There are (at least) two ways you can go about writing about music. The first, and most common, is to scrutinize a work critically, measuring its breadth, its depth, its commentary on the world at large, its place in the lineage in which it sits. The second is to simply gush, heaping adverbs and superlatives like fruit at the base of some secret altar. The first is more common and they both have their shortcomings, but you need a little bit of both to successfully communicate the hidden heart of music.
The danger with the critical approach to writing about music, which is often overlooked, is there is an inherent, almost invisible, allegiance to the marketplace. People need to say why, exactly, X record is the only of its kind, or the best since blank, and in this viewpoint, things that sound like other things is no good thing. The problem is, that's not really how musicians think, nor is it representative of a lot of people's careers.
James M Carson is an acoustic singer/songwriter from a small town called Bolton, in Northwestern England. He speaks openly of his love for Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley, George Harrison and Ryan Adams in his notes, as well as a yearning for "the simpler times of Laurel Canyon when the quest for melody was king." I suspect that "Nothing Is Lost" sounds A LOT like Elliott Smith's "Rose Parade" with more of a rootsy, Fleetwood Mac stomp, and is just as thrilling and breathtaking as when Elliott did it, and makes it even more spellbinding when a chorus breaks down into a warm molasses Bee Gees harmony, with even a touch of pedal slide guitar, as if this song needed to be any more entirely awesome than it already was.
Carson also tips his hat to power pop, the insanely infectious hooks of Cheap Trick and Big Star, which too many people either interpret as "just pop" or else shitty punk music without the attitude. Everyone seems to miss the sweet spot. Carson's got the catchy melodicism down cold. I don't hear too much of the glam jackboot swagger of pure power pop, so I don't really think that's what he's going for. Again, he's creating elixirs, deadly delicious combinations of everything he's ever seen or heard.
And when it's all said and done his album Sold As Scene sounds unique and distinctive. Yes, it crawls through the dust like The Handsome Family on "Once A Mighty Oak" and "Money (We Don't Need)" sounds like a finger style instrumental of The Beatles' "Julia." I absolutely adore every musician that's been name checked in this review, and it makes me love this short 'n sweet album all the more.
Whatever influences, whatever tradition, you still have to spin the web yourself, which is where the stealing argument breaks down. Making a good sounding record is tough, trust me. Carson never misses a beat - everything is finely tuned, polished and placed to perfection. The vocals harmonize effortlessly, the guitars are sterling clear and ferociously tuned. There is a gentle breathing air around every element, and frankly, it makes me a little green around the gills that part of this, the drums, were recorded in Carson's bedroom at home. Well, rappers with huge budgets no longer have any excuses. People are making Phil Spector wonders in their homes and at small studios.
Sold As Scene is a wonder. It sounds monumental and never misses a beat. It's talented, precocious, imaginative, but heartfelt. It's rustic, it's psychedelic; it's rooted in the past, but is living in the NOW. Anyone with ears will love this EP.
Colin Clyne has too many achievements to mention but my personal favorite is that he opened for Red Hot Chilli Pipers. Besides winning multiple songwriting awards, getting sponsored, working with Grammy award winning engineers and getting constant airplay the guy just came out with a fine album entitled The Never Ending Pageant.
Right off the bat I would say this is one of the best-engineered albums I have had the opportunity to review. You can’t get this sound with a Presonus Preamp, a hundred dollar interface and computer. The material here is radio ready and indeed does deserves to be getting played on the radio.
The music is acoustic based folk that synergizes with rock and country. On paper it doesn't sound that exciting but once it hits your ears I’m sure you will have a change of heart. The music's strongest appeal is the infectious energy that comes out from the speakers. I would argue that if you play this in a room full of people and you notice they don’t have a bit more pep in their step then you should immediately not talk to those people because they may be lacking a soul.
The highlights of the album for me were the ones that popped with optimism and joy. Possibly the best song of the album goes to the first one entitled “Merry Go Round”. Clyne proves he is a good, possibly great, vocalist who has a voice that soars across the music. “This Blue Town” and “Sizzle Not the Steak” were formidable songs but not quite as festive as “I’d Rather Do.” “I’d Rather Do” is a country-based song but Clyne sounds at home here. The guitar work is good but the song is held down by a walking bass line that creates a momentum.
Even Clyne knows you can’t celebrate on every song and shows us on “Top of the Mountain” that his vocals sound good coated with a bit of melancholy. Orchestral strings, guitar and drums create music for him to sing on here. As the album progresses there are a couple of more highlights including “Toast the Happy Times” and “Playing God.”
I will say that you have to be one cynical guy or gal to not enjoy at least a portion of this album. At eleven songs deep the album has a nice ebb and flow and takes little effort to enjoy. Highly Recommended.
The cover of Anticipation, the third proper album under the name Sleeping Policeman by South Carolina's Charles Grace, is of a lamb's silhouette backlit by flames. This is an apt visual analogy for Grace's music - it's gentle at heart but burns and sparks with passion and energy.
Grace has been playing guitar since he was 13, going on to receive a bachelor's degree in classical guitar performance. Grace's training shows - his songwriting and arrangements are complex and innovative, like the slack-keyed chicken strut walkdown on "All Your Fears," which erupts into a glorious, heaven-sent sunburst vocal chorus, out of nowhere. Having a complex musical vocabulary gives Grace the ability to speak an intricate emotional language - polysyllabic expressions of longing, confusion and the many shades in between the primaries.
Grace's guitar fluctuates across a wide variety of tones and styles, both acoustic and electric. The album opens with a progressive finger style acoustic number, "Anticipation," that nods back to Grace's classical training, and further, to instrumental boundary pushers like finger style guitarist Andrew York, Paco De Lucia and John Fahey, with its roman candle harmonics and rustic Americana double-stops, like driving down a highway to forever with a pedal note bass playing the part of tires on tarmac.
After such ornate loveliness "All Your Fears" comes as a surprise, with a low down, slow burning country bite and growl that sounds like a less scuzzy '70s Neil Young. Grace plays it simple and restrained - although the songwriting is snazzy, almost Tin Pan Alley or Brill Building but also sounding like the thinnest, most stoned-washed '70s country blues rock you'll ever hear.
Styles and moods continue to shift, like a never-ending kaleidoscope, until all concept of genre disappears. There's a vaguely sunshine-y, upbeat bounce that continues throughout from the reggae skank of "Caretaker's Eyes" to the lyrical jazz rock of "Prodigal Father," built around a simple, memorable guitar riff. That upbeat bounce equates to optimism, which Grace summarizes by saying, "I believe that these songs point towards some kind of hope and redemption, as well as a newfound sweetness in my life."
He has good reason to feel optimistic. Anticipation is the first record conceived with a band, fleshed out to a three-piece, but with a laundry list of instruments between them. Everybody was on the same page including the engineer, Jim Harris, who recorded the band at his JBH Record Studio, in Myrtle Beach, SC. Even though Grace is a hotshot guitarist, he does not overplay, even when he is playing complicated solo pieces. When playing as a band, Grace leaves plenty of space in his playing, sticking at times to nearly rhythm guitar economy, which is then fleshed out with Timothy Hardwick's bass, mandolin and sometimes dual guitar to vibrant effect. First, and foremost, Hardwick gets a fierce tone, low down, growling, muscular yet slinky. His lines aren't overly busy, and he holds the grooves, interacting with Caleb LeBarre's drumming, which is mostly functional but occasionally shines forth like the solid slo-mo disco of "Beating Heart." The band brings Grace's compositions to pulsing life.
It's these details, the way the bass twines around the guitars, the swelling strings of "Wholesome House" that make you lean in and listen closer. At first, I was in danger of dismissing this record as imitation blues-rock. In the wrong light, the sounds can sound kind of thin and tinny, grating rather than petting, but closer examination in a proper listening environment revealed a lusher soundscape, deeper, softer. I was better able to fall under Sleeping Policeman's spell, and see where they were coming from.
Charles Grace is an accomplished musician, and a thoughtful, heartfelt human. He seems like he is developing his lexicon, working out what he is trying to say, so as to speak it more eloquently. The lush arrangements and nuanced songwriting say he should keep it up. By the next record, he should be fluent.
If the new record by Tammy Payne entitled Viva Outsider isn’t a well-produced album then I don’t know what is. Viva Outsider is a great listen from a purely aesthetic perspective. Payne’s voice is warm, soulful and eloquent but the instrumentation from the stand up bass to the drum sounds is also top notch. It’s droll worthy stuff that audiophiles will want to listen to whether or not they enjoy the music.
Viva Outsider is a great sounding album but we are fortunate enough to also have a stack of well-written songs that showcase a talented singer. Payne’s voice lures you in and is one of the best female jazz singers I have heard in recent memory. At its core this is a jazz album but it also incorporates styles such as bossa nova, pop and even a dash of salsa. Some songs experiment with unconventional time signatures that no amateur would attempt to play while others are sparse, subtle and let Payne’s voice shine.
The album opens with “Talk to Me Instead,” which contains a rich variety of instrumentation that creates the perfect lounge-like atmosphere. If you want hang out in an outside patio with a cocktail this song should be on repeat. It is sultry, seductive but also a lot of class.
“Viva Outsider” is slightly more upbeat and an old school dance song that the cats would dance to back in the day while “Some People” utilizes little more than a standup bass, drums and vocals.
A highlight amongst the impressive lineup of song is “She.” I was digging the ‘70s soul vibe that combined with slick rhythms and instrumentation. Only a gosh darn fool would turn this song off. The album closes with a waltz entitled “Raise a Glass” in which Payne claims she is “going too kick your ass.” More proof you don’t need much to make Payne sound good.
Viva Outsider is consistently good. You can enjoy it with friends, by yourself or at a party in which people still like to have conversation. Love it.
Tyler Bray and Justin Ordonez started Humboldt in 2012. Back then the duo was writing songs in their bedrooms but soon got restless. They added more members including Kevin Burleigh, Martin Contreras and Paul Suniga in 2013 and started playing house parties. They just recently released their first EP entitled Fingers Crossed.
The band fits pretty comfortably into the pop punk genre and the songs bring to mind bands such as Title Fight, Heart To Heart, The Get Up Kids and Saves The Day. It’s classic teenage angst singing about teenage topics such as heartbreak and “fitting in.”
I enjoyed the production of the EP. It was a good mixture of raw lo-fi aesthetics with just enough polished production that they got a good sound. The drums are always essential and even more so in my opinion when it comes pop punk. They got a great drum sound, which automatically puts this EP above a copious amount of bands who play similar music.
Humboldt has a lot of things going for them in a genre that is over saturated. The songs are well written and the band is showing some originality and promise. That being said they do play into a lot of the genre's clichés but get away with it because of the delivery.
“Ruiner” opens up the record and is a solid start for the band. Gritty guitar, bass and pounding drums coalesce to create a suitable canvas for the vocalist to sing over. He sings, “I'm sorry I'm the disease that eats away your brain / I didn't want to rip the wound but our feelings ceased to stay the same.” The song is just over two minutes in length but packs a lot in.
The second track “Pocket Change” hits hard and fast. They pelt you with a barrage of aggression and get better from there. The drumming is intense and drives the song with multiple timing changes. They close with “Pacific Point,” which solidifies the band’s talent despite the sophomoric lyrics.
This isn’t a bad start for the band. They still have a lot to prove but they have built a solid foundation.
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Dirt Bikes is a three-piece band consisting of Richard Lehmann, Sergio Perez and Meike Wagner. They recently released a five-song EP entitled Coasts that is a cathartic purge of raw music. The EP was recorded to 1/2” tape as god intended and the proof is in the pudding. This is a raw rock record and seems to have some influence from garage bands like The Walkman and The Strokes but the most obvious comparison would be The White Stripes. Dirt Bikes come from the same DNA as The White Stripes but have enough mutations in their strand to stand on their own.
This music is all about the delivery. It’s that simple. The songs aren't the most creative I have heard but if this doesn’t get your motor revving a bit I’m not sure what will. I would say the basic objective of this music is to take the emotions the musicians have towards the music and shove it down your throat in the form of pure energy. I don’t have a problem with that. These types of bands are usually better live at achieving their objective so make sure to bookmark their Facebook page.
“Ocean = Amazing” is a bit deceptive as it starts with a clean guitar and a ride cymbal. The band bursts into the mix with little warning with waves of distorted guitars, bass and the lead singer exclaims he is, “Always amazed by the sounds of the Ocean. I’m always amazed by the sounds of the Ocean.” The song is repetitive but is a fun tune.
“Up For Hire” is a bit more structured as it adheres to a verse/chorus/verse formation. The chorus is instantly memorable and sing-along worthy. “Door Scratcher” rips and rolls The White Stripe style that includes some noteworthy vocal harmonies.
The highlight on the EP is “99.” Leading the pack are a group of tom drums and arguably the best vocal performance. The guitar is pretty hip as well, which sounds like it is being played while the guitarist is giving little regard to technique.
It’s hard to fault this music so I won’t. Just check it out.
Stage names are a part of rock n’ roll. David Bowie who was originally David Robert Jones then later took on the persona of Ziggy Stardust, Farrokh Bulsaea was Freddie Mercury’s original name and so on. For Luke DeArmey to fully realize himself he had to go by the stage name WC Mallard.
His debut full-length titled Faux Coat is currently in pre-production with an expected early 2015 release but his recent Mock Demos lay the blueprints of what's to come. The session contains four-songs that unequivocally sound like demos but also contain a lot of charm. That charm comes mostly in the form in 1950’s pop not unlike that of the early Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Monkees. Remember that movie That Thing You Do! The music is like that.
Mallard opens up with pure 1950’s pop goodness. It’s not a particularly original song but it is darn catchy. I’ll bet you the vocal harmony will be floating in your head for at least two minutes after you hear the song. After that, you should let it ferment and you will be coming back for more. This was the highlight of the pack.
“All Alone” isn’t too shabby either. It is a bit more melancholy but also melodic. The song is simple and effective. “This Duet Is Now A Solo” is another tip of that hat to 1950’s pop. That’s all you really need to know. The last track is “The Straight Man.” It is the most original sounding out of the four. It’s vocally based song that contains some of the best heartfelt delivery from Mallard.
The Mock Demos need a lot of production work but that’s why they’re demos. With New Year around the corner we should soon see how these demos sound fully fleshed out.
The debut three-song EP Last Train from The Tattered Saints is reminiscent of American arena rock that seems to have an unending shelf life. There isn’t a whole lot of mystery here and if you have a constant rotation of John Mellencamp, Bon Jovi, Goo Goo Dolls, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty you should enjoy these songs.
The band comprised of Al Torchia (vocals, guitar), Tyler Medley (guitar), Ryan Swilley (drums), Krumbholtz (guitar) and Mike Anthony (bass) wear their influences on their sleeves and these three songs do little to show elements that define the originality of the group. The band reaches in their back pocket to pull out songs that feel familiar in delivery, message and appeal.
There is no doubt that these guys would light up a pub full of locals who have been drinking but most likely would not get the thumbs up from the hipsters who has been listening to Dirty Projectors and DIIV for the last month. Hey, you can’t please everybody.
The first track “Last Train” is classic American rock. It takes off fast and doesn’t let up till it’s over. The guitar work is solid throughout while the drum beat and bass drive the energy of the song. There is even a “Free Bird” style guitar solo towards the end of the song.
The lyrics for “Sylvia” follow nostalgic sentiment not unlike that of a song like “Summer of 69.” Torchia sings ”Do you remember those nights when we used to ride the tide / We would dance say goodnight.” The anthemic chorus is effective and might get stuck in your head. They close with “Bricks” which is a rocking ballad. Torchia sounds like Springsteen at points during this track I'll take it.
There is nothing wrong with playing American arena rock. A band like The Hold Steady utilized every single rock cliché in the book and it worked. One of the reasons it worked was because they found their own style; in particular the singing style of Craig Finn. In the case of The Tattered Saints they have yet to find their X-factor that makes them unique. It may be lurking in the shadows and there is a good chance it’s there. The good news is this is their first EP and they have proved they know how to rock and write a tune. This is a case of wait and see.
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Music can be therapeutic not only for the listener but also for the musician. Musicians sometimes describe an album as a snapshot of where they were during a particular time period. The recent Self Pride EP from Ryan Pooles aka Lazy Lion Club was intended to capture and summarize certain times from his life and put them into his music. Whether he achieved that or not is hard to say but from the listener’s perspective there must be a connection to the music that resonates in some way. Luckily for you and me, Pooles’ attempt to capture times in his life results in well- crafted songs that meld electronic and organic elements into formidable pop songs. The songs on Self Pride are clean sometimes dance worthy songs that focus on atmosphere and mood. At times I was reminded of Wild Nothing.
Pooles eases you in with “Tasting The Storm,” which combines a hypnotic, delayed electric guitar with bass and drums that create a grounded groove. The whirlwind of sound feels like a pre-emptive measure before the explosion of sound. Interestingly enough the song never really leaves the almost psychedelic mixture of sounds into the dance worthy tune I was expecting. The song instead focuses on atmosphere while also mixing in catchy vocal work.
The arguable highlight and most single worthy song was “ While You Wait.” Pooles gets everything right here including a slick bass line that brings to mind a group like The Stone Roses. The song is darn catchy when he sings “While You Wait The World Is Turning.”
“Back Burner” is held down by a steady kick drum and loose electronic sounding elements. It’s not a hard-hitting dance track but is certainly something you can shake your hips to. Around the two-and-a-half minute mark the song has a visceral explosion before settling into a slightly altered verse. Pooles restraint and use of dynamics is notable here and benefits the song.
The closing track “Crossed The Line” is an on the verge of epic instrumental track. For the first time Pooles flirts with post-rock bringing to mind bands like Explosions In The Sky and even early Mogwai.
Self Pride has some missteps but is a solid starting point for Pooles. The songs are well written and quite easy to enjoy. Recommended.
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Obsessed with music from a young age Kim Halliday latched on to punk, new wave, psychobilly and ska. After a year of playing, driving around in a van and living like a bohemian he starting looking towards the future. He ended up going to the London International Film School where he excelled as a composer. He has since gone on to score for feature films (Credo, Pink Pumpkins at Dawn), documentaries (Freedom for Birth, Doulah!, Real Birth Stories), television (Closer To Truth), commercial video and theatre.
Halliday wanted to create his music free of restrictions from film and it recently arrived in the form of a full-length album entitled HALFLIGHT. It’s extremely difficult to sum this album up in a few sentences because of the wide array of genres it covers within its seventeen instrumental songs. One thing I can say is that it does sound thematic, inventive and often epic. Halliday utilizes everything he can get his hands on from synths to guitars, piano, drum machines, you name it.
One other thing that should be mentioned before delving into the songs is the way he cross-pollinates genres within the songs themselves. This aspect is actually the most enjoyable aspect of HALFLIGHT. The songs are pretty far removed from pop songs with catchy hooks and memorable choruses but instead rely on morphing soundscapes that get the listener excited because of the unexpected pleasures ahead.
The opening track “Fabric, torn, time, slips” is a personal favorite as it sounds like something between Guns N’ Roses and Lali Puna. I never thought I’d write a sentence like that but the glitched out, cut up vocal samples combined with the whammy bar distorted guitar does indeed bear comparison to the two. The song gets more intense and more enjoyable as it progresses and Halliday starts to show his creativity in the studio.
Another highlight is the second track “Cold Moon,” which is an appropriate name for the song. Halliday coats his guitars in a more than healthy amount of reverb and layers it with an electronic, alien sounding drum kit. The synths tear at the seams adding to the celestial sounds. “Hellingly Hospital” is also a name that is right on the money. The mind bending, ominous sense of doom is consistent for the first half of the song until about halfway through where it sounds like a digital meditation. “Gillespie Road” explores subtle nuances in sound while ”High on the H&C” is the closest you will come to a rock song.
Overall, HALFLIGHT is a thematic and very diverse album. These songs felt best being listened to with a nice pair of headphones. There is a lot to explore here so take your time and get immersed.
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