Joseph Dugan is a yoga teacher and also a musician. This fact grabbed my attention before even listening to his release Swaha. As a musician myself and just by observing other musicians, it’s evident that songs are often a reflection or an interpretation of our emotional states. The tortured artist might write melancholy songs to fill that empty space with meaning; the man who found love now writes a beautiful love song for his soon to be bride. I started to think about how Dugan would write music. Is he able to take a step back being a meditation teacher and observe these patterns of energy (we often call emotion) in a different way than most? Is he then good enough of a musician to convey this with melody, harmony, dissonance and all the other things that go into making a song.
Dugan appreciates bands like Animal Collective, Sufjan Steven and Sigur Rós. I think this comes across in his music. Dugan isn’t making cliched, new age music that you might think would come from an album called meditative beat vol. 3. It’s also not playing into predictable areas of simple serene and tranquil soundscapes.
The opener ‘Washing My Colored Mind” effortlessly mixes saxophone, oscillating sine waves, crystal like effects and vocals. It’s ongoing and ever changing as if there is no beginning or end. In my opinion this kind of endless feeling that artists like Brian Eno and Stars of the Lid capture is an integral part of ambient music. The emotions are subtle and bubble to the surface.
Although these songs have an endless quality there are peaks. “Home Inside” for instance unwraps and has multiple crescendos. There are some moments which sound close to what you might think being enlightened sounds like but there is also this quantum energy that feels like you're listening to subatomic particles. I was reminded of Playthroughs by Keith Fullerton Whitman.
There are more percussive heavy moments on songs like “My Children Are The Sounds Of The Sun” and “Desireless Non-Desire” where you can hear the influence from Animal Collective. “Miniature Painting” seems to explore the very depths of consciousness with some impressive sound design. Minimalism and even free jazz seems to be an influence on “Call Off The Search.” He closes with “Sit In The Center Watching And Forget That You're There” which is perhaps the most cosmic and vast sounding soundscape.
One thing this album does benefit from is having a still mind when listening. If I was a teacher myself I would advise the listener to find a comfortable place to sit, bust out your best pair of headphones and clear your mind so you can really listen.
Raygun! Raygun! is based in Canton, Ohio and was born out of a spontaneous recording session in the summer of 2018. The band’s two members, Clay Reid and Michael Bastas, found out that they had a knack for writing quick witted, goofy pop/art rock tunes that had unique flair. Their debut album, Welcome to the Greengate Hotel was recorded in Bastas’ basement and it draws on the duo’s shared interest in artists like Frank Zappa and bands like Ween, Ariel Pink, The Idle Race, The Beatles and The Beach Boys.
Conceptually, the album as the band states is “about a hotel in the middle of nowhere that is occupied by the strangest grouping of people and things imaginable. Subject matter includes everything from tacky jungle themed restaurants and stolen lamps to paranormal volunteers and John Carradine (who is definitely not dead) singing at his favorite karaoke bar.”
The album title track “Welcome to the Greengate Hotel” opens with light and playful piano and lofty, dream-like singing sandwiched between lyrics about John Carradine and his recollections about being a Prisoner of Shark Island. From here on out, I was thinking – yep, this will most definitely be a highly entertaining album. Next up you’ll hear a conversation between a couple of old farts who bark and holler about the “good ‘ol days” and how “kids these days” disrespect their elders and on and on. A circus-like organ can be heard too in this short number with a really long title – “Boy, This Elevator Really Smells Like Potpourri and Moth Balls.”
I was kind of hoping that the next song “Jungle Room” was about an actual room by the same name at Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion in Memphis, but no mention of it here. The duos’ creative use of the wooden xylophone sounds fantastic here, or are they marimbas? Oddly, this one reminds me of a cross between Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” or “Jump In The Line” and Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut.” Overall, the arrangement and production were really damn good and fun to listen to. Next, is a short melody that could pass for a TV commercial jingle in “We’ve Got Breakfast.” The band gave this one a vintage ’50-‘60s feel - cleverly done guys! “Pillow Mint Ghost” starts with harpsichord sounding keys, (which I feel is a poorly underrepresented instrument these days), in this song about a ghost who shares mints with guests he or she haunts. Their job is taxing and tedious as the lyrics suggest, but those mints must be very potent because “they freshen up your breath even after death.”
“Room Service” is well, about just that. The words are pretty simple and quite funny – “If you think you need room service, just pick up the phone” and while you’re at it, call for extra shaving cream for “YOUR HAIRY BACK!!” “What’s My Thing?” is a light, pop number with definitely a Beatles influence. But also, it had that extra something about it which reminded me of Jim Henson’s The Muppets Show.“Bob Lemonschonce” is another one of the band’s cleverly written jingles, advertising the Greengate Hotel with its “fully functioning gym” and “health center” – all to promote “HEALTHY LIVING.” “Growin’” features a MIDI electric beat and low, brooding singing. Part of this one felt Zappa-like, but also, if you’re familiar with Devo’s lesser known songs, the electronic music was reminiscent of their style, too.
Lastly, “Goodbye from the Greengate” features a feel-good pop vibe and more hilarious words of advice and farewell – “We still have your credit card information / We won’t refrain to add a charge if you took something / Like our lamps…. we’re serious.” In the end, this is truly a concept album with cohesion throughout, make no mistake. Sometimes concept albums can get a little too serious and “way out there” for some listeners. But this is not one of them. For me, it was pure joy to listen to this two-man band from Ohio who write fun songs and catchy melodies inside creatively written arrangements. Music need not be traditional structures of well-worn guitar chords and familiar rock n’ roll rhythms. Raygun! Raygun! proves that on Greengate Hotel.
The Bloom is an American rock band from Pensacola, Florida that formed in 2017, consisting of James Groce (vocals/guitar), Wolf Raynsford (drums), Andrew Besanco (bass) and Stephen Ales (guitar). They recently released their self-titled album The Bloom.
They have a sound I think will appeal to a lot of people. I was reminded of bands like Band of Horses and Fleet Foxes that mix elements of Americana in their indie rock. There is also a hint of jam bands when it comes to some of the instrumental aspects.
The band starts with “Coma Dream“ and you can hear the “jam band” aesthetics that may be mixed with a little Modest Mouse and funk. There was something about the song that made me think of an outdoor festival and people dancing to it. The song isn’t only dance worthy, it’s catchy.
“Have Mercy” is a tad more emotionally resonant and pensive but still you can tell the band is building a foundation to their music. I thought the vocals were soulful and sung with a lot of passion. “Black Dress” is another solid song. The band sure knows how to create a good groove. ”Best Day” could be the highlight of the batch. It at the very least felt like the most single worthy. It’s positive and the melodies are memorable from both the guitar and vocals.
“Follow Me” is a cathartic song where the band rocks quite hard making a pretty beautiful wall of sound at points. “Manhattan Project” has its moments as well. The band closes strong with “King of the Mountain” which ends with a strong crescendo.
The band seems to making all the right moves in my opinion. The album was cohesive and really showcases a signature sound that the band has been forming. It also didn’t stretch on too long. I usually advise up and coming bands to lean towards brevity. The seven songs here felt like the perfect amount to get acquainted with their sound. I predict good things for this band and look forward to hearing more. Take a listen.
17-year-old Australian Sean Brown is a guitarist, singer and composer. While studying audio production, Brown created Breakaway, his debut album to showcase his talents. Prior to this, Brown released two instrumental singles. Enjoying the studio process Brown mixed, mastered, produced and well as performed all the instruments on the album by himself. This kid’s talent is more than a triple threat.
Breakaway starts off with “Gone.” Brown’s vocals are filtered out a bit, which is fine because the instrumentation is the focal point. The repetitiveness mantra of “Til it’s gone” echoes nicely as the breakdown leads to some lovely keyboards and guitar. “From A Distance” is a mellow song that has both acoustic and electric guitar harmonies with Brown displaying his songwriting creativity. “Every night you’re in my dreams, but you’re further than it seems. If I could tell you how much you mean to me. Well it would set me free.” The sweet lyrics and soft guitars keep your attention for the entire seven minutes.
Brown is an incredible musician as well as composer. On every song Brown shows off how great he is at the guitar as he wails away with beautiful riffs. On some songs such as “Don’t Keep It” his guitar outshines his lyrics. His guitar skills are so powerful that it takes over the other elements. The majority of the second half of the album is mostly instrumentals tracks including the title “Breakaway.” “Equidistant” starts off eerie before emerging as a more rock orientated song with two guitars battling it out.
“Lucid Beach” has a romantic salsa beach vibe to it that you brings you summer joy. Lastly “WAH-JAM” is a funky jam session well worth listening to. You can tell Brown had a good time making it.
Sean Brown set out to release an album to show the industry what he can do. Breakaway accomplishes exactly that. He is musician and composer who knows what sound he is looking for. At only 17 years old he has a little more work to do on his vocals but his songwriting is solid. Hopefully we’ll get to listen to some more of his work in the near future.
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The latest album CHASUI茶スイ by Default Universe is a deep cut. I was reading about the topic and can’t say I’ve ever ran into this particular topic before. It states on their Bandcamp page, the album “follows the story of Kasano Asa, the weather girl of a Japanese weather forecast Weather Girl 13. This shy and timid girl's life changes when she and her sexually abusive boyfriend visit a tea/sex shop at a red light district.”
It’s extremely niche and arguably a little disturbing. At any rate the album is simultaneously experimental and accessible. The beats and production is the most inventive I have yet to hear from Default Universe.
They start with “intro” which is a little misleading. This is a four-plus-minute song. It’s sort of a collage with some very wicked beats. The timing is unique and deviates from 4/4 while dark atmospheric pads lurk in the background and reversed splices cut through the mix. “Flesh Market (feat. [PHOS.phenes])” is dark, dirty and murky. It’s the lower underground district that just starts to get going in the early morning hours.
“Oshiete” sounds like it could be more influenced by an artist like Oneohtrix Point Never than anything. One of my personal favorites was the jazzy and noir influenced “Ambiguous.” It’s seedy and sounds like a detective who has clocked in too many hours was on the case.
Don’t skip “Interlude” because it has some of the most brain breaking beats I have heard while “Igigi (feat. oghosthaze)” is perhaps a highlight. I was digging the female hooks on this song along with the inventive production.
“Pink Tush Girl (feat. popjotripsix)” unequivocally has some of the smoothest rhymes on the album. “Chasui w/ Uncle's Paradise (feat. shymar ovita)” runs deep with metallic beat and groove, infused breakdowns that are spliced to oblivion. They close with the epic soundscape “The Violated Sex Tape Outro.” I don’t think words can do this one justice. Just listen.
This is deep, experimental hip-hop that isn’t afraid to test boundaries both in theme and in terms of production. Recommended.
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The loop genre is one that always manages to surprise me. I think when people often hear the label, they go straight to an electronic and futuristic perspective. The truth is loop methodology can be used in a variety of moods and settings. Luckily, I now have Mike Bodulow, a solo loop artist, to hold up as a perfect example of just how far reaching loop is these days. His debut album is Sequencing (how utterly perfect right?) and made quite an impression. With just a loop station and grand imagination, Bodulow has created deeply atmospheric and wide ranged musical movements.
This is an instrumental album with a focus on lo-fi post-rock experiences that paints with a wide variety of brushes. The entire album is very warm and breezy; it breathes. This is the sort of music that you can utilize in a score-like setting whether it be movies, television, film even video games. Lots of piano in here which is used so thoughtfully. It’s all very fluid, very little percussive influence if any. You will get a tiny traditional drum taste in “Used to Have A Band To Play With” and it’s very cool.
The first two tracks, “Inspire Me” and “It’s Setting In” are truly breathtaking. For me I saw sprawling landscapes that went on for miles, although I saw them in brilliant color stories with acidic filters. Especially with “It’s Setting In” I could really enjoy the natural circular nature of the music. Loop is fascinating in that the artist can choose to relish in the physical form of the looping or hide it. Bodulow has a good mixture of both. I will say I was more drawn in when he embraced that circular motion. The couple of songs that followed fell a little flat in comparison and I think that’s because they were so much more intimate, which is not a bad thing. I do think some additional, out of the box samples might have given those very lo-fi intimate experiences a little something extra. Back to “Used To Have A Band To Play With;” the effects there are truly fantastic. Such a beautiful movement that evokes nostalgia and sentimentality.
Being a bassist, Bodulow used extra care when it came to recording his bass work applying compression and EQ very effectively. His weapon of choice was Ableton Live Lite. All the choices he made in regards to the album’s production allow him to perform these pieces live which is very exciting to me. This music has a call to the wild that I think would do very well in an open-air setting.
I really appreciate Bodulow’s point of view and his spin on the loop genre. I think he is doing something noteworthy especially with his priorities being set with live performances in mind. I have seen my share of score albums, but nothing of this particular make. It’s very bare bones and drives its point home with subtle movements rather than grandiose crescendos. Taking that approach can be a risk. In this case it paid off.
The ever so young and talented band The Refractions has grown since the last time we reviewed their Breeze album. Now the four-piece band from Louisville, Kentucky have returned as 18- and 19-year olds with a rock pop album Paramind. For this record the Refractions took the next step forward by recording the album in the professional Sight Glass Sounds studio with former Picturesque drummer Cole Clark mixing and mastering. The quality of work definitely shows.
Paramind opens with breezy guitars and smooth vocals on “NYC, CHI.” It’s a poppy track with boy band dreaminess with a wonderful guitar riff all throughout the song. There’s a great guitar solo and that’s where I thought the song should’ve stop but it continues a little longer than I expected. “UFO” continues the trend of soft vocals with catchy melodies that help you vibe along. There are unexpected stops before breaking the beat making sure listeners are paying attention.
“Smack” is an electrifying rock instrumental song that features Ahmi and Vena Cava. It’s a terrific instrumental track that has ripping a guitar; smashing drums with a solid build ending a blissful harmony. The ending comes out of nowhere. It’s dream-like sequence with hushed lyrics but the mood contrasts from alternative punk jam session to sounds of sending someone regret texts in the night. While it would’ve been nice if this was left as its own interlude, it does a solid job as an introduction to the next song “Bloom.”
A great thing about Refractions is they do a good job messing with genres throughout the album. “Cream” has a lo-fi piano before stepping in with buttery smooth vocals and a horn section that is so catchy. The band also revisited and reworked some previously released songs such as “Anna” that was on their Breeze album. No harm in that, plenty of bands rerelease songs if they feel the product didn’t receive enough exposure. Also the band is a little older now and working in a high quality studio so why now give songs the proper love they deserve?
Paramind is a very good pop rock album. The young men of Refractions have laid out a solid foundation and these guys aren’t even in their 20’s yet! You could argue that the album lasts just a bit longer than needed. Understandingly they want to show off everything they can do to leave a lasting impression. But sometimes leaving listeners craving for more is even better. That being said Paramind has plenty of engaging songs to keep listeners’ attention. Refractions are talented young men that are still learning to master their crafts. If they continue on this path, they’ll have a bright future ahead of them.
Suki Kuehn (cello) and Ruby Rendrag (guitar/vocals) are The Two’s. They have opened for such acts as rock legend Heart, international pop Star Zucchero, Tim Reynolds, and have placed music on the Emmy award-winning show “Nip/Tuck.” Early next month they are releasing a five- song EP entitled Push On.
The band has an accessible yet inventive sound. Take for example the cello that often takes over lead duties and adds an element that really gives the song an off kilter flavor. They start off with “Ms Jones” which is a warm and catchy folk song. Rendrag has a powerful and dynamic voice. She sounds great at multiple octaves. The cello is kind of subtle on this song but it has its moments.
“City of Gold” has a good amount of energy. The percussion really drives the song and oh man the cello sounds so good. It feels thematic at times and like an adventure to other lands. The cello gave the song a western feel.
“Lullaby” is perhaps the highlight. The hook on this song is infectious. Rendrag’s vocals have a dream like quality on the chorus. The cello work is pretty incredible. On the verse it’s more aggressive stabbing motion while the chorus contains beautiful sweeps.
“The Letter” is very atmospheric with some huge sounding crescendos. The song becomes hypnotic towards the end. Last up is “Baked” which contained an absolutely wicked groove and is completely instrumental. It’s a little dissonant and dark and just really like the wave of energy they were. As the song progresses they absolutely crush and sound a little bit like Led Zeppelin.
This is a great EP from beginning to end. Make sure to check it out next month.
Yoshi the Exile is an artist from Lancaster, Pennsylvania who recently released Yoshi The Exile EP. He makes certified folk music although it didn't feel like the late ’60s inspired Dylan folk which still seems to be the most popular form. It’s somewhat ironic that an American folk singer reminded me more of English folk music. There is a hint of Donovan as well as Pink Floyd when they utilized not much more than an acoustic guitar.
The EP starts with “Exile” and I think most people familiar with Pink Floyd can hear some of the similarities. I thought the vocals had a breathy, air like quality. They sounded almost stoic but not monotone. The guitar work is solid as well with minor atmospheric elements.
The next song “Padiddle (Demo)” seemed to be a really cool tune. I like the picking pattern. The recording quality is really so lo-fi I couldn’t appreciate it for what it was. It sounds like he put a blanket over the microphone or something. “The Curse of Héloïse (Demo)” sounds much better. The airy vocals are back and I was digging the vocal melodies right off the bat. It’s the vocal harmonies that really make it sound full and on the verge of sounding like a chorus singing. The lyrics depict an adventure across majestic land. He sings, “You traveled the east, I the west / You conquered their hearts, and I the rest / and now down any road, is a den of thieves where I belong.”
“Once in a Blue Moon, Forever” contained some of his best guitar work. He plays a hypnotic and quite beautiful picking pattern. It’s very Beatles-esque at moments. This song might be the highlight. He has some more success with “The Daggermouth Blues” which follows the same vibe as “Once in a Blue Moon, Forever.” The guitar tone is different which sounds great. The vocal melodies are exceptional. He closes with “No Light (Acoustic)” which veers closest to the style he starts with,
My only critique is that I wanted some more consistency with the recording quality. I would like to hear a professional recorded version of his music.
I thought his guitar playing and vocal style was actually refreshing to hear. There aren’t too many folk artists who sound like this. I’m excited to hear more. Recommended.
Dylan Hamburger is a young artist from Ohio who recently released Spontaneous Me. Hamburger got his start in high school and grew musically as he went to college. The three songs on the album were written and recorded over the last year or so.
The first song is entitled “Stranger.” I was initially attracted to the chord progressions which have some similarities with the band Grizzly Bear. The hooks are well done and I thought the vocal harmonies were well implemented. I was really digging the song and then quite unexpectedly it started going in a very different direction. There is a short section where the song gets theatrical and he goes in a melodramatic, spoken word.
“Regression” is up next and is more experimental. It’s a little playful and Hamburger implements what sounds like synths of some sort and percussive elements. There is a hint of Pavement. The song is catchy but also not predictable which is a hard thing to pull off.
“Up For Air” is another unique song. He really goes a lot of different places musically and vocally. The song felt like it was in a constant state of mutation. I thought the bass work in particular held the song together which created a hypnotic pattern. The vocals range from slight rapping, spoken word or traditional singing. It’s well done and again I really appreciated the experimentation.
Hamburger certainly thinks outside of the box. I like how he approaches these songs although I can’t say every move he made worked for me. The next most obvious step for Hamburger is to get into a professional studio. His ideas are too big for lo-fi bedroom recordings. I think working with additional musicians could bring a lot to his music.
Overall. I thought this was a solid EP and I look forward to hearing more,
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