Moonshiner Collective isn't just a snazzy name. It’s called a collective because Dan Curico, the foundation behind the project, created a revolving door of creative musicians who provide the music for Curcio to sing over. Curcio was living in a yurt (a circular domed dwelling structure) in Cayucos, California where he and a number of musicians sang, drank whiskey and looked at the majestic nature surrounding them. As the days passed he decided to give the project a name and eventually released Let Go, which is a beautiful collection of songs that sound as pure as the process.
This bohemian concept for the music works because of the heartfelt vocal delivery of Curico (his voice sounds like Eddie Vedder at points but it never sounds exaggerated like so many artists have done in the past) and warm organic instrumentation that surrounds.
Let Go is a girthy album at 14 tracks that has so many well-written songs it really doesn't feel like an arduous process. The first few seconds of the title track are a bit misleading as I thought I might be listening to an electronic album but it quickly mutates into an upbeat song that bursts with optimism and revival. The pop-oriented title track is a good number but I enjoyed the rustic “Autumness” even more. This track contains elements of folk and bluegrass as well as some of the best whistling this side of Georgia. The track hits its high point when the vocal harmonies are introduced to the song. Don’t be fooled, as this album isn't just full of whimsical good vibes for living off the land. “The Auction” is an emotionally heavy song grounded in melancholy. It isn't just his voice but the piano accompaniment that creates the mood.
Perhaps what is most surprising about Let Go is that the album sounds cohesive. Don't get me wrong - there is a nice variety of sounds and instrumentation but it all is built upon a foundation of community with Curico’s voice at the helm. Do yourself a favor and if you can't make it out to their outdoor gatherings do the next best thing and give this album a spin.
Man, Christopher Bell loves his vocal overdubs. I think 90 percent of the tracks open with really pleasant, slightly offbeat harmonies (all Bell's voice, I'm assuming), usually accompanied by rhythmic tapping or handclapping. One of the tags used to describe Sirens, ten songs of delightful folk pop, is quirky, and this is like the fourth rewrite of this review because I kept using that word to describe the music.
Christopher Bell is a cellist and something of an eccentric. After all, canoeing the Erie Canal and biking from New York to Illinois while touring isn't something you hear about every day. This subtly translates into the music, primarily through the vocal loops, yes, which give the songs a slightly psychedelic, ethereal quality, but also in the playful rhythms Bell employs. "You Are An Atom" uses lovely percussion with whimsical string sound effects (there's a harp-sounding bit that makes me think of birds fluttering their wings), and "In the Morning" follows suit with some fun hand-clapping and barbershop-like vocalization.
The songs, while firmly grounded in indie pop, display a wide variety of influence. "This Road" features some slick beatboxing with syrupy string plucks, and I can't think of more appropriate music to deliver rhymes like "birds and hilltops flutter past / as the engine hums hot and fast." "I Pray" puts Bell's cello skills at the forefront; mournful moans, shady flutes and Bell himself concoct a jazz number that sounds as crisp as a walk on leaves. The finale, "One More Step," is a campfire sing-along that could've been lifted directly from Fun's song catalog. It's a bit heady; at first the vocal harmonies and percussion sounds the same across the board, but then you start noticing the album's nuances, like the ones I've already pointed out, and you think, "Damn, Bell has this on lock."
Crisp production and engaging musical ideas make this album worth checking out, but the wild card is Bell's voice itself. It's not offensive or necessarily bad but it doesn't seem to work with the rest of the music. It has little range, and though youthful, also has trouble conveying some of the emotion the songs need to hit harder. Still, good ideas abound on Sirens, which, at the end of the day, is an album that shows a man exploring not only what he can offer the musical world, but also what the musical world can offer him.
What I really love most about the up-and-coming band Faux is just how down-to-earth these guys seem to be. Products of other bands and projects, they came together originally as part of a side project by the lead singer, but eventually expanded to create a full time sound. All throughout this album entitled Hold This Thought While I Lose My Head, your ears are entertained with guitars that are sometimes dirty, sometimes impressively fast, all technical; surprisingly pop-inspired vocals that range from hoarse whispers to high yells to smooth mids; and drums that not only keep the pace going but add exclamations at just the right places.
Some songs are more energetic sounding. “Arrows” kicks the album off almost immediately, featuring catchy riffs and drawing your interest quickly. Don’t let “Special” fool you; it starts quietly then kicks in with a sound reminiscent of Chevelle. The vocals on this song are grittier than many others featured on the album. “Imaginary Friend” makes great use of electronic sounding elements with a hard hitting rock beat. Featuring an impressive outro, this is the song that would open a mosh pit up anywhere, even in your own living room. Similarly, “Gasoline” has a beat that sounds much like how your car feels when you hit the gas. The drums are consistent and punctuating in this song. The vocals show versatility, hitting higher, more raw notes.
In contrast, other songs are more emotional and smooth, such as “Shining Again.” The vocals really shine on “Wrong Stops & Politics” using an overlapping technique to add depth to the song. The acoustic guitar work is also a nice touch here.
Finally, the album features songs that are interesting and creative, that captures your attention at different points. “Sweet Nothings” has a cool, intriguing beat that reveals itself most in the chorus. It defies the conventions of a 4/4 time signature, maintaining the same count but alternating chords differently than expected. It provides a nice punch. “I’m Not What You Need” really captures the alternative vibe, making full use of a persistent high tone and a thumping low end. The midrange vocals provide the perfect balance and the use of pauses serves to emphasize the rhythm even more.
“Anesthesia” is truly the culmination of the album as a whole. The vocalist sings faster, which was a pleasant surprise based on the techniques used earlier. The guitar is also incredibly strong, with the strumming matching the faster pace of the vocals. The rest of the song is reflective and supportive; the drums are not present, replaced by a more prominent bass line. It ends the album on a consistent, even note.
You can hear the time, effort, attention and care that went into this album – it’s the sort of music that makes you want to support the band so you can see what they’re going to come up with next. Hold This Thought While I Lose My Head is fun, reflective and refreshing, and is a great debut effort by a very talented band.
Caleb Jacobson is a singer/songwriter from Madison, WI who just released an EP entitled Bend. According to Jacobson, “The album is a story from start to finish. It speaks of my personal life and what I believe about God.” While this could be a subject that some may find unappealing Jacobson never sounds preachy throughout the album.
Instead his convictions feel heartfelt and are based on personal experiences within his life. When Jacobson initially started working on Bend he realized that in order to get the sound he wanted he would need to start doing some recruiting. He assembled quite an ensemble which include Christian Mcarthur (drums), Christian Harger (bass), William Dernell (electric guitar) Jonathan Olson (acoustic guitar) and Evan Sieling who played a little bit of everything. Jacobson is a good songwriter and even though the overall sound isn't really my cup of tea you can't help but appreciate the craftsmanship as well as the quality recordings.
The album starts with guitar picking and Jacobson’s voice on the title track “Bend.” It’s a track of nostalgic melancholy that morphs in a triumphant solace. It’s easy to go overboard with this formula where it’s just too much and sounds too grandiose but luckily Jacobson doesn't over do it. The second song “Be Thou My Vision (Be My Eyes)” is more of an upbeat song you might hear at Sunday Worship. I enjoyed the subtle organ, solid guitar work and booming chorus. “Go & Tell” is the song most likely to find airtime in my opinion. It sounds like it could be played on a pop station that spins the commercial hits. The album ends with “Bend (reprise)” which takes the same guitar riff he started with but this time around smothers his voice in reverb as he sings “Hallelujah.”
This music fits a certain niche and is not for everyone. Sometimes the musical ideas seem a bit rehashed from similar types of bands but overall Jacobson’s songwriting and passion are strong enough for the songs to have an effect even if you aren't into the whole god thing.
Maldi Kellici and Jason Differ are The Off Chance and I can't but help but wonder if their name was picked based on how they met. Back in 2004 they met after playing a show in two separate bands. Sometime later Differ was asked to join Kellici’s band. That band broke up and they were left at crossroads and decided to keep pursuing their musical endeavors. They recently released an EP entitled Change, which is pop/rock music clearly built for a ubiquitous audience and commercial appeal. These songs follow a similar formula to rock songs you hear on the radio and would easily fit into rotation on your local FM station. The songs will not crack an audience of indie hipsters who need a heavy dose of Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear or any other Pitchfork-approved band but will rely on audiences who are prone to listen to “the hits.”
The music itself is well-written and no matter what type of music you enjoy it is evident that these two know how to construct a song. Each one of their songs displays talent when it comes to composition and structure. There are plenty of dynamics, hooks and surplus of sounds to keep you engaged. One other thing I enjoyed about the EP is the production. So many bands don't put enough time and effort into this aspect and this is obviously not the case here.If you are looking for what a refined, polished EP sounds like then Change is a shining example.
The EP starts off with a solid pop song called “What You Wanted.” It’s a straightforward song that has a triumphant sing-alongy type chorus that will get stuck in your head whether you like it or not. The title track “Change” is one of the highlights of the album that has a good amount of soul spewing from the song. “Helpless” is the closer of the album which relies on acoustic guitars and a softer side that embraces an emotional center.
The Off Chance created a solid EP that showcases songs that are easily digestible and commercially viable. The songs aren't so formulaic that I was cringing but also have a “sound” that seems almost too recognizable amongst popular pop acts. Overall, the album delivers a nice batch songs that you should check out.
"There goes my mind / in and out of dreams like the tides / searching up and down the sides of the coastline" croons Luke Wilson on Dreams' opener "Drowsiness." He has a startling voice, somewhere between resignation and tranquil fear. I'm on board with it, but I'm also curious to see if he can sustain the mood he establishes on this narrative album about a man and a dream-eating beast. Guitar strings cascade down the track and Wilson's singing becomes noticeably stronger until he drops everything at the end, "in the deep," and the song ends with about as impersonal a strum as one can manage.
Dreams is 14 tracks long, interspersed by smaller sound collages called "N Cycles" (structurally this is similar to artists such as Catherine Ribeiro and Mark Fry, who also broke up their albums with soft noise). The N Cycles are curious interruptions that have the probably intended effect of accentuating the true tracks, and certainly they add to the overall narrative; to seduce the dreamer the beast manifests itself as a woman. After the second track, “N Cycles 1,” we hear "Chasing a Ghost" which uses a soft guitar melody with a simple bass line to bolster the boy-girl duet: "She lives in my mind / she lives in my heart (Wilson) / Reality will tear us apart (Amélie Duval, or Rosie Moore, he had them labeled as Woman and Seductress respectively)."
Wilson says he deliberately changed up the musical stylings to denote when the man is awake (acoustic guitar and vocals) and asleep (electric guitar, drums and synthesizers), which justifies the existence of the Cycles. Sleep hardly brings peace, though; "The Beast" rackets it up with bizarre math rock set-ups and a surprisingly devilish delivery from Wilson himself. I mean you can tell it's the same person but now he positively growls As well, "The Boat" alternates between soft acoustic-led bridges and drum-focused rock music. At times it seems Wilson is more focused on the novelty of his intriguing experiment; it does seem like he pays more attention to the dream state songs and you can hear the effusiveness in their execution. As such, the waking tracks, especially the closer "The Hourglass," which should have been the strongest track on the album, feel comparably weaker.
Dreams is highly imaginative and intriguing to listen to, especially when you know the context of the album. Wilson's versatility, though, is what makes it worth checking out. He excels in polarities, and none of the tracks suffer due to tension: acoustic versus electric, composition versus improvisation, male versus female. The songs don't always hit as hard as I think Wilson would've liked it, but this is still heads and shoulders, both in effort and product, over what most musical acts can do with multiple people.
Influenced by shoegaze acts such as My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive and The Jesus and Mary Chain, Un.real is the first shoegaze act from Puerto Rico. They had their first show back in 1995 and recently released an EP entitled Epico, which encapsulates some of the essential qualities one would expect from the genre. There are moments that are atmospheric, lush and ethereal as well as times that cover the frequency spectrum with a blanket of white noise and dissonance. While the EP is rooted in shoegaze, it also has influences from post-rock in some songs that build crescendos out of reverb laced guitars that sound as if they were made from the heavens.
The album opens with “Si,” which is a beautiful concoction of mayhem in the form of distortion, feedback and resonance. It forms into a sound that simply takes over your speakers as if it can barely handle the intensity. “Piloto” is the calmness after the storm as it is a lush arrangement of clean guitars, and soft vocals that hang below the mix. It’s a well-written tune that is one of the highlights of the album. “Electroplex” increases the intensity as well as the distortion. It’s an instrumental track that cross-pollinates between metal, shoegaze and post -rock. The layers of guitars is what makes the song fun to listen to. At one moment they are delayed, then clean, then distorted never resting on one sound for too long.
“Somnifero” is a hard-hitting song that keeps things heavy throughout. There were occasional vocals but they might have not even been there because they were so low in the mix. Un.real ends with “Angel ’75,” which is done in classic post-rock fashion. The song starts off clean but as it progresses increases the intensity of the instrumentation for dramatic effect.
Epico is a solid EP that stays true to a proven formula that has worked for the genre. The only criticism I have is I wish the production was a bit better. Other than that fans of shoegaze and post-rock should eat this up.
Fulah is a music collective from Miami, Florida that pulls influences from its tropical landscape. The band emits a sound of classic reggae and soulful rock. Their self-titled album Fulah is made up of a guitarist and vocalist, a drummer, a saxophonist, as well as a keyboardist, percussionist, and a horn section. Together, this band has produced an album that is full of genuine songs that can be played out by the beach, or in your kitchen while cooking up some good soul food.
The vocals of the record are very appealing from the beginning; they are soothing yet natural and rugged as most reggae music is. The first song on the album showcases the talents of the vocalist as well as the band as a whole. “Too Close To Leave” cries true to the concepts of a reggae track; “I ain’t searching for no wisdom … I’m just trying to do some living, I’m just trying to grow old.”
The second song on the album starts off with a dramatic and very intriguing beat and then jumps into some equally dramatic lyrics. The title is “Weight of Your Pain” and it harps on bad or harsh love; “So I say don’t walk away, I’ll take away the weight of your pains.” The drums and the horns are what really anchor this song and the beat is completely infectious and just makes you want to get up and dance. Another really upbeat track is “Oh Why.” It starts off with a similar compelling beat but is unique because the singer not only starts rapping but does so in Spanish, and then a hard core horn solo breaks loose right before an epic guitar solo. These songs are just teeming with musical glory and let one experience the sound of myriad instruments.
The album is a great overall listen and is especially appealing for those interested in reggae and island music. It is a bit apparent that the members are either young musicians, or they have not played together for a long period of time, as their sound has much potential for maturing and becoming more cohesive. This point could also be attributed to the fact that there are so many members in the band, but on the other hand, this makes their sound incredibly unique and I am sure that this band live is a completely different experience.
Britt White's Britt White is the debut EP of none other than Britt White. The trio of songs was recorded entirely on one midi keyboard, which may seem confining but thanks to White's sense of melody and an ear for elegant composition, the EP becomes a commendable example of how to think inside the box and make it look like the outside.
"Moment" focuses on, well, the particular moment a treasured person calls our name, and uses fanciful string arrangements midway through the song to break up the delicate keyboard arrangements. White's voice is a good fit for this music, as gentle as the music itself, very pleasant and appropriate as we head into autumn. "Time Burier" is a more jocular number and again plays White's voice with the compositions to great effect, with more pronounced string samples, drawn out but bright, not melancholy. There is a large, unattractive gap of solitude toward the end of the song, and with music already so delicate that is not something you want. White dusts herself off toward the end, though, with muted variations of the song's previous moments, and then we end at "Bade to Ride."
The closing track is deeply surprising. For one, it's far shorter than the previous two tracks. For two, the mood is much starker, and while it's not depressing or sad or suffocating, there is a sense of waning in both the music and White's voice. It's the best song on the album, using flutes to sharpen the contours of the spaced piano notes. The flutes also do a nice job of attempting to match White's vocal range, as she sweetly sings, "I pour myself inside / but she just keeps biding me to ride."
Whatever you want to call her, don't call White meek. Not all confidence is displayed with gusto. Her serene vocals belie a surety that, admittedly, is not immediately apparent. Repeated listens reveal a woman with simple, clean ideas and the know-how to bring them to life. This is recommended, with a cup of hot chocolate and a warm pillow.
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