Driftwood Scarecrow aka Chris Greene is a twenty-year old artist from Virginia who recently released Beyond the Breakers. He started writing these songs when he was a sophomore in high school and finished when he was in college. Although those years for me seem like a lifetime ago one thing I do remember is how many changes start to develop as you slowly become an adult. His songs revolve around some of those changes or how he puts it - distance, loss, the passage of time and coming of age.
The songs are stripped back with his acoustic and vocals being the most integral parts of the music. Greene hits into a similar vibe as artists such as Sufjan Stevens and Conor Oberst. The songs are melancholy, nostalgic, intimate and reflective.
The first song “The Herpetologist” in particular reminded me of Conor Oberst. It’s a simple song revolving around basic chords and I really enjoyed some of things that were going on in the background.
Up next is “The Vermonter” which is a softly picked guitar and piano with gentle vocals. I really enjoyed this song which had a memorable melody. A certified highlight. “Maury Park” mixes a nice blend of melancholy and nostalgia.
As the album progresses I thought the songwriting was impressive. The highlights to me were “Buffalo” which contains banjo and “At Last” which actually reminded me of a mix between ’60s folk singer Donovan, and Simon and Garfunkel. This is a complete DIY effort and I think he did a great job. I was actually a little surprised how professional it sounded and I encourage him to consider producing other artists as well.
Greene is a young artist just getting started. The one piece of advice I have for him is to be careful about wearing his influences on his sleeve. As he continues to develop as a musician he should strive for his own signature sound which is something I believe usually comes a little more naturally as you get older and your influences aren't as strong.
Overall, Greene is off to a great start. I’m looking forward to his future work.
A very fresh release has come from Sacramento alt punk band MASTOIDS. which brings noise and aggression with Emergence Tremens. To start, I'll say this, they don't make 'em like this anymore. I'm always impressed when today's indie bands can be time lords and transport me back to an earlier era with the aesthetic and recording style. While their goal is to put a modern twist on the punk genre, I can't help but feel I'm somewhere in the late ‘80s to early ’90's.
This album is notably aggressive with hard and fast guitar riffs from Cole Apperson. A standout performance for me came from bassist Ryan Kendall who brought weight and heaviness to the music. Complementing everything is the wildly complex drum action from Wyatt Cermak. You've got subversive lyrics which are delivered by Apperson. There is no doubt these guys are having fun and unafraid to go hard and heavy. I enjoyed their "devil may care" romp into the seediest pits of punk rock that I personally love. As the kids will say, there's "no chill" as far as this album is concerned. It's pretty much an unstoppable train on greased rails the whole way through, which is fine by me. However a little diversity in this train ride may have helped. The songs are tough to identify as individual movements at times.
The group has put an emphasis on elevating the genres they touch on. However this is where I find a disconnect. To me, I didn't get a huge sense of modern touches while going through the eight tracks. The production is in good working order. I believe everything sounds as intended and so perhaps in that aspect there is a lot of modern touch. However in musical execution, the work sounds very traditional, almost to the point of sounding dated if not for the mixing and mastering. When I say "they don't make 'em like this anymore" I mean the music sounds as though it was plucked from that era and given modern production.
Another issue I had came from the vocals of Apperson. Sometimes they worked, but there times they weren't as effective. I understand the want to be aggressive, subversive, and contrarian to traditional vocal techniques. However, even with some of the most hardcore punk bands, there is a method to the madness. I think Apperson needs to put some polish on his vocal technique, find something a bit more signature. This could help make his work distinctive, but also help avoid sounding grating or untrained. When you're in the business of making a statement, it's all gotta feel intentional and while you want people to loose control, you have to efficiently deliver that intent.
In the end, I had a love/meh relationship with Emergence Tremens. I applaud the trouser melons it took to go as hard as they did. I also have to commend the group on finding sounds from the alt and punk genres that just so happen to be my favorite and giving them new life. I think a little more modern updating and some vocal adjustments could really make a difference. Recommended.
Steven Wright is a musician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who recently released Songs From The Cave. Wright has had a lot of experience as a musician who has been in plenty of bands along the way. His music leans towards rock and in particular ’70s classic rock came to mind.
He opens with “Woman Like You” and immediately I liked what I heard. His voice is easy to appreciate and the hooks are evident. Next up is “Hello Sunshine” which is a highlight. The song has overlapping vocal harmonies, psychedelic, delayed guitar and an overall arena rock like quality where you could imagine fireworks going off.
“Grandpa's Eyes” was another great song. The ’70s classic rock flavor on this track was obvious and comparable to a number of bands. There are memorable melodies on this one.
The album really doesn't miss a beat when it comes to quality songwriting. “Derelict Boat” is a killer track with an infectious hook and a walking sort of guitar line. “Just a Jealous Man” and “Planes in the Age of Dinosaurs” were the other standouts.
The songs felt pretty epic and huge to me. There are also tons of hooks throughout. As an engineer I have to admit these songs felt like they should have been given professional treatment in terms of the engineering. The songs had a demo-ish like quality. For example the vocals often sounded distance with not as much clarity and nuance as I would have wanted. There are also varying degrees when it comes to the sonic imprint. For example “Empress Chair” is noticeably louder (something that is taken care of in the mastering process) than say for instance “Hello Sunshine.
Overall, the songwriting and delivery is more than enough to appreciate the talent that Wright has. Recommended.
Australian singer/songwriter Robbie Maroon does it all – writes, composes, arranges and produces all his own material and on his debut Dream Factory, Vol. I. Maroon’s style and songwriting is consistent and during some points the songs are lyrically fun while other times deep and moving. With influences from the man himself, Prince, to such other bands as Diesel, Maroon first effort is a great mix of funk, pop, rock and retro sounds making several tunes quite infectious and danceable. Each song has a video that accompanies it on Maroon’s You Tube channel and a Vol. 2 will be released by the middle of this year.
“Funksound” starts the album off with a definite danceable beat reminiscent of the disco and funk days of the ‘70s. This number would get a crowd going and it put a smile on my face for sure. “Dreamer” has more of an ’80s retro feel, like in the style of what some of the English bands were doing back in the day. “Pure Heart” is a great ballad – “find yourself and things will turn out right” – Maroon’s message is straight orward, not muddled and above all positive. “Phenomenon” definitely has that throwback sound to the ‘80s. I liked it because it has the high-class flashiness and keyboard effects that remind me of that time.
On “The Fog” you may get the feeling that it sounds like one of Prince’s more evocative, sexy beat songs, but without the suggestive lyrics – I didn’t get the sense that Maroon is into those kinds of lyrics on Dream Factory. This song also features a strong, catchy chorus and overall I thought the writing was very good. The added vocals were great too. “I Was Wondering” is a light, playful tune about that “falling in love” feeling that we all encounter at some point in our lives. On “ Cause and Effect” Maroon’s voice sounds a little Bowie and that singer from ABC or someone like him – I forget his name. The message coming through lyrically is very relevant for our time.
“Ray of Light” features guitar and church organ/bell sounding keys. This song has a ‘70s gospel and soul feel and a great catchy chorus. “Inner Sense” includes female backing vocals singing beautiful melodies. Maroon sings another heartfelt message and this song would make for an excellent slow dance anytime. The beat on “The Return of Z” has a fun; funky ‘80s futuristic feel with an excellent snare sound (as a drummer, I get a little giddy whenever I love the way drums sound). But I wonder – who is Z? and, what is he/she returning to? Maybe I missed something.
“We Won’t” features sitar and overall it’s a well-put together song. It has a dark funkiest to it with a Prince-like edge. The lyric “we won’t stop / take a chance ‘cause its your life” is an encouraging line at any age. The last tune “When” slows things down with a bluesy, soulful introspective take on life’s bigger questions. This song also seems to be calling out in prayer to a greater force bigger than us. Maroon’s Dream Factory Vol. I tells it’s listeners that life can be fun with tender moments but also complex and real with profound times of insight. Happy listening!
Joe Jermano is a musician from Detroit who has a long, rich history as a musician. Jermano began his journey into guitar and songwriting as a child, guided by parents who encouraged musical expression.
He studied under jazz guitarist Len Braunling and earned a degree in audio recording at Columbia School of Music in Chicago. His latest release entitled Dreaming in Color is a polished, rock EP that showcases seven of his songs.
I felt there was an undercurrent of ’80s and early ’90s rock throughout the album. There were a number of bands that came to mind as I was listening. The first track “Losing Sleep” certainly plays into that ’80s rock vibe. It’s a well crafted song with catchy hooks and great performances. I was kind of expecting a guitar solo and got one about three minutes into the song.
Up next is “Witching Hour” which felt like a pretty straightforward rock song. On that note the song gets pretty epic towards the end. Speaking of epic “Reaching For Clouds” definitely strives for that type of vibe while also giving you infectious melodies. “Dream Control” felt straight out of the ’80s while “Reoccurring Dreams” is arguably the most single worthy song. The last two songs “World on Fire” and “Dreaming In Color” have their moments as well.
I can’t say this release felt especially contemporary and I have to admit I wanted something to make it feel a little more updated. On the other hand in this day and age you can find a niche and I think purists will especially appreciate what Jermano’s music brings.
Overall, this EP contains a solid batch of songs from Jermano and his exceptional supporting musicians.
After playing in various bands across the south coast of the UK, the singer/songwriter and musician who calls himself, or rather his solo project, Stompy Woodstock makes his debut with Stormchaser – an acoustic, stripped down EP which focuses on themes of love, loss and self-loathing. Stompy Woodstock calls his style of singing a bit like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Robert Johnson and Tom Waits, all distinct vocalists and songwriters to be sure. The short collection was recorded in his flat in Brighton using only a digital recorder and a microphone – can’t get much simpler than that I imagine.
His voice on the opening titled song to the EP is big and bold like Cash’s, the guitar up front and commanding with a great strumming rhythm. There’s an air of mystery about this song too – like a fable or legend-type story. An accompanied backing vocal rounds out the song nicely. “Lock In” has an old style feel to it, like a folksy Waylon Jennings. From what I gathered after a listen or two, it’s a tender goodbye song.
Stormchaser is not all sad and gloomy though – according to Stompy Woodstock. “Bottomfeeder” somewhat offers the listeners a “glimpse of hope and backbone.” It’s a rambling number with a protest message. The guitar style of rhythm reminds me a little of the blues and middle eastern influences that Jimmy Page fused together so well during his years in Led Zeppelin. So in that regard, this tune feels more lighthearted to me. “Dark Days” is a fantastic song – a universal message with relevant lyrics during any age life – “they say it’s just a phase /it’s just a phase / but I don’t think that that everything’s gonna be all right, this time” – sounds all too real to me.
Stompy Woodstock’s vocal on the last number “Never Did Do” sounds like it was recorded differently and his guitar too, perhaps done outside? No matter to me though. I liked what I heard and I think it adds more depth to the stripped down sound he wanted to explore. His vocal range sounds higher as well. And, his style of playing feels more like a freestyle jam rather than the standard verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus template. Overall, Stormchaser has a genuine feel about it and it seems to me that Stompy Woodstock has been shaping these songs for just the right moment in time. I’ll be looking forward to the next storm he chases.
Sometimes the best creative work comes from moments of struggle and other life changing events that happen in our lives. Those struggles that bare our deepest human emotions and that forces us to deal with issues which plague our minds and hearts. These struggles are what Eugene, Oregon native Maci DeBlanc has pulled together so effortlessly on her debut Demos! – a short, four-song EP that she’s only recently taken to performing live for the first time. Playing classical piano at the tender age of 8, then taking up the drums at 12 and just recently started playing guitar, there’s no doubt to these ears that DeBlanc has indeed found her calling.
Recorded using Logic Pro X, with mixing and mastering done by Thaddeus Moore at Sprout City Studios in Eugene and at Real World Studios in Wiltshire, England, Demos! explores the darker ends of pop music. DeBlanc’s interest in metal fused with electronic and atmospheric techno, alongside her graceful voice, has been compared to the musical style of New Zealand singer/songwriter Lorde.
On the opener “Fog” DeBlanc's message seems to say – get out of my life, the damage is done, leave! – but, my interpretation could be one of many. There is a great choice of a snare sound that I loved and again, DeBlanc’s voice fits so well with her style of music. “Criss Cross” has a fantastic beat and all the instruments come across strong. Not sure what this song is about – all I know is that I enjoyed it.
“Anything” features DeBlanc’s wonderful classical piano inside the song’s introduction. This tune is slower and introspective – a coming to grips with how anxiety and other emotions can tear one up inside, perhaps? Or, leaving someone behind, aka the break up. The line, “and nothing can make me stay except the rain” – whoa! that’s some heavy stuff. Even the godfather of mope pop rock, Robert Smith of The Cure, would say, ‘dang, I wish I would of put that in a song.’
The last number “Burn” is just, well, wow... give it a listen because it’s good, quite good. The vocal harmony, the dark melody – it’s a fantastically beautiful song. As I’ve said before, Demos! is very well done and a strong debut too. With her writing and performing songs about very sensitive and personal issues, DeBlanc sounds confident and in command on this first effort.
DP aka Domenic Petrella is back with his eight-song release entitled Wandering. If you are unfamiliar with his work he creates instrumental music and with his latest I feel like he might playing into a ’90s alternative even more then before which I have no problem with. Bands like Pavement and Yo La Tengo come to mind.
Petrella starts with a good one entitled “FINDING YOURSELF” which starts with clean guitar and the low hum of an organ. Feedback emerges creating a short crescendo to the more explosive chord progression. As the song progresses there are peaks and valleys with the most intense climax coming around the three-minute mark.
Up next is “AWKWARD FEELING” which contains a prominent lead guitar that replace the focal point you might be used to hearing from the vocals. This song felt a little more aligned with a group like The Pixies especially the breakdown.
“SOMETHING ON MY MIND” was a different type of stye than I have heard from Petrella. The guitar work is more cerebral and the music in general feels more thought provoking. I thought the way he utilized feedback on this track was top notch. Up next is “WHEN YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN.” The song revolves around the bass this time as the guitar feedback creates the atmosphere which comes in and out during the performance. Last but not least is “HEADPHONES (TRASH THE EARPODS)” which gets back to guitar having a more prominent role. It’s an upbeat song and a good one to close out on.
DP is no doubt a prolific artist who has stuck to the foundation he created for himself with only minor deviations. I have no issues with an artist who understands what he's good at and consistently delivers material you can count on. Wandering is another addition that is on at least equal footing with some of his best work. Recommended.
Miss, Understand Me aka Zarine Kharazian is an artist from Washington, D.C. who released a four-song EP entitled Ida. The music is certifiable lo-fi bedroom pop. I was reminded of Youth Lagoon at times and other like minded artists.
The EP starts with the title track which felt like the highlight. I was immediately drawn to the vocal melody and liked the guitar as well. One thing I need to mention as an engineer is the bass drum was way too noticeable and loud in general. It should add the thump that you feel but instead it sounded like the focal point. It’s a short, catchy song that goes by in a flash.
Up next is “Paris” which was another standout track with some slight issues. The drums seem to be organic this time around and work better in the mix. It’s a catchy song and I enjoyed the vulnerable vocal performance. There was sometimes too much time between the vocal melodies on the verse and the song doesn't have a chorus which I was waiting for.
“Aristocrat” has its moments. The song starts off strong with a delightful jazzy verse. I liked the verse but the synths which were alien and dissonant didn't seem to fit the mood of the song. Up next is “Good Time” which is a little more aggressive and attempts to rock out a little harder under the lo-fi production. There really aren't many hooks of catchy melodies on this track. However there is a long guitar solo which takes up the better part of the song.
This project definitely feels like a work in process. The aesthetic here works for bedroom pop so I encourage the artist to keep writing hooks. There just weren’t that many on this EP but there were some. I also think the emphasis needs to be on the vocals which are the most enjoyable aspects. I’m not saying the internal aspects are weak but the longer instrumental parts of these songs felt long winded.
Kharazian is a case of wait and see. I think there is some talent here and with more output and dedication to the craft this can get to the next level.
Jarel Portman teamed up with some of the most prolific studio musicians to create Supersonic. I’ll say right off the bat that the performances are great and the production to about as commercially viable as you can get. It was a little bit hard for me to put my finger on this style of rock. For one thing it didn't feel like an “indie rock” from any era. In my opinion the music has more in common with rock and pop acts from the ’80s and ’90s. However, there are deviations in style. There is very little experimentation as far as structure goes. A good amount of the songs felt as if they have FM radio potential.
The album starts with the title track which is one of the highlights. It’s a dynamic song with a number of catchy hooks. Other than that there weren’t many surprises. The same could be said about “Runaway Blues.” However, I will point out that the guitar reminded me of something The Edge from U2 would play.
“Around” which was one of the highlights sounded a little more ’70s inspired in the spirit of a band like Led Zeppelin. “Acetylence” sounded like a run of the mill rock/pop song I would have heard on the radio anytime in the last twenty-five years.
“Make it Ok” was more off-kilter. However, there are still plenty of hooks. I thought “Over and Over (Hey Oh, Hey Oh)” felt like a significant deviation in a number of ways. There is a reggae guitar part at points and the song is upbeat, almost a Jimmy Buffet type feel. I liked the song but it came out of left field.
I was waiting for the ballad and it came with “The Architect (It’s All About Love)” which hits all the normal criteria. ”Fine” is a highlight and another song that really doesn’t feel all that connected to other songs on the album. The band attempts a cover song with “Here Comes the Sun” which felt too close to the original for me to get a kick out of. As the album progresses there are some inspired moments.
There is no doubt a lot of work went into this album and I have an appreciation for any artist where I can see that is evident. The songwriting is solid and the performances are great including the vocals. My main issue is the songs seemed derivative from numerous sources and I couldn't identify the signature sound of Portman with so many different approaches from popular genres. The songs also followed a rulebook like structure predictability with very little out of the box thinking as to where else a song could go. Perhaps that was the intention but in my opinion you fall into serious danger of becoming forgettable if you don’t take chances with sonic possibilities, structure, etc.
That being said I didn’t dislike this album. In fact I would recommend it to people who prefer radio friendly songs and appreciate a simple song that they can sing along with in the shower, That might be you, so give it a listen.
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