Dirk Schwenk & The Truth is an Annapolis-based original group styled after groups like The Eagles, The Band, Crosby Stills & Nash and The Grateful Dead. The Truth is comprised of Kevin Pezzuti (bass/vocal), Chris Vallone (electric guitar/vocal), Joe “Guitar Joe” Wilk (guitar) and Mike Mulroy (drums). They released Along The Road which contains five songs.
The EP gets going with “Table Set For Two.” I thought the guitar picking pattern was great. Schwenk starts sort of talking/singing in a play by play first person perspective. Layers of instrumentation find their way in the mix including a warm organ. The song goes into a somewhat predictable guitar solo and breakdown before finding a more subdued verse. It’s a solid song with great performances.
“The River” is a lot more country with strong Americana influence. The song did have more of an FM radio ready vibe to it. It could definitely fit into the country/pop category. I really liked the instrumentation on “I Am Graced” with the mandolin really taking the reins. “Along the Road She Comes” was a fairly straightforward hybrid of rock, country and pop while “Flag on a Hill” is a patriotic, nostalgic song.
The production and recorded quality was good. Perhaps a little too good. The treatment of the songs had more of a Top 40 Billboard aesthetic which I tend to feel makes this style of music feel over produced. I prefer a little more raw recordings especially with the treatment of the drums.
There is no doubt that everyone in the band has talent. The performances were great. I also thought the songs were well written. On that note I think a couple of surprises along the way or deviations from a familiar structure would have imprinted the songs in my memory more than they were.
If you are fan of any of the aforementioned styles and genres I think this EP deserves a moment of your time. Take a listen
Oh boy, Jeremiah Wilson doesn't know it, but he managed to have my number with his album Goin' West. Wilson is a storyteller who has delivered unto me five indie pop songs that managed to bring out my lesser known, rarely seen softer side. You can tell a big part of Wilson's heart beats for musical triumph that was the entire decade of the ’60s. He's very good at creating that catchy magic of that era where the big gun musicians could tackle the tumultuous times with addictive, bright eyed music and still make an impact. Wilson looks to make an impact with current times and I would say for me, the impact was clearly felt from where I'm sitting.
Wilson chooses his chords ever so wisely to keep things dreamy, beachy and peachy. I love his commitment to the warm and fuzzies when it comes to the music. Foot-tapping tempos and effortless riffs really grab onto that ’60s magic. You gotta be careful though, the lyrics are where the songs get their teeth. You can hear in the words the thick and often haunting ironies. It's a tricky business he does. He engineers his earnest vocals with a modest and distant treatment that give the lyrics a bit more point to them. He presents the lyrics very gingerly and with an almost unsettling amount of innocent charm. Again when paired with the lyrics, the irony can get very thick, and I came to enjoy this aspect the most.
Fun fact, this album's production is a bi-coastal effort. Wilson lives in LA and recorded the album at a home studio in North Hollywood. The mastering was done in Boston at Old Colony Mastering. The album appears to sound as intended with a healthy amount of overdubbing to capitalize on all the warm and fuzzies synonymous with the ’60s theme. However, the mixing and mastering utilizes enough modern techniques to keep the album from sounding dated. Overall I would have to give high marks to production. Everything settled neatly into place.
The album does have its sleepiness aspect which resulted in some tracks coming off as not very memorable. I think with a short album like this I would have preferred a few more changes in tempo, but I can appreciate the lazy afternoon vibe he was going for and I do understand that is a serious part of the aesthetic.
I think Wilson does sleepy beachy VERY well, but I also think he has a serious talent in quicker tempos as well so I would love to hear more of that skill set. Perhaps the reality is I just wouldn't mind more of this album, but again I think the amount of songs was also intentional. This is a brief interlude into a certain universe and it goes as quickly as it came. Other than my selfish little hang-up to hear more, I really enjoyed this album and respect the craftsmanship behind it.
The Motherlode is a band from Newcastle, Australia comprised of Tom Kearney (vocals /guitar), Cameron Mckenzie (guitar), Zeke Marosszeky (drums) and Louis Thorn (bass). They released two self-titled EPs The Motherlode. and The Motherlode which pays homage to ’70s garage rock like The Stooges and MC5. The band sticks a little more to ’70s roots than say to other popular garage rock revivalists like The Strokes. I would argue the band is closer to a band like Ty Segall.
As far as I’m concerned garage rock is all about having a good time. It’s always a blast to see live if the band is worth their salt. It’s freeing, cathartic music but it's also more aggressive and pissed off than anything the flower power movement in the late ’60s produced. The audience seeing a band like Television at CBGB’s in the early ’70s was more likely to have a bottle of whiskey in their hand than a tab of LSD under their tongue. After spending some time with both EP’s those were the nostalgic thoughts of revolutionary youth that were swirling in my mind.
The band gets riled up with “Butcher Than You” which almost at first sounds it would be something you would hear from AC/DC. Once the verse enters with vocals my thoughts shifted to Sex Pistols. They are able to capture a good energy and were pretty much ready to ride the wave that’s implied by their cover art.
Up next is “On The Line” and this where I started to really dig the band. Hidden beneath some of that crunch are catchy hooks which are still the foundation of a good punk/garage rock song. The band interjects a little bit of surf into the mix on “Die!” You could argue they sound a bit more contemporary here like a band like Bloc Party or even Pretty Girls Make Graves but either way the song is a blast from beginning to end. I loved the dynamics.
“Secret’ is killer. The riff is just badass as the band spirals out of control. There are little peaks and crescendos that just keep the song rolling. They close with “Jolt of Energy” and I loved the rockabilly vibe that gets turned up to ten.
That's the first EP I listened to. The second EP is a similar ride. They roll with the “USC” which is a little dark and sludgy but still a blast. Motörhead would be proud of this one. “Black Sea” felt like a classic the first time I heard it. The hook is undeniable and anthemic. The band burns with “Bustin” which is heavy and loaded while “Gak” has a start and stop rhythm that a lot of people associate with Queens of the Stone Age.
The two EP’s showcase different styles and I recommend listening to both.
What Motherlode is doing is nothing new. That being said they are one of the few bands I have heard in recent memory that have delivered this type of music the way it was intended.
Byron Horton aka Skypp is a hip-hop artist from Indianapolis, Indiana who released Tenth. The album contains twelve songs and is an impressive feat in production and technique. It’s also a diverse album. There are a number of what you might call straightforward songs which follow a pop format but with some twists and turns as well.
The album gets going with “Same Energy” which is one of the more lush and pensive tracks on the album. It contains orchestral strings, piano and what sounds like manipulated vocals and an impressive beat. The rapping is front and center and revolves around a relationship and the past.
“Hidden Treasure” sounded like a single to me. It had more of a club vibe and a notable hook. The song is also mellow and chill. Great song. “Meallions” is another impressive track. I loved the bass, female vocals and hook. The song has one of the more unique vibes on the album. There were interesting breakdowns that got my attention.
“Love Real” is dreamy and atmospheric while “I Want My Lick Back” not only has a great name but talks about everything from revenge, breaking trust to someone hitting on his momma. The R&B is up front and kicking on “No Caption Needed” and “My Gang” which felt like it could have been from the ’90s at points.
“Uhaul” has a tinge of ’90s southern rap while “How Else” was a highlight with some of the unique instrumental aspects on the album. Speaking of unique, that’s what I say in regards to the title track. The album closes strong with “Moments Make Music” and “Live Right.”
Tenth is one of the those albums where you can tell how much work went into it. It’s obvious from the attention to detail to the scope of the broader ideas. This is a refreshing hip-hop album from beginning to end.
Bryan Wang is a singer/songwriter from Rochester, NY who recently released Asterisk Demos. I felt the fact that he had the word “demos” in the title was a little misleading. The songs sound very well produced and didn’t sound like demo-quality to me.
Wang is a solo artist and is inspired by the one-man-and-a-guitar act of artists like Passenger, Damien Rice and Ed Sheeran. The one significant difference here is that Wang delves into sound design with synths. It sounds like singer/songwriter genre which usually entails some intimacy but also doesn't mind going for a electronic vibe perhaps comparable to a group like The Postal Service. That being said there is wide palette of sound but it is almost always very soft, intimate and warm.
The album opens with “Alibi” which in one word is smooth. It’s smooth as velvet and so easy on the ears. The synths are effective and support his vocals nicely. Wang also knows when to add layers to the song. “How a Stranger Breaks Your Heart” is another success and arguably the most comparable to a group like The Postal Service. There is a good amount of forward moving momentum but Wang displays a lot of restraint.
“We Were Meant” continues to take advantage of minimalism while “Shoes in the Middle of the Road” is a folk song that puts acoustic guitar in the center along with his vocals. “Up In Flames,” “Yes and Know” and “Breathe” show a variety of more sound but nothing sounds too far out in left field from his other songs.
“Emma Stein” was definitely one of the more packed songs. In fact you could call it epic in some ways. “Paper Mache” was solid but “Time” contains one of his most noteworthy vocal performances. He closes the album in a hopeful way with “Uphill Battle” and the acoustic ballad “Document 4.”
Wang does the pop/singer-songwriter category justice. I think fans of the genre should give him a whirl.
Twenty years ago I was seventeen. I had about three years of playing guitar almost every day. Looking back I still just getting started finding my technical and creative skills on the instrument. Brendan Collins is currently seventeen and only has about six months under his belt with guitar. One of the main difference is that in 1998 there weren’t many ways to record yourself. Times have changed. Although Collins still has a lot he can learn he is off to a solid start with his EP Looking Back.
The EP is instrumental and the focal point is the guitar - in particular the lead guitar work. He starts off with “content” which simply revolves around a couple of strummed major and minor chords and some soloing. It’s not too shabby and works as a short intro.
“the last Thursday” comes in a little over six minutes long and contains some more instrumentation like bass and what sounds like brushes. The song is fairly dynamic and even a little jazzy at points. “family & friends, hello & goodbye” takes a dip in recording quality and is a little more lo-fi. He adds a live drum kit but it is mostly similar to what came before - jangly guitar chords and well executed lead.
“looking back (feat. Christian Valdez & Seven Pappanastos)” is the closer which is the highlight. The song is the most atmospheric out of the batch and also the most emotionally resonant. There aren’t many significant changes but the song has its moments.
Collins might not realize it now but if guitar is going to be a lifelong passion for him he is just getting started. He seems to thrive as lead guitar player and while he isn’t Joe Satriani at this point I encourage him to keep practicing his scales, hammer-ons, etc. to develop his skills in this area. I suggest at this point just to continue with technical ability and slowly but surely the creative moments should start to appear.
Collins is a case of wait and see for now but I wish him luck on his journey and hope to hear more soon.
Days To is a one-man band masterminded by Oskari Kuusela. Days To is based out of Norwich, UK. The That and The Because is the second album from the project, weighing in at 16-tracks. Recorded in different parts of the United Kingdom, the bulk of the project was recorded by Kuusela without much outside assistance. A generous number of musicians lent their talents to Kuusela’s efforts, leaving The That and The Because with a multitude of different instruments, voices, and playing styles. The end result is an album that is rife with soulfully delivered performances that are certain to captivate the listener from cover to cover.
Two tracks are notable for not only their run-time compared to the others on the album, but for being in another language. “Ni-Pisti” and “Spaces” are both less than two minutes long, while other tracks on the album hover around the three-minute mark. They feature ambient sounds, backward guitars and pianos, and chanting and speaking in a language that I am unable to identify. Both tracks serve as a distinct turn around from the sound of the rest of the album. Despite their short length, there is a lot to listen for in the background, making playing the song three times in a row and listening for all of the different parts an excellent aural I-Spy of sorts.
“The Colour of the Mirror” immediately reminded me of an early David Bowie song. The vocal delivery and the arpeggiated guitars that lead into flowing chords as the vocals sail over the top of them, competently conservative drum work, and grooving bass lines are reminiscent of the early glam rock sound. “Hush” immediately follows, with a lightly strummed guitar and another playing a bendy lead that soars over the first guitar and isjoined by synthesizers and filters to create a full listening experience with minimal use of the sonic space.
The That and The Because is a relaxed album. Lyrics don’t bore a listener with political messages, or whiny songs detailing lost loves and false starts. Guitars, basses, drums, voices and other instruments create a large space in the speakers. Synchronicity between the instruments, and the voices, as they enter and exit the space is unbelievable. Several times on the album I wasn’t sure if a song had changed. The song had not; the transitions between the different sections are seamless. It makes for an exciting listen with all of the variables that are adjusted not only during the songs, but between them as well. This also completely justifies the length of the album. It never feels repetitive. It doesn’t get boring. This album has more curveballs than a Justin Verlander highlight reel. The That and The Because is truly an engaging listen, and an album that you definitely don’t want to miss out on.
Jason LoCricchio is a pop singer/songwriter/producer from Denver, Colorado who released his debut album entitled The Departure. It’s fundamentally a pop album that flirts with a number of other styles.
The EP starts with a contemplative field recording that is supposed to instill perhaps a sense of movement and wonder. It builds quickly into a crescendo that tricks you into thinking it’s going somewhere.
“Young & In Love” demonstrates his vocals. He sounds young similar to Youth Lagoon. I liked his voice but it took me a couple of spins. The hook and verse is strong. That being said the one-off rapping felt a little out of place and I thought a straight pop song may have worked out better.
“Charlie Chaplin (feat. Slake Dransky)” starts to go in different directions. The song felt like a dance/pop hit with a heavy dose of hip-hop. It’s definitely more of a club song. The hook is still there and sounds like a solid song that will resonate with young twenty somethings.
“Looking For U” is a highlight. This seemed like LoCricchio’s most natural vocal style. It pays off and he sounds his best. The verse is catchy and I liked how LoCricchio utilized his range. ”Blue Like Heaven” is another solid pop song while “Action Figures” is a little darker but also well done with some memorable hooks.
“Grit N Bliss” has its moments as well. After a brief interlude titled “Fly (interlude)” the album gets going again with “Breathe, We've Got Time” which could be a single. “Skyscrapers Pt. 2” is another banger while “Kids” is more melancholy and nostalgic than anything that came before. “The Aviator” is the closer and another highlight.
There is no doubt LoCricchio can write a hook. In fact the album is full of them and that’s really the most important aspect with pop music. LoCricchio’s foundation felt a little scattered and he was perhaps dabbling into too many aspects of pop. I think the slower more melancholy approach and straight pop was his best efforts.
Overall, this is a solid album. If you are looking for a good album to sing along with this may be your ticket.
Dylan Helms is a nineteen-year-old musician hailing from Kansas who released Monotone. Helms is currently pursuing a music degree and the songs he recorded during spring break that are on Monotone come out to about five minutes in length. It’s a complete DIY bedroom effort at this point.
The EP starts with the title track “Monotone.” I have admit the instrumentation does sound a bit like some of the presets (drums) you have in Garageband but you have to start somewhere. I immediately liked Helms’ vocals. He has a nice tone and texture to his voice and hits all the right notes. On top of that the song is pretty catchy and felt like certified pop. I think this style is perhaps his bread and butter and could imagine an entire album of like minded material.
He takes a turns for the dubstep and hip-hop on “Too Much.” It’s almost like he is rapping but not quite. Either way the song is exactly a minute long and felt like the first verse in a song that could have been much more. It’s well executed but a hook would have been nice to top it off. The last song is called “Come Watch TV” which is a mix of hip-hop and pop. I thought the song was a highlight. The hook is there but I felt like it needed to be a little more pronounced and emphasized.
This EP is a little too short to get a complete scope of Helms’ abilities but it certainly shows some potential. He has all the time in the world to boost the production and recording while improving his skill in and outside of class.
I was also a music major and when I graduated about fifteen years ago I still remember it was a journey worth taking. Hopefully, Helms has a similar experience and continues to evolve as a musician. I’m sure this is just a start.
Cosmic Contact, the three-piece outfit from Miami returns to space again with Origins: Part Two and digs deep into all things spacey. The band draws from a wide range of artists you may hear influences from, like Radiohead, Tool, Nirvana, Queens of The Stone Age, Rush, Jimi Hendrix and Muse.
On this second release, which continues similar themes from Origins, Part One the keyboard takes on a more predominant role because the band wanted to create a more “spacey vibe.” And indeed – mission was accomplished from this earthling’s perspective. The number of tracks are consistent with Part One, that of four, and aspires to take you on an “epic journey…through the trials and triumphs of life in this strange universe we live in.”
The title for “Odyssey Aquarius” takes its name from NASA’s Apollo 13 mission and begins with fuzz-effect bass lines and big, bold sounds as if a rocket is taking off. It rocks hard like a Tool song and with the keyboards added and progressive off beats during the break, a good smattering of Rush influence can be heard, too. “Out There” fades in with even heavier fuzz bass lines that sound otherworldly and a sludgy, trippy beat. The keys and vocals mesh together as if becoming one instrument, which I thought was pretty cool. This one felt like the title suggests – ‘out there’ – like on some kind of trip not knowing where to.
“Goodnight” begins with a rocking acoustic style, kind of like the grunge of the ‘90s, and that formula stays steady throughout the song. Vocalist Chrystian Von Schoettler really brings his vocal chops to the next level, as does Robert Whiting’s keys and Michael Rodriguez’s drumming. The last tune, “Bye Bye Contact” has a pretty tasty fuzz bass line that reminded me of what original bassist Cliff Burton did on Metallica’s “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth).” I really like the melody on this one – the keys, bass and vocals – how it all came together was very well done. Rodriguez has some great drum fills on this one as well. The break between verses has an excellent explosive energy that revs up some speed and the keys get crazy good – the band’s instrumentation begins to work up a frenzy into a chaotic climatic ending as they journey deeper through space. Where will Cosmic Contact’s next journey take them? – stay tuned at mission control space fans.
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