The five piece band from Northern Michigan known as Distant Stars has released an album that serves as a soundtrack to an ebook called "Self-Righteous Loverboy." The album is called Distant Thunder and it genuinely impressed me. Once again, I have the pleasure of reviewing an album associated with a rich and established narrative world. There's lots of theatrical elements, and the music serves up the best elements of today's rock scene.
The opening track, "Don't Dream It," pays a fitting homage to Rocky Horror Picture Show and right away I was in for a fun ride. Although to be honest, it was not the ride I expected. "Don't Dream It" does a great job of communicating the theatrical element, but the tracks that came after were are pleasant and original surprises. The group uses additional instruments such as the flute, trumpet and clarinet very wisely to make charming little accentuate key elements within the music. The vocals are essential to the dramatic inflections involved.
The music can definitely be broken up in to scenes and moods. Some of it is very with gentle indie touches. Quaint guitar riffs and an eclectic mix of instruments paint these sweet and innocent moments in my mind. However this sweetness is not naive, there's a wisdom behind it. Almost like a nostalgia for a time before things were so complicated or entangled. The album also takes a plunge into dank and dark spaces with a pointed grunge tone.
There's also a good amount of tracks that just ooze cattiness and brutally honest thoughts we all have but like to admit to. It's bitchy and electric, and I couldn't get enough of it. Although I have not read the book this music is attached to, I am motivated to do after listening to the album. Each mood builds a story I would be interesting in reading. I appreciated that while these moods are different, there was baseline to the story that glued everything together.
Another big selling point for this album is the quality of the music. The album was handled with care in the hands of Infinite Balance Studio and V Sounds Studio for the album's production. There are certain moments where the music wanted to make a big statement, and sound enormous. Thanks to the production efforts, they were able to achieve this effect while maintaining an organic sensation.
I really enjoyed what Distant Thunder has to say. I feel the album could cast a wide net in regards to its audience. The biggest thing for me is the originality, the music can stand out in a very large crowd. It's cool and innovative without gimmicks, it's just execution and the motivation behind it. For anyone seeking something they haven't heard before I strongly recommend this album.
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I remember about twenty years ago living at my mom’s house. After school my friends and I would play music really loud and record it on a tape deck. That's exactly what Sensation by Guacamole Ceiling reminded of expect the lead singer sounded a lot more like Zack de la Rocha.
It’s completely live with seemingly no editing or much post-processing. Up first is “Situation” which is a bunch of well done bass and drum work. I couldn't hear much of what was being said and really have no idea how much was improvised and much wasn’t. Whatever they are recording through gets digital distorted as soon as they start rocking out. They more or less sound a lot like Rage Against the Machine with a tinge of Led Zeppelin which is badass combo if you ask me.
Up next is “Sublimation” which is a faster song with a forward moving kinetic energy while “Simplification “ is a ten minute song that is the first change in pace. It’s a very different vibe and sounds like a completely different band. They hit a jazzy singer/songwriter vibe sort of like John Maher before going back into Rage type talking/singing. “Stimulation” is a bunch of white noise and some talking that sounds like a cross between Zack de la Rocha and a political speech.
The band will have to think about some structure to these songs. I know it's fun to jam on I remember but these longer types of jams aren't as fun for an audience especially in recorded format.
Suffice it to say they are a bunch of young guys having fun and there might be a possibility of something more than that. It goes without saying they will have to hit up an actual studio and some point and develop a sound that feels uniquely their own.
This is a case of wait and see right now. There are moments that work but the band has a lot to do before competing with more popular acts.
Camp Sunshine is a one man band created by Quinn Cavaco out of Massachusetts. Emergency Satchel is an upbeat and sing-a-long style album made with one man and his ukulele. The songs on Emergency Satchel are beachy and almost a little too “campy” (no pun intended) depending on your perspective.
Take for instance, track two, entitled “Ortus.” Cavaco uses canned ocean wave sound effects in the background behind his go for broke attempt at lyric writing. While the romantic and sweet lyrics are of course, good-natured, Cavaco’s use of the A-B-A-B rhyme scheme is almost elementary. “Empty out our bank accounts and run away / let’s hop on the next flight to Pompeii / we may have no place to live / but we can teach the village kids / how to read and write and dance / let’s say au revoir and go to France / I’d go any place in the world / as long as I’m with you, girl.”
I will say, however, the sound quality is excellent, both vocally and instrumentally. Each note sung and strum is crisp and clear. This is especially impressive considering that it was not professionally recorded and Cavaco self-admittedly “does not know a lot about the technical aspects of music.”
Cavaco’s ukulele talent is also impressive, however one might wish he used his skills to create a song on this album that differentiated itself more noticeably from the other tracks on the album . Most tracks sound the same instrumentally with the exception of a few different intros and bridges. Cavaco sounds like an off-brand attempt at becoming a new Kimya Dawson or even In Between Dreams era Jack Johnson, however, lyrically, Cavaco may want to set his sights on becoming a new Laurie Berkner or Ralph Colvert but that's my personal opinion.
Emergency Satchel ends with the track “You Are My (Sunshine Song),” which sounds similar to the first track “Compass,” between the same instrumentals and snapping/clapping. I may recommend this as a safe listen for you and your child if you have one. However it may be too simplistic for some people and not others. Take a listen.
Breakup-Party’s album Ghosts is a masterfully arranged and recorded album. The album kicks off with the track “War,” which is soothing and almost eerie in it’s tone both lyrically and melodically. The album’s second track “No Dance” kicks up the mood of the album with heavy and intense vocals from Christian Ehrich along with a substantial drum beat and biting guitar riffs. Ghosts was completely DIY recorded and mixed with Reaper on linux. One would not realize that if they had not been told. The sound quality is excellent and the entire album is skillfully mastered.
“Not Deaf,” the third track on Ghosts is grungy in style, and romantically haunting lyrically and vocally. “Money for the People,” also a grungy track, picks up in pace in comparison to “Not Deaf.” “Money for the People” is a self-confident breakup track, proudly yelling out I don’t need your lovin’ anymore.
“Economy” is a difficult to read into love ballad about consumerism: “the economy needs you and needs to be supported / we loved you like we could / and you loved us back like you should.” The over five-and-a-half-minute track is tough to follow in the story that it’s telling, but it is vocally and instrumentally pleasing.
“Everything,” the second to last track on Ghosts is a slower dive into this grungy, almost emo album. With distorted vocals and a somber beat, “Everything” is a battle for the story teller to speak to, as if the singer is struggling with what’s going on with them mentally. This is one of the longer and slower tracks on the album, ending with beautiful and lighter harmonies to somewhat offset the darker tone of the whole song.
The final track on the album “F.Y.,” by far the longest track on Ghosts clocking in at almost eleven minutes, works with bizarre and almost supernatural sounding instrumental vibrations. Three minutes into “F.Y.” we get to hear some vocalization, softer and higher than what we heard in the first six tracks. The lyrics on this track are pure, they are undistorted and softer than before, making it easier to understand the raw poetry that is being sung on this track. Ehrich’s unadulterated voice is beautifully eerie, and the guitar work on this track is canorous and soothing. “F.Y.” is a great note to end on as it evokes reflection and appreciation for one’s own loneliness.
If you enjoy The Hold Steady, Gaslight Anthem, and The Decemberists, then Breakup-Party and their album Ghosts is most definitely for you. Highly recommended.
Max Morrison has brought together a brand new band for his album Death of Autumn which offers a refreshing blend of alternative, folk and ambient. Morrison plays the guitar and cello and utilizes both instruments in on the album. Lucky for the audience he's incredibly talented at both and so are his endearing vocal skills. Alongside him is Justin Avdek on bass or electric guitar, and Evan Follmar on percussion. The brand may be new but Morrison has been writing these songs for a couple years and is ready to take them out on tour with his new band mates. Since Morrison is local to the Gran Rapids area of Michigan, I imagine that's where he'll start and after listening to the album, part of me is tempted to trek up North to see him live,
The music is very pretty in the way that it is innocent at its core. Death of Autumn is such an appropriate name because that it the image the music creates. When I hear the intricate guitar riffs I can see crinkled leaves snapping off branches and being blown away into oblivion. The album was recorded at Addison's Analog Time Machine which a home recording in the woods of North Muskegon, Michigan. It's easy to tell that the band's surroundings seeped into the music's brew during the recording process. The cello is so pastoral and rural. I certainly wouldn't place this album under the traditional label of a "feel good" album, but it did makes me feel good. There's this thick layer of dankness that permeates everything. Sometimes the mood goes dark or even creepy but that is all counter-balanced by plenty of charming stories and memories. I felt isolated and cozy and longing for a nature hike while listening.
I appreciate the soft, monotone nature of the album. Nothing pops out of nowhere, lots of slow builds. My only complaint is that some of the tracks fail to find a structure that was stimulating. It felt like this is where Morrison wanted to focus on the stillness of nature and really hone his ambient skills.
A good example is track three, "Fools Are We." This song was steeped in darkness and stillness and maintained that mood but I think what was lacking was tension or maybe even movement. There were a couple tracks like this where it felt like the songs were still taking root and needed a little more time and direction.
I think Morrison's work in this album is interesting in that it's a very honest love letter to nature and to his own experiences. No rose tinted glasses here, you get the muck but you also get the blooming flowers. It's all equal exchange and just felt so honest. I would put this high on my must listen list for anyone who needs encouragement to go into hermit mode for a while and be on their own.
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Gabriel and Daniel Traknyak are brothers and the primary band member in Sky Orchid. Apparently Daniel plays the drums and Gabriel takes on pretty much about everything else which includes vocals, guitar, bass, synths, and.keyboards. They released Oculus which is two separate EP’s
They make emotionally fueled music that is often thematic, atmospheric and fused with explosive rock tendencies although they often deviate into different styles quite often. I really liked the soulful vocals which were an important element in making these songs work. There were times were the delivery in the vocals was going to make or break the song for me depending on the style of music
I started off with the first EP. Up first is “The River” which builds around a dark atmosphere of piano, drums and exceptional vocals. It starts to build and was hoping at this point the song wasn't going to get predictable by just going into a hopeful vibe. After a drum roll that seems to last a lifetime they get to a crescendo. Luckily, the dove aren’t flying and fireworks aren't going off. They keep it dark with subtle shifts of energy. Great start.
“In the Fire, Pt.1” felt a little more single worthy and rock based while “I’ll Stop the World, Pt.2” just straight up rocks. “Wildfire” has a more intimate, singer/songwriter type vibe. They close with a relative straight rock song that flirts with reggae at points. There was a lot to appreciate here but the styles did feel scattered. I wasn't able to establish any type of signature song.
The second EP volume two starts with “Sneakers” which is a highlight amongst all the songs. They sound good when dark and soulful. The vocals needs to breathe like they do there. They change the vibe to upbeat and borderline cheerful with “Take It All’ which sounds closer to John Mayer.
“Lex” was another standout. The EP for some odd reason closes with “HIdden Track” which is an experimental, electronic piece which really has no relation to anything else I heard.
The biggest issue by far is the band doesn't have any type of signature sound or foundation. They seem to trying out multiple styles to see what works. Out of all the things a young band needs to do it's find a unique and original sound and make a cohesive release.
The plus side is they have a ton of talent. They just don't seem to know where to place it. If i were their manager I would stay stick with the dark, atmospheric almost EDM vibe we hear on “Sneakers” and “The River’. It sounds the most natural and original to my ears.
The band is young and have time to develop. I think if they do some more work on pre-production they will be one interesting act. I hope to hear more soon because they have the skill set.
Neverland Tourist is the project of singer/songwriter Mark Romney. After taking time off to start a family, Romney decided to get back into the studio and begin performing again. Closer to the Clouds is his debut EP. The sound is a combination of folk-pop and Americana, with poetic lyrics and complex arrangements
The EP opened with “That Sea” which was gentle and mellow. Romney’s voice is wild and a little rough around the edges, but endearing and expressive. I really loved the artistry in his arrangements.
I had the TV on mute while Olympic Figure Skating was on and watching that while listening to this song allowed me to hear the soft fluidity of the melody that I may have missed otherwise. It really was beautiful. I enjoy the contrast of Romney’s gritty vocals with the tender feel of the music.
“Show Me What You Won’t Tell” was a little messier to me, it didn’t feel as organized and deliberate as the first track. Overall I still really liked the songwriting and feel of the music. The following track “You Are The One For Me” had a different vibe than the previous two. It was a little funkier and felt youthful and fun. The same vibe continued with “You’re the Girl” which was lighthearted and quirky.
The title track “Closer to the Clouds” was probably my least favorite, it felt a little disconnected to me. The melody just sounded off and Romney’s vocals didn’t have the usual endearing quality. The EP ended with “It Was Always You” which was soft and sad with just enough melancholy to be one of those songs that you listen to a bittersweet mood.
I enjoyed Closer to the Clouds. Romney is an interesting songwriter. I really dug the contrast between the rugged sound of the vocals and the gentle polished sound of instrumental accompaniment. Neverland Tourist, besides having an awesome band name, has a real original take on folk rock and I’m excited to hear more.
Simone Lipkin is an artist who is only thirteen years old and recently released her first EP Stories in My Mind. I picked up a guitar at around the same age and remember writing music shortly after. It’s not easy.
Truth be told you’re still a kid and you’ve barely had any life experience to write about. I remember writing about a petting zoo and Saturday morning cartoons. Lipkin writes about subjects which do seem a little mature for her age that revolve around relationships and love.
I was reading about Simone Lipkin and I think a lot of credit has to go to music producer Russ DeSalvo (Celine Dion, Trisha Yearwood, Marc Anthony) who discovered her while she was playing at an open mic. The songs were written by Lipkin and produced and arranged by Russ DeSalvo. Desalvo has did all the engineering which sounds radio ready.
These five songs are pure FM radio type pop. There is no denying that. The structure follows a formula that tries to appeal to as much of a mass of an audience as possible. You can make comparisons to artists ranging from Taylor Swift to Avril Lavigne.
Lipkin does have a voice that is beyond her years. You can hear that on the opening track “For You.” She has a range that is dynamic and the tone of her voice has palatable aesthetic qualities. Lipkin delivers more pure pop with “Trust Fall” which balances melancholy and anthemic hooks. “Contagious” is a slower ballad while “Mystery” has a hopeful Americana type flavor.
In the mid ’90s I discovered bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead. In my 20’s I was neck deep in shoegaze and post-punk and in my early 30’s I feel in love with contemporary composers. As a songwriter whether I want to admit it or not these artists influenced my writing in some way. I have little doubt that as Lipkin goes through her teenage years and beyond she will discover other artists that will have an impact on her. She has talent for any age but it will be interesting to hear how she evolves as a musician over the next couple of years.
The words experimental and creative are often overused when describing a piece of art or music or even poetry. Ok, so how about quirky? Ethereal? Or how about just taking a few styles, like indie and alternative, mix them with electronic sounds, blurbs and (fill in the blank here) and you may come up with something called Love the debut album from Connecticut artist Mild Monk. Written and produced entirely on Garageband using an iPhone 6S, this record I sense, has that ‘something’ that if you listen to it days or weeks later, you’ll probably end up hearing something new or that ‘new’ thing in a different way.
To start off, the aptly titled “Intro” has a sparse techno beat and retro feel with a nice warm voice by bandleader Henry Stein. Love is largely a solo project started by Stein but within the last few months a band has formed to play live shows. A video has been filmed as well for the song “Once Again” and it is quite imaginative, so check it out if you can. The next number “Sweet Perfume” has a slow, dragging beat that adds to the lyrical theme of the song, which I presume is about those first feelings of euphoria when first falling in love and the perfume of the person you admire still lingers on your clothes.
“Summer Song” features a bright and warm guitar like the summer’s sun, a galloping beat (with additional drums by Kyle Sullivan) and later, a heavy warm guitar solo. This tune reminded me of a ‘70s soft rock, one-hit wonder that had this insane xylophone solo, yes, I’m not kidding, but I don’t recall the artist or band. Burpy or blurping sounds can be heard on “Once Again” accompanied with a tingling keyboard and a guitar that has a sort of reggae style to it.
All the sounds come together like an ‘80s retro video game, so I thought that was a cool thing to pull off. “Her Loving” has a strange, sensual feel to it but not a creepy strange in my view. Reverberating guitar with an old school hip-hop beat of sorts matches with an ode to a girlfriend. The song stops abruptly as if you just shut the turntable off before a song ends.
“Musical Love” features a lovely melody that works well with the beat, guitar sounds that are like a muted jazz guitar, strange gurgling sounds and whistling. Of all the songs on Love, I think this one was the most musically well written. The drum kit selection on “Wolves” sounds like a traditional trap set which Sullivan played on. There was also what sounded like an alto sax being played or something that sounds like an alto sax. A heavily distorted guitar adds a unique dimension to this tune as well.
“Gotta Get off My Phone” has a lounge, shuffle beat and a muddy-hazy guitar effect – sort of like what my head feels like after being on my phone for far too long – muddy and in a cloud. The song I liked a lot was “Today” a dreamy rhythm with sleepy vocals and a warbled sounding guitar. The last tune “Rain” features up front vocals with one of those ‘voice changer things,’ a ukulele, flute, sounds of rain dropping, a glass bottle being filled and what sounds like the flicking of a cigarette lighter. So yeah, there are lots of things going on in this one. Overall, Stein’s Love has several love-centered themes and musically it’s pretty mellow and mild
Nick Crameri aka Hot_Dog is a bedroom DIY artist from Australia who recently released Beneath the Bun. Crameri is joining a movement or aesthetic that in my opinion was spearheaded by Mac DeMarco and exploded. That dreamy, atmospheric, happy, slacker go lucky vibe is easy to replicate and one of the reasons I hear so many artists going that way more than anything else in the past five years.
Some songs sound like a DeMarco B-side and others don’t. The first song “Livin' Without You” certainly does. The song is catchy and easy to appreciate but wasn’t a standout for me. Up next is “Some Problems” which fared a little better in my opinion but the song which got my attention was “The Girl You Used to Go With”. There is a post-punk/shoegaze vibe on this track and really appreciated the vocal melody.
“Stay Cold” revolves around a slower, jazzy and dreamy vibe which goes back into Mac DeMarco territory while “It Can't Work” was another highlight in my opinion.
The recording/production quality contains the typical issues I see again and again with DIY bedroom recording. There are inconsistencies in quality. The contrast “It Can't Work” from “Livin' Without You” is significant. Crameri puts too much reverb on more or less everything which often makes the recording muddy and that is no exception here. One thing to do in this type of situation is EQ the low mids around 200 - 400 hz of the reverb itself on multiple instruments. I had a hard time understanding the lyrics. A boost somewhere between 1 khz and 5 khz would have helped. Additionally, I always suggest handing off your mixes to professional mastering engineer to help with all of the issues I just mentioned.
Crameri has some talent as a songwriter but needs to aware of how ubiquitous this type of sound is being replicated by young bedroom artists all over the globe. I would encourage him to think about how else he can differentiate himself and standout from the crowd. I wish him luck and hope to hear more soon.
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