I don’t care what people say; I think artists make their best work when they are going through some type of struggle. Apprehension, despondency and depression are symptoms of a root cause but also tend to be the catalyst for good, great and sometimes timeless art. I’m not going to list off the albums, novels and paintings that were done by artists who weren’t exactly content because I think most people know a bunch already but one you may not know is the release Departure by Troy Petty.
Departure is an EP that manages to get the balance between strife, melancholy and hope right. Petty’s music is a timestamp to the struggles and changes he was going through and there is genuine honesty throughout that can’t be manufactured.
U2 and Arcade Fire are bands that tend to make music that is grand, hopeful and motivational. I would argue that Funeral by Arcade Fire is more substantial than anything U2 has released in the last ten years. The reason being is that when Funeral was released the band hadn’t broke yet, some of the bands family members died prior to recording and the band was transitioning from kids to adults while U2 were a bunch of rich, middle-aged men who were living legends. You can hear those authentic emotions throughout Funeral and I think everyone did as well which is why they have had so much success since then. Departure to my ears has a lot more similarities to Funeral in a number of ways and I think that it is apparent on the first song and highlight “All Ghosts.”
“All Ghosts” has this forward moving cathartic momentum that gives you a sense of overcoming the past and embracing the present and future. The energy doesn’t need to be fast. It slowly builds and gives you time to reflect. Petty’s lyrics reinforce the music. He sings, “I disguised you with the fear in my rearview I’m not glued to the past but that voice on my right told me that all ghosts fear to fly.”
Petty continues with “Unfinished” which sounds similar to The National while “Motor Mind” revolves around a buzzing mind that doesn’t know how to shut off. Petty closes with the title track, which was a great way to end the EP. The song climaxes as he repeats the lyrics, “The world is calling you.”
One thing that is undisputable about human beings is that we can persevere and even flourish when faced with adversity. In a nutshell that is the trait that Petty manages to eloquently capture on Departure.
Bedroom pop makes for a curiously intimate listening experience, allowing the listener a fly-on-the-wall view of a stranger's inner world. It's a refreshing respite from the world of celebrity selfies and cynical marketing strategies where smug marketing analysts sleep soundly, knowing they can manipulate the public into buying whatever they put out.
For a musical offering to ultimately succeed, there must be an element of risk, of unpredictability, while still sounding relatable enough that people will want to listen. The problem with too much glossy mainstream pop these days is there is no doubt that people will buy. People are guaranteed to snatch up a Miley Cyrus or Kanye West record, regardless of quality.
With bedroom pop, however, you have to take a chance, spending your valuable time peering through murky production values and deciding for yourself if a piece of music is worthwhile, what it says to you, not what the press release tells you to think.
If Receiver, from the Canadian artist David Sklubal, operating under the name Potential Red, is a transmission from his inner sanctum, it must be located in a crystalline cavern in the dark heart of a dead star. Sklubal's guitars glisten like electromagnetic waves from Alpha Centauri, while a Korg Volca Keys synth provides an aurora of gentle, floating warmth, while also acting as jet thrusters, giving the tracks some forward momentum, like the simple but effective 8-bit bass line of "Life Force."
Receiver suffers from a couple typical missteps of self-production. The drums and synths are slightly too hot in the mix, while the vocals are hard to pick out. It's more of a stylistic decision than a mistake, however, as "vocals as texture" is a common approach to shoegazey/dreamy music. It creates the curious sensation of David Sklubal, the person, peering out through a dense fog machine curtain, like the sun breaking out through the clouds. Being someone who's not that driven by lyrics, it's not a problem for this listener, but may prevent ultimate crossover appeal.
Instead, you have to pay attention. You have to take a risk and decide to care about Potential Red. A great deal of care and craft has clearly gone into this slight four-track EP, as can be seen through the short laundry list of vintage guitar pedals Sklubal employed. Sklubal even went so far as to master Potential Red, so it's clearly a labor of love and devotion.
Receiver is like a dreamier, mellower, but just as emotive record as The Postal Service's Give Up, and will thrill those that love the dreamy, ambient mixture of heartfelt pop songs and glistening, interesting electronics. It also works as a less dour take on The Cure or Joy Division, who were big influences on Receiver.
It is safe to say that we can expect great things from David Sklubal and Potential Red!
Become A Fan
The first thing that impressed me with TeethofWolves by TeethofWolves is the cover art. I’m not sure if there is a specific connection between the Native American themes and the music but nonetheless the art is undeniably stimulating to the eyes.
TeethofWolves is the brainchild of Jeremiah Bredvad and Travis Rosen. The duo sound like a full band as most of these songs contain bass, guitar, drums, vocals and sometimes more. Musically, the songs are quite varied and infuse elements of folk, rock and what could considered indie pop.
Their album has been in the work for around five years. Some might consider that too long because the band might lose sight of the initial goals and the songs might be too disparate. I for one noticed that the band not only has well written songs but also has a fairly defined sound. It usually takes most bands at least two to three years before their sound starts to emerge so the fact that the band took their time seems to have worked out for them.
There weren’t any songs that I had to skip over but there were a couple that felt like highlights. One of those tracks was “Calm Cool Collected” which was one of the more low energy and melancholy tracks. The vocal performance is exceptional and I thought it sounded great against the acoustic guitar picking and piano. Lyrically the song is also strong as it flirts with the concepts of memory and association.
Another standout was “Built to Break.” The song contains a couple of infectious hooks and contains another inspired vocal performance. I enjoyed how up front the vocals were on this song. The band rocks out on “A Need for Simplicity” while the closer “Indian Song” starts with filtered guitar and vocals and eventually climaxes into most of the most intense moments on the album.
TeethofWolves has some mishaps but nothing too offending. I would encourage you to take a listen. Recommended.
Haunting synthesizers hover above the driving intro of “Control” the first track on The Amber Drift’s The Eternal Recurrence Demo, and as the track builds throughout its eight minutes, the droning synths are joined by driving power chords on electric guitars, gravelly, reverbed vocals and solid, fast-paced percussion on a standard drum set. The vocals put forth by The Amber Drift’s shift between tonal and rhythmic spoken word, which dominates the tone of the songs.
The next track “Shame” is extremely similar in style and sound to “Control” but the lyrics portray a different feeling, and the chorus of this song is major, giving the tune a brighter aura. Warbling synths and blaring guitars lead the chorus of instruments in this song, which degenerate into nothingness, leaving a repeating sample of static-y, lo-fi sounds to slowly fade until the song ends.
“Rebirth” introduces new sounds to the mix, including a distorted synth lead that carries the melody for many of the instrumental portions of the song. This track is the most harmonious of the album and even though it is very long and somewhat repetitive, its melodic nature and intriguing lyrics make it a true highlight of the album.
The album makes a slight shift in style in “Uncertainty” replacing experimental chording and abstract tones for a classic rock n’ roll beat and more conventional chording and riffs by electric guitars. The Amber Drift continues to infuse its unquestionably unique style into the song while simultaneously employing tested techniques to create a successful song.
Returning to the more experimental styles, The Eternal Recurrence Demo comes to an end with “Return,” full of piercing, sunny guitar chords and “Sense,” a dark track that harkens back to the first few songs on the album. Overall, the demo continually alters its sound just enough to keep the listener interested without abandoning the central themes and motifs that give The Amber Drift its distinct sound. This demo is definitely indicative of more great things to come.
CJ Coward (vocals/guitar), Sid Ayyagari (guitar/vocals), Jonah Pfluger (bass/vocals) and Davis Beaston (drums/vocals) are four young guys who happen to be friends and rock out together. Abandon Earth may not be the most inventive rock band to come out his year but their no frills EP Proximity to the Sun still contains some decent songs.
The band rocks and indiscriminately picks at genres but mostly align with alternative ‘90s bands like The Smashing Pumpkins and the lesser-known Hum. You can hear riffs that are comparable throughout and maybe sudden flashes of the one the best drummers in rock history - Jimmy Chamberlin.
Coward sounds like a young guy when he sings. It’s not an insult or praise but just an observation. He sounds like he is about the legal voting age and it is a factor to how the music plays out. The rest of the band holds down the fort pretty well. There wasn’t one particular instrument that stuck out to me time and time again. Most of the songs revolve around a power chord progression, lead guitar, a steady, a simple bass line and drums
The band opens with opens with “Eh, Bomb a Nation.” They do a good job mixing it up in the beginning to keep your attention. Riffs ascend and then descend before settling into the first verse where Coward sings, “I can't help myself but push you all away / Glass rooms have no secrets, occupy my space / Full capacity stripped from reality my brain stem seems misplaced / I can't give it up today.”
The guitars sound like something you would hear from Hum on “Needles” while “Whole Again” utilizes clean guitar at least part of the time. More Hum influenced guitar patterns emerge on “Dream” which is arguably the highlight on the EP.
Abandon Earth can play well and have some chemistry but still need to do some digging. That don’t have much of defined sound, which yells this is Abandon Earth. It’s broad and the band seems to be wearing their influences on their sleeve. I’m going to wager this band hasn’t been playing together for very long. The good news they know how to rock and are young - now comes the hard part - finding the X-factor that makes the music stick out like a sore thumb.
What a gloriously frustrating, exciting, promising and uneven debut!
Perfect Aquarium is loaded with ideas, so many ideas, enough for a limited edition series of EPs, which might be a better format to channel the copious themes and styles contained on Perfect Aquarium's self-titled debut Perfect Aquarium. You can see it in the album cover with organic invertebrate shapes overlaid with sacred geometry. You can see it in the instrumentation with classical guitar next to standard rock instrumentation. You can hear it in the many, many different musical styles, which hop all over the place like a game of hopscotch on burning tin.
As is usually the case, some of these exercises work and some experiments fail. The difference is, when Perfect Aquarium is good they're very, very good, and when they're bad they're, they're bad.
The only stumbling block, which probably is my bias speaking, is the second and third tracks "Crown" and "Sun." While the rest of the album bristles with excitement and experimentation like the musique concrete album opener "Hello," three minutes of buzzing, crackling hums and ominous dripping sounds, like descending into some magnificent cavern, "Crown" and "Sun" follows up the interesting, immersive introduction with two tracks of throwaway radio pop.
"Crown" and "Sun" could be lost The Dave Matthews Band or Marcy Playground outtakes, complete with nonsensical "baa-baa-baa" choruses, which aren't particularly well-recorded or performed to boot. If you're going to make vocal-centric radio pop, you’d better make dang sure the vocals are in tune and on point. They aren't, and it's nearly enough to derail a very excellent, adventurous rock n’ roll record.
Thank all that's unholy, Perfect Aquarium doesn't really return to their Top 40 fare, instead morphing into a rather excellent, tight and refined prog/psych/metal band for the rest of the record. That's a bit reductionist; as there are moody, lengthy guitar solos, flamenco guitar sketches, drum freak-outs, spoken words. It's a bit like Tool working with Ringo Starr from the middle of "The End" and Paco De Lucia. Sound confusing? It is. But interesting, telling a unique story that helps them to stand out from the bazillions of indie bands operating today.
Perfect Aquarium is clearly passionate about their interests. There seems to be a theme of "we're all in this together," living in the gravity well of Earth as one planet. It's idealistic and ambitious, which should be applauded. And while I don't think Perfect Aquarium should dial their ideas back, as their eclecticism is one of the greatest things they have going for them, I think their efforts would be better spent mining the underground than vying for airplay that would require much greater resources than they are currently working with.
Become A Fan
The indie rock trio Model Mutants members Christian Laursen (guitar/vocals), Steven Michaels (bass/vocals) and drummer Chris Mastrocola formed in NYC and recorded their self-titled debut Model Mutants there before relocating to Connecticut.
Model Mutants opens with the ambling rocker “Ladder to the Moon” which pairs loose tinny peels of guitar with stripped down drums and a steady bass thump. This steady bass thump becomes a much bigger presence on the next tune “This is Water.” The song takes a long time to build up and when it does the payoff doesn’t seem quite worth the wait. The cymbals tend to drown out Laursen’s vocals, which are monotone. This is fine for the slower bits, but if you’re gonna monotone your way through a jam session you better be Ian Curtis.
On the song “Mutants at Midnight” Laursen sings, “Sometimes science moves us at a desperate pace” which is also a good way to define the pacing of the song itself which as it gets going contains some nice ‘60s surf riffs, but the song never really goes anywhere and sounds more like a dress rehearsal than anything else.
Things begin to take a turn for the better on “Trippers and Askers” when the beat begins to pick up and things get more interesting. Here Model Mutants show off their talents by using minimalism to fill space. The buildup and resulting “balls out rock out” is what I had been waiting for since the beginning. They slow back down again on the ballad “Good Night, Dear Heart” a ‘50s styled pop rock love song which Laursen’s baritone is perfect for. Model Mutants closes with the mild rocker “God is a Waitress” on which Laursen eulogizes “Orders filled just like prayers.” The song is reminiscent of The Nationals’ earlier, looser material.
It is pretty evident that Model Mutants is a young band, or at least a band that has not played together for very long. Sometimes bands can get away with this but Model Mutants doesn’t seem to be one of those bands. Many of the songs on this record sound as though they could have been made up on the spot. It’s not a lack of musical talent by any means, as they have plenty of that, though the problem sometimes arises in the arrangements of the songs. There is a lack of a clear and defining sound. Not that Model Mutants should pigeonhole themselves, only that rather they should concentrate their efforts on building a solid sound base from which they can grow or in this case mutate from album to album.
Become A Fan
Colton Somavia is a nineteen-year-old musician who is just getting started on his solo career. HIs first release 3 Songs is a scattered, guitar centric, DIY lo-fi effort that showcases some talent but also is far from perfect. Somavia has an undefined style but John Frusciante did pop into my head a couple of times.
The EP starts with “1:03 AM” in which the music revolves around a rhythm and lead guitar and drums. It’s a chill, relaxing vibe and that's really about it. There is one major change in the song around the two-and-a-half minute mark. What the song lacks is a focal center to keep your attention. It’s pleasant and easy on the ears but that's really about it. Lead vocals would have helped or a technical and creative lead to keeping the music from feeling like something that resides in the background.
The second song “DeMarco” contains a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses as the first song. Somavia draws out passages too long at times and you are left grasping for elements that really drive the song. The lead guitar work is vying for the limelight but really struggles.
There is a time and place to use samples. Rule number one is don’t throw in samples if they aren’t elevating the song in some way. A prime example of samples being used well is The Avalanches. The samples they use are relevant to the song in some way. Somavia throws in samples from the movie Pulp Fiction and it feels disparate from the music. He states that he just really likes Quentin Tarantino movies. The problem arises because nothing else in the song relates to the samples. He isn't tying in themes or his own lyrics - He is just throwing samples over a pretty cool rocking riff.
Somavia has some technical and creative skill but will need to increase his game if he is hoping to compete against grade A talent. I’m sure he probably knows that but his first concern should be finding a way to keep the songs from feeling like they need a lead element.
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
Mike Papaloni Awake Beneath a New Sun 3.6
KaasiasKomplex The Circuit 3.6
Penelope Isles Comfortably Swell 3.5
The Monkberries The Monk-berries 3.3
Novus Diem Nothing To Lose 3.4
XOCH XOCH 3.4
Asceral Envictus Splitting Plum Trees 3.3
Gainsay EP 3.5
Australasia Notturno 3.9
The Smiling Faces The "Too Many Mikes" Demo EP 3.3
The French film director Jean Renoir once said, “The only things that are important in life are the things you remember.” Spoken to the average person who would only grasp the mere surface of this quote, the response elicited would likely be, “No shit.” But no matter how cynical or vulgar this response would sound to those who have a somewhat deeper sense of their lives, it would be for most a rather apt response. But to others, like Team Callahan, the moniker of the Denver by way of St. Petersburg (Florida not Russia) husband and wife duo Nick and Kathleen Arnal, Renoir’s quote is akin to the themes the pair share on the thirteen songs of their effulgent first album Afterglow.
Many of the themes tackled are familiar ones; those old post college blues, the times when the fun is over, the money’s been spent and now you need to start thinking about how to pay it all back. But Afterglow also deals with more important issues like human emotions and personal struggles.
Team Callahan come out swinging on “Point Doom,” a sly surf rock imbued melody born upon waves of innuendos, as Kathleen Arnal imparts the first of her many witticisms with “It seemed like centuries ago / When the monks crossed the mountain tombs / Malibu, El Camino / and a sipping tea lemonade room.” As funny as this is, things take a darker turn later on when Arnal laments, “That west coast tried to drag me down / Inside my cold and crazy head / Can’t get no sleep in LA / Gotta get back to my own bed.”
The fear of growing older, of having to leave the good times behind, surfaces from beneath the hand claps and Ramones riff on “Weekend Hot shot” where Arnal croons, “Weekends are fun when your young / and it feels like the whole world’s on your side / But we will get older, the good times much slower / and one day we will die.” Not sad enough for you? How about the heartsick alt country ballad “Mammoth Cave” intoned with the lines “I wanted to marry my best friends / But they didn’t wanna marry me.” Arnal then turns inward to narrate the nostalgia laden “Winter after Graduation,” an angst ridden tune, on which she reflects on her life so far while also trying to figure out her future.
I could keep rambling about the little details I found in each song and why I liked Afterglow so much, but I won’t. There’s not a bad song on the record. Credit also goes to the recording process. Speaking as a man who’s heard enough home recordings to last him several lifetimes, I was very impressed by the sound of Afterglow. It was recorded in the couple’s apartment, along with a little help from their friends Jackson Davis, and Shaundra and Brandon McGuire who helped out on added instrumentation and backing vocals. It was bare bones operation recording with a few mics, and a compressor and then mixing it down in Cubase. Go team. Go.
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