Miss Alexandra Huntingdon and the Gentleman's Intermission’s recent release LIVE at Survival Kit isn’t a genre we typically cover here at The Equal Ground. Perhaps it’s because not many artists are combing jazz, blues and dixieland with vaudeville-style show tunes that you can imagine being played at a Las Vegas lounge at one o'clock in the morning.
LIVE at Survival Kit is indeed live but sounds great from an aesthetic perspective and actually adds to your enjoyment of the album. The crowd cheers, laughs and encourages Huntingdon as she exaggerates her voice (sometimes comedically) and commands the stage. It doesn’t take much to realize that these songs are all about the vocals. Huntingdon does indeed have a good voice, which is quite versatile. She sounds like a soul sister on “Sugar Mama Blues” but then sounds as if she mimicking the lead actress in the Broadway play the critics described as a “laugh riot” on “On The Shores of the Great Lake Erie.”
Since Huntingdon does have a commanding voice no matter style she decides to go after it’s easy to glance past the music. The music is quite good and the band is always in the pocket and on point. For those of you familiar with this style of music it won’t surprise you that the piano is the main melody maker that supports the vocals.
Since this is a live show I recommend just grabbing a cocktail, popping a squat and pressing play. Huntingdon takes on various topics on her songs that she usually announces before the song starts. One of the highlights “Sugar Mama Blues” revolves around dating “broke-ass boys.” She sings “You know that I'll be your Sugar Mama, if you bring sweetness back to me Yeah but, when I come home baby, you just sit in front of that TV.”
Another song entitled “One of Those Men” takes on a slightly more serious topic about women not being able to make choices about their bodies while “The Gun Song” is indeed about a gun (I’ll let you listen to the song to get the whole story). She ends with a fast-paced revival song that you might have heard coming from the most energized church in the city.
LIVE at Survival Kit is an album that is best listened to sparingly. I doubt it’s something you will be listening to every day on your drive to work but for me it felt like something you might bust out every couple of months and listen to the whole way through. Recommended
Hailing from Ontario, Canada Dan Molson has been playing the bar scene for the last two decades. He played in a band called The Journeymen from 1998 until 2008 and then with The Chez106 Hoser’s Band in 2012. Most recently he released a solo album entitled Clear Water, which is a pretty basic no-frills rock/blues/pop hybrid. The songs revolve around the fundamental rock instruments such as bass, guitar, piano and drums.
Clear Water is a complete DIY effort and although the recording quality is a bit underwhelming compared to what you would expect from a professional studio the songs often work regardless. Clear Water wasn’t an album that jumped out at me. The songwriting is predictable, the hooks aren’t poppy enough where I completely took notice and Molson doesn’t have a impressionable voice. Suffice it to say it took me a couple of spins to appreciate some of the material. Some of it works and some of it falls a bit flat.
Molson opens up with a song that tips its hat to rock that lies somewhere between “Summer of 69” by Bryan Adams and a couple of John Mellencamp tunes. Molson plays up the nostalgia with lyrics like “Now I dream of that clear water, of those warm and carefree days. A time when my mind would wander, dream of tomorrow. I long to be back at that clear water.” We have all heard its vibe and feel before.
Molson delves into more rock with “Eileen,” “Eyes Half Open” and “Closer To The Sun” while the “The Way You Look At Me” is a piano led song that contains the best vocal performance by Molson. As I played this album on repeat I kept on feeling like I was listening to Molson’s influences rather than Molson himself. There is nothing inherently wrong with the songwriting but it feels like it came from a pop/rock 101 handbook they hand you after you played in a cover band.
Molson is certainly a talent and Clear Water has a couple of inspired moments. That being said, I would like to hear a bit more originality from Molson his next time around.
Luke Arvid's Day of the Bui1der just so happens to be one of the anticipated album releases coming out of Madison, Wisconsin's music scene this year. Encompassing a sound of indie-folk, with a bit of country twang thrown in and fused with a roots-rock sensibility, Day of the Bui1der certainly stands out with what it has accomplished.
The project gently pulls you in with its sweet yet melancholy "100 Miles An Hour" and completely solidifies its musical sound and establishes a firm atmosphere - delicately melodic and hauntingly poetic. Reverb laced orchestral strings combine with acoustic guitars that bring to mind a band like Wilco.
The opener is followed by an equally satisfying six minutes of gorgeous instrumentation in "Like I'm Swimming" with lyrics that still keep my mind working as to what the song means. The song never leaves the energy or melancholy it introduces. "Like I'm Swimming" creates a sense of contemplation and reflection yet doesn't feel forced.
"Pennies" is where we get a bit more of that rock sound. We get a pretty majestic guitar solo after both verses, and then we're brought back down to a mellow, acoustic vibe with the echo-y "San Antone (blueprint)." My favorite of these kinds of tracks has to be "Ever So Slightly;" it just has a great melody both with the vocals and instrumentation. It's a simple acoustic song stripped to just the bare essentials but that is part of its appeal, at least for me.
What Day of the Bui1der does well is be consistent throughout, with "Lucky Coin" he brings some of the country-rock energy back in, and the final track "Footsteps Show" is a fitting ending. It almost has a romantic feel to it. It reminded me of Big Star from the '70s. Day of The Bui1der contains very consummate musicianship and is beautiful project that is crafted with care and love.
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A large portion of my summers between 2002 and 2004 was devoted to grinds, pop-shove-its and secret tapes on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater for Play Station One. Skating in the mall and in the warehouse was fun in its own right, but the great soundtracks made the whole experience doubly more enjoyable. I look fondly back on those sessions sitting on the basement rug in front of the static-prone Zenith.
“Cyco Vision” by Suicidal Tendencies, “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” by Primus, “Committed” by Unsane and “New Girl” by Suicide Machine regularly played in my head during those days. And now, listening to these three songs by The Reignsmen, I am reminded of that sweet sector of my childhood when videogames were a welcomed retreat from long hours playing in the sun.
Hailing from Santa Barbara, CA, The Reignsmen has crafted rock music that harkens back to the late nineties West coast emo and punk. And, in some weird way, it’s refreshing, simple. Songs “Animals,” “Heatwave” and “Nearest Star” are fast, furious, and energetic, but without the pyrotechnics covering over dripping rawness.
Picture people skating at a park on a California beach; crowds of people move in waves; energy drinks abound. It’s essentially a scene from Grind, but missing a band. The Reignsmen is that band.
This batch of songs will deeply resonate with twenty-year olds who skated growing up, but I think this band can build a career on more than nostalgia. “Nearest Star” is nearly seven-minutes long, and shows the band is open to new ideas and willing to experiment. The potential is there, but the longing for the past is hard to shake.
As far as first impressions go, it’s difficult to discern exactly where Ink Mathematics was heading with its EP Huia. Crafted with a superior sense of musical aesthetic compared to current post-grunge bands, but lacking the vigor and enthusiasm put out by music’s more spastic darlings (see: Glass Jaw, Norma Jean, and Fear Before), Huia falls somewhere between intense fortitude and willful drudgery.
Take for example the opener, “Solid Gold Cataract” with its sludgy guitars and harsh mix of screamed and yelled vocals. The song purposefully lacks dynamics and drags the listener through mud for what seems like much longer than two minutes. It’s laborious; it’s intensive; and it encapsulates the whole EP. But though Huia is nothing short of abrasive for the first few listens, the damn thing does eventually grow on you.
Every song offers something different. “Hula” reminds of ‘80s doom pop with elements of shoe gaze. At times the lead singer Matt Hoffman sounds like Joshua Homme from Queens Of The The Stone Age. The song contains a memorable instrumental breakdown you don't want to miss around the two minute mark.
“Chewing Scenery” exhibits an At the Drive-in-inspired verse with plenty of noise at the finish and the last minute of “Lot Lizard” ends the EP on a high note with its cacophony of guitar banging. Each song is drained of melody, leaving a chasm of droning noise for the listener to absorb. And the vocals—screeching, whining, yelling, growling and screaming—do everything but sing.
For those who drop in to this site regularly, Huia might remind you of a poor man’s Our Rich Heritage by Solid Brown. It’s aggressive, bombastic and drills itself into your head. Check it out.
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__Lopez_ is the alias of Fresno-based musician Robert Stephen Lopez. His most recent work can be described as artificial and organic sound in an indie pop dream, and it is pretty noticeable right off the bat with his EP Motion One. "Falling From the Sky" begins with a blend of synthesizers and an acoustic guitar; it will sound a bit strange to fresh ears but with enough listens it becomes a bit addicting.
At its core the song is inspirational and essentially about taking a chance and diving into new territory. He sings "Follow your dreams Follow your heart Flow like a wave Falling from the sky It’s never too late to fool the world Flow like a wave falling from the sky."
"Sail Away" follows suit, encompassing a indie-pop sound, with the production really tapping into layers of synth work. The synths are warm and playful but also emotionally resonant. It's all actually subtly complex and deeply hypnotizing. In addition, the way in which Lopez’s vocals are mixed complement the production. His lyrics here ambitious and slightly cynical as he sings "Coco Cabana and the fiery lights now, take me away to the other side Hug and kiss my loved ones goodbye now, I may never see them alive."
Then __Lopez_ does something completely out of left field with "That's My Rock 'N' Roll" by it being pretty much a punk rock song, which I was all for and totally loved. It's certainly unorthodox to the flow of this project, but it stands out and gave him credit for taking a chance.
And with the final track "Circuitry" we take a step back into the electronic/synth dimension; this time with some added effects that really work. There seems to be a wall of static that the vocals are coming through and with the loops in the background the song becomes memorable. This is definitely an artist who I am going to keep on my radar for whatever he chooses to do next.
Originally located in Vancouver, the rock jazz group Turtleboy has already released two albums before giving us the Log Cabin EP in November 2013. As a foray into musical collaboration the group moved to Montreal to live together in a cabin for one month. Their goal was to collectively compose what would become Log Cabin. No prewritten music allowed before their free form jam sessions. Turtleboy recorded Log Cabin live on the floor of their actual log cabin. It was mixed by Montreal’s engineer Tim Gowdy, and mastered by Jose Pupo in Mexico City. Turtleboy has since spread out to Brooklyn, Berlin, and Toronto, and lucky for us, they continue to collaborate.
The EP takes off with “Boat Ship (intro)” with gorgeous yet dark guitar picking that begins with pauses and then picks up into an anxious timbre climb. The second track “Boat Ship” starts off with a quicker, jazzy, guitar intro before entering into a lyrical narrative; “when I was a little boy my mother said to me I would become something rising like the tallest mountain.” The vocal and tenor saxophone trade off, showcasing their talents. The tenor adds a reminiscent quality to the track, a kind older type of storytelling.
“Boat Ship” gains momentum throughout the track as though Adam Miller is concerned he will run out of breath before he can finishing telling us the story, “I will write til there’s no more story.” The sound builds throughout this song from bareboned jazz to heavier rock at the end when the track’s momentum peaks with the repetition of “There’s a place where I belong let me tell you.” Miller’s attempt to convince the listener that he belongs there reflects Turtleboy trying to convince the world that their experimental cross genre jazz-rock belongs out in the world, which it does.
The acapella aspects to “Lewis Road” and “Fog Island” sound similar to Fleet Foxes’ breathy vocals. The tempo in “Fog Island” picks up into syncopated, rhythmic vocals. I can really feel the earnest desire and frustration with the chorus, “I want to love something concretely / I want to love something completely.” Paired with the intro of chimes, the earthy tenor bridge, the emotions and composition in “Fog Island” are complex.
Definitely check out “One Gold Star,” it’s one of their more obviously grungy, rock tracks with a powerful electric guitar intro.
Ari Koinuma met Voua ‘Bob’ Yang through seeking a vocalist on Craigslist. The duo eventually established themselves as Minnasia, a band with more emotional rawness than some poets. Besides singing for Minnasia, Yang, an established Hmong singer and songwriter around the Minneapolis area, plays at Hmong cultural events. Koinuma scores films and plays in various different bands when not composing and playing music for Minnasia.
In 2012, Yang won a Minnesota Arts Board grant, which he used to produce Promised Land. Promised Land tells the tale of a Hmong family’s journey from Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. It’s a mini-musical with four scenes; each one describes the inner and outer voyage of a different family member at certain times on their quest.
Promised Land comprises a clear, compact narrative with its six tracks. In “Sister,” Yang’s vocal dynamics bewitch with their range and depth. He effortlessly reaches the lowest vocal registry then glides to the highest one. When all instruments stop, and only Yang’s vocals remain, you get chills from their pure power and beauty. “Sun” creates beats that echo sounds of a war march, but also have tribal elements, and the song hits serenity with the softness of the flute solos. “Sun” pleasantly challenges the ears with its instrumental layers.
“River” incites the most gripping story of the tracks with its poetic lyrics. Listeners may interpret “River” differently than I, but to me the song is about a son wanting to honor his family so much that he sacrifices his own life to protect them, which results in his death. It produces haunting lyrics for the family and the spectators. “Promised Land” concludes the family’s trip by showcasing that their loss cannot outweigh the freedom they discovered with this expedition. The track uses the same elements that made the other singles memorable: strong lyrics, calming sounds, and Yang’s charismatic vocals.
Minnasia puts intense passion into Promised Land, which demonstrates how much thought, care and love they have for this album’s message and story. Promised Land’s sound and vocals create an elegantly beautiful masterpiece.
There’s some cool tunes coming from New Haven, Connecticut – orchestrated by The Soldier Story with this full-length album Rooms of the Indoors. This is an album that’s sure to make you think and reflect back on your own life as you listen to the grave vocal tones and sometimes haunting guitar riffs, while leaving you thoroughly fulfilled by the album’s closing.
“Us As I” serves as a serene beginning to the album, gently gaining in tempo and welcoming you to the rest of the songs. I couldn’t decipher much of what was said at first, but I did like the sound of the vocals. It led into “A Lion,” a logical follow-up to the first song with an attention grabbing melody. The second half of this song became much more powerful and kind of caught me off guard, though that intense section only lasted for a few bars.
“Oh the Dove” is a rather ambient piece in the beginning, with the vocals serving more as a kind of instrument rather than as a messenger of lyrics. There are crisp sounds that juxtapose with the muddled sound of ‘alternative’ that give the song a lot of character. “Rooms of the Indoors” is a very soothing song, and is a good choice for the title track. It is gentle and serene, and accurately describes most of what is found on this album (save for the bursts of harsh feeling that come every so often).
I find I usually enjoy short songs the most, and “Through the Trees” is no exception. This song has such an interesting industrial themed melody, with off tempo beats, such that it really captured my attention from the very first notes. The drums are good here too, and play a big part in giving the song its cool sound. “Gray Clean Suit” has some remarkable lyrics, and tells an intricate story meant to be heard by everyone. This one should be enjoyed and replayed a few times to truly appreciate it’s full impact and power.
I think this is a good debut from The Soldier Story. It’s definitely a good soundtrack for quiet introspection and is particularly useful for those who appreciate hearing a good life story translated in music. I liked the vocals and the instrumentation the most. Some of the songs seemed like filler, but in the context of the whole album, still work well and are, at the very least, well-placed. Give this a listen on a cold or quiet day and see how the mood fits you.
We Have A Ghost is a band that likes to flirt with the darker side of things. On their exceptional debut self-titled album We Have a Ghost released by Bleeding Light Records they sound like a mixture between old school NIN, Holy Other and Tim Hecker. It is mostly an instrumental album that seamlessly combines organic and electronic elements. They use a wide palette of sounds but manage to effortlessly make the album sound cohesive. The delightfully ominous cloud is what binds these songs together
They kick off the record with a percussively heavy song entitled “The Secret.” I was thoroughly immersed in the way they combined the glitch-like drum kit with a rolling snare. A piano melody sits on top on the percussion while various atmospheric sounds come in and out of existence. The second song “Computerrok” combines a hard hitting industrial beat with a fuzzed out synth/bass which can’t help but draw comparisons to ‘90s NIN but also contemporary electronic artist such as Burial. It’s the type of song that you can imagine a crowd shaking their fists to in unison.
“Electric Blanket” is the first track on the record that introduces vocals. On paper the vocal style sounds undesirable but given the context of the music it works perfectly. The vocals are monotone and stoic-like as if no emotion is being felt while they're being delivered. The music is atmospheric with a hard-hitting electronic beat.
The arguable highlight and most accessible track is the prolific “Walk Away.” The group combines synth bass with a steady drumbeat and very welcome guitars. Lyrically, the song is melancholic but musically the band creates uplifting and even hopeful melodies.
They close with a haunting song called “Sleepy Cells.” It’s an appropriate name because there is a dreamlike quality to the music. As it progresses jagged chainsaw-like effects scratch and claw their way in the sonic landscape.
We Have A Ghost’s debut album is dark, eclectic and pretty fantastic.
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