Joe Sepe's Back of the Class is so utterly yummy to my ears I can't begin to tell you quickly I would bolt to New York to see him live. He's a psychedelic indie rock experiment gone horribly right. A heavy seasoning of grit and grime are layered on top of top quality performance and musicianship. Sepe is quickly becoming a Hudson Valley sensation with a tour planned for this spring and summer which I guess means I am booking my flight asap. Back of the Class is his first real album and I gotta say it's a very strong statement to launch a career on. The album is done completely by his hands which has made it very personal for him and I personally loved getting sucked up into chaotic void that is his mind.
I really love what Sepe can do with a guitar. If I had to guess I would say he is a learned scholar in many genres and notorious guitarists. He can be grungy, punky or downright hard rock and there's some solid bluegrass in there as well. The album is a full twelve tracks long and within that time you'll get a tour of a few different genres and moods. A good track that seems to encompass all of his favorite things is track five, "Boogies Delight" which is a wicked instrumental track that takes that guitar for a good walk. Every element in his musical setup is legitimate. I really enjoy his percussive elements and samples. There's also some excellent bass tones in there.
I do love what Sepe does with his instruments, but what he does on a vocal level is equally as endearing. His voice is not one that would be considered classically trained but it sure as hell works when he engineers it just so. He keeps his vocals sounding distant and aloof and it all works with the aesthetic of the album. When it comes to lyrics he is a wizard. While the words often take a turn for the dark or deep, they still manage to be catchy and fun. The album is littered with these incredibly cool lyrics stuffed with depth and intent.
So when I say that this album was done all by Sepe, I genuinely mean it. He recorded and produced the whole thing on his lonesome at home. He made an intentional effort to make sure the album didn't sound mastered and it surely doesn't. The music is very raw and often sounds like it was recorded haphazardly in a basement, which again, suits the aesthetic just fine. I actually think his production of the album was for the most part successful. The only gripe I might have is that to trained ears, the electronic elements may take away from what is supposed to sound organic. Other than that, I really appreciate the treatment given to the music. It all worked very well.
I can say with confidence this one is high on my buy list. You'll get lots of bang for your buck and then some. Congratulations to Sepe on a fantastic first album. Here's hoping I can see you in New York soon. The Hudson Valley area is lucky to have you.
Cosmik Cabin is the name of the solo project multi-instrumentalist; Jordan Pickens came up with after his 14-year history of playing in bands. Upon building a home studio, he began to compose, produce and play all the instruments heard on his 2017 debut album Chain of Thoughts. He followed up with a four-song EP that came out this year entitled More Thoughts. Both albums were recorded, mixed and mastered in his studio in Maryland. Each is largely inspired by video game sounds, soundtracks, jazz, psych and post-rock genres with reverberating synths, low beats and multi-layered guitars – so get ready for a cornucopia of sound, I think you’ll like it.
Let’s start with Chain of Thoughts – the opener “Sink Into Space” sounds like one of those songs where it could help you sink into a restful sleep with its pleasant sounding guitars, light touches of the synth and warm bass/drum rhythms. Did I mention that it’s an instrumental, like, no words are sung? (OK – I’m easily geeking out on this album already, and will easily put Pickens’ work in my list of bands I follow). “Lost In A Valley” has many layered sounds and it’s as if Pickens’ head was in a dream-like state when he wrote this one.
“Math Class” has a sort of intellectual ‘school’ feel, as if I could see myself in a classroom, but ugh – not math. (Ok, geometry was fine and I loved logic in college). At any rate, the way in which Pickens arranged the instruments sounds tight and smart. “Bones And Fire” starts off with a prickly sounding guitar and blurpy synths with added bells and soothing keyboard effects both high and low. If you listen closely, there are times when a creaking chair can be heard, especially during the song’s ending. “Danza Rosso” feels mystical and musically; it’s slower for the most part. Not sure what ‘danza rosso’ means but, there is an Italian clothing store called Rosso Danza– just for the record. This one’s got some fantastic spaced-out keyboard effects as well.
“From Here To There” reminded me of an ‘80s soundtrack set around some futuristic romance story – which was pretty much every other movie back then. But hey, good stuff here, no complaints. On “A Smoky Environment” there’s a seductive low beat with echoing keys layered against some sparser piano sounds. The guitar riffs and bass line are equally low and groovy too as the music fades out. Lastly, on “Hazy Dreams” the guitar echoes with effects alongside a simple bass line. Another guitar layers on top and the drums fall in with a unique muffled sound and beat that I liked. A guitar solo comes in later that totally reminded me of Robert Smith’s sound on The Cure’s Disintegration album. Not sure if that was Pickens’ intention – just thought I’d point that out.
Moving on to the EP More Thoughts, which carry on Pickens’ imaginative instrumentation styles, “Real Vision” is very dream like and it sounds to me like he added strings. This one sounds like it would have been a contender for Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds or, it at least taps into something that feels a bit like that, matched up with the newer sounds of today. It cuts off abruptly and switches right in “Fizzy Shifting Drink.” This song has some retro style to it, my guess from the ‘60s and ‘80s and it gets crazy trippy during some parts with its electronic video game, pipe organ and psyched out guitar sounds.
“Shimmer Skin” has some unrecognizable sounds that pop up against piano, a plucky echoing guitar and pipe organ/keys. An interesting rhythm is tapped out on the high-hat cymbal and then cuts off short at the end, too. “A Slight Ripple” is another trippy number with added extra non-instrument sounds that follow a slow and sporadic beat. A little later, an airy arena rock drumbeat comes in and then drops out as futuristic keys take its place. I guess, ‘ripple’ is an apt title for this tune because all the instruments do take on this wavy, rippling sound of coming in and out. In other words, one instrument melts into another.
Musically, More Thoughts is a symphony for the ears. Chain of Thoughts felt this way to me somewhat as well, but, Pickens’ second release seemed to have that extra something – at least when I listened to it the first time. Conceptually, Pickens says his albums come from “a stream of consciousness style of composing” and that’s how he came up with the ‘chain’ title. And yeah, if you’re not into all instrumental music, then Cosmik Cabin is probably not your thing. At times, it was hard to describe Pickens’ music just on the virtue that it is indeed all instrumental music. Be that as it may, Jordan Pickens certainly has this listener plugged in.
Jean-Paul Vest formed Last Charge of the Light Horse in 2004. Since they released four albums and one EP the latest being Race to the Sound. There is no lack of effort here to make an epic, ambitious album. There is quite a lot to take in in terms of production, stye and instrumentation. I definitely had some preferences along the way.
The album gets going with “Where the Winter Ends.” A very subtle percussive beat plays and Vest starts to sing poetic lyrics. Vocally, I felt he sat somewhere between Andrew Bird and Father John Misty with the latter being significantly stronger. The track starts to gain hopeful energy and more vocals. The additional harmonies were sung just fine but felt a little distracting.
“What If” was going for a huge sound. It’s certainly one of the most epic sounds but wasn’t a personal favorite. “This Room” fared better in letting the vocals breathe. I also enjoyed the dynamics, pacing and thought the vocal performance was heartfelt and emotionally resonant.
Up next is “Strange Sat(I)ellite” which was an avant garde song revolving around dark, sleek horns , a David Lynchian type of absurdity and noir. As much I liked the song the foundation for the first four songs was flimsy at best as they were painting contrasting styles, dynamics and genres.
“More” was a pretty straightforward builder that starts off quiet and gets more intense with a number of crescendos. Then you have “You’ve Lost Your Way.” The music is inventive and unique as the band adds to their arsenal of sounds.
The complex timing on “You Are My Raincloud” was ear catching goodness. The hooks are also strong on this song. “Into a Corner” felt like an unnecessary electronic filler while “Five Feet to the Meter” is a percussion free track with exceptional instrumentation especially from what I believe was a clarinet. They close with “Cool Night, Quiet Place” which was a fitting, nostalgic closer.
My only issue with this album is I wanted a little more cohesion amongst the songs. Sometimes having too many tools at your disposal can create this type of disparity which in turn negates any type of signature sound.
Overall, this is still a great album. There were a number of personal standout tracks but I think the highlights are highly subjective because of the contrasting styles. The exceptional talent, skill and work that went into an album like this should be acknowledged. Take a listen.
The Numbers formed in late 2016. They added a fourth member in late 2017 and released their debut EP Origin in early 2018. The melodic sound is created by Landon Atchison (vocals/guitar), J.D. Summerfield (guitar), Patrick Seller (bass) and Michael Little (drums). The band takes its influence from Radiohead, Kings of Leon and Smashing Pumpkins. These tracks are a modern take on an established style in alternative music. The fresh take is great for listeners who are looking to take a chance on the new direction of the alternative rock sound.
“Astral Projection” is the longest track on the album. There are a handful of transitions that carry the song through different moods. Each change in instrumentation and gives the song a new feeling, imitating the process of its title. The instruments all blend into each other to take the listener on a sonic journey through the process of astral projection. It takes a few listens to be sure that each nuance of all the instruments can be heard, and there is more payoff with each listen.
The following track is “Snake Charmer” which is a faster, harder and more driven track. The drums are firing on all cylinders while the guitars wail over each other. Fast single notes from the bass add to the urgency of the song. The dream-like outro is a tasteful surprise to close out a fantastic track.
Origin is a brilliant example of the modern take on classic hard rock. Heavy riffs, loud driving drums, fat bass tones, overdriven solos, concise lyrics, the list goes on. The Numbers also knows how to keep it mellow. The songs can be single plane fast paced shots, or they can be built up from more laid back starting points into over-the-top explosive anthems. The timing and pacing of the album is what gives it the edge. The band can stay in the pocket while the tempo changes from fast to slow on the tracks.
As the layers build, the additions are seamless due to the precise timing that is kept from start to finish. As the song becomes more complex and all layers have been added to the track, the timing is still as diligent as ever. The effort is there, as well as with the composition of some addictive riffs and lead guitar lines. Hypnotic bass grooves and impressive drum work add to the mix to complete the sound that was able to create Origin. This album is a must-hear for fans of more skilled musicianship in current alternative music.
Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Noah Evan Wilson reaches into the timeless classic and contemporary folk/Americana genres on a heartfelt collection of songs entitled Rewild – his first EP to follow up his 2017 single “Lost is Seoul” (which by the way, I recommend you listen to). All songs were written and produced by Wilson in 2014 and deal with memory, truth and as he points out on his Bandcamp site – “the reconciliation of the roles we play in our own narratives with the roles we play in the narratives of others.” Musically, the songs mix up acoustic riffs and a little rock along with lyrical poetry. Wilson is also a member of the New York City based band Origami Crane.
The opening “Rewrites” features plenty of good acoustic sounds with a gentle, rolling beat. A song that weaves a story about memories lost and memories yet to come – “it’s the rewrite I wanna know.” Musically, a few elements remind me of early John Mayer. “Rewilding” has a very interesting arrangement and breaks in the song. Some sounds and beats have this organic, world-beat flavor – like Middle Eastern I would say. Christopher Robin Donaldson accompanies Wilson on this number.
“Ghost Song” has that good, spooky and mythic flavor with twanging guitar that harkens images of tumbleweed across a dry desert. It’s a spoken word poem about questions and concerns in life – “fate is what we stand on” sums up this tune quite well. “Non-fiction” features Isabella Uhl singing backup with Wilson and Donaldson helping out a second time. I really like the line – “another man with a handful of stories / read them all / take them one at a time.” It seems to be a song about figuring out one’s place in life or as Wilson sings – “to see this one through.”
Here’s to the wild narratives that play out in our own lives and to Wilson’s next musical venture.
The Holy Dead began as a solo project by Scott Peter Heaton. He decided to bring other musicians onboard with him, and the band is currently at three members. Jay Nuttall (lead guitar) and Chris Pinder (bass) are joined by a few friends in the studio to record the debut EP The Manchester Session E.P. The project was first conceived in 2015, however the other members weren’t added until only six months before the release of the EP. The position of percussionist is still not officially filled by anyone. Regardless of the line-up of the band, the line-up of tracks on this EP is sure to leave you wanting more.
“Open Letter” is the opening track on the EP. The chorus effect on the guitar complements the harmonica and the acoustic guitar that carry the intro of the song into the first verse in a tasteful manner. Breaks between the choruses and verses for the harmonica to take fills adds a wonderful angle to the track that shows another dimension of the sound of The Holy Dead.
“Paradise is Manchester” is the closing track. The guitar is run through filters and effects to make it sound as if it is an organ that is playing the leading line in the intro. The acoustic guitar carries the lyrics, while the bass takes nuanced grooves throughout the verse and the chorus. The lyrics are delivered with burning honesty. The emotions are sincere, and the track shines because of it.
The Manchester Session is an enjoyable EP that comes off as sincere from the first listen. The laidback nature of it allows the honesty in the lyrics, as well as in the instruments, to fully expose itself to the listener. A Sunday morning listen, or a weeknight evening listen, anytime when the only focus is relaxing and giving up on stress for the day. The different layers of sound make it easy to listen to a few times in a row, just to make sure that everything was heard completely on its own. Without focusing just on one instrument, the songs are still prime for repeat listening, they just flow well. The only people who won’t enjoy this album are the ones who don’t appreciate honesty from the artists they listen to.
Taylor Rusch is apparently trying to be a full-time working actor and recording artist. In all honesty as someone who has worked in the recording industry for over twenty years I couldn't imagine trying to pursue both of these artistic endeavors. I do wish him luck but don’t know how you could expect to get to the top of the class in either field when dividing your time.
Rusch released A Shift is Happening which is a very straightforward pop/alternative album. Rusch doesn't deviate from 4/4, major and minor scales and familiar structure. There weren't any surprises in the least along the way but the songs were catchy and easy to appreciate.
He opens with “Prelude to Change” which is almost all drums and vocals. The drums have that very processed Phil Collins ’80s sound minus the reverb. The song lasts a minute before leading into the next song “Lay Your Weapons Down.” I liked Rusch’s vocals and he is a good singer. However it's very familiar sounding to a lot of other alternative/pop bands. The song has its moments but I can’t say that it really had that hook that made me want to sing along with it.
Up next is “Take a Deep Breath” which has pleasant, hopeful music. It really picks up after the two-minute mark. The verse however goes on perhaps a little too long and similar to the previous song I never felt that elevated hook come in to really grab me.
His vocal delivery sounds more natural on “A Shift is Happening” and benefits him. The song is dynamic with good breakdowns. “Chainless Forever” has a different vibe all together and he returns to the vocal delivery style of the first couple of songs on the seven-minute-plus “A New Age is Dawning.”
I have some practical advice for Rusch on this sound that I hope he takes to heart. His music from this EP leans way more towards pop then resonating with an “indie” audience. That being the case I suggest working on creating hooks and choruses that will reel people in on the first listen. He may want to consider working with a top notch producer to help guide and give critical feedback to really zero in on the songs. On that note the production/recording quality will need a boost to be competitive with commercial releases as well although this is certainly not a demo or lo-fi.
Rusch has ample innate talent and passion. Suffice it to say I was impressed. I think if he dedicates himself to evolving he can take it to the next level. Hopefully, I will hear one of his songs on the radio one day. Godspeed.
Will Francis aka Dolla Bill is a hip-hop artist who recently released Goin' Wit Da Flow. He plays into familiar styles of rap that has been around for decades. On that note the topics also cover common topics you have heard in rap if you have been listening to even the most popular rap artists.
The album opens up with “Busta U - Turn” which is darker kind of gangsta track. It had its moments and has a solid hook. Next up is “On The Cheap.” “On The Cheap” utilizes a variation of the beat used in “The Real Slim Shady” which seems to be some kind of homage to Eminem.
“Old Schoolin’” definitely had a ’90s flavor as well. The beat reminded me of something you would hear on The Chronic. As the album progresses there were a number of songs which felt like highlights such as the title track, “Wish You Were Here” and “Get It Back” which sounded like straight ’80s rap and R&B.
The production is decent but the vocals needed a combination of being recorded differently and more compression in post. His vocals sounded thin and distant compared to commercial rap albums which did give this album a bedroom DIY type feel. There is also a good amount of variation between how the vocals were recorded between songs. I have no idea who produced this album but I think Francis should consider teaming up with a veteran who knows about engineering and has the proper gear to take his songs to the next level.
Francis’ songs definitely have an old school flavor and don’t have much in common with contemporary rap artists like Kendrick Lamar, Run The Jewels and Chance the Rapper. Suffice it to say if you are yearning for a more retro style this is an artist you should check out.
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
Old Man Dana Borrow & Build 3.8
Lead Teddy Throbbers 3.7
Cates Cates 3.6
The Bordellos Debt Sounds 3.3
Betafauna Days EP 3.3
Pastel Goth Light Pollution 3.4
Kidd Bayou Sticky Stars 3.8
Gavin Chappell-Bates The Last One 3.7
The Bahama Investigation Team The Dive Guide 3.5
Fox & Coyote is Ryan Evans (lead vocals/guitar), Jonathan Harms (lead vocals/banjo), Katherine Canon (cello/vocals), Grant Gordon (upright bass/electric bass), and Kenny Befus (drums). The band recently released Scattered Shadows on a Double Bed.
The band plays into folk and rock but their biggest strength is when they dabble in the avant garde which often taps into an absurdist, haunting vibe somewhere between David Lynch and Scott Walker. Take for example “(Don’t Tell Me) There’s Nothing In My Head.” The verse here swells with uncertainty. It’s foggy and painted vivid visual imagery. They launch into the more traditional chorus and I was jolted out of the soundscape they painted for me.
“Blue Marble” is more folk based built on organic strings. The band’s strongest moments are again when they build soundscapes and environments like they do at around the two-minute mark. They don’t really seem to know how to build it out other than going for a more traditional rock sound
“White Spider’ starts off with a Victorian/Tom Waits type of vibe. The cello is the star here although the lyrics were unique and interesting. “Everything’s Just Fine” also has its moments which are the most subdued. This song is also one of the most catchy and dynamic.
“May 18” felt way too chipper and upbeat compared to the foundation they were playing with on the previous songs “A Million Filaments” doesn't have that much success with the straight rocking but does with the last minute of the song which is where they dip into interesting, avant garde textures. The next success is “Gibeon.”
The general sound I was hoping this band stuck to was somewhere between Laughing Stock by Talk Talk, The Drift by Scott Walker and One In Six Children Will Flee in Boats by Frog Eyes. I wanted to forget I was listening to a band and get lost in the environment and there are enough moments here for me to appreciate their album.
I really liked this band and this album. My thoughts are evident and I really hope they submerge themselves into learning how to build off of soundscapes with dynamics and melodies that can make the transitions feel a little more seamless. I’m rooting for them and think this band can be exceptional with a couple of minor adjustments on focus.
That being said there is plenty to appreciate here. This is a band I would start following with this release.
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