At the helm of the alternative rock band Watershed Council is Jason Vogel. This is not Vogel's first rodeo when it comes to albums. He has been a bassist in several bands, but now he is looking to take on a drastically different tole with songwriting and singing. Luckily he has a slew of talented friends to help him along the way. There are LOTS of cameos on his latest album Madison Rouge, which means there is a lot of good variation and diversity among the eight tracks on the album.
The songs definitely lean on the harder alternative rock side. The band hails from Michigan and myself being in Chicago and road-tripping through Michigan countless times, the aesthetic fits. Michigan has always held the best of natural and urban beauty. The same thing happens in this music. You'll get modern, sharp edged colliding with the wildness of the riffs. I feel like "Hedge A Bet" is a great example of this collision and quickly became one of my favorite tracks. There's not a whole lot of fuss and muss in the music. It's pretty straightforward. It can often get dangerous and wicked and then pull back up onto the main roads we all know and love. Then sometimes they'll just blow your mind with a jazzy number complete with trumpet. There are lot of twists in the music that really made appreciate the group's craftsmanship and willingness to play and experiment.
As I said, there were a lot of hands on deck for this album and that means a lot of different moods at play. Vogel being the vocalist worked overtime to satisfy the needs of each song. I do feel there were times where his performance style reached a little too far into the dramatic. On its own, his voice is distinctive and there were times where he would dig in deep with inflections and then it came off a little cornball. Vogel did produce some solid lyrics. He is definitely at his finest when is a little moody and brooding which is something I can personally get behind.
When it comes to the overall production of the album, I think it's a damn fine job. This was a studio recorded project and it shows. One of the sturdy pillars this album rests on is solid acoustics. The mixing is also spot on and really lets all those extra hands Vogel has have their moment. The reverb also plays a subtle role here and I think it was managed perfectly. I don't think I would be as fond of this if it were too crisp and clean. It needs its rough edges and I think it's important to commend the production hands for recognizing that to be true.
Madison Rouge is sturdy. It holds its own with very little guile or trickery. I will say the album has tempted me to take another road trip and see this act live should an opportunity ever arise.
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Jon Statham is an artist from Los Angeles, California who recently released I Am Jon Statham. There are four songs all of which are pretty different sounding. You could make a case for pop but after that the genres get really different.
Up first is “Our Little Thing” which is the only one that feels dance oriented with electronic elements. There is even a bit of an R&B vibe at times. I really liked how the song started off with some unique sounding percussive elements and Statham’s soothing voice. A really hard hitting techno kick drum comes in and the song starts to change. The guitar however that comes adds the element of rock. I think for the most part I like the way the song unfolded and it grew on me the more I heard it.
Next up is “No Place” and the vibe changes almost completely. The song veers towards country/pop and is melancholy but also hopeful and warm. It’s a well delivered song but I have to admit I felt confused as to where this EP was headed.
“The Spirit Moves Me” comes a little closer to sounding like “No Place” and was my favorite song in the batch. I really liked the vocals on this song and the music was very atmospheric with subtle shifts in dynamics. “Do You” reminded me a lot of a song like “Kiss From A Rose” from Seal. This song is the most soulful and has the most epic sounding chorus.
Out of all the songs the first song in particular felt like the one least connected to the rest of the album. It’s a little hard to know exactly how to define this artist because of the different styles. In fact my one piece of advice here would be to think about how he can create a signature sound which people may recognize.
All things considered Statham has some talent and I found the songs appealing in different ways. Recommended.
The four members of the alt Americana and rock outfit Champs of the Sun have been playing around their native Lexington, Kentucky four the past few years. Their first recorded offering is the seven-song EP titled simply The EP. And from this tongue in cheek title and their sort of country-ish take on a band like the Strokes et al one can only assume that the group doesn’t take themselves too seriously. I found this to be evident even more so in the their songs which are tight and clean and very well recorded and produced but have that sort of smart slacker character to them all.
The opening track “Launch Party” is a high energy but not over the top rock song bordering on punk, as though the Sex Pistols had a keyboardist and did everything in half time. This idea of really having a relaxed sort of take on their output really does wonders for the band. Next up comes the slow and melodic “True” which gets such a boost from the moody and simple keyboard playing it becomes sort of a wonder of a song.
On “Live a Little” they pull off a mystical ballad that doesn’t come off as too sappy or trite and it’s really a refreshing song that is neatly inserted between a bunch of mid to up tempo rock songs. Speaking of mid tempo rock songs, “Mutiny” is just that and again has that slacker rock vibe to it but again nothing goes over the top here, not the vocals or the rippling piano track or the blues-rock guitar. They all meld together into this jam session of plain and simple rock yet it just serves to remind how good this style of music really is, when it’s not too overwrought or overthought. This leads to another rich track on this record, “Mercy” which is a lounge-y rock tune that really sort of checks all the boxes.
It’s few and far between these days that anything that comes across my desk in the way of music seems to really excite me, but when it does, like it did in the way of Champs of the Sun’s The EP, it just reminds me why I continue to do what I do.
The Midwest quintet, A Few Blink Mice, describe their debut album Rational Creatures, as a “creative expressive piece that deals with personal insecurities that we all face at some point in our lives.” Their sound is similar to Black Keys, The Eagles, Old Crow Medicine Show, Edward Sharpe and Blues Pills. Quite a diverse lineup of influences I’d say. The band is fronted by a talented duo - singer Emily Mae Webb and guitarist Ty Bailey. The group’s overall style and sound mix elements of jazz, blues and rock.
“They Came with Swords” has a live sound, well balanced and in a genre that’s more folksy indie rock. “Hell Hath No Wrath” offers scathing guitar licks and a bouncy, acoustic rhythm. The chorus gets wilder, especially on the crash cymbals. The tempo/chord changes were nice, too. “Running from Myself” features a sweet, mellow rhythm very much in line with Old Crow Medicine Show. The string action (violin and/or bass fiddle) was great to hear as well. “Seven Deadly Sins” starts off with a catchy guitar riff and a danceable, shuffling beat. This one has an edgier, bluesy feel to it.
“Take me Down” is one of the slower tracks on the album, featuring a waltz-like beat. The mood of Bailey’s guitar and Webb’s voice is somber and soulful. There is desperation, but also slivers of hope in the lyrics and Webb’s voice delivers those words well. “The Giant Song” begins with a jangly guitar, full rhythm section and violin action. It ends with the drums dropping out and a short violin/guitar interlude. The feeling and energy behind “Black Hearted Man” reflects its moody, dark title. The song’s style is more in the vein of Black Keys somewhat, but really, it reminded me more of something from the ‘70s. Like, sleazy back roads southern rock.
“Endless Walls” ends the album with a bouncing beat and a pretty catchy guitar riff. By far, it was the shortest number on the entire album.
All in all, Rational Creatures was a pretty good album. The standouts were “Black Hearted Man” and “Running from Myself.” I failed to hear any jazz influence – I heard more folk/blues rock/indie rock – but in the end, I will leave that up to other listeners to decide.
The solo acoustic guitar paired with hushed vocals is perhaps the most abundant musical style. When done well it can be simply amazing and when done horribly well it’s just horrible. Although Michelle Petrie’s voice is beautiful and warm she tends to often be some place in the middle. She seems quite comfortable in this range for most of her eponymous debut record but shows potential for greater things as she just started playing around five years ago.
The opening track “Letter to God” is a four-minute confession of acoustic guitar and some strings but it’s something that I myself have heard. The lyrics encompass a sort of faux style grief and images that are likened to things in a dollar store bin; ends of roads, taking home. These sort of images are arguably used too often. And I’m not saying these things to be a jerk but just noting how this seems to be a constant issue with a genre that is oversaturated with musicians with similar themes and lyrics. Take the impressive song “The Narcissist” with its end rhymes of recounting a faceless person. Then “Getting Over” with it’s line “pick my heart up off the ground.” Pain, loss, suffering; these things are not unique to one person. Everyone at some point will encounter these things but I didn’t get the details that I sometimes personally look for.
As it stands the rest of the record as a whole is like the aforementioned songs; acoustic guitar, some bass with speak song lyrics that all sort of meld into a similar style. The songs are well delivered and played but a bit more of backing band at times could have helped with switching up the energy.
I’m not trying to knock anyone’s personal grief here but I think that what I can offer to help is to tell Petrie to just spend time listening to the kind of music she wants to create. And I mean really listen to it, and branch out and find new artists, not just big names but lesser known ones. Get yourself into music first and then later when you’re inspired by so much new stuff then start writing songs. These are the things no one ever tells anyone about art because so many people starting out are so fragile, but a tough skin is what separates the greats from the others. Petrie has a lot of talent as a singer and a songwriter and there is a lot to appreciate on this debut. I wish her luck in her evolution and hope to hear more soon.
Stealing Home is Steve Radford (vocals/bass), Taylor Amaro (guitar/vocals) and Tyler Townsend (drums). They are an alternative pop punk band from Concord, California that recently released a four-song EP entitled The View From Here. If I had one word to describe this EP it would be intense. The music is hard to ignore. Everything feels turned up to eleven.
Pop-punk has always been a genre for a younger generation. The coming of age themes combined with the youthful exuberance always seemed to resonate with teenagers and young adults. I think it’s fair to say that is the case here.
The EP starts with “Displaced” which comes out of the gates filled to the brim with energy. That energy somehow becomes more intense. All the guys are talented but the drumming is ridiculous. Townsend is completely in the pocket and pulls off some very technically advanced parts. I interpreted the song to be about nostalgia and depression. Radford sings, “I saw shade in their colors (Stifling me) / Overwhelmed and outnumbered (Take me away) / From the weight and the pressure (Weight and the pressure) / It keeps pulling me under.”
Up next is “Self-Centered” which is another song you really can’t ignore. The chorus is anthemic and even more memorable. It’s a catchy song that is also melodic and really dynamic. The band keeps showing off their chops with “Take Care” as they implement complicated timing transitions while still making the song accessible. “Coastlines” was a proper closer and easily the most nostalgic sounding in the batch.
Will this convert you if you never liked pop-punk to begin with? No, but if you are a fan of the genre with a dash of alternative you will love this band.
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Astin is an artist from Denver, Colorado who recently released his debut EP entitled Futility and Accomplishment. His EP deals with dark themes such as suicide, addiction and loneliness. These types of themes seems to be more popular than ever within the last couple of years and seems like it comes from lone singer/songwriter types.
Up first is “Alone In A Crowd” which starts with a simple guitar picking pattern. His vocal style feels fairly unique and the lyrics take on a familiar pattern of loneliness, solitude and not knowing how to deal with the reality of being. Towards the end there is a field recording and reverb laced vocals that are moaned.
“Karoshi” starts off very promising with a pretty guitar picking and a slight classical Portuguese feel to the music. The music turns into strummed chords and just doesn't really sound like the same song.
“Waiting” contains drums and light ambient picking. As the song progresses there's a blaring distorted lead guitar solo. The issue here is it sounds like a bedroom recording and not a full band. ”The Woman Made Of Blue Light” is the highlight. The vocals sound kind of theatrical. As the song unfolds the song has its moments with some solid guitar and unique transitions.
Astin is going to need to step in a recording studio at some point if he wants the recording quality to compete with more notable acts that make similar music. I think working with other musicians as well could bring more dynamics to these songs.
Astin has some solid ideas. There are some inspired moments on this debut and I think with a little more tweaking and production he can take it to the next level. I’m looking forward to hearing more.
Cooper Greenberg is a guitarist and singer/songwriter based out of San Antonio and Austin, Texas. Influenced by a wide array of artists, songwriters and genres, his writing style combines intricate, guitar-driven melodies with personal, storytelling lyrics. In December 2016, he released his debut EP Wave Pool and backed by a full band Dream Sequence in 2018. His latest seven-song collection was recorded by Tommy Munter at Matador Recording Studios in San Antonio.
Greenberg states that the record was intended to combine a bunch of sounds that he loves – classic alt-country from such artists like Willie Nelson and Townes Van Zandt, mixed with some psychedelic aspects of Texas music, like Marfa and TX. He also has an affinity for the more intimate ’70s sounds, like Jim Croce and early Elton John, so you’ll hear some of their influences on this album, too.
The album’s title track opens with a gorgeous, lilting melody on the acoustic and the warm, twanginess of a lap steel or pedal steel guitar of some kind. Right off the bat, I could clearly hear Jim Croce influence – just in the way Cooper played his guitar and arranged the notes and chords during the break. Overall, a nice, mellow and easy-going kind of song. On “Cactus Flower” Cooper picks up the rhythm on the electric with a full band to back him, somewhat in the style of John Mayer. The ending gets crazy fast and reminded me of Carlos Santana. “Post-Graduate” mellows things down again with a style that’s one-part blues and one-part soulful country.
“Wave Pool (Reprise)” presents another take from his 2016 debut by the same name. On the breaks/solo parts, the chord changes sounded very much like a brand of alt-country rock, from such ‘80s southern roots bands like R.E.M. Cooper gets soulful and tender with his guitar playing on “Over and Over, Again and Again” along with a reverb-echo effect on the vocal. The programmed backing beat and spacey synth brought interesting texture to an otherwise mostly guitar and vocal song.
“Evening Red” features a funkier beat with a low down, moodier feel. The rhythm is good and tight and I thought this was the hardest rocking song as midway through the tempo really speeds up. “Take Care of Me” sees Cooper back on the acoustic, singing lyrics and strumming in a lonesome, rustic style. Then about halfway through, he changes the mood, by changing the rhythm and style of the song – fantastic! I thought the tune ended the album in a remarkably strong way with its memorable melody.
Production wise, Dream Sequence truly shines with all the instruments coming off so well mixed and mastered, it’s not hard to tell that Cooper is in good company. Also, it’s was definitely easy to hear that Greenberg has got what it takes to go far. With his vocal chops, phenomenal guitar playing and likable name, I wouldn’t be surprised if the world hears more from this Texan real, real soon. If you like what you hear on Dream Sequence, I suggest you check out his first release as well.
The alternative rock and country band Jinx Machine hail from the eastern Kentucky town called Irvine and sound as though they have been listening to My Morning Jacket since birth. The three-piece outfit whose musical stylings we’ve already established consists of twin brothers Trenton and Trevor Jenkins on guitar and bass respectively and drummer Josh Anglin. Their songs on This Time Last Year their first record together under this moniker (the band had previously represented itself as the Jenkins Brothers) are branded by melancholy folk and some sort of rock infused happy go lucky tunes that act as foils.
The opening track, “Brown Cardigan” is a slow tempo acoustic based rock song that arches and stretches, builds up slightly from its humble beginnings. It’s a simplistic little piece of beauty that encapsulates a moment in time and then moves on. It doesn’t call attention to itself nor does it go unnoticed. It just simply is, and that is enough. This rolls into “Passerby” which sounds right off the cutting room floor of Jim James, and though I’m not a fan of his in particular I can appreciate now after hearing “Passerby” the elements of country tinged rock assorted in just such a way.
Even when the band gets a bit hokey, like on “Gunslinger From Missouri” a song that despite its downfalls characteristically still achieves beauty instrumentally and its not always easy to partly admire a song. “WYSYLMIDMAT” is an acronymically despondent song that just didn’t seem to fit into the rest of the catalogue. But then comes a jewel here on the lo-fi “All The Time” a song which is as good as any I’ve heard not only in this genre but in a while.
To put it plainly This Time Last Year seems like a record that is finally starting to show off all the hard work and time and patience that must be put into the craft of songwriting.
Vance Edwards is an artist from Wichita, Kansas who released A Worried Ease. The EP contains four songs all which are very lo-fi. Edwards has some talent and potential but there are also specific issues that I think Edwards will have rectify if he hopes to compete with notable and popular artists.
The EP starts off with “Fall Down With You” which is an atmospheric, grunge song of sorts. The biggest issue I need to get out of the way is that I can’t understand any of the lyrics at all. Some of this is due to the very lo-fi vocals which are in the background but it also has to do with the fact that he seems to slurring his words together in some kind of way. The other issue it that he is off key when he goes for a higher octave. Other than that the instrumental is solid and I thought the guitar work in particular was notable.
Up next is “All We Are” which has even better music. There are a good amount of atmospheric elements here which meld together very well. “Full of Fear” is the arguable highlight. On this song at least the instruments are mixed well together and I would say this was by far the best vocal performance. I still couldn't understand the lyrics but he is on key and the inflection in his voice sounds good. Last but not least is “Geez.” Similar to the previous song the instrumental aspects come together quite nicely.
Moving forward I think Edwards needs to figure out what is happening with the vocals. It might behoove him to work with a producer to at least record the vocals separately. I think a better technique for recording and mixing as well as some other methods would allow the listener to hear the lyrics.
Edwards has some moments here but falls into a case of wait and see for the moment. I wish him luck in his evolution.
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