The duo of Adam Willey (guitar/lead vocals) and Ryan Donaldson (percussion, backing vocals) aka Waves Upon Us released an impressive four-song EP entitled Tsunami. It built the foundation for their debut album Calamity & Rebirth. Waves Upon Us move forward with this album in terms of emotional resonance, song structure and versatility.
Calamity & Rebirth is a broad concept album about how the trials of life shape us and how we can overcome adversity. A majority of the songs feel like a peek inside someone's journal about their problems and tribulations. Topics such as the adverse effects of prescription medication and insomnia are lamented as first hand accounts. They are confessional statements that still seek resolution.
The album starts with a brief but effective instrumental track entitled “Calamity.” It starts off melancholy with acoustic guitar and sparse piano. The song begins sounding like something like Kansas but transforms into sounding like “Cherry Blossom Girl” from Air when the percussion kicks in.
“Unforgiving Tango” is an upbeat, festive song. The acoustic guitar, Djembe, bass and vocals are plenty to keep the energy up and the song has a Rusted Root type vibe. “Unforgiving Tango” may feel optimistic and hopeful but the lyrics are quite nihilistic and concern the transitory nature of our existence. He sings, “One minute it seems as if everyone you love is doing fine. The terror begins as everyone starts to drop just like flies. Strokes. Heart disease. Car accidents. And STDs. Nothing ever stays the same, offer is valid for a limited time. If over life control you seek, oh well. Your future is looking bleak.”
The music feels appropriate for the themes in “Lullaby for an Insomniac.” It sways back and forth in a hazy, dreamlike state during the verse and floats into an ethereal atmosphere towards the end.
The centerpiece of the album is the seven-plus minute “Dead of Night / Triumphant March.” It’s a dynamic, dare I say epic, song that has hints of Pink Floyd. The horns during the verse are haunting and fantastic while lyrics point to an unresolved existential dilemma. He sings, “Is there anyone out there? Or is it just me. Is this all just a great work of fiction? A spectacular fallacy.” The song eventually gets more intense as it progresses and ends up being quite an accomplishment. As the album comes to a close the band doesn’t show any loss of inspiration. “Coffee at Sunrise”, “Blue Moon” and “Rebirth” were all solid efforts.
Calamity & Rebirth is a cohesive, consistent album that leaves me with little to complain about. Job well done.
Headfull of Change is the sophomore album from The Monte Vista and is a fusion of psychedelic garage rock from the ‘60s and ‘70s as well as alternative power pop of the 1990s. There is a strong Oasis vibe both in the phrasing and tone of the vocals as well as the melodies. There’s also some influence from more lo-fi artists such as Neutral Milk Hotel.
The two best songs on the album are “That Kind Of Life” and “Far Away.” “ That Kind Of Life” features jangle-y guitars and a Kurt Novelselic-esque bass line. The snarl in the vocal is less Kurt Cobain and more John Lennon, however, stretching out the words and biting into the “I” syllable. There’s some great changes in feel throughout the song. “Far Away” is another rocker that is one of the few songs to have harmony vocals which are a welcome addition. There are great dynamics in the instrumental section, with particularly strong energy in the solo section.
Other strong songs include “The Ballad Of John Ashcroft” which also includes some backing “oohs“ as a nice pad under the second verse, some Michael Stipe-like lyrics and a great (non-harmonized) Brian May styled guitar solo. It’s also different than many of the songs as the vocals are (at least not obviously) doubled throughout which gives the tone a bit more grit. The more “soloed vocal” is also the case in the songs “Maybe It’s Time” and “Someday In The Sky” which makes for an interesting variation.
“All In Your Mind” starts with clanging cowbell and garage rock guitars. The band transitions into 7/4 time when the chorus hits. “Dirty Breed” follows up as a psychedelic California dream complete with hand claps and more cowbell. In fact, most of the album has the cowbells, tambourines and shakers upfront in the bringing out the ‘60s vibe. “Dirty Breed” also features competing doubled guitar solos (duos?) which add to the psych factor.
The album does stall a bit with a few of the songs staying one vibe, feel or idea for most of the song. “Why You Gotta Do It Alone” is a bit repetitive, “Be Who You Are” starts out as a Magical Mystery Tour mantra mixed with the ‘90s stoner rock of Pavement, but never quite takes off. “Maybe It’s Time” adds an acoustic guitar solo over the heavy thrashing band and it’s a good idea but feels thin over what else is going on and never quite takes off. A similar idea is repeated in “Someday In The Sky” where the solo works fine but the song meanders.
The album closes on a high note, though. Headfull of Change is Big Star-like, mixing Anglophile phrasings and melodies and American garage rock. The backing vocals are strong, there’s a good slide guitar break and the phrasing of the melody over the bar line enhances the whole song.
The Monte Vista seem to shine best when they’re stepping out of their comfort zone and trying a new idea or two on each song: changes in feel, phrasings and perhaps even some editing. Even if not all the ideas land, they sound best when they take a risk.
Throughout his career, Shannon Mier has had a lot going for him. After starting out as a singer-songwriter in Charlottesville, NC, Mier managed to record two albums that earned so much success that Neil Young personally praised his musicianship by referring to Mier’s group as a “very good band” to a large crowd at Scott Stadium in 2002.
Despite the promising start to his career, after the release of his sophomore album On the Failure of Science to Understand My Spirit things began to turn sour. For the next ten years, Mier fell out of love with music and barely picked up a guitar. On the biography section of his website, Mier comments on this time by saying “I thought that if I didn’t attain a certain level of success, that if I didn’t make a lot of money playing music, then it didn’t matter…the worst feeling was when someone would tell me my music was good. That just crushed me, because it reminded me of all the wasted promise. I knew I was turning my back on something that was very important..
Eventually, Mier would return to music making in the 2010s after doing some much needed soul-searching. He began writing new songs beginning in 2011 and then recorded his third album Wheels Up, which he recorded, mixed and released himself.
Writing many of the tracks on this new record must have been a form of therapy that Mier used as an outlet to express his pain and frustration. This is particularly noticeable on the song “Wrong Side of the World”, one of the heartfelt songs on the album, that also may be a bit autobiographical when you hear the following lyrics. “My sister died when I was in Texas, My brother, he fell in the war My mother and father are still living They don’t love each other anymore.”
Growing up, Mier was musically influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The influence of the Red Hot Chili Peppers lingers on the album’s title track, as well as “The Spaghetti Song,” a stream of consciousness nonsense song that name checks Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 song, “Jungleland.” “Alpha Omega” is a folky track with a 21st century sound and features synthesizers peppered throughout it. Although it’s a nice song, the harmonies sound as if they could use a bit of work. On “(Don’t Throw Your) Regrets On My Grave,”,Mier turns melancholy on this heavy, fuzzy song about the devil and death.
This is quite a promising effort from Shannon Mier. Hopefully, he won’t resign from the music world any time soon and his next record will be even better.
Not all bands meet over salmon tacos but Pity Kiss did. Rob Kruy, Lucinda Kruy and Rey Guajardo had some ideas about starting an indie/electro pop band and got started in 2013. They recently released an impressive five-song EP entitled Ghost Season.
They consider themselves a hybrid of rock/pop/electro and after listening to Ghost Season I’d say their style veers more toward pop and rock. The electronics are subtle and minimal when compared to electronic/pop artists like Postal Service, Mum or even Lali Puna. They sound like a band playing in a room and if I had to place a bet I’d say they don’t need a Mac or ableton running when they play live. You might compare their use of electronic elements in the same way a band like Beach House does.
The EP is fluid and cohesive while still displaying a versatile band that has a numbers of strengths. They kick things off with “All the Winters” which revolves around guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and Lucinda Kruys’ vocals. Kruy has a dynamic voice that isn’t too dainty but also contains pleasant feminine qualities you hope to hear from a front woman. “All The Winters” is a solid song that mixes a bit of classic ‘70s prog rock with a ‘90s alternative flavor.
“April Snow” gets a bit more experimental but doesn’t go too crazy. It’s atmospheric and more of a ballad. The drums are a pivotal component to the intensity and the song reaches for epic heights towards the end.
“Haunted Heart” was a highlight and personal favorite. The band really nails it in terms of choosing a palatable palette of sounds. The electronic drums, ambient texture and guitar mix very well here and sound a bit like The Chromatics. I also thought it happened to be Lucinda Kruy’s best vocal performance. “Your Phantom” features some very cool cascading vocal harmonies that are backed by King Crimson-esque prog rock. They end with the fast-paced “Incision,” which is probably a crowd favorite when they play live.
Ghost Season isn’t perfect but contains some good music. “Your Phantom” and “Haunted Heart” were memorable songs that I will revisit in the not too distant future.
Hailing from Long Island, NY, Douglas Bruno aka Void New World is a solo composer/musician/multi-instrumentalist who recently released a nineteen-song album entitled Visionaries and Vandals. Let’s get a couple things out of the way. Bruno’s music is detailed, contains great production and does what you hope instrumental compositions will accomplish, which is to forget about vocals. Each song has a different texture and tone that differentiates it from the rest while still accomplishing a similar feel to the whole.
Being a long-term fan of Trent Reznor I can say that Visionaries and Vandals often felt like unreleased tracks from NIN. I’m not saying this is a bad thing but this was the first thing I thought when listening the album in sequential order. The style and vibe spans the NIN catalogue from Broken to Hesitation Marks. For example, “Thrill of the Kill” brings to mind Reznor’s early heavily distorted guitar-based work on Broken while the song “Visionaries and Vandals” seemed like it could be an alternate version to “The Wretched.” Although Visionaries and Vandals will unequivocally get compared to NIN that doesn’t mean it should be ignored.
Bruno is ahead of the curve of a lot of others when it comes to song structure and layering elements. Being able to put together disparate elements and make it engaging is no easy task but he does it extremely well on songs like ”Coming Undone.” The dark ambient electronic elements mix with a classic sounding piano while the song goes through dynamic shifts.
There are some pieces on Visionaries and Vandals that are atmospheric and contain sparse, subdued instrumentation. “All They Claim” has intricate percussion that reminded me of a mouse scattering on an oak floor. The song builds with layers and get more intense in the process.The closest you will get to a dance track will be “The Best of Us” while “Fauxen” is a murky, ominous song that plays into Bruno’s strengths.
For a debut album Visionaries and Vandals felt like a little too much in terms of length. Nineteen girth-y tracks is a lot to ingest any way you spin it and Visionaries and Vandals may have been more effective at about ten tracks or so. Whether Bruno is conscious of the fact or not I would encourage him to try and distance himself from the NIN influence. Even the cover art and font for Visionaries and Vandals are eerily similar to The Downward Spiral and The Fragile.
Overall, Visionaries and Vandals is a solid album that showcases an artist with a boatload of potential. He has all the right tools but now just needs to a bit more digging to find a style that defines Void New World.
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Despite the fact that he is only sixteen years old, the Minneapolis artist/producer Max Taylor has managed to rack up a pretty good-sized discography, boasting eight singles six of which do not appear on his debut full length Black and White. Taylor made Black and White, eight tracks worth of spacey and atmospheric hip-hop, all by himself using the software program Ableton Live 9.
Taylor spends a lot of his lyrical time softly half-rapping in a voice that sounds like he is barely stressing his vocal chords or trying too hard to put bass into his voice. This could also of course be an added effect of Ableton Live 9. Many of his lyrics seem to be about relationships between people as well as socioeconomic issues.
Taylor is at that age where one, if they’ve any real sense at all, begin to develop a sense of who they want to become. Taylor has chosen art as his path, which as so many can attest to is one of the loneliest and often dissatisfying roads one can venture down in terms of forging a career. And nowadays, with tools such as Ableton Live 9, and free platforms such as Soundcloud and YouTube, on which anyone can showcase their music, the competition is all the more rife, which means that anyone whose music is anything less than ear catching can take a number and go sit down until they’re called, which will probably be never.
It seems like a hip-hop cliché these days the phantom “you” to whom rappers are always speaking to in their lyrics. It used to be that “you” meant the cops, or white people, or just anyone whom the speaker wanted to speak out against without having to use a proper noun. This phantom “you” is all over Black and White, along with sample interludes (featuring Bill Murray and The Beatles), and beats and synthetic samples which after a while make Black and White sound like one very long track.
The album starts with "Prospect" which puts together low frequency bass hits, with backward effects and angelic harmonies. It's refreshingly original in concept and delivery. "Black and White" sounds like a mix between Xiu and Xiu and James Blake while "Glasses" is an atmospheric, jagged song that has a ominous feel. Bottom line is Taylor is onto something with his music. It's inventive, unique and but not completely there yet.
For all intents and purposes Black and White is an example that youth never ages. Like anyone who’s ever had good imagination and a dream, Max Taylor is in the beginning stages of forging an artistic career. And after time Taylor will likely look back on Black and White like most artists look back on their early efforts, as an apprenticeship from which they built a foundation and learned humility.
There isn’t too much information out there about Volpi. I know Volpi is an ever-shifting studio project and recently released an EP entitled The Cubist but that's about it. The Cubist is an engaging, well-produced EP that contains some funk, rock and experimental flavors that go down very easy.
The music is inventive and my attention was often focused on the exceptional guitar parts. Take for instance the first track “Do Not Fight Here” which starts with two guitars in succession followed by a bass part. I thought the way the parts intersected and came together was fluid, seamless and fun ear candy. The vibe is a bit bluesy but also at times reminded of Talk Talk and Television in subtle ways. The vocals were enjoyable but sparse. I thought they could have been a little more defined in the mix. The vocals seemed to be too buried at points.
“Something in the Water” reminded me of the guitar work on What Day Is It? by the artist Bob Drake who I highly recommend you check out. If you combine that with a little bit of James Brown and Peter Frampton you should have an idea of what “Something In The Water” sounds like.
“All My Loving is Gone” has the most infectious vocal melody. On the first half of the song the vocalist is riffing over a hip groove. Once he starts repeating the phrase “All My Loving is Gone” it gets stuck in your head and is quite memorable. Volpi continues to impress with “Dance like my Lover” and the instrumental psychedelic jazzy closer “Guitar Heaven.”
The Cubist is a solid effort where the most inspired moments come from the instrumental end especially the guitar work. Volpi has a cool, unique sound and I hope to hear more soon. Recommended.
The Rebel Skyliners is a band consisting of Carlo Bisda (guitars/vocals), Karinna Bisda (bass/vocals) and Alfeo Vinarao (drums/vocals). They have been playing live together for three years now and through various local venues in the Toronto area such as El Mocambo and Thornhill City Festival. Perhaps the band is a different experience live but their recent release Beautiful Chaos displays a band with some potential but a whole lot of work ahead them if they want to compete with some of today's notable acts.
The first thing that brings down the music is the recording quality which is less than demo level quality. There are too many things to mention but one listen and you will know what I’m talking about. The band also suffers from severe timing issues and a singer who still needs a lot of work.
Beautiful Chaos begins with “LIVE HOUSE” which reminds me of something you would hear from Spinal Tap. Bisda’s vocals are decent here but he is still off key on a number of notes. The music itself isn’t too bad but is in desperate need of a metronome. Next up is “The Traveller” which has some decent guitar parts but the vocals end up falling apart. The song get so off time during the second half I could barely grasp what they were doing. The song stops abruptly and goes into “Little Princess” which is a slower ballad that is hard to endure because of the recording quality. The last two songs were covers of “Imagine” and “Ring of Fire” which sounded like they were recorded with a tape recorder.
The Rebel Skyliners will want to consider working with a producer/engineer as well as a vocal coach if they hope to get ahead of this thing. The first two songs had some decent guitar work but the delivery and implementation still needs some serious re-working if they hope to take their band past the embryonic stage.
There is a feeling with classic shoegaze - ie. late '80s/early '90s psychedelic guitar rock, mainly from the UK - of soaring through the clouds, or perhaps staring out of rain soaked windows. It's beautiful, but it also tends to be distant, detached. Which makes it suitable for when you want to feel like you're floating, when your head is in the clouds and your eyes are full of stars. What do you reach for, however, when your head is in the stratosphere, but your guts are in a knot and you're up to your knees in blood?
Ottawa, Ontario's Destroy Clocks’ Reanimalize is a chthonic take on the classic shoegaze sound, bringing in elements of jazz, hardcore and electronic psychedelia to root the white-hot sheets of atmospheric sheets of sound to the soil.
This is a relief, as the first wave of shoegaze could become a bit of a blur with everything mixed flat and featureless. It's like a permanent state that is beautiful to dip into, but hard to sing along with. A bit of arrangement goes along with it, as can be seen with the recent crop of stargazers, such as A Place To Bury Strangers and This Will Destroy You whose fans will flip for Reanimalize. The other contemporary touchstone, unsurprisingly, would be the blackgaze of Deafheaven, as Destroy Clocks occasionally bring the demonic rasp, like on "Snake," the doomiest song of the batch.
I could rattle on and on about the colorful flying flanged guitars, the beastly throbbing bass, the plasticine production quality that still shines with fidelity - I want to, and I will, over time - but first, for the sake of clarity and brevity, I'd like you to imagine two movies (or look them up, if you've not seen). The first would be Sophia Coppola's master Lost In Translation with its story of drifting disassociated travelers in Tokyo for their own reasons, with an iconic shoegaze soundtrack, versus Lars Von Trier's equally masterful, but damned and disturbing, Antichrist, and its damned doomed enchanted forest. Reanimalize fluctuates between those polarities - between starry wisdom and blood guts dirt and rust.
Reanimalize has a kind of a homespun quality to the recordings, which makes me greatly excited to see what they'll come up with in the near future. For those that like psychedelia, and the visions it brings, but also get angry, and want to feel their emotions, this is it. Get it, and listen obsessively!
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The album Through The Veil brought to us by Sound of Scarlet is dissonant yet harmonious There seems to be a crack in the earth between the listener and the artist. Perhaps the fault line is the lyrics dripped in heavy emotion that breaks open all that lies beneath our feet. The first song gives me the sensation of fire coming up through that crack and moving in and out of vibrant, oxygenated orange warmth and mellow, dying small pixelated light. The fire moves in its own way with no rules. It feels primal and heavy enough to wade around in. “Prelude” provides gentle power chords with some electric ethereal guitar vibrations The lyrics, just like the song claims, is an opening up or prelude to the rest of the album. He seems to be taking off the mask, asking for mercy, becoming vulnerable. There seems to be an evident and ultimate entrancement of "Take my hands and put them, my mercy is mercy, my masquerade, unlacing life's prelude."
Moving through the album to “White Wings,” there seems to be this darkness surfacing to be donned still holy. We often times in life do not think of our darkness as safe, holy or even pleasurable to be around. I like this song a lot because it has an almost tribal drum with more dripping instrumentals that are akin to candles being burnt at both ends. There is a ceremonial feeling to the guitar solo. There is a feeling that the guitar is a cry for mercy, not necessarily to its listeners, but to the universe. The echoing power chords resonate quiet gently providing a safe space to show the darkness and put wings on it. "Just give yourself. White wings. You have come here to honor your mother." The piece seems desperate to let these demons be transmuted into something glorious. I like the way this song in particular purges deep misunderstandings about relationships and the world around us. It shows a talented and unique sound that will be sure to blow your socks off. If you like A Perfect Circle or Tool, I think you will like this album.
The next song up on the album is “Oblivion.” "I will drink it down down to the bottom, only to find out that there is no end . . . then im dying once again." There is a clear plot and dance between the underworld and the heavens woven into this piece. The guitar power solos are majestic and aimed at the clouds, the moon and the stars. The drums are directed toward the earth, holding it down almost like prayers in church.
I love the song Love & Hate because it is clean enough to show to Grandpa and dirty enough to feel a bit rebellious listening to it. The album has an edge that isn't quite razor sharp but it is definitely there. The lyricist sounds a bit removed from the band itself as his voice is so forward set in the mix. There are angelic uplifts in the background, and heavy, swampy, bass music keep the heartbeat steadfast. The album finishes with a song called Invisible Man.” "They found a fear, a fear of the unknown. All of the fear is irritation and so is shame." I enjoy this piece because they are getting a clear message across that they do necessarily react to the situation that they are often finding themselves in.
Through the Veil is just that. We are living in a time where everyone speaks of the veil thinning. The veil is the thing piece of cloth that lies between us and the rest of the world. The veil is the cloth of the eyes that tell us that darkness and feeling is bad and that we should isolate ourselves and stay quarantined if we feel anything but happy. This is creating a society dependent of drugs, alcohol and other highly charged pleasurable excuses. This album begs us to step into that darkness and put wings on it. We can lift it up into the higher levels of consciousness bliss and allow it to move through us and out of us. This music is good for purging or taking a personal vision quest or to do some self discovery. I highly recommend it.
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