Kurt Einar Armbruster aka EINAR was born in 1951. He was a professional bassist in the ‘80s and fronted bands in the ’90s. One Good Ride is his most recent release. Armbruster says “I call my guitar-banjo-vocal music “stick-style,” bearing tinges of blues and bluegrass, folk and funk, ambience and indolence, all in the service of alienation, perseverance, and hope.”
There is more than a hint of Tom Waits in his music as well as traditional folk and bluegrass. This album brings together so many qualities I personally look for. It’s dynamic, somehow poignant but never feels melodramatic. It’s often joyous but not saccharine and just has this originality to it that forms a very cohesive foundation.
The instrumental work is really fantastic throughout but it was the vocal work of Armbruster that made this album such a standout. There is a nice variety of energy starting with “Shivaree” which has a much older country vibe to it. It sounds like a song people might dance to before EDM was a thing. The banjo drives the song with a walking bass line and additional percussive elements. There is even a mouth harp in the song.
The Tom Waits vibe is prevalent on “Fools and Wise Men.” The guitar work is a mix of jazz, blues and folk. I really can’t overstate how fun the vocals are. Armbruster almost feels like he is improving the vocals. He just breaks all the rules in every good way possible.
“One Good Ride” is indeed that and brings the energy up while “Bindlestiff” hits on this fun carnival type feel. Armbruster continues to hit it out of the park with “Get Out and Walk (No Highway to Heaven),” “Shadow and Substance” and “Let Your Hair Hang Down.” The man is even a good whistler as you hear on “Gnaw Your Own Bone.”
Armbruster is one of those artists who has more than just talent. He has this ineffable quality that draws you into his world. It’s unapologetic and immediate. One thing I hear a lot from musicians is that their songs are raw, honest and from the heart. That should be given; I hope that is the place where all songs are coming from in some sense. The much harder thing is actually making that connection with the listener. I can only draw from my experience but these songs resonate with me in ways which have those qualities. Perhaps they will for you too. Highly recommended.
Denver is a city changing shape so rapidly, I feel like it can barely keep up with itself. I have been a few times and every time I witness massive expansion. I really appreciate a local talent like Hound Heart bringing forth such a a strong Americana sound steeped in tradition and what was. I feel like their sound fits Denver's core like a glove. Sure, buildings are going up and the city is changing shape, but the mountains are always there to remind you where you are. I feel like this self-titled album Hound Heart really captures that sentiment of mine.
Kicking it off is "Black River." Right out of the gate I was thrown off my game; there's some kind of unforeseen grungy undertone to this alt Americana tune. Very interesting choices in the treatment of the guitar. This also my first introduction to the vocalists and they are stunning. Two strong, beautiful voices laying down razor sharp lyrics. I respect the production aspect on this. It's a ballsy track all around and I respect the hell out of it.
Getting into the second track "Pay Me No Mind," you get into a more traditional folk sound. Beautiful vocal harmony here explodes at the front of the song that raises the stakes. There is something so truly Americana about the sound on this one that really tugs at the heartstrings. I don't think I have to tell you how hard it is to remind me there are things about this country I am fond of at this particular moment in our history.
Anchored in the third spot is "Wildflowers." This one really holds tight to the traditional sounds of the genres they favor. I did admittedly miss the more modern twists, but it has a charming sweetness. A similar motif was given to the track "Night In Manhattan." Again, a more traditional sound. I was very fond of the lyrics on this one. In fact, it may be my favorite set of words on this album.
Finally there was "Is This It?" I always love that question. The subject matter on this one is a wonderful illustration of love, desire and contemplation. A truly beautiful tune. They played with harmony so carefully here. I got this sense of devotion and strife tugging at one another. I cannot stress how engrossing it is. It tells a story that is honest, human and accepts that sometimes in life there will not be the closure we would like to have. I feel like there is nothing more honest than lack of resolution. It's such an accessible human plight and makes for a great song.
Hound Heart has a natural sprawling beauty sewn into their sound that is as cruel and kind as nature itself. This is the kind of album that could jump start even the coldest, hardest, stone hearts to beat again. You will get more than bang for your buck if you decide to thrown down on these five songs.
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Even with the volume turned down to 1, you could still hear Bad Animals leaking through my headphones from five feet away. This band is never off, and always loud. But unlike many other rowdy artists, Bad Animals doesn’t rely on shocking lyrics, over-the-top instrumentals or excessive screaming. They simply channel so much emotion into one track that the music just bursts with sound and energy. With their punk rock roots and fiery vocals, it’s impossible to stay still while listening. Their newest record All the Shakes is an explosion of live recordings that make you feel like you’re there at the show. And live shows are certainly a strength of the band. Watching videos of their performances will have you moments away from buying a plane ticket to Seattle to see them with your own eyes.
Bad Animals is one of those you’ll wish you would have followed when they make it to the Billboards top 100. They’re Seattle musicians through and through: Singer Wallace Brown brings lyrics with the same messages of misery and heaven recited by Kurt Cobain, and their passion filled jams (especially the last track “Wishing Well”) sound like they belong on a Foo Fighters record. Despite their shared style and cloudy inspirations with other classic northwesterners, Bad Animals finds their own modern and artful sound free from those who came before them. In fact, the band should be defined as a new type of classic. The music is not just passionate, but masterfully written and performed.
“Spitbox” is the perfect way to set up this energetic album. It throws the listener into a musical eddy that will, over the course of 11 tracks, engulf them and spit them out the other side. From here, the record has a bit of something for everyone -- bluesy bass lines that could compete with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, mind blowing and complex drum beats, and evocative, badass vocals. This band is one that won’t leave your head and heart easily. It’s impossible to not tap your foot, and to hum along with the catchy melodies.
After a couple of listens through, an appreciation for Brown’s lyrics is inevitable - “Now I’m really out of time / And I don’t know if it’s gonna be alright / My life’s been a waste of time / Got a black hole in my mind.” Painfully honest. But what else is music for, if not a cathartic channel for our fears and insecurities. It’s a clever way of dealing with life; scream your darkest words over a guitar that makes it all into a work of art.
This music is unapologetic, loud, and somehow still so beautiful. The band’s chemistry has allowed the members to shine individually, and as a whole. I hope someday I can see them live and feel as if I’m a part of it as well.
Aaron Naylor started writing music around fourteen years of age which happens to be the same age that I started writing as well. I’m thirty-eight now but the songs I wrote at fourteen were just silly. They were about a petting zoo and the sandwich I just ate. Naylor recorded these songs when he was sixteen and seventeen but apparently he has a much deeper mind than I had at this age. The album is entitled Songs for Pondering. It’s a whopping twenty-three songs. The songs range from sad to sadder introspection most of which has a recording of a couple people talking about some subject you can’t usually make out as well as one instrument. There are a bunch of songs where he just sat down at an instrument and started improvising.
Take for instance “11:30 on 11/30 in A Major.” Naylor is strumming a couple of minor or major chords on an acoustic. “Stuffed Hollow” is long drawn out piano chords that are extremely lo-fi. “Groundhog Day” is the same thing with some people chattering in the background.
Sometimes the conversations take over the music and I felt like I was just in a high school class where the teacher stepped out for a minute so everyone is talking. As the album progresses the songs are all varying degrees of this. Some of the pieces have an organ, others a guitar, etc.
All of the songs have this melancholy residue that Naylor is trying to hit up. It’s this sort of nihilistic, existential dread that often a lot of times seems to be considered more meaningful when pensive and somber for some reason. This music can beautiful and has been done almost to perfection by artists like Fennesz, Jon Hopkins, Windy and Carl, Stars of the Lid and Keith Fullerton Whitman to name a few. I think it would behoove Naylor to spend some time with these artists if this is the type of music he wants to continue making. Songs like “Glide” by Fennessz and “Abandon Window” by Jon Hopkins would be good starting points in my opinion.
I also want to commend Naylor with this thought experiment. It was an interesting idea and although I wasn't alway taken back by the music I felt there was some added meaning by the way in which the songs were recorded.
Pondering itself can go in all sorts of emotional directions. In this case Naylor seems to veer towards the sadness that can sometimes be associated with deep thoughts about the meaning of our lives and the universe we navigate through. As I mentioned this music can be deeply moving and Naylor is just at the beginning of his journey if he continues to make music. I hope one day to hear a composition he wrote that can overtake the melancholy we all undoubtedly feel from the weight of being and turn it into solace.
Christopher Sjokvist aka DARKSTAR is an artist from Florida who recently released Mr. Majyk. The album has an ambient rock feel with electronic elements that has this sort of ’80s vibe going on at times.
I was reading about the recording process and one thing I found interesting is that Sjokvist keeps his recording gear in his van so he can lay down ideas whenever he gets inspired. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of that before but that was how Mr. Majyk came to fruition.
The album gets going with “My Love Will Haunt You” which is pretty mellow. It’s a six-and-a-half minute song and for the most part the groove which was quite good and slowly changes as the song progresses. You will hear a lead synth and some other transitions but dynamically the song doesn't shift much.
The energy increases with “Fading Into Grey.” Sjokvist’s hall reverb-laced vocals are juxtaposed against an electronic beat and acoustic guitar chords. “Earth and Sky” does sound pretty cosmic and atmospheric as the title implies and “Mr. Majyk” embraces a fluctuating synth bass that drives the song.
“Shut Your Mouth” is a down tempo and dark track. It has some of the most inventive production on the album. “Rain” is an almost nine-plus-minute song that, like some of the other songs, doesn't change much dynamically.
“MONSTER” is the first overtly bluesy song while “Love Is A Flame” literally sounds like an electrifying song at times. “Stairs to Nowhere” is meditative and hypnotic. There is a bit of a David Bowie vibe here. “Brighter Shade of Black” sounds a bit like malfunctioning computers and robots squaring off.
My only slight issue was the length of the songs. I felt like there were a number of songs that have would have been more effective at three or four minutes. As I mentioned some of the songs didn’t change much dynamically and having the average length be around five or six minutes felt like a lot to take in.
Overall, Mr. Majyk is a cohesive album that successfully melds different genres. Take a 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
Do You Like Worms? Do You Like Worms? 3.7
Leon Helsby Anvil 3.6
Broke Down Rodeo First Rodeo 3.7
Kinnoha Blossoming 3.5
Shane Kelly Lester In one fell swoop... 3.6
Louise, Lately Young God 3.9
Contakta Bodyheat EP 3.8
Walrus Promenade About Faces 3.6
Progressive rock band, Now in Colour is based in Sydney, Australia and for the moment, they are a bass, guitar, drums trio. However, their first release Now In Colour by the same name turned out to have a heavy use of the synth, and so adding a fourth player looks to be in the works for this young band. Although not having much experience under their belts, the group did get some radio airplay with one of their singles in North Carolina. The band recorded, mixed and mastered Now in Colouri n their home studio (that they affectionately call “The Lab”) over the course of 14 months. They state that the album has a lot of variation across the tracks – from “quiet, synth driven moments all the way up to death metal growls and dissonant guitars, to weird obscure prog-rock sections and stuff that's pretty undeniably pop.”
The band also focused heavily on the album structure, leaning towards the prog genre, and they took great care in the order of the songs, transitioning from one to the other. The opening song “Love, Don’t Fail Me Now!” begins with a grand theatrical mix of metal, progressive rock ballad styles and just a hint of what sounds like traditional Celtic music. A great way to start off this album. “Manifest Destiny” get even more explosive and tense. The drummer/percussionist Jasper goes off the rails with his crazy drum fills, listen closely or you’ll miss them. I think the piano/keys were a terrific additional, just what this song needed, as well as the quick midi beat to stir things up. The very last verse sums up well what ‘Manifest Destiny’ was all about – that’s if you remember from your high school history class. Either that, or just Google it.
“Drift” offers a lighter sound to start out with a prettier melody. The tempo changes during the chorus with lyrics that speak of embarking on a journey inside a “city of pretending” where “you can be anything you want to be - a pirate or an astronaut.” This tune really shows off the dynamics of the band, from soft and gentle rhythms to hard and driven rock riffs. “Seafoam” begins with tender piano sounds. I liked the way the piano followed the singer’s (Niko) voice and how the song just kept revealing more textures and surprises. The bassist, Beaux, played some awesome bass melodies, too. The lyrics to this one suggests the fragility of human life and questions “Am I divine or just debris?” “Am I an inevitability?” But the ending was really the wow factor for me, as a choir of voices joined in singing – it’s a truly beautiful sound and it was done so well!
“The Hourglass” has a more straightforward rock style and driving edge. I was captured by the band’s many change ups and tight rhythms, I mean – whoa! The words tell a story of what sounds like a blind date or that magical time of falling in love hard and fast. “Foregone Conclusion” is where the band really finds a sweet prog-rock groove and damn, did I mention it’s sweet? The bass drives forward solidly, the guitar is cutting, the key/synth balance the dark sounds with the lighter tones and the drums, well… they’re insane. In verse two, the band reveals something that I was expecting – that familiar metal angsty singing scream! So good. “The Thaw” is perhaps the bands most mellow song – ok, it pretty much is – but I also thought it was one of the band’s finest moments. Their romantic ballad songwriting prowess really shines well on this number.
Finally, we come to “Yeti” and don’t let the title fool you – as far as I could tell, the song’s lyrics reveal nothing about the Asian version of the elusive Bigfoot, nor hint of the legendary story. In fact, much of the words to this song are very complex and I couldn’t quite get what the song was about. However, I thought the two lines to verse two – “I push myself up on the side of the bed / Looks like my feet are still attached” was quite comical. It is by far the band’s longest and, in my view, most dynamic song. Vocal and guitar starts things off, drop out for a second or two with a short piano interlude, and then a booming energy of sound. There’s a driving bass and drum rhythm that feels familiar, while the guitar has a great cutting edge to it. Another tempo and arrangement change on verse three oh wait, and also on verse four. Heck, there are so many layers, chorus parts and arrangements that one should really listen to this last tune more than once. Overall, Now In Colour has something truly special and it was easy for me to tell that they really took their time to record and produce their first release. I’ve heard many other progressive bands before, but they bring something quite different to the genre. I’m not sure if it’s their delicate balance of lighter “ballad-like” style with the metal and theatrical driving rock beats, or if this is a well-worn path by other progressive Australian bands. In the end it didn’t matter to me, I enjoyed the ride.
Sam Paul is back with a new release entitled Looks Like a Heart #1. This release is unique in that is based on a location Denver, Colorado. That being said Paul isn’t the first to do this. I think it’s fair to say Sufjan Steven releases Illinoise and Michigan were albums that made a substantial effect on the indie music community. In my opinion the reason both those releases had success was not because of the historical references. The most powerful moments on both those albums was when Stevens was able to find the melancholy and apprehension of the unemployed worker in Flint or the devastating horror of being affected by the Gacy murders. It comes down to the individual in a lot of cases and that was also something that Paul demonstrates on Looks Like a Heart #1. These are stories about people’s experiences that all happen to come from the same location.
The first song “High School” is a song I think a lot of people can relate to. I’m thirty-eight and have these types of feelings once in a while that Paul sings about. The songs revolve around not feeling like the world is completely open like it used to be when you are young, slowly losing your looks and getting caught in a negative thought pattern where you are dwelling on the nostalgia of the past. The music itself is a mixture of organic and electronic elements. It’s very catchy and slightly melancholic but also playful in way. Majical Cloudz sometimes has a vibe that is similar to this.
The next song “Going Bald” is well yeah about going bald. I hate to say this but unfortunately going bald is genetic and has nothing to do with location. There are bald men everywhere. The song is catchy but also quite comical in a lot of ways.
“Introvert’s Dilemma” is really upbeat and fun. This song has the kind of groove that creates some energy in the air. The lyrics are great as well. Paul’s commentary about the person shouting his points made me happy. He patiently and cleverly dismantles the need for yelling with thoughtful zen like logic.
“Hey, Girl, Hey” could potentially be the highlight. The vocal hooks in particular were memorable He closes with “Dead Grandpa.” The title bummed me out before listening to it. It’s a short song that revolves around strings, vocals and what is clearly a dog barking. The dog barking somehow works in the song. Don’t ask me how.
I can confirm Looks Like a Heart #1 does have heart. Highly recommended.
Juan Gomez, Jeremy King and Daniel Johnson are Joyheads. They released Earthly Powers EP. I was reading about the band and they seem to label themselves as post-punk. The first band that comes to mind when I hear that genre is Joy Division. The songs on Earthly Powers are a little too upbeat and don’t have enough dark qualities to be compared to Joy Division. The Happy Mondays are a little bit more the style of Joyheads but so are a lot of the art rock that was coming out in the mid to late ’60s.
The EP opens with “A Real Good Time” and it was the clear highlight. I was a little startled by the initial white noise and what sounds like a commercial from the ’50s. That lasts about five seconds before you are greeted with jangly guitar chords, and a rhythm section that drives the energy. The band immediately digs into a late ’60s vibe very reminiscent of The Velvet Underground. The vocalist unequivocally sounds similar to Reed with his inflection which plays into this carefree bohemian spirit. Perhaps the best part of the song is the horns. It’s a great song that is repeat worthy.
“Honesty (Hold It In)” comes closer to garage rock. The distortion on the guitar is more prominent. I was digging the verse but the chorus just pops.The band again makes very good use of horns. I loved the kind of loose party the band seems to be having towards the end.
The band ends with a song entitled “La Casa de los Santos” which sounds like a completely different band and style. It sounds more like an experimental percussion and horn heavy free- jazz piece performed by a group like The Chicago Art Ensemble. It really does very little to put an exclamation point on the vibe they were materializing with the first two songs.
I feel like a broken record saying this but cohesion and flow are important on an EP or LP. It’s especially important if a band or an artist is just coming up and hoping to build an audience. In this case the band doesn’t do anything too far removed to lose me. I would have preferred one more rock based song similar to the first two but “La Casa de los Santos” was enjoyable in and of itself.
Overall, this is very good and promising EP. It’s short and in my opinion if they build off the energy that showcased on “A Real Good Time” they should be gold. Recommended.
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Dirt Russell's Dirt Don't Hurt is one of those EPs that doesn't need a lot of fluff from me. It's got an interesting mix of metal, hard rock and punk sounds presented in innovative ways. Let's dig in.
The first track is "I'm Sassy," and I do love this title. It's a fast and furious hard rock slash punk romp. Good for door kicking and cranking after work sort of thing. It's got a dated quality to it out of the gate, but this is a five-and-a-half-minute track with some very interesting interludes. In this way there is a bit of a classical composition quality to it. The vocal work was varied on the track which was interesting, but also contributed to that dated feeling in the back of my head. So far, I was intrigued.
“Black Snake” came next. This one moved more around the metal arena. It's another high flying fun time act. It fully embraces the void. Musically I was on board, oh boy do I like those drums in here. Now we're in head banging territory. However, I still struggled with the vocals and the treatment of them. The screaming voice work is pushed into the background, like it has to be somewhere else. There is some more intimate vocal work in the middle that was an interesting change up.
"Set Me On Fire" kinda hung in the air for me until there was an interesting interlude and while brief I was obsessed with it and listened to the whole song again. That interlude had so much fun and cheekiness in there. I would love to hear this group explore a sound like that more fully.
"Fool's Gold" put my back into a head banging zone, maybe a more modern metal sound this time. In fact, for some reason this song had one of the more modern aesthetics to it, and I was very much into it. Even the vocal work just felt fresher. It even at one point slipped into some cool surfy indie rock territory. This became my favorite song, the bass on here is unmatched - loved it.
Last on out of the gate is "Be Best." I doubt it would be hand picked by the first lady to represent her initiative, and that's her loss. There's a lot of impact here. The guitar is working overtime to deliver an epic sound that traverses all the scales. Again I think they found a great modern motif in this song. It's motivating and while clearly an homage to great rock of the past, this wild romp is clearly meant for today's angst ridden humans like myself.
Big points on this album for ambition. No half-assing here; everyone's full ass at all times throughout the album and I can respect that. The biggest road bumps for me were in production choices and vocal inflection. Not a deal breaker though. I think there's a future for Dirt Russell and not just because I love that name and kinda need the t-shirt now.
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