Cedar Teeth, a rock band from Colton, Oregon, recorded their debut album Hoot last June with producer/musician Bill Oskay at Big Red Studios. These songs were originally written in a rustic cabin built by a member’s grandfather, situated beneath a cedar forest in the Cascade Foothills an hour outside of Portland.
According to the band, this collection of music is representative of the places from which they emerged; that is, at the margins of the city and the wilderness. That paints a nice image, but how does the music deliver?
The album opens with a high-energy rocker "Locks" that kicks in with harmonica, distorted guitars and lead vocals that project strongly throughout its chorus. "Wednesday" utilizes a guest trumpeter that plays nicely off descending electric guitar riffs creating a certain tenseness like there is a looming disaster waiting to strike before song’s end.
My favorite track "Behind the Sun" is built around a pretty guitar chord progression with violin and cymbal swells creating what is a great situation for the reverb-dipped vocals to naturally express themselves and guitar interludes to succeed at really driving the song’s emotion home. To me, it's the most self-aware offering on here in terms of an instrumentation/vocal combination that brings its atmosphere to life.
On this ten-song record, other songs that don’t work as well sometimes dim its bright spots. I point towards a lack of memorable melodies and engaging shifts between sections, vocals that feel out of place within a particular song or maybe a rock song that tries to rock but doesn't succeed in the way "Locks" naturally does. That being said the good far outweighs the bad.
Cedar Teeth show that they have some skill and I think that a collection of songs written over a period as large as five years by a new band will inevitably lack a certain lucidity. Overall, Hoot is a success and quite an enjoyable listen. The album has a lot to offer and encourage you to check it out.
Joel Strauss started his solo career in 2011 and has been hard at work ever since. He has previously released LP’s and EP’s and his latest is entitled Don’t Lose That Feeling. Strauss could be considered a singer/songwriter but when I’m presented with that term I usually think of a guy with an acoustic guitar and that’s about it. The songs on Don’t Lose That Feeling are fleshed out and implement a rich variety of instrumentation that more often than not indicates a full band.
As I was listening to Strauss the most original element is unequivocally his voice. It’s a voice that may take a little getting used to. He sometimes has a nasally inflection that is reminiscent of Colin Meloy from The Decemberists that people may or may not find appealing. The more I listened the more it grew on me and after a complete spin of the album I was sold. After hearing a thousand male singers who sound exactly the same Strauss’s voice was a welcome change.
His two biggest strengths are his lyrics and a knack for writing a memorable vocal melody. Take for instance the song “The Artist.” The music is delightful revolving around vocal harmonies, simplistic guitar progression, drums and bass but it was really carried by the lead vocal melody. The melody is a sing-along out loud type of catchy tune and will get stuck in your head whether you like it or not.
Another highlight is “Bidding War,” which is pretty straightforward rock pop but the delivery and energy is exceptional. It’s upbeat, fun and in some ways reminded me of The Shins. Strauss peels back the instrumentation to an acoustic guitar on the song “Eyes (featuring Zoe Fitch).” The duet is excellent and their voices coalesce into a heartfelt vocal performance that is arguably the most striking on the album.
This is a really solid work by Strauss. There weren't any songs that felt subpar and I was very pleased when I got to the end of the album. This is definitely an album you want to check out.
That moment when an unfamiliar band (Old Victrola) from your hometown blows you away within your first few minutes spent together is something special.
They make good use of small talk through distorted guitars, picked bass and thumping drums if only to build enough tension before the conversation bursts open with an emotive guitar riff soaring above an unleashing of splashing cymbals and fuzzy guitars. It sort of makes you double over like getting the wind knocked from your gut only for it to be followed by a breath from what feels like a place much bigger than yourself. It's the kind of musical offering that can point you towards all things beautiful through its own beauty and light up a sensation of really being wherever you are, in which you recognize that to somehow be alive in that moment is just enough.
I recently shared this experience with Old Victrola, an indie rock/emo band from Baltimore, MD, who released their debut LP Many Mornings Curse the Evenings this past September. The instrumental opener "6114" began to patiently bleed right into the next track as it emerged from a breaking distorted fog and I wondered if the rest of the album could possibly be as powerfully poignant as its beginning. The answer turned out to be "not quite" ("6114" was the clear highlight and I found the front half to be stronger than the back), but what I discovered was an album filled with beautiful, raw-but-refined-enough rock songs that succeed more often than not.
The production on this thing is top-notch. Recorded, engineered and mixed by Evan Kornblum at Negative Space Studios in the Lauraville neighborhood of Baltimore, and mastered by Collin Jordan at the Boiler Room Studios in Chicago, Many Mornings Curse the Evenings is bound together perfectly with layered soundscapes that never sound muddled or dull. Individual instruments, lead vocals and backing harmonies can be identified quite easily throughout a song because there's a certain textural spaciousness that allows them all room to breathe within a big full-band sound. It's the result of musicians milking the studio setting for all it's worth.
The music executed within that space is impressive too. Frontman/lead guitarist, Jason Brohm, offers soft, raspy vocals that fit alongside pretty guitar melodies. Their songs are really driven by a powerful drumming engine, always feeling fresh, dynamic and creative track by track. The ability to mix up how tension is created and released is a strong point for Old Victrola and the drums play a huge role in that.
Within musical outbursts, high-potency guitar jams if you will, the lead guitar boasts some seriously solid chops, a combination of looser riffing and intentionally repetitive melodic phrasing, all the while never distracting the listener from the band. It's a tight and cohesive sound that feels effortless.
If you appreciate emotive guitar-layered songs with melodic hooks and high-energy instrumental excursions, then I'd suggest taking a listen to these guys.
Forming in May 2014 Tell Tale is a two-piece band consisting of Jackson Kelly (keys, bass, vocals) and Jimmy Higdon (guitar, keys, vocals) that already released an album entitled Moth Season. They recorded it DIY for better or worse and it displays a young band that has some talent but is a work in progress. The quality of the EP isn’t awful but certainly could use some improvements. I like reverb on vocals but in this case it seemed excessive. There were times where they sounded like they were singing a room down the hallway in a mansion with huge rooms. Production aside the EP is rather stripped down relying on an acoustic guitar, sparse percussion and vocals.
The vocal work is sporadic. Sometimes they sound like the singer from Nickelback as in “Drowning For Fun” and other times sound like young nasally punk rockers who aren't old enough to buy a beer yet as in ”Intro.” The most inspired moments are when they harmonize together (“The Ghost Of Tortilla Jackson”).
Among the eight songs there were a number of songs that showed potential in the band. The melancholy “Life Goes On” is well written but the vocal delivery contradicts the emotional appeal of the song. Whoever is singing this song strains his voice so much that it lacks tenderness and instead it feels angry and familiar like that popular over masculine male voice. See Daughtry. Take it down a notch or two.
“Covered In White” is clearly a highlight. The guys sound very good together and the delivery is solid. On top of that the guitar progression isn’t cookie cutter and I thought the sparse piano was a nice touch.
This release plays into a lot of commercially viable elements that could form on the foundation of the band. That being said I would love to see the band reach a bit further as far as the vocal deliveries and styles are concerned. Right now it sometimes sounds derived from commercial rock/punk 101 via 2014 style. Overall, there may be talent and it certainly feels heartfelt but with this release it feels misguided. It might not hurt for them to spin Neutral Milk Hotel or Sun Kil Moon a couple tof imes to further their influences.
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
The Brackets Through The Fog 3.4
Native Eyes Illuminations 3.5
Postvorta Beckoning Light We...... 3.9
Zack Forray Earth Beat 3.3
Hora Douse Crash 3.3
The Widowers Mint Grizz 3.6
Hank Richardson Stuck Lonesome 3.4
Nathan Tr Shaw Best Friends 3.7
Here I am reading about the band Medicine Fish and I read a line that stated, “Medicine Fish is a main artery that leads directly to the heart of rock and roll.” At first I thought this was a rather presumptuous thing to say but as I listened to their release Charlemagne Blue it made a lot more sense. The music on Charlemagne Blue doesn’t remind me of any particular band but it definitely has a sound that not only is founded in rock but also the genres that preceded it and subgenres that formed because of it.
Everything from the chord changes to the guitar solos to the drumming patterns feels intensely familiar but extremely welcome. The band consisting of John Velsor (guitar/vocals), Julian Maultsby (bass/vocals) and Ryan Griffin (drums) successfully blend genres such as Americana, folk and country into formidable songs that were sometimes memorable. The type of rock these young men play is clean, often Neil Young inspired type songs that have more in common with the ‘60s rock than generations ensuing. The production isn’t shabby. It didn’t sound overproduced but rather like a couple of people playing real instruments in a room.
The first track “Ain't That The Story” starts off with a classic chord progression of E to A To G to B. It’s an instantly catchy and fun way to start things off. It may not be the most technically impressive song in the world but it is a nugget of pop goodness. “In The Shade” is where we see the Americana influences start to bleed through. I enjoyed the instrumentation in general but the organ was especially effective. Velsor give an inspired vocal performance here and sounds best with some heartfelt nostalgia behind his voice. The inflections run somewhere better John Fogerty and to a lesser extent Neil Young.
“Barn Rag” is a personal highlight that contains some effective mandolin. They mash up the song with bluegrass and rock. It’s certainly a festive song. Another highlight was the acoustic based “Reflections.” There was some tight guitar playing reminding me of the Eagles at points. The open space and melancholy sounded good on the band.
Not every song works on this album and at fourteen songs long there were moments that began to drag. Overall, these minor issues are indeed minor. Charlemagne Blue is a solid album with a number of notable songs that are worth your time to check out.
Forming in 2012 Downphase is a hard rock band who recently released a five-song EP entitled Facedown. The band consisting of Josh Campbell (guitar/vocals), Josh Grove (bass) and Brett Markovich (drums) is a straightforward contemporary, often commercially viable sounding, hard rock band. The music is often predictable, relying on a tried and true format that has worked for a lot of bands in the last decade or so.
The guitars have that tone that lies somewhere between Linkin Park and Evanescence. If you are looking for warm ‘70s crunch distortion you won’t find it here. Campbell has a good singing voice and it is usually covered in more than a healthy amount of reverb. The drumming is technically impressive throughout regardless if you dig this music or not. Markovich brings the pain and provides the energy as the bass provides a robust low end.
They kick off the EP with “Facedown,” which revolves around the distorted sustain of power chords and impressive drumming. Campbell’s vocals are fine throughout but he throws in a blood-curdling scream that comes out of nowhere. That scream has been ubiquitous with popular radio friendly hard rock acts for about fifteen years now and I really think it’s time to move on.
If you hear and like the first song there is little doubt in my mind that you will appreciate the rest of the EP. The remaining songs revolve around the same dynamics, guitar sound, vocal style, etc. This is a double-edged sword in my opinion. It makes the EP incredibly consistent and the audience will have specific expectations when it comes to future releases. The down side is that it can make the old forgotten experience of listening to an album or EP from start to end a bit stale.
I will say that for the genre they are playing they do it well. They can write a song and I’m sure there is an audience that will appreciate their sound. That’s all good but the reality is that the genre they are barking up has been well past its prime and is oversaturated. If Downphase wants to stick out for crowd that are going to have start thinking about how they can differentiate themselves from the thousands of other bands that sound remarkably similar. It’s food for thought but I think they built a decent foundation. Now they need to figure out what to build.
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Jack Potz aka Wilderness City was sixteen years old when he recorded Psychodelic Girl. Being sixteen years old you usually don’t have access to a studio full of gear. He recorded with what he had, which was a $40 mic and an Ipad. Where there’s a will there’s a way I say. Just make music. In the case of Psychodelic Girl there is some rubbish and some inspired moments, which points to possible potential for Potz. He stated Psychodelic Girl is mainly a reflection of his musical influences at the time it was made, which included My Bloody Valentine, Slint, Big Black, Spiritualized, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, and Aphex Twin. The kid has good taste. Psychodelic Girl doesn’t come close to the caliber of those artists. That’s not much of a surprise as almost no one does. What I found interesting was that Potz’s music often didn’t sound anything like the inspirations he mentioned, which I thought was a good thing.
One of the highlights and a downright solid effort was “Black Arts + Red Coast.”The song is creepy, dissonant and has more in common with The Haxan Cloak and Tim Hecker than the artists he mentioned. There are a couple of other snippets on this album that stood out to me. “Roswell Rebels” implements a loop of fluctuating white noise with delayed percussive elements. It lies somewhere between Autechre and Alog.
“Children Are Eating Our Sand” was another solid offering, which combines rotating metallic percussive effects with shards of white noise. The song doesn't go anywhere but it wasn’t bad.I know Potz was limited but the hardest component to get past was the digitally injected organic drums that sounded like straight up presets from garageband. Potz also sings but his vocals are usually so buried in the mix and manipulated that are like a background instrument.
Potz has a long way to go as an artist but remember he can’t even legally vote. Godspeed young man, you have great taste in music and for your limited setup have made some noteworthy material.
Smoke Signals by Stop.Drop.Rewind. is a status report, a document of a particular place in a band's evolution as they sought to flesh out the bass-and-drums template.
Stop.Drop.Rewind. have described themselves as "when emo kids grow up and get jazz degrees," equal parts Fall Out Boy and '70s prog. The early '00s prog worship has created a generation who genuinely value musicianship and can actually play and write. Like many prog bands of any generation Stop.Drop.Rewind. write dense and unraveling sonic tapestries with very little repetition and hardly a hook or chorus in sight. Which makes Smoke Signals more like a short story or poetry collection over choppy guitars and powerhouse drumming.
Props to Stop.Drop.Rewind. for "Concrete Parts,” which attempts to describe the very confusing and layered modern world, daring to talk about social media in the context of leaving a lasting legacy and doing something meaningful with your life over a frayed Robert Fripp guitar line. It's actually not cringe worthy, in the way that some songs from a few years ago that mention MySpace are. It's just them being honest, looking at the world around them.
"Leonard Cohen" rounds things out on this short three-song EP, showing more heart and depth than the metallic bombast of the first two tracks. "Leonard Cohen" sounds like it could be an acoustic Death Cab For Cutie outtake as Kris Lohn's surreal and subjective lyrics spiral out like some half-remembered fever dream. Again, not exactly sing-along stuff but poetic and poignant, intimating at things to come.
Stop.Drop.Rewind. hail from Valparaiso, Indiana, where the duo moved for college, which is a cultural black hole in the middle of a cornfield so Stop.Drop.Rewind. deserve double props and undivided attention for striving towards such ambitious heights and overcoming the inertia of midwestern blindness.
Stop.Drop.Rewind. are more prog metal than emo, thankfully, so I can get on board. They still fall back on the heroic vocal harmony style that I've never really cared for but everything's well put together and the instrumental parts are mind-melting and well worth the cost of admission.
You know those apples you use to give your elementary school teachers? The iconic red ones, with six inches of lacquer mummifying the fruit? The EP A Slow Dive by Canvas is kind of like that fruit - it may be picture perfect, but you've got to dig through a hard glossy veneer to get to its heart.
Canvas is the solo project of Toronto indie musician Chris Graham, who took the opportunity of breaking with his old band to record every instrument on A Slow Dive himself. Being a lifelong fanatic of both epic guitar rock and electronica, A Slow Dive is Graham's attempt to do both at the same time. Someone described the early demos as "electro-Springsteen,” which is pretty right on.
The problem with this kind of referential meta-art is someone sets out to make a song that sounds like Springsteen (not saying that's what's going on here, just an example), whereas The Boss himself may have just been attempting to capture a feeling of loneliness, or tell the story of some blue collar buddies he knows. These days, it seems like someone sits down to write a "hit." This is twice removed from any heart or lifeblood and comes across as some pop music Play-doh factory.
At the heart of A Slow Dive, Canvas seems like some accomplished glam piano pop, something like Lady Gaga, The Dresden Dolls or going further back Elton John. The ivories are gradually met by synth bass and twinkling leads, which are then built up with strum-y indie rock guitar and beats. I would've liked this more if some of the original instruments had been retained, if there were some more natural aspects to differentiate this from second-tier synth pop.
I'm sure there are plenty that will flip their lids to this beneath the disco ball so perhaps I'm being a stickler but I like a bit more heat (or coolness), some more lifeblood pulsing through the silicon veins.
The production is top notch and the songwriting instincts are there. Next time, I hope Chris Graham searches for what separates him from the rest, what he alone can say and not just lay out some grist for the Top 40 paper.
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