I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with Martha Wash before listening to her recent release Love & Conflict. As I was listening to the music I did a quick Google search and oh man has she had a prolific career. I was reading an article from Rolling Stone about her accomplishments and suffice it to say that even if you haven’t heard her name before you have most likely heard her voice but didn’t even realize it.
Now let's get to the album. Love & Conflict is definitely an album that is on a spectrum in terms of style and aesthetics. Some of the production sounds contemporary while other songs have more of an older quality. The two most glaring examples of this are “Honey My Friend” and “Don’t Forget My Name.” The former sounds like it could have come from the ’50s or ’60s. I loved the vibe which combines gospel, soul and blues. Her vocals sounded just perfect for the style.
The next song “Don’t Forget My Name” jumps up a couple decades. I would say there is a mix of production aesthetics here. There is some ’70s disco and funk, the drum machines sound very ’80s and I would also throw in some hip-hop type production from the early ’90s. My point being these were very different songs in some aspects but the undeniable vocals of Wash is what unites them.
On that note I suggest you start right from the beginning with “Glamour Flows” which is an upbeat, fun jam that actually reminded me of the band OutKast when it came to music. Next up is “Like Fire” which is joyful, cathartic and empowering. I loved the energy and wish I felt this way every day when I wake up.
The closer “Rise and Shine” has more of that ’70s disco and funk vibe but I would argue that some of what’s happening in terms of the production has more of a modern twist. First off, I love the title of “Never Enough Money” and it’s also a great song. The drums and groove were so tight, crisp and ’70s inspired. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear this song in a Quentin Tarantino film.
“Flowers Blossom” was another unique tune and arguable highlight. This is more of a ballad that’s cinematic and contains sweeping strings and soaring background vocals. Wash kills it on the vocals as expected but this song contains some melancholy and pain that comes from deep within the soul. There is a little bit of levity on the piano led “Soaring Free.”
I’ve been seeing more and more ads about software that will write chord progressions for you, beats that are already made for you and many other things that basically write the music for you. I’m not a fan of these kinds of “advancements” in general because they don't encourage true creativity and talent.
I think any true artist understands that it has to start from your soul, your pain, your passions and who you are as a human being. Those somewhat ineffable elements that make original music so powerful can’t be sold but they can be created. I would say Love & Conflict certainly possesses a lot of those elements that makes music feel like magic. Highly recommended.
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Flaming Isle, a nine-song album that consists of pop, soul and dance, fully falling under the hip hop and R&B umbrellas.
Flaming Isle gets started with the title track “Flaming Isle.” Right away audiences are hit by some keys and ambient synths. The R&B vocals are freeing and soulful. His voice ranges from sultry cooing to falsetto. The vibes are overall very sensual. The appearance of the flute and chiming of bells give “Sweetness” a very refreshing element. Bouncy beats offer this song traction. The sincerity of the lyrics could be felt through HiL’s genuine vocal delivery. The unique instrumentation of the track, mixing acoustic with programming beats, gave the production an added depth. Sparse guitar riffs start out “Curls.” Once the vocals enter, the percussive beats become more prominent. This felt like a great dance jam.
HiL gets down with a more hip hop-driven sound on “Mocha.” HiL’s vocal power really soars on the soulful “Clutch City.” The choppy beats added a crunchy layer as HiL’s vocals takes flight to great result. “Midtown” contains a funky groove. The groovy sounds recall a very old school blues and Motown vibe. The energy on this song felt very infectious. The shimmering sounds really bring back the flavors from the ‘70s era.
On “Montrose,” a heavy trance and dance vibe could be felt on this track. HiL’s vocals are hit with full-on distortion effects. This gave the music a fuzzed-out feel. The glitch-y beats power the song. This felt like something that would be in heavy-rotation at a packed club. Melodious keys give “Harborwalk” a very lounge-y vibe. The cool tones embrace a smooth feel, as screeching seagulls and the sound of waves clashing sounds off on the backdrop. The peal of horns introduces the elements of brass on this album. HiL does a spoken word performance piece as he talks about the album’s themes of desire and how it plays out on all fronts of society from money, love, acceptance, etc. HiL leaves listeners in a contemplative mood with this introspective closer.
Not limiting himself to just slow jams, the album is a mixed bag of energy coming from an amped clubbing atmosphere (“Montrose”) to upping the heat factor for an audience of one (“Flaming Isle”). HiL wanted to capture the different sounds of Houston, TX, where he’s originally from, and I think the record successfully unpacks a lot of the diverse sounds he was going for.
With a whole lot to love on this album, HiL’s suave style points to a polished sound. This dedication to sound (and style) is apparent right away from the start to the finish. Containing different moods and vibes, Flaming Isle is the go-to remedy to get you moving and grooving.
Good Grief is an alternative rock trio from Chattanooga, TN. Their drummer is also the lead vocalist and one of their crowd-pleasing antics you can see while attending a live show is the switching of instruments. The bassist and guitarist also swap instruments throughout their latest album Surreal Estate, an 11-song album that showcases the band’s ability to rock out as well as mix genres from indie rock, punk, alternative to surf all the while maintaining a cohesion throughout the tracks.
Surreal Estate gets started with “Surreal Estate,” where layered vocal harmonies greet the opening of this track. The background vocals give a very choral effect that reminded me of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” No instrumentals support the song. Only pure vocals. This felt like a great way to introduce the album. A sauntering groove dresses “Drip.” The drumming beat felt very bouncy which underlines the punk-driven vocals. The guitars are loud and blaring and the background vocals oscillate from left to right surrounding the audience with its sounds. Roaring guitars dive into a wall of sound on “Fever Dream.” The vocals are shouted out in gusto. The guitar and bass patterns continue over the course of this track. This is another revved number filled with the punk spirit. Bass lines underline “High School Part II” with a low rumbling sound as soaring guitar riffs are loosened to great effect. The band members seem to really throw themselves into the music, as each instrument gets spotlighted in a solo. The sound they toss together is full-on and energized.
More moody bass paves the start of “Plan Of Attack.” Spiraling guitar riffs produce an airy sound. The band fully fleshes a very indie rock, surf and punk vibe with psychedelic guitar work that felt attuned to classic rock n’ roll. Spare drumming beats are interwoven with reverberating guitars on “Cerebral Cathedral.” Here the echo-y vocals sounded more rounded out with melodious undertones. The stripped quality to the music with its catchy grooves reminded me of something from the Arctic Monkeys or The Shins. The sounds of the fiddle introduce “Rust Hold Up.” Next, the song moves into more moody territory with this slow burning number. The vibe here felt more like straightforward rock to my ears. This track sees the band borrowings instances that had popularized the rock movement back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I think the inclusion of the fiddle really added a rustic and unique component to the song. On “Flamingo,” guitars and drums played in a stop-and-go motion takes the song by the reins. Sounds of bongos added to the Latin flavors. The track felt fiery with the fierce sounding vocals. The band ends on the fun closer “Tin Foil Hat,” where the lyrics brings out the band’s quirkier side with lines that rhyme. The band ups the enjoyment factor by shouting out the verses with added zeal.
A three-piece rock group, the band doubles the ante by playing louder and bigger than what their compartment advertises. Drawing comparisons to Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr and Blind Melon, the band bears a resemblance to these bands while also carrying their own weight in regards to sound and style. They distinguish themselves with their amped energy, which could be felt all throughout the tracks. You can see a varied mix of sounds on this album as the band changes things up from driven punk inspirations (first half) to more warm reflections that lets you in on the band’s smoother side (second half). Overall, the album is a balance of the band’s tastes, background and experiences. Surreal Estate offers up a coherent look into Good Grief’s unique flavorings and offerings with a selection of songs that will grow on you upon repeated listens. Be sure you have a listen today!
Paul Zambrano is a composer who started making a name for himself in recent years. He has written scores for a range of movies, some of which were featured at the notable Cannes Film Festival. In 2018, Zambrano won Best Score for his work on The Only Way at the Los Angeles CineFest, and was nominated for Best Score at the Focus International Film Festival for his work on Slipping Into Darkness. He has an impressive resume and I love composers like Max Richter and John Williams so I got excited to spend some time with Death is Beautiful.
That’s an intense name to say the least. I would say the music holds up to that sort of declaration. The album contains thirteen songs and I very much felt like I was listening to the score of a movie. It really comes down to what type of movie. The movie I had in my mind the whole time was certainly a blockbuster or at least a movie that was done on an epic scale. This is no romantic comedy. Even more specifically I was thinking of a movie like Batman or perhaps a sprawling three hour movie about war.
The compositions are defined by sweeping strings and darker textures. There is a gothic like quality to the music that combines with aesthetics you would associate with the romantic period of classical music.
There is a huge spectrum of emotion and energy that is displayed. Take for instance the cerebral, high energy chase sequence of “Fairy Tale” or the much more melancholy and introspective “Her.” There are plenty of other shades of emotion which pop up but overall I found the compositions to be very cohesive. I have very little doubt that Zambrano was aware of how vital placement and sequential order was to this release. In fact, my idea was that a film maker could create a film based around the score.
One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is how little we use our imagination when listening to music these days. If you listen to powerful music and close your eyes you will make your own movie. This release might not be a bad way to test that out, so sit back, relax and let this music take you on your own hero’s journey.
Bobby Westside and the Chaotic Good was formed in October of 2015 with guitar player and singer Bobby Westside and drummer Salvador Wheeley. Roland Torrance would join the band in 2018 on bass. The band recently released Sci-Fidelity which is a seven-song album.
This release is a lo-fi rock album. The band covers a number of sub-genres but most apparent would be surf rock. They begin with “A Lost Astronaut” and this is a very lo-fi sounding song that really goes into surf territory. The sci-fi sounding synths were a nice addition to the combo of sci-fi and surf. That being said the song was straightforward with familiar sounding melodies and structure. It was a solid start.
Next is “Teenagers from Outer-Space” and this song has more of an ’80s vibe in the spirit of bands like Van Halen. The lo-fi aesthetics to the song had a hard time keeping up with the style of the song but overall it was enjoyable and catchy.
“Introductions are Necessary” is an intermission or filler for the story that is spoken word and plays into the theme. “Invaders! (Possibly from Space)” is very much in the spirit of “You Really Got Me” and in fact sounds like an alternative version. I’m pretty sure the next song “Alone Together” was a tip of the hat to “Jessie's Girl” because of the obvious similarities. The band continue to have some success with “Love (In Alderaan Places” and “This Song’s Not About You Barbara.” which I thought were also solid songs.
This is what I would call a genre band. The style of these songs and the songwriting were very broad. Each song seems to stem from a particular influence whether it be a general style or a specific band. Truth be told I wasn’t able to find elements that defined a signature sound but I don't think that's a bad thing. All that being said these songs are good fun and I enjoyed the sci-fi theme. These songs were easily palatable and familiar. Take a listen.
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Concrete Cowboy is an artist from Brisbane, Australia who recently released Tidal Bloom. This is a full fledged bedroom indie pop album which we have been hearing more and more of as technology gets better and it’s easier to get a decent sound.
The EP starts with “Phase” which was one of the highlights. I liked the breathy vocals and the groove which I want to describe as “cute” for some reason. The hook is great and certainly memorable within a couple of sounds. I was actually reminded of Elliot Smith in terms of the vocals on this track.
There was something happening with the high end and compression on “Plaid” which threw me off. That being said, the groove is very cool sounding. The fidelity makes a noticeable improvement on “Prickly Pear” and this song sounds like a band to some extent. I was getting early Dinosaur Jr. and even My Bloody Valentine vibes.
“Pantomime” has a similar feel with jagged cutting guitars and vocals which really seem to embrace a more shoegaze type of vibe. The song is a bit messy but that is by intent. I thought “Potions” had its moments. I really loved the change that happened on “Penny.” The vocals are more upfront, the distortion is gone but most importantly the female accompaniment adds a lot. They harmonize the whole time and they sound great. I would definitely love to hear more of this style. The more stripped back “Primal Powers' ' revolves around acoustic guitar and vocals.
My only critique would be to take advantage of a mastering engineering at some point. The fidelity is varied throughout this release and one of the jobs of a mastering engineer is to bring a similar sonic footprint so the songs feel more uniform.
Overall, this was a very solid release. Recommended.
The Long Goodbye by Steven Mark is an album about isolation, mortality, regret, redemption, and at times, politics and culture. When I read that I have to admit that seems very broad. I would say this album covers multiple aspects of the human condition.
These songs at their core revolve around piano and vocals and I think alternative versions versions with just those two instruments would have worked out just as wll. On that note there are orchestral strings which I very much enjoyed and found them to be a beautiful accompaniment.
Mark’s music has been described as “R.E.M., Elliott Smith, Cat Stevens, The Byrds, Duncan Sheik, Death Cab for Cutie and Ben Folds mixed into a musical cocktail, you might emerge with a Steven Mark album.” Truth be told I wasn’t really reminded of any of those artists. I really wasn’t getting any kind of folk or rock vibes but more like adult contemporary. The songs felt like a more melancholy and pensive Billy Joel or even Elton John at times.
The songs to me sounded warm and somewhat often like music that might be used in a film to trigger emotion. I kept on picturing people huddled around a warm fireplace celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas. There was a very wholesome vibe I was getting. I felt this on songs like “Under Water,” “Cloudy” and “High From You.” “Life The Burden” is a sweeping ballad while “Sugar Butterfly” s gleeful.
I think this release has a certain appeal if you can appreciate some of the aesthetics I previously mentioned. The production and songwriting is solid. I would also it’s a very cohesive release.
Jackson and Mark have been best friends since junior high school and later in life they formed Blast Vegas. The duo released Meet Me in the Mirror. They mention this release is “a dance rock album in the vein of bands like The B-52's, Franz Ferdinand, The Faint and Tears for Fears with a noticeable comic tinge in the styles of Tenacious D, Flight of the Conchords and The Beastie Boys.”
The album contains nine songs and comes in just under thirty minutes. This was a fun album and easy on the ears as they mention is full of levity. The band got going with “Natural Feeling” and I definitely was reminded of The Faint and Tenacious D. That being said I was also thinking of Talking Heads to a lesser extent. I loved the ascending bass line.
They have more success with “Fate” and it was reminiscent of a band I almost forgot about called Cake. I remember they used to play one of their songs all the time on MTV back in the day. Up next is the ultra fun and dark “In My Mind” which has a great beat and warbly synths that combine with infectious vocal melodies.
“Girls at the Pool” was very silly but in a great way. The lyrics are pretty funny and the hook will also stick with you. They keep churning out great songs including “3:1 Ratio,” “With You” and the ballad in the batch called “Placebo.”
The noir and surf infused “Edgin’ My Boys” is the arguable highlight. They close with the silky sheen of “I Want You To Come” which contains some fantastic falsetto and a shoutout to BoJack Horseman.
I remember hearing The Faint about twenty years ago. It’s cool that these guys have a similar vibe. This is a great album. It doesn't take itself too seriously but there is no denying the talent and songwriting. Take a listen.
Sarah Familiar introduces to the world her brand of uke-led melodic releases that dives into her hard-hitting punk styled sounds with dashes of folk and rock on her debut EP Words Worth Your Time. The EP is released via MT Threat Productions. Every piece of music and merchandise produced or promoted by MT Threat will have a portion of the proceeds devoted to charity. Currently, they are supporting the non-profit clinic, Phoenix Allies for Community Health.
The album gets started with “Empty Plate, Empty Girl,” where fast-paced finger-picking on the ukulele brings across a bright and invigorating sound. Familiar’s vocals are equally amped, matching the fervor of the music. Percussions that come in gives the vibe a livelier feel. The music felt very catchy and upbeat. Familiar showcases more of her vocal talents on “If You Wanna.” The sounds of piano are interwoven with ukulele mixed in with drumming beats. Surprisingly, this gives off a cosmic sound. The vibe was overall very sweeping. The expansive elements recalled a sound similar to Florence and the Machine and Feist but with the ukulele. Familiar shows us with this track that she can pick up an epic sound as easily as rendering simple finger-picking styles solely on the ukulele.
A fantastic Spanish guitar is executed on “Flip The Switch” reminding me of flamenco. I was impressed by Familiar’s riveting vocal delivery that sounded like she spewed out each verse in one breathless incantation.
More ukulele makes an appearance on “Disenchanted With The Chances.” Familiar sounds more melancholy-tinged matching the somberness of the music. Sounds of the xylophone trickles in to add light in the midst of all that gloom. Moody sounds of the cello are a chilling addition. The eccentric quality to the track gave it a very Tim Burton atmosphere. Later, the ukulele layers then reveal a crunchier rock-based sound as full-on guitars add more range to the song. Familiar shows her more vulnerable side with the intimate performance of “My Skin.” Sounds of the ukulele blended with what sounds like a lute adds consistency to the band’s driven acoustic vibes. Familiar’s vocals are impassioned and you get to see any artist, who is perfectly at home doing what she loves, make music audiences everywhere can enjoy with this more than adequate closer.
My only complaint was that these tracks were way too short. Under three minutes each, these bite-sized gems left me hungry for more. Familiar sure knows how to whet the appetite for some ukulele-based infused melodies. She flexes her ability to get across a wide range of sounds from fast and hard to soft and sweet all in a matter of seconds. Words Worth Your Time EP is filled with surprises. Be sure you give this a spin!
Thrds is production duo Tristan McGarrigle and Robbie Ashdown from London, UK and vocalist/songwriter Amy Kirkpatrick from Toronto, Canada. The band recently released an eponymous four song EP Thrds.
The music veers towards electro pop. I thought the music had a fairly wide net in terms of who might appreciate the music most. The songs were constantly on the line for me in terms of more of an indie and more mainstream appeal perhaps similar to a band like CHVRCHES.
The EP starts with “Eyes Wide Shut” and the production is clean and crisp. I thought the guitars have a modern sort of quality with a good amount of reverb yet clarity. Everything pops in terms of the dynamics. Kirkpatrick has a great voice and it did feel tailor made for this style of music. There is no denying how infectious the hook is.
Up next is “Silver” and this is more of a ballad at least at first and very lush in general. The emotional resonance is dramatic as she sings alongside what sounds like a grand piano. On this song we get into synth pop territory and it feels smooth as velvet. The song really starts to pop a little after the one-minute mark and even gets a little funky.
“We'll Find Love” starts off a little more pensive. I got the feeling the song was trying to get me deep in thought. This song also pops but the mood does stay more pensive and you could argue the song also feels quite haunting.
Last up is “Won't Leave L.A.” and the topic seems to revolve around a broken relationship that needs repair. It’s a bit of a slow burn. There are percussive elements that trickle in and eventually a big crescendo that leads to the most epic and grand sounding moments on the release.
This is a winning formula. The production sounded fantastic, the songs are well written and I think a lot of people will enjoy this release. Take a listen.
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