The latest release from Oliver James Brooks is entitled I Don't but I Will. This release was recorded live in a studio and contains the sparsest songs I’ve heard from him. The tools in his arsenal are guitar, vocals and a harmonica that shows up every once in a while.
The mood here is reflective, intimate and melancholy. I was getting more Elliott Smith type of vibes than perhaps ever before. That sort of vibe has always been in the cocktail of his music but it feels more prevalent on this release. I think it was the songwriting but also the recording quality this time around. The songs are well recorded and intimate sounding. It feels like he is singing about a foot away from you.
The first song is entitled “Whatever This Is” and the lyrics are vague and sort of haunting. It could be interpreted as something like depression or anxiety but the way he was describing it felt like a demon that wouldn’t leave him alone. That in itself could be a metaphor.
“I Don’t Know Why” is another solid song. This song seems to revolve around doubt, regret and confusion. “And Around” goes deeper down the road of doubt. He still doesn't seem to know the reason why things are happening the way they are. The lyrics are vague and slightly more ambiguous and poetic on this song.
“Lonely Prisoner” at least in terms of the music felt brighter and more joyful than the previous songs. The change in emotional character is subtle but effective. Up next is “Underneath It All” was a solid song but “Flyin’ Real Low” seemed like a highlight to my ears.
Last up is “Closer” which I have to admit had really depressing lyrics. It seemed to be about isolation and finding yourself distancing from another person. The end felt bittersweet.
This is a very welcome addition to the Oliver James Brooks discography. It's unequivocally his most intimate and naked sounding that I have heard from him. Recommended.
Jefferson Brown is a veteran of the Austin, TX music scene. He’s released The French King Was Decapitated; these six songs make up his first solo album.
I’ll come straight to the point. It’s spectacular. Click the link below and start listening while you read this review. It’s a flat-out great rock record.
Brown sets the scene on “I Wouldn’t Call It Love” with a spoken-word introduction over spooky, rubato guitar. He intones, “well, the human race keeps ticking / But I don’t know / I’d have thought we’d have killed each other by now / I wouldn’t call it love, but it’s more powerful than war.” Off this start, he takes us into a silky smooth, triplet ballad (think “Sea of Love”). Ben Brown’s synths are just right, Mick Flowers’ drums are deep in the pocket and Kathy McCarty’s backing vocals meld beautifully. What a terrific beginning.
“Mutiny on the Bounty” is radio-ready. It starts off with a Casiochord low-fi drum loop (a la Nails’ “88 Lines About 44 Women”) under acoustic guitar. Brown’s just messing with us, though: it kicks into an upbeat, full-band roots-country-folk rock tune with a clever lyric complemented by Tiger Anaya’s tasty trumpet part. You’ll find yourself singing along with the chorus and the juicy backing vocals. It’s a perfect two-and-a-half-minutes (including a bridge!) with a bit of Casiochord thrown on the end as Brown winks at us.
“Melody” brings us a combination of synths and growling Who-like guitars with a Springsteen-like vocal. The lyric would make Joni Mitchell proud: “Look what we’ve done to this country / It’s just a giant shopping mall.” The bells and synths on the breakdown recall a bit of '80s pop.
We get a treat on “Blind by Choice” with Mary Panjoma’s vocals leading off the track and more of Anaya’s trumpet. The story builds over the verse and pre-chorus; the soaring chorus is reminiscent of a good Chris Stapleton song with Panjoma’s backing vocals sending us over the top.
Brother Ben Brown’s piano and Flowers’ drums lock down “Only a Fool Feels They Deserve It” as Jefferson gives us some hope: “It’s only love that keeps us from falling apart”. Barbara Nesbitt’s backing vocals are heavenly.
He’s saved the best for last, “The Woods Are Dark and The River Is Wide.” It’s a sparse, open-chord-and-suspensions acoustic-guitar ballad. The melody is beautiful, and so is the lyric. Nesbitt’s backing vocals are flat-out stunning with a haunting outro. Two voices and a guitar--a song like this needs nothing else. Nor does this album.
Brooklyn, NY gives us Shallowmar, a “dark folk” six-piece band. The lineup features Justin Brewer (guitars/vocals/songwriting), Marion Kaiser (keyboards/vocals/songwriting), Claire Moriarty (lead and backing vocals), Coralie Colmez (violin) and Will Wadsworth (drums). Bass is handled by Nathan Stevens and Conor McGrory. Wadsworth and the band produced the album.
Shallowmar, their eponymous three-song EP, is their debut release. It was recorded at their rehearsal space in Bushwick, Brooklyn (which is apparently much hipper now than when I worked there). Describing the work as “dark folk” doesn’t do this set justice, as each of the three songs brings different influences and styles.
“See Me” starts off with some lovely electric piano from Kaiser, and moves into a swinging, soulful, bluesy song that would feel at home in a smoky jazz-standards nightclub. Moriarty’s vocals ooze over the track, meshing well with Colmez’ violin counterpoints. Brewer lays down a fine guitar solo, and then Kasier’s electric-piano solo takes us out. Shallowmar is off to a good start.
“The Pit,” up next, was my favorite. The band starts with an off meter, using 9/8 over the verse, with the violin giving some folk color. They switch to a straight-ahead 4/4 for the chorus, delivering it in a modern, almost country-rock feel, with the backing vocals giving a nice extra kick. There’s a fun middle rock n’ roll jam, with Brewer slashing a few guitar notes, and Kasier’s piano-and-organ back-and-forth sounding like classic Neal Doughty (Go ahead, look him up.).
The EP ends with “Jump Free” and its boogie bass riff. This feels more like Broadway rock, especially with its vocal delivery and harmonies. Colmez’ double-stops are a highlight, as is her outro solo.
Shallowmar is a strong, interesting debut. I only wish they had more tracks! Maybe on the next one….
Annapurna is a Louisville, KY based band. Formed in 2015, they were originally an acoustic outfit that later transitioned to a full band (two electric guitars, bass, drums). They released their first record The Greater Good in New Albany at One Twenty Seven Studios on July 2018. They are following up with the release of their second effort entitled Natural Position EP.
Annapurna’s sophomore release sees the band moving in a new direction. A shift from their previous meditations on addiction and personal shortcomings, the new EP sees a growth in the band. The new songs offer up a refreshing dose of positivity. In a sonic perspective, the songs are now imbued with dreamy and lush elements that create some haunting soundscapes while still holding true to their prog-y roots.
Natural Position EP opens with “Lovely” where an array of instrumentals starts off this track. Soft and vulnerable vocals and dreamy layers from the other instruments gradually grow more insistent. The vocals become more amped as the melody dives into a more driven sound.
Following is “Good Luck With That,” where a mellow and relaxing vibe could be detected from the instrumentals and soft vocals. The clashing sound of synths offer up an ‘80s-inspired, new wave feel. The guitar work is intricate and recalls a Minus the Bear vibe. The vocals are sung in a falsetto that also conjures a Bon Iver appeal.
Right from the get-go the instrumentals move into a driven and rock-propelling sound on “Hell, There Could be Worse.” The guitars spiral overhead, creating a wall of sound. The drums and bass lines provide in the rhythms section. This is a pure instrumental interlude that plays for under three-minutes of jam time. The band really showcases deft musicianship on this number.
On “Linden Hill,” intricate guitar work sounds off toward the start. The vocals buoyed by the guitars are bursting. The album closes with this apt closer filled with emotional power and dynamism.
With an intricate and dream-like style that sounds a lot like a blend of Minus the Bear, Local Natives and Beach House, the band’s melodic pop harmonies are filled with gossamer-like details. With uplifting messages, Natural Position will leave you pensive and in a contemplative mood. These pop melodies will have you pining for more.
Decibel Agency is an Austin, TX based trio that formed in 2015 to take on and win a high school battle of the bands with original music. The band has been playing together ever since and has been gigging at classic Austin venues such as Spider House Ballroom, Pearl St Co-op, Barracuda, Come and Take It Live and others. Consisting of Gabriel Borg (guitar/lyrics/vocals), Jackson Hvizdos (bass) and Ross Lewis (drums), the band released their latest album entitled Sound in a Vacuum.
Decibel Agency has a tendency to mix a wide array of genres into their music. From rock, alternative, psychedelic to blues and hip hop, the band blends the all the above categories as they sweep the Austin circuit brandishing a range of sounds and messages. The intimate performances on Sound in a Vacuum are raw and honest. They up the ante with their range of sounds from driven bass lines and psychedelic guitars, drums and with Borg’s smooth vocals that prove a soulful ride down the vast lane of life.
Sound in a Vacuum opens up to “The Tide,” where noodling on the bass starts off this track. The sounds are pensive. Next, electric guitar riffs churn out a psychedelic sound. The vocals are dynamic as Borg sings with a whole lot of feeling and soul.
Following is “Paper Thin,” where the bluesy riffs on the electric guitar pulsate. Borg’s rap style is very smooth and suave. He shows off his finesse backed by cool ranging guitars and a driven drumming backbeat. Reverberating guitar riffs add an appeal on “Peace Love.” The vocals are drifting and sound off with a sonorous feel. Percussions and drums add a simmering approach as Borg spins out some rhymes.
On the closer “Constellation,” the vibe is stripped-down and sparse. Borg’s vocals are alone supported by the sounds of the electric guitar. The track eventually opens up with the sound of drums, percussions and bass lines sidling in.
Borg really shows his vocal prowess on this set of songs. He purrs, coos and croons. His vocals are front and center on these smooth alt-rock/blues rock numbers, and he takes the lead with decisive showmanship. The band shows their tight-knit chemistry as they jam out on these rocking tracks. You can tell the band members enjoy jamming together.
Not to be pigeon-holed into any particular genre, the band has a penchant to color outside the lines. With a free-flowing rap style on “Paper Thin” to a more driven rock style on “The Tide,” the band maneuvers between different modes and styles to create a sound that is all their own. Though varied, the tracks on this EP seamlessly flows into the next song and what you get is a cohesive sound. This is a solid foundation of songs and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
Sand is Suki Kuehn. He is a solo artist currently living in New Orleans who released A Handful of Sand. His music is a mix of prog, experimental and a couple of other similar like-minded genres.
The first thing that stuck out to me was the sort of midi sound this album has. Midi isn’t an actual sound; it’s a language that is used to make sounds but when midi first became popular in the '80s you could identify it the aesthetic quality.
Kuehn puts it to good use here. This to me was a nice combination of tones, textures and colors. The album is somewhat of an array of sounds that transition, change and mutate. For reference I think Frank Zappa, Yes and King Crimson.
The songs are on the longer side and two go past the eight-minute mark. This made it an exploratory playground for Kuehn to flesh out ideas. That being said, while each song had some similar aesthetics each song still felt like its own island. He does so with tempo and the palette of sounds but more importantly it’s the emotional resonance that he can create. Some moments are more meditative while others are energy fueled.
As I sunk more into the album I definitely felt like this is music you need to pay attention to in order to fully embrace the ideas. The ideas, riffs and melodies come and go at a fast pace. I preferred using headphones in order to fully immerse myself in the music.
Overall, this is a very good album that I’m sure fans of prog rock in particular will enjoy. There is a lot of music, so take your time, pour yourself a drink and enjoy.
Sonic Space Lab, aka Luis Rodriguez, is a Venezuelan music producer based in Dunedin, New Zealand since 2015. Changing Times was reviewed by Divide and Conquer back in 2018 and the producer is back with Up in the Air.
The EP starts with “On the Verge” and this track is similar to artists like M83 and Lights & Motion. It’s very epic, cinematic and grand sounding. Elements of post-rock are certainly in there as well but for the most part the music envelops you and attempts to take over the entire stereo field.
The mood is chilled out considerably on “Up in the Air” which ironically sounds like you landed back on Earth. In fact I felt like I was back on Earth for the remainder of the songs. This song felt like it was split into two sections. The first half is an instrumental build that revolves around atmospheric elements with a synth taking the lead. Once we get to the second half we are introduced to vocals. The vocals are heavily affected with what sounds like autotune giving it a robotic type of quality that meshes with the celestial swirl of elements.
“There's no Gravity” is more melancholy and meditative. This song actually reminded me of the band AIR. Similar to the previous songs it is surrounded with atmospheric elements. “Starting from Scratch” actually had a similar quality to the previous song to me between the strings and the more intimate quality to the song. Last up is “Hold On” which felt motivational. I really liked the song and there were some unexpected turns. The song gets dance heavy around the three-minute-and-thirty-second mark in a slight ’80s inspired way.
The songs feel fairly cohesive overall between the atmospheric, ethereal and celestial qualities. I think fans of the aforementioned bands will enjoy this. Take a listen.
Extra Time is a new Australian rock band and recently released their debut entitled Graham Avenue. Their release is a double album's worth of material and contains a whopping nineteen songs.
Their music is a lot of things but mostly falls under the umbrella of rock. Some of the songs are jazzy, others feel a little more blues based and others feel like atmospheric rock in the spirit of Pink Floyd.
The band explains regret, betrayal, life, death, sickness, wealth, the future, the past and the planet are themes and try and bring their own personal experience to those subjects. You can clearly hear this through fairly heavily philosophical lyrics on “Perfect Kiss.” The song has this crystal clear type of quality like it's refined. You can clearly hear what I’m referring to on the piano solo.
Out of the nineteen songs I felt there are some highlights including “Find Me A River” and “Things Left Unsaid.” “Things Left Unsaid” in particular pours on a lot of heavier and deep concepts such as regret.
The band can also provide some levity with “Look Forward To” at least in terms of the music. I enjoyed the rocking grooves on this song especially towards the beginning of the song. “Peace of Mind” is a very lush sounding song. It's motivational however in a lot of ways when you listen to the music. Another highlight was the fun and David Bowie-esque “What Happened To” which contains some fantastic drum work,
My only critique would be the sheer length of the album. For a debut album nineteen songs felt like a bit of an overload especially dealing with heavier topics. They could have split this release into two albums which I think would have been a little more effective.
Overall, this is a cohesive and impressive debut. The band has all around impressive talent and I felt they did a good job creating a cohesive, signature sound.
Jared Hauser (guitar/keys/vocals), Nelson Tift (guitar/vocals), Tom Moskal (bass) and Jon Gilmore Jr. (drums) are High Romantics. The three-piece band released a three-song EP entitled Figure it Out.
The band has a palatable indie rock type of quality. They prefer lush aesthetics over rocking out for the most part and it felt aligned with bands like Vampire Weekend and The Shins. The band gets going with “Figure it Out” and it is definitely the most rocking of the three. In fact the similarities to “Jessie's Girl” by Rick Springfield on one of the main riffs made me want to rock. That being said there is more to the song as it unfolds. There are noble vocal harmonies and solid lead guitar solos. The song is light, catchy, fun and feels breezy to me.
Up next is the very chill, relaxed and catchy “Before the Dawn.” The guitars are warm and covered in reverb while the rhythm section provides just enough kinetic energy so the song doesn't float away. As the song progressed I wasn’t expecting the ending to rock out so hard but it did. Nice. The closer “California” contains more dream-like qualities and pours on the lush like qualities. Similar to the other songs this one is catchy with melodies that feel immediately palpable.
These songs have broad appeal in my opinion. The melodies were easy to appreciate on first listen and I felt the songs were repeat worthy. My only critique would be for the band to think of ways that could throw an occasional wrench into the equation. I really enjoyed listening but there wasn’t much unpredictability about where the song was headed.
I would say this is a really strong EP and great introduction to the band that I think a lot of people will enjoy. Take a listen.
Every week we mention a couple of artists that are worth your time to check out that were not featured in our weekly reviews.
Artist Album Rating
Flamanglebesh Paranoia Double
The Sun Strikes The Sun Strikes -
Skyrises EP 3.6
Perfect Stragedy Dreams & Hope 3.5
David Shurr Heaven 3.8
Bevan Mical Swinging Through
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