Art, no matter if its endpoint is good or bad is born of emotion. Every doodle comes from somewhere inside; every finger pick, every word written down whether it is sung or read out loud or eventually crossed out in favor of something different, perhaps better, perhaps more direct. Even the things we discard while making art are still relevant stones, still breadcrumbs laid down to trace our path back to where the ideas originated. Even free-style or free verse is not made up on the spot, or pulled out of thin air. It comes from somewhere deep inside, the words just like sands suddenly pouring forth into the bottom of an overturned hourglass.
The San Francisco acoustic duo Wax Moon, Paul Kimball and John Blatchford, know this to be true I feel because it permeates the themes of love and loss on their second EP Cool Blue Heat which succeeds their debut Ready or Not, which had tackled the very same themes. Sadly the loss here was that of Paul Kimball’s wife who passed away after an undisclosed illness.
Cool Blue Heat was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs and the opening title track is both personal and haunting. The lyrical imagery is unlike I’ve ever heard before. The words are heartbreakingly poetic as Kimball laments “And now I understand these cutting girls / the tiny slices that burn so sweet / doses of medicine soberly applied / to pull out the poison /cool blue heat.” As if that’s not heartbreaking enough take the last verse of “My Future Crime” which goes “Today my love opened her ledger to me / and whispered the words “together, forever”/ I felt the man she believed me to be peeling away, pedal to metal.”
Here I thought of Shakespeare’s King Lear as far to the end as one can go. As there is literally no one left in King Lear it made for me “Always Here” that much more despondent, only so because it must, I can only imagine, have made Kimball feel as he wrote it. It is a road song, a running away song. Here he is lamenting on how no matter where he goes: be it Utah, Manhattan or Mecca, he cannot escape the loss of his wife.
Cool Blue Heat is both a record of heartbreak and of hope. It is an example of the beauty that can be born from loss. On a musical level the live aspect really draws out the raw power of loss which Cool Blue Heat was born from. I would never dare to speak for the loss of someone’s loved one whom I had never known, but I can say that Cool Blue Heat is a beautiful record and a stunning tribute that deserves a wider audience.
Every week we mention a couple of artists that are worth your time to check out that were not featured in our weekly reviews.
Artist Album Rating
Brandon Taylor Silver 3.7
Nighttime In Kansas Solstice 3.8
The Hustle I'm From Sharks 3.6
Camp Closet Flesh and Blood 3.4
Captain Horton The Captain's EP 3.5
Strainfader EP 3.5
Colin Coppola is young aspiring rapper/songwriter. His latest release The Fable is far from perfect but shows some potential in a couple of places. Let just get into it.
Up first is “Back Seat.” It starts with a simple serene piano melody. He then literally clears his throat and starts to explain how he wants to “move” people and then says here it goes. For starters you probably shouldn't announce that you want to move people and then attempt to do that. It felt a bit forced but somehow worked at the same time
Up next is the title track. For some reason he pans the vocals hard left. You shouldn't do that with a lead vocal. It’s not a good idea for a number of reasons.
He attempts to sing but I think he has more luck in the rap department( althought he is a decent singer). He sort of talks disjointly and sometimes sings on “Reminiscment (Feat. Rory Baker)” while “Self Doubt (Feat. Mota Vaper)” revolves around a couple of piano chords. He arguably gives his best vocal performance on this song.
He closes with “Sometime's I'm Dead” which is hodgepodge of different singing styles. Coppola might not exactly be on the same level as Chance The Rapper or Killer Mike but at least he has some unique characterstics.
The best advice I can give Coppola is that if he wants to move people he will have to probably work with a producer who can help him find a sound and engineer his music. If he doesn't he will need to get a little more skilled at production if he wants to start competing with the big boys.
Coppola seems passionate about his music. I think he needs a bit more direction and guidance and good things may come. Looking foward to hearing his music evolve
GardenLakes is the solo project for twenty-one-year old David Sharpe. Between his studies Sharpe has been making music for three years which has emerged on his release The Hillside.
His ten-song album is a lo-fi electro/pop funk effort that features a lot of falsetto and hyperbolic vocal delivery. Some songs work better than others and although Sharpe isn’t showing us anything new with the songs the songwriting is solid throughout.
He opens with “The Truth” where he quickly introduces a smooth dub step style beat in the essence of an artist like James Blake. His voice is a little distorted for the smooth style he is singing but it works well enough.
Up next is “Floating” which features another solid beat and delayed, airy guitars. His singing style is different. He sings in a low hush as if he ingested a bunch of quaaludes before recording. “When We First Started” is more straight up funk while
“Painted Pictures” is an airy, dreamy song featuring yet another type of singing style that felt a little more straightforward. “Come a Little Closer,” “Won't Worry” and “The Hillside” were all formidable tracks.
Sharpe certainly delves into different territories on this album but everything still manages to feel connected. Nothing seemed out of place. His singing style reminded me of Beck (Mutations era), Jamiroquai as well as the singers who inspired them. Sometimes it did feel as if he was pushing it a bit hard and I would have liked to hear a more natural voice emerge. Overall, I still liked his singing and thought he still had a good sounding voice.
The Hillside took three years to make but Sharpe is still a very young man, I’d say this is a solid effort showing some potential. Recommended.
Isaac Kranz is an eighteen-year-old musician from Colorado who just started playing guitar and writing songs. He started playing guitar around two-and-a-half years ago which isn't much in terms of learning. I think it takes a dedicated guitarist around ten years to get good unless they are a virtuoso.
It personally took me fifteen years to get to a point where I considered my playing to be in a good place. Suffice it to say Kranz is playing pretty basic guitar revolving around minor and major chords.
He falls into the predictable mopey, melancholy songwriter at this point that we have heard countless times before. That's just a fact and more prevalent than ever since someone can record themselves with Garageband. I’m not saying his songwriting is bad or he doesn't have some talent but in order to emerge from this oversaturated market you have to bring a little more to the table. That being said I think this is humble begining where I saw a number of inspired moments.
He opens his album Oil in Water with “Melancholy Noise” which pretty much describes it. Kranz hits a couple of root notes and laments into a microphone. Luckily, Kranz knows not to drag these songs out and that's where some of the pleasure lies. The songs come in and out with some pretty good vocal melodies.
Most of the songs blend into each other as there aren't many differentiating elements. I’d say that's a good thing considering how long the album is.
Overall, Kranz has some talent but still has a long way to go before competing with notable acts but time is on his side. At eighteen-years-old he is just getting started with his life and music career. Let’s check back in with him in the not too distant future. I have feeling his best work is yet to come.
Downtown Utopia is a two-piece progressive blues-rock band from Ottawa, Canada, made up of Yan Dexter (keyboards) and Simon Besozzi (eight-string guitar). We officially started the project late 2015, but we've been playing together forever. We got a lot of recognition on YouTube for various covers we made, especially a rock version of the song ''River Flows In You'' by Yiruma that got over 200 000 views and was used as the theme song for a gaming channel. Design Your Charade is our first EP.
Design Your Charade is a four-track EP which opens with the upbeat “Cynically Ill.” The first ten tracks induced me with video-game nostalgia. I felt as if I was playing a never-before-seen level of Super Mario. Of course, this upbeat synth organ madness was quickly mashed together with brutal, metallic electric guitar. I’d been tricked by the quirky, timid opening. I love it all, of course. It’s wacky, but it’s brilliant. The synth runs are incredible, whirring and absolutely insane, but it’s all propelled into mind-blowingly awesome noise rock when the electric guitar comes into the mix. Around the midway point of the track, a brief burst of falsetto-esque vocals joins the mix which are just as weird, quirky and fun as the rest of the song. I have no idea what genre this might fall in; rock-jazz-video-game madness, perhaps?
Feeling exhausted in the best way possible after the first track, ‘Sloth Machine’ was more of the same, but in an entirely new way. Make sense? Well, if not, you’ll have to listen for yourself. I wouldn’t have been able to imagine this weirdness if I hadn’t heard it first. A pumping, electrifying guitar riff joins more synth organs with a sound that reminds me a little of The Doors - if they were completely bonkers. Again, this is all a compliment. I had no idea what was coming next at any point on this EP, and that’s part of why I loved it so much. There was a lot of complexity in the riffing, whether the rhythms were part of a synth or guitar solo.
“L.A. Babylon” takes the jazzy, organ-driven, electric guitar madness to darker levels. Almost as if it was an outtake of a slightly heavier version of Phantom of the Opera, Downtown Utopia plunges into the murky depths of both metal and jazz. Then, entirely unexpectedly, they emerge in an upbeat, joyous world, overwhelmed by running, whirring, complex synth and a raw guitar solo.
All in all, this was a unique and fun EP. With very few vocals and much more focus on the instrumental side of things, I definitely felt as if I was listening to the most bizarre, exciting soundtrack of my life, rather than a rock/electro duo’s latest EP release. It has to be heard to be believed, so don’t take my word for it. Go and listen for yourselves.
D.W. Hayes shows his versatility by writing, producing and recording nearly all of the material from his solo album The World Is Watching. A myriad of roots/classic rock melodies, Hayes attempts to blend together decades of nostalgic tunes and styles. Although Hayes’ sound is familiar, the experience of three prior albums shows with the quality of his writing.
The album starts off with the title track “The World Is Watching.” This gritty and well-produced anthem was a smooth introduction to the style and direction of the rest of the project. Although I couldn’t see myself listening to this on a train, the repetitive nature of the chorus and intense electric guitar makes this a perfect jam out piece.
Up next is “I Will Forgive You,” a slowed down song accompanied by Vancouver jazz musician Natasha D’Agostino. The duet nature of this song allows the listener to accompany Hayes on his journey to forgiveness. Continuing on this smooth and slow trend, “I Won’t Break” also includes D’Agostino. This is my favorite song on the album due to its raw and emotional authenticity..
Amping up the pace, “Always Brings Me Home” begins to set the tone for the rest of the album. With a catchy piano melody and fun tempo, this piece is a nice refresher for the classic-rock era. The next few songs begin the upbeat and more gritty style we saw in the introduction track. The final piece “I’m The Rock That Rolls You Down” is edgy and acoustically stylish. With intense guitar riffs and distorted vocals, this song is a perfect closer to a well-rounded album.
Overall the production and writing of the album was great. The style and sounds can become a bit repetitive, but all in-all this a solid rock album with a classic feel.
It only took Jason Greene a couple of months after his release Local Animus to get more songs out to the public. His latest release State of a Lawman is a six-song EP with relatively short songs that don’t go past the three-minute mark.
Like his latest release his songs are basic, to the point and are undeniable folk. He has an aesthetically pleasing voice that tells somewhat classic tales with a twist. Take for instance the opening title track where he talks about a lawman shooting a bull. He sings, “When he heard the news, he didn't have to choose. Jack had seen an injured bull before / He hurried to the scene, and to his disbelief / The police opened fire upon the bull.”
Up next is an instrumental piece entitled “Council Bluff.” It’s a mellow instrumental piece revolving around a warm rhythm and lead guitar. Short and sweet.
“Honest Living” is another tale of people who lives has gone a bit weary. He sings, “Oh the chief of police is a scoundrel, who beat on an old lady's man / He'll be a drawing a comfortable pension now and kissing Richard Trumka's hand.”
“Stranded” is a slower, melancholy song while “Paunch-O” is another short instrumental track. He closes with a highlight entitled “Boxcar Jerry.” The song is upbeat and felt like a fiddle and banjo would have been perfect for this song.
The six-song EP goes by fast. Greene isn’t making the most complex music but it certainly has some charm. The songs are for those who are looking for classic folk with some off-kilter storytelling.
Greene is on a roll and I am sure we will be hearing from him more in 2017. Look out.
Become A Fan
Shallow Spirit is the solo project of Zack Parrinella. The Colorado native released Exit Theater which is a full-length album that merges different styles like folk, rock and more. When it came to the music I was actually reminded on occasion of Tom Waits. The Russian circus vibe is going on within a couple of these songs.
The album is a complete DIY effort. There are a good amount of improvements that could happen in the engineering department to improve these songs but it is certainly listenable where you can appreciate the songs.
I liked the songs and I liked his voice. He does however have some issues staying in key. He opens with “Exit Entry” which is a collage of banjo, white noise and his vocals. It’s an example of where he has trouble staying anywhere close to being in key. He has much better luck singing words like he does on “Intruder.” The songs are loose and fun. He sounds like he barely gets out the words when he sings at times. The song sounds messy yet that's some of its charm.
One of the highlights was “Detachment.” He again sounds like he's in some kind of drunken haze when he is singing. The only word I can use to describe the second half of the song is zany.
A common issue I see with DIY musicians who are left to their own devices is that the albums have long run times. This case isn’t egregious but I felt ten songs would have worked better.
This album contains twelve songs with one going to the ten-minute mark and others well above five. Brevity is usually a good thing when an artist doesn't have a huge audience especially when the length is much longer than many well known artists.
Overall, there are some really good things going on with the artist. I like his style and the banjo sounds great. If he can do a little tweaking in other areas he should be in a very good place.
Robin Lewis was once the singer and songwriter for a hugely popular band in Orlando, called Who Hit Willie. They won several awards and Lewis has channelled his creative energy, passion and talent when it comes to creating original music with his newest solo project. With influences coming from all forms of power pop, folk, blue-eyed soul and reggae, there’s no genre in which this musician hasn’t dabbled. His newest album Bungalow’ is out now and features some of his finest moments when it comes to not only songwriting ability, but his talent as a performer. He writes, records and produces all his own work, which, given the high quality of the end result, is incredibly impressive. Of course, at the end of the day, it’s the music which makes this record what it is.
Robin Lewis’ latest eight-track EP entitled Bungalow opens with “Run and Hide.” A throbbing beat and slick, sliding acoustic guitar propels the song onwards, as a faint organ glimmers and shines in the backdrop of this folk-driven, melancholic work. This short track, coming in around the three-minute-mark, is laden with soft, tender vocals, as Lewis harmonizes with his own voice using careful, precise production to multi-layer all the instruments in perfect synchronization.
“Broken World” took me a little by surprise (in the best of ways). This surf-esque track takes a calmer, slower approach; driven by a slow beat, delicate chord strums and Lewis’ sweet, smooth vocals. An upbeat chord progression, several layers of guitar strumming, plucking and picking of both acoustic and electric guitars creates a delicate wall of sound. Everything runs together beautifully and this is most definitely Lewis’ strength. This upbeat track straight from the shores of some distant, otherworldly beach is the highlight of the album, by far.
The next track “Listen to the Rain” is a change of pace once again. This time, Lewis opts for a clicking, shaking drum beat, and sleek, Spanish-styled guitar playing. His vocals are consistent throughout this release, marking the most unique aspect of his style. It’s recognizable as him each and every time, meaning he’s found the perfect blend between consistency and diversity between each track, as he manages to sound new and refreshing on each new song.
Opting for more an alternative rock style, reinventing his music again, Lewis puts his soft, sleek vocals to a pumping drum beat, melancholic electric guitar chords and reverberating twangs far off in the distance. Sounding as if it’s a piece set off in a far-off galaxy, there were moments in which I felt as if Lewis was channelling a little David Bowie into his music.
All in all, this is an impressive EP. Lewis’ vast experience and success as a musician is of no surprise to me, as his musical capabilities both in terms of song-writing and performance are clear from the opening seconds of the EP. If you’re a lover of folk, or any form of solo acoustic music, then you haven’t heard it all until you’ve heard Robin Lewis. Give his EP a listen. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Divide and Conquer is dedicated to informing the public about the different types of independent music that is available for your listening pleasure as well as giving the artist a professional critique from a seasoned music geek. We review a wide variety of niche genres like experimental, IDM, electronic, ambient, shoegaze and much more.
Are you one of our faithful visitors who enjoys our website? Like us on Facebook