Professor Downfall is the solo project of Chicago based sound engineer/multi-instrumentalist Che Arthur. Arthur is also the guitarist/singer of the post-hardcore trio Pink Avalanche. He has recently released his first works as Professor Downfall with two EPs, EADJ and SOL. In today's review, I will solely focus on EADJ, a six-track instrumental EP. With extensive influences from electronic, post-punk, prog, krautrock and metal influences, EADJ is a dynamic, diverse listening experience.
The EP starts with the track "Estes K", a powerful opener with a driving drum beat and synthesizer. In what reminds me of a ‘90s experimental movie soundtrack (think Run Lola Runa!!). Professor Downfall grabs your attention from the get-go.
This is followed by "Asps" which continues that forceful energy of the opening track, but with a distorted guitar over the top, giving the song a much more metal and post-punk vibe and showcasing Arthur’s dynamism; I feel the track has genuine ambitions without heading in a meaningful direction. "Desperation and Nonchalance" see Downfall as his creative peak on this EP with its progressive, hypnotic guitar composition playing stunningly off the powerful Neil Peart-esque drums.
"Prism" continues the energetic percussion work, this time over a synthesizer with a trance-inducing rhythm, at times almost prog like, but akin to "Asps" without expanding as the song goes on. "Oud and Dar" has a real doom metal vibe with its slow tempo and thick sound, invoking a real sense of despair. And acts as a pleasing contrast to the chaotic nature of the other tracks.
The EP finishes with "B Posse" which starts off as a repetitive metal number and evolves into an ambient, soothing finish.
Overall, EADJ is a raw, bustling EP,with significant importance on rhythm, repetition and interval among Spatio-temporal logics, coupled with Arthur’s majestic production and guitar work, as well as the consistent and powerful rhythm section, making it a distinctive listening experience. However, I feel Arthur doesn't fully expand on his initial ideas, leaving many of the songs half-finished, but despite this, EADJ acts as a prominent symbol of Arthur’s undoubtedly impressive musicianship.
Renée King’s debut release Through the dark is a concise four-track album in which King, a jazz-fusion artist, takes a singer/songwriter approach to exploring her solo sound. King, who hails from Cronulla, a beachside suburb of Sydney, Australia, culls her songwriting material from times of despair in her life, mining experiences of darkness and pain and channeling them into four cathartic songs. Citing tales of anxiety and depression both personal and tangential, King approached this album from a nadir, and used her passion for songwriting to push out of her darkest hour and into open space. There is a healing energy to the way King approaches her work, and it comes as no surprise that she has received her Master’s in Creative Music Therapy and is a registered music therapist. The album reads as a laborious yet enthusiastic exploration and reassurance of the self, breaching comfort zones on both a musical and personal scale as King processes her darkest hour and alchemizes it into the driving force behind the four songs that she self-released this January.
Despite the dismal depths that served as inspiration for this album, the overall tone of King’s music feels light with optimism, and albeit her somber vocal timbre, her simple lyrics are ripe with affirmation. The opening track “Amazing,” begins the album with an upbeat tempo guitar conversing with violin (played by Susie Bishop) and verges on the spiritual, as King sings, “Amazing / Even the parts of you / You might not know / I see you / Even in darkness / You’re beautiful.” The lyrics, which King wrote for a friend, contain the assurance of a therapist -- the places of the self yet to be explored can still shine, the heavy or painful moments in life can contain beauty whether or not the subject is themselves aware.
On “A Collective,” King turns her therapeutic lens inward as she acts out both sides of an internal conversation. The playful tempo and vocals recall King’s years managing a jazz band, while trumpet (Ellen Kirkwood) and piano (Peter McDonald) join in on the banter to expand the sound. The lyrical revelation in the song is uncomplicated, a King trades an initial “I am alone / It’s true” for “I’m not alone / It’s true,” thus revealing the tides of her mind turning. King exchanges her isolation for the realization that there can be “A dark and light side of me / With everybody else.” “Never Forever” riffs off of this shifting perspective by exploring the cyclical nature of life, light and dark, pain and pleasure. “This too shall pass” King intones, violin and guitar building an ominous atmosphere as she sings of the natural world, the ocean and trees, the turning of the seasons.
The final track “Time Stands Still,” is the most complex on an instrumentation level, as hand percussion, a stomp pad and electric bass accompany the acoustic guitars, keyboards, violin and trumpet of the earlier tracks. King sings, “None of this is mine / None of this is yours / This is just a painting of imagination.” Though she describes the act of writing this track as a “lighter way out” alternative to “ending it all,” the song itself is uptempo, shimmering with shakers and breezy percussion. The end of the track dissolves into King laughing, concluding the album on a high of the joy of imagination and creation -- the light that King has found through her darkness.
Too Late for Democracy is the followup album for solo producer Aien. The young nineteen-year- old producer did the recordings in his bedroom. There are eleven songs and I was a little confused about the source material. According to the artist: “My source material for covers this time stems from a number of Guns N’ Roses demos which leaked back in late 2019 and were recorded between 1999-2001 for Chinese Democracy, although “I.R.S.” did eventually appear on that album.”
I actually grew up on Guns N’ Roses when they were at the height of their powers. MTV would play their videos in constant rotation. A lot of these songs, while reimagined, certainly have some similarities to the earlier album.
The album contains a lot of material and some killer songs. There were a number of standouts such as “Hard School” which is a driving song with a notable chorus. I liked the rocking tracks the most such as “Quick Silver” and “Recurring Puncture” but the artist really does a solid job with a piano led ballad such as “Going Down” and “How One Remains.”
“I.R.S.” has so much attitude just like Guns N’ Roses while “Atlas Shrugged” is an arena rock style anthem that sounded great. The closer “Perhaps” was another well done piano ballad. I think I mentioned before that I love that younger artists are keeping the flame alive for artists older generations like myself grew up on. It’s hard for people to understand just how big a band Guns N’ Roses were. In fact I don’t think bands can really get that type of popularity these days.
Overall, I thought this was a step up in terms of production and delivery for the artist. He’s still a young musician and his is evolving but this latest effort confirms he’s on the right track.
t wasn’t too long ago when musicians would have to go in a room together and play instruments to make music. I clearly remember that being just what you had to do. Things change. Headed Nowhere that just released Into Dawn consider themselves four producers and collaborate remotely using more or less plug-ins like Soundtoys, OrilRiver and Omnisphere.
Truth be told once these types of virtual instruments came into existence the creative process changed for a number of reasons. Perhaps most apparent is now you’re also collaborating with the company that made the sounds that come from the plug-in. It’s a part of the equation in how an artist or band sounds and there can be a lot of similarities if artists are all using the same plug-ins.
This EP very much sounded completely electronic. There may have been some organic instrumentation but I can’t say I noticed it. Take for instance “Into Dawn'' which opens with a 4/4 electronic kick, synths, synth bass and other elements which create what sounds like a hyper infused version of New Wave. It’s the catchiest song and felt like a late thumper where adrenaline is running high even though it’s very late in the night.
Up next is “We Are Waiting” which has a similar consistent 4/4 kick drum. This song is also quite catchy and definitely had an ’80s new wave quality mixed with something more contemporary.
“Can You Feel the Cold” felt like the most pop infused song. The chorus in particular has an epic sort of quality you hear quite often in the genre. “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space” is also the name of one of my favorite albums ever by a band called Spiritualized. This song is very epic and also is anthemic. The vocals sound sort of human at first and by the end of the song it sounds like a bunch of robots singing or talking over each other.
These songs in general felt most suited for a club. They sounded upbeat and fairly positive. I can picture a dance floor packed. If you enjoy EDM in general I think this will be an easy one for the win column. Take a listen.
Finn Petrak is a young artist who recently started writing music in high school, took a couple of courses on modern software and started making music. It wasn’t always this easy. When I was making music in high school there were no DAW’s to make beats. All you really had was a microphone and tape to record on.
With technology comes more and more music. The concept of the bedroom artist emerged and that aesthetic defines his new EP Fever Dreams. There are lots of soft synths, most of the instruments sound like they are generated from a machine and I could hear how this release was made with overdubs and layering.
There are four songs all of which are perfectly fine bedroom pop. The first song “The Start” is funky and smooth with killer hooks. It reminded me of Justin Timberlake if he was making tunes on his laptop.
“Roll With It” is a super catchy tune. There’s just enough of that auto-tune effect. The instrumentation does have a very robotic quality from the bass line to the hi-hat sound. It works for the song. “Mutual” is a solid song as well as revolving around new love while “Ashtray” is a subdued warm song and arguably the most infectious of the four.
This EP goes by fast at twelve minutes. The songs are compact, short and while sounds generated from software still aren't on par with human performances in my opinion there’s a certain quality that when done correctly sounds great and that’s what you have here.
Bootleggers and Baptists are Terry McGill (vocals/harmonica/guitar), Kyle Burral (guitar), John Morgan (bass) and Stephen Berchielli (drums). The band did what countless other bands did during the pandemic and recorded remotely. The result is The Quarantine Sessions.
The band starts with “Red Rock Woman” and is a mix of blues and rock. This song starts off driving with guitar, bass, harmonica and drums. There are vocals that come which are very distorted. I couldn’t make out a single word. I could hear an affectation but that’s about it. The song becomes a bit chaotic at points and sounds like they are out of the pocket but also contains a rush of energy,
Up next is “Devil in a Dress” which has its moments and has more of a classic rock vibe. “The Wizard” also contains a straightforward classic rock flavor but a little more metal in the mix. The band continues with the grunge inspired “Looks to Kill” and the most energy infused track “I’m a Man.”
The band plays music that would sound good in a packed bar on a Friday night. It’s fun, no frills music with some attitude. There definitely seems to be a loose and playful quality to this music where the musicians aren’t taking themselves too seriously.
As an engineer myself the recordings were clearly home recordings but they did a solid job. That being said the bass drum in particular was too prominent on a number of songs and again there were a number of times where it sounded like they were out of the pocket which I’m going to guess might be from recording remotely. Overall these are minor quibbles and not something that will affect much of how you experience the songs.
Overall, there are some solid songs here which very much seemed like they would be best experienced live. This is the next best thing. Take a listen.
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Time capsule albums are always fascinating, as the frozen sounds of a different time are set free for all to hear. As their title suggests, the Junk Ranchers album 86 was recorded in 1986. Take a short look back: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had its first ceremony; Cliff Burton of Metallica died in a bus crash; there were first albums by Camper Van Beethoven, They Might Be Giants and Throwing Muses; and The Smiths broke up in December.
Most importantly, the signature sound of the early ’80s - synth pop and the many permutations of disco - was beginning to wane, as a new generation of alternative bands thrived in R.E.M.’s wake; Sugar and Guadalcanal Diary are two that come to mind. R.E.M. themselves released the incredible Lifes Rich Pageant, their clarion call that superstardom was just around the corner. This is the creative melting pot from which the Junk Ranchers emerged, though their music has rarely been heard until now. I would not have been surprised if these tracks were brand new: the energy and musicianship are timeless, and that clean alternative sound never gets old.
Based in Massachusetts, the Junk Ranchers consisted of Tony Pinto (vocals/guitar), Nick Cudahy (guitar/feedback), Jimmy Ryan (bass/backing vocals) and Ron Ward (drums). The original recordist was Geoff Patterson at White Dog Studio, Newton MA. Sadly the band broke up before this album could be released, but 34 years later the tracks were remixed and mastered by Kirk Swan of Dumptruck with plans for a vinyl reissue.
Pinto describes this music as “dark, jangly and swirly. Lots of melodies and feedback.” For me the strongest influence appears to be R.E.M., though Stipe and company’s reach was so vast that ’80s groups felt their gravity’s pull whether they liked it or not! I also picked up a bit of Husker Du’s energy, before discovering that producer Lou Giordano of Husker, Sugar and Goo Goo Dolls fame also worked on these original tracks in 1986.
“Disappear” jumps right in with a jangly mid-tempo lament decorated with tiny sparks of harmonic guitar. “The sun hides itself away / The darkness speaks in ways that shade the day / Run away, you'll never find me / Run away and stay.” The next song “After All” is the first to feature heavy feedback, and you’ll understand instantly why Nick Cudahy has a separate credit for feedback aside from guitar. Weirdly, the solos seem to anticipate the dying-battery aesthetic of Wilco’s A Ghost Is Born, released eight years later. The chords and vocal melodies carry off a bit of Bob Mould’s melodicism, but Cudahy is given ample space to strangle his guitar in the background.
“An Epitaph” really cries out to be compared to R.E.M.’s premiere E.P. Chronic Town as well as the LP Murmur. The guitars are lean and clean, and the vocals only as pretty as they need to be. “Remains The Same” slows down the picked guitars for a lament on broken love. “Tell me anything again / and stretch the truth for me again / and promise anything again to me / so I don't see that it remains the same.” The vocals here are treated with an old reverse-reverb trick from the analogue days, used extensively on the Beach Boys song “Feel Flows.” It’s a great device that anticipates each lyric before it’s sung. Cudahy again gets to torture his guitar, which at one point seems to be crying for mercy.
“Drowning” kicks things back into high gear, though the feedback guitar seems to pick right up where it left off. The chords are spiky-jangly and complement the “solo” perfectly. “Without A Doubt” is about as close to the Byrds as Junk Ranchers get, their off-kilter chords paired with ’6’s appropriate harmonies. Again, the ’80s alternative bands were so predicated on roots rock and jangly guitars that it’s impossible to know whether the chicken or the egg came first. This song and the following “Shadows” do demonstrate that the Junk Ranchers avoided “happy” major chords like the plague!
“A Tangled Web” has a wild chiming electric guitar sound, like a musically clanking factory machine. Very cool decaying vocal climax on this one. The final track “Inheritance” is the only one with a new guitar part (played by mastering engineer Kirk Swan) but aside from some killer bass or low piano key sounds, this song is totally consistent with the rest of the set.
It’s hard to imagine what might have happened to this music had it been released in its appropriate time. While I’m sad for the momentum these guys lost, I can’t get enough of that ’80s era and I’m overjoyed to be hearing this music now.
Joe Twohy is a pianist/composer based in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota who recently released Quiet Cycles. The album contains six original compositions all of which revolve around piano.
This is an album that paints a particular type of mood. I was instantly transported into a very sleek restaurant with romantic mood lighting. There I am with my date and we sit down to eat and are surrounded by the warm sound of piano.
The first song is “Daylight” and it is a very jazzy sounding piece and one of the slower lush songs. It’s immediately evident of the technicality of Twohy. His playing is smooth, dynamic and just seamless. “In My Mind” is definitely getting into the more technical stuff. This song is quite a ride in terms of energy and flow and there’s even a little extra ambience in the background. The playing a little before the three-minute mark becomes very hypnotic and circular.
“Looking Back” is oh so smooth. I was seriously feeling very relaxed on this song. Suffice it to say I think a song like this might be a good way to end the day. “Green Spring” is technically very interesting. His piano sounds like a cascade of notes and towards the end has some of the more intense moments.
I loved how “Cooped Up Camino” started. This song in particular reminded me of Radiohead at least at first. The song does become a little more jazzy and perhaps playful sounding as it progresses. I was listening to “How a Drink” and this was a nightcap. At this point the servers are closing down and this is the last song of the night.
My only critique was I kept hearing this odd noise on occasion that sounded almost like someone dropped something. I don’t think it was part of the piano but when I heard it it took me out of the song for a brief second.
Overall, this is a really fantastic piano album. If you are one who enjoys solo piano this is worth your time. Take a listen.
Mike Bodulow is back with a new release entitled Serene Ambedo. The artist explains: ‘Ambedo is defined as a kind of melancholic trance in which you become completely absorbed in vivid sensory details.”
The songs have a similar quality. They usually contain prominent bass parts, straightforward drums and guitar that usually is soaked in reverb and delay. The first song is called “Rodina (Motherland)” and you are greeted with a lone bass and what sounds like electronic drums or a drum machine that enters into the picture. It doesn't take too long for 16th note style lead guitar to enter as well and it gives the song a post-rock type of quality. Suffice it to say if you like this song you should enjoy the others.
“And the Award Goes to…(Stereo Effects)” has a cool bass groove that reminded me of Rusted Root and where I thought bongos would have been great on this track but there’s no percussion. The guitar gives it more of a moody quality which was still very cool. Next up is “Some Post-Apocalyptic Gunslinger” and is a slow burn that’s warm and psychedelic.
“The Lonesome Walk Home” features very sparse piano and guitar and make for a minor transition in the album. “Metamorphosis” is one of the darkest tunes and also contains some of the most notable melodies. I loved this song and was a highlight in the batch. The album continues with the cosmic and cerebral “Intersections of Dreams and Reality (Stereo Effects).” Last up is “Remember the Fears and Joys of Youth?” and this darker piano piece I really enjoyed. It’s pensive and reflective but also quite melancholy. Towards the end it becomes very dreamlike almost like a lullaby which was a great way to end.
There’s just enough variety to keep things interesting. I think incorporating the piano about halfway through added a lot to the songs. The album was cohesive and one I strongly encourage listening to from beginning to end.
Anderlloyd is a project created by Mikey Sloan in South Carolina; he is a senior at college and previously released two EP's to reasonable acclaim. The singer/songwriter’s latest five-song EP entitled Whatnot is a luscious record of commercially attainable alt-rock sprinkled with soul and folk influences.
"Long Sleeves" is the opening track, which is also the EP's single. Straight away, I sensed a strong "John Grant" influence, and akin to Grant, the strong harmonies with singer Coleman Smith are a real highlight of the song. The cello work also brings the whole track together to give a menacing and melancholic vibe to "Long Sleeves,” an emotive and delicate opener from Anderlloyd.
This is followed by the song “Roanoke,” a darker number with incredibly emotive lyrics throughout, such as "I may be an imbecile, but that don't mean I can't feel things.” Such vulnerable and open words really allow Anderlloyd to truly show himself on this track and to significant effect.
"Candle High" has a much more soulful feel, thanks to the rhythmic chordal guitar and the stunning profound vocal performance by Quentin Wilson, and the two components work off each other exquisitely. The use of only electric guitar and vocals give this track a really intimate essence, which seductively draws the listener in.
The soulful sentiment is continued on the next song, "Autumn Leaves,” as again Quentin Wilson showcases his emotive vocals. A beautiful guitar solo gives this track a devilish flavor; however, at just under two minutes in length, I think the song was far too short to do Anderlloyd's ideas justice and ended just as it was about to unfold.
The EP is concluded with “Closer," and in my opinion, you hear Anderlloyd at his best with his "Julian Casablancas-Esque" vocals. A folky/indie number, reminiscent of "Here We Go Magic,”as the song grows from a laid back piece, to a grand dreamy electro ending, revealing Anderlloyd’s ability to produce epic music whilst alternating genres effortlessly.
Overall, Whatnot is an accomplished piece of work that showcases Anderlloyd’s undoubted ability; with more time and guidance, I can see him flourishing into an extraordinary artist, thanks to his rare ability to push and experiment with sounds combined with his undoubted songwriting craft.
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