Daniel de la Peña aka Jester Tears is a twenty-year-old musician from Spain who recently released Dead, already EP. The album is entirely instrumental built on basic synth sounds and electronic beats.
I was reading about the album and the artist said that ““Dead, already” talks about only one thing: getting to know the reality, and realizing how it never matches your expectations. In other words, it's about maturing.” I have to admit I’m confused how anyone could interpret that considering there are no words to the music except on the last song where the words are minimal.
The production is rudimentary throughout the EP giving it an almost nostalgic ’80s feel. There are a lot of sine waves layered on top of each other but Peña rarely does things like filter sweeps, LFO manipulation, etc.
Up first is the title track which is a sad, melancholy piece built on a couple of basic chord progressions. It sets a mood like a lonely robot is staring into the cosmos. The energy increases exponentially with “I saw a lake on the moon” which contains a 4/4 beat and arpeggiated synths and multiple pads. You could make an argument that there is some influences from M83 and Fuck Buttons.
“It is looking at you” is a cosmic, sounding ambient piece while “Patienly waiting” has a playful type of quality to it that was enjoyable. He closes with “the wolf’s song.” I'm not sure what was going on with the vocals. It seemed like he was whispering and aggressive at the same time.
Peña seems to be in the embryonic stage of his development and still has a way to go to compete with similar artists like M83, Ben Lukas Boysen, Greg Haines, etc. On that note I think he has some potential and encourage him to continue to develop his arsenal of sounds and further his abilities as a producer.
André Rodriguez is a songwriter and producer based out of Minneapolis, MN who has had several songs featured on MTV, HBO, documentaries and commercials. He also released two full-length albums as well as various EPs with his latest EP entitled Who We Are.
There are multiple genres that Rodriguez plays with but at its core I would say this is pop music. According to the artist “Who We Are is a collection of songs that deal with current social issues including racism, immigration, refugees and politics.”
The EP opens with “The New Colossus Prelude (feat. Anna Baker)” which sounds completely removed from all the other songs. It’s composed with digital orchestration and the absolutely breathtaking vocals by Anna Baker who sounds like she is singing in an opera. It’s such a powerful, beautiful first two minutes that I was completely thrown off by what followed.
The next song “Monsters” contains a smidge of The Postal Service with a more predictable pop structure. I really enjoyed the guitar work and the song was well composed. Up next is “Syrian Child” which has an almost dixie jazz feel to it and revolves around piano and vocals.
“Inside Our Lines” is arguably the most single worthy song on the EP while “This Is Where I Hold” seem politically charged but the lyrics are also very interpretative. Rodriguez closes with “You Are Not Alone” which from the lyrics seems to be about DACA.
Who We Are is a solid pop EP although for me personally it felt a bit too saccharine at times. On that note that often tends to be the case with pop. This wasn’t a challenging collection of songs musically but Rodriguez does have talent as a writer and producer.
Critical Reaction is a four-piece rock band that formed in 2015 when they were only fifteen years old. I’ve done the math and that still makes them a very young band. They recently released Take Some Time which is their first EP which contains four songs.
There is a lot of good things happening here. The band has a lot of chemistry and they sound really tight thanks to the superb drumming. I also thought the songs were catchy and fun. The songs are pretty simple overall and reminded me of garage rock bands like The Strokes. On the other hand the songs felt almost a little too accessible blurring the line between pop and indie rock. For the most part I only needed one listen to discover the songs. I think I wanted to have to dig a little deeper with the songs not unlike a band like Grizzly Bear where the melodies and harmonies unveil themselves over a couple of listens.
Up first is “Leave it Out” which is a straightforward rocker with distorted guitars and pounding drums. It’s a solid tune if on the predictable side. The band is dynamic and the performances are solid all around.
They have some more success with “Forget About It” but the highlight is “Days” which felt like the most single worthy song on the EP. It’s really catchy and I could see a younger audience singing along. They close with another formidable rocker entitled “Home” which doesn't need a whole lot of explanation.
I’d say the band is off to a great start especially considering how young they are. On that note as someone who has been writing songs for twenty years I could tell they are just getting started in the songwriting department. Don’t get me wrong, the songs are well written and easy to appreciate but I also have a feeling there will be an evolution in the next couple of years with more advanced ideas and concepts if they keep at it.
Overall, I think this band not only has a lot of potential but proved how much talent they have with this four-song EP. I’m looking forward to how they develop.
There are certain bands I remember seeing play at clubs and bars back in my youth, but also at summer street festivals and the like. Though of all those bands that I saw and heard at such venues over the years never once did I buy their record. The reason could have been because I only had enough money to get drunk on, or that I just couldn’t see as going home to listen to a band that I heard live, play on a CD. It was because to me most of those acts seemed like what I deem as live acts anyways. By this I mean that they seem to be a band that cannot properly be represented without the freedom to do whatever they want at any given moment. These were showmen who made records mostly because they had to in order to get gigs.
After listening to the Orange County rock trio Snake Oil Salesmen I got this impression. They are a band that deals in Americana, blues, punk, jazz and straight up rock on their latest eponymous release. The opening track “Easy Money” is a slapdash whirlwind of twang and punk. A sort of Texas tornado if you will. And though it sounds just fine on the stereo one can only imagine the possibilities of this song being let loose.
Also doing covers is a great live stunt, which doesn’t always work out on the record. Case in point here is the band covering the Bowie classic “Moonage Daydream” which isn’t very exciting to hear recorded. As the man himself says, “Don’t fake it baby/lay the real thing on me.”
However to eat my own words one song that worked for me and that I also think would be a trip to see performed live is “Facedown Part 2” with its swift changes in tempo and vocal breakdowns it demands the listeners’ attention causes that feeling one gets when they are suddenly caught up in something spectacular.
Also worth noting songs that worked for me on both sides of the coin is the raucous, ass-kicking blues-rocker “Hapsburg Blues” and the slacker-rock closer “Loser” which shows the range that these guys are willing to take on, and making Snake Oil Salesmen a great seller for home or live listening.
Burly Wood is a rock band from Montreal consisting of Ulric Corbell-Trudel on lead guitar and backing vocals, Payo on bass, Francois Lelievre on drums and Guillaum Seguin on rhythm guitar and lead vocals. Their debut EP Watch it Burn features eight tracks full of hardcore rock n’ roll blended with notes of punk, grunge and surf rock.
I pretty much fell in love with Burly Wood right away. The opening track “Run” was loud, in your face full-bodied rock with a stylistic underlying indie vibe. I loved the wild harmonies and the surprising mellow surf rock break halfway through. It was a really different take on hard grunge rock that I really, really dig. I thought it might go downhill from there, but I was completely wrong.
The second track “Video Games” was even better than the first. The intro sounded so familiar to me that I listened to it several times trying to figure out what it reminded me of. It had such a mainstream nostalgic punk/pop sound that I actually really liked, especially because the rest of the song was completely different than anything I’ve heard lately. The vocal melody was light-hearted and almost sing-song-y with a catchy singable chorus.
The title track “Watch it Burn” was dark and theatrical with a fun ska feel. The melody was sly and stealthy and it got progressively harder as the song went on. “Feel Fine” was rooted in punk with a rough and gritty vibe. But my favorite was the track “Save Something.” There was so much complexity and structure to this song even though it came out like a clusterfuck of different styles and melodies and sound. The vocal melody had a staccato feel in parts which really helped emphasize the intensity of the instruments. The drums were awesome in this one and blended perfectly with the funky bass lines. I loved everything about it.
Burly Wood is so much more than a grunge rock band. There’s so much thought behind the construction of each track and passion in every note. Watch it Burn was such a great representation of everything they’re capable of as a band. The blending of different styles and experimentation with melodies and arrangements makes for such a refreshing sound. And they still manage to rock your face off in every track. I am so excited to watch them grow as a band and see what they come up with next.
The catalyst that started To Feel Love by Loz KeyStone was a deeply personal one. According to the artist “I started writing To Feel Love in the final weeks of my dad’s life in the summer of 2014 following a two year battle with lung cancer.” He also states that “To Feel Love became a document of losing him, the effects of that loss, and the places in which I looked for comfort. Essentially, it became an album about sex and death.”
I’ll admit it’s a little difficult to critique a piece of art that has such personal significance to the artist. Luckily, there wasn’t much I didn’t enjoy. One thing I’ll say off the bat that I thought could be improved was the production. There were a lot of layers of instrumentation and there were times where it seemed a tad muddy and I had a hard to making out the vocals.
The one thing that really stood out was that I felt the artist had a very original sound on his hands. I was reminded of Perfume Genius at points and a number of new wave bands. The album is synth heavy but doesn't rely on stagnant presets. There are filter sweep, resonant filters, etc that are manipulated. You could also say some of the songs fit into an experimental dance category.
I thought the vocals were exceptional. There was a lot of emotion in his often breathy vocals. It fit like a glove with the music.
The album starts with “You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Like He’s Watching You” which immediately peaked my interest. The atmosphere and beat sound great and you will most likely notice my comparison to Perfume Genius on this track. “Nothing Wrong” was where the artist got my attention. The song unfolds in a unique and unexpected way. I thought the breakdown around the two-minute mark was very inventive. The song is warm, haunting and melancholy.
“Sirens” is another success and perhaps has the most catchy, infectious vocal melodies. “Hospice (sleep)” was mostly white noise and ambient sounds. The sound certainly reflects the title but I actually thought this track could have been a little more effective at about a minute. This song sort of repeats with “Hospice (breathe) which I have to admit felt a little odd and took away from the song structured tracks. Between those two songs is an excellent number entitled “Livid.”
The other highlight was the last track “Speaking In Sentences” which comes in at around eight- minutes long. It goes all over the place in a good way and is extremely dynamic and unique.
To Feel Love is a great album. I had some minor issues along the way but there is so much to enjoy in the details as well as the hooks. As a songwriter myself who writes songs based on personal experience I think it's safe to say that the creation of this album was a cathartic experience and I think that emotion comes through in the music.
Slight Aromas is a new band from Kansas City, Missouri that recently released a three-song demo entitled Book Club. They play fairly basic rock with a slight blues edge.
They open with “Might as Well.” The first thing you hear is slightly crunchy guitar strumming a basic guitar riff reflecting a band like the The White Stripes. It’s a straightforward song with some fairly memorable melodies. The lyrics were hard to make out on occasion and the singer got off key quite often when attempting higher notes.
“#BrainDead” takes a noticeable dip in the recording quality. As with the first song there is a garage rock type edge to the music. “I'll Never Call You” was the highlight to my ears. I liked the groove and thought the chorus was more infectious and memorable. At its best I was reminded of the band Liars.
Slight Aromas feels like a young band just starting out and while there is some potential there are a number of things that will need to happen in order for their recordings to be competitive with more popular musicians.
I love lo-fi in some instances but in this case it was a little overwhelming. The bedroom DIY usually works out best for acoustic guitar players and softy sung melodies. If you don't have a treated room, proper EQ, and compression techniques and engineering experience recording a live rock band can be a very difficult feat. I would suggest the band either try to befriend someone who can handle the recording or maybe save up to get into a studio.
Overall, I think this band fits into a case of wait and see for right now but I am looking forward to how they develop.
Tyler Sihelnick (vocals), Wesley Landis (guitar), Kyle Ryder (bass) and Justin Clark (drums) are Parties with Strangers. The band released an EP literally called EP 1 that contains high energy no-frills garage rock that occasionally gets into metal territory. The EP is three songs that come in at less than ten minutes long.
Bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Blood Brothers immediately came to mind. Suffice it to say the band isn’t doing anything that hasn't been done countless times before but the songs are well executed. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the music is how dynamic the band is. There is heart pounding energy that I surmise is best experienced live.
They open with “Papercut” which immediately introduces a ’70s punk Ramones inspired riff. They however make no commitments to the riff because by the forty-five second mark the band revs up the intensity with blood curdling vocals. The band packs in enough riff and transitions within the two minutes and forty seconds to leave you thoroughly satisfied. I loved the fact that the breakdown build up towards the end of the song only leads to another build up.
“Swamp Thing” is more or less turned up to eleven the entire time. There isn't a lot of time to breathe here. Kudos to the production team on this one because capturing that type of intensity isn’t easy.
They close with “Lot Lizard” which has one of the coolest sounding screams I’ve heard in a long time that comes in around the fifty-second mark. The band just sounds like straight metal at times on this track. Similar to the first track there is so much packed into the song that it's on the verge of being too much.
On that note one minor issue I had was that I felt the hooks were elusive. The vocal melody changed so often it was like I couldn’t latch on to anything.
Parties with Strangers is a new band that sparked my interest with these three songs. Their technical chops are exceptional and the energy will get your heart racing. I’m looking forward to hearing more. Recommended.
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
Jell Cleaver Cure for an Existential Crisis 3.9
Polymorph Polymorph 3.7
pinecones summer in december 3.7
Limnetic Villains An Electronic Sinking EP 3.6
Nimbus Ascension 3.8
Omar Brown High Tides 3.4
Perigo Minas A Faceless Number 3.5
Erika Autumn Purple EP 3.2
Blanket Empire Hymns for the Heartless 3.6
Four In The Morning is an alt-folk band based in Melbourne, Australia, debuting with the EP Half Asleep. Drawing on folk, ambient rock, and jazz rhythms, the band’s sound is that of rich, cacophonous, but surprisingly direct rock; the band claims Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and The National as influences on the record, and that inspiration is apparent.
“Terrified” opens the record, further encouraging comparisons to The National’s dense arrangements and raw emotion. Kevin Dolan’s vocals have a broad range in both timbre and emotion, and the atmospheric elements mesh well with the track’s more traditional piano-heavy rock structure. By the end of the song there’s a huge brass arrangement over the churning rock instrumental, giving further warmth and punch to the track.
“Lavender” is a straightforward piano track, moving at a deliberate pace while Dolan sings in a low register. The refrain lands nicely, and gives the record its name: “All i ever wanna be / Is the name you mutter in the dark / When you’re half asleep.” As the strings grow underneath the piano part, the song gradually rises in intensity, but it happens so slowly that the song begins to lose impact a bit. The climax does work, though, due especially to backing vocals from members Libby Ferris and Kiran Srinivasan.
“Bigger Fire” implements some heavily effected electric guitar as a backdrop for a piano-and-acoustic-guitar arrangement. Dolan’s vocal recalls Springsteen at his most introspective, but again the arrangement is static, robbing the later instrumental section of its potency by making it seem more of the same. Though pleasant and dreamy, the track meanders without too much dynamism.
“Second Hand Coat” has a quicker, bouncy verse led by a chiming delayed guitar. The gentle overdrive on the guitar adds a subtle dynamic shift to the chorus with Dolan’s lead vocals seeming more plaintive and less gruff. It makes for a nice change of energy from the previous two tracks.
“Five Miles With Frank” begins in 7/4 time, bringing in a stilted, jarring element, but the song switches to something more traditional for the chorus section. The two sections feel very different, but the loose feel and straightforward rock instrumentation bridge them rather successfully. Though it may be their least atmospherically rich track, the song most clearly shows the blend of classic and forward-thinking composition, the band’s biggest strength on the EP.
“On Raglan Road” is once again a wistful piano-led dirge, meeting somewhere between Leonard Cohen, ambient rock, and sea shanties. Here the delicate guitar lines buoy the track, offering a push-and-pull that keeps the slow song dynamic. With more understated vocals, and some musical moments nearly inaudible, the track leans heavily on the hushed end of the band’s particular loud-quiet-loud aesthetic. It definitely brings the EP down gently, making a stronger impact than a bombastic piece would, and highlighting the group’s clear grasp of the emotional tenor of their music.
Half Asleep does have its drowsy moments, but the EP also displays flashes of compositional and stylistic aptitude. Four In The Morning has a keen ear for marrying tried-and-true rock songwriting and ethereal atmospherics, and the powerful breadth of vocal expression brings an immediacy to the work. When the band is on its best foot, Half Asleep is an easy and rewarding listen.
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