Elegant Peasant is the most recent release from Steve Murphy. I remember listening to his first release Lonesome Scrapbook and appreciating his guitar work and vocals. The same can be said about Elegant Pleasant.
“A Hostile Takeover of Your Heart” is the opener and revolves around acoustic guitar, orchestral strings and vocals. The song had a very familiar singer/songwriter feel. It’s not pop but it’s the same type of dramatic melancholy I have heard at open mics and shows. The song is well performed, well delivered but was almost too on the nose as far the emotion I was feeling.
I preferred “Ennui Per Diem” which had a more neutral emotional resonance. The song felt traditional in a number of ways and I thought the vocals sounded especially good on this song. On top of that the song has a hypnotic quality that I enjoyed.
“A Sentimental Thicket” is an instrumental song and digs a little bit closer to the emotion of ““A Hostile Takeover of Your Heart.” That being said, it has a brighter quality and I was able to focus in on the unique instrumental aspects.
“This Lonesome Town” is a seven-minute song and in my opinion the most original sounding one and the highlight. There is one guitar playing this absorbing picking pattern but then there is this second guitar that creates this ambient buzz which was subtle but gave the song a unique quality. The vocals, lyrics and well everything about this song was in the win column. “Sunrise/Sunset” felt like an interlude or vignette. The last thirty seconds or so is fantastic.
“Shattered Frames” is a fifteen-plus-minute song and was a hard turn in a completely different direction. The song utilizes piano and sax and is an avant garde experimental piece that embraces dissonance and the space in between the notes. It’s more free jazz than folk. I have to admit this felt like an odd move. Murphy built a very cohesive foundation with the first five songs. There was a flow to it and this seamless quality is something I appreciate in a release. The emotional resonance, the style and message fit. I don’t know if this was intentional by after fifteen minutes of avant garde instrumental play I was not in the head space the first five song put me in. The last song “Pulse” also builds on “Shattered Frames”.
And let me be clear that “Shattered Frames” and “Pulse” were both interesting and well done but just in a very different way than the other songs that came before it.
Overall, there is no doubt skill and talent heard on these songs which is the one thing that unites all of them. Recommended
I was listening to the self-titled album Pichard by Pichard. The first thing that came to mind was that it felt like it came from the ’80s. I then read that is when he first started to play music and it all started to click. This is a sort of odd phenomena I’ve picked up doing this job for a long time. Musicians tend to make the music they were initially exposed to. There seems to be a sweet spot when you are a teenager that the music you listen to then will often sound like the music that person will make years and years later.
The album opens with “Someone by my Side” which is a piano ballad. Pichard mentions Paul McCartney as an influence and you can hear that on this song. I would say the influence is more Wings and post-Beatles McCartney. The song made me choke up a little. He is singing about being alone and hoping to find someone.
He continues to worry about being alone on “Never Mind.” There is some great guitar playing. The song has this beautiful reflective sadness. There is a nice dose of optimism on “All the World is a Stage.” He starts to sing about believing in life and love and I was like “hell yeah, I believe in you bro.”
Pichard slows things down on ”Lost in Your Heart” which is a sweet ballad. I was really happy hearing “A Brand New Day.” Pichard is straight up excited about the future. There are some highlights as the album progresses. “Isabelle”is a sweet, tender ballad and “Where Do We Go” and “Would Die for You” have their moments as well.
This album is strikingly unapologetic in that it gives zero shits about trying to keep up with how music should sound according to trends, who is playing Coachella or any other cultural spike that determines relevance in a society. There is this almost brutal honesty about these songs that made me appreciate the music the more time I spent with it.
Trends and style fade but direct honesty in art is as sturdy as a house made from bricks. It doesn't sway. Recommended.
What do you get when you mash Bob Dylan with Elvis, then drop that creation in Chicago? The answer is Chris Rawlins, whose new album Bring on the Rain was released in February of 2019. Rawlins is a classic student of folk, but his addition of jazzy finger-picking style and modern lyrics shows how Chicago put its bluesy twist on the music he makes. The vocals are vibrant and familiar with just a bit of twang to take the edge off. Bring on the Rain is wrapped up and bow-tied by Rawlin’s unique way with a guitar. His style makes the instrument sound like its singing alongside him. Folk is reimagined with nine tracks full of heart throbbing lyrics and gentle instrumentals.
The first track “Gravity or Something” just happens to be my personal favorite. His melodic choices are unexpected, but they stick with you after just a couple listens. The chorus is plucked straight from a top 50 hit, but Rawlins keeps it fresh and original. It sounds like a song from childhood, a pleasantly familiar nostalgia. “Cold Night” is another star from the album. Rawlins himself says it’s “definitely a love song.” He makes it personal, causing the audience to walk down memory lane and feel the pains of a cold night. The guitar is complex, but easy and gentle.
In traditional folk style, Rawlins is not just a musician, but a storyteller as well. The song (named after the album, or visa versa) “Bring on the Rain” reads like a poem: “Clouds are lifting / Like smoke that’s drifting / You said you could make a man out of me / Your teeth are showing / The full moon glowing / You said you had everything you need / Hey, but look at me I’ve even stopped my crying / Look at you sitting there so fine / Maybe you could bring on the rain some time.”
Bring on the Rain is technically sound, showing a musician with years of practice and training. More so, it is artistically adept -- the album is the work of a soulful creator who is only beginning a promising career. Rawlin’s first album is timeless, genre-bending and beautiful. No doubt Rawlin’s will strum the heartstrings of listeners, and become an industry name in no time.
Gabriel is an international, internet-based collaboration between singer/songwriter Sally Elsey from England and guitarist/producer Albert Vinasco who is now living in Argentina. They recently released Seven Sins which is their seventh album.
The band is this hybrid of metal, rock and a couple of other closely related genres. They have this seriousness about their music that feels similar to bands like Tool and Evanescence. The songs are actually about the seven deadly sins.
They get going with “Anger” which is a very heavy song. The themes revolve around fantasy and mythology in a lot of ways. I kept thinking the song felt tongue-in-cheek like something that came from Spinal Tap at times. It was hard to tell but I liked it either way.
“Tell Me Who I Am” is metaphysical and starts off sounding like a play and eventually transforms into metal. It felt a bit like a rock opera and very ’80s inspired. The band sings about the over consumption of food on “The Glutton” which is a mix of metal and rock. “Behind Your Eyes” again starts off sounding a little like a play and mutates into ’80s speed metal. “Asmodeus” is absolutely a thematic song. I could picture this entire song being performed.
As the album progresses they go through all of the deadly sins mixing metal, mythology and more. “Sloth” and “Greed” were the highlights to my ears but I appreciate all the songs.
I have to respect this band. The concept and implementation felt so grand and melodramatic at times and I had to smirk. I have to be honest that I felt the album was more fun than anything. The guitar solos, vocal hooks and thematic qualities were the high points for me.
I wasn't joking about the play. These songs could easily be used in some sort of rock opera that would work on a stage. I for one would buy a ticket.
I was seventeen once. It’s very blurry but I remember being that age over twenty years ago. I starting writing songs three years prior which were basically rip offs of Nirvana songs. It took years and years to get to a place where some talent was starting to emerge. That’s why my older self as well as my current self is jealous of Sam Levin. At only seventeen years old he is showing great technical skill as well as creative ideas on his release A General Air of Regret.
A General Air of Regret is a very diverse album. It feels like Levin is exploring different approaches and styles but has yet to find a signature sound. He opens with “TV Show” which contains some fantastic guitar playing that is gelled with percussive elements which create an airy sounding vessel. It’s melancholy and thoughtful and at some points reminded me of Sufjan Stevens.
That vibe continues with “Bookmark” which again has some great guitar work as well as vocal hooks. The music changes direction with “Change the Channel” which is an experimental ambient composition. Levin then goes into a completely different genre with “Change the Channel” which is a synth heavy song that has a contemporary dance vibe to it. The guitars are vacant on this song. “The Only Thing” literally sounds like people singing around a fire. You can even hear the insects. It was one of the highlights.
He then shifts into “Therapy” which is electronic and instrumental and not that far away from Boards of Canada. As the album progresses there are many different styles that Levin tries and it felt like almost every song was shifting genre. There were a number of highlights like “Psych Ward” and “Robert's Graveyard.”
Levin’s talent is undeniable. That being said he is displaying characteristics that tend to come from younger artists that I have seen over the years. In this day and age artists have access to superfluous amount of technology and it makes it relatively simple to bathe in all the possibilities of production. That fact makes it more likely to explore different genres instead of limiting yourself which can sometimes be beneficial.
A General Air of Regret is an album that successfully explored these possibilities but what it doesn't do is create a signature sound. I’ve worked in this business for a long time and I promise you one of the most important elements in finding success is creating a foundation. If you think about successful artists no matter what the genre you will find this. My point in all this is that it will behoove Levin to start to distill all these different genres he is playing with and start to chip away at forming a signature sound. This in my opinion is the reason why working with a producer who understands talent can create direction which can be vital when making an album. It’s a factor that an experienced third party can see clearly.
Levin has so much time and potential that it’s a little ridiculous. I wouldn't be surprised if he became a common household name by his mid 20’s. I wish him luck on his evolution and hope to hear more soon.
Julie Mazzone and Melissa Allen are cousins but also in the pop duo Party of Two. They released an eponymous three-song single entitled Party of Two. The duo aren’t kidding when they say pop. Their songs have this quality to them where you could imagine the songs being played in a pharmacy store like Walgreens, on a TV commercial or while you are in line at your local Starbucks.
The EP starts with “All Mine” which is a very bright, chipper and optimistic love song. It’s almost too perfect when it comes to the lyrics but perhaps that's the point. The words paint this extremely rosy and perfect idea of what unending romantic love can feel like. Their music reinforces this idea where no single crack in this relationship can be found. The spark never dies from this fountain of love you are receiving from the other person who was “meant for you.”
As someone who has been around for thirty-eight years I know relationships are much more complicated then a pop song and even if you are with someone who fits you in every way it can still be hard. Relationships are volatile, complicated and sometimes that person you thought was going to be your spouse ends up taking all your money and is now dating a person who is better looking than you, makes more money than you and could easily take you out in a street fight. Ok, I’m half joking but my point in all this is that perhaps a pop song like “All MIne” doesn't need to be realistic. It can be that fantasy or daydream you can get lost in for a couple minutes.
Up next is “Next To Me” which is a ballad and breakup song. Unless you have been living in a cave for the last twenty five years you have heard plenty of pop songs which are coming from the same exact place.
They close with “Giving Up” which is another break up song but closer in spirit and mood to “All Mine.” This song is about moving on from a breakup and sounds similar somewhere between Shania Twain and perhaps The Dixie Chicks.
The pop that Party of Two play is so on the nose of what the genre feels like the majority of the time that I couldn’t identify the traits which made them singular. They have obviously done their homework and have no problem writing a commercially viable pop that would work on FM radio. My one piece of advice is to think about ways to differentiate themselves and create a singular sound for themselves. I want to be able to walk into that store and recognize a Party of Two song when I hear it even if it’s my first time listening to the song.
Overall, I think this young duo showed talent as well as future potential. I wish them luck on their journey and hope to hear their music on the FM dial real soon.
Solo artist and Sant Cruz native Joel. is back with his first recording from a hiatus he took from writing and playing with his former band Seven Day Weekend. He began writing the music for Tear Down the Statue…Burn Down the Stage…in the summer of 2018 and playing and recording all the instrumentation for the EP in his home studio. Joel. describes his sound as alternative/indie rock with influences from bands like Brand New, A Perfect Circle, Badflower and The Deer Hunter. His songwriting process was quite personal. Raising children of his own, coming to terms with his own imperfections as a human and developing into the kind of man he came to be, resulted in very honest, down to earth music for this Californian artist. I think you’ll agree.
The intro to the EP is titled just that – “Introduction” – and it begins with warm, and relaxing sounding keys and then a sort of, hip-hop/funk beat followed by a narration of wise words of advice. One quote stuck in my mind the most – “We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” “The Sinner and the Saint” has a fantastic big beat – bold and rocking – coupled with echoing guitar, bluesy and psychedelic in a lot of ways. I really enjoyed this one overall, for its smooth, mellow and dark tones but also the way Joel. arranged the instruments. Next up is “The Poisoned Apple” – an edgy, even darker song musically. It has a progression that creeps along, the rhythm rumbling and fueling the song’s energy. Joel. hits some pretty impressive high notes in this one. What I thought interesting in this tune was the fade out – you don’t hear songs fading out too often these days.
“Another Middle Aged Love Song” is one-part love song, or well – how about a love song apology? Or perhaps, just an honest song about coming to terms on how things played out in a relationship that’s had its share of miles already. “North of Town” starts off with a soulful sounding guitar, soothing and laid back and in fact, pretty much the whole song is like that. Joel. writes parts of this one in second person as if he wanted to remember the advice he wrote down so that he could refer to it again when he got older. Just a guess? Maybe. But man, I really like the groove to this one a lot and how the words fit the song’s musical style to a tee.
The last number is “Danger! Danger! Danger!” and it offers more of the somber, dark tonal chords that this artist is good at. A little heavier with a somewhat faster beat, but the melody is what caught my ear. There is just the right balance of dark and light moods within this song as well. I identified with the words – “I’m off on my own / try to understand my need for danger / let me be the man I am destined to become on my own.” Can’t get much more honest than that. Joel.’s guitar solo gets really heavy and deep and after the four-minute mark the song ends. A bit later a hidden track can be heard in the last few minutes. All things considered, I was thoroughly impressed with how much full sound and production one guy can do. I mean, it sounded to me like Joel. was backed by a full band. But aside from the technical stuff, I think you’ll enjoy this artist’s natural knack for writing great songs. I hope we can hear more soon.
May showers has brought this quirktastic album Spring Peepers from music veteran and renaissance man Steve Hammond. Good quirk is like a beloved kink of mine I am in no way ashamed of. Looks like Hammond might be in the same boat. This album is twisted in that it takes dreamy, surfy, flighty tones and manages to wring them into edgy and in some cases very dark pieces of valid work. It's psychedelic, creepy, cheeky and some solid Americana in there for spice. Hammond was having fun and made sure it was contagious. This is the kind of album you'll want to dissect, so imagine my delight that it is in fact my job this week to do exactly that.
On the music end, there is a very clear tone of nostalgia. In many of these songs I can picture Gidget on the beach. Sometimes it's a more physical reaction - I can feel fringe and ten tons of hairspray on my head. Lots of ‘60s fun to be had here. It's a pretty thick fog that permeates the whole album, but that is not to say this album is not fresh. It's so clear and ripe with all the modern trickery that is available today. The engineering on this album is undeniably fabulous. The mixing I feel is what holds tight the nostalgia while the mastering makes those faded colors pop. It felt like this album was groomed with a fine tooth comb. So many details and hidden gems, there's no listening to this album just one time, just not possible. I had to keep peeling back layers and finding all these extra goodies.
Make sure you keep your ears finely tuned when it comes to the lyrics, because they bite, and again, I’m totally into it. If I had to put the music on a scale next to the lyrics, I would say the words win, but by a hair. The words are what give this album its weight and sincerity. I wouldn't call this album a kick back and chill ordeal UNTIL you have really done the work of exploring it. THEN you introduce it to a friend and get the pleasure of watching them discover it for themselves. I love albums that do this - what a great friend activity that is best done in person.
When I said Hammond is a music veteran, I don't know that I can properly explain it. He has released over 30 albums, he has toured anywhere you can think and all of this experience is easy to recognize with this album. I love when an artist can pull together a lifetime of experience that is so diverse and manage to make something cohesive and easy to follow. This album felt like a personal celebration, pulling together all of his favorite things and sharing them. Lucky for the listener, I think one of his favorite things is to create well made music.
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Jonathan Blackman aka Cheetah Coats is sort of a modern day renaissance man. He has worked as a cinema projectionist, chocolate maker, cinematographer, insulation salesman, recording studio manager, truck driver and of course he plays music as well. On top of that he has prior experience playing in bands. His debut EP is entitled Sleeping Dogs EP. There are such drastic differences in some of the styles presented that it felt like a completely separate artist.
Up first is “WASN'T IT GREAT” which is rooted heavily in ’90s rock. There is a hint of Americana and grunge but it fits nicely into the alternative category. It’s a very no frills type of song with what sounds like a raw but experienced band playing in a room. This is arguably the highlight and I was digging the simplicity and vocal hook.
The vibe and genre already starts to shift with “I'M NOT ALONE” but not in a drastic way. I felt the song was a little more loose and had this ’70s garage rock thing going on mixed with The Pixies. The song gets inventive and interesting when he starts to break into different time signatures.
“KIANDRA” is the song where Blackman almost completely sets aside the foundation he was forming with the first two songs. The instrumental song is ambient and atmospheric so much so it felt like it could have been a soundscape from an artist like Windy & Carl.
“TYPE AND SHADOW” dips back into similar territory as the first two songs. The off-kilter groove has wicked timing reminding me of Radiohead. Blackman’s vocals also sound top notch here with a strong hook.
“SUN STORM” is an eleven-plus-minute soundscape. It’s more atmospheric than “KIANDRA” and deep, ominous and vast. There is very little change in this composition which contain slight, distant signals coming out of the dark.
One of the things I always tell a band as an engineer or producer is that a release whether it’s an EP or LP should have a cohesive quality to it. If you are going to do two drastically different genres it’s almost always best in my opinion to separate genres for numerous reasons I will not get into. My one piece of advice for Blackman would be to separate the ambient soundscapes from the guitar driven rock. I would even go so far as to release these two very different sounding genres under different artist names.
Sleeping Dogs EP contains a glaring dichotomy in approach but both genres were enjoyable for different reasons. I will say the more rock oriented type material was the genre where Blackman thrives and seems to be at home. Recommended
The Duke of Norfolk is the stage name of Adam Howard. On his recent album Attendre et Espérer Howard seamlessly blends folk with minimal electronics to create one of the best albums I have heard this year.
Howard says this about his album: “It’s the somber spirit of Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie and Lowell meeting up with the tectonic stylings of Bon Iver’s 22, A Million.” I actually disagree with some of what he says here. The music was often way too infused with an undercurrent of optimism and the spirit of Americana and the Appalachian trail to compared to an album like Carrie and Lowell which to me felt almost dismal yet undeniably beautiful. For me the much much obvious comparison would be Fleet Foxes from the guitar style to the vocal delivery and more.
That shining undying American spirit flows through this album. It feels alive and dynamic pressing upon both our fears and hopes. The album gets going with the arguable highlight entitled “Dylan Thomas / Bitter Bitter.” You are greeted with orchestral strings that weave warm emotions that are melancholy and nostalgic. There is this sense and tension that the song is building towards something. That moment hits like a breaking wave around the two-minute mark. The vocals, guitar, percussion and more create this enduring soundscape that feels like the dawn of a new day that instills you with a sense of vigor. I would say the arpeggiated synth however is the most unique aspect in this equation and continues to be in a number of other songs.
The conquering spirit that manifested on “Bitter” continues with “Kharon.” There are some original lyrics along the way that strike with poetic beauty. Howard sings, “I am drifting into madness despite your promise and I am frightened by the violence of your psalmist.” The foundation Howard was creating with the first two songs is reinforced more with “Shema.” There is a clear direction like the western winds as to where this album was going.
Even the interludes feel like an essential part of this journey as you will hear on “Plath (Interlude #1).” “The Bell Jar Descends” is one of the most somber songs but the interjection of an arpeggiated synth is a move which makes the song feel inventive.
“Pale the Ghost / Sharp the Edge” is getting experimental with percussive aspect and perhaps where the comparison to 22, A Million comes in. There are some subtle surprises as the album moves forward. The synth heavy “The Waters Below” reminded me of Perfume Genius. The album ends “Shema Reprise / Attendre et Espérer” which builds with strings, bells and more culminating in this very calming yet somehow invigorating soundscape that feels borderline enlightening.
Simply put Attendre et Espérer is essential listening. Howard digs deep into the sounds that stir us and finds patterns of energy that mimic the very complicated and often ineffable things we define as emotion. Highly recommended.
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