Brooklyn indie-pop trio, Control Group, have authored quite an album with their EP Hot Swap, which recalls the early ‘90s when the term indie rock actually meant more than just a clustering of “chic looking” bands that all sound exactly the same as it seems to imply these days. Rather here Hot Swap brings back memories of bands such as Dinosaur Jr., Superchunk and Archers of Loaf, who never had much if any mainstream success though they had a huge impact and influence on their indie successors.
Though all comparisons aside, Control Group also brings their own spin on the indie genre to the table, as each of the three members take turns singing, and Jeremy Parker and Darren Korb take turns playing guitar and drums. These attributes help to give Control Group and Hot Swap a much fuller sound and an interesting dynamic not found often in the indie genre though they also help to lend to the musically schizophrenic feel of the album.
The album opens with the poppy, punchy and at points pretty “Obvs” with fuzzy guitar riffs that complement bouncy piano licks. It’s followed by the emo anthem “You Can be the Star,” which starts quietly and slowly builds up to a wall of noisy guitars over a sweetly sung chorus of “You could be the star/that you were always meant to be.” As catchy as it is, it comes off sounding like a one hit wonder of a commercially bred rock band.
Hot Swap begins to take an odd turn beginning with “My Alien” which is a Dinosaur Jr. inspired tune that tells the tale of man who falls in love with an alien. Next is the falsetto vs. baritone “Something You’ll Like,” which lingers on a bit too long and sounds the most out of place on the record. Control Group returns to form on “The Sky is the Same” an angry though slightly subdued rocker with jingly and jazzy guitar and drums. The follow up is the acoustic and piano pop ballad “I Gave Back Your Clothes.”
Hot Swap is a very good and polished record, though at times, due to the fact that all three of the band members take turns singing, it sometimes sounds like a compilation of many different bands. Though perhaps Hot Swap was a sound experiment and hopefully their next record will come off sounding a little more controlled.
Just because a girl can sing and has a harp doesn't mean she should get compared to Joanna Newsome but in the case of Sun Riah it seems inevitable. Sun Riah sometimes but not always has a gnome- like quality in her voice that has a similar inflection to that of Newsome. You’ll hear it especially when she doesn’t strain her voice. Despite some similarities Sun Riah is completely enjoyable all on her own despite the limitations of production she was presented with. On her Bandcamp page she says, “recorded in a bedroom with a shitty mic, a tired and worn harp, a broken ukulele, and a lot of love and sadness.” That sentence may sum it up but the quality of the recording isn’t that bad. I’ve heard much worse. Luckily, the music is so sparse she can get away with not having a couple of high-end mics, a treated room, etc.
Her release ..., the musical is often a combination of extreme melancholy and beauty that feels haunting. The reverb either natural or artificial on her harp provides the haunting aspects while her dynamic voice often contains melancholy and beauty.
Her songwriting is top notch throughout. The structures of the song are thought out and engaging.Take for example the first song “constant (the song on the porch)” where she starts the song singing a cappella “i am constant. i am a constant question mark. i am sadness. sadness and fallen apart. I'm just heavyhearted and sad, sad thoughts I trusted you, but somehow you forgot.” She sort of sounds like Bjork in the beginning, which isn’t all that surprising since Joanna Newsome sometimes get compared to Bjork.
“sad smile” is an awfully melancholy song but is also pretty darn good. Her voice is pretty dynamic here and she really lays into some of those notes. “songbird” was an experimental success as she combines vocal snippets in a collage of fragmented nostalgia and solace. Interesting ideas here that I would love to see more of in the future.
The last two tracks “for simps (part 1)” and “for simps (part 2)” could have been one track as there is little difference between the two. Solids track and a good way too close ..., the musical.
..., the musical seems like a solid first step for Sun Riah. I would love to hear her future releases be beefed up in terms of recording quality. Hopefully she can get into a professional studio or befriend an engineer. Some of the ideas could have been fleshed out a bit more but for the most part I was really enjoying what I was hearing. Overall ..., the musical was enjoyable and lays a foundation for the artist
Do you miss the eight-bit soundtrack to Super Mario Brothers or Megaman? Do the basic sine waves instill a sense of nostalgia for you? Are you yearning for classic 1980’s inspired music? Whether you are or not the music is out there. Joe Trickey aka Anaphora recently released an album entitled Simplicity, which pardon the pun is simple yet enjoyable. Some of the songs seem straight out of your Nintendo while others skip the eight-bit sounds entirely. Simplicity is a mixed bag of instrumental electronic music that displays an artist who is showing potential and talent.
On the opening track “Fixing Toys and Fighting Monsters” you can picture the outdated 2D graphics and controllers. The synth tones are undeniable warm and gave me a fuzzy, nostalgic feeling. On top of that the melody will get stuck in your head however on repeat I could imagine it making you mad. “Digital Picnic” revolves around the same idea as the first song but was better in pretty much every way. The melody is catchier, the tones are warmer and the overall structure was more inventive.
The third track “The Planetarium” ditches the video game theme and trades it off for music that sounds like something one would use for the series Cosmos. It starts off with potential but gets lost along the way. The organic sounding drums didn’t fit with the majestic synths and the lead synths sounded too wacky compared to the warm, contemplative synths the song started with. “The Day the Sun Went Out” revolves around a deep club beat that pumps synths out of an interstellar sphere while I couldn’t help but laugh at the beginning of “Gandalf” because of its silliness.
“Dr. Death” reverts to video game synths again. It is more of an end of the level boss theme hence the title. “Fundamental Singularity” is a pretty solid track showcasing a bit more versatility from Trickey.
Simplicity is a decent album but not yet on the level where it can compete with top tier electronic acts. The concepts are a bit scattered and the programming isn’t very complicated or innovative. That being said Trickey shows moment of inspired talent. He will most likely have to increase his arsenal of gear, technique and ideas which I could definitely see happening.
Edmonton, Alberta singer/songwriter Andrew Pahl recorded his first bunch of songs on a four-track recorder back in 1997. Although Pahl admitted to himself that the songs were awful, he also admitted that he had the music bug. Over the next several years Pahl continued to record shoddy demo tapes and played in a few different bands. Then in 2006 he released the album Dreams Deferred and began to play shows around Canada, one of which included a performance at the 2008 Western Canadian Music Awards. Pahl took a break for a few years before releasing 2010’s Forgotten Ones which was soon followed by The Wood Between the Worlds in 2011. Now three years later Pahl has released the six-song EP Shadows.
Fans of Pahl’s previous work may find Shadows a bit hard to swallow at first. Though Pahl has never been one to concentrate too closely on happy themes, his old material will seem rather singsong when compared to the six bleak songs that comprise Shadows. That’s because these songs are not about breakups but about death, failure and regret. They go to much deeper and darker recesses than anything Pahl has ever written before. The reason being, Pahl explains in the liner notes, is that it is about a former co-worker who’d gotten himself into trouble with drugs and ended up dying of a blood infection caused by using a dirty needle. On many of these songs, Pahl wrestles with the questions; did I do enough to help? Could I have done more?
The opening track “Closer” is an acoustically delightful dirge with a singsong chorus, backed with sweet childlike backing vocals. However the music acts as a mask, hiding the pain and suffering that the lyrics hint at as with the lines, “My mind is gone/ My brain is frosted over/ Insanity is inching closer, closer”.” The same techniques are employed on “Lost in Your Shadow” that drives on through rocking and rolling like a Ryan Adams rock song.
Strangely enough when Pahl tries to write sappy sounding love songs, it just comes out wrong, like on “Changes” a loveless sounding lament, which falls a bit flat. This is much the same for “Death Comes in All Colours” a sprawling and sad sounding piano pop ode to his dead friend, which comes off sounding like contemporary Christian Rock.
The album finishes with the slow and sprawling acoustic “Take Me in Your Arms,” which Pahl writes from the perspective of his dead friend, imagining how he must have felt during his final days. Here everything that worked so well on previous tracks comes together to culminate into the records most beautiful track and serves as a fond farewell and tribute to a friend.
Anytime one sets out to make a themed album, the cards immediately become stacked against them. There is always the chance the album will become too sappy, and it always seems a fine line that the artist in question must walk, to not let feelings get in the way of truth. Though on Shadows, Pahl has walked that tightrope rather well, and in immortalizing his friend has made a fine record.
The atomization of styles and genres in the 21st century is both thrilling and nerve wracking to watch as bands re-invent the wheel and chuck rules and expectations out the window.
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan's Habitat Shuffle is a little bit of both. It's refreshing to see such a young band going full tilt after something uniquely their own, "to create innovative experimental music that any average listener could still dance to," in their own words. But how often do you want to listen to a jazz skronk emo punk prog meltdown?
Sober Drift is a pretty apt title for this record as the many disparate elements seem to drift apart like Pangaea. Each song seems less like a single, solid entity than a series of moments and details. It's bizarre and that's what I like about it. Also, bonus points to the band for a sense of humor, like the whistling on "Soda Date,” or the guy trying to bum 20 bucks on album closer "Dice.”
I'll come totally clean here and admit my bias. I cannot stand pop punk music; there's been maybe five bands in the history of music that I can tolerate who blend shouted vocal harmonies and buzz saw guitars. If I were ten years younger this EP would sound totally normal to me. As it is, it kind of seems like they should just learn how to sing. On key. If you're not Stiff Little Fingers or Bad Religion, I don't want to hear it.
So if Saves The Day meets Steely Dan with a touch of Arab On Radar spazz, then this record is for you. Habitat Shuffle can play and write and has countless ideas. I'm sure if they keep doing what they do they will find their audience.
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Taking a page out of Ben Fold’s songbook, Adam Rochelle brings us some good jams and solid vibes with his four- piece gang of slightly quirky and definitely creative gentlemen. The chemistry of the band comes through loud and clear and I can assume the singer/drummer brotherhood plays a commanding role.
John Smith’s Lawn plays with an intelligent brightness that never lands with both feet in pop’s end zone. Instead, it walks the sidelines and deviates through the bench to find little gems of weird that have had a stylistically rich embossing. Imagine a piano laden groove that moves between jazz progressions and just a little tango influence - it really needs to be heard to fully appreciate. These types of bands aren’t in high numbers and it’s personally satisfying to get a taste for the direction these guys are taking. Jam folk, if you will, surely has its place with Centre St.
Musically, they know where they stand and technically they hold their ground. Every track is right on the money and true to their soul without any overplaying or saturated elements. Those that have an ear for faster tunes and precision might want to stick with Dave Matthews and Umphrey’s McGee because these guys keep it relatively cool and collected despite multiple groove weaving and the temptation to really let loose. It’s that Ben Folds complex that keeps them grounded when the musicianship is obviously strong in the “get it” department.
“Nothing Yet” showcases their chops and reserve in solid balance. The lyrics are mellow and the drums get funky intermittently with a chill foundation. Then the solos take center stage starting with organ and ending with a respectable guitar session. By the end, the song has reached new heights and Centre St. is essentially operating on clinic mode. All things considered, I found that the opener, “Farm Boy” had the most pieces to the Centre St. puzzle. The chorus is very relatable and tells a story very fitting to the instrumentation. This is backyard porch swing meets living room hookah. Either way you decide to enjoy this stuff, I’m sure you’ll connect on a personal level.
Are you ready for a spiritual awakening? Fire in the Sky has a very cinematic and enveloping nature to it, very engaging on levels deeper than your usual album fare. You can’t ignore the power of a certain evoking of the consciousness. Phillip Presswood’s music is rich and textural and yet beautifully simple. The feelings are far more complex than any of the gorgeous progressions or motifs could truly capture. The sound glides like an eagle with the beauty of mass choir reverb and soaring chords.
Anyone would associate this kind of experience with Enya and while I’d agree, Presswood brings less Celtic influence and more first millennium composition. Those archaic ideas and monophonic passages are given new life with this excellently mixed modern adaption. And for those that love a good visual, take a look at the album art. The colors and range of light are astoundingly surreal and drive the mind to expand as if it were equally infinite. Try not to float away.
The album gets its name from the brilliant opening track and I have no reservations in saying it was a more than a fine choice. The song resonated through me unlike the rest with its wonderfully soothing character and decorative melancholy. The cellos sigh with might below the voices of angelic tenor and dreamy ivory. This is truly a work of art.
As the album unfolds, there are pockets of movement that feel like Moby or Owl City, spicing up the soundscape with subtle percussion and modern audio effects. With the elongated structure and giant hall sound, these songs can’t help but ring out in epic fashion. Almost every cut could aurally narrate a heavenly imagination or fantastical inclination. This album would be right at home amidst something like The Lord of the Rings.
“Coming Down With The Rain” opens with a distantly cooing flute articulating embellishments of the old world. The melody is in good hands as the harp comes in for support. In the end, this sticks in the mind like a group madrigal or hymn. The raw power of this style is how it becomes a communal experience even if it is just in the mind. As I said earlier, Fire in the Sky might be your ticket to a newfound spirit. It exemplifies music’s magical effects on mood and mindset like only so few have before.
For starters, I like the name Bron Sage. For those a little slow on the uptake, it’s Bronze Age with a little literary flair. Or maybe that’s just me? Either way, Brawn Sage would have been cool as well, brawn being a firm word as well as a linking with the album title spelling. This is hardly important, but these are my thoughts and they’re far from caged. I have to say, Frawd is surprisingly dense with material and mood. That’s what art rock should be; a collection of unique tapestries that tie together to make an even more original design. The brass section is a great choice and works well in peculiar tandem with mandolin and accordion.
For a short stack, this album carries some longer winded tracks so don’t worry about missing out on those instrumental jams, slow hurricane solos and overdone exposition. All in the name of development, but sometimes it plays like musician’s music and can miss a general audience.
“Leslie’s Gone” drips the blues like molasses, but get a load of “My Baby, She Lost Her Mind on Christmas Day.” It’s one hell of a jam and those title lyrics sound better than you’d think. This track puts it all together nicely incorporating horn sputters, powerful drums and dancing delivery complete with a mini disco revival. It’ll get in your head maybe even make your day.
“Middle Step” clocks in at 8:23, but doesn’t grow legs until around four-and-a half minutes. It has a strong swing feeling that sounds more big band that dirty blues which I think is more in this group’s wheelhouse. The ending is too much of a slow death than a segue to something bigger, but when the syncopated hits punctuate that guitar line it’s on. The motif repeats as it grows and the listener is hooked. The beat comes full circle and we’ve got ourselves a damn rock show. All that’s left is the encore.
When I first read that I was going to be reviewing a record called My Money I thought it was going to be gangsta rap about how much money the rapper had. Then when I pressed play my thought couldn’t have been farther from the truth. My Money by JP & THE LIFE was in fact inspired by the economic recession of 2009 and sounds like music that lies between Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More.
JP & THE LIFE are the combined efforts of Jon Willams (vocals), Justin Pelonian (guitar), John Pelonian (bass) and Lamar Little (drums). All of the band members are extremely talented when it comes to technical ability. That double bass comes at you hard while you get bombarded with slick guitar skills. The music feels oddly removed from a good majority of music being made in 2014. As I stated earlier the music could have some comparisons to Faith No More and Red Hot Chili Peppers but an even more accurate detail would be to compare JP & THE LIFE’s sound to the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Back when Red Hot Chili Peppers rocked hard and Faith No More was the most hardcore band in town.
It took me awhile to warm up to their sound and some songs didn’t do it for me but overall the album is a pretty impressive collection of songs. One of the highlights was “Believe Me,” which features funky guitar and a rhythm section that pulls off some crazy progressions as Williams sings, “ i'm on the sun / don't bring me down bring me down / what will be undone back on the ground / on the ground.” Williams is a man of many voices and throughout the album you hear him scat/rap like Anthony Kiedis and try out a couple of other styles but I preferred the more traditional singing style he displayed on “Believe Me.” His voice is sometimes covered in hall-like ‘80s reverb when he sings “believe me / i believe in you.”
"In This World” was another solid song that features some of the most engaging and technically impressive instrumental parts on the album. It has a funky vibe that gets injected with a dose of heavy rock. They close with “Broadcast,” which features cascading guitar lines that fall between spoken vocals as well as a break down section that sounds like something from Rage Against The Machine.
My Money is a unique release in the current landscape of music. You may or may not enjoy it but I encourage you to take a listen and make up your mind.
Hailing from Boston Massachusetts Drab is a female fronted three piece that plays discordant indie pop. The music on Bird is combination of distorted guitar, bass and drums and lies somewhere in between Ex Hex and Veruca Salt. Musically, the EP can sometimes be creatively engaging if sparse. The female vocals are stripped and attractive despite the lack of technical approach.
Toward the latter portion of the album specifically on “Spare Me” we get to hear a single-worthy sound or at least it’s as catchy as this band gets. They pride themselves on discordance, acting like a roadblock from anything sounding too easy to swallow. The guitar often has an off-putting overtone to it thanks to the heavy use of minor 2nds and other jarring intervals.
“Woe Is You, Woe Is Me” has some strong guitar and a kind of Jimi Hendrix grunge to it. The interlude of upper register melody could probably be better placed because it robs the groove of really developing in the initial introduction. To my appreciation, the second coming was given appropriate room and it was an engraining musical moment. Alas, there just wasn’t that many as a whole, putting this album at risk of being lost in the scene.
"Save it for the firing squad" starts with a subtle guitar that is combined with attractive female vocals. The song builds some momentum but never feels like it completely takes off with energy. Nonetheless, a solid song. They close with "Valley of the underdog" which is another highlight on par with "Spare". The guitar parts here are inventive and especially enjoyed the wall of distortion they build towards the end of the song.
Drab can sometimes feel drab. In other words, Bird demonstrates their appeal to the artistically mundane by sometimes forgetting the flavor of grunge rock and throwing in an dollop of estranged contemporary. Still with me? Aspiring garage acts, female-led or not, this is a stepping stone piece for the band. I’m sure this group is working and evolving their sound all while opening up to options in the studio. Their other release should definitely be explored. Something tells me the best is still yet to come and I hear some of it on Unicorn. So there’s that.
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