Birmingham, Alabama’s Troy Criswell makes his living as a professional painter. But over the past decades the sixty-four-year-old has been humbly making demo recordings which he has simply filed away to shelves. Enter now his daughter Alyssa Jewell and son-in-law Shane Jewell, who are musicians in Birmingham and who also happen to have a recording studio. After the pair perused through Criswell’s numerous demo CD’s they decided it was time to start making solid recordings and went into the studio and came out with Crazy Man, Criswell’s musical debut and the first of three planned records.
Crazy Man is a tried and true rock n’ roll album with the twang and grit one would expect from an artist formed in Birmingham. The songs are verse-chorus-verse motifs with grunge addled riffs and lyrics that are at times sing-songish and at other times serve as a piecemeal narrative of a story that gets re-hashed throughout the entirety of Crazy Man.
So naturally Crazy Man sets aside all the bullshit of “look at me!” “hey over here!” musical politics that many musicians, especially first timers, spew out trying to garner as much attention for their often overproduced and underperforming first efforts as possible. With the nonsense aside Criswell and company includes son-in-law Shane Jewell on bass and keys, and Alan F. Rogers behind the kit.
Crazy Man opens with the dark and twangy dirge “Isle of the Dead” which sets the tone for what’s to come. Like I said before it’s no bullshit, nothing to prove rock. Then we are transitioned into sing-song, head bobbing sway of “Stay the Same” which ushers us into the heavier and darker rock that sometimes emerges from Criswell on “All that I Need” which has the semi-lucidness of a dream.
It should be noted too how Criswell’s hushed and throat-scratch vocals help to create some of the ethereal darkness which pervades Crazy Man on tracks like “Give it All You Got” and later not so scratchy but more twangy and direct on the hard to beat catchy closer “Crazy Man.”
When one takes into consideration Crazy Man may have never seen the light of day if it hadn’t been for so many chance factors it makes the album seem even more like a rare find that almost went on being lost forever, which to me seems crazy enough man.
Origami Angel is the solo project of Ryland Heagy who started writing Quiet Hours last year, but he’s looking to progress forward with a drummer in the future. Nearly one year after starting, in January 2017, the seven songs that made up the EP were recorded in five days. Although Heagy attends school at York College of Pennsylvania, Origami Angel is based out of the greater Washington, D.C. area.
Quiet Hours opens with “Ride Our Bikes To School.” It is driven by a slowly throbbing beat, quietly chugging guitar and emotive singing. It’s a soft and sweet performance, but I was left wanting in places. There are moments at which the drums crash a little more passionately and the guitars lift in volume, as do the vocals, but they do seem to fall a little short of being quite as powerful as they could have been. This doesn’t mean that Origami Angel has to opt for the loud-quiet dynamic (that isn’t the only way to approach songwriting), but the track could have benefited from slightly more variety. That being said, the overall performance was tight, and the singing was great.
“SpaceX T-Shirt” opens with a clean electric guitar arpeggio and quickly transcends into a steadily pulsing beat. The emotive yet tender vocals return yet again to create a track reminiscent of popular indie artists such as Darwin Deez but with the dark emo stylistic tendencies of ‘00s artists. There’s a little more depth to the songwriting here than most of the artists from those genres could claim to have; the guitars are layered and fascinating. There’s slightly more of a build here which helped me to appreciate the song a little more than the opener.
“Osmosis” is driven by a Weezer-esque guitar rhythm (and singing, for that matter). Slowly crashing drums add some kick to the track. While I loved the gentle guitar pattern and added kick in the climax of the track, I didn’t feel that there was much about this third track that was new. Origami Angel has a very consistent sound, but it’s okay to pull away from predictability now and then to throw something diverse, new and exciting to the mix. I was left wanting that, yet again, but this track did have some instrumental moments and, as I said, Weezer influences that I really appreciated.
“Hey There” was a change of pace and one that I’d been waiting for. The verses boasted more of the same melodically-sweet vocal-guitar combos (and I do love this about this band, so don’t get me wrong there), but what was great about this track was that the chorus (or post-chorus) added something a little different to the mix. The guitars are distorted, crunchy and jagged. Power chords thump and thrust in synchronization with the beat and in a very indie-pop-rock-esque manner. It added some much-needed energy to the album.
“Mark My Words” continues with the energy from the previous track. With a chorus that claims “Mark my fucking words, I’ll be there / I hope that you will do the same.” There’s a bit more passion and energy here, but Origami Angel has retained the beautiful guitar arpeggios that they’ve boasted throughout the track. The song is very short, as are the others on the album, but it makes good use of the little running time it has. The vocals could have been a little more powerful, but the singing is still excellent; it’s in tune, sweet, and peaceful. There was just a lot of passion in the lyrics, and I felt that the sweetness could have transformed into something a little rawer in the chorus.
All in all, this is a great album. Musically, these guys are very talented, and the songs are very catchy; I think they just need to develop their sound a little further and bring some variety into the tracks. There’s some energy lurking in amongst these songs, but they just need the confidence to bring it forward a little more.
The Chestertons are Kevin Bianchi (vocals/guitar), Brian Bianchi (guitar), Justin Hartman (bass) and Rob Wynne (drums). The band from Ohio released Noise & Benediction which is a four- song EP that is a pop/rock album. The production is radio ready and so are the songs for that matter.
Their music is very accessible for a broad demographic. I was reminded of U2 in a number of ways on a couple of songs. They have grandiose, epic sounding choruses, the music feels very hopeful and the guitarist even utilizes delay in a way that sounded very similar to The Edge.
The band opens with “Golden” which was a highlight and my personal favorite. I especially enjoyed the beginning. It rocks, is a bit gritty and is catchy as well. Bianchi sings, “Give me something I can feel / Put the needle in my vein until its realI want no way out / I want the shock to break these bones.” The song gets poppy around the two-and-a-half minute mark. It's a smooth transition. The ending is pretty badass as well. Overall, I thought this was the most original and inventive song.
“Sister Sweetness” opens with that The Edge type guitar that has been replicated countless times before. The song also unfolds like a U2 song. It's a tad predictable and didn't give me any surprises good or bad. Solid delivery but it sounded too familiar to me. They continue with “Waiting for the End” which is slightly melancholy for a while and then goes into stadium rock epic territory where people are holding up lighters. He repeats, “I will fall in love.”
They follow a very similar formula on the next song “Heaven” which from the name you might surmise tries to be as epic as possible at points. The song bounces from atmospheric pads with hushed vocals to rocking out hard. The last two minutes is more or less one long crescendo with twirling guitar solos, vocal harmonies and more.
These songs are intense. They are also following a familiar template. The band has no problems in the technical department and they sound good together. I felt the band creativity was at its best on the first track. All the songs are well delivered and written but I’d like to see if the band can be a little more distinct on their next effort by thinking about where else the songs could go. Hopefully, they can get out of their comfort zone.
I think this band has a lot of potential and mixing their U2 inspired stadium rock with something that I’m not expecting might get more people's attention in the long run. On the point this is a great start and built a solid foundation with these songs.
Adam Winn is a singer-songwriter from British Columbia, Canada, who works as a fireman by day. He was classically trained as a vocalist and studied voice in college. After being asked to participate in a radio showcase, he decided to put together some songs he had been writing over the years to develop his first EP. His style can be described as folk/acoustic and his lyrics have a definite storytelling appeal to them. His self-titled debut EP Adam Winn features five tracks about love, life and friendship and have a grass roots, raw quality to them.
The album starts off with “Creston” which begins with a gentle acoustic guitar melody that reminded me of the folk rock songs of the ’60s and ’70s. Winn’s voice is rough and gritty yet refined with a James Taylor-esque quality. The lyrics are descriptive and follow a flow very similar to that of a story or poem. This song had a “Jack and Diane” by John Mellencamp feel, basically a story about life. I enjoyed it. Winn’s vocals are soothing and the track has a gentle rhythmic quality about it that made me look forward to the rest of the album.
“Burnout” started with some harmonica and the same gentle guitar. This track had a sadder, more melancholy feel than the first one and Winn’s vocals became more dramatic and intense halfway through the song with a surprising falsetto that I enjoyed. The lyrics “I’ll watch you burn out, I won’t make a sound. I had to let go, you were pulling me down” drip with angst and regret and worked very well with Winn’s intense vocal performance.
The darker mood continued with “Better Friend” a sad song about regretting the way he’s treated a childhood friend. Winn’s detailed lyrics sometimes seem a little too much. I enjoy the folksy storytelling approach, at times it just comes off as cheesy but ultimately does not take away from the overall quality.
“You Are” is much more upbeat and has a hopeful vibe. The lyrics are about love and adoration. Winn seems much more confident in his vocals in this track. There is more depth to the sound of his voice which adds more dimension to the song. I found it to be a very sweet, endearing song that I could see being played during the first dance of a bride and groom. The same theme is repeated with the final track “Always You.” It was about professing your undying love to someone and promising to always be there. Again I found the lyrics to be a little overdone, but I still enjoyed the song.
Winn’s debut EP shows a lot of heart and passion. His lyrics are complex and descriptive with love being an underlying motif in every track. I really loved the harmonica and folksy guitar mixed with gruff vocals and storytelling. I feel like some tracks would have benefited from some softer vocal harmonies or background vocals, although the overall production quality was high. I look forward to future albums.
The band name, album title and album art for Relentless Souls seems like to could be spin off for The Lord of the Rings movies. The album is called Five Paths One Mission and look at that cover art. It looks like a movie poster. So many questions. What's the mission? Who are the five protagonists?
I wasn’t particularly surprised that the band plays metal/hard rock since it's the only genre to really embed the fantasy culture into the music. Ever since Spinal Tap the ties between mythology and distorted guitars has become synonymous.
The band starts off with “Fallen Down” and it was everything I was expecting. Palm muted guitars and lyrics that play into age old tropes. The vocalist Tyler Adams sings “You are the sole self-righteous, You wear your crown of thorns, You were the one to fight this, But you have lost the war.” It's a well-delivered song and well written. The band doesn't do much to differentiate from thousands upon thousands of metal bands that are climbing up the same tree.
The title track initially sounded like pop-punk to me but the band quickly reverts to standard metal criteria. Like the first song it's well delivered. The drummer was arguably going too nuts at times but it is catchy and is a solid metal song.
Up next is “A Broken Song” which is a slight departure. The song has softer, more subtle moments which was a good call. That being said it also rocks but less metal this time around. The band goes into ’80s metal direction with “A Different Life” which felt like a completely different band. The lyrics drop the mythology and is about a broken relationship.
Based on these four songs the band is still trying to figure out their sound and identity. The songs felt broad and not yet distinct enough to really establish a signature sound. The upside is they have technical talent and can write a song. If they can dig a little deeper and figure out how to differentiate themselves a bit more they should be onto something.
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Space is an important aspect to think about when writing a song. According to Fred Merk, “He loves to create soundscapes and stories, trying to reach the beauty of silence with his music.” It seems like a contradiction.
Music, noise and sound is actually the opposite of silence but I think I know what he is getting at after listening to his EP Sink. There is a certain kind of meditative stillness that music can create. I hear that when listening to a group like Stars of the Lid or Ben Lukas Bonyan. I could say Merk gets within a similar space.
He opens with “Les Chiens” which revolves around spread out piano chords where the sustaining of the notes is just as important as the notes themselves. A lead guitar enters the mix becoming more of the focal center. The song doesn't go too far and basically stops where it started with a little more energy.
“Jail” contains vocals, harmonies and guitar. It’s a great song with a hushed vocal performance. It is full of melancholy, a dash of hope and tons of reflection.
“Le Lac” is a short piano piece that felt like a vignette. He revisits the guitar picking and hushed vocals on “Sink” while “Domani Sera” is an instrumental guitar piece. “We are guilty” is a notable closer with more emotionally resonant vocals and effective guitar picking.
Overall, this was a well recorded EP. As a whole the EP did feel very light even for the type of music it was. I would have liked to heard a couple of tracks that went to around the five- or six- minute mark. I had some curiosity of where he might go at that track length.
There are some beautiful moments on this EP and I think he does achieve what he describes he is going for. I’d like to hear more of his work soon and see where he can take this type of music.
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
Elk Milk Sea Within 3.6
Aidan Maizels Daydreams 3.8
Counting Trees Experimental Health 3.6
The Grinning Victims The Grinning Victims 3.7
Louisa Nicklin You Are Here 3.9
Death Calendar Movement 3.8
hawaiighost hawaiighost 3.7
Arien Spur of the Moment 3.6
Adam Swartz (guitar), Christos Cunning (keyboard), Josh Bugis (drums), Tal Bogdonov (bass) and Ty Koch (vocals) are Red Shift. The band released Bumblebee which is a demo quality EP that showcases different style and themes.
The band opens with “Bumblebee Groove” which is somewhere between a Jimi Hendrix and a jam band sound. It’s a pretty standard sounding jam and the band doesn't exactly stay in the pocket. The guitar sounds off quite often from the other instrumentation. In all honesty this song reminds me of bands I would have found playing around town in my college days. That's not a bad thing but the song was a good one for a Friday night.
Up next is “Jump (You Gotta)” which has a vibe between surf and indie rock. The band is tighter this time around and the chorus is arguably the most catchy they get. Overall, a solid song that was enjoyable.
“Dandelion” is homage to ’70s soul and funk with all the tropes to go along with it. The vocalist goes falsetto and the song is predictable as he sings about a sweet love interest. The band closes with “Heartstrings” which veers back into surf and indie rock.
Overall, the band has some talent but will need a good amount of improvement to compete with the most inventive music around today. They need to figure out who they are as a band. The four-songs all pull the band in different directions and don’t do much to create a signature sound or foundation. As of right now I’d like to see the band start with the fundamentals and work on tightening up the delivery.
As I mentioned previously they remind me a lot of the bands I used to hear on a college campus. The good thing is the band seems very young from their photo and they have some time to work on creating an original sound and improving on the technical side of things. The band has hints of potential but for right now fall into a case of wait and see. Best of luck.
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Chest of Drawers is singer/songwriter Dylan MacWilliams. He recently released a self-titled demo quality EP Chest of Drawers. The EP contains five songs of nothing more than vocals and guitar.
The EP was recorded on an iPhone and is about what you would expect as far as recording quality. I can’t say the songs are close to a professional sounding product but at the very least they give you an idea of MacWilliams’ songwriting.
Up first is “Cloudy City Only Lonely” which has a picking pattern that reminded me of Elliot Smith. MacWilliams sings “cloudy city, mississippi river, reverse, revert tired mind in minnesota report, repress, rehearse.” It's a decently written song that has some catchy moments. It became evident to me that his strongest aspect of music right now are the lyrics which are sometimes ambiguous and poetic. On “Stars Turn Sharp” he sings, ”candle light to candle death from memory to dust don't dwell they say get back to normal must I must- I must.”
“Ode to my Cool Disorder” felt like a journal entry and therapy sessions. His lyrics are nihilistic and awfully depressing here. He make Conor Oberst seem cheerful. Lyrics like “oh I think about death most of the time” and “I set myself up and expect it to feel bad, and it feels bad, feels fucking bad” made me just flat out feel sorry for whoever he was singing about.
MacWilliams is going to have to improve the recording quality at some point if he wants to be competitive with any notable acts. That's just a fact. The other fact is you don’t need much to sound decent. Doing some basic homework on how to record properly and mix can help immensely. Better yet, recording in a professional studio would be easy with his current setup.
The best part about the music is it feels honest. It also feels his songwriting is an outlet for his own personal demons. On that note I’d like to see him develop more as a songwriter and think about about more elements than just a guitar or at the very least over dubbing. There is a lot of work he needs to do in order to be competitive with similar acts like Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens, Iron and Wine, etc but is has potential and some passion.
Music is obviously important to MacWilliams but he falls into a case of wait and see as of right now. Developing on the instrumental side of things while going about finding better production would be a good start.
Renaldo Greco is a French musician who recently released a whisper in the night. Greco stated, “After a ten year period of jazz and improvised music, I decided (four years ago) to come back to my first love, which is indie rock music.” After spending some time with the songs I wouldn't say his music is straightforward indie rock. I say that as a compliment.
He opens with “City of joy” which is an upbeat, jovial song. A buoyant bass line, crisp drums and clean guitar creates an appealing combination of sounds. The mix is fantastic but it's not a surprise when noticing it was mixed by Yann Arnaud who has credits with well known acts such as Phoenix and Air. The song is really well written and probably the catchiest amongst the batch.
Up next is “I could imagine” which is another notable song. It’s emotionally more heavy than the opener and has elements of post-rock. The end of the song is something special with inventive timing and rhythm.
“I feel awake” was my personal favorite out of the batch. It has a unique vibe and reminded me a bit of Radiohead. The vocal harmonies were an unexpected surprise that I throughly appreciated. Great song. He closes with “Black birthday” which is atmospheric, contains a cascading piano amongst a swirl of sounds.
Greco is not giving himself enough credit by simply labeling his music as rock. There are too many experimental tendencies and technically advanced aspects here so that I’m more inclined to call this baroque pop.
Greco goes four for four easily with these songs. He knows what he’s doing when it comes to arrangements and writing. Can’t wait for more. Recommended.
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