Avant-garde pop musician Irene Wilde has come out with the final chapter of her "Blackest Bile" trilogy. If you follow her work, Melancholia and Spleen both came out in 2020 (which was reviewed here) and now Pyrrhicae, which was released this October, is about loving again after trauma. The album is an act of war, as Wilde explains, for her, a woman, to proclaim that she is not smaller, weaker, or less worthy of love because of her past pain. She further states that she does not dance around her own stigmas throughout the album as she reestablishes her sense of self and her femininity. Through lyrics that are both dominating and submissive, sensitive yet damning – “I am woman, hear me make sound” – or to quote Helen Reddy, “I am woman, hear me roar.” This album grew out of coming out of a depression fog, which she says, “may be her oddest thing yet.” The trilogy chronicles overcoming mental illness and trauma. Having just moved to Seattle from her tiny house in Indiana, Wilde is hoping for the best as she is just getting started. The album was recorded during a couple of different sessions in Bloomington and Clinton, Indiana using Pro Tools. Wilde wrote, produced, recorded and mixed everything.
The artist describes album number three as not being an album that jumps for joy and exclaims that all is good and fair. It is a complicated, bittersweet love story of trying for that hope of life and love which isn’t sequestered by any amount of madness. Furthermore, having been in the muck does not nullify you from being deserving of happiness. Pyrrhicae is Wilde’s dance back to herself by finding the strength to be open and unshielded to the world, so that she may experience something other, something good.
The opener “I’m awake” starts with a ‘skeleton like’ sound, with instruments trickling in and drums establishing a beat of some kind. Wilde’s words and expressive way of singing has a definite rawness to it, vulnerable, but yet sure of where her life is going right now. I wasn’t sure of who this “Lucy” is she sings about – perhaps it’s her muse, her darker side or bad thoughts that creep into the mind. In any case, this is a song about being awake to the self and knowing that the struggle within goes deep. “Made a Wish” experiments with a variety of drum machine beats, keyboards and a unique layering of vocal tracks. I liked the line “So I go on these arteries you call roads.” Not sure what that means, but I liked it. “Terrified” features a heavy ‘80s synth, somewhat like from a sci-fi soundtrack. Wilde’s lyrics suggest being so in love, or not in love (?) with someone, that it can be terrifying – like to the point of being debilitating. At least that’s the feeling I got from her songwriting. Next is “Righteous virtuous. Woman” – this one gets really experimental with a host of various drumbeats and piano chords. It is also a deeply emotional song, as Wilde sings what I can only guess is about being sexually violated by a church clergy she trusted.
“I am here” comes from a place deep within that somehow finds the strength to go on, despite all the trauma that came before. Wilde’s song style here definitely plays up the avant-garde and experimental with plenty of drums fills, cymbal crashes, plucking piano parts and what sounds like glass bottles breaking. On “Body” Wilde writes openly and honestly about herself and her body. Some of her most vulnerable and moving lyrics are contained in this song – “Am I still a woman today?” “Can I know my body again?” is answered with “Clearly for the woman I’ve become / And I do not fear her at all / For I know that I will fall again / But I know that I can get back up / For I have the strength of a thousand suns.” “Water wash me (featuring DEAdbEAT)” has a mix of crisp, electric beats, tinkling piano chords and I’d say, an experimental rap style – very unique! Moving onto “Weak as me” is a song about being fine just the way you are – “I’m a good female / I don’t need no saving / Got that self-love.” Musically, this one has a haunting, psychedelic sound to it. “Good, too” features some beautiful, delicate piano playing and deep electronic drumbeats, inside this song about wanting to love again. But it also about letting the other know that they still have weaknesses that require strong walls to be built.
“Turbulent me” features some fantastic piano playing and Wilde’s voice being more up front and vocal. There is a beautiful melody if you listen close, and it begins when she sings “For when you look at me.” If you’re a listener that doesn’t usually like the avant-garde or experimental music, give this one a try – I think you’ll like it. “I am not afraid anymore” has a stronger piano presence and then various drumbeats and electronic fills come in a bit later. I would say this is Wilde’s most stripped-down song, as there seems to be less use of instrumentation throughout the tune. Next is “yours, loving, safety, contentment, peace – Yours to trace” and its main feature is multiple vocal tracks layered and an ‘80s synth sound, accompanied by various deep drum rhythms. This is Wilde at her most vulnerable and trusting – trusting to love again on her own terms. Her songwriting makes clear that she wants to feel whole again. The last track titled “river, prayer, self-realization – Balance” carries with it, an experimental free form style, not much different from most of the album tracks, although this one felt more soulful to me. The piano parts were haunting, as well.
For those who want to “feel” the music, who appreciate the avant-garde/experimental pop style as well as emotionally, intense songwriting, Irene Wilde’s Pyrrhicae should fulfill your every need.
“I wanna be the knee you grip under the table when the earth lurches sideways,” sings Dougal James. He leads Melbourne, Australia-based quartet The Sunken Sea. After the Heat is the debut release for this group.
They call themselves “art rock” but After the Heat is not an in-your-face display of off-kilter meter and outer-space chords. The Sunken Sea moves well away from the standard I-IV-V, but those movements are subtle, and come as a natural outgrowth of the melody and the song, much like a jazz standard. Call it more Marvin Hamlisch than Geddy Lee. Over the course of a song, you travel from where you started, harmonically, but not so far away that you need a bus to get back home.
Piano features heavily throughout the four-track EP. The tracks offer heavy layers of synths (courtesy of Cian Bennet), often providing cool sound effects and textural noises. They’re typically mixed low, so consider a run-through on your MDR-7506s to get the full effect. On top of this, Maddi Si lays down solid guitar parts, and Ben Fleming the drums. James handles the bass, in addition to the vocals; Tali Mahoney chips in as a guest vocalist on one track.
All four of the tracks here are solid; if you like one you’ll probably enjoy them all. “Choke” is a highlight, especially the accompaniment to the “do you hate me?” lyric. The chord progression and variations evoke confusion, concern and tension, but do not overwhelm the accessible melody. James’ baritone vocals on “Brighter Moments” move easily between falsetto and chest voice, giving a nice effect. The vocal acme, though, is the duet on “Funeral Pyres”, where James and Mahoney harmonize beautifully to deliver their lyrical message.
After the Heat is a solid start from The Sunken Sea. Give them as a substitute for your Steely Dan fix, or when you’re ready for something a little bit different than your usual pop-rock fare.
Formed in April 2019, Smooth Retsina Glow is a musical trio that hails from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Colin Wolf is the guitarist and vocalist, with Marie Sarah Stoll on alternate lead vocals, plus Sam Radogna (and later, Brian Derkas) on drums. Their first album New Frontiers featured a different lineup and was released in November 2019, resulting in several awards, shows and a tour. Out of The Ether was released in April 2021, with the song “Memories Made” hitting Number One on Australia’s Bank City radio station.
The band describe this as “a transitional album away from the roots rock, folk and blues shadings of their first record. Elements of indie rock, pop, jazz, R&B, metal, prog, blues and ethnic music can be detected in Colin Wolf’s writing style.” The notes indicate that Wolf himself played all instruments on the album except for drums. Recording took place at Syvret Music and Aqua Underground Studios.
“Where Figments Lie” starts right up my alley with chiming Olde English style guitars creating a glorious, encompassing and upbeat background for Stoll’s lovely lead vocals. Each instrument seems to cycle perfectly alongside the others, culminating in an understated but perfect lead guitar solo. “Raise A Voice” changes things up with more of a grungy Badfinger vibe with Colin Wolf on swaggeringly cool Lou Reed-like vocals. His lead solo has a real ’60s Hendrix psychedelic vibe, and I believe at least some of it was tracked backwards. “Vigilance” is a fun boogie where the chord permutations go into major and minor places you won’t expect. This album’s pattern seems to be that each song has a different lead guitar break style, and here it’s more rockabilly.
“Memories Made” is the aforementioned Australian radio hit, which is not surprising given its indie pop sheen. However, Wolf is rarely content to stick in any one genre for long, and his retro influences quickly reappear via wah wah guitars, weird 7th chords and funky breaks. That such a complex mashup sparked so many listens speaks well for the Aussies! Stoll again provides fun, almost aloof vocals. “Carbon Wind” whips us around 180 degrees with a speed punk workout, but again with a mismatched lead solo from the Steve Vai school.
“So Easily Charmed” is another smoky showcase for Stoll’s seductive nightclub vocals, with a jazzy arrangement worthy of Steely Dan. You’d think Wolf would run out of lead solo ideas by now, but instead he pulls out a Talk Box! “Nowhere To Hide” goes total roots-blues including a somewhat tinny recording quality at the start. “A Tale Foretold” again features Stoll’s vocals but I can’t even begin to place the genre. Space Funk? The lead solo here almost sounds like aliens played it. “Take What You Heed” crashes in with Who-like power chords, then lumbers forward with Metallica-heavy riffs of the St. Anger school. The album ends with the title track “Out of the Ether” and it certainly begins like music from the ether. I was glad to hear Stoll back on vocals, as this tune has a more current dream pop sound not unlike “Memories Made.” I daresay the final solo here owes a bit to George Harrison’s slide work.
When a band like this presents so much stylistic variety, it’s certainly fun and bracing, but after a while I start pining for a bit of stability. Ironically, if a band’s music is totally consistent, I sometimes wish they would experiment more and change things up! I guess what I’m saying is for Smooth Retsina Glow being a bit less “unpredictable” in future releases may not be a bad thing. But even with all the stylistic overachieving, I’m really enjoying all that I’ve heard.
A Fairy Tale is the eighth release from the once a month album releases from clash bowley. This release perhaps had less of a concept than the last couple albums I reviewed from the artist. However, I just might not have been connecting the dots. That being said, there are some great song titles on this album.
The first being “Smokeless Flame of Ifritah.” This song starts with a killer trap style beat reminiscent to the artist Burial. Some of the signature bowley sounds are apparent, such as the grumbling synths which seem to warp and go through a filter. Great opener.
The title song “A Fairy Tale” contains a different type of beat where the snare rhythm is dynamic and flows. It could be used in a bluegrass song. Bowley uses a low baritone on this song and there are some well done vocal harmonies as well.
“The Alien” is a very cool song where it feels like the music is rising. This song showcases some of Bowley’s best vocal delivery. He hangs on to some notes here and their heavy reverb works. Bowley sings “The alien/ Lifted me high / Carried me up / Up into the sky” on the memorable chorus.“Sleepwalking” is one of the most intimate songs I’ve heard from the artist. The beat is panned hard with the bass being centered in the middle. In fact the bass seems to pan about from left to right if you listen closely.
On “If I Could Forget” pulls off multiple vocal styles. There’s the Tom Waits sounding villain affectation and then a very pretty and layered vocal. The latter actually reminded me of David Bowie.
“Mayflies'' is one of the bigger sounding songs with bright and atmospheric elements coming to the top of the mix while “The Return” is a little more experimental with a very unique breakdown section. “Encounter Amidst Bluebells” is a cool song but is also a great name for a song. The ominous “Death Is Forever” has its moments and I also really enjoyed the slow burn of the closer “Child.”
Bowley continues to surprise me. The changes are subtle but there are still novel sonic spaces that he continues to explore.
Peter Lawson is back with a new album entitled 1978. Similar to his previous releases this is a complete DIY effort.
The album opens with the title track “1978.” There are strummed chords, lead guitar and a rhythm section. The guitar solo was giving me Pink Floyd vibes right off the top. As the song progresses the lyrics pointed in that direction as he sings about existential topics like mortality and purpose.
“Play The Game” begins with some really great guitar work all around. The rhythm and lead are on point and work together well. There’s a dark groove that emerges on the verse. Airy synths float around as Lawson delivers the vocals. The song has a sustained instrumental section which goes in unexpected directions. There’s a breakdown which is very ambient and built with delayed vocals into a final guitar led outro.
“When the Damage is done” is another song where the vocals don’t play that much of a prominent role. The song does start with some really memorable vocal melodies but around a- minute-and-a-half in, the song builds a guitar melody that creates a hypnotic energy. It’s almost like a jam session and there’s no rush for the song to go anywhere as it slowly fades out.
“The Dead Bird” is more aggressive and driving at first. There’s a pretty mean guitar solo. The song does make a 180 in a very cosmic sounding section with what sounds like a female computer assistant. There are vocals and they show up after the two-minute mark. The song progresses and really goes all in with soaring guitar solos and synth based atmosphere.
“Ends Like This” is more laid back and felt like a nice choice for this stage of the album. Last up is “Wasteful youth” and a song where the female computer-like voice is manipulated more. This song is more of a straight groove.
My only critique is the drums at times felt too loop based and have that digital quality I often hear in a DAW like Garageband. Lawson is completely DIY but if he ever runs into a good drummer I think that could be an integral addition to his already impressive arsenal.
Lawson has been prolific over the last couple of years. His style has seen some changes and continues to improve. This release proves that and I look forward to hearing more from the talented artist.
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
Black London Finally 3.8
Frank Poirier Paving the way 3.8
Distant Lovers Shadowlands 3.7
Dan Jenkins Solace 3.7
Nick Bufalino Apology 3.7
We Must Be Dreaming is the debut release from Melbourne, Australia’s Outer South. The band started as a trio (“three friends deciding to get together and make an album”), aiming to commit some of Shannon Carpenter’s healthy back catalog of songs to tape. As the production process unfolded, they added two new members and now stand as an indie-folk quintet.
The seven tracks on We Must Be Dreaming all follow a similar formula. These are mid tempo tracks with a strong major-key tonality. They’re built on a bedrock of strummed acoustic-guitar figures which in turn are anchored by uncomplicated bass lines and drum patterns. Clean, chiming electric guitars fill out the sides with smooth vocals sliding over the top. They dial in enough reverb (and maybe some light keyboard bits) to smooth out any edges, leaving nothing to get upset about anywhere.
The sound across the seven tracks is coherent--almost as if they set up their gear in the studio, dialed in their tones, hit the record button and just laid it down straight through. The unified sound is nice, but it is sometimes hard to tell where one track ends and a new one starts. The experience reminded me of a time I was strapped in for a four-hour MRI, and the medical technician piped in a Coldplay album. The music was very soothing (and helped me keep my head still, as required, for the full set of scans), but it played as one big wash of sound in lieu of individual songs.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. It’s a fine artistic choice to make, and Outer South executes it well. The songs hang around the standard vi-IV-I-V progression, but offer just enough spice to keep our ears open. The bridge on “Home” was notable, as were some of the twists in “By The Morning.” Instrumentally, the layered parts interweave well throughout; the slide guitar and slightly crunchier bass on “Everything’s Alright” were welcome. “Drag” incorporates a bit more orchestration and drama--again, Outer South doesn’t stray too far from the formula, but there’s enough to let us know there are some creative pushes under the surface. The outro guitar fills on the title track were a highlight, too.
It’s these little sparks that give me great hope for Outer South. They play it safe for most of We Must Be Dreaming, but when they do push it, they succeed. I hope their follow-up finds them pushing more, and exploring the variations they can bring to their base sound. In the meantime, substitute this in your playlist for Viva la Vida. It’s time to rotate it out anyway.
Edgar Blood is a one man band from Vallejo, California who recently released Tall Tales. Blood mentions: “this is my third album, and is inspired by the horror anthology movies i grew up watching as a kid.”
The album starts with “Tape 2: Session 2” which sounds like an old interview or investigation about the supernatural. “Winds In The East” is when the music starts. You are greeted with crunchy guitar riffs, a steady kick and vocals. The first band that came to mind was The White Stripes. There’s a heavy blues vibe to the song.
“In The Ashes and Smoke” is much more metal inspired. In fact the blues vibe is mostly gone from the song. Blood’s vocals fit the music and he provides a little affectation here and there which sounded sinister. There’s muted power chords, dark poetic imagery and some killer riffs as well.
“The Mystic'' felt like the catchiest song yet. I latched on to the vocal melody right away. This song brings back some of the blues elements but another band came to mind between the lyrics and grooves - Queens of the Stone Age.
Blood stays consistent with the songwriting about halfway through. “Third Tusk” is another rocker that was fun and rocked. “Lower Me” is a change in direction. This song is more atmospheric, more pensive and the additional orchestral elements give it a sense of beauty. The strings are used effectively on the build. The most energy packed song is “Grab a Shovel.” It’s a fast song. The lyrics are dark but it’s also a fun tune to rock to. Blood continues with “The Bleating” which has an epic and memorable chorus.
I was not expecting a Tom Waits sort of waltz on “The Graveyard Wail (Clicking Clacking Bones).” It was one of the highlights and would love to hear more of this style in the future.
This album was a good time if a little scattered at points in terms of style. Blood showcases his songwriting as well as his delivery on this release and I look forward to hearing more.
Winterfox is the musical persona of Sydney singer/songwriter Stephen Claxton. Although Stephen has played in many bands over several years, including Wifey, Peachfield, Go/No Go and Marching Room, Still is his first solo album. He also currently plays guitar for 'Mark 'Looch' Lewis' and 'PK Stoltz.'.Sydney has been in and out of lockdowns over the last couple of years, so this album is really a series of songs that Claxton has been knocking around for a while. The upside to the lockdown, gave him time to construct a musical persona and finish an album which is very eclectic but coherent.
According to Claxton, its musical alchemy mixes rescued elements of spiky guitar pop, ‘80s style pop, alt-country and orchestral soundscapes, while the vocals and lyrics are the through-line which the music styles dance around. Recorded in an “untreated mix use room” at home during the lockdown, the album was mastered by Daniel Arena at Remain Calm. Contributing musicians include Ned Wu (drums) and Kathryn Brownhill (viola). Thematically, there are love songs and break up songs, but they are mostly seen with a distant, philosophical eye. Claxton states, “there is no tortured wallowing.” He also says that during the lockdown he dwelled on the things he never thought he could miss, because he never thought they’d be denied. For instance, human relationships, limitations to getting outside and communing with nature… things usually so available they remained undervalued and overlooked. Still evokes the sound of the memory and mourning of those things.
“Smash the Plates” has a fantastic haunting sound, mixing genres of alternative, indie pop, neo-psych and I’d say, even a twinge of goth, too. There is a lot of metaphor and mystery here, and the way Claxton wrote this song and arranged the instruments reminded me very much of Bowie’s “Man Who Sold the World” and perhaps a bit of Daniel Ash’s post-Bauhaus project Love and Rockets and Radiohead. “Monochrome” features a laid-back acoustic rock vibe with an enjoyable melody. I thought the title of the song was a good one-word description of how the world felt from Covid lockdown exhaustion. Next is “Paper Doves.” I loved the sound of the bass and drums here – punchy and tight. In fact, the way some instruments sound or are played/recorded can remind you of other songs, in this case “Gouge Away” by Pixies came to mind. The keys/synths had a very ‘80s retro sound (especially during the solo part). I also liked the vocal echo effect on the chorus, too. “Blood on the Door” offers another take on Winterfox’s more chill sound. On this one a piano is added. The songwriting gives some Biblical references as well in this sobering number.
Flipping things over with a more alt-rock edge is “Desperate Shadows” – a song that’s about “the slippery side of suicide.” This one had some great rocking energy and I think, would be a crowd pleaser at a live show. “Someday” is one of Winterfox’s most introspective and honest songs on the album. I think he was thinking about things very deeply here and it shows in his songwriting. Very moving! “Trepidation” has got a great ‘80s techno/new wave style, but with a fresher sound that’s more alt-indie. The solo part is what really grabbed me. Lyrically, Claxton seems to write about what happens when a parent sacrifices their sleep to help their child fall asleep, or at least stop them from crying.
Unless his writing is more metaphorical instead of literal. “Spawning” starts off with the sound of ocean waves and seagulls and then a low, rumbling drum beat, accompanied by a dreamy sounding guitar and bass line. I absolutely loved the beat and melody here, as well as the “ooo-ooo” part in between the verses. The last track is “Body Horror” and it begins with some very interesting sounds. The viola, some horns perhaps played on the keys, and then some more strings come in. This last song is a feast for the ears! The song enfolds slowly, yet beautifully, like an ambient soundscape which takes the mind on a journey to somewhere only the imagination knows. This one seriously had me hypnotized from start to finish.
In all honesty, there was not one single bad track on Still. There’s something special about this debut that will have me coming back for more.
Midwest yacht club is a recently formed band from Detroit, Michigan. The band however has some experience playing in previous bands. Their first release How You Wake Up Dead contains four songs which are a great introduction to their sound which mixes elements of punk, hardcore, rock and other like-minded genres. The energy is fun and usually adrenaline inducing.
They get going with “Pop Shuvit” which is a killer song. There are a surplus of changes and the song contains zero fat as they move melodically to different patterns. The vocalist sounds great and perfect for the type of music they are playing. There are also some well done vocal harmonies. Great song.
Up next is “You Said I” and I was picking up on a little more of a pop punk vibe. The lyrics certainly reflect a sort of coming of age mindset about failed relationships, moving forward and how you used to be, etc. It’s a dynamic song and similar to the previous song they plow through a lot of good riffs which gain your attention.
They continue with “Lake Days” and as someone who grew up on The Smashing Pumpkins there were similarities to the opening riff. The song might be the highlight in the batch. I thought the chorus was memorable and single-worthy after the first time I heard it. Kudos to the drummer but the whole band rips it up on this song.
They close with “Presence” which revolves around regret and moving forward. This chorus is pretty epic sounding. They rock out hard once more during the end and then simmer it down with just guitar and vocals.
I would say this is a great start. The band has serious chemistry together and fans of hardcore, punk and alternative should enjoy this from beginning to end. The whole EP is less than ten minutes long but they don’t waste a second. I look forward to hearing more from them. Recommended.
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