In 2017 it's pretty easy to record your practice session with decent results. That’s exactly what Badlands comprised of Craig Moore (guitar/vocals), Jordan Rogers (bass) and Seth Barlow (drums) did for their three-song EP entitled The Jist.
The results are almost exactly what I expected. It sounds like a raw, lo-fi demo of a band practicing. If nothing else this gives them a foundation and at least an idea of the band's sound.
I’ll be honest I couldn’t make out a word that was being sung. That being said I could make out the inflection which felt appropriate for the drone metal heavy music they play. Moore exaggerates his voice and sounds a bit pissed off and aggressive as he should.
The band is tight and they play good together but the music is also very familiar sounding to the genre. You can find bands playing very similar riffs through rehearsal studios in Chicago which I hear every weekend. Lots of dropped d-tunings, white noise and droning. The band isn’t pushing any boundaries at this point.
The band formed in 2017 and are still in the embryonic stage of their development. They aren’t going deep into where this music can go as of yet like a band like Sunn O))) that are pushing the limits of where this type of music can go.
As far as I see it this band has a couple of options. Their music at this point sounds closer to Black Sabbath than Sunn O))). That's not a bad thing but it's true and you can hear it on the opener “Hard Pressed.” They can continue exploring the more familiar form they are playing now and perfect it and make it their own. The other option is to explore the fringe of imagination of where this music can go. Sample the sound of chainsaws, put it through an envelope filter and let your bassist trigger a sample of that noise while you play over it.
If the band is serious about this project they will have to get a professional sound. The production on the album Arktika by Pelican has a similar sound and that's the type of quality they should shoot for.
For as little as they have been together they have a lot of things going for them. The songs are well written and the delivery is on point. They aren’t in competition with bigger acts in this genre at this point but let's give them a little more time to develop. Good start and a band to keep in mind.
Aaron James has come to us here at Divide and Conquer a second time with a brand spanking new EP and I have to say I am smitten. Caught in the Corner of a Half Moon is a five-track indie/folk delight that tickled several of my fancies. I haven’t heard anything quite like what James is putting on the table. He uses electronic elements, but more like a seasoning, it is by no means the meat of the meal.
He starts off with this very raw cut with the track “AJ” which features a romantic little guitar riff and James hitting the higher end of his range. The audio is intentionally full of feedback and fluctuations. You can almost picture a home video being recorded. It’s short, less than two minutes, and afterwards I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but I was engaged. I could see some people being thrown off, but stick with him.
Next up was “The Wile” and this is where he hooked me. At this point the production sound is now professionally polished and his indie sound is established. The lyrics on this track are fantastic in that they come full circle. After that came “Dreaming” which pulled more to the folk side, but just before you get comfortable there, he pulls the awesome switch into a cool, bluesy tone complete with sweet bass line to finish it off. This was such a ballsy move, I loved it, and it worked without a single hitch.
The next two tracks slow down a bit and settle comfortably into the folk end of his spectrum. “Paper Ball” was pretty but a little sleepy for me; it lacked the element of unfamiliar that I had grown accustomed to with the other songs. He ended on a lovely note with “Ends Means” which is just beautiful lyrically and musically.
James definitely counts as a legitimate singer/songwriter. He tells these winding, eccentric little tales that are heavily introspective. He’s not afraid to get a little heated in his words, even then they’re always delivered beautifully. Combine his writing work with his well-rounded voice and you’ve got a winning combo. His voice is one I could pick out from a crowd. He has a very distinctive inflection. He also has a fairly diverse range that can really help determine the genre of his songs.
James had some great production support for this EP and they have earned their credit as their hands in this were almost invisible, which is how it should be. The mixing came from Andrew Crutcher and Patrick Moss and everything was mastered by Ed Brooks of Resonant Mastering. There were excellent audio choices made that put a nice shiny gloss on top of what James has going on.
Caught in the Corner of Half Moon really gives you a bang for your buck with five tracks. It hits the mark on both the indie and folk genres. Overall the vibe is truly unique; it doesn’t remind me of anything or anyone else. In this day and age that can be an enormous challenge with there being so much music out there.
For many Americans the extent of their idea about Irish culture is one day a year when they douse themselves in green garb and spend the day traveling like a hoard of drunken Ulysses around town and getting themselves drunk on Guinness and shots of Jameson or some cheap, watered down Pilsner that has been dyed green for the day. Then they stumble home, puke and forget about it until the next March.
During these sojourns however one is likely to hear a fair amount of tunes from the Pogues and Flogging Molly, et al, and likely thousands of covers of “Whiskey in the Jar.” Though if one is lucky enough one might also run into a live set of musicians playing traditional Irish folk tunes, which drunk or sober are among the most heartfelt and endearing songs you will ever hear anywhere. Irish culture has given to the arts perhaps more than any other culture, some of its greatest treasures. I am thinking here of Yeats, Joyce and Beckett, just to name some heavy hitters. There is a lot of pain in Ireland’s history, which is well documented in song, but also so much happiness. It is this mix of pain and pleasure that makes traditional Irish folk songs so endearing and lasting.
Irish folk singer Cormac Gannon was born in County Mayo, in the west of Ireland and moved to San Francisco in 1991. It was here with like-minded musicians that Gannon formed the group Orla and The Gas Men, and played traditional Irish folk ballads, himself singing and playing bodhrán, guitar, and eventually uilleann pipes.
Gannon decided to put together an album of traditional Irish folk songs along with an original and a tune by Townes Van Zant and Steve Earle. It’s called Different and it is an impressionable album no matter what time of year it is.
Opening with “I'm Going To Set You Free” Gannon begins to lay down the traditional tones and sounds for which Irish music is known. He takes some twists and turns though like the mellow and sparse “Up Mayo” and then the beautiful and episodic “I Got to Dance with the Rose of Tralee” and then the Neil Young-esque “Ride On.”
If you’re not a fan of Irish folk music for 364 days out of the year then Different will likely be lost on you. However if you approach it from the standpoint of an open mind you will find Gannon’s vocals to be a lovely siren song and his musicianship and attention to detail to be inspiring.
Los Angeles-based indie rock band Scenic Underground recently released their debut album Do It For Yourself.
The group describes the album as “British-influenced” pop rock, employing the suaveness of Alex Turner with the catchiness of bands like Oasis and The Black Keys. Frontman Joel Herr wrote the words and foundation of the tracks, as bassist Alfredo 'Alfi' Lucero Canaan and drummer Theron Lynott worked to arrange the songs.
Though this is the first project that the group has put forth, the songs assume a crispness that you usually only find in bands with an abundance of musical chemistry. Not much more stands out beyond the sheer liveliness of the record, but I feel that in time, this group could produce more diverse sounds and acquire a following.
The songs all pack a punch. Lyrically, Herr discusses love and all of the ups and downs that come with it.
“Silence In The Sound” is a type of intervention by Herr, approaching someone in a bad relationship as he promises, “Take me and I'll show you all the ways I've found / To never let this world beat you to the ground / Maybe I just found the silence in the sound,” which is subtly poetic and also really comforting. The song is also the singer’s reflection of who he is as a man.
“The Maker” is one of the most fun tracks on the album. It seems to draw from some country rock influences by the sound of its palm-muted guitar riff during the verse. At the same time, it feels like a Black Keys song with a little more flavor.
I think that a follow-up record to Do It For Yourself will help the band to signify their sound with more songs and experience playing together. Perhaps, the band will move into a more “indie” direction and dabble in synths and reverb, or maybe they will continue to embrace their British-rock style with different tunes. Either or, I think that this band would benefit a ton from releasing more content in the future to follow this album.
Two Ton Heads is a band from Chicago that released a five-song EP entitled Suicide Chain. Let me first say I like the band's energy and delivery. After the first two songs I was thinking to myself how much they sounded like Queens of the Stone Age.
For whatever reason there’s a handful of bands like Mac Demarco, The Strokes and Queens of the Stone Age that end up having their style be a deep influence on a lot of bands.
I have to brutally honest - there is a cap bands are putting on themselves when they have too much influence from another artist. A band can only become so popular before it buckles and that band will never sound as good as the original for a number of reasons I won’t go into.
Two Ton Heads do sound a lot like Queens of the Stone Age but not identical on their EP. They have a good sound and talent and that's why I think it would behoove them to purposely deviate from the Queens of the Stone Age as they continue to evolve.
The band opens with the title track which felt like the most directly influenced track. That being said the band proves they can hang outside of 4/4 without any problem. The vocals are catchy and the guitar work is fairly basic revolving mostly around major and minor chords.
“You Know Where I've Been” displays some more of the band’s talent as they change BPM and dig into more solid grooves. The highlight was “Mojave” which was mostly because of the interesting guitar and bass work. They end strong with a fairly straightforward rocker entitled “Rain” and Unknown Caller.”
Two Ton Heads is a talented band that has potential. I suggest either not listening to music at all or getting into styles they never thought they would before prior to working on their next EP or album. The band needs to open up and find who they are. It’s easier said than done and a lot of bands never do find it. I’m rooting for these guys and will keep my eye on them.
Musicians in their 40’s and 50’s usually don’t start bands to become famous. They usually do it for fun and to stay sane. It’s an outlet. A Handful Of Fools are indeed that type of band. The band members seem to be very successful in their respected careers. They managed to take time out of family and work to comprise an EP entitled All You See Is Sound.
The band did it DIY style which I’m not sure exactly why in this case. It seems to me they would have saved time, spent a little more money but would have had a professional sounding product. The audio quality is around that of a polished demo but doesn’t have enough of the qualities you expect from a professional studio album.
The songs are well written and I thought the guitar work was notable. I think the vocal work was good but wouldn’t say it was exceptional. The songs weren’t nearly as influenced sounding as I thought they were going to be. On that note they aren't exactly the most inventive band either.
Up first is “Spinning Around” which is fairly loose and fun jam sessions. The band plays into a strong, funky groove. It comes equipped with a predictable guitar solo. The energy of the song stays consistent and doesn't buckle. They could have gotten away with a couple of more experimental translations.
The band switches the energy with “Object of My Affections” which is a fairly catchy song that feels very general in a lot of ways. The comparisons from a myriad of bands is applicable. “First World Problem” revolves around guitars and vocals while “No Grey Anyway” is a nostalgic ballad. They close with “Burden” which is a melancholy closer.
For a bunch of guys who do this on the side I’d say they get an A. If they were full time musicians trying to make a career out of this I’d have to say there is a lot of things that they could improve upon in order to be successful in 2017. All You See Is Sound is far from perfect but a perfectly enjoyable EP they should be proud of.
I love when a musical experiment goes right. Bare Mace hit a positive nerve for me with his first EP release Brief. The title is appropriate, you only get six tracks of unbridled electronic and synth exploration. The tracks were more like phases to me since the album makes you crawl before you can walk into a traditional sounding song.
When you go about listening to this album I recommend adopting a zen approach to it. It is what it is; don’t try to make it something it’s not. Let it do its thing. I wasn’t over the moon at first, but it grew on me, especially once I had listened to it in its entirety.
Bare Mace is comprised of Masan Baran who has spent a good amount of his time in the Midwest, as a Chicago resident. There is something cool about knowing this was made somewhere near my ballpark. Baran studied jazz at Southern Illinois University. The fact that jazz is a part of his education puts a lot of pieces together for me. I could smell it in his music.
As a big jazz fan myself I understood his defiance of typical movement and finality. It’s incredibly cool to me to use jazz tactics in this indie setting. Baran also has a lovely set of pipes. They meld perfectly with his sound. His voice is undeniably indie and is a great tool to solidify what he’s made. He pulls together these clumsy but relatable lyrics, you won’t always know what he’s talking about, but you don’t have to. He’s not afraid to wonder off into his own head and you really can’t help but do then same.
The entire EP is not for everyone. The first five tracks borderline on a spoken word sort of performance. It’s like a multi-layered conversation he’s having with you, trying to work out his vocabulary. You can hear sounds and rhythms start to develop but it’s like they’re not fully matured yet. As you keep going down the list things start to congeal into more solid riffs and patterns. You end on “Bachelor’s, Even,” which is the most traditional song format you’ll get and if you’re a fan of the indie synth vibe you’ll wanna buy it. It’s worth it. It’s worth exploring with him as his work goes through a bizarre puberty and matures into that end result. Granted I imagine there are a few listeners who want the baby and not the labor and will go straight to that end track without a second thought. I won’t judge anyone for doing so, but I will say again, the journey was worth it for me personally.
Baran had mastering support from Zac Schimpf who clearly understood what Baran was trying to deliver. Baran has a history of collaboration with Schimpf and you can tell he works well with others which I always think is a virtue. While I appreciate the journey, I would love a few more traditional sounding songs, but that may not be his aesthetic and I have to respect that. The album is easily described as weird, but there is an honest to goodness method to the chaos.
Nathan Wall-Jones just graduated with a masters level qualification in philosophy. He also plays piano and sings. On his album Paralysed he explains, “I have spent a lot of my time near nature and natural landscapes, which is likely the influence behind the cover art, and a big influence in the album generally as well.”
Think is kind of what he does so I was already expecting “deep” lyrics and that's pretty much what I got. His songs are brief, short bursts that revolve around impressive piano parts and hyperbolic, theatrical vocal delivery. His music is certainly not for everyone. In fact it's very niche. There really aren't any hooks. The songs almost feel like vignettes and he ties together aspects of jazz and classical.
I really enjoyed his music but I needed a little time to warm up to it. One reason I dig it is because it’s so obviously doing what he wants and could give a crap about what's popular. The other aspect is that he's a really talented piano player. He’s good. I have no problem being entertained with technical talent. I liked the idea of him playing songs that averaged about two minutes in length. These songs could have so easily dragged especially on an album that contains one instrument. He trims the fat and then some.
The first two songs on the album are instrumental. Once we get to “Static” he showcases his unique singing style. The song is theatrical and felt well suited for theater. On “What now?” he seems to be wrestling the existential crisis of his own demise. He sings, ”Cos my thoughts are on how long I will last. Cos I know the future is coming fast. Torn between comfort and shame.”
The songs are swift and fluid. His words continue to be somewhat poetic, poignant and emotionally heavy.
This album grew on me. I’d like to see a couple of things happen in his future. I think he can get a better piano sound. I will point to the works of the composer Ben Lukas Boysen and the tone he finds on the album Gravity. I also want him to entertain the thought of recruiting a violinist or cellist to some of his future works.
Overall I was impressed and entertained. Recommended.
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Quantum Split is the vision of singer Soleil Laurent. Along with her fellow band mates Anthony Anderson, Adrian Read and Ivan Hardy they released America which contains two songs.
First things first she has exceptional pipes. She can sing. The music on the two singles “America” and “Runaway” felt very broad and didn’t push outside of the box. It’s really straightforward rock that was very predictable and yet enjoyable.
“America” starts with a simple chord progression. There’s a blaring guitar solo before settling into a clean guitar riff. As I mentioned the vocals are exceptional and it’s also catchy. The chorus goes into very formulaic hard rock. The song bounces back and forth between going soft and loud.
“Runaway” is a little more soulful. The verse on this song is the band's finest moment. Unfortunately the band goes into fairly basic sound chorus of distorted chords that rocks yet felt predictable and familiar.
I’m rooting for this band because I love the vocals and the band is talented. That being said the band's production (not the recording quality) is not on the same level or as inventive for a top tier artist in 2017. I say with love that they they are going to need to push the production of the music and the possibilities of where rock music can go.
The basic drums, guitar and bass isn’t a bad thing but the songs have to go in unique places if they want to catch traction and stick out a bit more from the crowd. I don’t know when this band was formed but it sounds to me they haven't been around for very long. My best advice is to continue playing together and be focused on finding a signature sound and not be afraid to experiment.
Laurent is a talent with more experience and time could grow into a inspired artist. I hope to hear the group mature into a unique, nuanced sound in the coming years. Godspeed.
London, Ontario, Canada guitarist Michael Trudgen has been playing the guitar for twenty-five years. Just take a moment to let that sink in. Twenty-five years. That’s a quarter of a freakin’ century. He had some classes in classical guitar as well as six years of piano lessons so needless to say he’s got his stuff down.
The thing about Trudgen though is that he has always preferred his own melodies to that of others and has widely shunned covers. This is an extra special caveat which gave him confidence as he came in second place (four votes short of first as the legend goes) for a competition in his hometown which featured sixteen solo and folk acts. Oh and the other caveat is that Michael Trudgen doesn’t sing, nor does anyone else. Yep it’s just folksy acoustic guitar.
I found myself at a bit of a personal crossroads as I listened to Michael Trudgen’s eponymous debut record. I am no stranger to reviewing solo performers and I am also no stranger to reviewing instrumental bands. However electronic music producers aside I have never before reviewed something quite like this. I’ll admit I didn’t really know how to proceed, given that all twelve tracks on the record at the first few listens sort of blended together. But after a time they began to become, like cells reproducing, each of them separate entities of quiet genius and brilliance. I began to embrace the moods and marvel in the ways in which just five strings, picked in such a way could be so different.
The record’s opening track “Pots and Pans” is quick paced and intricate as a spiders web. Its tones and rhythms move the listener to the same highs and lows that any other song with lyrics and tempo would. Nothing is lost here. Without stop we then morph into the quixotic and scuffling dirge-like “Clumsy Foot” which then digresses to the slow and somber “Nothing Lost,” which has a bit of an alt country twang to it.
Later we get a bit of pop-centric airiness reminiscent of early Red House painters on “Morning Sunshine” a bit of low-fi twang on the short and sweet “EH CANADA” which then gives way to the Simon and Garfunkel-esque “The Last Run.” The album closes with the country-ish “Two by Two.”
As a man who makes a partial living as a writer I am biting the hand that feeds me in a sense to say that words are cheap. But honestly they usually are. It could be argued that some people shouldn’t be allowed to open their mouths but perhaps that’s getting off topic. The point is here is that Michael Trudgen’s debut is a virtual masters class of finger picked guitar songs.
There are certain writers who are known as “writer’s writers,” who are known for not being so well known by the public but revered by those who are well known as the real masters of their craft. I would classify Michael Trudgen as a guitarist’s guitarist.” Anyone who really loves the craft of the guitar will admire this record, and I, who cannot play a note to save my life, am also in awe.
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