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
Bottom Lashes Teary Eyed 3.6
Tom Prendergast No One Home 3.8
Fred Cracklin Looming Spook 3.8
aRF attic 3.9
Father Morissette Til Death Do Us Part 3.3
Dry Bones Nothing 3.8
Gonetcha Mission 3.6
gutter boat hand 3.6
Bokr Tov bokr tov 3.9
City Circuits has been active in the Toronto music scene for almost four years. They spent much of that time searching for their sound. They recently found that sound and used it to create their debut EP If Your Heart Is Open. Their decision to wait sounds like the right one. The EP shows a lot of promise, and leaves the listener waiting for more. The EP is six tracks long, but after listening to it you’ll wish there were more. A self-described “indie alternative rock band from Toronto, Ontario” the band is made up of David Smith (vocals/rhythm guitar), Corey Biot (lead guitar), Jonathan Smith (drums) and Paul Rossi (bass).
The EP opens with the synth and guitar effect laden “If You Heart Is Open.” The vocals are breathy, the drums and guitar are urgent and the synth creates an atmospheric sound. The band sounds full with a sound made up of many complementing layers. The chorus is where the band really opens, as the drums take off and the vocals get louder. The guitar is no longer palm-muted, and the true tone of the instrument can be heard. The chords ring out over the background vocals that carry the lead cry “If your heart is open / Then let me in.”
Up next is “Stay The Night.” The synths are replaced by electric pianos, the guitar has no obvious effects on it and the vocals are front and center in the mix. The line of the chorus asking to “Stay the night” can be sincerely felt. It is an emotional Goliath, and is sure to warrant a repeat listen to hear the full story the lyrics have to tell.
Fans of Bleachers, the Killers, Foster the People or Delta Spirit will find If Your Heart Is Open to be an enjoyable listen. City Circuits takes influence from the styles of these bands and puts their own heart and soul into the sound. The band recorded in their home studio, a task that can easily get sidetracked if a band is not focused or skilled enough to complete the task.
City Circuits shows an incredible discipline, and a desire to create their music for their fans. The sincerity can be heard in the lyrics and felt in the instrumental work. The album is produced and mastered well, with the sound coming off as polished as a radio single. The skill and knowledge that the band has is impressive, and the final product they’ve released is remarkable. Listen to this as soon as you can if you’re looking for a more upbeat and exciting album to add to your rotation.
Coming from the notoriously subversive musical womb that is Seattle is Uglyhead, a fascinating heavy industrial act that goes more for atmosphere and experimentation. The album on the plate today is Time & Time Again. It is a live album featuring performances in Oakland, California as well as Everett and Seattle, Washington. Since I have not had the pleasure of being aware of Uglyhead prior to this review, I had a few key decisions I had to make. I had to decide if I was going to listen to their other work to get a taste of what they're like in a more traditional recording process or laser focus on the album at hand. For this review I made the decision to to stick exclusively with what I was given to review, so let's get into Time & Time Again.
Uglyhead follows a very dark and brooding beaten path that many industrial bands before it have gone down. You get a cool, slow building intro that assembles a cold and unforgiving mood with the first track. Then come some vocals which mirror the distant aesthetic. These vocals are paired with lyrics that are very hard to make out, however that's nothing out of the norm, especially for this genre. So as an industrial enthusiast I felt very much at home.
I think what made me feel like a fish out of water for this one is the live element. Recording live performances is no easy task and unfortunately I felt like this album showcases some of the common shortcomings with attempting to do so. It was just very tough to get invested when the lyrics are almost irrelevant because they're just not being heard. I felt like I was missing the immersive element this music has the potential to achieve. There's also the applause at the end which sort of takes me out of the atmosphere they built and then I have to start from scratch on the next song, but again that is the nature of live albums.
One of the tracks to translate well was "Glass Man" and as the name suggests there is a more translucent and interesting element to that song. I really appreciated the experimentation and breaking of the mold that was done with this track. When they go fast, they almost have an added bonus of jungle mixed into their music and I really enjoyed it. Their slower, atmospheric tracks had great structure, but I think required a more diverse set of samples. Again there are things I could have missed due to the live element, but I really believe with a few more tools in the box, they could've built an even more impressive fortress.
I think Uglyhead has the right idea with their music and where they want to take it. When it comes to industrial live performances, recording them is a massive challenge and I respect Uglyhead for doing it, even if I don't think it did their work justice. Despite some issues I had with a live album, I will be taking time to listen to their other work, because I am genuinely intrigued.
Marva Von Theo is an electropop/synthwave duo formed in 2016 by the Athens-based singer/songwriter Marva Voulgari and the Vienna-based composer/producer Theo Foinidis. The duo recently released Dream Within a Dream which is an electronic album brimming with dark textures and pop sensibility that weaves together genres such as trip-hop, soul, pop and more.
The duo make a great combo if for the simple fact they both are on top of their game. Foinidis is obviously a very experienced producer. The sound design is exceptional throughout whether he creates atmospheric pads or hard hitting beats. Foinidis also has the ability to switch it up. Throughout the album and even in the songs themselves Foinidis keeps pushing his skills and is never resting on his laurels.
Voulgari’s presence is just as impressive. She has a dynamic, emotionally charged voice that has range and dimension. She could easily sing a pop song, indie rock song, etc.
The album opens up with “Unconcern.” The music is a drone of dark, ominous textures that is mixed with steady, effective beats. There were some similarities to Portishead in the overall vibe I felt when listening to the song. The vocal delivery is fantastic. Voulgari leans into the darker tendencies of her voice without going overboard. The sweeping strings and off kilter beat towards the end had me anticipating what else was next.
“Secret Lover” would sound perfect at a goth club in the very early hours of the morning while “Reaching the Stars” has an epic, cosmic sound as if you are traveling down a wormhole with catchy vocal melodies.
There are plenty of other songs that got my attention. “Somebody New” is a highlight that mixes infectious rhymes and unique elements with a catchy hook. I also wouldn't miss the ethereal and minimal “Silk.” They close with the high energy “Perfect Sync” which felt like hyper-realistic maneuvers through corridors and alley ways.
Dream Within a Dream needs a lot more attention because this is one of the best albums I have heard this year. Highly recommended.
Happy Curmudgeons is the brainchild of Dave Hamilton. Hamilton put together an impressive number of musicians to perform on Meant 2 Be. Hamilton and friends play heavily into an Americana vibe that seems influenced from bands ranging from Grateful Dead, Jimmy Buffett and an amalgamation of ’70s classic rock bands. It felt like a hodgepodge of Americana when I got to the last track.
The band opens with “Bar Hoppin” which sounds about as fun and loose as the tradition of bar hopping. I can’t say I agree with him that Sunday morning feels alright after a night of bar hopping but I enjoyed the melodies. The bass line was on point.
They pour on what sounded like some Lou Reed inspired rock with “Soulsville.” The sax solo was the highlight. They have more success with the title track which sounds like a folk song straight from the late ’60s. “Carnal Boggie” is another highly enjoyable song that felt influenced by a couple of prominent bands from the late ’60s.
They have a little trouble shifting gears with “Burn Sugar Burn” which sounds like a ’70s rock anthem for the mere fact that it sounded like a different style. “You Gotta Move On” is about as Americana as you can get while “Butterfly” comes closer to sounding like Alice Copper. The band has some success with the last two tracks “Seasons” and “Scatter Brain.”
Meant 2 Be is a really well written album. There are tons of hooks, catchy melodies and great performances. The band also wears their influences on their sleeve to such a degree I couldn’t find the signature sound of Happy Curmudgeons. They are able to with a great degree of success evoke certain sub-genres and even artists throughout the album. Once It was all put together it felt more like a homage to a broad array of artists then a singular vision from one band.
Suffice it to say I think this is definitely an album worth spending some time with. The songwriting and performances are worth some of your time and if you enjoy some of the aforementioned bands in the first place this is a no brainer.
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Peter Ormerod is a musician who creates music unlike anyone I have heard of before. I’m not going to go into detail but you can read about it if you are interested through of critique of his first release EP 1.
Ormerod is a pianist and that is the instrument he brings to light on EP 2. The release contains four songs all of which I would argue veer towards brevity considering the style. There is something I inherently appreciate about a solo piano that's played well. It can be romantic, refined and even regal. There is a sense of clarity that instills my being while listening to a piano piece that is performed with grace and composure. That's the essence that is conveyed throughout the four songs on EP 2.
“Blue Moon Motel” opens the EP. The first couple of minutes are melancholy and cerebral. I would say the space between the notes is just as important as the notes being played. There is a rapid increase in tempo and notes played up until a little after the three-minute mark. The crescendo boils over and you are left with the distillation of a few notes before the end of the track.
“Peace” layers piano with what sounds like a alien arpeggiated synth. The juxtaposition of elements works partially because the focal point is still the piano. I would say the synth elevates the piano parts more than anything.
“Seeing Colours” was a dynamic, vey well performed piece. It was the most emotionally resonant for me as it stirred in emotions like hope, sadness and nostalgia. “Sweet Entreaties” is a heavier piece where the sustain between the notes is integral to the weight of the song.
EP 2 is a cohesive fluid release that doesn't disappoint. The music can be appreciated passively while reading a book or more actively by paying attention to nuances and details in the performance. Recommended.
Daniel Sandoval aka glacierr is a solo project from Los Angeles who recently released a self-titled three song-demo entitled glacierr. The songs on this releases are more or less loops and any changes are subtle in which you have to pay attention to the music.
The title track is the highlight of the batch. It starts with a single note synth and kick drum that sounds slightly off sync. What sounds like snare rolls start to emerge. The song continues to get layers and eventually has an industrial type of feel to the music and it starts to solidify. To say it's hypnotic is an understatement. I couldn't concentrate on much else besides the single note synth until pads started to come into the mix. There are some shifts in outer layers to the music but the beat doesn't flinch.
“Ghost Ship” is where the beat, melody and elements are so steady I consider this more of an ambient song. The pads that are introduced do very little besides adding subtle texture. My concentration was draw to the main melody.
“Ptq” is the most avante garde piece which is more or less variations on a single idea. There is a lot of white noise and high frequencies that overtake the metallic percussive elements.
I was thrown off by how lo-fi these recordings were for whatever reason. This style in particular thrives in the opposite of conditions. If this music isn’t treated properly in the studio it misses the point. The intrigue of what Sandoval is doing is in the details and is usually best experienced with a great pair of headphones. If there's one thing I think Sandoval should focus on is the clarity, separation and overall mixing, balancing and presentation of sounds. For reference I think comparing his mixes to artists like Holden, Gas, Fennesz, Sepalcure and other like minded artist might be beneficial.
Musically, I think there were some solid ideas and execution. Hypnotic loops certainly serve a artistic purpose and mindset. I do love listening to Selected Ambient Works Volume II which like glacierr builds off a singular idea with minor deviation. On that note I would be interested to hear if he could pack more ideas into the songs and take the songs to places I wasn't expecting it to go.
Overall, I liked what I heard. There is some obvious talent as a producer and I think with some tweaking Sandoval could take it to the next level. I’m looking forward to hearing his future work.
Man and Things aka Robert Ranaldi is a prolific artist who is back with a three-song EP entitled Re-Blossom. This time around Ranaldi is treating us with jazzy instrumentals. The EP is a treat to listen to from beginning to end. It’s relaxing and calming for the most part.
The first track “Sugar on Top” is downright chipper and reminded me of a walk in the park on a sunny day. Ranaldi utilizes a clean guitar, organ, bass and drums. The guitar is the focal point of the music which had most of my attention but there are times for instance when the organ takes the lead. It's a delightful song that is easy on the ears.
“Hope” is slower, more melancholy and virtually free of percussion besides some cymbals. The song unfolds very much like a blossom. Ranaldi takes his time with the song and doesn't rush. The song felt pretty meditative after a while and the songs picks up ever so slightly with additional guitar.
The energy picks up with the title track. There is great lead guitar work which is a mix between blues and jazz scales. The song really gets going with the tradeoff between organ and guitar. I think the most shocking moment was around the two-minute mark when a flood of synths come in. The song afterwards breaks down to bass and drums with guitar not far behind.
My only issue with Re-Blossom is I wanted more songs. The three songs flew by not only because of their length but due to the fact they were light and easy listening. The other reason I say this is because I thought Rinaldi’s guitar work really shined on this EP. His lead skills on the guitar were technically interesting and creatively apt.
Re-Blossom is a short but sweet listen. He takes elements of jazz and on certain instances gives the songs a little twist. If you enjoyed Re-Blossom I would also recommend dipping into his back catalogue as well. Recommended.
I might have known Matt Frisby if I was twenty years younger. He started a project entitled hi-Score in Crystal Lake, Il which is where I went to high school and my mother currently still lives. I graduated before the turn of the century but some things never change. Frisby mentions Weezer was an influence and I remember playing Weezer covers in mom’s basement all those years ago. We have more in common. His album Bedridden was recorded in Champaign-Urbana, IL which is where I also recorded music and went to college.
Frsiby (vocals/guitar) works with John Cieslak (bass/vocals) and Will Penne (drums/guitar/vocals) on Bedridden. The band definitely feeds into a lo-fi indie rock style. That being said it’s a professionally produced lo-fi sound and not something you would get from a laptop in a bedroom. Frisby sings about age appropriate subjects such as drinking too much, growing out of certain behaviors and the almost standard existential questions that start to merge as you begin your twenties.
Take for instance the opener “Freshman Halloween” where he sings, “I'm too old for costumes this year / Just gonna stay back and watch the door / Waiting for my phone to ring / Ignore the disappointments in store.” It’s a catchy tune that is well structured and delivered. The dueling guitars sound great.
“Homeschooled” definitely has some of that old school flavor I remember from Weezer. The chorus and delivery reminded me more of the Blue Album and Pinkerton. “I’m Good, Man” is a highlight. It reminded of a band called Hum which incidentally were also from Champaign-Urbana, IL.
As the album progresses I thought the songwriting was consistently good. They also excelled at creating a cohesive feeling to the album. There was some songs that mixed things up such as the acoustic driven “Hospital Rants” and the exceptionally catchy and the slightly ’50s pop sounding “The Bones, The Gears, The Teeth.” “Returning” is another rocker I wouldn't miss out on.
Frisby and company have got some talent. I thought it was a well put together album. Next time I visit Champaign-Urbana maybe I will see his band name on the marquee for the Canopy Club.
Although it was about twenty years ago I remember being eighteen and having my heart broken for the first time. The cliche is true that the first time is the most emotionally devastating. You don’t know what to do and everything seems like a meager attempt at escape.
Mikel Hopkins aka Co. more or less writes about heartbreak on his four-song EP entitled It’s All For You. The EP starts with “Wilt” which is slow moving with a jazzy groove. It was a solid mix of sounds and also had some catchy melodies. The lyrics avoid cliches but certainly seem to revolve around heartache. He sings, “Everything I touch wilts / Every second of love kills / So I drink Nyquil and take pills 'til it's not real / Every breath is an aching gasp.”
“What Did I Find?” is a highlight. The song is again jazzy but even more catchy with a great groove. The xylophone or vibraphone he utilizes adds a nice ’70s touch to the song. “Drown Me” which is another solid song. I really enjoyed the groove and the synths he adds in. The bass line is also really smooth. The lyrics are pretty straightforward and didn’t need a whole lot of explanation.
“Dream of You” starts off very strong. Hopkins’ smooth buoyant jazzy drumming with soft melodies are on the mark. The groove is funky but also very atmospheric.
It’s All For You is a DIY bedroom project and has a lot of the common issues I hear when artists present me their demos in the studio. There’s a couple of relatively simple things Hopkins can do to clean up his mixes. All the songs have too much low end causing muddiness overall but also make his vocals thin and hard to understand. In this case the muddiness seems to be coming from 200hz - 400hz. I would recommend doing some EQ cutting to the bass-heavy instrumentation to open up the mids and highs. I would also recommend some subtle boosting on the vocals somewhere between 1khz and 4khz.
Musically, I enjoyed what I heard from Hopkins. He’s a diverse musician with talent in multiple areas and I am very interested to hear him evolve. I also need to mention that heartbreak gets easier as you get older. By the time you’re thirty heartbreak really isn’t a thing you have to worry about anymore. On that note creating and making music has only always been one of the best antidotes for heartbreak.
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