The Pikeys are a band that initially formed between Ben Mentze and Mike Dalton in 2010. Many more members would follow including Trevor Miller, Glenn Newport, Patrick Hennessey, Brian Watson, Erik Stillabower and Matt Holland. The band has been compared to bands such as Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys. I’m more familiar with the latter and there are undeniable similarities in that they combine traditional Irish influence with punk. The band says, “The Pikeys are not an overtly Irish Punk band, but more a rock band with an Irish influence, and Gypsy spirit” but in all honestly that seems to be splitting hairs. Their latest release The Sons of War & Whisky follows a specific story which you can read about in detail on their website.
The album at its best invokes a spirit that is somewhere between an anthemic drinking song and a melody you would sing before going into battle. They start off with “Drunk In Cardiff” which is a song where the band displays their ability to combine four chord style punk with Irish Influence. The song is fun, festive and a little bit rowdy.
The same could be said about “ARA” which features distinct different vocal styles, some incredible proficient string work and memorable melodies. “Botany Bay” and “The Public House feat. Keith Roberts” felt little less punk and more traditional to my ears.
“Waxies’ Dargle” brings back the distortion to good effect and at this point I found the diversity in the album very fulfilling, They mixed up the approach just enough to keep it interested and having me wonder what else might be around the corner. “Battle” is the arguable highlight. The song made me think of a battle scene from Braveheart. It’s a glorious song that will make an army go into battle ready to die for their convictions.
There are some more curveballs as the album progresses such as the Tom Waits-esque “Sons of War” and the instrumental “Requiem for Josh.” They close with “Blacks and Tans” which is a great celebratory closer.
The Pikeys were an easy band to appreciate. At the very least these are some great drinking songs but beneath the surface are meaningful lyrics and ideas that should not go unnoticed. Recommended.
Fake Frank was founded by multi-instrumentalist and Brown University student Dan Avedis Masotti in 2016. Masotti started to play music with Jeremy Kaplan and drummer/percussionist Harrison Kravis. The band got to work quickly and released a self-titled album. They describe themselves as “eclectic alternative and retro-vibe.” Their music is fun and something I would want to hear live. The vibes are loose and encourage a good time in a Vampire Weekend type of way.
They start off with “Mad” which out of all the songs is perhaps the most single worthy, straightforward and radio ready. It actually wasn’t my favorite style they flirt with, but the sound is undeniably catchy and well written.
The song that got my attention was the next one “It’s All in my Head.” I really loved the way the song unfolds. You are greeted with a organ before being introduced with a dance worthy mix of instruments. The drums and bass are buoyant.
“Bossa Nova” isn’t just the title of the song but the style of the song. This was another standout in my opinion and had a lounge-like ’70’s feel to it. The atmospheric pads work wonders during the verse and the striking horns are also on point. “Tangled” is funky fun while “Apathy” contains an anthemic chorus that I could picture a group of people singing along to. They close with “It’s Never Enough” which was another great song. The song has a romantic feel to it in the spirit of The Smiths and even Pulp.
My only minor quibble is that the band perhaps experimented with too many angles on their debut. They displayed their versatility but also found a signature, cohesive sound a little elusive.
Overall, I thought this was a great album and I am excited for the band's future. Recommended.
Wendy Nichol (vocals/guitar/piano) is a Texas born pop-folk artist with a sweet and soothing soprano voice. Nichol spent over more than a decade filling journals with lyrics and honing in on her musical passion and finding fulfillment in encouraging others to overcome adversity. Coming from personal struggles herself, Nichol hopes that in telling her story others will go after their passions, and be set free to tell theirs as well.
Nichol was nominated for the “Rising Star” by the Tulsa Spot Awards along with landing a spot in the Quinton Tarantino-esque indie film “Jesus Fish” with her freshman album. Now Nichol is treading through the waters of motherhood and breaking out another great track listing. The adventure that motherhood brings should bring a lot of creative material to the table.
Unpainted is a ten-track album that was put together with the help of many amazing artists. Ja'Marc Davis (producer/engineer) gave his expertise at his home studio in Dallas, Texas. Unpainted was also made with the help of Tim Lucas (mixing/mastering) out of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Getting help from all angles, Nichol recorded at Noise And Sound Studio with Jonny Wright (engineer) and at 3CG Studio. Jesse Sprinkle (engineer/drums) also throwing in his abilities with Bluebrick Recordings.
“Green” takes it back to the early 2000’s. It is a beautiful mix of Alanis Morissette vocals and Colleen Fitzpatrick type of emotion. She brings the song to life with Rick Morton (mandolin) backing up her vocal melody.
Grabbing attention and starting off with its acoustic guitar is “Love You Breathe.” Nichol brings sorrowful lyrics to this track. Backing her up is John David Shelton (guitar). It makes a daunting melody fit for anyone going through any type of heartache.
Nichol closed Unpainted with “So Close.” It is a catchy tune with feelings of tenderness. Feeling as if I could reach out and touch the emotion Nichol puts into the song. Whether about a lover, child or friend, this track’s ability to bring up memories makes it a personal favorite.
Nichol is adventurous in her musical abilities and showing strength in the ability of going far with her sweet soprano voice. Unpainted gave a painted look into the raw emotions that were put into the work of this album. Keep an eye and ear out for her next creative journey.
Mark Gothard is an award winning accomplished musician who has penned over 300 songs. Gothard returns with his seventh LP Cherrylee Sessions, a full-length album comprised of 14 songs. The album is entitled after the street in Yorba Linda, CA where Gothard recorded the album in an empty abode. Gothard played varsity tennis in college. Once introduced to the guitar and after learning a few basic chords, Gothard decided to go the musical route and trade in his racket for a six-string acoustic guitar to critical acclaim.
Gothard employs a John Prine style of storytelling in his writing. He crafts lyrics for the everyman and everywoman. He speaks to those caught in dead-end jobs, in love with their Jameson just a little too much. He, like Prine, finds the humor in the mundane. Some artists rely on wallowing in the B movie that is their life. Gothard tells stories of people just keep on keepin’ on. “She is trying on those pants / In the Thrift Store catching people’s eyes.”
“Get Next to you” again shows how he writes about relationship’s common issues and regular pitfalls. “I used to have dreams before / Now you have opened up the door” the widespread theme of trying to get through his gal’s Dad to get next to her.
“Blood Moon” speaks of “Whiskey Stained Truths and naugahyde Boots.” This track possesses a “porch song’ feel aka a good song to listen to while hanging out on a porch in the summertime drinking a beer with a Whiskey chaser.
There is a discernible Tom Waits feel to his voice in “Lovesick.” He draws out the lyrics “Love sick / sick of love.” The song relies on a fair amount of finger picking which works with his lyrics. Gothard uses his guitar as the supporting actors in his songs. You can feel his love of playing on “Skies Painted Blue,” another love song about his baby. He did get married in between albums. He said this “changed him.”
His work has garnered him respect and awards. Last February, his song “It’s Alright”, a bluesy parody was nominated for Hollywood Music in Media Award in the Blues Category.
Overall CherryLee Sessions was an impressive album that showcased his exceptional songwriting abilities. I looking forward to hearing more of his work. Recommended.
L.Thomas, R.Akins and D.King are PSALMSLAYERS. The band recently released Spacetanic E.P which is a five-song EP. They play predominately drone metal in the spirit of a band like Sunn O))).
The EP starts with “Traveling Light” which utilizes some sort of sample that sounds a bit like Darth Vader. The music is more or less some drones and fluctuations while the sample plays for almost three minutes. It felt a little long before the band starts to introduce sheets of white noise, drums and the somewhat predictable growls that myriad bands in this genre utilize. The songs played on slight variations as it moves forward.
“Dawn” is the centerpiece and highlight. It’s an almost ten-minute song that starts off utilizing bass, drums and pads. The initial absence of the guitar is short lived as you are greeted with feedback and white noise around the one-minute mark. They introduce the first influx of energy around the two- minute mark. The tempo eventually slows down and they re-introduce another spoken word sample. Around the seven-minute mark they reach the peak of the song merging in aspects of post-rock and drone metal. Well done.
“Dawn Pt. 2” continues to establish their sound with the drummer introducing a couple of new variations in his style. “Gravitate And Combine” had a different sonic imprint than the previous songs. It was more lo-fi and had a hard time making much of anything besides a drone and snare although you could argue that was the point. They close with “Dead on Arrival” which you might be able to argue had the most hook worthy vocal melodies.
Make no mistake albums by bands like Neurosis, Sunn 0))) and many other like minded bands are exceptionally produced and engineered albums. Suffice it to say that was one aspect I would have liked to have heard some improvement on Spacetanic. That being said there were some brief moments I thought the lo-fi quality worked to their advantage.
Overall, this EP is what I would consider a no frills drone metal release. The band keeps it relatively sparse and I would argue their are some inspired moments because of it. This was a solid release and got me interested to hear what’s next for the band. Recommended.
Motor Ballet is the work of composer Dan Markosian. Markosian used to be a collaborator with Utah area modern dance choreographers. I feel like that comes through somewhat on his release 9 Must-See Destinations in Cognito which is both theatrical and conducive to certain type of dance.
The aspect I appreciated about Markosian’s music was its originality. I had a hard time picking up on his influences which I think is generally a good thing.
The album starts with “The Outer Doubt” and creates what I thought was a whimsical almost fantasy based type atmosphere. I thought the vocal style was particularly theatrical. Markosian sings, “Have you heard about the space between? / Mark it on your list of places you've not been / I can take you there beyond your wall / Very near and far / Extremely big and small.” The overlapping female vocals added more whimsy to the song.
“Counter Measure” contains angelic background harmonies, piano and inventive percussive elements. The song again felt fantasy based. It’s hard to describe but it’s in there. “Naming Names” was another success in my opinion in painting a unique soundscape with vivid imagery.
“You Heard it Here First” has a mystical eastern vibe to the music while “This Story” felt like a dream inside a dream. As the album progresses I thought all the songs displayed some talent anyway you stack it when it came to the compositions. My personal favorites were “The Question” and “In The Event.”
I don’t think it’s a stretch for me to say this type of music will most likely resonate with a niche audience at least at first. That being said I encourage you to stay with it if it’s not a type of music you’ve encountered before. On that note I think a dance routine or even a fully fledged production would work great with this album.
Palindrome is the solo project for Joe Smith. He recently released a five-song EP entitled Better Days. The EP contains mostly instrumental tracks which almost feel like vignettes.
The EP opens with “Take This Brother, May it Serve You Well” which is based around a steady 4/4 beat, jangly guitar chords, bass and sparse lead guitar. The song could easily have had vocals as the guitar was just playing major and minor chords. It seemed like some kind of lead was needed. There are also some noticeable times when the song becomes off time. That being said the song had some charm.
“Slice of Me” has a bit of a ’60s psychedelic flare. The music still felt like it needed some kind of lead vocal but I liked the groove. Up next is “Late Last Night” which does contain vocals. The vocals seem to be untreated and I couldn't make out the lyrics. It sounded like he was singing in another room. A little compression and proper use of EQ could have gone a long way with this song.
“Frogs” is another hazy, moody psychedelic jazz. The lead guitar is well played and implemented in this song and I wanted to hear a couple more changes before it ended. “Better Days” is the highlight. There are some solid hooks throughout.
I’ve been listening to all type of bands for the better parts of thirty-five years and I am going to surmise that Smith is a young guy who is just getting started playing music. Better Days is a demo quality release that displays some potential but also has some basic criteria such has being off time that will have to be corrected if he wants become a professional musician.
Smith is a case of wait and see for now. He has some good ideas and I wish him luck in his evolution as a musician.
Brannon Hungness is a musician, composer, filmmaker, author and artist currently residing in Western New York. He started his experimental rock project, Eavesdrop Cosmic, in 2016 but has a very rich history with notable legends.
He grew up in North Dakota where he first got interested in music and recording but it wasn’t till he moved to New York in 1994 where he got involved with a number of exceptional musicians. Glenn Branca, Elliott Sharp, Virgil Moorefield and many others were his musical peers. His most recent project is called Eavesdrop Cosmic and he released three albums which are accompanied by books and even a feature film. The trilogy consists of The Ecstasy of Agony/Hit/Closed Eyes Open.
There is simply too much music to cover in this critique but I can say all of it exists on the fringe. It’s what most people would call experimental whether it’s the soundscapes which have some resemblance to artists like Brian Eno and Stars of the Lid, etc. or the more abrasive rock that does have resemblance to a band like Swans. That's really just the beginning. There is so much territory that is covered. On that note I loved these albums and Hungness takes on a number of what you could consider disparate genres and does them justice.
I started with the album Hit which you could say is a little more experimental rock based and avant garde. “Zip Out of Your Skin and Feed Me” is the opener that is heavy, intense and epic. The almost ten-minute song starts off intriguing with distorted guitar and drums and just gets more interesting as it progresses. Hungness plays with dissonance before landing on a verse and then finding an ascending riff that plows through the rock of earth before finding a post-rock-esque outro.
The lounge-y and possibly free jazz inspired song “Because It Rhymes” contains alien-like synths before rocking out and then petering out in an exceptional way. As the album continues the songs are all epic in length and content.
The album Closed Eyes Open starts off in a very different way. “Closed Eyes” is an immersive ambient soundscape and a highlight. It does what I enjoy most about soundscapes and hits upon ambiguous emotions. Nothing feels clear and you can simultaneously feel emotions like fear, apprehension and even joy. There is a cosmic, alien like quality to the song that felt undeniable.
The album however does not stay in the ambient domain. Instruments like guitar, bass and percussion are introduced on songs like “Focus on the Focus,” “Save Them” and “Vibratory Angel.” “Enter Centered” is an eerie, dissonant piece that is haunting and would work well in a horror movie.
The Ecstasy of Agony is the other album and perhaps the most experimental in terms of rock. You can definitely hear why he chose to play with Glenn Branca on a track like “Bark Amused” which sounds like myriad guitars. I’d also say this album in particular had moments that reminded of Swans.
These trilogy of albums is huge in scope and just as impressive in execution. Don't pass this up. Highly recommended.
Melody, Dawn is the fantastic new album by Carlos Rios aka Rios. I was all in after the first two songs. In fact I was pretty much on board with the opening track “To Melody” which sounded like a more hopeful and exuberant Bon Iver song.
“To Melody” is a fairly stripped back song but works wonderfully from the vocal harmonies to the guitar work. The song works so well because the incremental adjustments in the delivery make for huge sounding emotional changes.
Up next is “The Score” which reminded me a little more of The Shins. The song is infectious and so incredibly catchy. It’s one of those songs that will get stuck in your head but in this case you won’t mind it. “Circuits” is a change emotionally into something more melancholic and reflective. The lyrics are poetic and contain vivid, hyperbolic imagery. Rios sings, “I brushed her hand & they all felt it explode into the stars all I did was wave hello but who could have known how deep it was the dive we took that night except for us.”
“Someplace Else” is the type of song that will make you want to conquer the world with optimism and understanding. The song is simultaneously nostalgic and empowering. I thought his first lyrics described the song perfectly. Rios sings, “there's a time and a place where it all comes together.”
“Middlepeace” is another success that has a classic americana vibe that fell somewhere between Fleet Foxes, Simon & Garfunkel and Bon Iver while “Rosie” contains warm, beautiful sounding horns that drip with solace.
My only issue with the album was the last two songs and only because the quality was noticeably more lo-fi and really wasn’t competitive with the other songs. I think the album would have been stronger and more impactful by excluding those two songs.
Overall, this is a great album. The songwriting and delivery is some of the best I have heard this year. Don’t miss out.
Scott F. Brown is a multi-instrumentalist out of Statesboro, Georgia. He is in the process of collaborating with other artists, as well as other solo efforts. Despite his full-plate, Brown re-released Sparkle in March of 2018.
Sparkle’s original release was in 2010. Its re-release is timed nicely, a light-hearted album just in time for the light-hearted living of a Sunday afternoon in the summer. Despite the initial feelings of ease, the album is not all that easy. Sparkle features moments of great building and upward movement of the mood, as well as sections that can take things back down to cruising speed.
“Sparkle” is the titular track from the album. It runs just under ten minutes. In those ten minutes you will find large sections of varying notes, simple building chord sections, slower and more haunting tones made up of fewer notes than before, larger builds with single notes or chords, and a multitude of other nuances and attitudes that are as varied as they are frequent. You can never pin-point when things will change with the track. As soon as you’re getting used to a section, it changes. Given the proper attention, it can feel like watching a good movie.
“Parachute Jacket” is one of only two tracks that are under five minutes. The song is a powder-keg. Percussive and fast paced, “Parachute Jacket” is an exciting happening. With so little time compared to other tracks (the average of the album seems to be seven minutes for a track, just by eye-balling the track-list), it wastes no time in hitting the ground running. The other tracks on this album are just as complex as the dynamic of these two. Lots of building, lots of falling action, a few spots where things are given a rest and start over in an entire new direction and a lot to discover for the listener who is keen on finding details.
I can’t exactly put into words why I love the sound of a 12-string guitar as much as I do. It started when I was a kid and I heard Jimmy Page playing it on a few Led Zeppelin albums. Every since I found out what the sound was, even if it’s just a guy at Guitar Center messing around in the corner, I’m drawn to it. Sparkle adds to the magic for me. It’s definitely not just some guy messing around at Guitar Center. It’s emotional, it’s talented, it’s clean-cut and concise. There is never a moment where it doesn’t feel like Brown is perfectly in control of his music.
There are moments when the direction is not apparent to the listener. Sudden changes in tempo, or even just the energy behind the track create a sonic rollercoaster of cascading notes. Take the ride that Sparkle has to offer. It’s an amazing journey that will take you through a unique region of sound that Brown has expertly drawn the map for.
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