X.U.L. is a solo project by musician and composer Gašper Selko of Slovenia. Selko is a trumpeter who studied at the Conservatory for Music and the Academy of Music in Ljubljana. He is currently a member of several bands including Leni Kravac, ''MUSCAH'', Good Vibration, Yanu and the Kamnik City Band. A Guide for Lost Travellers is his second album, which he describes as “exploring the possibilities of a different perception of music and interaction with listeners. The album is not just a collection of notes and melodies, but a selection of thoughts and emotions. (This music) combines contemporary classic with elements of minimalism and experimental electronic music.”
Selko derives musical inspiration from “the power of metal, the perfection of classical music, the freedom of jazz and the diversity of folk and ethnic music.” Selko’s music also has an essential visual component which is provided by illustrator and graphic designer Dejvid Knežević. Selko credits himself with trumpet, piano and electronic programming, as well as all music composition. A string trio was recorded at Studio Adergas. Recording, mixing and mastering was performed by Peter Dimnik.
The album begins with “N.S.W.E.” Each time I played this, I was puzzled that it began with what sounds like vinyl record surface noise. The music takes quite a while to fade in. You may find yourself adjusting the volume to get your arms around the spacey 3-note keyboard motif, but that’s a mistake because eventually that wall of trilling high-end sound gets VERY loud! What started as a mostly high-end sound abruptly fills in on all harmonic levels. The sounds include what could be cellos, monster footsteps and a World War Two siren. It’s over this miasma that Selko takes his first trumpet solo. His melodies are deceptively simple but quite evocative, with a laid-back authority worthy of Miles Davis. You’re listening to the trumpet but all that other stuff keeps clattering around in the background, creating quite the audio feast.
“The Path” begins like a chamber group moving into position, twisting violin pegs and trying out the piano. It quickly locks into a simple, ominous piano riff with more of that deep, encompassing percussion, setting the stage for another trumpet solo that evokes a dying elk on the African tundra. “When She Left” is a very intimate solo piano piece which at times sounds like a sacred chorale work, and it’s so intimate that you hear seat movement and papers shuffling quite clearly.
“A Morning Song of a Cloudspotter” is the first of two vocal songs, this one written and sung by Manca Kozlovič. The table is set slowly like a rhythmic synth soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, which Kozlovič slides into like a glove. Not to push the movie analogy too far, but this is the kind of electronic-backed vocal track you often hear over the end credits of a film. At any rate, it’s excellent dream pop and clearly the most commercial track thus far.
“Aurorae” begins with swirling clouds of sound, as if we’re waking up a dragon. What follows sounds like a heartbeat, slappy echo’d percussion, ocean liner horns, then finally a cyclical riff shared by all manner of live and virtual instruments. Not exactly complex but it definitely got under my skin. “We Were Here” is another quite slow reverie with deep, metal-sounding notes at its core (possibly bells?), accompanied by spare piano and still more of that fascinating percussion. Quite unexpectedly, the tides shift and the music becomes seriously dreamy. “La Duree” is built on a faster sequenced pattern with tentative piano chords, creating a drawn-out and achingly beautiful melody. There’s a sweeping orchestral quality to this track that kicked me right in the gut.
“Do They Know?” starts with a simple, metallic two-note riff. Selko plays his trumpet through a harmonizer or similar effect, creating a thicker and quite cool tonality. The final track “Alarm” features a lovely string trio along with the vocals of Goran Završnik speaking lyrics by Srečko Kosovel in a language I can’t understand. Though I’m not sure what’s going on, the music has a deeply melancholic feel and the effect is mesmerizing.
I’m not sure how you follow up such an interesting and eclectic album like this, but I’m sure Selko has many more such projects in his future and I’d love to hear them!
Blaze X is led by Blake Betteridge, an artist from Edmonton, Canada. Previously a member of the groups Betrayers, Bayonets!!! and Mark Birties Project, Betteridge brings his own unique voice to his solo endeavors with his latest EP Alone. Alone, which features eight distinctive tracks, sees Betteridge diving into an alternative, dark wave and synth pop territory. For much of the recording, Betteridge uses a good deal of synths to hype up the atmosphere and ambiance of these pieces. His vocals are also a focal point as he spews out half rap-like and half spoken word-like singing. What comes across sounds very industrial and robotic, giving more breadth to the electronic genres.
Alone gets started with “Launched My Soul” that opens up with sizzling synths. The sound that is introduced is very startling. The shimmering synths and beats open up in the background. The electronic riffs on this number sounded great. This synths-heavy pop track draws you in with its strong electronic vibes. More synths conjure up a very ‘80s feel on “DPW Girls.” The synths pack in a very atmospheric and moody sound. Betteridge heads into more pop territory here. More synths and keys arrive on “Comet Sun.” The beats give off a very somber vibe. Once Betteridge’s vocals came in, I was reminded of The Cure and The Smiths. His singing reminded me of a lot of new wave bands from the era. There was a tinge of melancholy to his voice that gave this song a serious slant. More warbling synths ignite the sounds on “Never Go Away.” The vibe felt very mysterious and ‘80s. Once Betteridge’s rap style comes in, he evokes a very hip hop stance. I was reminded of old school rap artists back in the day.
More synths light up the sound on “Behold! The Light Mare.” Betteridge’s vocals brought across a haunting and hazy vibe. I was reminded of dream pop and shoe gaze in this instance. The sound of sax also highlights the sounds here, honing into a sultry vibe. Beats and industrial-like synths take this recording to the next level with a funk-filled vibe on “Lost Along The Way.” Once Betteridge’s rap style vocals arrive, you can feel the energy of this piece reach newer heights. I loved how amped this number sounded. Immediately, without little to no hesitation, the music comes in on “Knock On The Door.” A blast of energy coming from Betteridge, the beats, synths and Betteridge’s rap style works together to create a wall of synergy. I was loving how improvised the sax solo sounded. As beats gain traction on “I Know Somebody’s Out There,” synths come in for another wild ride on this closer. Betteridge’s vocals come across like a nonchalant drone. His vocals recalled a very ‘80s and new wave feel and brings a club vibe with this finale.
With comparisons to Depeche Mode, The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins and Tears for Fears, Betteridge certainly does seem to draw inspirations from these bands while also giving this recording his own personalized touch. I think the way Betteridge nearly raps on most of these tracks, gives these songs that extra ‘umph’ that makes them stand out. With such potential, I look forward to seeing more things from this artist.
Placebo Jones hails from just outside Philadelphia. They started life as a three-piece: Brain Scheiblien (guitar), Ben Kline (bass) and Will Snyder (drums) first started playing together in November 2019. Post-pandemic, they doubled in size, adding Jon Kline (Ben Kline’s brother, lead guitar), Sam Harasink (keyboards), and Rob Costello (vocals). Their self-titled EP Placebo Jones is their debut release.
If you didn’t check the label, you might think that Placebo Jones was two separate artists sharing a release, kind of like OutKast: when you flip the disc over, you get a completely different band. The first three tracks (call it Side A) showcase a funk/jam band. “Tangle”, the first cut, opens with the spoken-word question “in what way are you different?” and answers with a standard funk song, complete with the usual wah-wah guitars and non-memorable vocal melody. About halfway through, the track gets cooler with a nice descending riff and Harasink’s solid organ solo. The outro jam switches to a rock feel, which is somewhat more interesting, although the guitar work meanders a bit. This song may work well better live.
The funk band continues with “Staring at the Sun.” Here they feature nicely separated guitar parts, hard-panned left and right. Placebo Jones plays around with time-signature changes; these come off as a bit awkward and forced, despite the nice arpeggiated parts. Harasink’s outro synth part worked well.
“Laminar Flow” closes out Side A with another standard funk track, although the swoopy synths and harmony vocals make it a bit more fun and poppy. As an aside, why is the splash cymbal a necessary piece of equipment for funk bands? Is there a secret handshake that allows for entry into the Jam/Funk Club? Snyder’s got one, of course, and he lays out the Morse Code entry password throughout the song. The middle instrumental breakdown helps save the track from ordinary-dom.
When we flip to Side B, we hear an alt-rock band that’s turned up the distortion, and Placebo Jones finds a sound that suits them. “Locust” is the poppiest song of the set, with its grunge-inspired power chords, square-toned synth lines, a more-familiar song structure and sing-along bits. The breakdown section works well; on the way out, the band turns up the heat with an updated Bo Diddley beat. The ending (reminiscent of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”) de-authenticates the proceedings by tacking on a bit of a musical joke; without this unfortunate choice, the track would have been a complete winner.
Placebo Jones closes with “E.R.I.N.” - the most inventive track. It starts as a softer song; as the band cleverly shifts the meter around, they find a very cool alt-rock groove, getting heavier and thicker. This track, and the one before it, are much more successful. The material is stronger–which helps–but the band actually plays as themselves, not as an ersatz Phish tribute band. That authenticity comes through, all the way to the song’s tight ending, and this makes Side B something you’ll want to spin again. I hope they continue to follow down the Side B path, as it is the start of their promising journey.
EGOTONES is an instrumental band from Eugene, OR, that is releasing their latest album Geodesic Dome. The album was recorded and mixed by themselves. Time under lockdown allowed the band to track some sections in a large old dancehall for a unique and natural reverb. And it is a good thing they did since the acoustics on this album sounded great. Especially for this type of music where the band employs their expertise on all things ‘60s and ‘70s with a spaghetti western, surf, psychedelic, prog and some heavy rock appeal. As their jam-sessions unravel before you on this record, you really get a sense of what this group is all about.
Geodesic Dome begins with “Sabu,” where synths build up for a wave of ambiance in the backdrop of this track. Some airy guitars get worked into the sound of this recording. The guitars have a spaghetti western feel with touches of surf rock. I loved the psychedelic undertones to this piece. It gave it a very sprawling air. The pacing of this piece reminded me of a Tarantino film. On the title track “Geodesic Dome,” busy instrumentals come in on this surf rock song.
You can really feel the reverb of the dancehall from the wave of guitars on this recording. It really made for a dynamic sound. Some moody synths arise with an alien vibe alongside the tolling of bells on “Night Of The Dugong.” The band rides the waves for a psychedelic, surf rock appeal.
The band is really on a roll as they take on psychedelic guitars on “Mr. Poppa Dooklio.” The band’s musicianship creates a wave of sound, startling listeners right from the start. Each instrumental on “Inside Rain” seems to have a voice of its own as it joins forces for a chorus of sounds. Synths at first sculpt the soundscape of this song, creating an atmospheric ambiance. Next, some keys send out a melodic pulse. Gradually, some sparse guitar riffs reels in the band’s signature sound. Changing things up with the piano-based “Ella,” the sounds are loose for a reverb laced sound. The band also adds some electronic beats for a mix of natural and synthetic vibes to give this recording a very tight-knit sound.
On “Chen Chen Bye Bye,” what sounds like the organ lights up the sounds here. Next, fully charged guitars change the atmospheres for an energized piece. “Harmonic Voltage” transitions right away from the previous song, making for a cohesive listening experience. The band ups the wattage. The spree of instrumentals definitely made for a busy and hectic sound. The band’s psychedelic streak continues with a rousing finish coming from each band member on “Interstellar Overbite.”
Like it was previously mentioned, the band used an old dancehall space to give the acoustics on this album that extra depth. The reverb and distortion-level on this record was good from start to finish. The fuzz-factor is utilized like another instrument on this album, making this record feel like a live performance. A rousing romp from front to back, the band’s energy will get you riled up in no time. Give this a spin today!
Luce Cargo is a shoegaze duo from Adelaide, South Australia, featuring Sam on instrumentation and Clara on vocals. They formed not too long ago and recently released Paradise which is a four-track EP.
I’ll say up front that fans of shoegaze should love this. They stick to a lot of the aesthetics you hear on classic shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Slowdive. The first song “Be With You” is one of the highlights in the batch. It starts with strummed chords, sheets of white noise and some of the best vocal melodies on the EP. Synths start to trickle in and soon enough we get some drums. It’s strikingly beautiful and builds with more elements like a hefty bass.
“Let Down” is next and this song in particular has major My Bloody Valentine vibes even with the drum fills. The vocals loom in the background in typical shoegaze fashion. There are some heavy and epic moments on this song and they have some quality guitar sounds. The energy is ramped up more on “Drifting Off” and is another highlight. I loved the vocal melodies on this song but also the forward moving momentum as if it’s a comet traveling at hyper-speed through space and time. The ending is especially good where everything starts to sound as if it’s ripping apart and getting chaotic.
Last up is “Maps” and there’s a little more space. The some bright spots and it is the most upbeat and joyful song in a lot of ways. There’s also some heavy distortion at points which sound like a mix between Smashing Pumpkins and classic shoegaze.
I’ve been a fan of shoegaze since I was a teenager in the ’90s. For better or worse the genre hasn’t changed that much. I find that a lot of the pioneers of the sound seemed to have such an impact on the definition of the genre that other shoegaze inspired artists aren’t quite sure how to combine the criteria while still introducing something novel. Paradise isn’t introducing aspects you haven’t heard before if you’re familiar with the genre but the band just does them very well. In fact this is one of finest shoegaze releases I have heard in recent memory. Hopefully, this is just the beginning because Luce Cargo has delivered an impressive EP and I have a feeling they are just locking into their potential.
Fires of Denmark is the brainchild and musical project of Michael Terrill. Terrill has been making music for the last eighteen years and some of that experience has manifested into his release Relativity.
The album is atmospheric and blends elements of rock and electronic. Terrill mentions Tears for Fears, Sigur Ros, Tame Impala, Radiohead and Pink Floyd and his music is within the same aesthetic and headspace.
The album starts with “Negentropy” which is a very steady ambient piece. There’s not much happening musically but it serves as a way to create some stillness for the movement ahead. The album starts to roll with “Time Will Wear You Down” which contains an ominous synth bass riff that gets sent through filters. His vocals are reverb laced and have a similar delivery to Thom Yorke from Radiohead. The track picks up steam with more elements as it progresses and vocals become more expressive.
“It Goes On” sounded a little more lo-fi to me at first. There’s a hypnotic loop like percussive elements that’s used as a build. The song subtly shifts to a different sort of beat with soothing vocal harmonies. “And It Never Ends” is more funky and upbeat in the spirit of bands like Tame Impala. This song felt like a highlight. Some of the transitions were inventive. “Start Living Outside of Time'' had a killer wicked beat. This song actually was more reminiscent of bands like Primal Scream.
“AndOnAndOnAndOnAndOn” is more of a dark soundscape. I loved the horns. Terrill continues with “Do You Know?” which features some engaging vocal work and more well-put together grooves. The electronic sounding “Preserve The Thread” has its moments while the closer “Miles Above You” is a darker soundscape with a danceable beat.
This album generates a specific mood throughout. There’s some solid songwriting as well amongst a variation of approaches. 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
The Great Goddamn Behaving Poorly In
Well Designed Spaces. 3.8
Laney Blue Dreamer Too 3.7
San Iris Muse 3.5
Chase Johnston No Pretension 3.6
Kawakawa So Long Since You 3.7
Vegas Motel is the recent release by Mark Joseph. The artist mentions “Joseph’s 2021 solo release, Vegas Motel, is his third full length album and is a highly personal record rooted in the emotion of the year it was written (2020), yet reaching far beyond the confines of the times. Vegas Motel delicately emotes Joseph’s real-life experiences and relationships dating back to when he was a young man.”
Vegas Motel sounds to me like a timeless and familiar album that embraces the roots of Americana, rock, folk and country. I can’t say there’s much on this album that was unexpected or felt particularly novel but there’s some great predictions, songs and performances.
“The Vegas Motel'' weaves a familiar tale with slide guitar, a country music inspired quality and crooning vocals. It felt like comfort food to me. “Hard Workin’ Man” doesn't go as hard in the paint with melancholy and introduces some fiddle and a slightly brighter feeling. The thing I really enjoyed about it was how warm it feels on the ears. I think the catchy melodies also help.
The energy is ramped with “Nate’s Garage” which is much more rock based and also arguably the most single-worthy song in the batch. I was getting Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band vibes on this song as they leaned more into the country aspect. The song touts a familiar patriotic sentiment I could imagine playing in BBQ’s across the nation.
Up next is “The Life of a Pipe Welder” which is a little more experimental and folk based. There’s some exceptional guitar work and the vocals actually had less of a country singer affectation on this song. “Early Riser” contained my favorite instrumental elements. The fiddle and acoustic guitar create a whirlwind of off kilter bluegrass. “I Love You Till’ I Die” is a straight up warm ballad and is followed up by the intimate sounding “Little Lucy.” Joseph ends with another intimate song entitled “My Friend, Stella Blue” but ends with a pensive ambient section that creates a sense of nostalgia
My only critique is Joseph was playing a little too much into genres rather than a signature sound. Some songs felt more like “this is the criteria of the genre so let’s lean into that” rather than injecting an X-factor into the music which covers the whole album.
Overall, I thought this was a very good if slightly scattered album. Fans of the aforementioned genres should love it.
When alternative rock lost its angst in the mid-’90s, it also lost its soul. Just as the prior generation of glam metal bands got drunk on hairspray, a foray into flannel clad dis-euphoria also wore thin (not to mention, insincere). So while Turin-cum-Bristol band Vetna borrowed their cues from said era, it’s nice that they also folded English techno, big beat and ambient sounds into the mix. In other words, these Italians made things safe for hip swaying, despite the crunch of occasionally hard-plugged grit. Less whiplash, more texture is the formula here. And that’s damn near perfect for anyone currently in traction or smarting from cervical arthritis.
Fronted by Lorenzo Chia, the group’s first proper LP As Lips Run tints its music with a “significant psychedelic vibe.” And while it also offers ten sonically engaging tracks, 70% of them extend over the four-minute mark, with one, “Fragmentation,” clocking in at a face-melting 14:39. Yet, very rarely does any of this drag. Percussion and keys are the stars, boasting front-and-center bragging rights on nearly every song. Sure, the guitars (infrequently) rip, but their limited use turns the alt rock moniker on its head. We’re a long way from crunchy angst, ears tuned to the mercury bursting low-end of bass and drums.
The album’s opener “Frankfurt Violence” is both urgent and warm, as samples shriek over focused guitar; the latter acting as a fulcrum around which all effects pivot. The feel is purposefully disorienting (if not endemic to cardiac arrest). It’s the soundtrack to an unmedicated ADHD brawl, and it slows only once, presumably to allow enough time to yank the shiv out of your side. Keeping pace, “Blankets Pt I” begins with a snug, analog keyboard that accompanies jangly guitar. Breathy vocals alternate into faux falsetto, until “Blankets Pt II” punctuates the calm with a sweat-spray of drumming. Vague allusions to Middle Eastern scales and Mantovani horns keep things interesting. And that’s the appeal. Vetna refuses to shoehorn themselves into a predictable locus.
Further embracing erraticism, “Betelgeuse” proffers a grand example of organic techno, played (and screamed) with real instruments. “Fragmentation,” the aforementioned opus, serves up hefty Eric Carr drum hits amid ominous whispered vocals redolent of Marilyn Manson. A menacing, needle-gun drone hums in at the five-minute mark until, in a rare error of misdirection, the plot gets lost.
The second half of the record is a touch less engaging because, smartly, the more indelible ear worms are loaded up front. By no way does that dismiss, or even diminish, its so-called ‘back five’ offerings. The heavy stomp of “Snow,” for instance, casts a visual panorama on the song’s namesake. One can hear every labored boot print, every tundral slog that, ultimately, explodes into a very satisfying thrash metal blowout.
One might frame this music as delivered in the key of Sinoia Caves, particularly his work for director Panos Cosmatos: sound as color, and both as emotive tool. Is that too technical? Just turn on and tune in, as the heads would say. Consuming this is a hell of a lot safer than tripping balls with that vagrant behind the gas station, however long or strange.
Tyler Delaney Reed is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and music instructor from Shelburne, Ontario, Canada. Reed spent the last few years as a bassist for other Canadian bands, and in 2017 began releasing instrumental music under his own name. Ancestry is his first full-length album and is comprised of six guitar-based tracks. Reed states that his recordings range from “gently picked acoustics to long, jam-band inspired solos, often incorporating loops, drones and improvisation.” Influences include Miles Davis (from his “In A Silent Way” era) to post rock, jam bands, kraut rock and ambient music.
Reed recorded everything by himself (except one live drum track), using his own Logic 9 home studio. He used a Tascam tape machine as a preamp for many of his guitar parts to get a more analog tone. Reed also mixed the album using Logic plug-ins, and helpfully provided notes for each track which I will be referencing. My initial reaction to the overall sound quality is that it’s pretty good, if a little rough and chunky in spots as befitting the guitar tones.
“Paranoid Foresight” was the album’s first track to be recorded, and was inspired by Reed’s realization that “the pandemic wasn’t going to end any time soon.” He created a guitar loop so that he could play and solo as long as he felt like it. In my reviews I often say the music I’m hearing is “hypnotic,” and that’s definitely the case here as the same swirly note pattern repeats for five minutes. The guitar solo per se doesn’t start until five minutes in, and even then it’s largely cyclical riffs. Here’s your chance to trance out!
“Workingman’s Chant” begins with the sound of kids playing, like some classic jazz albums have done; indeed, Reed mentions that this track was “inspired by the great jazz ballads” and written very quickly. The song is based on major 7 chords and his solo was modeled on the playing of Kenny Burrell. This track quiets the album down with a gently picked reverie, and features a solo by Reed that’s easygoing and right on the money. The next song “Post Takoma” was directly influenced by Reed’s obsession with John Fahey’s Takoma record label, and does have the same stripped-down, mellow acoustic vibe Fahey and his label mates were known for. I also love the low-end guitar drone that follows along from beginning to end.
Reed considers the almost nine minute “Gerhard’s Jam” to be the centerpiece of the album, which was based on a loop he created to practice soloing along to. The title comes from artist Gerhard Richter, who inspired both the music and the cover image. You can always tell a track that’s made from an extended jam, as they often fade in with the “band” already playing (see George Harrison’s jam disk on All Things Must Pass.). If you’re familiar with lead guitar jams then you know what to expect, and this one builds slowly, letting the energy wax and wane throughout. Reed seems to have captured a feedback burst on a loop, which I didn’t really care for.
“Resignation” features drummer Jeff Cochrane, and was recorded very quickly on the day Reed quit his day job to (again) become a full-time musician. It’s got chords very similar to Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” (in fact you can sing those words over this one!). I love the extremely slow drum pattern (thanks, Jeff) and the “esteemed” solo by Reed who doesn’t feel compelled to show off; he simply slides into some gorgeous riffing and chording.
The final track is “Trafalgar Rd, 7 am” which Reed calls “a reflective piece inspired by nature.” It reminded me both of R.E.M.’s “Ebow The Letter” and the quintessential Zappa solo track “Watermelon In Easter Hay.”
If you like guitar solos or jam bands you’re likely to enjoy this collection, and I’m sure Reed’s got way more up his sleeve AND his guitar necks for the future!
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