Cold Nova is the product of Nashville musician Jacob Hillenbrand after a rather long pause from creating. The musician got back in the recording studio and put together a self-titled EP Cold Nova that showcases the new direction and future of the band. The overall sound has a very recognizable ’80s feel to it with reverb and echoey sounds splashed left and right.
The album starts out with the track “Hold Me Down” which actually sounds exactly what you would image when you hear the word “Nova.” The song starts out with a super electro introduction with a grungy, raspy electronic sound that almost sounds like an early Nintendo game. Once the rest of the band kicks in, you get a classic ‘80s pop disco rock band sound. It has spacey vocals, grungy guitars and a poppy upbeat rhythm with banging drums and a keyboard moving it all along. Like I said, “Nova.”
The whole album is somewhat pretty monotone in that the majority of the tracks sound pretty similar, or rather have the same rhythm and melody. The second track of the album though, “Another Race To Run” actually does have somewhat of a different sound and vibe. This track has a much heavier, funkier bass line. The bass is the most prominent part of the track, and is accompanied by a slower “boom-bap” drum beat that’s a bit different than the other tracks. It’s a fun listen, and has calm vocals the entire time. After this song though, the album goes back to it’s traditional ‘80s like sound with the other tracks.
The musician is clearly experienced, though, and is surrounded by quality recording experts. “Downing of the Day” has extremely clean guitars throughout, and even the touch of the shakers in the background help give this album a bit more character. The composition is excellent, and is probably Cold Nova’s strongest characteristic. The vocals marry the vibe of the song perfectly, the composition is very smooth.
The rhythm and melody stays pretty consistent throughout all of Cold Nova. While it does not have the most exciting vibe, unless you are an absolute ‘80s lover and love poppy slightly repetitive sounds, the recording is on point. It’s an emotional album and a fun listen, although it could have used a bit more creativity or uniqueness.
The Flashpot Moments is the studio project for Tim Cawley. On his self-titled LP The Flashpot Moments he got a lot of help from different musicians to create what you could call anthemic American rock. The album was like going to a Bruce Springsteen concert that is very often going for the crescendo. It’s music that works better in an arena than an intimate setting.
This music has been replicated for decades and Cawley isn’t doing anything new here. He is spinning a wheel that unequivocally will draw an audience that likes to sing along to songs like “It’s My Life” and “Born To Run.”
The production has to be right or it won't work. Lo-fi is going to work. It’s just unacceptable if you want to get people to hold their lighters and sing along with the words. Luckily, the album gets the production right.
The song are all anthemic whether it’s “Abigail, Mispronounced (The Party Aftermath)” that sounds like a B-side from the band Boston to “Places Unknown” which has a classic breakdown with the steady bass drum followed by monstrous toms.
The band occasionally is a little subdued like on “‘Splode (The Party Prelude) which you could argue has some similarities to Spoon on the verse. As the album progresses you can make reference to plenty of prolific rock bands from The Replacements to The Cars and more. The point is Cawley plays into tropes many of us have come to know and love. He closes with an eight-minute epic which sums up the album perfectly.
Cowley is far from the most original artist I have heard in 2017. In fact his music feels more like a homage to anthemic American rock. If you are tired of the same old Tom Petty and John Mellencamp album The Flashpot Moments should bring you some joy.
Jenn’s Apartment is a three-piece ensemble that has broadened their sound and come to us with a new album called Forever For The End. This album is a look into the rock band's new sound and storytelling journeys. It’s a melodic and upbeat pop rock album with folksy vocals and a variety of sounds.
The album starts out with the track “Baby I’m Riding” which has a clean and fun introduction. All the instruments start to come in with an upbeat sound. They’re all very well balanced, each loud enough to add character but not too overbearing to overshadow any other instruments or stand out. The vocals are interesting, although nothing too memorable, and the melody and general sound of the band keeps the tempo high and positive. The lyrics are excellent, easy to follow and paint a vivid picture that we can follow; it makes the album engaging and relatable.
The album keeps going with the same sound, vibe and pace in the second track, “Cut My Hair.” It’s a fast paced rhythm but chill and enjoyable with a mellow and positive vibe. The guitar solo halfway through is spot on in this track, and it showcases the musician's talent really well. This song is a bit more emotional than the first track and gives the vocalist more room to show his range.
The song changes pace a bit and the sound transitions to a more calm and laid back style. The song, “Too Late” has a chill acoustic sound that gives the album a nice different change of direction. The vocals also go back to the style of the first song, more in the background and less prominent.
Jenn’s Apartment showcases a good amount of their creativity and their signature sound in this album. They move from a fast-paced rock sound with badass drums and fast guitars to a more mellow acoustic style that always has a folksy, storytelling lyrics that take us through a vivid and interesting journey. The musicians have a clean and consistent sound that makes the album an easy listen.
The Whipjacks is a five-piece alternative/indie band based in Worcester, UK, who have dubbed themselves as a “speed folk’”outfit. They draw inspiration from traditional Celtic and English folk roots, but they also have clear influences from The Dropkick Murphy’s, Flogging Molly and The Levellers. Of course, they’re still a band with a highly unique and original sound.
This is a band hungry for the stage, and they deliver a foot stomping, non-nonsense show that is filled with raw energy and love for the music. 2017 is looking to be a big year for the band, as they continue to strive for further gigs, a larger following and even a second EP later on in the year.
Their four-track EP entitled Scoundrels and Rogues most certainly lives up to expectations. A frantic, chaotic round of drum filler blasts through my headphones and rapidly-strummed banjos (both acoustic and electric) burst into the soundscape. The punchy, fast-paced drumbeat, catchy chord progression and melodic vocals all combine to create a highly addictive sound.
The Whipjacks certainly allow listeners not a moment’s rest. It’s hard to pin them down. They’re a rock band creating tracks with screeching, electrifying guitar solos and yet also the joyous tendencies and emotions of a folk band.
‘My Madness (Molly Murphy)’ opens with a throbbing drum beat, a meaty and low octave bass riff which channels The Whipjacks’ rock passion and a screeching electric guitar riff during the choruses which, musically, channels their folk tendencies. It’s a chaotic combination of rock and folk, but, in much the same way as The Dropkick Murphy’s,
The Whipjacks blend the two genres perfectly. It’s worth noting that the vocals are also very powerful, both in energy and emotion. Harmonizing, dark and intense vocals fill the calmer moments of the track, but this manic five-piece never let the listener recover for long. The insane drum beats, infectious bass hooks and distorted, fuzzy power chords always return for a furious finale.
‘Campfire Song’ is more of a traditional folk piece, though it’s driven by another frantic drum beat laden with filler. Acoustic guitar chords slowly strum in an upbeat chord progression as the vocalist sings joyously of inspiring tales fit for a campfire. The title certainly lives up to its promise. Furious banjo strumming and the occasional twinkle of clean, restrained electric guitar flutters in and out, but an unexpected, crunchy, distorted guitar riff bursts into the track towards the climax, creating a little diversity within the tune.
All in all, I couldn’t believe how much sound was packed into these four short tracks. It’s an album which excites and inspires; the frantic, furious sound certainly won’t bore you.That’s undeniable. Listen for yourself, and you’ll see.
Compton McMurry is a young artist who is just getting his start. He started writing at the age of fifteen in 2014. Using a Macbook, a mic and Garageband he laid down three songs for an EP he called Laughing At Traffic.
McMurry still has a lot to learn as a songwriter but I felt his songs displayed some talent and potential. He plays a little too much into the singer/songwriter genre and his own sound isn’t all that defined at this point. I was very much reminded of Jack Johnson. If you didn’t notice there are already countless artists that sound similar.
Despite some of the more overt influences his delivery is solid. You can hear this on the opening track “Random Words.” Despite the underwhelming production you can tell he has a great voice. The song is also quite catchy. There is just no denying that. The chorus has a classic intimate singer/songwriter vibe when he sings “Ooh baby; Ooh, ooh baby, / Tell me something’s wrong.”
The next track has a similar vibe to the opener. I thought the drums sounded better this time around. The bass also sounded pretty good. There was a lot of low end as the clean acoustic guitar helped. The song is quite catchy, there is no denying that. I thought the vocals harmonies really helped make them sound balanced in the mix.
He closes with “Falling Together” and it is certified singer/songwriter pop. The piano was a nice touch and his vocals sounded really good on this track.
McMurry has all the time in the world to define his sound. At his age I listened to Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins and pretty much wrote songs that sounded exactly like that. My advice would be to think about how he could differentiate himself from such an oversaturated market. I think that would be the next step in his development.
Overall, there is a lot of talent here and is one to keep an eye on.
Andrew Muse is a twenty-three-year-old musician who released a demo entitled The infinite In Words. The recording quality is certainly that of a demo and contains vocals and guitar. The guitar consists mostly of chords. It’s a good thing he has such a soulful, enjoyable voice. I think once he gets in a proper studio his potential could be reached.
He opens with “Some Country Tune.” It’s a solid introduction to his singing style. His vocals carry the song. I liked the first song but thought the second song “Paul n' Linda” worked even better. The guitar picking was light and beautiful but again similar to the first track it's all about the vocals. It has a bit of ’70s folk vibe that worked quite well. The lyrics are also thought provoking .
Muse gets a little experimental on the title track. There are some effects on the guitar and his vocals. Pretty standard reverb and delay but it works. He asks the question, “where do we go from here?” The track spews nostalgia and was a highlight. Up next is “A Stand In The Schoolhouse Doorway” which reverts back to a folk vibe while “Paraded Vices” closes out the album.
The production is varied on this demo. Some of the songs are significantly louder than others. For example the closing track sounds thin and soft compared to some of the other tracks. This is after all a demo.
Muse does have talent and his voice really is quite exceptional on these tracks. I’d like to hear his voice supported by fleshed out songs and better production. Muse is an artist we should definitely be keeping an eye on.
Simon Panneton aka anfan is a guy from Montreal who makes music as a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with that in fact I think most starting musicians should view it like that. Do it for the love of the craft. The focus shouldn't be making a career and being adored by millions of fans. If that does happen it will be a nice surprise rather than an expectation.
Panneton used the DIY standard Garageband on his release little storm and all the instrumentation sounds like virtual instruments. It’s a fairly standard palette of soft synths, electronic percussion and some more odds and ends.
I can’t say Panneton is a naturally gifted vocalist but he gets the job done. He is sometimes a little flat or sharp on the notes. This is a situation where auto-tune may have been beneficial. Panneton opens with “I'm going out with my friends tonight.” The song goes on a bit long and repeats “I'm going out with my friends tonight.” Musically, the song revolves around airy synth and dream-like elements. Overall, a good opener and a song that gets better the more you listen to it.
I have to think the song “Last night I dreamt you almost kissed me” has to be some kind of tip of the hat to “last night i dreamt that somebody loved me” by The Smiths. There are a number of other songs which seemed to be inspired by Morrissey in the lyric department. The song has forward momentum and good beat. On top of that the structure is inventive and dynamic, I thought the song had a good floe
“The circle of your arms” is a seven-minute song. It was another solid track but I still thought it could have benefited from some brevity. As the album progresses the highlights were the melancholy “The fever of your skin against mine” and “The girl who made time stop like it was nothing.”
Overall, the album was enjoyable. Although the could have used some studio polish I thought the singing was heartfelt. The lyrics seemed to echo that as well. The instrumentation didn't blow my mind but worked for the songs and felt like it supported his vocals in a good way.
little storm is far from perfect but has some inspired moments. I’d say as a hobbyist who does this in his spare time that this album is a success.
For the past five years Peter Plank has worked as a live and studio musician in St. Louis, Missouri. He has played guitar and bass for a myriad of artists. He soon got an itch to make his own music which seems quite normal to me. In 2013 he released an EP entitled White Diamonds which contained five songs. Plank followed up with a seven-song LP entitled Never Strangers in 2016.
He collaborated with a couple of other instrumentalists as well as vocalists. The results are very well produced songs with fleshed out instrumentation that is somewhere between alternative and folk. Up first is “Everything Beautiful (18).” The first thing that got my attention were the guitars. I really enjoyed how warm they sounded with just about the perfect amount of reverb. The picking pattern was quite beautiful. The guitars weren’t the only instrument that has a warmth to it. I felt like the whole track had a warm glow. The vocals were delivered well with catchy melodies. Great opener.
Up next is “I Will Hold You” which is another success. The drums really keep the song feeling upbeat. There are orchestral strings on this track but they are used sparingly. The song is also quite dynamic making it that much more engaging.
“Collide” starts off with a female vocalist. However about a minute in the male lead is introduced as well. It is one of the more emotionally resonant songs. There is a nostalgic quality to it and it feels very atmospheric partly due to the fact that there are percussive elements. “All You Need” felt like a pretty straightforward rock song while “Fire” contains a fantastic vocal performance.
“Maybe I’m Wrong” has an intimate singer/songwriter vibe to it. The title track felt like an appropriate closer. It gets more intense as it progresses leading to an epic crescendo.
Never Strangers is a great sounding album with well-written songs. Plank isn’t reinventing the wheel with this style but when the songs sound this good it doesn't matter much.
One could venture to say that there are a lot of cities that could be called “music cities” and by that I mean cities on which any given night you could be pulled into a thousand million different directions as to what show you wanted to go see. I live in Chicago and I have written about the Chicago music scene for long enough to know that you can play a Potbelly’s lunch rush in Lincoln Square for a crowd of strollers and nannies during the day and then play the stage of any number of bars and clubs eight hours later while your first sandwich eating crowd is likely fast asleep.
So given the plethora of places to play, not to mention the top tier talent of all genres and all different levels of national, international, and indie acclaim that rolls through the windy city on a daily basis, you better have some game, especially in a city where weather is so often the deciding factor of many peoples plans.
Yet with the forces of culture and the forces of nature all bearing down on me I would still venture out no matter the circumstances to catch a gig by Chicago alt-country quintet Blue Horse Blue whose second EP Lilies In The Sky finds the band sounding like they’ve been together for decades, sounding tighter than the lid on a jar of pickles.
The folksy opener “All My Suffering” is textbook folk, a crisp and toe-tapping melody. The guitar-mandolin combo does it thing and singer Korin Isotalo vocals fall somewhere between Janis Joplin and Dolly Parton, but also a bit of Joe Strummer in there too. Her voice is scratchy and smoky. It’s an instrument. But the beauty of it is that the rest of the band works with to bring uniqueness to their folk sound. This all culminates in the hard working title track “Lilies in the Sky” and on the Grand Ole Opre-escent “In God's Arms.”
For a band that has only been at work for little more than a year Blue Horse Blue sounds like a band that has been working together for so much longer. Their beautifully blue closing track “Tally Ho” cements it as an album that should be heard by reaches farther than Chicago. With talent like Blue Horse Blue has though here’s hoping the winds of this city carry their sound much farther. It’s a sound that should be heard.
The Favorite Things is a band from Minneapolis that formed in 2014. After a couple of line up changes, band name changes, etc., they teamed up with Jacques Wait to release Coming Clean.
The band is a rock band through and through and to my my ears I thought there was a classic American vibe mixed in with country. My first thoughts were Tom Petty with a bit more distortion. The songs go down really easy and aren’t anything new. They have plenty of hooks and catchy melodies that are memorable and familiar sounding the first time you hear them. The album is about the perfect length at nine songs. In fact the songs themselves are all about three-and-a-half-minutes long. The album goes by quickly.
The production is about perfect. It’s commercially viable and radio ready. The producer did a great job getting the band to sound live yet polished. Up first is “Coming Clean.” The band doesn't give an intro. They get right into it with the whole band rocking out together. Right away you should be able to spot the aforementioned classic American vibe. Suffice it to say if you like this song you will enjoy the others.
As I was listening the word that came to mind was professional. They sounded great and in the pocket. No one in the band seemed to be overpowering the other. As the album progressed you realize how cohesive their sound is. There aren’t any synths or even many effects besides reverb. The band keeps the songs rather simple in terms of their palette.
It’s hard to pick out highlights because all of the songs were well written. I have to say songs like “In The Summer,” “Sunny Day” and “Blow Zero” each have a single-worthy quality to them. You could make the argument that the band is either cohesive or playing it safe. Although the songs have a ubiquitous classic backyard feel to them it's undeniable the band knows exactly what they want to play. Recommended.
Divide and Conquer is dedicated to informing the public about the different types of independent music that is available for your listening pleasure as well as giving the artist a professional critique from a seasoned music geek. We review a wide variety of niche genres like experimental, IDM, electronic, ambient, shoegaze and much more.
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