Abraxis is a band from California that released pink.blue.purple.live. This is a release I’m not sure I would call an album. There really aren't any songs. Let me explain. I remember fifteen years ago being in college and grabbing a couple of beers, smoking some grass and jamming with buddies. That’s essentially what this is. Some of these jams are well past the twenty-minute mark. There are some cool jams but nonetheless these are jams.
The songs seem completely improvised starting with “4th.wall.” All I could really concentrate on was the Led Zeppelin-esque beat which was so much more prominent than the other instruments. Up next is “meta.ghost” which is more or less the same thing. They endlessly noodle away on riffs for better or worse and never really completely lock onto a groove.
In fact all the songs begin to bleed and are almost impossible to distinguish from each other. Truth be told young dudes for the most have been doing this for as long as guitars, drums and bass have been around. In the case I think they are doing to pretty well.
The one thing I got out of this release is that the band has some technical chops and can jam. Can they write a song? I really have no idea. The thing about jamming is it's a lot more fun for the band than the audience and that’s something abraxis needs to be aware of when releasing recorded music.
Overall, I felt like I was listening to a really long rehearsal session due to the jams and recording quality without being able to participate. Although I probably could have by picking up a guitar.
Abraxis has some talent as musicians who can play off the cuff but I’d like to see if they have any skills as songwriters. They are a case of wait and see. I wish them luck.
J M S Harrison is a singer/songwriter based in Melbourne, Australia. Harrison is also the lead singer for the band Old Etiquettes. Traced Out is his second solo album. His sound is a blend of indie and alternative rock with emotional lyrics and laid-back melodies.
Most of the tracks on this album had very similar formulas - gentle strumming guitar, simple vocal melodies and a lot of melancholy. Even so, there was a couple stand out ones to me, like “Retired” which had a soft haunting staccato piano intro that I really liked and “Build Up Nerve” which started with more of a darker rock edge but quickly fell back into the mellow vibe. I liked the tracks that had something distinctive about them, but there were only a few.
I did however enjoy the final track “Make It Back.” Although it was the slowest and most brooding track of the album, it had the most heart. The guitar melody was more complex than previous tracks and the vocals sounded more sincere and heartfelt. There was definitely something different about this one that struck me.
Traced Out shows a lot of promise. Harrison definitely has the sad emo indie vibe down which can become formulaic. However, when there's some diversity to his arrangements and sound, it becomes quite enjoyable. I think expanding on the distinct characteristics of the tracks that stand out would be a great start to branching out and experimenting a bit with his sound. I’ll look forward to his evolution as an artist.
We exist in a time when technology has made nearly everything in our lives somewhat easier. Downtown the other day I saw a homeless guy with a cellular phone. He didn’t have a place to live but he had a phone. Technology has made music easier than ever to make too. I mean it has been easier to make for quite a long time now with computers and software. Now everyone who has a little bit of know how and enough time and ambition can learn to make whatever music they want to.
This practice of DIY or bedroom recording as it is known sometimes is nothing new. Bands have been recording independently on four tracks and through old boom boxes for decades. They didn’t have the polish then that they do now though, with computers, so that’s where some criticism needs to come into play before just offering up accolades to anyone who is savvy enough to make computer generated music.
Calgary, Alberta solo artist who goes under the moniker Solus, and whose first offering into the music world is the bedroom recorded, instrumental and middle-eastern focused hard rock record Satya Yuga, recorded the entire record himself in his bedroom, using a guitar, a bass, and computer generated tools for the rest of the filler, i.e. drums, synths, sound shaping etc.
The record consists of eight tracks which are for the most part on the longer side of the spectrum, time wise. They are essentially jam-band formulas infused with hard rock guitar and bass and beats that are that are likely the same found on the tracks which middle-aged soccer moms listen to while doing their daily routine of yoga.
Though many, if not all the tracks are long and generally repetitive, one thing that remains certain is Solus’s ability to play the bass and guitar like a seasoned hard rock veteran. It is essentially then a record which like those fans of Jeff Beck and Steve Vai will enjoy. It is a worthy first attempt though I think Solus’s talents would be better suited to having more tangible players on his next record.
Having played guitar in previous bands on both the west coast and east coast, the one- man band named Serious Monkey, (aka Pete Horn), released its first full length album Programming Your Nuclear Family last April. Having relocated to Bloomington, Indiana, Horn’s work on this darkly themed, tongue-in-cheek album blends sounds from alternative, ‘90s, acoustic and rock genres. Briefly describing the mix of styles, Horn states its “funk rubbed with optimism and salad on the side.” There are indeed some dark themes in a number of Horn’s songs and fortunately for those who love reading the words of a songwriter (like me), he posted his lyrics on Serious Monkey’s Bandcamp site for your interpretive analysis, if you wish to dig deeper.
On the opener “Animal” and later the track “Tunnels” there is some impressive screeching guitar distortion that will remind the listener of ‘90s grunge, like say a cross between Pearl Jam, Meat Puppets and the Smashing Pumpkins. That’s if they’re familiar with these bands. “Trolley Song for the Sun God” has more of an acoustic alternative vibe. Synths are added here and the song is marked with cynical lyrics that reminds me of what Morrissey would have written with the Smiths. Heck, he’s still cynical stuff. “Song 61 (V’s Song)” is the first of a few favorites from this album, simply because it’s an instrumental. It features a fast driving, funky beat, dedicated to that person known only as ‘V.” It gets a little quieter later and then heads back into a frenzied rush of rock. The ending departs nicely away from the beginning tempo, which kept me engaged.
“Landfill” is another song I really enjoyed. There was something fresh about it that I liked and it has some seriously powerful lyrics about homelessness and the more important matters in life. “Algorithm” is a word some of us have been hearing quite often these days in our tech filled world. I am not sure what the lyrics to this song are about, but musically this number offers funky pop with some slapping bass and wa-wa guitar effects – a little Dave Matthews influence can be heard hear I think, minus the violin and/or horn section.
“The Builder” presents the listener with a moody piano and even moodier lyrics. Thunderous drums and theatrical synths, along with wailing guitar adds to the song’s emotion. With more metal distortion and a heavier sound overall, this might make an excellent Metallica song.
“Lions & Clowns” has a fast ticking drum beat that gets louder and louder as the song progresses. This song has a dark sound to it as well and it was hard to decipher just what Horn was singing about, so let this one simmer for a while. “Entropy” almost left me speechless. I took the lyrics to be as an anguished cry of loss that left a lump in my throat – sometimes the best art is the art that makes us sad. The melody that Horn belts out both vocally and musically enhances his songwriting style. “Song 62” is another instrumental that is lead by the bass guitar and drums mostly. Synths and distorted guitar join in later rounding out the song. After hearing this one, I couldn’t decide which instrumental I liked better.
“Yellow Snow” doesn’t explicitly go into any detail about peeing in the snow, rather, this happy little ditty I believe, is about the tender sweet moments when you were a kid playing out in the snow with your buddies or god forbid, that awful creepy girl who lived across the street from you, who you later discovered you had feelings for. Piano, a little whistling and a shaker can be heard here – a heart warming song to end the album with.
Jon Nelson aka Lawnmower Songs is an artist from Portland who actually sounds very much like he is from Portland on his release Our Monster EP. The EP contains five songs but two very distinct styles. You can hear very overt influence from different artists. The first and most obvious being Elliott Smith. There are three songs on this EP which sound clearly influenced by Smith. “The Next Big Sound” sounds like it could be an Elliott Smith B-side. The song is pleasant and well written but the vocal inflection is so similar to Smith it’s undeniable.
The other two songs “Government Van” and “Coming Home” also have a Smith-esque type of melancholy but it is less overt. There is some solid guitar on “Government Van” which gives it a nostalgic, coming of age vibe. “Coming Home” is a melancholy, acoustic ballad that has its moments.
The other two songs “Going Back To Portland” and “Bass Strait” really sound like a completely different artist. The vocal delivery has a different approach and the emotional appeal plays into a loose, carefree indie rock vibe.
The fact that Nelson sounds like a different singer tells me he hasn’t really found his own voice yet. In fact you can say the same thing about his sound which is really the important thing to take note of.
Nelson has some chops as a songwriter which is really his best asset right now but based on this EP he is struggling to find a distinct sound. I hear a lot of influence but not too much of a signature feel where I could recognize his style if you played me one of his songs that I haven’t heard of before. I think he is going to have to cast influence aside while in the songwriting process to start to find a more solid foundation.
Nelson is a case of wait and see. He has the fundamentals down which is good but the much harder step of becoming a singular artist is a hurdle he still has to pass. I wish him luck and hope to hear more soon.
The World Palestine is a one-man act of Les Easterby from Wichita, Kansas. He’s been making music since 2003 and does do live performances where several others are brought in on the act. He recently released the four-track EP Dik Dik Sounds which has an interesting mixture of experimental sounds and techniques. For me it fell somewhere between alt, grunge and psych.
Let me dig in with track one “This is a Bill.” This is a moody and grungy song, almost a bit too much of a bummer. The first thing I noticed after listening to it was that the song felt longer than four minutes. I think it could have afforded to be edited down a bit. There were too many moments where the song just hung in the air.
“Ono” was up next and was a completely different experience. This song had a more pop grunge vibe to it, while maintaining its edge. The vocals were also vastly improved here. This song was definitely not as experimental as the others, but ended up being my favorite. Number three is “No Nay” which had its moments. The risks taken with the vocals and time signature were questionable. The last track is “Wow” which as interesting as this one is didn’t really stand out me as much as "Ono"
I think one of the issues I had with this album was the audio production. The recording of the album was a head to toe DIY project. Easterby acknowledged that he had paid for high end mastering and found that auto mastering through Landr.com was better and a more economical option. Here’s the thing, it sounded to me like there was a lot going on the music and I couldn’t process it all because it sounded like it was wrapped in tight cling wrap struggling to get out. I often struggled to hear lyrics and strained for instrument performances as well. It felt like the music got a one size fits all treatment and considering how experimental the album is, I don’t think that was the best decision.
I appreciate experimentation and there were things I wanted to hear more of of all the ideas packed into these tracks. Part of me feels like if you break apart the different performance layers of these songs, there’s whole other tracks that could be made from just half of the material. Again, there was a sense that things needed to be edited down.
I wish Easterby luck. I am very curious about his live performances and intend to keep him in mind should I ever be in Wichita.
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If you adore rich ambient soundscapes and other types of atmospheric music like I do, then I recommend you check out Passage, the very short two-song EP from the Finnish trio Slowrun. Mixed and mastered at Ragged Sound Studios, this brief collection is available for free downloads and this newest release is a departure from Slowrun’s first full-length albums: 2015’s Resonance and 2013’s Prologue. Founded in 2011 and describing their style as post-rock, Slowrun wanted to distance themselves this time around on their venture from their previous work.
“Adrift” starts off with a bass line that eerily reminds me of the television show Twin Peaks – it has this cool, refreshing energy, just one of the things I love about ambient music. The song progresses with a slow build up and then a bit later, the drums and guitars come in more giving the spacious gorgeousness a slow drive.
In my opinion. This kind of music should not only be heard, but experienced – in other words, listen with headphones on. The song quiets down after the midway mark and then builds up again into an explosive furious sound, ending with an abrupt crescendo.
“Wake” features a droning, dream-like synth and echoing guitar leading the melody. Drums cobble together a slow beat and then the guitar reverberates an ongoing distortion of sound. Another synth comes in later with a low, muddy feel.
After a while, I caught myself asking is this a trio or a full orchestra making all this beautiful magic happen? If you’re familiar with radio shows, Echoes or better yet, Hearts of Space, this band from Finland should remind you of the kind of stuff these programs play. Slowrun will not disappoint those who want to experience the imaginative sounds of post-rock and ambient soundscape genres. Enjoy the ride.
SuperSymmetric is an electronic duo based in Melbourne, Australia consisting of two music producers with a love of dark intense music with a whole lot of synths. Their EP Dawn features four tracks full of deep beats and angsty vocals.
The album started with “In Transit” which quickly enveloped me in a trippy sort of haze. I am a fan of synth-pop, but I must be out of practice because I forgot how disorientating good synth-pop can be. And this is definitely good synth-pop. There is an underlying dark edge and modern alternative rock style vocal melodies which is a really interesting combination.
The title track “Dawn” was more upbeat, but the darkness was definitely still there. I loved the different combination of distortions on the vocals and the multidimensional feel of the synths. “Collider” had a different feel than the first two tracks with more of a slow building beat that upped the intensity level even more. It almost felt a little menacing in a really good way.
The final track “Paradox” had a little bit of a dance-y pop quality about it. The synths were still incredibly concentrated and rich which helped add to the signature intensity that I was now used to. The vocals as usual were dark and brooding thick with misery and desperation.
SuperSymmetric has a unique take on synthpop, adding a layer of darkness that is usually lacking in upbeat dance techno music. The intensity is palpable; its present with every beat. Dawn was an entertaining EP and I look forward to future evolution and work.
B.W. Johnson is an artist from London who has had a slew of recent releases. One of his latest is Moon #46 which combines multiple genres like folk, rock and more.
The EP opens with “Who You Are” where there is this really well-done collage sequence. He implements everything from a Conor Oberst vocal sample and someone aggressively singing the theme from Cheers. His guitar fades in and he starts singing. I was kind of baffled just how lo-fi the recording was on this song in particular. However I think it was done on purpose but it sounded similar to days of recording with an eight-dollar tape deck. It’s a good song but it was a little hard to completely enjoy because of the recording quality
The recording quality takes a huge boost on “Who You Will Be” which is a clear highlight. It contains drums, organ, bass and vocals, and hits upon a melancholy, blues/rock vibe that hits the bullseye. I also really enjoyed “Who You Used To Be.” The a cappella gospel beginning is especially good. The song is built on a popular chord structure that still works. I found myself enjoying the song very much towards the end where it's mostly vocals and drums. The haunting, gospel vibe sounds good on Johnson.
“Black River In A Drought” is a song that mixes Mississippi blues and free form jazz. There are a number of inspired moments here but the recording quality seemed to take a little dip. “Empty House” contains some banjo and melancholy while “What We Want” has a good amount of fuzz bass and what sounds like almost improvised vocal sections.
Then we get to “Shake” which is a sixteen-minute song where more than a couple of those minutes are dedicated to silence. The song is built on strings and builds upon some of the most uplifting and hopeful moments on the album.
I think at some point Johnson needs to work with a mastering engineer to help unify the sonic imprint of his songs on release. It would make the experience a little more cohesive and seamless.
There is quite a bit to enjoy here. Johnson who is only nineteen is a very skilled songwriter with a lot of talent. I’m sure we will be hearing more soon.
It always makes my day when talent comes from my neck of the woods here in Chicago. Jabbar was raised in Chicago and now resides in Brooklyn, New York. Jabbar’s love for a bustling metropolis is easy to hear in his new instrumental album Matters of the Mind. Jabbar began his musical career as a rapper and in that process found that being one’s own producer helps stretch a budget. He has collaborated on several projects of different media types and has a flare for being socially conscious. This album is a representation of internalized struggle that is very personal and did manage to resonate with me.
Jabbar expressed that by producing this album was a means of toppling personal struggles. He also said he stopped listening to hip hop altogether and pooled inspiration from more notable lo-fi artists. While he may not have had hip hop be a factor, I can’t help but feel he has a high-level education in the genre and snuck in some of hip hop’s best elements into this collection of work. The music is industrial and deconstructed, however it’s not entirely cold or mechanical.
There’s a cerebral quality to it that makes it sound moody, twisted and complicated. There’s a lot of narrative being told without words. I can feel these struggles within the different ways he’ll construct tracks. Some are slow burns which feel like slow crawls to the surface, other tracks are bit lighter in nature and you can tell these are periods of hope and productivity. The track arrangement illustrates cycles of wins and defeats and that’s part of what makes the album so accessible for me
I would say the majority of the sounds and samples utilized are deconstructed. There are some nice touches like vocals from Nina Simone which are lovely. Jabbar also artfully placed string elements which give the album an added touch of organic life. These organic elements are used sparingly which gives them a bigger impact. As a composer I would say Jabbar is pretty experimental, unafraid to flip a track around, turn it inside out and go in a completely different direction. Even with his play on time signatures and mood, there’s a common thread keeping everything stitched together. I would say almost all of the chances he took paid off considering there was always something that surprised me.
Matters of the Mind was recorded in Brooklyn and then mixed and mastered by L10mixedit at Classick Studios in Chicago. The album is noticeably polished, top tier professional work was done here. All the songs have a profound level of depth, again he was telling heartfelt stories with no words and I could hear him loud and clear.
This is a great album designed for introspection. It builds an immersive atmosphere that is grounded in a very attainable reality. You’re not going on a space adventure or battling an army of fictional creatures. With this album you’re going to address everything that’s in front of you, it’s a very adult theme and I respect it.
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