Todd Sarvies is no newcomer to music. In 2009 he won the reality show Starmaker that was P.Diddy’s brainchild. Since then he has played countless number of times and recently released The Dead, The Dying, The Damned. Sarvies said The album “is a collection of songs that chronicle working with a major recording label and producers. I compare these experiences to dying on an operating table and losing a great war.”
The Dead, The Dying, The Damned is a pop album with some deviations to my ears. He occasionally feeds an ’80s and ’90s rock vibe but overall this music felt very familiar to radio friendly rock. There is just no denying when you hear the opening song “Gravity” that it feels like the lovechild of bands like Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox Twenty. Suffice it to say if you like the first song you will like the others.
“Gravity” adheres to the tropes and criteria of pop songs and I don’t say that in a pejorative way. Sarvies utilizes the template for how a radio friendly pop song is supposed to sound. “Plastic” hits a little more of a hard rock vibe while “Code Blue” tapes into a more reflective singer/songwriter type angle.
“Fire at Will” was a fast paced highlight amongst the batch. He sings, “Cannot give up, cannot give in, despite the torture taking toll, You risk making a martyr in this campaign for control.”
As the album progresses it gets dark. I started analyzing the lyrics and I think it might be easy to gloss over why. On “Save My Soul” he sings, “A system’s in complete control, bloodshed is living proof, Agendas in place, we are pawns in this game” and on a highlight entitled “Crash” he sings, “The vultures, are circling, the scene of the crime, Piecing theories together, and writing headlines.”
Towards the end of the album he starts mixing up multiple genres with different styles. “Killer” has a sludgy rock vibe, “Dust and Ash” is a soulful performance with electronic production and “Going Nowhere” is a motivational ballad.
His style was hard to get a hold of after spending more time with the album and the last couple of songs kind of threw me for a loop. Either way the album is still grounded in a style of pop that you will have heard before unless you have been living in a cave and will appeal to fans of radio friendly rock/pop genre.
Every week we mention a couple of artists that are worth your time to check out that were not featured in our weekly reviews.
Artist Album Rating
Juggernaut Beach Youth is gone 3.7
darling lily gave Cartograph 4.1
Pin Pin 3.5
Anna Tosh One Big Fire 3.7
scumdogs purpose 3.4
Ashen Verditc Timing 3.5
Mad Habit Fear the Sun 4.0
squibn studio Legend of the Devil 3.9
Open Ceilings The Palace Tape 3.7
Kowari is a power-pop band hailing from Tacoma, WA. Playing as a group since 2015, Pastel Bruise is their debut release, a quick four-song jaunt through the math-rock and emo-tinged pop de rigueur. Though such music can be dreary, Pastel Bruise doesn’t spend much time plumbing the genre’s emotional depths, achieving instead a detached contentedness common in dreamier rock productions. The band’s Bandcamp bio says that Kowari is the “musical equivalent of when you accidentally hit Shift five times and Sticky Keys comes up,” and that’s about how tragic it gets here.
EP opener “Sorry” begins with an insistent, slightly overdriven riff accompanied with a surprisingly groovy shuffle. Low, fuzzy lead lines intertwine with the bass, while the yelping vocals sit deep in the mix. “Sorry” will appeal to not only fans of post-emo-revival indie, but the buzzy bands of the mid-‘00s— there’s a bit of Unicorns-y bounce to the track that makes you bob your head from side to side. The chunky chorused-guitar breakdown is a great way to shake up the vibe, before crowning the track with another chorus section. As an opening statement for a band goes, “Sorry” lays out a fine blueprint.
“Sweet Bumblebee” has a jerky 5/4 guitar line as its backbone, with a vocal delivery reminiscent of a Dismemberment Plan track. After a relentless first half, a descending guitar line slows things down, before a title-dropping vocal leads the whole track down into full silence. Songs with such busy arrangements can lose their impact after even a short while, so the compositional trick of breaking things up gives “Sweet Bumblebee” a pleasant ebb and flow.
“Absence” is the lighter-raising moment on the record, with a gentle guitar arpeggio and a full vocal opening up into a chill groove. The cleaner guitars and simple instrumentation also give the drums a chance to shine. Splashy cymbal parts and rich fills are all over Pastel Bruise, though they’re often masked by the overdriven guitar sounds, so it’s nice to catch some of the percussion work in a clearer setting. Though the shortest track on the EP at barely more than two minutes, “Absence” works with a drastically different palette than the preceding songs, demonstrating Kowari’s talent as songwriters.
“Definition” closes the record, synthesizing much of Pastel Bruise’s success into one evolving piece. Galloping drums underpin fast guitar strumming, signaling the group’s tightness in performance, before a break that gives the bass a moment alone. The song slows, speeds up and then slows again into a gentle outro. The song runs through both the warmer, sweeter vibes and frenetic breakaways that appear elsewhere on the EP, joining them into a continuous stream without losing impact.
Pastel Bruise is a confident first salvo for a new band, and it’s frankly a very enjoyable listen. The worst part about it is the inevitable return to the “play” button after 13 minutes pass by. With its tendency towards overbearing introspection, the emo scene needs more joy of the kind Kowari offers, and I’m hoping to have some more of it soon.
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If I had a lick of musical talent I think I’d just go at making music with a “guns a blazing” attitude to writing songs. I mean if you like it fuck you, and if you don’t fuck you too. You know, just to keep it plain and simple. Let everyone know where I stand. This seems to be the approach of Austin Texas blues punkers The Banisters, and I like that approach. On their latest record, Piñon Vista The Bannisters explode out of the gate ready to rectify some rock n’ roll tunes, like there weren’t nothing holding ‘em back, like there weren’t no tomorrow. They just go after it, no stupid delayed build up to a mediocre hook, just plain old good ole fashioned rock n’ roll.
The opening tune “Weary Pilgrim” blends bluesy guitar riffs with whammies and wails, and the vocals are laid back but not lazy. Then there are bits of twang (they are from Texas anyhow) that interweaves throughout the song giving it the substance and dimension that every good rock tune requires. Next we get the same formula but sped up to a punkier beat. The song is “Don’t Text Me about Drugs.” It reminded me of the early years of Bad Religion and other such politically-minded punk upstarts whose songs can sometimes blend in a bit of wry humor along serious lines.
Things take a more mellow and indie-rock driven turn on rather radio-friendly “Heat Lightning” which gets a little warped in a good way as it morphs from this radio-friendliness to a more balls out rocker along the lines of Neil Young when he gets really pissed off. The diversity ensues as singer/songwriter Nicole Hutchins adds her powerful vocals, reminiscent of Patti Smith’s beautiful growl, to the progressive and groovy rocker “Toxic.” Hutchins closes out Piñon Vista, with the soulful and serious grooves of “Superstar.”
The Bannisters dynamic of letting their musical tastes help to write the songs individually and play them collectively could have easily blown up in their faces. I have heard it happen thousands of times. The fact that it didn’t happen to them is because they see the bigger picture and they know that a diverse batch of songs that sound like they were written cohesively can only come together if everyone plays their part, which is exactly what each of the Bannisters do best.
Ben Brookes put together an impressive lineup for his album The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon. He worked with drummer Michael Bland (Prince), keyboardist Greg Inhofer (Bob Dylan) as well as two members from Badfinger.
I found the album enjoyable with solid songwriting and obviously good performances. On that note the general vibe of the album felt a little dated with a lot of familiar moves that echoed a ’70s vibe that we have heard plenty of times before. You can hear influence from bands like Pink Floyd and I thought I heard some Rod Stewart in there as well. I think I just wanted some more advanced production techniques and out of the box experimentation rather than hearing another guitar solo.
The songs were consistent and Brookes knows how to write a hook. “Crack A Smile” was a standout for me and I thought the backward sounding effects worked well. The song has a good mix of melancholy and hope. “Look Through My Eyes” is a solid rocker but the best moments come towards the end where the song slows down and a saxophone take the centerstage. There were a couple of other highlights such as “I Wanna Go Home,” “Stories In The Rain” and the reflective closer “Shackles.”
I have no doubt there is an audience for this album. Brookes has talent which is immediately apparent and it's spread out evenly throughout the songs. I’m inclined to say that this album should immediately resonate with fans of classic rock.
Overall, The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon wasn’t the most inventive album I have heard this year but the combination of exceptional production and performances with solid songwriting makes for a winning combination.
The evil winters is a one man act with a new crunchy dream pop album out. Robert Schnettler has been writing music since his youth. He likes to focus on emotional responses. When you hear the synthetic escape he has devised with his album littlemouse his influences come through crystal clear. Schnettler was influenced heavily by the goth wave of the late ’80s and the electronic ambience of the early ’90s. Anyone with a fondness for that era of music will not be disappointed with what you get for just four tracks.
Some people have the gift of creating entire universes in their heads. Some of those people turn those worlds into books or movies; others like to construct them with music. Littlemouse has serious sci-fi movie or video game score written all over it. The heavy synth is combined with some rather worldly sounds and the result is something that feels off planet. I’ll say this, the game or movie or television show I picture is awesome. I am intrigued. At points the music gets very epic and I picture an enormous space battle going down. Other times it calms itself and I get the sense of an internal struggle within someone’s mind. I like the back and forth.
All the tracks are instrumental. Each one gets a very unique tone, especially in the beginning. Track one, “Myles Thomas” gets a subtle dreamy. Number two is “Lillian” start off in a very worldly and earthy place. Three is “Slab City” and has a fabulous trippy sci-fi vibe. My favorite is by far the last track which is “Orange Sunshine.” This song has the the strictest structure of the bunch with an active percussion element. While all tracks start with signature sounds they tend to end up in a similar place of dreamy, grungy, crunchy rock. It gets very industrial and is very appealing to me. Since all tracks seem to circle back to this sound I almost wish the album was one big movement instead of divided up into tracks.
My only complaint is that the tracks all seem to land in the same place at one point or another. However, if it was all just one big piece it would make more sense to me. I could have used a little more action and drama in the first three tracks. “Orange Sunshine” kind of spoiled me with possibilities and I wish there was more of that in the other tracks. The audio treatment definitely dates the tracks. This is understandable considering his influences but part of me wanted to hear certain things a bit clearer. There were so many elements and I’m not sure they all got their due. However I can appreciate the aesthetic and the dedication to what kind of sound he wanted.
Littlemouse is easily enjoyable and has a lot of applications in terms of where and when you would want to hear it. The evil winters has cool ideas and is not afraid to be original and experimental. I think he’s got a solid handle on the art of transportation. If you want to be somewhere else for a while this would be your album.
Molly is an artist from Virginia who recently released Slightly Singed. She is just getting her start at eighteen years of age but displays a lot of potential on this demo quality release. This is a clear cut case of a talented artist who needs to work with a professional producer/engineer sooner than later. She has a great voice which is buried underneath the lo-fi recording.
Up first is “Medusa” that paints the mood for the music which is haunting and atmospheric. I liked the vibe a lot and it reminded me of Mazzy Star. The vocals shine but the extended instrumental felt a bit unnecessary.
“End of the Line” is a little more upbeat and festive. Her vocals are again very well delivered but unfortunately don’t get their due because of the recording quality. Up next is “Secondhand Smoke” which also contains a number of catchy hooks while “Bad Choices” felt like a single worthy song that had more of a radio friendly quality to it. The EP closes with another highlight entitled “Letter to the Editor.”
Slightly Singed builds a solid foundation for Molly and at the very least showcases she has a good voice with a good supporting band. The songs were simple but well written and it seems like the band is just at the beginning of their development.
Molly is an artist to keep your ears on. As long as the band pursues a more professional sounding release and continue to refine their skill they should be in good shape.
David Harrod is a singer/songwriter out of Sydney, Australia. Empire Down is his second EP after a 25-year break from the music industry, having played in a band in the ‘80s. Drawing upon influences like the Eagles, Supertramp and Dave Gilmore, Empire Down is an old-school outsized production still centered around Harrod’s solo-guitar core.
“Good Enough for Me” opens the record with acoustic guitar buoyed by sitar drones, offering a throwback ‘dreamy’ feel. The vocals and drums kick in shortly thereafter; Harrod’s vocals have a gentle quality that makes them sit well together in harmony, while the in-the-room immediacy of the stomp-clap percussion make the arrangement sound full. A rumination on patience and contentedness, “Good Enough for Me” is a warm invitation into the EP, just the kind of track hippies used to get lost in.
“The River Road” contrasts a bright fingerpicked guitar with a deep heartbeat-rhythm kick drum. Harrod is in a more plaintive, nostalgic mode here, and as such his performance is a bit more emotional with a dramatic strain on the “I won’t let you go” refrain. The production has a touch more of a presence here—the aforementioned drums have a wall-of-sound reverb on them, while an electric guitar way back in the mix gives the whole thing some urgency. Once again Harrod’s harmonies are a highlight here evoking the vast soundstage of a 10cc record. The subtle edge of intensity on “The River Road” keeps Harrod from hewing too close to a formula, giving Empire Down a bit of an emotional arc.
“Not Ready For Love” slows the proceedings down considerably, moving the singing overdrive of the electric guitars to the forefront. Some ambient keyboards help support the various dreamy elements of the track, while a straightforward drum track keeps the song from floating off into the sky. Harrod’s retro stylings reach their peak here, as this song would fit as easily on a record 35 years ago as they would now. The song’s gentle conclusion is also sweet as they come, letting Harrod’s voice—once again the track highlight—bring the tune back down to earth.
Title track “Empire Down” closes the EP out. It’s a bit more of a rocker than the preceding work, kicking off with a blistering guitar and a tense progression. Lyrically a call to arms, the instrumental only enhances the rousing themes with heavier, flashier drumming and multiple solos. When the arrangement clears out for the 12-string three minutes in, it’s clear Harrod has a strong grasp on what makes a great moment in rock music. I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting him to tread into this territory, seeming a little more George Harrison than Tom Petty, but “Empire Down” keeps the record potent to the last.
Though he may have been out of the limelight for some time, Harrod demonstrates on Empire Down that he hasn’t lost any of his edge. Capably drawing from a broad well of rock traditions, the set reads like an A.M. radio masterclass, all wrapped in a tasteful sheen of production. All in all it’s good that Harrod has returned to making records, because few do it quite like this anymore.
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Tantrum is a band comprised of Tom Loomis (vocals), Tom Milorey (guitar) ,Chris Cherasaro (guitar), Mike Defillippis (bass) and Justin Kull (percussion). The band hasn't been around very long but it didn't take me long to realize the band are experienced musicians. They play hard, fast and aggressive music that contains elements of metal, punk and hard rock on their self-titled album Tantrum. The recordings sound great and the band is technically impressive throughout.
One thing to make note about is just how short the songs are. They average about a minute-and -a-half long. I have ambivalent feelings about the length of the songs. They were immediate and they do fill in a lot but there were times where I wanted the songs to get experimental or just let the songs breathe a little more. Since the songs are so short it’s almost vital to listen to the album as one piece which is how the album should be experienced.
Up first is “Sanity Focus” which pretty much sets you up for the mood and vibe of the album. It's aggressive as all hell and relentless on top of that. He screams, “There is nothing left of my empty soul” and I believed him.
The band continues to pour on the intensity with “Prey for Pray” which is pure molten lava. Not a second is wasted on “Superfreak” where the band has no time for build ups or intros. The ADD induced song has an anthemic shouting section towards the one-minute mark which was one of my favorite moments.
On “Never Endings” the band saves the last twenty seconds of the song (the song is a minute and nine seconds long) for guitar feedback. If there is a such thing as a centerpiece for this album I think it would go to “Corners.” They close out the album strong with “Body & Soul.”
Tantrum delivered a short thrill ride of an album. It’s not for the feint of heart and is the perfect addition to your cup of coffee in the morning if you need some nitro fuel.
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With already two albums under his belt, Nick Cogan returns with his latest endeavor, This is the Life. This time around he decided that it was high time to look for new horizons by plugging in and mixing up new sounds. He also bought a house, built a studio and took a half-year off of work to record a collection of new and old songs. Songwriting is something Cogan has been doing since he was 11 and on this latest release he sings about love lost and loved gained, good times in one’s youth and what it means to trust somebody but also having that trust broken.
“The World” eases into this full-length album with a steady beat and talks about how the world has gone crazy but “our love’s about to begin.” Yes the world is a mad, mad place but someone by your side can often ease your worried mind.
“Without You” begins with a raunchy guitar and a “Oh yeah” belted out loud. From what I could tell, it seems to be about being infatuated with someone (at a bar) and you’re ready to make your move, which could be your only move, if you don’t hurry it up. “Love is Misery” is a crooner, a crier; it’s a well-written song about a love gone wrong if ever there was one. “It was more that that and you took it away from me” – ouch!
“Must Be Love” drips with a sexy sultriness. A hot little number about getting close to that ‘hot little number’ on the dance floor. “This is the Life” is a song about looking back to the good times with your best mate but also looking at where those “two punk kids” are now in life. The Velvet Underground is mentioned in the song, which made me grin from ear to ear. “Moonlight” is uniquely arranged instrumentally and Cogan’s lyrics are interesting too. The drum machine sounds are a little too mechanical for my taste, but that’s not the song’s focus here.
The song that really stood out for me was “Figured It Out.” It’s a shady, smoky number that grooves deep and it sounds like something Tom Waits might have written. “We’re gonna bury our future while we drown our past.” The lyrics and song title conjured up in my mind a Bonnie and Clyde scenario. “I Swear It” sets a steady message about keeping your promises to the one by your side no matter how crappy life gets. Like the song “Moonlight” “Those Words” has an interesting arrangement and the effects on the instruments are sonically beautiful while the lyrics are deep and tender.
“In the Dirt” is a somber wake up call about only getting one shot in life to make your mark on the world before you’re food for the worms. It’s a balls out, gutsy, no holds barred kind of song that really hits its message home. The last song “She Gotta Way” sounds to me like a guy who’s drunk and high and having psycho-stalker tendencies towards the girl who got away. It’s kind of funny but the way Cogan belts out the words really made me empathize with the psycho-drunk’s plight. Cogan sounds a little maniacal himself which adds to the song’s madness. Personally, I would have ended the album with “In the Dirt” and left this last number as a B-side.
This is the Life is one hell of a good rocking album filled with passion, tenderness, conviction, strong lyrics and even stronger vocals, so I suspect we’ll be seeing more from Nick Cogan well into the future.
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