Tim Johnson (piano), Miller Wrenn (bass), Ben Scanlan (drums), Shalini Vijayan (violin) and Anthony Stornolio (concert bass drum) are Music by Gestalt. I never heard of this band before but got an opportunity to listen to their release Debussy's Fawn. It’s what I would call musicians’s music. This sounds pretentious but if you aren’t familiar with music theory you might miss how much is going on at a technical level. The important part isn’t the technical work; it's the band’s ability to create an emotionally powerful piece of music which is really the gold everyone is after.
The music mixes elements of jazz, classical and post-rock to name a few. Let's start at the beginning with “The Frog's Song.” It begins with a hypnotic and melancholy piano pattern that is interjected with dissonance from a different instrument. I loved the dichotomy right away.The song however is just getting going. We are led to beautiful piano patterns that soon get joined by very front and center drums. The song leads you through so many moods and patterns of energy. There’s joy and there’s awkwardness. It’s really all over the place emotionally and hits upon a lot of gray areas which I love to hear.
“Church Music” starts with a mesmerizing piano pattern and a rolling snare. It’s graceful, pensive and starts to explode in post-rock fashion. The song feels celebratory in a way but more like you are having epiphanies every second and a half before finding rolling hills of dissonance which weave in and out. It's an absolutely thrilling song.
“Debussy's Fawn” is another testament to their ability as musicians. Scalan is all over this song. The drumming is just insane but really the whole song is one where every player here is playing to the peak of musical talent.
The next three songs “Rabbit in a Snowstorm, Part 1,” “Rabbit in a Snowstorm, Part 2” and “Rabbit in a Snowstorm, Part 3” are simply amazing pieces of music. I can’t do it justice with words but the band does take advantage of space in different ways. “Rabbit in a Snowstorm, Part 1” is haunting and minimal but also can change moods in seconds and come back.
“Rabbit in a Snowstorm, Part 2” is a cascading wall of notes. It’s almost overloaded. The music requires attention and repeated listens. The last song “Rabbit in a Snowstorm, Part 3” has the most palatable melodies and some of it reminded of Celtic music.
Fans of composers like Philip Glass, Steve Reich and other like-minded artists will love this. This is music. There is no marketing team or brand needed here. The music stands on its own and is a high echelon of what’s capable within the art. Highly recommended.
The Ambit is the solo project for Marshall Leggett. Leggett seems to have a lot of experience as he has played in a number of bands including The Eco-Guerrillas, Dead Silence and Cog. The Adventurers is his solo release but it does in fact sound like a full band could be playing. He mentions his love of music from the ‘80s and ‘90s. In particular he mentions punk rock and off kilter and experimental music.
The experimental pop music quality is certainly in these songs. In fact I actually was reminded of the recent Thom Yorke album Anima. The album starts with “Pouring Rain” and it is an airy but kinetic sounding song. I could definitely hear some of the ’80s influence. The instrumental elements worked really well together to my ears. I also really enjoyed the chorus which was catchy and infectious.
Up next is “Which Way Should I Go?” and this is where I was thinking of Anima. The comparison is in how he manipulates elements and there is a good amount of percussion. There is also a lot of space in the song and I enjoyed the upright bass sound. My only critique is he has some issues when going for really high notes.
“God Only Knows” is a sort of anti-funk song. This song actually had some unusual rhythms I associate with Talking Heads. The song has very tribal sounding and percussive aspects.
“Devolution Chant” almost overloaded my brain. There are multiple time signatures and so much happening at times. It’s an epic song with some wicked grooves. “Lost” is arguably a little more straightforward compared to the other songs. It’s really catchy and I thought this was the vocal range he sounded best in. He gave a good vocal performance with this song.
We get back into intense percussion with “Don't Need to be Alone” and again it has some unique time signatures. It’s a bit zen and again tribal sounding. “All This Madness” is the first song that felt more firmly planted in rock. He closes with “Learn to Live Alone” which sort of mixes his love for percussion with some rocking moments.
This is a great album. I was impressed by the dynamics, diversity and proficiency of Leggett. Recommended.
Relentless Souls was a band that formed in 2015. They got to work quickly and released Five Paths One Mission. There has been a lot of growth from the band in a number of ways but they state the album was the impetus for change. They say “This album was meant to be a critical turning point for us as a band especially in our sound. We reworked several songs off our original EP and made them closer fit the identity of the band.”
The album to me is primarily hard rock. It’s music that feels similar to the headspace of a band like Tool some of the time. The music is delivered with the utmost seriousness and sometimes has this mystical and mythological quality to it.
They open with the title track and there is definitely an early Metallica vibe going on here between the double bass drum action and the lyrics. The chorus does have an overall ’80s quality and felt like it worked well in a montage.
“I Wanna Play a Game” is where I started to feel like I was submerging into a dark fantasy based novel between the chant-like atmosphere and a slow burn of elements. The song does rock as well but it swings back and forth between the moods.
“A Different Life” felt like a single worthy song. It seems like a pretty straightforward love song and again the ’80s vibe was strong here and I could define this song as arena rock. The title track “Crowd Control” is a hard hitting song with an onslaught of drums and it felt full of metal between the demon like shriek and percussive elements.
“A Broken Song” simmers things down while “What You Did Last Night” embraces dangerous western vibes that meld with the hard rock vibe. “Our Home” is very different from what came before, at least at first. It’s a combination of acoustic guitar elements which do become more intense as the album progresses. “Flashback” contains a mix of punk, rock and grunge while “Fallen Down” felt like their bread and butter sound. They close with “The Edge” and save some serious rocking out for last.
The band has improved in plenty of ways and that's always inspiring to hear. Recommended.
Wilderness is a rock n’ roll outfit formed in 2015, based out of St. Louis, Missouri, comprised of Dan Johanning (guitar/vocals), Bobby Stevens (guitar/vocals), Gabe Usery (drums) and Justin Haltmar (bass). The band is releasing their latest album entitled Real Rock Radio.
Drawing inspiration from bands like Drive By Truckers, The Replacements, Hot Water Music and The Hold Steady, the sound that is developed by the band is unfiltered rock – that is rock n’ roll at its purest and most solid form. Bursting with high-tail energy, the band throws themselves in the throes of their rock fest, speeding through a full-on roll of booming guitars, driven bass lines and loud and demanding drums. The bands energy will definitely leave listeners pumped and wanting more.
Real Rock Radio opens with “Someone Else’s News,” where a full roll of guitars creates an undulating wall of sound. The vocals are revved up and you can really feel the gusto reverberating from enthused singing. The energy is full-on. The guitar solo toward the two-minute mark is gigantic. The rhythms are alive. Audiences will be driven to move around on their feet or bob their heads in time to the music.
Following is “Fanetti Boys,” where fully realized and revving guitars burst into the scene at the start of this track. The vocals come in with a full-on vibe. The energy on this song is fully charged and amped. The guitar riffs are loud and revving. They spiral overhead this rocking number. A drum solo sizzles and a wall of guitars rolls out from the rock ether. Towards the close of the track, the vocals are shouted out with gusto and verve.
Drums and percussion dress the start of “American Lights” with a lively feel. The vocals come in with a dynamic pulse. This is a soaring ballad that us heartfelt where the guitars are anthemic and spirals overhead.
On the closer, “The Lioness And The Cartographer,” the sauntering rhythms is a definite slow burn. A melancholy vibe could be detected from the vocals. The reverberating guitar riffs spiral overhead. I thought the soft cadence coming from this song is an apt way to close a great album.
Rooted in classic rock, one of the lead singers sounds a lot like Bruce Springsteen. His rich and vibrant baritone certainly parallels The Boss’ charismatic timbre and on the opener “Someone Else’s News” he even pays homage to the working-class heroes. The vintage comparisons do not stop there. Filled with the rollicking sound of guitars, adamant drums and equally driven bass line, Wilderness rolls out all the stops.
These rock sessions each ties into a seamless and cohesive experience. These rock anthems exhibit not only tight musicianship on many a jam-session, but also the band’s chemistry as they take rock n’ roll to the next level. Like the title of their album indicates, tune into Wilderness if you want to enjoy some ‘Real Rock Radio.’
SoCal Hunnies is Nick JD Cunningham (drums/singer), Russ Piva (guitar) and Dave Stuckey (bass). The band recently released a four-song self-titled EP SoCal Hunnies. They say, “our music is best described as ‘trippyfunk’ a style which the band describes as a blend of opposites: groovy and energetic, spacey and tight, chill and upbeat.” That makes sense to me but the “trippy” aspects to my ears at least were minimal. The music made me feel relaxed and like I was listening to this band on the beach somewhere in paradise.
They start with “Don't Ever Leave Your Man or Woman” and this was a great song. It’s got a classic ’70s rock and funk vibe. It’s incredibly catchy and I thought the decision to start the song with the hook was a good one. The falsetto singing sounds right at home here. There is also a pretty badass guitar solo towards the end which put the cherry on top for me.
The band gets a little more chill with “Tropic Daze.” I liked all the instrumentation but the jazzy drumming just had my number. There is also some super slick thing happening on the guitar but Piva picks his moments The bass has more of The Velvet Underground sort of vibe keeping the foundation together. Great stuff.
They get just a little more trippy on “Bend” but it can also feel a little sensual. It’s that guitar part on the verse. I loved how this song progressed and the energy picks up but it’s not overboard. This felt like a single worthy song in a lot of ways and the jam section around the three-minute mark is another testament to their abilities.
The band closes with “Cape Town Daydream” and it is arguably the most high energy song in the batch. It's a funky groove but also rocks in a way that it would get people moving. The vocal harmonies were a good call. I picked up on Vampire Weekend vibes on this song and they get their most trippy on the breakdown section which transitions to their highest peak.
Overall, this is a seamless and cohesive EP. I really don’t have any complaints. It’s a really tight and concise release that made me a fan.
Pindie is a three-piece band that formed in Halifax, England in 2016. The band consists of Michael Douglas (drums), Luke Grady (bass) and Tommy Newbury (guitars). The band is releasing their debut EP entitled North.
The story behind the formation of the band is involved and an interesting tale to boot. The original founding members (Newbury and Douglas) were on the same college course (Level 3 Music Performance), and part of their assignment was to do as many gigs as possible. Pindie was their attempt to get as many gigging hours in as possible, but it was also an attempt to try something completely different to everyone else in the course. The band also mentions that they fired their vocalist because they didn’t like her work ethic and before not too long was when they wrote their first song “Birth.” From day one, they had no vocalist and had no intentions of getting one. This all changed after the band decided to record their first EP through a live session in November 2019 at a pub called The Blind Pig in Sowerby Bridge, UK. The live takes really encapsulates who and what Pindie represents as a band. Raw and unadulterated, the EP was recorded as an all-day event. As a part of the evolution of the band, they decided to incorporate vocals into their future recordings, altogether giving it a fuller sound.
North opens with “Victory In Defeat,” where industrial sounding guitars add some traction toward the start of this track. The guitars grow louder in volume as the song progresses. The sound is unrelenting and obliterating. The driven guitars and bass lines and insane drums are instantaneous and hard-hitting. The velocity and speed in which the instrumentals are played shows the musicians' versatility and ability.
Following is “ICBM,” where warbling guitar licks add a touch of dissonance to the recording. Sizzling percussion adds a lively range. The vibes on this track are ominous and somber-sounding. Exciting guitar riffs gives off an out-of-this-world experience. The instrumentals on this song are full-throttle and the musicians play with ample dexterity and skill.
“Birth” starts off with sparse instrumentation. Then the guitars progress with a melody-driven vibe. Sizzling percussion adds an arresting flair. This song changes it up pervading with a softer sound though a more hard-hitting vibe coalesces as the track progresses.
On the closer “North,” full-ranging guitars start off with a fully realized vibe. The sound is pulverizing, adamant and dark. The guitars and bass are a driving force. The drums are fast and demented. The sound oscillates from hard to soft. The band alternates interchangeably from the polarizing effects with skill and ability.
The band mentions their EP on their Bandcamp page: “A pretty little ditty which contains four of our most cherished songs. This EP is just a small picture of the band’s starting point (‘Birth’), to the continuous betterment which keeps on giving (‘North’).” Though the band professes that they tend to play outside of genres, they tend to break it down to these realms of music: psychedelic rock, prog metal, prog, rock and sometimes doom. With a sound that is a crush of raw instrumentals from hard-hitting and driven guitars, bass lines and rapidly paced drums, the band can only move forward from here. I look forward to seeing where they take their sound to next.
The Shadow Blasters is a band that formed in Wellington, New Zealand and they have been around since 2009. At the tail end of 2019 the band released their sophomore album entitled Sundown On South Gloucestershire. The band states, “these 12 songs are a testament to the fight we showed moving overseas and trying our luck in the UK.”
Sundown On South Gloucestershire is a big album. There are twelve songs and they trimmed the fat off the songs as well so you are left with an engaging experience from beginning to end. This is primarily a rock record at its foundation but they flirt with other genres as well.
“Stuck In The Game” is a great start because it’s an uplifting and energy fueled rock song with an anthemic hook. It’s got an older classic rock aesthetic to my ears and some of that might be due to the analogue gear that was used but also the delivery.
“The Big E Stomp” isn’t as rock infused. It’s a little jazzy, bluesy and off kilter in some ways. It’s a warm ballad and I loved the addition of the organ on his track. “Ain't Got Nothing Now” is one of my personal favorites. It’s slower and I love the vocals here. There is some resemblance to the soulful voice you heard from Joe Cocker.
The wonderful “Walking Next To Him” hit all the right notes. It’s got the old soulful vibe that you don’t hear much these days. The vocal harmonies, sparse production and everything else works out wonderfully.
As the album progressed there were plenty of other highlights to my ears. The ambient and reflective “Tabernacle Road” warms your soul while “Deny It” has hints of spaghetti western which sounded great. “Riversnake (Levee Camp)” and “Lowdown” were also songs I could have on repeat.
This is just a great record for many reasons. The songs resonate with you emotionally because of how organic and heartfelt the vibe is. I think that is due to the recording quality, the performances and the songwriting. There is a lot to appreciate here and truly think this is an album that a large demographic would love. Take a listen.
Neon Lemon is Austin, Texas native Ben Siebert’s first endeavor making and recording music on his own. Done in his home using Logic Pro X, the self-titled Neon Lemon incorporates drums, other percussion and vocals, which were recorded using one Audix om2microphone, in a tiny “less than perfect” room. Other various guitars and pedals were used as well. Siebert’s work was influenced by bands like Black Angels, Spaceman 3, Stereolab and Primal Scream. He recorded parts and then added things, not really fashioning his sound after any band but in the end hearing their influence at certain times. Having only played guitar for maybe a couple years, Siebert is “just having fun with a heavy spacey vibe and repetition.”
This experimental-alternative/psychedelic journey debut starts with “Isolation in Delhi” – a thick, muddy, droning and heavy guitar-driven song with incoherent words being sung. The guitar riff is absolutely brilliant. It’s hard to put it into words that could describe it well. To me, Siebert brings together the elements of goth and dark new wave (a la Bauhaus, Joy Division, Love and Rockets, Sister of Mercy) and blends them with something only from his imagination. No pop rock sound here. His minor chords usage gives this opener a dark, brooding attitude.
“Hole in the Sun” is another guitar focused song, with plenty of fuzziness on the vocals. This one seemed to have a ‘60s psychedelic edge to it, something like a darker version of Jefferson Airplane meeting up with The Velvet Underground. Loved the sound of his guitar and the chords changes – well done!
“What World” has a slightly faster tempo – you might say a little rockabilly with alternative. Siebert once again layers on deep echo effects, reverb and muddiness to his vocal track, heavy’s up on the guitar chord layering and brings out more of a drumbeat. This one got a little trippy, too. Midway the guitar and song’s energy gets louder and more commanding, as the musicians breaks into a wild solo. The ending – a searing guitar interlude.
Next up is “My Name is Dancing Cloud” which fades in slowly with repeating rhythm guitar chords and a fanciful lead guitar on top. The bass lines are deep and muddy as are the drums. This is one of Siebert’s longest songs and it goes into many parts, breaks and music spaciness. This one has a psychedelic edge to it, but it also reminded me of T. Rex for some reason. “Who’s Got a Ticket?” has an alternative rock, trip-hop feel, almost like a Beck song, but here again, Siebert doesn’t seem to mind not making his lyrics read like you have to pay attention to them – he just sings them as if they are another instrument. And rightly so, the voice is just that. Loved his guitar solo and chord changes in this one for sure.
“Walk with the Devil” is by far the longest song on the entire album. It begins brooding along slowly and softly, and then bursts into heavy, echoing guitar – with reverb and fuzz up to 11 – and a sludgy, washy drumbeat – heavier on the cymbals than anything. What’s different about this right away, is that Siebert uses some keyboard unit and extra psychedelic “do-dads” to give this number an “out of this world” sound. As the spacey keys hum along, he adds some clean guitar chords which are delicately played apart from one another. There is also some free form solo action, too. Sometime after the seven-minute mark, guitar and bass play along in unison in a deep, repetitive and hypnotizing fashion with the drums coming in shortly – all three together playing at a faster tempo.
At last, there is “Dark Rose” a song that I would say has the most recognizable structure of an alternative pop song, with its verse – verse – chorus – verse arrangement. But one again, staying true to his unique sound, Siebert sticks with deep muddy drums, heavy reverberating guitars and echoing, haunting vocals. Without a doubt, there is a “heavy space vibe” to Neon Lemon’s first record, but whatever Siebert did while mixing and mastering, if any, he created a presence and sound all his own. Sometimes a listener and lover of music wants “an experience” – the chance to go onto a journey, into the mind of the musician and maker of sounds we know as music. I think Ben Siebert’s Neon Lemon project has unmistakably taken me on a journey, but where? – only he knows. Perhaps soon he’ll embark on another unique level of alternative/experimental musical journeys.
Tucker Winstanley has a good amount of experience with sound design and that certainly seems apparent on his recent release Woolgathering. The music to me fits into the contemporary classical and ambient category. It’s often beautiful, haunting and is all about the nuance and detail. It felt like music that needs to be listened to with a set of headphones to fully feel what it’s trying to do.
The first track is entitled “being above and at some distance” and I would like to start with an analogy. Our universe when you look at it on its smallest scale is made of atoms, electrons, quarks and more. We can’t observe them with the naked eye but using the scientific method we have confirmed their existence with an extremely high probability. That’s what “being above and at some distance” sounded like to me. Tiny fluctuations of sound that dance in patterns of chaos and order.
“Molt” is another song that feels like we are hearing sound at a more fundamental level. It’s somewhat spiritual hearing music like this because of the sense of stillness it creates. At times “Molt” sounds like what Sigur Rós might sound like if they took away the guitars, vocals and bass.
“Ebb” is another track that brings about this quality. It does ebb and flow. The sounds are again meditative and feel cosmic. “Woolgathering” is the centerpiece at ten-plus-minutes long and also the first time you get a sense there is a human creating these sounds with a microphone. The track begins with lightly picked guitar but morphs a number of times. The song turns into something epic and becomes a beautiful mass of distortion, dissonance and swells. In my mind's eye the imagery was something akin to a new dawn. Last up is “Recital” which is warm and brings with it a sense of solace. It’s brief and fades away.
Artists similar to this such as Fennesz, Tiim Hecker and Ben Luckas Boysen have the ability to almost completely remove ego. Winstanley has that same ability. Music like this isn’t about an image or brand or even about a person. It goes deeper. All of us are trying to find ways to transcend if only for a minute before we go about our busy lives. Music like this can assist with that but you really have to listen to find the treasure.
SkeletonCrew is an alternative music project by musician/composer Felix Danilo and vocalist Nicole Obren from the Far North of New Zealand, who’ve been playing together since the age of twelve. Taking a break from being in larger bands, SkeletonCrew is an exercise in musical self-sufficiency and using the newfound creative freedom to explore the wider universe of music. Danilo creates the concepts weaving themes together with a variety of instruments, while Obren provides a story with her lyrics evoking a range of emotions with her smooth vocals.
Their debut as a duo, It’s Better I Don’t Know, is a genre-bending album, encompassing a range of styles within the indie/alternative music genre, blending elements of rock, pop, electronica and jazz. There are many layers to it, all carefully crafted to complement each other and brought together by Obren’s voice and arresting lyrics. The songs’ various genres fit together with a stylistic flow, incorporating instrumental interludes and sampled everyday sounds. As live performers Danilo and Obren are no strangers, having played many festivals and Northland events, both separately and together. They have a lot of fun and energy on stage and plan to put together a full live band to perform their music this summer. They’re also working on their next album.
The opening track is a mix of what sounds like a tape machine and an ethereal guitar, car traffic and voices in perhaps a downtown setting – a cool, inviting beginning. “Stay” carries on more of the smooth, jazzy guitar sounds with electronic drumbeats and ambient keyboards. Genre wise, it mixes up indie pop and what’s known as “chill.” The song ends with some raining effects. So far, a great soundtrack for summer. “Her” has more of a ‘take charge’ feel, more command with a somewhat traditional verse/bridge/chorus structure. The heavier guitar and synth work have a psychedelic feel to it. “Synthia” begins with some rain sounds and a larger presence of keyboards and bass. I think style wise, this reminded me a little of post-disco – those obscure disco-like songs that crossed over into the territory of new wave, dance-electronica, art rock and pop. Only a few iconic artists have been able to pull this off, Bowie being one of them.
Anyway, this tune transitions into “Let Me Be Lost” a short instrumental that mixes ethereal keys, a slow chill beat and airy, soundscape guitars with more tape deck and rain sound effects. Next is “Show Me, Teach Me” a dreamy, echoing song with heavy effects on the vocals and muffled guitar riffs. This one had a creepy Halloween feel to it. The song fades out with “magical” sounding keys. “Goodbye” features the fastest tempo on the entire album and a few guitars layered on top of each other. I loved the fabulous guitar sounds towards the end. It didn’t occur to me until now, that the duo’s style and/or sound, reminds me of Portishead, Poliça and perhaps Lorde.
The last number is “Come and Get Me” that band’s jazziest and most playful, I thought. Obren’s vocal work is commanding here, while Danilo’s guitar work and composing is captivating. At times sensual and playful, at other times ethereal and vulnerable with spaced out chill effects, SkeletonCrew’s It’s Better I Don’t Know… is a gorgeous layered journey of sounds, a parade of musical elements that enliven the ears and go beyond the conventional structures of music. The kind of music that would go well with some dreamy video clips to complement this duo’s work. Looking forward to hearing more.
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