Crow Hardly is a songwriter from West Virginia who recently released Waves. It’s a lo-fi effort that revolves around his acoustic guitar and vocals. There are other elements in the mix like loose percussion but they are often just ornamental.
Hardly opens up with the title track which is an almost four-minute song which feels like an intro. He combines vocal samples, field recording of waves and his guitar. The song introduces some white noise and gets more chaotic as it progresses. I felt this song could have been more effective at around forty-five seconds than four minutes and it worked as a nice segue into “Sinking Ship.”
“Sinking Ship” feels like an actual song due in part to his vocals. The song is very basic relying on 4/4 time and simple chord progressions. There’s nothing wrong with that in my opinion. Especially when the vocals take center stage. Hardly’s vocals are slightly nasally in a pop punk type of way especially when he goes for a higher pitch. The sparse female vocal harmonies are effective. Overall it is a decent song but I have to admit I would have liked to hear a bit more instrumentation given the fact the guitar sounded mostly like root notes. The song ends oddly and unnecessarily with an ominous sample of wind and water.
Next up is “Body To The Sea” which follows a similar formula to “Sinking Ship.” The guitar is loose and is strummed in a similar manner to the previous song. I liked Hardly’s voice but sometimes he can’t quite hit the notes he needs to and he runs into trouble.
“Calm” is a soft ambient piece that is actually quite beautiful. Too bad it sounds worlds apart from anything that came before it. “Coast To Coast, Shore To Shore” reverts back to the same style as “Sinking Ship” and “Body To The Sea.” He adds some sort of synth this time around.
In another odd stylistic deviation Hardly experiments with synths and multiple vocal lines in “Waves (Pt.2).”.It's the most experimental song with some decent ideas.
For better or worse Hardly’s ideas and concepts on this EP almost feel random. This isn’t a bad thing when working on different albums or EPs but can get confusing when presented as one collection of songs. Hardly may have some potential and talent but he will unequivocally benefit from having a more cohesive vision with his releases.
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Sam Carey, a talented 18-year-old singer/songwriter, recorded an excellent acoustic-driven project titled Mindset EP. The multi-instrumental artist from Bristol, UK played and recorded his own vocals, piano melodies, bass, violin and melodic guitar, and laid down an introspective look into his life.
This album starts out with the track “Living Free” and a cheerful, melodic pop-acoustic sound. The voice is interesting; it’s deep, raw and genuine. The smooth guitar melodies walk right along the lyrics and they’re all complemented with a nice guitar riff at the hook and a piano that tie it all together.
The next track “Under My Skin” has a faster, more folky sound. The guitar kicks in heavy and leads the rhythm throughout the whole song. The lyrics are more frustrated, not as feel-good as before, and complement the fast-paced guitar. This track goes deeper into the protagonist, it goes...under his skin.
Mindset EP transitions again into a much slower, melodic song on “Close to the Flame” and a good contrast to the last track. Throughout this track there is a unique sound, pop acoustic and similar to the first song, but with more contrasting melodies. It has backup vocals splashed throughout and violins that distort and make the sound more complex.
The album leads into the fourth track “Shadow that Shines” which introduces a powerful and vocals-driven sound. The vocals lead throughout this last track compared to the guitar in the other songs. The violin complements the lyrics adding an accent to powerful parts of the song. It’s a great composition that does a spot-on job in wrapping up the internal look into singer/songwriter Sam Carey and Mindset EP.
As I began to read through the short bio of singer/songwriter Vienna D'Amato Hall I became excited almost immediately. Hall began her musical career in New York City self-releasing her debut album It’s What the Dog Saw in 2015.
It wasn’t that part that got me excited, but rather what I read next, that she was then hired as a singer and lyricist for a production of Chekov’s play The Cherry Orchard which was being performed at the Actors Studio and starring the brilliant actress Ellyn Burstyn. Ellen Burstyn doing Chekov. I would have given my right arm to be an usher at those performances.
In an even stranger turn of events I just so happened to be reading a piece on Leonard Cohen in the latest issue of the New Yorker just before I sat down to listen to Hall’s latest record, Red Light Temple. Within the first few notes I thought to myself “she sounds like a female version of Leonard Cohen,” and then, one cannot make these things up, I stumbled by diving accidentally on to a cover of the Cohen classic “Famous Blue Raincoat.” Hall’s version is disparate yet just as haunting and achingly beautiful. Equally so is her cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.”
Hall seems to borrow a bit of these former master musicians cadences on Red Light Temple though her originals are all her own. The opener “Violet Sky” opens quietly with soft and gentle folk pluckings before exploding like a raincloud in a focused temper of grungy rock and doldrumatic melodies. “King of Keys” builds on this and turns out a raucous storm of gothic synth-rock.
Trying to describe it just doesn’t do it justice. But on “Joshua and Me” there are peaks and valleys of soft rock layered over with droning guitars and rippling synthetic keys and one begins to understand that Hall’s pallet is the musical equivalent of Jackson Pollack’s. Take then the English folk essences backed by a gothic symphony and Hall’s soft yet tense story-telling lyrics that make up “Godless Man.”
Later comes the bristling soft piano ballad “Southern Cross.” Then comes the upbeat folk-pop beginnings of “Closer than Skin,” which builds into a beautiful swell of noise and then drops down into the slow and and savory fairytale that is “On the West.”
With Red Light Temple Vienna D'Amato Hall bends and blends multiple genres together at her whim. She fuses goth, alternative rock, classical elements and grunge. Her vocals however remain deeply rooted in folk. Nothing here ever sounds forced. A musical alchemist Hall finds within each separate facet the elements which agree with one another making each element precious.
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Musicians have more tools than ever to make music. Take a look at a website like kvraudio. Hundred upon hundreds of effects, soft synth, orchestral sounds, vocals samples, Gregorian chants and whatever you can think of is available. Musicians now more than ever need to know how to set a limit to their arsenal. It’s a common practice of the pros. Limit the palette of sounds.
For Ethan Gamble he utilizes almost nothing more than a Microkorg and his vocals on his release Roy. The Microkorg can make an array of different sounds but Gamble keeps it rather minimal utilizing a couple of distinct tones and textures in a single song. HIs songs are all about the mid-range. There is some percussion on these songs but you don’t hear sub-harmonic bass drum or bass in general.
The songs are experimental ambient pop. I heard shades of a group like Animal Collective minus the kinetic energy and percussion. The vocal melodies are quite catchy and I thought Gamble had solid delivery.
Up first is “Go!” The first thing you hear are bell-like percussion which is challenged by a heavy lead sine wave. Vocals harmonies enter around a minute in and Gamble gets rid of the frequency heavy synth. Not a bad start but I would have liked to hear more vocals which aren't heard again after the two-minute mark.
An arpeggiated synth dances around his drone like vocals on “Decisions” while “Miami” has an ominous vibe that gets more warped as it progresses. Other songs like “Night Light” sounds like it could be a soundtrack to a Haunted House theme ride that was made by Ravers.
“Child” is the seven-plus-minute centerpiece which revolves around hazy, even disorienting sounding vocals. It's like an atmospheric pad and eventually gets a couple of blocks of synths and what sounds like a robot scraping metal parts from a wood floor. The other notable song is “Rhinoceros” which has a tempo shift and an array of different sounds.
Gamble has some talent but still needs to learn a few things before getting competitive with like-minded artists such as Fennesz, Tim Hecker or Mountains. I would have liked to hear more movement. Some of the songs feel a little too static and get drawn out too long.
Overall, Gamble is playing with a genre that I admire and appreciate. Some of his vocal harmonies are really well thought out as well as delivered. I also thought he did a good job creating a foundation. This a solid start for Gamble and I have a feeling if he keeps at it his best work is yet to come.
Jay Kayle is an acoustic singer-songwriter from Portland, Oregon. He recorded the five-track EP entitled Five in a friend’s basement and mixed it in his own studio apartment.
Five opens with “People & Places & Things.” This sweet little acoustic opener sets the tone for the entire EP. Staggered, soft acoustic chords lead in to a throbbing tambourine-laden beat and soothing, country vocals from Kayle. Kayle takes an emotive, slightly melancholic route to the music, though he mainly retains the upbeat sensibilities at the core of country and folk music. There is something intriguing about the combination of joyous melodies and slightly angst-fueled, painful lyrics. Kayle seems to be battling two different parts of his own mind here.
Track two entitled “Just Tomorrow” explores the interesting contrast between warm, soothing, hopeful sounds belonging to the folk and country genre of acoustic music with the nostalgic, melancholic and slightly down-beaten lyrics and musical leanings of emotive, pain-driven music. At times the progression of this track seeps into string-driven moments of sadness as Kayle sings that, “I want more than just tomorrow.” His vague message could be interpreted in numerous ways, but the underlying upbeat nature of the melody to this song, much like everything else, hints at a sense of hope. Still, the highlight of this track, in my personal opinion, was the unprecedented trumpet solo in the latter half of the track. There were some interesting moments of sonic uniqueness on this track that I had not expected from Kayle’s humble, acoustic beginnings.
“Cardinal Directions” is the first track in which the bittersweet melody seems to perfectly match Kayle’s vocals and lyrics. The soft, slow guitar sounds beaten - as if it is drifting; endlessly and hopelessly lost. Kayle beckons for someone to let him to “be aimless“ because “the best love is painless.” Undoubtedly, this less structured, pulled apart and softer track sounds as if it is his attempt at breaking free. He gives in and admits “you’re wrong and I’m wrong” but this seems to be a victorious moment for him. The crooning vocals at the end are simply stunning; the most beautiful moment of the EP, perhaps.
All in all, Jay Kayle has a great singing voice but an even more intriguing style of songwriting combined with sombre lyrical tendencies. His upbeat melodies surprisingly worked well when contrasted against less joyful lyrics, though it was “Cardinal Directions” with the downtrodden lyrics, vocals and melody which ended up becoming my favorite. This is a man whose music is definitely worth a listen.
This album is the exciting first solo record for musician Johnny Cee, and the concoction of versatile sounds in Shine are a great reflection of this artist's talents. The album is a collection of songs written and recorded by Johnny Cee that deal with emotions related to relationships, addiction and modern-day society. This musician and his team did an excellent job incorporating a variety of sounds; each song has a unique influence and makes for a great listen.
The album starts out with “Can Someone Tell Me” and it has a heavy, grungy guitar riff that introduces us to Shine. There is a solid, sharp and emotional transition as soon as the first lyrics come in. There’s a complex, industrial, and spacey composition to the song with lots of different guitar riffs and electronic sounds laid out throughout.
When the next song comes in, there is a nice, well-timed transition already with a more melodic sound in “Shine.” This song is more lyric-heavy and has a nice hook that repeats throughout the song. The guitar sound is much less electric, and more melodic and rhythmic. There is a nice, spacey composition to this song that moves listeners into a smooth bridge at the end of the song.
“Mirror the Monster” has a similar sound and vibe as the song before. It has more of a rock feel, that eventually moves into an organ-laden bridge with spacey vocals and a slow guitar complementing them. That high-pace sound changes, though, with the next song “ABSOLUTION.” This is the introduction to a calmer sound, where the vocals are more clear and a bigger focus. The singer’s voice is complemented with acoustic and clean electric guitars with a calm, rhythmic drum sound in the background. It’s emotional, and the lyrics explain more of the protagonist’s story.
There is a big variety of sounds and production styles in Shine. From the more acoustic, rock songs the album moves into much more electric and primordial sounds. The song “I” transitions the album into a slow, trippy rhythm that has way more electronic beats in it. The entire track is a slow crescendo that slowly builds up and picks up as more sounds and instruments join in. The off-beat drums and the cool sounds make this an awesome ballad that creates an emotional change and gives the album a new sound.
The rest of the album has tracks that are more vocal heavy. There is an excellent set of piano ballads where Johnny Cee shows the versatility of his voice and talents. “My World” is a more minimalistic song with soft and few instruments complementing the singer's voice. The album eventually wraps up with an acoustic ballad that completes this artist and production team’s great project. There is an abundance of sounds and genres that show a versatility that’s fun to listen to and make Shine an easy listen.
If you are looking for a an album driven by powerful guitar riffs, loops, and solos then There Will Be No Great Awakening is your perfect find. This album was put together by The Technicoloured Wizard, a solo project started by Antoni Sasha Koegler. Koegler has spent time touring and spreading his loopy and multi-instrumental sounds across Canada, and recently recorded this amazing, versatile album.
This project is driven by heady guitar loops and solos, and the first track “Peeping Tom” starts out as a perfect introduction to the sound. The song immediately starts out with multiple guitars and an interesting melody. It shows listeners how important the guitar is going to be for this album. The two guitars trade off giving their own passages and leading the song. The solos are emotional, they aren’t dark, but you can feel a frustration that gives a serious sound to the track.
Near the last half of the song, the melody changes and a radio sample kicks in. There Will Be No Great Awakening is a narrative-driven album with a clear political storyline, and each song represents a viewpoint that is supported by radio samples and monologues. The jam-band, emotional, independent and loopy sounds in this track echo the entire album and the guitar-driven sounds continue in the rest of the album.
The next song “The Northern Gateway” has a slower introduction, but the guitars remains the main focus. Right around the first minute, the lead guitar hits a Santana-like transition; it’s slow but powerful, and the solo starts talking to listeners and sharing a clear emotion. The soft drums keep the rhythm moving forward, but it’s a subtle and clean sound that complements the guitars perfectly. The guitar loops continue trading off and jamming out with nice, hopeful melodies that leads into the next track.
In “There Will be No Great Awakening” the guitars give a perfect intro again but this is the first track where the lyrics are a main focus. There is a political emotion, frustration and urgency in the guitars throughout the album and now we hear it in lyrics. The guitars eventually go into a heavy metal ballad, head-banging stuff that perfectly summarize a piece of the album. It all ends with the track “The Forest” which has a fast and happy melody. It feels like The Technicoloured Wizard is showing us around a big, bountiful forest. The track turns into an excellent concoction of different loops from heavy metal to happy melodies to suspenseful rock that perfectly encompass the great project and complex sound that Koegler put together.
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This album, titled Casual Affair, is the project of Cooper Hyde and Sara Nagy. The guitarist and singer found an excellent complement to each other and created a versatile and classic sound. This album moves listeners through a mirage of different sounds, from rock to smooth jazz to acoustic ballads, and is driven by the voice and lyrics of Sara Nagy. These artists mixed and recorded an album that is able to capture lyrical emotion right in line with a variety of genres and guitar sounds.
This album starts with a smooth song called “Casual Affair” which sets an interesting mood. The song starts out with a slow, spacey guitar riff. The female vocals pop in soon after with a smooth and dark voice, which has a somewhat ‘90s rock feel. The lyrics are direct and emotional; they are feel good and complemented with a similar “feel-good” groovy bass line. The sound is raw and acoustic-like, but very clean. This track ends with an excellent guitar solo that moves fast, classic a good-ole ‘90s rock song.
The album has a great transition here, the second song, “Purple-Hued Boy” starts out slow and melodic. It moves into a louder, more in-your-face rock sound that carries on into the next few tracks. The song is vocal heavy and the lyrics move the listeners along the story. The guitars hop between different sounds or genres, and have a faster and more metal sound in the hook. The guitar solos do a sweet job complementing the emotion of the lyrics as if they were talking to each other, something they do really well in lots of the songs in Casual Affair.
The album moves through to a couple of songs that are composed similarly and have the sound of the last song. The guitar introduction that starts out “In Denial” keeps up the tempo, and the guitar shreds another awesome solo at the end. The guitar moves into a new genre in “Gold Clothes” with an awesome smooth jazz guitar riff at the beginning. There’s a transition into a calmer sound, but the lyrics actually get more emotional. The sound has a more melodic, feel-good vibe and slows down the album a bit.
Casual Affair is a project that does an excellent job encompassing a nice variety of sounds. The album eventually moves to a more acoustic sound, and then the vocals hit a bluesy feel at the end. The guitar riffs and solos makes this a really fun listen and add an awesome rock influence. This is one of those situations where a musician and a singer find a great rhythm that lets them create versatile and clean sounds.
Cousin Tom is a musician from Australia who recently released SHED. Cousin Tom is a dude who happens to be eighteen-years old. Truth be told a lot of musicians that young don’t have a distinct style and the songwriting usually feels pretty influenced. Debate me if want but after listening to thousands of indie musicians that seems to be the case. It’s not someone that young can’t be a musician is but it usually takes not only years of practice to become a decent songwriter but I think a good amount of life experience is necessary as well.
Cousin Tom seems to be at least a few years ahead of his time. The songs are emotionally resonant and the songwriting is quite good. There is no way you can talk about his music and not mention his unique voice. Cousin Tom sings in a very deep voice. Now I don’t know how exaggerated this is. It sounds good and I really enjoyed the distinct style. My one minor gripe is I could barely make out a word he was saying. Some of this is in part to the lo-fi production and some of it lays in the delivery.
Up first is “Straight Jacket” which is a piano led tune. His vocals are especially deep on this song. The song starts off sparse but opens up rather quickly only to come back down. He doubles up the vocal which wasn’t always necessary. Overall, the opener works well.
“Plague” revolves around the guitar and this song has a Pink Floyd vibe at times. There is some subdued melancholy on this song which works well with his voice. This is another solid song. “North Song” is more upbeat and straight up catchy. I was really diggin' the diversity.
The centerpiece is arguably “Regressing.” It’s a dynamic five-plus minute song that feels ambitious and heartfelt. As the album progressed I really enjoyed the Johnny Cash-esque “It's Bleeding In My Mouth” and the mellow and atmospheric “The Line.”
SHED is not perfect but this young songwriter has got the goods. I can only imagine as he continues to evolve his future projects will be even more impressive.
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
Holy Golden Wax Castle 4.0
Tin Pan Parade I'm Just Sad, Man 3.4
Dylan Sherry Silver Spring EP 3.6
The Z-Boys The Z-Boys 4.0
Meg Murrry Meg Murrry 3.4
Award Show Everyday Thoughts 3.4
Bag of Nickels Amen 3.6
Weston Simonis Moments of Intoxication 3.5
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