we’re writing in a more mature frame of mind.”

The Boy Band craze is something that will never die, and the Trio of Forever In Your Mind have been getting it down since 2013. They have gone through changes and still survived the ringer. On this new release, they get ready to tour with a couple of fresh cuts to add to their set. It should keep their crowds happy whether in NY or Denver. This should help give them another reason to come out to see them. Performing is really what it’s all about for both them and the fans. There aren’t many facts in music but that is as close to one as it gets. What better way to throw it out there than to tour and hopefully tour more. “Smooth” is no cover of “Shake Your Booty” or a Christmas song, both of which they’ve done in the past. This has huge wings of its own in which to fly and soar over and above most Forever In Your Mind songs. I rate it as the better of the two tracks featured, but they both earn their marks. It’s just that “Smooth” is the deeper of the two, which puts it in front of “Missing” where it belongs. And this one comes with a nice video clip to look and get even more into the song. It’s about figuring out who we are and fitting with others or not. Making and breaking rules is just one of the dynamics they cover in the words.

Where this takes Forever In Your Mind is yet to be seen, but it has the potential to take them over the top of the rainbow and land on their pot of gold. But it’s not like they don’t stay busy with other activities, they have just gone to another level on this track, as well as the other a-side of the coin. And maybe they’ll get a lot of traction with both, or in reverse for all anyone knows. But you can judge for yourself by picking it up or streaming it. The video can be found on social networks and the songs at retain with the rest of Forever In Your Mind’s music. It’s not hard to find, but it should be more accessible based on the quality of these two new titles.

A lyric video can be found for “Missing” and lets it stand on its own for now, but a video should get produced of this one two. It’s more on the upside concerning the arrangement and the vocals are all over it in contrast to “Smooth” which has a much mellower presence. But for all “Missing” is good for, it does reach places the former cannot possibly go in structure. So, these two make perfect sense together, even though they don’t have anything in common but the socio-political subject matter they’re always good for. And if Forever in Your Mind aren’t good, people are losing their hearing for the worse. This is a world class act with a release of the same caliber in tow. 
 


John Birch 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Another Mile by The Spiders

 
Another Mile” by The Spiders
 
It’s rare for a song that is well-composed, well-timed, and plainly great to come along. It’s even rarer for a song that somehow makes listeners want to move, to get excited, to pop up, but The Spiders’ newest single, “Another Mile”, fits the bill and does just that. Those who’ve heard the song are probably rocking out right now, and those who’ve yet to do so should read on to find out what makes the track so special.
First, “Another Mile” is instrumentally engaging and powerful. A formidable guitar, steady bass, and thrashing drum rhythm coordinate directly out of the gate, thereby making clear to listeners that they’re in for a fast-paced treat. Importantly, the song’s instruments never feel forced or, as is commonly found with modern rock tracks, too quick. Rather, “Another Mile” manages to strike a delicate balance between sprinting and walking—a balance that’ complemented by top-notch playing skills, and a balance that sets the stage for the song’s remarkable lyrical delivery.
A song like this, even with its once again outstanding instrumentals, would be lost without grade-a vocals. Luckily, The Spiders’ front man delivers the goods. Besides being consistent and range-focused in his singing, the lead vocalist here perfectly times and matches his words to the instrumental pitch, resulting in an almost-artificial-sounding overall song. Just in case some readers were unsure, it is certainly a good thing when a song’s vocals and instrumentals match up so well that they sound artificially arranged!
And for further clarity, they were not, in this instance.
“Another Mile” also impresses lyrically. The upbeat, optimistic words uttered by the lead man are sure to inspire listeners—an impressive contrast to most other music today! What’s more is that these vocals, which obviously focus on “Another Mile” in refreshing one’s body and mind, also encourage others not to give up in adversity, and to appreciate everything life has to offer. Again, this is a stark contrast to most other music, as vocalists so often remind listeners of their specific plight and difficulty.
Finally, “Another Mile” is also benefitted by a high-quality video. It’d be a shame if such a one-of-a-kind song was accompanied by a lower-end video (as is commonly the case), but that’s simply not a problem here. The runners remind viewers of the need to move through all sorts of hurdles, be they pavement or life problems, and the well-shot footage of The Spiders playing is just exciting—that’s all there is to it, and that’s a good thing.
Rock ‘n’ roll fans, general music fans, and/or anyone interested in being motivated and inspired should check out The Spiders’ “Another Mile” track. The engaging, energetic, fun song is a throwback to the days not only of pure rock, but of music with meaning. Besides, it looks like The Spiders may very well be the next big thing, and as such, anyone who jumps on the bandwagon now will be able to say they boarded first.
Mindy McCall
 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Swaylex - Raging Rapids

 
Swaylex - Raging Rapids 


“Raging Rapids” is the hardest hitting of the three recent compositions Swaylex has uploaded to YouTube. It has consider Sturm und Drang derived from a series of crushing guitar riffs that veer from the melodically direct to fiery lead work seemingly intent on grabbing listeners by the throat and keeping their attention. There’s a lot of confidence coming off this two minute track as well – it is rather impressive that he can make such a memorable impression within such a short amount of time, but the focus he brings to bear on the song enables him to do so. Another crucial factor in its success is the song’s construction. Obviously, due to the composition’s length, there isn’t an assortment of changes during these two minutes, but the segues from one section to the next are flawlessly handled.  It is quite obviously a rock track – but he never relies on the standard genre tropes to capture the audience’s attention.  
 
There’s a bit of fanfare in the way he introduces the song with some screaming lead guitar notes reinforced by patient rhythm guitar running underneath. When he launches into the song properly, the riffing has a leaden tempo and the lead guitar continues accompanying things, but never in too obtrusive of a fashion. The drumming spikes the tempo some with some well timed rolls and fills, but otherwise Swaylex keeps things as straight forward as ever and never clutters up the composition with too many unnecessary notes. It’s quite impressive to hear the confidence he has rolling through these changes, despite how short the song is, and he should have little trouble keeping a listener’s attention for the duration. 
 
Often times, you will listen to an instrumental and the lack of a vocal, especially in the realm of popular song like rock, will seem glaring. There’s none of that here. Instead, Swaylex specializes in a strong theatricality on this song that’s quite intense will retining enough melody to keep the audience’s attention. His guitar work is fluid throughout and the live quality imparted by the video helps increase its physicality and brings listeners even closer to the experience. There’s a palpable confidence in the performance, as well, that sets it apart from typical forays in this area. He sounds surefooted throughout and certain of where he;s going from the first note on. Some may dislike the relatively leaden tempo, but he wrings every bit of possible drama from the tempo and the running time is ideal for such a pace. Perhaps if this song ran, let’s say, four to five minutes with little deviation, we might hear it as something entirely different. That doesn’t happen here. Instead, it flows quite nicely from one passage to the another and the individual parts lock up in such a way that the song never fails to make sense or sounds disjointed. Swaylex’s “Raging Rapids” is a reminder that great talents aren’t always signed to major labels or performing for capacity houses. Sometimes they are just a few keystrokes and a click away. 


Lydia Hillenburg

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Chameleon Project - Funk n Space

 
The Chameleon Project - Funk n Space 


The power and undeniable energy that The Chameleon Project brings to the ten songs on Funk n Space isn’t something we’ve heard much of in recent years. The Toronto four piece burn with rare ambition bringing together an array of musical styles into a signature approach that doesn’t seem like it would work, but nonetheless sparks with genuine and artful creativity. Led by guitarist and vocalist Josh Laing, the quartet tackles the songs with a wild and wooly willingness to try anything once and the gambler mentality driving these compositions and performances make Funk n Space a truly revelatory experience. This fiery blend of funk, EDM, disco, jazz, dub, and rock is absolutely irresistible. They show some obvious influences from bands like The Disco Biscuits, John Scofield, and Bonobo, but there’s little question before half of the album has concluded that The Chameleon Project play by their own rules and make it work on the basis of talent alone.  

Despite the influences cited above, The Chameleon Project has their own identity and it’s clear from the outset. “Milky Way” takes a number of musical elements onto its back and makes it all work. The keyboards and drumming are particularly effective here and the incidental human voices rising out of the mix are further adornments that set the performance apart here and elsewhere on the album. It’s a relatively bold move to open your album with the second longest song on the release, coming in at a little over six minutes in length, but “Milky Way” never feels that long and there doesn’t seem to be even a sliver of wasted motion in the track. “Steppin’” shares a similar economy despite its length and shows off the band’s penchant for pouring old wine into new bottles with ingenious revamping of standard reggae tropes. It mixes the electronic textures that are one of the band’s hallmarks with the usual approach to this form. This primarily instrumental album continues to impress with the art rock style distinguishing “Kraken”, though it is a little disheartening to hear such an obviously intelligent band opt for ambient aquatic songs in a song about a water beast. It makes sense for them to do so and they never succumb to overkill, but it just seems a little too obvious.  

“Reactor” is the first outright foray into EDM territory, but The Chameleon Project mixes up the punches with some stunning guitar work that achieves unexpected lyrical heights thanks to its phrasing. It makes utter sense to pair this track with the follow up “Bigfoot” – The Chameleon Project opts to go even more sharply in a rock music direction with its forceful drumming, but they keep things surprising with an approach to the guitar playing quite distinct from what we would hear mainstream rock acts ever dare. The final song on Funk n Space, “Wako”, shows a little bit of playfulness, but it’s largely a kind of final musical statement summarizing everything the band’s covered to this point. It can stand on its own, however, as a monumental fusion of the band’s tendencies rather than merely elaborating on what has come before.  Funk n Space has the sort of keen-eared take on genre hopping that such experiments deserve, but they’ve also managed to craft an album with the potential to appeal across a wide spectrum.  


Scott Wigley

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Shelter Dreams - Dreamin'


Shelter Dreams – Dremin’ 


Shelter Dreams have been around since 2007. Songs by Shelter Dreams were played about 190000 times on Number One Music - Radio in USA and reached No 1 in the Charts for Germany - Classic Rock. In January 2017, they released the eight song CD, Dreamin, to the world on CD Baby. They are from Dusseldorf and consist of founder, singer/songwriter Jay Dee, and guitarist Met Jörg Morbitzer. And although there isn’t much to know about them, the music can speak for what can’t be found concerning that. It always helps to start somewhere, but Shelter Dreams are no rookie musicians just because Dreamin is their only release they have out to talk about.

They get started on the CD with the title track “Dreamin” and it’s a groovy number but perhaps misplaced among these eight songs. As I could just as easily take this at the end of the disc. It gets carried mostly by some decent guitars, topped off by a simple vocal that doesn’t wind up its strongest suit. But it gets things underway for “Not Enough” which impresses a lot more in the vocal sector, but it’s still one of the weaker tracks. The guitar of Mobitzer tends to remind of players like Duane Allman, which is never a bad archetype to be reminded of. But he also cuts his own style and it charms the songs with quality playing. And these songs are cut one hundred percent live on purpose.

The opening chords of “Going Down” are nothing much to write home about, but they speak before Jay Dee gets a chance to sing again. And this is a better crack at singing what is obviously not his first language, but German accents always sound great in hard rock and he does better with every track. And “Mean Baby” starts off with proof of that with a sharp twanging of the strings that leads into a nice little blues tinged number. It’s very laid back and I like the way he sings “Oh baby” as the repeated top line. It just cruises right along with a minimum of variation and stays in the pocket the whole time. So far, it’s the tastiest track but the guitar mix could be a lot higher.

This continues, in almost exactly the same way, but with bigger power chords to open “Every Second” and for once there is a hint of that familiar heavy German accent like Klaus Meine of the Scorpions, which can’t helped be thought of when it comes to German hard rock. But Jay Dee makes his own marks. But here is another mid-range track but with a few bells and whistles. It’s probably the best track on offer, but they’re all very consistently even. But for me there is still something missing on “No No” Jay Dee makes a clear effort to deliver a passionate vocal. It has a story that isn’t as easy to follow as other vocal patterns but musically loses nothing with some flashy guitar work.

Track seven is entitled “Maybe Over The Border” and it’s the angriest track on the CD with tales of lowlife experiences, drugs, etc. But even though it’s a dark song, the music is uplifting to its credit on such a doomsday cut. So, it blends together pretty well for what it is, but as a live recorded studio album you can’t always be perfect. It’s not the idea. This track also sports more great guitar tone from Morbitzer that almost has a cockiness worth taking a step further. It could take you over the border, or maybe not. It has a lovely fade-away that is one of the more pleasant moments. And it ends with the bonus track “Sunwave” which goes out on a mellow but tasty instrumental with some smoking guitar and bass. Not a bad way to record for what it is, but Dreamin can benefit from a more polished follow-up release.
 


Larry Toering

City In The Clouds - The Contents Of Box 212

 
City In The Clouds - The Contents Of Box 212
Whenever an artist or band takes the likes to the rap, hip hop, genre it could work in their favor or it could not work out if at all. For Clouds In The City with their album "The Contents Of Box 212", consisting of 12-tracks, it takes two of those tracks with guest appearances by artists RJ Paige on "Shower Thoughts", and Mak Twain on "Out To Lunch". Each of these tracks on their own by themselves sound alright for what they are but they are just not right for this release. If these guest appearances and these genres choices for these two song selections was removed the album would live up to its namesake more so without these tracks needing to sound the way they do. It just throws the album off as it were really.
The rest of the album and its assorted tracks like "Singin", "Down To Earth", "Shine", and "To The Sky", are what make this release stand out the most. Like "To The Sky", really embraces the other genres this band picked out like alternative, indie, punk, and rock, this song picks up pieces from those genres to make the track work so well. While the other tracks mentioned like "Shine", bring out this tone to the album that is just pure entertainment. It portrays this essence of music that makes it sound like there is pure magic in the mists. It has that melody of trace that makes it drive the music more so really giving the listener an experience of sorts. While the other tracks "Singin", and "Down To Earth", keep the pace a float by going different and unique. Like you know interesting to say the least, it has the music being creative for itself. Allowing for the vocal chords and instrumentals to come out of their shells exposing themselves more so, that the music becomes more alluring to the ears in question.
As far as the band goes that is City In The Clouds, they give off this early essence of the likes of Hoobastank meets perhaps Interpol. That is the vibe that they give off the most with their music genre interests and style choice with music creation. As for the album "The Contents of Box 212", it is a release that has a hit or miss aspect going for it. While those two tracks of the rap, hip hop genres do not tend to cut it, the others come in just fine, sounding daring yet decent.
Overall though, it's just another one of those bands with an album to their name. It is a nice release with a decent amount of effort and tunes worthy of a listen at least once through. If their material is not to your liking then this may not be the right band for you. If you find yourselves questioning as to why you cannot get into this particular band, then you may just be over thinking it more than it needs to be thought about.
Heather Savage

Round Eye – Monstervision

 
Round Eye – Monstervision 

Round Eye come to the world from Shanghai, China, with their second release, the full-length Monstervision. They’ve played numerous festivals around the world and honed their unconventional blend of 50s R&B, Free Jazz and Punk. They go even harder on this album, incorporating even more styles to get their message across to the world, which took some time re-developing in the underground. But it comes to the surface where it will boil into another, but without Steve Mackay on sax. So, they’re growing and this is a big sign of their impressive work ethic and progress.

On Sudden Death Records in Vancouver, BC, they have a beast to unleash. This is a band that have been compared to The Stooges, Captain Beefheart, Dr. Feelgood and The Fall. But there is no use seeing them as anything but their own brand of sax-fused punk, leaving the past behind them but keeping one foot in its best memories. That is where influences like the 50s come into their style, also where it crosses with traditional R&B factors. These aren’t always punk friendly but there have been major exceptions to the rule, TRHCP being a strong example. If Round Eye cross those wider barriers for the better, so be it.  You get all they’re putting out there with no punches pulled, but a big sound to most of it, recorded by Li Wei Yu & PK 14’s Yang Haisong. This isn’t something you ponder in the post-punk scene. You either want a glossy sound or you don’t, and there are a couple of rough aspects but it’s necessary on those tracks. This isn’t an attempt to call any over production, it’s worth mentioning that the recording is of the same integrity as the music, both of which are high standard. They brought along US comedian John Bloom to play the part of Joe Bob Briggs to narrate the album like a weekend radio program. This adds to the proceedings without interfering with the songs.

Having never heard anything like that on a punk album before, it gets a plus for its shiny object value. He gets the program going with some introduction and they open with “Commie Blues” which although it is appropriate for Round Eye’s aim, it falls more in the least compelling of songs they came up with. It gets more creative as it gets more aggressive though, and the rest forgives what could’ve been a better choice to lead off with. But Round Eye have something to say on every track, so, don’t let anything you read stop them. On “Hey Dudes” and “Pink House” they hit some adult contemporary notes that put them in their own punk class. These are some magnificent studio performance moments, surrounded by some less clinical but more on point songs that Joe Bob Briggs barely gets his often-funny words in edge-wise.  But it’s not that serious in theory when you’re just rocking and rolling in your own way, without making ten minute songs and breaking all the punk rock rules. There isn’t an abundance of aesthetics about Round Eye, they’re more gut-level but perhaps they’re a cut above on Monstervision. Just check out tracks like “Richie” “Curami” and “Sifter” for all of the combined elements on this burning full-length LP. They may have a long way to go, but they don’t come untraveled.

9/10 
 


Mike Tabor

Johnathan Cavier – Blue Room

 
Johnathan Cavier – Blue Room 


Johnathan Cavier has been making atmospheric pop tunes for long enough to arrive at Blue Room, his latest album of ten songs to add to his catalog of ten releases. It’s an extended amount of time to be recording and still going strong above or beneath the pop radars. The older you get the more odds are there to toy with the idea of creating technically driven ideas to keep up with the times, or throw caution to the wind and just be old fashioned. Blue Room achieves both without shame, as it keeps one foot in the modern and one in the retro-active clichés that keep pop around, rather than run it off to find its wide demographic harder and harder to find. That’s good and bad, as it is everything it sounds, but doesn’t leave this CD hurting any in the songwriting and playing departments. And that is no luck of the draw for an artist who’s been around the block more than a few times. It is a matter of pure skill and the willpower to keep it focused. As most of the tracks on Blue Room keep that focus as long as you’re in the mood for each one, but it doesn’t mean they vary a lot. They don’t start off with much excitement but that changes as it begins to build and go out on a high note. It goes from strength to strength that way. A walk through this ball park is in order as it comes on softly with the opener “Blue Room” itself being the way to come out swinging.

This esoteric number isn’t any better or worse than anything else on the album, but it might be a slow way to kick off any album, nevertheless. It’s ok, because it only gets more interesting and a lot better with “When You Come Around” which washes a great melody through your ears and makes you get right into it and an album seems to be born as he perks right up and show his ultimate pop prowess. What a contrast but it doesn’t mean the opening cut isn’t of as much value. It just took hearing the subsequent result to get going. It is a wonderful follow-up with a melancholy vocal delivery and a classy string arrangement. “Hollywood” follows a whole different vibe but it is a good one, that much is evident. You start rocking back and forth very soon and might even be reminded of everyone from Roxy Music to ABC on this. It’s a cool throwback to the nightclubs of decade’s past, and the glamor And glitz of Tinsel Town. You can tell these are some of Cavier’s influences, without question. But he marches to his own beat, never copying, always keeping inflections of pop and dance music with romantic themes. Your mileage might vary, but this is one of the more well written and recorded tracks and there is still a lot more to go.

With “Phoenix” rising above most of them on one of the speedier moments on the disc. It manages to complement everything before and after it with that excellence to be expected from this artist. Also with “Far Away” “I Believe” and “Somebody Like You” all making their differences for the better in the Blue Room full of illustrious pop mashed with eighties romantic, Bowie influenced music. “Right Place” also holds its own along with “Someday” being worthy of noting for its killer guitar work before the closing musicality cooks up and burns away. It’s not the way you’d expect the album to end but it’s never predictable, even though Johnathon Cavier can deceive on paper. Listening to it in full is the only way to find out just how good he is.
8/10 

Randy Jones  

Friday, May 12, 2017

David Starr – The Head and Heart

 
David Starr – The Head and Heart 


Starr has shared the stage with such artists as John Oates (Hall & Oates), Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield, Poco), Kenny Edwards (Linda Ronstadt, Karla Bonoff), John McEuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) and numerous others. He has opened for Survivor, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Restless Heart, The Marshall Tucker Band and The Guess Who. With Arkansas roots and Colorado wings, David Starr has been making music since the age of 10. He has a new six-song EP entitled The Head And Heart produced and arranged by John Oates.

Having played with so many, it’s no surprise to hear that John Oates would go from playing on his last album to producing this one. But it doesn’t mean it happens every day. You just have to let that be and fall on the ears where it may or may not, depending on whether or not you know their sound and where it comes together. But this is not about the producer, it’s just that if you’ve been around long enough you cannot deny his involvement. It helps the profile as well, but it’s really all David Starr on this EP, as much as featuring such a producer’s sound, which does come out excellent.

There is no time wasted as the beautiful “Edge Of The World” finds itself at your feet with a blissful drawl from his seasoned voice. A vocal that pretty much rules this EP, but doesn’t come without some choice music behind it. The acoustic guitar playing on these tunes is very subtle, but perfectly placed where you can’t forget it. Melodies that produce instant memory. This is a tale about female growth And believing in its magic and how it makes life better to be around if you give her the chance. If it doesn’t sink in, repeat will always do. As this one is as good as the other five tracks.

There isn’t a lot to be criticized about David Starr in general, nor to be found anymore on the title track “The Head and Heart,” than any of the others. It will take you away with its hypnotic lyrics and Starr’s gentle way of conveying relative aspects of life and interacting around them. Burning houses have nothing left to do but fall, and that is what he gets across to me. But a good song can be sliced numerous ways, and none of these tracks forget that. And that makes way for a re-make of “California Dreaming.” And this isn’t something you re-arrange without a lot of guts, and it’s not the best moment on the record for me, but worth anyone’s time to hear this way.

I’d rather hear a straight-forward cover, but I also don’t see how anyone could call this a bad projection or anything. It’s just not what you’d expect, with tracks as good as “Waiting In The Dark” to immediately engulf it. With its positive mindedness cutting through a negative subject at the end of the day. It’s a cool track to contrast the downsides of playing a cover, albeit a fine one. This has some great guitar playing as well. It’s a great way to come back in the middle of the EP. Or, maybe it just works that well for me at a critical point. But it’s just one opinion about it. An original would have been just as good of a choice though.

But he keeps going strong with the adventurous “I’ve Come For You” and the appropriately titled closing track “Dancing With My Pride.”  And these two don’t exactly go together but evenly deliver along the same quality level as the rest, with no debating their importance. They also help beg the question where has David Starr been, and answer it in one fell swoop. As well as it must satisfy any longtime fans, of which I am not but will be delving back, as this turns me onto a legacy that I was not previously aware of. So, it is also a great entry level point to Davis Starr, although he’s been around all this time.

FACEBOOK:
https://www.facebook.com/DavidStarrMusic/ 

9/10 

Randy Jones

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

That One Eyed Kid - Crash and Burn


That One Eyed Kid - Crash and Burn 


The East Coast seems to produce a lot of acts like That One Eyed Kid. Living in the nation’s major metropolitian centers seems to embolden some with blindness towards the way things are usually done and spurs them to think outside the box in big and small ways. Josh Friedman’s band project That One Eyed Kid deserves the aforementioned description. The ambitions of the music on Crash and Burn, That One Eyed Kid’s third EP, don’t announce themselves with trumpets and clarion calls heard across the world. Friedman, instead, makes the improbable reality by bringing some seemingly foreign musical styles together in a highly individualistic mix marked by powerful melodies and lyrics seemingly torn from his autobiography. The effect is highly entertaining and moving all at once. It is rare, during any past golden age or today, to discover music so good that it engages its audience on both the mental and physical level. That One Eyed Kid does this with tremendous flair.  

“Bright Big Red” has ample style and easy going sophistication to burn. This might be the EP’s peak for some listeners and it isn’t hard to blame them. Friedman’s performance and recording make this comparatively simple song sound like a perfectly proportioned style piece with not a single not or word out of place. The quasi guitar rave ups that punctuate the verses and bridges add a bit of spice to the mix and Friedman’s voice effortlessly shifts gears throughout. Some of that sophistication is sacrificed on the EP’s second song “Burn Out Right” in favor of much punchier approach, but Friedman can’t resist sprinkling colorful fills throughout both the musical arrangement and his vocal. This is a songwriter and performer who understands how to orchestrate his material for ideal effect and those results bear fruit on Crash and Burn time and again.  

He turns a little with the song “Native Advertising” and dispenses with the more minimalist approach displayed during the first two tracks in favor of a more forceful, even aggressive, musical attack. It is never abrasive however and retains the same aforementioned welcoming qualities. It’s interesting to note with this song how artfully Friedman makes his influences felt in the music, yet their discernible behind all the modern window dressing. “No Touching”, however, is pure unvarnished soul and funk in a largely electronic setting. Friedman proves he’s up to the emotive challenge and also shows a vocal range that the previous songs only discreetly hint at. The EP’s final cut “Rewind” has the unique distinction of bringing together all of Crash and Burn’s strengths in one track. It may not stick with listeners as readily as the opener, for instance, but it’s a track that demands repeated listening. This five song collection makes an impressively hefty artistic statement without ever beating its own chest about it and this quality, if nothing else, makes That One Eyed Kid’s Crash and Burn essential listening for 2017. 


Charles Hatton