When one thinks of blues or bluegrass music there comes with it a certain thematic quality of the south. Here are born tough songs about love and loss, drinking too much and fighting. Things that can happen in other musical genres but just don’t sound the same as they do when they’re played through bluesy and rough hewn bluegrass music.
The Chapel Hill, North Carolina based singer/songwriter Alan Brown knows this as he even set out to name his first record simply Blues & Bluegrass. Brown’s day job is working at a university and he is the first to admit that his songwriting process is out of the ordinary and he can sometimes go weeks and months without touching his guitar, but there is rarely a time when there is not a tune going around in Brown’s head.
The opening track on Blues & Bluegrass is a simple and sing-songish ditty called “Since You’ve Been Gone.” An acoustic guitar pairs well with Brown’s pure vocals and his lyrics are dead on as he laments his heartache on this love song singing, “Well the sun don’t shine and the moon don’t glow / Rain is dry and the wind won’t blow / Leaves won’t turn, but my heart has turned to stone / You see it’s been that way ‘round here / since you been gone.” This hyperbole is well known in the blues and bluegrass community and I liked that it picked up on that immediately and stuck with it.
Later on the soft and smooth “Gamblin Man” he does this same thing but with a more direct effect of sadness that is much richer. Like his predecessors he’s been compared to – Jim Croce is one – he has this ability to tell a story and paint a picture with his lyrics. So he is really more of a storyteller than a musician so to speak, much in the way Harry Chapin was. This storytelling voice is all over this record most notably on tracks like the reverent “Mr. Blue” and the superb “Squeeze Me Like a Lemon” both of which create completely separate moods, and it’s this tonality and story telling range which I found made Blues & Bluegrass such a worthwhile listen.
Montreal based singer/songwriter Ziggi Jadovsky along with her backing band, a Montreal based jazz funk outfit called The Firing Squad consisting of Alex Lepanto, Gideon Yellin and Lloyd White, have recently released Jadovsky’s second record, the six-song EP Shadow Roots.
The first thing that one notices is the power behind Jadovsky’s vocals, a rich bluesy growl that oftentimes overshadows everything that gets in its way. The record itself seems to have some of its own roots in thematics taken from nature as Jadovsky wrote parts of the record while visiting an uncle who is an environmental professor. And if that wasn’t nature enough the record even features a sampling of Mr. nature show himself David Attenborough.
The first song “Sun-slapped Southern Son” displays Jadovsky’s elegant and powerful blues steeped vocals. It also shows off the shininess of her backing band. But the song itself is a bit odd and off. The two entities are counter productive against one another and it starts to sound messy, like two cats fighting for territory. Both the band and Jadovsky are powerful and well meaning in their own right, although they don’t always mix. Next on “Nature is Dead” the group sounds as though they are running through a sound check of sorts. Chaos seems to be happening here.
There seems to be a bit of a regrouping on the song “Goblin Shark” where the band is able to hold itself back from too much tenaciousness and lets Jadovsky get her point across. This happens to its highest degree on the record on “Glass Ceilings” on which the band emerges and actually sounds like a band who is backing a singer with complementary music, rather than just trying to wing it with experimental spur of the moment compositions. The final track “Le Vertige (chaque jour)” has the same feeling to it, a simple guitar and drum beat work together to give a platform to Jadovsky.
Second records are always tricky things because one is never sure of which direction to take, especially if the first record was successful. On Shadow Roots Ziggi Jadovsky and her band are still trying to find and strike a balance. However when they do find this balance from time to time it’s really worth the price of admission.
Easy Honey has its roots in Charleston, South Carolina. The band carries itself as a permanent party, one that listeners will never truly have to leave behind. This aspect was easy to add to their shows, and now they have immortalized their sound through the magic of recording. Releasing their self-titled album Easy Honey in mid-April of 2018, the band is off to a roaring start making their mark in the ongoing worldwide music discussion.
The second track “Give Me A Break” features much of the overview of the band. Heavy build-ups from verses to choruses, pounding drums and soaring lyrics that become infectious after few listens. The solos that line the track and work cooperatively with a bassline and drummer that can highlight the true nuance of the guitar are essential. Easy Honey has no problems with bringing these elements into the spotlight for all to see and enjoy.
“Slider” features more of a swing-like guitar pattern. Its placement further down the record is perfect. While the track lets off on the gas a little bit, there is no end in sight to the amount of cruising that can be done with this album. It is no longer a 90-mile per hour race, but a 65-mile per hour stint in the middle lane. Still making great time to the destination, but not in a frantic hurry. None of the elements of the previous tracks are missing. They are just done with a different energy and from a different angle than the other tracks.
Fans will quickly find that Easy Honey is an album that carries a lot of personality from the band to the listener. These are not just recorded songs, they are recorded performances. The passion and energy is brought to each track so that it feels more like a glimpse at a live performance than a band that spent a week in a studio. This authenticity is not to be taken lightly. Easy Honey will find its way into heavy rotation without much thought or effort to its spot in the line-up. It’s a utility record with enough emotion and attitude from all angles that can reach any listener.
Clairvoyant Chasm is a band comprised of Marc LeVan (guitar/synth/vocals) Julie Falvey (bass/vocals) Vasco Madrid (drums) from Columbia, South Carolina that recently released Dreams of Tomorrow. The band leans towards atmospheric rock and incorporates genres such as shoegaze and alternative.
The band opens with “Riptide” and quickly go into shoegaze mode bringing to mind bands like M83 and Slowdive. It’s a fairly catchy song and I knew exactly where this song was trying to go aesthetically and the feeling it was trying to impart.
Next up is “The Sun Always Sets.” I liked what was going on from the beat to the atmosphere. That being said the mix is so narrow and lo-fi it wasn’t doing any favors to the tones, textures and shades that this song could have had.
“I Saw the Sky” has its moments and is a little more aligned with a band like Real Estate while “Withering” felt more like straight shoegaze. “I Won't Share You” is a cover song by The Smiths but again the mix needed a lot of work. The band has some success with “Dreams of Tomorrow” and “A New Day.”
As an engineer myself the most important thing the band needs to do is work with an engineer/producer who can come a lot closer to the aesthetic the band is going for. The recording quality they have right now is extremely lo-fi and really not competitive with something you would expect from a studio. I couldn’t understand most of the lyrics and the mixes in general have too many issues for the songs’ potential to be heard.
There are some good ideas, along with some well written songs. There seems to a good amount of overall talent as well.I think there is some potential for the band but they fall into a case of wait and see for now.
Scared Stiff is the solo project that recently released Meet Scared Stiff. The album contains eight songs and tries to tackle multiple genres. There seemed to be a little tongue-in-cheek humor throughout and it reminded me of Ariel Pink and John Maus. It’s never straight comedic but it didn't seem like the songs were taking themselves too seriously which I think was a good thing.
“Moving On” is the opener which mixes a bit of a Mac Demarco type vibe with a ’50s pop sensibility and guitar work that sounded similar to something you might hear from The Smiths. It’s pretty catchy and had my attention.
“I'm Cool” is pretty fantastic. His vocals sound top notch here and there is again a ’50s pop feel to the song. There is some solid guitar work and percussive elements that change enough to create distinct sections to the song and infectious hooks.
“Just The Same” introduces some fuzz and a garage rock type of sound. It’s a slight deviation but felt fairly cohesive with the first two songs. “Gonna Happen To Me Soon” is another delightful song with infectious hooks, a good amount of levity and lyrics that are so familiar in a way that it feels tongue-in-cheek.
“If You Let Me In” had more of an indie rock feel to it. The song has resemblance to the band Real Estate. “Part Of Me” is where he shines and reverts to something you might have heard at a prom about fifty years ago. The Beatles came to mind on this track. “First Of All” had its moments and “Love Club” contained vocal samples which I’m pretty sure were supposed to create a laugh.
As an engineer I would recommend that the artist work with a mastering engineer to give a similar sonic imprint to the songs. He did a great job for not having much experience behind a board but there were some things I think a mastering engineer would have cleaned up.
I really like the vibe of his music and think there is a lot of potential here. Recommended.
After moving around during childhood, a final move from Hong Kong to Los Angeles cemented the musician’s path for Mikel Rafael. Spending time in a few local bands while solo songs were written, Rafael eventually built enough of a repertoire to record and release his own project. A Sidewalk’s Dream was released in late October of 2018 with enough folk drenched mannerisms and attitudes to satisfy listeners everywhere.
The second and title track “A Sidewalk’s Dream” is a ballad type song in the classical sense, telling a narrative alongside a meandering guitar. The plucking of the strings never stops, providing a steady rhythm for the listener to walk down the proverbial sidewalk to. As the song goes on, it becomes far more descriptive and energized. While it carries a melancholy mood, the song is great to listen to. It places the listener in a peaceful and reverent place, leaving the silence that carries out the last few seconds before the next track starts hanging in oblivion between the listener and the speakers.
The closing track, “This Lilac Will Someday Mark My Grave” is much more of an upbeat sounding track. The guitar bounces around much more than in previous tracks, giving more energy to the track overall. The lyrical content can be seen as pessimistically hopeful. The story told by the words deals with death and being gone, but not before each moment of life can be enjoyed to the fullest and finding happiness in event the most depressing of scenarios.
The only detriment for A Sidewalk’s Dream is its short running length. The four tracks are wonderful for exposition; however, the EP leaves the listener wanting more. This is a problem that can easily be solved, as we can all eagerly look forward to more of Rafael’s music in the future. Fans of bands like the Magnetic Fields, Neutral Milk Hotel, Elliot Smith, Belle and Sebastian, Fleet Foxes, Dinosaur Jr., Cat Power, or the Violent Femmes will quickly find familiarities in Rafael’s music. While there are shared elements that can be seen in the works of other artists, A Sidewalk’s Dream is an utterly unique project. Listeners will be sure to enjoy the easy going styles of the EP.
Norman Salant been involved with music for a long time. Instead of wasting some precious space here however I encourage you to check out the interview we did with him last year to learn about his story. Salant doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon as last December he released another LP entitled Always All Around You.
After spending some time with this LP I found that I was able to appreciate a lot of the same qualities I gravitated to on his previous release Yodeling Goodby. One of those qualities is how he handles nostalgia. It’s a pretty tricky emotion to deliver but nonetheless popular in music. I feel it is often handled in a wrong way that makes music feel saccharine and melodramatic in the wrong hands. For example take two songs that try to instill a sense of nostalgia, “Homeward Bound” by Simon & Garfunkel and “Endless Summer Nights” by Richard Marx. Now nothing against Marx or that one die hard fan who disagrees but I think most would agree the former does a far superior job of conjuring nostalgia without the cringe worthy side effects of a bad romantic comedy. Suffice it to say Salant has more in common with Simon & Garfunkel.
The sense of nostalgia hits heavy with with the opening song “At The End Of The World.” It’s a warm mix of instrumentation with hints of Pink Floyd when he sings, “It's a long time coming at the end of the world / And it's a gray day at the end of the world.”
Salant sounds heartfelt, warm and comforting on “Grace (Love Song 25)” while the infectious “The Whole Wide World” sounds just as relevant now as it might have when the hippies were protesting the Vietnam War and Nixon. “Glory” is a powerful song full of lyrics with ambiguous religious imagery but could be interpreted to be about the story of Jesus. The lyrics on the closer “Carried Away” take it up a notch to explore an ethereal, mythological mysticism that is accompanied with music that is nostalgic in a way as if you were viewing it from a dream in a past life.
The nostalgia along with the myriad other emotions Salant explores worked for me because it felt authentic. Salant doesn't build this record on abstraction, being disconnected and separation but rather those moments in life where it seems to converge and truly feels as if we are completely alive.
The Crooked Doctor is a project that's based in Melbourne, Australia, but it also features a variety of singers and instrumentalists from around the world. This is the brainchild of The Doctor himself, and the project has just released its debut EP The Crooked Doctor. The EP was recorded and mostly mixed by The Crooked Doctor in his lab, mixing elements like heavy sub bass, dreamy guitars, percussion and more. Mixing was also done by Melbourne rock legend Andy Fernando over at Singing Bird Studios and mastering was done by Lachlan Carrick.
According to The Crooked Doctor, the best way to describe the EP is that it’s a mix of funk, dance and groove rock into an explosion of bass and boogie. When I listened to the EP, it sounded like the Neville Brothers during the ‘70s meshed with Dr. Dre’s beats from the ‘90s. It feels like the New Orleans funk from the ‘70s time traveled to the 21st century on this EP.
The EP gets going with the funky and soulful "Stick to my Bones". It's an infectious song with a smooth vocal delivery. The guitars are organic and bluesy which juxtapose against synth bass and a drum machine.
Up next is "Pulled Down" which is a genre bending song mixing elements of rock and hip-hop. "Work to Die" is another deviation coming a little closer to sounding like Talking Heads with a solid groove that was easy to appreciate. "AD Funk" is smooth, soulful funk and very 70's inspired.
The singers are varied between each song which makes the album dynamic with United States based singer Shelley Segal featured on “So Damn Pretty” and Melbourne crooner Lewis C singing on “Stick to my Bones.” My personal favorite of the EP is “Work to Die” because the beat has an urban feel to the music.
Overall, there is a lot to appreciate on this eclectic EP. Take a listen.
Go Hawaii is an indie duo from the northern part of Italy. The pair has been making music since they were teenagers and has finally come together to release an EP. Soft Bathrobe is a collection of songs they wrote in their bedrooms and recorded at From da Cove Studios, which is also their friend’s basement.
Soft Bathrobe opens up with the post punk song “Post Bedroom.” It’s a smooth boom that slowly builds up into a catchy swing that you just want to bob along with. It sounds like something that would come from the ’80s. In fact the whole album vibe is like that, which isn’t a bad thing. The lo-fi softness lends itself well to the dreamy atmosphere Go Hawaii is going for. It’s European harmony with the mixture of bass lines, guitars and synths that are timeless. Songs like “Seaside Haze” rock so hard and are so well-produced, you just want to dance to them.
Of course with a title like Soft Bathrobe, you are going to have even more easy going songs. “Haul Elsewhere” begins with a crashing noise that jolts you but quickly turns into a slower song. Same with “Feel Collins” which starts with heavy bass and synth with soothing vocals that makes you think it’ll be a slow jam. Then bang! It switches up into a head banger while still keeping the velvety lyrics. That’s what makes listening to Go Hawaii so enjoyable. My only minor grip with the album is the lyrics are mumbled. While definitely not terrible, it is hard to hear the words when the delivery is in a sluggish tone. However this just adds another beautiful layer of dreamlike effect to the record.
Soft Bathrobe is a great album that is also very well produced. It sounds like post-punk with a lo-fi vibe added. The songs give off the effect of vivid dreams, visions and different perceptions of reality and daydreams. While it can be hard to clearly understand the lyrics when the vocals are muffled, that doesn’t take away the fact that this is a very good album to jam to. If you enjoy good vibes with a European sounds give Go Hawaii a try.
Grinded Grin is a Croatian band project started by Aleksandar Vrhovec in 2005, and in 2018, he returned to the Grinded Grin project and a full length album entitled Reset. You could classify this album as avant garde or experimental. On top of that it flirts with free jazz, rock and other genres. It’s a dense album with a lot to take away from it and explore.
The album opens up with “Petulance” and I was reminded of the TV series Twin Peaks and another avant garde album entitled The Drift by Scott Walker. There is dark, haunting atmosphere but the horns are really what paint a canvas of absurdity in this lonely midnight cavern. As the song unfolds piano, drums and electronic elements buzz, come together and then fall apart. It’s a great opener.
There is a bit of a groove to be had but it is anything but 4/4 on “Deducted.” The song plays around with timing and atmosphere but completely derails all the predictability of a radio pop song. One might think that radio has gone awry if not being familiar what the fringe of music can offer.
“Wretch pt. 1” is somewhat serene and tranquil due to the water in the background while a harp drifts you off into oblivion. If you by chance fall asleep “Pond Spinning” will wake you up with what initially sounds like a metal band from the ’80s. Another long starry night is created with “Bubbles” which could be the soundtrack to a L.A. noir inspired film.
“Confronted” is the penultimate centerpiece where vocal samples are implemented. This epic, psychedelic and dynamic song is a wormhole of sound that sends you into the void and back out again.
“Emergance” explores tribal rhythms and ambient soundscapes. I actually wasn’t expecting a whopping twenty-plus-minute soundscape which is a hazy, fuzzy song that could be considered a subdued attempt at post-rock. “Departure” is about as chipper as the album gets while “Jackie's Dream” is actually worthy of a laugh due to the snoring. Last but not least is “Densely” which is delayed, fuzzed out rock - perhaps the most conventional on the album.
This a pretty epic album. The amount of work that went into it is evident. I thought it was great from beginning to end. Take your time to explore what this album has to offer.
We are 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 critique 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