I could see a talent like Laura Benson being compared to incredible, heavy hitting singer/songwriters that I’m sure many would love to be compared to. However, I don’t like comparing artists to one another; Benson made a very distinctive impression on me that sets her apart from anyone else.
Icarus Falls is an endearing combination of sweetness, vulnerability and honesty. A beautiful blend of folk and bluegrass tones keep this EP wrapped up in a very comforting, smile inducing sound. Benson let us know that the entire EP was recorded by candlelight which I wholeheartedly believe given what I got to hear.
Benson’s vocals have a timeless quality; she has incredible control over her pipes. Her music isn’t one that demands copious amounts of diaphragm flexing. Her challenge lies more in the endurance game. She is a storyteller, and clearly likes to tell a story to completion which means her songs can get pretty lengthy.
The lyrics are another high point; they go from yearning, to romantic to even a little metaphysical. There seem to be two journeys going on at the same time within the five tracks. First is one that’s emotional; she wears it all on her sleeve. She pours out her experiences and desires like an open diary.
The second journey is one that’s more literal; she talks about real places and the vast stretches she’s traveled. The two journeys circle around each-other bumping into one another from time to time and it all fits together seamlessly. Every track has a story. By the time I was done listening I could picture a map with markers and notes and other indications of travel all over it.
Benson also happens to be a regular renaissance woman with lots of instrumental talent. You get a glimmer of that talent within the music. One of my favorites resides in the track “Bones” where you get a beautiful, understated string solo. “Bones” was an immediate standout for me, apparently dedicated to a house Benson lived in in Austin, Texas which was later torn down. The song later unfurls into a statement about the struggles and concepts of home. This is a great example of the literal and emotional journey theme she plays on.
Icarus Falls is not a bells and whistles kind of work. It doesn’t need much to shine, but I would like to give credit to Tony Leong (mixing) and Terry Yerves (mastering). This kind of music required a light, professional touch. The audio has a quintessential balance to it, not too raw, but certainly not overdone. You get that wonderful sensation that she’s nearby which adds to the intimacy of the listening experience.
My only wish was to get a little bit more overall musical diversity, which I know can be a challenge for any artist when doing a limited number of tracks. I get the sense Benson has more range and diversity in instruments as well as song structure to give. I think it would’ve been beneficial to get a taste of everything she has to offer. This EP was very specific and I think she hit all the notes she wanted to hit and it makes for an outstanding listen.
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
Alex Haller Tongue Tie 3.8
Sheriffs of Schroedingham Going to the Sun 4.0
Snow Days Snow Days 3.8
Hut Born Skinny 3.6
Dion Roman A Welcoming Gift 3.7
Firesites Transistor EP 3,5
King A King A 3.6
Derring-Do presents a slice of Americana out of Greensboro, North Carolina with their album Life’s About. Having personally been through Greensboro many times myself, I can appreciate where the band’s vision was coming from. The album borders on all sorts of genres, from alternative to bluegrass and even gets a little folksy. The whole lineup is very introspective and lyrical. An interesting feature to keep in mind is there are zero love songs within the eight tracks. What you will find are a lot of life lessons and internal conversations and a general pondering around the voids in life. I wouldn’t call this a lively album and not particularly modern, but there’s a lot of intrigue soul there.
Taylor Birggs (vocals) makes for a sturdy pillar for the band. His voice is the kind that is meant to tell stories in this genre. He treats his voice properly as an instrument that is not a one trick pony. He can push hard into a country zone and then pull back into an alternative, softer tone. He also has quite a range which really helps the group dance between genres. Derring-Do is a solid pack of musicians that have been around one another awhile and it shows in their work. They really know how to weave into one another and enhance their strengths.
Derring-Do is a fully equipped band with lots of weapons in its mellow melodic arsenal. Everything from viola, to piano and even the welcomed presence of a trombone. They use everything wisely so that when that new, unexpected sound pops up, you’ll take notice. That is something I loved about this album. With the different instruments, the audio quality was obviously a priority and I feel was up to snuff. It’s a smooth listen that at no point required me to strain to hear something; it all came through at a quality level.
The one bone I have to pick with this album is that most of it sounds like the sun is setting. The sun is setting over and over again and the credits just keep rolling. Every track is beautiful with a wonderful story to tell, that all registered very well. However, this album sounds like a collection of songs that are put at the end of albums.
I have no problem with that sort of mood but certain tracks did manage to blend into one another and I got a little lost at times. There are a few exceptions to the credits rolling rule. Track seven “Goes Without Saying” offers an interesting tempo change up and really plays up the alternative angle. The track that managed to engage me the most was number five “Brooklyn Star.” This track leans way into the alternative territory and Briggs transitions his voice a little bit to accommodate. These welcomed moments of diversity were a big deal for me and I would’ve loved a few more surprises.
Life’s About is a quality album for people looking to hear something rural and relaxing. It falls under the knock a few back and relax category. I loved getting that North Carolina flavor mixed in with a fresh perspective.
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Vespa Kill is a band that consists of Adam Symonds (guitar/vocals), Dave Horrocks (bass) and Glen Dafoe (drums). They hail from Australia and recently released a self-titled three-song EP Vespa Kills.
The band has a general rock/alternative sound bearing comparison to bands like Weezer and to many other like-minded alternative acts. They are a tight group with a lot of chemistry but the songs are very familiar sounding usually revolving around a couple of distorted power chords and a rhythm section.
The band did a good job self-producing the EP. That being said there were a little too many high frequencies for my liking.
They open with “Get By” which is the highlight of the three songs by a pretty wide margin. The band captures a kinetic energy on this track. I thought the transitions were effective and well thought out. The vocal delivery was solid especially during the verse. The band's finest moments on the EP comes on the last thirty seconds of this song They almost hit upon a LCD Soundsystem vibe I wanted to hear more of.
Up next is “Benefits” which is a solid song but it sounded like a copious amount of alternative songs that came out of the ’90s. The same could be said about “Summertime” which did have notable guitar riff and catchy vocals.
Vespa Kill is a new band that still needs to dig a little deeper to find a signature sound. They have tons of talent but in 2017 you are going to have to stick out from the crowd if you want to start to attract a large audience.
Luckily, the band has the foundation and tools to take it to the next level. They are all technically apt players who can write a song. Now comes the harder part many bands never get to which is finding that X-factor that can make you rise above.
Everything Will Be Fine is the initial release from Leviathan Owl, a project from Scottish musician Andrew Scott. Scott spent his earlier years studying at Berklee College of Music and playing in various bands before releasing this solo project of his.
The four-song album sounds, well, exactly like the title. There are a lot of different elements to the musician’s sound, yet every time the music seems to stem off into a new and fresh aesthetic, the tracks seem to naturally retreat into building further upon a comforting and delightful mood.
Each track is pretty epic in terms of dynamics. You face a whirlwind of emotions from front to back. That’s just prog rock for ya. But on this album, Scott seems to show a masterful command of music through the genre.
Scott, a drummer at heart, never stops evolving his sound on here; not just from song-to-song, but from minute-to-minute. The drumming is certainly the highlight of this project, but the musician infuses acoustic guitars and a warm piano (that sometimes resembles chimes) throughout each track to make this project so tasteful.
Right off the bat, “Profaced” seems to be a reflection of the artist’s experiences through life; an abstract and complicated memory. It evokes some early childhood nostalgia, while also taking you back to the present day. How did we all get here? Where do, or can, we go now?
“Home” is another song that comes in waves. At times, it’s a desperate call for time to slow down. Just when you think that all hope is gone, the raging drums and the undeniably intense power chords spur a fresh sense of faith; faith in your roots. Guitarist Rhys Gilchrist delivers a beautiful solo on this one that truly reminds you that home is where the heart is. Ew, that was gross to even type out, but it’s honestly true. This song just verifies the fact.
At times, I find the shift between the quieter moments to the louder to be a tad alarming. The entire album is like putting on a heavy jacket on a cold winter evening. At some points in the songs, however, the music suddenly becomes the numbing wind that blows your hood off and sends an unsettling chill down your back. For the most part, though, Scott does a really good job of maintaining that happy medium when he shifts from low energy to high.
The final two tracks are the two-part adventure “Built By Dogs.” “Part One,” is guitar-heavy when it’s upbeat, while a quaint piano fills any voids that remain when the song becomes serene. There’s an interesting use of drum machines on “Part Two” that subtly gives more to the song than you think.
Any fan of prog rock will enjoy this record. It’s certainly a project that emphasizes beauty over all, and it really never fails to drive that sentiment home.
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Dimers released their debut album Fortune Cookies in April. The six-piece rock group from Ohio has been playing as a unit for two-and-a-half years, working to develop and refine the content of this release.
The band told us that each member has a different and distinct taste in music. For some groups, contrasting ideas could cause dissension. But Dimers seems to benefit from the diversity of inspiration, as this project is filled with nine colorful tracks that don’t seem to fit into the mold of any genre. And that isn’t a bad thing at all. But for now, let’s just call it rock, all right?
“Temporary Man,” is a bright track with some exuberant and honest lyricism. The indie rock guitar riffs complement vocalist Eric Belanger when he sings, “I wish that you were right and I wish that I was wrong / I wish I knew enough to make sense of anything at all,” which are lines that ring especially true to me.
Belanger delivers an impressive performance on every track, not carrying the band, but rather bringing the group’s diverse sounds together. His voice is smooth and confident, similar to that of James Taylor. He really holds his own on the jazzier tracks, “Friend Of Mine” and “AM.”
There are elements of jazz, folk, rock and even classical music that are strung throughout this entire album. I find it refreshing; refreshing because these are a group of musicians who clearly aren’t afraid to push any barriers of contemporary songwriting. They fuse together sounds from all different genres and time periods, formulating complex and meaningful tunes that might not be for the average pop music listener, but with an open mind, all of these songs can be appreciated in their own respects.
“World Inviting/Sunrise” is the most epic track on the album. It’s a melancholic ballad that really comes together in the end with the harmonizing of, “You’re not the only one who might miss the sunset when it’s gone, oh, you’re not the only one.” It’s simply the most beautiful track on the album.
While the band showcases an array of sounds and emotions on Fortune Cookies, there are moments where it seems like they are merely jamming rather than putting together tunes that anyone could enjoy. Average Joe listeners probably won’t like “Iguana” and “AM” as much as the other tracks because they are practically instrumentals that last too long, with one being seven minutes in length and the other being ten.
Regardless of the length of the songs, however, this band crafted an album with character and diversity.
It makes sense why the album is called Fortune Cookies. You don’t really know what you are going to get with the next song. No one song leads into the other. It isn’t the most fluid listening experience, but it certainly makes for an interesting time nonetheless. It should be fun to see what this dynamic group will conjure up next.
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Here’s a quick tip. If you self produce your own album with a laptop, an audio interface, a couple of sm57s and no to little production experience you're not going to have the audio fidelity of a Radiohead album. The majority of DIY albums sound like demos and it's better to undersell than oversell. Don’t say you sound like a mixture of The Strokes and Flying Lotus because you will skyrocket people's expectations.
I appreciated some of the blunt honesty on the Bandcamp page for Awaken by Treasure Town. They mention how the album was never properly mixed, the recording wasn’t that great, etc. and I appreciated them being upfront. There was something charming about that.
Awaken is far from perfect in the production department. That being said the band showcases a good amount of talent with fairly stylistically scattered songs. The best thing the duo has going for them is the music in general feels uninfluenced by one particular band or genre.
The band opens with “Ocean” which has a singer/songwriter, even a reggae, vibe that meshes with more modern sounding aesthetics. It’s a pretty catchy song but the song was so soft and really needed at least a halfway decent mastering job. “The World Will End in Rainbows” was a highlight. I enjoyed the momentum that mixed with the melancholy on this song. The vocal performance was good and the first three minutes worked wonderfully. Once the distortion is introduced the lo-fi quality of the recording starts to make the song buckle.
“Aquarium” has tender, warm moments as well as harsh almost indignant ones. I preferred the subdued vocals over the nasally pop punk inflection that arises when the song gets intense. Kudos for the band attempting something so dynamic and contrasting but the juxtaposition felt a little abrupt.
The next highlight is the closer “Future...? (Future).” It’s the most intense song with some of the catchiest vocals. The song showcases some innovative ideas. I like where their head was at with this song.
If the band is to continue to self-produce the best advice I can give them in the production department is to learn how to use a limiter to increase the volume as well as make the volume consistent song to song. Most DAWs come equipped with a stock limiter which will the do the job just fine.
Treasure Town is a duo with a good amount of potential. There is plenty of tweaking exploration and evolution to be had but that's what the artistic process is all about.
The Fainters is a young band from Australia that recently released a five-song EP entitled Post Youth. The band did things right and took their time making these songs. They carefully crafted the songs and recorded in a pro studio and got it professionally mastered.
As affordable and and fun as DIY can be for artists there is still a huge chasm between the majority of home recording projects and music created with the help of professionals.
Post Youth sounds great from head to toe. The mixes are vibrant and everything fits where it's supposed to be. The guys make indie rock that is smothered in melancholy. I thought they have some serious skills although aren’t they a little young to be feeling this morose and reflective?
The guitars are clean and there are very little effects at all. This is a bare bones band but it fits their style. The first track is entitled “My Ghost” and gives you a good idea of what to expect. I thought the lamenting vocals fit the song and I also was impressed by the structure of the song. With very little instrumentation the band explores some unique crevices. The song is a grower - very much so. The song had my attention the first time and about the third spin I was really into it. Great opener, showing a unique style.
Next up is “No Confidence Man” which was an excellent choice for the second track. The track is more upbeat and way more catchy The best part about the song is the way it combines the melancholy and upbeat vibe.
The band continues to impress with the title track “Post Youth.” The orchestral strings are so subtle and tasteful. On top of that the vocal lines are melodic and memorable. “The Shore” is a nine-minute song that doesn’t disappoint. I’m not going to go into the details but it's pretty epic without sounding epic! They close with a rocker called “New Age.”.
The Fainters is a very promising young band. This is an exceptional release. They have an ear for taste and most importantly can sound melancholy yet not feel melodramatic. A truly hard feat that many bands fail at miserably. Highly recommended.
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Tim, Michelle, Stephanie, Isreal and Nick are Donoma. The band recently released their sophomore effort entitled Falling Forward. I give the band props for attempting varying different styles but in doing so the band doesn’t establish much of a foundation or signature sound. Some of the individual songs were fantastic but this isn’t a cohesive album.
The star of the show is Stephanie. She is an exuberant lead singer who is dynamic and can tackle the varying styles with relative ease. The band is nothing to scoff at either. I was very impressed by the technical and creative abilities. They open with “Sick” which is one of the more original sounding songs and a highlight. I really enjoyed the kinetic forward moving energy and Stephanie just slays the lead vocals. Great song and one I’m sure kicks ass live.
Right away the band's vision get a bit blurry. “Jack in the Box” is a much more punk inspired song veering towards bands like Fugazi and Pretty Girls Make Graves. The hyperbolic vocals work very well here. Up next is “Memory” which sheds the punk vibe entirely and fits into a pop/alternative vibe. On “A Change is Gonna Come” Stephanie seems to be inspired by Janis Joplin while “Deep Beneath the Woods” has a largely electronic feel and none of the levity of some of the previous songs.
The band continues to impress through different genres like heavy rock and even closes with an emotionally heavy ballad.
This is such a talented band that needs direction and should consider working with an experienced producer to help find a signature sound which I consider an essential ingredient for finding a large audience.
These stylistic shifts often work much better jumping from album to album as opposed to song to song. Take an artist like Beck who showed off sparse lo-fi acoustic material on One Foot in the Grave and showed us futuristic funk on Midnite Vultures. It worked because the songs on the album felt connected creating a sense of what the artist was trying to accomplish.
Sure you can brush off what I’m saying and say the band doesn’t want to pigeonhole themselves but you also can't briefly verbalize what the band sounds like besides they attempt many different things. I will surely revisit this album to hear individual songs but I it’s not an album that works as well listening from beginning to end. On that note take some time to listen to some of their exceptional talent. I’m willing to bet there are at least a couple tunes you will find repeat worthy. Recommended.
Henry Scanlan aka Sprog is a recent college graduate who recently released a lo-fi effort entitled Bedtime. My first thought went to the underrated Beck album One Foot in the Grave.
There is a similar production aesthetic and dragging melancholy although Bedtime has a lot of production issues related to mixing and recording that On Foot in the Grave does not possess. There is a harsh amount of digital distortion at points; the vocals either sit on top of the mix or too far below, along with a couple of other issues.
Scanlan's biggest success comes on the first song “Sleepyheads” largely in part to the catchy vocal melodies. A rickety guitar and dampened beat play while Scanlan sings, “We stayed in bed ’til noon / shooting shit sleepyheads / Lucid dream have a snooze this is what we do best.”
I think the runtime between the first and second song should have been switched. In the three minutes on “Murmurations” not too much changes from the chords he picks to the beat. Up next is “News” which fares better than ““Murmurations.” The song has more energy and he takes advantage of his vocals which are the best thing about this music. Unfortunately the song has a number of issues including getting off time but the main one was the digital distortion which did not fare well for my eardrums. Digital distortion is not your friend I promise.
“Stuck With You” is thirty seconds of piano and singing which had potential to become a full fledged song. He closes with “Bedtime” which I believe signifies the actual process. It sort of sounds like you are going to sleep.
Bedtime is Scanlon’s first effort and certainly shows potential. I think a little bit more experience in the production department and fleshing out some of the songs and he should be well on his way. I’m looking forward to his development.
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