A Little More Life is a concept album from A Straw Assembly. The duo is based in Auckland, New Zealand, and their LP is based on Hanya Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life. In creating their album, A Straw Assembly tells us they “attempt to convey the diversity of mental states experienced in the novel,” and suggest that the listener play the ten tracks in order. While it’s a concept album (and holds together in that context), each track stands on its own, as well.
I must confess that I haven’t read A Little Life, and therefore cannot comment on the musical portrayal of the characters vs. their literary counterparts. In any event, the vocals are fairly buried in the mix, so I couldn’t necessarily understand the storyline. Hey, it worked for Exile. However, as a listener you do not need the novel as a guidebook for the LP. The music takes you on an emotional journey all by itself, and the sound of the lyrics complements the band’s work to deliver the feeling. For instance, in “Siege” the vocals soar and ask--I think--“What have I done?” as the lush orchestration pushes and pulls underneath. The emotion is clear and tangible.
Lush orchestration is a key feature throughout A Little More Life. The tracks are full of life and sound, with different tones and instruments weaving their way in and out. Horn lines abound. “A Saint is Divided” features sitar and banjo playing chromatic parts around a snaky distorted-guitar riff. There are dramatic guitar solos (those on “Siege” and “Rollcall” stand out), strings (everywhere) and swirling organs (“Rollcall”). The mandolin and trumpet on the “Hiroki’s Bench” are stellar.
A Straw Assembly explores a few musical different styles as well. The first four tracks are harder-edged rock, before downshifting to “Lispenard St,” an acoustic country number. “Me Oh My,” probably my favorite track, is a horn-driven party track with thickly layered guitars, thudding drums and keyboards (including some fun honky-tonk piano). The rich vocal harmonies sound great here (though I have no clue on the lyrics, and again it just doesn’t matter). The dramatic “Kintsukuroi Crumble” is a fine cap to the LP.
A Little More Life is a terrific release. It’s a testament to the musicianship of the band that they are able to convey a full range of emotion across a few different musical styles. Whether you’re a fan of concept albums or not, A Straw Assembly gives you something to enjoy here.
Joel David Weir is a singer/songwriter from Indiana. He is a twenty-year veteran of the independent/Americana scene in the midwest who has gained a faithful following from his focus on personal connection through music and wide influences that draw in fans of many genres. He recently released My Quarantina which is a five-song EP.
Weir has a story I’m sure most of us can empathize with. Suffice it to say I think a lot of people’s plans got put on hold when the pandemic hit. Weir was supposed to head overseas to Europe but ended up recording some music remotely instead. I think the expression is something like “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
My Quarantina felt like a midwest Americana type of album. I happen to live in Chicago but also just the general alt-country Americana flavor in the spirit of Wilco and other like-minded bands seemed to be the main flavor. That being said there were a couple things like synths which perhaps define a signature sound for him.
“What About Tonight?” is the first song and it starts with an upbeat rhythm section with the guitars feeling a little more subdued. As I mentioned the ’80s sounding synths that occasionally make themselves known were subtle but created some of the pensive atmosphere. At the center of the song is the vocals. I did feel like there was a similar emotional energy to Jeff Tweedy - a little bit pained and yet comforting. The song really doesn't have any changes that felt signifigant and sort of rides out the groove that it started with.
“My Quarantina” revolves around a couple of major and minor chords on acoustic guitar, a 4/4 beat and some attitude. This song felt pretty straightforward but well delivered. “Guns and Religion” contains some more subtle synth. The song felt similar to “What About Tonight?” in terms of the groove and energy. I thought the chorus was memorable and repeat worthy.
There is a little more attitude on “Gaslighter” and I enjoyed the gritty arpeggiated synth juxtaposed against the warmer guitar. I thought he saved the best for last with the dynamic and spoken word infused “Bombs.”
I thought this was a solid batch of songs from an inspiring and authentic artist. The midwest flavor felt recognizable and heartfelt. Take a listen.
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On Ithenfal's Wing is a progressive/alternative rock band from Florida that released Key To Then back in 2018. The band mentions the album begins a story with themes of time, tyranny, imprisonment, revenge, loss, endurance, courage, illness and death.
The album begins with “Once Beneath a Peaceful Moon” which revolves around a slow beat and sheets of distortion from the guitars and vocals. I thought the vocals were very melodramatic and delivered in a way that very few singers like Nick Cave can pull off properly. It sounded great.
The mood gets slightly more festive on “Awakened” but not by much. It’s still very dark like the first songs. The vocals this time around are a little more dynamic but there is still a very dramatic vocal affectation as if I was being told a creepy story.
“Chained Master” is similar and I was really starting to feel a fantasy theme with these songs like Lord of the Rings. The lyrics and vocals felt like I was told a fable. It reminded me of Spinal Tap. I’m not sure what was happening with the drums on these songs. I couldn’t tell if this was a recorded set of electronics.
“Between the Shore and Fog” is more metal then anything that came before it while “Through the Black Thorn of Brethil” is a dark ballad with blazing guitar solos. “The Last of the Istari,”“Dark Vast Woods” and “Bugbear” had a similar quality to the previous songs. “A Haunting Farewell” was a highlight to me. The clean production and subtle vocals really worked for them and I wanted more songs like this. They close with a ballad called “Key to Then.”
As an engineer myself, my one criticism was that I had a hard time getting past the lo-fi quailty of some of the recordings. I wanted more fidelity at times especially with the heavier songs.
The band goes for an unapologetic fantasy based theme that goes all in. It’s approved and delivered without any levity. As a fan of the fantasy genre I felt like they did a good job encompassing that milieu.
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
Cosmic the Cowboy On Brand 3.7
Harris & Harris Harris & Harris 3.6
Lythium Have it all 3.5
WHITTON Backwards 3.5
Superhands Sunshine 3.8
The folk, emo, ambient duo Wilted Flower from Nottingham, UK fuses a sound that is all at once haunting and atmospheric. Micki Wood’s vocal harmonies bring to life the heart-wrenching lyricisms seen on their songs and paired with Ryan Warriner’s ambient lead guitar, the sound that comes across is magnetic. The duo focuses on themes of mental health, love and loss in their latest recording.
Here Lies Our Love is the duo’s latest offering, a six-track EP that explores the concept of grief after a love has died. According to the band, “It captures the full range of emotions; from initial anger, to the introspective dismay and everything in between when a once deep love leaves you drowning.”
On that note, Here Lies Our Love opens up with “Funeral Procession.” The themes of death get realized in the soft, somber sounds coming from Micki’s vocals. The guitar supports her vocals along with the sound of a drumming beat. Right off the bat, the vocals come in with little to no hesitation on “Widow.” With a compelling sound coming from the guitars, both electric and acoustic, the sounds that comes across are beautifully rendered. Micki’s vocals embrace emotions both deep and powerful in this moving track. On “Bright Eyes & Goodbyes,” more guitars get actualized in this song. Micki’s vocals are sad and earnest sounding. The vocals gave the music a haunting quality that really resonated with me.
A sauntering drumming beat propels “Silencer” as Micki’s vocals are rendered in sounds both soft and sorrowful. Slowly ebbing guitars flow through “Residing In A Graveyard.” The sound gradually builds with Micki’s quiet vocals growing in momentum. Though a little on the bleak side, I enjoyed the desolate sounds coming from this track. Rain filters into the intro of “Beautiful, But Bleak.” The steady sound of Micki’s vocals flows through this song solely supported by the guitar.
The damage from a love that leaves all too soon is apparent on the album. You can feel through the tragic quality of the lyrics and poignancy from the vocal deliveries, the immediacy coming from the music. The emotions from love lost and the earth-shattering aftermath of dealing with the loss is aptly depicted in the atmospheric backdrop of this work. For those of us who have dealt with a broken heart, Here Lies Our Love is a eulogy of sorts of past loves and ghosts that continue to haunt us. Wilted Flower shows that ‘undying love’ is all too real with their new record.
Stephen Davis is a self-producing solo artist who writes new, ’80s-Inspired alternative pop rock with a post-punk influence. Located in Irvine, California, his early influences include The Cars, David Bowie and The Beatles. After many years of writing material for TV placements, his debut album the Lakestone features eight previously released singles. Davis is currently ranked #1 on Reverbnation and has been there for several months. The album was recorded, mixed and mastered in Irvine. Davis loves '80s new wave, but only got into it after a long attraction to classic and hard rock. With the Lakestone, you'll hear influences from ‘80s new wave, punk and rock. Thematically, the songs are about the challenges people go through and Davis tries to address them in a positive way.
To kick things off is “You Scarred Up My Heart” – an early ‘80s rock number that has hints of The Kings and Rick Springfield. The backing vocals reminded me of The Smithereens. “Above it All” has a fun rhythm with all the ‘80s hallmarks of pop rock favorites of that day. I heard echoes of XTC and The Smiths, and probably others I forgot to mention here. I really liked the hope and optimism with Davis’ writing – of “rising above it all” and remembering that “you’re not alone” in the fight for progress. It seems that songs like this are sorely lacking these days. “Start Again” has a fantastic arrangement of guitar, bass and drums. It really drew me in. The rhythm on the hi-hat and post-punk, new wave beat reminds me of old R.E.M. but also, in some weird way, Blondie.
Next up is “Drop the Lie” – a harder rocking number, with styles of punk thrown in – think maybe The Romantics before they went all pop and big hair. “All Wrong Together” has a different approach, like, I’m talking Bowie here. Something from his ‘80s catalog comes to mind. Overall, I liked Davis’ attitude, and cheeky lyrics and his arrangement of instruments, too. “Welcome Home” has a definite, big and bold new wave sound, complete with electronic drums and steady, but quirky bass lines. The keys at the end were a nice addition as well. “Just a Season” offers the listener Davis’ style of the pop ballad. In this number, I was hearing The Dream Academy, The Pretenders and Simple Minds. For me, his lyrics really tugged at the heart with hope and fullness of life, but also, nostalgia for this listener – “It’s just a season our lives are in, then the sun will be back again / As you reach for a reason, hold onto Spring when together meant everything / Yeah, hold onto that feeling, as each storm begins it’s just the season our lives are in.”
“Feel So Now” has got a great sounding melodic bass (making me think of Peter Hook from Joy Division and New Order). Overall, a likable, catchy sound, I thought. Davis’ pop rock approach with tinges of summertime fun, reminded me of The Cars’ work.
If you like the many styles and sounds of the ‘80s, anything from new wave to post-punk, pop and rock, give Stephen Davis’s the Lakestone a try.
Visions of a Perfect Life is the sophomore album from Liam Moore. His debut was way back in 2010 when the world was a very different place. Who am I kidding? The world was a very different place back in 2019.
This was a hard album to pinpoint which I thoroughly enjoy. There were some moments which sounded like Americana and other moments that reminded me of a more avant garde Donovan. I thought the songs were unique and there were a lot of unexpected but welcome surprises.
Up first is “Cosmic Noon” which is a good example of a song that goes in a number of places. It starts off ambient with a lot of surrounding synths. The vocals are the center and somehow out of nowhere a rock band comes through the fog. It’s a bit in the spirit of The Beatles and it felt like a natural progression of the song. I loved the lyrics as well. It’s sort of deep but there is a levity in his vocals which make it work.
“Horseshoe” is a little more straightforward and felt somewhere in the vicinity of Americana alt/country in the spirit of Wilco. His voice is comforting here and the general feeling is warm. I mentioned Donovan and on “Finis” is where that artist came to mind except the arrangement was a little more full and not as folk based. “Lift” felt like a highlight. I loved how the horns worked against the acoustic guitar. The arrangement felt very original yet accessible.
“Cottonwood” is one of the more straightforward songs but very well delivered and emotionally resonant. The slightly jazzy and loose “The Slouch” was a good song and another flavor while “Imbalances” is so smooth, warm, intimate and contains this playful sort of melancholy,
“Apologia” was under two minutes but no filler. There is some great string work and the vocals are also fantastic. “Early to Bed, Early to Rise” is an exceptional song which contains elements of bluegrass and country. The closer “(You Don't Have To) Grow Up” felt like a production. There is a swinging horn section and it made for for an excellent send off.
I loved this album. There is a lot to explore and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect next. The thing that made the album work was that he songs still felt connected through colors, tones and textures which made it feel cohesive. Highly recommended.
I Feel Sick & That Was Weird is Dylan Hendrick’s first release under the name Hora Bora. The Belleville, Ontario-based musician has been releasing music since 2016 under the name Cosmo Doris. The music was more in the realm of lo-fi hip hop, with touches of their current sound sprinkled in. The name change embodies a shift in songwriting style to ‘70s inspired rock and psychedelic pop. The result is I Feel Sick & That Was Weird, an album that is more fun than refined.
The album starts with the lively “Cruisin’ So Low I Could Puke.” The track’s parlor-like piano, heavy bass and distorted guitar give the song exciting energy. Hendrick’s theatrical delivery adds an edge to the vocals, as he sings things like, “I know I’m fake / But I don’t regret smashing that glass over your face,” or, “My mouth is looking for a cigarette or sucking face.”
“Nobody Can Stop Me From Crying” is an ear worm. The mix is excellent, with distorted bass and in-your-face drums put upfront. The guitar on the hook leads perfectly into the equally catchy chorus that will have you singing along. This tune also builds well, ebbing and flowing in a way that doesn’t let its catchiest moments become stale. “Always Blu” is a surprising face-melter. Its spine is jazzy, but between the verse are screeching guitar and banging drums. The juxtaposition between sections makes this track exceptionally engaging.
There are some moments throughout I Feel Sick & That Was Weird that feel unnecessary or out of place. At 24 tracks, the album runs over an hour, but many of the songs are less than two minutes. While most are good songs, they feel like filler. And the song “Loser Like Me” is one of my favorite tracks, but it sounds like it belongs on a separate album with more songs like it. I can see how others may feel differently about these songs given I Feel Sick & That Was Weird’s unruly nature, but a more streamlined approach would have made the album’s highlights shine.
I Feel Sick & That Was Weird is like a mad scientist’s experiment, with continually shifting hypotheses yielding intriguing results. However, despite its inconsistencies, this album is really good. There is a strong sense of confidence in Hora Bora’s songwriting and production aesthetic, which has me excited for whatever they do next.
Paul Mallyon is a solo songwriter/music producer based in Thame, Oxfordshire, England. Drums being his primary instrument, Mallyon’s latest album Promise of Light also sees him showing off his chops on guitar, bass and piano. At the core of these tracks is the guitar, and you can really see his style of rock music unfold with dashes of progressive, alternative, acoustic and singer/songwriter. Mallyon expertly weaves in these aforementioned genres to create an album that takes you on an engaging journey of reflection and introspection.
The music starts right off with a comfortable acoustic sound. I could really feel the warm singer/songwriter vibes coming from the vocals. A pensive piano melody flows over “Follow The Sorrow.” Mallyon’s vocals are big and boisterous sounding. He really shows all the stops with his dramatic and theatrical vocals that recalls a showtunes vibe. Numerating on the guitar supports Mallyon’s warm vocals on “Like Minded Fool.” The track dives into an intimate space for the singer/songwriter to express himself. On “Cruel Sir," a sauntering groove gets pinpointed. I really enjoyed his vocal performance here.
A powerful piano melody washes over this serene sounding title track. Mallyon’s voice is airy and really paints a picture of positivity with the inspirational lyrics as he sings: “A deep breath / Like fire through the veins / A broken silent of night / A place where dreams take flight.” On “Together,” Mallyon brushes into full rock territory with this straight-edged rock song. The sound recalls a ‘60s/’70s rock vibe. Mallyon makes a clean exit with the aptly put “Time For Sleep,” which starts out sparse but then grows into more epic proportions as the sounds builds.
A DIY project that sees Mallyon performing all the instruments, vocals and production. The album was very much ‘on the go,’ with Mallyon using everything he can get his hands on as a studio from the attic, lounge, and even the car as well as in his old home studio on Logic X.
I advise you after listening to the album, to let it sit for a while, letting the emotions on the album wash over you. Perhaps by then, the music will have set in, allowing you to truly appreciate its pure notes. Mallyon has created something that will stay with listeners long after the record has stopped spinning. Be sure you have a listen today!
Chinese Plastic Factory is Matthew Zito who recorded his debut EP I Wanna Be Haunted in his apartment in Chicago, IL.
The chilling undertones depicted on the EP covers the punk, folk and experimental genres. The album is a heady trip through horror films and through the minds of such great thinkers like Karl Marx. What is immediately apparent upon the first listen of the record is that Chinese Plastic Factory’s sound is very much in the vein of The White Stripes and The Black Keys territory. Paired with distorted guitar riffs and tons of reverberation, the sound that Zito tosses together is memorable with tracks that embraces a live recording feel. Zito tackles a rudimentary rock-based sound and really bolsters the vibe by infusing themes of darkness and horror into the mix. The bag is a mixed approach that incorporates a hodgepodge of sounds that fans who delight in the unexpected can find their fix here.
I Wanna Be Haunted dives right in with a tall order of guitars that offer fuzzy riffs that take the track straight into a rock vibe. The atmosphere is eerie and ghostly as the guitar licks undulate over some dark undertones. Zito’s vocals are also drenched in reverb, covering an echo-y bluesy vibe. On the title track “I Wanna Be Haunted,” a spree of guitars played under speedy duress are unleashed on this revved number. Zito keeps pace to the fast music on vocals. The sound that comes across is psychedelic with odes to surf rock filled with spine-tingling effects coming from the distortion.
Zito flips the script by taking on a more intimate approach on “Big Hailstorm In Late January” which features vulnerable vocals over the low hum of the guitar. Mid-way into the song, the band includes in the outro an intense jam-session. More guitars get featured on the introspective “Die Young.” The sound of organs gives some unique instrumentation. Zito conjures a Johnny Cash vibe with baritone vocals on “Sweet Love Honey Baby.” His voice is a deep rolling rumble and gives this track a classic noir, gothic vibe. The closer “Glove” takes us into electronic terrain where electro beats and warbling synths mixed in with the sound of guitars and bass brings forth a sound awash in experimentation as Zito recites a spoken word piece in a monotonous voice.
A bedroom recording that attributes its varied sound to the combined noises recorded in cramped bedrooms throughout Illinois, the lo-fi elements felt throughout the EP really highlighted Zito’s sound. The rawness of the recording went on to denote an eerie, ghostly vibe that was probably the artist’s intent all along. The EP features some dark riffs and it might not surprise you that you will encounter a few spooks now and then. I Wanna Be Haunted is proof that there are souls out there who are unafraid to get down and dirty with the nit and gritty. Chinese Plastic Factory takes us back to the fundamentals of rock n’ roll, keeping the flame alive with a fresh and exciting sound.
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