Listeners are cautioned to “place a small potted cactus next to your left speaker” before starting the journey that is Jarrod Gollihare’s The House of Jed EP. I unfortunately don’t have that sort of thing lying around the house, so I have no idea what effect it would have had on my enjoyment of the music. I do know that this snippet of mildly sarcastic, dry yet explosively humorous charm weaves its way through each note and lyric, creating songs that can be referred to in many of life’s tough situations.
“Coming Off Pretty” starts the EP in a startlingly realistic way, wrapping the morbid mental, external, and even internal effects of superficial and selfish thoughts in a swath of upbeat melodies. The leading guitar and supportive tones have an edgy rock feel; the vocals harness a more poppy sound, while still managing to convey the deep theme intended. It’s a strong start to this album and sufficiently piques your curiosity as to what’s next.
If you like songs that leave you contemplating the direction of your life, “Last Entry (Gotta Run Now)” is the song for you. This song describes the volatility and unpredictability of life in a very understandable and easily relatable way. The dark rock chords and sporadic odd-time signature cast the perfect mood to support the lyrics.
“I Won’t Survive You” returns to the pop aspect captured in the first song, and serves as the love song of the EP. The lyrics are simple enough to catch on to quickly, and though there are significantly fewer lyrics here, the meaning is easy to understand from the very beginning.
What “I Won’t Survive You” lacks in lyrical depth is more than compensated in the final song “Everybody Lies.” We also see the marked reappearance of more pop-inspired elements, even in the instrumentation. The return to the more upbeat style works incredibly well with this particular song and does a great job of capturing the annoyance and irritation that often results from the realization that everyone in fact DOES lie, and there is not much that can be done about it.
Jarrod Gollihare seems to tap into an inner part of his own psyche, projecting it out into a world far too quick to deny the presence of such deep feelings. Packaging such heavy human emotions in prototypical pop vocal styles really drives the point home and makes it an accessible EP for just about anyone. After listening, you’ll likely want to check out work from his two other bands, Admiral Twin and Bellweather Squares. You’ll also have an inexplicable urge to acquire a potted cactus. Perhaps that is why you are forewarned to have one beforehand.
Just as intriguing as their name, Bloodletters and Badmen are about to take you on one whacked out psych trip through classic and new age rock on their EP Bloodletters and Badmen. The band is made up of two lovers, which is always a great formula for good music. Charlie Miller and Kameron Biehl are based out of Brooklyn, NY and created this collection of fantastical tracks over a ten-month period.
Their music is perfect for a movie soundtrack; the effects and far-out vocals just make you fall into a world that is revolving around an imaginary storyline. The second track “Or Else” seems to be pulling you along a track as the song progresses. As you go through valleys, fields, and rock canyons, the sky is subtly changing all the while.
At times, their songs also seem to transcend time and you feel as though you’re listening to music from the real Woodstock era and everyone in your circle has got flowers in their hair. The song “Fingerprints” just makes me think of a slow motion film of hippies throwing their head back as they frolic through a daisy field.
The track “I Don’t Care” has an uber hypnotic effect, as the guitar is tuned to a wonky chord and is gently humming in the background eerily keeping the beat. Then the chorus builds up and erupts into a bridge that just seems like it must be sung along to. The song has a both sleepy and wakeful effect, almost like a daydreaming state.
Recording quality on the album could be improved a bit, sometimes the vocals get a bit drowned out in the background, rather than appearing crisp in contrast to the other sounds. This could be attributed to the effects used. Overall this is a great listen for anyone into psych rock from this era or ones passed.
ILOS is a four-pieced band out of New York State and is quite an earful. Music on this self-titled EP ILOS was birthed from musician Adam Raymonda’s solo work, which then evolved and more members were added to support the dynamic sound. This is the band’s first production together and showcases the talents of each member of the band. You could compare ILOS’s music to that of Thrice or ASG.
Opening the album, the track “The World Will End Without Us” is an adventure through the style and talents behind the band. This is where you can really witness their inert metal-esque style and the justice paid to the genre’s anchoring instruments like the guitar and drums. There is a serious breakdown that lets you fall deep into the grooves of guitar and drum madness. Then you are brought back to consciousness by the lyrics “We fight, we dream, we’ve seen this world tear at the seams,” before being tantalized again by a Buckethead-like guitar riff.
The next song “Above the Chain” is a bit deeper and perhaps a bit darker than the first song. The chords and vocals are cavernous like a mysterious world of rebellion and fear that are characterized by hard-hitting drums and guitar chords all at the right time. With profound lyrics and vocal harmonization, a valley-effect is created in the melody, a hypnotic rise and fall of sound; “We've let our bodies become tombs for other living beings that were breed to heed and born to need.” The song carries an epic demeanor and carries on after completing because of the intensity of the theme.
For a metal-rock band, the vocals are not what you’d typically expect; the sound almost has a southern gruff to it that gives the listening product a really unique character. The harmonization with other members of the band adds surprising elements to each track as well. Apparently the record was produced in a home-studio, but it carries the quality of those recorded in a professional setting. For such a small EP, there really is an embodiment of the band’s style and each song has pure and successful metal rock creation.
H.R. Gertner brings his audiences deeply rugged southern acoustic-style music that emanates both soul and passion. From Gainesville, Florida, Gertner experimented with his style through a few different bands before he took the plunge and went fully solo. This is not his first production as a solo-artist and this shines through as he easily spins a web of lyrics and acoustics into a mellow musical fantasy.
The second song on the album Torn at the Seams, “Whatever You’re Selling” is beautifully supplemented by a female voice; the harmonization between Gertner and the female vocalist give the story of the lyrics a more hard-hitting emotional effect. The lyrics “broken down dreams, torn at the seams, all they got left is the fire,” are twice as deep because you can feel the struggle coming from the embodiments of both Adam and Eve.
Each song seems to be tinged with sorrow, yet there is an air of optimism floating about within the melodies. The song “Poor Man’s Dollar” has a slowed-down and slurred-like style and sings about the turmoil of working hard for almost nothing; “hard way to make a poor man’s dollar, but I ain’t got any other way to get by.” He goes on to illustrate the insanity caused by such low pay, like drinking, being delusional, getting into fights and beating wives and children.
Gertner envelops pure Americana soul and infuses it with a bit of folky soul. The songs and their stories are as real as it can get. He stays true to the genre as he harps on sad issues and doesn’t spare any details. And of course there’s always sunshine after the rain shower, and this is a good metaphor for Torn at the Seams. The sound quality really encapsulates the experience of a live acoustic show, so in every sense this album is “real.”
Thomas Levy is the creative mind behind the project Immaculate Stun and he recently released an EP entitled Weeks. The EP has five tracks that swim in reverb-laced guitars, steady bass lines and airy vocals that have shades of both surf rock and well as shoegaze. There are some solid ideas on this collection of songs. Unfortunately, the production holds back the songs from fully blooming. The songs are generally muddy and Levy’s vocals are so buried on a couple of the tracks that they seem like background effects.
Weeks starts out with one of the strongest tracks entitled “Surfin’ Santa Clause.” Levy implements a repetitive hypnotic guitar line as he delivers one of his best vocal performances. His voice lacks range but fits the mood of the music as he sings “Here comes Santa Clause / Coming down the chimney / Delivering surfboards to all the good girls and good boys.” “Plastic” is another solid song that adheres to a ton of reverb. The vocal line is infectious as he sings “ Plastic life, plastic friends / Stay with them till the plastic ends / Plastic sleep, plastic dreams /Are you with me when the plastic speaks.” He does say “plastic” an awful lot but it works.
“Beach Tree” has decent music but his vocals are barely audible during the chorus while “Post Tense” is a nostalgic number. “Hide From The Day” is good song but the vocals are painfully low in the mix and had me reaching for the EQ on my stereo just so I could hear a bit more of the high end.
Levy has some solid ideas on this EP and is a talented songwriter. I just hope he works with an engineer on his next effort so I can hear these songs at their full potential.
One of the techniques I find most satisfying in heavier types of music is the juxtaposition of calm moments with bone rattling cacophony, jumping from extreme to extreme with reckless abandon. The Chicago band The Flips are champions of this technique; rather than use the sound as a cheap crutch, they creatively weave the ebb and flow into their very being. Their full-length album A Harm Deep But Shining is a brilliant testament to this very statement.
“Intro” starts off quietly, focusing on building the mood with intricate lyrics and somewhat harsh vocals – but the next song, “I’m Okay,” is the first real glimpse into the subtlety with which the mood shifts from loud and vicious, to quiet and soft, and back again. The transitions are effortless, so much so that one might wonder if there was a sort of quiet psychosis involved in writing the music. (I will note, this idea only becomes stronger as the album carries on.)
“God, I’m Sorry” is a bit reminiscent of the style of bands like At the Drive In, with the wonderfully off tempo introduction. Whereas the previous song offered only snippets of the vocalist’s angrier notes, here he adds a far harsher snarl to his otherwise smooth vocals as his lyrics become more and more filled with rage.
“Jawbreaker” is the first song where the bass plays a part in the foreground, serving as mostly support in the previous songs. There are moments where the song quite literally explodes, and it feels like the wind has been completely knocked out of your chest – and there are moments where the song is heavy and thick as sludge, dragging you deep beneath the earth’s surface. I enjoyed hearing the vocalist emit his first full powered screams of the album and immediately wondered when they would appear again.
“Let It Go” is positively saccharine compared to the blistering weight of the song before it, but this works well in the scheme of the album as a whole, while “Gone” spoke to me in a very deep way, describing the dark feeling of sadness and depression with the lyrics while embodying the fury and burn of too much stress all in the same song.
Another stand out song, “Bees Knees” starts off with an intensely sweet, surprisingly intricate melody. Interestingly enough, while the song picks up considerably during the chorus, the instruments seem to lose some of their depth, playing nice with those gritty yells to take the song to a new level. The finale “There I Shook” opens with a gripping sadness, boosted with the accompanying acoustic guitar line. The last few moments end the album in the best possible way it could have ended, nailing the theme home.
We are typically warned of having too much of a good thing – but A Harm Deep But Shining is powerful enough to prove that you can fill an entire hour with the same overall idea, and still keep things interesting and entrancing.
Along Norway’s Transitions EP opens with the slightly jarring title track, featuring a brisk rolling drum cadence backed by a much softer, meandering piano melody. It doesn’t take long to realize that each instrument is played clearly and is easily distinguishable while still managing to work together, from the rhythmic bass holding down the bottom line to the ever changing drums.
“Loading Memories” gives the first glimpse of the vocals - a slightly higher pitched sound that just screams ‘alternative’. While the song seems layered on a simple four count, the various drum accents help spice up the tune and add some unpredictability to the song, and the rhythm guitar softly wails to give additional dimension. This sounds like a great choice for a radio song, because it has the kind of attention-grabbing essence a song needs to gain a number of listeners.
I have no idea where the technicality of the lead guitar in “Jet Lag” comes from, but I spent a good few moments trying to catch every single frenzied note (hint, it was difficult). The bass comes out to play more as well, buzzing around in the background with the same sort of urgency the song started with. This one follows a more traditional verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus format, a break from the style of the two songs it follows.
The 43-second long “Ships” goes straight to ethereal from the very first note, allowing the mood to build heavily as it flows from side to side in a shimmering wave of sonic motion. It serves as an interlude to “Senses,” which expands the intangibly heavy mood and continues the sense of build-up. Anticipation is initially satisfied with the crash of cymbals as the song reaches what one thinks is the highest point, accompanied by elevated voice notes. The real treat comes about halfway through, however, as the song materializes into a reservedly furious, mostly instrumental arrangement. This seems to be the most intuitive song on the album, tapping into senses one usually isn’t aware of until they are brought to light.
“Alive Tonight” features lyrics that waste no time going straight for the heart muscle, keeping them right at the forefront of the action. The chants of ‘Do you feel alive tonight?’ serve as a call to action that is immediately supported by energetic drums and that now familiar guitar, a power combination that would pull anyone up to their feet with fists raised jubilantly in the air.
The most interesting thing about this EP is that it eschews the typical practice of circling back to the beginning, opting instead to follow what can be described as an elevated linear yet mostly vague path. No one note gives any hint to what the next one will be, which keeps every moment intriguing and captures the attention of even a casual listener. This is a great album for anyone who loves their alternative rock cooked with great musicianship, seasoned with creativity and served with a dash of mystery.
War Hoarse is the moniker for concept artist Mark Beaver who recently released his first album entitled Worn Horrors. Beaver declares that the project was “inspired by the kitschy, once-a-year Halloween jams of 50's and 60's surf and garage rock bands.” Interestingly enough this description is quite representative of the music.
That being said this isn't an easy listen by any stretch of the imagination. The production is extremely lo-fi to the point where the vocals are almost completely inaudible at times and the music sounds as if it’s being played at your neighbor’s house. When you do hear Beaver he sings in a very low register that is competitive with Tom Waits. As uninviting as some as these songs seem to be at first there are also a number of things that happen throughout the record that make it appealing to those who enjoy something a wee bit scary and experimental.
The first song on the album is called “The Strange Ghost Speaks,” which opens with a repetitive, nausea-inducing organ line that is backed by ominous vocal “oohhs.” Beaver proceeds to talk more than sing over the music only adding to the creepiness of the song. “Strange Lyings” is where we start to see some of the influence from surf rock. It’s hard to discern any particular parts in the song. The percussion, organ, and guitars combine into a semi-transparent block of white noise. One of the highlights on the album was “The Bayleaf Mummy,” which introduces a hypnotic guitar line with a spliced vocal sample. It is also arguably the best vocal performance on the album (on top of that you could clearly hear his voice on this one).
The best song on the album is “Colin’s Theme,” which is built on 1950’s surf theme that sounds like it was right out of Hawaii Five-0. He contorts the whole melody through a filter, which give it a dreamlike quality. Beaver closes with VCalt, which is a substantial song that again is bursting with white noise and trudges through the melodies.
Worn Horrors isn't for everyone but will find a place with those who enjoy music that is off the beaten path. I just really wish I could understand what he was saying.
Take a look at the cover of Howlin Black’s Dirty Lies, which features three youthful, and smiling men (one of which with what looks like a drumstick in his mouth), and attempt to guess at what music lies within. If you guessed ‘fun, fast, and reckless’ you’d only be scraping the surface of the full story.
Punk kicks you in the teeth as soon as “Dirty Lies” begins, complete with jazzy snaps and punching guitar riffs. If you weren’t in the mood to get up and start kicking around before, this song will change your mind.
“Conditional Love” channels a classic rockabilly sound while adding a substantial amount of energy. The guitar gives the song personality while the various percussion instruments snap and shake with an impressive depth, exacerbating the 3-D effect of the recording.
“What Kinda Life Is This” is a song that, for the most part, rocks to and fro with unpredictable speed. The lyrics up until this point have been clear but typically a bit overshadowed by the blasting melody; here, the content is much more focused and the listener can really soak up the meaning of the song. I found myself particularly partial to the downscaling rhythm that appears in the middle. It only appears for a few bars but is the perfect middle point for this EP.
“I Had This Feeling Before” is relatively calmer than the other songs on the EP, which presents a sort of gleeful foreboding as one wonders if the song itself will simply explode. This general feeling is supported by a noticeable crescendo as each part makes a sequential appearance and layers on top of everything else.
The final and appropriately titled song, “Out Of Control,” serves as the realization of the crescendo from the preceding song. It lambasts the senses, bringing back the energy present throughout the other songs and even managing to take things up a notch. A siren blares in the background as the repeating chorus brings the album home.
All songs average around two minutes, which seems counterintuitive until the first song attacks your auditory sense. Keeping the shorter lengths allows the album to maintain the in-your-face, lambasting energy almost all the way through, resulting in an album that seems unwilling to let you catch your breath even during the slow moments. If you like attitude and music that moves, this is a great EP to listen to.
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