Jason Tyler Burton is somewhat of a rogue musician. The multi-instrumentalist is from Kentucky and is currently living a nomadic lifestyle based out of Southern Utah. Burton’s music is genuine in terms of classic folk and bluegrass music. He was classically trained on the violin at a young age and having such a high-quality instrument at his disposition might have helped make his style what it is today.
Headwaters is a collection inspired by his nomadic adventures taken with his wife. While listening, you can really feel yourself gliding down a wide, open, inviting road through a magnificent andregal landscape. The music is humble yet carries a certain depth to it that allows you to fall into the melodies, lyrics, and simple instrumentals.
“A Garden Grows” is a beautiful song that is greatly accompanied by a sweet female voice. Together, the harmonization makes the chorus “where gardens grows,” incredibly striking. Whilst listening, the true meaning behind the lyrics begins to show itself and Burton’s story starts to come to life; “he was born to be among the movers and shakers, all then got shook up and now they’re gone.” The song gives some background to Burton’s adventurous ways and also maybe telling the story of how he met his wife which makes the female harmonization far more powerful.
The song with the same name as the album has a serious demeanor listening allows us to dive deeper into the mind of Burton; “we went down to the riverbed… wood on the fire…in my head, waters run, say goodbye to the summer sun… gonna keep us moving along.”
I can really imagine sitting by a fire in the depth of the forest just contemplating the next move on this rogue journey that Burton takes us along. This is a great concept album for anyone interested in folk music and Headwaters seems to be more of an epic poem amongst a collection of songs.
The Lucky Jukebox Bridgade calls Albany their hometown and indie dance their genre. They site Gogol Bordello, The Dear Hunter and Beirut as “sound-a-likes” which is evident but I would go as far to say that they sound a little like Arcade Fire and No Doubt as well. Their sophomore album is called Familiar Fevers.
“Bend At the Marsh” sounds the most No Doubt-esque. It might be the combination of snappy bass, quick drums, the deep, rather sexy voice of the lead vocalist Deanna and the interesting use of tubas and saxophones in the background. Upbeat, dance-worthy and dramatic, “Bend At the Marsh” might be a good stand out track; ready to be a single.
There are some smart and fun moments on Familiar Fevers. A part of me believes the seven-piece band realizes that their tempos are rather fast. Some tracks, “They Chose Rapture” specifically, almost reward the listener for sitting through three minutes of a burst of high energy and lyrics with the remaining three minutes: slower tempo, more harmonies, a hauntingly beautiful piano riff and dramatic drums. A handful of The Lucky Jukebox Brigade’s tracks drop a few tempos halfway through. I like the element of surprise and can appreciate the little treat.
“Glamour” takes me back to that No Doubt feeling again. Think of “Bathwater” from 2000’s “Return of Saturn” or the 1995 “Tragic Kingdom” hit “Spiderwebs” only a little less electronic. I really can’t help but hear a bit of Gwen Stefani’s deep, husky and exciting voice in Deanna’s.
The band sound great with some emotional weight in their songs. "Meridian" combines orchestral sounds with an acoustic guitar and contains melancholy along with triumph. They close with now of the highlights of the album entitled "Lionel II". The song sounds huge and is quite grandiose.
For the most part, though, The Lucky Jukebox Brigade’s Familiar Fevers is a little like coffee. You have to have an acquired taste for it. It’s a little strong at first, but when you add some creamer and sugar (a.k.a. the little surprises in a few tracks) you will learn to actually enjoy it all.
Being a California native myself, I feel that I am just naturally drawn to good ol rock n’ roll. I am an electro head through and through but there’s something really nice about listening to some easy bands that make simple music using natural, classic instruments.
Take Adam McFarland for example. Born in San Francisco and raised in southern California growing “up by the beach, surfing and playing my guitar.” Reading McFarland’s biography makes me want to picture a Jason Mraz type with cargo shorts and a straw fedora. And some of the tracks on his first solo album Exit reassure this imagery (listen to “Life is Good” and “Better Than Lies” for examples). But some songs suggest otherwise. McFarland spent time in Costa Rica (“Toy Soldier”) and New York City (“Clown,” “Shameless”) and “used to dangle my feet out of my seventh story window and write songs in my journal in the shadow of the World Trade Center.”
It all sounds very romantic. He traveled the world with his guitar and surfboard in hand and says he met incredible people along the way. McFarland tried to settle down and get a real job and a real wife “but that job and wife have since long gone.” Moving back to Los Angeles, McFarland rediscovered more of his creative side performing in bands and working in studios and even opened his own.
Exit is quite a romantic album too. It’s only fitting that this first solo adventure would reflect his own solo experiences. “All of the songs have some kind of meaning or message and all are based on my experiences over the last 30 years or so,” says McFarland.
“Tell Me Polite” is an interesting track that tops all of the others for me because of the mixed emotions hidden within the lyrics and the melody. The upbeat nature of the song suggests exactly that: an upbeat feeling. But the lyrics say otherwise. McFarland talks of waiting for someone, sitting until they return because they’re worth it. This seems melancholic, sentimental and beautiful.
McFarland’s songs are like reading his diary with a dabble of NYC gloom and California sunshine. The contrast is nice, like looking at a black and white photograph; feeling the ups and downs of one human being.
“I like music that is personal this way and I try to let my music follow the times but I also try to maintain a sort of timelessness in the lyrics and arrangements.” I think McFarland achieved just that with Exit.
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The word folk music gets thrown around a lot but it’s hard not to think of American folk pioneers like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger when thinking of the word. These artists relied on narratives that were usually supported by a single acoustic instrument. The message and vocals were front and center and were always the most important part of the song. The recent release Immigrant Girls by Dan Sullivan has a lot in common with folk music you would hear from the ‘40s.
Sullivan writes simple guitar-based songs that put his vocals front and center. HIs vocal style is even reminiscent of folk singers from the ‘40s. He has a slight country twang that is stoic but also covers a decent amount of melancholy. I’m not sure how old Sullivan but his voice has that “I have seen too much and like to drink a lot of whiskey” quality which makes it attractive in its own unique way.
On the first song “Trickle Down” Sullivan sings about trickle-down economics. It’s a short one but a good one. He plays guitar and implements short bursts of what I believe are digital horns to sing over. It’s a catchy tune. “Crown Of Gold” is another solid song that revolves around a walking bass line, guitar and orchestral strings. Sullivan’s voice fits the mood perfectly and carries the song.
“21st Century paranoid blues” sounds a bit like elevator music as Sullivan combines drums with light guitar, bass and airy synths. It was a bit of a deviation and probably not the strongest song on the album. Sullivan gets back on track with “Every Single Day” and “Sometimes love means letting go,” which were two highlights amongst the album.
Sullivan sounds best with a guitar that is prominent in the mix and little else. The synths he adds on a couple of songs did little for me and took away from the music. I really enjoyed Sullivan’s singing style but there were a couple of times he was noticeably off key. Despite these two minor issues I was still able to enjoy Immigrant Girls. Sullivan might not resonate with everyone but I would suggest giving it a listen.
Spacehawk is the musical collaboration of Noel Graham and Andy Gray. On their recent eight-song album entitled Hawkism they bring us a guitar album, which combines garage rock and psychedelia and that tips its hat to many of the bands that formed in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. The album is a complete DIY effort and although it lacks some of the professional sheen you would hear if it were recorded in a studio the quality isn't bad and it works with the gritty aesthetics you come to expect from a garage band.
The songs on Hawkism aren't particularly innovative or push any boundaries but they are well written, visceral tunes that fall in line with the resurgence of the genre. What you hear is what you get as the album serves up a heavy dose of guitar rock.
The opener “Ecstasy” is one of the highlights of the album. This song is especially gritty with a thick veil of white noise and a steady, heavy drum beat. When the chorus hits the vocalist sings “Ecstasy, now baby” and sounds eerily close to “in a gadda da vida.”
The next song “Jupiter landings” lays on the heavy veil of distortion in favor of reverb and a more dance worthy riff reminiscent of something you would hear from Joy Division. Even the vocals sound a bit like Ian Curtis. Speaking of the vocals they get too buried in the song when the lead guitar enters.
“Her magpie song” is fast paced, adrenaline filled rock that would be perfect in a biker bar while “Speedway” is a blues-inspired rock song that borrows riff from rock 101.
Spacehawk stills seems to be struggling to define their sound but overall their debut displays their chemistry and innate ability to write a catchy tune. There is room for improvement but it is certainly an inspired first attempt.
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
Invisible Motive Splintered 3.4
Josh Benash Stasis 3.8
Evolve Audio & Guidebook Beats Native Suns 3.5
Nood Your Call 3.4
B.T.G Demons 3.3
Sudonistas Heavy Gardening 3.3
Josh Joshstone Half A World Away 3.6
Meat Slime Master's Feast 3.4
It's a very rare fish that can describe the water to paraphrase media analyst Marshall McLuhan. When one is absorbed in pop music, there is a sensation of hearing the beating pulse of the times you are living in, and provides an invaluable clue about the world we are living in and some possibilities about where to go as artists and as a culture.
Sea Level released their self-titled EP Sea Level in May by producer/musician Dan Capaldi and it feels very timely, very of the moment. It's got falsetto, Prince-like soul vocals; it's got an amalgam of machine beats, electronic flourishes and live instrumentation. Rather than just being bandwagon-esque, it seems that Capaldi is honing and perfecting the tool kit available to electronic musicians and pushing it to a new level of masterful classicism.
Capaldi works as a film composer and producer as a day job, and brings this level of orchestral grandeur and ambition to his artful pop songs. Rather than succumbing to some format and painting by numbers, Capaldi uses his extensive arsenal of live instruments and layered vocals to conjure abstract themes, like dreams vs. reality. Rather than focusing on extreme fidelity, Capaldi's dense tapestry of live instruments and layered samples are run through a battalion of loop pedals and samplers, and mixed on the fly. This suggests an alliance between humans and the machine - between the past and the future.
This provides a clue for a way forward, for the discerning producer who is attempting to master and make the most of the tools at their disposal. Capaldi does not settle for presets, sample packs and ready-made song structures. Each song is a living organism, a jigsaw puzzle to be reverse engineered, to select the best song or word for each individual case.
The material on Sea Level runs a wide range, from psychedelic orchestral pop ("Close Enough"), to archaic 8-bit electronica ("Embryonic Feel"), to ragged hip-hop ("Fire Like This"). Sea Level leaves you guessing, and turns on a dime. You never know what's going to happen next and that is a good thing. It suggests an antidote to those who suggest we are doomed to repetition, ad infinitum. Perhaps we can make something new, after all, or at the very least, put the pieces together in new and surprising ways.
"Live in the past/things wash away/but still I find/things are okay," Capaldi sings, on "Embryonic Feel.” Here seems to be a man entirely at piece with honoring his roots, while being resolutely himself and making something individualist and personal.
This is Capaldi's third record as Sea Level, but the first to be released nationally. It is a very strong effort, which suggests a bright future and an ambitious young artist. Sea Level is in the process of putting together a bold new live show, preparing to take this material on the road. All in all, Capaldi has what it takes. People will be humming these machine mantras, mark my words. You heard it here first.
Based out of Philadelphia, this punky, vibrant band called Something Like A Monument brings its listeners and audiences their debut EP satirically titled …and the crowd goes mild. Music within this release seems to have one soul purpose and this is getting you to move to the groove that they have created, which is harsh, mellow and enticing all at the same time.
The opening track “Soft Spots” is definitely one of those dancing tracks that would make a crowd go beyond “mild” and perhaps out of control. From the beginning the song is dynamic and as it goes along there are waves of melodies that seem to come and go making it a very entertaining listen. Toward the end, the reintroduction of the vocalist’s sweet yet sour and smoky voice is almost a tease as the song abruptly ends soon after. It is easy to instantly press replay on this one after it’s over.
Following along, “Auditory Seizure” has a bit more of a serious and deranged vibe yet the guitars and drums still get the blood flowing effortlessly. This song is more heavily anchored by lyrics that weave a metaphorical story; “ Guilt may be my weapon, while revenge becomes my prize, clutching pieces of persona… it’s time, give it up.” This song is righteously named as it something that seizes your attention and unwillingly wisps you away to a strange, dark, land of rock n’ roll.
All along, I feel tantalized not only by the vocalist’s crunchy smooth voice but also by the running melodies that in theory seem like they wouldn’t make sense yet the end result is a beautiful mess of calculated musical chaos that makes you want to dance about madly. This EP is well recorded and each song differs greatly from every other one. This is a great listening album for those interested in alternative rock.
Prison Letters is the moniker for Ryan Rex who recently released a three-song EP entitled “Loosen Up.” Rex calls the music he makes “menacing melancholy”. After listening to the songs on Loosen Up it’s self-evident where the melancholy comes from but I’m still trying to figure out the menacing part. The three songs are quite different conceptually as well as musically. If they weren't on the same EP you probably wouldn't piece together it was from the same artist.
The first track “Beaucoup Bees” starts with a beat box that I believe is all-digital but may be a manipulated voice. It sound like an ‘80s hip-hop beat made from one of the Fat Boys before it abruptly stops and the sound of a swarm of bees come closer. When Rex starts singing his voice is filtered and distorted. He layers vocals upon vocals as a couple of quirky synths enter into the mix. About halfway through the song the beat gets louder and Rex ditches the effects on his voice. I almost feel like there should have been a part 1 and part 2 with the song as the initial vocal style and delivery is so different from what he began with.
The second song “Rethinking Acrylics” couldn't have been much farther from opener ““Beaucoup Bees.” It’s basically a folk song that revolves around his voice and an acoustic guitar. The style fits much better on him and has an emotional weight that was absent from the first song.
On the last song Rex ditches his guitar and trades it in for a piano and pours his heart into delivering an inspired vocal performance. It’s covered in melancholy but is also quite hopeful.
Loosen Up is a solid lo-fi effort but a bit too short to have a full understanding of what Rex is trying to do. I’m hoping to hear some more material soon.
Leaving Neon is from Minneapolis and is made up of two musicians who are great friends and in turn make great pop/alternative rock music together. The duo has been playing since their freshman year of high school and this is their first LP entitled Seeing Lights. The songs span more than five years of songwriting and they are unique in character because of their genuine acoustic vibe yet have the qualitative sound of a studio recorded album.
The opening track on the album is definitely an eye-opener. “Sway” wastes no time and right from the beginning guitars blare at high-speed setting the tone for the rest of the song, which is very catchy. Essentially the song is all about lust, “She’s got a body I want to see… She’s got sway like she’s a loaded gun… she can walk into a room and steal all the attention.” I enjoy the breaking chorus toward the middle of the song, “I’m going to be the one that’s going to break your sway,” and then the guitar goes off on an epic solo before the infectious chorus comes back once more. This is really a fun and refreshing song.
Next up, “Stars from Mars” starts off with a calculated guitar and drum pattern that draws you in quickly and effortlessly. Soon the vocalist’s crisp and broad voice adds another layer to the stop and go beat. Lyrics represent an unusual take that seems to have its roots in punk rock because of its rebellion; “the vines keep on growing and my thoughts are overflowing… sure all the stars look the same from Mars… if we only knew what breathing could do.”
Leaving Neon shows its true, bright colors in this full-length release and there are so many songs, melodies and distinct lyrics to get lost in while listening to Seeing Lights. While listening you could easily imagine more than two musicians pumping out these sounds, showing the clear talent of these two young musicians. Anyone into pop/ punk rock will enjoy Seeing Lights.
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