Reserfiction is the recording project of multi-instrumentalist musician Joe Usher. Coming from Brighton, UK, Usher writes and produces all the music heard on his first full-length project Apollo. He draws inspiration from influences such as Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem and My Bloody Valentine. The album was all recorded in Logic Pro X, although live drums were played on a couple of tracks. Others are a bit more traditional using looped and/or programmed drums. Usher states that he tries to avoid using too much compression and to let sounds "breathe" by leaving some of the mistakes in. This he defines as the old definition to "lo-fi" where the poor recording quality and “humanity of the recordings” give the sounds character and life, which in his view, a lot of music is missing today.
While the recording is instrumental in nature, Usher used his voice as an instrument on many of the tracks. He states that he wanted to focus on crafting the tracks and producing them, getting familiar with this aspect of the recording, so when he implements more vocals in later albums, he’ll feel more comfortable doing so. The recording happened over a couple of months, but it was only in the last three weeks of the process that he decided to complete the project.
This short collection of songs begins with “Magenta Sky” a just under two-minute track, filled with lo-fi “chill” beats, repeating acoustic melodies and haunting background echoes, all recorded on an iPhone. One of the first songs written is “Thunderstorms” which was done using live drums. The beginning is humming and mellow, somewhat garbled, while the drums have a shoegaze style to them. Usher adds more of those ethereal and “haunting-like” melodies, giving the song more textures and space. The outro ends the song with a few acoustic chords. Giving the album a more “spontaneous” appeal is “Constellations” – a track filled with edgier lo-fi beats, a nice, light piano melody and “choir-like” vocals that Usher layered and “chopped up differently” creating a rich texture of sounds.
Encouraged by the artist to listen to this one with headphones on, “Surround” is one of the shorter songs on the album and, according to Usher, his most abstract. His guitar work blends very well, becoming more of echoing a “wall of sound” rather than resembling the sound of a guitar. There isn’t much to this one overall, and I’d agree. It’s pretty trippy and floats along like undulating clouds. More live drum work can be heard on “Rainfall” which according to the musician, “was a pain, but fun.” It also happens to be the only song on the album with lyrics, albeit very few. The beginning starts slow and rather moody, but not in a dark way – meaning there are no minor chords played here. The track does feel like it swells into louder sounds, more alive and climatic, and just when you think a chord change will happen, the song ends.
Next up is “Serenity” – another take on the artists’ lo-fi/bedroom pop and shoegaze style. This one had a romantic feel about it. The bass and guitar/synths sounds were rich and full. The song evoked images as if one were floating in space. Very atmospheric, in other words. Rounding out the album is “Applewater,” what Usher calls his “most ambitious track” which took him a lot of time to compose as this was a song primarily written on the piano. Sounds of thunder can be heard in the background with additional keyboards adding some accompaniment. It’s a nice ending track, and it seemed an appropriate place for it here.
On the whole, I enjoyed Reserfiction’s Apollo. It reminds me of the soundscape instrumental stuff the DJ hosts play on radio shows Echoes and Hearts of Space. So, if you’re into that, I think you’ll like Joe Usher’s work.
Sweden’s Mårten Lärka describes himself as a “semi-acoustic indie troubadour.” His latest release Allez Allez uses entirely French lyrics, and is a fun, well-crafted garage/pop-punk set.
The nine-track album kicks off with “Dors Bien” which is a….lullaby? Huh? Lärka sings against his strummed acoustic guitar with a tinkling music box sprinkled throughout. The lyrics were simple enough for even this poor French student to follow. It’s a beautiful song, and an unusual way to start an album.
Once we hear more of Allez Allez, the reason for starting with a lullaby comes into focus. The songs recount a day with his lover, starting at the end of the day and working backwards. In this context, the lullaby’s lyrics (“don’t regret anything … you did your best”) make a lot more sense. Would you sing this to your baby? Probably not, but you might after you caught your girlfriend dancing with someone else.
Up next is “Parfum de Nuit” which pairs a softly-mixed Motown drum feel with saxophones lines. The production here is worth noting--there are lots of subtle parts throughout that reveal themselves through repeated listenings. Lärka shows great restraint, taste and skill, which you’ll want to keep in mind for the later tracks.
As the album unspools, it takes on a rawer, almost garage-rock feel. For instance, “J’etais Ou” offers an old-school recording feel, almost as if they put an overhead mic in a room and had the band bash out a few takes. But this is carefully-constructed lo-fi with dreamy backing vocals, a clap-along section and some nice keyboards underneath. Lärka is fully in control of his art here; he’s making this sound exactly the way he wants it as he asks his wayward lover, “where was I?” The track is a ton of fun, and one of my favorites on Allez, Allez.
The raw, garage-rock feel continues on “La Vie Est Une Chanson.” It's a ‘60s-feel blues progression with fuzzy guitar and vintage keyboard sounds, but it feels more exotic because of the French lyrics. The music carries the jungle feel of “Etre Tarzan” in any language; don’t miss the terrific flute parts! This works nicely into the drum-and-bass spoken-word groove of “Monsieur Marcel.”
“Allez Au Diable” could be a lost Aftermath-era Rolling Stones track. It’s crank-it-up, fun guitar rock. Again, Lärka shows restraint here, giving the song just what it needs to deliver its raw message (“go to hell!”). This, plus “J’etais Ou,” would have made a dynamite double-A-Side single in an earlier era.
We close, before the drama of the day unfolds with “Ma Bien Aimee,” which is a pop song crossed with some hymn-like passages. Moa Holmsten’s vocals here are beautiful, and blend well with Lärka’s.
Allez, Allez is a well-crafted set of songs, and the emotion is clear no matter your native tongue. I didn’t want the album to end, so I’m playing it again right now.
mAdlyDs is a solo project from Lydia Kime based in North Carolina. As a composer, vocalist, guitarist and pianist, she combines her talents in evoking her resonant debut album Like a Tree.
Through a mixture of what once were separate and distinct ideas-musical phrases, songs and words, Kime goes on to shape her experiences into the making of this album. Consisting of songs that evolved from her young teens to her early twenties, the record felt very coming-of-age as it tells a journey through fear, pain and hope chronicling her adolescence to adulthood. Kime reimagines her youth and history with these full-on poignant renderings that evoke both sadness and yearning through brutally honest lyrics, compelling vocals and stirring music.
Like a Tree rolls in with “When Our Minds Died.” The piano distills a haunting soundscape. Eventually, Kime’s vocals arrive. With crystalline notes, her vocals are disarming. As she belts out on the track, you can feel the emotions surfacing, deeply moving you in the process. The mood of the music evoked a dreamy vibe. A meandering piano melody adds a pensive mood to the entirety of “Slaughter In the Streets.” As the melody grows in groove, you can see the guitar get introduced into this album. The sounds are stellar with the instrumentals fleshing out the movement to the music. Kime’s vocals are rich and pleasing to the ears. The mood builds on the piano tune on “Dark Pen.” You can really feel her vocals sets the mood on this introspective number.
Noodling on the guitar brings about the sound of “Catastrophics.” The vibe felt very minimalistic as Kime picks a tune on the guitar all the while hailing her strong vocals on this track. The sound of strings adds another layer to the song. The sounds orchestrated with a symphonic finish felt very polished. I could feel the abundance of emotions layered underneath the vocals. Rolling piano melodious pervade on “Natural Addict.” Once Kime’s vocals comes in, the vibe felt very natural. The music ascends with dramatic chord progressions and elevating vocal harmonies. I felt very much transported by the style and sounds. Monotonous piano chords get implemented toward the start of “Mad Land.” As Kime’s vocals arrive, the monotony drones on. Kime’s vocal style is very delicate sounding, as the soft and lush sounds get unharnessed. I felt deeply moved by her journey. Gradually, the music builds and we get theatrical vocals very much in the vein of Fiona Apple.
On the title track, more guitar fills build here. As overlapping vocal harmonies are layered in, I could really feel the music grow on me. The quiet energy on her vocal delivery here reminded me of Feist. On “Fresh World” the strings lean into an atmospheric backdrop. Eventually, the guitar sounds in, washing over the vibes with melodious undertones. This track felt very mood building as the melody meanders into wild and distinctive territories. Once Kime’s vocals comes in, the vibe really sets the tone to this beautifully layered song. Airy guitar riffs sound off over “From Grace To Grace.” Kime’s vocals hail on the forefront, embracing an emotionally powered stance.
You can feel that the tracks on Like a Tree come from a deep place within Kime as they evoke ideas and experiences from her past. The soundscapes on this album felt very much akin to soundtracks coming from a Tim Burton film. With the depth and honesty of a singer/songwriter and the craft of a well-seasoned composer, Kime’s songs carry the ambience of a carefully construed mood, atmosphere and melodic offering. All are components that go on to mold this record. This album proves that this is only the beginning for the artist. I greatly enjoyed this record and hope to see more from her soon. Be sure you have a listen today!
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Dan Mudge founded Loathsome Wind to combine rock music and comedy. He rounded out the band with Chris Bauer (guitar/vocals), Brian Chafin (bass/vocals), and Gokhan Oldugugibi (drums). The six-track Loathsome Wind EP is their debut release.
“Messages on Dating Apps” starts the disc, with a spoken intro that tells us what’s coming, so to speak. The band kicks into a funky, danceable track with just enough chorused guitar to evoke a ‘70s porno. The lyrics--delivered straight--reminded me of a game my friend Christian used to play in college. He and his roommates would read passages from Penthouse Letters to each other, deadpan, and see how long it took for someone to crack up. It was sophomoric (they were sophomores, after all), but it was good for a few laughs then. Dating-app denizens should chuckle here.
Comedy records are a tough genre. To me, the gold standard for comedy albums is Weird Al. His lyrics are deliberately over-the-top, and lampoon his subjects. The music underneath adds to the humor with odd instrumentation and funny percussion sounds. Further, many of his songs are parodies of well-known tunes, giving him a big leg up with the audience. Loathsome Wind, however, takes a tougher path. They play it straight all the way through. Their music--all original--is regular guitar/bass/drums rock, competently executed. The band touches on a few different feels (James Brown, Blues Traveler and Wild Cherry are clear influences), and each track features a nice guitar solo. Oldugugibi has some nice drum breaks as well.
That leaves a lot of comedy weight for the lyrics to lift--the words have to provide all of the humor. Mudge talks a lot about payloads, but do we get the payoff? In many cases, yes. For instance, there’s a few good zingers in “Boy of the Week:” “We didn’t even last as long / as the flavor in your gum,” or “Our courtship died faster / than my phone’s battery.” Double bonus points for rhyming “bourbon” with “sermon.” And my kids got a real kick out of “Don’t Touch My Butt.” There are some misses, too: “Connoisseur” as an example loses its lyrical shock value fairly quickly. It’s not easy being funny!
Loathsome Wind gave themselves quite a number of challenges on their debut, and they met many of them. I look forward to them honing their craft further.
How many years has it been since the two members of Spyderhuff made music together? Twenty-eight. Their history together goes back farther than that. According to the band they first started playing music together over fifty years. Who doesn't like a reunion?
For their release Tired Wrangler they explain the musical subject matter ranges from ‘loud mufflers’ to ‘growing old.’ I'm in, so lets go. They get the car revved up with “Get a Muffler, Babe” which is a slow burn with just enough attitude and grit. It’s a bluesy rock song with some gritty distorted guitar and some sweet harmonica that’s on fire. The vibe is very ’70s from head to toe and the band sounds at home here. They are having fun and you can tell.
I was not expecting synths but I got some on “Desert Rain.” The synths only created some atmosphere which felt appropriate. It’s a more lush song but there is again some harmonica that burns. The name Desert Rain really fit the vibe perfectly.
The duo have more success with the title track “Tried Wrangler.” I definitely heard a bit more of an affectation on this song. There are some country sounding vocals which by the way are great. This is a slower ballad that is quite relaxing and fun at the same time.
“Ten Thousand Things Could Go Wrong” was another move I wasn’t expecting. This is a funky ’70s type of song. There is a smidge of Bowie here and a very fleshed horn section. It sounds great. They somehow pull this style off.
I love a good driving groove and that’s what we get with “Midwestern California Boy.” Last up is “I’m in the Middle of a Big Wide World” and was one last turn I wasn’t expecting. There is an ’80s aesthetic to this song and some synths and what could be electronic horns.
This was a great release. There were some unexpected turns which just felt like the guys were having fun. I could argue that made the release less cohesive but something about it made it work which is hard to pinpoint. These two clearly have chemistry and make some killer tunes. Let’s not wait another twenty eight-years for the next release.
Brandon Padier is a singer/songwriter from San Antonio, Texas who recently released Brothers of the Flood. The album contains twelve songs and is a little under an hour long. I have to admit this album did have a Texas flavor to it with a nice mix of country and rock.
The songs felt straightforward to me, harking back to countless Americana acts that you most likely heard on the radio while driving in your car. There was almost no experimentation or surprise to my ears and that’s a plus or a minus depending upon your preferences. There is no denying there are some great songs and I really did enjoy the vocals throughout this album which sounded somewhat similar to Sturgill Simpson.
There is also a nice variety of energy throughout this record. Take for instance the driving and rock infused “Don’t Leave Me Wondering” compared to one of the more intimate and sounding songs entitled “Love So Green.” I liked both styles but have to admit “Love So Green” and songs similar to it really played into the artist’s strengths. HIs vocals are front and center with a lot of clarity and fidelity. There is also some fantastic string work that comes from the banjo and the guitar.
There were quite a number of highlights on this album. The very next song “One More Mile” is very good and I loved the rolling drums on this track. I also gravitated towards “Evangeline (Lily of the Field),” “Song of Desire” and “Paper Tigers.”
The production and recording was all DIY. I’d say this is one of the more professional DIY recordings I’ve heard. It’s not lo-fi and very close to some of albums that sound similar that were recorded by famous engineers.
Overall, this is a great album. The songs were heartfelt, emotive and easy to appreciate. Recommended.
Friends To The End seems to be entirely the work of Thom Kurtz. I have to admit I was a little confused about how he releases music. The four songs aren’t an EP or part of an album. There are four songs which seem to be part of a video series. I encourage you to check out the videos but I’m just going to be focusing on the music.
The first song I spent some time with was “Love On The Rocks (Shipwrecked) [feat. Julia Courtney]” and reminded me of something I would hear in a play. The field recordings of waves helped create this vibe. There is a mix of piano, percussion, guitar and other elements. The vocals are certainly the focal point and the song felt very visual to me which is why I’m guessing Kurtz decided to make a video. I’d say it’s a fairly straightforward song all things considered but well performed.
“As Sure As Your Sorrow Is Joy'' features a different singer and instrumentation. There is a good amount of instrumentation which sounds like Viola and Piccolo taking the lead here. The male vocals sound good and similar to the last song. I felt like this song would work in theater in some kind of context. It’s robust and bursts at the seams and feels like a “production” where you could have a lot of people on stage.
Up next is “A World of Troubles (feat. Susanna Lee)” which might be the highlight. This was another song full of instrumentation and felt like a production. There are horns, strings , percussion and much more. It’s also very catchy.
Last up is “Where’d You Put the Baby” which felt like an outlier. It’s more rock based and I was reminded of Talking Heads and Bowie to a lesser extent. The song is also playful and quite fun. It’s the most danceable song.
These four songs were well produced. The recording quality was impressive especially given the amount of instrumentation. Suffice it to say this was a unique release. Either way there is a lot to explore which you can do more of at his website. Take a listen.
Keen Truce is a solo artist/musician from Orlando, Florida who recently released OutWay. His music is hard to label and I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to make of it, especially at first. It felt like he was being tongue-in-cheek or sarcastic half the time like Ariel Pink. The music is rock based and often veers towards prog.
The first song is entitled “Day by Day” which begins with strummed acoustic guitar, a flanger filled bass and drums. There was a lot going on. The vocals reminded me of something between Spinal Tap and Destroyer. It often sounded like he was reading from a fantasy novel or a play. The tone felt hard to pinpoint.
“The Reason of Love” was a little more accessible to my ears. The music was undeniably good. His vocals here are very Ariel Pink and like I said he sort of dances between emotional tones. My emotional reaction was neutral. I liked the music but similar to the first song didn’t have a clear feeling come from listening to the song.
Up next is “Is It Just Me” which has the best music yet. It’s percussive heavy and the vocals are spoken word and again sounds like he is reciting a play. This was the first song that connected with me on a more emotional level for whatever reason.
“Pile High” is an intense song. The vocals are so buried here I barely noticed them and the music felt overwhelming at points. “Forgot Your Name” is another highlight and has this whimsical vibe and some of his best vocals.
“Still With Me” was another good song and “Love of My Life” slowed things down somewhat which is needed at this point in the album. The catchiest song is probably “Will You Give Me Love.” I liked “Hippie Hippo Boat” which also is the best song name. He closes with the jazzy influenced “Wonderful Woman.”
To his credit this is a very original sounding album. I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about it. It’s not an album that jumps out at you for its hooks and catchy melodies. I don’t say that in a pejorative way but this album is a slow burn that requires multiple listens.
One of the best things about art is it can make you think. Some of my favorite movies likeThere Will Be Blood or No Country For Old Men did that to me and made the art age well. I have a feeling the same will hold true for this album.
LV solo is a solo recording artist who like many other artists these days is making music from his bedroom without much more than a laptop and a keyboard. His latest release is entitled Out Of Phase. The artist explains, “The EP is still Summery and is more dance based and easy listening based than the first but still set in the retro world of ‘80s/‘90s pop. The sound for this EP is more comparable to some movie soundtracks and was mainly inspired by the soundtrack for DRIVE.”
This has been a popular phenomena for the last ten years or so possibly longer. I remember hearing The Chromatics, Cut Copy and College that more or less perfected the synth pop retro sound. It seems like since then a slew of artists have continued to celebrate the resurgence.
The first song is called “Can We Talk?” which consists of a straight 4/4 beat, a couple of synths and that’s really about it. There is the main melody which pops up and repeats but no vocals. On the next song “Never There” we do get some vocals but they are heavily delayed and there isn’t much of a hook to the song.
Up next is “La 80” which is a continuation of electronic percussion loops and virtual instruments. There aren’t any significant changes to the song that ends more or less where it begins. Up next is “Out of Phase” which is the arguable highlight in the batch. There are again some vocals but they aren’t prominent enough to create any type of hook. They were also so manipulated by the effects that it felt like another element.
“Voices” has the best vocal performance on the EP. That being said the music sounds like one big computer generated phase pedal. Last up is the dance worthy “The World Is Yours”.
The music sounds very much like it comes from loops and virtual instruments. I have to admit growing up in a decade where you had to play live to get any type of recording, I wanted to hear performances and more of that type of energy. I’m thinking in the vein of Cut Copy or The Chromatics. At some point I would love to hear the artist get out of the bedroom and work with musicians to at least play some of the ideas he has.
Overall, I thought there were some solid ideas on this EP. As a producer for almost twenty years I encourage him to keep going on this musical journey as there is a good amount of potential here. Take a listen.
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
Pig Puce Pig Puce 3.6
Derek Luttrell The Wolf Who
Cried Boy 3.9
Winter Camp Winter Camp 3.7
BRANCHES Hello from Sunny
Present Company Talking on Couches 3.7
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