Dutchess is a four-piece alternative and stoner rock band from Anchorage, Alaska that combines elements of hard rock, psychedelic rock and math rock. Dutchess have just released a five-song EP titled loveis4losers that is reminiscent of early Kyuss and the likes that is full of heavy, germanium style, muff-based fuzzes and powerful riffs.
The first song of the EP “Hey Girl” begins with a heavy, fuzzed out root to third riff that is soon accompanied by thunderous drums that solidifies the feel of the song. When the vocals enter, the vibe of the song transitions into something more playful and fun, which works really well over the darker instrumentation. Because muff-based fuzzes typically sit below the mix and provide more of a rhythm and background feel, the higher-pitched vocals cut through this mix really well and increase the dynamic range of the song. I think the bass line could be more prominent in this track, however it did not make a significant difference due to the depth of the guitars and drums.
The next track “Selfish” acts like a second part to “Hey Girl” and begins where “Hey Girl” left off— with a lot of feedback. “Selfish” retains a better sense of melody than its predecessor, yet it still contains common elements, such as the heavily fuzzed guitar lines and high-pitched vocals. The guitar tones on this song are very impressive, as they are quite heavy yet are still very articulate when the picking comes in. The instrumentation in the track is very solid, and the transitions are very smooth. The harmonized, tremolo style picking in “Selfish” adds a more psychedelic element to the song, and the coordination of the two guitars in this section is very impressive, as the two guitars stay very well synchronized and on time despite having to pick at such an accelerated rate.
I found the vocal melody in this song to clash a bit with the guitars, as it sounded like they were trying to out-do each other. Unlike the preceding track, the bass line in “Selfish” cuts through the mix very well, and possessed a dirty fuzz tone and melodic phrasing. The production throughout loveis4losers proved to be very solid, as all of the tracks seemed to have properly accentuated guitar and drum parts with heavy bass lines that added depth to the music but did not take over.
Dutchess really exhibits their versatility in the last song of the EP. The song begins very delicately with a pretty picking pattern and a nice added delay on the guitar line. As opposed to the more raucous feedback throughout the EP, Dutchess uses feedback in a more melodic way on “In Colors” allowing it to gradually swell and manipulating it to be in the key of the song. I found the vocals in this song to be a little off-putting and a little too forceful for the rather delicate, gentle instrumentation. It sounded as if the vocal line was made for a song heavier. However, when the bridge hit, the vocals transcended into an airy, reverberated falsetto that added an ambient, psychedelic feel to the song. Once the first section of the song faded out, the song transitioned to a groovy, math rock inspired jam with lots of reverb and overdubbed guitars. The instrumentation and experimentation on this track are something that Dutchess should seriously considering pursuing if they want to make a name for themselves, as it could be what potentially distinguishes themselves from other alternative and stoner rock bands.
If Dutchess wants to pave its own path and distinguish themselves from their competition, they need to emphasize their capability to be versatile. The ability to explore time signatures and manipulate rhythms is something not always come by, especially in stoner rock music, but Dutchess seems to have a talent of untapped talent under their belts that they should continue to explore.
Drone metal is a sub-genre that has never really taken off but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring. I remember being exposed to Monoliths & Dimensions by Sunn O))) which led me to find bands like Nadja and Black Boned Angels. I wouldn’t be surprised if Stephen Szep and Nicholas Del who are the members of Satin were influenced by the aforementioned bands when making their self-titled debut Satin. Although Satin isn’t strictly drone metal which is comprised of long sheets of pulsating white noise there are certain songs that explore the more avant-garde side of metal.
The band opens up with “Death March.” You are greeted with a sample which I’m not sure where it was from, marching band style snare drum and some sort of feedback. As the song progresses you will know why they called the song “Death March.” Ominous overtones and an impending sense of doom is created between the electric guitar and drum beat. It repeats like a mantra until it abruptly and unexpectedly breaks and fades away.
“Reflection” slowly burns with organ and drones from the guitar. The song has a significant change about halfway through where it gains more energy and veers towards sludge metal. They rock out till the song is over.
The centerpiece of the album is “Ancient Ashes” which is twelve-plus minutes long. The first section is exceptionally drone heavy and drips with melancholy and darkness. Not too far ahead the distortion dissipates and you are presented with clean guitar but not for long. The band starts climbing the ladder of the crescendo sending the listener into oblivion. Around the seven-minute mark the band is arguably at their best feeding a raw, pure metal vibe. The last installment of the song is a lingering aftermath of the crescendo, which comes in the way of feedback loops and a smoldering blanket of distortion. “Death in Transition” is as heavy as it sounds. The drone is strong in this one. They close strong with “Black Sheep.”
For those of you out there who appreciate metal I highly advise checking out this sub-genre that Satin is exploring. It boils down to some core components of the genre and is a heck of a lot better then the metal that's being touted on mainstream radio. Whether you are new to the genre or have been familiar with it for a long time Satin is a welcome addition to a genre that is going by largely unnoticed.
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Death On The Delta by Kvits Of Vice is a mixture of dark gothic blues and heavy metal. The instrumental and vocal abilities of the band are very solid, and the EP acknowledges many influences and genres blending them into one.
The best song on the EP is “In Darkest Dreams” which opens with a thick bass riff before a melodic guitar line comes in a la Europe and the song takes off into a tension filled fever dream. The use of dynamics in the song is very effective with peaks and valleys throughout the song and a short but effective guitar solo spitting out some screaming notes. “Of Truth In Fire” combines some Layne Stanley hums before erupting into a Guns N Roses riff and scream. The pre-chorus has a nice contrast to the rest of the song, breaking down before the melodic hook of the chorus comes in. Again, the guitar solo is very well executed with tapping notes flying out over the pounding double kick drum.
“Nightmare Grove” also contains the Alice In Chains vocal inflection over a Blue Oyster Cult-like guitar riff. Here, the solo is a little quiet in the mix, which is unfortunate as some of its epic execution gets lost. There is a nice instrumental break towards the end of the song and that is an element that could be used more throughout, breaking up some of the verses.
The opening title track starts out very interesting with the soundscape of a thunderstorm while banjo rolls serve as a prelude of the what is to come. Once the band drops in with the guitars echoing the banjo the song evolves smoothly from country blues to a really solid metal riff and growling vocals. Some of the interjections here are a little humorous, perhaps intentionally. The quasi-double-time outdo does not quite have the swing to make it effective and doesn’t serve to capture the promise of some other elements of the song. “Molly On The Bayou” is based off a descending acoustic riff similar to “The Cat Came Back” which breaks into a louder rock section. The vocals feel a little theatrical until the heavier section comes to balance it.
The EP closes with “The Mortician Blues” with four-on-the-floor kick drums and sliding dobro-esque acoustic guitars before transforming into a dark gothic heavy nightmare. The band uses these transitions well throughout and it is one of their greatest strengths, as if Robert Johnson came right out of the Delta and started fronting a metal band.
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Cameron Rostami is a solo artist who recently released OPTESCIA. OPTESCIA is predominantly a post-rock record that displays some of Rostami’s talent yet also clearly tips its hat to pioneers of the genre.
OPTESCIA is a DIY effort and I thought everything sounded solid but I feel as if one component felt a bit off. Drummer programming has gotten better and better especially when trying to replicate the sound of organic drums. That being said I can still hear a clear difference and thought the drums were too perfect sounding and so in time like a metronome that contrasted against the rest of the instrumentation. I’m pretty sure Rostami would have preferred a live drummer but sometimes you have to work with what you have.
The album opens with “Sunlight Geometrics” and the simultaneous guitar riffs don’t sound far off from a band like Explosions In The Sky. In typical post-rock fashion the song builds to a crescendo and you are already at the grandiose peak at around two minutes in. I felt like the drums took over the entire song. All I could focus on were the protruding bass drum and snare while everything else felt like white noise. In fact the drums were so overpowering it gave it an industrial feel.
“Atrium” sounds like post-rock 101 that sounds comparable to Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Deafheaven. The song is well delivered but nothing that hasn’t been done before by post-rock bands that emulate the aforementioned bands.
“Sanctuary Heights” was a welcome deviation that veers towards ambient. The song is atmospheric, ethereal and one of the most original sounding songs on the album. Rostami quickly goes back into more predictable post-rock tendencies but there are some inspired moments along the way.
The peaks on the songs begin to sound interchangeable and predictable as the album progresses. It comes in the form of wailing guitars, which produce mostly white noise and drums that give the songs a robotic feel. He closes with “The Sunlit Hallucination” which is another ambient song and is as original sounding as “Sanctuary Heights.”
I feel like Rostami is going toe to toe with some of the most notable act in post-rock when he reaches for grand heights by creating an ascending sea of distortion that tries to find the highest peak possible. It’s not an easy battle when bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions in The Sky have basically perfected that sound years ago. I think Rostami is at his best exploring ambient soundscape and if he can find a way to build up those songs without adhering to tropes of post-rock he should be onto something.
Chasing Horizons by Deep Greens & Blues is a blend of folk, country and singer/songwriter pop taking nods from easy going ‘70s inspirations such as James Taylor and Jimmy Buffett as well as some modern artists as well. The band incorporates two lead singers and some wonderful harmonies throughout making for a lush vocal texture.
The best song on the album is “Wheels” which is one of the more stripped down numbers. There are some beautiful violin breaks in between mandolin arpeggios and some excellent vocal melodies. The tuning on the guitar is a little suspect but it blends into the rolling elements of the song quite well. Also strong is “November Song” the closing track, which has nice concise vocal melodies with heartbreaking lyrics. The chorus is extremely strong and the violin work gorgeous. “Good Love Gone Bad” has a Tom Petty-ish riff and great interplay between the guitar and voice interweaving effortlessly and really taking off in the melodic breaks. The structure is smart too utilizing the intro and outro as its own motif. “What Would I Say” is a duet of sorts, alternating between singers, which works well as a conversation. The bass line is very melodic, the cajon is a nice touch, and the Beatles-y eighth notes on the violin before each chorus brings a chamber-pop element to the folk song. “One More Try” locks in really tight in the chorus with the harmony vocals. The guitar breaks between the singing parts are nice but gets a little busy when it plays under the singing.
“Live It Up” and “My Baby’s Got My Number” are blues variations with some truly inspired solos (the violin tremolo in “Live It Up” and the guitar solo in “My Baby’s Got My Number”). The vocal refrains in “Live It Up” work well as does the breakdown in “My Baby’s Got My Number.” Both songs, however, could use a little more punch.
“Love In the Darkness” has some wonderful harmonies over a church-like piano and a nice build with the rest of the band filtering in with brushed drums and steady bass. “Need You Now” is Ray Lamontaigne-esque and has some nice vocal “ooos” that blend into the slide guitar. Both of these songs are a little long though and could benefit from a little editing.
The opening track combines all of the elements of the band, the vocal harmony breaks, a nice sparse intro with acoustic guitar and violin, and the country stomp once the band enters. It gets a little busy throughout the song with the violin and mandolin competing against the vocal in the foreground (the mandolin feels like it’s mixed a little too loud throughout this song) and the harmony breakdown feels a bit forced, but once it’s in the song ends on a really strong anthemic note.
The band has lots of strengths in their vocal abilities and songwriting ideas. Some editing and tightening might help each of these songs shine even more.
The amount of singer/songwriters who I heard with the same formula of sadness, and an acoustic guitar and vocals must be in the hundreds if not thousands. The latest is Thomas Lancaster from California who strums basic chords and sings sad songs which all sound almost exactly the same on You Were Right I Was Wrong EP. That beings said you can’t argue that this EP isn’t cohesive.
If there is one piece of advice I can give to Lancaster or the many, many songwriters out there is that variation is essential. Take a look at artists like Elliott Smith, Conor Oberst, Bonnie Prince Billy and Sufjan Stevens. If you listen to their albums there is an ebb and flow. Some songs have a crackling energy, some sound more hopeful, etc. In the case of You Were Right I Was Wrong EP there is no denying that the energy is dismal and depressing throughout every song. In fact he makes albums from some of the aforementioned bands sound cheerful.
Lancaster isn’t a bad singer or songwriter; in fact I did enjoy his vocals but getting through these songs depletes any energy you may have had. I’m not trying to say this in a negative way but one could drift to sleep because the songs move so slowly though morose and melancholy.
He opens with “Here To Stay” which is a fragile song about his pain. He sings in a whispered hush, “There's a burden I'm holdin that's weighing on this weary heart / Though the truth they say will set you free / It's better for me to keep it in.” “Just Dream” rides the same energy as the first and Lancaster continues to sing about his own pain. He sings, “I've been hurt by now enough to know /There's no easy way to let somebody go." The remaining three songs focus on the same sadness and hurt that Lancaster laments about in the first two songs.
If Lancaster is going to release a full-length album at any point in the future it will behoove him to expand his subject matter and the energy of the songwriting if he hopes to find a decent following. The five songs seem like some sort of solace for Lancaster himself rather than anything else. In fact I don’t know if they provide enough solace. The last lyrics on the closer point to a man who has lost the battle. He sings, “Maybe this is sign / Of my lack of strength / I've tried and tried / But I won't win this time.”
I don’t think it’s possible to create this type of art from a place that's not deeply personal. Hopefully Lancaster can continue to evolve as a songwriter and find the x-factor that can separate him from the crowd.
Alex Tompkins is a young singer/songwriter who recently released his debut The Only Place. He worked with Dave Griffiths (lead guitar), Jordan Shepherd (bass) and Jordan Calvert (drums). The song is certified commercial pop that sounds like a combination of Coldplay and U2. Tompkins follows basic templates for successful pop songs to a T and avoids any kind of experimentation that may make him stick out from a slew of singer/songwriters who had the same ideas he did.
If Tompkins finds the success he seems to seeking with these songs it will reside in the mainstream. The songs will resonate with a wide demographic of people who prefer to enjoy whatever is being played on FM radio rather than exploring the fringe of what music offers. There is nothing inherently wrong with that but the chance of Tompkins being embraced by the fans of bands like Grizzly Bear, Radiohead, My Bloody Valentine, Grimes and Kurt Vile is unlikely.
The EP opens with “Through The Scars” and sounds like a perfect meld of U2 and Coldplay. In fact it sounds so much like those two bands it’s hard to get a sense of what is unique about Tompkins. That being said the delivery is on point and Tompkins has an aesthetically pleasing voice.
“Letting You In” sounds similar to the “Through The Scars” and is perhaps even more aligned with mainstream pop. The high energy, optimistic vibe is one that you will find ubiquitous all over pop music these days.
“The Only Place” doesn’t try to reach the soaring energy of the first two songs. It’s more laid back and the vocals carry the song. Even the lyrics about more or less perfect love seem destined for the mainstream. He closes with “You” which is the most straight up rocking song in the EP.
At only twenty-two years of age Tompkins has plenty of time to refine his style. It’s obvious where Tompkins proclivities lie and that's within pop music. Whether you are trying to penetrate the underground or the mainstream the same thing remains true that you are most likely to find success if you have a unique, original sound. Even though The Only Place is well written and well delivered it isn’t as memorable as it could have been because Tompkins hasn’t completely found his own sound at this point. I think The Only Place is a solid start but I hope to hear Tompkins dig a little bit deeper into his own sound rather than wear his influences on his sleeve as his music evolves.
Syd Smith is an artist from Australia who just recently started writing songs not too much longer than a year ago. He released a four-song EP entitled So Hello, which contains stripped down songs revolving around guitar and vocals. After looking at a couple of pictures of Smith I think it’s safe to say that he has plenty of time to refine his style although So Hello is a decent start and hopefully just a taste of more to come.
Smith opens with “4 Years” which is a bluesy pop song that revolves around some distortion from the guitars and his vocals. Smith strums basic chords and plays intermittent guitars fills when he isn’t singing. Smith occasionally gets off time despite there being no percussion. He sings, “I've seen you laugh in the dark / and fall in love by the seaside / don't walk in the fog / cause I can already see that look in your eye / I've been talking to shadows once again / for years I've been waiting for you to say.”
The next track “London Fog” has a similar feel aesthetically and revolves around the same elements as the first. I thought the vocal melody was strong but I also felt that this track would have benefited from more instrumentation like drums and bass.
“Laughter in the dark” embraces clean guitar and a softer feel in general. I thought the song was well written and had tinges of Elliott Smith. The lyrics are thoughtful and are delivered in a heartfelt, earnest way. He sings, “there's laughter in the dark / there's mirrors in the park / but you don't see yourself / your just a laugh.” “Mumblings to ramblings” is the closer, which has hints of shoegaze but feels like it was missing some elements.
So Hello is the humble beginning of an artist who will hopefully evolve over time. The production will have to improve at some point if he wants to compete with the big boys. At the very least the volume of the songs should be similar which was an issue when comparing “Laughter in the dark” to “Mumblings to ramblings.” The songs feel like appetizers that still need to fleshed out but show some potential for greater things.
BARNS aka Victor Pacek is songwriter from Boston who recently released a three-song demo entitled Barn Fire. The whole EP is less than ten minutes long and is a complete DIY effort. BARNS sounds and feels like the humble beginnings of a an artist who is going to release a lot more material as the years go by.
He starts with “proof” which is a jangly, sounding indie rock song not too far off from early Pavement or Guided by Voices. The song is fairly catchy and revolves around basic chord progressions. It won’t leave your jaw on the floor but is enjoyable enough to where you may be interested in what else Pacek can offer.
Up next is the sparse “colorblind” which is the highlight of the three songs. The song revolves around his vocals and guitar. It veers towards melancholy and the song doesn’t go anywhere but the delivery is on point. His vocals sound good on this song. In fact I would argue they sound more natural on this song than on “proof.”
He closes with “moon” which sounds like a band that was influenced by Pavement and My Bloody Valentine and was recorded during their rehearsal session. It’s certainly not a bad song and has its moments.
Apparently, Pacek is looking for a band and I think these songs would be a solid start. These recordings aren’t competitive with professional recording that you hear from more notable, ubiquitous indie rock bands but everybody has to start somewhere.
Something You Remember by Franklin Graham is an EP of power pop/Americana with some strong melodies in the songwriting and some clever lyrics throughout. Graham has some help from Kevin Adkins, Jarrett Nicolay, and Christopher Speech. The vocal melodies are infectious and memorable throughout. It wouldn't surprise me if you were singing these tunes in the shower after you heard them.
The EP opens with “Casanova,” driven by jangle-y acoustic guitar, melodica breaks, subtle synths and tambourines. The build works well and there’s a hilarious Ben Folds-like lyrical punch line that works at the end of the song. He sings "Where the fuck is my car (where's my fucking car)/Lingering sounds from the bar If I was your distant star (distant fucking star)/Would you be my lonely guitar."
“Forced Metaphors” is a power pop rocker that features some nice harmonies and nice guitar tone. The word “love” may be overused, although with the title of the song perhaps that’s on purpose. I was reminded of the band Wilco at times during this song.
After a “Is it rolling, Bob?” moment, “Jamie” slows the EP down in tempo and features a gorgeous melody, melancholic hook in the chorus and some McCartney-ish guitar arpeggios throughout the instrumental parts that build it. “Want Ad” combines the vocal inflections and melodic strains of Marshall Crenshaw and the lyrical content of Fountains Of Wayne. There’s some good use of a drum machine, some interesting bass movement towards the end, and some Chris Walla-ish keyboards throughout.
The EP closes with “Still Beating Heart,” a Squeeze-like track full of rolling synths and some great drum work (especially in the bridge). The song encapsulates what Franklin Graham does best, combining pretty melodies, heartfelt lyrics and some interesting “odd” timbres subtly placed in the soundscape not to distract but to enhance
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