This EP is exactly what I’ve been needing. Three chords. Guitars. Bass. Drums. A touch of horns and some backing vocals. Sing-along choruses. Songs short and to the point. No fluff. In other words, honest rock n’ roll.
All the Tears, from Detroit-based quartet The Gashounds, delivers exactly this. Or, as they put it, “a mixture of garage rock, punk, soul, glam and blues” with “more hooks than a butcher shop.” Check!
They also say they focus on “sweet tones” and indeed they do. The guitars (Kennedy Greenrod and Gary Chechak) sound great, and Matt Harrison’s bass is appropriately growly. It all fits with Jim Faulkner’s drums and Greenrod’s vocals.
You could listen to the whole four-song EP by the time you get through this review--it’s eleven minutes long--and you should. There’s not a clunker in the bunch, and not even a section that needs to be edited out. You’ll be drawn in from the opening title track, with its hooky chorus (complete with backing vocals and horns). Chechak’s two-times-around guitar solo is just-right: garage rock, then a bit more melodic as Faulkner moves to his ride cymbal.
“Infected” is a bit punkier, with a cool breakdown section driven by Harrison’s bass. You should be dancing with your girlfriend by now. If you haven’t pulled her onto the floor, I will. Especially since she’ll like “Cherry Blossom,” a fun love song.
“Sunflower” finishes the disc. The groove reminds me a bit of the Fratellis (you know, the song from the Amstel Light commercial a few years ago). If you’re still in your seat, you’re probably (a) catatonic, and (b) newly single, since your girl just gave her number out to the dude’s she been dancing with the last few songs. Sorry man. Now all the tears are yours.
Rather Vapid is the one-man project of Jay Vogel. Based in Baltimore, his debut, self-titled album Rather Vapid slides along a spectrum between ambient and heavy. It explores the dark corners where one may curl up when faced with loneliness and isolation in an unfamiliar place. While the distant vocals establish the backdrop for scenes of failed fresh starts and lousy first dates, the sudden bursts of screeching guitar riffs act as the bottled-up emotions boiling over. Lyrically, Vogel draws upon his experiences as a young adult moving out to Colorado to convey the anguish and resentment that festers when the thrill of escape begins to fade. Despite this, the arc of the album comes to a promising resolution as Vogel reaches acceptance and rediscovers an admiration for his hometown in Maryland. Many of the chord choices he uses are influenced by the dissonant open chords from bands like Deftones and Primus, while the composition and lyrical style are influenced by bands like Cloakroom, Drug Church and Microwave.
The opening to “While One” rages with wild furry and a full throttled sound, rich and distorted. Vogel’s style of singing is kind of a mix between industrial new wave and goth and some front man who sings in the shoe-gaze style. This one’s a good sludgy opener. “Red Grey” has more force and energy, biting and edgy like a post-grunge number. “A Certain Type of Lighting” is quite good with its minor chord treatment – very chilling. The highlight for me was the chorus or the bridge part leading up to it. Some parts of the guitar on the verses reminded me of Cobain’s sound on “Heart Shaped Box” but this song was definitely harder and darker and disturbing in every way. Not sure what this song is about lyrically but – “My parts don't respond like they used to when / I had yet to plunge into the vacuum” and earlier “Weird nose / short hair” – maybe it’s a song about a plastic surgery that went wrong?
“The Fifteen” features fantastic guitar action with greater texture and variety. This song’s style taps into shoegaze more and the different tempos and arrangements were a nice change. The words are quite abstract and imaginative here. “Olive” begins with a more “standard” rock beat – whatever that is these days – but it’s a great number overall. Somehow, the feeling within the song reminded me of Halloween – it has that creepy, cold and shadowy appeal to it, and I think it was a song about a girl named “Olive?” “Wraith” features more disturbing but creative lyrics about a man crucifying a female with “rusty railroad spikes” – befitting of the song’s title I suppose, considering the definition of wraith is a ghostlike image of someone shortly before or after they die. Musically, there is an awesome mix of distortion and lighter guitar action with a pretty cool solo – very dynamic! I’d say this one even crosses a line into heavy metal territory.
The last tune is “Advertising Sugar” a unique title to be sure, which the song’s more upbeat but equally heavy rock style may reflect the sweetness to its name. All I got from the lyrics were perhaps a failed attempt at being a “lauded author” and the awareness of another passing year with trees “losing their leaves.” But I think there is hope in the words here too – “I’m headed back there” which I think Vogel refers to as moving back to his home state Maryland. A fitting song to end the album in my opinion – I liked the outro parts on Vogel’s guitar, too. If you like heavy, distorted guitar, full and rich – and, loud – you’ll get plenty of it with Rather Vapid. Along with styles of alt and indie rock, shoe gaze and just a little dark goth influence here and there, Rather Vapid showcases full-blown fury, beginning to end.
Stingray Central is a solo project of Chicago singer/songwriter J. Stenger. After releasing Sleeping Quarters in 2017, he took a break to focus on a new band called The Darling Suns. After some time, Stenger decided he wanted to release more solo work while still playing with The Darling Suns. In the spirit of collaboration, he took the best of both worlds and featured local musicians to help achieve more of a "group" sound on his EP Green. Straying away from the quiet acoustic 2017 Sleeping Quarters the songs on Green take on a much more energetic and "modern" indie sound. Additionally, every track feature musicians Stenger has played with as parts of other bands or friends from the local scene. Each song has a slightly different flavor, playing to the strengths of the featured musicians. Influences include St. Vincent, Mac DeMarco, Father John Misty, Tame Impala and Vampire Weekend.
“Jumble” featuring Scott Reynolds on tenor sax, Dan Bretz on drums and Devon White on bass, is a funky, fuzzy guitar, upbeat and infectious number, full of energy and fun. You’ll hear a unique blend of alternative, jazz and funk. “Trying and Leaving” which features Bretz on the drums again along with Lindsay Ward on backing vocals delves into spacious rhythms with a more contemporary indie feel and an ‘80’s tinged jazz guitar.
“Fame” showcases a heavier drumbeat, dry and warm with equally meaty bass lines by White. Stenger lays it down heavy on synths which sounded like a nostalgic ’50s era roller rink feel, or maybe a 7th inning baseball game. I instantly fell in love with the guitar on “Skin (O.K.)” – in fact, I enjoyed the entire song’s structure from start to finish. I don’t know, there was just something about it that turned a light on for me, perhaps you’ll hear it too. Stenger taps into something that may make you think – why isn’t this guy on the radio or appearing on Tiny Desk Concerts on NPR or something? Nick Alonso-Emanuel helps out on bass, synth and drum programming on backup vocals.
Stingray Central’s Green – the EP which claims it’s “good music to wear a green sweater to” is nothing to brush off as far as I’m concerned. It’s a fantastic short sample of songs worthy to wear an entire rainbow of sweaters to. There are some solid arrangements and refreshing melodies here, a sure change from his 2017 release. The only bummer was that the EP wasn’t a bit longer, so I hope we can hear more from this young talent soon.
Bad Naps is a band based out of Williamsburg, VA. The project is led by Derek. The moniker was created as a joke amongst friends while he was touring as a musician. They released their debut Blue Heron EP which was a collection of songs about his coping with the long-distance relationship with his now wife. The band is now releasing their second EP entitled Sheepish EP.
Self-dubbed as “Mid-Atlantic op-punk,” the band harnesses a sound that can oscillate to the poppier, more upbeat side, but it can also dip into dark, more aggressive riffs, often wading into emo territory. The band pivots between hard and soft with relative ease. They challenge themselves to deliver a sound that will not only draw a crowd but also please the musician on a technical level. With influences that range from Relient K, Brand New, Taking Back Sunday and Armor for Sleep, the sounds off their recent EP are energized.
Sheepish EP opens with “The Best Part of ([Of Waking Up] Is Waking Up With You),” where a clashing of instrumentals starts off this track The electric guitars, bass lines, drums and percussions rush forward. The band dives into the punk rock spirit on this song that also has emo instances. His vocals sound similar to Taking Back Sunday although he occasionally goes off-key during the songs.
Following is “Parish/Perish,” where intermittently the guitar riffs come in a staccato fashion. The sound on the guitar is sparse and minimal. Next, the sound of horns, bass lines, drums and percussions come in.
A melee of guitars create a wall of sound on “Pray/Prey.” Next, the number slows down to give s slower saunter. A strong sense of urgency underlines this track. Derek’s vocals are filled with agony and pain as he sings, “Took a hammer to my teeth / Make me feel less than humanity / Worthy of genocide.” A guitar solo adds in range toward the two-minute mark until the close.
On the closer “Anyway” noodling on the acoustic guitar starts off this mainly acoustic number. This is a stripped-down song and the instrumentals are sparse. Though a simple song, the emotional power of the vocals makes up for it. The album closes on this soft number.
With themes of love, forgiveness, faith, anxiety and frustration, Sheepish EP is a straightforward album with a pop-punk sound. I was pleasantly surprised by how tight-knit their sound was. Derek explained that the project came to life through the support of his friends. In fact, the project features a few of his friends with Derek at the helm. Their chemistry is displayed in how well they jam together and on many a searing note, the band shows they are enthusiasts of the aforementioned genres.
Spelling Bee Champions is a brand-new project based out of Grand Rapids, MI, comprised of Sean, Andrea and Dexter. The band is releasing their latest EP entitled Charles.
With a sound similar to El Ten Eleven, Tera Melos, The Physics House Band, among others, the sounds off Charles ranges from shoegaze-y soundscapes through epic anthems to shimmery chill-out vibes. The sounds contain an ambience that is in part dream-like and hazy. Drifting with mellow and laid-back notes, the easy-going vibes on these set of songs will soothe and relax listeners. As the sound progresses, a bit of dissonance adds in an unwavering off-kilter effect.
Charles opens up with “Waiting For The New Year,” where the sounds on this track are soft and undulate with an experimental shoegaze-y pulse. The guitars are shimmering and rev up with full range, creating a wall of sound. A bit of dissonance wavers in from the vocals, which are a crush of background noise. It is hard to make out the vocals as they entirely consist of screams.
Following is “I Will,” where gnarly sounding guitar riffs rev out in the start of this song. The cadences are gritty and ominous sounding. The synths offer up a bit of ambience. Radio-active guitar solos launch out toward the two-minute mark.
Bouncy electronic beats pave the start of “Dexter On The Go.” Full-ranging guitars reverberate overhead on this track. The sounds are dark and gnarly.
On the closer “Suspended In Motion (dreaming…),” moody bass lines start off this song. The sounds are ominous with a rhythms-heavy pulse. A drumming beat also accompanies the bass. The synths add in an electric layer.
My only complaint was that these songs weren’t long enough. The lengthiest song was around three-minutes. Though I was hungry for more, I thought the band was able to unpack a lot in the relative short amount of time spent in each track. Charles is an album on a platform of its own. With their kinetic energy and tight-knit chemistry, the band jams together with an ever-evolving rapport. Their experiences, background and tastes permeate this group of songs, and I can’t wait to hear more from them.
Cam Gainey is based in Raleigh, NC. He has over 15 years of experience playing the guitar under his belt. Gainey is also fond of the electric bass, and he has formal training in piano, drums and djembe. Gainey is releasing his debut EP entitled Empathy.
According to the artist, “Empathy is everything to me. It guides how I act and permeates my music, and I felt that it was the perfect choice to title this, my first release. Though these pieces lack lyrics, each one tells a story – many stories, really because each time I play them, they describe anew the scenes around me.”
On that note, Empathy opens with the title track “Empathy” where a moving finger-picking style propels this layered track. Scenes from nature are evoked in listeners as the impressions of the music pass underneath their eyelids. The deft strumming grows in momentum as the song progresses.
Following is “Pines,” where the melody on the guitar is contemplative. The tune on the guitar is meandering and drawn out. The distinctive noodling on the acoustic guitar is pensive on “Icicles.” The sound on the guitar slowly develops. The vibe is fully realized. The melody is sad and melancholy-tinged. The shimmering notes then grows more rhythmic and dynamic toward the three-and-a-half-minute mark.
On the closer “2am Rain,” numerating on the guitar starts off this song. The cadence is soft. Gradually, the volume to the track increases and the guitar reverberates with added intensity. The sounds are textual and nuanced. The percussions give off a lively vibe. The cadences are revved and amped until the very close.
Gainey sheds light on life’s more momentous instances with this melodious and interwoven array of instrumentals. As you close your eyes and imagine a warm summer evening, or the sun glinting off mountain snow, or the feeling of laughter beside friends, Gainey’s music sweeps you away. The moving songs on this EP convey many emotions. The EP which revolves around the guitar allows the instrument to hone its singular voice. Gainey’s skills on the instrument is exhibited through his classical and finger-picking style. His deft playing is exhibited as he maneuvers the instrument through moving melodies and textures with dexterity and flair.
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Telophase is an artist from Fresno, California who recently released Possesions. He explains that “From the get-go, this EP can be best described as a ‘small parcel of mixed socks’.’’ It’s a complete DIY effort and New Order, OMD, Interpol, The Cure, and LCD Soundsystem were some of his influences.
The first song is entitled “Asymmetric” and this reminded me of Joy Division rather than New Order. It’s a dark song with those similar types of drums you heard on an album like Closer. The song is a slow burn and is very repetitive or perhaps hypnotic. I liked the groove. The vocals are so covered in hall reverb I couldn’t make out a single word. There are some issues with him staying in key which the reverb actually enhances.
On “The Empty Sea” we have a lot less reverb and you can hear the words this time around. It’s a six-plus-minute song with not many twists and turns. There are points where the snare is so loud it takes over the song.
“Subsistence” contains a unique blend of sounds, especially percussive elements. I liked the change in mood and thought this song might have been the highlight. “Sound Of Waves” has its moments as well. There are some catchy vocal melodies on this song. He closes with “Petrichor” which explores different soundscapes and contains some inventive sound design.
As an engineer myself I think this is definitely an area in which he would benefit from learning more about or teaming up with an engineer who can help with some of the more technical issues and deal with things like compression, reverb tails, M/S signal, limiting and EQ. The artist is a young guy even by looking at that blurry picture on Bandcamp. I think this is a solid start. It’s cool to know a younger generation is listening to a lot of the same music which I grew up with. I look forward to hearing him and listening to more of his work in the not too distant future.
One Day Wonder was created in 2019 by Justin (guitar/vocals) and Jeremy (drums/vocals) in Orangeville, Ontario. The band recently released Songs from the Dungeon. They say, “The songs are aggressive and lyrically it speaks for itself. This music is an ode to not giving up on yourself and continuing to move forward with life. The depressing reality of being trapped in a metaphorical dungeon requires some energy and fight. No time to sit back and sleep life away.”
The songs are very bare bones and the production sounds like a lo-fi recording. Suffice it to say the vocals are dynamic. There are times when the vocals sound like someone singing naturally and other times where the affectation is so exaggerated it sounds comical and sort of like a fictitious character or archetype.
“Sinners and Saints” is the first song in the batch. The music revolves around a 4/4 drum beat and mostly distorted power chords. For a little less than a minute he sings somewhat “normally” and then quickly goes into a variation of the demon-like voice you hear in metal. After that there are a lot of high pitched shrieks along with vocals that have some affectation of aggression.
Up next is “Better Late Than Never” which is a fast song and again revolving mostly with power chords and fast drum beats. The instrumental parts were impressive and intense. It was sometimes hard to really concentrate on the music since the vocals are delivered with such varied emotion that it took a lot of my attention. That being said there are times where they let the drums and guitar breathe which I thought were well done.
At first things get even faster on “Internal Dialogue” but they change tempo a number of times. “Blur The Lines” was the highlight to my ears. The vocals at times sounded very different and were a lot easier on my ears in a lot of ways. It’s also pretty catchy. They close with “Late Bloomer” which has solid drone metal and is a good way to close.
A couple of things about this music reminded me of what I was doing about twenty years ago. I just graduated from college and my friend and I would jam in my mom’s basement and we would make these lo-fi recordings that sounded similar to this although the vocals didn’t have the constant change in affectation.
As an engineer I think some of their next moves should be thinking about teaming up with an engineer who can assist with the recording and get something that really plays into their sound. The music was intense to say the least and certainly the most varied vocal approach I have heard in recent memory.
Overall, this band packs a punch and is not for the faint of heart. They seem like a young band so I’m excited to hear where they go from here.
Lilac Grove is a group of friends from school that started a band. It’s a story that has been played out countless times before and will most likely continue for the foreseeable future. They explain, “These songs each originated from a single guitar riff, with the outcome of the eventual sound being a surprise each time. There was never a clear idea. if it sounded good to us then we'd stick it in the song.”
The music felt like straightforward alternative/indie rock to my ears. There weren’t any surprises, good or bad, as I listened to the songs. The songs were well delivered and there were a number of catchy melodies.
They get going with “King For A Day '' and it starts off with buoyant and slightly funky bass lines and a steady beat. The groove was great and I liked the post-punk lead guitar. Once the chorus comes it revolves around distorted major and minor chords. It sounded like a late ’90s alternative song in the spirit of the Foo Fighters or a like minded band. There is a surge in energy, a breakdown and a way back into the chorus.
“Holding On” comes out of the gates with a good amount of energy. This song similar to the first felt like an alternative song I would have heard back at the end of my high school days in the late ’90s. Up next is “The Cats Aren't All Bad” and I noticed the RMS level was lower than the previous song but nonetheless it was a solid song.
They get a little darker with “T.O.T.W.” which also might have the best and most memorable hook out of all the songs. The band closes with “Monoliths” which felt more aligned with a band like Bloc Party.
My critique for the band is to think of ways they can really drive home a signature sound. I really enjoyed these songs and the band can write a hook but their style and their approach sound very similar to countless bands. It would be hard for me to recognize one of their songs if I heard it on the radio even after spending some time with their music. Some loose experimentation might be a good thing for them. This is an issue I write a lot about but still a point that I think needs to be stressed.
Overall, I thought this young band has a lot going for them. The performances were great and they can pull off a memorable hook. I look forward to hearing more from them as they evolve.
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
Clock Stretcher Walking on shell 3.7
The Nautical Theme Lows+Highs 3.8
Mosaic Wear It Like A
Pumpkin Pie 3.6
The Rewind As One Door Closes... 3.4
Husk Bad Faith 3.5
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