Some people have to really work at things and others like Ottowa singer/songwriter Christine Jakel just have an immense talent inside of them and they get it easier than others do. I’m speaking here to the fact that Jakel began to play classical piano from age five and then earned a Grade 9 certificate from the Royal Conservatory of Music.
She also learned to play guitar by just picking it up from musically inclined family members. To read between the lines one thing that you will see (or not) is the sheer determination that is evident here. But this hard work and determination shows in the compositions of her songs on her debut five-song EP Satellite Moons.
These five songs on Satellite Moons drift from pop rock standards to dreamy pop and jazzy jolts of energy. Her vocals are a candy coated falsetto that is toothache sweet and akin to the first birds of morning. The record opens with swoony alt-country and swaggering folk-rock of “Satellite Moons.”
Within a few verses it clearly unfolds to be a complicatedly constructed hit with its pitter patter drums and jangly guitar all intermingling beautifully with Jakel’s vocals. She plays around with vocal effects on “Victim of Habit” a sparkling piece of pop grandeur that shows Jackel is not afraid to push the boundaries of where her songs can go.
On “Like a Child” Jakel dips her toes into the waters of the jazz singer territory. It’s proves to be the perfect territory for her as the song, the best of the five, is instantly catchy head bobbing, finger snapping affair that stays with you long after it’s over. Up to now these songs have been sweet and light but that all changes on the dark and sinister sounding “Don’t Say My Name” on which Jakel shows that she is not just some giddy girl writing only relatable-sweet love songs but that when she wants she can erupt with wicked force.
In a world where female pop music has become oversexed and more about album packaging and over-produced radio singles that aren’t meant to last more than a few months, Satellite Moons is a breath of fresh air. Anyone who’s looking for substance in their music will surely find plenty of it on this record.
Blanker is a project from New York-based singer and guitarist John Norwood. After nearly a decade with Upstate Escape, a hybrid rock/jazz trio, Norwood founded Blanker as an amorphous creative outlet in 2014. What A View is the first record from the project, written and performed solely by Norwood. With traditional layered rock production and constantly shifting composition, Blanker moves between psych-pop territory and something altogether heavier.
The record opens with “The Almighty Jam Band” beginning with a propulsive tom pattern on the drums and a strident bass line. Norwood’s vocals have just a hint of grit to them, but stay melodic, and he harmonizes with himself capably as the track goes on. There’s an evident alt-rock influence on the guitars here with overdriven palm-muted chugging and fast arpeggios. It all comes to a head at the two-minute mark, where the feel loosens up at the song’s bridge; jazzier chords and heavy syncopation change the atmosphere considerably. It’s a punchy track, but “The Almighty Jam Band” lays out the main principle of What A View--make a clear musical statement, and then make something weird happen.
“I Ain’t A Player (I Just Bluff A Lot)” moves in a more classic-rock-inspired space with just a hint of dissonance in the verse guitar part. Norwood sings in a lower, sleazier voice, and adds some distortion on the vocals for a fuzz-blues effect. The chorus and bridge also owe much to ‘90s grunge, but Norwood successfully lands all the parts together; if you were hearing this live, it would be a lot of fun, but that makes the fact that it’s all one person all the more impressive.
Though they all have their off-kilter moments, the mid-album tracks start to fall into a clear pattern. “Trying To Fit The Cookies Back Into The Sleeve” (quite a title!) is the first of the moodier, jazzier pieces with cleaner guitars that reappear on “Straight, Life, And Other Jackets” and the bluesy swing of “Bunkers.” Meanwhile, “66 Hicks” further explores the metal-leaning alt-rock territory, taken to an almost post-hardcore level on “Blockade.” By more or less alternating between the two styles, Norwood starts to flesh out Blanker’s more specific characteristics.
One unusual track here is “Too Many Songs” which has an indie rock character more than anything else. Norwood’s delivery of “turn off your stereo” and slinky guitar lines would be right at home on a college radio station from 20 years ago. So much of What A View has such experimental sensibilities, so hearing Norwood settle into something this straightforward makes for a refreshing moment—it helps contextualize some of the weirder moments as the conscious choices of an accomplished songwriter. “Gutterball” carries some of the same vibe as well, letting the listener down easy as the record goes along, but it’s “Too Many Songs” that really offers a surprising depth to the album.
Closer “She Moves” opens with a distant guitar and a shuffling drumbeat with some unusual percussion, creating an expansive, Eastern-inspired soundscape to which Norwood adds Incubus-like harmonized vocals and washes of reverbed guitar. Though there is a moment of clarity about 2/3 in, when he sings about how his lover “left without a note,” the song is otherwise awash in a mystical, detached mood, fading out on chiming guitar parts. It lets the record drift away, rather than come to a rousing conclusion.
What A View is a chameleonic record, but it has emerged from a clearly singular musical mind. Norwood has synthesized so many interests and talents in Blanker’s music, so much so that it can be overwhelming at times. But the overall effect lands, and the dense compositions leave quite a bit for the curious listener to unpack—though the rockers are enjoyable completely at face value. There’s a lot to see here, but what a view, indeed.
OOzE is a Quebecois rock band founded in 2016. Who’s the Band is their first EP. With influences from blues, rock, prog, folk and metal, the group nevertheless focuses on the basics of garage-honed guitars and a solid rhythm section. To this end the EP was recorded live over only one weekend, and mixed with a gentler approach to emulate an in-the-room vibe.
EP opener “Outspoken” has a pronounced 6/8 feel with guitars swaying over Christian Tremblay’s straightforward rock drumming. The verses quiet down significantly, giving Philippe Belley’s subtle vocals plenty of room; Belley’s obviously Zeppelin-inspired delivery carries over into a brassy howl during the chorus parts. “Outspoken” isn’t a shock to anyone who’s heard the classic loud-quiet-loud of ‘90s rock music, but the soft touch of the quiet sections lands nicely, making for a good introduction to OOzE’s sound.
“Leo,” a tribute to late Canadian musician Leonard Cohen, has a swaying feel as well, with Louis Brouillette’s lead guitar heavily chorused at first. The track is somewhat of a slow burn with Belley working up to a shout before a soaring guitar solo. Though it may be easy to get lost in the repetitive pattern, the mood is spot-on, and it’s an appropriately disaffected tribute to the legend.
“You’re Leaving” is an uncomplicated blues-rock track with Belley approaching Chris Cornell territory in his vocal delivery. The ‘roll, baby, roll’ beat gives Michael Bouchard’s bass a little more prominence, but even as the guitars twist into dissonant knots during the solo Bouchard keeps it fairly simple, which works well. This track is a faithful execution of a well-worn style, but the pieces fall together quite nicely.
“Dust” has a spacier lead guitar with the vocal somewhat Eddie Vedder-inspired. The track really takes off, however, when the arrangement opens up into a “Sweet Child O’ Mine”-like solo section. Triumphantly returning to the chorus afterwards, “Dust” covers a lot of ground, but it lands the right moments to keep the energy constantly rising.
The closing track on the EP “Letters” has a sadder character with opening lyrics about the futility of communicating feelings. The unresolved tension in the guitar patterns gives the track a relentless quality, highlighted by Tremblay’s explosive drums, until the whole thing clatters to an end. It’s a strong note to end the EP on, burning out instead of fading away.
OOzE wouldn’t easily be described as innovators, but the band clearly grasps what made its influences great, and capitalizes on that knowledge as fully as possible. Who’s the Band is all the more remarkable as a coherent statement straight from the garage. With plenty of powerful moments and solid, if occasionally repetitive, songwriting, OOzE brings the noise capably.
Jim Murphy and Dave Gillespie met in jazz band in college. They quickly developed a friendship and formed Davenport Rex. Last October they released their second album entitled Deux. There wasn’t much jazz on the album but instead it felt more firmly grounded in progressive rock.
The band gets going with “Shine” which was a catchy, well delivered song. It did veer towards a more traditional rock sound in my opinion. In fact there was an ’80s flavor somewhere in there that was hard to pinpoint between the production aesthetics and vocal delivery.
Up next is “This Old House.” I really liked this song because of the dynamics and the different places it went. It started with an acoustic guitar progression and vocals before dematerializing in ambience before the drums, bass and organ are introduced. Speaking of that ’80s influence I was definitely reminded of that on the chorus and on the verse with Pink Floyd-esque guitar solos. There's no doubt it was an ambitious song.
“Someday” was a highlight for me. The song was emotionally resonant and more melancholy and thought provoking. I also thought the vocals really shined here. Great stuff.
“Lullaby” has a reflective, coming of age type quality to it which was enjoyable. I think some of the more progressive elements of the music comes out in “Bonfires.” It’s around the three-minute mark where the band gets experimental by implementing digital sounding orchestral elements before working their way to a rocking chorus.
As the album progress there was a lot to appreciate, “I’m Waiting,” “So Sorry” and “Simple Love” were the other standouts.
Deux was a really good album overall. The songs were dense and obviously meticulously created. On top of that the album had a good flow with ten tracks and didn’t feel like it went on too long.
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
Shugar Pills One Weekend 3.4
Lou Kelly Scum Lords 3.7
MERSKY EP 3.4
Osseous Nostalgia 3.4
Daylong Moon Voiceless-Garrulous 3.2
Ink Sticks & Stones All That Gets Left Behind 3.8
Ian Lewis For You To Hear 3.8
The Isolation Tank Pinhole Camera 3.5
Lucas Tayne A Point A Round 3.3
Echonest is the solo eight-string guitar project of Raleigh, NC guitarist Warren Sharp. After spending some time with his EP Ready to Roll I’d say this is musician’s music. I felt like the emphasis was on the technical playing for the most part. On that note the songs all have a different flavor.
Sharp opens with “Ella” which was my favorite track for a number of reasons. His guitar work is fantastic period and the performance felt natural and live. Sharp plays with finesses and nuance and you could hear it. He does that on other tracks as well but I have to admit that I had a hard time getting past the programmed metronome perfect drums on other tracks which was my only issue with the songs. I realize you have to work with your limitations but felt like the drums were too intrusive and lacked the dynamics of a human drummer.
“Cerulean” is where Sharp starts to shred. There is definitely an ’80s instrumental vibe here not too far away from someone like Joe Satriani. There is a ton of impressive lead work that goes into prog rock territory and Sharp never rests on his laurels.
The guitar work on “Oscar Dingus” was so smooth and jazzy. It however does not stay that way. There are some extremely intense walls of sounds that you can hear around the five-minute mark. I was baffled as to why there was an extra minute of silence. Artistic statement?
He closes with the prog heavy song “The Night Snail” that eventually dissipates into ambient atmosphere which was quite enjoyable.
I can’ say the songs were emotionally heavy for me but I sure appreciated the immense guitar skill. I have to admit that I would love to hear him paired with a bassist and drummer who are as technically talented as he is.
The Pittsburgh psychedelic soul project Cisco Kid came about when drummer Marc Martinka reached out to his former bandmates Brian Swed, Richard Stanley and Martin Connolly to help him with his solo project known as River Rat. However once these guys started jamming out together they realized the sound they had stumbled upon went way beyond the River Rat project. They soon picked up two more members, vocalist Nick Guckert and keyboardist Andrew Van Treeck. With the lineup complete they worked towards polishing and finishing the record which came to be Beautiful Day to Die which the band released in mid-October.
Cisco Kid, that I am going out on a limb here to say took their name from the ‘70s funk rock band War, can definitely sound a bit at times like the Grateful Dead. Although I would argue that comparison is only one which can serve as a guidepost to their genre, and I wouldn’t say that they sound exactly like the Grateful Dead in the least. The opening song, “Run No More” has a funky and soulful laid back rock sound, and layered vocals but I think they definitely skew a little more towards classic rock than the Grateful Dead ever really did. Next up “Tell Your Mama” has a guitar driven groove interlaced with bits of funk and a catchy chorus which echoes the song’s title.
There are plenty of gems on this record that sound like they could be straight off an unearthed reel to reel tape from the ’70s. The sparkly “Genial Gene” has all the funky and catchy grooves of a radio friendly eight-track single, as does the spacious, feel good jam “Take Care” as its deep falsetto sung vocals preach the peace and harmony that was so much a part of music at that time, and quite frankly something that music needs more of.
Beautiful Day to Die closes out with the sprawling and mostly instrumental title track and reminded me of something that a post Beatles George Harrison would have come up with.
As I remarked earlier there are certain songs on Cisco Kid’s debut Beautiful Day to Die which could see the band getting comparisons to The Grateful Dead, but this songs aren’t written in that same drug fueled vein and they don’t just keep going on forever being extended because everyone is too high to stop playing the same riff for six hours straight. These songs are well worn and full of hope, a hope which, sadly, one rarely hears in music these days.
Inspired by troubled love, confusions about life, insanity and the comedy of the world, comes Crooked Smile, the follow up release to Where’s The Music Gone? from the Eugene, Oregon trio NineDice. Influenced by many genres of music including blues, ‘90s alt-rock, funk and soul the band’s latest album was recorded, mixed and mastered over a span of four years at Heartwise Records in Seattle, Washington. NineDice describes their latest effort coming from a Foo Fighters influence, a hint of Sabbath and a touch of love. The band consists of Tyler Nice on lead vocal and guitar, Josh Lambe on bass and Robert Dennison on drums and cajon.
Starting with the opener “Words Out” which is a rock/pop icebreaker with nice harmonies. “Follow Me” follows along in those same footsteps and I would add that these first two songs reminded me of Kings of Leon (but I think “Follow Me” should have been titled “Lived to Hear About It”). “Two Years Later” is acoustically driven and features a happy, danceable beat. “Notice Me” has a dirty, gritty guitar riff. It sounds darker as if influenced by Sabbath or Queens of the Stone Age with a sing-a-long chorus of “a-a-a-ohh, a-a-a-ohh, notice me.”
“Your Skin” starts off delicate and features the “rat-a-tat-tat” guitar style reminiscent of earlier work by The Edge. Also, it seems like this song was broken in two or three parts as if it went into a different key but perhaps this was intentional. In any case, it sounds like it could be the song for that special someone in your life and has an inspiring feel to it. “More Than You’ll Ever Know” has a great shine to it – a good ballad tune for the one you love. Guitar work sounds like a mix of Hendrix and whatever guitarist the Red Hot Chili Peppers recruited to play “Under The Bridge.”
“Rescue Me” is an acoustic funk jam with great harmonica; a good sing-a-long tune accompanied by children’s voices, which was a pretty cool addition in my opinion. “Learning” has some rather funny sounding lyrics – I couldn’t determine if Nice was singing “I’ve been a-learning a-nickle or lickle or…huh?” “State of Mind” has a killer guitar riff and the lyrics are tight and fit together like a well-written poem. This one sounds like it has a Foo Fighters influence, but the transitions from chorus back to verse was a bit sticky.
“Say It Louder” has an Sabbath influenced intro and seems to be about wanting to hold onto that feeling of good times with your friends because you know they won’t last. Although the guitar work in the end was gorgeous, I think this song could have been trimmed down a bit. On the other hand, there is a pretty interesting tempo change mid way so that helped to keep the song moving along. Crooked Smile could use some tightening up in certain spots where some song endings seemed unnecessary but overall, NineDice offers gorgeous melodies and great rocking tunes that should appeal to most everyone.
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Stevie’s Revenge is a Vancouver, BC-based band; this self-titled EP Stevie’s Revenge is the group’s debut, following the single release of EP track “Broken Radio.” With a slate of psych-rock and dream-pop influences from Pink Floyd to Portugal. The Man, the quartet brings spacey guitars and gentle synths to smooth rock songwriting. Self-recorded in the guitarist’s bedroom, Stevie’s Revenge skips lo-fi aesthetics for a crisp, clean, yet intimate sound.
Opener “How it Goze” inaugurates the record with effected guitar strums, dropping into a minimal, bass-forward groove. Daniel Tran serves both as lead vocalist and bassist, and his performances in both roles follow a similar pattern—uncomplicated, slick melodies that the band can build around. Talon Dunbar’s classic synth sounds give an ethereal breadth to Tran’s parts, while Kat Vu’s drumming locks in comfortably and keeps the whole thing down to earth. Dunbar’s synth interplay with Evan Martinuik’s bright guitar chords is reminiscent of early Wild Nothing, carrying a lot of that group’s detached melancholy without getting too emotionally melodramatic. It’s a bold opener, and sets the tone for all that follows.
“Uncool” has much of the same structure as “How it Goze,” but goes even more sparse on its verses, paring down to little other than Tran and Vu’s rhythm section under the lead vocal. The wandering pitch of the effected synth gives the part a sun-streaked quality, further enhanced with gorgeous clean lead guitar. Though it’s a bit more restrained initially, the track’s building conclusion and refrain of “I’ve got nothing to prove / Nothing to lose / I’ve been tryin’ to be cool” reaches a tone of (admittedly understated) anguish.
“Broken Radio” lets the arpeggiated guitar lead the arrangement a bit, and the guitar/bass break after the first verse allows the rich tones and stacked melodic work to stand out. Vu adds some nice touches on the drum part with stops and fills bringing variety even when the strings are locked in on a repeating phrase. There’s even a nice whispered vocal buried in the mix at some parts. The aesthetics stick the landing on “Broken Radio” and the extended jam section allows for some flashy instrumental work, all without the tone-setting synths of the preceding tracks.
EP closer “Ontario” opens with acoustic guitar and a gentle, pedal-steel-esque instrumental lead. With a more rustic vibe, the track brings even more gorgeous sounds to the Stevie’s Revenge palette, and demonstrates the band’s compositional depth. About halfway in, the drums quicken the tempo, morphing the dusty intro into something closer to the group’s core sound. Tran repeats the simple but evocative line “I will be a while / Won’t you let me go,” and the instruments slowly quiet as a hot microphone buzzes, letting the track fade away. It’s clever production work, and a nice way to let the listener down gently.
It’s clear on Stevie’s Revenge that the band has a well-established sound, and it’s a pleasure to hear the players explore it and expand upon it. Rarely can a debut sound so cohesive, or a bedroom production sound so elegant. Stevie’s Revenge have found their wave, and with luck they’ll float on it for a long while.
It was about twenty years ago that I was in college and discovered Bright Eyes. I found Obert’s confessional lyrics about anxiety, depression and his neurosis moving. Those types of lyrics have become ubiquitous ever since in my opinion and was the first thing I was thinking of when listening to Chandler Bernard aka Foxpaw. On his EP You Won't Miss Me Bernard weaves stories of existential anxiety that stem from being a young person trying to find his way in the world.
Bernard’s vocals have a tenuous quality to them that fit the lyrics. Take for instance the opener “Serpentine.” He sings “I'm selfish and shallow, uncaring and cold / And I will always be brooding and alone It seems, no place for me, no home to call my own.” The lyrics on this song were some of my favorites because of the metaphors and analogies he interjects. It also doesn't hurt that the song is catchy.
“Ghost” on the other hand is more confessional and unfolds like a stream of consciousness. I really enjoyed the string work on this song as well as the melody. Great song. I don't think you can deny how dismal sounding “Polaris” is in the beginning. His vocal delivery combined with the lyrics were emotionally resonant. That being said the song does seem to end on a more hopeful outlook. He sings, “And I will find my feet / When I leave this place / And rubber meets the highway; And maybe when those state lines change, it will be a new day.”
“50 years” was a little too much to stomach. I liked the melody but the lyrics were almost a little too straightforward for me on this song. He closes with “The Boy Who Wished for Wings” which is lyrically one of the strongest songs and just a great song in general.
As mentioned earlier this type of vibe which I largely credit Oberst for making popular has made it harder for these types of songwriters to stick out. Bernard is a solid songwriter but there is a sense of familiarity here and I encourage him to keep at it and think about ways to separate himself from the crowd.
The recording quality fares consistently with lo-fi and there were some flubs in timing that could have been ironed out. That being said it did give it some character and I would like to hear something a little more refined at some point.
Overall, there is a lot to appreciate here. Bernard is a young guy with a good amount of talent and I hope to hear more in the not too distant future. Recommended.
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