The cleverly morbid Teak Wood Gallows is the name of self-taught multi-instrumentalist Cameron Masterson’s solo project. Also a film buff and moviemaker in his own right, Masterson quite frequently makes music videos of his songs, and has even lent his music to the soundtrack of a short film.
His latest full-length album Walla Walla is hard to classify. Recorded over a period of two years, which lends time for influences to change dramatically, some songs are deeply steeped in Postal Service era electronica, while others share the pop balladry and acoustic tones of artists such as The Beatles and The Kinks, and even play around with Beach Boys style harmonies.
Walla Walla opens with the wildly synth-ridden “Alien 3”, during which the lyrics chronicle the debacle that was the making and releasing of the movie from which the song takes its title. Perhaps tongue-in-cheek though perhaps not, either way it gets the album off to a fun start. “Turned Around” features Masterson’s honey sweet vocals. As they drip from his lips to tell the tale of a man who has finally found the strength to get over an ex-lover as beat-boxed drums and scratchy guitar riffs slowly give the song the same backbone that its hero has found.
The next track “Alienation” sounds as though it could be on a completely different record, combining computerized samples and effects with straight up rock and roll guitar licks. Though strange to hear it described, the song actually works, and it turns out to be one of the catchiest and most danceable tunes on the album. Catchy and infectious in a completely different way, “Never Wear Red” combines spacey synths with an acoustic guitar riff that lingers in your ears long after the song is over.
On “Wouldn’t You Know?” Masterson showcases his acoustic balladry. The prettiest song on the album, it’s peppered throughout with xylophones that twinkle like stars. Masterson also remembers to have fun too, and does so on “The Softest Boy,” which shows influences of early Kinks, though with a bit of alt country violin mixed in to make it his own.
The only flaw Walla Walla has is that it should perhaps have been released as two separate EP’s with the folky ballads on one Walla and the clubby electronic numbers on the other Walla, which would make for a smoother transition while listening to the album straight through.
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Since the early ‘70s Jon Clark has been writing his own brand of folk/rock but it wasn’t till recently that some of that material got to see the light of day. Clark recently released One Long Skid Vol.1 and Vol.2, which contain songs that were written decades ago as well as some that were written just a few years ago. Taking a listen to the music it’s impossible to differentiate between what was written in what decade as it all has a similar feel. I had an opportunity to delve into Vol.2, which will resonate with fans of The Grateful Dead (in particular Jerry Garcia), Neil Young and generally most Americana folk/rock from the ‘60s.
The music on One Long Skid Vol.2 is mellow, loose and psychedelic - basically all the adjectives you might use to describe the feelings you probably will have after smoking a joint. It’s an easy listen that should relax you and let you chill out. The music isn’t intense but it is engaging. Clark’s music utilizes rich instrumentation into technically well-written songs.
The album opens with one of the highlights entitled “Mr. Fix-It Man,” which combines a warm rock organ, bass, horns and electric lead guitar with very subtle distortion. Clark’s voice sounds undeniably aligned with ‘60s Americana and definitely has traces of Jerry Garcia as well as Bob Dylan. It’s a style of singing you don’t find too often in this day and age. The song’s climax for me was the excellent, blaring horn section that was pure ear candy.
“Trip the Wire” contains some guitar solos you won’t want to miss while “Better Take Cover” was an instantly catchy melody that will easily get stuck in your head. That horn section in “Better Take Cover” is spot on. You can’t help but think of “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead when you hear “Nobody Special” if only because of a similarly played mandolin.
Clark breaks out a harmonica for “Road Crew Lover” as well as on the closer “Many Friends.” ”Many Friends” is rather sparse and emits emotions such as nostalgia and melancholy.
One Long Skid Vol. 2 contains ten songs and most of the songs eclipse the five-minute mark. The album does take some time to get through but don’t think you will be disappointed if you take the journey.
I was surprised to read that the recent release Movement: 1 by Kristopher James was a complete DIY effort. He recorded it in a home studio and most of the time that means consumer gear, shoddy mic techniques and thin or muddy mixes. James might be an engineer because the four songs on Movement: 1 sound stellar. The acoustic guitars sound warm and rich while his vocals are clear, thick and sit perfectly in the mix. Musically, James makes acoustic based melancholy pop on Movement: 1. The songs here might make you shed a tear. I don’t mean that as a bad thing. It’s not that often that you encounter songs with this type of emotional weight.
The EP gets off to a solid start with “Runaways,” which despite some melancholy also has tinges of hope. James covers his music in a copious amount of reverb but it sounds perfect for the mood and emotion behind it. HIs lyrics are heartbreaking and have a ubiquitous appeal to almost anyone. He sings, “ Baby it's not like it once was ... have we both given up. We're Runaways, running from love We're Runaways, love just isn't enough.”
“Where Is Your Sting” revolves around his acoustic guitar and haunting vocals. James questions mortality and faces the existential dilemma of what happens after death. He sings, “But I can't see past this day that I'm living ... and I'm not really ready to go home. Oh, Death where is your sting? I'll be ready, my friend, in the end. So have a drink until then.”
“Ships & Branches” revitalizes the vibe with energy and optimism. James’ lyrics are a bit more poetic this time around and he is confident singing them. He closes with “My Heart Wasn’t Ready,” which is the ultimate tearjerker. James also delivers his most visceral vocal performance straining his voice to hit notes he can barely reach.
Movement: 1 has some well-written songs that while probably aren't songs you will spin everyday are perfect if you are in a certain type of mood. Good stuff here from a good songwriter.
Every week we mention a couple of artists that are worth your time to check out that were not featured in our weekly reviews.
Artist Album Rating
Seth Harcrow Music To Listen To Alone 3.6
Leporids EP 3.6
Aspired Static Marionette 3.5
Kevin Geier Remnants 3.4
Connor Leimer Coast To Sea 3.4
Parrot Dream Set Sail Someday 3.9
Godzilla Black Little Things 3.5
The Planets Collide The Planets Collide 3.7
Scarlot & The Harlots We Can't Seem To Get Enough 3.4
From the ashes of bands form other bands. This is a familiar case in rock and happens to be how Bones Of Gold formed. Singer-songwriter Matt Cayless was playing with a grunge band called New Sun Blues but it wasn't till he started jamming with Jake Archer and Milo Glazier that Bones of Gold formed. The group starting making music in 2013 and have already released a four-song EP entitled Home.
The EP is an eclectic blend of rock that has shades of everything from Blind Melon to The Dave Matthews Band to Soundgarden. As of right now it doesn't feel that the band has committed to a particular sound or found one that defines them. Home won’t pigeonhole the band either. What you have here are four solid songs displaying the basic chemistry and innate talent of the band.
Home begins with arguably the highlight of the four “Blue Sky.” It’s a pop/rock tune that revolves around acoustic guitar, orchestral strings, bass and vocals. The song is atmospheric and grandiose and reaches higher and higher as it progresses. Cayless’ vocals are covered in a healthy amount of reverb as he sings passionately. He sounds a bit similar to Ed Kowalczyk and a third cousin to Eddie Vedder. Interestingly enough the song doesn't have much of a hook. No catchy chorus instead Cayless “oooohhh’s” and “yyyeeaahhh’s” throughout a majority of the song.
“Once Again” is the hardest, heaviest rocking track on the EP. The band rocks out on a riff that sounds similar to one in “Spoonman” by Soundgarden. They sound good but it was quite a departure from the first track. “Oceans Apart” reverts to acoustic guitar and also embraces a festive vibe while the closer “ Home” is a slow, melancholy rocker that displays an exceptional vocal performance.
Home is a great sounding EP, which unequivocally has some solid songs. The band seems to be off to a good start and I am looking forward to seeing how they refine and define their sound on a full length.
The Everyday Losers, a young band from the Midwest, brings us hardcore rock vibes in their latest release Revel in the Chaos. There are some vintage tones laden within the melodies of this album and some intense guitar and drum shredding, which come together to make the album a dynamic listen. The Everyday Losers are definitely not losers in any sense, as a band they have achieved much success in touring and getting signed to labels. This is the band’s first complete album release.
The Everyday Losers bring out all their guns and ammo in the opening track on the album, “You’ve Got War.” From the start there’s manic guitar shredding and epic drum patterns that anyone into hardcore classic rock will definitely enjoy indulging in. The lyrics within this track really anchor the song and after a while you find yourself remembering the words and singing along; “take away all these fucked up days and all these memories, and you’ve got war, is this what you wanted, is this what you came for? You better run!” Then there is the catchy “na nananana nana,” that really makes me equate this music to rock from the nineties.
A banging song to really get your head, er, banging is “Sick Stranger.” Right from the beginning the calculated guitars and drum bass get the song up and going without any time wasted. Soon the vocals are introduced and that raspy and gritty vibe makes the song revengeful, spiteful and energized in devilish ways. “Let go, you’re free, you’ll get yours and you’ll get what you deserve…. it’s either now or never.” The repetition of “get up get up” in the chorus gives this song an epic and anthemic persona and seems like a great song to see live in concert.
While listening to Revel in the Chaos, I am reminded of hard rock bands circa the ‘90s like Korn, Coheed & Cambria, and Nine Inch Nails. The album is filled with genuine and pure hard rock vibes and the guitar shredding is just ridiculous and that alone makes the quality of sound increase several notches. Sound quality within the album is great and every instrument and lyric gets its time to shine. Revel in the Chaos is a chaotic mix of hard rock and anyone into the genre will greatly enjoy the songs within it.
It's sort of funny - for how prevalent hip-hop has become to our society how mainstream it has become, yet the future has always seemed to be contained on mix tapes. It's where the real disciples of the sound perfect their craft and try out ideas free from the homogenization of aboveground culture.
These days, mainstream hip-hop and the club music it references are almost interchangeable. The materialist subject matter - getting paid and getting laid - over slick R&B beats seems somehow disappointing. Is this really the best we can do, nearly four decades into an artform? Are we doomed to commodification? It all seems so clean and slick and presentable, so far removed from the gutter stained roots of the original movement - so far from the streets.
Dirty, the debut mix tape from DeFault Universe collective co-founder MiloFuk0 is wonderfully old school. The production is stripped and efficient, a simple looped beat and a couple of samples used to great effect, while the MC, joined by a few friends, takes hip-hop back to it's geeky roots, dropping cartoon and sci-fi references like Wu-Tang used to with old Kung Fu movies. Somehow, I feel like this world of horror movies, video games and robotic cartoons will be more relatable to many than a fantasy of drug slinging, limos, club and stacks of Benjamins and will be more empowering in that regard.
A quick look at the tags on Bandcamp give a Cliffnote preview of what you're in store for when you hit the arrow button; Trip-hop, underground and psychedelic hip-hop. That means it serves its beats chilled, perfect for late night relaxation with whatever suits your fancies, as well as weird and warped. The term 'psychedelic' is the one that stands out to me, providing a wider application of that term, which too often is used to evoke a cartoonish image of bubble letters and lava lamps, and yanks the rabid fangs of psychedelia's continual derangement of the senses. MiloFuk0 remind us of being awake for two days, paranoid and sleep-deprived, the world melting into neon puddles at your feet. This mixtape injects some much needed weirdness and danger into both hip-hop and psychedelia.
The music is attributed to high level producers like MF Doom, Samiyam and Tyler The Creator. I couldn't find a lot of information on this release, but one wonders if these producers knowingly donated their tracks and if that even matters. This sounds like some young upstarts grabbing a hold of some instrumentals and letting fly with whirling vortexes of superhero verses. Rather than being a bad thing (some are kind of down on this kind of approach), it seems to me like a couple of MCs who are hungry to say their peace and will do so at all costs. This DIY approach finds the point where hip-hop and punk rock converge. They did both come from the same time and place, after all (New York in the late '70s). In the process, it further dissolves artificial racial divides, as both the music and the lyrics will appeal to anyone who loves raw, heartfelt hip-hop.
The Default Universe collective have dropped three releases since Dirty. They are on fire, burning with inspiration and work ethic, with the words and grooves to back it up. For anyone who believes there is more power to hip-hop than to sell sneakers and coke, here is your new cult. For the weird, the faithful, the geeks, the nerds, the cool, the MPC warriors and turntable wizards. Basically, this is for anyone who loves hip-hop and feels that it can do better than the slick mainstream version.
A light, uplifting, and refreshing take on modern classic rock is what The Mondegreens bring us on their latest release El Avance. The literal translation of the name of this three-song EP is “the advancement.” This is a beautiful allusion to the themes hidden behind the lyrics and vibes of the songs. While listening, I am reminded of other bands like Mutemath, The Black Keys and Spoon, yet The Mondegreens maintain a sound all their own; it’s indie, a bit Americana, and has some surf rock tones that anyone interested in rock in general will be thoroughly entertained by.
The second track on the album titled “The Flock” is a very well composed song and its character shines true and bright and we really get to experience what The Mondegreens are all about. The song begins with a steady guitar that screams indie rock and soon enough the southern-inspired vocals are introduced to add yet another layer to the song. The lyrics begin to tell us a pretty story of the countryside and striving for success and trying to “stay on track.” The addition of the “doo wop wop” adds a vintage and classical Beach Boys vibe to the songs that make them so fun and carefree to listen to.
Finishing off the album is “Banks,” a song filled with mellow vibes that also carry a tone of refreshing excitement. The “oh no, ohh no,” gets really catchy and acts as a smooth gateway to the following bridge of lyrics that then lead to a beautiful field of fluttering guitars and easy percussion. This song is really fun and entertaining to listen to and I think embodies The Mondegreen’s style and persona very well.
After listening to the three songs within El Avance, it’s easy to hit replay and let them come around once more. Each song has its own attributes to fall for and distinct lyrics to get stuck in your head. The album is well produced and it would be great to see more music from these four musicians that made El Avance and hopefully they keep advancing.
Ben Kramer brings us tried and true folk music from Chicago, IL. The songs found within his first release as a solo artist are dynamic in nature and are impervious to lies and hate as they emanate bright lights of truth and positivity, allowing its listeners to as the album is aptly named Let Go. The music within this release can be classified as modern folk music; it’s refreshing while maintaining that classic folk character.
The opening track shares the same name as the album and is mellow in nature but has a nice strumming effect that keeps you bobbing along to the melody. Lyrics are what really anchor this song and they tell a descriptive tale of sticky love that slowly unfolds toward the end; “all my life, I was made to wander… in my mind, I find no answers…” Instruments used within this song create a menagerie of beautiful and authentic folk sounds, there seems to be a few different types of guitars used, and minimal percussion, which is characteristic of the folk genre. “So let go, let go of me,” is the proclaiming chorus that is gentle yet very direct in nature which makes this a great song to sing along with as well as letting it play in the background as it becomes a relaxing and insightful soundtrack.
A song with a very different demeanor is “The Gates.” It has a dark yet sultry persona that is instantly absorbed from the beginning of the song. The dark melody is maintained by the style of vocals and the somewhat ominous effect of the guitar and the short percussions. “The Gates” is dripping with deep flowing passion and the lyrics really draw an intense picture along with the upbeat guitar notes; “as the gates of their love feel quicker than the rain, by the end it will come to pass, my body and soul could end that fast, with time they say what’s true will tell, but my heart fell when I tasted hell.”
The four songs within this young musician’s first release are passionate, genuine, and complex in nature. Sound quality is satisfactory and it would be interesting to see what Kramer could come up with for a full-length album. He shows talents in his songwriting and composition, which makes for a great listening album for anyone interested in folk music.
Bracket has been together since the early ‘90s and the band is familiar with creating, touring, performing and releasing music collectively under their title. Based out of California, Hold Your Applause is the band’s latest release and they claim to produce pop punk sounds. Yet while listening, one could argue that there are some surf rock and rock-a-billy tones hidden within the wavelengths of this album. Some songs definitely make you want to get down and dirty while others are a bit more emotional and slowed down. While listening to Hold Your Applause I am reminded of other bands like Death From Above 1979 and Ty Segall Band.
A song on their album with an undeniable punk persona is “The Opportunist.” The song begins with a super high-energy rhythm and some determined drum action. The fuzzy garage rock band sound of the vocals give the song a unique and very quintessential punk band character. The song is super catchy and makes me want to dance like a mad woman; this song would be so much fun to see performed live.
In contrast, the following song “Fairweathered Friend” starts off with a dreamy and somewhat psychedelic melody before the equally transcendental vocals are introduced. Then before you know it, a swell of punk vibes comes in to save the day and wash away any rationality you previously held. Then yet again, there is another plateau of softness that brings you back to reality before throwing you into the madness again; “farewell fairweathered friend you’re dragging me down, so goodbye cruel world, I’m in love with a girl, and I think she loves me!” This song is totally a trip to vibe to.
There’s something hiding within the sounds of Bracket; it’s a weird combination of punk rock, vintage surf rock vibes and pop rock music all fused into one to create a new post-modern breed of punk music. Each song has its own riffs and high-energy grooves to get lost in and the lyrics are equally fun to ride “fight your fears, lose your thoughts, the truth is cold some like it hot.” Anyone into any kind of rock or punk will dig this album; just don’t forget to Hold Your Applause.
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