When listening to Acoustic EP by Emporia I can’t help but wonder what it would sound like with electric instruments and drums. Given their influences – Karnivool, Coheed and Cambria, Foo Fighters, Tool, A Perfect Circle – one would expect Emporia to evoke a hardcore weight of progression music, hard to the heart and complex to the mind. With this album it’s stripped down to the essentials and still sings with passion, just understated. T
he project started with two high school friends from California that jammed constantly. They engrained their styles together and clicked well enough to attack the soundscapes of Half Moon Bay on their first album. A few months later in summer they decided to record again and produced their second album. It was met with much respect within and outside the group. That was when Emporia knew they were on to something.
Yet, in the grand scheme of things, the guys are just barely out of the gate as a band. They just added a couple more members, other friends from high school, and they’ve yet to perform live. All of this comes as a surprise, but beginnings take their time in some cases. To me, this album sounds like early Seattle grunge and post emo rolled into one. The songs themselves are reflections, both poetic and literal, on the hardships of life adjustments, specifically college life and the personal struggle that comes with it.
Personally, the album has strong moments but the vocals are very prominent considering the mix and lack of sound layers making it so focal that I got a little nit picky. The performance left a little to be desired. Having said that, the guitar work is top notch. The stand out track for me is “Morning.” It has powerful rhythm and very directed vocals, paired with husky counterpoint. The guitar lick has wide potential and really binds the song together. Again, I would love to hear this material put to distortion. I’ll wait for the plugged version to come. Hopefully.
Senators comprised of Joe McCarthy (vocals, guitars, harmonica, organ), Chris Sprindis (bass), Abhay Singh (piano, organ, synth, vocals) and Bobby Cardos (drums, percussion, guitars) is a band that met its members founding in 2007 but only recently formed in 2013. Last November they released an eight-song self-titled album Senators that tips its hat to bands like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as well as Roy Orbison. The songs on this album have a classic tone to them. Maybe that can be attributed to that they recorded to tape but I’d say that most of it is due to the fact the band creates heartfelt songs that are anchored in heartbreak, despair and irreverence. Anyway you swing it the songs have the perfect amount of tape saturation and distortion that produces raw sounds that emanate from a live energy.
The first track “Shadow Of Love” is a triumphant song that feels like a revival. It doesn't hit the great heights of a band like Arcade Fire but it does embrace a rejoicing energy that is best listened to with as many people around as possible. “White, White Snow” brings down the energy considerably in a good way. The vocals are sung in a lower octave and revolve around an old school organ and ends up sounding like a song I would hear from the classic 50’s band The Animals. It’s a raw song and the guitar distortion is on the verge of sounding too harsh but it doesn't go there.
”So Long” is a sparse song that excels because of the vocal performance. There is no percussion until the segue but contains piano and guitar as the accompaniment. The most interesting part is the fade into The Doorsesque instrumental break that shows up towards the end of the song. “I Was Born” starts off with guitar that is panned hard right until about a minute in. It was a bit of a bold choice and I would have preferred that at least the vocal was panned center (which does happen when the rest of the band enters).
The album ends with “Oh Mercy,” which is another song devoid of percussion until the triumphant ending. It swells with gritty guitars and is arguably the best vocal performance on the album.
Overall, Senators bring a raw, visceral sound on their debut that feels immediate and human.
Synth-pop, you've heard it before and if you are anything like it me you can't get enough of it. Bad synth-pop exists but you won't find it on the debut EP entitled Sun Struck by Georgica. Georgica is in fact one guy named Blair Small hailing from New York. The songs he writes on this EP aren't groundbreaking but they do what I want synth-pop to do, which is to create atmospheres with addictive rhythms and infectious vocal melodies. The songs lie somewhere between Junior Boys, Cut Copy and Twin Shadow.
The EP begins with “Summer,” which revolves around oscillating synths, a steady deep bass line, solid electronic drum programming and a memorable vocal line. It’s a danceable down tempo number but a little after the two-minute mark breaks down into a almost reggae-like vibe that surprisingly worked with the song. “Skin” is another good tune with a cascading synth line and has a tinge of melancholy that provides an emotional appeal not always present in the genre. “Wash Away” is free of percussive elements and instead is a sparse song that revolves around a sustained pad of sound and vocals. As it progresses it becomes more intense and I enjoyed how Small was able to do that without using percussive elements.
“Paris Sun” is another poppy song that establishes itself with an emotional anchor that is undeniable. Small sings with conviction and gives the often robotic sounds a much-needed human tangibility. The album closes with “Eyes On,” which is the slowest number of the EP. It’s a good song, not really danceable like the rest of the album but it delivers.
Small impressed me with Sun Struck. He has a couple of good songs on this EP and I look forward to see how his future endeavors in music unfold.
If you are a human being than you most likely have experienced a traumatic event, which led to a couple of gloomy months if not years. In the case of Paul Steele the creative singer/songwriter for Along Came Paully he used his music on his seventh album Clarities, Epiphanies, and Leftovers to help facilitate his own healing process over such an event. One of the great things about music is that it can be a cathartic experience for the artist as well as the listener. As you listen to the album it often feels like a purge and it reminded me of my days in college listening to Bright Eyes and feeling a connection to Conor Oberst.
Paul Steele actually has a lot in common with Oberst. He sometimes sound like a combination between Oberst and Colin Meloy from the Decemberists when he sings but more impressive was the creative, intelligent lyrics he implements throughout the album. He steers towards poetic metaphors and circular themes rather than creating narratives. Depending on what lens you look at it from some might call it a bit pretentious but more often than not his delivery felt heartfelt, which made it easier to digest.
The album was recorded DIY style on Tascam Record, which is obvious when you hear the recording. Luckily, the sparse instrumentation forgives the poor recording quality although better production would have helped the emotional impact of some of the songs.
The album starts out with one of the highlights of the album called “Rings Of Saturn,” which revolves around what sounds like a Glockenspiel that you would play in music class when you were a kid. The arrangement is excellent and quite impressive from a technical standpoint. The vocal melody and delivery work throughout the song. Steele sings, “I find my life to be divided between things I'm annoyed by and things I find joy inside.” Steele sounds most like Oberst when he plays songs with his acoustic guitar. “Leftovers” is a decent song that contains vocal harmonies, a tambourine, a harmonica and a banjo, and has a transition to an energetic ending.
Throughout Clarities, Epiphanies, and Leftovers Steele sounds like a young man who is trying to figure things out. It would be easy to criticize him for taking himself too seriously at points but he does impart some humor on occasion, which helps alleviate that feeling. The songs are there, the lyrics are good and overall I found it to be an enjoyable listening experience.
Jagged Spiral started playing together in 2005 and released their debut album Days From Evil in 2008. Since 2008 the three-piece consisting of Josh Kattelman (percussion and backing vocals), Colin Mallon (rhythm and lead guitars) and Conrad Zero (lead vocals, bass and programming) have been recording their follow-up entitled Fire and Dice, which was released last December. They play hard rock that veers towards metal. Some songs sound like a sludge metal band from the 80’s on others they sound like a mix between late 80’s Metallica before they went soft, Sabbath and a myriad of early 90’s alternative acts.
Zero sounds aggressive if not pissed off for most of the record, which is only appropriate. He shouldn't sound like Ben Gibbard. Zero sometimes exaggerates his voice and you also do get the occasional death metal growl, which I believe is delivered by Kattelman.
The production is pretty good. It was done DIY style but then sent off to a couple of pros to mix and master. The guitars have a meaty mid range, the bass provides a solid low end but thought the drums could have been a bit more up front in the mix.
Kicking off the mayhem is “Invasion.” It begins with complex tom work, distorted shards of white noise from the guitar, and low hanging synth lines that sit under the spoken kind of singing vocals of Zero. He says in a low octave range, “There's a fire in my heart and it glows so bright / There's a fire in my heart and it never ever stops.” Around a minute –and-a half in the band finds the rhythm of the verse. The drummer breaks into a beat and the singer goes into a more natural octave range.
“Lament (part i)” throws a fast moving guitar riff with scorching vocal harmonies in which they accent the first word of each phrase in a death metal type growl. I enjoyed their thematic breakdown towards the end of the song. I have to admit I found a little bit of humor in the use of female vocals because it seems over the top. Amongst the songs there are some lulls and some other songs that had my attention. I felt as if “Horrorcloud,” “Reset” and “Blood On The Velvet” were the standouts.
The music on this album is for fans of metal and hard rock. It most likely won't be attracting many fans outside of those genres, as it doesn't deviate much.
Waterplea is a project from Nizhny Novgorod, Russia formed by Alex Inkin and Paul Pigalov. They explore the diversity and richness of sound on their recent full-length entitled Rudimentary Oscillations. The instrumental soundscapes on this record reach far past an ambient album that is made up of a few pads simulating elusive atmospheres. Throughout the duration of the record the duo introduces variations ranging from a thematic overture to a minimalist segue of choir like voices to post-rock and beyond. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this album is that I never knew what was coming next making for a refreshing and ultimately rewarding experience.
The album begins with a field recording of city noises and what sounds like someone leaving a voice mail. The voice becomes layered with a hall like reverb as a sustained pad of energy starts to manifest. There is a stoic quality to the tone but it abruptly fades away not too soon after it was introduced.
The second track entitled “DD” is the centerpiece and the most ambitious song on the album. It is a little over 32 minutes long and it goes to many different areas some of which caught me by surprise. The song starts building organic and electronic components that abruptly stop and then start. It combines powerful choir like voices, with screeching white noise and an industrial sounding drum kit. Almost before you can get into the groove they tear it apart. You are introduced to what sounds like a traditional African percussion instrument that is backed by the lightest of atmospheres. It shifts again into a gorgeous sound that you could imagine hearing while making your triumphant return to heaven’s gate. The celestial sound is then bombarded with titanic sounding drums and a distorted lead guitar. I just described only the first 15 minutes. The song continues to evolve and devolve for the remaining time never mediating too long on one particular part. Overall, it is quite an epic song and definitely the most epic on the album. “DD” was the highlight for me but you won't want to miss a couple of the other highlights on the album.
“Satellite” mixes up various vocal samples while an ambient piece in the background sounded like “Treefingers” from Radiohead while “Zeppelin” creates a stillness and sense of serenity you might compare to a group like Stars Of The Lid. The only way I could describe “Scaphandre” is that it sounded like it was fleeting. It sounded distant, like it was in my subconscious or in the dream I had but can’t quite remember anymore.
There is a lot going in Rudimentary Oscillations. It tries to and successfully reaches for sounds that induce a sense of connectivity to the mysterious universe we live in.
I fell in love with Jaylis’ voice from the moment I heard her earthy tone grace “Flowers,” the first song on her album Precious as the Diamonds. Smooth and sultry, young yet knowledgeable, it is the integral thread that weaves together this stunning album. Some songs, like this one, have a lighter sound - for example, the brightly toned title track “Precious as the Diamonds” sparkles and shines, as it seems to usher in the second part of the record. The background twinkling enhances the atmosphere and the drum keeps your shoulders dipping.
On the other side, a lot of the songs are far deeper and seem to represent an older perspective on younger themes. A great example is the message in “Teen,” which seems to have been especially written for adolescents, based on just the tone and lyrical content alone. Add a thumping bass and the hollow boom of an organ, and you’re presented with a song that artfully blends a soft touch with a mature sound.
“Maybe” is another one that exhibits the thoughtful side of this album. The supporting guitar riff is particularly contagious, and I like the deep undertones of this song. The bass really fleshes out another face of the character of this song, prancing with the guitar much as the dual vocals in “Break” did. And “Pain,” at first listen, sounds like it’s going to be an oddly upbeat song, but there’s something in the cut of Jaylis’ voice that makes it sound much sharper than it appeared at first glance (even with that tingling triangle in the background, a sound that gave a whole different effect before). The lyrics tell a compelling story that support the sound of the song and make this a well-rounded song.
Jaylis displays an impressive vocal range, too, not only in pitch but also in singing style. “In the sky” is a wistful, soft song in which she hits some high notes that grabbed me right in the pit of my stomach (in a good way). It’s introspective but optimistic at all the right times. The tempo kicks up a notch with about a minute left in the song, and it’s a surprising treat. I suspect a small part of that portion’s success lies in the fact that the song was so quiet and sweet before. Her variation in style really shines in “Tim,” as she rattles through words with astonishing speed.
Finally, some of the songs were just plain enjoyable to listen to, so much so that I found myself wishing they were longer. The overall theme of “USA” is a lot of fun, but the chorus has an upbeat sultry sound that really caught my attention. But the kicker is, I thought that no fewer than three songs were my favorite until I heard “My hand,” a super soulful ballad that closes out the album. Everything in this song was perfect: the bass, her voice, the crisp yet simple percussion and the background organ tying it all together with gentle piano chords. I could have probably listened to an entire hour of that song alone.
I found myself moving through every song of the album, and that’s probably the best way to describe this as a whole: music that quite literally moves you. Jaylis has the kind of voice that isn’t easily forgotten, and I would be surprised if she didn’t garner a sort of cult following based on that alone. The woodsy guitar and deeply plodding bass could function well on their own too, but when mixed with that voice create a real force to be reckoned with. Fans of soft folk music with energy will dig this!
Soul. It’s all throughout The Working Effective’s Dear Brooklyn. Here are 11 songs that could only have been written from the depths of the inner mind, translated into beautiful music and delivered in a mesmerizing package.
The album starts with “The Girl Who Thinks Of Everything,” a song that reminds me of the old quartet songs from before my time. Of special note here are the drums, which become rather complex and assume an off tempo beat near the end of the song. “The Love I Took” really soars from the preceding song and rocks harder than your proto-typical love ballad. The lyrics are really meaningful and touched me in a rather unexpected way; the delivery was top notch and full of power and energy.
“Your Honor” kicks in with an ominous rainy intro. The song sounds intentionally subdued; the instruments clearly are multifaceted, but the focus is very much on the words being sung. The story is compelling and I liked the ‘outlaw’ atmosphere that carries that story along. It transitions well into “Living With A Bastard,” something that arguably should be the quintessential theme song of everyone who has ever fought with their own internal demons. The solos were masterfully written and flowed incredibly well in conjunction with the vocals.
I was caught a bit off guard by “So Sorry” with its funky pop rhythms. The first verse seemed serious enough but I found myself laughing out loud at the prose that followed; it was witty, funny and poked fun in all the right spots, and seemed to crack the shell of what was to come.
“Bluebirds” begins just as light and airy as the song title suggests. This is an incredibly sweet yet realistic song that captures the uncertainty of life and describes how, regardless of how we plan for things to go, life still manages to move forward. It’s interesting that he combines the loss of life with the beginning of new life and further signifies the circle of life as a whole. This song is full of the feels, and I loved it. It didn’t help that it was followed by “It Kills Me,”which brings me back to some of the 60’s and 70’s soul I used to listen to (for reference, listen to one of those Time Life commercials). Maybe it’s the choral harmonies, the heavier chords, or the pure heart behind the vocals, but there is something in this song that just rips at my heartstrings and sends cold chills through my veins.
Next time I go to an event, I want “Burlesque Circus” to be the background music. The vocal choice was magnificent; it’s sexy and forbidden, yet entertaining and flashy, and I could just see the kind of performance that this could shadow. I hope they make an official video of this one, because now all I can think of are beautiful women in burlesque and grinning ringleaders, and it would be AWESOME to see.
“Gonna Have A Child” is an incredibly exciting song that I imagine encapsulates every bit of how most, if not every parent, has felt after hearing such incredible news. The baby sound at the end closed out the song wonderfully. Though I was feeling pretty cheery after that song, “Haiti” brought me right back to earth. This is a song that doesn’t hold any punches and simply keeps things real. It’s not so sad as to be a buzz kill in the least, but it did remind me that there are two sides to every coin, and it was a stunning way to end the album.
Dear Brooklyn called to mind some feelings, emotions and thoughts that have long been hidden away in my core, and I appreciated that. I laughed, I almost cried, and I bobbed my head throughout, and I am positive you will too.
There is something about organically conceived ambient album that just sounds closer the source of the sound. On tonepoet’s recent release So Gently We Go he takes the music that he makes with his guitar and manipulates and enhances it later with samples and field recordings. The music on this album tends to feel like an undercurrent. Whether it’s beneath our physical reality of our subconscious or not it concocts a sense of wonder and stillness.
So Gently We Go is the kind of album that feels like it has therapeutic properties that could be beneficial to your wellbeing. I suggest listening to this album sparingly as it induces feelings of tranquility (the music would also probably work as a sleeping aid) unless that is what you are seeking. The most enjoyable part of the music is the nuances beneath layers of soundscapes. You can hear the field recordings on various songs, which adds another dimension to the music.
First up is the celestial nine-plus-minute title track “So Gently We Go,” which layers pads with other sounds. A little after the two-minute mark you hear something that sounds like the jet engine of an alien spacecraft. Meanwhile a field recording is heard that is made of sparse percussive elements drenched in an ample amount of reverb. There is a metamorphosis that introduces what sounds like distant horns syncopated to a metronome.
“If It Goes Away (It Was Meant To)” combines a constant warm pad with squiggling patterns that mimic what one might think of when thinking about the subconscious. I couldn't help but think about the billions of synapses and neural connections forming in the brain (tonepoet may want to pitch this music to Nova).
“The Memory Has Left” creates an expansive bubble of sound while “Gone Today, Here Tomorrow” utilizes effective field recordings of rain. The album ends with “Prelude To Mind Control,” which revolves around tones that fall in and out of existence. They appear and then dissipate almost as quickly as they are introduced
Some might say that So Gently We Go is the type of record that you need to have some patience and a sense of peace to enjoy. I would disagree and say that just by listening to So Gently We Go it instills patience and a sense of peace you need to enjoy it.
There is something so simplistic yet bold about the cover art for Daniel Mandel’s (featuring S. Henry McCoy) album Enlightened Madness – the colorful text comprising each song title artfully splayed across all four corners of the cover speaks volumes about what waits within. Okay, so I donned my lyric interpretation hat when I started listening to “The Train Knows Where to Go.” I just know, deep in my heart, that the train just has to be a metaphor for something, but I don’t want to make any sweeping assumptions. The music does a good job of laying the foundation, a purpose that serves well for deeper lyrics such as these and keeps your attention focused.
You can literally hear each string being plucked and each key (is that a saxophone?) being pressed in “Candle Girl” – an effect that you only can get in acoustic songs. This song has the trifecta of intriguing music, grounded male vocals and operatic female vocals. I typically only hear this kind of music in movies, which is a real shame, as this is an almost breathtakingly beautiful song.
“Hide” slinks in next, and like the first song on the album, keeps the music minimalist so that the vocals can take the front stage. Anyone who considers themselves shy or introverted will find that this song speaks particularly loudly to them.
“One Dark Night” is delightfully somber, and if I’m not mistaken, is a very apt ode to Beast from “Beauty and the Beast.” The lyrics are filled with hints that also nod in that direction. This leans deeply towards the alternative side and I expected to hear crashing thunderstorms at its conclusion.
Bravo on the violin and piano cameos in “Lovely Empty Strong and Brave.” It sounds like the music of early 90’s rhythm and blues but with some folk in there. I loved the direction this song went in, and the incredibly unique sound it had. The guitar riff in “Possessed In Poses” is intricate and creative, and sounds so well with the particularities of the vocal placement. The piano comes back to play again here and it is careful to accentuate but not overpower the guitar.
“Slow Blue” eased in just the way I thought a song by that title would, but I was completely swept away by the addition of the saxophone, which harkened to my smooth jazz senses. The saxophone player has some serious chops and really added a cool dimension to this song, and the album as a whole. “Find Me A Lover” sets some of the most impossible yet admirable qualifications to be found in a mate, and also features a really complex guitar riff with a saliva inducing solo at the end to take the album home.
I still am not entirely convinced that Enlightened Madness is not a movie soundtrack – though I really wish it was, because a movie with sounds this good would have to be epic. No two songs are just alike here and the wide array of instruments, vocal tunes and arrangements used here attest to the creativity of the two men who put this all together. I look forward to hearing the other work that they release!
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