Car of the Future is a rock trio based out of Detroit and Chicago. The band is led by guitarist/singer/songwriter Paul Priest with James Simonson (bass) and Greg Fundis (drums) rounding out the lineup. While the three have been longtime collaborators in various projects and combinations, the eponymous Car of the Future EP is their maiden voyage as a trio.
They tell us their EP aims to attract “listeners out there who are into staying with an album as it deliberately weaves around a musical landscape.” Across the four tracks, there is a definite arc to the music with feels and sounds working their way across the cuts. You’re definitely rewarded for listening to this as an album; as a set of singles, it’s not as coherent--it isn’t meant to be.
For instance, contrast the opening track “Day Trader” with the second “Hacker.” “Day Trader” is a down-home shuffle-boogie blues that draws you in like a fun ZZ Top record with Priest laying down solid acoustic and electric-guitar solos. The riff-y bridge lands somewhere around Lynyrd Skynyrd. “Hacker” on the other hand is a metal instrumental. It features detuned, evil riffs and is heavy with doublings and octave pedals. The song works, but it isn’t necessarily what was expected after the first cut.
And how does Car of the Future follow the metal evilness? Well, with the plucky acoustic start and high-register melodic bass lines of “Life Turned On.” It’s a curveball, but then the distorted guitars work their way in, hinting at the metal of “Hacker.” After a swoop-y, spacey keyboard solo, the metal feel comes back full-on, with a ripping wah-wah guitar solo over pounding riffs. A nice turnaround section morphs the song into a bit of prog-rock. While a written review may make this sound disjointed, Car of the Future pulls it off, with all of these elements flowing smoothly from one to the next.
So of course they cap the album with “Make the Morning,” a pop song with a Grateful Dead feel. The track picks up on the acoustic ideas started in “Life Turned on” and introduces layered vocals and a major-key tonality that evokes ‘70s-era Laurel Canyon. The prog-rock elements get a reprise during the guitar solo, especially Priest’s choice of tone (including the octave pedal again) and some doubling on the keyboard. As a standalone section, these parts work in the song, but make much more sense as a continuation of themes from the earlier tracks.
Car of the Future achieved their goal with their debut EP, taking their listener on a coherent journey across a diverse set of musical styles, all in under twenty minutes. Well done, gentlemen, and we look forward to your next set.
So Long is the recent release from Erin Power. The singer/songwriter explains: “The album is about letting go of past relationships, trauma and any other bull that prevents you from going toward the things you love. It's about contemplation, reflection and surrendering to things you cannot control and focusing on the things that you can, in a time when things are so uncertain, for everyone.”
I have to say there is a similar type of affectation and inflection she sings with that really reminded me of Devendra Banhart. There’s something about the way they both curtail or sustain notes and words. It’s similar to his release Rejoicing in the Hands. I think it really benefited the songs.
The album starts with “So long” and the way she sings covers the song. It’s a solid start and I enjoyed the picking pattern and the lyrics. “Believe’n” is around seven-and-a-half minutes long. I’m not sure why she decided to draw this one out for so long because there really aren’t many significant changes. Regardless, it’s got its charm and is soulful and heartfelt.
Up next is “Made Me” and contains the same exact picking pattern as “Believe’n” and in all honesty it was hard to feel many differences. “On and on” is a warm folk song. “I hope this helps” and “Where are you?” has its moments. I was excited for some banjo on “You’re all that” and “So long.”
Power revisits the same picking pattern on a number of songs. It’s a nice pattern but she seems to be relying on it too much. There are a number of songs which sound incredibly similar due to the sparse instrumentation and identical picking. On that note I really dig her vibe which does feel in the similar wheelhouse as Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsome.
Power in my opinion is still in the embryonic stage of her musical career and this follow up release shows she’s still evolving and getting better. On that note her talent shines with just her voice, guitar skills and poetic lyrics. I hope to hear more in the not too distant future.
Umbrella Life is led by Noah Kim who is based in the Bay Area in California. Technology has allowed for bedroom pop artists like Owl City and Billie Eilish to really make a name for themselves. These days practically anyone can make music with just their laptop. Life under lockdown has provided a resurgence of these types of artists. Kim is one of these artists, providing mellow electronica with impressions of nature embedded in the music on his sophomore EP Daydream. Charmingly enough, this EP starts off with a story: “Deep in the heart of a forest clearing lies a rusty, moss-encrusted video game cartridge, half-buried in the earth. Upon taking the cartridge home you find that it soaked up all the beautiful sounds and melodies of the outdoors, and upon playing it you are transported to dreams and adventure – without even stepping outside!” The juxtaposition between natural and man-made sounds makes for a very captivating and unique listen. These soundscapes will take you away, either into an adventure, or into a soothing journey of relaxation.
Daydream opens up with the title track “Daydream,” where the ambiance of a chill piano melody courses through the start of this track. The piano vibe is very mellow as synths waft in. With the sounds of bird chirping, the atmospheric vibes bring in scenes from nature. Slowly the electronic riffs gain in traction, making way for a chiptune video game vibe. The tune at moments reminded me of Mario Bros. and at the same time of Owl City sans vocals. Hand clap percussions provides a rhythmic backdrop. On “Snowfall,” the melody is a bit meandering as the tone slowly builds. A delicate piano tune makes an appearance on here. The cool and chill sounds are really reverberating. What sounds like the xylophone adds some unconventional instrumentation.
On “Little Fox,” the sounds of crickets and a nice breeze carry this song forward. The trickling in of an exciting piano melody tunes the listener in. The piano melody is dynamic and delicate. Next, Kim brings an orchestral element with some lush strings. This is a dramatic piece filled with tension and urgency. A storm is breaking in the horizon adding to the sounds. More strings surround the sounds on “Viper Fish.” The sounds are airy with a dark and smoldering vibe. Electronic riffs enhance this dark feeling. The ominous undertones grow in sound as the synths are heavily implemented, creating a very EDM appeal. This delves into the dark side, shows Kim’s eclectic vision on this multifaceted project.
Kim has been working on these songs on and off between classes for the past two years. The pandemic allowed him more time to work on these recordings, and it became a special place for him to go to immerse himself in and escape to – a place he can “daydream,” hence the title. As we listen, listeners can share in this “daydream.” Kim also provides music video accompaniments on Youtube to better help stimulate the senses. I look forward to hearing more.
What happens when a Swedish guy gets inspired by a trip to Spain and records an English-language EP? You get Suncoast Harmonies Vol. 1 from Malmo’s one-man band Solo El Malo.
This EP is four uptempo tracks of Latin-inspired acoustic rock (or, as El Malo says, “Flamumba rock to the initiated”). The first few seconds of the opening track “Fall On My Knees” set it up well. El Malo starts with some dextrous, on-genre acoustic guitar runs, and brings in an energetic percussion track as things get moving. There’s a hooky chorus with sing-along backing vocals. The second set “When I Close My Eyes” is much the same with El Malo employing the same minor-key feel and percussion technique (sixteenth-note hand claps) as “Fall On My Knees.”
“She Just Wants To Dance” starts with a less-busy backing track as El Malo explores a triplet feel. The song fills out nicely into the chorus with the handclaps featuring prominently again. The post-chorus guitar solo worked quite well. It’s nice to hear a snare sound (even if it’s a drum machine) on the final cut “You’ll Be Alright.” El Malo ends the four-song journey on an upbeat note.
The backing tracks on Suncoast Harmonies Vol. 1 are well-executed, but the album missed a bit with its lyrics. The words are a bit trite: “When the road looks dark / Put your faith in yourself / You know you'll be alright”; “How will I go on without you / When the world has turned to grey / Show me how to live tomorrow / When I’m down on my knees today.” These are well, drab, and don’t seem to match the emotion and energy in the music. Vocally, it seems that El Malo reaches pretty hard to hit some of the higher notes on the choruses, and sometimes seems to struggle. Would these songs work better for him if he tuned down two steps?
That aside, Suncoast Harmonies Vol. 1 is a fun set. Mix up some sangria, face the sunset and enjoy a spin.
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Magic Candy is a one-man band from Charlotte, NC. Everything on his latest EP Summer Soon was written, performed, produced, mixed and mastered by the artist. Having some time on his hands because of the pandemic and at the time feeling emotional, dreamy, flustered, anxious and confused led him to focus his energies on new material. The new EP was recorded in less than two weeks. The recording process went very smoothly with no outtakes and nothing scraped. The next two weeks were spent mixing and tightening the sound. Recorded entirely in his bedroom, the sound that comes up is heavily based on synths, surrounded around mood and ambiance. Feeling dream-like, the soundscapes on this album will create an inviting space for you to daydream or relax in.
Summer Soon begins with “Something,” where synths swirl on the backdrop of this track gradually building in mood. The sound of synthetic strings adds a lush vibe. The vocals slowly grow in volume.. Overdubbed vocals make for a cacophony of sounds. A piano courses through “Photo Glitch,” providing a very jazzy lounge vibe. The vocals are executed in a falsetto and at times reminded me of Bon Iver or Radiohead. More synths sound out on “My Birthday” as half-mumbled, half-sung vocals give off an emo and nonchalant feel. The vocals kind of drone on as the ambiance of the synths and electronic riffs gain in vibe.
On “Night Love II,” airy guitars and moody synths cast an atmospheric appeal to the start of this song. At moments, the haunting and noir vibes to the vocals reminded me of Lana Del Rey. The enigmatic vibes to the music really made for a sound submerged in mystery and shadow. On “Pearl,” the twang of guitars and xylophone made for a unique sound. The synths highlight more atmosphere and ambiance toward the start as some keys trickle in. The piano melody gives a very lounge and jazzy flair. Dreamy and haunting, what sounds like steel lap guitar creates the ambiance on “I Can Always Move It.” Percussions add a touch of liveliness. The rhythms and grooves of this track felt more like straightforward rock fare than the previous sections. As the beats joined in, this felt like the most pop-oriented song out of the bunch. The album closes on this accessible and familiar number.
The sound on this EP leans onto a type of avant-garde dream pop album. Filled with tons of mood and atmosphere, this record is great to listen to with headphones on in order to fully immerse yourself in the music. Magic Candy has created an environment where audiences can be free to dream and let their minds wander over these soothing sonic landscapes. If you’re looking for something ambient and engaging to spend some time with, then this recording is for you. I look forward to seeing more from this artist.
Back in 2018 Divide and Conquer reviewed Songs from the Cave by Steve Wright. Wright is back with Folderol which is a ten-song album. Wright explains “This album is entitled Folderol (means nonsense) and it is a song cycle exploring what we as Americans have been going through for the past four-five years. It begins with the harsh realities of our caustic and divided society and moving along a continuum to gradually more positive uplifting songs. It's not so much a political statement album but a bystander taking pictures of what is happening and how people feel.
The album begins with ‘Everything's black and blue” and it has a sort of straightforward rock vibe with elements of Americana. It’s well delivered, catchy and sounds great overall. Up next is the more ambitious “Everybody’s talkin over.” It’s a moody song that plays around with dissonance and in particular synths which give it an otherworldly and alien like quality. The hook feels like a mantra.
I immediately enjoyed “Bored in our houses'' which has a Wilco type quality. The vocals in particular sounded great here. “Scatter All” might have the most badass groove on the album. It’s a little darker at first and sounds more festive as it progresses which I thought was unique.
“Take no prisoners” is the first ballad of sorts but isn’t exactly straightforward. There’s a unique use of dissonance and also some really cool play between the guitar and synth. It’s very dreamy sounding. “Bend '' rocks but is also off-kilter with some cool surprise like the tremolo infused spaghetti western guitar which sounds like it got infested by tiny robots.
The lush and cinematic “I climbed a mountain” has its moments including some spoken word while “Here comes the aliens” is a fun and a slightly silly song. We go into sort of an epic melancholy ballad with “Better Days” while “Come Away: is a warm song that is one of the most catchy on the album.
This is a great album. It jumps all over the place but nothing too far in left field which felt out of place. Recommended.
Chris Hayzel is a multimedia artist based in Nashville, Tennessee. Back in 2017 we at Divide and Conquer reviewed the EP Axiom. Hayzel is back with a single entitled “The Glue.” He explains “Unlike Axiom, which was a deeply introspective EP, 'The Glue' and the songs that accompany it (one of which has been released and two of which still have yet to be) are focused outwardly at the environment that we're all coexisting in. The lyrics of the song attempt to question the very concept of power and the illusion of that power belonging to any person.”
The song is just under five minutes and starts with an otherworldly like ambience. It’s a bit ominous sounding but that doesn't last particularly long before drums and guitar enter into the mix. As the song progresses it starts to feel more upbeat and lively.
There’s a somewhat sudden transition around a-minute-and-thirty-seconds in. It transitions into a bluesy guitar lead and then into the chorus. The chorus is accessible with a fairly straightforward concoction of guitar, bass and drums. After the second chorus it goes into a more moody outro somewhat reminiscent of Radiohead.
This is an accessible song and in my opinion is something you can dance to or think about. There are a number of great grooves but also some deep lyrics to this song. I would say this is one of the better home recordings I’ve heard in recent memory.
Overall, this song gets two thumbs from me and certainly points to a new and exciting direction for the artist. I'm looking forward to hearing more soon.
Ludettes is the musical project of Los Angeles-based Doug Roj, who spent the 2020 lockdown creating this debut release titled Dirty White Cleveland. This ‘mixtape’ style album also features songwriting contributions from Nico Walker. The songs here “…reflect life decisions of a neurotic, cast out of his hometown by the nefarious dealings of family and friends.” Recording took place at Roj’s home in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, just a stone’s throw from where I sit.
Not sure if this was intentional, but I keep wanting to call these guys “luddites” which broadly refers to people suspicious of new technology. It sort of fits, as these songs feel like they came from the ’80s 4-track cassette heyday, reflecting both that era’s creative mania and technical limitations. Roj didn’t share how these songs were recorded, but I assume he used something like GarageBand and kept throwing ideas against the wall until something stuck. The sound quality is both clean and haphazardly grungy, and the inclusion of a live accordion is unique and fun. I’d compare Ludettes to Ween, but with a slightly less jaundiced world view. I won’t pretend that ALL these songs and performances are ready for prime time, but the wild creativity on view warms my cockles.
The opening song “Dirty Cleveland” is kind of the title track with lyrics that point far afield of Roj’s Los Angeles home. “Plight of others would astound you / Even though it’s Saturday / Have respect for those around you / Riding on the RTA.” The vibe is laid back and vaguely R&B with Roj’s untutored vocals purposely exaggerated over gentle pads of guitar and keyboards. “Victor Quaalude” counts down to harder rock with what sounds like a live drum kit. I’m always impressed when artists forgo drum machines but I wish they’d credit themselves for the effort! This song sets the template for most of the following tracks: smartass vocals and a steady wall of fuzzy, flanged electric guitar.
“Those Teeth” has an improbable island feel with Roj’s accordion adding welcome new colors. This is a song about trying to control one’s temper, and I can certainly relate to the line: “Even when I hit the wall / I love you.”
“Mudflap Girl” is a fun, catchy tune about those shiny silhouette girls on big rigs; just over a minute, but a great idea. “Claw Machine” has a constructed beat that evokes some sort of machine, and is borderline over modulated. However, this song has some of the most fun synth patches at the end, which sadly cut off just as they’re getting started. “Rock n’ Roll Is A White Lie” changes gears into a Beatles-like mellotron lament. The lyrics are vague enough that this could be about rock n’ roll filling the holes in our lives, or the idea that we’re all living in a computer simulation. “Dirty White Bricks” feels like the song most likely to end up on alternative radio, though it’s again dependent on thick slabs of flanged guitar.
“From the Brat” features a simple lyrical conceit about bad girlfriends and bad crowds, but the unusual arrangement features an echo-drenched wall of slide guitars. Just two minutes but it could have been longer! “Mandy Mallard” features a really fun Casio-style riff that cycles throughout the song, changing tempo at will. Fun lyrics about a friendly mallard recall Tony Soprano’s obsession with his swimming pool ducks. “No Pleasing’ Some” features a spinning, dizzy Mutron-style guitar at its core. I do like the guitar playing but sometimes wish for a bit more variety in the guitar’s recording method, which tends to start at the start and end at the end. “Goodie Gumdrops” concludes the album with one of the most Ween-like songs, like bubble gum pop from a psych ward. I love the central riff even though it’s treated as just another wacky component of the song.
I hesitate to make any stern pronouncements on this album, as I salute unbridled creativity and did enjoy these songs. Perhaps going forward these guys might spend a little more time on their catchiest riffs and diversify their arrangements, but what we have right now is worthy and entertaining.
On The Stranger EP, Liverpudlian guitarist Fox Rivera steps forward to take center stage. He’s played in many bands; he’s created this solo work to bring some of his own songs to life.
Rivera gave himself a bit of a challenge: he wanted to keep the songs short, like a good Creedence Clearwater Revival record. That “less is more” approach is a tough goal to meet, but Rivera gets there, and soars beyond. Each of the five tracks on the EP clocks in around three minutes with the longest (“Someone I Once Knew”) clocking in at just under four minutes. The Stranger EP offers nice variation in the instrumentation throughout; Rivera fits a lot of texture within these tight confines, all without overwhelming his listener.
The tracks are constructed around Rivera’s acoustic guitar and vocals, and all are easy and accessible. The opener “Dirty Trick” is a good example with its folk/pop, sing-along melody supported by bass and drums with light bits of organ, banjo and vocal harmony added for color. The repeated musical patterns underneath are straightforward but never boring--they are just right for the song they’re supporting. I wouldn’t change a note!
The title track, up next, keeps the pattern of straightforward musical themes, but the production is a bit more layered, modal and spooky. Rivera includes a nice piano motif as well. “Someone I Once Knew” features a sweet melody over a fingerstyle acoustic guitar figure. Rivera works in good supporting harmonies and piano counterpoint; the track builds nicely with string parts and some just-underneath percussion thump.
“If I Fall” features the biggest production on the album. It starts off as a folky acoustic-guitar love song that could have been lifted from an Irish pub session. Rivers builds it into a full-on pop track with female backing vocals, a variety of instruments (bells! hand claps!) and a gritty electric guitar slamming out power chords mixed low and right. It’s terrifically arranged, as the intensity of the track ebbs and flows, eventually culminating in a high-point finish. And all in three minutes!
The final track “Emptiness & Blue” is a melancholic cap to the set. Rivera has fit another lovely melody over a two-bar acoustic guitar pattern with a plaintive trumpet part adding to the mood. He shows off some songwriting chops with a nice bridge that features some interesting chords. After listening, I need a hug, but I wouldn’t change a note.
The Stranger EP delights throughout with great arrangements and tasty bits to discover on every track. Enjoy!
One of best band names I’ve ever heard, No Showers On Vacation of Burlington, Vermont, recently put out their second pandemic release titled Aquaband which “…seeks to provide the listener with an unforgettable experience of subaqueous funk while incorporating a diverse selection of musical styles into ten instrumental tracks.” Band members include Emmett Lurssen (guitars), Alden Nichols (keys), Pat Maley (saxophone) and Sam Lyons (drums).
Stylistically the band cites Phish, jazz-funk and J Dilla as influences, and say their music incorporates styles including funk, jazz, hip hop, rock and samba. “We are a live performance-based jam band, so these songs will have extended improvised sections in a live setting.” Yet again I’m amazed to discover this full band-sounding album was recorded remotely with each instrument tracked and mixed separately on GarageBand and Logic. Mastering was performed by Lurssen Mastering.
“Chestnut” opens the album with uptempo jazzy piano and busy triple-time percussion, upon which the other players join in. It’s clear from the first note that these guys are pros who handle their axes as easily as they breathe. Guitar and keys both take short, impressive solos. “Space Trash” is a funky construction featuring sweet and blue minor-key melodies.
“Chonk” starts with especially nice guitar runs, then settles into a somewhat spooky rock-based keyboard improvisation, including a quote from the “wheels on the bus” nursery rhyme. Bass and drums don’t lock in quite as perfectly here, but that’s a nitpick.
“Powdered Milk” centers on a Keith Emerson-like Hammond patch over a percolating funk riff. “Key” starts in fast funk mode but then changes into one of the nicest melodies on the album - almost jangly folk rock - then concludes in fast prog-rock time. “Uranium Rain” centers on Pat Maley’s stellar sax playing and uses those famous descending chords from Cream’s “I’m So Glad” and many other songs. “Theme” is indeed a catchy theme where the chords are literally made to “melt” by some kind of electronic sorcery.
“Amtrakk,” as corny as it might seem, has the steady rhythm of a steam train with happy melodies evoking the glorious views rushing by a passenger train window; one of my favorites. “Gold” ends the album on progressive rock footing, with crunchy lead guitars and ersatz horns, a Moog-like solo and a glorious full-band conclusion.
These guys play great, and this is an excellent collection. Full disclosure: I first heard this album while parked on a scary downtown street late at night, and the music was a perfect fit for the glowing traffic lights, scary night walkers and suspicious police cruisers. I may have lost five pounds just bopping around in my front seat!
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