Monday, October 8, 2018

Del Suelo - The Musician’s Compass: A 12 Step Programme




Del Suelo’s inspired musicality will hook you in from the first. The Musician’s Compass: a 12 Step Programme opens with the tune “Second Encore” and Suelo, a stage name for Erik Mehlsen, introduces the story of a traveling band’s day with intelligence and accessibility. The songwriting isn’t above embracing an array of influences but, rather than attempting to ape them, Mehlsen’s playing excellence infuses them with a distinctive melodic touch and wrings further changes to familiar sounds and themes. “Pack Rats” is a single release from The Musician’s Compass: a 12 Step Programme and a fun music video accompanies it, but it’s glossy and skillfully presented window dressing for one of the leading musical performances found on this studio album. Mehlsen boasts chops galore, obviously, but any technique he draws on informs, rather than interferes, with his ability to connect with listeners.

There’s a certain wry appraisal of character reflected in how Mehlsen cops so many twists on popular song and album titles for tracks on this album. The punk nod of “Berlin Calling” promises something Clash-like and Mehlsen delivers, in his own idiosyncratic fashion, while also advancing the album’s narrative. It would likely prove an interesting experience to read the accompanying novel of the same title, likewise written by Mehlsen, while listening to the album, but there’s no question the songwriting accomplishes much. “A Lust Supreme” expands further on this feeling and sweeps listeners up into its late night metropolitan swirl. Another standout chorus is the key hook for “A Lust Supreme” and creative keyboard work flashing like quicksilver over the drumming keeps things moving at a satisfying, measured rate.

“Nightstream” is, at first, a study in sonic contrast as its opening wash of white noise, akin to a raucous crowd, transforms into the album’s most meditative, pensive moment. There is a palpable pastoral shading coloring “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?”and the consistency of Mehlsen’s approach to the vocals begins to pay off huge by this juncture as it continues strengthening an unified sound few artists of any stature can claim. Mehlsen, track after track, inhabits these songs with a rare combination of melodic presence and emotional rigor – he doesn’t spare anything plumbing the depths of “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” and the post production effects applied to his voice only enrich the overall effect.

Those melodic talents continue shining through on “Caress of Steel Wheels”. It’s a smart, well-written tune with another of The Musician’s Compass’ first rate choruses. He really throws himself into this one and reaches soulful peaks that make this one of the album’s best tunes. I can’t really say enough about the drumming for this release – the production never fails surrounding each beat with clarity and snap that sets a sharp tone for the song. The habit of five star choruses continues with “Enter the Tempel” and it’s one of a handful of moments on this sophomore release when Mehlsen’s singing is so good and evocative you forget he’s so young comparatively young and such a virtuoso musician as well. It’s likely a seldom discussed facet of his skill set, but the vocal performances on The Musician’s Compass: a 12 Step Programme is nothing short of breathtaking.  The album peaks in a breathtaking way with the extended tune “Darn that Dream/Stairway to Eleven”, a song that gives us a sense of his main character’s regret without ever belaboring the despair. There’s nuance and depth in everything Del Suelo does on this release; it’s really nothing less than a modern classic.


Joshua Beach

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Wave 21




Wave 21 delivers direct, well played and melodically strong music appealing to a wider audience than purists. Their style is described as country rock, but it is limiting as a label. Wave 21’s songwriting from sisters Mary Lynn and Emmy Lou Doroschuk definitely touches on country and faint rock influences, but there’s an undeniable intelligent pop sophistication with their songs unlike much of what we hear from this style today. The sisters are the talented offspring of  Men Without Hats’ producer and guitarist Stefan Doroschuk and their talents on display are the results of working at their craft since an early age. Their father joins them in Wave 21 as a bassist and violin player while, as well, playing the role of producer for this superb sounding release. This Montreal based band, however, isn’t just a way for the Doroschuk’s to get their music out there – Wave 21 plays like a full fledged outfit and never disappoints.

There’s definitely a rock influence in the band’s music, even if we don’t hear it often, and the reverberating drums leading us into the first song “Ya Ya Ya” soon settles sonically and establishes a lean, surging groove. The refrain of the song title reflects the joy at the heart of this performance better than any of the lyrics, but those are nonetheless quite fine for what the song requires. Mary Lynn Doroschuk’s voice immediately captures your ear and, despite the obviously fine quality of her voice, she never “over sings” or attempts to dominate the track. Instead, Doroschuk shapes her voice to each of the album’s ten songs and it makes these tracks immeasurably stronger efforts. The lead guitar has a delicious twang without ever sounding over-exaggerated, but acoustic guitar lays down a consistent groove across the entirety of the song.

“Love Shouldn’t Make Me Cry” has a great sound, the instruments seeming to entwine rather than sounding like your typically structured performance, and there are some moments really standing out in the arrangement. The rhythm section contributions are the most important thing in bring this song off with Stefan Doroschuk’s bass playing bringing some intensely creative fills into the performance. You can’t help but admire how they put this one together. “The Fun Times” is another achievement on the album. The band proves they aren’t above confounding a listener’s expectations and add a song to the album notable for a number of reasons, its hard-earned wisdom simply put among them.

The final high point for me is the song “Catch Me”. This is a country influenced gem with a decided pop sensibility, particularly in how well the Doroschuk sisters refurbish the theme with their own spin on the tradition, and it sounds like the best chorus to me on an album full of them. Wave 21 are going to gain considerable notice thanks to the quality of this album and sound well on their way to long, respected careers. The ten songs on this debut are full of lessons you cannot teach.


Joshua Beach