There must be something in what little water there is in the deserts of California. The music that comes out of there simply has something different to it. Musicians focus on heavy bass tones and guitars are fuzzy. Very fuzzy. That format is continued with the LA-based trio Anesthetic Frank. Since their inception, they've shared the stage with members of Black Flag and Queens of the Stone Age. They were even a part of the Make Music Pasadena Festival, which also featured acts like Sleeping At Last and Taken By Trees.
The album, Mordrake, explores the balance of good and evil, primarily through its namesake. Edward Mordrake was supposedly born into a very noble family in England in the 19th century. That, in and of itself, is not remarkable. What is remarkable is that he is supposed to have been born with what he called a "demon face" that whispered to him in his sleep. If he was real, then he lost the battle with the thoughts that his other face gave him and took his life at the age of 23.
All of that is to say that the content on this album is decidedly dark, which matches perfectly with the music. Though the band is not from the Palm Desert, they follow in the footsteps of and pay homage to the sound of that city. Their punk influence manages to shine through in the speed of songs like "Big Bree.” You can hear the heavy metal of the 70's in the guitar riffs on "He Is Risen.” "Fix It" and "Barbara's Runnin Her Damn Mouth Again" hit you right in the gut, the guitars are tuned so low. As I listen, I'm amazed that they are able to make sounds that low audible to human ears. I seem to be able to feel the guitars more than actually hear.
Though the album was recorded in a studio, it has a very lo-fi tone that suits the music. Vocals are quite low in the mix and come off as audible apparitions. As I listened, I sometimes wondered if I was hearing words that they were speaking or words from the face that is apparently on the back of my head now. The album continues on much the same path, "De La Torre" includes a much more rumbly drumbeat while "Summer Blur" is almost catchy, with guitars that remind me of The Darkness if they sliced the speakers on their amps with knives.
It can't be denied that this album is meant to be played loud while you're driving through the desert. In fact, that is the band's goal. I just suggest you listen with a friend because it could get creepy otherwise.
You ever wonder what would happen if you combined delay pedals, Roxy Music and a love for astronomy? Yeah me neither until I listened to Thomas Allen Cummins. Cummins is an artist who has been making music since the early 80’s. He initially played guitar and bass, formed a band called Nerve Center and eventually developed a solo career. His latest release entitled Planetary is an instrumental rock album where according to Cummins “Each song is an interpretation of the personality of the planets of our solar system including the theoretical planet ‘Theia’ that is thought to have collided with the Earth in the early stages of planetary development which resulted in the formation of the Moon.” He uses a heavy dose of reverb with long tails on his guitars to mimic celestial comets as well as delays and soft pads to convey a sound that is supposed to sound as big as the galaxy. This music essentially sounds like a band from the 80’s performing a space opera.
“Saturn Spins” is one of the highlights on the album and implements The Class-inspired guitar playing that starts off the song before giving way to soft pads of mercury and guitar picking. The song has an inspired bass line to boot along with an interstellar guitar solo. “Earth Mover” adds a number of layers within the first minute. We are introduced to the song with bright pads followed by an infectious, sharply played bass line and drums. The song has a lot of energy to it due to the fast BPM but at the same time it feels pretty mellow because of the copious amount of reverb. I got the feeling I was riding a comet nestled in a safety net able to observe the planets.
A lot of the songs sound similar on this album and if you like one you are bound to like them all. From a technical standpoint Cummins is talented and creatively he is solid even if his style can often sound a bit dated. If you are into 80’s instrumental rock this a no brainer, so go pick it up.
Some songs are conceived and born quickly. And some of those songs, like "Yesterday,” are game changers. But other times, you've just got to work and work and work. You've got to sculpt the songs into the little pieces of perfection that you are absolutely positive they are meant to be. That's exactly what it would seem Kevin Heider has done with his ambitious double-album, The Spark.
The songs were written over a period of six years in a myriad of styles. During that time, Heider has found himself chosen as the winner of songwriting contests and performing for the Embassy of the Republic of Guyana. When not spending time at home in Baltimore, Maryland, he's travelling and playing wherever people will listen.
The Spark is an album unlike anything I've heard for a while. It feels as sprawling and involved as a Sufjan Stevens record, though that is only in terms of scope. Musically, this album is very, very heavily influenced by roots rock, Americana and folk music. It's an album that really couldn't be born outside of the American experience. Right from the get-go, the album pays homage to the gospel music born of the 1930s with "St. Brigid's Fire.” It pulls much of its structure and arrangement from “When The Saints Go Marching In” and does so with equal parts of reverence and disregard by turning it into a glorious drinking song.
Each half of the album explores an aspect of being a human, the first looking at one's worldview and the second looking into the search for love and stability. "All I Want (Love Come Alive)" and "Can't Have My Money" are all about our motivations for love and whether we are willing to put that love up for sale. For straightforward folk/pop, take a listen to "Enola's Wake" and "These Fallen Castle Walls.” The last tracks of Part 1 deal with the unfortunate reality that the world we know today was built upon slavery and that there is pain in this life.
Part II is, as I mentioned earlier, all about the search for love and stability. It tells the story of a man who is constantly in transit and away from the one that holds his heart. Each song seems to be told from a different city and gives this half of the album a travelogue feel. Normally, such subject matter leads to a sound more like Hawthorn Heights, but not here. There is no motivation to "slit my wrists and black my eyes" with Heider's story. The songs feel full of motivation, action and acceptance. It's as if he is saying, "I'm not where I want to be right now but I won't be this way forever."
The songs take the same stance musically. You start to worry a bit as "Lonely in St. Louis" begins, but it turns itself into a great rock song. "Baltimore" is equally upbeat but finds its driving force from hand percussion and harmonicas. The album continues on this path before it begins to mellow out toward its conclusion. There, songs have almost no percussion and they are decidedly slower and more contemplative. "A Thousand Apologies" doesn't even have vocals, just a beautifully performed piano. To be frank, the ending of the album reminds me of recent Sleeping At Last albums.
If I had to sum up my feelings about this album, it would be this: I've added this to my music collection and I am probably going to be listening on repeat for a good long while
From the very beginning, Vacation Transportation is a trip to a tropical place, or more definitively, a tropical vacation. The music found in this album by Adam Lareau is uber carefree and has a poppy experimental feel to it, which lets the listener experience a happy-go-lucky demeanor while listening. Lareau says he’s inspired by artists like Todd Rundgren, Caribou, and Aphex Twin. These influences are apparent throughout the album as there are many effects, vocalizations and melodies that can put Vacation Transportation in the same category.
Each song has its own tropical bubbly feel. “Travel Brochure” has a super upbeat almost organ-like key tone which is colored by some really light and refreshing vocals. Similarly, “Quantum Surfing” has the same organ-like key, but the tone of the song is a bit different; Lareau has deepened his voice a bit and dives head-on into some very metaphorical lyrics, a “transportation” in themselves. A song with a different feel is “Away From Us.” It has a somewhat trippy and wavy back-beat that sways and swells like the ocean. There is great usage of effects on this track plus lyrics that sing “they moved the heart away from us, we were left in doubt,” then the lyrics “I found it,” solve the problem quickly before the song expires. “Where Was I” is another compelling track which opens up with a seductive beat and then slowly transforms into some existential lyrics.
Vacation Transportation is a really colorful album that is just flooded with creativity. It seems to be about not only escaping and experiencing a physical vacation, but about the new things one learns and sees on such a trip. It’s about the journey, or “transportation” rather than the destination. The artist behind the music has not only chosen a great concept for this conceptual album, but has taken the time to draw out all the great possibilities of such a theme with vibrant metaphors and poetic lyrics that paint quite the picture for any listener. It is a well-produced album and is definitely worth a listen.
This collection of songs is brought to us by a band right out of south Jersey, and they really emulate their origin in the sound that makes up their album Don’t Look Down. While listening to the album, bands like Say Anything and Green Day come to mind, as the tunes in this album are very punk rock. The music also seems to transcend time, as it is reminiscent of punk rock from the 90’s and early 2000’s.
The theme behind the album is one of rebellion, something that is first nature to the genre of punk rock. It seems like the musicians of the band have felt strife in their lives as people have questioned the relevancy of their musical adventures. This served as inspiration as Hail to the Thief fights back with their lyrics and their hitting bass lines.
The first song on the EP “Duke” starts off with very strong guitar chords then following suit the chorus of the song is anchored by “…are we capable of doing anything other than feeling numb, treating each other like we're oh so dumb.” This song is a solid dissatisfaction of perhaps the band’s circle of friends, or maybe just an overall observation on the interactions of society. Either way, the song is making a point about how people are not behaving socially as they naturally should.
Another song on the album “138.5” is about a relationship falling apart or not going as planned; “I can’t stand watching you decay.” The song also has the addition of keyboard synths and the vocalist explores various notes and tones as the song carries on. This band truly represents a punk rock alternative band as each song is an ode to some type of dissatisfaction with the world. Each song on the album has a certain topic to comment upon in which most people can relate. This album is definitely great background music for getting pumped or releasing any pent-up anger.
Porcelain Pale brings us this album which is somewhat like being half-awake, or the experience of lucid dreaming; hence the name Insomnia Mixtape Vol.1. Every song has stretched-out beats and like-minded lingering vocals to go along with it. It fits into the experimental indie alternative genre as it can be compared to artists like Porcelain Raft, The Knife, and Thieves Like Us. The overall sound is new-age, but it is tinged with the old school 90’s electronic vibe. The overall tone is somewhat vintage which gives the album character.
Each song has its own melody to get lost in as it paints an interesting landscape that both the ethereal body and the emotional mind can explore. The song “Forever’s Never Enough” has a hypnotic tune that just keeps you entranced by the beat, then the lyrics paint a picture of optimistic sorrow. The first track on the album, “Rapid Eyes and Restless Minds,” also has a bit of a sorrow-filled sentiment which focuses on lost trust and being a hopeless romantic. The keys of the track maintain a positive view as the guitar reminds one of the not-so-beautiful misfortunes of love.
Continuing to listen to the album becomes a big blurry transcendental journey through dreamy emotions. The track “The Girl Without A Shadow” has a beautiful glittery-like anchoring key and the vocalist goes on singing with an elongated breath. This album is not necessarily a “pick-me-up” type of album, but it definitely has the capacity to insight optimism and creativity as the songs explore and resolve many topics apparent in life. The overall feel is also very relaxing and chill which can elevate anyone’s mood. The album is well produced and a listener can feel the genuine creativity and time put into every piece on the album. It is most definitely a great collection of songs to listen to when one is suffering from insomnia.
David Toma only recently decided to take a stab at making electronic music even though he has been playing piano for the last 10 years and started writing music at the age of 12. Even if I didn’t disclose this information and you just listened to the music you would probably say to yourself “Oh this guy sure has a lot of piano parts in it for electronic music.” For better or worse the central focus of the songs on his album Analog seem to revolve around the piano. While the bells and whistles that he added can be fun at times I wouldn’t have minded just listening to the piano by itself.
Toma is at his best when he sticking to components that sound electronic as we see in “Unleashed” which takes space rock sounding keyboard that sounds like a guitar. The song does what a lot of other good other electronic does and creates atmospheres and sounds that form with each other and start to sound bigger than the sum of their parts. Other songs don't work as well when he mixes an organic sounding piano with electronic drum sets like on “The Ban Hammer.” The piano parts are impressive to say the least but don't meld with the repetitive electronic loops.
The album starts with “Influx” a song that combines a heavy lead synth line with piano. It’s a solid song and starts to come together more as it progresses. The second song “Analog” seemed off time and not in a good way. I didn’t sync it up to a metronome or anything but it felt half a beat off at times. “Some Assembly Required” is one of the highlights on the album as it interweaves multiple parts and showcases some of his best writing, playing and programming on the album. The mix even seemed to work better. Everything seemed to be in the right place and he did a good job picking out the right palette of sounds. Another song that isn't too shabby is “Massive.” The song is full of bright skinny lead synths that penetrate through the crystallized pads - a hyper real journey that loves to exaggerate your emotions.
As a piano player Toma is excellent. As an electronic composer he is solid but still has some improvements that can be made. A lot of the beats sound like they were used from a preset that you have heard before. Even though he can’t hang with the best the genre has to offer right now he only starting making this type of music in 2012. He has an ample of amount of time to refine his skills and build upon the solid foundation he has formed.
Located in Spokane, WA Matthew Sonntag is an artist who just released his second album entitled Learning Blocks and a Bottle of Gin. The first thing you will notice when listening to this album is his distinct voice. It lays on top of the music and sounds a bit like a young Tom Waits. Sonntag has a crackle in his voice that seems rustic and it’s not the type of voice that will be winning any American idol competitions. I’m sure that’s probably ok by him because his voice fits the music he plays pretty well. The music is acoustic-based and contains a large variety of instruments including acoustic guitars and harmonica at the forefront. There are a couple things that are very enjoyable about the music. First the production is top notch and sounds professional due to Noisefrog Studio. One of the things that separate the boys from the men when it comes to recording is getting a good drum sound and that’s something that was achieved on this record. Production alone can't carry a record so it doesn't hurt that there are nice unexpected moments on this album. There are changes on certain songs that are original and inventive. Take for example the song “Hunting Butterflies” where there is change around the 2:40 mark where the song goes from sounding like a Neil Young song that morphs into a verse that Passion Pit may have come up with.
There are also just some straightforward songs that feel as timeless as the wood that was used to make his guitar.The opener “Circles and Scars” starts with delicately picked notes on guitar and harmonica. The song feels like it is going somewhere as it progresses and a slight optimism exudes as it intensifies. Sonntag also shows restraint on some of the songs such as “Oh Son Its Okay To Play Outlaw As Long As Its Just Pretend,” which is a song that revolves around his acoustic guitar and voice. There were however some other cool elements that sounded like electronics and bells that added to the song.
While I didn't mind his voice there are some moments where he doesn't exactly nail it. His delivery sometimes sounds forced and causes him to sound off key. Besides this slight issue there wasn't much else I didn't like about this album. This being Sonntag’s second album it clearly show he’s an artist that has an ample amount of talent as well as potential.
Alex Skalany is in a couple bands. He has been rocking out with My Father’s Rifle and ArchAnimals for the last five years or so. Like a lot of people in bands he wanted to take a stab at doing his own solo work, which comes in the form of New Holland. He just released a short four-song EP, Red, under that moniker. The music revolves around his acoustic guitar and vocals although you do get some guest appearances from Stephanie Bazer who contributes some vocal work and Matthew Seferian who plays organ. The music drips with melancholy and his voice reminds me of a young Conor Oberst at times. There is nothing too complicated here, just well-built and put-together songs, although the poor production often takes a bit away from the songs.
The album opens with his most intimate, sad song of the bunch called “Car 1.” He strums his guitar lightly and barely gets above a whisper as he sings “My car is old and gets confused”. I’m not sure what this signifies but at least it was original. The much faster “Red” sounded more like Neutral Milk Hotel than Bright Eyes, which was fine by me. Stephanie Bazer’s vocal harmonies add a lot to the song. The only issue I had with the song was that it was too short. I could have listened to that for some time longer. “Candle Song” returns to the style of the first song and sulks in waves of despondency. The best song on the album is the closer “Living Next to You” which is like an old country western tune. Skalany’s and Bazer’s voices work very well together as the guitar melody swings back and forth like a pendulum.
It is obvious after hearing this little snippet that Skalany has talent. I want more and I hope he delivers it soon because this EP barely satisfied my appetite.
It was obvious the first time I heard King Friday that they are capable of writing a near endless supply of pop songs. Some of their previous efforts seem more veered towards a lot of singer/songwriter type material but with their new record The Aristocrats they seem to sound more like a cohesive band. Every song on the album contains drums, bass and guitars except the last song in contrast to their previous album where a lot of the songs revolved around an acoustic guitar. One thing that hasn't changed is that the music still feels not as if it is a tip of the hat to bands from the 60’s but is actually a band from that era. The songwriting is simple yet refined and is stuffed with a variety of poppy hooks that stimulate the senses. This is the type of album that just sort of puts you in a good mood. While the songs aren't overly happy and don't exude an exaggerated emotion like you just won the lottery they feel more like you went for a walk on a nice day on a sunny day but still have that late bill you have to pay.
The Aristocrats starts which I dare to say is the hardest song in the catalog of King Friday. “A Chart Making Work Of Staggering Genius” showcases distorted guitars at least in the beginning before it simmers down a bit. It felt a bit like the Beatles “Revolution 9” because of their guitar tone. “The Aristocrat” is a little piece of pop perfection as the vocal melodies are some of the best on the album as the vocalist sings “Honda Accord up to the store we’ll buy some whiskey then some more and drink until we hit the floor til we don’t have to feel things anymore” on the verse followed by the even catchier chorus “gotta get away”. Never without their sense of humor I thoroughly enjoyed “Cowboys Must Burn Their Eyes Always Riding At The Sun.” They close the album with a piano ballad called “A Barista and A Flight Attendant Walk Into A Bar.” The song is so heartfelt and simple that it felt like an appropriate way to close the album.
Have King Friday raised the bar again for themselves? That's arguable but what I can say is that this feels like their most complete record.
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