The definition for sentient is the ability to feel or perceive things and the debut EP Sentient from Melbourne native Kelly Sarena, definitely has a ton of feeling. Although she typically writes music that starts with a melody and a few chords, the songwriting and stories within songs are what she enjoys the most. Songs of love, betrayal, compassion and her deep vegan conviction are all present in her songs. With a mix of pop and indie folk, Sarena had a full band to back her up — Ben Korasani on drums and bass, Ashley Thomas on keys and alto sax and Rebekah Benjamin on backing vocals. Sara Nelson did the recording, mixing and mastering as Brighde Kennedy did the EP’s eye catching cover art.
To start things off, “Moving Fast” has an interesting rim shot tap on the snare as the band breaks into playing all together. It was a delight on this song and throughout the EP to hear Sarena sing with such beautiful clarity and control. Her voice has a nice, warm tone to it that’s rich. “Blue Veins” begins with Sarena singing alone “just take a deep breath in” and then piano and drums drop in. This one had a sort of contemporary jazz vibe with the piano and alto sax trading notes.
“Through the Glass” starts off with light, tender piano and vocals and continues with this duet throughout the tune. This one tore me up inside with its lyrics and sad, sorrowful feeling (not sad meaning it was bad, sad, as it was really damn good!) Lines like: “I’m sick of watching you / Always longing for the past” and “our love story won’t die” and further on “when witnessed your last breath, through the glass.” I can’t say what this song is about, but wow…such powerful words.
“On The Edge” has an edgier beat as Sarena starts to sing. Guitar and piano join in, in this indie folk number. The words to the song suggest a bitter break up and a longing for two people to maybe get back together, but the damage has already been done: “You’re the one who pushed me away / Turned your back and left me standing.” The ending was quite unique – a kind of “carnival music-polka-oom-paa-paa” thing going – I don’t how else to describe it but it was a great ending.
“Truth” really cuts to the core of Sarena’s convictions as a vegan. The drums begin playing on the toms as piano joins in, while the lyrics speak words of concern, inhumanity and the illegal nature of animals being kept in unsanitary, unsafe conditions – all in the name of producing a product that the majority of humans consume. Sarena’s choice of words grabbed my attention with their candidness, not to mention directness – really made me think twice.
The last song “1000 Sundowns” is a cover tune by one of Sarena’s favorite recording artists Emma Louise. It features her along with keyboard. Lyrically, Sarena could have easily written this song because it fit so well with her own writing. I never heard Emma Louise’s version of this tune before, so I didn’t know what it would be about in terms of content. This song for me, and I assume for many others, is relatable. It’s about looking back on a past relationship with sadness, but also deep reverence for what two people once shared together. This one definitely choked me up. Louise’s chosen words on “1000 Sundowns” is universal and as with the other songs on her debut EP, Kelly Sarena’s voice delivers those words with a tender richness that I hope to hear more of.
Cassel began as the brainchild of Yasmin de Laine back in 2013. Relocating from Adelaide to Melbourne, Cassel became a band. In May of 2018, Cassel released their self-titled debut EP Cassel. Cassel is a project that supports a slower and softer sound than most alternative acts of today. This is not to be taken as a negative; their use of the softer sound to create a more wide array of sounds to consume is executed skillfully and gracefully.
The verses of “Loose Teeth” would blend in seamlessly with some of the deep-cuts from Led Zeppelin IV. The choruses open up with reverb, a much more modern sound than the echoey ’70s type vocals that carry the verses. Both sounds seem right at home side-by-side with each other. “Rotgut” starts off sounding like a hazy dream.
The drums, stomps and claps immediately wake the track up before melting into the floating chorus. It’s an explosively powerful track, running longer than it feels like. “Sleight Of Hand” opens with an arpeggiated riff playing over hazily strummed chords and more of the dreamy vocals that have made themselves a staple on Cassel. Along with “Move Past It” they are an uptick in the tempo of the EP. Featuring more traditional sounding drums and guitars, the songs are a little quicker than the first two on the EP.
Overall, Cassel is an explosive collection of songs housed in a laidback and melodic package. It mixes elements of pop and post-rock to create a vast sonic landscape that colors its curves between layers of reverb and cutting vocals. The haunting elements of the vocals are a calling card of sorts that feature on each of the four tracks. A floating feeling is given off by the album, enveloping the listener in dreamy notes driven through wavy reverb.
It’s not an EP to listen to before getting ready to start an intense work out. It might be the perfect EP for after an intense workout. It creates a sense of serenity for the listener that is not often found in mainstream rotation. Cassel is going to excite listeners who enjoy sounds on the softer end of the spectrum, by bringing electric energy to the genre.
The folk-funk sound that has been adopted by indie bands of the last decade is being refined by Citizen Badger. The sound is nothing new. It’s been a mainstay of indie rock for the last few years.
Citizen Badger brings a fresh take to the sound, telling new stories with new faces and new sounds. The percussive sound of all of the instruments, and even the lyrics, creates a unique take on the established sound. Citizen Badger LP is a great listen for fans of acoustic guitars and harmonies.
“Walk With Me” opens with a bouncy bass line followed by a stumbling drum intro and a percussively delivered verse. The guitar opens up more in the second section of the song, creating a more bright image in the profile of the song. It’s a feel-good track, even the breakdown in the bridge features rolling toms from the drums, giving energy and new texture to the song.
It is followed by the more serious sounding “Heart Throbs for Art Snobs.” The guitar is strummed with determination, the drums follow with an equal passion. The bass line bounces over the background vocals of the chorus. It eventually falls into a breakdown, coming out of it with fervent energy.
Citizen Badger is a fresh update on the mid-‘90s adult contemporary sound. Taking influence from bands like Cake or Hoobastank, they continue the tradition of remaining heartfelt while also staying interesting. A good album to have on to start a day that might be turbulent at best, it radiates good vibes and creates a calming effect. Skill is the name of the game when it comes to the instruments. Guitars are expertly plucked and accompanied by competent drum work and thought-provoking lyrics.
There is nothing lost by listening to Citizen Badger LP. Fans that typically do not listen to less hard-rock influenced alternative can still find common ground in the fast paced strumming that powers their music forward.
Summer Knit is the solo project for Jorgen Gregg. He released When It Came Upon Me which mixes genres like Americana, folk and indie rock. It’s an acoustic based album with heartfelt performances and well crafted songs.
The album starts with “Evergreen Teeth” which starts with a strummed acoustic guitar and well executed, warm vocals. It hits upon a fairly familiar folk type vibe that slowly builds with additional instrumentation such as piano and organ. I was impressed after the first song.
“Heavy Things” starts to really get into a full sounding arrangement. The song again builds up and rocks out in epic fashion. In fact the song felt like a closer. “Oh Tenderness” has its moments while “Social Lungs” is a certified highlight that plays into classic American type vibes.
“100 Martin” was one of the more dynamic songs with intimate moments that proved very effective. Bon Iver came to mind. Gregg sings, “I’m lying on the caved sea tonight It covered everything / All of it seemed so far from me / To dig deeper, loose comforting.”
“Living, Crying” is subtle and nuanced the whole way through. “Pure Signaling” was another standout that slowly builds while “Lines Holding Frames” reverts to a more rock based song in the style of a band like Wilco.
As the album progresses with “The Limits, the Standing, and the Fall”, “S (breach)” and “This feeling” I thought the songs were diverse while not going too far into left field. He closes with “I exist, when it all came upon me” which reminded me of Fleet Foxes.
After spending some time with the album, there was obviously a lot of work that went into it. It’s a cohesive dense album with a lot of passion. Recommended.
Jupiter of Earth seems to be a solo project from a young artist from Florida. I’m going to surmise he is seventeen because that's the number on the right hand over of his Bandcamp page. His release Be Clear is a mix of contemporary pop, hip-hop and more. The songs are catchy and more infectious with multiple listens.
Up first is “In the Ooze” which is comprised of a reverb laced guitar, synths, hip-hop style drums and vocals. I really liked the vocal delivery which is a little hard to explain. He almost sounds tired and apathetic but that sounds a bit more pejorative than I’m intending. It sounds good and is actually something he mentions. He says “To me this album reminds me of being tired but not sad. Apathetic almost.”
The same sort of vibe spews from “Spending My Days.” He states, “I got homework / I should be doing / I got colleges I should be applying to / I got people I should be talking to / I got a life I should be living.” It’s one if the highlights with a great groove and delivery. The next standout was “Garden Web (ft. Lily Ruckstuhl)” which perhaps has the best hook on the album. As the album progresses “Tenure of Loss,” “Strange Skull,” “Sense Your Glow” and “Sonder” were all formidable songs.
On paper this album shouldn’t appeal to me as much as it did. I’m almost forty and to be blunt I am in a completely different part of my life than what’s being mentioned. I was pleasantly surprised by the talent here and that I was able to embrace the music as much as I did.
Overall, this was a solid release. The artist has a lot of time to work on his craft and I look forward to hearing more of his work.
Matt DeScala (guitar/bass/vocals), Matt Pritchett (bass/vocals) Zach Agustin (guitar/vocals) and Michael Veizades (drums/vocals) are Exit 11. The band is somewhere between pop and indie rock. They describe themselves as a “mix of a bunch of different styles ranging from bands like The 1975 to Death Cab For Cutie, all while keeping a modern and fun Californian sound.”
The band’s best moments are the ones that attempt to be fun in a Vampire Weekend type of way. On the other end of the stick is the saccharine, hopeful and motivational side which often felt like a mix between a Tony Robbins event, a show you might see at Disney and of a really good band that might be playing at worship service at a Christian church.
Summer’s End is a long album with twelve songs and a number of songs that go past the five-minute mark. One of those songs is the opener “A Million Ways” which is an emotionally resonant song that is a mix of melodramatic, warm, nostalgic and hopeful. The song felt like it would appropriate for kids and I’m not saying that in a bad way. I could picture kids really enjoying this song.
The band has fun with “Honeydew, I Cantaloupe.” It is really well executed and is undeniably catchy. “Midnight Love” is a mix of pop-punk and indie rock that seemed single worthy. In fact a lot of the songs did such as “Siren Song” and “Closer.” “Disarray” is a piano led song. “How Scenes Can Change” is a short ambient piece that leads to “40 / 60.” The band follows up with “Alone,” “Mr. Fake” and “Paper Planes.” They close with “Summer's End” which is a seven- minute song.
This is a very well produced album and the band is really good at what they do. The band plays undeniably wholesome, positive music without the slightest smidge of darkness. I think this will be a case of either this will be your cup of tea or it won’t type of music. Either way the band formed a solid foundation and distinct vibe with this album.
Lay Low Moon is an indie folk collective based in Boston, MA. The first full-length release for the band On This Day Last Year is carefully crafted to contain moments of wonder from cover to cover. An honest and open effort, the high energy and skillful song craft is remarkable. A tenacious effort from Lay Low Moon is sure to captivate listeners with On This Day Last Year.
There are two tracks available for listening currently on either Soundcloud or Bandcamp. They are “All Affirming” and “Without You.” The track “All Affirming” is a sincere and polished effort in the indie folk vein. There are a variety of instruments in the song, each one marking its own trail with intricacies and tenacity. The song builds before eventually plateauing the energy at a cruising speed that is comfortably exciting. It runs long for a single at four minutes and seventeen seconds, however fans of the genre will find it a worthy listen. After getting to know the single it becomes apparent that the transition between the song before it, and the spot that it is placed on the album, are expertly selected. The upswing of energy that it provides for the whole rest of the listening experience is electric.
The upcoming release of On This Day Last Year seems promising from the energy of the leading single “All Affirming.” The sincerity of the lyrics, the attention to detail in composition and song structure, skillful and complex instrumental sections, and an overall upbeat tone despite an emotional delivery in lyrical tone.
The album is also stocked with many other gems. The album’s title-track “On This Day Last Year” paints a vivid picture with imagery and descriptive lyrics over a lone strummed guitar. “Shadow On My Ceiling” is a slower and groovier tune than others on the album. It is not out of place, another example of the important placement and order of the tracks on On This Day Last Year. The rich sound of acoustic guitars, coupled with the support from backing instruments on a fair number of the tracks, is the underline of the album. On This Day Last Year will be satisfying to fans that have awaited the first full-length release from Lay Low Moon, as well as new fans just discovering their work.
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada singer/songwriter Adri Meeks grew up in a conservative and religious home. Her mother taught her vocal training. She began songwriting at a young age and eventually pursued music at university obtaining an MA from The Royal Scottish Conservatoire. She soon left her conservative roots behind and she co-wrote a music titled “From Up Here” which debuted in London. After a few years of trying to figure out her true career path she has finally released her debut EP New ID.
The first thing I noticed about New ID was its simplicity and sparseness. Meeks plays keys and sings with Yana Loo, playing occasional saxophone, and Sandro Dominelli sitting in on occasional percussion.
I found it to be a refreshing surprise from someone who co-wrote a musical, which generally tends to yield high performance numbers that often follow a suit of being for a large cast and therefore can be rather overwhelming. Meeks didn’t take this path on her record, but her songs, though spare in their composition, are no less powerful or beautiful.
The opening track “Laurel Tree” sound is mellow but powerful. Meek’s vocals are amazing and her backing band knows just when to come in and when to recede, creating the lush moods which populate this record. Next on “Same” the trio create a slow moving but breathtaking sense of wonderment. Everything is in its right place, and the backing vocals give a profound sense of depth. On “Oceans Away” I was reminded of the masterworks of the baroque songstress Joanna Newsom, the playfulness she often employs in her songs, like the kind of music an old fairy tale would be set to, and later on rapturous “Draped in Sheets” she seemed to conjure the power of the masterful Tori Amos.
The thing I loved most about New ID was that it captured me from the first track and had me in its embrace until the very end with the title track closing out the record with some of the strongest vocals on the record. New ID is one of those hidden gems of a record that you hear by chance and instantly want to tell all your friends or anyone you know who likes music to listen to.
Shaky Hollows is a band from Dunedin, New Zealand that recently released a four-song EP entitled A Communion Of Sorrows. The songs are haunting, melancholy and atmospheric while being able to combine closely related conceptual frameworks such as some of the music from Tom Waits and the milieu of the TV show True Detective (season 1).
“The Shipwreck Song” is the opening song and you are greeted with a guitar with some tremolo and reverb. I loved the vocals right off the bat which are steeped in sadness but work out just fine because of the heartfelt performance. An accordion slides its way in and bass and drums soon follow. The song is a slow burn that grows and mixes elements of a spaghetti western with the atmosphere of a band like Mazzy Star.
The mood gets a little more festive with “Whisky, the Redeemer” which has a waltz type feel and rhythm that you may have heard from Tom Waits. In fact the topic itself felt Tom Waits inspired. It's delightful and still thoroughly covered in melancholy although you can do a little jig to it if you want.
The energy increases even more with “Wing n' Claw.” It’s the drum and bass work which gets the song off the ground. The song is built off a pretty basic blues scale but the delivery would make it work in the TV series True Detective.
The EP closes with “Blackbird” which isn’t a cover of the famous song by The Beatles. It brings down the mood to a cold chill. It’s a song that’s too haunting to play at a children's birthday party or hum above your ears while shopping for groceries. This is a song that sounds best in the late night or early dawn hours and might provide a fleeting moment of clarity and solace after an excessive evening of “my wife is having an affair” type drinking.
Shaky Hollows figured out how to get the southern gothic country/folk thing right. This music above maybe all else is haunting at the center of your core type of way even when at its most festive. The band took on a unique genre where all the pieces have to fall together to pull off. They pulled it off and I will say it’s no easy feat. This is an great EP and I hope to hear a full length.
Drawing from the music of his youth, Andrew Van Garratt’s first full-length album Work Of Fiction pulls together four decades of big time influences. From the Beatles, The Kinks and Bowie to Nirvana, Blur and Weezer, this 12-song ride covers several musical styles. Lyrically, the songs cover topics such as love and mindfulness, to paranoia, selfie culture and nostalgia. Van Garratt has had a history with Atlantic Records, airplay on MTV and Radio 1 and playing at the V Festival with his old band No Hope In New Jersey. But when the band split up this started an apprenticeship, which led him playing various styles of music in bands all over the world.
A move to England in 2015 for his sister’s wedding lead him to stay and work on his own solo material, which then turned over an EP and eventually Work of Fiction. Van Garratt had help from Dave Dhonau on bass and Karl Thompson on drums. More information about the album can be found on his Bandcamp site. The opener “Nothing Here Is Real, Real” has that ‘90s indie rock feel, with heavy guitar riffs and intellectual sensibilities – a great icebreaker with a lot of appeal. “Get Away” carries on that ‘90s feel pulling styles reminiscent of Blur, Nirvana and Weezer.
“I Wish” is based on a decision about a girl Van Garratt met at a pub, but that decision was ill fated and the two never had the all-important first date. Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” was the inspiration behind the opening guitar riff, but it was later modified. I liked this one a lot for the catchy guitar riffs and pop-rock ‘70s glam to the lyrics. “Clown Inside The Shop” finds Van Garratt’s songwriting at a more serious and conscientious level. “Sally Anne” is a great bubble gum pop venture that solidified bands like The Kinks into rock n’ roll history. Van Garratt does a nice job on the solo with his brand of pop-rock sounds perfectly timed into a three-minute tune.
“At The End” tones the album’s momentum down a little with the acoustic and a slower, folkish pop feel. Peace minded words like “So we need to find a better frame of mind / somewhere calm that can treat you kind” invokes the songwriting direction reminiscent of Neil Young or Beatles’ folksier stuff. “Miss Understand” continues Van Garratt’s folk-rock style, a la the ‘60s, which turns out to be one of the shortest songs on the album. “Pass Away” covers a good range of styles – doo-wap singing of the ‘60s with keys and guitar riff influence from Weezer.
“Red Carpet Day” picks ups with a faster tempo and speaks to our society’s fascination with selfie photos, where everyone is a “celebrity” or thinks they can be. It’s a fantastic statement about where we are now as a culture – “in the age of the me.” “Doctor Sane” grooves hard and loud and it’s another short and tidy song. Lyrically, Van Garratt seems to be saying in his writing, “I’m ok Doc, just leave me alone, I want to stay in bed all day – so, piss off then will ya?” If that song wasn’t heavy and fast enough for you, then I’m pretty sure “Stay Like The Rain” will do nicely. I mean — my god, I wasn’t expecting this one at all –- it’s sheer explosive energy and I frickin’ loved every minute of it!
The last number is an ode to the man himself – David Bowie. On “Modern World (Song For Bowie)” piano, acoustic and power chord guitars riffs all join in sounding like something from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. The lyrics are rather subjective but I sense that Van Garratt was trying to say something about our modern world and how disappointing it has become to our modern minds. Despite its solemn message, it has a lovely melody, which made me want to pull my Bowie collection pronto.
Work Of Fiction does indeed pull influence from many musical styles and bands, but even so, if you’re not too familiar with any of the aforementioned, Van Garratt’s work should please the choosiest of listeners. I for one hope to hear more from him soon.
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