The lo-fi surf revival is everywhere, even Milwaukee. Amateur Artist, straight from Wisconsin, slapped some righteous waves on the front cover of Southside Throwbacks. All the reverb-drenched guitars and fuzzy vocals you’d expect from a bunch of California kids are here, even though they’re coming from a Great Lakes city that will reach 10°F in January. Despite copping the look though, Amateur Artist does the style well enough to use the imagery.
The first record coming from this one-man bedroom project, Southside Throwbacks has the authentic attitude that such DIY productions need to not sound like, well, a kid in a bedroom. If anything, the consistent execution of the genre’s hallmarks is a double-edged sword—you’ve certainly heard dozens of records like this one so it may run a bit stale for you, but it at least keeps up with the pack in terms of production and vibe.
“Rocket Honey” kicks off the five-song collection, with a classic kick-snare-snare-kick-snare drum pattern that’s been standard issue since at least the ‘50s. There’s some talk in the lyrics of seeing rock n’ roll shows and driving around afterwards with the titular ‘honey,’ which is all pretty straightforward and evocative. The vocals, too, are spot-on, hitting that affected low-register croon the material calls for. Some songs just sound like singles, and this is one of them.
“Better One” has a classic ballad feel, with arpeggiated guitar and splashy cymbals. This is the song that made me feel most like Southside Throwbacks is a bit redundant—everything about it is well-executed, but it felt like listening to a song I’d heard so many times before. The track comes from the most familiar of rock music templates though so I can’t be too critical, especially when vocals, instrumentals and production all lock in so smoothly.
Though “Waze” is good, stomping fun, and has an excellent dynamic build towards the end, I found “Off the Rail” to be the most interesting of the middle tracks. At this point the band started borrowing from slightly further out of their surf rock core. Heavily chorused guitars a la Wavves bring a more modern feel to the track, and the shuffle beat gives it a propulsive energy that I’d been looking for on the record. There’s also a great guitar solo—there’s actually great guitar work all over Southside Throwbacks, but the faster tempo really put this one over the top.
“Winifred” rounds out the record, a lighter-waving anthem that borrows the tried-and-true “Be My Baby” beat. It’s a slow song that occasionally loses its tempo entirely with vocals that trail off into silence before the drums kick back in. It’s almost as if you can hear the lights coming up at the end, which reminded me of one of Amateur Artist’s biggest successes: getting layered solo performances to sit together like a band. Of course multi-tracking is easier on the computer than ever before, but it’s still hard to capture the authentic feel of a band moving together, and that feel is all over Southside Throwbacks.
Ultimately, this is an expertly made album steeped fully in the grand tradition of surf rock. I don’t think anyone is going to describe Southside Throwbacks as innovative, but that’s also not necessarily the point. Amateur Artist already has a firm grasp on what makes this kind of music work, so it’s an easy listen. I’m hoping the process of making this first record has allowed the project to begin to develop a unique voice. If that voice starts coming out on future releases, Amateur Artist might quickly rise to the top of the lo-fi heap.
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If great songwriting and beautiful sounds of a traditional piano are what you crave, I don’t think you’ll go wrong with People Doing Things, an eight-song collection just released this summer from Haniell. Haniell Langton who makes up the one-man band, comes from Southeast London and his songwriting is fantastic and well written. Also, if strong vocals are your thing, Haniell is your guy – this singer has some serious pipes, not to mention he has fantastic range, timing and control when it comes to belting out a tune. Haniell performed all instruments, did all the programming and his influences are as varied as Nick Drake, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.
Indeed, the album’s title track does have that Joni Mitchell feel of speedily singing the lyrics during one part and then drawing out notes for a few beats on the next. The third track “Is Dancing” is a tender, precious love song. Flirtatious and fresh with a stripped down sound of guitar and vocals with just a smattering of piano reminds me of what I’ve heard Chris Martin do without the accompaniment of his band mates from Coldplay. “Just a Little Phase” has very odd timing with again a stripped down sound of piano and vocals. Has almost a tortured jazz sound to it, whatever that may be.
“Failed Portrait of Mixed Blessings Bakery” reminded me of something I’ve heard from Billy Joel, maybe it’s the chord changes. This has a little guitar to it as well and sounded great in unison with the piano parts. “Look Up, It’s Fine” is perhaps the slowest song on the album and I haven’t quite figured out what this one is about. Unrequited love? A break-up gone badly or a mate that won’t go away after the break-up happened? I’ll let the listener decide.
“Tabard Garden” is quite poetic in its songwriting and sad love song storytelling by Tom Waits came to mind after listening. However, Haniell has a much, much clearer and smoother voice then Mr. Waits will ever have – this singer has more of a Chris Martin or Ben Folds voice.
The last track “Mono No Aware” again has that Tom Waits/Billy Joel vibe going on ala Closing Time or the Piano Man. Maybe even Ben Folds comparisons are in this one or any one of these songs from this remarkably talented singer/songwriter. The only track that has any drums or drum programming is the first song “Hearts That Beg the Question” and this one reminded me of Joe Jackson’s stuff back in the day. Again, if you’re into a stripped down sound that mostly showcases voice, piano and acoustic guitar then People Doing Things has a lot to offer.
Bobby Joe Chandler is an artist from Texas who recently released Four Stories. He makes a declaration on his Bandcamp page that the songs are definitely from a first person perspective. He says, “This is my life, my experience on this earth. These songs are reflections on my loves, my friendships, my hopes and dreams, trials, tribulations, successes, failings, and my joy, all set to music and told as honestly as I can.”
He plays straightforward music that flirts with rock, pop and singer/songwriter type material. Chandler sticks to the basics musically. The songs rely on major and minor scales, 4/4 time and a standard pop structure. The production/recording is a little above demo quality. There were a number of things that could have been improved but the drums in particular needed more definition.
He opens with “Every Bit of Me” which was the highlight. It's a certified intimate pop song that plays into a singer/songwriter type vibe with a slight country feel. Overall, I enjoyed his vocals and there is no denying he puts a lot of emotion into his singing. I would have liked more notable dynamic transitions on the song. It was hard to differentiate from the verse and chorus and pretty much sticks with the same energy it begins with.
“The Music” is a pop oriented rock song that could have mainstream radio potential if the recording was more professional sounding. The subject matter is pretty familiar and there weren’t many surprises in the lyric department. He also has some inspired moments such as on “This Crazy Life” and “Carousels.”
At the end of the day Bobby Joe Chandler is making pop music that will resonate with a general demographic. There is simply no denying that his music has a more commercial appeal. Chandler has some talent but I’d like to see if there are ways he can differentiate himself from the crowd on any upcoming releases and really dig into a signature sound.
Overall, Chandler is a solid songwriter who falls into a case of wait and see.
Josiah Clelland is a musician from Toronto who recently released First Step EP. It’s a complete DIY effort that largely falls into metal territory. According to Clelland, “Each song is meant to tell its own story within the bigger story. Sometimes life is happy and sometimes life is sad.” Considering this is an instrumental album the “story” may be a little hard for you to follow as it was for me.
Clelland’s primary weapon is the guitar. He has an endless array of riffs that come one after another. The bass played more of a supporting role. Unfortunately I wasn’t as much of a fan of the drum sounds which had a more mechanical, programmed type sound to me. I’m not sure exactly what was happening here but something about drum recording didn't seem to capture the natural dynamics very well.
I say this as a compliment that the album could have worked as one long song. It’s a very cohesive and seamless album. The onslaught of guitar riffs come in with “Purple Room” and stays to the end. On top of that a lot of the songs seemed to be around the same BPM.
I was constantly impressed by his guitar skills. Take for instance the fills he pulls off on “No King (Moon)” or the guitar picking on “Why why why (Rats)” which may contain around three different guitar parts simultaneously. Cleveland’s most frantic and fast moment comes on the closer “Funeral.” The song is a solid closer.
First Step EP isn't breaking the mold. This type of prog rock metal is very popular and the advancement of technology allows more and more of these type of ventures to be successful in a bedroom recording type setting. There is also no denying that if you want to hear some impressive guitar playing that won't leave you bored you will want to check this out.
Blue Hole is a one-man project from Washington who recently released Neon Clouds. It’s a twelve-song DIY full-length which has a mixed bag of genres. Shoegaze, experimental and ambient are genres that come to mind. Some of the songs contain vocals and some don’t. When he does sing it's hushed, monotone and sometimes sounds like he is in the pits of despair.
The production/recording quality is mixed and about average for a complete DIY effort. Some songs fare better than others. For example a song like ”Ultraviolet Scorpion” sounded muddy compared to “False Nostalgia For Teenage Summer Afternoon.”
Up first is “Graduation” which contains reverb laced guitars that create a dreamlike, atmospheric quality to the song. His vocals work well in the mix and about a minute in I was really enjoying the mix of elements. Once the distortion comes the production starts to buckle just a bit but I still thought it sounded great.
“Organized In Hills” goes by quick but I felt like it was one of the highlights. The soaring arc around the two-minute mark is one of the most inspired moments on the album. Another highlight is the next song “Frigid Dream” which is a very sparse and open soundscape. Oceans waves against pretty guitar parts make for a tranquil mood.
“False Nostalgia For Teenage Summer Afternoon” seems to have some influence from MBV while “Cognitive Reflux” falls closer in line with “Frigid Dream.” The one song that felt out of place was “Ultraviolet Scorpion” which seemed like it could have been the riff to an ’80s metal song. As the album progresses they are some impressive soundscapes with “Submerged In A Raindrop” being the most engaging and reminding me somewhat of Oneohtrix Point Never.
I can’t say Neon Clouds has cutting edge production techniques but there were some solid songs that were a pleasure to listen to. I’m interested to hear how he evolves from here.
The main issue that people have been complaining about with shoegaze is that the genre doesn’t know what to do with itself. Bands like My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Slowdive defined the genre and since then not a whole lot has happened. Serena-Maneesh came out with an unrated album in 2006 which did little to get the movement moving again. Moonlit Stay decided to have a stab at it on their album Sober All The Time with some success.
Just because shoegaze contains a lot of distortion, white noise and dissonance some people think it lo-fi. It’s quite the opposite. Loveless is beautifully recorded and produced through top notch analog gear and meticulously crafted. The same goes for the recent Slowdive record.
I wasn’t expecting Sober All The Time to be anywhere close to those two records from an engineering standpoint and it isn’t but give them kudos. I will say the band did a decent job with the tools they had. Some songs fared better than others.
Up first is “Strange Aura” which was a solid song. It's more or less shoegaze 101 around a 4/4 beat and a bed of white noise. The lo-fi demoness started to show itself with the first guitar that comes in “It All Ends Tonight” however it sounds much better when the second guitar enters the picture.The song sounds like it could be a My Bloody Valentine B-side.
Up next is “Ashes To Ashes” where we are introduced to vocals that are expectedly low in the mix and covered in reverb. “Don't Run From Me” has a couple of issues including off-key vocals which didn't mix well but has a couple inspired moments in the instrumental department. The other notable song was “Sobering.”
Moonlit Stay has a little bit of work ahead of them if they want to impress a die-hard shoegaze fan. I think they understand the genre and the songwriting has its moments but the production will need to get to the next level to be competitive with staples of the genre.
Overall, I think they fall into a case of wait and see with potential. I wish them luck on their evolution.
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Bosh Jyrd is the recording project for Josh Byrd. He recently released Psychic which he states “is an idea I've been messing with for quite some time. There are two sections: the first is more straightforward, than the second becomes much more abstract.” To be perfectly honest I barely noticed much of a difference. All of the songs are built upon a similar bed of distortion. The only song that felt a little more experimental or “abstract” was “The House.”
Psychic is a lo-fi demo quality recording. I think lo-fi can work somewhat with this style considering so much of it's centered around white noise and fuzz. That being said the vocals were really buried and good luck trying to make out any lyrics. The drums are also very undefined and often get eaten by the distortion.
He opens with “Psychic (No Clouds In The Sky)” which is more or less a fuzzy ball of white noise that gets thrown away. It sounded somewhere between garage, punk and shoegaze. It’s a long song at six-plus and the last couple of minutes are dedicated to a instrumental blast that was hard to follow what was going on.
The differences on “Muscovy (Jared From Tucson)” and “The Trees (Abandoned The Shelf)” take multiple listens to sink in. I thought the guitar work on “The Trees (Abandoned The Shelf)” was great. “Formless and Empty” had a little more definition. There is some actual separation between the instruments and it's best a reminder of Comets on Fire.
As I mentioned earlier “The House” felt a little more experimental. It moves like a lumbering snail through an enchanted forest. It felt closest to drone metal. He closes with “The World Turns Into A Picture Of Buildings” which is a ten-plus-minute rollercoaster ride of white noise.
I think Byrd is getting close with the production and aesthetics. A few tweaks and I think it will land. The 2010 album Everything In Between by No Age could be a good reference.
Overall, there are some solid ideas here and I appreciated his songs. On that note I’d also be interested to hear what other players could contribute to this project.
Chased by Creatures is the recording name of Montreal-Canadian musician Cedric Melancon. His album Rewriting History features ten songs all written, performed and recorded himself. His sound could be described as alternative rock with a singer/songwriter feel.
The album started with “5 Years” which had a gentle piano a sad melody. There was a full two minutes of instrumental before the vocals started which caused a bit of a shocking contrast. Melancon has an interesting singing style. It’s almost a sing-song type feel with whispers and raspiness.
There’s a whole lot of emotion in his words and it oozes out with each syllable. I was thinking this unique style was specific for this track but it continued into the second song “A Different Frame of Mind.” The lyrics are poetic and metaphorical and filled to the brim with feeling. Lines like “I’ve been trying to bury the feelings before they even die” are sung with a lot of passion which gives off a very dramatic, almost theatrical vibe.
I liked the track “Old Lovers (and a Whiskey Bottle)” which had no chorus, just line after line of pain and angst. Melancon has a way with words and lines like “I want to feel what it’s like to be solved like a riddle. Without a clue” which really made me want to love his style but it came off as a little too heavy for me in most songs. “Don’t Worry” was very whispery and dark but then took an aggressive turn with drums that were a little too loud for the song. It felt disconnected and scattered but that could have been the intention.
The tracks “One by One,” “How Lucky He Is” and “Tired of Me” were very similar and there’s no doubt that Melancon’s personal pain and loss are the subjects of each of his songs. At some points, it was too much emotion. If some of the pain could have been showcased with instrumental performances so that the vocals could take a more subdued role, I think at least in some tracks that would have been helpful. The drama of the vocals got a little distracting.
“This Town” had a cool funky beat and almost a Spanish sort of vibe which I really enjoyed. But the aggression in the vocals was again distracting. They were more understated in “Mountains” and the final track “Let Me Be” which allowed me to appreciate his songwriting talent a bit more.
Chased by Creatures possesses undeniable songwriting talent. I feel that if he were able to rein in the emotion just a tad in the vocal performance, it could be redistributed in the instrumental performances which felt a little lacking. I still enjoyed Rewriting History partly because it felt so raw and personal like you were peeking in on Melancon’s diary without permission. I think with a little tweaking and fine tuning he could have something really special. I will definitely check out future work.
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Peter Ormerod is musician from England who recently released Music from Another Place. There are a couple of things of note about Ormerod that you may find interesting. Besides playing with a couple of notable bands the most perhaps unusual thing about him is how he perceives and writes music. The way he describes it it seems as if he experiences music as if he is an unique being visiting from a different dimension.
The first claim is that his music comes to him in his dreams. He says “Although quite diverse in terms of mood and style, all the music came to me in dreams or daydreams, as if from another place.” As someone who has gone to school for composition and has been writing for over twenty years it seems a little far fetched. Perhaps I’m not sure what he means. Does he get complete compositions transmitted in his sleep and have them instantly memorized? Interesting claim that I would be interested to pick his brain about. The second thing of note is a certified condition I read about years ago. Ormerod is a synaesthete which means he sees colors when he hears music. There isn’t too much out there about the condition but definitely worth a detailed Google search.
Now that you know a little bit about Ormerod the title of the album may make more sense. Music from Another Place is an instrumental album that revolves around the piano. Ormerod is unequivocally a great piano player and that is the appeal of the album. His music leans towards the atmospheric, new age, ambient side. It’s relaxing, easy to listen to and avoids dissonance. I have to say it's similar to the kind of music that I hear when I’m getting acupuncture.
I couldn't tell if the piano was organic or digital and in the end it's doesn't matter. It sounded intimate, warm, and authentic. Ormerod often utilizes ornamental atmospheric which support the piano melodies. The only slight problem I have was the sound of the drums which sounded static and artificial. He doesn't utilize drums very often so it wasn’t much of an issue.
The album was cohesive and fluid. It definitely has a certain scheme of tones and textures that he presented. The highlights to me were actually the last three songs and “All The Building.”
Music from Another Place wasn't a particularly challenging album when comparing it to other pianists like Ben Lukas Boysen or Greg Haines. The songs were contained and strayed away from experimental or off-kilter ideas. It very much felt like relaxing mood music which might serve you best if you were feeling a little anxious or overwhelmed.
Ormerod certainly has some talent and I am interested to hear what other songs are delivered to him which he can present to us.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in In One Basketcase is the recent release by Elliot Schneider. Frank Zappa came to mind when I saw the album cover but when I heard his music The Rolling Stones and Elvis Costello were a couple of names that surfaced.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basketcase is definitely influenced by ’60s rock more than anything else. I’m willing to bet that's the music Schneider grew up on as it seems to spew in some way from all the songs.
He opens with “The Moon Has Flown Away” which is a well-crafted song that was well delivered. It’s atmospheric but also is full of catchy hooks. I was impressed and will say the remainder of the album has a number of equally impressive songs.
“Diehard Killjoy” is a more straightforward rock song with some slight blues influence while “Lost on the Radio” is a psychedelic, infectious song with a killer guitar solo. He continues to ride an atmospheric yet rocking vibe on a number of songs. A highlight to my ears was “Are We Only Dinosaurs?”
Another you don't want to miss is “Overruling Neo-Fascists” which has some clicking percussion elements and harmonica that make the song a standout. The last six songs were either demo or rehearsals. I thought the recording quality was solid but some of the songs felt a little out of place aesthetically from the previous songs.
Schneider isn't exactly reinventing this style of music. It felt more like more an homage to a number of inspirational artists for the ’60s with original songwriting. I felt like the delivery was there and the songs were well written.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in In One Basketcase is an album that will fit nicely alongside some of my favorite rock bands from the ’60s.
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