Sonatore's Dream Boy EP is a brilliant, shiny object for my senses. It's soaked in a glittering dew of fantasy and originality. The music is head to toe an electronic labor of love and yet it is romantic and pastoral and it ultimately felt like an organic experience to me. I'm not one that is easily persuaded to indulge my more whimsical side, but with just five tracks, I was completely won over. If you're bringing love for ’80s synth, indie rock and electro pop you cannot go wrong here. This high tech sound comes from Nashville, Tennessee and I can say with confidence I did not see that coming. I have heard a lot of cool music come out of Nashville, but nothing quite like this.
The first track "Midnight Man" is my favorite and may be one of my favorite introductions to a band of all time. This track is so green and lush as it builds. They managed to capture the chaotic noise of a forest in full swing in the evening. Heading on down the line with tracks like "Dream Boy" and "Agents of Love" things get a little more brick and mortar. I can now picture the skyscrapers and bustling traffic. The music captures this imagery and then slows it down a bit just so you can take a second to breathe it all in.
"Colors & Sounds" builds an interesting bridge between settings. This one has a great indie rock feel tucked away behind the electro curtain and I loved it. The final track is "Space Turbulence" and it rounds the collection of settings quite nicely. As one may expect, you get to go a little off planet with this one or at least get some distance between you and whatever is bugging you. This is one more on the psychedelic spectrum. I like how with just five songs we get to go to so many places.
The goal of this EP was to evoke a dreamlike sensation and I would say that mission has been accomplished with great help from the production. Sonatore at its core is Alex Red, a musician, painter and oneironaut (expand your vocabulary and look that one up, the music will make so much more sense once you do). It doesn't shock me to know that this EP was a home recording project, but I am impressed with the polish of the finished product. Red worked hand in hand with Chance Cook on the mixing and mastering process and their good work is very noticeable. Red likes to indulge in music that resembles noise and this is a tricky art form to pull of properly. Luckily, attention to detail has made Red and Cook's efforts a poster child in my book for how to do noise music. There is a decisive direction applied to finely crafted layers of sounds; this direction cradled everything into a nice, even flow.
This album has so many applications for me personally. It's rare music can be both unwinding and productive for me, but that's where Dream Boy landed for me and I couldn't be happier to be aware of its existence.
A musician needs to have an arsenal of sounds. Ideally, you don’t want to work with presets in Garageband or any other DAW for numerous reasons. You want to build a unique template of tones and textures which will stand out against the noise. For Michael Klug it was his latest release entitled Different Universe where he started to explore new sounds with a new DAW.
Klug makes electronic compositions that involve layers of pads, arpeggiated synths and much more. You can hear this on the first track “The End Of Days.” The song starts off subtle enough with not much more than what sounds like a metronome that slowly mutates. Other elements start to arrive like a sub bass drum and an arpeggiated synth. Klug doesn't so much as sing as he does recite in spoken word. The beginning of the song at its best has some similarities to an artist like Aphex Twin. Once big lush pads enter into the mix the song starts to feel melodramatic and grandiose as he says, “You are everything / And nothing / Don't assume the earth / Will stop spinning just for you.”
“The Summer Of Suffering” was a little more grounded with a beat and rhythm. There were still plenty of cosmic sounding synths. The lamenting is so dramatic at points it almost spills over to comedy. It was a little hard to tell the vibe that he was going for at points.
“Either Ether” is a highlight. I thought the production was inventive and you can tell his new arsenal of sounds was coming into play. The vocals are dramatic and monotone as if he is some sort of demigod spouting off eternal knowledge. Up next is “Gas Cloud Suffocation” which was my favorite track. It’s dark and nihilistic. It sounds like the thoughts of someone who needs to find meaning and significance with their life. “Not At Home” is a collection of ambient pads and synths while the closing title track had some of the best programming on the album.
In all honesty this album felt like it was coming from a place of pain, suffering and depression. And you don’t have to read the between the lines to recognize that. The search for meaning in a meaningless universe, the self depreciating lyrics and the yearning for something more than a mundane existence in favor of the cosmos itself.
Overall, this seems like another step up in production and sound design. I hope to hear more as he continues to evolve.
After releasing their self-titled debut Hydra Plane, the Baton Rouge, Louisiana trio known as Hydra Plane follow up less than a year later with II. Carrying on their improvisational structure of songwriting and playing, they delve deeper into psychedelic rock, funk, jazz, surf rock and indie rock. Comparatively, the styles and sounds heard on II are similar to artists such as King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, The Strokes, Pink Floyd, The Talking Heads, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Radiohead and Red Hot Chili Peppers. The trio - Jacob Stanley (guitar/vocals), Eric Stewart (bass guitar) and Stephen Nelson (drums) have already gained a good reputation in their home turf and in New Orleans, where they currently reside. They’ve also toured playing gigs in Memphis, Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville and St. Louis, and are currently planning a tour for next year.
The opening guitar riffs on “Love Misunderstood” sound like a great classic ‘80s new wave tune. The drums sounds as natural as natural can be – which in my opinion, is a damn sweet sound and the solo breaks get into an even more new wave vibe. So, my answer then – give it a listen. On “Grand Theatre of Irony” the bass lines lead in heavy and the song’s overall structure is a cross between groovy pop from the ‘60s but with a newer twist, like a throwback sound, but without sounding over the top. Oh yeah, and the guitar solo is tasty! “Girl with Fashion Sense” reminds me a little of ABC, the Smiths and the Squeeze rolled into one – but minus the mopey, narcissistic stuff Morrissey usually writes about.
“Bittersweet Daydream” fades in with a dreamy sounding guitar riff and a jerky jumping drum beat. I heard a bit of the bass but it’s more subdued in this number, until a break happens when the drums cut out and the bass goes into a crazy good solo. Of course, being the nerd that I am when it comes to instrumentals, I couldn’t get enough of this one – simply lovely. “Shake to Incorporate” starts off with a jazzy drum beat, a free form bass line and psyched out guitar effects that keep getting better as the music progresses. Then, the trio breaks into a funk so deep and groovy, and later into a sweet jazz style, so that I’m instantly transported to a higher level I’ve only dreamed about. The lyrics drop in half way with an echo effect. Give this one a listen too – you won’t regret it.
“Uncle Fuck” really gets down and groovy with a danceable beat and bass line. The guitar is low as the bass takes center stage embellished with a sweet sound of a warbly effect pedal. This is another fantastic instrumental that was strong start to finish. “Causality” begins with the sound of the tom-tom drums, and high smooth sounding guitar riffs, until the trio breaks into a fast and frenzied punk infused mash up. In my view, this tune was perhaps the band’s strongest in terms of musical styles and composition – I mean, my mind was blown – and yes, oh yes, another sweet instrumental.
“Nothing Was the Same” begins with a mellower style with some higher intense points throughout. It felt to me a mix of trippier tunes from the ‘70s alongside soft rock-jazz. The groove and swing with “Sweat Rag” is so damn fantastic, I just can’t get the right words enough to express how damn fantastic it is! I guess, if you love jazz, funk and the sounds of a trumpet – or in other words, a band called Fat Rudy, that may no longer be around – then you can’t go wrong with this one. And yes, another instrumental, but eh… who’s counting? “Blue and Yellow” has a lounge sound in an old school jazz kind of way – I mean, these guys nailed that nostalgic feel very well I’d say.
Lastly, with “Bad Witch” the longest of the eleven-song album, comes an intro narration by Emily Mccollister. After that, a steady fast beat and rhythm from the bass with vocals by Chloe Marie. This song had a different feel and it could be because it seemed more lyrically heavy and had a more traditional rock song arrangement than the others. The trio gets really tight musically and overall the feel inside the song was hauntingly good. Another stellar tune. I may be biased because I love the many styles that Hydra Plane lays down throughout their album, but seriously – I feel these improvisational virtuosos are the real deal. And even if this Baton Rouge trio are only doing it for fun, well then – keep doing what you’re doing! And please, come up north – I’ll be the first in line to your show.
The Lawrence, Kansas driving rock quartet Amore Et Bellum takes their name from the Latin. It means love and war and that’s how the band sees the music that they write represents. They take as their odes the genres of blues, hard rock, and jazz and tribal compositions. On their self-titled release Amore Et Bellum they do a good job of balancing out playing songs that represent the trials and tribulations that one learns to deal with artistically as they encounter them.
Amore Et Bellum wastes no time digging into things as they open the record with “Take the House.” The mixture of jazz and funk slowly broods into a gritty and cohesive dark rock song that begins to jam and stomp near the end with a fiery blaze. To accompany this fiery song one needs a powerful vocalist and the band has found one to fill the role, Tahnsui Thawngmung. Even when she is speak-singing as she does on “Witches Brew,” a dirty riffing rocker with head pounding drums and thumping bass, she is able to keep up with no problem. She has about her vocals that great sneer that artists such as Joan Jett and Pat Benetar were so good at without seeming like they were trying too hard.
Later on the breakdown of “Brothers Blood” is a surefire hard rock radio hit, full of fluid guitar rock, Thawngmung does a bit of a cappella if only to show that she can belt it out just as beautifully as she can snarl. This range is then quieted down on the slow beginnings of “Satan is a She” which later erupts to become one of the band’s most intricate songs as it goes from lows to highs to hard edges. Its tonal shifts are pulled off perfectly and show that the band is more than just a bar rocking jam outfit; also that they can pull off things in the studio too. This also goes for the feisty rocker “War Cry.”
Amore Et Bellum is definitely a band that I think will go far, especially as they begin to branch out their sound and experiment a little bit more with their songwriting and begin to explore a bit more of a sound outside the typical confines of rock n’ roll.
Josh Christina is an artist from Baltimore who released Instincts. He plays upbeat, fun songs that seem borderline perfect for a piano bar. His music combines rockabilly, blues, classic and even country.
He opens with “Friend Zone.” I did some research and this seems to be where a guy or gal is pursuing a romantic relationship with someone and they only want to be friends. I’ve never had this problem so I couldn’t relate to this song but appreciated the wonderful melodies and exuberant singing. Ok I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek. The song eventually gets to a full on celebration in terms of the music. It felt a bit too excited for someone who got stuck in the “Friend Zone.”
“Counting Sheep” pretty much sounds like walking down a Manhattan street in 1986. It’s smooth until it’s festive. On “Letters” Christina finally has you staring into that very special someone’s eyes next to a fireplace in a wood cabin. It’s cozy, romantic and more romantic.
After the love session is over it’s time to go back to the dance floor with Tom Hanks on “Spic and Span.” Something about that song made me want to watch the movie BIG. Does anyone else remember that one?
The gospel roots start to show on “Rich Man’s Daughter.” Up next is “Love is funny.” I can think of a lot more funny things such as any SNL sketch that Will Ferrell has ever been in. The song isn’t that funny but it’s quite bluesy and soulful. I really liked this one.
I approached “Blasted in the Basement” with trepidation. The song title left me uneasy but I eventually appreciated the song. “The Good Book” he refers to seems to be the bible. “Instincts” and “School’s Out” are more rockabilly goodness.
So the album ends with a medley of cover songs.”Rock and Roll Medley: Hound Dog / Long Tall Sally / Johnny Be Good / Whole Lotta Shakin” is the name. This confirms my suspicion that this is certified piano bar music.
Christina isn’t poking at any convention or attempting anything out of the ordinary. The music is straightforward but well written and delivered. Take a listen.
Dali Van Gogh is a band from Halifax, Nova Scotia comprised of Isaac Kent (guitar), Jaad Stewart (drums), Devon Roberts (keys), Cyrus Robertson-Orkish (bass) and John Scotto (vocals). They released three albums; their latest being From Ashes.
The band has an ubiquitous hard rock sound that sounds for the most part FM radio friendly. I want to say this style of hard rock emerged post grunge with varying degrees of success. Dali Van Gogh had a familiar sound to my years. The vocals were masculine, deep and with an inflection that seems to be somewhat of a standard, backed by driving drums and distorted guitars. That being said the band covers a lot of ground with From Ashes.
The band gets going with “Grave Digger” which was an intense opener. It felt like a party right off the bat with celebratory “ooohs and aahhs” and a cutting verse that reminded me of Queens of the Stone Age. No matter what your thoughts are, it’s the kind of song that grabs your attention.
“God Help Me I Like It” resurrects the energy of a band like Pearl Jam in their prime with the opening riff. “Soul Food” continues with impressive kinetic energy while “Black Scales” is a little dark and ominous. “Sunshine” is one of the catchiest songs but the lyrics don’t paint a pretty picture. Scotto sings, “I still inhale the smoke, the smell of ashes / I hear the scream, the please, the growing desperate / Please god, save me, get me out of this nightmare.” It has a great guitar solo as well.
The band showcases impressive dynamics on “Fear” while “Outside Looking in” felt like the most commercially appealing song for the masses. The good times roll with “Babylon,” “Dark Passenger” and the explosive “Stand Up, Wake Up” which sounds like it had a bit more of an ’80’s influence. The band rocks out hard on the whole album and I have to admit that the last song “Torn To Pieces” which contains acoustic guitar felt like an odd way to end the album.
Dali Van Gogh isn’t pushing any boundaries but they know how to make an accessible rock song. Take a listen.
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CASE is a five-piece indie rock outfit based out of Chicago. With their first EP out this past June, they’ve already gained popularity with one of their singles reaching over 170,000 streams of Spotify and another single “In Season” getting over 40,000 streams within the first two weeks of its release. With a short three-song effort, this young band’s debut, Questions of Space, “questions the spaces we occupy through our interactions with individuals, religion and the beauties and violence that cohere much of our lives.”
“So Much It Could Be; So Little Is” starts off with a full, dreamy rhythm and a trumpet that just sounds so gorgeous. Next up, vocal harmonies jump in singing something like, “all alone…all alone.” Then, a string section adds a contemporary classical feel. The instruments drop out for a bit, as a hushed sound of brushes whisk the snare drum. The sounds build towards the end – the trumpet gets louder, and the electric guitar fills the air with its solo as breathy vocals join in. I loved this song and could clearly see why, or rather hear why, it got so many listens already.
“More Than Life” drags along with a slow beat and more of those dreamy, falsetto-like voices. The song also features trumpet again, more brash and bold than mellow, and a louder drum kit. The song’s tempo was a bit too slow for me perhaps, but overall it had a nice warm, romantic vibe. Lastly, the beginning to “Oh God, No God” feels like a warm, summer breeze as the instruments stroll and strum along with ease and soft, graceful tones. The rhythm is mellow, as is the trumpet and drums, which is what I liked best about this band. However, the entire song doesn’t carry on like this, as the drums break into harder edged beat and the trumpet dives into a livelier sound – and then some – towards the song’s ending.
I don’t doubt this Chicago band’s next endeavor will be something to look forward to – as long as there are questions to ponder, there’ll be creative minds answering them through the art of music.
A sound combining hardcore punk and the sludge riffing of fellow Atlantans Mastodon essentially defines New Bedlam; a closer look reveals groove elements, bluesy lonerism and grunge. The vocals are aggressive across the board, emphasizing the rage and delirium of disenfranchisement. Singer David Blair is a man possessed as he rails against his life and his significant others.
There’s a quirky sarcasm to the aggression that makes his monstrous intensity more relatable: “it’s 4 AM and I’m fucking wasted…surprise!” he howls on “Weight”, a blindingly fast hellcat dirge that doesn’t let up until a half timed storm of cymbals and guitar harmonies crash in that read almost nu metal.
“Weight” also includes these great moments of drop outs and count offs, an inventive dynamic tool; and another interesting transition can be found on “Pretty Dead,” which features a choppy drum and guitar vamp with noise rock swells falling into silence with a cymbal crash, only to be revived for a hastened punk outro. The genre blend this band displays is thrilling.
Blair described Genetically Awkward simply as “the sound of my late 20’s: depression, sarcasm, enlightenment,” and such ambiguity in his thinking points to the bigger picture that New Bedlam is more about the feeling, absent of classification.
A talent for the hook is evident. My personal favorite is the “hey” motif found on the closing track “Used And On Sale.” The song features hallucinogenic lead guitars that twist around the snarling and angry riffs; it’s a full mix of sounds that showcases a range for Blair: clean singing into growls on the verses, full on screaming choruses. If you have an appetite for just under ten minutes of nonstop, emotional hardcore with a personal narrative then Genetically Awkward will satisfy.
Sydney’s own Oxford Poet has adopted reverie to refer to the wild, crazed delirium that their brand of classic, crunchy and psychedelic rock epitomizes. The ingredients are all that you’d expect from a group that took their time to hone a sound colorful enough to attract the attention of a top notch producer like Ben Hayward. The result is an organic and spellbinding effort, combining the talents of a sensational singer, floating rhythm section and skilled guitarists. Reverie is five tracks that display enough variation and memorability to never stagnate when the needle is reset again and again on this brief but rewarding experience.
Stylistically I hear shades of Jeff Buckley, especially in the voice, those moments when frontman Alex Carlo-Stella goes high and pushes against the slashing guitars and battering drums. There’s a psychedelic element found throughout from effected guitars, delays and plane-takeoff flangers; times when the onslaught ebbs and a heady bass groove mixes with shimmering guitar melodies and cymbals to give a slight high; the outro of “What’s Inside” provides a great example.
The drum grooves that begin “Surprise Of The Light” and “Trigger” are an excellent transition/songcraft technique that has a storied history from Buddy Rich to Glenn Kotche of Wilco and highlight Liam Robson’s pocket.
The guitars are noteworthy; James Hill and Connor Davies cook up the aforementioned Tame Impala trippyness but also deliver time worn Zeppelin riffs, a surf rock pastiche that’s straight Tarantino, face melting hard rock leads and swampy arpeggios. Their work is a crucial element to the band’s overall feeling of virtuosity, and their layers and progressions define these songs more than any other.
The indie rock closer “What’s Inside” is an example of both the best and worst from this project: the song is great, the performances and arrangement are jammy; the mix drops the ball here though, offering less cohesion then the previous tracks demonstrated. Whether it’s the byproduct of dipping into a different genre is only speculation, but even so the band’s tight playing and strong melodies keep this one afloat in its murky waters.
I loved Reverie. It reminded me of the prospects of guitar driven music in 2018, and features a singer with a great timbre and a lot to say. They fit in nicely with the now world renowned rock revival occurring in Australia and could be posed to succeed not just on their continent, but internationally one day.
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THNDR, aka Joshua Hundert, is a songwriter, vocalist, beat-maker and self-professed “dilettante of several instruments.” Hundert has been actively creating music for nearly 25 years with many of those years spent in Vancouver, British Columbia. A few notable achievements already under his belt are opening for Saul Williams and headlining The Dawson City Music Festival with his past project called Threat From Outer Space. He credits his parents’ eclectic collection, which introduced Josh to many styles and genres: Motown, Stax Records, soul/R&B, British rock, blues and hard-bop jazz, thus leading him to where he is now. He describes his latest album Plus as having “heavy-handed bass riffs – both synth and guitar written” that “form the underpinnings of this entire record.” He also hugely geeks out on vocal harmonies, which after a listen, was clearly evident.
The opener “From Me” sounds like something I haven’t heard in a long, long time but also, something that had a totally new and refreshing twist. I got the feeling that I had to hear this one over again because I thought it had a very strong opening, filled with the promise of what makes a good album. Maybe you’ll get where I’m coming from. “HOF” has a soulful, low down groove with crazy good synths and a catchy beat. “When To Stop” perhaps has a bit more heaviness with bass synths laying down the basic melody. The guitar is reminiscent of R&B and soul from the ‘70s and the added vocal layering effects with extra synth sounds gave this tune a futuristic feel.
“Amnesially” is one hell of a mashed-up song – one of those that may take a while to break down and then ask – ok, what is THNDR doing here? From what I could tell, it’s a little techno, a little industrial with some shadowy, heavy sounds going on. It’s a sweet song no doubt! “Coming Through” reminded me of something that U2 did on one of their experimental ‘90s records, like Zooropaor Pop. Trippy sounds overlapped with an innovative guitar never sounded so original. “Looking At You” feels like a sensual, hot night in some downtown where you wish the things you were experiencing would last forever. Hundert lays down some sweet grooves that are compelling and memorable.
“Play It Down” features a groove that made me think of Prince’s lesser known songs, but that are every bit as good as his greatest hits. The keys get heavy, loud and abundant all centered on a funky dance beat. Closing the album, “The Park” has full guitars in the beginning with warmer sounding drums programmed. Hundert flexes his falsetto very nicely on a beat that’s a bit more traditional soul and R&B than say, dance pop or techno.
Overall, this was a rather short album, so I had to listen to it again, because dang… I thought it was truly fantastic! Hundert puts in a lot of effort both musically and compositionally as a songwriter in just eight short songs – none of which came close to four minutes – but, no complaints here. Looking forward to more.
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