Recording for stereo is a fairly new concept. In fact, it’s a well-known fact that The Beatles mixed in mono and were indifferent about embracing the new technology of stereo. Since then stereo has become ubiquitous but the reality is that a lot of ways people consume music today is still in mono. If you are listening to music through your phone speaker, on your laptop or at your local Starbucks there is little to no stereo separation.
With this in mind the band Skiprope Cello intentionally made an effort to make sure their album Driving with Zelda was mixed for mono. I will say that since a lot musicians mix their own music and don’t have apt knowledge of engineering they often start panning right away when it comes to the mix because it sounds bad in mono. That being said any halfway decent engineer will know to check to see if their mix translates well in mono. If you aren’t you have no business being in the studio.
The music on Driving with Zelda is a bit avant-garde and mixes multiple genres into an undefined blend of sounds. Up first is “Birds” which sounds a bit like Ariel Pink. I have to say for a group concerned with mono it is surprising that they didn’t have as much concern for other pertinent production elements. There is virtually no low-end and the vocals are way too low in the mix. Some parts were decent like when the female was singing but I could barely hear a word when someone was singing about something around the two-minute mark. A for effort but it came up short of what it could have been.
The next song “This Side of Minnesota” fares better. There is low end this time around and the vocals sound better. The Ariel Pink vibe is still there although it sounds more dreamlike and psychedelic as if you were listening to one of his songs on a bunch of morphine.
“Old St. Paul” in one word felt unsettling. It’s a mix between jazz and elevator music with a vocal performance that felt largely monotone and devoid of passion. I didn’t mind it but I didn’t love it. It felt like an episode of Twin Peaks. “High Point” is like a show tune but slightly more pretentious and artsy. He sings, “The pageantry and carnival of the misty streets / Makes it seem like a sensate walk of life / Like a half-dream and a string of countless lines / Is the promise of the night and streets and singing.”
They close with the most traditional sounding song entitled “Divers of the Riviera” which unfortunately showcases the subpar recording quality; it is a decent song but didn’t quite hit its potential.
Skiprope Cello feels like a work in progress. Their art house music has ears willing to listen but “Divers of the Riviera” is all over the place and does little to define what these guys are about. I would encourage them to keep at it and I can see things starting to click into a consistent sound. It may not be a bad idea for them to work with a knowable producer/engineer to focus some of their creative ideas and work behind the board so the sounds in their heads can become a reality.
I have wondered why a copious amount of “Christian” rock bands tend to veer towards metal and hard rock. I’m still not sure why Christianity and that style of music seem to dominate but it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. The case in point is Written In Red, which is a five-piece band from Gillette, Wyoming. Their debut Not My Home is a straightforward hard rock/metal album that like-minded religious folk can rejoice in. As far as comparing apples to apples, metal has come a long way in recent years. Bands like Mastodon, Pelican and Baroness have brought new style to the table that have refreshed a genre many have felt has been stagnant.
Written In Red isn’t on the cusp of what the genre can offer (like the aforementioned bands) but build on a tried and true method that plenty of people appreciate. In fact you could argue of their music is most reminiscent of ‘80s metal. You can also hear traces of ‘90s metal. Oddly enough the mainstream hyper-real Evanescence-esque metal that started to emerge around the turn of the century isn't present.
The album starts off with vocal samples from religious declarations that sounded like something you would hear from Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Although there are no orchestral strings that rise up to give the words a melodramatic essence, it goes on for two minutes and could have been wrapped up in less than a minute. Either way it doesn’t exactly meld perfectly into “Not My Home” which startled me because I knew nothing about the band at the time. It’s a hard-hitting catchy song overall that I first thought was about his ex-wife but ended up being about Jesus.
The relatively catchy hard rock/metal continues with songs such as “Pray For The Prey” and “The Reason.” “Hollow” has a ‘80s Bon Jovi feel (when he was doing his country thing) while “Battle Within” is a catchy song any way you look at it. The band gets heavy on “We Are (Broken World)” and sounds reminiscent of something you would hear at Sunday worship with “Yahweh.”
The band says on their Bandcamp page, “One thing you will get from every song on the album though, is God's inerrant and holy Word.” Truth be told this music is probably best for those who already have religious faith. The music is overt about its beliefs and every song is connected to that. There aren’t going to be many atheists or agnostics that will be spinning this album. That being said, if you are already a practicing Christian and like metal and hard rock, you will most likely appreciate Not My Home.
After hearing the first few melodic folk based paeans on Sing To Your Mountain, the debut solo record by Rachel (Smith) Galloway who performs under the pious moniker Rachel, you will have to rethink your take on religious music. I was born and raised Catholic, was educated in Catholic schools and attended church at least twice a week for the first eighteen years of my life. During that time I sang in the choir and of course sang during mass. Over the years I was exposed to various Christian musical acts and artists, some of them better than others, though most all of them overarching and preachy.
But that was long ago and far away. And although those overbearing fire and brimstone spewing artists still exist, so now do artists such as Rachel. Rachel grew up in a family of people who loved to sing and play instruments. Her father is Lenny Smith, a world-renowned gospel singer and the man who penned the worship song known the world over, "Our God Reigns." Rachel and her siblings, led by her brother Daniel, are also known for staffing various entities of the indie gospel-pop outfit Danielson, who have collaborated and played with indie folk demigod Sufjan Stevens.
What sets Sing To Your Mountain apart from other faith-based records is that its songs, though steeped in religious themes and images, in no way come across as “preachy.” Rachel’s lyrics may deal with the typical themes of praising, using much of the nomenclature generally associated with Christian themed music, but her vocals are soft and angelic, and they are delivered as a conversation between herself and the Lord, so they are not coming down the mountain at the listener, but rather rising upwards, and exist on their way there for anyone who cares to listen.
It is for the listeners themselves to decide what exactly they will take away from these songs. The best of them, “The Lamp” and “Southern Paws” to name just a few, camouflage the Christian word play so well that one would be hard pressed to categorize them in the vein of solely Christian music. This may not be what Rachel had intended though it speaks to her abilities as a songwriter and lyricist.
Given the pool of musicians and vocalists Rachel has backing her on Sing to Your Mountain, and the fact that these songs are touted as “a collection of love songs and worship to the Lord” I was expecting to hear tracks with a bit more power, a bit more praise. Though as a whole, Sing to Your Mountain is an excellent offering in a genre that often falls short of making an impact on an audience outside of the faithful.
Sweet Ether is a band from Brighton, UK, who just released an EP Petty Little Scraps which is meant to bridge the gap between their first and second album. In other words - it’s something for you to nibble on to get your fix. The band plays dark, alternative rock that will draw comparisons to ‘90s grunge bands like Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and even lesser known bands like The Melvins and Mudhoney.
Let it be known the band isn’t doing anything that hasn’t been done before but they do it well. The band is tight in their execution and everything from the vocals to the drumming is slick. If this music came out in the mid ‘90s there is a good chance a lot more people would be familiar with their name if just for the fact this music was insanely popular back then. Ahh the good ole days.
The band comes out of the gate fast and hard on “Languishing.” The vocal performance is dynamic to say the least. The vocalist goes for a comfortable vocal range on the verse to stretching out his pipes Chris Cornell Style on the chorus. It is a solid opener that has plenty of peaks and valleys.
They open “Salt Burns” sounding a bit like Rage Against The Machine but it quickly changes to a picked, reverb laced guitar and then goes to sounding like something you would hear from Alice in Chains. Nice job boys.
The highlight of the EP is arguable but for me “The Trailing Edge” was it. I loved the riff on the verse and the whole song is just well crafted and infectious. Plus towards the end the drummer pulls out all the stops and reminded me of the beats you would hear from Tool. The band closes with “Where We Hide” which was another solid song that is a nonstop onslaught of distorted guitar riffs.
I really don’t have much to complain about with this EP. It’s not the most unique thing to come out in 2015 but it can certainly find an audience. I will say this. If you can remember when MTV constantly played “Hunger Strike” from Temple of the Dog and watched it every single time - you will want to check these guys out.
Le Zets new album Deadweight is not one to be missed. It’s a punk, rock fusion that hits like The Black Keys mixed with The Pixies. Guitar riffs are bluesy and addictive. The main singer is reminiscent of the chick from the Pixies or the girl from Yo La Tengo. There is a finger snapping, foot tapping emotion to it that feels uncontrollable. I love that punky, rocky, bluesy combo. It is hard edged with occasional soft screams from the vocalist and untamed guitar banter that trails you into outer space filled with metal filled meteorites. There is lots of compression and expansion in the musical composition.
They can really wail out and you can see tendrils of sound in every direction like Medusa’s hair, and then again they can coil it up like soft tight curls like Shirley Temple’s hair. I love that imagery from Shirley Temple to Medusa and back and forth again. The undulating experience in and out comprises the different sounds. When it is compressed, it sounds like garage music, when it super simplifies it is like punk and when it expands it is blues. I enjoy each sound that is brought to the table.
There is some intermittent organ bringing a haunted sound. Drums are steady and rhythmic. This album is filled with shrapnel and metal meteorites that come in from all angles. Lots of head bangers. The seven-track album is definitely well composed and I think it could be a major hit. The lyrics are eclectic and fun.
I just love how alive each song is. Filled with energy and adrenaline. Never really slows down, just continues to thicken and push harder and harder. I can see a lot of fists in the air just getting it when they perform live. Seems like they probably have quite the following.
I really just cannot imagine people sitting down at their shows. Not for the faint of heart, a hard-hitting album filled with zest and a message. I think it is definitely worth checking out if you get the chance, especially if you have a leather jacket studded with spikes side to you.
If I had to take my guess Dirt is the project of one person. I’m not sure who but the music was apparently written and recorded during a period of insomnia spent reflecting on a winter in the Hudson valley. The dark, abstract and dissonant music on the album Glad to be Here actually kind of makes more sense if put into that context. If you ever have had bad insomnia for a long period your perspective can start to change and almost certainly towards the abstract, detached and melancholy. The music feels like all of those things
The music is unequivocally lo-fi and the artist wouldn't have been able to get away with quality if was attempting any other type of style. I wouldn’t have been able to understand a single word on the EP if it wasn’t for the lyrics on Bandcamp. The person singing often sounds like he is on the verge of dying and barely has enough energy to get the words out of his mouth,
The album starts off with “Scout” which is borderline terrifying especially if you are on psychoactive drugs. It combines a vocal recording, sustained ominous pads and an impending sense of doom. It leads into “This Memory of Smoking” which contains heavily reverb laced guitar and vocals (where are hidden in there somewhere). You won’t understand what he is saying but you can read the nightmarish lyrics. He sings, “it’s morning and my face doesn’t sparkle there's a coursing in my vein and it isn’t blood and that's me in the doorway turning off the lights.”
The ominous vibe continues with “Midwest.” At the center of the song is a haunting piano. The reverb from the piano and vocals is a bit much but passable. “Valley's Bed” is a very atmospheric, ambient track that feels like the ghost of a shell of a forgotten dream. The closing track “A Deer Died Today on I-95” follows a more standard song structure. There are recognizable chord changes and there is even what you could call a chorus.
Overall, I dig this vibe but there is plenty that could be done to get it to the next level such as fleshing out some of the ideas and getting a boost in the production. At its best Glad to be Here reminds me of Bradford Cox’s more ambient type songs such as “Green Jacket” and “Calvary Scars.” Not a bad start.
Jonathan Lee is an artist from Boston, MA, who has been making music for the last fourteen years. He recently released his first solo effort entitled These Were For You, which revolves around guitar, vocals and melancholy. I’ve said it before that if you’re going to make three or more songs of nothing else than acoustic guitar and vocals you better figure out how to keep things interesting. It’s usually a guaranteed recipe for people checking out if you aren’t killing it. These Were For You contains some solid songwriting but Lee does not introduce enough variation from song to song to keep you completely engaged from beginning to end. I found myself having the most appreciation for his music by sporadically listening to a song or two rather than sitting through all six songs in one sitting
There is nothing wrong with recording yourself in this day and age. Lee does a decent job but there a couple of things that should be pointed out. If there ever were a case of using a pop filter this would be it. Throughout the entirety of the EP you hear pops from his pronunciation, which could have been avoided.
The other issue is that the frequencies from his guitar mask some essential frequency from his vocals making it hard to understand the lyrics. I won’t go into detail but I will say this could have been fixed by properly EQing the low mids. While we are on the subject of recording I thought that some of the tracks might have benefited from double tracking the vocals. It’s a proven technique that artists like Sufjan Steven and Elliot Smith (whom Lee sounds similar to) have implemented on plenty of their songs.
The EP starts with “The Banks” which revolves around basic chord progressions and melancholy vocals. That being said Lee pulls off inventive fills throughout some parts in the song. Lee has a good, warm voice - it’s a shame I was having such a hard time making out the lyrics. “Am I Special” and “Feathers” sound like Weezer unplugged while “The Darkness” is arguably the highlight.
Truth be told Lee will have need more than luck to be competitive with other artists who have a similar style like The Tallest Man on Earth and Sufjan Stevens. He has some innate talent but upping his game in terms of production and offering more than basic chords strummed on an acoustic guitar will probably have to come in to play if he hopes to be on the level of the aforementioned artists.
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Adrian H and The Wounds is a three-piece band consisting of Adrian H (piano/vocals), Shiggy Nakano (bass) and Doug Layon (drums). The band certainly carved out their own niche sound on their recent release Pipe. It’s dark themed music that oozes cabaret and noir themes while embracing organic and electronic instrumentation. Adrian H has a deep, raspy voice that I’m sure gets compared to Tom Waits fairly often. That being said Adrian H has his own thing going on but if you can’t hear some of Tom Waits in there you should listen to Rain Dogs.
The EP opens with “Dansin In Japon.” It starts with an electronic beat the gets layered with bass, piano, organ and even a short vocal sample. The dark noir themes are immediately thrust into existence. Adrian H has unique, ambiguous lyrics that feel utterly original. He sings, “two plus two is the most I can take / she was in charge she led the brigade / multiple shots for multiple babes.” The song starts to climax towards the end with cascading vocal parts and quick build ups and releases.
That bass line on “The Dog and The Rat” kept on making me think of Joy Division. The song is one of the highlights, which does a great job at combining organic elements like piano with mind bending bass synths. “Pipe” is arguably the most ominous sounding song between the organ, drone-like synth and repeated lyric “when I die.” Although the song is undeniably dark Adrian H and the boys set up an atmosphere where you can easily revel and celebrate in its shadow.
If the band has an upbeat, dare I say even motivational sounding song it would go to “Strut.” The breakdown they have a little over a minute in with the army style snare drumming is on point. They close with “Special K” which gets down in the trenches of noir. I could practically picture the detective who has been on the job way too long smoking a cigarette and driving around in a gloomy dilapidated city.
Adrian H and The Wounds is a band for those of us that prefer the fringe over regurgitated mainstream pop. Their music is hardly conventional but that's not the only reason you should enjoy them. The fact is their songs are well thought out, well written and executed liked seasoned professionals. This band is the real deal.
Matt Stevens (guitars/vocals), Matt Corsak (bass) and Dave Corsak (drums) are The Brown. Their recent release We Got You is the kind of rock album that gets down in the trenches and gets covered in dirt and grime. Not unlike early albums from The Stooges, Sonic Youth, Liars to name a few; this is the type of music that feels like a cathartic release of pent-up emotion. The lyrics aren’t as important as the delivery and every snare hit doesn’t need to be snapped to the grid in pro tools.
Recently when Mike Watt from the Minutemen was speaking with Marc Maron on his WTF podcast he was explaining that punk rock was more or less just doing something different than the other guy. If that’s the definition then The Brown is punk rock. Although you can find hints of many other bands that came before, The Brown doesn’t seem to give a hoot what you think. They deliver their songs with passion and with an immediate sense of “embrace us or get out of the way.”
For those of you who prefer pristine vocals where every word is perfectly articulated you probably will have some issues with Stevens’ vocals. On the same token you are missing the whole point of why Stevens is even singing. I for one didn’t need much warming up to his vocal style but if you do I encourage you to not dismiss it within the first song. Like the entire concept of shoegaze it usually takes some time to seep in.
The album opens with “Insincere” which starts off sounding somewhere between Thurston Moore's guitar playing and every other Minuteman song. You are greeted with jagged guitar riffs, dissonance and plenty of rocking out. The band is dynamic and Stevens kills with a stellar vocal performance.
On “Hell Hill” the band is able to build an ominous, atmosphere and then jump into a power chord led chorus. Stevens’ flaying vocals drip with yearning emotion as the band backs him up.
The band continues to slay with “Still Not Fine,” “Harlem” and “Watch Out.” They close with the exceptional “Pretty” which solidified my love for this band. In an age where the mainstream embraces the slick production of bands like Daft Punk and Phoenix, We Got You feels undeniably fresh. Put down your napkin and let the grease drip from your fingers.
Full Monty is the solo project for Dan Harness. In December of last year he released a self-titled four-song EP Full Monty, which contains a mix of punk, alternative and even folk. The songs are well written and even though the EP is far from perfect it is still enjoyable.
First up is “Learn to Be Wrong” which starts with an acoustic guitar picking that unexpectedly gets traded in for drums, distorted guitar and bass. The verse is composed of basic power chord progression and Harness does a decent job singing but I thought the vocals were too low during the verse. When the chorus comes along the first thing I thought of was Foo Fighters. There was something very Dave Grohl-esque between the drumming and guitar progressions. During the chorus Harness sings, “So I’m taking on this patient life I try to sit but I can’t get things right Take me home, where I belong So I can learn to be wrong.”
I enjoyed the fast paced, chord changing transition during “Used Hard Grenade.” Oddly enough I thought his vocals sat on top of the mix this time around. Harness breaks out an acoustic guitar and what sounds like an electric piano for “One Heart, One Mouth” which happens to be the highlight. Harness does a good job singing although he does run into some turbulence when he tries hitting high notes. It’s arguably but Harness’s biggest strength may be his lyrics which tend to be poetic, ambiguous and often prolific. He sings, “ To breaking habits in my head Stopping motion so I can, breathe Sympathy won't coexist My heart pounds out of my chest When can I be released?”
He closes with “Wine Into Water” which is more or less a straightforward rock with predictable changes and transition. Not necessarily a bad thing but you could see a lot of the moves coming before they arrived.
Harness surely has talent but I think some of the music on his self-titled EP feels undefined in that there wasn’t too much there which you can clearly associate with Full Monty. It’s something easier said than done and I think that Full Monty did at least establish a foundation. Overall, a decent start but I have a feeling his best work lies ahead as he gets accustomed to being a solo artist.
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