I remember listening to Steve Hensby more than two years when Rebecca Rothschild reviewed their self-titled album. It’s been awhile since I listened to it but I remember how fun their music was. Suffice it to say their most recent release Chase The Sun feels like a party. I mean this is music you want to put on if you want to get people dancing and smiling.
The songs are funky like Jame Brown and George Clinton but also can rock and there is also some hip-hop. That’s honestly just scratching the surface. There are so many styles the band just conquers with absolute ease.
The album starts with the title track “Chase The Sun.” I almost don’t know where to start with a song like this. It’s absurdly catchy, it’s funky and they even seem to combine ska and hip-hop which on paper sounds like it could have issues but it doesn't. A big part of the brilliance on this song is just how seamless the flow is.
The horns on “Time’s Up” were so upbeat and fun I think the groove can cure minor bouts of depression. It’s another funky song with so many great riffs and memorable vocal melodies. That chorus should be blasted in the middle of a busy city street for no other reason than to pick up the pace and add a little spice to that margarita.
By the time I got to “Tale of a Slide Trombone” I was sure the band was screwing with me. They pull off this slick mariachi style, slow down the tempo, speed it back up and still manage to slap you in the face with wonderful vocals.
That’s the first three songs. The band is really just getting going. There is a waltz and the vocalist sings beautifully on “Naf Naf.” There is even a stripped back song entitled “Passport Smiles” that is reminiscent of folk acts like Simon & Garfunkel. I want to emphasize they probably could have done a whole album in this style and it would have been beautiful. This song sure is. They display this again on “Clara Bell” which has a female singer. “Caught in the Middle” is American infused folk in the spirit of Fleet Foxes while “Willing the Rapture” is off kilter funk with heavy drums.
One of the criticisms I will usually mention in my reviews is that some bands attempt too many styles. This often leads to a less cohesive experience because the band is not creating a signature sound. Steve Hensby Band might be the exception to the rule. They do justice to every style they attempt and then some to a point where it’s almost weird. I hope they consider that a compliment because it’s meant to be.
This album is an exceptional album. Highly recommended
Raze The Maze is the brand new musical project from Moorea Dickason and Tarik Ragab. They are bandleaders of the prog-rock band MoeTar. I could hear some of the prog rock influence right away on their self-titled album Raze The Maze.
On that note, their music isn’t just about odd time signatures and an impressive knowledge of obscure scales. Their music is aesthetically appealing and they manage to create infectious hooks that when combined with the more elaborate technical side make a pretty incredible album.
Take for instance “Soil.” The song starts with deviating from 4/4 and instead embraces circular patterns and complex arrangements. The anchor is the vocals and Dickason has a great voice with plenty of emotion behind it. I love the descending scales yet simultaneously appreciated the vocal melody. Dickason sings, “Here we are we are the ones that came before, / Before the ashes in the soil.”
I was hoping the opening song wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t. Those hypnotic and never ending patterns return on “Digital Deity.” The vocals are again really well done and make the song catchy and accessible. I also loved the arpeggiated synths they implement which really drives home the digital concept she sings about.
“A Riot Is A Storm” is a little bit of change. This song is a little more straightforward. It felt like ’80s arena rock. There is of course some prog but this felt closer to Rush at times, although the guitar solo had a ’70s classic rock flavor. The free jazz inspired “Roposapien” was a blast while “Apophecy” sounds like it could be used in a musical.
I had a hard time believing how many lyrics she was able to put in all two minutes and eighteen seconds of “Quixotic Quicksand.” Next up is “Life's A Dream” which sometimes sounds dissonant enough that it could easily turn into a nightmare or an endless loop of absurdity.
“William Tell Routine” is thematic and stripped. This song is haunting in a David Lynch type of way. Last up is arguable highlight “You Only Get This Life” and that David Lynch kind of absurdity felt more prevalent. There is tension here and a disconnect. I kept picturing Judy Garland here in her role in The Wizard of Oz singing but there was something deeply unsettling about it. I loved it.
This is an original album from beginning to end. I love art for a lot of reasons but I think one of the things it's supposed to do is make people think. It can be beautiful which is a nice feeling but I prefer it when I see a movie like There Will Be Blood or listen to an album like Raze The Maze that my mind asks “what did I just experience.” It can stew and ferment like a slow burn and possibly even change your perspective. Highly recommended.
New York's Zan & The Winter Folk is Zan Strumfield (guitar/vocals), Mike Jenkins (bass/vocals), Michael Gregg (banjo/vocals) and Will Brown (lead guitar/vocals). Strumfeld started as a solo performer but soon brought in other musicians. I can’t say I’ve heard her solo material but I would say that after listening to How To Be Alone the musicians she found to complement her music as well as vocal style seem like a perfect match.
The EP contains a mix of genres but I would say primarily this is a folk act that revolves around organic instrumentation. There is a term in engineering called “warmth” and it usually refers to some of the aesthetics that recording to tape brings. As soon as I heard this EP that’s a concept that came to mind so it didn’t surprise me at all that they actually did record straight to tape.
They open with “What You Do” and the mood is a sort of bluegrass inspired swing. That being said the playing style is a little lush but the energy builds slightly like a slow burn. I absolutely loved the chorus in this song which was memorable. Strumfield has a great voice and sounds particularly good with this style of music. The opener benefits from brevity and showcases the talent of the whole band.
Up next is the more melancholy and emotive “Southbound.” Strumfield sounds great again but in a different way. The slower tempo here allows you to really hear the array of emotion as well as her dynamic range. I would argue the production on this song is crucial. That “warmth” I was referring to in the recording provides the solace against the somber melodies and lyrics.
“Kalamazoo” is like a sunset in the morning. It raises the mood and really plays into a traditional sound as old as the Appalachian mountains. They close with “Alone” which is the arguable highlight and perhaps the most emotionally diverse song. There are highs and lows and different shades of emotion of this song.
This is a gorgeous EP. The songs are beautifully written and delivered. It’s that simple.
Sometimes all you need is rebranding to start anew. Last year we reviewed DRVR. The band took a short hiatus and are back as Wayward Giants comprised of Sy Rossi (bass), Nick Harman (lead guitar), TJ Cole (drums) and Jalen Cliatt (vocals/guitar). They released two singles which they simply titled “A side/B side.”
I was scrutinizing the song titles which are “Owls and Lobsters” and “Heathens” to try and get an idea of what the themes were. The themes were no where close to what I thought when I later read what the band intended. That say, “the two singles are a juxtaposition of being in love (Owls and Lobsters) and being alone with your own thoughts (Heathens).” With that in mind let's get into it.
“Owls and Lobsters” is rock with a tinge of jazz. I loved the horns and guitar that start the song. The picture I had in my mind was of someone strutting down the street, whistling with his hands in his pockets. It doesn't take too long for the whole band to join in. There is simultaneously a good amount of energy and the kind of a relaxing, chill vibe which may have been provided by the walking bass line. There are great performances all around. The vocal melodies are catchy, the rhythm section is in the pocket and I especially loved the breakdown section which erupts back into the chorus with blaring yet warm horns. The best line might be “cause I’ll still spill your coffee / If you’ll still be with me.”
“Heathens” starts with warm jazzy guitar. The vocals and guitar that open are very relaxing and the lyrics which mention the beach and the sea only add to that image. Once the band comes into the mix they hit upon a jazzy vibe here. It’s more jazz than rock at first but once that solo distortion comes in and the temp increases I knew they were going to start to rock. The bass line was inventive amongst the more chaotic white noise that was emerging from the cymbals and quickly strummed chords.
This band is back and they seem better than ever. These two songs were a nice taste of the band's new trajectory and hopefully just a hint of what else is to come.
Art Tawanghar is a composer, musician and multi-genre producer, who combines electronic production, live instrumentation and a variety of Western and Eastern cultural influences. In 2016 be released Soul of the Earth and more recently released Buddha Lounge 3 Chill New Age California.
The album starts off with “Into the Unknown (Live Piano Improvisations in 432Hz).” It’s exactly as the title implies. The song consists of just piano. There are a number of things to note however. The recording is beautiful and felt thematic, contemplative and melancholy. It reminded me of the feeling I get when I listen to a composer like Max Richter. The song does pick up energy however and goes from contemplative to feeling more alive as if you found the answer to what you were thinking about.
Up next is “Divine Chemistry” which again starts off with piano but this time around more elements come in quickly. The winds of Persia and other eastern elements start to appear. The song is serene and tranquil until the beat really picks up and you start to understand why the album includes the words “Chill New Age.”
“Love is the End” is a deep ambient track that made me feel like I was listening to a Hollywood movie score. It’s very thematic. “Ocean in a Drop” is simultaneously atmospheric and lively. I was relaxed but also there is enough percussive elements where you can move to it.
“Conscious Dream” really starts to gain energy. The sitar in the song had my attention but there is so much going on besides that. The very Eastern sounding “Crystalline Grid” utilizes a lot of percussive elements and actually feels quite playful in a number of ways.
The album ends with “Storyteller” which made me feel like I was going to mediate in a cave at first. The song becomes quite lively and joyful as it progresses. I thought the piano was a nice touch amongst the Eastern instrumentation. This album is beautifully produced. There are so many things happening in these songs and I could hear all of it. This is definitely music that benefits from a nice pair of headphones.
I really enjoyed the way this album combines Western and Eastern Influences. It never felt contrived and made me think why more musicians in the past have not tried to combine these two styles.
Stefania is an artist from Calgary, Alberta. She has been playing music for over ten years and earlier this year she released Do You Know My Name?. It didn’t take her too long to release another EP entitled Feeling My Way Through the Dark.
The EP starts with “Feeling My Way Through the Dark” which is a lush and atmospheric song. It starts with a steady beat, palm muted guitar and some additional reverb laced guitar. Her singing is fairly subdued and almost stoic sounding as she sings the song. The sound is sort of dark but not dismal or bleak. I kept on thinking of taking a walk at midnight through a city.
That misty shoegaze atmosphere is explored more on “Phases.” I loved some of the guitar which twinkled like stars in the night sky. The lyrics seem to explore a breakup but the lyrics are also ambiguous and can be interpreted in different ways. She sings, “I don’t know why it went this way / It takes some time but it will fade / It’s a phase now.”
“Complexity” still has a good amount of atmosphere but it's a tad brighter than everything that comes before it. This song has a hypnotic quality and slowly builds with additional guitar parts. The lyrics in this song are a little more straightforward and revolve around the complexities of a relationship. “What's Your Hurry?” is another solid track with darker qualities. Portishead came to mind on this track. The last track “Thoughts for the Ending” is a short ambient guitar piece that felt fitting.
One of the things I also mention in my reviews is cohesion and creating a foundation. That is definitely an area where her music shines. The songs feel connected at the hip yet there is enough deviation from her palette of sounds to make it feel like a seamless experience. I suppose the only thing on my wish list is for some reason I kept on hearing sad horns in the background. Her music is general has a darker moody quality and I felt like horns might complete this sort of noir setting I kept picturing in my mind.
Overall, I think this music will appeal to a lot of people but this does have a dream pop, shoegaze aesthetic that will attract fans of acts like Beach House and The Chromatics. Take a listen.
I had a thought the other day. There is an idea of spirituality (not in the religious connotation but in that Sam Harris describes the word i.e. meditation) and then there is the idea of astronomy which is a science. I think that in the late ’60s these ideas combined and became new age. It was this combination that created people like Deepak Chopra, books like The Secret, healing crystals and much more. Before I heard a single song from I Am The Sun by Brooke Benson this is what I thought of when I was skimming over the title and looking at the album cover which shouts new age. If celestial bodies don’t shout new age you haven’t been paying attention.
I will mention that I am The Sun is much more than a new age album you probably saw while checking out CD’s at Borders about fifteen years. That being said there are plenty of those ideas and lyrics that are in there which combine astronomy and the spirit.
The album starts with “I Am The Sun” and musically there is a lot going on. It’s a rock song but also it's atmospheric. Benson is a diverse singer. On the verse she pretty much goes full on spoken word. I’ll be honest that I went to way too many open mics in college and experienced too much bad poetry to really appreciate this style fully anymore. The delivery almost always felt too serious to me back then and still sort of does. That being said to each his own. I really enjoyed her more traditional singing that she also displays and instrumentally there were also a lot of interesting things going on.
The first song that really got my attention was “Go With The Flow” which also felt like the standout. I really loved her vocals throughout this song even when she was going spoken word. The thing I was impressed by was the combination of country, bluegrass and rock with her unique vocal style.
Another highlight was “Back in The Day.” This song has a soulful chorus and out of all of the songs does have a lot of atmospheric pads that new age is known for. The jazzy “I Sing For You” is a classic late ’60s beatnik lower east side poetry session.
The songs for the most part felt individually packaged. I thought the musical foundation was loose. She would introduce a style and then never return as we hear on a song like “Go With The Flow” and others. I wouldn’t have minded an entire album that weaves in country and bluegrass. The one element that did create a seamless quality were her vocals. She has her own spoken word/singing style which is the defining trait of the album. I’ll also add the production and recording quality is very good.
There is a lot to enjoy here and I don’t think you have to have a love of astrology, tarot cards and palm readings to appreciate this album although it certainly wouldn’t hurt. Recommended.
Shaedan Hawse is a singer/songwriter from Victoria, BC, Canada who recently released Drown Me Out EP. Hawse explains this EP is “a culmination of my life after moving to the island; of the trials and tribulations of relocating and maintaining a relationship with my significant other and myself for that matter. It's about coming to terms with not liking the person that you see in the mirror and being crushed by the weight of the world that surrounds you.” He also goes on to explain through making art it can help fix some of these issues.
I’ll tell you right now Hawse is not alone. You wouldn’t believe how many submissions come through this very website with stories that are strikingly similar. Making art is healing for the artist and as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized this is the most beautiful aspect of art in my opinion.
Drown Me Out EP starts with ”Ballad of a Dead Walrus.” You hear some waves and acoustic guitar and vocals start to emerge. The way the song is structured is more ambient than anything else. The guitar melody repeats and the vocals are interjected at different points but they don’t feel like a lead. I thought the vocals were pretty but the song didn’t really change significantly much throughout the four minutes which is another reason why it felt like ambient music to my ears.
The title track “Drown Me Out” was stripped back with guitar and vocals. This song however felt a little more song based but still was repetitive. The main chords on the rhythm guitar follow the same pattern throughout the song. It’s the vocals that create the main transitions which peak when he sings “Drown me out.”
“Ü” is a straight up ambient track. It’s slightly experimental with some vocal effects. The song is brief however and never really goes far from where it begins. “Cryin' a River” really changes the mood completely because now you are back to less abstract and aliens sounds. The song is comprised of a couple of acoustic guitars. It’s instrumental and contains the most beautiful moments on the EP. He closes with the extremely lo-fi “4am” which is a pretty straightforward song.
There are some good ideas here although some of these songs felt like vignettes rather than fully explored ideas. Hawse might want to consider releasing his more experimental ambient material separately than the singer/songwriter material. There seem to be two styles he was flirting with here but in doing so he gives up the cohesion.
If he wants to go down the rabbit hole of ambient soundscapes I think exploring sound artists like Fennesz, Tim Hecker and Keith Fullerton Whitman if he hasn’t already done so might be able to give him new ideas in which he can expand on some of the great foundations I heard here.
Hawse is definitely on to something and I am excited to hear where he goes from here.
Sonny Siminski (guitar/vocals) and Nat White (drums) are Sober Son. The duo recently released Expert Introvert. They are a fairly stripped back band that is able to bring a lot of different styles to their music.
Take for instance “Comb my hair” where the first few seconds they sound a bit like Sunn O))) by ringing out distorted whole notes. The hip-hop beat that follows puts a different upbeat vibe to the music. Siminski has a unique vocal style. His delivery is enthusiastic and sharp and on this song it feels like he is lamenting at times.
The song goes into a bridge that sounds a bit like Nirvana but then quickly goes into an off-kilter but infectious chorus. By the end of the song I thought the band did a brilliant job exploring and combining different genres. The fast guitar action around the three-minute mark is explosive.
They have more success with “Cut the rope.” The initial drum pattern and guitar riff is catchy and a blast of fun. Siminski’s vocals are again very original sounding and he has his own thing going on here. This song might be the single of the batch. The chorus is memorable the first time I heard it.
“Flew Like A Cuckoo” approaches existential dread in playful and upbeat fashion. This could be Siminski’s most diverse and dynamic performance from the sort of spoken word on the verse, to the dynamic singing on the bridge and chorus. The lyrics, “So sick of feeling down I found that I cannot go on / I won't I won't give up I won't I won't does that seem wrong” are delivered in such as expressive way you start to think he is happy with this predicament. “Spared” contain a number of original sounds guitar patterns. They go way past major and minor chords and explore dissonance and dynamics.
“A Lone Catfish” is perhaps the most overt hip-hop style song but they do it in their own stripped back fashion. They close with “Expert Introvert” which sounded like a groove you might hear from a group like Gorillaz.
The band showed you don’t need a lot of instrumentation to feel highly original. This is a great EP. Take a listen.
Tyler Bartfai is a singer/songwriter from coastal Powell River, British Columbia who recently released his debut EP entitled Can You Tell. He combines aspects of pop, folk and rock on these five songs.
It’s a very professionally done EP were some of my first thoughts. The production, musicianship and delivery is top notch making it feel radio ready and perhaps more accessible to a broader demographic.
These songs are more upbeat and driving than the vibe you hear with a singer/songwriter but funny enough there were a number of songs where I was imagining that they would work just as well stripped down and slowed. Take for instance the opener “She's The One” which revolves around drums, acoustic guitar, bass, some atmosphere and the vocals. “She's The One” felt like a combination of rock and the intimate singer/songwriter you sometimes hear from John Mayer. It’s single worthy and I can understand why Bartfai decided to open with this song which is an unapologetic love song.
“Mr. Callback” is more lush and a little bluesy as well. Bartfai’s vocals are soulful and you could say a song like this might attract fans because of the smooth, silky and even sensual aesthetics. There is also some killer lead guitar on this track.
“Comedown” felt like another single worthy song that would attract a wide audience. The verse is catchy but the chorus is infectious. “Let Me Be” might be my personal favorite track. This track actually had an emotive and epic sort of quality that reminded of some of my favorite groups from the ’80s and early ’90s.
Last but not least is “Is This My Home” which is so uplifting and joyful sounding I would say the answer seems to be “yes.”
Bartfai’s music leans towards pop at the end of the day for me. The songs are accessible and you will most likely be humming the melody in the shower after the day is done.
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