The other day while smoking a cigarette before work and also feeling exceptionally crappy for a number of reasons, I was skipping through different songs on a rather lengthy Spotify playlist that I’ve been randomly building over the course of the past eight months or so. I was looking for something uplifting, something fierce and catchy, an anthem to march into work to as a wrestler does coming into the ring. But every time I pressed my thumb against the forward button, it seemed things just got more melancholy until, by some kind of fetid irony it was a Cure song, which lifted my heavy heart and allowed me to go on. Later that day, after I had bucked up a little, I thought about why I had so many sad songs on this playlist. It was because they actually made me happy most of the time with their bare chords and disheartening lyrics portraying images I could relate to.
But like anything that seems easy enough a sad song is pretty easy to screw up. It requires a steady hand to sift through the rubble of strong emotions to find the words that really mean something, the ones that are worth saving. On Apart From Darkness his solo debut as Burdened Hand, multi-instrumentalist Andy Holmes shows how it’s done, excavating his most profound and fragile feelings from a period of ruin. After a move from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he served as lead guitarist for The Love Language, to Philadelphia and the ending of his relationship with his long term girlfriend, Holmes began to write these songs between midnight and six a.m., often with a bottle of Ezra Brooks for inspiration and companionship.
Holmes wastes no time in getting to the point, “letting go of all the waste inside /oh, tonight, these demons are just my type,” he moans on the hauntingly melodic “Four of Swords.” And then, as though he had not plunged the knife deep enough into his own chest, he pushes it further confessing, “i failed as a lover / i wasn't worth a shit / i lost my head in all of this.” On “No Pain,” Holmes finds temporary relief in the old familiars “but you can sleep this off / or take a walk to the bar / I've been here all day.”
And though darkness and heartache permeate every song on Apart From Darkness, Holmes doesn’t forget about the music itself. “Alice” is a richly spooky piece of jangle pop and “Flew South,” is reminiscent of the angelic multi-tracked vocal harmonies of Elliot Smith. Even the dark percussion of “Grace” is marbled with beauty as is the My Bloody Valentine-d instrumental “You at the Door.”
Apart from Darkness is an intricately harrowing experiment in the processing of pain. It is at times as uplifting as it is unsettling. Though it cannot prevent pain from occurring to you, it can, like the bottle of Ezra Brooks that helped make it, can cull it for a bit, reminding you that you are not alone.
There are plenty of genre fusions that have been tried in the past though they failed miserably or at least they failed after whoever was patronizing these genres finally sobered up and came to their senses. Think of rap-rock, or rap-metal, or any genre with the word rap and a hyphen before it. But sometimes, odd genre mixtures do work.
This is exactly the case for The 432Hz Ensemble whose members Wm Whitfield Krueger (guitar/percussion), Christian Krueger (bass), Leah De Leon (violin/percussion), Ethan Schroeder (guitar), John Amundson (guitar), Andrew Follett (drum set), Blake Montgomery (drum set, Cajon), Ryan Smith (dun dun), Connor Patrick (udu/percussion), Joel Olivas (shaker) and Bernadette Forte (bell) play a hybrid of genres which include world music from Africa and India, peppered at times with hints of jazz and even some old country guitar twang which probably has something to do with the fact that The 432Hz Ensemble formed in Denton Texas.
Each of the four tracks on The Mirage EP is uniquely exhilarating. This is largely to do with the fact that each of the four songs had a different composer. The Mirage EP begins with the C. Rajagopalachari composition "Kurai Ondrum Illai." It immediately blurs the lines of what music can be with some guitars playing a traditional Indian style melody and others playing the home on the range twang so associated with country which is joined by country violin sound that then weaves in and out of the genres.
On “Sabilulungun” which is a traditional Sundanese composition, The 432Hz Ensemble find a way to keep it fresh using melodic starts and stops and screechy guitars, but also keep it from becoming too experimental by keeping the percussion traditional, which makes it enlightening and catchy all at the same time. They get experimental and jazzy on the seven-minute long “Caravan.” Originally composed by Duke Ellington & Juan Tizol it has the cool feeling of a Sean Connery era James Bond theme. The final track “Mirage” is just that, an eight-plus-minute spectacle that will have you second-guessing what you thought music could be.
How often does it happen that you get a job and shortly after meet just enough like-minded people at said job to be able to set up a band? Well that’s precisely what happened when singer/guitarist Dan Johnson got a job at a local television station in Prince George, British Columbia. It was at this television station he met drummer Damian Meehan, bassist Michael Duncan and keyboard player Steven Cote and thus Flying Machine was formed.
Flying Machine spent their first summer as a band touring around their native city and chalked up a few battle of the bands awards to their credit. The money they made from these gigs went straight into the recording fund, which resulted in their self-titled debut EP Flying Machine, which they recorded in the studio live off the floor.
This last bit is important because it lends a certain feeling of being there. The instruments and the vocals have a very crisp sound to them, and listening to Flying Machine gives one the feeling that they are in the studio along with the band.
Flying Machine get things started out right with powerful opener “Burning Heart” which begins the foray into the high energy Americana that Flying Machine play. Johnson’s vocals are distinct, they are deep and succinct much like Jonathan Richmond’s. But one can’t help but notice how well they pair with backing vocalist Erika Callewaert’s slight country twang. She helps to complement Johnson when needed like she does on the blues-y “Day Four.”
The live feeling mentioned earlier is best on songs like raucous jam session “Process” and perhaps even more so on the supremely catchy “Flying Machine,” which whirls with heavy swells of keyboard and percussion banging, and the crisp slaps of bass line and searing guitar.
Flying Machine is a mighty tease of a debut, but the five songs are enough to leave you salivating for a future full length.
Brand new and fresh, Sidelines is a five-member band with music that lives on the border between post hardcore, rock and alternative styles. Their debut self-titled EP Sidelines released in March of 2016 is a collection of handpicked songs from a larger collection of the band’s demos. Joshua and Kiran, two of the band members, were the lead songwriters, but each band member had some input and the record is a collective effort from all five artists.
Joshua’s screaming vocals blast unfettered in the very first seconds of “Drowning in Smoke” a high-energy opener that pulls no punches. Layered vocals, distorted guitars, lightning-paced drums and unearthly sound effects transport the listener to an epic, powerful place. Aside from a brief subsiding of volume in the middle of the song, this track constantly peaks in dynamic vitality.
“The Hatchet” is molded in the same way that “Drowning in Smoke” was, yet the chaos is a bit more controlled. A steady beat and traditional rock chording is used to provide a solid base soundscape for Joshua’s voice to thrive upon. After five different versions of the tune, Sidelines finally landed on the right mix and composition of “Icy Veins” that made the EP. Such dedication paid off and this song is definitely a highlight of the record being both emotive and catchy.
A somber intro starts “Short Walk” at a slow, wistful pace. Ethereal guitars quickly give way to more in-your-face distortion and pounding percussion more typical of the rock band that Sideline embodies. Joshua showcases his melodic singing voice in this song and he sounds equally at home singing and screaming.
The EP comes to a close with “To Make a Cloud” a track that continues in the same stylistic vein as the previous songs on the record. From start to finish, Sidelines flashes with sounds and musical color usually unheard in debut releases. However, the band’s obvious chemistry and their natural knack for music performance make this album a serious contender in the music industry.
It’s a wonderful thing when an artist can combine experimentation with pop. The music can sound familiar but the approach is different. Jonah Lustig is an artist that is doing just that on his seven-song release entitled New Religion. His music could fall into the synth/pop category and you can hear influences as far ranging as The Beatles to Youth Lagoon. Lustig also points to Kanye West as an influence. This is apparent occasionally through the music but you won’t hear any rapping on this album.
These songs are relatively short. He rarely eclipses the two-minute mark like on the opener “Everybody Edits.” “Everybody Edits” is Lustig at his best in terms of production and experimentation. The mix of disparate sounds work extremely well against his unique singing style. Lustig mentioned that the album is about a search for spirituality in the modern era. This starts to make sense with lines like “I’ve been out of line / Doing things that I never thought I’d do / I think about/ -Blue- / And the internet / The pace of things / The pieces turn and everybody edits.”
“Walls Of Sound” reminded me of something you might hear at a carnival if you had ingested psychedelic drugs a couple of hours prior. It’s trippy as if time is slowing down. “No Instructions” is a more melancholy attempt that works out fine. Lustig makes a declaration about his frustration with mundane routine that he doesn't have much hope for. Whatever perspective he is writing from this song from the protagonist doesn't seem to know how to get out of this rut. He sings, “I’m wearing thin I’m overworked / And nothing’s going to change / And nothing’s going to go my way.”
The second half of the album isn't quite as strong as the first. That being said there are still a number of inspired moments. The airy, triumph towards the end of “Grandiose Visions Of Holy Golden Structures” is unique. “What Do I Have To Do?” is a strong one between the slight moments of dissonance and a myriad of changes.
Lustig is a talent and I hope New Religion is just the beginning. I hope to hear him flesh out some of these ideas in the future and eventually write a four-minute song. This is a great start.
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Jedd (vocals/guitar/bass) and Alex (drums/percussion) are the duo behind FLAK. Over more than a six-month period they worked on their self-titled EP FLAK, which contains four songs. They cite Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Bauhaus, Nick Drake, Brian Eno and Death in June as influences, which does make sense when you listen to the music. Their music certainly tends to embrace the darkness. I can’t help but think Joy Division was an influence as well as Jedd often reminded me of Ian Curtis when he sang.
The EP starts off with “Lethe” which contains a lot of dark energy. I was reminded of the chaotic unrestrained noise I heard on Liars’ 2006 album Drum’s Not Dead. It’s gothic and overwhelming at times without the slightest sign of light.
To my surprise that initial energy is nowhere else to be found on the EP. The music moves at a slower, more contemplative place. You start to hear some of the influence from Godspeed You! Black Emperor on the next track although I wouldn't call this post-rock. For as how dark the song is you wouldn't expect some of the vocal parts to be as catchy as they are. Whether Jedd is singing or just providing harmonies it sounds good. As the song progresses it slowly but surely gets more intense, working to a crescendo that spills over to a lone vocal and guitar.
“Diamond” is without a doubt the most dynamic song. The first five minutes are ethereal and atmospheric where the vocals are just above a hush. Once the band kicks into gear the music can definitely fit into the post-rock category.
They close with “The Rain Birds.” This song contains moments of darkness that spill into beauty something that bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Rós do quite regularly. FLAK is an impressive debut. They aren't quite on the level as their influences but they do manage to whip up a rather unique sound here and have plenty of potential.
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Clarinda MacLean, Jake Mazon and Jackson Wargo are the three members of Mac Luster. The band recently released The Joys of Missing Out, which is an aggressive rock album that contains ten songs.
Some of the songs veer towards punk, others towards post-punk. Either way the band has a raw vibe that you won’t hear anywhere on the FM dial in this day and age. These songs have an unabated energy that runs through them. Once the band starts it is rare that they slow down.
Take for instance the opener “6'ºF” which is jagged and somewhat dissonant-sounding because of the chorus effects. The band does a sufficient amount of rocking out and while there is a different dynamic energy between the verse and chorus you don’t hear any extended breakdowns.
“Well (I Wonder)” is more frantic and intense than the opener. With a good amount of reverb, distortion, power chords and cymbal the band demands to be heard. “Holding Out” is a highlight that has perhaps the catchiest vocals on the album while “Best of Us” is a shorter, punk song. “Shut My Mouth” doesn’t exactly have love ballad implicated into the title. Like a lot of the other songs the band brings a wall of sound that is quite impressive for a three-piece.
The band only gets more intense with the last three songs. “Palaver” contains some blood curdling type screams, feedback and waves of white noise. Perhaps the highlight on the album. They close with “Glass Eyes” which ends with a bang.
Mac Luster is a band that doesn't hide behind production in any way. The Joys of Missing Out is an unfiltered live album that I’m sure reflects how the band sounds live.
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Hailing from Chapel Hill, NC, Texoma is comprised of Randy Jones (drums), Robert Loher (bass), Linus Owen-Garni (guitar/vocals), Mark Simonsen (keys) and Zach Terry (guitar/vocals). They formed in 2013 and recently released an exceptional album entitled The Prospect. It’s a little hard to put into words why The Prospect is such an enjoyable album. The band isn’t pulling off the most technically impressive instrumental work in the world and their songs aren’t breaking the seams of sonic possibilities. It’s an album that just needs to be heard.
One thing you can’t deny is that the songwriting is top notch along with the fact everyone in the band seems to understand the concept of restraint. The music breathes and the band seems to play what is necessary to better the song - no more no loss.
The album opens with the excellent “be always.” Two bands came to mind when I heard this song: Franz Ferdinand and The Beatles. I agree an unlikely combo but I think you will know what I’m talking about when you hear the song.
The verse has a tinge of “don't let me down” when he sings “I know we’ve got to push on through oh yes we do.” As the song progresses you are treated to a saloon sounding piano breakdown around the two-minute mark and some sufficient rocking. “Rearranged” is just a very well written song. The organ, clean guitar and vocal delivery create a very warm, inviting sound. It’s the type of tune that can make you feel some nostalgia. Although the vocal climax towards the end of the song feels like a cathartic purge.
The band continues to impress with “apple butter.” It’s a song that benefits from a constant change in momentum and a myriad of catchy melodies. The band displays some straight up country charm with “mary anne” and a slower, melancholy side that still manages to rock with “salt.” The closer “riverside” is a straight boot slapper that could put you on the dance floor.
The Prospect is an exceptional album that doesn't overstay its welcome. With eight songs strong this is an album you can just press play and let it ride.
IMUNURI is a four-piece band comprised of Adam Garcia (electric guitar/acoustic guitar), Stephanie Leary (vocals/keyboards/flute), André Pilette (bass/acoustic guitar/ percussion/backing vocals) and Daniel Wilson (drums) that recently released a four-song EP entitled Euphoric State.
Right off the bat I was thinking this was the type of band you would want to see on a Friday night when you want to have some fun. The music is sometimes funky indie rock with plenty of energy that will at the very least get you tapping your feet - unpretentious, feel good music.
The funkiest affair is the opener “Giddit” which immediately gets going with a grooving bass line, slick clean guitar work and metronome-like drumming. It doesn't take much effort to enjoy the song especially when the horns come into mix. Leary’s lyrics actually reinforce the feel of the music. She sings, “A song gets inside and grabs your waist down low / You’re captured by the groove when you know there’s no one around to see.”
Next up is “Honesty” which is a little less funky and more rock based. The verse contains some slick guitar that reminded me of Daft Punk and the chorus rocks in a more predictable fashion. I thought the breakdown just prior to the three-minute mark was creative and pointed to some originality - tight performances all around with catchy melodies.
“Not About That” is a very different song than what preceded it. You could say the funk has been completely depleted. The band serves a slower, more emotionally resonant song. The lyrics are ambiguous at points but seem to be about personal growth after a breakup. Leary sings, ”Since you escaped / I’ve been forging a brand new euphoric state / It feels like going home and you can’t take me back / But this is not about that / it’s not about your loss. “To Be One” may be the catchiest song of the four. The song is dynamic and is their most ambitious song as it unfolds.
My only minor gripe with this EP is that it feels slightly scattered. My guess is the band is still in the embryonic stage of their development and experimentation while trying to find their niche. Anyone who has been in a band knows this process can take a very long time. All things considered the songs certainly stand on their own. They have the talent and will be one to keep your eye on.
Grave Closure is a collaboration between the musical arranger and sound experimentalist Luca Ascari from Italy and singer-songwriter David Antony Rogers from the UK. Although the two have different approaches, the integration of their styles works out on their release Lenses.
Lenses is a dark, experimental album but it still contains elements of pop here and there. Throughout the album I was most reminded of David Bowie and Scott Walker. At their most experimental you can hear tinges of Walker’s albums such The Drift and Bish Bosch. As far as Bowie goes I think once you hear some of the vocal performances you will know what I'm talking about.
This is an album that may require some effort to get through but is rewarding in the end. It’s certainly not one that you can nonchalantly pop in at a party. Suffice it to say the music on Lenses is more apt for solitude. The songs benefit from scrutiny and analysis.
Up first is “They Walk Amongst Us” which really paints the mood for the remainder of the album. It’s gloomy, bleak and dark but also oddly catchy. The drums drive the atmosphere as the vocalist sings, “Not Hidden In the Dark Alley Ways / Not Frightened Of the Light / No Need For Hidden Secrets / When You Control every Single Mind.” They pick up the pace with “I’m The Wrong Guy” which contains waves of distortion that can overwhelm you while “Nothing” is a misty, ambient piece that slowly unveils itself.
Two of my favorites “My Pity Lover” and “Fair And Modern” don’t have any problem going to the fringe of what music can offer. Scott Walker seems like a direct influence on “Fair And Modern.”
“Love Complete” doesn't shy away from combining multiple synths that cause dissonance and “A New Constellation” embraces what could be considered atonal music. Perhaps the most haunting song is “Last Of Its Kind” which touts absurd, existential lyrics. He sings, “It Were a Pea Soupier / When I spied an Orange beacon Flare / / Falling ghostly slow I had to stop and stare / Is it a call of distress?” They close with the title track, which is actually one of the catchiest songs on the album.
Lenses is not for the faint of heart. If you are familiar with artist like Scott Walker, John Cage and other music that isn't afraid to push boundaries this album will be a welcome addition. On the other hand if you aren't that familiar with the places music can go I would approach this with an open mind.
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