Sometimes when I hear the garbage that is on popular radio these days I feel bad, terrible even, for the kids who will grow up thinking that this garbage is music. It seems that with each passing year the mainstream music scene becomes more and more to resemble a factory that shits out unfeeling garbage songs and probably makes a bit of profit all around.
I don’t know why they’d do it otherwise. I mean they can’t really like any of that garbage that they put on the airwaves can they? Anyways I growing up in the ‘80s and coming of age in the ‘90s, it was a pretty decent time for music, even somewhat popular styles, in retrospect, and today the ‘80s and ‘90s music has become the classic rock that the ‘60s and ‘70s once was. True some albums and songs from that epoch have not aged well, nor for that matter have some of these bands now withered looking members.
However the songs and records that have endured and in some cases sound even better today than they did back then continue to inspire many bands working today. One of those bands is the London rockers Black Olives, whose debut album How About recorded in Kent came out in 2003. After some hefty touring through Europe and including playing for the Queens Golden Jubilee and an opening gig for Fratellis, Black Olives continued to put out the occasional single until finally releasing their second record SAIL MY WAVE in 2013 and now have, with the release of their latest record Double Standards released some of their loudest and hardest hitting tracks to date.
Double Standards opens with the upbeat alt-rocker “Electric Face,” coated in tinny guitars with just a hint of blues and backed up by a powerhouse vocals and backup harmonies. If there was ever a song to start off a rock record this is it. And if one would have to follow up such a song “Sacred Karma” provides the perfect transition with its myriad of gritty guitars matched with more psychedelic sounding ones; it reminded me of the latter oeuvre of Supergrass. Later on they take on the soul of the old northern souls The Verve on the mystic rocker “Running Machine” and then downshift to a little bit of a lackadaisical aspect that sounded like some delicious blend of country-era Stones and Dinosaur Jr.
Double Standards isn’t all just balls out rock songs to thrash and bang to though. Take the mellowed out cool of “Sooner or Later,” the mellow, psychedelic rocker “Corner of My Dream” or the two-minute “just for fun” Zeppelin sounding jam session “Cannon Fodder.”
With Double Standards Black Olives prove that the rock music of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s is still viable, that it is still rife with influence and when a talented band is influenced by such eras they too can make amazing, original music that will hopefully go on to inspire future generations.
Michelle Tellez, James Boucree, Riley Powell, Julio Lara and Mike Garcia are Jovias. The band is young in terms of when they formed but also seem pretty young in age when I was checking out their Facebook age. All things considered they are off to a good start with their release Ghosts Of Giants which is a five-song EP. They say their EP “ is a sound of progressive rock, metal, post-rock and alternative.” I’d say I agree with them after taking a listen.
They open with “Giants” which is somewhere between an intro and a song. “Giants” is a builder that initially sounds like an alien spacecraft before the guitar enters into the picture. The song eventually starts to rock out but doesn't really go anywhere. It’s about a minute-and-a-half long and I am not completely sure what the band was trying to accomplish with the track.
The band goes into “Keep It Down” which is the first fleshed out song. Tellez has a dynamic vocal range for rock. You can hear elements of metal, alternative and post-rock right away. They do a good job changing up the energy and making the song dynamic. The band rocks out hard towards the end and I especially enjoyed the lead guitars.
Up next is “Puppets” which starts off with drums and vocals. A combo rarely used but it sounded great to me. Before you know it a smooth bass line and lush guitars come into the picture. The guitars have a good amount of reverb on them and definitely give it a bit of that post-rock flavor. The band gets into straight metal territory on this song. Good stuff and enjoyable juxtaposition that works.
“Satellite Relay” is a heavy song all around no matter what genre they step into. The crescendo towards the end of the song is one of the most inspired moments on the EP. They close with “Just In Time” which is arguably the highlight. The song felt a little more fun and I especially liked the groove the band latches onto in the beginning of the song.
I’d say this band is off to a solid start. This five-song EP could have had a little better production but it still felt like it carved out a foundation for the band. Keep your eyes on them.
Hailing from New York City, White is a rock band comprised of Damien Pratt and Jeannie Fry. Both musicians have been writing music together for fun for years, but recently they decided to start recording their creations and make music a full-time project. Their first EP together as White was released January 1st, 2017 and is entitled ‘83.
The album begins with a lightning-paced techno-esque arpeggiated chord progression that is quickly joined by dueling ambient electric guitars before launching directly into the main sound of the song: a hard-hitting rock anthem. Featuring power chords, pounding percussion and unfettered vocals and vocal harmonies, White pulls no punches in the album’s opener.
“Tuff Luv” follows with a blues-infused rock soundscape, complete with high-reaching vocal harmonies from Pratt that complement Fry’s smooth, yet piercing voice in the short tune. The energy of the album is slightly subdued in the intro of “Just Friends” as Pratt takes lead vocals for the first time on the record and a solitary bass guitar provides the background instrumentation for the duo as they sing. Minimal percussion and chording slowly take form as the song progresses, but overall the song remains quiet and reflective.
Immediately returning to its familiar aggressive feel in “New Prediction” an intriguing blend of pop rock, blues and electronic styles highlights White’s musical agility and ability in what is arguably the best and catchiest song on the entire record.
The album ends with “Too Bad” an initially soft ballad that quickly evolves into a danceable, energy-laden song with a slew of sounds that borders on the verge of chaos while maintaining a solid structure and rhythm. As a whole, ‘83 is an unique product that takes well-established musical ideas and transforms them into novel, enjoyable creations, a testament to White’s musical prowess.
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OK human is the project of a 20-year-old art student who dabbles in fine arts and occasionally instrumental, electronic, ambient music. Located in the hot, bustling, upper-middle class suburbs of the Santa Clarita Valley, the man behind OK human often tells people he hails from L.A. It is a sunny, picturesque place which mirrors the color within his music. He took guitar lessons two years ago but quit and decided to pursue music on an unrestrained basis. It’s a side project to him, but it’s more personal because of that. To OK Human, we wanted to be the sky is an album that was made with the sole purpose of transposing emotions into sound form.
The eight-track release opens with “there’s an ocean in my room.” A piano arpeggio flutters delicately, but at an incredibly rapid speed. The distorted plinks of piano keys echo off into oblivion, reverberating endlessly as a meaty synth blasts into the mix. This is a beautiful, atmosphere experience, yet it’s almost impossible to describe in words. I’d love to capture how perfect the sharp synth notes in the final seconds of the track sounded as they seared through the mix, but instrumental music of this multi-layered quality just has to be heard.
By the time “no body” begins, I’m already well invested in this Radiohead-esque project. The avant-garde, experimental style is very reminiscent of the popular experimental band, though OK human has paved a unique sound. Sonic soundscapes speak a thousand words in themselves. No vocals are needed. A punchy drum beat punctuates the soft synths which tinkle as they fluctuate unpredictably and uncontrollably. It’s dance-worthy, yet soothing; psychedelic and otherworldly, yet grounded and clear.
“obsessions” returns to a restrained, simplistic piano-driven melody. Yet, there are numerous layers and endless depths to this simplicity. OK human specializes in making a gentle, slow and straightforward piano arpeggio resonate deeply within a listener invoking emotions. A sample of a woman talking in a busy, crowded room helps to add noise, clutter and chaos to this thought-provoking track.
“glow’” is a track driven by clean electric guitar chords which reverberate into infinity as an alien synth which sounds almost like a vicious breeze stutters and flickers in the backdrop. Restrained, timid and soothing synths blend ever so gradually into the mix.
This is album is a surprisingly well-polished and professional release for somebody creating music solely as a side project. I think it’s well worth a listen.
Aventurier is a twenty-two-year-old singer/songwriter from Germany. He plays a ubiquitous folk style that we have heard in some iteration since the late ’50s and early ’60s. The songs contain almost all guitar and vocals with some extra ornamental elements. The recording quality is not that of a professional studio and sounds about right for DIY recorded on modest gear.
After spending some time with the EP entitled Roaring Winds I have to say I was more than reminded of the artist The Tallest Man on Earth. There were picking patterns which remind me of specific songs especially from the album The Wild Hunt.
He opens with “Petrichor” which is folk 101. The song is well sung with admirable guitar work. He sings, “There is a rolling stone under an autumn tree / Which used to be his home but now he leaves / Cold skin and raddled clothes; find shelter from the rain / I don't even know if he just faints.” The lyrics going forward land into similar poetic territory
He opens “Merlin's Lost Kingdom” with a steady beat which didn’t even need to be there. It occasionally gets off beat but isn't too egregious. The song itself is pleasant and enjoyable. “Dreaming Astronauts” is a bit of a deviation which does not fall as much into the folk category. He puts some distortion on his guitar and it was arguably the highlight of the batch. ”Above the Ceiling,” “The Night Watch” and “The Sailor” all fall into familiar folk territory.
This is a case of a songwriter who is a good, arguably great guitar player with a decent voice that can write a song but has not found a niche for himself. He needs to be aware of how similar some of these songs sound to songs from The Tallest Man On Earth. There is just no denying that.
At twenty-two he still has all the time in the world to find his voice. Admittedly that's harder and harder these days when anyone with Garageband and a guitar can make a recording. As of right now I’d say he falls into a case of wait and see. I think a little more digging and time may be the impetus he needs to come into his own.
Tarek Virani and Assad Tabet, cousins that grew up learning and playing guitar and bass together, are the duo that comprises Mile Two, a relatively new band with a myriad of stylistic influences. Their debut release Trust EP is a collection Virani and Tabet were involved in a few years ago.
A catchy riff on warbly electric guitars starts the album off in “The End” the first track on the record. As a groovy beat is laid down by percussion and bass guitar, Virani lends his reverb-laced vocals to the soundscape, occasionally layering his voice on top of itself to provide a fuller, stronger sound.
Experimental and ambient elements are more readily apparent in “Stranger,” although the basic structure of a pop rock song is maintained. Returning to a more traditional rock n’ roll format in the following track “100 miles” features staccato power chords, powerful drum beats and mellow singing and lyrics that create an overall calming aura for the song.
“Used to be” highlights Mile Two’s ability to take a catchy, repeated motif - in this case on electric guitar - and build a complete song around it with variety, changes and stylistic choices that never comes close to becoming tedious or repetitive. After opening with a fast-paced bass riff, “Trust” incorporates guitar and percussion into a laid back groove that gradually crescendos into a full-fledged rock anthem by the end of the track.
As the short yet characteristically memorable “Outro” brings the album to a close, listeners are able to reflect on the album as a whole. Trust EP is a mature blend of many complex and interconnected styles that is as approachable as it is enjoyable. Mile Two’s first release will undoubtedly gather a fan base as it proves their talent and skill in making great music.
Quiet Lives by Morning Tourist is a collection of songs written and performed by Sean McKinney out of West London. The set of seven original songs was written over the course of several years and recorded in September of 2016 at Shenley Studios.
While the album overall is mixed with a full range of instruments, the artist intends for the set to be focused on the acoustic performance featuring just McKinney and his guitar. The album opens with the gentle tune “Night Owl.” The song soothes the listener into a relaxed state as the vocals and guitar combine in an almost hypnotic state.
“Alone Games” is slightly more upbeat than the opening song but still has the same gentle feel and folk-like undertone. The pace again is soothing and easy to follow. Beyond the folk influences there is also a retro ’60s feel to the music. This song would easily lend itself to a live performance. “Bajardo” continues this gentle and easy feeling with just enough of a retro feel to put the listener at ease.
The set takes a bit of an interesting detour with “Boomchasers.” This song has a bit of a country or almost bluegrass feel along with the folk influence. It's a song that sounds both familiar and unique if that makes sense. There is a definite tie to retro tunes of the ’60s but in a slightly different way.
“Traffic” was a quirky addition to the album and made me think of The Monkees. It was fun, more upbeat and just a great dance type tune. It also made me think of the old school surf movies where the band plays at a big bonfire in the big show stopping finale. This was by far my favorite song of the collection. “Great Things” continues this retro cool vibe but at a slightly slower pace.
“Rabbit Hole” ends the album with a closing that leaves plenty of room for another album. This subject is a bit darker than the other songs and seems to give a hint of a slightly different feel to the next set of songs. As we get to know the artist this song invites each listener to consider taking another look as they contemplate the adventures down the rabbit hole. This was the only song on the set with roots in the psychedelic.
Overall the album was enjoyable and each song was enough different to leave me wanting to hear more from the artist. I enjoyed the combination of folk with the classic ’60s rock and just a bit of a country feel.
Spotlight People is the debut LP under Cameron Lew’s solo project Ginger Root. Lew, a Huntington Beach native and current film student, molds together a very complete album that ventures through themes of love and wonder. Fans of Jamiroquai, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Ducktails and Vulfpeck will like this one. Ginger Root’s sound is funky, chill and even a bit spacey at times.
Ginger Root bounces between wet, reverberated vocals to lo-fi, megaphone-sounding effects by using a variety of different microphones, including one from the 1950s, according to Lew. The artist complements his voice well on all tracks, as the vocals exude an array of emotions ranging from wonderous nostalgia on the track “Lil Window” to the suave, whispery first verse on “Belleza” where Lew and his friend, Emily Iverson, create the most catchy track on the album through their superb vocal blending.
The instrumentation on Spotlight People is parallel to the diversity of the album as a whole. Lew plays with some entrancing synths on the opening track, “Emulous,” which I imagine playing in the background of a film during a schoolboy’s afternoon daydream. He changes it up on the second track “In My Dreams” in which the Darwin Deez guitar tone could open up an American Pie movie. The drumming on this project is killer. Lew’s friend and fellow Van Stock bandmate Matt Carney does a fantastic job on “In My Dreams” while the artist also invited his Latin music professor, Robert Fernandez, to play the congas on, “Jam_With_Cam.mp3,” which gives the track some bounce.
Spotlight People fittingly plays tribute to discussing an impactful, yet distant, romance in the artist’s life. On, “Emulous,” Lew admits to undergoing change after being involved in some form of relationship that is no longer intact - at least, at the moment it appears so. The reverb-drenched lines, “Some say I would wait dawn till dusk / One day apart is just too much for me,” stand as some of the most impressive and honest lyrics on this album. “You rearranged me,” Lew adds on the same track, suggesting not only an alteration in the artist’s life, but a deeper, more substantial change. A rewiring, if you will.
Lew initially recorded this project as a five-song EP at his home studio, but after realizing he was on a roll, he decided to use this artistic groove to catapult the project into a full LP. He packed his belongings and headed north to his uncle’s house in San Francisco where he set up a DIY studio and gave life to a longtime aspiration of recording outdoors. You can hear some birds in the background of “I Might Just” and it really gives the song some interesting flavor. The “sunny day background” sounds on the track nicely juxtapose the rather dismal lyrics, “I'm just a second thought to you / Just a shadow in your field of view."
“What I was really trying to do was live my fantasy of making music in a far unknown place that's sorta tucked away,” Lew says regarding his trip to San Fran. Ginger Root’s recording circumstances are important to note because the production quality on this album is pretty stellar. All of the recording and mastering was done by Lew himself, but this doesn’t really sound like a DIY project at all.
For a debut album, this is a fun listen. Though Lew plays in a few other OC-based groups, it should be interesting to see what direction the musician moves in with this project. Ginger Root shows promise, while chiller funk seems to be a sound that mainstream artists have been experimenting with nowadays - Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love! and Post Malone’s Stoney both received some critical acclaim for their smooth R&B vibes last year. This project certainly has impressive qualities as well, foreshadowing a promising future for the film student from Huntington Beach.
When I first listened to Mirror Mirror the debut record from Portland based dark wave band The Secret Light I thought to myself “why aren’t more bands doing this nowadays?” By this I mean embracing the dark sounds of ‘80s synth-pop mixed with slightly gothic elements and a bit of the star-studded glam antics that artists from Bowie to Robert Smith and Depeche Mode did.
The conclusion that I came to however was a stone cold one that I guess I had never thought of before because I was so lost in the power of the music. That reason being is that as gaudy and strange as the sounds and costumes which act as the face of this genre are, making this style of music, and making sound as good as The Secret Light does on this record is actually very difficult.
From front to back Mirror Mirror is a classic mirroring of albums by such classic ‘80s synth-pop acts as Depeche Mode and the Cure. The synths and deep cavernous drums hit perfectly beginning with the dark opening track “Circuits Collide” whose bass lines, which in this case make a world of difference in cultivating this sound, are reminiscent of the Joy Division and New Order master craftsman Peter Hook.
Next comes the unmistakably catchy future synth-pop sounding “Clockwork” which sounds like it could have just been dug out of a time capsule that was buried thirty years ago as could the title track “Mirror Mirror” which to me sounds more like Depeche Mode than Depeche Mode does. Yes it’s just that damn good.
Yet it’s not all a gothic fright fest on Mirror Mirror as is proved on the more upbeat brighter synths and more danceable beats of “Endless Loop” though if you were hoping for any sort of uplifting lyricism from singer Viktor Nova, you’re not going to get it.
Anyone looking for a fresh yet authentic take on ‘80s electronica and synth pop that isn’t in the form of a reunion show or the dusting off of an old genre given a new spin then Mirror Mirror is that album. It’s been a long wait but The Secret Light make it well worth it.
Vision Never Dies is the solo project by Avi Blum. Apparently the self-titled EP Vision Never Dies which is under ten minutes in length was years in the making. It’s a complete DIY effort. The production is good. Especially considering the minimum amount of tools that were used. The music falls into the rock/pop category.
Blum opens with “Tell Me Stay” which is a straightforward song that veers towards ’90s alternative. The guitar revolves around a basic chord structure as the drums and bass provide the energy. It’s a fairly catchy song that is predictable and familiar-sounding where you could make comparisons to a myriad of bands.
He follows a verse/chorus/verse structure that even comes with a breakdown and guitar solo. Lyrically Blum also covers familiar territory. He sings ,“Tell me not to go yet, there's so much left to say. The end is not the end, because our cries will light the way.”
Up next is “A Kindred Soul” which is a lot less rock-based. It’s a pop song at the end of the day. and catchier than the opener. The lyrics are a lot heavier than the song feels. He sings, “In heartless acts I see some fact, in nature which has proven me,wrong again, oh I must pretend to not question my mortality, I see,in your eyes...A kindred soul,of ages past. Only now, I see old crimes can be,forgiven.” Some of the best instrumental moments are around the one-minute-mark. The song also changes tempo and lets him unload a long instrumental section.
He closes with “Emerald Eyes” which is the highlight on the EP. It’s hard to pinpoint what I liked about this song but the vocals were well delivered and the subtle orchestral strings also worked. On top of that the song has a number of crescendos that pop. I especially thought the drum fills were well implemented.
I’m not exactly sure why it took him so long to get out these songs but I hope to hear more music pretty soon. The songs felt like an appetizer and went by quickly. Blum has some talent. His voice took a little getting used to and I thought we might have benefited from more out of the box thinking.
Overall, the songwriting is still solid and I found the songs enjoyable. 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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