Steady State's self titled album Steady State is an interesting alternative/punk album with personal and political narratives. The album is heavily based in electronic sounds that are ambient and for the most part teeter on the dark side. There is a touch of nostalgia for the synth rock of decades past, specifically the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Their lyrical element was by far my favorite part of this album. I love when they're not afraid to get highly abstract and even a little cosmic. You get that right off the bat with the first track "Dark Matter" which doesn't have a lot of lyrics, but when they come, there is a very broad minded view communicated. On the flip side, there are political statements that are deliciously savage.
This album was inspired by events of the last ten months, and you can take a guess as to what some of those events might be. The political tracks definitely adopt more of the early punk elements of the music. "Lower" is a great example of the political factor that is so blunt and unforgiving, I couldn't help but enjoy it.
The music on this album is good, I was happy to be listening to it, but it is a little hard for me to pinpoint what it is about this band that is distinctive. Their sound is one I like, however I like it because I have heard it from other bands, it's a well established aesthetic, and has been for a while.
There are so many possibilities when it comes to electronic based music, I feel there could have been tweaks made to create a more unique signature. I think playing up the guitar work and bringing it more front and center might have been a good start.
The other issue I had with this album is the mixing and mastering which may have assisted in the music not always finding it's complete potential. This album was essentially a home recording project with "nothing fancy" done. Sometimes it doesn't take much, but in this particular instance, I think there was a need for a little extra polish. As I said, I really loved the lyrics, but I often struggled to find them among the heavy reverb and industrial sounds. These days so much can be done with so little as far as audio production. Perhaps an additional collaborator can assist in future projects who can add a more professional touch. I would love to hear this album with a different set of hands doing the mixing, it could be a completely different experience.
If you're a fan of the early ‘80s punk movement, or just enjoy something subversive and brooding, this is a good album for you. The album is cohesive and has a very consistent attitude that I appreciated.
Obviously I felt there was room for improvement, but there is a good foundation in terms of collaboration and messaging.
Gravelarks is a band from Pittsburgh, PA who just formed in 2016 and already managed to release an album entitled Sublimation. My first thought were that I couldn't believe the band formed so recently. They sound great and not like a band that has been together for a such a little amount of time. The band consists of Stephen Jarrett (vocals/guitars/bass/keys), Candice McDermott (vocals) and Travis Lamanna (drums/percussion). Jarrett is the songwriter who on the whole embraces experimental, art rock for the most part.
The transitions and chord changes aren't ones you will find on FM radio and I found them to be quite refreshing and inventive. I wouldn't go as far as to say they are aligned to baroque pop per Grizzly Bear but there are similarities.
Up first is the “Same Place” which felt more like an intro than a fleshed out song. A good intro at that as I really liked the vocals. The album really gets going with “Brittle Bones” which showcases McDermott’s vocals. There are some inventive vocal harmonies amongst the jagged, jangly guitars. As for the lyrics I’m not completely sure what they were referring to but I have a feeling that Jarret’s fictional writing skills came into play here.
The first few moments of “Chameleon” reminded me of one of the greatest bands in the universe called Deerhoof. That vibe kind of diminishes. I’m not sure everything worked for me in the song but there were plenty of inspired moments along the way. The more traditional rocking out during the 3:30 mark was nice.
“High Street” is a clear highlight. It starts off serene and calming in a Mazzy Star type of way but eventually seamlessly finds it way to a rigid dynamic that I found jolting. I appreciate how they got there. It didn't feel unexpected or sudden. The band rocks out quite hard on “Ruby” while “Wayfarer” sounded a bit out of place because of the atmospheric nature of the song and the production decisions.
The band is at their best when they experiment with sparse elements like guitar, bass and drums and utilize those instruments to their fullest capabilities. It displays that standard rock instrumentation still has myriad possibilities. The first half of the album really drives home this point. I can’t say the second half was as impactful. Songs like “Take It Away” felt like middle of the road songs while the closer “Rapture” seemed like an experimental sound collage which didn't really feel connected to the intensity and power they were delivering earlier on.
Sublimation isn't perfect but there are some exceptional songs on here. I’d say this a good, solid effort from a band that has a boatload of potential. Recommended.
Become A Fan
Tony Resch records futuristic R&B-inflected pop as Royal Haunts. I is the first in a planned trilogy of EPs he intends to release this year. Synthesizing his family’s history in reggae and Caribbean music with his own interests in indie rock and British electronica, Royal Haunts is a project undeniably of the present moment in pop and house music, but Resch immerses it in his own sensibilities. Only five tracks, I compresses a story of deteriorating romance and mental health while maintaining its emotional range. It’s moody, sure, and it’s steeped in future bass ambience, but the EP holds up as a strong example of what bedroom producers should be trying to make.
“Movement (In the Stars)” is the opener, laying out some atmospheric synth parts and digitally obscured samples with a two-step UK garage beat. This jittery rhythm combined with Resch’s soulful vocal evokes influential artists like SBTRKT and particularly Disclosure, whose collaborations with Sam Smith seem to bear an influence on production and vocal performance alike. The chopped vocals and pitch-shifting also indicate Resch’s willingness to tuck in experimentally, rather than continuously clutch a microphone. It’s an airtight, cohesive, yet organic slice of modern electronic music, an incredible feat for a DIY artist.
“Ageless” takes many of the aesthetic cues from “Movement” and reshapes them around a Kings of Leon-esque vocal, throwing in some chiming guitar for good measure. Resch’s rock music background enters the equation in a much bigger way, finding a middle ground between verse-chorus composition and the meandering feel of experimental beat music. The fluttering background vocals and crisp electronic drums play nicely with the broad lead parts, making for an emotional peak.
“Apt.” is only a 90-second interlude, where Resch sings, “I think you should get your own apartment, babe” over neighborhood noise and electronic piano. His angelic background vocals evoke Bon Iver’s R&B-leaning moments, and the dialogue sample comprises one of the oldest production tricks, but the effect is solid.
“The Bathtub” demonstrates some of the intense harp-like instrument sampling of Mura Masa with a Frank Ocean-influenced lead vocal and some slow lo-fi beats. The end of the track opens up the drums a bit and adds choral samples that may be from the traditional Caribbean music of his youth, offering a near-spiritual element to an intimate moment.
“Signal” is an outlier on the record, consisting solely of a harmonized vocal with pitch and modulation effects. The effect is almost that of robots singing an Appalachian folk tune, bringing a storied, human aspect to heavily digital processing. A fully a cappella track is a risky maneuver on a largely beat-focused record, but Resch brings it home.
Here, Royal Haunts has delivered a to-the-minute slate of modern electronic material with a timelessly impassioned vocal performance. I represents a capable fusion of stylistic tendencies both past and present, the sort of fusion that no doubt will guide pop’s refractive future. It’s exciting to observe someone hitting that nerve, especially on a home-recorded record. Hopefully the next two EPs hit their mark just as closely.
Returning home from college. A relatively new experience for a 21st century man in the United States. It’s a shared experience for plenty of youth and that's what Fred Kelly decided to write about on Thank You, Good Kids. Kelly explains: “I struggled coming to terms with how different I felt about my future this summer than I did last summer - mainly that the mystery of anticipating college was gone, and instead of excitedly awaiting Harvard's endless possibilities I was instead worrying about degree requirements and career paths.” Those worries are a distant memory for me being almost fifteen years since I graduated but they are completely normal thoughts for any young person preparing for life outside of college.
Kelly’s lyrics aren't as straightforward as his general concept. The meaning can range from absurd to comical to mundane. It’s a mixed bag of meaning that often felt open to interpretation. Musically, the songs felt a mixed bag as well. More often than not he pulls off what he attempts but occasionally certain notes or sections can fall flat.
He starts off with the arguable highlight “Acts of God” which is an all around success. The song is simple and hits upon a familiar Americana John Mellencamp type vibe. I liked the beginning of the song but the song really finds its stride after the one-minute mark.
“Zizek” is an ambitious song that certainly has some inspired moments as well as inventive songwriting. The song is straightforward rock for the first couple of minutes. I cringed when he emphasized the word “shit” in such an awkward way in the line “I don't belong with this shit crowd” but he redeems himself in the next line “I guess I'm just too good to be around” where the delivery works. The best moment in the song is the funk break down after the two-minute mark.
“Inked Toronto” is a subdued song for the most part. It's a solid song despite some vocals notes that could have been delivered better. The same thing could be said about “International House of Pancakes” and “Thanks But No Thanks.”
Kelly has some talent in multiple areas but I think he needs to focus on the vocal delivery a little more. The songwriting was familiar sounding with scattered inspired moments.
Overall, Thank You, Good Kids is a solid release with enjoyable songs. I’m sure we'll be hearing more from Kelly and I look forward to hearing him evolve as an artist
I have to admit I went into A Tribute To The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds by YYY aka Austin Carson without much enthusiasm. That's something I always try to avoid. I go into an album with an open mind but who needs another Beach Boys tribute?
Apparently I did because the album won me over way quicker than I thought. I’m a sucker for synths, experimentation and infectious melodies. This album has it all. Perhaps the most applause worthy thing about the album is that you don't need to be very well acquainted with the original . Sure it doesn't hurt hearing the songs reimagined but it's not necessary.
The tracks go along with the original starting with a classic “Wouldn't It Be Nice (feat. deM atlaS).” It opens with the sound of ocean waves, synths, more synths and an organic drum beat. The lead was de-tuned somehow giving it an artistic, avant garde feel. After that Carson takes the song all over the place and showcases his skill as a producer. The production felt contemporary.
The production is taken to the next level on “You Still Believe In Me (feat. City Counselor)”. The vocals harmonies, arpeggiated synths, and electronic percussion hits all the right notes. There is so much diversity in the production as the album moves forward. A highlight was “God Only Knows (feat. Matthew Jon).” Where do I start - the swelling atmosphere or the transitions that somehow feel faithful to the original version yet is experimental and unique. It is honestly hard to pick out standouts but “Good Vibrations (feat. Fort Wilson Riot)” is just done so well.
This album was one that caught me off guard. It’s unequivocally the sickest re-imagination of Pet Sounds I have heard. Carson somehow pulls off implementing modern production techniques into classic songs with it seeming to be effortless.
I can even say that if you weren’t a fan of Pet Sounds for some reason you should give this a chance. If you were already a fan of Pet Sounds this is certified listening.
Emily Graye is a singer/songwriter and a graduate of Berklee College of Music. She has been writing songs since the age of fourteen and blends a number of different styles to create a unique style that I would describe as Fiona Apple meets Lana Del Ray. Graye has a dark edge to her lyrics and a deep tone to her voice that makes each track alluring and provocative while remaining current and original. Her debut EP Graye features four tracks ranging from ballads to experimental pop.
The first track “Simple Things” started with a haunting piano melody that led into Graye’s clear deep-toned vocals. It became evident right away that Graye is one cool chick. Her lyrics are smooth and clever with a definite edge to them. This song had a head-bobbing beat with perfectly placed synths that worked really well with the darkness of the song.
“Neon Paradise” was a truly unique track about a young man’s journey to self-discovery in Las Vegas. I especially enjoyed the line “makes his memories with bottlecaps of Twisted Teas” since I thought I was the only psychopath that drank those. There is a distinctive spoken word/rap section in this track that was very Lana Del Ray-esque. It was a daring choice that paid off; it worked really well within the context of the song. “Without You” was more of a ballad with a slower tempo and intense lyrics. Graye’s vocal range is showcased more on this track while showing a more emotionally vulnerable side.
The final track “The Art of Lying” was stylistic and cool. Graye holds nothing back in the lyrics and the line “You’re a raft and I’m a fucking battleship” made me laugh. I listened to this one a second time right away, It was stealthy and funky and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I really loved Graye. This is the work of an artist who is thoughtful and brave. Her lyrics are tough and raw while remaining poetic and sensitive. The sound is built in layers and is best listened to loud or with headphones so you can catch all the creative and deliberate nuances that make it truly an experience. Graye’s passionate relationship with music is evident on every track and every choice she makes musically is uniquely hers.The really amazing thing is that she is just getting started. I can’t wait for more.
Adam Cahn is just getting started with his musical journey. He started playing guitar around three years ago and began writing songs about two years ago. By all accounts he is getting his feet wet at this point. The nice thing about today's advent in recording technology is you don't need to shell out tons of money to record and you can start recording immediately if you have a fairly basic modern computer. That's exactly what Cahn did when he released a demo Visions.
Even though the demo has the hallmarks of a musician who is just starting off you can tell he has some talent. The EP starts with “Naive” which is a basic song where someone picks and then strums basic chords and sings. The recording is very rough but the chorus is still fairly catchy.
Up next is the piano lead title track “Visions.” He implements distorted guitar and drums on this on a very standard sounding punk/alternative song. The same could be said about “Understanding” and “Into Deep.” The most well written song was “Awkward Goodbye.”
Cahn is in the embryonic stage of his development. In addition to his songwriting he is going to have to improve his singing. I would have liked to have heard a more dynamic performance and more emotion in his voice. This can sometimes take years to develop.
The songs at this point while fairly well written are very derivative sounding from myriad sources. Cahn doesn't have a distinct signature sound as of yet but that something will emerge with more dedication to his craft.
Cahn still has a long way to go if he wants to make a career out of this but I don’t want that to discourage him. He obviously enjoys what he's doing and I hope he continues to refine his talent that he's just starting to explore. As of right now Cash is very much a case of wait and see.
After getting caught up in the game of compromise between artistic integrity and commerce to tailor the needs of music industry bigwigs, Chris Hayzel’s newest exploration Axiom finds this extremely talented artist returning back to the roots of why he enjoys making music in the first place. Recorded in his home studio and doing all things necessary on his own to bring this short EP to the masses, Hayzel states that this is one of the most vulnerable albums he’s every made.
I personally have not heard anything from Chris Hayzel before this recording but I am familiar with the work of his very well known parents, Howard Hewett, former lead singer for the R&B and soul music group Shalamar and Nia Peeples, whom I remember as a fresh faced student of dancing on the hit TV series Fame. At first, I didn’t know what to expect but Hayzel definitely delivers the goods in terms of vulnerability and songwriting. He has written some deep and intensely introspective lyrics that at times are abstract but also hit on something universal.
“Lips Shut Tight” sounds like it’s about two forces at odds with one another but the one side won’t stop speaking out for what’s right. “Love We Send” seems like a call for love, a call to come together and overcome fear. The layering of vocal tracks at the end gives the song a hymn-like quality. “Lonely” is interesting because it’s written in the second person but end’s with a cry in first person.
It also has some rocking moments mixed with piano and a soulful guitar – it’s quite haunting, desperate and chilling. “Light” has some really challenging lyrics and atmospheric sounds. The message seems to be that what you thought would pull you through, instead betrays you, but then you ask yourself – is there a different path, a new way, a new light that you haven’t explored yet?
Something that listeners will notice is one song leads into another with nary a break. In other words, if you were to listen to Axiom on vinyl or CD, it would be like one long song but with chord and instrument changes. After a few listens of Axiom, it was clear to me that Hayzel was blessed with fantastic vocal prowess and command and still at a very young age. it’ll be a treat to hear whatever next exploration of sound he lays down.
JD Wise picked up a guitar and starting writing music in the eighth grade. Fast forward years later and he bought a portastudio to record a four-song demo entitled The Strawberry Moon.
He plays loose rock and folk music. The songs are familiar sounding and hark back to a number of influences. Take for instances the folky opener and title track “Strawberry Moon” which has a sing-a-long type quality similar to a song like “Piano Man” by Billy Joel.
I had trouble appreciating the vocals. I couldn't understand most of them which was somewhat due in part to the recording quality. There wasn't much clarity. The element that sounded best in the mix was the banjo and harmonica.
Up next is “Take It From Me” which has a bit of Neil Young-esque quality to it. The issues with the muddy vocals resurfaced but the guitar work was very enjoyable. Especially the lead slide guitar. His best vocal performance was on “That's All She Wrote” which is a sort of ballad. He sounded good here and the vocals were EQ’d the right way too. That being said the drums were too prominent and sometimes off time. I think he should lose whatever the descending sine wave is as well which didn't work in the mix.
He closes with “The Last Time We Had It Good.” The vocals are buried even though there isn't much going on. His tone also sounds different than on “That's All She Wrote.”
JD Wise is going to be releasing a full album and hopefully he can get to a professional studio. The production on this is suited to show your friends but is far from a commercial sounding product whether it's more mainstream or indie.
The good part is that he has some talent in the songwriting department and I think with some tweaking he can really come into his own on his full length.
The debut EP IKE from the Canadian band Walking With Crows is quite impressive and showcases a line-up of great new talent. The band consists of: Kenyon Smith on fretless bass, Steve Thompson on drums, Scott Cameron on guitars and mandolin and Johnny McConnell (who is actually from Belfast, Ireland) on guitars and sings lead vocals. Also, Rick Barkhouse, who plays a mean organ on “Blu” makes a special appearance.
Right off, I would have to say that every one of the songs on this EP was solid; these ears heard not one weak spot. What’s more, the band covers a lot of different genres. The opener, “Don’t You Cry” has a serious tone (think kind of ‘90s grunge) but with a country-rock flavor – I know, odd, but that’s my two cents. Lyrically, it seems to hint about someone who died maybe? “Gone” has a ska/reggae refrain before the chorus part and what can I say – my god; McConnell has one hell of a voice! His high notes, not to mention sustain, floored me, not only on this song but also pretty much throughout the entire recording.
The guitar intro on “Blu” has a very Hendrix-like bluesy sound and McConnell’s vocals here reminded me of Dennis DeYoung from Styx at the height of their popularity. It’s also a good slow dancing number, too. “Come Alive” musically, reminded me of Lanterna, a band from Illinois that are known for playing instrumental soundscapes. It features a solid fast beat with an inspiring feel and an extra bonus – a jig! “Those Were the Days” is a tender song about reminiscing and swapping stories of your youth with a sibling. As a guy who grew up an only child, this number tugged at my heartstrings.
“Risking It All” has familiar guitar chord sounds in the beginning and intriguing lyrics that I couldn’t quite figure out but kept my interest. And then there’s the ending – all I can say here is, Walking With Crows should seriously consider selling this number to the makers of the Guitar Hero game. I mean, good heavens – I haven’t heard a guitar solo or rather, a guitar player playing like this in years. It’s a shame that this style of guitar playing has taken a back seat in recent years. Anyway, it was a fabulous way to end the record and overall, a solid first effort from this up and coming band.
We are dedicated to informing the public about the different types of independent music that is available for your listening pleasure as well as giving the artist a professional critique from a seasoned music geek. We critique a wide variety of niche genres like experimental, IDM, electronic, ambient, shoegaze and much more.
Are you one of our faithful visitors who enjoys our website? Like us on Facebook