Within the first thirty seconds or so of hearing The Second Dam’s exceptional debut I knew I was hooked. It had such an energetic, lively feel to it that I find it hard pressed to think that people wouldn’t enjoy this. The Second Dam is a group of artists coming from all over the US to have fate bring them together at Ithaca College in New York to create splendid music. The music blends absolutely stellar violin/cello work with precise drumming that plays in the pocket with the bass, intricate guitar work and the commanding, soaring voice of K.C. Weston. The music feels recognizable but utterly original, as it’s hard to pin down a specific genre. You hear traces of indie rock, soul, even dance that when combined give the sweetness of the Second Dam.
The first song on the album “Rant” may have my nomination for song of the year. The song starts out with some delicate string work as the drummer holds the time with the ride cymbal before the band kicks into full swing. Oh and when they do you may want to be in a private place cause you will probably get out of your seat and start jiving. Hey I’m all for it but your co-workers might think you're weird. The second song, “Mild, Medium, Hot,” continues to display the talent within the group. A song that starts off a bit slower but eventually becomes kinetic as the drum work alone provides enough energy to find a grove. They continue to knock them out of the park with “Pangs” which although it possesses a rather fast BPM has some of the most soulful singing on the album. When that combines with gorgeous harmonies around the 2:30 mark, it makes one of the standouts on the album.
The album continues with not a single dud from the knee slapping “The SS” to the grandiose “Brick by Brick.” Bottom line with this album is that you should already be listening to it because it is one of the funnest, pure energy type albums I have heard in a while.
The Milky Baskets’ latest release, Native Lands, is lo-fi – like really lo-fi. Have you ever heard an album by the incredible band Woods? Well this makes that sound like it was recorded in a million dollar studio. These songs are lo-fi but the songs work. They actually work really well at points. The thing that saves this whole project from being a complete mess at times is the vocals, which sound great. I’m not sure what type of effects he was using but I loved the way they sounded. Another thing that is done with pure brilliance is how he completely owns the lo-fi sound. For example, “Termite Cathedral” which according to the artist is about mindless following, starts with a really cool bluesy riff not unlike something you might hear from M. Ward. The guitar and vocals were perfectly fine to hold down the song but I thought the subtle percussion was very fitting. It sort of reminded me of why I really appreciated an album like Beck’s One Foot from the Grave. It sounded like people were just banging on pots and pans but still sounded fantastic.
The Native Lands EP starts out with “Cargo Cult” which is a glorious mess of noise that layers lead guitar on a bed of slightly untuned clean guitars. I loved the lyric “underneath the veil you won’t forget the whale” as well as his other rather quirky lyrics, which may be comparable to a band like Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. “Gone” ends the six-minute EP in the right way with a song that ends before it begins. The song sounded unpolished, gritty and completely endearing in some way.
The first time you hear this EP you may be inclined to say you heard better music coming from a 12 year old’s music recital but give it a chance because behind the bad production is a whole bunch of talent that actually embraces his lo-fi aesthetic and for the most part makes it work.
My Special One is Greg Hoy's own challenge to himself: can a man isolate himself for 48 hours in San Francisco and make a fun, listenable rock and roll record that doesn't sound rushed? The short answer is yes, yes he can.The longer answer requires more background on Hoy. My Special One is the newest addition to more than 30 of his recordings, including numbers with Steve Albini, John Vanderslice and Glenn Branca's Symphony for 100 Guitars. Hoy's set-up is simple: steady drumming first, guitar and bass second. He plays all three himself then mixes them via laptop. He's no stranger to the modern trappings of the one-man band or being a part of an orchestral movement. So when Hoy decided on a whim to limit his musical creativity and technical abilities to a two-day span, did he think he could do it? Oh, yes.
My Special One drips with confidence for its entire less-than 15 minutes. The steady drumming anchors the sublime bass and guitar, which sound like they could've been taken directly from a Pixies album. There're forces of 90s alternative rock and power-pop at work here, especially in the awesomely self-deprecating "Mixtape,” when Hoy yelps out lyrics like "I crank the punk rock and maybe hip-hop/get my metal on, maybe I'm too far gone" over excited drumming and nervous guitar chords. It's a simple but fun song that carries with it all the staples of the EP: consistent drumming, Hoy's magnetic yelp and a knack toward earnest, if unpolished, rock. If it sounds like I'm emphasizing the drumming, it's because he emphasizes it himself.
Hoy never gets bored on the album, which is always a sign of a devoted artist, even if he does wear his influences on his sleeve. The opening bass line in "My Special One" imitates The Spencer Davis Group's canonical "Gimme Some Lovin'" and Hoy Pixiesfies himself on the troubled closer "Lips Like Heaven.” Heck, there's even a song called "I'm Not Sorry Uncle Albert" that pays tribute to Paul McCartney, and not just in the title. My Special One is a fun listen, an easy one, and packs enough punch to convert newcomers to Hoy's sound. If he sounds this good with only two days to work with, I'm interested to hear a project by him after a full year of making music.
Oscar L Finch is the brainchild behind Venn Diagram and you can sense some of his influences after listening to just a couple of tracks of his intricate, headphone exploring album entitled The Desolate Sound of Extinction. To name a few, you may notice some resemblance to Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin, Steve Reich as well as John Cage to Pantha du Prince. The album is a deeply thought out journey that has some of the most impressive percussive, rhythmic programming I have heard in quite some time that creates collages of sound that form a symbiotic relationship against the somewhat endless variations of synths, drones, rings, and samples that permeate the album. This is the type of album I love simply cause I never get bored of listening to it. There are so many sounds and crevasses to explore and the songs constantly mutate and transform leaving almost no time for you to get settled on a melody.
It's obvious after listening to this album how much time and attention was put into it. The beauty is in the details here and if you have any experience with composing electronic music you will appreciate this about the album. Finch made the decision to use hardware instead of utilizing his DAW for his recording hub and used a number of both analog and digital synths such as the Nord Modular, Analog Solutions Synthesizers and Elektron music machines to name a few. He also used a Zoom H1 and H4 to capture found sounds and field recordings and then manipulated them in post production. While this information is interesting none of it would matter if Finch didn't have the ear to assemble it all into a glorious concoction of sound. Luckily, Finch isn't some novice using presets in garageband but rather is in the upper echelon of electronic artists who dig deeper and don't rely on predictable arrangements and patterns. In addition, to the stellar production Finch didn't cut any corners when it came to sound quality. He utilized a premier mastering facility to polish off his songs in the analog domain before sending them off to the public.
The opener "Neophyte" gives a clear example of whether you will like this album or not. It starts with a surplus of sounds that seem to have no coherence together until right after the 1:00 minute mark where a bass is introduced as electronic drums drift about that are altered in real time with LFO's, envelopes, and oscillators. The song eventually sounds like the cousin of an Aphex Twin song before it de-evolves into a swamp of primordial currents. "Opti is my Symbiont" is a bit more straight forward but no less intricate with a well of production tricks that will have noobs to the genre scratching their heads as to how he made those sounds. One of the highlights was "Everyday is Busy" which sounded a bit like early Squarepusher with his emphasis on almost jazzy sounding bass lines and synths that sounded like horns. The next three songs are crisp pieces that each have there something to become immersed with but are merely clips compared to the the 17 minute centerpiece of the album called "The Desolate Sound of Extinction (I II III)" which is not for the feint of heart. The sprawling song while probably being a bit shorter I would have enjoyed even more showcases all the strengths of Finch in one song. The last song "Organum Requiem" contains a serene, sometimes mysterious ambiance that chooses to forgo a deep low-end (despite the occasional bass drum hit) and instead trickles with percussive elements that mostly lie in the mid to upper range.
Venn Diagram's The Desolate Sound of Extinction is an exceptional electronic album the explores the realms of possibility within the genre. The album maintains a consistently paternal attitude that treats and cares for every sound as if it was the only one that mattered. While I could go on about this album, I think it's time for you to take a listen.
Brad Eckardia's debut self-titled EP is a pop-oriented collection of songs that draw from a number of different genres. Rock, dance, blues – it’s all there and it actually works quite well for the most part. Eckardia does a good job at creating catchy pop songs that don’t feel like he is trying too hard to make them work. They are a good mix of mainstream pop and indie originality that succeed more then they fail. The recordings sound great and very professional; certainly ready for radio play somewhere. The problem is not where but when. I felt like these songs may have worked well in ‘85 alongside INXS when they were decent or even alongside The Talking Heads. Trust me I know there is quite a leap in musical territory between the bands but that’s the type of music that Brad Eckardia is playing.
The best and catchiest song on the album is the first song entitled “Lights On” which sounds like Cut Copy learned to play guitar. It’s a dance-oriented track that has an explosive chorus that will have you singing along in no time. “The Best You Could Be” left me a bit confused as his vocal style as well as genre seemed to be different than the first song. The track was solid, grounded in guitar and opting to have a rock vibe this time around. “Come and Revel” starts with a dancey bass line and a straightforward drumbeat falling somewhere in between a dance song the B-52’s would compose if David Byrne was on lead vocals. “Last Mortal Man” ends the album strongly. The chorus is anthemic and he plays to his strengths.
There are lots of good things about this album but I felt as if Eckardia was at his best with his dance-oriented tracks. While this album sometimes trips over itself with not knowing what it wants to be, when it does find itself it works quite well. Brad Eckardia first release is a solid debut album and even though it has some minor issues delivers a number of standout tracks that are worth checking out.
Located in New York City the recently formed Ruby My Dear are some of the most proficient musicians I have heard in quite some time. Combining odd time signatures such as 5/4 and ⅞ with equally as complicated scales and chord structures Ruby My Dear are impressive the moment you start listening to them. What’s more impressive then that however is that they are able to utilize these technical abilities and utilize them in a pop format that is catchy, while being experimental. The band is fronted by Gabbi Coenen who provides classical female jazz vocals that work very well with the music. The music is exceptional but her voice is still the centerpiece that provides the backbone to these songs. Their debut self-titled EP contains six excellent songs that have a nice flow throughout. The sequencing of the tracks gives a good variety. For example, the frantic “Never Never” is a nice predecessor to the rather slow, sparse, “Next Time.”
Opening the EP is “You Go to My Head” which is one of the slower numbers on the EP. The instrumental parts sometimes reminded of one of my favorites album of all time Laughing Stock by Talk Talk. The first song is good but the second song “Nell” is great. The band flexes it muscles a bit with this track (Imagine Dirty Projectors if they went jazz) as the drumming is fluid and precise holding down the complex scales that are being played. I was in audio heaven around the 2:00 mark as the band goes all out providing us experimental guitar on top of the intricate jazz.
“Never Never” was another highlight of this album. I felt the vocals really shined on this one with the chaotic breakdown in the middle of the song, which slowly builds to a frantic state before it stops completely. “Next Time” contains an upright bass with Coenen vocals front and center. You could practically see this song playing in your mind – a dimly lit jazz bar, a spotlight on Coenen with the band in the background; classic. Closing the album is “A Lack of Color” which felt the most pop oriented to me. It revolved around piano and of course the vocals. Ruby My Dear released an exceptional debut EP which showcases their unique abilities and paves the way for a bright future.
Real talk, I love all kinds of music, including jazz. Talking about jazz, however, is for me something like sending a child riding a lamb to deal with a horde of sentient werewolves. I was doing a pretty good job of avoiding the topic altogether and listening to jazz on my own time (one of my favorite things a friend told me is that "When I listen to jazz, that's all I hear: jazz."). I knew one day I would have to review a jazz album, but I never knew it would be this soon. Enter Circular Expansion Volume I, a long, meditative and slightly off-putting release by a collective of skilled jazz enthusiasts.
KREation is headed by Baltimore-native saxophonist and composer Kevin Robinson, who says the group performs as a 12-piece band to quartets, trios, duos and solos and whatever else is in between. Circular Expansion Volume I kicks off a three-volume plan to release music that focuses on cyclical movement, symmetry and dualities. Robinson goes on to say that, "The music is improvised [and] utilizes structures based on intervallic expansion and contraction." I have no idea what he means, but I feel like I know what he's talking about during certain moments within the Movements, of which the album is divided up into 11 (the last four are live performances). The focus of most of them is Robinson's autumnal saxophone playing, though he switches among clarinet, bass clarinet and soprano sax. Another distinctive player is Tony Gennaro on percussion and marimba duties, and his minimalistic beats sound delicate but are able to withstand the harder rhythms of the other players in the band, who are Ingrid Lee on piano, Evan Jiroudek on drums and Caroline Cirone on bass. Mario Luna sound-engineered the album and does a fantastic job of allowing the musicians equal amounts of texture for however long they weave their sounds in a tapestry of loneliness and after-hours sensibilities. Movement IV is my favorite track, with sultry marimba and gentle percussion while Robinson sets up his sax's notes to create pockets of dry drones for the listener.
Most of the Movements have that odd quality where it feels like the tracks could collapse at any moment but are held together through light harmonies and durable improvisation with no clear beginning or end. Some are downright creepy with their sparse distribution of notes while others gently coax the listener into a midnight lull. The number I've given this record is a numerical approximation of my feelings while listening to it. This could be the worst jazz record in the world and I wouldn't know it, but I felt like these guys know what they're doing. There's a bunch of empty space that they fill up with a tough and pleasing sound that makes me feel like I'm an ex-gangster smoking his last cigarette, which is always a cool feeling. Give them a listen and see how you feel.
Back in 2009 The Walla Recovery released With Trembling which as they describe as a “chamber-folk rock story.”The album features a wide variety of beautiful sounding acoustic instruments such as cello, guitar and mandolin that come together to make pop-inspired music that is radio friendly and reminiscent of bands like Nickel Creek. The first time I heard this album I was turned off by their mainstream tendencies and while this is still the main issue I have when listening to the album, the creative exceptional playing of the string instruments made me listen to the songs again. Then I was starting to become more attracted to them with repeated listenings. It kind of reminded me of the songs from that movie “Once” when upon the first time I listened to it, I didn’t think I could like these songs at all but after a couple of times listening to it, I was embarrassingly singing along.
The band works best when they are upbeat and start to sound like a bluegrass band with the mandolins cascading notes, the guitars energized picking and the warmth of the cello. I actually would have loved to hear this as an instrumental album. The slower songs weren’t my favorite as they often combined drippy, simple lyrics with melancholy and nostalgia. That being said, some of the slower songs do have their finer moments.
With Trembling starts with “She Said” which has the band in full swing together. A nice combination of cello, mandolin, drums, bass, and guitar which were enough to let me appreciate the standard radio ready format they chose to abide by. “The Spoils of Warring Hearts” is one of the better slower songs that contains an original vocals melody and makes great use of the cello. “Disaster” was the highlight of the album. The upbeat song was a hopeful song that worked because of its restraint from becoming too grandiose. Overall, I have an ambivalent relationship with this album. At times I was able to truly appreciate the obvious talent exuding from all of these individuals and other times I felt the mainstream tendencies in regards to format, delivery, and production impeding my ability to truly enjoy. So now you know how I feel why don’t you take a listen and judge for yourself.
Remember back when Adult Swim was still good and it showed those intermissions of monochromatic photographs to the scores of world electronic music? Do they still do that? Anyway, Energy Eternal is five songs full of that kind of music.The brainchild of this outfit, Eric "Modean" Mantras, produces, records, mixes and masters every single note you hear on the album so however you feel about it, this EP is quite personal, and there's enough going on in this striking, sometimes bizarre, form of music to lend emotional weight to a genre that doesn't carry it too well. Also, I'm just gonna throw this out there; Modean has played with members of the likes of Digable Planets and Bassnectar.Anyway, Energy Eternal fuses elements of baroque, the cool parts of dubstep, hip-hop, IDM, raga and samples of Middle Eastern and Arabic instruments and vocals are prevalent throughout its five-track run.
"Gonzo" opens up with some operatic string arrangements, cello in particular, that abruptly shifts to a thick wub-wubby dub sound and back again. "Cloud Buster" is where Modean kicks up his ethnic (tried to avoid using that word, but failed) influences in high gear. We're talking, if my ear got it right, qanuns, tanpuras and the like. Even if I'm wrong, the music transports you to exotic places in your imagination that call to mind the dubious nightlife of faraway arid countries. The final eponymous track is a jaw-dropping combination of break beats, violin swells and tribal chanting that conveys a last-day on earth sound that's still giving me chills as I type this. Most of the tracks make good use of drone while Modean works away at his eclectic collection of beats. The result is a complicated synthesis of old and new world sounds that takes a worldly musician to pull off properly, and Modean manages to do it.
Perhaps the biggest problem with this EP is that you can only hear the music, and Modean makes it clear in his profile that Illuminertia is an audio-visual experience. His live shows are often accompanied with rare film footage, animation and live dancers. So if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, do yourself a favor and catch him in the act. Besides that, I can see the music alienating people looking for a casual or safe listen. You will know before the first track's end whether or not you're going to enjoy this EP. I knew by the final track's end I found an artist who demands more recognition.
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