Ricardo Ortiz (guitars/vocals), Kris Keller (guitars/vocals), Adam Nine (bass) and Kurt Keller (drums) are Black Note Graffiti. The band released Volume II. They are a rock band through and through with a ’90s sound that fits somewhere between Linkin Park, Evanescence and a couple of other like-minded bands.. Something about the production also played into their ’90s sound.
Up first is “No Love Lost” which is the adrenaline pumping groove that sounds like it could be the walk in octagon music for a UFC fighter. The general vibe didn’t fit a sound of an “indie” band. It was a familiar sounding song in a number of ways.
“Such is Art” was a little more nuanced. There are dramatic Trent Reznor type whispers but the most inspired moments were when the vocal harmonies would be in the air with a palm muted guitar. “Castles” is a really straightforward and aggressive rock song while “Bar from The Cages” is a little more melodic and loose during the verse. The band plows through a number of songs that are well delivered and certainly rock. I thought the highlights were “Wicked Ways” and “Send off.”
Black Note Graffiti is a solid band. They can write a tune and play their asses off. Their sound felt like an amalgamation of different bands that I have heard previously in some way and I had a harder time finding the X-factor in their style.
I didn’t hear that defining element that would help me recognize their song if I heard it on the radio and because of that it could get lost in the ether. Suffice it to say I wanted to hear a little more experimentation and for the band to take some chances with where the music could go.
Overall, this is an album that will attract a more general demographic. Their music has a commercial quality that has a broader appeal. For what they do they do it really well.
Anthem is an experimental pop band based in Greenville, SC. As in genres like folk, every track on Anthem’s self-titled album Anthem tells a story, only they use the drum beats and synth of pop as their medium. The band was inspired by biblical stories to write songs exploring the human condition and the meaning of freedom as a concept. You may think you can imagine how this would sound, but I can assure you, you do not. I’m really glad I listened to the album before reading the band's bio because I might have made some assumptions that would have been dead wrong. Anthem is a collection of 16 tracks that take you on a journey using catchy beats and experimental sounds.
The first track “Intro” started with bell tones and a smooth sexy beat. The lead vocals remind me of Ben Gibbard from Deathcab for Cutie - soft and understated but clear and melodic. The overall sound of the track is unique and different and undeniably cool. I loved the female vocal harmonies and universal yet original pop sound. The second track “Run” had funky fade outs and ’80s gated reverb with a super catchy chorus. At this point, I was really digging it. The lyrics are complex and tell an intense story but the fun poppy beats take the edge off.
“Leave It” reminded me a little of Foster the People and had a darker vibe while still sounding upbeat. “Don’t Want to Stop” had a very similar feel. “Chasing the Wind” took a darker turn and had soft sad piano melodies and much to my surprise my new favorite lyric possibly of all time; “Life begins when we realize freedom is a cage.” Whoa. This is probably when I started really listening instead of just listening. Anthem’s lyrics are so simple yet cut deep.
They tell an existential story, diving into really heavy questions taken from biblical rhetorical (depending on who you ask) subject matter. The track “Lost” follows that biblical theme with an ominous ambient sound as did “Come Back.” The cool thing about pop music, and something that this band seems to really understand, is that it can take any subject matter and put into the context of the present moment and it becomes relevant and new.
“Tell Me” was very synth-centric and had a groovy sort of feel to it that I really enjoyed. “Prey” on the other hand takes you to a very dark, evil place. I’m assuming that this was a song from the perspective of the Devil or at the very least, a demon, and everything about the song worked in that context. The following track “Value of a Sacrifice” might not make sense if you were listening to it by itself without the context of the album since this track definitely colors outside the lines. It has marching drum beats and provocative lyrics. “Echo” has a more futuristic feel but was almost a little too out there for me. “Light” was probably my favorite track on the album with a slow and sexy feel that reminded me of The xx.
“War” was another ominous ambient track that made me think of a slow motion battle scene in an epic fantasy film. The lyric “Pick up your sword. Fight the demon army” certainly helps contribute to that imagery.
“Staying for You” was cool and catchy and could definitely be a stand out track apart from the album. “With You” was unique and trippy and I’m pretty sure it was about heaven which isn’t as off-putting as it sounds. The final track “The End” tied in some choruses and melodies from the very first track and gently ended the journey of Anthem.
Anthem is definitely a concept album but amazingly it’s not as restricting as some concept albums can be. There are several standout tracks that could fend for themselves apart from the album and even be hits in my opinion. I really enjoyed this incredibly unique take on pop music. Who knew biblical story lines could inspire such badass music? Certainly not me. The subject matter is not at all polarizing as it sounds and I found it totally entertaining and fun. Anthem is a talented group of musicians using songwriting to start conversations you otherwise wouldn’t be having and I think that’s a very powerful thing and what good music should be doing. Two thumbs up from this nerd.
Ghosts and Where to Find Them, a four-song EP from a one-man band out of Northern Virginia, comes across as introspective with catchy guitar licks and gentle, hushed-tenor vocals during some moments. The short collection of songs was recorded in the musician’s bedroom and he states that emo and power-pop groups influence his work.
The anthem sing-a-long “Back to Happiness” is very catchy and could very well get an entire crowd to sing with the band when played live with its steady marching beat. The song was a great way to start off, although the bass part was hard to hear throughout.
“Ghosts and Where to Find Them” has a melancholic feel, as if one is reaching into their past to find those ghosts and relive the memories, however sad they may be. It reminded me of childhood in some way, and a lot of images from my past came to mind. In my opinion it needed words to the chorus part, but after a few more listens, the wordless chorus perfectly matches the title.
“Table for Two” has a definite slower, rocking edge and darker toned guitars. This sounds like something Morrissey could have written or Johnny Marr of The Smiths – like an unrequited love/break-up song and those guys wrote plenty of them.
“Memories” is perhaps the most quiet, introspective of the four-song EP until the guitar breaks into the chorus part midway. This one also had a melancholy feel to it.
Overall, this is good effort. There are three other recordings on the band’s Bandcamp site if you wish to pursue more of that emo-pop sound.
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
Bible Party Dey Dreaming 3.6
Calvadore Soft Lads 3.7
Kippysmuse My #9 3.8
Citizens of Tape City SheLikeMe EP 3.6
Cardinal Sins Cardinal Sins 3.5
PONYLAND PONYLAND 3.9
rocketlily unaware of things .... 3.3
An American rock project out of New York City, Caves of Utah, describe their sound as stoner, groove rock with ‘70s fuzz guitar riffs. Indeed on my first listen, bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and guitar gods like Jimi Hendrix came to mind. Take my advice, this is a recording that you really shouldn’t listen to on a low setting – this kind of stuff wasn’t meant for that.
“The Ancients” starts off this effort with a driving beat, filled with searing guitars and gritty vocals perfect for this type of music. “Oceans” has sinister, slow grooves and muddier, grittier vocals mixed with a crazy quick, screaming guitar solo. “Sisters” has a much softer tone and a slower beat with a bright, clean guitar on the verses.
On “The Only One” the bass and drums are really the driving force here – I absolutely loved the beat on this one! The guitar solo with Wah pedal effects was killer, too. The last song, “Four Hearts” would make for a good song at a wedding dance (“Our lives just begin”) or a reunion of some kind between lost family members (“I am your kin…souls are revived”). It had a tender feel and it was a great way to round out the EP.
What I liked best about this recording were the science fiction references included in the first three songs, from what I read. Anytime a band writes songs about the stars, Cosmonauts and ancient cities unknown to man, I’m in! I love all things sci-fi and reading the lyrics on the band’s Bandcamp site came as an added bonus. For those who love album art, the photography on the EP is simply stunning!
Caves of Utah is carrying the torch for that classic rock/heavy metal sound of my youth and I very much look forward to hearing what’s next in store.
I am without a doubt over the moon for Wild Life’s Aquarius Moon. I welcome when this album will haunt my dreams in the best way. The group stretched out their strengths and grabbed hold of every corner of the indie rock chart. You get psych, grunge and some good ole fashioned heavy rock in the mix. This album was so exciting for me, it was equal parts cool and savage.
I want to start by speaking directly to vocalist Malerie Day and ask, where have you been all my life? This woman’s voice is utterly fabulous. She can wield it like a battle axe or a stealthy, poisonous needle. She has so much range in terms of tone and inflection. She is not afraid to get gruff and gnarly. This album was the first time she had been in the studio with a full band and she took to it like a fish to water. Her partners in crime, bassist Nicholas Aruda and drummer Matt Reinhardt are slayers at their craft. They can slide through genres and moods like snakes in the grass - seamless, innovative work from these guys.
Riddle me this, how many indie rock bands open their four-track album with an eight- and-a-half-minute psych rock extravaganza like “Aquarius Moon?” This band has some seriously sized trouser melons to kick things off on a track like that. I think for most people, a song the size and caliber of “Aquarius Moon” belongs at the end of an album. I love that Wild Life flipped the script. They didn’t just come out swinging, they clobbered me into submission and I was begging for more. The opener starts in a cool grungy/psych place and then kicks things up to eleven as it delves into some seriously wicked heavy rock.
Next up came “I Can’t Help It.” Now things have calmed down quite a bit and you’re in the swirl of a more brooding psych indie rock experience. This track was more about the lyrics for me. The music was lovely, but a little “meh” if I’m being honest. Track three is “Adorned” and is very appealing. This song fell into an area where I could hear it on mainstream radio and I mean that as a compliment. Very unexpected with its lightness and excellent rhythm lead by Aruda and Reinhardt.
The song that has my heart held hostage happens to be the last “Haunt You.” No bones about it, this song is nasty business and I love it. This is what holding a grudge sounds like, and it’s delicious. Vicious lyrics combined with Day’s undeniably badass vocal style and I was done for.
Day he made sure to give credit to the album’s audio engineer Chaimes Parker at Big Nice Studio in Lincoln, Rhode Island. She clearly knew what I quickly learned that she was in good hands with Parker. The sound quality on this album is superb. Everything about this album screamed “buy me” and I have a feeling it will do the same for a lot of those who take the time to check it out.
To quote the great American writer Jack Kerouac "The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars."
These words popped into my head after about one minute of hearing the raucous circus of hyper speed gypsy rock pouring through my speakers in the form of “AWAY” the opening tune off of In the Garden of Your Soul, the latest five-song EP from Townsville City, Australia’s The Sexicclesiastes. It’s definitely a fine way to kick off an album from a band that has had in its past formations up to twenty-nine members playing layers of guitar, bass, horns and keyboards but somehow keeping it all together.
The second song takes is a bit of a 180 from the crazy song heard previously. Its “Back into the Light” and it has wondrously stone-skipping prog-rock pacing and some pretty amazing musicianship all around. The guitars are eerie as are the swelling roils and peels of organ which echoes hauntingly with the rich backing vocals provided via Leesa Baker and Madonna Davies, as lead singer Goodo Goodson who sounds lovingly like a drunken street preacher. The whole song in and of itself is very spiritual feeling. This feeling and theme of spirituality continues on the bluesy rocker “Rain it Down” which again has that wonderful female vocal assault combined with swells of ‘70s psychedelic organ and guitar.
Next we get the Door’s inspired garage rock of “The Ballad of Stan” which is fun and groovy in a way and takes a slight departure from the more fire and brimstone thematic and schematics of the previous offerings.
The Sexicclesiastes then close out In the Garden of Your Soul the way any good psych band should with a wayfaring six-plus-minute song that encompasses all the elements of their previous offerings but amped up and toned down at intermittent points as though it were something being cooked on a stove. The song is called “Watermelon” and it’s both as beautiful and terrifying as an acid trip.
In my opinion if you’re gonna tout yourself as a crazy rock band of any genre and have a name that calls attention to itself then you had better be ready to back that up with some balls out ruckus of rock and psych-sensibilities. That’s exactly what In the Garden of Your Soul does.
An Appalachian inspired folk-rock band from the U.K. you say? Now that’s just silly. But really it’s the true story of the band The Empty Pages that hail from across the pond in Stamford and play very specific sounding southern folksy Americana and infuse it with a bit of that good old British folk balladry and at times one hears even a tinge of Spanish classical guitar in between the twangs.
The Empty Pages began as a solo recording project for guitar teacher Stuart Hendry who sings and plays guitar, then morphed into a full band adding Andy Dearlove on bass, Sean Dunmore on drums and percussion, and multi-instrumentalist Kieran Wade on guitar, mandolin, ukelele, keys, bass, vocals and percussion. Wade is also wrote the songs on this album.
Their debut record also called The Empty Pages was recorded, mixed and mastered by Wade in his home studio and sounds very professionally done production-wise. The opening track gets things off to an upbeat and twangy start on the jug-band romper “Autumn Girl” which showcases the bands attention to detail. The strings are finger picked to percussion and the percussion snaps with a precise crispness.
Another thing of note here are the vocal harmonies which are reminiscent of CSNY. Next The Empty Pages show their range on the downcast crooner “Bring Me Home” which clomps along at a horse trot pace and evokes a few sad fellers sitting around a campfire beneath the stars, passing the time and passing around a bottle of whiskey. Then comes the integral fusing of Americana country balladry with that intensely painted landscape that can only be reared by Irish and British folk story-telling of hardships which the band portrays on “Old Mill Lane.”
But The Empty Pages prove that they not just here to write sad old ballads but can also throw down a little rock and roll jamboree in the happy times as they do on the impressive and upbeat instrumental “Magic 66” on which they show off their collective instrumental skills. They even find time to stick in a little upbeat story song on the prison intoned “Glad to be Free.”
This is a well-wrought debut full of songs which chronicle the ups and downs of everyday life set to bristling, well-orchestrated folk. There are a lot of chroniclers of folk out there, I know, but The Empty Pages can rock circles around the lot of them.
There was a solar eclipse a few days ago and during that time when the sky darkened I was not outside watching with the rest of my compatriots but rather inside, watching the windows of my apartment darken as though storm clouds were fast gathering above in the sky, and listening to the simple purity of Cloves the second album from Belmullet, Ireland minimalist composer Seamus O'Muineachain. As it happened it was simply in the roster and I put it on not yet knowing what it was, or rather what it would become, which is a minimal masterpiece of meditation.
Seamus O'Muineachain intended Cloves to be the musical equivalent of the herb which has been used as a remedy for relaxation and calmness. Each piece is different, experimental and quiet in its own way but yet there is a common thread of calm that links all these songs together. It’s a very moving record, one that as it relaxes you and calms you also lets you begin to feel again in a much deeper way than you may have previously.
This was precisely Seamus O'Muineachain’s intention for the record. It was meant to, as he says “Cloves is intended as a meditation on the simpler sides of life. It was created with the intention of comforting the listener, much like cloves would in a more literal sense.”
Cloves opens with the haunting wisps of piano keys that sound as though they are being pressed down at times by drops of water; they are so soft and mesmerizing. There is a haziness to the melodies, the notes are allowed to flow out and float away at their leisure as though borne upon a wind.
This cascades into the closer and gentler feeling piano piece “Sometimes We Fly.” It’s a sound and feeling that reverberates throughout Cloves on such simple and moving tracks as “The City from her Bedroom” and the Nick Drake-like “Moonfire.”
Trying to describe the songs on Cloves I found really doesn’t do them justice. This is a tangible record that unfolds as slowly as a blooming flower and gives off different reactions and feelings with subsequent listens. If you feel you need to unwind or your simply just a fan of ethereal and meditative piano-led compositions then you need to add this masterwork to your collection.
It’s been a little while since I’ve heard musicians tread into unusual territory sonically. Slick, beautiful sameness is de rigeur in trap-accented pop music, and even the more out-there electronic music I’ve been listening to consists largely of the same synthesizer presets rearranged over stock drum samples. Folks just don’t seem to get weird in quite the same way they had been only ten years ago.
Porterfield, fortunately, is a group willing to step over that line. Though at turns jazzy, baroque, folksy and spacey, the band self-identifies as indie rock. At first I wasn’t sure if that was the best way to describe Amber, the group’s brief first EP, but as opener “Blue Genes” started unfurling I was quickly reminded of the broad slate of gonzo mid-‘00s indie acts.
It’d be tough for me to pin down Porterfield’s immediate influences, but the three tracks on Amber share the experimental spirit of Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, Dodos, and perhaps Fleet Foxes at their most bizarre. I wouldn’t think twice if you told me Amber was released in 2006, and I mean that completely as a compliment. Though scarcely 14 minutes long, the EP feels like a significantly longer journey, weaving disparate sounds into long tapestries.
The key to understanding Amber for me was the middle song, “Willow Tree.” Its elusive time signature, atypical percussion and celestial choral parts all synthesized wonderfully, but the power of the track came from an almost Paul Simon-like lead vocal and guitar performance from songwriter Jacob Aviner. You can’t reach the heights Porterfield is shooting for without a solid foundation, and Aviner’s competency in developing that foundation is evident on “Willow Tree.”
“Amber” the EP’s closing track most clearly demonstrated the entire band’s skills, particularly the burbling synth bass parts JP Goldman coaxed from a Moog analog synth. The dynamism of the track was also greatly enhanced by Raphael Lehnen’s textural drums. Lehnen’s jazz influence gives him a good sense of how to best complement the melodic elements of a very busy arrangement without competing for volume or rhythmic space. The performers all gel nicely, which helps instill an organic quality in songs that are given heaps of overdubbed vocal and instrument parts.
Porterfield is apparently prepping a full-length album, and if Amber is any indication, it’ll be a record for ceiling-gazers to get deeply lost in. I’d recommend this EP to anyone with the patience for the aural payoffs—if you like punch-you-in-the-face power-pop, Amber might not be your bag, but otherwise you’ll catch yourself singing the “knees and elbows” line from “Willow Tree” in the shower. There are so many moods that flit past on Amber, but they rarely clash, instead coalescing into a beautiful patchwork.
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