Torso Incognito is the second release from Atlanta-based singer/songwriter Cory Brown, recording as The Racquet. The work on the seven-track album is entirely his: he wrote, performed, engineered, mixed and mastered everything in his home studio.
Brown describes The Racquet’s sound as a mix of “elements of noise and experimental artists like Sonic Youth and Radiohead with the compact and melodic songwriting of artists such as The Strokes and Pixies.” These influences come through clearly. Put another way, he’s taken some of the best parts of the ‘80s new wave sound, updated it with some of what’s come since, and wrapped it all around solid songwriting. The songs are strongly structured with clear verses, choruses and bridges, and feature memorable melodies. The structured writing allows Brown the leeway to build variations in the backing tracks, adding that little extra sparkle to the proceedings.
Of particular note is the guitar work. It’s terrific throughout. The rhythm parts are on-point, even evoking the Motown style at points. Leads are melodic and interesting, and Brown avoids the tempting thousand-note guitar-hero opportunities in lieu of restraint and musicality. Listen for the tones of his guitars as well. He’s laid down a wide variety of different six-string sounds, from razor-thin early-‘80s (“Poor Ramona”) to 2000s rocker (“Backseat”), and everywhere in between.
The mixing and mastering--also Brown--perform a great service to the music. He’s close to soundscape nirvana. There’s a great use of dynamics with volumes rising and falling to support the arc of the songs. Panning effects are sprinkled in where appropriate (e.g. the spoken-word bits of “Ghosted”). Further, distinct parts can be heard, if you want to pick one out, but none detracts from the overall whole. “Window Shopping” is a great example of this. There is a lot going on in the track, and it all fits beautifully into the ear space.
You won’t go wrong with any of the seven tracks here. Highlights include the angular riff and middle-section guitar work on “Debris” and the garage-rock-meets-new wave sound of “Night Terror.” Brown digs out some interesting chords for “Ghosted.” Finally, don’t miss the phrygian-tinged outro of “Poor Ramona” which might be the single best section of the whole disc.
Torso Incognito is a strong sophomore effort for The Racquet. Solid songs, terrific feel and great sound--what more could you want? Cue it up today.
After releasing his first two singles in 2020, Sydney, Australia-based singer/songwriter M.(Mikhail) Hofmann has just completed his debut album titled Lavender Sleeping. Hofmann wrote the songs and played all the guitars along with vocals, with Tim McArtney on bass and Charlie Finn on drums (except for two tracks, where the drums were played by Harry Day). David Andrew added piano, organ and synths on three songs, while Charlie Finn sang harmonies, added percussion and played all harmonica. The core trio cut the basic tracks together to get that “live energy” with overdubs added later.
Hofmann says his music is “bursting with layers of Heartland Rock and Americana with indie rock elements, peppered with nostalgia and self-reflection; ’80s guitar tones blend with synthesizers and organs, and a harmonica can be heard echoing in the distance.” Conceptually, Lavender Sleeping captures a certain part of Hofmann’s life: “It wasn’t intended to be that way but that's how it turned out. If someone was to ask what I have been doing for the past ten years of my life, I would hand them this record.” Recording took place at Hercules Studios in Sydney with bassist McArtney mixing through a vintage Neve console. Mastering was by George Goergiadis.
To imagine Hofmann’s sound, think about Tom Petty’s voice and music along with the jangly guitars of the Byrds, and you’d be pretty close; the opening “Old Home” is a perfect example. When Hofmann says his guitars have an ’80s tone, I assume he’s talking about Petty, R.E.M. or the many other groups that were influenced by the 12-string guitars of the late ’60s. Like most of his songs, “Old Home” has a clean and consistent arrangement with tasteful bits of Dylanesque harmonica.
“You Don’t Have To Stay” ups the Byrds jangle ante and features Harry Day on drums. This one also has strikingly Petty-esque vocal harmonies. “Rain In The Summer” starts on acoustic guitar with organ backing, before slowly adding the other instruments. Hofmann’s guitar solos are restrained and probably sketched out ahead of time, as they hit each note cleanly without a lot of unnecessary theatrics. “Percy Street” takes a quiet, folky detour in which the harmonica gets a short solo.
The title track “Lavender Sleeping” is a nice tune, though not strikingly different from what’s come before. “End of Time” fades in already playing, so I assume the boys were cranking away in the studio even before tape began to roll. This track is basically a more interesting and dynamic version of the title track with majestic chorus stabs and heartfelt lead guitar. I like that David Andrew gets a couple moments all to himself on piano and organ. Drummer Harry Day returns on “All Along” while “In The Dark” features Jy Perry-Banks on welcome pedal steel.
Any single one of Hofmann’s songs is accomplished and effective, though taken together they tend to blur into each other a bit. If you’re looking for a sense of danger you may not find it here, but Hofmann delivers beautiful songs and performances and for now that’s good enough!
Color Crush is a husband and wife team featuring David Napier (vocals/guitars/synths/drumming/programming/lyrics) and Courtney Napier (vocals/bass/lyrics). The duo is based in Louisville, KY and started Color Crush in August of 2020. Before the formation of Color Crush, David and Courtney also contributed and are currently contributing to the experimental metal band TIMŌRĀTUS. Infinite Connection is their debut EP that shows the band’s ingenuity in creating bedroom pop and shoegaze instances. The band tastefully mixes in layers of vocal harmonies with lots of dreamy synths and shimmering guitars for a mixed indie and dreampop sound.
Infinite Connections brings forth a hazy sound that slowly grows in volume on “Lean.” Next, the groove that enters is very dream-like and hazy. The haunting and ghostly notes are layered in, creating swaths of dynamic sound. Leaning heavily on reverb, this becomes a part of the ambiance. The distortion was used like another instrument on this recording, giving the fuzziness a voice of its own. With a heavier vibe, the band starts off with a wall of guitars with a metal-induced sound on “Movie Night.” Once David’s vocals come in, you will start to appreciate the harmonies. The guitars and drumming beats are one entire movement, rolling together in one wave of sound. Beats from the drum machine come in on “Drive.” Along with the haze of instrumentals, Courtney’s vocals become a part of the ambiance. As the fine line between vocals and instrumentals is blurred, the sound comes across very atmospheric and airy. The heavy buzz of synths makes the noise level rise, creating a whirlwind of snow and distortion.
“Snowstorm” changes things up for a more electronica feel. Some synths and beats start off this track as slowly some guitars gain traction. The music gradually grows in volume, nearly overwhelming the listener. This song felt heavy with mood and feeling. As the ambiance builds in groove, once the vocals enter, you can feel the dreamy elements and vibes really come together for a surreal and inviting soundscape. On “Wishing,” some beats and a wave of guitars jumpstarts this track to a heavy buzz. The sound is inescapable. Next, David and Courtney’s combined vocal harmonies create an alluring vibe. The heavy guitar riffs also produce a hard rock and metal feeling. I liked how the band was able to fuse different genres and elements into their sound here. At moments, they reminded me of Beach House. Some beats roll forth along with a synth pop sound on “Breathe.” The vocal harmonies were very ear-pleasing. At moments this had an ‘80s-inspired feel that I felt was very retro-styled. The glitch-y electronic background riffs gave this song a robotic flair, making it stand out on its own. I greatly enjoyed the breathy vocals on what was a memorable closer.
From my experience, it’s hard to tell the instrumentals apart here as everything, including the vocals, becomes tightly knit into the sounds. This eventually becomes an entire package. A surreal soundscape so intricately layered it feels like a jumble of dreams that you are constantly falling into as you navigate your nocturnal fantasies. As you fall deeper into this soundscape or dreamscape, and as you deeply immerse yourself in this growing rabbit hole, reality and the dream world merge. The sound will grow on you the more you listen on. Infinite Connection is not only a love letter to each other, it is also about their love for music. Worth exploring from start to finish, this was a great start from the band. And I look forward to seeing what’s next for them in a follow-up release.
Hated Names is an alternative music project, based in Melbourne that recently released Little Liberties. There’s an eclectic blend of styles on this release so let's get into it.
The first song “Holding Back the Tide” starts very somber with reverb laced guitar and bass. I really liked how the vocals sounded which were breathy especially before the beat drops. On that note the song was original sounding and got my attention.
“Morning Thieves” is soulful, melancholy and heartfelt. The beat is very upfront in the mix with the other instruments in the back of the mix. I thought the vocals were again very well done and emotive. “Bring Me a Drink!” is a little more upbeat than the previous songs. There’s some killer production on this with filter sweeps and much more that benefits from a nice pair of headphones. I was reminded of the band xx on this song.
“Little Liberties” is one of the highlights. It’s a twilight ballad of sorts that’s very intimate. The guitar is fantastic as are the lamenting vocals. “Reflection” brings some energy and is one of the more straightforward songs with clean guitar and piano being important aspects in the mix.
“Dependency” is almost overfilled with elements and goes for a more epic quality. It wasn’t my favorite song but there were some interesting moments. “Ether” actually reminded me of the band Tool at points. The more indie rock inspired “Rust'' is fantastic and “Don’t Tell Me” has its moments as well. I liked the last song as well entitled “The Strangest Place” which contains some of the most catchy vocal melodies.
There were a lot of good songs and some really great songs on this album to my ears. I thought the production felt unique and refreshing.
Based out of Saint Paul, Minnesota, Lorenzo "Ledfoot Larry" Michelutti started off playing solo shows in local coffee houses, but he soon realized that a return to the stage with a full band was the next step in performing music. After some lineup changes, the final roster of Ledfoot Larry includes Larry himself, Paul "Paco" Pederson, Mark "Hoss" Haider, Patrick Dempsey and Bob Locke. They play a mix of danceable ’90s and earlier country standards with a mix of their own unique blend of "Bakersfield and Tejano music meets ’70s country" originals.The band’s follow up album to Smooches Gracias is Tequila Mockingbird and it was recorded in their studio, aptly named "The Jungle Room" due to their giant velvet Elvis hanging on the wall. It was engineered and mixed by their keyboardist/accordionist Paul "Paco" Pederson. The band states that this album is 'more country' than their debut and it digs deep into the Bakersfield sound with rich melodies and fun beats. Added flavors of 'old school' background vocals and accordion, this neo-traditional outfit delivers ten unique tracks mixing country and Americana genres.
The opening track “Silver Spurs” has got that classic country appeal with just a twinge of rockabilly in there, – if you’re talking Marty Stuart and Jerry Lee Lewis that is. Loved the backing vocals, too. Just in time for July weather is “Fireflies” – a tune with Tex-Mex influence at a bit of a slower pace. If you’re familiar with a tune I remember from my childhood, that I don’t hear much anymore, you’ll recognize the melody in this tune. (Hint: “Would you like to swing on a star, carry moonbeams home in a jar.”) Here’s to summer! Next up is “Dance, Dance, Dance” and yes, I’d say it’s meant for dancing. Complete with accordion and a classic guitar sound, this song should get you on the dance floor in no time. “My Baby Hates Country” features the piano and a stronger presence of the drums with a few drum fills in there as well. Hey, she may hate country music but at least she likes you enough to stick around. “Seedless Grapes” has got a great rumbling drum rhythm with plenty of piano. I’d say this one has more of a modern twist featuring the band’s own blend of new and old styles – danceable, too.
“In a World Without You” starts off with the soft touch of the brushes on the snare and later, a soulful guitar solo, accompanied by the piano and a steady bass. “There is nothing left for me tonight, in a world without you” sings the band – that’s about as sad a line in any country ballad as you can get. “Loving You Was Easy” features a more rocking beat and a classic Wurlitzer keyboard sound. The bass is lively, and drums are quick and shuffling. I think this tune shows off the band’s more soulful side quite well. “Fire Warnings” gives the listener another take on Ledfoot Larry’s softer side. This one’s definitely a slow dancer with Americana and classic country appeal. The guitar/keyboard solo stood out the most for me.
“Hundred Million Roses” is another tune with Tex-Mex and old school country influence. I might have to listen to some Marty Robbins after this one. Last up is “Red, White and Blue” and you can’t get more country than this one. The classic two-step beat is there, “the girl in red high heels and a white pearl necklace,” and the colors of Old Glory on the Fourth of July, all point to the quintessential country song.
If you’re ever in upper Midwest America (a la St. Paul, Minnesota), looking to brush up on your two-set dance moves and some bar or nightclub or enjoy the pairing of classic country/Americana with Tex-Mex style, look no further than Ledfoot Larry’sTequila Mockingbird.
Steve Farrell is a Newcastle Upon Tyne born singer/songwriter currently living on the Norfolk coast who recently released Merry Go. There are eleven songs and almost all of them are just acoustic guitar and vocals.
I’m not saying this in a pejorative way but I felt like I was at an open mic when listening to these songs and it wasn’t just the fact that it was a guy with his guitar. It was also the recording quality which sounds very live with no overdubs.
The songs are for the most part very simple anyway you slice them. Farrell uses mostly minor and major chords with some variation and sings over it. That’s really about it. There are some nice songs overall which felt heartfelt and sincere.
I did appreciate the songs which had some added instrumentation like “Home Is Where The Heart Is.” Violin is always beautiful and that’s no exception on “Hold Back.” Almost all the songs seemed to have a very similar emotional center.
There’s a lot of reflection, nostalgia and sentimentality. Because of that, the songs really blended into one another and often felt like I was listening to variations of the same mood. There are some different chords and lyrics but the mood and feeling was consistent. On that note there were some standouts. I really enjoyed “Life Together” although this song felt like it needed a full band. The closer “Across the Sea” was a highlight as well.
The songs had a sing-along quality which is partially why perhaps I was thinking of these songs at open mic. It also reminded me of back in the '80s when I was kid and they would have singer/songwriters come to school with their guitar and sing songs. The songs felt similar to that. I hope he takes this as a compliment but certain songs like the title song “Merry Go” felt like it could be a perfect song for kids if we changed around some of the lyrics slightly.
The album is fine for what it is. It’s not trying to break boundaries or have inventive production and sometimes that’s perfectly fine. Take a listen.
Chelsea Eiben is an electronica artist located in Greenville, SC, but originally from Southern California. She has been making music ever since she was young. Lately there have been a wave of pandemic-bands and bands that make music about the pandemic. Eiben is mostly in the latter. Beginning is Eiben’s latest EP release and sees the artist exploring the ‘End of Times’ themes we are in. So many of us saw the parallels to apocalyptic universes like The Walking Dead when the pandemic hit and now with the Delta variant, these themes are still as relevant as ever. Nothing says ‘end of the world’ more than Eiben’s disarming spoken word vocals that oftentimes half-sings and half-chants the lyrics. The way her vocals are executed aptly captures the immediacy of such events. In the background, the pulsating electronica music creates a backdrop to her matter-of-fact vocals. In this release, you can see her experimenting with a dance vibe with such surprise inclusions of instruments like the banjo and acoustic guitar to create a full and unique modern mixture.
Beginning opens with the title track “Beginning,” where Eiben’s vocals sound out here. Next, some radio-active synths activate. The gravitating beats are oddly enough juxtaposed with a banjo solo, giving this track a country-twist feel. As an EDM and electronica vibe ignites, the echo-y performance poetry segment makes for an experimental feel. In an off-key manner Eiben once again half-sings and spoken words the vocals on “Bloody Vaccine.”
The synths and bouncy beats act as a background to her vocals. Her howling chants steals the show as you can’t get past how chilling she sounds. On “Divinity,” some percussive beats meet the start of the song. As some keys highlight the sound here, the groove and rhythms grow in vibe. I enjoyed the layers of vocal harmonies overlapping on this track. The urgency of this song was very apparent.
On simple acoustic guitar, Eiben howls uninhibitedly with confidence on “Man vs Machine.” Next, some synthetic strings add a touch of discord. The mood of this piece was overall uneasy and disturbed. More bouncy beats come in with synths creating an airy effect in the backdrop on “The War.” Coming in loud and clear is Eiben’s vocals. More dissonance adds an edgy sound to the ebb and flow of the music.
This discord captures the off-kilter vibe of the state of our world today. Some beats and synths round out the sound in the beginning giving off a very retro-inspired ‘80s flair on “Aspire.” There was also a very house music vibe coming from the vocals. I thought everything really came together here with Eiben incorporating many different elements for a compelling finale on this closer.
These short and quick tracks (often lasting for around two minutes) act like bursts of insight to what the world is going through at the moment. My only critique is that due to the shortness of the tracks, they came across more like vignettes than fully fleshed out numbers. Perhaps by diving deeper into these songs, the artist could expand upon the ideas more, creating more connections from what at first seems like scattered thought-processes.
Even though this was a bedroom recording with the lo-fi quality very evident, I thought Eiben did a good job of giving us a glimpse of the type of heightened emotions and anxiety that such a world event could cause. Her choice to incorporate EDM vibes with spoken word vocals fuses a futuristic and new age-y atmosphere that will be sure to resonate deeply with listeners now that we are battling similar themes. Overall, these are some great ideas here and I look forward to seeing more music like this soon.
Folk-country artist Piper Radcliffe has just released his debut album Odyssey, which he calls “the selective product of an enduring songwriting life in private that has now gone public.” Based in Manchester, UK, Radcliffe describes his songs as “a call out on love, loss and fortitude, and aspirations all too often short-changed. It traces the hero's journey that we all make in one form or another.”
The album was recorded at Airtight Studios in Manchester with mixing and mastering by Alan Lowles, who also played keys, double bass and French accordion. The other players are Danny Gruff (electric guitar), Gheorghe Dorin Tuca (violin), Joss Brookes (cello) and Che Beresford (drums). Radcliffe doesn’t list himself but I assume he sings and plays guitar. The album is available as a handsomely designed CD package or as a download.
“American Dream” starts the proceedings on a particularly “American” footing. Radcliffe’s singing voice is somewhat high-pitched and has a friendly, expansive quality, and his music betrays a strong country sound for an English lad. This particular song wouldn’t be out of place in the hands of a John Mellencamp or even Bruce. The cello and violin players make their first appearance toward the end, and they contribute way more than their weight in expanding Radcliffe’s sound.
“Can’t See The Wood For The Trees” (great title!) is an uptempo acoustic anthem. The happily-strummed guitar chords nicely support Radcliffe’s lyrics: “Open your eyes and face down your fears / You're not really drowning it's only your tears / Life is in color, not black and white / Don't run for cover, stand there and fight.”
“I Let You Down” slows things down a bit for a string-heavy ballad with Radcliffe in “romantic regrets” mode. He sings: “I have to live with what I've done / I can't undo what I've become / I don't have words to make amends / It's not enough to just be friends.” The violin and cello overdubs work beautifully and feel like a miniature string section, a kind of second cousin to McCartney’s “Yesterday” quartet. “Perfect Intentions” has a bit of zydeco herky-jerky swagger, thanks in large part to the French accordion.
“Setting Sun” is a more aggressive folk-pop tune with acoustic piano, chiming country electrics and a very different and assertive Radcliffe vocal with British Invasion harmonies. I really like the use of similar sounding words in the chorus: “I’ll say goodbye, se la vie / I'll say goodbye and sail away.” A standout track for me! “Last Breath” feels Irish traditional, ironically thanks to the accordion but also due to the lilt of Radcliffe’s heavily layered vocals. (Russell Eckersley and Penny Inglis added to the note-perfect harmonies.)
As the title of the song “Last Breath” implies, Radcliffe now faces the Great Beyond: “So it's all right now, I'll take my last breath / Time to pass over and be with the rest / Yes it's all right now, I'll take my last breath / I’ll see you mañana and along with the rest.” The album’s final track is the acoustic “Don’t Give In” which again features a zydeco sound but this time over a reggae beat, and is a fittingly upbeat, forward-looking conclusion.
Radcliffe’s freshman effort is a solid, inspiring album and well worth checking out.
Somewhere Along Those Lines is the debut album by The Reckoning Wheels. It seems like this is mostly just a solo effort. As an engineer I have to admit it’s pretty amazing what one can do these days from the comfort of their own home.
Somewhere Along Those Lines definitely has an older ’70s type of aesthetic to it. Some of the songs are more rock based and others felt more easy listening. One of the highlights was the opener “Close to Me” which is a little darker than some of the other songs. He’s also at a really good range for his vocals.
The next song which I thought was one of the standouts was “(Gotta) Trust It.” It's a basic 4/4 groove with some solid guitar fills here and there. One of the other highlights was “Warm Air Rising” which is more lush and laid back. It’s reflective and nostalgic but also contains a unique solo.
The closer “Don’t Give Up” was my favorite song on the album. It’s upbeat and has the best groove as well. There’s a nice juxtaposition between the guitars and organ which sounded really good to my ears.
I enjoyed the vocals on this album. They felt heartfelt and sort of like someone who has experienced a good amount of life. My only critique is I did feel like these songs were made to be recorded live with a full band in a room. There’s not much "glue" which is created through things like room mics, overheads, a summing section on a board and analog tape. If there’s one thing I’m not crazy about with new digital recording it’s that everything sounds too separated which is something that is hard to avoid if you are using any virtual instruments.
Although I had some strong preferences song-wise I thought this was a good and heartfelt album from beginning to end. The lyrics were top notch and the songwriting was solid with some songs that seemed to reach another level. Take a listen.
Singer/songwriter/pianist living in New York City, Brian Michael Henry, mostly works as an actor in musical theater, most recently portraying Jerry Lee Lewis in various productions and tours of the rock musical Million Dollar Quartet. Henry studied opera/classical music in undergrad and graduate school and has been writing songs privately for years –Remote Work is his first public release. All the music and lyrics were written in the fall of 2020 in his apartment in Inwood, Manhattan and each song is loosely inspired by a different documentary he watched in quarantine (more details later). The vocals, backing vocals, piano and keyboards were done using Logic. Tracks were sent to Henry’s buddy and colleague Colin Summers (of Scrawnyman) in Brooklyn, and he added guitar, bass and drum programming on most of the tracks. The album was mixed and mastered by Eclipse Mixing/Mastering. Being a huge fan of many musical styles and ’80s pop, Henry’s work is inspired by artists such as The Ronettes, The Crystals, Lou Reed, Jim Steinman, Warren Zevon, Anohni, Suicide and Elton John.
“Lucky Days” starts thing off with a chill alternative sound, Wurlitzer keys, echoing old style twangy guitar and a deep baritone by Henry. Next up is “Ruth” and it’s a song about Ruth Madoff, widow of convicted American financial charlatan, Bernie Madoff. Henry’s style is very ‘80s pop, techno even, but with a soft ballad-like quality about it. Something akin to Howard Jones. “Where’s Shelley?” begins with a short ‘Here Comes the Bride’ jingle that makes me think this tune is about a certain bride that left her soon-to-be husband high and dry? However, as the artist points out, this one may or may not have something to do with a famous sitcom actress speaking out against a certain religious group, (but he cannot confirm nor deny that that is what the song is about). Great sounding power chords come in, complete with classic '80s synth and drums. Henry really taps into all things ‘80s with this number, I mean – I thought I was hearing something from an ‘80s movie soundtrack. Spot on! It you’re familiar with cults, particularly religious cults, “Heaven’s Gate” is about just that. There’s an interesting mix of instruments here – bass cello and other strings, layered key/synths and a fantastic melody, although it does have a sadness about it. The way Henry sang this one and wrote it reminds me of Depeche Mode. “No Fun!” switches grooves with a fun beat and classic early ‘80s synths. Lyrically, this one’s about recovery from drug addiction.
Moving on is “Supply + Demand” and this one features a unique electric beat with different drum programming and what sounds like a mix of castanets and dry electronic snares. “Never Look Back” features several other players helping – Luke Darnell on additional guitar, bass and mandolin, Lake Wilburn on backing vocals, Sarah Holgate on piano, and Jamie Pittle on drums. Each one of these artists contributed remotely, as the pandemic prevented the group from playing together. It begins with a Queen-like guitar intro and overall, the song has a very theatrical appeal, something that reminds me of Meatloaf (aka Marvin Lee Aday). “Sea Song” is clearly the ballad on the album, and it features a great melody on the piano. Strings are added and a mandolin by Luke Darnell. Colin Summers also contributes. This tune with its accordion, piano and mandolin really harkens back to Billy Joel’s first few albums. "Wild Country" is about Ma Anand Sheela leaving Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in Waco, Oregon and it you have not seen this documentary – it’s mesmerizing. Henry taps into the Spector’s “wall of sound” from classic, ‘60s do-wop, but he also brings in modern sounds and puts in added bells and a piano/solo guitar pairing.
Technically, I thought some of the songs ended too abruptly and perhaps should have been faded out instead. All in all, Remote Work has some pretty good highlights and writing songs based on documentaries is an interesting concept.
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