Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Naurea - New Zombie Generatio

Naurea - New Zombie Generation

Naurea has intermittently produced music since 2002, but they’ve managed sixteen years without any appreciable advance in technique or skill. The latest twelve song release from the project, New Zombie Generation, is so singularly bereft of inspiration experienced listeners will ask themselves what Abel Oliva Menendez, the project’s mastermind working under the nom de plume Olimann, hoped to accomplish with its release beyond satisfying his own ego. Many of the tracks sport musical arrangements hardly different from their counterparts and others are bald faced imitations of their betters in this style. His songwriting expends a lot of energy aping genre tropes from horror and fantasy fiction, but with no discernible effect on the songwriting quality or entertainment value. Instead, they are ramroded into a mishmash with fragmented and melodramatic pseudo-musings. It’s often offensive, as well, thanks to its total lack of any meaningful sense of humor.

“Sugar Sun” opens the album on a less than promising note and previews an approach we’ll hear for the entirety of New Zombie Generation. Menendez opts for the path of least resistance with each of the album’s songs and makes previous little attempt to meaningfully vary any of the album’s first three tunes. The following tracks “Boygirl Vampire” and “Welcome to Monsterland” essentially follow the same musical path with little variation. Naurea doesn’t build the entire collection around its guitar work, but it plays a significant role and fails at every turn thanks to its lack of imagination and poor production values. The former quality is more fully in evidence over the course of the album’s first three songs and gets New Zombie Generation off to a distinctly inauspicious start.

“Hello Mr. Bull” is another nadir as Menendez continues plundering the catalogs of greater composers for his inspiration and produces nothing of any individual note. Some performers are adept enough to build long and successful careers on the back of outright mimicry, but Menendez can’t because he never properly understood what he heard to begin with. “Mama Cadaver” has a particularly gruesome point of view Menendez does nothing to redeem with any saving grace of humor and, instead, hits listeners with much of the same musical nonsense we’ve heard with earlier tunes. “Dead I Am” leans more on Menendez’s industrial rock influences and comes off as little else than an unmitigated rip off of Nine Inch Nails and other such fare without a single transformative quality to be heard.

The jagged synthesizer propelled attack of “Fast Food is the New Religion” might signal, to some, a chance for Menendez to actually shine, but he disappoints once again with depressingly one note arrangement that could have been something more in the hands of a composer with any discernible evidence of creativity. More blatantly mimicry comes with “Nail in the Eye”, a virtual paean to Downward Spiral era Nine Inch Nails, but sadly lacking any lyrical or musical ingenuity. Few musical experiences in recent memory pretend to be more than Naurea’s New Zombie Generation, but there’s nothing here beyond the sound of an inferior talent aspiring to competence and falling far short.

Joshua Beach

Monday, August 13, 2018

Crack of Dawn release new Music

Crack of Dawn release new Music

Surfacing from the darkness of an extended hiatus with one of the most superb offerings of the last calendar year, Crack of Dawn’s Spotlight isn’t just captivating the critics, but it’s earning one of Canada’s most legendary and critically underrated groups a whole new legion of modern, youthful followers. The way they’re going about their comeback wasn’t devised in some marketing boardroom somewhere or engineered with a big financial interest at hand. 

Crack of Dawn is doing what they’ve always done best, and that’s deliver signature grooves that eliminate the pain and replace it with a warm glowing comfort that is only possible through the majesty of earnest, authentic soul music.

Songs that are able to make us feel and experience the same love, the same pain, the same yearning that an artist is describing to us transcend the physical boundaries of our earthly connections in favor of something much more ethereal and divine. In the church of music, the minister that Crack of Dawn collectively forms isn’t a strict one that wishes to stress the ire of hell that awaits us should we step out of line, but one that encourages us to engage with all of the spectacle of emotions that this life and this world have to offer us in the relatively short time that we’re a part of it. Tracks like “Ol’ Skool,” “Booby Ruby,” the title track and “Keep the Faith” don’t make us question the firm ethos that this style of music was built on, but instead reinforce the iconic allure that helped make soul the most relatable genre in pop. If you can listen to that opening smackdown of rhythm that “Keep the Faith” lays on us in its first thirty seconds, I’d seriously have to question whether or not you’re human or some sort of Apple created cyborg who can’t understand our concept of art and its relatability to the planet as a whole.

Spotlight has a very anthological feel to it, and because Crack of Dawn spent the time that they did selecting this particular group of songs to present to us in one place, we’re able to jump head first into its magnetizing, cinematic qualities without any hesitations or preconceived notions about what we’re getting into. While everyone, in every medium of art, wants the kind of passion and devotion that this group of guys has when they come together in the studio, or anywhere else for that matter, it isn’t something that you can teach in a schoolroom, or even on a stage. Some things you’ve just got to be born with, and there isn’t a single doubt in my mind that Crack of Dawn are blessed with many god given gifts that allow them transcend the barriers between us and connect with us in such an awe-inspiring way. While I’d love to hear them tackle some slightly more stripped down material, I’m not going to complain about anything that this band does moving forward. Honestly, I think we should all just be grateful to have them back, and Spotlight is the perfect disc to celebrate their return.

Gustave Carlson

Friday, August 3, 2018

Jeremy Parsons - Things I Need To Say

Jeremy Parsons - Things I Need To Say

Jeremy Parsons’ exponential growth as a performer is apparent on his latest release Things I Need to Say in both the durability of its individual arrangements and lyrical excellence. Many of the songs on this thirteen song collection tackle weighty themes, but there’s nothing unfamiliar and Parsons delivers songs about life and hope with both a distinctive presence and turn of phrase. The songs are beneficiaries of top notch production touches and highlight Parsons’ occasional desire to upend listener’s expectations. He’s accompanied by a first class crew of supporting musicians on Things I Need to Say who clearly share his ethos of serving the song at the expense of individual glory. The Texas born singer/songwriter has made significant strides with this outing and it likely ranks as his most satisfying artistic achievement yet.

Things I Need to Say is one of those albums, any genre, where each of the individual pieces are exceptional, but fit together in a wider mosaic of sound and meaning that shows off an artist’s full range of talents. Certain characteristic stand out from song to song. The opener “Makin’ It Up as I Go”, “Life”, “Burn This House Down”, and “Lisa’s Lost” move along for listeners with such profound inevitability that you soon understand Parsons has mastered the form and, from this point on, is refining its elements and expanding its reach. “Burn This House Down” and “Lisa’s Lost” are particular highlights, the former adeptly bringing the traditional Americana song of heartache into 2018 and the latter arguably the finest storytelling on the release, but the opener and second song “Life” make for an excellent contrast thanks to the nuanced resignation of “Makin’ It Up As I Go” and the second track’s moody elegance.

The songs “Hope” and “Purpose” incorporate more of a rock influence, particularly the latter, and a big part in making that element of the album work is the inclusion of organ playing riffing away in the mix. Its contributions are enormously important to these two songs, but the volleys traded by harmonica and electric guitar in “Purpose”, coupled with its aggressive drumming, make it one of Things I Need to Say’s most memorable works. Another nod to traditional country balladry comes with the calm and brooding saunter of “After All These Years”. There’s some reproach in these lyrics, but there’s a dollop of forgiveness to, primarily coming from one of Parsons’ more moving singing performances. The release culminates, in a way, with the title song and he flashes his musical imagination for a final shining moment thanks to the shrewd stroke of including unusual instrumentation, albeit common to the genre, with this song and the sort of staggered, yet seamless, way the song develops for listeners. It’s the resonant final punctuation mark on Jeremy Parsons’ latest message to the music world and there’s little question in my mind that Things I Need to Say is his greatest achievement yet.

Joshua Beach

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Honest me release EP

Honest me release EP

If you’ve been following underground music lately, then you’ve probably been hearing the name Honest Men being thrown around a lot in critic circles, and for good reason. Their eponymous follow up to their self-released extended play Okay Dreamer officially drops this May, and it’s already got everyone in college radio buzzing with anticipation. Featuring six songs led by three hot singles, Honest Men looks to take this band onto the next level of stardom and into the next decade of popular music.

Formed in Waco, Texas in early 2015 by three Baylor University students (vocalist Seth Findley, guitarist Brooks Whitehurst and drummer Zach Solomon), Honest Men evolved into a four piece when they added bassist Nate Wallace that winter and rounded out their sound before heading into a Nashville studio for their debut recording. Now with a lot of tour mileage under their belt and an overabundance of energy to expend, they’ve gone back into the studio, this time a little closer to home in Austin, and the growth in their craft is very apparent. Where Okay Dreamer saw the band lay out their template for making relevant synth pop that could still play well with big guitar riffs, Honest Men sees the band escalating their aural capabilities to an entirely different level of professionalism. If Okay Dreamer was essentially a well-mixed demo, then Honest Men is its matured successor, ready to go deep and get personal while still knowing how to have a lot of fun.

The three singles from this extended play are all great standalone recordings but mesh perfectly together on the full record as well. “Mad Love,” the first single, is about as authentic as it gets in its strutting coolness that could have fit well on the GTA Vice City soundtrack in a lot of ways. In an effort to remind us that we should save our sorrows and constantly push forward to bigger and better things, “Mad Love” is as much a festive song as it is a commentary on self-analysis. The second single, “I’m Okay,” is also laced with an important message that people, especially in the last couple of years, have desperately been in need of: chill out, we’re going to be okay. These days, when it seems like everyone has to take a pill or smoke something to be able to function and get through the simplest, most mundane aspects of life, it’s refreshing to hear singer Seth Findley just cut through the noise with these biting lyrics. The third and final single off of Honest Men is “Rose,” an ode to the raw power of love that can overtake any person when they find exactly what, and who, they’ve always been looking for. I don’t think I can decide which of the three is my favorite, honestly because they’re all too catchy to choose from. Honest Men have got a way of doing everything the right way while still making compelling, wistfully unorthodox music.

To find out more about Honest Men and preview their upcoming live schedule, check out their official Facebook and Instagram pages, and look for their eponymous EP at the end of this May.

Joshua Beach

Ben Rice releases “The Getaway”

Ben Rice releases “The Getaway”
There is music that makes us dance uncontrollably. Music that is so heart-throbbing that we’re forced to get up and move to its rhythm. There is music that makes us cry without inhibition; it moves us from somewhere deep inside, somewhere sacred that can only be reached through pure, unfiltered emotion. And of course there is music that makes us love, feel love, open ourselves up to love for what is often the very first time. The vulnerability is scary, but somehow music always has a way of making any situation a little easier to tackle, consume and digest as part of this crazy world that we live in. Sometimes the emotion can be too raw and we get lost in the translation of an artist’s feelings. But then there are the times when an artist is so deeply connected to his or her audience that we become synchronized with their soul to the beat of their song. Ben Rice’s “The Getaway” reaches out and grabs us by the core of our being, carrying us away on its unique journey of contemplative observation of the world, the life and the people who make our existence on this planet real.
Ben Rice is a storyteller in every sense of the term. His music isn’t made with the singular goal of making us move or feel love. His music is inspired by the feeling of being alive itself, encapsulating all of the joy, sorrow and at times irreverent discontent that each day tends to bring in some way or another. In certain respects, he’s not just telling us his story, but he’s telling a bit of ours as well. “The Getaway” applies to his own point of view, but it could just as easily be applied to a lot of our own viewpoints as well. How often do we find ourselves trapped in a life that we never planned on, searching for some kind of outlet from all the noise? And in that search, how often do we end up finding that the solution to our woes, the calm to this storm, was within our reach the whole time, if only we stopped panicking long enough to see it for ourselves?
There usually isn’t a lot that we can learn about an artist from a single alone. “The Getaway” is Ben Rice’s virgin offering as a solo artist, and without delving too deep into his highly acclaimed work as both a producer and a band member, we can still deduce that not only is he talented as a performer, but as a songwriter and a multi-instrumentalist as well. He has such an intense connection to his craft, such obvious love for the work that he produces, that it isn’t hard to conclude that whatever his upcoming extended play contains aside from “The Getaway” is highly likely to be amazing. If he continues to make music that is as evocative and emotionally relatable as what he has done with this single, he’s almost guaranteed to have even more success in this highly competitive business.
Joshua Beach

Monday, July 30, 2018

Ethan Gold releases LP

Ethan Gold releases LP
With a cutting synthesized glare, Ethan Gold draws us into his enigmatic web of duality in Expanses (Teenage Synthstrumentals), a thirteen track collection of post-punk inspired ambient noise music that pushes sonic limits to their very brink to harness the sheer raw power of tonality. Though it doesn’t read as a concept piece, there is an anti-melodic cohesiveness that binds each track together to create a symphonic wall of sound that is as unforgiving as it is unrelenting. While this style of music is typically reserved for only the most refined of audiological palates, Expanses is nevertheless a record that even the most casual of noise enthusiasts should have no trouble connecting with and appreciating with a zealous fervor.
Following the brief into, “In Open Air At Last” grinds out the first bellowing howls of synth brutality with a delicate grandeur similar to watching a fire slowly ignite amongst burning embers. It’s the heaviest of salutations, but it’s only a taste of what Ethan Gold is capable of yielding when left to his own devices. The ominous “Departure” takes shape out of a shimmering haze, while the strutting “Concrete Sweat” defiantly adds a bit of drum machine inspired funk to the first half of Expanses. Trying to predict what lies behind every twist and turn of the album proves futile as we get lost in its eclectic structures and intricately arranged harmonies.
The contrast between the brooding synth triplets “Aqua Petal,” “Corrosion,” and the haunting “Lizards Enter the Rain Forest” would be far too complicated for anyone but Gold to have pulled off in a single space, but their inclusion together in such perfect succession just further displays how calculatedly brilliant this composer really is when he gets into the studio. Longtime fans of Gold’s work will notice his trademark reflective, almost atmospheric accent attached to every track, yet there is a decidedly different, almost neo-psychedelic flavor to Expanses than any of his previous work (the space age “On the North Sea” is an excellent example). It doesn’t compromise or interfere with the ambience though; every mesmerizing moment of Expanses is unblemished and untainted by external influences, and frankly, it’s nothing short of immaculate.
As someone who has spent most of his life in love with avant-garde music and the frequently misunderstood artists who make it, I feel a certain level of kinship with Ethan Gold. His work, and the great efforts he’s made to bring it to fruition, deserve a lifetime’s worth of praise and acclaim for their impossibly virtuosic competences, and it’s unfortunate that until now, the bulk of the mainstream music media had been skittish to embrace his eclectic, and at times abrasive, approach to pop. Expanses (Teenage Synthstrumentals) could be the album to finally garner him the widespread attention that he’s worked so hard for, and personally I couldn’t be more supportive of the notion. If you’re looking for new music that lives and breathes left of the dial, I highly recommend giving this instrumental set a listen.
Joshua Beach

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina - Act 3

The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina - Act 3

Albums with this sort of charged, highly vivid musical creativity don’t often emerge from the modern popular music scene. New York City based singer/songwriter Ryan Shivdasani’s boundless musical imagination brings a number of different styles into play over the course of the band’s full length release Act 3. The thirteen song collection, produced by Russ Flynn and released in April of 2018, manifests a stronger personality through its songs than many performers/writers manage over the course of three albums and his accompaniment on the album, drummer Danny Wolf and bassist Jack Redford on ten of the album’s tracks, are extraordinarily sympathetic to aiding Shivdasani realize his imaginative vision for Act 3. He’s since recruited likewise fitting musicians for the band’s live lineup, but there’s undeniable chemistry between Shivdasani and his core collaborators on the studio recording.

The fleet-footed pace of opener “Together” clocks in at just over a minute and comes off sounding like a diamond hard blast of alternative rock. Redford’s busy, yet precise, bass line has a descending quality that maintains its timing despite the brisk tempo. One of the album’s early marquee numbers is “Particle Craze”, complete with accompanying video, and the slightly dissonant melodicism, uneasy yet crackling with energy, recalls alternative rock textures with an unexpected infusion of electrified folk guitar jangle suggested in the playing. The lyrics are spartan and cut to the bone without even a single extraneous syllable compromising the writing and Shivdasani’s vocal delivery accentuates the slightly topsy, idiosyncratic mood of the song.

The same melancholy spirit informs the album’s third track “Watched You Out My Window” – it is, perhaps, the most literary lyric included on Act 3 and comes off as a bit of a cross between thoughtful alt pop with a retro feel and folk-influenced singer/songwriter material. “Cowboys and Indians” breezes along with deceptively aggressive energy and has the same sinewy line of musical attack we heard with the album opener. Michael Feinburg’s contributions on bass are, thankfully, seamlessly indistinguishable from Redford’s and he generates tremendous energy with drummer Danny Wolf. The ominous undertow of the track “Enemy” makes it one of the darker cuts included on Act 3 with the low rumble of its main guitar motif and how Shivdasani’s voice dovetails into the sound without a hiccup.

Shivdasani’s skill invoking angst and alienation comes clearly through with the song “In This World, Not Of It” and he invests even more passion than usual into a finely crafted lyric supported by another stellar ensemble performance. Shivdasani has the chops to distinguish himself individually with each of these tracks but refrains to do and prefers to focus his efforts on serving each song rather than hogging some transient moment of instrumental glory. The acoustic strains of “Fade Into the Night” help the song achieve its woozy, one in the morning feel without ever obscuring the inherent melodic qualities of this song. The final gem on Act 3, “Blood Country”, revisits that same art rock thrust defining the album’s best songs like “Together”, “Enemy”, and “Cowboys and Indians” with lightly poeticized social commentary laid over the top. Shivdasani’s creativity is in full bloom for this release Act 3 gives him an impressive foundation to build on from here.

Joshua Beach

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Lauria releases new single

Lauria releases new single

What do Leonard Cohen, Gino Vannelli, Celine Dion, Corey Hart, Chilly Gonzales, Rufus Wainwright and Terri Clark all have in common? Besides making their mark in music around the globe, they all hail from regal Montreal, Quebec. You can now add another name onto your radar of Montreal’s musical standouts: Florie-Laure “Lauria” Zadigue DubĂ©. Her debut single, “Losing Me” is a genre-defying ballad.

Lauria is a college student studying at Concordia University. Between her hectic studies she found time to record “Losing Me.” The overall production is crisp. What I loved about the music bed, I also sort of felt a little disappointed. It sounded very electronic and manufactured. But, after a few listens, I got over that. You can tell her artistry is looking ahead and she’s carving out her own path. I felt like this tune had a modern flare. While she certainly doesn’t have the range of her fellow countrywoman, Celine Dion, Lauria’s true talents may lie in her ability to transport her listeners to a dream pop soundscape. “Losing Me” is both hypnotic and exotic.

The lyrics “I don’t give a damn what people think about me / I don’t wanna live the life they want me to live” tiptoe along Lauria’s brooding, yet hopeful voice. She comes across as bashful. But, by the end of the song and especially during the chorus her reach and confident blossoms. It’s as if the crown has been placed atop her head.

The magic seems to happen about halfway through “Losing Me.” I liked the feisty use of “my heart is light as you walk away” and the humorous “this shit is crazy.” As a listener, I found myself in Lauria’s shoes, shaking my head the same way…we’ve been there! She doesn’t patronize like Katy Perry’s “Roar.” She keeps the listener in check and relates to the listener. I could imagine these lyrics in a journal. Is this Lauria’s healing song?

While your toes might not be tapping as much as your head moves to the groove, the underlying bass and overdubs are mysterious and unique. I didn’t feel like this song organically came about from an acoustic guitar, but it’s origins might have arose from the piano. There’s a softness to it, and you feel at times like Lauria’s vocals are isolating among the ambient undertone.

“Losing Me” has this filter feel – as if it were an Instagram photo with the Clarendon filter. Her chorus is the light. With so much hustle and chaos, it’s nice to sit down to a song and really listen. “Losing Me” cuts through the noise, the stress and delivers. It’s a pretty chill song. Yet, it percolates at the right times. The backbeat bubbles just slightly, like the thought process before breaking up with someone. You might feel like crying listening to Lauria, but by the end of the song, you’re cheering for her.

Overall, “Losing Me” is a standout song. I really dug the vibe and Lauria’s voice. Fans of Natalie Imbruglia, Nelly Furtado, Christina Perri and Tove Lo might take note of Lauria and her upcoming work.

Lori Reynolds

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Edenn “Thinking”

Edenn “Thinking”

The ocean of creative and social differences between the world of the established music industry and that of the left-field, independent underground hasn’t been as vast and in-depth prior to 2018, and that’s saying something if you can recall the turmoil and lackluster derision between the punks and the hair metal crowd back in the 1980’s in the United States. Now when I listen to someone like Edenn, an R&B/indie soul-pop artist based out of France, I can’t help but notice all of the nuances and micro sized flashes of exceptional grace without feeling resentful towards the figures in this business that are seeking to keep him off the airwaves.

No, this isn’t a conspiracy theory. Anyone who knows anything about the business side of western entertainment knows that there’s a corporate interest to have their say, and if you fall outside the lines of subordination, they’re not going to push you. You’re on your own. This happened in my career, I’ve seen it happen in ten thousand others just as well. Edenn is an artist who is committed more to his work than he is to the A&R man’s master plan for world domination, and you can tell as much when you listen to his track “Thinking” which is out now and kicking up quite a storm on Spotify. It’s a non-genre piece that works itself out like a teaser to a larger full-length album that’s possibly on its way to making delivery in the near future, but it’s also strong enough to be a one-off for this burgeoning young performer who already has a journalism career that’s going places just as fast. In a minor key descent that feels like a tumbling from the heavens onto the cold hard pavement of a grungy city below, “Thinking” takes a little time to get the engine revved up when it first commences play, but around the time that the first stanza of verses wraps up, it becomes pretty obvious that we’re climbing back up into the clouds and abandoning any notion of anti-realism in both the musical and lyrical approaches employed on this song.

Production wise I still have a few desires that aren’t satisfied completely in “Thinking,” chief among them the overabundance of echoing reverb on this track that makes it difficult for me to get into the opulence of Edenn’s amazing, evocative singing. It’s a shame, because I think that this man easily could possess one of the most melodic and unblemished set of vocal cords that I’ve heard since first listening to Usher in the late 1990’s. He’s just so… good. This man knows how to harmonize with himself to the point where a backing track almost seems a bit redundant in itself. I want to hear all of the little gradations and degrees within his range of ability, because “Thinking” shows me that he’s got the moves to do this for a long time to come. In his next track, I have a good feeling that we’ll see for sure just how big of a deal Edenn is really going to be, and if not, it would be rather sad for the future of R&B as we know it.

Thomas Patton III

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Cathy Hutch – Free Wheelin’

Cathy Hutch – Free Wheelin’

It’s only her second album and with it comes a wide range of ability and strong artistry. Free Wheelin, the newest album from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canadian singer/songwriter Cathy Hutch is a carefree, enjoyable journey of country music and blues-rock. There are hints of Christian music and a whole lotta love. Simply put – she’s entertaining.

Of the 11 tracks on Free Wheelin, the majority are solid showcases for a strong female singer. Hutch’s voice is at times pop-flavored. Other times she’s angelic and folksy. And, she changes things up shifting nicely into a rock realm a la Pat Benatar. Her official biography compares her to Pat Benatar meets Melissa Etheridge meets Tanya Tucker. She’s full of spunk when she needs to be, and Cathy Hutch holds the listener’s attention with every note, spark, and strutting guitar.

“Know It All” is one of the standout songs on Free Wheelin. I also really enjoyed the title track. Both seem to have an edgier vibe and Hutch comes across playful and spirit. As she sings about her “story to tell” in “Know It All,” Hutch is a distinctly different vocalist than in the previous tracks “Carry You Along” and “Good Friends Like You.” While the two differences might sound at odds, Hutch carries the listener through it all in a positive and loving way. Perhaps that’s the most rock and roll thing to do – her voice certainly has the range.

She mixes things up again with the slow moving “Reflections” and “In My Life.” Hutch’s voice holds such hope, and love. It’s a beautiful presentation when she’s locked in with the country guitar – it’s not too twangy, but just enough to frame your mind into sounds of yesteryear like Patsy Cline or even Joni Mitchell. When she gets back into the heavier groove with “Sweet Dave” you’re ready to crank up the tune and spend the night out on the patio. “Sweet Dave” just embodies the sound of summer and under a blanket of stars.

The piano work in “To Say Goodbye” is gorgeous. This song feels very classic country to me, and there’s a hint of steel guitar. It’s very faint, but it’s there.

It’s evident from her words and her talents that Cathy Hutch supports non-profits and champions those on the Autism spectrum. Her music has a simple message, yet, a profound joy. She sets a fine example and it will be a pleasure to continue to follow her career. While she might keep listeners guessing on the genre, listeners will be certain that they are getting all the love and passion from this Canadian songstress.

Anthony Yazzie

Monday, June 4, 2018

Conor Gains – Compass

Conor Gains – Compass

Like a portraitist behind an easel, Conor Gains masterfully paints us a picture of anticipation, innocence and divine orchestration on his new album, Compass, available now everywhere independent music is sold. Carefully navigating through churning somber reflections and breakaway purgative chorales, Gains uses the majesty of his voice to create a cushion of warm harmonies for the listener to find solace in.

A lot of people take for granted listening to new music in a modern age that has traded in the physical format for the instantaneousness of digital downloads. It used to be that when an artist dropped a new album, there were months of anticipation and waiting for the release date to come before we could even get a taste of what we were paying for. Obviously we’re living in a different time now, but good music nevertheless still sounds better when there’s a hint of tension involved. Therefore, when spinning Compass for the first time, I suggest you shut down your computer, turn off your television and find a nice block of time to really sit and appreciate just what Conor Gains has put together for us here. Unlike some of the trite LPs that have been gracing the Billboard charts this past year, Compass is a dexterous, fascinatingly colorful full length that will demand your focus more and more as it progresses through its ten songs.

The record opens with the stellar “I Know,” which melds jazz and smoky vintage beats to create an instantly catchy piece. There’s a sense of fearlessness that drives “I Know,” lyrically referencing a dare to be different attitude and reaffirming our intuition as the true God guiding all of us side by side. “Walking Alone” follows it up in no short measure, adding a dash of Stevie Ray Vaughn-style blues and confident swagger to the mix. This evolved style wouldn’t have been possible for earlier generations, not because of any sort of inaccessibility, but simply because the ingredients weren’t on the table yet; Gains, in all actuality, is expanding on a lot of the sonic themes laid out by Hendrix on Electric Ladyland, but which have mostly sat dormant in the almost five decades that followed. There’s so much to be excited about with Compass that it’s almost limiting to try and describe its sound without comparing it to such high ranking classics.

For fans who aren’t familiar with Conor Gains’ already well-accomplished songbook and approach to the studio, Compass is a great jumping off point. For if you find yourself not able to relate to its epic melodies and explore its complex arrangements with intense enthusiasm, you just might not be able to appreciate good music, as there truly is something for everyone’s taste on this record. Check out more music from Conor Gains on his official YouTube channel, which includes the video for Compass’ first single, “I Know,” and visit his website to receive updates on upcoming releases, live performances and more from this burgeoning poet and songwriter.

Kim Muncie

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite - Electrified

Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite - Electrified

Some releases you know are going to hit based on their opening single and Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite is one of them. Their first single “Electrified” is a full on minor pop masterpiece with solid musical fundamentals and retro touches peppering the arrangement and comes complete with an accompanying music video that’s striking along with a vocal performance from the Grand Brothers’ collaborator Dee that’s worth the price of purchase alone. The single comes from the project’s first full length album release, soon to drop, Canyon Diablo and this single alone makes it abundantly clear the threesome are intent on carrying off something completely different with the modern pop song and its possibilities. It’s nothing less than a rush to hear such talented performers clearly capable of doing more with a song than merely hitting its marks and giving audiences exactly what they expect and nothing more.

There’s a real powerful and stomping quality to the song from the outset, but it’s never mindlessly bashing away. The Grand Brothers employ a production style that gives “Electrified” a nearly cinematic flair without ever overemphasizing the qualities intended to draw listeners into its web. “Electrified” has a steady pace and never rushes itself, but it keeps pressure on the listener for much of the tune and refuses to let go of your attention once it seizes it early on. The synthesizers, keyboards, and other instruments work rather well together and the vocals are incorporated into the arrangement in such a way that they seem part of the song rather than superimposed over the backing track. It’s impressive how such technologically current music can, nonetheless, create such a live feeling for listeners, wholly organic, and radiating warmth in every area. Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite never sounds like a plotted out, meticulously structured endeavor. Instead, the project sounds like a natural fit for all of those involved and natural throughout.

Dee’s vocal performance won’t strike anyone as being the typical singing performance some might prefer, but the unusual qualities of his voice are tempered by a touch of effects applied in post production and there’s just enough backing vocals from a sweeter, more traditional female voice that balances out nicely against his own tone. He handles the lyrics quite nicely – there’s a lot of confidence coming through and, despite his relatively untraditional voice, Dee brings ample musicality to what he does. The lyrics tell listeners, essentially, to push onward with life and never let go of your moment – it’s a positive message that gets through without any sentimentality or extra glossiness. Instead, “Electrified” is a winning tune for both young and old, hardcore and casual music fan alike – Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite have really hit upon a winning formula with this song that they are certain to be duplicating many times over on the project’s debut Canyon Diablo. Hopefully it’s the start of something long term for this collaboration because they bring the goods like few other pop projects today.

Craig Bowles

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Jiggley Jones - Not Your Typical Day Out

Jiggley Jones releases LP

Although his name might give you the idea that he is a flimsy character, don’t let Jiggley Jones’ handle mislead you. JJ is in fact a rock solid singer/songwriter, and his new record Not Your Typical Day Out is likely the preeminent anti-typical folk album of the latter 2010s. After 11 years of cautious creative development, Jones unleashes all he’s got on Day Out, and it really is quite the ten song collection to behold. If you’re looking for your standard pop/rock record, this is definitely not what you’re looking for.

Opening with a quaint set of strings and softly interwoven lyrics, “Danger Island,” the first song on the record, invites us inside the isolated solitude of the band. Smokey basslines cut through the verses alongside their electric and acoustic guitar brethren. There’s a remarkable flow here, as the next song “Wide Awake” seems to start out of nowhere, with a skipping beat and swirling harmonies that have us surrounded before we know it. Jones serenades us with his aching desires, insisting that the object of his affection doesn’t just make him weak at the knees, she’s downright intoxicating to everyone she meets. “Now my senses are wild and free,” he proclaims, as his love has brought him out of the darkness and into the light. The playful “Vibrant” follows with a melancholic sway before breaking out into a celebratory anthem that captures the beautiful innocence of youth as seen through the eyes of a parent. Anyone who has experienced the gifts that children have to share with the world will find themselves overwhelmed by the magical mood Jones creates in the track. There’s a carefree vibe that joins us throughout the whole of Not Your Typical Day Out, not unlike Tom Petty, but there’s much more restraint and optimism in Jones’ lyrical structures that makes the songs sound less like rock music and more like contemporary folk. The compressed vocals on “Gray” relates a multitude of pain in its cold disconnection, while the countrified “Restless” gazes out over the emptiness with a confidence that is as cathartic as it is bittersweet. The latter song could be the biggest gem on Day Out, mostly because of its perfectly timed placement at track nine on this record, acting as a sort of refreshment after the contemplation of the previous songs. From beginning to end, Jiggley Jones gives us a consistently enjoyable LP that touches on as many themes that an independent pop record can.

Not Your Typical Day Out is unsurprisingly generating a lot of attention on music streaming websites and Americana radio, and having already conquered his cult following’s hearts, Jiggley Jones seems absolutely poised to break into the mainstream with this new record. Willfully different than anything else you’ve heard in this decade, it’s easy to see why Jones won the coveted 2013 International Music and Entertainment Awards’ “Songwriter of the Year” prize, and that a couple of Grammys could easily be in his near future. For more information on Not Your Typical Day Out, give it a stream on Spotify or download it now on iTunes & Napster.

Rory Richardson

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Monsieur Job - Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow

Monsieur Job - Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow 

“Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow” is a revelatory single from Latin and urban pop masters in the making Monsieur Job, a four piece unit fronted for this effort by the vocal talents of No Mercy lead singer Martin Citron. This union of talents has produced one of the most notable cross-genre blends in recent years and Monsieur Job has paired the single with a “B-side” remix that will appeal to many as well. They’ve definitely captured a thoroughly modern sound while never betraying the fundamentals that make songs great in any genre – in this case, the performance never forsakes a live aesthetic that, despite the electronic nature of the music, suggests anything can happen in this song and unexpected twists will come. It definitely isn’t a paint by numbers EDM track in either incarnation – instead, songwriters Toby Holguin and Stan Kolev have crafted a winning formula for Monsieur Jobs’ music that’s full of color, physicality, and imagination. 
Kolev’s remix is a blistering, punchy EDM track with Citron’s vocal chopped up in a very staccato, percussive way. It’s much more streamlined and to the point than the quite direct radio edit and works like a clenched fist compared to the more expansive, relaxed attitude of the radio edit. It’s ideally suited for a club setting. The radio edit, on the other hand, falls into more traditional territory despite its glaring modernity. It opens with varied percussion that the song adds to as it progresses deeper into the track and the prominent bass and other instrumentation key themselves around the song’s drumming. There’s an impressive mix of sounds surrounding the percussion. Some of it is quite conclusively pre-programmed in origin while other drumming sounds strike me as much more natural, if not entirely live. It speaks to the backgrounds of the band members – to a man, Monsieur Job is well versed in both electronic and live, traditional music performance and their ability to unite those two aesthetics in “Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow” is one of their more notable achievements.
Martin Citron’s vocal in the radio edit is Spanish language from first word to last, but exclusively English speakers will pick up on the emotion and spirit he infuses into the lyric and enjoy it despite not quite understanding the content. They will, likewise, respond to the confidence he conveys with his performance and appreciate his efforts to tailor the vocal to the musical needs of the song. The coupling of Toby Holguin and Stan Kolev’s songwriting with his experienced singing are the primary ingredients making “Chow Chow eyyy Pow Pow” one of the more memorable singles from the Latino and EDM genres in quite some time. Monsieur Job are poised to be one of the powerhouses in this scene for years to come and we may soon point back to this track as the moment their musical journey first traveled into the stratosphere of public notice.

Raymond Burris

Friday, February 16, 2018

Sule - Love Me

Sule - Love Me 

You don’t hear songs like “Love Me” much anymore. There’s no unnecessary bells and whistles with this tune masquerading its lack of melody or merit, no hip language designed to capitalize on the zeitgeist of the moment. Instead, Sule’s “Love Me” gets over with its intended audience for all the classic reasons – there’s immense attention paid to melody, accessible yet well worded lyrics, vocal excellence, and superb production virtues defining the song, but the heart of it all is driven by a sincere and deeply felt performance from Sule. To put it bluntly, he means every word. It comes across without any pretense or apparent strain and further benefits from being cut to an ideal length. “Love Me” is this Canadian performer’s finest performance to date and poises him for a brighter future than ever before.  
The swing aspect of the songwriting definitely sets the performance apart from typical fare in this mold. Sule and his supporting musicians never over-emphasize this element to the exclusion of others and there’s an overall coherence to the piece that brings all of those components together in a highly complementary manner. If Sule or the musicians have any self-consciousness about pursuing a long-forgotten style for popular music, it never shows. Instead, there’s an easy going nature surrounding this tune that comes across from the first and never feels forced. Moreover, the recording has a level of intimacy that sounds like the tune is specifically recorded for you alone and Sule’s cool, finessed yet emotive vocal underscores that closeness even more. This song is an ideal example of the possible results when musical artists work closely together to produce an unified work of art and it will likely win you over from the first hearing as it did me. 
Make no mistake, however, that Sule’s singing is the showcase moment of this performance. His voice has a wideness and vividness thanks to his talent for incorporating a number of moods into its sound. It’s satisfying on every level. There’s real sweetness, a little melancholy, and even some soft pedaled sensuality that comes through in his performance and it all springs from a blues/jazz foundation that’s a perfect fit for the Americana tendencies of the songwriting. His upbringing in a very different nation doesn’t have any detrimental effect on the piece – if anything, this outsider point of view brings a fresh interpretation to this style that few of his contemporaries can readily match. It’s obviously one of the more inviting and personable singles to come down the pike in recent history and has a strong performance at its center that promises to open a new chapter for Sule’s career and life. “Love Me” will satisfy both longtime music fans, those who already admire Sule’s considerable talents, and any newcomers willing to take a chance on this fantastic track.  

Laura Dodero

Monday, February 5, 2018

Universal Dice - birth, love, hate, death

Universal Dice - birth, love, hate, death

Written and produced by Gerry Dantone, Universal Dice is an ambitious rock project and their latest release birth, love, hate, death is being billed as a flat out rock opera that throws back to the great work of everyone from Queen to The Who.  With 16 songs and none of them sounding very much alike, even though certain muscular musical ideas and serious lyrical themes that tackle life, death, love, loss, triumph and failure tie the entirety of this record into a cohesive whole.  Simply put, these songs belong with one another and anybody that’s got a hankering for some forward thinking yet oddly classic, blues-nuanced rock n’ roll is going to go buck wild for this release.   
Songwriter/singer/bandleader Dantone is joined by a host of rock-solid musicians including lead guitarist Bob Barcus, bassist Eddie Canova and keyboardists Walt Sargent and Vincent Crici that make for a very full, very powerful sound with a big, bold backbone that hits hard more than it goes for the soft stuff (although the band is adept at ANY mood).  The album wanders between full on rock n’ roll bangers to slithering blues guitar deviations to poppy-inflected numbers that even bring home a few honest to goodness ballads along the way.  

The album starts off with pure abandon as the full-on rocker, “Welcome to the World’s” road ready, hard rock riffs go for broke only to simmer down to a slow boil for “I Wish I Could Tell You This” late 70s, knife-edge power blues complete with wah-soaked guitar licks and baroque organ playing.  It’s a sonic one-two, opening punch that kicks and sticks to the memory and practically cements the record as an instant classic.  Of course they still need to maintain momentum beyond the intro couplet but these guys know their stuff and maintain momentum they do.  There are some hints of Seger and other crunchy singer/songwriter legends on the crawly “Your Son” which furthers those big, brutish blues-inflections, the overcast lifting once again to provide some no-frills, riff-ready hard yet pop-leaned rock on “The Prophet’s” mix of KISS and The Who.  “My Hands Are Tied” follows a similar strutting attack pattern but goes for broke on the chorus harmony vocals, where a cosmic melody really twists the tune into a slick sing-a-long number.  I think Dantone himself does all of the percussion programming for his group, but only if you listen on close can you tell that the drumming is electronic and not manually performed and it too enhances the record in this quirky, cool way that perfectly works for the album’s epic intentions.  
“Take Me Home” is a real crunchy, crisp-riffed composition with some of the guitar-fury and rhythmic heft lifting on the heavily piano enhanced, positively gorgeous vocal musing and melodies of “Danielle.”  Again, these cats have far more sides and moods than the duo of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…  It seems that the record never loses its peak moments and continually keeps cresting as it goes from strength to strength.  Whether pulling off some keyboard/vocal tenderness with “Honestly” and soulful closer “Forever,” or coming straight from the rock n’ roll gut on “I Love It When They Hate It” and “Better Man,” Universal Dice can do absolutely nothing wrong on this record.  If you long for the days when musical giants walked and ruled the Earth, then birth, love, death, hate will be exactly the kind of sonic reminder you’ve been hoping to hear for ages.  What an album, what a band; highly recommended!    
David Shouse