Super Fragile California is a post-pop noise band formed in New York City in 2006 by designer and maker Rob Smiley. In 2011, SFC moved to the Bay Area, where the band continues to record and perform. Under the Weather is their debut album.
The band’s sound diverges into a varied listening experience. Working in bass hooks and driving electronic beats, each track maintains its own characteristics. With each song standing alone on its own merits, it is difficult to peg the album to any one genre but you can say that they cover the electronic, punk pop and emo terrains. The album explores an immediate future filled with edgy imageries and dreamy soundscapes.
Under the Weather opens with “The Speed Of Sound” where beats buoy this track. The vocals come across as a bit subdued as the instrumentals unleash a minimalistic and sparse sound. Growling bass lines roar to life on “Ten To One.” The vocals sound out in a drone-like chant. The singing and music carry with it an emo and punk flair. More monotony is alluded in the vocals for “The Sea” that are nearly guttural. All I know is that I could hear his voice deep in my gut somewhere. The bass lines offer up a funky groove while the keys relinquish an energized feel.
The band lets it rip with dark sounding riffs on the somber sounding “Let’s Get This Show Started,” while “Time Capsule” highlights a more sunny and upbeat approach to the album. The melody on this song comes alive with vocals shouted out in the punk rock spirit. Warbling synths give “Terra” a robotic and moody flair. The intro displays the band thoroughly jamming out. The band does a total 180 with the closer “When You Get Younger.” This is mainly an acoustic song with an intimate performance with the guitar and vocals that is both warm and heartfelt.
The band mentions: “Initially written in response to the RPM challenge, the writing approach varied from song to song: bass lines driving the development of certain songs, beats others. Guitars are deployed as textures and attacks. The goal was to create a sparse but thick sound, simple but still dark and full of intent.” And indeed, Super Fragile California is able to successfully accomplish this, embracing their artsy side and channeling their penchant for experimentation. The album journeys through the shadowy abyss of a world on the peripheral with a whole lot to explore and ripe with many untold discoveries on the horizon. Each song an experience of its own captures the essence of adventure. Super Fragile California’s long-awaited debut is a whole lot to experience.
The band packs a dystopian world neatly into their 11-track album. While the riffs were for the majority dark, I greatly enjoyed it when they delved into their more acoustic leanings especially on the closer “When You Get Younger.” I hope to see more from the band with them maybe exploring their more acoustic-based sound in future releases.
Separation Baby is a three-piece rock band from The Netherlands. Maarten (vocals/guitars/songwriting), Leon (bass/production), and Antonino (drums) make up the group. Strangeland is their debut release, a four-song EP which combines elements of grunge and pop into an honest rock record.
“I Don’t Think So” kicks off the set. It starts as a strum-y, mid-tempo rocker, with Leon providing nice melodic bass work. The sing-along chorus shifts to a riffier guitar feel. The organ over the second verse, surprisingly loud in the mix, adds some new texture. Maarten’s rock n’ roll guitar solo over the outro was clearly fun to play, and fun to listen to. For me the phrasing recalled the late, great Gary Richrath. The track is a good introduction to the band, and a strong start for the EP.
The band keeps it up on “I Was So Lonely In This House.” The track is a little slower and groovier, with Maarten exploring a few different guitar tones over Leon’s solid bass work. The Motown-like guitar comping in the right channel worked well here.
“You’ve Lost the One,” up next, would be their radio hit. It starts with a ‘60s-like guitar riff, then moves to a grungy power-pop feel that previews the sing-along TV-theme chorus (anyone remember the Rembrandts?). The band stretches out their songwriting skills here, including--yay!--a fine bridge. The tune also displays their most complex arrangement, with a breakdown section and layered synth parts on the outro.
The EP closes with “Wonderland/Strangeland” which starts with a throbbing bass line under some Beatle-esque changes. The bass-driven verse offers an interesting, chromatic progression under a charming melody. As we’ve come to expect, the band builds into a memorable chorus. The guitars are nicely layered, and the track thickens to a culminate in a clever, low-fi piano coda.
Strangeland is an enjoyable spin. The band has written some catchy grunge-pop songs, and delivered them in an ear-pleasing way. They clearly have some skill in arrangement, as well. I hope they’ll continue to push themselves with their next release. In the meantime, give Strangeland a listen!
Crooked Heart is an alternative/post-hardcore band from Grand Rapids, MI. Formed in 2013, the band has previously released two EPs in 2014 and 2015 and their first full-length Stranger Things in 2017. Perpetual Twilight is the second full-length album from Crooked Heart.
With a sound steeped in metal and punk genres, it is just like the band to not take the middle road in these heavy veering group of rock songs. Right from the get-go, Crooked Heart goes on a mad spree of instrumentals with propelling guitars and hard rhythms coming from the bass, drums and vocals leaning into ill-contained fury. You can hear the rage in the searing screams and in the momentum of the music. The band gives their all in executing these driven metal sounds. You won’t be getting anything lukewarm from the Crooked Heart. While the majority of the album certainly has a bite to it, they also expand on their sound to include the atmosphere and texture of their subtler moments.
Perpetual Twilight gets going with “Stupid Prizes,” where feedback seethes in the forefront of this track. The song then segues into heavy guitars. The vocals are shouted out exuding a whole lot of fire and rage. On “Aboard The Unreliable,” the band sticks to a metal-induced sound toward the chorus, while the verses explore a staccato sound. A spree of guitars and rage-infused vocals fleshes out “A Visitor.” The clashing of percussions and drums drives a heavy hitting sound throughout “The Connections.” Wyman’s vocals alternate from a coo to outright screams in a matter of seconds, which really goes on to show his range and style.
On the title track, the band changes up the pacing for a more sauntering groove. The majority of this song is a slow burn and at other points it is fueled by deep anger. The band really leaves you guessing. Moody bass lines offer up darker riffs on “They’re Here.” “Sacred Agony” features the band’s softer side while also incorporating more of the band’s metal influences. The album comes to a screeching halt with the sparse “Into The Vale.” The stripped-down elements showcase the band’s more vulnerable side. The soft ending is an apt way to close the record.
Crooked Heart continues to build upon the sound of their previous releases. Revolving around themes of mortality and political hostility, the band sustains a driven sound throughout the gamut of this album. Powered by Wyman’s rage-fueled wails and tight-knit musicianship from the other band members, the band keeps the momentum with many a revved moment. Crooked Heart is able to capture the obvious side of emotions while also reeling in the more delicate instances on their latest release. Perpetual Twilight offers up many shades, moods and styles that fans of the previously mentioned genres can happily explore, while their rough and heavy sound is any headbanger’s dream come true. Be sure you have a listen today!
I heard the phrase happiness is a warm gun before but happiness is a wreck is a new one. Happiness is a Wreck is the name of the recently released from Pleasing Forms aka Todd Thomas. The music here veers towards older aesthetics. I was picking up on a lot of tones, textures and styles that originated in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
The album starts with “Full Circle” and right away I was greeted with a good amount of psychedelia. It was also smooth, warm and calming. This didn’t feel like a jagged bad trip. I was reminded of Donovan.
He continues with a mellow vibe on “Mystery Thread” and between the organ tones, clean guitar and drum pattern it was hard not to think of The Doors. His vocal delivery stays with a comfortable range and also fits with the calming music almost as if in a trance at times. I would say this is most noticeable towards the outro of the song.
There is definitely some rocking out happening on “Just Like Fire” which to me feels aligned with garage rock. Thomas mentions he was influenced by the early ’70s group Television and this song is in that territory. There is a good amount of distortion and energy on this song and arguably the catchiest chorus. This song also felt like it fit somewhere between Primal Scream and The Stone Roses.
On the last song “Blue Sky” he reverts back to the flavor of the first two songs but this song is more of a slow burn and builds with intensity. I also thought the vocal melodies were memorable on this song.
This release contains four solid songs. It felt cohesive and should appeal to fans of some of the aforementioned bands. Take a listen.
The most recent release from Westminster Park is Dark Night, Nearly Dawn. On their Bandcamp page it says, “The songs were specifically sequenced in an order to tell a story about getting through tough times or even, just one tough night.” That’s a sentiment I heard a lot recently in art and for good reason since we are going through the pandemic which shifted our way of life.
There is a mix of songs on this release and let’s approach them one by one. The first song is entitled “Candle Fly In (instrumental)” and it is a very nice mix of instrumentation. There is some flamenco work. The fidelity was impressive and the song created a mix of both tension and calm.
The next song “I Just Wanna Get Home Tonight” felt like an extension of the first song and was a highlight. There is some more great guitar work and some exceptional vocals. It’s about yearning to go home which is a familiar message we have heard before but well done.
“Mr. Sammler's Planet” is a lot more rock based. The song felt more lo-fi as well in some regards which mostly seemed that way because of the distortion. I really liked the tone which was reflective, melancholy but also quite hopeful. This song felt like a turning point in the flow.
“I Guess It's Good Night” is more rock focused and definitely a song that has a couple of powerful crescendos. I’m not sure of the original intent but to me this song felt like it was about gratitude.
“Come On Now” is very political. Some of the initial lyrics threw me off guard because it felt like a Celtic rock song and just wasn't expecting it. Suffice it to say it’s a hopeful song and has the spirit of revolution in the mix. “Candle Fly Dream” is some nice instrumental music with spoken word poetry that is delivered with that cadence you always hear with spoken words.
“In My Life” is way more lush and a mix of melancholy and beauty. I really liked “Wash Away” and the digital horns worked as well in ways you wouldn’t expect. “Nearly Dawn” is the definition of a slow burn. It’s over ten minutes and reminded me of a Nick Cave song. That being said it's a well deserved ten minutes and quite a journey.
The more intimate moments were the most powerful for me but the whole album is a solid piece of work. Perhaps more importantly it seems relevant for today. Recommended.
The Gospel According to Blind Uncle Harry by Blind Uncle Harry is an album that explores country, bluegrass, folk and some other like-minded genres. There is so much I loved about this album. The cocktail of emotions for one were incredible. It’s an album that is tender, warm, earnest, heartfelt and so clever and funny.
Take for instance “D Chord Hammer Ditty” which was just genius. They sing about the afterlife and taking a poo in this song and it makes perfect sense. On top of that the instrumentations and vocals are glorious.
There are so many other great songs that combine fantastic wordplay and creative music. I mean how could I not love the vocal harmonies of “Song for the Revolution” and the way it trails off in a comedic way. I found a number of lines really funny like the one about them kicking ass and people talking about them in the future. Right after that you also get some warm and tender lines.
I laughed before I heard a single note of “Uh oh (Sounds Like Somebody Pissed off Jesus).” This song actually starts off as an awfully depressing but compelling tale but sort of transitions in the saloon style knee slapping good time.
As the album progresses the band just crushed. “Strip Mining My Heart” was beautiful while “Sunny Afternoon” contains some slick sounding mandolin reminiscent of Grateful Dead. The last two songs are also fantastic. It’s important to mention the recording quality. I loved how much clarity was on these recordings but it's also very organic. The recording, mixing and mastering felt perfect for the style of music.
As you can guess I loved the album. I rarely find music that can feel this emotional yet not overly heavy. The balancing act of humor along with the more familiar emotions you hear on records rarely sounds this good. Highly recommended.
Chris True (vocals/acoustic guitar), Dan True (electric guitar), Jeremy True (bass) and Brendan Otto (drums/backing vocals) are Chris True and the Accommodators. Back in 2019 the band released Death by Country.
True mentions, ”After writing quite a few songs that were heavily influenced by ’70s era country music, I decided to put together a band to take into the studio and lay something down that you could've heard on a jukebox in a smoky bar in the mid-’70s.” I’ll say he definitely achieved that vibe. This was such a pleasure to listen to.
The EP starts with “What's Left to Say” and revolves around clean country twang guitar, a driving beat and a bit of a walking bass line. This definitely has some alt-country vibes but also feels aligned with a band like The Shins. The instrumentation was great but man the vocals were just exceptional. I really enjoyed the lyrics and spirit in which they were delivered.
“21st Century Breathing Man's Blues” goes hard in the paint with a somber ’70s melancholy feel. This song has the swing of an old country song and shares a lot of similarities to Johnny Cash. He gets the tone right and the beautiful sorrow sounds welcoming.
The tempo and energy increases on “The Last Time.” In fact this felt like a song where you would want to grab your partner and dance. The energy feels even more country on “Think Again.” He revisits similar themes on “Problems” which is very catchy and felt like a sing-along.
True doesn't deviate from the sliver of influence on these songs. He revisits the timeless theme of lonely nights, whiskey filled dreams and the beauty of suffering. The thing he does so well. I thought the songwriting, delivery and production were all on the money. Take a listen.
Rolando Lopez Herrera (guitars/vocals), Carlos Nava (guitars/synth), Eric Mayne Siaumau (bass) and Joshua Aguirre (drums) are Dragon Dragon. Their release Even In The Night EP contains five songs. They mention, “The album itself is a concept album with a specific song order that dwells on the never ending tragedy of lost love.” In this case this was about a very real relationship not just something general. I would say with all the years I've been involved in music this is still the most sung about topic. It’s also not hard to argue that Joy Division, The Smiths and The Cure pulled this off far better than any other band. And for that reason countless still carry those aesthetics which is what you hear all over Even In The Night. The pain, the black shades of darkness and the melodramatic vocals are all here and fans of the aforementioned bands will immediately recognize the similarities.
The band starts with “Wicked Vixen” and you hear a raw sounding, dark guitar. It’s muddy in the trenches but the song moves. This is a great song and certainly the arguable highlight. The chorus is great and I loved the mixture of light and darkness. They get the tone right.
“Monster” starts off humorously with the sound of an actual monster and guitar. This was another great song. There were certainly elements of more recent post-punk in the style of Interpol but I would say this had more of an early ’80s aesthetic.
Things got more subdued and sounded very Joy Division inspired on “Lustful Nights & the Loving Kind.” The vocals get more dramatic here and the affectation is more noticeable. He leans into the emotion. That’s really just a taste compared to “Gypsy” where he sounds like he is reciting a play. Some of the words are barely above a whisper. Did it feel overly dramatic? Yes, it did but I was on board and loved the percussive elements that came into the mix. The groove towards the end is just badass. They close strong with “Even In The Night” which is more upbeat but still covered in darkness.
The band wears their influence on their sleeve but they pull it off nearly flawlessly. This is for the goth kid, the broken hearts and the ones who prefer to explore the darkness rather than just escape.
Guy D’Angelo is a musician based in London, England. He has worked as a session musician covering literally every kind of music from rock, blues, reggae, pop, funk to fusion and country. He also leads his very own mid-late ‘60s/early '70s influenced rock band Crow Jayne. He also works full-time as a guitar teacher in London and surrounding areas. D’Angelo brings his expertise with brand-new solo material with the release of Lightning in A Bottle, a five-track instrumental filled with a variety of moods, styles and emotions.
Due to an injury in his ring finger on his left hand, D’Angelo found it hard to bend strings and ended up playing more acoustic guitar, something he has always been drawn to anyway. He started experimenting with the DADGAD tuning and within two weeks wrote five instrumentals. It all happened very fast: he called a studio, booked it and recorded these songs, hence the EP and its title “Lightning In A Bottle.”
Lightning In A Bottle hits it off with “The Troubadour,” where the warm and tight-knit guitar sounds evoke sounds of a babbling brook and other scenes from nature. The vibe gradually grows in momentum becoming more exciting. The track has different movements to it with each stage showcasing different images and scenes. “Fleur-De-Lis” is a rudimentary piece that slowly builds in flavor and attitude. The song is melodic and has an upward lilt that is bewildering. I felt at peace listening to this piece of music. I was lulled by the beauty of the instrumental and I found I could easily get lost in the acoustic layers.
Up next is “Mortimer House.” The guitar melody almost had a flamenco vibe to it. I felt really anchored to the fiery and fierce attitude coming from the song. On “Malling Tower Stomp,” the moody guitar rhythms will put listeners in a contemplative mood. The finger-picking on this track is astute. The acoustic layers on “Love Is” lean into a meandering melody. The sounds are engaging and listeners will find themselves invested in this closer.
With a sound heavily influenced by Bert Jansch, Davey Graham, John Renbourn, Steve Howe and Jimmy Page, D’Angelo expertly weaves in his deft maneuvering of the guitar. Without a doubt his sound harbors the sound of a virtuoso musician, who knows the instrument in and out. With a background as a guitar teacher, the way D’Angelo relinquishes the searing notes on this album is almost didactic in nature – it is not only entertaining, it is also informative, inspiring us through his riveting performance. These five instrumentals are pensive accounts that offer up an introspective look into the mind of a musician. Powered by acoustic movements and powerful crescendos the EP is worth listening from front to back. Give it a listen.
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Emma Grant is a songwriter from England who released Influencer. She put down music in 2010 and took time out to get married, start a family and co-lead an Eden Team back in Liverpool with her husband Tom. As a musician myself myself for the last twenty-five years taking that much time off seems borderline impossible for reasons I won’t go into. That being said it’s fairly common for people to put it down and re-discover their passion years later and I find that quite beautiful.
The music to my ears was mostly pop with less overt elements of folk. I liked her vocals especially when it veered towards folk instead of pop. The emotional resonance felt mostly warm, optimistic and filled with gratitude. There were a number of tracks which felt very motivational in the sense that I was at a Tony Robbins conference or a Sunday worship service. I have to admit I do like shades of darkness and gray areas of emotion that are hard to pinpoint. That’s an area Grant really doesn't go down. There’s no dissonance, chaos or ambiguity in these songs. There is however some reflection and occasional melancholy which often are emotions in the cocktail that I hear with this type of music.
She opens with “I Don't Hate You” and this is a very pop oriented song - the structure, delivery and aesthetics choices. “Know You're Loved” actually felt even more pop oriented. It's super clean with a very positive message. “Born to Be” really didn’t feel much farther from the first two songs but the image in my head was people holding hands singing together.
“Fake News” was the first song that had some grit and a little more attitude. I also really liked the piano. Grant can’t seem to avoid grand moments and in this song it definitely has one of the biggest towards the end.
The arguable highlight was “Staying for Love.” I do wish she explored darker textures but especially on this song where there was room for it. Her best moments here are the most subtle. We go into “As I Am” which goes back into pop territory. I used to go to Sunday worship service and the lyrics and mood of this really capture the energy I’ve heard countless times. “Influencer” was another highlight. The song definitely had a sense of levity especially coming off the previous song and has some of her best hooks. “Upside Down” and “At Your Table” have their moments. She closes with “What a World” which is pretty catchy.
The whole album felt unapologetically wholesome which I had to respect. As I mentioned this feels very positive to me and I think the appeal will actually be quite broad and oddly niche in other ways. The sort of religious and motivational qualities I was feeling will unequivocally resonate with a certain types of personality. Perhaps that’s you. Take a listen.
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