Before Clouds is the project of singer/songwriter Brandon Craw (guitar/vocals) with the help of producer Ben Kernion, based in West Los Angeles. Craw describes his sound as a blend of alternative rock and indie folk, Foo Fighters meets Mumford Sons, if you will. Every song on his four-track EP Songs for Janice Holland is built around the words; it’s obvious that Craw is a lyric-driven artist. He describes the instruments as a base “to give life and flow to the words.”
The first track “I Want Oxytocin” had an intricate guitar intro that was soft and pretty. The lyrics were instantly intriguing. It was definitely one of those songs where the entire thing is a metaphor and you find yourself second-guessing the meaning. For anyone that doesn’t know, oxytocin is a hormone released by the pituitary gland that increases during pleasurable activities like kissing and sex and is sometimes known as the “love hormone”- he's not talking about drugs.
Craw’s vocals are rough and a little off key at times, but fitting in the context of his sound. About halfway through the song the guitar became a little too intense for me. The aggressive strumming became distracting and overpowering. But overall I enjoyed the dark edge of the song.
The second track “Row” felt much lighter, even though I again found the guitar a little overpowering. This song had more of a folk feel which fit better with Craw’s vocals. Towards the end, it took more of a rock turn which felt a little confusing to me. “Limbo” was poetic with a sad longing in the lyrics. The final song “Simple Smile” was a perfect ending track. It’s an emotional song that slowly builds into a full-bodied folk/rock anthem. I loved the lyric “So please don’t retract from this hallway, my love. I only called you here so I can tell you that you’re the one I fear.”
Songs for Janice Holland was an interesting EP. I really love Craw’s songwriting although I think the same passion he has for the words should be put into his vocal melodies and instrumental accompaniments. The melodies felt redundant at times and the aggressive guitar strumming became repetitive and overpowering. The guitar started to feel like a crutch. If Craw put the same vulnerability into the instruments as he does with the lyrics, I think he could have something pretty amazing. I look forward to future work.
The Spines originally formed in 1981 - yes, 1981. The original lineup lasted till the late ’80s and was built upon Jon McLeary’s (vocals/guitar) songs. They eventually reformed with a new lineup backing McLeary’s songs consisting of Hannah Fraser (vocals/keyboards/violin/glockenspiel), Les Knight (bass) and Malky Taylor (drums).
Epidural is their latest album which is a no frills rock/folk/blues album. They stick to basics as far as production goes and rely on the songwriting. Up first is “On a Daily Basis” which is a bluesy rock number that introduces you to McLeary’s vocals which could be considered an acquired taste. The song is loose and had a live feel to it.
Up next is “Explore” which combines instrumentation like violin, guitar, bass and drums. The song is a highlight and like the opener has a loose feel to it that was starting to define the band. I thought the lyrics were interpretative. Lines like “I see the house I see you there by the door / I tell myself to be ready for anything / I hear the voice that describes you so well / And feel the roar of the planet's edge” are descriptive inner monologues that are ambiguous in there meaning,
There are more traditional rock songs like “For The Vulture's Sake” and “St June” as well as backroom midnight blues burners like “Rachel” which contains some of the most inspired moments on the album. Some of the standouts was the slow and steady “Sex can Be Sad,, “The Supersane” and “There Goes The View.”
Epidural is an album that draws influence from artists, albums and sounds that were around before the ’80s. There isn't an ounce of modern production or influence for that matter. The album isn't without its faults but was an enjoyable ride from beginning to end. Recommended.
What started as a passion project has quickly grown into something much greater for Lucky Monkey, a quartet that comes from British Columbia, Canada and recently formed in 2016. Their self-titled EP debut Lucky Monkey mixes influences from classic rock and metal and combines them into a modern sound of their own. The band consists of vocalist Cassidy Hritzuk, guitarist Ryan Zeleznik, bassist Dylan Losell and drummer, Josh Evans.
The EP starts off with energized guitars and a straight up beat that has more of a modern rock sound than the hardcore, ear splitting stuff from metal’s golden years. Hritzuk’s vocals come off as clean and bold and have that classic hard rock scream. “Say What You Want” has a low, driving groove and shifts into gear with anthem-like lyrics and crazy, catchy guitar riffs. It has a blues flavor to it as well and would be really great to see live.
“So Far Away” is the slower, darker track among the five songs and features a beautiful intro and Hritzuk’s incredible vocal range. The layering of guitar and vocal tracks was quite excellent on this one, too. From what I could tell, this one was perhaps about a broken love relationship but I’ll let the listeners decide for themselves. The last two songs shift from the hard rock/metal style to something a little more easy going. If I weren’t already familiar with Cassidy’s vocals after a few listens, I’d swear this was a different band. But I don’t mean this in a bad way, in fact, it should prove to listeners that Lucky Monkey is not a one-size-fits-all kind of band.
That being said, I did like “I’m Done With You” because of the bass and drums parts in the beginning and middle; in fact, the bass was hot – meaning it was damn good! “What Are You Waiting For?” had a bluesy, soulful feel and once again showcased Hritzuk’s vocal range that I will confess here, reminded me of a very young Chris Cornell – not quite as raspy or gruff, but the higher range that Cornell was so well known for was there. I’ll be looking forward to hearing what’s next from these guys just north of the border.
Kill Effect was formed in 2007 by Jason Watts (vocals/guitar) but the band completed the lineup with Shawn Lockrey (drums) and Steve Leslie (bass). They released Grit which is a twelve-song hard rock album.
The word “indie” is a hard one to define but it’s a word that can describe a sound. Bands like deerhunter, real estate and big thief have what you would call an “indie” sound. Kill Effect doesn’t have that vibe going on in the least. Their music is unequivocally a little more commercially accessible. It's the kind of music that could be the walk out music for a UFC fighter. Hard FM radio ready rock.
The sound has been done over and over throughout the last maybe fifteen, twenty years. I can’t say Kill Effect is bringing much new to the table with this album. It’s an album that you will most likely know right away if it's your cup of tea or not.
Songs like “Contagious” sound closer to Nickleback style grunge than bands like Alice In Chains, Mudhoney and Soundgarden. Then you have a song like “Adorable (When You Scream)” which has a chorus that sounds closer to ’80s rock.
The band has some success with “Hidden in a Melody” which while broad sounding is catchy and contains some memorable vocal melodies. “Wish You All The Best“ is a little heavier and is on the verge of going into metal at times while “Trigger” has a good amount of attitude that is turned up to ten.
The band ultimately has a sound that is more apt to resonant to a wide demographic. Their music has a certain sound that you should be familiar with unless you have been hiding under a rock.
Stellar Systems is a recording project between Ben Krueger and Blair Hatch. They released Edge of Infinity which is very much a concept album with a narrative. I’m personally on the fence about albums that tell a sequential story for a number of reasons I won't go into. It. That being said Edge of Infinity worked because of a couple of reasons including the top notch production and the solid songwriting.
Their music could be boiled down to atmospheric rock. The guitars are covered in a good amount of reverb and so are other elements for that matter. There weren’t many surprises along the way and no moments that shouted they are onto something that will redefine rock. Of course that would be highly unlikely but at any rate I thought the album was cohesive and used a limited palette of tones and textures which gave the album a cohesive feel.
If you want to know more about the story specifically I would just check out their Bandcamp page and read the synopsis because I won't be going into the details. The story was secondary for me. I have to appreciate the melodies, the delivery and the visceral feeling I got when I listened to it before concentrating on the narrative.
And that was what I got with the first track “The Journey.” I was honestly a little worried upon hearing the atmospheric pads that this journey was going to a little bit too grandiose for me. Luckily, the band doesn’t let the cerebral, ethereal qualities feel overwhelming.
They get back to earth when I hear that good ole sound of humans playing instruments. The lyrics are reflective, lamenting the fact they lost everything but also hopeful about the future. The journey takes off from there with a number of quality songs. Hooks abound on “(We Are) The Scientists” and the melancholy and atmospheric “CHON.”
The songwriting is consistent as the album progresses. “Breathe,” “Mysteries Of This World” and “Build It Strong” were a couple of standouts.
There is no denying this album was a labor of love. The album is thick with detail and does take some effort to get through the thirteen tracks. In the spirit of the narrative I will say it's an album that definitely worth exploring.
I don’t know much about the artist who calls himself sicky. He has played in a number of bands and recently released 24 days which seems to be a complete solo album. Either way 24 days is a slightly off-kilter rock album. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's experimental but sicky isn’t afraid to take some chances.
The album starts off with “Everythings Electric Just Plug Me In” which is a highlight. I liked multiple things about the song but the thing that got me was the layered vocal harmonies. There's a bit of a late ’80s, early ’90s rock vibe going on especially when he sings “let it begin.”
Up next is “Miracle” which is a little more just straight rock.There weren’t too many surprises along the way with catchy verses and a harder hitting chorus. I was a little more intrigued by the beginning of the title track. Something about the initial melody felt like a repetitive mantra and set the pace for a fun, rock song. “Out of My Mind” starts with a prominent beat that will get you moving. I thought the pacing was great especially the way the sheets of distortion come in from the guitar on the chorus.
His vocals were treated differently on “House” at points. It seemed like they were layered with some kind of modulation effect which worked for the song. “Radar” felt like the centerpiece and was the clear standout along with “Everythings Electric Just Plug Me In.” “Radar” starts off sparse with guitar and vocals.
As the song progresses it gets layered with more instrumentation and eventually goes into the most epic chorus on the album. The song is really dynamic as well making the epic moments feel that much more epic. But don't stop there because “I’ll Send You the Dream” and “All In” have some inspired moments as well.
Even though there were a couple of tracks that didn't float my boat I thought the delivery and production was great. 24 days is a solid album that obviously had a lot of work put into it. Take a listen.
Full Safari is an indie rock band based in Los Angeles, California. Their debut EP The Ooze consists of four of the first tracks the band had written together. They are currently working on their first full-length album. Full Safari’s sound has a raw rock n’ roll edge to it while still feeling youthful and fun.
The first track “Just Trying to Breath” had a mellow surf rock vibe that was fun and infectious. The lead vocals were a little off-putting at first but quickly grew on me. There is a punk grittiness about his voice that I really began to enjoy.
The second track “Soup” was slower and light-hearted with a catchy chorus. I loved the high pitched “Oooh oooh oooh”s.” Who doesn't love some perfectly placed "Ooh ooh oohs?” The song went on a little longer than it needed to but I really enjoyed it.
“Stuck in Place” had a more natural sound to the lead vocal and the overall feel of the song was fun. The melody was light and catchy while giving off a gritty rock n’ roll vibe. The final track “Swallower” was my favorite track on the EP. It had a very old-school rock sound with aggressive chord progressions and angry off-kilter lyrics. There was something very raw and genuine about the song that I loved.
Full Safari is a talented indie rock band. Sure, they’re rough around the edges and there may be some kinks to work out, but I really like their imperfections. I’m a big fan of gritty rock n’ roll and I like how The Ooze manages to have four diverse tracks that all sound unique yet maintain the same amount of grit. I think the vocals need to be tamed a bit, but not too much since I think the wildness of them is part of the appeal. I really look forward to future work from Full Safari as they grow and evolve as a band.
Generally when I think of folk rock it’s generally of the kind that is melodic and depressing in exactly the same exact way. I often get on bands’ cases for sounding the same over and over again but then later on when I go to listen to some music it’s always the same things over and over again until I almost can’t stand to hear them anymore. Perhaps that’s saying more about me than it is about the music. Perhaps I’m the one who doesn’t get it. Eh screw that I’m right, I’m always right. The reason is is that its almost like knowing these songs by heart and being able to recall my favorite parts in my head throughout the day. It’s therapeutic in an odd way but it works. On their self-titled debut Dreaming Dingo the New Orleans folk rock trio Dreaming Dingo further cemented this idea of musical therapy in mind. The four folksy, and jazzy tracks on here are laid back and personal. They have a soothing calmness in their nature and made me feel relaxed and also in awe of their collective talents.
Dreaming Dingo consists of the first tracks the band ever laid down together. It is a compilation of sorts fusing songs by singer Xandra Wong, and a song by drummer Max Rea and on which trombonist and vocalist David Ginger also makes his mark. The three together are an acoustic and jazzy folk force and their melodic vocals intertwine like hymnal helixes.
The opening track “Eyes of a Vagabond” is a lo-fi romp of acoustic folk fused with the unmistakable New Orleans jazz trombone which plays perfectly to Wong’s sheer, operatic vocals. It’s an entrancing number that seems rooted in an older style of music; klezmer comes to mind. A soothing piano line picks up the next track “Through the Looking Glass.” Once again the trombone creeps in and out at just the right moments and the pitter patter of drums and brushed cymbals add to the orchestral feel. It should be noted how Wong’s vocals have changed ever so slightly to deepen and become a tad more powerful lending the song the feel of a post war Parisian lounge feel.
Next up is the perfectly placed “Deluge” on which Max Rea makes his vocal debut as Wong and Ginger swoop in at just the right moments to back him up. The lyrics, which echo sentiments of one of the most catastrophic storms in US history are stark and haunting, “and this cities been flooded before but / it’s been drained too,” Rea sings somberly sounding like the second coming of Ryan Adams.
Dreaming Dingo is without question one of the most original takes on the folk genre that I have heard in quite a long time. These three talented musicians are making the kind of music that most of their peers with record contracts could only make in their wildest dreams.
The saying better late than never certainly applies to the band The Przmatics. They ostensibly formed in 2012 and just released their debut album Always Stuck Here In Between which was recorded in about two weeks. As far as I can tell the band might be entirely one man - Mike Przygoda. I can’t confirm or deny this but either way Przygoda is the main songwriter and seems to be responsible for most if not all of the instrumentation.
Before we get into the music I have to say this is essential listening for people raised in Chicago. As a Chicago native this album was thoroughly enjoyable because it “is a concept album exploring loss and hope throughout the neighborhoods of Chicago.” They mention surrounding town and cities by name and I have to admit I got a kick out of it.
Besides the name dropping the songwriting, production and delivery is on point. They reminded me of a ’90s indie rock or alternative band. Up first is the rocking and catchy “Footprints in the Snow” which combines a healthy dose of Americana with a kick of adrenaline. It’s a single worthy opener that doesn't waste time getting to a catchy chorus. They carry that momentum into garage rock worthy “Etc.”
I was pleasantly surprised by the album highlight “I’m Trying” which displays a more emotionally resonant side of the band. The rocking is taken down a couple of notches but is well worth it. The vocals are truly exceptional here and I was reminded of the band Belle and Sebastian and Yo La Tengo.
The album really hits its stride with “Minnesota” which veers a little more towards Elliott Smith-esque melancholy. “My Invitation Must Be” embraces the Americana he displayed on the opening track while the similarities to Elliot Smith became a little more overt to my ears.
“1979” is a Smashing Pumpkins cover. To be honest I wasn't a big fan of the original version. I’m not being hyperbolic that I preferred this version. As the album progresses I was consistently impressed. The last track “The Other Way” is a gorgeous closer.
It’s actually not all that surprising that Always Stuck Here In Between is as good as it is when you look at the bio for Przygoda. He has dedicated his life to making music. On that note you need talent as well. If you combine dedication and hard work with talent you have a recipe that could make something good. In this case I'd say great. Highly recommended.
It was in the summer of 2016 that Freddie Firth decided to start writing songs. Now as far as experience goes that’s almost nil when it comes to this craft. For myself I have over twenty-five years experience of being involved with songwriting and composition but I still remember a couple of my first songs that I wrote when I started at fourteen years old. They weren’t very good but my songs got better and like any other skill will improve the more you work it out. All things considered I think Freddie Firth’s first attempt at writing on his EP I Hate Working With Other People showed potential with some genuinely inventive moments.
The EP sounds like a lo-fi demo. There’s a list of issues but I think the most important thing to note is the vocals sometimes sat on top of the mix. Proper use of compression and automation can help with vocals that might be a little prominent.
Up first is “Daisy Chain” which is a mixed bag of rock. The production was especially rough on this recording but I thought the verse was catchy. “Your Stupid Illusion” fared better in a number of areas including the mix itself and was a highlight. The song is built around piano, drums and a steady stream of white noise. His vocals are dynamic and there were some solid hooks. On top of that the vocals at points feel theatric as if he is in a play.
Firth has some success on “Sustain” as well except he has to be careful about getting off-key with going for some of those higher notes. There are some rocking riffs especially towards the end which impressed me. “Good Thing” has a unique vocal style to say the least. Firth is not afraid to go for it. He closes with “Offswitch!” which is a highly distorted song that shines in the instrumental department.
I Hate Working With Other People is a solid first offering. Firth already has technical skills and that you can tell the songwriting is a work in progress but certainly has some good ideas. He is a young artist you should keep an eye on.
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