Jzargoshepard is an artist who made most of his album Energy in Motion while his life was shifting quite significantly. He said, “Months after moving to a new house in San Diego after leaving my childhood home of 20 years, I went to live in Japan for about four months to study abroad for school.”
He says most of the recording was done in Japan but he also wrapped up a lot of the tracks when he went back home. The album is hip-hop but the themes and topics are very diverse. He explains, “Living in Japan brought with it heartbreak, supernatural experiences and a lot of personal healing. Naturally, this album reflects that.”
The album has a contemporary vibe to it. He utilizes a good amount of vocal effects but doesn't overdo it in my opinion. The album gets cracking with “Tired of Waiting'' and the bass and beat itself are upfront in the mix with the more airy elements looming in the background. He has some obvious skill on the mic which you can hear right away.
He shows some more of his palette with “222” where you hear overlapping vocal harmonies, multiple hooks and vast array of instrumental aspects. As the album progressed I thought there were some highlights which included “3 Of Swords' ' which has more of a club vibe to my ears. Another highlight in the batch was the very next song entitled “Inner Peace.” I liked the more ominous and dark sounding “Zebra” and the slick “Birth Time.”
As I mentioned this album felt contemporary so much so I was feeling my age on this release. The style of hip-hop is very different than the hip-hop I grew up on in high school in the mid ’90s. Things change as they should and this younger generation seems to be bringing more topics to the table than ever before. I thought this was a consistent release and showcased a signature sound. Having one is one thing that will never change. That is an important aspect when gaining an audience. Recommended.
Ask Me Why is the first solo set from Rochester, NY-based Willa Finck. She’s a classically-trained violinist who plays with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra; here she taps her folk roots to deliver four soul-baring songs.
Given her background, it’s surprising that Finck’s violin doesn’t dominate the sound here. Rather, the set is piano-driven, with varied textures capably delivered by Sterling Cozza. The violin is there, but in a supporting role to Finck’s vocals. Nathan Kay’s trumpet rounds out the sound.
The EP feels intimate--almost as if the group are offering a private concert in your living room. They came by the sound honestly: the group set up in a large room and recorded the songs together. Some parts were added later, but basically this is a document of a live performance. This works brilliantly, as the musicians are able to play as an ensemble and let the songs breathe.
Fans of Joni Mitchell or Fiona Apple will find Ask Me Why familiar. Finck adds some new elements by strumming her violin in certain places, creating a mandolin-like effect. Her vocals are touching throughout; she really shines with her haunting backing vocal in “Cotton and Silk”. Kay’s trumpet work on “It’s More Than This” soars.
The musicians vary their approach throughout the EP. “I Never Know” starts with Finck’s bowed violin set against a Dave Brubeck-type piano pattern. As the track builds to its conclusion, the violin and trumpet weave back and forth beautifully.
The top pick here is the title track. Cozza’s piano starts dark and moody; the track picks up with some poppy piano elements supported by lovely trumpet lines. They take it up another notch for an instrumental section, venturing towards a Carole King piano-rock feel, with another terrific Kay trumpet solo, before bringing us back to earth.
Finck has more songs ready to record, and I look forward to the next set. Ask Me Why is a great starting point. Put it on in your living room and pretend she’s there with you.
Last year we reviewed Whiskey Priest by Ben Noble. It received Top Album honors. He is now back with Where The Light Comes In. Suffice it to say his new album is an extension of his talent where he seems to be pushing even more sonic possibilities.
I’m definitely feeling some comparisons to Bon Iver mainly due to the fact they both seem to be searching for undiscovered sounds, textures and tones. By all accounts Where The Light Comes In contains truly inventive and unique production. Perhaps even more importantly however is these sounds he is uncovering add to the emotional presence of the songs. I didn’t feel like I was listening to disparate elements trying to find a way to work together. There is a symbiotic foundation to the song.
The album opens with “Night Waves” and you can hear exactly what I’m talking about in this song. There is a mix of electric piano, auto tuned vocal samples and elements that mutate and filter in front of your ears. The groove that comes together with bass and sax is slick and smooth. I haven’t even got started on his actual vocals which are the focal point. He is expressive, dynamic and can hit upon plenty of emotional frequencies. The song goes in all sorts of directions and at points absolutely soars in unexpected ways.
“Bluebird” might be the most single worthy song. The hook is infectious and reminded me of an off-kilter pop song. “Steady” is another song that stretches production in unique directions. The song organically achieves this. It starts off simple enough with atmosphere, guitar picking and vocals. There are percussive elements, keys and more that emerge and there are moments of beauty on this song that rival a group like Sigur Rós.
“Beneath Your Wings” starts off minimally with piano and vocals. There is no denying these subtle and intimate moments are some of the most powerful on the album. Noble isn’t even close to done exploring with The Radiohead-esque “Turning” or “Weeping Willow” which literally sounds like a slow burn.
The penultimate song “Child of Earth” is a whopping seven-plus-minutes and is a very intense ride of white noise and sonic exploration that is both blissful and overwhelming. He doesn't disappoint with the glorious “My Beautiful Blinding Light.”
Ben Noble is an artist who deserves a lot more attention than he is currently getting. Take a listen and you will hear why. Highly recommended.
Mr. Specific is an instrumental band from Denver, Colorado and their style can be easily defined as “jam band” but, they also explore other genres as well. Ranging from progressive rock to danceable jazz funk with tinges of hip hop, Mr. Specific manipulates complex time signatures and key changes, sounding sometimes like math rock, but relying on grooves to keep everyone dancing. Their latest album Going out Swingin was recorded, mixed and mastered at Camera Jams Studio in Arvada, Colorado. Members of the band include a fine assortment of talent: Will Ganas on guitars, Colin Smith on bass, Josh Katz on drums, Mitch Frank on keys (track 1), Alex Cazet on saxophone (track 6), Matt Wilkolak on trumpet (track 6) and Paul Copoulous on keys (track 9). The band states the album was recorded over the course of six months with only three days that involved the whole band recording together. Extra track recordings, with the additional players, happened at a later time.
“Full Crimp” starts things off with spacey synth flavors and a fully charged, fast paced beat. Over just a minute, the trio switches into a jammy, feel good groove that borders on psychedelic reggae or something more akin to George Clinton and Funkadelic perhaps? After the three-minute mark, the band changes things around again into a soft rock style and then segues into another pseudo-funk/reggae jam. If you want to get taken for a musical ride filled with twists and turns, this song would definitely be it. I absolutely loved “Smile Attack” for its fast energy and catchy guitar licks, meaty bass lines and tight beats. This one got me bobbin’ my head quite a bit. Next is, “Floppy Hat” and it’s another song that keeps up fast paced energy, even more so than the previous tune in some ways. Plenty of great guitar action, fast playing on the hi-hats and groovy “wah-wah” guitar pedal effects. Overall, a lot of spirit and dynamics here which made this tune an absolute joy to listen to.
“2 Weeks” reminds me of something from the progressive sounds of the ‘70s, like Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer. A lot of quick changes, jumps and breaks to this one – well done! “Posturtute” features an edginess to it and I thought it was the band’s most creative, not to mention most well executed, song. “Purple Turtle” starts off with a thick, low bass lines and a brass section, which I hoped to hear more of on other songs, but oh well, maybe the next go around. So yeah, I’m biased when it comes to a horn section of any kind, but if you enjoy listening to them, then this is your song! “Cactus” which I thought at first might be a Pixies cover, but clearly wasn’t, is the band’s longest number. It comes complete with jazz, funk and contemporary styles of all kinds in between. I did like their change ups and time signatures which kept the entire spirit of the song moving through nicely. The group breaks down more funky beats and guitar rhythms later on, along with a mix of soundscape and ambient textures.
“You Should Floss More” lays down the funk pretty thick with off beats and fluid, catchy guitar action. I would say this number even borders on a lighter version of progressive metal. I loved the warbly effects they added, too. Coming in last is “The Sky is Made of Blueberries” which is about as imaginative as the song’s title suggests – and I mean that sincerely. This song has great action going on with some sweet sounds, told through the instrumentation of three very talented musicians.
If you’re in the mood for funk rhythms that border between math rock, progressive, jazz and a little ambient, and songs beyond the usual three-minute pop standard, then Mr. Specific is precisely what you need. It took me a while to get into this Denver band’s groove, but after a few songs in their style started growing on me.
The Pink Dust Fathom Roy Mitchell-Cardenas (guitar/bass/keyboards/drums) and Cliff Littlefield (vocals/bass/guitar) are The Pink Dust. The duo recently released their fifth release entitled Fathom. The four songs in this release are atmospheric, contemporary and quite catchy. I found the palette of sounds was a treat for my ears from the long reverbs to the spacious vocals.
They get going with the title track “Fathom'' that builds on layers of pads, guitar, vocals and more which creates a heavy sustained ambience. It doesn't take too long from a beat to drop and a prominent guitar riff to enter into the equation which gives the song a foundation. Everything starts to simmer down once we get to the verse. Elements are loose and almost like free jazz in a sense. The chorus felt like a chorus. It’s catchy and all the musical elements come together which create some solid rocking out.
The band has more success with “I’m Gone” which combines synths, vocals, orchestral string and more. I was reminded of the band AIR on this song. The song is very catchy but also subdued and warm.
“Things That Matter Most'' might be the highlight. There is so much to appreciate here from the vocal melodies to the groove. On top of that I liked the transitions in the song which I feel were unique and unexpected. The last song “Lonely Still” was the most emotionally resonant. This song is about all the vocal melody and lyrics. It felt like an appropriate closer.
I thought this was a great EP. The songs had a cohesive quality which I always think is a big plus. On top of that the songwriting is top notch. Take a listen.
Strange Culprits is a group that started in 2013 by Jason Buckingham. Buckingham apparently wanted to follow his musical dreams after recovering from the financial crisis. He had a hard time forming a group because most musicians had day jobs. One of the solutions was bringing his wife on board to play instruments.
Buckingham decided to release the first two songs from the band's upcoming album Second Chances. The first song is called “Smiths Creek” which is a pretty straightforward rock song. It begins with a couple of jangly guitar chords and bass. Drums quickly enter into the mix along with a vocal melody. There is a nice ebb and flow to the song but I wouldn’t really call this a dynamic song with a much louder chorus. The dynamics are subtle which I think some people will appreciate.
The next song is called “Namesake” and this song was definitely more dynamic and kinetic. It reminded me of a song from the early ’90s alternative scene. The song is catchy and fun rock. I also need to give a shout out to the drumming. The drumming on the chorus was especially good.
These two songs felt more geared for my generation in all honesty. This style was especially popular in the early to mid ’90s. On that note, one of the more beneficial aspects of the internet is that you can afford to be niche or retro. You don’t have to appeal to twenty-year-olds who like Billie Eilish although that is perfectly fine as well.
Suffice it to say these are solid rock songs that sound like people playing in a room together. I think a lot of people will appreciate that.
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
SkyBells Hike Up the Valley 3.7
Nico Paulo Wave Call 3.9
Dan Mayoros Gym Sessions 3.8
Danilo Wimmer Madness 3.5
BisonBison Hover 3.9
Dumaresq (pronounced joo-mer-ik) is the solo-recording project of Queensland-born, Melbourne-based multi-instrumentalist Joe Kneipp. He recently released NEOLUDDITE.
He mentions John Maus, Suicide, Nine Inch Nails, Bon Iver, LCD Soundsystem, The 1975, and Radiohead as influences. Out of the artists I would say Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails come closest to the center of the bullseye most of the time.
I feel like this can be heard on the opener “Commerce. There are cutting abrasive aspects to the song that felt industrial not unlike NIN but there are also sections where the atmosphere and beat come more out of the Radiohead aesthetics. You can hear this more clearly towards the end of the song.
There are of course deviations and as the album progresses Kneipp begins to form a more unified sound. The uplifting “Urban Solitude” soars with a driving beat. If you strip this song back I felt like it could have been a lot more pop-oriented towards the beginning. The song finds a groove and had a mantra like quality not unlike.
“Chronic Sleep Debt” felt like a grunge oriented track but with many jagged and jarring elements. It was hard not to think of NIN on “Smile You're on Camera” while “Nomonoculture” is an intense two minutes of metallic shard and melody.
I loved the dissonant beat and groove on “Drtspk.” In fact I could argue this is the highlight. He still has some surprises with the much more lush “Prefecture” and sparse and haunting “Gift Economy.” He closes with “Made Me a Patriot” which is unlike anything else. It’s a pretty straightforward piano ballad and the most emotional human sounding song by a long shot. I would have liked to hear more songs like this.
There is a good amount going on with this album in terms of style. If you appreciate any of the aforementioned bands I think you should give this a whirl. Recommended.
Glass Hand is based out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Consisting of Nathan Gara, Ryan Patterson, David Gallant-Jenkins, Nicholas Lefebvre and Shawn Delnick as the "Fifth Beatle" (aka the guy who plays the synthesizer for live performances). Proud to have played the Silver Dollar before that venue's sad shuttering, as well as other iconic Toronto landmarks such as the Horseshoe Tavern, Glass Hand possesses the style of indie rock from the likes of Wolf Parade, Deer Hunter and Arcade Fire. Back in 2008, members of the band met up in Toronto and started playing under the “glass hand” moniker. But now spread over several different Canadian cities, most of the band are currently working on side projects.
Their second release which is aptly titled EP2 was mixed by Nicholas Lefebvre and Nathan Gara and mastered by Lefebvre – who also happen to be members of the band. Final mixing tweaks were done by Lefebvre and the one and only Shawn Delnick at South River Sound. The album art was done by David Gallant-Jenkins (another member of the band). They wish to thank Anthony Perez for playing trumpets on "Wishing Well.”
The opening measures to “Underneath the Moon” start off fast paced with loads of electric energy, just made for dancing and delivered with catchy bass lines in a classic indie style. “A Time to Drink” features a bit of quirkiness to it which reminded me of the math rock/nerdy stylings of the Talking Heads and the comical flavors of Frank Zappa. Weird, I know, but this one grew on me. “Paper Face” had a more straightforward delivery and I absolutely loved how the band “bent” the sounds of the guitar strings – how did they do that? Anyway, I really loved this one because it sounded like new indie stuff but also, some of the guitar riffs reminded me of Brit pop sounds of the ‘60s and further, the eerie guitar chords had this goth/post-punk sound as if from the Cure, Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen or The Church. This one was easily my favorite.
“Crying Wolf” slows the pace of the EP down with tender guitar riffs gliding in first and then developing into louder warm tones. The drums bring on an intensely interesting rhythm – one that I would certainly listen to at least once – while the keys accompany in a soothing, droning sound – ok, I take it back, this one came in as a close second favorite. Overall, I could hear Arcade Fire influence coming through on this one, like say something off of their first three albums – don’t ask me what happened to them after The Suburbs (not a fan of their most recent albums.) Lastly, there is “Wishing Well” and this one features trumpet playing by Anthony Perez, which I thought added a warm and welcoming sound to the song’s beautiful melody.
Even with this short sampling of songs, I hope Glass Hand comes around again in another few years to possibly lay down more tracks. I think they have something very special.
Merritt Jacob is a veteran of the music and radio industry. Based in Brooklyn, New York, he has worked as a recording studio professional and session guitarist for over twenty years. Late last year, Jacob released his debut studio album entitled Merritt Jacob’s Album. It’s rooted in classic rock and ‘90s pop-rock but, to its detriment, veers from these influences at times. Regardless, this album is fun, plain and simple. It’s high energy, has great guitar solos and humorous lyrics (at times).
“Dream Again” is a lively opening track that channels its ‘90s influences, especially in its chorus, which features backing vocals that yell “Hey!” This track, as well as the following “Magnificent Desolation” shine because of their ‘90s nostalgia. The latter is a power-pop jam with a great guitar solo.
“Dappled Light” is the closest Merritt Jacob’s Album gets to a ballad. The piano plays a prominent role in this one, while also featuring some beautiful acoustic and electric guitar work. It’s an album highlight.
Merritt Jacob’s Album veers from the style it established in its first half making it a little inconsistent. “Self Help,” for example, has a surf rock instrumental in the beginning and then transitions into a sort of ‘90s pop-punk song. As an isolated track, it’s enjoyable, but it seemed out of place in the middle of this album. Also, the closing track “Love is Lightning (Live)” while not unrelated stylistically to the album, did not hit as a closing track. Perhaps the fact that it’s a live performance makes it feel like a filler song, or that it had too much of a Saturday-night-at-your-local-bar-jam-band feel to it.
Either way, “Rock Jam” a tune about how New York is the greatest city in the United States, should have ended the album. It has impressive wordplay that pulls in areas from around the country and allows us to peek into the artist’s life for a moment.
Despite some songs that stylistically did not seem to fit on the record, Merritt Jacob’s Album is pure fun. It has the vivaciousness and catchy lyrics of ‘90s pop-rock with the technical musicality of classic rock. If you’re intrigued by this mix, check out his album.
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