Ben Brookes put together an impressive lineup for his album The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon. He worked with drummer Michael Bland (Prince), keyboardist Greg Inhofer (Bob Dylan) as well as two members from Badfinger.
I found the album enjoyable with solid songwriting and obviously good performances. On that note the general vibe of the album felt a little dated with a lot of familiar moves that echoed a ’70s vibe that we have heard plenty of times before. You can hear influence from bands like Pink Floyd and I thought I heard some Rod Stewart in there as well. I think I just wanted some more advanced production techniques and out of the box experimentation rather than hearing another guitar solo.
The songs were consistent and Brookes knows how to write a hook. “Crack A Smile” was a standout for me and I thought the backward sounding effects worked well. The song has a good mix of melancholy and hope. “Look Through My Eyes” is a solid rocker but the best moments come towards the end where the song slows down and a saxophone take the centerstage. There were a couple of other highlights such as “I Wanna Go Home,” “Stories In The Rain” and the reflective closer “Shackles.”
I have no doubt there is an audience for this album. Brookes has talent which is immediately apparent and it's spread out evenly throughout the songs. I’m inclined to say that this album should immediately resonate with fans of classic rock.
Overall, The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon wasn’t the most inventive album I have heard this year but the combination of exceptional production and performances with solid songwriting makes for a winning combination.
The evil winters is a one man act with a new crunchy dream pop album out. Robert Schnettler has been writing music since his youth. He likes to focus on emotional responses. When you hear the synthetic escape he has devised with his album littlemouse his influences come through crystal clear. Schnettler was influenced heavily by the goth wave of the late ’80s and the electronic ambience of the early ’90s. Anyone with a fondness for that era of music will not be disappointed with what you get for just four tracks.
Some people have the gift of creating entire universes in their heads. Some of those people turn those worlds into books or movies; others like to construct them with music. Littlemouse has serious sci-fi movie or video game score written all over it. The heavy synth is combined with some rather worldly sounds and the result is something that feels off planet. I’ll say this, the game or movie or television show I picture is awesome. I am intrigued. At points the music gets very epic and I picture an enormous space battle going down. Other times it calms itself and I get the sense of an internal struggle within someone’s mind. I like the back and forth.
All the tracks are instrumental. Each one gets a very unique tone, especially in the beginning. Track one, “Myles Thomas” gets a subtle dreamy. Number two is “Lillian” start off in a very worldly and earthy place. Three is “Slab City” and has a fabulous trippy sci-fi vibe. My favorite is by far the last track which is “Orange Sunshine.” This song has the the strictest structure of the bunch with an active percussion element. While all tracks start with signature sounds they tend to end up in a similar place of dreamy, grungy, crunchy rock. It gets very industrial and is very appealing to me. Since all tracks seem to circle back to this sound I almost wish the album was one big movement instead of divided up into tracks.
My only complaint is that the tracks all seem to land in the same place at one point or another. However, if it was all just one big piece it would make more sense to me. I could have used a little more action and drama in the first three tracks. “Orange Sunshine” kind of spoiled me with possibilities and I wish there was more of that in the other tracks. The audio treatment definitely dates the tracks. This is understandable considering his influences but part of me wanted to hear certain things a bit clearer. There were so many elements and I’m not sure they all got their due. However I can appreciate the aesthetic and the dedication to what kind of sound he wanted.
Littlemouse is easily enjoyable and has a lot of applications in terms of where and when you would want to hear it. The evil winters has cool ideas and is not afraid to be original and experimental. I think he’s got a solid handle on the art of transportation. If you want to be somewhere else for a while this would be your album.
Molly is an artist from Virginia who recently released Slightly Singed. She is just getting her start at eighteen years of age but displays a lot of potential on this demo quality release. This is a clear cut case of a talented artist who needs to work with a professional producer/engineer sooner than later. She has a great voice which is buried underneath the lo-fi recording.
Up first is “Medusa” that paints the mood for the music which is haunting and atmospheric. I liked the vibe a lot and it reminded me of Mazzy Star. The vocals shine but the extended instrumental felt a bit unnecessary.
“End of the Line” is a little more upbeat and festive. Her vocals are again very well delivered but unfortunately don’t get their due because of the recording quality. Up next is “Secondhand Smoke” which also contains a number of catchy hooks while “Bad Choices” felt like a single worthy song that had more of a radio friendly quality to it. The EP closes with another highlight entitled “Letter to the Editor.”
Slightly Singed builds a solid foundation for Molly and at the very least showcases she has a good voice with a good supporting band. The songs were simple but well written and it seems like the band is just at the beginning of their development.
Molly is an artist to keep your ears on. As long as the band pursues a more professional sounding release and continue to refine their skill they should be in good shape.
David Harrod is a singer/songwriter out of Sydney, Australia. Empire Down is his second EP after a 25-year break from the music industry, having played in a band in the ‘80s. Drawing upon influences like the Eagles, Supertramp and Dave Gilmore, Empire Down is an old-school outsized production still centered around Harrod’s solo-guitar core.
“Good Enough for Me” opens the record with acoustic guitar buoyed by sitar drones, offering a throwback ‘dreamy’ feel. The vocals and drums kick in shortly thereafter; Harrod’s vocals have a gentle quality that makes them sit well together in harmony, while the in-the-room immediacy of the stomp-clap percussion make the arrangement sound full. A rumination on patience and contentedness, “Good Enough for Me” is a warm invitation into the EP, just the kind of track hippies used to get lost in.
“The River Road” contrasts a bright fingerpicked guitar with a deep heartbeat-rhythm kick drum. Harrod is in a more plaintive, nostalgic mode here, and as such his performance is a bit more emotional with a dramatic strain on the “I won’t let you go” refrain. The production has a touch more of a presence here—the aforementioned drums have a wall-of-sound reverb on them, while an electric guitar way back in the mix gives the whole thing some urgency. Once again Harrod’s harmonies are a highlight here evoking the vast soundstage of a 10cc record. The subtle edge of intensity on “The River Road” keeps Harrod from hewing too close to a formula, giving Empire Down a bit of an emotional arc.
“Not Ready For Love” slows the proceedings down considerably, moving the singing overdrive of the electric guitars to the forefront. Some ambient keyboards help support the various dreamy elements of the track, while a straightforward drum track keeps the song from floating off into the sky. Harrod’s retro stylings reach their peak here, as this song would fit as easily on a record 35 years ago as they would now. The song’s gentle conclusion is also sweet as they come, letting Harrod’s voice—once again the track highlight—bring the tune back down to earth.
Title track “Empire Down” closes the EP out. It’s a bit more of a rocker than the preceding work, kicking off with a blistering guitar and a tense progression. Lyrically a call to arms, the instrumental only enhances the rousing themes with heavier, flashier drumming and multiple solos. When the arrangement clears out for the 12-string three minutes in, it’s clear Harrod has a strong grasp on what makes a great moment in rock music. I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting him to tread into this territory, seeming a little more George Harrison than Tom Petty, but “Empire Down” keeps the record potent to the last.
Though he may have been out of the limelight for some time, Harrod demonstrates on Empire Down that he hasn’t lost any of his edge. Capably drawing from a broad well of rock traditions, the set reads like an A.M. radio masterclass, all wrapped in a tasteful sheen of production. All in all it’s good that Harrod has returned to making records, because few do it quite like this anymore.
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Tantrum is a band comprised of Tom Loomis (vocals), Tom Milorey (guitar) ,Chris Cherasaro (guitar), Mike Defillippis (bass) and Justin Kull (percussion). The band hasn't been around very long but it didn't take me long to realize the band are experienced musicians. They play hard, fast and aggressive music that contains elements of metal, punk and hard rock on their self-titled album Tantrum. The recordings sound great and the band is technically impressive throughout.
One thing to make note about is just how short the songs are. They average about a minute-and -a-half long. I have ambivalent feelings about the length of the songs. They were immediate and they do fill in a lot but there were times where I wanted the songs to get experimental or just let the songs breathe a little more. Since the songs are so short it’s almost vital to listen to the album as one piece which is how the album should be experienced.
Up first is “Sanity Focus” which pretty much sets you up for the mood and vibe of the album. It's aggressive as all hell and relentless on top of that. He screams, “There is nothing left of my empty soul” and I believed him.
The band continues to pour on the intensity with “Prey for Pray” which is pure molten lava. Not a second is wasted on “Superfreak” where the band has no time for build ups or intros. The ADD induced song has an anthemic shouting section towards the one-minute mark which was one of my favorite moments.
On “Never Endings” the band saves the last twenty seconds of the song (the song is a minute and nine seconds long) for guitar feedback. If there is a such thing as a centerpiece for this album I think it would go to “Corners.” They close out the album strong with “Body & Soul.”
Tantrum delivered a short thrill ride of an album. It’s not for the feint of heart and is the perfect addition to your cup of coffee in the morning if you need some nitro fuel.
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With already two albums under his belt, Nick Cogan returns with his latest endeavor, This is the Life. This time around he decided that it was high time to look for new horizons by plugging in and mixing up new sounds. He also bought a house, built a studio and took a half-year off of work to record a collection of new and old songs. Songwriting is something Cogan has been doing since he was 11 and on this latest release he sings about love lost and loved gained, good times in one’s youth and what it means to trust somebody but also having that trust broken.
“The World” eases into this full-length album with a steady beat and talks about how the world has gone crazy but “our love’s about to begin.” Yes the world is a mad, mad place but someone by your side can often ease your worried mind.
“Without You” begins with a raunchy guitar and a “Oh yeah” belted out loud. From what I could tell, it seems to be about being infatuated with someone (at a bar) and you’re ready to make your move, which could be your only move, if you don’t hurry it up. “Love is Misery” is a crooner, a crier; it’s a well-written song about a love gone wrong if ever there was one. “It was more that that and you took it away from me” – ouch!
“Must Be Love” drips with a sexy sultriness. A hot little number about getting close to that ‘hot little number’ on the dance floor. “This is the Life” is a song about looking back to the good times with your best mate but also looking at where those “two punk kids” are now in life. The Velvet Underground is mentioned in the song, which made me grin from ear to ear. “Moonlight” is uniquely arranged instrumentally and Cogan’s lyrics are interesting too. The drum machine sounds are a little too mechanical for my taste, but that’s not the song’s focus here.
The song that really stood out for me was “Figured It Out.” It’s a shady, smoky number that grooves deep and it sounds like something Tom Waits might have written. “We’re gonna bury our future while we drown our past.” The lyrics and song title conjured up in my mind a Bonnie and Clyde scenario. “I Swear It” sets a steady message about keeping your promises to the one by your side no matter how crappy life gets. Like the song “Moonlight” “Those Words” has an interesting arrangement and the effects on the instruments are sonically beautiful while the lyrics are deep and tender.
“In the Dirt” is a somber wake up call about only getting one shot in life to make your mark on the world before you’re food for the worms. It’s a balls out, gutsy, no holds barred kind of song that really hits its message home. The last song “She Gotta Way” sounds to me like a guy who’s drunk and high and having psycho-stalker tendencies towards the girl who got away. It’s kind of funny but the way Cogan belts out the words really made me empathize with the psycho-drunk’s plight. Cogan sounds a little maniacal himself which adds to the song’s madness. Personally, I would have ended the album with “In the Dirt” and left this last number as a B-side.
This is the Life is one hell of a good rocking album filled with passion, tenderness, conviction, strong lyrics and even stronger vocals, so I suspect we’ll be seeing more from Nick Cogan well into the future.
Beeyotch is a young band comprised of Sonia Edwards (lead vocals/synth), Miles Edwards (guitar), Max Ripps (bass) and Isaac Pincus (drums) from New Young that just released Fear City. The demo quality release showcases spunky, raw garage rock. This type of CBGB’s New York Dolls sound has been replicated countless times but still sounds good to my ears.
The production as I mentioned veers towards a demo which actually works for the most part with this type of music. There were some basic production issues but I think more importantly in this case was the mastering. The songs were at varying volumes and some of the songs seemed to have a noticeably different sonic imprint. Both of these issues can usually be rectified by an experienced mastering engineer.
The album starts off with “Intro (This is Only a Test)” which was innocuous but felt a little out of place compared to the aesthetic of the songs. Up first is “Silent Disco” which is a highlight. I loved the energy from the drums and the thrashing guitars. The vocal performance is also on point.
The band has more success with “Hey Mister” but I think the title track was one that really stuck out. It's very punk, raw and fast. I liked the Theremin sounding instrument on the surf rock-esque “Alien Surf Girls.” I'm not really sure what was going on with “I Think You Know What I Want.” They sounded like a different band on this song which wasn’t bad but the spoken poetry wasn’t working as well for me. The other odd deviation was “That's Disgusting Stop That.” They close strong with “When Will Then Be Now.”
Overall, the band is impressive for the short time they have been around. I think this at the very least gives us a sense of what type of band they are and I hope to hear more soon.
Bluedusksun is the solo project from Richard T Beltran. Beltran started off as a drummer but like a lot of drummers wanted to write songs which you usually need melody for. He recently released a self-titled album Bluedusksun which he says is the culmination of two EPs.
The album is a complete DIY bedroom recording and sounds like it. Bedroom recording tends to have a lot of the same issues - like too much reverb, drum sound, thin guitars, etc. Even though some of those issues were present the songs were well written and delivered.
The album is atmospheric, acoustic and often melancholy. I liked the vibe right away but the hooks were subtle at best. I thought the most attractive part about the music was the mood he paints. Up first is “Love is the Last Thing to Go” which I thought was a highlight. I really liked the guitar work which reminded me of John Frusciante. The song is dark but also lively which worked out nicely. He sings, “And if you ever see me again Act like you don't know me, my friend.”
Up next is “The Simple Complex” which revolves around guitar and vocals. I thought the guitar parts were pretty inventive and the vocal melody was memorable. On that note I thought the vocals needed more clarity in the mix.
“Autumn Fire & Evergreen” moves at a very slow pace in its haunting way while “Hey, MIster MIster” and “Half Living in a Half Made Life” were other highlights. The rocking and distorted closer “Devil's Dance” felt a bit out of place compared to the other songs although the song has some inspired moments.
The best advice I have for Beltran is to try and work with a producer/engineer next time around. These songs could be taken to another level with better production.
I think he has some talent in a number of areas and I was impressed by a majority of the songs. Recommended.
Birdwatching comprised of James (percussion), Andrea (vocals/bass) and Alex (guitar/vocals) had some success last year with their three-song EP Hard Feelings. Less than a year later they are back with a worthy follow up entitled Night Physics. The band builds on their chemistry they displayed on Hard Feelings.
The songs are fun, fast and catchy. They keep it simple embracing an early’90s no frills alternative vibe. The hooks are the best I have heard from the band so far.
They open with “Good Ice Breakers” which is an intense yet beautiful combination of vocal harmonies, pounding drums, distortion guitar and a steady bass. The guitar is great and the drumming is jaw dropping at times. The vocal hooks are immediate and really become the focal point of the song. Andrea sings, “Falling out and growing apart makes me not as fond of heart.”
Up next is “Duckface.” I hate that word but the song is great. They plow through a number of riffs and it's certifiably fun power pop that feels young and vibrant. “A Little Aggressive But Okay” might have been my personal favorite.
They fit enough hooks in the song that other bands should take note. They close with “Yes, Regrets” which is equally as infectious as anything else on the album. The vibraphone type instrument was a nice addition.
The songs on this EP are tight with no extra fat. They fell like a full three-piece which I will say is at least partially due to the fantastic drumming. This band continues to flourish in recent years and seem to be hitting their stride.
Color Out is the solo project of Chicago-based singer/songwriter Dave Hedrick. Trafficking in the sounds of emo and pop-punk, Hedrick writes and records all of the Color Out material himself at home. The Color Out EP was the project’s first release.
Opening track “Mercurial” is a relentless rocker in the vein of early-aughts pop-punk, featuring AJ Perdomo on lead vocals. The slight edge on his vocal performance helps bridge the classic quiet-loud divide of the verse and chorus sections contributing an intensity that seems to continue escalating as the song goes along. The dense but uncomplicated guitar arrangement and pushed-to-the-limit production gives the song a radio-ready feel, which no doubt contributed to the track’s significant success on streaming platforms.
“Anything but Everything” omits the drums for nearly its first minute, leaving the brittle rhythm guitar as the lone instrumental under the lead vocal. It’s understandable why Hedrick had Perdomo come in for “Mercurial” once you hear this track—aside from the triumphant scream that first appears about halfway through, Hedrick’s vocal performance has a sweeter, fuller character, no less expressive but lacking the grit Perdomo offers. The instrumentation has a broader range here as well, covering more middle ground and clinging to the simplicity of the clean guitar sounds.
“Ghosts” also plays with a diversity of guitar textures, opening with twinkling clean arpeggios and moving into richly overdriven chugging as the chorus opens up. The brisk drum part that slows for the chorus helps give “Ghosts” a tension-and-release that furthers its emotional impact. Hedrick works himself up to a great scream towards the end as well, crowning the track with a final expression of the track’s pained passion.
“By Your Side” brings acoustic guitar and redolent strings into Color Out’s vocabulary, introducing a more introspective character than the previous tracks. Hedrick leans even further into the gentleness he’s capable of on vocals, moving from a soft lower register to a soaring conclusion over the course of the song, but retaining the clean sweetness that keeps “By Your Side” firmly in ballad territory. It’s a great way to shake up the pace and demonstrate the breadth of what the Color Out project has to offer.
“Winter Chill” implements a heavily effected guitar and a brisk, electronic-sounding drum sequence, giving the track a poppy-er vibe than the more rock-centric material elsewhere on the record. The drums almost give the track an R&B feel when combined with the yearning, emotional vocals. The song may also be better for the lack of a driving rhythm guitar, letting the floating post-rock guitar lines sit in a more ethereal context. Though it’s furthest from the ‘core’ sound on Color Out, it’s a powerful demonstration of Hedrick’s diverse talents.
Closer “Pretense” returns to a more traditional feel and instrumentation with overdriven guitars laying a chugging foundation and emotional arpeggios. Hedrick sneaks in a great sing-along moment with huge ‘hey’ shouts begging to be emotionally hollered from the audience towards the stage. The tight harmonies and even brief glimpses of piano give the proceedings an extra air of polish.
Ultimately Hedrick proves his wealth of skills on Color Out, capably synthesizing punk and indie rock sounds with pop polish and emotional heft. It’s an impressive statement from a lone creative mind, and a strong place for the project to have originated.
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