Rick Barth is a singer/songwriter from New Jersey. I think I would have guessed New Jersey even if I didn’t read it previously. On his most recent album Fade he has that working class sort of blue collar vibe going on. The songs are relatable, human and earth bound.
The album starts with “We Had Fun (Didn’t We?) which is a reflective rock song. It’s slightly fuzzy but embraces a lot of clean elements as well as reverb. The songwriting is strong as are the vocals (which are strong but tender in a way).
“Anymore to Me” comes closer to straight country. I loved the melody and style of this song which is very lush and atmospheric. Barth sounds fantastic with some hurt and reflection in his voice. “Break Your Heart” picks up the pace but doesn't put the pedal to the metal. It’s a mix of Americana and rock with tons of memorable melodies.
As the album continues the album tends to lean towards folk inspired songs with cleaner elements and a good dose of reverb. Barth really does a beautiful job with songs like “Fade,” “Shine” and “Remember When.” In fact I’d say the same thing about the remaining songs although I did have some favorites.
“Change” felt like a perfect mix of country and folk as well as reflection and the promise of the future. His vocals sound perfect on this track and I liked the hope he has in his delivery. I also wouldn’t miss “Damage” which contains orchestral strings and perhaps some of the most intimate moments on the album.
Fade hits all the right marks. Barth is clearly a talented musician who knows how to write a song and deliver it in all the right ways. Recommended.
If you're interested in traveling back to a time of bare bones blues rock, Jim Hayes Band has your number with their latest album Sign Of The Times. It's the kind of thing where the context is key. Jim Hayes has been around the block when it comes to the New York City music scene. He has worked in many capacities with many bands. He has graced historical venues like CBGB and Limelight with his presence. Now he's home in North New Jersey making music with lifelong friend and bassist Tom Parsells as well as guitarist Mike Nappi. There is no doubt when you hear this music that Hayes is a serious history buff. The band sticks to traditional formatting and tactics when it comes to cutting a rock album and I have always felt there will always be an audience for that.
This album is a bit of a time hop. Again, Hayes keeps it very traditional. The album definitely has a live element in mind which means it's just one of those albums a band can play through without much of a fuss. Sticking to the standards gives them the luxury of being very comfortable with the material and you can hear it. Admittedly I think a little more experimentation in the structure and musical realm of things wouldn't have hurt. However, I know there are plenty of purists who would disagree with me. I think my favorite track on a musical level happens to be the final one on the album "Hungry." I feel this was their freshest take and was one that stuck with me.
I think one thing that didn't help the issue of everything sounding a little dated were some of the production choices. As I mentioned, this album has a lot of live energy to it, especially in the vocal department. At times the album felt like it was embracing that energy and other times it was a bit more indecisive. Especially on the instrument end. it all felt a little too far away. I know there were was a lot of blood, sweat and tears put into this album, but it was hard to feel it when it felt so boxed in. I have a feeling listening to these guys live would give a whole other perspective.
There have been albums under the handle of Jim Hayes Band, however this is the first album with the current line up. Hayes has a lot of plans for the future, and I hope he can see them all through. As I said, there is always an audience for this very pure form of rock n’ roll. You cannot deny the love this crew has for the genre and how deeply committed they are to it. I think their audience will find them with little effort.
For The Legion is a Swedish pop-punk band from the island of Ekerö outside Stockholm. In 2012 childhood friends Ed Lindgren (vocals/guitar), Johan Låås (guitar), Marcus Birgersson (bass) and Hjalle Lindergren (drums) formed the band as a rebirth of previous projects. Growing up they were influenced by bands like Blink-182, Green Day and Millencolin. In 2013, they released their debut EP Flamboyant, a more modern pop-punk sound influenced by bands like Four Year Year, Me vs Hero and Set Your Goals. For The Legion followed up by releasing the album Super Smash, where the title track was a tribute to video gaming and comic book heroes. In 2016, the band released a four-track LP Regular Terrestrials on Christmas Day.
In 2018, For The Legion entered the MFG Studios once again with producer Alex Holmberg for their third album Down The Path. The album displays a more mature sound with themes such as global warming and parenthood. Down The Path opens with the track “May.” The song tackles the concept of becoming a father for the first time. Lead singer Ed Lindgren has firsthand experience, as he became a father four days after finishing recording the track. Off the bat Ed Lindgren’s vocals passionately shares the excitement and fears of parenthood with the energetic instrumentation.
“Pick Me Up (Hey You)” is another fast paced track. The sound of Hjalle Lindgren’s smashing drums keeps the song fun for a mosh pit with the catchy chorus screaming, “Hey you, what the hell did I do?” The following track “We Want You To Panic” is heavily influenced by words of climate activist Greta Thunberg. It has a much more aggressive tone with news reporter clippings laced in the middle of the breakdown. For The Legion ends the rock album with a soft acoustic track “Thin Air.” It’s a stark contrast compared to the rest of the album. While all the songs are loud, screaming this is just a calm track showcasing the bands gentile side. It’s just Lindgren and his acoustic. I wish the rest of the album showed a little more variety to break up the loudness and give the ears a rest.
Down The Path is a very intense album. If you need a boost of energy give it a listen. It will definitely give you a jolt within its short set list. As the band put it, “The album is about personal change but also witnessing how the world is changing around us. We have put in a lot of work and are confident that this is our best work yet, as well as the most personal.” I agree that this is their best work yet.
It was almost too easy to fall in love with Minimal Animal and his latest album I Thought We'd Be Happy Here. This is dream pop taken to the next level. Gorgeous vocals hit you deep before you even know what happened. Powerful lyrics are unapologetic in their vulnerability. There were also so many fantastic production techniques that make all of the songs very three dimensional. Nicholas Alexander creates an intimacy that is not often found in this genre.
"Rise" is the opening track and it's a haunting, emotional beauty. Being introduced to the vocals for the first time is one of those deep breath moments. Such a rich and romantic tone to his voice had me completely undone. At the first note, I was all in. He utilizes a lot of iridescent electronic instrumentation. Everything about the musical element emits light and energy and so yes while the song is rife with emotion, there's a lot of ambient light to it as well. It feels very cathartic and personal.
Next up comes "Happy Here." The subject matter comes through pretty quickly and illustrates the dismay in a very unique fashion. There's a deconstruction to this one that seems to act as metaphor for someone being torn apart and who is now adapting to their new form. I really loved the key element on this one.
Following the emotional front end of the album is something a little more curious with the third track, "Discount." It is merely a short, minute long interlude that was recorded on a phone in the east end of London on Petticoat Lane. It features what sounds like a retail store announcement audio looped in a way that is so thoughtful and insightful. Usually I don't give interludes like this much thought, but there is something so poetic and playful about this that I feel a strong need to give it its due. This one minute speaks so much about the kind of artistry Minimal Animal wants to present.
Last, but by no means the least, is "Not Giving." It starts with slow building keys and a little bit of fuzz. There's also this vocal harmony that pours into string and saxophone elements that explode into an emotional climax. So many beautiful and fantastic layers make this track a real heart thumper.
This album is stunning and deeply original. It's strange that I know many would find this album to be niche somehow. However I truly believe Minimal Animal can cast a very wide net with just these four tracks. In the day and age of Internet sensations popping up over night, I have a lot of confidence in what this artist is capable of. Give it time. Now when it comes to what will be next, I may not be as patient. That's the problem with these lovely little short albums. If I love it I simply feel teased. Best of luck to Minimal Animal. This one really, truly was a pleasure.
Trdml is a group from the northwest suburbs of Chicago that recently released Marathon 212. The trio have a foundation in hip-hop and seem to be doing all the right things.
The EP is only around seven minutes long but I really liked every second of it. They start with “UH HUH” and right away I loved the groove which is funky and also features some cowbell. The music itself sounds somewhere between De La Soul and The Rapture. It’s absolutely dance floor material and the horns are legit.
The delivery of the words is smooth and loose. All of the members feel fluid and have their own cadence and affectation. They just come off as if they are having fun. The band even does an old school reference from The Simpsons. I was a teenager in the mid ’90s and the Bart Simpson phrase “Eat My Shorts” was everywhere for about a year. That’s why I have to respect the line “Take a seat though so you don’t waste mine / On my board like I’m Bart / Eat my shorts I go hard.”
“DINNER TIME” is very smooth with some electric piano and a kicking beat. The bass line however is just fantastic. This song also has a number of great hooks. I again thought everyone in the group had a distinct style and delivery. There are some slight vocal harmonies which work very well together. Last up is “URKILLINGME” which is just a little over a minute long. It’s more experimental but super tight. They twist and contort what sounds like 808 kick and snare hits.
I’m all about this music. Truth be told I come from Crystal Lake, IL which is also a northwest suburb of Chicago so maybe we have something in common. The group looks totally unassuming but dear lord they absolutely tear it up. This was a very short EP but they made an impression and I hope to hear more from the Trdml.
From Southern Connecticut hails the emo rock band Mighty Tortuga. Over the summer of 2018 the band made their live debut at the Roldy Fest around the same time as their debut single “Classic.” You can tell the band was influenced by bands like The Maine, Turnover and The 1975. Lately, Mighty Tortuga have been performing and touring in the New England area selling out their local venue The Rough Draft as well as co-headlining the Spring Fest Benefit Show which is designed to bring awareness to the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence Coalition. Now they have released their debut EP Letting Go.
Letting Go opens with “Stay” which was the first single off the album that premiered on Radio 104.1 Connecticut’s iconic alternative rock station. It starts off with eerie sirens but evolves into beautiful guitar chords. It’s a mellow listening song with soft vocals you can get lost in.
“Over Again” is the best song off the album. It’s laid back but not as mellow as the previous track. The chorus is catchy with its fast pace swing that makes you want to dance. It’s a poppy sound that Mighty Tortuga perfectly executes.
“Virtue” is the hardest rock song. The song speaks about growing up and changing from who you used to be and focusing on the path you’re aiming for. The album ends with “Memory Ln.” While the vocals are nice it’s all about the instrumentation here. The guitars and drums are able to transport the listener to a state of bliss.
Letting Go is a great rock album with pop flavors. It’s also seamless in that you can burn through it from beginning to end with and appreciate every moment. That being said the first two songs “Stay” and “Over Again” are the highlights to my ears and you’ll want to listen to them over and over because they’re so damn catchy. Make sure to check out Letting Go.
Rocket 66 is a collaboration of seasoned musicians from other bands such as The Fits, The Men They Couldn’t Hang and The Members. Their debut The Comedown (And Other Smash Hits) was produced by Dave Allen (The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, The Chameleons, Depeche Mode among many more). The band’s collection of songs tips its hat to the ’70s/‘80s post-punk and alt-rock bands of that counterculture generation. The band consists of Alex Love (vocals/rhythm guitar), Calle Engelmarc (lead guitar/vocals), Dave Broderick (drum/percussion/ vocals) and Ricky McQuire (bass/vocals).
The beginning to the album’s title track, “The Comedown” reminds me of The Who’s “Can’t Explain” but then after that it’s all Rocket 66. The opening line was memorable – “Oh my god what happened last night? I couldn’t get the drugs right.” Great guitar sound, a clean production and lyrics that speak of coming off of a drug “high,” but I think in this case the band was referring to an obsession with a lover. “Candy Nose” is another great guitar number with low driving bass lines, rumbling drums and a psych-rock break between the song’s chorus and bridge. “I Wonder” begins with an acoustic guitar mixed in with the electric and delivers an overall softer sound to the band’s repertoire, kind of in a folk indie-rock style. I really loved the play between the dry bass lines and the guitar effects during the break.
“Tax Man” definitely taps into the ska-reggae style with crunchy, quick guitars and a smooth and slick bass. This is a fun number – try not dancing to this one. “Ring Ring” features Rocket 66’s harder edge rock style and an overall great mix of styles – punk and European/Brit-pop from the ‘70s with modern rock sensibilities. It’s also a song that was originally written by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, (of ABBA fame) Stig Andersson, Neil Sedaka and Phil Sedaka. I absolutely loved the beginning to “The Pout” with its heavy, thick bass lines and thundering drums. This one goes deeper into the band’s darker side, bordering somewhere between punk, pop and a smattering of goth. The band turns things around again on “Colours of a Breakdown” with styles of ska and pop-rock – another fantastic number! “I Don’t Want That Crap Around” makes for a great song title. I thought this tune was one of the band’s catchier songs, with its infectious bass lines, guitar hooks and fun arrangement. This would make a good anthem for the masses at any of the band’s shows.
“Politician” begins with an awesome bass line. The song’s style felt more like a punk song with new wave/modern rock undertones. Kind of like Television, early U2, Gang of Four or some of those bands from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that came of age. “Roots” has an edgier rock-ska feel to it, something between island rock, Santana and soul/blues. A really great number and it shows just how well this band blends styles together. “Sinner” wraps up the album with a different feel. A rock ballad of sorts, bouncing back from a soft acoustic delivery on the verses and straightforward rock on the chorus – the backing vocals are fantastic here.
Overall, this is a great debut from these veteran rock n’ rollers, giving the listener plenty of styles to chew on.
Weltfremd is the evolving music project of Marco Bruder featuring Albrecht Probst on cello. He just released his newest DIY recorded album in the three-part Doom Metal series entitled Nachwelt. Established in 2014, Bruder hails from Eisenach, Germany to bring an instrumental lyrical and distinctive Eurometal and Instrumentation that takes us through hell.
Instead of taking us like Virgil in Dante's Divine Comedy through the landscape of hell we are taken through the river Styx as one of the songs is aptly entitled into a diverse instrumental progression.
The first song on the album "Acheron" is definitely the death and dying transition into hell. The lyrics are strong, in pain and slow. The drums and vocals primarily taking the spotlight. This is definitely the transition from life to death interpreted lyrically, within the mood and instrumentally.
"Styx" still leans into the transitory phase from “Acheron." However in the middle of the seven minutes it transitions into a higher tempo. The lyrics become a bit more accepting of his fate and understanding that we are riding in the river Styx. Joining all the souls together as the distorted guitar solos leave feedback everywhere, the procession moves forward into the river of souls.
A completely different tonality, mood and emotion of fear and acceptance is in "Lethe." It contains choral vocals, acoustic guitar openings and muted percussion - almost a holy connection with the monastic supplication being too late. It was definitely one of my favorites off the album. The vocals were fantastic.
"Phlegeton" is a shift into a slower pace, screaming and haunting vocals, and deep drum progressions. This feels like the encounter with the demons that made things worse. This continues but with a less defeated tone in "Kokytos," the mostly instrumental eleven minute piece that showcases the guitar track and artistry. The song ascends to a slow crescendo and using feedback begins to descend among the anthem-like vocals.
My favorite song in the entire album features cellist Albrecht Probst in "Elysion." It is a beautiful collaboration of cello, guitar and muted percussion that reviews the entire journey and slowly backs away into the macro landscape of everything - a truly beautiful instrumental arrangement.
The album is six songs in total and about 50 minutes long. Listening to it you will experience a wide range of musical influences from sludge to black metal, atmospheric clean passages, electronic sounds, to finally funeral doom metal and post rock. I found it very accessible with beautiful instrumental storytelling throughout the entire album.
Fresh out of Connecticut I've got Big Fang and their three track EP Human Distance. Gotta say I don't know much about the Connecticut music scene so these gentlemen have the pleasure of acting as ambassadors, no pressure or anything.
The opener is "Frame" and I was immediately struck by the production treatment. The vocals almost sound like they are being filtered through canned air. It's a solid effect used by some of the rock greats that is both cheap and effective when done right. In this case I would say it is okay, does give off a dated vibe, but I understand and respect that nostalgia. It's a catchy alt-rock sort of tune that calls back to the turn of the millennium. It's a good tune, but didn't really leap out at me. I felt like there was a layer or two missing, not sure what those layers would be.
On “Emergency" we get something a little tougher and edgier - fun guitar riffs out of the gate ups the energy level. There was a lot of head movement for me and it was the catchiest song I heard so far. I love the harmonic vocal treatment on this one - a nice, big stage presence touch. This song quickly became my favorite for the song's structure and also the lyrics which are fantastic.
Last up is "Who Knows You." Again I ran into the dated nature of the production. Also with this one in particular the mixing was a little off for me. There were certain points where I was really straining to have those vocals really come through. However again, great lyrics on this one. I also want to give a shoutout to the drumming on this track. It really stuck out for me in a good way.
Overall I hear a lot of potential. I am very curious to catch these guys live just to hear the song structures without the gating of the production choices. I think there are lots of things this group has going for it. For one, they have a good foundation with songwriting and structure. Lyrics are also very strong, all the more reason I wish they were brought forward a little more. I also think they convey energy very well which is a great motivator to bring people out to shows.
I am very curious to hear what comes next from this group. There's good bones and a lot of enthusiasm here. As is I think this album will find its audience with those who appreciate the bare bones tactics that legendary alt rockers swear by. There is a natural addictive element here that I think could translate very well and cast a wide net with a little tender love and care. Best of luck to Big Fang. May you do right by Connecticut scene and hopefully reach far beyond it as well.
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whitewolfsonicprincess is a psychedelic folk-rock band that released their third album this past January in a two-volume collection called The Alternate Boot Vols. 1 & 2. The group emerged out of the avant-garde theater scene in Chicago by way of the Black Forest Theater Company, a performance group that presents edgy and original theater works. This neo-psych troupe has been compared to Fairport Convention, Richard and Linda Thompson, Neutral Milk Hotel, Son Volt and one of my favs, Cowboy Junkies (their first two albums are superb). According to the band, the songs on Alternate Boot are about life and loss, about being lost and being found, and the mysteries underlying everything. And, if you’re curious about the band’s name, they state that it’s a combination of symbols – a wolf in a princess hat, high-heels, a peace symbol armband, clutching a few wildflowers. The princess/wolf symbol embodies a series of dichotomies: male/female, animal/spiritual, body/soul, low-born/high aspiration, aggressive/peace-loving, darkness/light. Forever seeking wisdom in the consciousness of the natural world – ever-moving. Always exploring. This symbol can be found on their first recording 10+1.
Volume 1 starts off with, “So Clear” the first of seven songs that have an alt-country sound. The opener has a warm, inviting feel with a slow mellow rhythm. Guitars are in a style that harkens back to ‘50s vintage vibrations but with a more modern edge. The drums and bass have a nice, deep resonance to them. “Surfer Boy from Illinois” also begins with a slow, mellow rhythm and the congas/percussion in the background give the band’s sound a Latin-folk flavor. “Sadness in the World” offers just a bit of a faster tempo and a skipping beat. The lyrics provide commentary that may remind some listeners of the turmoil and turbulent politics of the ‘60s. The gentle, soothing background vocals really stood out on this one. “I Close My Eyes” brings a psych rock-folk groove that brings to mind some of the bands that were at Woodstock.
In “Song for Natalie” you’ll definitely hear the band’s alt-country style – I’d say more country flavored with the help of a lap steel or pedal steel guitar (I can never get those two right). “Last Laugh” features a drum rhythm played out between the toms and the snare (without the wire rake attached), which I always find to be a welcome sound. This particular song reminds me of a cross between Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Dire Straits. “Silver Moon” showcases beautiful violin sounds from Maria Storm and a mellow cello from Ben Davis. I thought this song’s style had a more avant-garde, free-form style and overall it was a great closer to the first volume.
Volume 2 opens with “Your Shining Eyes” – bright guitars, (with slide action a bit later), and a slow easy-going jam, coupled with what I can only describe as an eclectic, psych-gypsy rock sound that’s quite unique and refreshing to hear. I recommend listening to this one. “Salty Son” brings to the fold a faster, toe-tapping rhythm and crazy good bass lines. This one mixes a lot of influential bands – I can hear The Doors, The Beach Boys and Jefferson Airplane just to name a few – fantastic song! “They Don’t Really Know” features a full band sound that’s part folk rock, part southern rock with a great, moody feel that plays out in the band’s guitar chords. The strings add more tension to the mysterious mood of this number. Some parts remind me of the moodier songs of Gordon Lightfoot. Overall, I was blown away by this one.
“Brown Eyes” taps in again to the band’s more world, folk and neo-psych rock “gypsy” sound. The change in tempo structure and guitar picking gave this song great dynamic appeal. Think perhaps, Fleetwood Mac meets up with Loreena McKennitt and the Cowboy Junkies. “Dance a Wave” really threw a curve ball for me – just in the way the guitar sounded and the song’s overall arrangement. I really thought I was listening to something that perhaps R.E.M. once wrote with Patti Smith (albeit nowhere near in the punk style of Smith, but this one definitely has this alt-country pop rock feel). I guess it was the breaks between the verses that made me think of R.E.M. “Hand in Hand” is another of the band’s more unique and original pieces. The band adds some special effects amongst the song’s melody, giving it a psych-rock “Beatles-like” feel. Speaking of the melody, not to mention the song’s lyrics and arrangements, have a sad and reminiscent quality about them. There is a tenderness that I liked in this tune.
The last number is “Hand of Grace” the longest song on the entire album, but only by a few dozen seconds. This one meshes together a slow rhythm, a bit of a southern twang on the guitar and the warm, wood tones of the congas. In a way, this last song ends the album in a way that’s similar to how it opened – by introducing to the listener the band’s overall style and sound.
As a whole, whitewolfsonicprincess’The Alternate Boot provides a healthy variety for those who like something a bit more eclectic, neo-psych or otherwise unconventional. For me, I enjoyed Vol. 2 (songs 7-14) a bit better, mainly because I was hearing things that were quite inventive and memorable.
See this band live on Sept 4th in Evanston, IL. Check out the details here.
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