Astronaut Aardvark Attack was started by two brothers who decided to participate in the RPM Challenge. The album they released Songs for the Escape Pod is a very lo-fi demo quality concept album.
The title song “Songs for the Escape Pod” is the intro of sorts. It’s kind of silly and goofy and impossible to understand what the robot is saying. There is a slightly funky jam that unwraps but I couldn’t understand the lyrics here either.
“Sophrosyne” is the next song. The song has its moments and reminded me of Low by David Bowie. That being said the duo is out of the pocket so consistently it was really hard to step into the hypnotic groove they were attempting to play.
“Weed” is up next. The lyrics are frivolous and come off as goofy. The duo continues with “A Lake Nearby” which is made up of a couple of jangly chords. I wasn’t really sure where the concept was going once I got to “The Launch Codes.” The song is more or less a jam over some spoken word.
There are a couple of highlights on the album. “Skyscraper Windows” was a clear standout. They were tighter on this song at least for most of the song. I also liked the groove and could occasionally make out some lyrics. The guitar part was also pretty wicked. The band has a little more success with “Vaccine.”
My advice for the band would be to not worry about things like the RPM channel and just iron out some of the essentials. Things like staying in the pocket and staying in key aren’t always bad if it’s subtle and used to create a more organic sounding band. In this case it just sounds like a band that needs to tighten up some of the essential skills a musician should have. That of course is just the beginning. You have to have the ability to find the heart of a song, weave various emotions and create a cohesion artistic statement.
I like the ambition and motivation. There are also some notable melodies throughout. I wish them luck as they evolve and hope to hear more
Kiana Corley is a twenty-one-year-old musician based out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania who recently released an EP entitled One Way. The EP contains four songs which fit under the umbrella of pop.
The EP starts with the title track “One Way.” You are greeted with a clean, funky guitar and an even funkier bass. It’s a catchy song and felt a little bit like something you might hear from a Disney show. It felt motivational and hopeful as if she was catering to a younger audience. The second verse opens up a bit with funkier aspects and by the time you get to the second chorus there is a full fledged horn section.
Up next is “Palpitations” which is very poppy sounding song. There is again that sort of feeling that I'm listening to a younger Justin Timberlake or Christina Aguilera singing at Disney. It’s very wholesome without the slightest sense there are is any darkness that exists in the world.
“Tightrope” is a fairly straightforward singer/songwriter pop. It’s more melancholy and is just an acoustic guitar and vocals. “Symphony of Light” was my personal favorite. The song is perhaps the most melancholy. Corley’s vocals sound especially good when they are more soulful and emotionally resonant than the more straightforward pop songs. The orchestral strings were also a nice touch which added an extra layer of emotion to the songs.
Corley unequivocally has talent and her heart really seems to be in pop music. This EP showcased different aspects to her style all of which she pulled off. My only advice would be to not be afraid to push boundaries with her music and see where it can go. She still has plenty of time to do that being so young but starting to etch out a signature sound is something I always advise. Overall, this EP builds a solid foundation she can build from and I wish her luck as she evolves.
Mervyns is a population of one, that one being Jess Kelly. This is a VERY fresh off the vine project for Kelly and I have to say I am over the moon and completely smitten. The album is Everything Must Stay and its sound is soft but there is a lot of story and depth in this airy and fresh acoustic guitar aesthetic. I will admit, this is one of those genres that I feel gets easily flooded with congruent tricks and plays. Kelly rose above that hurdle with such effortless ease. I am not by nature an easy listening kind of gal. I am often categorized as grumpy, cantankerous and downright evil, but for this album I was happy to retract my claws and horns.
Everything Must Stay stands on three solid pillars. One, Kelly has a voice that can unwind even the tightest knot in my back. A very conversational and genuine performance style. Pillar number two, those hands know their way around a guitar. Intricate, expertly layered guitar work here, just a pure joy to listen to in such an intimate way. Pillar number three, the details, the things you almost don't notice that make such a big difference. This album was self produced by Kelly and it sounds so luxe and inviting.
"That's The Boy" kicks things off for this album, and it's a dreamy ditty with stellar lyrics. The guitar work here is many levels above what I typically get for albums in this genre. The piano is also a lovely touch and helped lift this track up to a more polished level.
"Softer Than Any Touch” is a foot tapper. The romance here is palatable, but it's not without gravity. There is a genuine conversation happening in the lyrics that made me smile. Coming out swinging with a delightful sense of insecurity and self scrutiny is "Why Do I Even Like You." The message here is one that is so accessible to me and to so many others I imagine. Again we get that piano and it just wooed me completely. Track number four is "Sure" and we're back in dreamland with charming vocal additives. The song is very lo-fi and lends itself to let the listening drift into their own thoughts. There is a motion that comes with it, almost like a sensation of open water waves beneath you. For the gentle finale, you get "One Wish" which is given a great percussion treatment and samples that amplify the dream aspect with the temptation to dance.
The arrangement alone on this album is spectacular and just so damn thoughtful. I think that's the underlying theme here, thoughtfulness. So many tiny details all adding up to a distinctive experience. So who do I think should be giving this album a shot? Damn near everyone I think needs a shot of what this album is serving. With a world on fire, I love that Kelly is out there making an album like this. Someone needs to see the bright side or none of us will.
The Tom O'Bedlam is comprised of two songwriters from the midwest who met in New Mexico. They recorded an album entitled The Starry Plough which they describe as “lyric driven folk-punk with a social conscience.”
Some of the songs sort of sound like The Dropkick Murphy minus any distortion, drums or bass. There are some songs which just sound like traditional songs.
They get going with “Ramblin' After Rain” which sounds like a traditional Irish drinking song. I felt like I wanted to sing along and get drunk. “Tom O’Bedlam” is a little folk inspired song that sounds like it comes straight from the hills of Ireland. The energy returns with “Raise the Starry Plough.”
As the album progresses, the energy unfolds across a spectrum of sound and style. You have more folk inspired songs which sound like a soft hymn while other gravitate towards a punk energy. “Midnight Train,” “Blood on the Boulevards” and “St. George in the Warehouse” were the other notable highlights to my ears.
I really liked these songs and the spirit in which they were delivered. My only slight issue especially as an engineer is just how lo-fi the recordings were. The guitars were a little thin and recording sounded distant. I think the band is well aware of this as they comment on their bandcamp page but even one close mic and one room mic would have been a big step up.
Overall, these are fun and pretty catchy songs which successfully meld aspects of punk and folk. The next time I’m in New Mexico I’ll make sure to see where these guys are playing live.
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Swallowed Sun is an alternative band from Atlanta, Georgia. The band is comprised of Savannah Walker (vocals), Aaron Hambrick (drums), Caleb Hambrick (bass) and Calvin Truelove (guitar) that released Strange Motions. Although young, the band is off to a great start and has all the criteria you need to thrive. They play into a relatively straightforward alternative sound with funky tendencies.
They get going with “Ghosts” which revolves around jangle-y, slightly muffled guitar, a driving beat and a bass that likes to keep it funky. It’s a catchy song with poetic lyrics. Walker sings, “Frightened by foreboding thoughts / Oh I just try to turn it off / Inside a dream I just get lost /What’s the cost?” There is a fairly long guitar solo as well.
“Swallowed Sun” sounded great. It’s a slower burn but is also dynamic. The melodies reminded me of listening to Pearl Jam when I was in high school back in the 90’s for some reason. Something about the guitar and general emotion the song had.
“Some Things” is another success for the band. They keep it very clean and pretty on the verse. Walker does a good job delivering the vocals which are a mix of emotions. The topics are deep and philosophical. She sings, “Watching like a screen complacently / Every hour seeps into your being / Changing like a feeling constantly / I can’t help the trouble that you’re seeing.”
“When Will I Be Gone?” isn’t nearly as depressing as it sounds. In fact it’s the funky bass that makes you want to bust a groove while listening to the insightful lyrics about the human condition.
Swallowed Sun is off to an impressive start. The band is so young they will have plenty of time to evolve and continue to expand. They do happen to be that age when people start going to college, which is often a band destroyer but hopefully that doesn't happen and we get to hear more from them.
Adam Guzman’s eponymous album Adam Guzman is good throughout with some notable high points. I would describe the style as indie-rock with really catchy pop-hooks. These hooks come less in the acoustic strumming or even distorted guitars than in Guzman’s vocal phrasing. There is a disappointing class of singer that can hit all the notes yet never make you want to sing along. That is not what you get here. While Guzman pushes himself to the limits of his vocal range, even breaking his voice against the rock face of the lyrics, the timing of his phrasing is always spot-on and emotionally valid.
Part of the reason for the strength of his performance has to be the amount of time spent living with these compositions. The songs were written and refined over five years, while the recording itself took place over the past two years. Guzman credits bassist Mike Acampora and drummer Bo Sonnenberg with helping him work through and “flesh-out” the record. The three are all former members of the Long Island emo band Sojourner. The recording and mixing were also completed in Long Island by Bradley Cordaro at Gramps Studios.
One of the noticeable traits of Guzman’s vocal-style is when he pushes his voice to the limits and ends up in a place halfway between heavy-metal mic-swallowing and his wheel-house of pop-crooning. It is a register that he owns and it keeps the dark notes in the lyrics from becoming too nihilistic while keeping the pop-balladeer in him from getting too saccharine.
For my aesthetics, he dances a fine line with this: my least favorite portions of the release are when he stays too long in the Conor Oberst-mode. We already have one Bright-Eyes and that is more than enough.
The strongest tracks are “Hope” and “Unsure,” second and ninth on the eleven-song album. “Hope” sounds like a happy-romp at first then becomes a visceral expression of frustration. There is no lyric sheet but I’m pretty sure that one line goes, “Now there’s fruit rotten on the vine, and it’s just old enough to soften God.” This, in his half-metal scream, is quite affecting.
“Unsure” begins with metallic guitar notes and builds nicely to an emotional anticlimax. Here he goes from “praying in a bathroom stall,” to “open up your legs for me” to “Who am I to love you?” to “put my clothes in the wash...” Guzman, it seems is wrestling with the big questions as well as the mundane facets of everyday life. Sounds like, well, Reality: 2019 edition. “Lanes,” “Decompose” and “Bled Out” also deserve special attention for those that want to dip their toes in before committing to sitting down for a proper album-immersion.
Adam Guzman, the artist, is an interesting lyricist, composer and performer. Adam Guzman, the album, is proof of that, well worth a listen. Go, ye, therefore….
I got a real kick out of the titles for Cosmik Cabin. His previous release we reviewed at Divide and Conquer Is entitled Chain of Thought. He has an EP entitled More Thoughts. His most recent release is entitled Spastic Thoughts. I don’t know, it just struck me as funny. The reason he called it Spastic Thoughts is because at “any moment the songs can dive into different sub genres from synthwave, outrun, jazz, blues, dub, trip-hop.”
This idea sounds kind of cool but can easily go off the rails. Switching genres can be jarring and diminish the fluidity of the songs. I equate that at its worst this method can feel like switching radio stations on the FM dial. Does anybody still remember FM radio anyway? Cosmik Cabin however avoids these pitfalls and creates a cohesive experience. The songs are somewhat short never eclipsing the three-minute mark. The songs are all instrumental and in some ways reminded me of the underrated artist and musician Amon Tobin.
Up first is “Supple Spatters.” You are greeted with an octave effected guitar of some sort and blaring sine waves. The song is bright as it progresses but refuses to settle in a particular groove for very long. I really was digging the lounge-y bass line which reminded me of Flying Lotus.
Things get weird in a good way with “Invaders Of The Body Snatching.” The song does have this alien like quality. It feels somewhere between whimsical and dissonant. “Underground Cloud” has darker tones mirroring some of the cosmic aesthetics of the act Boards of Canada.
Somehow “Digital Wasteland” sounds a lot like the name between the white noise and bleeps and blips which sounds like the thinking mind of an unstable A.I. “High From Sleep” is a highlight with some of the most beautiful moments as well as some of the most inventive.
“Legend Of The Quest” mixes a hip-hop beat with an 8-bit video game type of palette. This song changes quite a bit moving from vertigo inducing dissonance to something more clear. I heard a Prefus 73 type vibe on “Jive Hive” while “Rolling Hard Under The Stars” sounds like it's about MDMA.
He has more success with ambient soundscapes on “Hypnotic Water” and the slow burn of “Can We Bounce?” He isn’t quite done yet as “Cosmik Horror Theme” is a grand sounding song that also salutes basic sine waves and video games. Last up is “Put The Windows Down And Stick Your Head Out” which is a strong closer that pushes things like timing and sonics.
Spastic Thoughts is ear candy. It goes into a lot of different spaces and the attention to detail is what makes this album such a pleasure to experience.
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
William Bishop York Demos 3.6
MESHMASS several duets 3.7
King Clement King Clement 3.5
Late Night Eyes Once That Was True 3.8
True Delusions Song for Judee Sill
and Other Songs 3.5
Burralow is an indie folk outfit fronted by the songwriting duo Sarah Heydon & Ryan Sheridan. They recently released a self-titled six-song EP Burralow. The EP contains fully realized songs that are beautifully produced and delivered. The group knows how to create songs that tug at your emotional strings. It’s a visceral experience that is hard to deny.
The band opens with “Mountainside.” It starts with a pretty guitar picking and vocals by Sheridan. Vocal harmonies come into the mix by about a minute and additional elements like drums, bass and glockenspiel. The energy keeps rising and reminded me of Fleet Foxes that mixes Americana and folk. It’s a song that seamlessly blends nostalgia with hopeful optimism that fills you with vigor.
Up next is “Biscuit Tin” where Heydon takes the lead vocals. She has a great voice and sounded perfect for the music. “Biscuit Tin” is more melancholy than the opener and contains orchestral strings that adds layers of additional emotion to the song.
“What I Need” felt a little more like an alternative song and it is about coming to terms with the fact that you can’t please everyone. The Cranberries came to mind. Heydon’s vocals are not only delivered beautifully but the song is really catchy. I also have to give a nod to that excellent drum work.
“Wollongong Song” is sort of a classic boy meets girls type song. It’s heartfelt but also has plenty of levity to it. The song never feels saccharine. There are also so many great melodies packed into the song.
The band continue to flourish and display different sides to their sound on “Montreux.” The banjo and guitar meld together along with the warm vocal harmonies. They close with “Across The Universe” which is a catchy song with deep percussion that is juxtaposed against airy elements. This song in particular reminded me of The Beatles.
The band showcases its diversity with these songs but also builds a foundation. It’s not an easy feat. Suffice it to say that this is a band that should have a much bigger audience. Highly recommended
Kerosene Kids is a one-man band out of Louisville, Kentucky. That one man is Matt Reynolds, who balances his life between being a dad and realizing a dream of his – that dream of course is making music. His recording set up is nothing too fancy (although I’d like to point out that from his bio, he owns a couple of sweet Gibson Les Pauls). It doesn’t matter to Reynolds. Just knowing that he has fans out there who have bought his music is what counts. Influenced by ‘90s bands like Radiohead, Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr. and arguably one of the most important bands of the 20th century, The Smiths, Reynolds debut self-titled release Kerosene Kids embarks on darker themes – topics like drug use, sex and aliens. Hmm, this debut could be very interesting.
The opener “New Toy” begins with a moody and brooding guitar with some great sounding effects. The drums Reynolds selected were great as well. The melody and style in this tune evoke a lot of dark influences – anything from ‘80s goth, to shoe-gaze and alternative grunge.
“Humid” features crunchier guitar, more upfront and brash, while Reynolds’ voice takes more of a backseat. I liked the chord changes on this one. The lyrics and overall sound of the song (I think there’s only two chords played) have a “druggy” vibe and some of the lyrics suggest that that’s what this song is about.
“Dark Days” has a really cool beginning, with its ticking/marching drum beat and jagged, biting guitar riffs. This one really grew on me; it has an anthem-like quality that was fun to listen to. I also liked Reynolds’ sparser lyrics and shorter song length. The chorus part suggests that the “dark days” were more fun and the “bright days” were just a lie and well, not as fun. “Hide and Seek” has a cleaner sounding guitar for starters, but then Reynolds breaks into a well-distorted riff during the chorus parts – ear splitting stuff for sure. Towards the end, he adds this sweet effect that’s hard to describe beyond listening to it for yourself. Reynolds asks, “what dimension are you from?” in this guitar and vocal only tune.
On “Candy Girl” the style feels very old school, like Bowie meets up with Iggy Pop, meets up with…? I could hear bits of post-punk, new wave and modern something or other. The guitar chords and melody are pretty slick, too – nice and catchy. A good way to end the EP and perhaps there’s more coming in the “kids” future.
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