For over a decade poet-lyricist Ryan Wilson and multi-instrumentalist and sound designer Casey Frantum have been collaborating together to make works of art that lasts. Hovering Shrikes is the duo’s latest project where the two combine “their shared love of cinematic storytelling, post-punk musical libertinism and the cobbling together of disparate influences.” Though the pandemic has changed how they recorded (the band exchanged lyrics and soundbites over a flurry of cloud activity), their sound still maintains the same bedroom pop and indie rock feel of their previous endeavors. Their debut album Bang Dust, a 13-track collection sees the duo collaborating – virtually, this time – “to produce an album of story-driven post-punk that spans hot desert canyons, cool island poolsides, grey stormy rooftops and the long, lonely cosmos.” Keep in mind, if it’s an adventure that you’re going for, then this album is for you.
Bang Dust gets revving with “Starfields,” where the chiming of cathedral bells sets the stage for this impulsively cinematic release. Some shimmering guitars softly riff in the backdrop with sizzling drums as a spoken word piece is executed. On the chorus, the vocals are ignited with a more aggressive and go-getting vibe. A lot of times I was reminded of the band The Airborne Toxic Event. The vibe here feels very artsy and avant-garde, and I enjoyed all the experimental riffs. Driven guitars make for a wall of sound on “Invincible.” The drumming beat provides some jaunty rhythms. The combined vocal harmonies have a very spooky vibe like from the theme song to Munsters. The band seemed to be having fun here as the character-driven vocals create a very fun-loving haunted house feel. Some sparse guitar riffs sound out on “Summer Love.” Gradually, some punchy drums add some kick to this track. The vocals contain a ton of reverb, creating a very echo-y sound. More of the spooky vibes come across. For some reason, the distortion and reverb seemed to really work here. Also, feeling very psychedelic, there was also a retro-styled vibe that recalled a ‘60s and ‘70s rock feel.
Starting off with more of that ominous vibe, the drums and percussions sizzle on the backdrop of “Nectarine,” making for a slow burning and simmering sound. The music then crescendos, welling up for a lush and harmonious vibe. At moments, this sounded similar to the type of music that David Bowie would make. Fuzzy and distorted guitars round out the sound on “Western Pulps, Gulf Shores.” As a drumming beat dances in, the vibe has a garage rock feel to it. More of the ominous-sounding vocals makes for an eerie and atmospheric appeal. There was a slightly punk flavor to this song that gave it a certain twist. Right from the get-go, the music rushes at you with an energized punk/psychedelic sound on “Faustine In The Machine.” Once the carnivalesque vocals come in, the music grows more pumped and revved. I enjoyed the delivery and pacing of this piece.
Off to a bouncy beat, the drone of the subdued vocals enters on “Deep Sleep Scrolls.” Once the guitars arrive, the sound becomes more melodic. The vocals had a slightly oddball feel to them. This added to the overall eccentricity of the track. The guitars and drums provide an upbeat and catchy sound on the backdrop to “Things I Regret.” The slightly morose vocals come through, giving this song a very new wave and ‘80s-inspired sound. I loved the jaunty rhythms and bouncy beats that really gave this track a great energy. Guitars roll in with a bouncy drumming beat on “Away From The Light.” The combined vocal layers provide more melodic harmonies, and I thought this dive away from their more spoken word performances in the vocals proved to be a more dynamic listen. I enjoyed the move towards a more indie rock sound here. The band ends the album on a more light-hearted vein with this breezy closer.
Cinematic, artsy, experimental and moody, all these terms go on to describe Wilson and Frantum’s debut. Oftentimes honing into a sparse sound with accompanying spoken word vocals, Hovering Shrikes creates soundscapes filled with tons of mood and feelings. Once you close your eyes, a movie reel will begin to play in your head, and this will allow you to escape fully into another world. Most ideal with headphones on, once you enter the realm of Hovering Shrikes, a whole new universe will open up, as you fully immerse yourself in this intricate but pulsating world. Give this a spin!
Obstacle, Coarse describes its sound to that of Dylan meets Bowie, ‘Congratulations-era’ MGMT, Pixies, Matt Berninger, Neil Young, The Replacements and Thurston Moore. Musical styles range from early alternative, fresh folk, and dirty rock. Two tracks from the band’s latest When the Disks Stop Spinning (“Countersign" and "Running: Away") were featured on the Tony Kornheiser Show this past April. You’d be forgiven for thinking When the Disks Stop Spinning is all about finding strength while living through the pandemic, but there’s a lot more to it than that. To hear multi-instrumentalist Rick Baker tell it, the path of the album is really the story of “being dragged into adulthood, feeling sad and scared, angry even – of saying goodbye, while still desperately wanting to believe that youth can someday, somehow, be recaptured.” To put it another way, the songs on When the Disks Stop Spinning deal with the anxiety of having to grow up, along with the “quarantine-specific feelings” of the past year – and how these two paths intersect. Other players on the album who recorded with Baker (lead/backing vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, drums, and other percussion), include Alex Clark on bass (track 6) and Brian Nelson on keyboards (track 2). Nelson also mixed and mastered the album at No Count Studios in Seattle, Washington.
The first track “Trip to Your Pyramid” starts off with a bare-bones acoustic guitar. A warm rhythm electric, bass and drum jump in a bit later in this classic 60s era sounding pop rock song. But I also thought Rick Baker threw in some modern styles of his own and a great guitar solo, too. Next up is “Whisperwar” and it features a rich and smooth bass line. The song style has a Bowie feel to it – my thought is the Thin White Duke era or perhaps something like the Let’s Dance album. A groovy tune overall. “Countersign” has a new wave feel to it and the guitar licks are heavy and infectious. It sounds like a danceable track and I think would be good to put out as a single. “Running: Away” is another quick and energetic number and gives the listener the punk side to Obstacle, Coarse. The guitar riffs are catchy and fun and the pace fantastic!
“Another Birthday” has a quirkiness about it and the lyrics are humorous. Kind of reminded me of Nilsson or Frank Zappa. “(See You) Around Town” has a beach/pop rock vibe with a great guitar solo, but more modern sounding than the stuff from the ‘60s. This was a fun song, even though I think the lyrics are about breaking up. The album’s title song begins with some birds chirping, a slower beat and a light acoustic folk style. The extra string and woodwind instrument additions were a nice touch. You could say this song is a cross between Beck and the Grateful Dead. “Aug-6” has a folksier quality to it. Lighter and more mellow in its touch. Baker’s voice is cool, low, and smooth – like a crooner is some smoky late-night bar. It’s hard to make a direct comparison to any one artist or musician, but I liked what I was hearing. “Bye Bye Bye” offers an awesome, harder rockin’ edge. And yes, you’d be right to think that this is a cover of NSYNC’s well-known number. I must admit, I like Baker’s version better.
“Don’t Give Up Now!” gives the listener a solid pop rock style with a fantastic guitar sound. This one kind of reminded me a bit of The Cars and/or Tom Petty. The guitar solo had a nice quality and as a drummer, I appreciated hearing the ride cymbal, too. “(Alright[Be])” starts off with a wicked crack of the snare and fuzz bass that reminded me of Cliff Burton on Metallica’s “Whiplash” but, there’s no thrash metal going on here. This tune is hip and funky and sparse with just the bass and drums playing – telling all listeners that “it’s gonna be alright, alright.” “I Know It’s Love (I Know It)” has the classic sounds of dreamy pop numbers from the ‘70s-‘80s, the sophistication of artists like Bryan Ferry and the softer side of Lou Reed. There’s pop, a bit of jazz and soul too – a unique combination indeed. Last up is “Wind.mill Watch.ing” which features a swaying rhythm and “sing-along” quality. The extra layering of instruments (like the bells) added more texture and kept me engaged right up until the end. Overall, a unique blend of sounds and styles from this Seattle artist.
Blue Whale is the debut release from Dunedin, New Zealand quintet Porpoise. They take inspiration from the classic “Dunedin Sound” while giving it a modern twist: jangly guitars and pop-aware melodies mix with their own takes to create a “shoegazing, post-rock style,” as they dub it.
The band--Lucy Pollock, Joel Field, Seddie Hewitson, Tom Schultz and Ellen Walters--are a two-guitar, bass, drums, and vocals lineup. Porpoise has played a number of live gigs since their late 2020 formation, and Blue Whale is their first venture into a recording studio. The EP documents their working-band ethos with tracks laid down live. The band says that only vocals (and some lovely cello parts) were overdubbed later, although there may be an extra layer worked in here and there. Similarly, the mix is similar to a live show with guitars well-separated left and right. This works just fine, and allows us to hear the well-constructed parts clearly.
The opening track “Running Race” is an introspective, minor feel mid-tempo rocker and sets the tone for the disc. The vocals are plaintive and match the lyrics well. The album’s lyrics begin with “I know that times have changed so we change too / I just don’t know how I’ll catch up,” and they continue exploring emotional challenges throughout the record. The guitars sparkle with their separation in the mix giving a good effect. Bass and drums are locked in, and the cello parts add a terrific extra layer of texture and tension. It’s an engaging start.
The remaining four tracks continue along in a similar vein, each with its own highlights and extended instrumental sections. “Blue Whale” brings in backing vocals. “Sperm Whale” features an engaging introduction that matches brooding drums with an upbeat, almost mandolin-like guitar figure, and a left-side rhythm guitar that incorporates a nice use of the whammy bar. The band turns up the distortion a bit for “Kudu” to break up the stanzas of a spoken-word poem. The cello adds a lovely counterpoint to the album-ending “Back In My Room.” There are nuggets in each track for you to discover.
Blue Whale is a promising start. As they get more comfortable with the studio--and their capabilities within it--their music and sound should evolve. In the meantime, Porpoise have delivered a fine set, worthy of their Dunedin heritage.
Mourning Knight is a group from New York that was started in the 1990s as a vehicle for the compositions and poems of Jason Brower. They recently released a collection of Brower’s songs on a five-track self-titled EP Mourning Knight. Brower mentions: “The material is heavily influenced by the atmospheres and musical soundscapes of the progressive seventies, passion, drama, and a sense of the cinematic are brought together with lyrics that convey the darker, melancholy side of life.”
The EP to my ears does have a ’70s aesthetic down to its bone but also early ’80s bands as well. “Seance on a Wet Afternoon” is a thirteen-plus-minute song. There’s no doubt it’s an epic song and even some sections which clearly reminded me of Pink Floyd. Every time the song sounds like it’s going to end it continues with another part. There are breakdowns, grooves and it is filled to the brim with dynamic parts.
The shortest song in the batch is “Playing the Fool” which is about five-minutes long. This song is more of a ballad all the way through and the similarities to Pink Floyd felt apparent to me. The song is going for a grand and cosmic vibe.
“Blood of Martyrs” was a highlight. It was one of my favorite vocal melodies but more interesting were some of the experimental sections like around the two-minute mark. There are some really cool sounding instrumental breakdown sections which so far felt the most like straight progressive rock.
“The Blindman’s Window” is another pretty epic song but the most grand of all has to be “Inside This Wonderland.” The song is very hypnotic, dreamlike and atmospheric. It’s a bit of a slow burn but felt like a very fitting closer.
This album felt like it came from a different decade. Suffice it to say fans of some of the aforementioned bands and genres should love this. Recommended.
By The Boys is located in Phoenix, AZ and is composed of long time friends Samuel Ernest and Dylan Jacob. The band recently released an eight-song self-titled album By The Boys. They explain that they have a fondness for pop and psychedelic music especially from the ’60s.
That makes sense when listening to their music. I was getting some vibes from The Beatles which often sounded like it’s combined with a modern lo-fi bedroom type of aesthetic with a splash of ’90s rock.
The album gets going with “power of the witch (i’m free).” It’s a lush and atmospheric song and quite catchy. I loved the lead vocals and harmonies right away. This song has an inspired hook and overall was a pleasure to hear.
The next song “bye bye bye” is a nice mix of genres and styles. There’s a Mac Demarco type of quality that’s combined with ’50s pop sensibility. It also sounds similar to early Tame Impala. “miss my brain” is another great song. The melodies felt instantly catchy and infectious. There's just the perfect amount of dissonance as well.
“where is my baby ??” is a leftover romantic dream while “you’re so clever” is one of the more full sounding songs that blossoms with slide guitars and synths. “you’re so clever” might be a highlight for the groove alone. It’s this subdued funk that is absolutely infectious. I was reminded of the band Of Montreal on this song.
We go back into the lush dreamy atmosphere with “lover boy.” I loved the vocals and the bird chirping that “goodbye” starts with. The song has a great groove as well.
The songwriting was so good throughout this release and I fell in love with the vocals as well. This is a great album from beginning to end. Recommended.
David Hunt Cameron is an accomplished musician who has traveled to many places spreading music and music education in schools, workshops and concerts. He has also released a number of albums. We at Divide & Conquer recently reviewed 9th Planet and this time around we are going to take a look at Organic.
The name of the album is spot on. Organic is a great way to describe the recordings. The instrumentation all seems to be acoustic but with exceptional musicians. There’s a nice mix of some blues, jazz and folk on this release as well as some unexpected turns.
The album starts off with “Celebration Song” and begins with some truly beautiful guitar picking, light percussion and harmonica. It’s very comforting. The vocals aren’t whispered but definitely feel intimate and close miked. As the song progresses there's more instrumentation and even some female vocals.
“The Kingfisher '' is very traditional sounding folk music, however also in the spirit of contemporary artists like The Tallest Man on Earth. “Take a Walk” has a more full band and some of the warm piano bar types of blues I’ve heard.
I was not expecting the sort of funk on “Put Your Feet Up” which has some melodic, almost classic rock breakdowns. It did feel slightly out of place. The next song “Irish Girl” felt a little more aligned with the first couple of songs. I was reminded of Leonard Cohen on this song.
This sort of warm, comforting solace continues on “Race for Dreams” while “The Proposal” is way more upbeat and similar to the more funky side of Paul Simon. Especially that bass tone. We get back into very ’70s funk with “Beat Pizza” and then back into intimate folk with “Wakin Up.” The guitar playing on the closer “Sam Song” was incredible.
The songwriting and delivery on this album is truly exceptional. My only critique is I thought the funk inspired songs should have been on a different release. The change in mood felt a little too vast for my personal taste.
Overall, this is a great album and I enjoyed these songs. Recommended.
Sean Waterman is a new artist who recently released Devices. The album contains nine songs and runs around thirty-two minutes. There is a mix of genres like pop, electronic and singer/songwriter on this album. The songs felt accessible to me the first time I heard the album.
The first song “Rules” felt like one of the most pop oriented. It revolves around strummed acoustic guitar, drums and what sounds like synth-like orchestration. On that note the next couple of songs were where the artist starts to blossom. “Bodies” is a warm folk song stripped down but there are soundscapes on this song which give an almost shoegaze-like quailty. I kept picturing water running down a stream. “Devices” felt like the first highlight. The song starts off very ambient and lush but these are these Aphex Twin style drums which give the song a complete feel. I really thought the kinetic drums wired wonderfully against the ambient elements as well as vocals.
“Zero Hour” goes back to pop territory with some unique elements. The song feels motivational and gives you some energy. I thought the vibes were not only comforting but upbeat. “Swerve '' has its moments as well. Similar to some of the other songs there’s a lot going on in terms of instrumentation. There’s orchestral elements, guitar and a prominent 4/4 beat. The vocals are very catchy on this song and I also enjoyed some of the more dissonant moments as well.
“Don’t Let Me Down” was somewhere between ’90s alternative and modern day pop while “Easy” is a certified ballad. “Blue” and “Flatline'' actually leans more towards a warm ballad as well.
The artist has a good amount of talent in multiple areas. I found the vocals to be full of a good amount of emotion and quite dynamic. Waterman has the ability to adapt to a song. I think the songs will appeal to a broad demographic not only because there were more pop oriented songs but because of the universal lyrics and emotions.
I thought this was a strong debut and I look forward to hearing where the artist goes from here.
Modern Andy is a downtempo/folktronic artist from St. Louis, MO. He creates all his own samples using mostly analog equipment and acoustic instruments, which can be daunting however incredibly rewarding. He recently released a single entitled “Lights.”
The song starts simply enough with a couple of strummed chords on an acoustic guitar. It isn’t long before some synth action and deep almost hip-hop inspired beats come into the mix. There are some vocal samples which sound like they might be from a film.
I have to admit I was expecting some lead vocals to act as a focal point but it never came. There are some shifts in dynamics and about ten seconds before the two-minute mark is a breakdown. It reminded me of early Beck and there are more vocal samples that are spread out across the mix of instrumentation. The song picks up some energy once more as the original groove plays out till the end.
From a musical standpoint the song is fairly straight between the 4/4 beat, minor and major chords and other elements. It was a pleasant song that really didn’t demand my attention in some ways and I think could be enjoyed more passively or actively depending on what type of mood you are in. Take a listen.
Through the Wire is a Phoenix, AZ guitar-and-drums duo that has released Man in Red as their debut EP. They were quite efficient in their recording process, tracking the entire four-cut EP in just one day. “It was a good day. We had pizza for lunch,” they tell us.
It’s clear that Through the Wire worked hard on their pre-production. Their typical song has a few different sections, and they transition smoothly across different tempos and feels. The tracks have multiple parts as well--it’s not just two guys in a live room. Guitars and vocals are layered, often offering counterpoint to each other. They’ve also mixed in long sections of guitar feedback as “thickener” in lieu of keyboards. This is a nice unique touch for their sound… and all of this in just one day!
The band grabs us right away with the uptempo rock drums and power chords of “In the Middle,”reminiscent of some of the better alt-rock of the early 2000s. The intro is just a tease, though, as the song takes a darker turn. The band breaks out a descending minor riff, a slower tempo, and some breathy, almost whispered vocals. The middle, major-chord section, offers a nice contrast, and the whole track is drenched in various guitar tones and parts. It’s a solid slab of modern rock.
The guitars keep coming with a burst of feedback kicking off “Psychobilly Crabshack” before it drops into a riff-y, evil, tuned-down garage rocker. The bridge--a section of power-chord punk--was a little jarring at first listen, but made sense the second time through. This was my personal favorite of the four songs on the EP.
“Nina Simone” is the most original track on the album. Through the Wire combines a familiar rock drum pattern with jazzy extended chords in their shout-out to the great singer. Over the top, they croon a delicate melody with a humorous lyric: “If Nina Simone was mine / Would she feel ashamed? / Love is a fickle thing.” This cut would be right at home on college radio.
“Paint the Night” finishes the disc. The track is a bit more dramatic in its construction, sounding a bit like 1980s-era U2 in parts of the verse; the chorus echoes some of the chords from “Nina Simone,” offering a nice bit of continuity. The drumming is a particular highlight here, filling in space nicely between some of the chiming guitar chords and the shout-along “hey! hey! hey!”s.
Man in Red is an entertaining, original piece of work. It will grow on you with each additional spin. Recommended!
Real Mirage is a one-man band based in Chisinau in the Republic of Moldova. The band currently has two EPs out and is in the recording stage of an upcoming album. This one-man band’s first single "Maybe I Could" got on an editorial Spotify playlist, which helped to gain a bit more traction for the band. On this second EP, The Closest We’ll Ever Come, the band changed styles in terms of soundscape, proving more favorable for the band. The EP was recorded, mixed and mastered in the artist’s bedroom, using built-in, free VSTs and plugins. With the current situation that our world is facing, Real Mirage wanted to give people a “mirror” in which they’ll look at and reflect on matters that are of a big significance. The writing on the EP has the intention of “giving the freedom of perception for the listener.” The artist states that the recording’s message is up to you. Sonically, the EP is more rock and alternative, giving listeners a preview of what the upcoming album will sound like.
The opener is the EP’s titled track, and it starts off with soft guitar sounds and gentle synth sounds that may drift you off to sleep. But I don’t mean that this tune is boring – not at all – it has a nice, mellow, ambient style that was very enjoyable to listen to. Next up offers something a bit more futuristic and dreamier with the sensibilities of new wave of the ‘80s. “Maybe I Could” features a deep bass groove, chilling keyboard melodies and drowning guitar riffs. Lyrically, Real Mirage writes about crushing hard for someone else and/or being infatuated with that other someone. “Violent Crush” goes deeper into the realm of goth and dark ambient. In my opinion, this song taps into the classic sounds of The Cure and Bauhaus – I mean, it’s right up there – and it sounds fantastic! The best lyric reflects the song’s dark style “We get used to the crush that left us to decay.”
“Bridges” opens with a haunting guitar and keys, offering plenty of minor dark chords. Just when I thought Real Mirage couldn’t get any darker, I mean dang, this song was heavy. Not real sure what it’s lyrically about, although the line “Of the most recent year” may be a clue into the period during 2020 where everyone was isolated and trying hard not to get Covid. Last up is “Somewhere to Go” – this one features a richer, more theatrical sound. Keys sounding like a haunting symphony, while the drums give this number a structured rhythm. The lyrics are spooky, as it closes this short and foreboding collection of richly atmospheric and poetic numbers.
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