Crow vs Lion is the music and art project of Dan Gallagher of Bucks County, PA, that features Liam Hare (drums) and Andy Kostrzewski (bass). He recently released The Heart, The Time, The Pen. Gallagher explains, “The album has four songs dedicated to each section, The Heart, The Time, The Pen, with the title track song #13.” If you want to delve more into the themes and concepts you can read about that on his Bandcamp page.
The music at its core was folk to my ears. If you stripped away most of the instrumentation I would say these songs sound a lot like ’60s folk artists including Bob Dylan. That being said I liked the full arrangements. The instrumentation was organic and didn’t seem to have any manipulation in post-production. I really enjoyed the orchestral strings and horns.
“Daniel Odin'' starts sounding like one of those storytelling podcasts. There is a collage of sounds but soon enough we get to music which consists of a lot of warm instrumentation. The organ and violin sounded incredible. I think it’s pretty easy to pick up on the ’60s folk vibe on this song. It’s well written and very easy to appreciate.
This is really just the beginning of a litany of great songs. The nostalgic and somewhat coming of age sounding “Beg, Steal & Borrow” followed by the meditatively warm hum of “Newborn (Exon 42)” solidified I was going to love this album.
There is a nice balance of mood as well. One of the highlights of “Five Six Seven Eight” is festive, fun and oh man did I love the horns on this song. I love that it’s followed by the pensive and melancholy “Waking The Truth” which is also a highlight but for different reasons.
As the songs progress I thought “Alpha & Omega,” “A Thousand Pages” and the jovial and bluegrass inspired closer “The Heart, The Time, The Pen” were highlights.
This is a long album at thirteen songs and close to being a double album.On that note there are enough changes in texture and tone to keep you interested the whole time.
Overall, I thought this was an exceptional album. Highly recommended.
The Spiritual Leaders came together in 2010 through a shared love of classic ‘80s and ‘90s indie and college rock. Although day jobs and life was a factor they managed to keep playing music and recently released an EP entitled Albania Away.
The songs are fun, catchy and certainly spans a couple of generations of rock. I was picking up on english bands like The Smiths but also a lot of indie rock from the last twenty years such as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
They get going with “Picture on The Wall” which gets a number of things right. I loved the jangly guitar sound, the prominent groove based bass line and steady drums. I’ve always thought an accent from Ireland melded with rock music and this is no exception. The vocals sounded great on this song.
By the time I got through listening to “Fatten The Calf” I was a big fan. They create a dreamy atmosphere here but the bass and drums really keep the groove going. It’s a mix between the funk you might have heard from Talking Heads mixed with some of the aesthetics you heard from The Smiths. My favorite line was “everyone’s looking for a slice of their pie.”
The band starts to get a little more garage rock on “You Know Me.” They pull out some more distortion and there is even a blaring guitar part where he rides one note for a while. The vocalist just kills. There are really infectious melodies and I loved the tone and inflection of his voice.
That is followed by the arguable highlight “Bell Jar.” The guitar parts are fantastic. It felt playful and free. This felt like classic ’90s indie rock to me in the best way and had elements of bands like Pavement and Yo La Tengo which I grew up on.
They strip things down and get a little more emotional on “Temporary.” It’s a beautiful song with inspirational lyrics. It reminds me of the adage “and this too shall pass.” They close with “Underwater With You” and similar to the previous song it is emotionally resonant.
This release had it all. Great performance, production and songwriting. Highly recommended.
The Firegod is an artist currently residing in California who recently released an EP entitled Crosshairs. I was looking at the song titles and I didn’t think it was too hard to figure out that this was most likely about the aftermath of a romantic relationship.
The music is layered and combines inventive production, synths and organic instrumentation. I thought the vocals were dynamic and emotionally resonant. The vocals felt like the focal point of the songs.
The first song is called “Let Me Go” and there is a some what of a hypnotic groove that is created as a steady bass, synths and a manipulated vocal snippet. The lead vocal is catchy and as I just mentioned dynamic. It starts with a more intimate type of performance but starts to open up as the album progresses. In fact the music opens up as well with guitar and other elements as well.
Up next is “Is It Just Me” and this song felt a little more festive. The groove felt like you could dance to it. It reminded me of one of my favorite groups - Pulp. The guitar riff and drum beat provides kinetic energy but the synth brings with it this sort of serenity.
“Prefer to Be Alone” sounds like it might be depressing but it’s not. I actually thought the way he sings it did sound like he prefers to be alone. This might be the highlight to my ears. I thought the music was also great. It surrounds you with pads and swell.
“Never Be Free of You” felt like the catchiest and jovial sounding song. I pictured a large audience singing along to this one. “You Left Me Lonesome” is actually the more melancholy song. This song is fairly stripped back. At its core this song is all about the guitar and vocals. On that note the electric piano provided a warm hum that sounded appropriate for the mood.
This is a great EP. The five songs all had something different but still managed to sound very cohesive. Take a listen.
Mason Melle is an artist who spent a lot of his time working in a band but recently went solo. His first release is a self-titled four song EP Mason Melle. He explains this release “is a return to roots rock n’ roll, heavily influenced by the ‘70s era sounds of artists such as Neil Young, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan.”
On that note I found there was an eclectic blend of mood, tone and color throughout this release. We get going with “Realign” which has a classic hit the road with your bike and ride type of quality to it. I was picturing images from the movie Easy Rider. Pardon the pun but this song drives. The instrumentation revolves around crunchy guitar, a round warm bass and steady beat. It’s a fun song and mighty catchy.
“By the Wind You Were Brought” was very ’70s sounding to me but this is definitely a ballad. It’s warm, heartfelt and might even make you shed a tear. Melle sounds really good on vocals. I thought the melancholy and reflection of his voice sounded natural and real.
“Million Dollar Man” is another killer track. The beginning is like a band revving up. It sounded like a mix between The Doors and country bands. As the song progresses we eventually get to a crescendo that explodes with bright guitars and the vocals in the spotlight.
Last up is “Dark Eyes.” It starts and ends with guitar and vocals. That’s it. The sparse and slightly haunting but beautiful song felt like a nice way to simmer down and close out the album. I especially loved some of the guitar picking instrumental sections on this song.
This is a great EP. There is no reason to skip any tracks. You should try and enjoy every minute.
Coloured Red is a one-man band based out of Brisbane, Australia. He recently released The Uplift. This music reminds me of the sort of ultra serious bands like Evanescence and Tool. The production is a solid DIY home recording.
The first track is called “Time Is Fleeting and So Are We” and is an intro. You hear a couple of reverb laced guitars, virtual drums and ghostly vocal harmonies. There is then a clip of Carl Sagan giving his famous Pale Blue Dot speech.
We then get to “Consequence” where we get a little more pop oriented type of hard rock that I would say got its start about twenty years ago. I was a little shocked when the vocals came into the mix. They were loud and he sang with a very heavy affectation. He sounds sort of angry or maybe at the very least aggressive.
Up next is “Awakening” and this falls in line with the feeling and singing style of the previous song. The guitar work was great and in fact my favorite aspect of the song. “Self-Sabotage” is dark but one of the more catchy songs in the batch and arguably his best vocal performance. There is also a cool breakdown section which I thought worked very good.
“Copperdust” and “Hell” are both solid songs and continue to lay the foundation for his signature sound. He closes with “Uplift” which has its moments as well.
There is no subtlety to the way he chooses to sing. It’s a voice I usually hear with metal which this certainly has elements of. Whether you like it or hate the style it can’t be ignored. Fans of bands such Dance Gavin Dance, Tool, Architect and like-minded artists will most likely be big fans of Coloured Red’s The Uplift.
Sorrow is a recent release from Ian Hackett Kahl. It’s a deeply personal record that took three years to make and is about the loss of his mother. I found his explanation fascinating and highly original for finding the palettes of sounds he decided to use on the album. He explains “‘Sorrow’, from its first track to its very last track, is a full length album exploring my grief – the loss of my mother – contrasted by the sounds of 8bit/16bit era video games. This intentional contrast of dark subject matter and light sonic landscapes underscores the meaning of this album to me. Most of my memories of early childhood are a combination of 1980s videogame experiences and the presence of my mother. Because these two unlikely things are connected in my mind it seemed like a perfect framework for a grief focused project.”
I think I might be in a similar age range to Kahl because I was born in 1981 and was playing video games which contained the 8bit/16bit sounds and images. Kahl uses these sounds brilliantly throughout the album. I would make some general comparisons to bands like The Postal Service and Dntel. The emotion is there throughout the album and it’s this beautiful mix of nostalgia, reflection, melancholy but also movement.
The first song “the sleep blue” swells in with synths that sound like orchestral strings. There are multiple synths and he begins to sing but his voice is manipulated by a robotic like effect. I’m normally not into this manipulation of the voice but for this and the rest of the songs it worked wonderfully. He was able to get this beautiful tone that sounds like a cross between a robot and a celestial being. The programming and arrangement was great. I thought the percussive aspects were top notch.
“light through the window” continues with this vibe and the music is just exceptional. It’s top notch electronic music and rivals some of the bigger names like Aphex Twin and Amon Tobin. “soul blind” is the arguable highlight. It’s this mix of digital and analog soundscapes that makes this sound as if this where AI robots go after they die.
The album extends on “cursed algorithms” as we hear snippets of joys and bright lights. The song blossoms. There is more reflection and contemplation with “speak to ghosts.” HIs signature sound is reinforced with “hum” and the beautiful “dissolve up in forests.” The closer “famine of spirit” is like a spoken word piece that forges into the light. I felt like I was moving into the future.
I haven’t talked about the lyrics yet. It’s hard to understand what he is saying because of the effects and I would recommend checking out the lyrics on Bandcamp. He’s also a poet who is able to creates lines which avoid cliches but can be powerful and resonate with your being.
This is hands down one of the best and original release I have heard this year. Highly recommended.
Science Penguin is an instrumental prog/math rock duo based out of Germantown, Maryland. This project is made up of Joel (guitar) and Matt (drums) and has been going since early 2016. Divide & Conquer reviewed their first self-titled release Science Penguin back in 2017. Since then they changed their sound and are now an instrumental prog rock band.
The band is all about fast moving riffs and explosive sounds. It’s technically impressive music from beginning to end. The first song is called “This Is My Home Now” and I was fairly certain this was a virtual drum set at first. It isn’t. The thing that threw me off was the metronome tight timing. I have to admit the kick drum was a little too mid-range heavy for me at points. It took over the song at times and I wanted a little more bass and guitar. That being said the song kicks serious ass.
As the songs progress I did feel like they could all be one song. The band moves around from riff to riff and there is no hook so it’s a bit hard to identify a song until you are very familiar with it. “Error 418” and “Moon Cheese'' sounded like an extension of the first song. “Stipachios” felt a little different with a more ambient beginning but even here they sort of go into prog-mode and unload with creative and technically nuanced riffs.
“Burrito Cleats,” “Fish Cannon” and “Can You Make Me Toast?” continue to showcase the band’s skills and it didn’t feel like there were any lulls in the music.
I usually talk about the cohesive qualities and this one certainly has it. It’s an album where you can hit play and let it ride till the last note. I think this is the type of album that demands that.
I liked the direction the duo took. It seems like it plays into their strengths. Recommended.
Cole Bryan is an up and coming musician from London who got his start early around the age of six. I was looking at photos of Bryan on his social media and he is still very young and looks around high school age. I’ve always felt that starting music young is a huge benefit. You could argue that on his release Life Just Passes By that he might be young but already writes song lyrics like he is a middle-aged man.
He explains, “I like to think of this EP as a bit of a concept album. It's about different experiences that have happened to me or the people around me in my life so far so it's quite a personal record, especially for a first release but it could also be about anyone's life, so it's kind of just about life in general, hence the title.”
The EP opens with “Crossroads” which is one of the highlights. The song revolves around strummed clean guitar, atmospheric synths and a subdued rhythm section. It’s a catchy song and like I said the lyrics reminded me of someone who was much older. He sings “sitting at a crossroads / and life just passes by / and thinking 'bout you / oh I start to cry.”
“Sticks and Stones'' is another solid song. It’s got a great groove and there is this ’70s vibe that is serene and relaxing. “Your Angel'' is a little more lo-fi in a number of ways. Bryan’s vocals are front and center on this song and there are some inventive transitions. It starts off a little dark and blossoms into something bright.
“25 Years” was a highlight. The song contains some fantastic orchestral strings and arguably Bryan’s best vocal performance. The lyrics are heartfelt and again felt like they came from someone who was much older. He closes with “Wouldn't That Be Nice” which is more upbeat and a great way to close the EP.
As an engineer myself I think the natural next steps would be to work with an engineer in a studio and even think about working with other musicians.
Overall, I thought this was a strong debut from an up and coming talent. Take a listen.
It was the mid ’90s and I was in high school. I was already knee deep in music and managed to find a couple people I still play music with to this day. I read that Blue Envy had a similar story and although after looking at some of their photos realized they graduated high school much more recently felt I could relate to what they were doing.
The band released Shipwreck that is a no frills rock/blues hybrid which is another thing we have in common. I was probably around their age when my band and I released something similar. The band opens with “What Can I Do” which is an explosive song. It’s straightforward but fun. There are some classic guitar solos, a breakdown and all the sort of standard criteria you want in a dynamic rock song. I think the high point for me was the prog rock inspired breakdown.
Up next is more or less a perfect mix of styles again. The prog rock and blues can change suddenly but it actually never felt jarring. I felt like there was a salute to Rush on this song. They sort of mellow out a bit on “Sour” which was more of a mix between blues and commercially viable hard rock.
They close with “Cellar Door” and there were some moments here which veered into metal. It’s a little more dangerous at times especially that beginning riff. The verse however with the vocals didn’t feel very metal or grunge oriented.
As an engineer myself I think the band’s logical next steps would be to record in a studio. The DIY recording quality was solid but there were obvious areas which could have used a professional touch.
The young band is off to an impressive start. There is innate talent here and they have a lot of time to evolve.
Chuck Riepenhoff (vocals), Vern Springer (guitar/vocals,) Scott Brokaw (drums/vocals), James Hampton (bass/vocals) and Marq "Q" Speck (keyboards/vocals) are Second Hand Mojo. They recently released After Midnight.
The band is from the mid-west and so am I. I feel like most of my 20’s was spent wandering into bars where the music sounded very similar to what was playing on this album. If you aren’t from the mid-west this might not be the case but there are huge numbers of bands that combine a classic rock style with blues. I guess you could this is simply classic rock.
The songs here are feel good jams which do happen to sound good with a beer and at a summer festival. You have probably been there yourself. Do you remember the funnel cakes, corn and theme park like rides which were questionable to go on? The local counties favorite band would also be playing and before you knew it a middle aged couple and a young kid would start dancing.
After Midnight contained no surprises to me in what was going to happen. That being said the performances are exceptional and they do a good job giving you some different flavors. “All About You” felt like a highlight to me. I thought Riepenhoff sounded especially good on vocals here because he has some reflection in his voice.
“One Last Song” is another highlight. It was another great performance from all the members and I really enjoyed the orchestral strings. They close with “Saturday Night” which is the perfect song to play before the tents come down when the festival ends.
Second Hand Mojo isn’t reinventing the wheel but I don’t think that’s what they are trying to do. This is an album for fans who like their classic rock pure.
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