When you mix an activist agenda with a focus on aesthetic beauty you get the music project duo known as The Flower Pistils. Micah Huang is a musician and performance artist based in Boston that partnered with composer Emma Claire Gies for this project entitled "Zara and the Electric Gamelan."
The perspective of this album is from Zara who is a solitary time traveler from a post-apocalyptic future. The album features the unique Balinese Gamelan genre with electronic infused indie rock. With all of Huang's work there is storytelling, activism, multiracial influences and a gender/queer perspective. A truly inspired work of art from the beginning to the end.
"Bought or Sold" is the first piece on the album and definitely eases us into the Balinese percussion as well as more of an ethereal indie sound. The vocals start but the rest of the song crescendos into a more heavy Balinese percussive state that bellows and echoes with the indie guitar. Two unique sounds, yet complementary.
We move into straight Balinese percussion in "Queen of the Night," the second song of the album. The lyrics and vocals are unique, hypnotic and almost other-worldly. It is a bit dark and a bit mysterious in instrumentals.
My favorite song in the whole album is “This Con.” It feels tropical and playful, and I noticed myself even swaying while listening to it. "I need a place in this con, this conversation..." I love the play on words within the lyrics, but this is where the Balinese shines. It's as if the indie scales have tipped.
Get ready to hear electronic, dystopia, and reminiscent elephant trumpets in "All I Want" featuring rising Seattle transgender community music star Claire Michelle. The lyrics are seductive, straightforward and cut close. "I'm always on the run, don't want
to get caught," rising and falling throughout the five-minute song.
"Jungle Flute" is the final song on the album, and instead of focusing on the percussion, we move into woodwinds as a focus. It is playful, light and melodic. Tranquil river and forest sounds with a soft drum in the background that sounds like thunder, this song may be the more experimental one on the album yet still retains its spark, it's connection with what is lost in grief, but also celebrates the beauty that is.
The work of Micah Huang is professional, multicultural and interdisciplinary. I feel that as a performance artist he would add a whole new layer of storytelling visually to his music. There are a variety of songs, each featuring different stories and chapters but in some beautiful winding way we end up transfixed in the instrumentals, probing lyrics and ride the stories that he creates.
A.M. Gunter is a solo project created by Drawing of Flies member Michael Gunter. Gunter has been in the North East Ohio scene for over fifteen years, playing in many different bands and in many different roles. Inspired by the music his grandfather played in the ‘40s and ‘50s, the music his parents grew up with in the ’60s and ‘70s, and the music he grew up with in the ‘90s and 2000s, Gunter’s debut Merely Dust is equally inspired by Hank Williams, Type O Negative, The Beatles, Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie. Gunter describes his style of work as a diverse collection of tunes that range from folk and indie rock to alternative, to old school country, blues and singersongwriter. There’s even a ballad on the album. Thematically, his songs deal with love, loss, happiness, regret and alcohol – sounds like Gunter has the makings of a quintessential country album. He recorded, mixes and mastered everything at Dusty Fly Productions in Ashtabula, Ohio.
“Little Hand” begins with brightness and an open, airy sound and keeps that spirit going through most of the song. Kyle Painter helped out on vocals, electric guitars and programming. “She Belongs with Me” features a slow, sultry beat with plenty of soulful swagger - a blues infused ‘50s style slow rocker, just made for slow dancing. “Change” has a more modern vibe – part classic soft rock from the ‘70s but with a modern contemporary feel. “Long Way to Heaven” has a trippy take to it – something like Radiohead meeting up with an obscure post-Beatles Lennon song. “Massive” is more indie and alternative but there’s something about it that felt old school, kind of like Ryan Adams tapping into the old school stuff.
“Livin’ Like I’m Gonna Die” definitely makes a great title for a hard drinking “screw the system” country western song a la Wilco or Hank Williams III. “Haunted Dreams” has that mystical Americana feel to it – of storytelling songs filled with myth and magic. It kind of reminded me of a B-side that U2 did during their Joshua Tree years. The album’s titled “Merely Dust” felt like a title track song, complete with all the band instruments, including the drums by Alex Smallwood. This one also had a mysterious, darker edge to it like the previous song. “Piss Water Beer” indeed has one of the funnier titles in music. This one I think George Jones would have blushed at first, but heck, he would have appreciated at its amusing words for sure.
“I Am the One” is not about Neo’s realization of his role in the movie The Matrix, but instead it’s a song that rocks out pretty hard with alternative acoustic flavors in the style of Radiohead, more or less. It was written by Michael Gunter and David Clayman. The last tune is “Golden Unknown” and it features Tyler Pew on lead vocal and Kyle Painter on backing vocals. The melody on the piano, which starts off the song, was absolutely fantastic and it made me wonder why Gunter didn’t use it more often on the album. In fact, this last song was my favorite – maybe I was just in the mood for this kind of song, the ballad. I assume that’s what this one was.
All in all, Merely Dust is a diverse album filled with lots of styles.
Circle Verse is located in Asheville, North Carolina and it’s a new project of original songs that Nick Brower wrote as a singer/songwriter while living in Asheville during college. He describes the EP as, “my most earnest way of expressing stories to the world… to incorporate things that I’ve learned over the course of all my relationships and from my friends throughout being in college and living on my own in Asheville for the first time.” Brower describes the moniker Circle Verse as, “a reminder to be aware of patterns that may be harming (me), and to understand when to let go of something after ruminating over it for too long.”
Circle Verse can be viewed as both a solo act and a multi-instrument band and he indeed had a little help from his friends: Ben Stockdale on drums, Benjamin Mercer on bass, Mary Steinbrecher on electric guitar on track 1 and vocal harmony on track 3, Claire Hoke on banjo on tracks 1,2 and vocal harmony on track 2, Virginia Taylor on vocal harmony on track 1, Joseph Flais with acoustic guitar solo on track 2 and Ron Taylor on the bells on track 4. Brower’s inspiration came mostly from George Harrison’s mantric lyrics in his 1970 masterpiece, All Things Must Pass.
The opener “Gallery” starts off rolling along in a mellow, folkish style. The production is clean and unfiltered. In some ways, it reminded me of the jazzy folk style of Norah Jones and the emo vibe of Elliott Smith. Personally, I like the cello with the banjo, quite a unique combination and I can’t say I’ve ever heard these two instruments together. The most memorable line to the song: “If love is a risk we take, we’ll do it anyway.” “Looking Out” rambles about with more of Brower’s mellow style, complete with banjo and backing vocals from Claire Hoke and an acoustic solo from Joseph Flais.
“Shower Song” feels more like a ballad love song and its lyrics suggest “sweet loving’s” to someone you’re in love with. The cello and harmonica really made this number stand out for me – such a sweet, innocent and tender vibe – a lot of emotion in this one for sure. The last tune “My imaginations, however” is perhaps Circle Verse’s most vulnerable and introspective song. This one felt more melancholy as Brower’s words recall where his life is so far. To add more explanation here, Brower states, “the lyrics dance around the question mark of how to better connect and love other people, while reaching out of the debris of loneliness and longing that comes and goes after a relationship ends. Part of it comes out as blame, and the last song seems to carry acceptance of what one has contributed to one’s own demise.”
If you like music that is deeply heartfelt, delivered in a mellow, acoustic folk style, give Circle Verse a try.
TC Superstar is group that came together in 2017 and is fronted by Connor McCampbell. There are a lot of other people in the band which includes. Julio Correa, LB Flett, Mitchell Webb, Francis Rodriguez, Emily DiFranco, Aaron Chavez and Yuriko Roby. In all honesty I can’t imagine you would need that many people in a band. Perhaps it’s more like a collective, sort of like Broken Social Scene. At any rate, whatever their process and whatever they are doing is working. Their album R&D is easily one of the more infectious and purely fun albums I have heard this year.
It’s also a concept that explores notions of love, romance and relationships through the lens of two characters, Ricky and Dana. Concept albums are hard to pull off but this story felt so seamless and relatable. The story is very human. If you have had a long term relationship I think you will be able to empathize.
Things open with “Dana Be Mine” which is synth pop with all the right influences. There is an ’80s feel to it not unlike bands like The Chromatics have embraced and it feels like a mix of bedroom aesthetics and live instrumentation. The hooks are the real deal here and after my second listen I was addicted. In fact, I would say this song has enough energy to dance to. It’s not as clubby sounding as bands like Cut Copy but it’s in the same arena.
“Something Real” brings to mind an artist like Majical Cloudz. It’s warm with slight melancholy but also just as catchy as anything else on the album. The title track revolves around airy synths, a deep kick and infectious vocals. That being said if you pay attention to the lyrics, it's a dark song about suicide. It’s also quite hopeful sounding at points.
Some of the other members contribute vocal harmonies on “Ricky Ruin Me.” It’s perfectly mixed to my ears. The male and female voices go together in a way that makes it sound androgynous. It’s also like the songs which came before which are wickedly catchy and fun.
As the songs progressed I found myself more immersed in the album. It’s a little hard to pick my go to highlights but I could listen repeatedly to “I've Been Thinking Bout You,” “Dana's Song” and the subdued dance number “Into You” which ends with a question mark as far as the relationship between the characters go.
I was worried this album was going to be too catchy. Sort of like how bubblegum loses it's flavor fast. That’s not the case here. The sturdy foundation of storytelling along with exceptional aesthetics choices make this an album I’m sure plenty of people revisit once they hear it. Highly recommended.
Jack Adams is an artist originally from California who moved to New York to get involved with music. His self-titled debut Jack Adams contains five songs. Adams has a classic Americana warmth to his music. It’s a cocktail of harmonica, acoustic guitars and heartfelt lyrics. He mentions artists like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young as like minded artists and that makes sense when you hear the songs.
“California” is a good mix of rock and folk. It starts with a fairly rocking beginning but quickly simmers down. His vocals are well delivered and easy to appreciate. The song quickly rises with distortion and a rocking chorus. I thought the song had a very classic Americana feel to it.
“Anyhow” showcases a different side to his talent. The song is little more melodic and atmospheric. His voice really shines here and the earnest lyrics avoid metaphor and attempt to go straight to the source.
“Floodgates” has some country flavor to it. I was loving the guitar work on this track. The distorted guitar cuts through the mix and the lead acoustic work is on point as well. “Beautiful Storm” is a beautiful song and the arguable highlight. The lead tremolo tinged guitar against the acoustic is a winning combination. Once the harmonica comes in we are good to go.
“Apocalypse” goes almost full rock. This song had a classic rock flavor to my ears. It wasn’t only the use of distortion but the actual riffs and squealing guitars. He closes with “Farewell, Blues” which is stripped back and revolves around his vocals and guitar until the end. The vocals are very powerful and dynamic on this track and was a good way to end.
The resurgence of Americana is going strong. With bands like War on Drugs and Bruce Springsteen releasing Western Stars which is by all means classic Americana there seems to be a need for sincere authenticity. This release is another welcome addition to that genre.
Patrick Brady (guitar/vocals) and Ben Stillerman (drums/backing vocals) are Balloon Animal. The duo recently released Doll House. It’s a stripped back effort but they get a lot of mileage out of theie instrumentation. There is some fuzzy garage rock, maybe some art rock with some other minor twists and turns.
The band gets going with the most garage rock style song in the spirit of a band like Minuteman. It’s a couple of fuzzy chords, a slick beat and a fast tempo. They do throw in some Jack White style lead blues guitar at one point The song is dripping with attitude and I could picture a bunch of twenty somethings squished in a room together listening to this type of music.
“Homebody” is its own thing. The vocals have this sort of spoken word thing going on. It’s an interesting and a little Morrison-esque. I really like the structure of this song. It’s raw and more experimental than straight garage rock. The band No Age came to mind as well.
“Yellow Telephone” is the arguable highlight. The groove and style was reminiscent of some of my favorite bands off of Touch and Go records in the mid ’90s. The singing could almost be considered rapping. It’s like it could go either way. “Taller than Jesus” is a slower waltz of sorts. They end with “New Dog” which goes back into garage rock 101.
The band has a number of styles happening. I got the feeling that they are still experimenting with their sound on this release. On that note the fact that they are around the two year mark makes me think they are going to gel all these ideas they have into a foundation on their next release. I could be wrong but these are the patterns I recognized after being in this business for twenty years.
Overall, there are some great ideas and songs on this release. I became a fan and I’m interested in hearing what’s next.
Atom Mitchell is a great example of an artist who seems to be built for solo work. The proof is in the pudding when it comes to his project The General Slocum and his new album Soon The Spring. The album is a steady stream of well crafted alt rock that that is broadly beautiful while also intimate and charming. It is a healthy mix of organic and non-organic elements that give Mitchell a modern folk twist on his sound. I registered this nautical vibe, I can smell the salt in the air and something about this ebbs and flows. It makes sense given Mitchell hails from St. Petersburg, Florida. Like the ocean, there is a lot of beauty and tranquility in the album, but he also revs up the waves and creates large swells of emotion. This album felt very introspective and it was impossible not to get lost in my thoughts.
This album is full bodied in every way. It's been a long time since I've had an album north of twelve tracks. Soon The Spring has fifteen. It presents like a long form sprawling narrative. Many of the songs dig into hyper specific anecdotes, I feel like you get an entire section of someone moving through life in this album. Time has serious weight here. You feel each page turning. It is very accessible. The lyrics are diverse in delivery and form. There is a singular treatment given to his vocal performance which creates an echo like harmony that creates distance and nostalgia. His inflection is packed with emotion and raw energy; he knows how to tug on the heart strings.
I will warn you that while there are a lot of elements involved in their layering of these songs, they will often bleed into one another. As I said, there are big swells, but overall this album is an album sewn together very tightly and so distinguishing one track from another will be tricky. However I don't think that's something that is needed here. There is lots of lovely guitar work combined with an endless supply of fascinating samples and electronic instrumentation that creates so many gorgeous little details. I also want to acknowledge Mitchell's stellar percussion instincts. He can rearrange your entire body chemistry with the way he takes command of your pulse on this album.
Mitchell is the sole painter on this album. He's an Ableton Live kinda guy and I would say he is getting big bang for his buck. He understands how to use what's in the box and how to incorporate what isn't. The production is on very solid ground and is part of what made this album such a success. Every now and then I might notice a little slip here or there in terms of mixing where certain elements get buried, but that's about it. His mastery of what he can do as a producer is very promising.
Mitchell is not a full time solo artist. He plays in a band as well. I think this would explain his natural ability to make this album sound like a team effort which I always find both cool and a little curious. I feel like this skill means you are very good at having a conversation with yourself, which in my opinion, is a very handy skill. Bottom line, give this album a go.
Independent musician Paul Luckhoff is only 16 years old! The Sunnyvale, California native has been recording music since June of 2018 and already has a mature sound for his age. First starting by covering songs, Luckhoff now writes his own original track. Using Adobe Audition in his bedroom, Paul recorded, mixed and mastered his EP, songs he wrote during his sophomore year of high school. Whenever he wasn’t busy with schoolwork he dedicated time to his album. He played everything himself except for the drums as they were programmed.
Worms in Mousetraps opens with the ten-minute track “Walking Home.” However the way that it’s broken up it is suggesting that there are three different stories. The intro starts with soft acoustic guitar and harmonic howling that is warm as sunrise. It quickly fades out to transition as a rock song with electric guitar and smashing drums. It’s high energy and goes at a solid pace. The song is about having poor communication skills and not being able to come out to people. It has an awesome bass breakdown with ticking high hats that builds up the anticipation to the finish. “On Top of the World” is another alternative rock track. Listening to the song structure you can tell Luckhoff was inspired by the sound of Weezer. With the chill sound and high pitch chorus, Luckhoff admits as much as he said Car Seat Headrest was a prominent influence on him.
“Shame” is song a Luckhoff wrote as part of a history project on WWII, which he got an 98/100 on. While the six-minute track start off slowly, it grows into an epic musical experience. Once again Luckhoff does a fantastic showing how even at a young age how much potential the young man has. There’s a beautiful guitar solo that keeps building the whole time. My only complaint is the solo cuts short abruptly returning with a slow vibe. “Moletown (Felt My Head)” is the shortest song on the EP. It’s a simple track that has a nice swing as the catchy lyrics, “felt my head go numb” getting stuck in your head. Luckhoff finishes with “Held Together.” Again the sound is alive and kicks ass.
Paul Luckhoff’s EP Worms in Mousetraps is a good indie rock album with a bit of pop. This album shows promise in a young musician with fantastic talent. He laid out the structure and builds it up wonderfully. Hopefully Luckhoff can perform with a band live in the near future because the experience would be amazing. While the songs are a bit too long and could be cut down a bit the instrumentation of each song especially “Shame” is worth hearing. I implore Paul Luckhoff to continue pursuing his dream as the young man has a bright future ahead of him.
Alternative rock band Whitecaps is a three- piece band from Saskatoon. In the past they played in separate bands playing hardcore and punk. Now their goal is to produce palatable protopunk on the music scene in Saskatchewan, Canada. All the songs started out written by lead singer/guitarist James Wojak on an acoustic guitar. Then the songs would evolve with the rest of the band’s input such as tempos and how to make the songs more dynamic structurally. The end product is the band’s album Left You Out.
Left You Out opens with the intro track “Joshin’.” It’s a super laidback song with dreamy instrumentation. It quickly covers being attracted to someone who’ll probably never like you back. “Well I’m being honest you’ve got away with, words beyond reproach here and now lies all my hopes. So please stop lying, I’ve been trying and you’ve been doing this all night.” The following track “Chatterbox” continues the themes of finding love in the wrong places. “You've got such potential but loving you is detrimental to my progress. Give it a rest, have you ever slept on feeling like I'm the one for you, you know I never felt it to.”
“Debt (Friends)” has a mellow vibe that is catchy with bummer lyrics in the chorus “We’re born in debt, we’re born dead.” Luckily it points out the importance of having good companions to make this life a little more bearable. Which is why we’re in debt to our friends. “Let You In” is the best song on the EP. From the beginning it starts with groovy instrumentation and showcases James Wojak’s vocal range more. Here the Whitecaps capture the hurt one feels from a serious heartbreak - being vulnerable after a few drinks and only wanting to speak to the person that caused the pain even though it’s not a good idea. The Whitecaps end the album with “I’m Not a Smart Man but I Know What Love is.” The short song is a bittersweet ending that you have to let go of someone if they don’t love you back.
Whitecaps’ Left You Out is a nice, short EP. Most of the songs are under three minutes and get to the point without ever overstaying their welcome. The band did a good job of storytelling with the beginning steps of falling in love to the unfortunate ending of a relationship when things don’t pan out the way you would’ve hoped. You can feel the sadness within the simple lyrics yet the instrumentation keeps the songs light and upbeat. From listening to the sound you can tell bands like Elliot Smith, Built to Spill and Pinback influenced them. The fact that you could relate to the words makes Left You Out worth listening to.
Jeff Pfannenstiel (guitar/vocals) and Chris Bowman (drums) are a midwestern heavy blues-rock duo based band called The Blackbird Fields out of Manhattan, KS. They formed in the summer of 2017 and recently released Bandolier.
The band is a no frills rock band and they make music that has gone in and out of fashion since the ’60s. There are different slight variations of rock and you pick out a specific date but for the most part it’s distorted guitar, drums and vocals. It’s the type of music that is always best seen live.
They get cracking with “Canyon Jump.” It’s hard not to think of The White Stripes with this type of setup but on this song in particular the similarities are undeniable. It’s fun and also goes in all the places you expect it might.
You can hear the slight deviations of influence on “Lonely Saturday” which sounds like a mix of classic rock and a tinge of ’80s rock as well. A band like ZZ Top or Bachman–Turner Overdrive came to mind. The hooks are there as is the delivery.
Those two first songs are indicative of what else you can expect. “Phantom Limbs” is catchy and familiar sounding like it could have been a single while “World's On Fire” felt like an anthemic sing along. I would say overall this was a cohesive batch of visceral, raw rock songs.
This type of music has become somewhat timeless. If you stumble into a bar in the midwest there’s at least a fifty percent chance a band will be playing heavy blues rock. People love it and The Blackbird Fields seem to embrace that quality.
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