Listening to Arizona Pinstripe takes me back home to Austin, TX. I’m sitting outside on a boiling hot summer night with sweat sliding down my spine and brow. The speakers on the stage send vibrations through the ground and into the blades of grass I sit on. I’ve never seen Arizona Pinstripe perform, but their blues energy and noticeable charisma sound familiar and comfortable.
The Denver-based blues-rock duo consists entirely of Andrea and Andrew. On their debut EP Path, they sound like a couple of scrappy folks on the road, anxious to make friends or brawl with whatever they find. They’ve spun together elements of backwoods blues and folk with ferocious, straight-up punk. They glorify the road and the dramatic landscape of the west, while also toying with the idea of home.
The album holds my attention on every note, but also leaves me slightly unsatisfied. In some places the duo hits a stride with a consistent blues guitar and gripping harmonica solos. However, the lyrics and harmonies sometimes fall a bit flat. The energy remains strong throughout, but there isn’t always enough fullness of sound between the duo to hold the high octave gritty vocals together with the pared-down instrumentals.
Arizona Pinstripe’s sound aligns with the resurgence of blues rock in the late ’90s and early 2000’s. They tap into bands such as the Alabama Shakes (Brittany Howard’s vocals in particular), and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. At times, Arizona Pinstripe pushes this blues resurrection in a more punk direction, while also dipping a toe into indie-folk. To classify Arizona Pinstripe as a pure blues group however, would be a mistake. They sound too rehearsed and precise. The songs don’t quite groove.
The combination of sounds and genres the power duo brings together is undeniably unique. However, they often held back perhaps because of a non existent rhythm section. I can imagine Arizona Pinstripe coming to life during live performances.
Some of you may be familiar with David Rupley after my review of Signs You're Alive which he released earlier this year. Prior to that he released Out Of Space. I will say up front that Signs You’re Alive feels like an evolution after spending sometime with Out Of Space but also a very different experience.
Out Of Space in a lot of ways is more experimental and diverse even though he sings on more songs. The production also doesn’t quite hit the heights of Signs You’re Alive.
The album starts with “A Requiem For Patrick” which contains airy, spacey synths and a voice synthesizer. It feels like an intro for “Not Here.” “Not Here” revolves around Rupley’s vocals which I have to admit were very hard to understand. Lyrically, I couldn't make out the words. His delivery is subtle and what you would call the opposite of powerful and commanding. He sounds feeble but it actually works well with the song beside the couple of sour notes I heard.
Next up is “Sandbox” which is so bizarre and dissonant I enjoyed it. It’s like a psychedelic trip that is starting to go in a direction that's a bit overwhelming. I would say it’s like that moment you are about to freak out because your head's in sensory overload.
“Tired” is another unique track. His voice is like a lost ghost. It sounds more like an effect than a lead vocal. You can hear some of the seeds of Signs You’re Alive in this track. “Ash On My Knee” was comical. For what I think we was saying I believe it is “Why do I ash on myself? I found this humorous.
“Pass the Flyer” is a seven-minute song that definitely goes into some unique places. It sounds like video game music if you were listening to it from across the highway. I’m not sure how to even explain the feeling I get when experiencing this song. “Eye of the Lunatic” sounds oddly unaligned with itself while “Night Time” continues with sounds that can induce a sense depersonalization.
Rupley may be ahead of the curve but I’m not sure what to make of Out Of Space. It’s an avant-garde album to say the least.
Jordan Duguay is a 19-year-old artist based out of Quebec, Canada who has just released his debut EP titled Feel This Way. Being the first collection of songs Duguay has put on tape, this release shows some promise in Duguay’s musical career, as there are some hints of strong lyricism, catchy hooks and a raspy, pleasant vocal tone. However, I did find the structures and vocal melodies of the songs to be fairly repetitive and consistent, which, in the grand scheme of things, is not a very big deal, but when listening to the EP in its entirety, I found it to be moderately noticeable.
Although there is some repetition throughout the album, I found that Duguay uses a variety of genres throughout Feel This Way, which is pretty common for a debut release, as the artist is typically trying to find their niche. Feel This Way contains elements of folk, singer-songwriter, ambient and rock, which is pretty impressive given that the EP is just five songs long. I would say the bulk of the work is folky, however if you were to listen to the opening track, the word “folk” would never cross your mind. Hearing how comfortable Duguay is in each of these types of music foreshadows a bright future as a songwriter.
Personally, I think that the natural raspiness of Duguay’s voice goes best with the third track on the album, titled “Tongue Tied,” which is the token rock track on the EP. The punk-esque nature of the chord sequence combined with the bounce of the beat creates a nice pallet for Duguay’s raw sounding voice. In my opinion, Duguay sounds the most natural in this fast-paced, more raucous element.
The title track of the EP, “Feel This Way,” makes for a very nice exit with its more subtle, subdued yet emotional nature and simple chord progression. Duguay did a good job creating a lot of space in this song, allowing for the impassioned lyrics to be the focal point. Again, this EP definitely has its moments, and it absolutely shows promise. However if Duguay wants to mature as a songwriter, I feel that he needs to seek more variety in his voice.
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Bobby Danzi (lead vocals/guitar), Russell Hegedorn (bass/vocals), and Reed Silverstein (drums/vocals) are the three members of Interstate. The band formed in October 2015 and immediately got to to work. That’s no joke as the band already released a polished four-song EP entitled Songs.
Interstate is a no frills rock band and are off to a solid start with these songs. At this point the band isn’t on the cusp of inventive rock music but given how long they have been together this band has a lot of potential.
The songs are fairly simple yet catchy. That being said the band is no short supply of technical talent. Whether it’s a classic guitar solo with a myriad of notes or the fury of drums implemented by Silverstein the band brings the goods.
Up first is the “Fingers Crossed” which opens up in a familiar way that just about guarantees these guys are going to rock. Waves of feedback are quickly met with pulsating bass lines and the hi-hat starts to build to the breaking point. The opening riff reminded me of something you might here from Bloc Party. It’s got an upbeat, kinetic energy that's undeniable. “Fingers Crossed” very well could be the highlight on the EP.
“Brand New Start” is another solid song. The first half of the song is dynamic and full of plenty of build ups and memorable melodies. As the song progresses the guitar solo might the most impressive moment. The guitar solo feels very ’80s inspired. As much as I appreciated it it also felt like a guitar solo you have heard plenty of times before.
“Leaving You” is pretty straightforward with some impressive grand sounding peaks while the closer “Color Me” contains clean melodic guitar picking and also veers towards pop punk during the chorus.
Interstate is still probably searching for a more defined sound but Songs is a solid foundation on which they can build upon.
Subject To Change is a band comprised of Matt Friedberg (guitar/vocals), Jon McClees (bass/vocals) and Akiba Davis (drums). The band recently released a self-titled debut Subject To Change which has some inspired moments but also falls prey to mistakes and misconceptions that young bands have.
The band states ”This album has something for everyone on it. There's acoustic, metal, hard rock, rhythm and blues, punk, blues rock, and alternative rock. Our music style varies hence the name "Subject To Change" because our sound can be one thing and then another in the blink of an eye.” This approach not only makes the album sound like a compilation of different bands but also contains no cohesion.
If you scrutinize any successful band whether it's the White Stripes, or Radiohead or Interpol they created a sound. Truth be told if you want to build an audience you will have to a defined, unique sound that people will recognize.
The album starts with a very nice sounding “Intro” which contains great vocal harmonies. Unfortunately this is a tease as nothing else on the album comes close to sounding like this Fleet Foxes-esque piece. The next song sounds closer to Black Sabbath. The recording on this song is about demo quality and would have certainly sounded better with an improved recording.
The very next song “Sweet Relief (feat. Jay Morale)” is another complete departure. This song is rooted in blues rock and also contains a completely out of place sounding rap section.
“Lonestar” has some solid moments and is a good song. I especially enjoyed the psychedelic, spacey section towards the middle. The band goes into prog territory with “Halfstep” and “Not Enough” veers towards pop/rock.
Don’t get me wrong the band has some talent but they really are going to have to focus on not only narrowing down their style but defining an original sound. I say this with love and hopefully they will heed my advice.
Being an artist or musician is scary shit. It involves ripping up everything stable and familiar and tossing it to the wind like a Baby Boomer ticker tape parade, all the while EVERY SINGLE PERSON YOU KNOW is warning, "Are you sure this is a good idea? Don't you want something a little more... stable?"
It's an unnerving litany that gets under the thickest of skins. But for those of us who truly have no choice but to create, you simply have to GO FOR IT. You've got to jump, and free-fall into the unknown.
This free-fall forms the basis of a subtle narrative arc behind Black Water, the insanely gorgeous debut EP from Toronto-based Tessa. Tessa is predominantly the brainchild of singer/songwriter Tessa Gooden; a lifelong musician with a staggeringly diverse musical background, from everything from musical theater to classical cello to singing R&B. It all comes together in a delicious frothy, heady melange on Black Water, in a way that makes a lot more sense than you would imagine.
Musically, Black Water plumbs the depths of the newly emerging alternative R&B genre (also sometimes known as "PBR&B" or, my personal favorite, "Noir&B"), as expounded on from recent artists like James Blake, Kelela, or The Weeknd. While a lot of newer alt-R&B architects use the lexicon of broken bass and depth charge beats forming a cracked pavement beneath Tessa's worn trainers. Instead of the usual ghostly vacant urban cityscapes of the post-dubstep world, Black Water seems to spell out an ever-changing landscape of same-but-different cities, rolling by pass the windows, as can be heard on the excellent “Benches." "Running from city to city until I figure it out. / The dark runs through my veins."
It's unclear what darkness Tessa is talking about. Is it a demon? An addiction? An affliction? A damaged and deranged relationship? It really doesn't matter - there's a billion types of darkness, each one as individual as a scar or a retinal scan.
Tessa's music strikes the perfect harmony between emotional and aloof, between personal and conceptual, in a way that nearly everyone can relate to. Like fellow Toronto-an Drake, the blasted beat sculptures and mangled bass are used to construct a fortress of solitude around a lone human voice, sounding frail, vulnerable and intimate in the maw of the storm. Unlike Drake, however, you can get more of a sense of Gooden's warm blood and beating heart, you can feel the blood and heat and sinew that went into making this almost criminally short EP.
Black Water is one of the most striking, ambitious and accomplished debuts I've heard in a while from an unsigned act or otherwise. Tessa Gooden has clearly learned a ton in her lifelong pursuit of musical excellence, and even more than that, she knows how to assimilate it and make sense of it all.
Black Water speaks to great things happening in the alt-R&B camp! Here's to a new and highly distinctive voice in the slanting shadows!
There is a certain disconnect, an uncanny sense of cognitive dissonance, when you hear music intended to be fun that's been created in a very serious setting. Just think of an ad for some kind of tropical cruise with music that sounds sourced from some sweatshop song factory. Instead of seeming fun and free, it sounds grim, dystopian and entirely counter-intuitive. When we hear music this artificial and disingenuous we recoil, as if from a hot flame or a deadly adder.
This dichotomy strikes right at the heart of the quest for authenticity in this artificial digital world. With godlike/demoniac algorithms dictating and predicting so much of what we see and hear, each and every day, and multimillion dollar marketing campaigns for the most trivial of daily realities, we strive for real, unadorned, unabashed creativity, expression and connection.
Enter Running Violet, a young quartet from Toronto, Canada. You Could Be Dancing is their first release, meant to convey the intimate immediacy of their high-energy rock n' roll. Rather than focusing on demographics and trending tones, The Running Violets have simply dished out six tracks of high-octane frenetic guitar solos and vocal harmonies over a simple rhythmic bedrock. Instead of obsessing over the minutiae of the recording process, The Running Violets worked hard to maintain a mood, to ensure their infectious energy comes across the ether.
And it does, it really does! Running Violet deals in a kind of retro rockabilly with some modern garage flourishes - a bit of reverb, a little twang. Consider title track "You Could Be Dancing" with its reminder "You could be dancing, until the sun starts to shine," which also serves as a kind of mission statement and manifesto for this brand of infectious indie rock.
The final track "So Damn Cold" is a reminder why it matters - "Keep on moving / you've been so damn cold."
For those sick of cynical pop tunes that favor style over substance, or the assumption that we'll buy and listen to anything we're told, Running Violet is here to revive your faith in the power of positive, fun, infectious rock n' roll!
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For the longest time, making thick, rich, fully-formed recordings was solely available to the already-rich-and-famous. This privilege filter greatly reduced the amount and kinds of stories we got to hear. This is part of why conversations regarding representation and bias are so integral, as we just never really got to hear from many different voices, from many different walks of life.
Of course, there's always been folk music, which is traditionally the terrain of academics and those willing to delve and dig through the rough fidelity of raw, unfiltered, lo-fidelity field recordings.
Missed Connections from Omaha duo The Zebos is an example of 21st century folk music. Interestingly, there is not an acoustic guitar, banjo, ukulele or traditional tune in evidence. Instead, The Zebos ply a razor-sharp brand of cosmopolitan indie electro, constructed solely in a college dorm on GarageBand. Vocals and guitars were tracked solely using a modest Bluebird microphone with bass and drums meticulously added in post-production.
To The Zebos credit, they don't try and make their artificial artifacts sound like the real thing. The bass sounds more like a neon monolith dredged from the bottom of the ocean than a P-Bass, while the drums sound like Animal from the muppets bashing away on a Syndrum.
Of course, the increased fidelity wouldn't matter a toss if the songs and content weren't good. The Zebos both have a strong melodic sensibility with catchy melodic keyboard motifs flying every which way, like latter day Sufjan Stevens at his best. Vocals are clean, clear and in-tune, with just a bit of ragged lo-fi buzz, to deliver some warmth and charm.
The Zebos jokingly referred to Missed Connections as a kind of personals ad, looking for a drummer, bassist and a patron of the arts. Let's go ahead and extend that outreach. If you own a ridiculously wealthy startup that is looking for some underground talent to fund, The Zebos would be a solid investment! If Connor Brandt and Jordan Gaul can do so much with such modest materials, they could likely take over the universe for less than ten grand!
If The Zebos are an indication, Omaha, NE seems to still be a hotbed of indie talent, following the indie explosion of Saddle Creek Records in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. Conor Oberst, if you happen to be reading, sign these gents instantly!
On their self-titled EP Rococo, Rococo establish vast and cavernous spaces, promptly populating them with repetitive riffs, cacophonies of fuzzed out instruments as well as interwoven male/female vocal lines and harmonies. In the span of four short songs, the band builds from proto-folk to middling shoegaze, tightly wrapping songs around a prominent theme and approaching that lynchpin from multiple angles. While the package might be small, the impact and output of sound is sizable for the span.
The songs follow roughly the same formula: One prominent riff, normally swimming in natural reverb, will feel around a space in the dark, while mixed male and female vocals will join in alongside layering instruments to fill the sound out. It will rise, fall, crash and often go silent for a moment before reestablishing its footing and energy. The songs play out like thoughtful jam sessions, like a band testing out an idea and seeing what directions they can take that riff or vocal line—although here, rather than taking these notions to the extreme, Rococo knows what they want and occupy every inch of that desired space. The harmonies swirl, seldom at the forefront, while the root riffs guide the songs, applied with slight variations as the the tracks build.
While the energy level remains consistent throughout, the songs become more densely layered as the EP progresses, the reverb thicker and fuzz more liberal. “I'm Not Here” starts with a natural wood, acoustic guitar reverb, a sad-sweet violin creeping up a scale and male/female vocals edging their way in—it has every indication of easily fitting a folk or Appalachian bill. And, while it does, by the end, with just the chorus of distant voices, it fills out and promises something more. The second track carries this momentum, adding some rapid strumming to a near percussive effect, but, by the third track this short album has caught its stride. “Morning Light” has a more uniform rise and fall, as well as vocals moved just enough closer to the fore to stand out and help carry the song forward. Fairly clean electric guitar hints at the fuzz to come. The final track “It's Love!” has the fuzz of a ‘70s punk track, but maintains the album's minimalist ethos. Semi-shouted vocals mirror the noodling of the lead guitar and channel the organized chaos of early Broken Social Scene, while the male/female call and response hints towards some of the White Stripes more tongue-in-cheek tracks. After all of the building, by the end, simple, understated “ohh la la's” emerge from the soundscape.
Rococo maintains a lot of energy for a quick, minimally produced, four-song affair. The band consists of Dwellyn Conway and Schea Bowden, with the former primarily helming the self-recording and production duties. They've been playing together for a while, since a band called Loose Leaves and it shows on the record. These two capture a live vibe on this album—potentially by using almost entirely live cuts, possibly through emphasizing live distortion and reverb and eschewing post-production effects. The album feels raw, real and unrehearsed—like if you stuck these two in a studio right now with the same songs, you'd get something entirely different.
Ultimately Rococo feels like a proof of concept: There's undeniably something here, bubbling beneath the surface and occasionally spilling over. The energy, instrumentation and intent are all here—often feeling like output of more than just two people—but the album scarcely has enough time to realize its own ambition.
Little Riddles is a four-piece band comprised of Rob (guitar), Rachel (fiddle), Daniel (bass) and Jake (drums) from Minneapolis, Minnesota, They formed in late 2015 and somehow already delivered a five-song self-titled EP Little Riddles that is well beyond what you would expect from such a newly established band.
The songs are catchy, extremely well written and feel fairly cohesive. Guitars are usually clean and the fiddle is an x-factor that helps separate this band from many out there. I can’t forget the inventive bass lines and sturdy drums.
Up first is “Old Time Radio” which has a fun Americana vibe that leans into bluegrass and country. Imagine you are at an outdoor festival in the summer. People are eating ribs with a side of mac and cheese, the little ones are running around and the sun is beating down. This song comes on and at least half the people put down their ribs, momentarily forget they have children they have to look over and hit the dance floor which consists of open space and the grass beneath their feet.
For those of you old enough to remember the song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” by They Might Be Giants that's what I was reminded of when listening to the song “Lay Your Money Down.” I think if the band makes a video to this song it should definitely be one of a traditional Russian folk dance. You know that one where a person has their arms crossed and kicks their legs high in the air.
“Riding Every Rail” is warm honey and nostalgia. It’s another delightful song that's about as enjoyable as an Arnold Palmer on a Sunday afternoon. “Get Ready, Sweet Betty” is up next and you can definitely hear some of The Beatles. In fact I’d say this song is 80% Paul Mccartney. Love that bass line by the way.
I didn’t know if the band can pull off melancholy as I was closing up the EP. Well, I’m here to report they pull it off and then some. I loved it. The song is mostly about vocal harmonies and would have fit perfectly into the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?. That’s a great movie maybe I’ll watch it this weekend.
This band has the goods. These five songs are a great start. I’d say their niche sound as a band isn’t quite there yet but with this amount of talent I could see it being more defined with another EP or hopefully LP. This is certainly a band to keep your eyes on and Little Riddles is one hell of a beginning to their journey.
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