Step into a blurry Kodachrome wonderland on Blending Lines In Our DNA Had to Take Control of Us One Day by Perth, Australia's Zero Growth.Why has Australia been so good at churning out blurred-edge, exciting, adventurous but still chilled out and relaxing psych rock these past few years? Is it merely because everyone's excited and inspired by Tame Impala, acting as a more optimistic 21st Century ambassadors than late '70s Birthday Party? Or perhaps their isolationist geography, out there in the middle of the ocean, sucking up the rays and getting stoned on wide-open vistas?
Whatever the reasons, Australia may well end up being the saving grace for psychedelic rock n’ roll, which too often becomes stale and formulaic, especially here in the States, without one lysergic ounce of rebellion left in its fringe leather jacket. Zero Growth takes that faded retroactive sound and applies it to a kind of widescreen electronica on Blending Lines In Our DNA Had to Take Control of Us One Day, as a direct 50/50 split between Tame Impala and the retro-delic chilled-out thrills of Boards Of Canada.
Zero Growth is predominantly the solo project of Connor Aitker-Lombardo, which is fleshed out with guest appearances from his friends and family. Zero Growth is predominantly a studio project, although some of these tracks used to be a part of Lombardo's previous band Honeymaker. Blending Lines... was recorded over the span of five years or so, whittling down 25 tracks to the final six. This makes Blending Lines... come off as more of a collection of singles than a cohesive album, not that that's a problem (although "Superteen" is significantly louder than the rest, so brace yourself, so as not to be startled).
Blending Lines… sticks to a rather consistent mid-tempo head nodding, grooving instrumental hip-hop vibe that is perfect for catching a buzz and feeling the vibes. It's unclear what Lombardo's working method is, but there's the feeling of an old school hip-hop or techno DJ vibe going on here with Lombardo riding the faders and the knobs for some truly psyched-out filter effects. What could have come off as having too many ideas instead seems novel, fun, and interesting. It's like listening to Deep Purple remixed by The Gorillaz, giving the sensation of a camera lens panning out, overlaying the scene with kaleidoscopic filters that will leave you seeing peppermint spirals.
It's trippy, man, trippy. And fun. As we leave the summer behind here in the Northern Hemisphere, here is our chance to throw open the windows to the rapidly chilling breezes and let the colorful trees invade our corneas. It's a perfect approximation for summer into fall, still exciting, but mellow and reminiscent at the same time. Lombardo's both a stunning musician and an admirable engineer and producer, a killer combo that bodes well for things to come! Check it out and get lifted.
With no pun intended I have to say Air & Rain is a breath of fresh air. The trio consisting of Meg Cassell (oboe/English horn), Stan Cassell (piano) and Max Benoit (percussion) make instrumental music on their recent release when faraway is here which is worlds away from the ubiquitous standard of guitar, bass and drums combo. One thing that makes this music so enjoyable is the technical mastery of the musicians.
Meg Cassell is a professional classical oboist who is a Professor of Oboe while Stan Cassel is an accomplished pianist that is self-evident when you hear him play. Most of the songs revolve around the oboe and piano. The music on when faraway is here is crisp, serene, tranquil and I feel like throwing refined in there as well. It feels incredibly open as if silence is the third element that was taken into account when making the songs. There were times I thought it would make for great music to play during an acupuncture session or something to put on while gazing at the sunset.
The album starts with “Bird Story” and the first thing you hear is a lone oboe. It whisks around like a whimsical fairy that is gently gliding through the air. At about the one-minute mark a piano enters into the mix which creates a coat of melancholy across the song. It’s an engaging striking dichotomy. You immediately get the sense that they can go anywhere they want to in the song almost as if it was improvised.
The title track “When Faraway Is Here” is one of the tracks that contain percussion. There is a bit of an Eastern vibe to this song almost Persian. The percussion is presented through bongos or tablas that feel incredibly dynamic and organic. I enjoyed the undercurrent of kinetic energy the percussion provided against the veil of atmosphere and mystique the oboe provided.
“A Peacock Wedding” and “Surface Tension” are engaging piano pieces while “Passing Go” revolves around percussion and oboe. “Crypsis” was a personal highlight. The oboe cries on this song making it one of the most dynamic and emotionally resonant pieces on the album.
I think it's fair to say when faraway is here will resonate with a niche audience. These songs aren’t pop in any sense of the word. The melodies aren’t particularly easy to hum along with and there aren’t any hooks. Perhaps the most impressive aspect is that the album is truly one where you don’t need to skip tracks. It feels best served by pressing play on the first song and then guiding you to a pleasurable journey through technical mastery and creative intuition.
I think it is pretty much common knowledge that there has been an explosion of heavy rock/blues duos after the popularity of The White Stripes and The Black Keys. Does that mean that duos should be forbidden from playing music? In most cases I would say no unless you are completely biting off another band's style. Heavy Moan is one of those bands with two members who play blues rock in that vein but at least they are offering some variation here and there. Michael Tanner and Chris Leutbecher were working at an audio-visual company when they discovered their shared interest and formed the band in 2014. On their recent release Blues, Beats, Solos they explore some of the sonic possibilities of drums and guitar. The album does have some vocals here and there but it’s sparse and doesn't feel like an integral part of the music.
The album was DIY effort in regards to production and isn’t too shabby. The guitars and drums sounded decent but lacked a little grit. A little more saturation or distortion on drums would have helped. Nonetheless the songs are still enjoyable.
They open with “Scrumptious” which is more or less a straight up blues rock jam session. The duo gets loose with traditional scales. As far as the vocals go they are used almost used as another instrument. There is no hook with catchy vocal melodies that you will be singing in the shower. I was impressed by the second track “Heavy Moan.” It’s a strictly instrumental track but also one of the most original songs on the album. They find a hypnotic groove on this song, which I could see being used in transition within a movie.
“Hard Rain On My Window” was an instrumental song that was begging for vocals. They could have easily put some in on this track, which would have helped out. “Those Things” sounds a little bit too much like The White Stripes from the similar Jack White fills and even the vocal style during the verse.
Luckily the band shows a little more originality with “I Heard a Rumble.” I enjoyed the song but there weren’t enough changes to keep my attention for the three-plus-minutes. A change in the beat and bass line would have benefited the song. The band closes strong with “Got Me Runnin'” and “When You See Me.”
If I could one piece of advice to the band it would be to not get too stuck on a riff. Once the duo finds a decent groove they don’t know when to give it up. They beat it into the ground until the song feels like a mantra. Overall, Heavy Moan have some talent but if they are serious about getting to a competitive level with demi-gods like The White Stripes and The Black Keys they are going to have to continue to practice and create a style they can call their own.
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Archival and reissue culture continues in high fashion on Frank Maya & The Decals Have You Been Getting My Letters?.
The 21st Century has seen a flurry of interest in the latter half of the 20th, as we strive to sort through the stacks and stacks of every conceivable media that cheap and readily available recording technology made possible. We've seen resurgences in nearly every style you could imagine, from Avant Disco to lo-fi house to post-punk, shoegaze, and synthpop. Have You Been Getting My Letters? digs into the archives of underground sensation Frank Maya, thought to have been the first openly gay comedian, who tragically succumbed to the AIDS epidemic in 1995.
In addition to comedy, Maya was extremely musically prolific with his band The Decals, writing over 100 songs featuring rudimentary DIY new wave synthpop from the heart of the NYC artscene, frequently referred to in shorthand as "the downtown sound". The Downtown NYC scene would see hardcore conceptual artpunks, like James Chance And The Contortions, The Talking Heads, The Ramones, and Blondie, mixing with contemporary classical innovators like Philip Glass and Steve Reich and far-out Avant Jazz like John Zorn or Anthony Braxton and the upper crust of the art world, Andy Warhol, Basquiat, Keith Haring, etc.
This heady mix created some incredibly extreme and far-out shapes as you might imagine when punk rock mixes with fashion, fine art, dosed with copious amounts of drugs and a lysergic, acerbic sense of humor. Some of these sounds have held up well, sounding fresh, imaginative, and exciting, while some have not aged quite as well. It's an interesting investigation into the history of the underground, no matter which way you slice it.
The closest touchstone for Frank Maya And The Decals, despite not sounding that similar, would be the disco/atmospheric artistic singer/songwriter Arthur Russell. Like Maya, Russell was hyper-prolific, recording and re-recording thousands of tracks in every musical genre known to humankind which have been slowly trickling out like Texas Tea thanks to the efforts of Russell's loving family, following his passing in 1992, also from AIDS. Arthur Russell was, quite frankly, a musical genre unto himself, living in his own musical universe where anything was possible.
THIS is the true legacy of the NYC art underground - anything goes. This predates any conversation about cultural appropriation, and musicians were dragging sounds from all over the world, incorporating Latin, Central American, and African rhythms and incorporating them with the emerging sounds of the nascent hip hop and dance music scenes. Rather than being offensive, it comes off as thrilling, despite often sounding cheesy and dated.
Frank Maya's rinky-dink lo-fi Casio jams sounds more like Jello Biafra fronting Devo or Flock Of Seagulls, with Maya's reedy surreal invectives riding on weird plastic organ riffs and minimal electronic beats. It can come off as slightly abrasive at times, sounding slightly tinny with its weirdo Casio beats, as with lead single from 1985 "Joanne!", but it is always odd and interesting and, amazingly, charmingly amusing.
Frank Zappa asked the question in 1986, just one year after "Joanne!" was recorded: "Does humor belong in music?" My answer to this question, 99.999% is not just no, but hell no! People tell me I take myself too seriously, and I lack a sense of humor (which isn't true, btw), it's just that for some of us, music is religion and "funny music" is like a whoopee cushion in Notre Dame. But Have You Been Getting My Letters? comes from a different time, a time of cross-pollination and experimentation. Maybe it's not that humor doesn't belong in music, it's just that people should be funnier. Maybe if sarcastic music were more of a caliber of a Lenny Bruce or a Bill Hicks, people would take both traditions more... um, seriously?
Either way, Have You Been Getting My Letters? is an entertaining listen. Maya takes us back in time, to a world of queer camp; a mixture of comedy, musical theater, fashion, glamour, experimentation and adventure, that would later be picked up and perfected by the likes of Stephen Merritt on his on-going The Magnetic Fields project, or mutated, in the transgender transgressions of NYC's Baby Dee.
Let us all take this opportunity to break down BS genre distinctions and signifiers. Let's start mixing and mingling again! Let us explore, taking from when and where we want (just remember to credit your sources and give credit where credit is due).
Any artist no matter what medium they are working in who take themselves too seriously, run a major risk of coming off as pompous assholes. Sometimes this pomposity is reflective of the artist’s personality and other times it is simply the culmination of the heavy burdens which years of hard work and total immersion into one’s subject trying to obtain perfection, or at least to put out the best work possible in hopes of gaining if not some deep personal satisfaction, then at least perhaps a small audience of empathizers to give merit to the years of hard work put forth.
Then there are artists like Tab Sherman, real names Zak and Colin, whose brief self-penned bio states they are “two dudes from Seattle who mostly enjoy pizza and snacks. We like making tunes together in our living room.” Tab Sherman represents the other half of artistry, that pseudo-slacker with talent who doesn’t really have to try too hard and generally gets by much better than the hard working stiff who has no talent but a lot of determination.
So then does Zen Gardens EP seem the most fitting title for two guys who according to their Facebook bio categorize the genre of music they play as “munchadelic.” But for as funny as these things are, the songs on Zen Gardens, which fluctuate with influences of experimental jazz, rock, folk and psychedelia, are nothing to laugh about.
The opener “First Day” rolls in slowly like a fog with psychedelic wah wah guitar mellow drum beats and a few hazy vocals. “Grey Skies” starts out with melodic riffs reminiscent of later period Miles Davis and sparse bits of vocals, which end abruptly and let the music speak for itself as does its successor “Song for People.” The final two tracks “Fingers” and “Lavender” are mellow acoustic instrumentals.
Tab Sherman is the type of band that makes music simply for themselves and whoever else might care to listen. Their songs are easily pieced together and don’t stray too far away from a few simple beats and chords with arid vocals and instrumentation. Zen Gardens isn’t breaking any new ground, and I don’t think that was ever Tab Sherman’s intention, but it’s remarkably chill and “munchadelic” moods make it a perfect pairing for a variety of vices.
Eternal Summer by Jae emits warm, soulful vibes that should be playing at the hippest, underground lounge in the city. The songs are so easy to snap your fingers to or nod your head to while sipping on cocktail.
The twenty-year old artist has a gorgeous voice. Her delivery is smooth while also being dynamic. On top of that the music fits around her vocals like a glove. The beats, synths, etc. attenuate her style.
The EP opens with “A Toast.” It starts with a liquid warm synth that soon gets layered with organ and an inventive beat. When she sings every word feels effortless and relaxed. You could argue the song has a serene and tranquil vibe. Make no doubt this song has an infectious hook. She sings, “Let's make a toast to ones we love.” I loved the subtleties and nuances that were present in the music. At times the music reminded me of St. Vincent and even Bjork.
“Eternal Summer” very well could be the most single worthy song on the album. The lyrics immediately paint a picture of good times ahead. She sings, “Gonna be one helluva night, I can smell it in the perfume, I’m gonna do whatever I like, get into whatever I want to.” It feels like a party but one of the chillest parties you have ever been to.
“Take Your Throne (ft. Geronimus)” is a cut that has an overt R&B vibe and is also one of the more experimental songs on the EP. Don’t get me wrong. There are a number of notable hooks but also a couple inventive sections, which made me take notice. Take for example the brief section before the main hook. The drumbeats get taken out and you are left with fluttering effect and sporadic percussion while Jae sings. The transition into the hook is seamless and the contribution by Geronimus didn't overstay its welcome.
My personal favorite song was “Love Song / Virtual.” I’m a sucker for standup bass and Jae almost sounds like a jazz vocalist at times during this song. Suffice it to say it was a well-put together song that has a good amount of changes. She closes with “Let Go (ft. EAGLEBABEL)” which solidifies her talent.
Eternal Summer is unequivocally a strong debut that deserves more praise. Do yourself a favor and give it a spin.
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Though the season of summer may be all but over, the spirit of summer is alive and well in ....And The Sea Will Tell, the debut album of singer songwriter AJ Abberton. The album is characterized by songs like “In the Green Room” and “Phenomenon” that feature tropical percussion, horns and piano and typify mellow island tunes with jazzy guitar chords, multiple harmonies and secondary lyrics. Abberton demonstrates his vocal flexibility, both in range and speed, throughout the album.
The album takes a slightly less organic turn on a few tracks, including “Headlock” and “Trampoline,” yet still maintains the smooth, melodious vocals from AJ. An upbeat, electronic drum track and a throbbing, garage rock bass accompany strumming on acoustic guitar, melding electronic and acoustic instrumentation into a solid mix of unique sounds reminiscent of turn-of-the-century pop songs, albeit more musically creative and tropical in feel.
“If the Rain Must Fall” and “Wanderlust” are emotive, yet hopeful songs revolving around Abberton’s vocals, pure chords, droning synthesizers and steady guitar strumming. These tunes are slower paced compared to the other tunes on the album; however, the energy of the album continues to pulse unfettered through them. After a spoken segment in “At Bay,” the tangible vigor reemerges in “Settle Back Easy, Jim,” the best song on the album due to its catchiness and accessible Latino influences.
The term surf-pop finds its most obvious meaning in “All for a Few Perfect Waves,” a rushing song lauding the joys and thrills of surfing and catching waves under the sun. The bright, sunny tune gives way to “Killing Time,” seemingly set in a nighttime setting with crickets chirping in the background. This reflective ballad progressively gains intensity but eventually fades out into blissful nothingness.
“At Bay” concludes the album in a simple, well-planned way. Abberton did not complicate things in the last tune; instead, the song is effectively a summary of the entire album in that it employs many of the techniques and styles found earlier in the tracks. Only two-and-a-half minutes long, this song puts the finishing touch on a spectacular album and reminds listeners of the delights they experienced during the course of the album.
In 2013 Al Kelly (bass), Robin Lewis (guitar), Jason Schwab (guitar), Rich Gomez (drums) and Eric Inman (vocals ) came together to form Under No One. The band released Bullhorns & Politics, which is an intense onslaught of metal and hard rock that isn’t for the faint of heart.
One thing that needs to be mentioned about Bullhorns & Politics is the aesthetic quality of the recording. This is a great sounding recording any way you look at it. All the instruments are clearly heard in the mix but the drum sound is fantastic. Snare rolls sound like AK47s and the bass drum has the kind and punch that you can viscerally feel.
Bullhorns & Politics is a metal album in every sense of the word but you can also hear influences from bands like Alice in Chains and Faith No More. Those familiar with the aforementioned bands could hear what I’m talking about in the very first song “Bullhorns & Politics.”
“Bullhorns & Politics” comes out of the gate with no warning. Gomez is a like a human metronome as guitars provide waves of pulsating white noise. Inman sings, “Look at us as host and parasite / Pave every inch, for the dollar sign / Nothing is sacred / Everything has a price / Setup shop industrialize.”
The first instance where I heard a bit of Faith No More influence came before the minute mark where the vocal harmonies are introduced. As the song progresses the band packs a lot of mayhem and changes into the three-plus minutes of the song.
Like the opening song, “Gutterball” comes kicking right out of the gate. The double bass drum action is very effective at points while Inman’s vocals are fierce and aggressive. It's arguable but “Override” was the personal highlight of the album. This song isn't only hardcore but contains some memorable vocal melodies. “Override, Override / My way to say good-bye / Sit and stare one eyed glare / Iron horse make it painless” are lyrics that will stay with you after the song is done. They close with “Undone” which solidifies their sound.
It’s obvious that Under No One knows what type of sound they are going for. The band has a consistent sound and they delivery the goods each time. Recommended.
Michael Klüg is a solo electronic artist from Midland, Michigan who recently released Distance Inevitable EP. It’s a lonely, isolating journey through these songs but that's what Klüg intended. There are some good and occasionally great ideas but sometimes Klüg doesn’t have as much success with the implementation.
Klüg definitely has his own singing style but I couldn’t make out the lyrics. Some of this has to do with the production aesthetics but some of it has to do with his delivery. His singing is very monotone and quite often sounds as if he is mumbling. The music is dark, often inventive but I wish it wasn’t so muddy.
The EP starts off with “Perpendicular Bisector (Closer Than Ever).” He combines bass, loose percussive elements and arpeggiating synths. He sings, “Maybe I don't want / To forget / We can't let this shatter / What kind of silly pretending is this?“ The song delivers in terms of the journey it is supposed to take you on through loneliness and isolation.
If you thought his vocals were hard to understand on the first song just take a listen to “Distance Inevitable (Just A Ploy).” He covers his vocals in an ample amount of reverb and sounds like a crying ghost in the background. His lyrics are ambiguous and poetic. He sings, “Sit there / And throw your innards / A wailing violin / Emotion emoting / Tangible harmony / Your vibrations shake / The fabric of my bed sheets / Rustle with every twist / And turn of melancholy.”
“Revolver (Where Did It Go?)” is an ambient piece that touts a steady low hanging bass drum and ominous pads while Klüg moans like a dark spirit who haunts your soul. “Spinning (Endlessly)” contains the most inventive music on the EP. The twitch-worthy beats are hypnotic to say the least.
He closes with “Distant (The Void)” which is almost completely atmospheric. It was thematic and probably could work in a low budget horror flick.
Klüg displays a couple of inspired moments but still needs to do some tweaking especially when it comes to his singing. Distance Inevitable is a solid effort but I think he is capable of more.
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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
In Your Bones In Your Bones 3.3
Zachary Philip Nomophobia 3.3
Haleiwa Palm Trees Of The Subarctic 3.6
Better Golf Swallow 3.0
Armand Paul Lightly Catching Falling Dreams 3.3
Kendra Lea Miller Daughter of the Wolves 3.8
Red Mountains Down With The Sun 3.7
Graeme Kennedy Sincerely 3.6
Maharg Stimhack 3.6
Armstrong Armstrong 3.5
Northern Border I'm Still Waiting For You EP 3.1
Dr. Light Dr. Light 3.4
Connor Hanley For Better or Worse, I Wrote You a song 3.2
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