The New York based multi-faceted artist Jack Broza is only 22 years old but he has already taken in plenty of what the world has to offer someone who is willing to take chances. Broza trained as a jazz and classical guitarist and studied contemporary composition at Yale and also studied Afro-Cuban music in Havana. His first foray into solo recording for himself alone is the record Gather, Together. Broza is not alone here on this record which is overflowing with as many players as it is directions in soundscapes.
The opening track “Holler to the Heavens” is a sound collage of human voices which soon focuses on a poem being repeated and then morphs back into a voice collage. I understand the concept though I feel it’s a bit cliché by now, no matter how you slice it. Perhaps it works for some on some sort of higher level.
Next, we get the track “Pieced Together (feat. Ashtan Towles).” The title seems to be a bit of a metaphor for the song and the entire record. The opening is a simple banjo riff that gives way to a female vocalist that is at first raspy but then as the song slowly picks up there’s an R&B feel to it which was interesting but then seems to implode as it veers off course and sets up the next song with mariachi style horns. That next song is “Contigo en la Distancia (feat. Camila Guiza-Chavez)” has a Brasil ’66 thing going on, and is definitely the best song on the album and it’s most fully formed; it sticks to the script and doesn’t try to experiment for experiment’s sake.
The next few tracks, “Make Anew” and “Hunter Hoarderer (feat. Fernando Rojas),” revert back to the vocal experiments, voices talking and found sounds that just sound out of place on the record as there is nothing to really justify them or hold them up. Perhaps twenty years ago these would have been able to capture more of my attention. When the experiment does work, like on the classically imbued, “New Mantra (feat. Ashtan Towles & Justin Park)” it is a reminder that talent is something that one must hone over a lifetime.
The bright spots on Gather, Together, are worth the price of admission. Under the right influences some of the more “experimental” pieces may sound more mind expanding, but then who is really doing the work? But alas Jack Broza is still young and very talented as well as unafraid to try things, which is key for any artist no matter what their age or medium. The good stuff here is definitely worth the listen though.
The St. Louis based indie rock outfit Traveling Sound Machine play an upbeat sounding brand of pop-infused rock that is layered with spectral harmonies and reverent melodies that stretch the very limits of what it means to be a rock band on their second release The Time We Were Almost Swallowed by the Earth. Its players, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Steven Lickenbrock, bassist/vocalist Dave Anson, trumpet player Chris Kepley, drummer Steve Larson, and guitarist Josh Grogan, have made an album that is on the surface, fun and fancy, but below that surface, in the lyrics are themes of depression and the dealings with of those feelings.
The record opens with “Paper Thin Skin” an upbeat rocker that’s lightly trickled with reverb and has hooks that keep the listener going. Its sort of a cross between Sparklehorse and Mercury Rev, in the way that the music sounds just poppy and strange enough to be written off as radio friendly. But beneath the surface their lurks a disruptive drowsiness that sets in as the songs meander along. Lyrics such as “you’ll never get your body back” and “When you had a body / Did you have many plans,” are strikingly dire. This continues to even deeper depths on the slow going “Perfect World/Welcome to Never Again” where the trumpet sounds like it’s the last one, being blown by angels calling a soul back home, and the addition of a female vocalist helps to add to that melancholy that the song suffuses.
Later on the dire yet powerful “Re: Perfect World” Lickenbrock’s vocals sound strained, almost as though he has finally broken down. It is the voice of a man who has been yelling and crying and is now emptied of everything. It’s a powerful moment on the record. After that, he seems closer to knowing what it is he’s working towards, as on “Distance” as he relents, “I feel like a spider with a ruined web / I have to start over / I’ll try to make this the best one yet / And I know that I can’t skip any steps / I need to find closure / I’m searching for ways to finally forget.” By the closing song, a wallop at seven minutes though its orchestration and slow building is worth every second, Lickenbrock’s power has seemingly returned yet his lyrics remain dark. Yet the last line “please don’t run me off the road” seems to suggest that he is trying to find his way back to something, at least a starting point of sorts.
For as haunting and quietly depressing as The Time We Were Almost Swallowed by the Earth is at times, it’s still an album that gives just as much as it asks for. The backing band and vocalists offer a great support system here and help to keep the record from becoming a one- man show.
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Paul Kameen is an interesting case. I was browsing his website and he is retired from his work life. It looks as if he was a professor, a published author and he dabbled in poetry as well. Songwriting and playing music in general however is a new endeavor. He wrote his first song two years ago. Although I’m younger then Kameen I wrote my first song around twenty-five years ago and I know that this is perhaps a new creative journey that has just begun for him.
On his release The Kiss which is a complete DIY effort he keeps it simple and subtle. The EP consists of light strumming or picking and singing that is barely above a whisper. It’s intimate, soft, warm and at times reminded me of Cat Stevens.
The album starts with “That's How I Feel” which is simply a heartfelt love song. There is really no ambiguity here. Kameen sings, “You're my sun you're my sky you're my moon you're my eye you're my reason why.”
Up next is the reflective “Just Stopped By to Say Hi.” It was all about the lyrics for me. Similar to the first song it seems to come directly from the heart. “All the Way to the Fool in Me” continues the themes of love and reflection while the song “Miracles” brings to mind the topics and themes John Lennon did in his song “God.” “If It's Enough for You” has its moments and although Kameen is talking about rocking in the song “Rockin' with You” it’s not about a wild night out drinking. “Let's say . . . Maybe” and “All That's Left of You” are solid songs as well.
Kameen has one particular vibe and mood down pat - perhaps too much so where the songs feel interchangeable. I think some of the next steps for Kameen would be to discover more about dynamics and being able to shift mood in a song. Additionally, more advanced picking techniques and even more instrumentation should be something he should think about that could add layers of emotional depth.
All things considered I think Kameen is accomplished for two years in. The songs are well written; I liked the earnest nature of the songs and I thought the lyrics were emotionally resonant. I look forward to hearing his evolution.
The arbitration formed in Akron, Ohio in 2011. After a few breaks and changes in the line-up, the band found itself in its current state in 2015. After writing, practicing, and playing together since then, their debut EP always the outlier was released in mid-May of 2018.
“Not Today, Satan” opens with an ominous build up. The vocals draped over the top of it serve to carry it to even more foreboding depths. When the instruments and the vocals open up and go full-throttle, the transition into that gear is so smooth that it can be confusing how it happened if you aren’t listening carefully. The explosive energy that comes out of left field is a welcome surprise, breathing new life into the song almost two-thirds of the way through. A remarkable track, it doesn’t take much examining to see why the band chose this as their first single.
“Mirror” is the closing track. Highlighting the bass as it grooves in between slowly strummed chords, it provides the perfect structure for the drums to push forward. The vocals fill the gaps left, carrying the listener through the verses on a vehicle that feels like it floats more than it drives. When the chorus opens up, the loud distortion of the guitar takes the mood of the song in a new direction. From contemplative to angered, the breakdown in the middle takes the song in yet another direction. As the band rides the new energy, the song closes out not one second longer, or shorter, than it should be.
A lax take on the often too loud and too fast modern hard rock sound, The Arbitration mixes the variables of their sound appropriately on each track on always the outlier. The sound is dark. Not in the way that a lot of bands pretend to be; there’s a genuine dark overtone and melancholy written into the riffs and the lyrics. That’s not to say that this EP is only for fifteen-year olds who see themselves as edgy and misunderstood. It’s a great set of tracks for a rainier day. Even better if you can drive through a steady shower with some occasional lightning. It is a highlight of gray skies; the silver lining of the clouds at high noon as they obscure the sun.
Always the outlier sets a mood, and doesn’t waste time pretending to be anything that it’s not. Real from cover to cover, fans of a heavier rock sound will have a field day getting to know the six tracks.
I’m a sucker for a good pop tune no matter who’s at the helm and no matter how popular or unpopular the singer or producer is that’s making it. But it seems that so often these days pop has been bastardized by folks who don’t seem to understand that it can be so easily misconstrued if a little bit of effort is not taken to keep it simple. This idea of simple pop, though not to call it “dumbed down” in any way, is the kind of pop that the Austin, Texas two-piece onetwothreescream play. The duo is made of of producer Mark Addison and songwriter Jana Pochop.
From the very first song on their six-song release Lit, one understands that they are in the presence of musicians who know their way around when it comes to writing a song. The opening track “You Lit Me” presents a syncopated Casio keyboard style beat and simple drum machine beats. But its Pochop’s vocals here, candy coated and sweet, combined with her sharp and witty lyrics such as “You love science I made art / Both work in a beautiful machine” and the wonderful chorus, “We can scrape stuff out of mountains / To power this city / We’ve been screaming through outer space / Since the ‘60s / But I’m not brave enough to tell you how much you lit me up.”
Next comes the upbeat acoustic guitar driven riff (which sounds so much like the brighter songs of the Cure) “Fault Lines.” If you’re not moving your head or tapping your feet to this tune you should probably check your pulse cuz you might be dead.
Another thing onetwothreescream do so well together is find the line between electronic arrangements and plain old hard-edged musicianship which they showcase on the radio-friendly rocker “Do the Work” and on the somber acoustic layered ballad “The First Cold War.” Then just when you think you’re going to get some more of the same they take a detour into a more spastic realm and change it up without going overboard.
They take chances even though they don’t always connect as evenly as they may have hoped, as is evidenced on the closing track “Money & Heart.” Still this is how and why a band like onetwothreescream is able to shell out the kind of idyllic pop that they do with such authority. They believe in what they’re doing and I think listeners will too.
Soundware Noise Boy is a solo artist from Canada. Blending rock and electronica, among a large scale spread of others, the sound is incredibly unique. The debut album Development was released mid-July of 2018. The only release so far but new music is set to be released in the future to further the lore of Soundware Noise Boy.
If you ever wished that a Nintendo Entertainment System became sentient and spent a lot of time teaching itself guitar and listening to hard rock, you should talk to someone. That someone is Soundware Noise Boy. I can’t think of any other way to describe it that doesn’t feel like I’m drawing a different image. Captivating might be the closest one. Because that’s what happened to me on my first listen. I sat, and I stared at the cover art, and I listened to as many levels of the layers of sound as I could handle. There’s a lot to pay attention to. It can be an incredibly in-depth listen for those that enjoy picking out each sound, sample, pattern and riff in a song. You can also just rock out it to without paying too much attention.
Development is a versatile album in every sense of the word. It’s hard to pick out a single track to highlight. Each has its own personality, mannerisms, ticks, quirks and nuances. Some of it is incredibly reminiscent of Daft Punk, but only for a few bars before reverting to the full and fresh sound that Development is as a whole. It’s not a hard hitting in your face assault of electronic music jargon like much of today’s EDM, although it incorporates elements that one would expect out of a Skrillex track on certain occasions.
Tastefully used, fans of electronic music that are divided on their feelings toward EDM can appreciate the elements of the genre fused with hard and progressive rock. Cover to cover, Development is a full ride for the listener. Hardcore fans of electronic music, and even those who occasionally indulge in The Prodigy, Daft Punk, Boards of Canada, DeadMau5 or any other handful of large scale electronic bands and musicians will find it to be a rewarding listen.
Momo Aphrodite offers a breezy dreamscape electro pop sound with her self-titled album. She is a perpetual creator with talents the expand beyond music and push more toward visual art. She is an open book of expression and that is something that comes through in this album. She is a singer and songwriter who leans on her piano to compose her songs. Her process often involves her brain waking her in the middle of the night and she is compelled to begin working on her piano right there on the spot. I can certainly relate, despite me dedicating a large part of my life to sleep, my brain simply doesn't care and manifests some of the best ideas I've ever had in the middle of the night. Momo is the kind of artist who I sense is bursting with creativity and ideas, this is something that also comes through on this album.
To start, I love her voice, fell for it immediately upon hearing the first track, "Invisible." Her vocal style is one that is understated but very strong. She's a not a bells whistle kind of person when it comes to her vocal work and he doesn't have to be. She is also a choice lyricist who's versatile and bravely vulnerable. There are only five songs on this album but I respect each and every one for the lyrics she puts down, they are incredible.
Musically there are a few twists and turns within the tone of the tracks, but overall this a very low-fi, almost shoegaze like experience. My favorite is the opening track "Invisible" in both lyrical and composition quality. It's a great blend of her R&B and electro influences. The rest of the songs feel very much more situated in the R&B realm in terms of composition however there are certain tracks that maintain very electro elements in terms of the instrument choices.
Number three, "Painful" has some interesting instrumental concepts that were a pleasant surprise and helped that songs break away from the herd. The only problem I had was that there was stagnant, sterile sensation attached the instruments with the exception of the piano work. The electronic instruments felt a little too out of the box. Sometimes the best cure for this is more live instrumental elements or sampling electronic sounds from outside the program you are using.
I am however not discounting the work of audio engineer Andrew Dugan who did an excellent job putting a final touch on the album. I could tell he paid special attention to her voice and handled it with great care. The recording was done in Momo's bedroom which is fine by me, the album sounded great. Again, the big selling point is the words, and every one of her words comes through beautifully.
A quick rise has lead to a feature in the Scottish Sun, and now OH!RIO is out with a new EP Drowning, which mixes the anthemic indie -pop of Young The Giant with the darker imagery and guitar tones of pop punk to deliver four tracks of emotional, empowering music. This is the soundtrack to rough adjustments, the feeling of melancholy with knowing a bad situation is ending and you may not be the same, but it’s going to be ok. Behind the mic Declan Miller sings his heart out, lyrics like “They couldn’t control me, they wanted to hold me / I’m lost in a photograph, don’t miss me cause I’ll be back” on closing track “Lucky” will appeal to anyone who grapples with their sorrows openly.
The songs all take similar turns; the floating verse to a big, poppy hook and a bridge that drops the dynamics low to make the comeback feel more harrowing; a mountain climber with one hand on the edge, the shipwreck victim reaching for air. The guitars, provided by newest member Sean Miller, spike the boy’s clean punch with a saturated venom in the style of All Time Low or Yellowcard. The drums beat out by John Adamson come in syncopated grooves and fist pumping dirges, complemented by the bass playing of Andy McBeth.
The story’s presented on the album take the listener to some interesting places. There’s a narrative involving gun violence on the second song “Run” a vengeful tune that uses haunting synths to enhance the dread before exploding into the chorus. Unexpectedly, “Colours” is a tale of falling in love that contrasts well with the more isolated undercurrent of Drowning.
Produced by Mark Tindal of Scottish post-hardcore legends To Kill Achilles, the sound is studio heavy with lush tapestries, as on the bridge of “Drowning.” The dynamic shifts are always thrilling, and it’s easy to tell this is a crew who has spent years apart honing this sound before coming together. This is Drowning era OH!RIO, something fans in the future will look back on as a promising new style combination that needed a little time to grow but was sure to blow some minds.
Chris Curry started his songwriting and recording career in his teens and since then he has written and composed over 100 songs. Needless to say, music is his passion along with producing as well. Over the years he has worked with hundreds of recording musicians at his own professional recording studio in the Niagara region of Ontario, Canada. Although he has performed in front of a live studio audience he has always felt more at home as a recording artist. Now, after finding the time to put together a healthy catalog of songs, Curry comes out with his debut album Lost Paradise.
Most of the songs on the album center on environmental themes and all of them were written over the past 20 years. Curry’s mode of operation is to first write and compose songs on piano, and then bring them into the studio for production. Fellow musicians, Terry Darling on guitars, Anthony Nicoletta on drums and Mark Mignualt on bass, were brought in to bring Curry’s vision of his first album to light.
“Lost Paradise” begins the album with synth work that’ll put a smile on any hardcore synthesizer enthusiast. I loved it because it brought me back to a time when synths were at their peak of popular music, but heck, nowadays with music anything goes. Anyway, there is plenty of experimental “futuristic” sounds, a feast for the ears indeed. “Wildlands” has a nice soundscape feel where I could see open landscapes and open roads as the music started. Curry takes a more traditional pop approach with acoustic, drums, additional guitars and piano on this number.
In “Corruption” Curry sings of his passion for the environment. Musically as well as lyrically, the sentiment is sad but beautifully done, and oh so important to address in any medium these days. “Crack in the Sky” mixes up sounds of traditional pop rock with additional synth work. The song’s title, I believe, is a nod to the depleting ozone layer. On “Faultline” Curry sings about California’s fault line, which could crack at any time – yes, it’s out of our hands, but we just have to be prepared for it. Stylistically, this tune reminded me of 10,000 Maniacs and was easily one of my favorites.
“Sky” has a beautifully layering mix of vocals and a dreamy, inspiring style. “Save Me” has more synth work added and a nice, big open sound, while “World of Gold” begins with a more intense rhythm on guitars, piano and drums. The echoing vocals were an added benefit to this one. “Awake” has a heavier use of guitars and piano and the warm bass tones brings a nice full sound altogether. The additional violins are great as well, as Curry sings about being awake to what’s happening around him outside among nature’s elements. The last song “Earth Sky Water” gets more rocking, but in a mellower kind of way. A darker sounding tune than the others, Curry’s message is direct and gets chilling at times – “When there’s nothing left, but earth, sky and water.”
I thought Chris Curry’s ideas of the environment and contemporary pop style reminded me of some of the bands that tapped into this territory back in the ‘80s, like World Party, The Waterboys and MidnightOil, just to name a few. Overall, Curry’s songs were inspiring and have a certain uplifting feel that I don’t hear much of these days. And his tenor voice is one that I won’t soon forget – a fantastic singer! I think we need to hear his kind of music more often.
Multi-instrumentalist Chris Scardino, who’s had a number of short runs with various bands for many years, finally decided to compile a “best of” collection of original material he’s written over the span of more than a decade. Recorded in New York and Florida, mixed and mastered in New York, his first full-length debut Dig The Surface, under the name 8 Evolutions, explores introspection and reflection from lessons he’s learned in everyday life. The album’s primary theme is about taking personal responsibility for the choices we make and also being authentic through life’s challenges, all the while having integrity when things are going well. Lyrics and info to each song can be found on the artist’s Bandcamp site.
On the opening song “Waters” I was already liking what I was hearing – synths with piano and this led into “Open My Eyes” a loud, highly charged arena rock type song that’ll get you pumped. The lyrics suggest those things that we sometimes put our trust into suddenly falls away or slowly fades out of view and makes us second guess our position in life. “Newborn” has a great guitar hooks and distortion, while carrying on the big rock sound. “Missing You” has a mix of tender sounds with a rock ballad composition. A short and sweet love song about missing someone special – very relatable and well done.
“Kids” features a good mix of hard-edged beats and guitar solos. Lyrically, the words can be geared towards the kid inside us who’s learned some hard lessons in life and/or seeing how kids cope with hardships these days while as older adults, we see things differently now. “Acrobat” has a nice snare drum in the beginning and it’s another softer sounding tune musically. The lyrics suggest having another side within oneself that you struggle with – a sort of falling away of your old self, into a person. “Spirit Guides” has a great, fast tempo, crunchy and tight guitar riffs and a lot of spirit from start to finish.
“Angels and Demons” begins with an interesting double beat on the snare and also synth accompaniment. This song to me was the most beautiful musically on the album, but perhaps the saddest song lyrically – “So I let you down again / Maybe I thought that we could still be friends / Didn’t think this time around / Would be the end.” The song’s title was a good way of describing two sides to a relationship. One that goes well one day, and then breaks apart the next.
“Girl” was perhaps my favorite on the entire album, simply because of the kick ass guitar riffs – very catchy, Scardinos’ hooks could remain in my head for days. The words to the song are about a girl who’s pretentious, selfish and plays the relationship game only to stab her lover in the heart and take their soul. But, in the end Scardino’s words catch up with this girl and she ends up only hurting herself – “Cold and dead, no thoughts of love are in your head / A grudge is all that lives / You don’t forget and don’t forgive / You’ll remain the victim that creates the pain / Until you take the blame, you’ll stay the same.”
“Ethereal” begins with a soulful guitar lick and bell chimes that kind of reminded me of Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” It’s another tender, soft number from Scardino’s catalog. The lyrics have a sort of lullaby-ish nature to them, which made this song another favorite. Lastly, with “Tidal Waves” prepare to have your ears perk up double time with an insanely fast guitar riff and drum beat. This song ends the album on a high note, just like the album’s opener. The lyrics speak of staying positive and optimistic despite the crap the life sometimes throws your way – “I’m sailing out on tidal waves / To the stormy skies / Fumbling with my sanity, but I’m all right.”
Chris Scardino has remarkable skill and talent as a musician and composer and his first solo project 8 Evolutions proves that solidly. His debut touches on universal themes and relatable issues, with musical styles that reach into the classic rock genre and rock ballads that touch the heart with inspiration.
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