Nicholaas Walle is a half-Irish and half-Dutch self-produced multi-instrumentalist based in Ireland. Some of the instruments he plays are the guitar, bass (fretless and fretted), some keyboards, singing, the triangle and the egg shaker. Walle fully utilizes these instruments and more on his latest EP Plays Music that sees Walle doing exactly that ‘playing music.’ But to a greater extent, he is doing more than just going through the motions of just playing his instruments. This was a bedroom recording and the project sees him fully investing himself into the music. This tireless DIY mentality sees itself even in the instrument he plays. The album for the most part featured his main electric guitar, which is an instrument he assembled himself from components he purchased at the age of 16, making the project feel very hands-on. The artwork, which displays a target with Walle’s name and album title at the center, was designed and created by Walle. Dipping into all aspects of the album, the endeavor is through and through his undertaking. A mixture of digital and acoustic instrumentation, Walle’s attachment to the DIY spirit is evident in his forays into electronic, progressive rock and classic rock territories.
Plays Music hits it with “A Tear Between Two,” where percussive beats sound out in the backdrop of some giant sounding guitars. The soaring guitar riffs spread out in an expansive sound. The sweeping notes feel very epic in nature. The guitar solo is freeing. Walle has abandoned himself into the rock sounds, throwing himself full-throttle into the music. On “Calm Within A Storm,” some bass and guitars highlight the sounds on the intro here. Underneath these sounds is the steady sound of beats that adds a distinctive traction to the track. The atmosphere felt very mellow and laid-back as synths amp up the vibe. This felt like a piece where mood and ambience played an important part in the recording.
On “Lifting Off,” some funky bass underlines this song. As the sonic frequencies of the guitar rev and spiral in an out-of-control fashion, the guitar wails with a voice of its own. The sound really carries and takes flight. More guitars create a shimmering and melodious sound towards the start of “I Run Away.” As the beat becomes faster-paced so does the rest of the instrumentals. The guitar solo is savage. Walle is perfectly at ease on this instrument. He deftly maneuvers the guitar, bending it to his will and the sounds that come out are out-of-this-world. Walle decisively closes with this tight-knit number.
In this four-track instrumental collection, singular guitar riffs overlaid over beats and percussive elements highlight a sound that has its moments in bluesy rock and the prog genres with a heightened modernized context that makes this an equal parts journey of the past and present. With a foot in both worlds, Walle also sets his sights in the future. This recording has tons of potential and I look forward to what new music he comes up with next.
I have to admit the first time reviewing Liz Rohr who is sixteen and female it was a little difficult for me being a forty year old man. There's simply a chasm of difference in age and most likely perspective. The themes more or less feel consistent with the things younger people think about like acceptance, friends and mental health, and despite our difference in age I found sophomore effort by Liz Rohr to be enjoyable and even relatable at times.
There are twelve songs all of which have a soft bedroom pop feel to them. The songs have some variation in terms of structure but all of them seem to revolve around 4/4 time, major and minor scales and a mix of drums loops, synths and guitar.
The album lasts around forty minutes. I was often reminded of early Beach House when they were in the embryonic phase and Frankie Cosmos. The songs are easy to listen to and accessible. Take for instance the opener “When I’m With You” which is catchy and infectious but also emotionally resonant.
I enjoyed the lush and slightly jazzy overtones on “Bottling Up.” It’s a sincere and heartfelt song about mental health but the delivery is quite playful which makes an engaging juxtaposition. “Honey” is the song where Beach House vibes feel most evident and I say that as a huge compliment. I saw them at the Chicago Theatre a couple years back and it was fantastic.
As the album progresses I thought there were a number of other highlights such as “Self Destruct Button” which is slightly funky and upbeat and works great with subtle and sleek vocal delivery. I also thought “You, Darling, Were My Undoing” and “Friends” were some of the best songs in the batch.
One thing I did notice was that this release was more cohesive and singular than her previous release. This was something I pointed out in my first review and thought that it was very cool she may have taken some of my advice. I do however have one more thing that I think might help as she continues to evolve.
I started making music around thirteen and in those days you couldn’t record to a computer in a bedroom. It was all tape and much more difficult. You had to make your own loops if you knew how to splice tape and there’s very little knowledge you could acquire unless you knew someone. I think Rohr is talented and off to a great start but I also want her at some point to think about working with other musicians to, at the very least, have those types of experiences. Playing in a room with other musicians is just a different animal and opens up different pathways of creativity I don't think you can create on your own. I promise the sort of in the moment creativity musical you build in those situations helps you grow as a musician and even if you compose by yourself.
Overall, I think this release is her best yet with some well written songs and memorable melodies. There is a lot more ahead for this artist and I look forward to hearing where she goes. Recommended.
Songs for Emylia is the recent release from The Pierce Project. I’ve reviewed very similar albums and sentiment before. I have to admit the album cover art combined with the title, while tender came off as saccharine to me. It was just a visceral reaction where I presumed this is going to be something geared towards their love for this young child but wasn’t going to be general enough for a larger audience to connect with. Luckily, I was wrong about this and felt the lyrics and themes were broad, relatable and easy to understand.
The songs were hit and miss for me but more hit. Some of the songs felt a little too cute and almost like they were aware of their own “cuteness.” The songs are always catchy and from a technical standout simple 4/4 type songs with melodies you might find yourself singing in the shower.
You can hear shades of early The Boy Least Likely To, They Might be Giants and to a lesser degree Flaming Lips on a song like “Oh Banana.” This song and many others have a playful quality as if they could be on a TV show for kids but it’s actually well written and anyone of any age can appreciate it.
One anomaly is “P.S.” which while not exactly dark isn’t quite playful either. They sound good here and I encourage them to explore this tone on future releases. The next couple songs like “Love” and “Tenderness” are quite good and standouts in the batch.
This was a solid release from beginning to end. Personally, I have to be in a certain mood for an album with this tone. Some albums are mood dependent and this was one of them. I think a lot of people will appreciate this album and encourage you to take a listen.
Gautier Rodriguez, Nico de Bank, Sebastien Tourel, and Francois Debiol are Blue Coffee. It wasn’t even a year ago that they released Silent and are back with In and Out. Man, they really went all out with this album. They are in top form delivering off-kilter rock songs that can’t be ignored. The songs are powerful, commanding and fun and usually intense at the same time.
They get going with “Minor Opening” and it starts with some slightly distorted vocals but it doesn't take long for the other members to drop in. It moves and before the one-minute mark they crush it in unison with some melodic guitar work, driving drums, a steady bass for foundation and well delivered vocals. The song opens up and there are some really notable crescendos and peaks that culminate with a guitar solo.
“In And Out '' is very catchy and I loved the urgency of the vocals on this song. They rock hard and it felt like a single worthy song among the batch. The band mellows out with “Sense Of Drama” and it's a good move for the third song. It’s more of a ballad with the vocals being the focal point. The hook is legit and the verse is also done really well.
As we approach the middle of the album there is no filler on site as they continue to produce the goods with the upbeat and infectious “Leaf,” “Besides Faust, On a Beach” and “Cats In Green.” The post-rock inspired guitar sounds at home on “Staples and Apples” and the more melodic “Springtime” was another slight break from the rocking. They end with the short “Ponte Vecchio'' and I thought they were going to go all out but it’s the opposite and sounds more akin to ’50s pop.
This is an album that’s a little hard to explain why it’s so good. The music isn’t glaringly unique or out of the box but it’s just very well written and delivered. They take a familiar structure and redress it in their own way.
Some of this also comes down to exceptional production. This is the sound of a band playing together but very well mixed and mastered so you can hear the nuances clearly from the bass work to a rim shot on the drums.
The band really took care of business and crushed it with this release. Highly recommended.
Specific Random Notes is the latest from Eric Ezra. I’ve reviewed some of his previous album and this one felt like the most realized of the releases that I’ve heard. The album is still instrumental but I found my attention a little more focused because of the dynamic transitions, colorful aesthetics and tight delivery.
One example of this is the opener “Stationary” which is a rocking track that starts with no warning. The energy remains fairly consistent but there are a lot of changes melodically from the guitar work. I loved the bass work as well which was more the foundation to the song that drives it forward.
This blueprint you hear on the first song is used as a similar structure for many of the songs. Take for instance the more post-rock inspired “IV drip” or the white noise and shoegaze influenced “Sun Light.” The pacing is fairly relentless and there really aren't many rest stops until you reach “Slow Lasers'' which is a luminescent and meditative ambient piece. It felt like a much needed break in pace.
The energy picks back up with “Discarded” and “Sunken Abyss” both of which pack a wallop. We have one more ambient piece with “Plot Twist.” One of my personal favorites was “Primitive Metropolis” which plays around with dissonance and some non-traditional lead guitar that sounds great. In addition to that there’s also some clean melodic guitar picking. The very next song “Thin Ice” was also a highlight that contains a healthy mix of bass and guitar while the closer “Sea God” is one of the more epic songs in the batch.
The pacing and cohesiveness of this album was noticed when listening to it from beginning to end. It’s the type of album that benefits from simply hitting play on the first song and letting it ride. If you enjoyed his previous releases you will want this in your collection and if you haven’t heard of his music before this is a great place to start. Recommended.
Sometimes Julie, is one of San Diego’s most engaging and original rock bands, that emerged from a chance collaboration between singer/songwriters Monica Sorenson and Rick Walker in 2012. Walker, former guitarist for Chicago’s Greeley, is a multi-instrumentalist who reveals his rock n’ roll genius as he defines Sometimes Julie’s unique sound. Sorenson paints the pictures, finds the words, tells the stories and delivers the melodies with her powerful vocals. As the band professes “Walker is the theory, the rhythm, the science, the skill, and Sorenson is the front woman who is all heart and art.” Where Are You? the sextet’s fourth and latest release is a hard-driving rock record, that “wears Sometimes Julie's deep-seated blues and Americana influences on its proverbial sleeve.” A truly full-band affair showcasing each band member's musical influences, the group’s style is both aggressive and melodic, intricate and sublime as they plug into the sounds of indie, Americana and alternative rock. Recorded at Pacific Beat Recording in San Diego, engineered by Alan Sanderson and mixed and mastered by Andy Machin, Bigrock Studios,in Escondido, Where Are You? displays Sometimes Julie’s impressive musical range while offering music anyone can dance and sing along to.
For starters, “She Can’t Kiss You” heads right out of the gate with a sultry, bluesy style – a few guitar riffs in there which reminded me of Zeppelin and early Heart – and the organ was the icing on top. Overall, a great opener especially on the bridge parts and, what’s a rock n’ roll song without a great guitar solo? “Knew it All Along” begins with cool sounding keys, a lone guitar lick and smooth bass lines all centered on styles both old and new in this song about falling in love. I really liked how this one progressed along. Next up is “If Only” and it features an atmospheric sound and more of an indie alternative sound. I enjoyed this one a lot – the sound of the guitar, the bass melody, the bass-ier drums. Something elements within this song reminded me of the English bands of the early ‘80s. It had that nostalgic feel to it.
“Own Kind of Savior” offers the listener a slower paced song. You may hear some hints at ‘80s pop rock or contemporary country ballads from the ‘90s. The next tune “As Good a Day as Any” gets as pretty serious as any break song can get – I mean, dang, I felt the pain and I’m not even going through a breakup. Sometimes second chances have outlived their run and the only thing left is to say goodbye. Nice addition of the congas on this tune by the way. “Walk Among the Dead” features plenty of short guitar riffs in between verse and chorus, and lyrics that suggest a feeling of comfort and resolve when there’s nothing left to lose after you’ve been raked over the coals in a relationship. “Counterpart” has a mix of classic rock along with harder edged Americana styles. There are fantastic melodic bass lines being played here, not to mention a wailing guitar solo. Musically, I thought the entire band was at the top of their game here – everyone played strong.
“Quiet” offers the listeners an interesting juxtaposition of sorts, I think – pleading for “some quiet” as the “bees are swarming in my head” and “grey wolves prowling around my ears.” Lyrically, the words are a metaphor for “losing one’s mind” as the band discloses later on. Musically, I thought it was pretty cool to mix up the sax with indie rock sensibilities of the early ‘80s, although as I recall the saxophone was a pretty hot instrument to play back then. Anyway, this one reminded me strangely of the Go-Go’s – but with a sax. “Arachne’s Pride / Minerva” features a Latin styled guitar solo intro, and then a driving rock beat. Not sure if the lyrics exclusively reflect the life of the Roman goddess (Minerva), or the protagonist (Arachne) in Ovid’s epic Greek poem Metamorphoses, but the band’s lyrics made it clear that somebody didn’t want to wear a crown, she just wanted to be “small.” I’m guessing it was the former. “Lost Art” begins with a great piano/guitar melody, matched beautifully with Sorenson’s voice.
“Love Me Gently” is the band’s hallmark bluesy, slow dancing number, and it asks to be loved truly and gently, “’Cause my heart can’t take, that kind of break again / my heart can’t take any more.” The band’s last number is “Counting My Lucky Stars” and it has a nice, driving rhythm that feels just right for the closer. The song’s message is a positive one that’s directed toward a special someone – being grateful for them, having a glass that’s full and counting answered prayers.
Altogether, Where Are You? is a pretty solid album throughout and I think it offers something for everyone.
Haneke Twins is back! We at Divide and Conquer reviewed their eponymous debut EP, and it’s great to see “our” artists continuing to write and record new music.
Haneke Twins was originally formed by CERN scientists Paschalis Vichoudis (vocals) and Stefanos Leontsinis (guitar). For their follow-up seven-track “mini-LP” Astronaut, they’ve expanded their lineup, adding Giannis Koukovinis (guitar), Athanasios Kyritsis (bass) and Michael Schenk (drums). This is part of their development as artists. As they tell us, they were “originally foreseen to be a one-off recording project,” but decided to step it up with a full band and some live shows.
On their debut album, they set various poems (or parts thereof) to music, including those from Stathis Antoniou and Robert Frost. They also included a cover tune. In a further artistic development, for Astronaut, all music and lyrics were written by Leontsinis and Vichoudis. Astronaut is all-original!
The lyrics are a little dark with an industrial or sci-fi twist. Haneke Twins, as they say, “deal with subjects such as psychological quests, concerns about modern life as well as other social and political issues.” I’ll have to take their word for it: Vichoudis’ voice sounds terrific, but his strong baritone is mixed underneath the in-your-face guitars, so it was sometimes hard to pick out all the lyrics. “Location Underground” had a very cool turn of phrase: “Wake up and welcome to Earth / Location randomly assigned / Algorithms define my options / Of where I work, live, and die.” Well, yeah, though I never thought about it quite that way!
The music falls into the “post-punk revival” genre, as if Joy Division were crossed with parts of Fall Out Boy and dressed in a flannel shirt. The guitars and bass have a nice growl to them with well-conceived and well-executed interlocking parts. The seven tracks are tightly arranged, and have had the fat trimmed, with every song clocking in right around three minutes’ running length. Each of the tracks has its own highlights; I particularly liked “In My Head,” especially when they hit those low open-Es (the payoff is worth it). “Stuck In A Loop” was a top track too with its controlled chaos reinforcing the tortured lyrics. Any of the seven is a good listen, really--they’re all strong!
Astronaut is a great follow-up for Haneke Twins, and a terrific step forward for their development as artists. Give this a spin, and maybe they’ll be convinced to permanently change their lab coats for stage clothes.
Shells is the second release from Rhode Island trio Polar Wool. The band was formed in 2016 by Bruce Hagist (vocals/guitars/bass/synthesizer); Madison Cardoza (vocals/piano) and Dan Traficante (drums/ percussion) have joined since, rounding out the writing and recording for the four-song EP.
Polar Wind describes their sound as “melancholy and bittersweet” listing Portishead and Radiohead (but not Motorhead) as influences. Shells fits right in: easy vocal melodies and harmonies are set against warm, atmospheric tracks that feature chiming guitars and tom-heavy drum patterns.
The EP starts off with Cardoza sitting at her piano and singing “INTL” giving off a Christine McVie-type vibe. Hagist kicks in some guitar bits as the band fills out the sound. As the track evolves, they include some very cool backwards guitar effects and electric pianos. It’s a solid start.
Hagist picks up the lead vocal for “The Event,” the second track. While slightly more uptempo than the opener, it’s dreamier and more ambient, with layered guitars drenched with reverb. Cardoza offers some very nice vocal harmony and counterpoint. “Anymore” continues the vibe (and starts with the same chord where “The Event” left off) with Cardoza singing lead vocals again. Her outro piano arpeggios were a highlight.
“Holderness” caps the EP. The band hits their peak here in the middle section, where Hagist and Cardoza combine on soaring vocal harmonies that deliver a great payoff. The instrumental build-out may be the best ninety seconds on the whole EP: a great chord progression, a great sound, terrific drumming and just enough space. I was sorry to hear it end.
The only thing that felt a little off was the mix and equalization on the first three tracks. It sounded a little too middy; I was left wanting some bottom-end. With that, I wanted more bass guitar. There were a couple of points where I anticipated some thump from the bass, and it was notable for its absence. This isn’t an issue on “Holderness” where the balance is just fine.
Shells is a nice addition to your collection. Enjoy it!
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Damaged is a recent release from Peter Lawson. This album which is one of many if you go on his Bandcamp page is varied in terms of tone and color. It’s a guitar heavy album with catchy vocal melodies. This allowed my attention to land where it wanted to and I found myself concentrating on certain elements and then switching to others.
“Already Dead” is the opener and does contain vocals. This song has some attitude and felt like a mix between country and rock. It’s badass for lack of a better world. The song is covered in a lot of reverb which does give it a distinct quality.
“Damaged” is quite different and is more atmospheric, serene and tranquil. The elements float about and feel like they are living on a cloud. I really liked the vocals on this song. “Monkey on my Back” is a song that drives but also is very melodic. It was one of the songs that was instrumental and fairly balanced in terms of where my attention was. The guitars which are smothered in reverb and delay don’t float away because of the driving drums.
“Play for Today” is almost felt like an extension in terms of mood but there are some vocals in this song. I was getting a Neil Young vibe on “The Evolution Show” which was one of my favorite songs. I heard more of an Americana genre on this song. “The Waiting Game” sounds a bit like “Sweet Home Alabama” and was in my opinion the best song on the album. The vocal hook was immediately memorable and this was also one of the better mixed songs on the album.
There are some post-punk type elements on “The Nation's Health.” It’s a very cool song with some of his best vocals. We are greeted with a warm ballad on “Winter's Ghosts” while the closer “Window Washer” is even warmer and inviting.
The mixing has improved from the previous album I reviewed. I do have one trick he might want to utilize and that’s EQing reverb tails. On some of the songs I felt there was a little bit of congestion. You can make some space by cutting some frequencies usually between about 200hz and 500hz.
Overall, this is the best I’ve heard from the artist and I look forward to hearing his next one.
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
Balk Electric Sins 3.5
Peak Ring Proximity 3.7
Dez Dare +
Melt Citizen Splitz 3.8
Waves of Dread Endless 3.7
Boom Years Beaming 3.8
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