Both grunge and stoner rock are integrally tied to the landscape of their creation. Bands like Kyuss, Queens Of The Stoned Age or Fu Manchu conjure images of desert caravans, where mesquite smoke drifts on the breeze like a genie's unhallowed curse, while coyote howls shiver in the air like a heat sick desert mirage.
Grunge, on the other hand, brings to mind logging trucks racing down the highway, epic douglas firs lashed four-by-four and covered in metallic gray tarpaulins.
Neither of which have much to do with the southern Swedish town of Malmo, but such is the world we're living in, where fantastic desert devotees like the outstanding desert groove outfit Huanastone hail from.
Call me old fashioned, or sentimental or maybe the mescaline-soaked fever of the summer is setting in, but this low-slung, groddy, grime-y, grungy four-track self-titled EP Huanastone is ticking all the right boxes for me. When you're into a genre, there's always the risk that you'll always like more of the same, and disregard the rest. Stoner rock, however, is a different story. While cross-eyed, growly, gravelly guitar rock will always be in vogue, for metal connoisseurs, it's REALLY hard to stand out in the crowded stoner arena. Most stoner bands sound like Kyuss or Black Sabbath tribute bands, which might also be said of Huanastone, except there's a little more to the story than that when you listen closely.
The well-tooled precision of album opener "Eye On Walrus" says more than 100 well-intentioned album reviews ever could. Guitars turn on a dime, sputtering into spectral half-life like a team of well-rehearsed Gurdjieff dancers, freezing in midair. Huanastone may take inspiration from altered states and desert mysticism, but they're clearly all business when it comes to rehearsal. They never miss a beat or flub a cue.
THIS, my friends, is how you make an exceptional hard rock record! We must remember classic albums like the first Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin albums were created in a couple of days. REAL bands are tight, know their shit and come prepared.
This lets the engineers - in this case Wincent Persson of Chicken Creek Productions - do their thing, and do it well! Persson expertly captures the fuzz and hum and sweat of truly great desert/stoner rock, reminding us why the hell we liked the genre so much to begin with, while still contributing to the genre.
Haunastone have actually expanded upon the legacy of Kyuss and QOTSA, from the unlikely forest home of Malmo, Sweden. Just proves that great sweaty rock n' roll can come from any latitude or longitude, when it comes from talented, committed, and creative musicians like Huanastone.
I don’t know much about Brisbane, Australia’s Cedarsmoke. So I apologize if this review comes off a bit Law & Order-ish, a show which I can’t claim to have ever seen an entire episode of but have only caught bits and pieces of in places like bars, hospital waiting rooms and the occasional visit to the nursing home back a ways when my grandparents were still alive.
What I do know is that Cedarsmoke plays a form of down tempo psych-infused indie rock that is easily palatable. Their curt bio describes their six-song EP (is it their debut? third? fifth?) False Start to the Rat Race as “six songs played by five people, recorded live.” And bravo to such an interesting and witty title as False Start to the Rat Race which offers a few clues to the mystery of which we are about to delve into.
For what is the “rat race” but a comical analogy for most of the world’s daily life? We wake. We rush to punch the clock in order to be able to fill our lives with the countless amounts of trash being thrown at us. The forty-plus-hour work week pays for our comfortable beds, our expensive drinks, our virtual realities which helps us escape from our real ones. They provide a momentary escape from the plebeian doldrums many of us find ourselves in; are you living to work or just working to live?
This seems to be the question asked on “Wasteland Blues” the opening track of False Start to the Rat Race. Ethereal and angry guitars mesh with the opening lyrics “It’s a small world if you have big dreams / But all I want is a shirt on my back and a place to sleep / I don’t need to own land I won’t have time to roam,” sung by…let’s call him X (I have by this point abandoned my detective show gig and going along with something a little more off the cuff. Think of this as a Shakespearean aside and bear with me. A rose by any other name and all that…).
The sweet and catchy yet superfluously noisy “Hollow” our friend X with his angsty and scratchy vocals sounds like a man that has just woken up and hasn’t had coffee yet. He also sounds like he has been screaming all night and now, still trying to venerate himself is stumbling around trying to get his point across. Behind all this wandering madness is a synthesizer that sounds like a four thousand strong child choir and delicious drum fills, and a waterfall of effects-the fuck out- guitars. Old X doesn’t disappoint on the drunken and spacey rant of “Just Say So” a song I felt myself taking to heart. Here X, (yes we’re at it again with this) gets down to it, calling it out with “why don’t you just say so.” Easier said than done my friend as you probably know.
False Start to the Rat Race is a record filled with tumultuousness of every kind. It’s an ode, a paean to what many of us feel; the world is shit but we’re not ready to die yet so we’re just gonna keep dealing until we do. It’s fun and angst ridden and pretty rocking. If you’ve ever begun a sentence with “I hate…” give False Start to the Rat Race a few moments of your time.
Glam's a funny thing - simultaneously exploitative and escapist while also empowering and liberating. '80s glam, mostly in the form of hair metal and arena rock, is built around images of nearly naked women and coked out men, while 21st century glam has taken a more liberationist angle, eschewing the politics and focusing on feeling good and having a good time.
As usual, with 21st century retrospect, modern glam rockers offer a critical reevaluation of former eras, like the way Yacht Rock has brought about a renaissance of '80s lite rock like Hall And Oates or Pat Benatar. On Pray For Noise, the NYC quartet Madam's Animals have achieved the nearly impossible - making '80s hair metal/arena rock like Guns 'N Roses or Van Halen sound exciting and contemporary, while still remaining in line with the energy of the originals.
This is largely due to the fact that Madam's Animal isn't trying to fit into a particular cookie cutter mood or genre. Instead, they're focusing on having a good time and plying the feel good, infectious, melodic hard rock they clearly love so much!
A lot of Pray For Noise's success comes from the production and engineering, impressively and ambitiously handled in-house by Madam's Animal themselves. Each and every element hangs in a rugged equilibrium: rhythm guitars, courtesy of Sean Hanley, are thick as an undiluted milkshake, occasionally launching into bouts of fretboard inspiration, like on album closer “Explode.” Meanwhile, the drums are sharp, tight, taut and focused, cutting through the mix like a hurricane of knitting needles. It all comes together to create a compelling bedrock for Benjamin Raffali's vintage lead vocals, improving on the trebly leads forged by frontmen like Axl Rose or David Lee Roth, occasionally veering into some chorus-y grunge territory, like the first couple of Alice In Chains records.
It's an attractive and compelling slice of revisionist history. For those that wonder what Use Your Illusion III might've sounded like, or what the rockscape could've been had Axl Rose not lost his damn mind (although that particular breakdown yielded some pretty entertaining and compelling tangents), you'll be in heaven, thanking the Gods of rock as you Pray For Noise!
Become A Fan
Not to toot my own horn but I can usually get a good idea of how old musicians are when listening to their music. For a myriad of reasons the music you listen to as a teenager tends to sound like the music you make in a lot of cases. If I had to guess the members of Blue August were most influenced by bands from the early ’70s to mid ’80s. Truth be told their debut Blue August feels like a tip of the hat to bands from that era, from the blazing lead guitar solos that are plastered all over the album to the arena rock style vocals.
For better or worse their music doesn’t seem to meld with the rock music in the mainstream or the underground of 2016. Blue August doesn’t have much in common with rock bands who are pushing the envelope like Tame Impala, Viet Cong, Mitsuki and Dirty Projectors to name a few but rather revisits some of the nostalgia of previous decades that a niche group of people will enjoy.
“Battlecry” is the opener which initially moves at a slow pace with a big arena rock style vibe. The song is full of classic 101 style rock moves like pick scrapes and a cosmic guitar solo that mimics what you might expect from a band like Pink Floyd. A throughly enjoyable tune.
Next up is “Faded Pictures” which is just about perfect for a montage scene in an ’80s movie. It feels familiar from the singing style to the guitar fills. “Far Away” is a ballad from top to bottom that has some similarities to the band Scorpions. As the album continues the band continues with anthemic rock songs. The songs are predictable but easy to enjoy.
I can’t say Blue August is the most innovative band to come out in 2016. In fact they often wear their influences on their sleeves. That’s not a bad thing in my opinion as long as you combine it with good songwriting which they do.
I encourage everyone to give this a listen but in all honesty this will resonate more with people who grew up when this style was popular and that's most people over thirty-five.
The Sawtooth Brothers are in fact brothers from two different families. On one side are Clint and Luke Birtzer and on the other are Jess and Ethan Moravec. They have been playing together for over eight years and have been dazzling audiences with their vocal harmonies and vibrant, organic instrumentation. The band's latest One More Flight was produced and engineered by Dan Deurloo and contains radio ready songs that are in the top echelon when it comes to professional recordings.
Country and bluegrass are the most overt styles on the album but this is also a pop album. Songs like “What’s Her Name?” and the opener “Another Cliché” are sing-along type songs that arguably have more in common in current country pop than traditional bluegrass and country.
That being said there are some songs here which veer towards traditional bluegrass like the exceptional “Country Road X.” This song is a certified fast paced highlight which is not only catchy but also has some instrumental ear candy. That fiddle sounds awfully good.
There are other highlights on the album but I think it comes down to preference. “Summer All The Time” feels like it would be a proper song to listen to while chillin’ in a pool with a margarita while “The River and You” is a feel good song that simply makes you feel good. They continues with “I Should Be Going” and the excellent closer “Take Me Away.”
One More Flight is a cohesive and consistent album. The brothers do a great job establishing a feel and vibe to the album that gives you a very clear idea of their sound. That combined with above average songwriting and I can deem One More Flight a success.
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
S M Jenkins Out There In The Zone 3.4
Cale Colfax Mingo 3.5
she one 3.4
Absolus EP 3.4
Among Authors Imitation House (single) 3.6
Recovery Methods 1st EP 3.3
Hailing from the “land down under,” the Australian band Grand Duke is the brainchild of songwriter and guitarist Joe Pigram. The five band members have released Mountains to the West, their debut EP, which incorporates a dynamic blend of metal and rock woven throughout its five songs.
“The Custodian” starts the record on an epic tone with charged power chords from electric guitars and thunderous percussion underlying Jason Hore’s gravelly, yet melodic vocals. The five-minute anthem transverses traditional rock themes while maintaining a unique edge and aura characterized by bass and guitar riffs.
The album’s title track follows with a slightly uptempo beat, clapping and vocals that alternate between raspy screaming and soft crooning. Vocal harmonies bring an added layer to the soundscape, and the danceable rhythm adds an uplifting style to the otherwise dark and ominous music.
The EP continues relentlessly with “Ancient Satellites” and the energy of the music only increases steadily throughout the first three tracks. Held-out notes and lightning-paced guitar riffs heave this tune towards the far reaches of music’s dynamic range with only the solid beat of the drums to anchor the song to the ground. This tension is effective, as the juxtaposition of sounds forces the listener to give full attention to the ever-more-intense melodies and harmonies.
“The Space Between the Stars” takes Grand Duke to a slightly more ethereal style with its droning, spacey guitar riffs. This instrumental gives the listener a short mental break after the preceding three songs, but the catchiness and stylistic mastery of the band is still evident even without vocals.
The six-and-a-half-minute, epic anthem “Red Jewels” brings Mountains to the West to a climactic ending. The first five minutes are no surprise musically, and the band pulls all the stops to highlight their strengths in the realm of rock and metal. Then, somewhat uncharacteristically, a beautiful piano section closes out the last minute-and-a-half of the song, accompanied by an occasional, faint guitar. This final touch gives even more substance to what is already a fantastic album, and Grand Duke should be confident that Mountains to the West will serve them as a stepping stone to more great music.
Rosie Folks is an artist who released a seven-song EP called Mobile Phone. It’s a very well produced rock EP that contains songs that are just about perfect for summer time and taking a joy ride.
Folks has something in her voice that feels tailor made for punk and rock. There is a loose, vibrant vibe when she sings and you get the impression that is she is not only having fun but feels liberated. It’s hard to fully explain but her vocals are the elements which makes Mobile Phone such as enjoyable EP from beginning to end.
The EP starts off with the title track which is revolves around clean guitars, drums, bass and vocals. It’s extremely catchy and has some notable vocal harmonies. She sings “Baby when you’re all alone / Call me on your mobile.” I was addicted to the chorus. It’s definitely something you will play on repeat and sing in the shower.
Next up is “Dehydrated” which is another success. You can trace back the sound of this song to some pop punk bands that came out during the ’70s and ’80s. The song is a little over two minutes and Folks manages to pack it with hooks and memorable melodies. In typical punk rock fashion the song deals with a very pragmatic issues - drinking and becoming dehydrated. I think I will take her advice and drink water while consuming booze.
Folks continues to show her songwriting chops as the album progresses. “Friend Like You”, “Turn It Up” and “Bored In A Small Town” are all well written songs that could easily pass for a single. She closes with “Green Light” which has more distortion than the songs that came before.
Sometimes you just need to right elements to come together to make a collection of songs work and that's what you have with Mobile Phone. The songs are simple but the stellar production combined with her vocal delivery and songwriting create something here that is more enjoyable than the sum of its parts.
Daniel Masiel (guitar/vocals), Celeste M. Evans (percussion/harmonium/bass guitar/violin/vocals) and Rob Magill (bass guitar/woodwinds/vocals) play jangly guitar rock as if they have a proclivity for free jazz. The band The Post Nothing sounds like it could be the playing before Television and after Miles Davis at the now defunct CBGB’s.
Their self-titled debut The Post Nothing is a work three years in the making and has a very raw, live feel to it. Don’t get me wrong I like a raw recording in a Steve Albini vein but I would have liked to have heard a slight bump in recording. In particular more definition in the drums would have helped amplify the intensity of some of these songs. That being said it’s marginal compared to the songs themselves.
The band opens with “Real Estate.” They hit you with a dose of garage rock nostalgia but lucky get into Frank Zappa territory with a descending spirals of notes. The band is thinking outside the box and that's obvious to anyone who gives a damn about music.
“Post Nothing Theme” puts the jangle in jangly. It’s a jangly arguably beautiful mess of notes, with fuzz and wah pedal. Vocals aren't the band’s strongest element but they also almost never feel like the central element. I have ambivalent feelings about the vocals on “Justification” but did enjoy the music.
“The Metal Gumby on the Moon (Who Nobody Remembers)” is really a departure from everything that came before as well as an indicator of what is to come. The eight-minute song is far more experimental and leans more heavily towards free jazz and that's not just because of the woodwinds but the unconventional playing style.
“Bee-Bop” feels like an extension of “The Metal Gumby on the Moon (Who Nobody Remembers).” “Involuntary Smile” starts off pretty and melodic but descends into a chaotic amalgamation of notes and noise. They close with “Logic” which is more of a whimper than a bang.
The band may want to consider giving up vocals entirely. I felt they were either innocuous or simply taking away from the music. Besides that arguable quibble I enjoyed The Post Nothing. Be forewarned this isn’t a pop album by any stretch of the imagination. The band explores a vast array of sonic possibilities most of which hit the mark.
Sam Small is an artist who is no newcomer to music. He has been writing music for most of his life. He says “the music never leaves. And songs keep coming” and it was always his passion. I know exactly what he means. It’s like a bug that bites and never leaves. I myself have been writing music a little over twenty years and even though there are ebb and flows of inspiration it always stays with you.
For Small his latest burst of inspiration came in the form of an album called A Pocketful of Unicorns. The album contains twelve songs and is pretty minimal. A lot of the production comes down to vocals and piano.
Small is a versatile singer who doesn’t stick to one particular style. There are times when he is almost talking, other times where is delivering more conventional singing. Perhaps the most unique thing is that he sometimes sings in an English accent and sometimes an American one. Now this isn’t hyperbolic or comically. It’s subtle. I definitely had some preferences when it came to his singing style.
Up first is “Being With You “which revolves around his vocals and piano. The vocal harmonies are what made the song for me. Lyrically, the song is a straightforward love song. He sings “Being with you is all I want is all I have to say / Wanting you is all I feel on this and every day / I love you.”
On “Giai” Small sounds theatrical almost as if he is singing in a play while “You Could Have Been” is a highlight. I especially enjoyed the chorus on “You Could Have Been” when he sings “You could have been a cocktail waitress / You could have been in Steeleye Span / You could have been a mathematician / You could have been a sailor man.”
As the album progresses the songs continue with a minimal approach. “Seven Lonely Years” is another song that has a singing style that feels like it could be in a theatrical play. I actually preferred his more conventional singing that he displays on “South Coast Blue.” A clear highlight is “Farewell.” The vocals are memorable on this song and I thought the double tracked vocals sounded great. Make sure not to miss the acapella closer “Goodbye.”
Small’s music feels authentic and from the heart. I don’t think he is trying to be anything than what he is with this music. Some songs stuck out more than others but A Pocketful of Unicorns is worth a gander.
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