The Wheelers prove that “DIY” doesn’t have to sound bad. Their recent self-titled album The Wheelers was recorded and produced in a basement and it sounds excellent. The quality sounds very professional and like something you would hear on the radio. They mix a variety of genres like funk, rock and pop. Their music is good, fun, catchy but awfully predictable at times. They rely on typical structures such as verse, chorus verse and guitar solos but never really venture into anything you would consider experimental. The music often has a southern feel to it and could see a band like this opening up for a band like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the audience being mighty happy about it. You hear influences of Lynyrd Skynyrd in songs like “The Crow” which mimics Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song “Free Bird” - I'm talking about the ending where the song speeds up and you get some pretty mean guitar solos. Ten songs deep, The Wheelers debut album is easy and pleasant enough to listen to, if not completely engaging. The songs are good, the songwriting is solid but it just feels like something that has been done before. For instance, the vocals are fine and the songs are sung with conviction but there doesn't seem to be a very recognizable quality about the album that I might remember.
The album opens with a nice tune “Another Day” which is an upbeat number. I was digging the lead guitar which had an extra coat of reverb. The song blurs the line between a country and something you might hear from a jam band. Either way the song feels commercial and they may want to get this one on the airwaves. My personal favorite was “Breeze” which kind of felt like a breeze. The clean guitars strum an infectious melody that lets the banjo-picking float above. I'm not crazy for guitar solos but I have to say the guitarist’s Santana-inspired style of lead was pretty cool. I appreciated the vocal harmonies and anthemic quality of “1904.” On top of being one of the songs that I think would be pretty awesome to see live I thought they were getting some pretty cool sounds on of their instruments. Not to mention that had some cool panning effects that I was enjoying.
There is no doubt that The Wheelers debut album will be enjoyed by space hippies. The Wheelers will undoubtedly be able to catch their attention and have them doing their little hippie dance in no time. While this album doesn't reinvent the wheel it does have some impressive songs that a lot of people will enjoy,
Andrea Davidson’s album is called Inspirit. Just in case you didn't think inspirit wasn't actually a word, its definition is to infuse new life or spirit into; to animate; to encourage; to invigorate. I'm not saying that I would play this six-song collection during my attempt to resurrect the dead, but if Davidson's voice doesn't make me a believer in contemporary female folk acts I don’t know what will.
Her voice is awesome, taunting and confident, empathetic and soulful. She changes her timbre in the same breath, so quickly that it doesn't register until she's already on a new line. She demonstrates this on her opener "Hungry," from her album Inspirit when she teases, "you want peace and love and truth/probably be 100 with that youth." Even if the lyrical content deals with personal wounds–the deceptively cheerful "I'll Love You" is taut with sadness that threatens to burst from the dusty guitar playing, especially when subtle samples of rain are heard – Davidson herself never sounds damaged, but always confident. Even at her most fragile in the rickety "California Rain" you can hear a grit with roots in Davidson's native Kentucky.
Davidson's vocal efforts are backed up by both her talent on the guitar and a collection of talented musicians. Most notably violinist Elmore Denig provides delicate touches that counter Davidson's brass vocals. Percussionist Jason Collum adroitly sets the mood of the songs he's a part of, knowing when to give enough oomph to a composition without the having the song get annoying. It’s a pretty damn fantastic EP. At worst Davidson can sound too Starbucksy, but what does that even mean? This is a finely orchestrated collection of songs fronted by a large-lunged vocalist with a lot to say.
Damn, The Tourist Company just formed up earlier this year and already here is their studio debut Brother, Wake Up, recorded sometime in February by a group of musicians who clearly knew what they were doing. Officially a trio, The Tourist Company often sounds much larger than that. This may be because singer and songwriter Taylor Swindells is a multi-instrumentalist and is often able to bring in other dimensions of sound to the songs (banjo, mandolin, piano, etc.), but besides that, the songs themselves just sound deep, both in terms of production and tone.
The earthy music upholds a strictly folk aesthetic, and on that note the musicians enter some interesting jam territory, like on the end of "Let Me Live." Drummer and percussionist Brenon Parry makes himself very known despite his sounds rarely coming at the forefront of the songs. Often they're soft and even, rattling and rustling beneath the bittersweet duets of Swindells and Jillian Levey. I'd argue that the latter two have the "quintessential modern folk sound" down pat, deep and bassy, with Levey providing counterpoint to Swindells' wounded troubadour persona.
The music doesn't shake things up too much. It is perfectly content to be a companion to your lonely nights with a mug of beer. "Mrs." is escorted for the most part by soft guitar playing and gentle harmonica until the end, when the pitch increases and takes the listener by surprise. It accentuates the mood while also signifying the album is over. I bring this up because this is a recurring motif in Brother, Wake Up, the gentle introduction of the players before they decide to temporarily rock out. The passion of "You Left Us Both" steadily rises throughout the track before it climax's and gives way to soft strumming and lightweight percussion. On the excellent "My Son" banjo and trumpet help bridge the soft vocals to heavier territory involving a noticeable dip in volume that then jumps into a short climax and much more powerful drumming than previously revealed.
The music isn't particularly striking, but The Tourist Company's penchant for tension and release is top-notch and one of the greatest strengths of this album. Recommended primarily for folks who enjoy folk music, but I'd be willing to bet if I played this at a bar during a snowstorm no one would turn it off.
I know when some bands try to channel 90s rock sensibilities into their music, it can sometimes amount to a doorbell ditch prank. It's not often those same sounds kick down the door and take your entire family hostage. Bardo's Bardo is one of the coolest releases I've heard this year, if not for how it sounds than what it represents; some dudes getting together to rock out without all that jazz about "a personal journey" or "self-expression."
It's as simple as a dude on drums and a dude on guitar, which is what Chris Wright and Jonathan Lee Rodriguez are. They share vocal duties, and by that I mean they take turns screaming pissed-off lines like, "I'M THE ANTAGONIST," and, "I AM JUST A PAWN OF THE QUEEN." There's a bunch of influences at work here, dating as far back to the dark guitar chunks of Black Sabbath. More often the music shakes its head furiously at bands like Nirvana, the early works of Rob Zombie, Melvins, obviously, and several punk albums I bought in my youth that hold special meaning to me. You know the ones. Take for instance the opener entitled "The Antagonist" which sounds like a B-side of Nirvana you may have heard in the 90's. The vocals snarl as the guitars growl which forms a heavy dose of early 90's punk inspired grunge. "Ferryman" mixes it up a bit more. The singers vocal range goes from almost relaxed to screaming that reminded me of other contemporaries like Cloud Nothings. One of the highlights is "Out To Sea" which contains some of the best drumming and memorable riffs on the album.
Rock and roll sounds so clean nowadays. Maybe it's the proliferation of mainstream music, maybe it's me being elitist and maybe this Double Big Gulp is stunting my ability to write, but Bardo gives me hope. It’s dirty rock-and-roll, controlled the same way animal tamers whip their beasts. I don't even know what the hell they're saying sometimes and that doesn't matter; guitar and drums over orchestral arrangements with a bunch of "ethnic" instruments any day. In fact, I'm cutting this review short so you can begin listening.
Hearing the opening guitar riff of "Be Mine," the first track on this six-song EP Media Cliff, fills me with rage. It inspires such stark feelings of nostalgia that the fact I can't identify its origins saddens me until my tears are transformed into flames. I want to say it's from an episode of “The Adventures of Pete & Pete” but I'm just not sure.Actually, all six of these songs could fit into a show like “The Adventures of Pete & Pete.” Are there any shows like that anymore? If you're thinking of producing one please enlist The Bee Shells to help you with the score.
This is up-tempo, crunchy garage pop that features a vocalist who sounds a lot like the vocalist for Neon Trees, albeit with a much larger set of balls. The music itself is just fun, mostly sad-eyed romps through simple chord changes and even drumming. The guitar playing has a distinctive twang that tinges the songs with a bit of country, especially in "Scarred" where it casually whines in the background as an acoustic guitar halts the music and waits for the vocalist to start it up again. You also have songs like "I Will Not Lie To You" which are short digestible, catchy song that are not to start humming along with.
The best song is the last, "Smile." "Why won't you smile/I'll give you anything," the song implores over uppity piano playing and the same sunset guitar strumming that works so well for the chilled music. Many of the songs have the same sense of longing for a love that may be too premature to define, but every song, despite starting off softly, finishes strong. The ideas presented could've fallen at any moment, but the musicians are talented enough to know when to reel in their sounds, when to pressurize and when to release. The album never trips over itself, like there aren't any musical errors and everything sounds in place, and in the end you're satisfied with what The Bee Shells offer: the after-hours songs you never recorded.
Sometimes I feel like mentioning where a band's from and sometimes I wonder, "What's the point?" Just in case there is a point, Chyeah Chyeah (if you say it ten times really fast, you're still saying it) is from just outside Seattle and plays simple but tough rock numbers. Their songs sort of remind me of the one kid who couldn't hold his own but would still throw down anyway so that when his opponent left the schoolyard arena with a black eye word got out that you could mess with said kid, but it wouldn't be fun. The compositions aren't complex, but the members are definitely tuned into each other’s strengths.
On their album Feel Good Be Dandy, singer Jeremy White uses his raspy, earnest voice (think of a really distant cousin to The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach) to bolster soft synth lines set up over a brawny rhythm section with sultry guitar lines. No one tries to muscle anyone else out of the way and the five-piece is free to play their own style of deconstructed garage blues. The key to these songs as successes is the bursts of energy the musicians feed into them. The shorter they are, the better in this case, though a long song is hardly a recipe for disaster. "Shark Weak" (I giggled) makes good use of groovy guitar lines with a mid-tempo drum beat the entire song and it anchors the other song's musical aspects. Too long, though, like in "Breathe of Fresh Air," and it becomes apparent Chyeah Chyeah doesn't know how to sustain their ideas.
Then again, their motif of teenage rock doesn't need much sustenance. The synth lines are reminiscent of the key organ playing from bands like the Seeds while the other instruments set up bouncy pop foundations taken from the book of The Rolling Stones and all those 45s collecting dust at the record store. The combination is immensely pleasing, especially when heard through the sunshine guitar work on "L.S.D."
At 12 songs, two of which are bonus tracks, Feel Good Be Dandy is the proper length to help the listener achieve what the album title recommends
Based out of L.A. Hot Karate are three guys from completely different backgrounds (Cyrus Ghahremani produces content for Funny or Die and Vice, Rob Krauss works with video, Adam Subhas is a PHD-level scientist). Their hard rock music combines 80’s inspired lead vocals with heavily distorted guitars, almost as distorted bass and hard hitting drums. There are a couple things to note about their album, Finger Food. The first thing is that Hot Karate likes to jam out on their respective instruments kind of like the band Rush or Yes. Ghahremani often has bass solos that are technically proficient as well as fun to rock to. These songs are fun, unpretentious songs that sound much bigger than three guys. Take for instance the first track on the album entitled “Supermoon.” This epic song is a bit deceiving in that it starts with nothing but airy synths, which have you thinking this may be an ambient album. You realize this is not the case when out of nowhere you hear thunderous toms and distorted guitars. The song literally goes from spacey atmospheres to sounding like Rush in the first two minutes. The song changes a lot in its eight-plus minutes making great music for ADD intensive listeners like myself.
The good times continue on in “Baby Police” as Hot Karate continues to flex their technically proficient muscles. They pack a good amount of rock n roll in this song and I was starting to wish I could hear this band live at this point. (I'm thinking they should call up Spinal Tap and see if they could open for them). “Beefy Boof” is one of the more intense songs as the BPM seems to have been increased some while “Bolillos” they decided to take things down a notch. (I especially loved the German circus section – yeah, just listen to it and you should know what I'm talking about). Both “Japan” and “Blood Sausage” are high octane rages but the album ends with ballad entitled “Diluwar” Clean guitars get dirtier and more distorted before the bands dissipates completely only to end the album with a hypnotic layer of white noise.
The bottom line is that Finger Food is pretty rad and is a no brainer for those of us who were born in the mid-to-late 70’s. The younger generation may be inclined to dismiss this music at first because of the 80’s type vibe but I encourage those listeners to give this a shot and check out Hot Karate.
James Olin Oden’s The Craic is Free is an awesome album that I could see a lot of pretentious hipsters snubbing because it sounds like a mix between Cat Stevens, Gordon Lightfoot, bluegrass, and a heavy dose of traditional Celtic music rather than Grizzly Bear. I say the hell with them. If you can't at least appreciate this music then you don’t have good taste in my opinion. James Olin Oden is a singer/songwriter of Celtic Roots music out of Raleigh, NC. All of his music, whether Celtic or not, or slow or fast, exhibits distinctly danceable rhythms. Oden is a multi-instrumentalist who plays everything from the bodhran to classical guitar and initially formed the Irish Wolfhounds. After their breakup he decided to go it on his own and has produced two albums: Samhain's March: A Winter Journey and The Craic is Free.
The Craic is Free is an album that just makes you feel good and forget your worries. It reminds of me of people frolicking in a field holding jugs of whiskey in their hands and smiling. Although this scene is something you might see at Oktoberfest or at the beginning of Braveheart, if this music was playing I would be perfectly content and enjoying myself in the confines of my bedroom as well. Interestingly enough and related to the positive vibes I was getting from the music Oden says: “The Craic is Free started off as one song that I wrote by that name. The song, though Celtic in theme, is executed with more Appalachian-like rhythms with a similar treatment vocally. It's subject, the Craic, that wonderful spirit of good times found amongst friends sober or otherwise, is the central theme of the music on the album.” While I thoroughly enjoyed the album I have to say it would be a bit much to take in at 16 songs. He decided to cover some traditional tunes as well which were included on the album.
The album's first song “The Craic is Free” is a jovial song full of acoustic guitar, fiddle and subtle percussive elements. His voice is as optimistic as the music and he also does a great job with his female counterpart. “The Travellers Itch” is an instrumental number that certainly sounds Celtic whereas “Bring on the Night/Sidhe Beag Sidhe Mhór” is the slowest and most somber song on the album. The good times roll on with what I would consider is one helluva drinking song called “It Couldn’t Have Been the Whiskey.” I really enjoyed the string work on “Listen Louder” as I heard a mandolin that had some very catchy melodies. “Rare Auld Mountain Dew/Chief O'Neil's Cavalry March” was one of the traditional songs and fell perfectly in line with his own material.
Overall, I really enjoyed this album even though it was a bit long. The next time I'm in a somber mood I know what I’m going to listen to.
William Michael John Carroll goes by the moniker Strong Struggling State. He recorded, produced, mixed and mastered I Heard You Were On Vacation. He’s one of those guys who just has way too much talent. He started recording music in middle school and in 2010 went to the Los Angeles Recording School for Record Engineering and started working at Ocean Way Recording Studios in Hollywood but then he quit. He continued writing and recording his own compositions. Get this – he claims to have made over 1200 compositions since 2003, and 12 albums of songs since 2007 as well as making one song a day throughout 2007-2008. I Heard You Were On Vacation is a collection of songs that he describes as if “Radiohead played in the 60's, was beamed up by multiple UFOs, sent to the future, and reincarnated as the Beach Boys.” Well, after listening I don't really see the Radiohead comparison. Instead I would replace it with an artist like Panda Bear. Carroll does a great job of crossing genres like doo-wop, surf rock with an experimental edge. These songs are pretty fantastic.
They combine soaring Beach Boys type harmonies with often non-standard timing and unique song structure. He typically doesn't stick to verse- chorus type songs instead you get songs that freely dance around. It sounds natural and a lot of it doesn't feel like it is paying homage to the 60’s but instead might have been recorded in the 50’s or 60’s. I felt like I was listening to an Animal's record. It wasn't just his delivery but also the recording as well. Above all else these songs feel careless, free and seem as if Carroll had a blast making them.
Take for instance the first song “Surf Hog,” which sounds like surf rock 101. It’s awesome and has a couple of cool twists and turns that make you take notice. “Hunka Dulce” is a poppy, infectious tune that is a lot of fun. I enjoyed his nonchalant vocal delivery. “Do La” was even catchier than the former. His vocals soar as he moans on “A Little Crooked.” The pace of the instruments is giddy on this one. There are some great percussive elements on “Earth Love” and even better percussion on “Big Fractal Universe.” The album closes with “Darling Sweet” which will throw you for a loop because it is a straight up ambient piece. It is a bit odd in context of the album but I enjoyed the piece.
The fact that Carroll did this all by himself and in like two weeks or something is ridiculous. This album is a fun listen
and I am going to check out his other material right now.
Eddie Tea is a singer/songwriter who records everything with one condenser microphone. Luckily, all of his songs are just acoustic guitar and vocals so it doesn't sound bad. Although I do have to say that I would love for him to take the leap to two mics because I think that might greatly improve the recordings. The majority of his 12 songs on his latest release entitled Other Animals are mostly somber, sometimes dark pieces. You have an occasional upbeat number like “In the Evening Breeze” that fares well. There are solid songs on this recording. Unfortunately, they are overshadowed by the poor production. The dynamics aren't always stable and often sound like a poor mix.
One thing that Tea has going for him is his lyrics. They are occasionally cliché but you can find some good nuggets in them such as “evening again I'll sit back watch the moon and your mouth a gold hairpin and a river and mount ears mimic sound circle round and round like a river and trees” or “climbed so high but not so high out of sight out of mind feet wet soul dry alive heart safe oh I'm happy alone.” In addition to the lyrics his voice is attractive as well. He sort of has this masculine quality that doesn't feel like he’s trying too hard. If he would have pushed his voice a bit more unnaturally in that direction it would have started to sound contrived.
A number of songs stand out on this album. I preferred the soft delicate picking and hushed vocals on “Forgive.” “In The Evening Breeze” was just begging for some form of percussion and a bassist while “Black (Young Giraffe)” has the best guitar work on the album. Some of the best vocal melodies are present on “Dragon's Song (Where a Coracle Came)” especially at the end when he repeats the phrase “where a coracle came our dreams are made.” The album continues with a number of songs that are hit or miss, eventually closing with “Song of The Alien.” Tea decides to get a little adventurous with this track as he adds some delay to his guitar. He also delivers one of the best vocal performances on the album with this track.
Tea has a lot of potential. In fact he even mentions that these songs are demos on his Bandcamp page. Currently, his songwriting is solid but his production could use improvement. I'll keep my eye on this one and see how he develops.
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