The Lawrence, Kansas driving rock quartet Amore Et Bellum takes their name from the Latin. It means love and war and that’s how the band sees the music that they write represents. They take as their odes the genres of blues, hard rock, and jazz and tribal compositions. On their self-titled release Amore Et Bellum they do a good job of balancing out playing songs that represent the trials and tribulations that one learns to deal with artistically as they encounter them.
Amore Et Bellum wastes no time digging into things as they open the record with “Take the House.” The mixture of jazz and funk slowly broods into a gritty and cohesive dark rock song that begins to jam and stomp near the end with a fiery blaze. To accompany this fiery song one needs a powerful vocalist and the band has found one to fill the role, Tahnsui Thawngmung. Even when she is speak-singing as she does on “Witches Brew,” a dirty riffing rocker with head pounding drums and thumping bass, she is able to keep up with no problem. She has about her vocals that great sneer that artists such as Joan Jett and Pat Benetar were so good at without seeming like they were trying too hard.
Later on the breakdown of “Brothers Blood” is a surefire hard rock radio hit, full of fluid guitar rock, Thawngmung does a bit of a cappella if only to show that she can belt it out just as beautifully as she can snarl. This range is then quieted down on the slow beginnings of “Satan is a She” which later erupts to become one of the band’s most intricate songs as it goes from lows to highs to hard edges. Its tonal shifts are pulled off perfectly and show that the band is more than just a bar rocking jam outfit; also that they can pull off things in the studio too. This also goes for the feisty rocker “War Cry.”
Amore Et Bellum is definitely a band that I think will go far, especially as they begin to branch out their sound and experiment a little bit more with their songwriting and begin to explore a bit more of a sound outside the typical confines of rock n’ roll.
Josh Christina is an artist from Baltimore who released Instincts. He plays upbeat, fun songs that seem borderline perfect for a piano bar. His music combines rockabilly, blues, classic and even country.
He opens with “Friend Zone.” I did some research and this seems to be where a guy or gal is pursuing a romantic relationship with someone and they only want to be friends. I’ve never had this problem so I couldn’t relate to this song but appreciated the wonderful melodies and exuberant singing. Ok I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek. The song eventually gets to a full on celebration in terms of the music. It felt a bit too excited for someone who got stuck in the “Friend Zone.”
“Counting Sheep” pretty much sounds like walking down a Manhattan street in 1986. It’s smooth until it’s festive. On “Letters” Christina finally has you staring into that very special someone’s eyes next to a fireplace in a wood cabin. It’s cozy, romantic and more romantic.
After the love session is over it’s time to go back to the dance floor with Tom Hanks on “Spic and Span.” Something about that song made me want to watch the movie BIG. Does anyone else remember that one?
The gospel roots start to show on “Rich Man’s Daughter.” Up next is “Love is funny.” I can think of a lot more funny things such as any SNL sketch that Will Ferrell has ever been in. The song isn’t that funny but it’s quite bluesy and soulful. I really liked this one.
I approached “Blasted in the Basement” with trepidation. The song title left me uneasy but I eventually appreciated the song. “The Good Book” he refers to seems to be the bible. “Instincts” and “School’s Out” are more rockabilly goodness.
So the album ends with a medley of cover songs.”Rock and Roll Medley: Hound Dog / Long Tall Sally / Johnny Be Good / Whole Lotta Shakin” is the name. This confirms my suspicion that this is certified piano bar music.
Christina isn’t poking at any convention or attempting anything out of the ordinary. The music is straightforward but well written and delivered. Take a listen.
Dali Van Gogh is a band from Halifax, Nova Scotia comprised of Isaac Kent (guitar), Jaad Stewart (drums), Devon Roberts (keys), Cyrus Robertson-Orkish (bass) and John Scotto (vocals). They released three albums; their latest being From Ashes.
The band has an ubiquitous hard rock sound that sounds for the most part FM radio friendly. I want to say this style of hard rock emerged post grunge with varying degrees of success. Dali Van Gogh had a familiar sound to my years. The vocals were masculine, deep and with an inflection that seems to be somewhat of a standard, backed by driving drums and distorted guitars. That being said the band covers a lot of ground with From Ashes.
The band gets going with “Grave Digger” which was an intense opener. It felt like a party right off the bat with celebratory “ooohs and aahhs” and a cutting verse that reminded me of Queens of the Stone Age. No matter what your thoughts are, it’s the kind of song that grabs your attention.
“God Help Me I Like It” resurrects the energy of a band like Pearl Jam in their prime with the opening riff. “Soul Food” continues with impressive kinetic energy while “Black Scales” is a little dark and ominous. “Sunshine” is one of the catchiest songs but the lyrics don’t paint a pretty picture. Scotto sings, “I still inhale the smoke, the smell of ashes / I hear the scream, the please, the growing desperate / Please god, save me, get me out of this nightmare.” It has a great guitar solo as well.
The band showcases impressive dynamics on “Fear” while “Outside Looking in” felt like the most commercially appealing song for the masses. The good times roll with “Babylon,” “Dark Passenger” and the explosive “Stand Up, Wake Up” which sounds like it had a bit more of an ’80’s influence. The band rocks out hard on the whole album and I have to admit that the last song “Torn To Pieces” which contains acoustic guitar felt like an odd way to end the album.
Dali Van Gogh isn’t pushing any boundaries but they know how to make an accessible rock song. Take a listen.
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CASE is a five-piece indie rock outfit based out of Chicago. With their first EP out this past June, they’ve already gained popularity with one of their singles reaching over 170,000 streams of Spotify and another single “In Season” getting over 40,000 streams within the first two weeks of its release. With a short three-song effort, this young band’s debut, Questions of Space, “questions the spaces we occupy through our interactions with individuals, religion and the beauties and violence that cohere much of our lives.”
“So Much It Could Be; So Little Is” starts off with a full, dreamy rhythm and a trumpet that just sounds so gorgeous. Next up, vocal harmonies jump in singing something like, “all alone…all alone.” Then, a string section adds a contemporary classical feel. The instruments drop out for a bit, as a hushed sound of brushes whisk the snare drum. The sounds build towards the end – the trumpet gets louder, and the electric guitar fills the air with its solo as breathy vocals join in. I loved this song and could clearly see why, or rather hear why, it got so many listens already.
“More Than Life” drags along with a slow beat and more of those dreamy, falsetto-like voices. The song also features trumpet again, more brash and bold than mellow, and a louder drum kit. The song’s tempo was a bit too slow for me perhaps, but overall it had a nice warm, romantic vibe. Lastly, the beginning to “Oh God, No God” feels like a warm, summer breeze as the instruments stroll and strum along with ease and soft, graceful tones. The rhythm is mellow, as is the trumpet and drums, which is what I liked best about this band. However, the entire song doesn’t carry on like this, as the drums break into harder edged beat and the trumpet dives into a livelier sound – and then some – towards the song’s ending.
I don’t doubt this Chicago band’s next endeavor will be something to look forward to – as long as there are questions to ponder, there’ll be creative minds answering them through the art of music.
A sound combining hardcore punk and the sludge riffing of fellow Atlantans Mastodon essentially defines New Bedlam; a closer look reveals groove elements, bluesy lonerism and grunge. The vocals are aggressive across the board, emphasizing the rage and delirium of disenfranchisement. Singer David Blair is a man possessed as he rails against his life and his significant others.
There’s a quirky sarcasm to the aggression that makes his monstrous intensity more relatable: “it’s 4 AM and I’m fucking wasted…surprise!” he howls on “Weight”, a blindingly fast hellcat dirge that doesn’t let up until a half timed storm of cymbals and guitar harmonies crash in that read almost nu metal.
“Weight” also includes these great moments of drop outs and count offs, an inventive dynamic tool; and another interesting transition can be found on “Pretty Dead,” which features a choppy drum and guitar vamp with noise rock swells falling into silence with a cymbal crash, only to be revived for a hastened punk outro. The genre blend this band displays is thrilling.
Blair described Genetically Awkward simply as “the sound of my late 20’s: depression, sarcasm, enlightenment,” and such ambiguity in his thinking points to the bigger picture that New Bedlam is more about the feeling, absent of classification.
A talent for the hook is evident. My personal favorite is the “hey” motif found on the closing track “Used And On Sale.” The song features hallucinogenic lead guitars that twist around the snarling and angry riffs; it’s a full mix of sounds that showcases a range for Blair: clean singing into growls on the verses, full on screaming choruses. If you have an appetite for just under ten minutes of nonstop, emotional hardcore with a personal narrative then Genetically Awkward will satisfy.
Sydney’s own Oxford Poet has adopted reverie to refer to the wild, crazed delirium that their brand of classic, crunchy and psychedelic rock epitomizes. The ingredients are all that you’d expect from a group that took their time to hone a sound colorful enough to attract the attention of a top notch producer like Ben Hayward. The result is an organic and spellbinding effort, combining the talents of a sensational singer, floating rhythm section and skilled guitarists. Reverie is five tracks that display enough variation and memorability to never stagnate when the needle is reset again and again on this brief but rewarding experience.
Stylistically I hear shades of Jeff Buckley, especially in the voice, those moments when frontman Alex Carlo-Stella goes high and pushes against the slashing guitars and battering drums. There’s a psychedelic element found throughout from effected guitars, delays and plane-takeoff flangers; times when the onslaught ebbs and a heady bass groove mixes with shimmering guitar melodies and cymbals to give a slight high; the outro of “What’s Inside” provides a great example.
The drum grooves that begin “Surprise Of The Light” and “Trigger” are an excellent transition/songcraft technique that has a storied history from Buddy Rich to Glenn Kotche of Wilco and highlight Liam Robson’s pocket.
The guitars are noteworthy; James Hill and Connor Davies cook up the aforementioned Tame Impala trippyness but also deliver time worn Zeppelin riffs, a surf rock pastiche that’s straight Tarantino, face melting hard rock leads and swampy arpeggios. Their work is a crucial element to the band’s overall feeling of virtuosity, and their layers and progressions define these songs more than any other.
The indie rock closer “What’s Inside” is an example of both the best and worst from this project: the song is great, the performances and arrangement are jammy; the mix drops the ball here though, offering less cohesion then the previous tracks demonstrated. Whether it’s the byproduct of dipping into a different genre is only speculation, but even so the band’s tight playing and strong melodies keep this one afloat in its murky waters.
I loved Reverie. It reminded me of the prospects of guitar driven music in 2018, and features a singer with a great timbre and a lot to say. They fit in nicely with the now world renowned rock revival occurring in Australia and could be posed to succeed not just on their continent, but internationally one day.
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THNDR, aka Joshua Hundert, is a songwriter, vocalist, beat-maker and self-professed “dilettante of several instruments.” Hundert has been actively creating music for nearly 25 years with many of those years spent in Vancouver, British Columbia. A few notable achievements already under his belt are opening for Saul Williams and headlining The Dawson City Music Festival with his past project called Threat From Outer Space. He credits his parents’ eclectic collection, which introduced Josh to many styles and genres: Motown, Stax Records, soul/R&B, British rock, blues and hard-bop jazz, thus leading him to where he is now. He describes his latest album Plus as having “heavy-handed bass riffs – both synth and guitar written” that “form the underpinnings of this entire record.” He also hugely geeks out on vocal harmonies, which after a listen, was clearly evident.
The opener “From Me” sounds like something I haven’t heard in a long, long time but also, something that had a totally new and refreshing twist. I got the feeling that I had to hear this one over again because I thought it had a very strong opening, filled with the promise of what makes a good album. Maybe you’ll get where I’m coming from. “HOF” has a soulful, low down groove with crazy good synths and a catchy beat. “When To Stop” perhaps has a bit more heaviness with bass synths laying down the basic melody. The guitar is reminiscent of R&B and soul from the ‘70s and the added vocal layering effects with extra synth sounds gave this tune a futuristic feel.
“Amnesially” is one hell of a mashed-up song – one of those that may take a while to break down and then ask – ok, what is THNDR doing here? From what I could tell, it’s a little techno, a little industrial with some shadowy, heavy sounds going on. It’s a sweet song no doubt! “Coming Through” reminded me of something that U2 did on one of their experimental ‘90s records, like Zooropaor Pop. Trippy sounds overlapped with an innovative guitar never sounded so original. “Looking At You” feels like a sensual, hot night in some downtown where you wish the things you were experiencing would last forever. Hundert lays down some sweet grooves that are compelling and memorable.
“Play It Down” features a groove that made me think of Prince’s lesser known songs, but that are every bit as good as his greatest hits. The keys get heavy, loud and abundant all centered on a funky dance beat. Closing the album, “The Park” has full guitars in the beginning with warmer sounding drums programmed. Hundert flexes his falsetto very nicely on a beat that’s a bit more traditional soul and R&B than say, dance pop or techno.
Overall, this was a rather short album, so I had to listen to it again, because dang… I thought it was truly fantastic! Hundert puts in a lot of effort both musically and compositionally as a songwriter in just eight short songs – none of which came close to four minutes – but, no complaints here. Looking forward to more.
Green Eraser is a solo project who has released a string of EP’s on Bandcamp. His latest Dot goes into experimental territory with influence from genres like rock, jazz and more. This is one of those albums that really works best as an album. It’s the continuation of music that really starts to feel like the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The music is instrumental and some of the songs feel like vignettes especially the ones between one and two minutes long. Up first is “In Your Bad Hand” which is easily one of the more experimental songs. It sounds like people singing an ominous hymn in reverse. Music picks up in the background like sine waves, static and a clean sounding drum kit.
“Two Minute Speech” also enters experimental territory with atonal sounds and more manipulated vocals. Perhaps a bit more musicality starts to come into focus with the piano on “Conveyor Belt & Co.,” the jazzy bass on “Bass Song” and arpeggiated synths on “Searching.” There is a loose foundation on “The Next Day” while “All You Have To Do” revolves around a collage of sounds not too far sounding from a group like The Books.
A song like “18 Months” has interesting haunting sound design but not too much more than that. Eastern vibes creep up on “The Great Green Sun” while “The Scientist Exits The Laboratory” explores full-on ambience.’’ I suppose “Four Minute Speech” is the follow up and little more scary all around. “Lo Sforzo” is meditative and somehow also causes apprehension through dissonance and an increase in speed. After the loose free jazz on “Green Sleep,” “All Under The Same Moon” is arguably the most ambitious and epic track on the album.
Dot is not for a casual fan of music who listens to whatever might arrive to their ears via the speakers at Starbucks or found at the top of the Billboard charts. It may take a little patience but there is something to be had for those who aren’t afraid to explore the fringe.
Folk-rock balladeer Nick Lurwick may hail from the north-east but his sound is purely southern - combining folk, country and R&B straight from the ’70s; a sound honed at the intersection of Nashville, Tennessee and Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In the video for the opening salvo “The Factory” Lurwick alternates scenes of an indoor suicide attempt and a walk into the woods outside the cabin, feverish with depression, before the twist occurs and Lurwick is merely jumping from his chair, while outside Lurwick bends around a tree and runs back to the camera smiling.
It’s affecting and represents the feeling of reaching the brink and choosing to turn back to the light; the sentiment is expressed later in the album on “Soft Noose Trash Blues” a driving rocker incorporating elements of gospel, similar to Paul Simon’s classic “Kodachrome.”
The genre here is a classic one, decades removed from the zeitgeist but in recent years revived by artists like Milk Carton Kids, The Felice Brothers and Connor Oberst. Where Lurwick could come off as derivative, he instead uses his conviction, sincerity and a focused dedication to the stylistic precedents to achieve the “timeless” feel: removed from and a contemporary of his idols simultaneously.
His voice, an attention grabbing nasal honk popularized by Dylan but endowed more recently to Sub-Pop artist Kyle Craft swaggers through the eight tracks of Early Spring Blues; chilled and somber on “Until The Morning Came,” more of a pleading emotion displayed on “Those Pictures You Left Behind.” The songs features an in-the-moment lyrical perspective that occasionally zone out to reflection; the sad kind, where Lurwick “never gave you the best” and “would’ve treated you so perfectly.” In some sense this could be read as a “breakup album,” but I think that’s only a slice of the full life displayed here.
An acoustic guitar is the skeleton of Lurwick’s rich body of work, whose blood and guts are the heartbeat bass, swelling church organ, time honored tele riffs and vocals harmonies. He uses the harmonica as a second voice throughout, the melodic scream his voice box is too restrained to let out but breathes through the reeds. The drums are simple, simply ticking the time away responsibly so Lurwick can get really creative elsewhere, although “The Castle In The Sky” does feature some nice snare work towards the end, a confederate march by a union soldier. “I couldn’t grasp the concept, it was too abstract for me” sings Lurwick, but for the listener this album is easy to understand, another chapter written in the big book of Americana. It’s well worth a listen though, and its vibrant and impassioned approximation of such a well worn style shows that Lurwick is deserving of a place at the table with the giant shoulders he stands on.
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Jazz music has one of the richest histories of any genre of music, yet it never really seems to get the credit it deserves in any sort of mainstream style media. Nor has it really ever gotten so much recognition since the heyday of the greats like John Coltrane or Miles Davis just to name a few of the more noticeable names.
However the genre has fully been in force amongst those who really appreciate its great range of melodies and different ways that it is able to make its way into the better known world through samples or jazz inspired guitar riffs or the occasional rock band that also employs a horn player of some sort.
But jazz perhaps was never really meant for the mainstream. It is not something that one can just easily plug into and then tune out of. Jazz demands the true listener’s attention and it is for this reason that it is relegated to those listeners who have the patience and the wherewithal to really get into it.
One of the new jazz greats on the scene these days is the New York based drummer and composer Jon Sheckler who has just released his latest record Cityscapes which is a sprawling record full of compositions that remind one why jazz has such a permanent place in the world of music.
The opening track on Cityscapes, “Right Side Up” is full of melodic grooves and vibes that recall the past masters of jazz as well as seeing Sheckler attempting to break new ground by his sound which is at once irresistible. It grabs the listener and moves them for the very first notes, and laments that this will be a ride that is well worth the small price of the ticket, which is only your time. On the following track, “Cold Reading” the listener is immersed slowly and one, if they listen closely, can hear the slight tonal shifts as the song makes its way along, like a paper boat on the water, dipping up and down at whim. Later on, the title track, which is long and awe inspiring in its patience, the listener is treated to a mélange of sounds, and really gets a feel for the timing and sheer energy that jazz compositions reveal with their slight bits of quiet registering faintly and then picking up again to build into another mood.
Whether you are a jazz aficionado or just starting to dip your toes into the water of this wonderful and wide reaching genre, Cityscapes offers you the chance to hear some truly original compositions and also acts as a gateway to understanding the nuances which abound.
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