Giving me a proper lesson in subtlety and fluidity this week was Almagrey with their self-titled album Almagrey. Almagrey has been playing gigs since 2015, creating a well deserved little buzz for themselves out of the Bristol, UK area and beyond. While shoegaze and dream pop are their focus when it comes to genre, there's a lot of additives in the music. Things like grunge and emo rock make pretty big appearances. The album is only three tracks long but packs an impressionable punch.
The opening track is "Static Fear." It opens up the listener to what sounds like chaos approaching from a galaxy far and away. The appearance of the word static is rather appropriate considering static, reverb and feedback are almost treated like instruments in this song. The guitar riff is foreboding and is accompanied by heavy electronic ambiance that is dark in nature. There is also the monotone vocals which are what help maintain the dreamy part of this album at all times. It's a very distant song; I listen to it with the most monotone of my facial expressions. The distance they create keeps this particular song very stoic and ominous.
The middle track is "Drag Me Down" and here is where the teenage anxiety and emo aspect really kicked into overdrive for me. The guitar here is more brash and reckless. There is a sense of languishing coming to the surface, scratching at one's current circumstances to escape them. There's less ambiance here and more of a focus on vocals and melody. The lyrics were easier to pick up and absorb in the song, and I really appreciated the words. It works very well and is my favorite track on the album.
Last on the menu is "Franklyn Street." This one is probably the most dreamy in the pack and also the most indie. Again the vocals and overall tone maintain their distance. Static and feedback make their triumphant return to the forefront and the heavy ambiance is not so much present here. This song brought in tiny slivers of light and sunshine in an otherwise very foggy album. It was a good closer that gave the group some range.
This album essentially took a little tour of Europe for its audio production. From southern Italy to Sicily and back again to England. I appreciate the group being committed to the distance and creative use of atmosphere. I think on the mixing and mastering ends there could have been a little more polish. Again I respect and understand that muffled, feedback driven vibe, but there's good lyrics in there I was struggling to dig and find.
This album is an exquisite soundtrack for solitude and deep thought. It's heavy. I could see teens and adults alike grinding out their toughest obstacles in their minds to music like this. I really like how you can almost hear the palette go from pitch black, to a slate like grey and then lighter still. It was a very organic and simplistic progression that makes the album worth listening to as a whole collection of work.
Portland, OR is the home of Evan Mustard. One of the most active musicians in the jazz scene, Mustard assembled a trio and recorded EM3 EP over a four-hour session at Hallowed Halls in Portland. Each track was done in a single take and was also recorded on video, which can be found to accompany the EP. EM3 EP features Cory Limuaco on drums, as well as RJ Reyes on bass.
To pick out one track in particular would be unfair. All three are built on a solid foundation of precise composition, combined with musicians that know how to find each other through the folds. Each track is played with a driven passion, and the energy of the band builds like a bonfire.
Each layer of sound lays on top of the other to create the perfect structure for the energy to burn through. The overall pacing of the EP is well timed. Nothing is too fast or too slow for too long. Changes in tempo and mood keep EM3 EP flowing smoothly and confidently from the speakers.
The three songs sound best when listened to in succession, but that might just be me. You can take these songs and drop them in any laid-back playlist that you might have. The songs aren’t too lengthy. The longest runs at 5:02, while the others are around three minutes. Because they aren’t the world’s longest songs, you can place one in rotation and have a new angle on a favorite playlist.
The new angle is exciting and energetic, as well as passionately skilled. EM3 EP is short and to the point. Despite the relatively small amount of material that is on its 11-minute runtime, EM3 EP does not disappoint.
Kevin Musliner is an artist from Boston, Massachusetts who released an album entitled Audience. Musliner explains “This album is a collection of songs or projects some of which date back to 2015, but all compositions I thought representative of my style.”
The album gets going with “rush.” I thought the initial instrument sounded a bit like an autoharp. Warm bass and electronic drums and keys come into the mix. The tones and textures are soothing especially in the beginning. A little after the one-minute mark Musliner implements a techno 101 type build which introduces the most exciting and driven part of the song.
“Hold up wait a minute i'm talking to you” starts off an array of tone and textures which feel kind of cuddly. The effect is a little hard to explain but it’s a more experimental track that also felt playful. I really liked it.
“Holidays (crosschord)” is another experimental track. The song seemed to be a little louder than what came before. It sounded like Musliner spliced up guitar chords as well as individual notes to make something slightly quantized and robotic but compelling. He pans individual notes and Musilner really finds something great in the last minute of the song.
“Looking forward” is a little more subterranean and could have been a beat in a hip-hop song while “kerthunk” had more of an 8-bit video game quality to it. “Slip 'n slide” is a success and arguably the most inventive song when it came to the beats which reminded me of Aphex Twin.
“Love (up the beat)” has its moments but it was “vacation (jet warp)” that felt like a disconnected dream in a plastic world. Musliner closes with the “reminder” which contains unique timing and disparate elements.
One thing I would have liked is for Musliner to explore some of these ideas a little more. I felt like some of the songs like “Holidays (crosschord)” were just getting started but would have enjoyed hearing the song go to the five-minute mark or beyond.
Musliner is at his best when he is experimental. There is a good amount of that on this album. Take a listen.
DC native AJ Blakeney is a classically trained vocalist who studied at Bowie State University where he earned his BA in vocal performance. He recently released a concept album entitled Falling Blue about overcoming depression and heartbreak. I liked his singing style quite a bit. The one thing that made me scratch my head was that the production went from what sounds like something recorded on an iPhone at times to something that could be from a studio.
After an a cappella intro which was nice he goes into “Time With You.” A guitar plays with a beat which sounds like it has almost no low or mid frequencies. His vocals however are full. The singing was great but I just wasn’t exactly sure what was going on with the music.
“Caught off Guard” however sounded full and was the highlight in my opinion. The song has a smooth R&B type feel to it and a killer hook. “Falling Blue” and “Hello Beautiful Life” is mostly just vocals because the music takes a turn for the lo-fi. Up next is the hopeful yet melancholy “Tears on My Pillow” which comes back with robust, full sounding production. The other highlight was “You’re The Reason” while “When You Smile” reverts into lo-fi mode.
Blakeney has some talent as a vocalist and songwriter but I think his next step would be to team up with a producer who can assist with engineering and even more importantly the consistency of the aesthetic qualities.
Blakeney is a young man with talent, ambition and passion but he is also in the embryonic stage of his career. I think surrounding himself with the right people who can tap on his potential is something he should be focusing on while continuing to hone in on his own unique skill set. I hope to hear more from him soon.
Carla Stark is a musician who has been around music from a young age. It also took some time entrenched in the business world that led her back in more artistic pursuits. While she was working in an Indian musical, Beyond Bollywood she met Essaï Altounian. Essaï Altounian apparently writes all the music on her album Karma.
The album contains twelve diverse songs all of which happen to be within three and four minutes long. I really liked the music throughout and Altounian certainly has a lot of talent as a composer. The arrangements are full and brimming with instrumentation.
The album gets going with”Monsters” which for the most part seems to be about horrible people and doing away with them. I have to admit I’m not sure if is referring to legal action or what in taking these type of people down. Stark sings “she will fight with love and faith” and then “Monsters, I will bring you down / Monsters, I will be your defeat.”
The song jumps topically with “Dreaming of You” which is a pretty straightforward love song. I loved the swelling strings and piano which really stuck out to me along with Bjork-esque drum production. “I Would If I Could” is a sunny, pop song while “Start Starting” is extremely upbeat and chipper.
“Once a Cheater” is the arguable highlight which is inspired by tango. The horns and music in general is fantastic and is also very danceable. The lyrics were a little confusing. It seemed to be about a person who cheated on her but can’t escape his own death.
As the album progresses there is a lot of variety. “Just Like A Tattoo” and “Arsenic” were the highlights to my ears.
There were a lot of different types of styles that were thrown at me on this album and I definitely felt some angles worked better than others. The topics felt piecemeal and separate and there didn't seem to be much of an overarching theme with the entire album that felt apparent to me.
Overall, this album has a lot to offer but at the end of the day it is a pop album that I think a lot of people would appreciate.
Randall Kirk Jones has been recording in his home studio since 2013. In 2018, Jones released All the Wonderful and Horrific. A ride through human existence, it is an album that keeps a listener on edge finding new instruments in the back. It was recorded in various home-studios and rehearsal spaces around Denton, Texas. Jones composed the music for the entire album, and he is sometimes joined by guest musicians over the course of the album.
“A Jagged Rock More Gentle” is a heartfelt musing. Is there a way to make things that are not easy to deal with easier? The narrator distracts themselves with their surroundings. However the surroundings of the song’s atmosphere are filled with welcome distractions of their own. Creeping synthesizer lines, saxophones, harmonic choruses and auxiliary percussion show up at well-timed intervals.
“Truth in a Meaningless Phrase” includes more synthesizers, as well as introspective lyrics, and a wandering guitar that fades in and out as the sections change. Each change is more fitting than the last. All The Wonderful and Horrific closes with “Christ, This is Just The Beginning.” This one runs longer than the others, but the payoff is big. Not a single second of its nine minute-and-47-second running time is unnecessary.
All the Wonderful and Horrific carries elements of artists like Neutral Milk Hotel, Mumford & Sons, Trampled By Turtles, Deadman Winter, Dan Potthast and Vampire Weekend. The lyrics are self-aware. This makes them incredibly introspective.
There are points on All the Wonderful and Horrific that should be seen as a monologue for the narrator instead of words to a song. It’s exciting and thought-provoking. It’s also an album that doesn’t require a serious listen. You can sit and listen to it without having to dissect every line in every song. All the Wonderful and Horrific is an album that will appeal to listeners seeking an upbeat yet easy- going set of tracks.
Matt Young is bringing an indie folk sound that almost comes off as a collection of modern sea shanties. That would make sense, the ocean has never been far out of Young's reach living in New Hampshire. The songs on his latest album In Which We Sing of Love, Death And The Ocean are jovial, quirky and pull on the heartstrings. Their theme is youthful, dealing with all the issues that define what it means to understand who you are as you become an adult. There's a solid lineup of instruments that fall outside your typical indie setup. There's accordion and harmonium which add to the quirk and and playfulness. They also work well with the piano.
Some of the songs play like pure folk, the stuff you might hear at a pub or street fair. There are songs designed to resemble drinking songs and seas shanties of old. Then there are the songs that hug closer to folksy indie tunes with more sophisticated layering and vocal styling. There were moments where I would have preferred that these types of songs might be separated into different albums. However both song styles are catchy and memorable. I'm not entirely sure where I would require a sea shanty or drinking song outside of very specific occasions. However I came to accept that specific occasions require specific songs and Matt Young and this album will be there waiting or me and anyone else who needs them.
These songs were stitched together over a period of time that is equal to about a decade. This is something that shows within the music and lyrics, the work grows. I like hearing musicians mature in real time, very cool touch. Everything from the recording to the mixing and mastering was an all hands on deck project done by the band members. You can certainly feel the warm and fuzzies of their camaraderie all over this album. While I may have personally tweaked a few audio options differently, I cannot deny that their collective effort created a very distinct atmosphere. The aim of the album is human connection, and there is plenty of humanity to be had in the blunt lyrics and whimsical musical aesthetic. On the humanity end this album gets top marks.
I think there is a market for this kind of music. It may not be a demographic that is easy to define, but I know it's there. Luckily I don't get the sense that this group is looking to sell out stadiums, These guys come off more as people trying to create intimacy and connection. I've the people that make up this demographic and they will love what Matt Young and his companions have brought to the table. Whatever this group pursues next, I hope they maintain the cozy companionship that gave this album wings.
Become A Fan
People Places Things hails from a city I am all too familiar with, Knoxville, TN. Everything comes full circle with their new album No Cause For Alarm. The album's theme is essentially a coming of age tale. It deep dives into all things uncomfortable, awkward, and nail biting anxiety. While in the process of recording this album the band confessed to becoming better musicians in the process. The sound achieved in this album is one that hearkens back to the peak of ’90s garage pop. The music is the product of study and research done by the band to create the very specific aesthetic that appeals to the hearts of many ‘90s kids, myself included.
On a musical level I felt very at home with No Cause For Alarm. The riffs are quirky and often lighthearted but then saturated with delay and reverb. It's like the music is shrink wrapped with all the traces of the ’90s stuffed inside. There's little touches of ska, grunge and punk all bundled together. Dangerously cool bass lines and high strung guitar riffs help illustrate the angst and turmoil they address with their narrative. The lyrics are good, when I can make them out. I do have to take issue with the treatment of the vocals. I don't mind that there was heavy electronic treatment done to the vocals, I actually think that's appropriate for their aesthetic. My problem is I had to dig very deep to make out the words. There's just a bit too much layered on top which is too bad, because what I could hear was interesting. I feel like getting the lyrics out would be key to handbook aspect of this album.
The recording process is so ingrained in what makes this album what it is. The members pooled together their resources as far as equipment was concerned. They added to their inventory of necessary tools as needed. The band then proceeded to embark on a recording and mixing journey that would take place in various basements over a couple of years. Their weapon of choice is Ableton Live. The album is very reverb heavy which was done by use of the Max 4 Live convolution reverb plugin. When it came to delay, they favored U-He satin tape machine emulator. Their methodical attention to detail did manage to create an effective time traveling effect.
I commend the band on this accomplishment and taking their time to educate themselves on how to achieve their goals. For the final leg of production for the album, they sought professional help for mastering. I do wonder that more could have been done on the mixing or mastering end to further dig out the lyrics.
If you're looking to get back to a decade where frosted tips were in their infancy and still socially accepted you might wanna check this album out. People Places Things did manage to recreate the endearing method of turning life's least tolerable things into catchy rock songs.
The Materia Experiment is a project by Adam Sharples. He recently released House of Asterion which is for the most part an ambient album that flirts with grunge and distortion in general. The music I felt was often in between the serene warm glow of a band like Windy & Carl and the distorted drone of Sunn O))).
There seems to be a narrative aligned with the album that you can read on their Bandcamp page. As I say in the past I’m not a huge advocate of setting a narrative with instrumental music. I prefer to let the music create an open ended narrative conquering visual imagery itself rather then having a narrative create a more parochial concept of where it wants you to be led.
The album starts with “House of Asterion” which revolves around guitar work and ambient ornamentation that mostly come in the form of reverb and swells. “House of Asterion” never takes off much farther than where it starts with occasional moments that are more intense due to harder strumming and distortion. “The Erisian Vault” is in a similar vein. Towards the end of the song Sharples starts to strum heavily on the guitar which inevitably makes the lush and subversive soundscape begin to sound like a singular guitar.
“Materia” goes into the lower depths of the journey. Sharples plays with reverb and white noise. The high points come when he interjects what sounds like ’70’s inspired Pink Floyd experimental lead on top of the hypnotic and repetitive note progression.
“Black Locust: Eidolon from the 8th Circuit” was a clear highlight mainly due to the fact that the idea of a guitar essentially disappeared and was dropped in favor of a more immersive field of sound that very much felt like what the best ambient music does. The vocal snippets and the slow drone created the journey I was hoping to get.
“...and so to dive beyond the light…” is another highlight due to the same fact that it blurs the line of what instrument is being played. The song sounds more like a repressed, ambiguous memory which keep it interesting. “...to Otherwhere & Hadal Kingdoms” was another high point that makse for a very strong three-song arch. The album ends with a song that took away from the imagery and was left with image of a person playing guitar.
The album felt a little too much on the lo-fi at times for the type of album it was trying to be. The guitar in particular would have benefited from some cutting between 200 - 400 hz to gain a little clarity. That being said some songs such as “Black Locust: Eidolon from the 8th Circuit” seemed to get it just about right.
I first started listening to the ambient recordings by Brian Eno about twenty years ago and since then have discovered some many like-minded artists such as Stars of the Lid, Fennesz, and Gas that make immersive soundscapes. I’d say if you enjoy some of the aforementioned artists you should give this a shot.
The members of the New York City shoe-gaze-indie rock band Phantom Wave all met online – today’s answer, you could say, to the old advertising method of pinning your name and phone number on the college bulletin board. This quartet describe their debut EP Sixer, as” “vibrant red and white mountains shimmering all the feelings.”
Members include Ian Carpenter on vocals and guitar, Mike Horowitz on guitar, Nick DiPillo on bass and Rachel Fischer on drums. The EP was recorded at the Seaside Lounge in South Slope Brooklyn and the group practices regularly on the Lower East Side.
Sixer starts off with “Breath” – a quiet ethereal sound clashed together with hot, fuzzy guitar effects on the chorus and an inspirational sounding melody. “Fantasma” features a nice ride cymbal washing alongside a droning guitar. This one sounds like psychedelic meeting the harder edged tones of alternative, which I guess you could call shoe-gaze then, right? The loud deafening guitar at the end sounded great to me. “Invitational” gets very dramatic and softer at times with nice, intricate guitar work. This song to me was a little mix of Arcade Fire and Pixies. The drums get really good at the end, too.
“Shadower” is a dynamic tune that doesn't pull any punches – it really shows off the band’s talent quite well. “Aztec” is a fantastic shoe-gaze, trippy instrumental with heavy droning guitar and even heavier use of the hi-hat cymbal. The effects are sonically enticing as well. The music builds as if you can picture two enemy sides battling each other in some war. “Western” starts off a bit like the Velvet Underground’s “SundayMorning” but then it drudges loudly along in the band’s own style of shoe-gaze. The tempo picks up faster towards the end – chaotic and forceful!
Phantom Wave definitely has carved out a solid approach throughout Sixer. Tender, haunting melodies and warm and bold sounds are my takeaways from this New York quartet’s debut.
We are dedicated to informing the public about the different types of independent music that is available for your listening pleasure as well as giving the artist a professional critique from a seasoned music geek. We critique a wide variety of niche genres like experimental, IDM, electronic, ambient, shoegaze and much more.
Are you one of our faithful visitors who enjoys our website? Like us on Facebook