Shane Ryan aka Spaghetti Abstract is an artist who recently released Heed. It is apparently the first of five albums he is releasing.
The music on this release is contemporary classical and minimal. I would make comparisons to Ben Lukas Boysen, Jon Hopkins, Stars of the Lid, Max Richter and a couple of other like minded composers who dive into minimalism.
His music is meditative, hypnotic and also beautifully captured. The album begins with “Fairwell” and a good amount of beauty is simply from the resonance and sustain from the piano notes. They linger like thoughts but it’s warm, comforting and tranquil. The transitions are subtle like the white noise/water that emerges.
“Fairwell” seamlessly transitions into “Pistachio Paradise.” His palette of sounds change. The piano is there but he utilizes a backward type of effect and loose percussion which could be household items. It's a beautiful combination of tones that really hit upon this meditative aura. You can feel safe here as if you are in a former dream or perhaps a former life. As the song progresses there is some more movement with the keys.
“Forever Benevolent” is perhaps the centerpiece that revolves around string and piano. The song feels organic in how it unravels. There are swells from the strings which lay like a pillow underneath the more striking piano notes. “Two Ducks & a Lady Bird” showcase some new tones and textures. The keys here remind me of the Music Box Bjork utilized on her album Vespertine.
Last up is “You Were My Home” which is the brightest and most hopeful sounding track. All things considered this was a wonderful way to end. I couldn’t help but think of the song “Immunity” by Jon Hopkins in the way he combines disparate elements. The phrase from Aristotle comes to mind - “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” It builds into hypnotic crescendo and ends suddenly which leaves a lasting impression.
There are a lot of things at work here that make this album a true gem. The recording is really on the money and captures the nuance and subtlety. This in my opinion is where the magic lies. Additionally, This album unfolds in a way that feels natural. The addition of sounds is an extension of his initial idea and he never reaches too far for something that doesn't add to the cohesive quality.
Clear your mind and take this in. Highly recommended.
Now based in Melbourne, High Finance formed more than ten years ago in Hobart, Tasmania. The four piece hard-rock/garage outfit released their self-titled album High Finance which has been in the making for years.
They have a fun blistering rock sound not unlike bands such as Queens of the Stone Age or The Black Keys. It’s high energy and more or less non stop. I was surprised how cohesive this album sounded. It’s often the case when an album is in the works for so long it can sound piecemeal but that isn't the case.
They open with “I Gotta Know” which is where the band just rips it up. It might be the highlight on the album. It’s a little anthemic in an AC/DC type of way and is just an onslaught of drums, distorted guitar and bass. Great song.
They continue to wreck it up with “Spring.” There are a multitude of great parts but the way the band rips it up around the three-minute mark is badass. They increase the tempo and just go for it. “Good” is on the verge of ’70s punk while “CTC,” “Black and Gold” and “Snakehead” are rocking songs - each one being just as good as the next. The intensity really doesn't slow a bit with songs like “Something” and the closer “I Get Right.”
Some people say rock bands are dying. I’m not so sure. Bands like The Black Keys are bigger than ever. People still like how visceral a rock song can be. At its best it rises out of you like a Phoenix and make you want to conquer the night. This record certainly achieves that. Recommended.
Jake Burbage is a musician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who recently released The Bastard which is a three-song EP.
The three songs all hit upon the singer/songwriter genre. You know the one with the one guy, his guitar and all his pain and suffering. It’s indeed an equation that is ubiquitous amongst open mics and lonely bedrooms. Being a musician myself, I've come to realize a long time ago these kinds of release are tremendously healing to the artist. It’s cathartic, personal and sometimes, although musicians don’t always want to admit it, feels great when someone can empathize with your pain. You don’t feel so alone anymore.
The EP opens with “The Bastard” which felt like the highlight. To sum it up, this song is about unrequited love. It’s by no means is a new subject in the world of songwriting but nonetheless another account. The lyrics are a little broad for how personal the song felt. I kept on thinking I wanted him to get into the dirt of the romance but with lines “Am I the only ghost” and “Am I the one you know the most” he kept it fairly poetic and ambiguous. All things considered I thought the vocal melodies were the most notable and I thought he had a good voice. Early Bon Iver came to mind.
He hits on almost the same exact frequency of melancholy on “Raining in the Badlands.” It’s intimate and warm, and he strums the chords softly while lamenting into a microphone. From my interpretation, this song is more about yearning. The vocal harmonies were nice and comforting. He actually gets a little more specific on this song and talks about being stranded in Philadelphia.
The last song “The Dancer” might be the most melancholy. It’s a really sad sounding song and the lyrics made me feel like I was listening to a song about someone who had passed on. I think it was actually about a breakup.
I think I wanted just a tad more emotional shades of energy although I respect the fact it went all in with the sadder tone. The combination of three very somber song felt heavy and sometimes a little levity, hope or something can give you a little breath of air. Or maybe if you are going to just explore heartache I think additional instrumentation like drums might have been able to make me feel a little more movement.
I thought all three of these songs were well written. Burbage has a knack for finding engaging vocal melodies which I really thought was the selling point. If you are going through similar heartache this might provide the solace you are looking for. Take a listen.
Vii-Pii is the moniker of Vianney P who is an artist from France. Last year we reviewed Sparkle Then Vanish and now we have Seeking The Shroud. The new album Seeking The Shroud is a nihilistic album inspired by the French Decadent movement. Now I’m not entirely sure what that means to Vii-Pii. Nihilism is such a broad word with many different ways to interpret it. I’m most familiar with the work of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. I was trying to think about this while I was listening to his music.
There were no real clues in the opening track “Seeking (Instrumental)” because there were no lyrics. That being said this is a great track that mixes post-punk, post-rock and is very kinetic sounding. There is a lot of energy moving around in this song.
“Our Love Like Fear” does contain some lyrics. Suffice it to say it’s open to interpretation but seems to deal with issues like anxiety and loneliness. He gives a great vocal performance that is dynamic and emotionally charged. The music is a mix of organic and electronic instrumentation. Also the line about “ashes everywhere” felt very nihilistic.
“The Shade” contains a fast electronic beat, fuzzy guitars and another dynamic vocal performance. Next up is “Song For Tiana” which was more atmospheric, lush and ethereal. The song is filled with reverb and pads. His vocal is also toned down to not much more than a hush. “The Worm” is dark, gothic and full of soundscapes.
The energy returns with “The Standstill.” On that note it is a little more subdued with airy elements and a buoyant bass line. “Seeking The Shroud” sounded like something from a dark play while “The Rose And The Rain” is thematic and has hyperbolic vocals. He sounds like a villain on this track. He closes with the Joy Division-esque “The Shroud.”
Seeking The Shroud is an intense album and reminded me of the dark layers you hear on Closer by Joy Division. The next time I confront the void I might turn to this album.
Grady Mutzel, Emma Palumbo and Chris Moleirinho are Normaler. The band recently released a self-titled six-song EP Normaler. They play music that mixes a number of different genres like prog rock, post-rock and more. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the band is their sense of humor. I was a little confused by this aspect.
Let’s take for instance the opening “Planet Butt.” With a name like this I think it’s pretty fair to say I felt it was going to be a joke. I mean I was picturing a planet that looks like a human ass - how is that not at least kind of funny. It’s absurd. At any rate the song itself really doesn't contain the humor I was expecting. The music sounds somewhere between Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. In fact the first line is “All out of love. Callous and cold. We'll never go back home.” I will say I really liked this song. It just wasn’t what I was expecting.
“Mountain of Crust” felt tongue-in-cheek at least in the way the vocals were delivered at points. They sing, “Donkeys with blinders building our mountains, seconds, minutes, day by day.” It was riding a line for the whole time and I was sort of wondering what the intended feeling behind the song was or if there even was one. That being said there is some great vocal and instrumental sections.
“Black Prince” is one of the highlights. I loved the instrumental aspects of this song. It’s kind of dissonant with some fantastic picking, and the back and forth between the bass and guitar is wonderful. There is also a whimsical feel to the song as if I was in some fantasy world where gnomes lived but there was this horrible disconnect and dark side. I loved it!
They enter a more earthly realm with “Escalator to Nowhere” which kind of goes back to that Mogwai vibe of the first song. Ok now to my earlier point - “That’s A Spicy Meataball!! (reprise)” is a silly sounding title. I mean when you read it you do the hyperbolic accent and everything. Last up is “Stoned Politics for Insomniacs.” It’s a great song and contained the best vocal harmonies I heard from the band.
I’m still a little confused on the angle the band is going for but I really like this EP. Perhaps it just went over my head. The music is really well done, varied and contains great production.
Take a listen.
Hailing from Monongahela, Pennsylvania, Good Ship Gibraltar is an indie/alt rock band whose style blends elements of ’60s and ’70s rock with countless other genres, creating a sound that’s uniquely their own. Band members include Ryan Mocniak on lead vocals and guitar, Ryan Scanlon on backing vocals and bass, Rich Pantaleo on keyboards, and Lou Paniccia on drums. The group’s self-titled debut Good Ship Gibraltar was recorded, mixed and mastered at various studios, further enhancing a unique listening experience in terms of production. The band states their debut has something for everyone, as it showcases classic and new styles – anything from modern indie rock, to classic rock and retro-nostalgia from the ‘90s.
The opening style to “Trust” was interesting, reminding me something of Elvis Costello. The band also plays some tight, edgy guitar riffs, retro- ‘60s keys, along with happy pop harmonies – a captivating sound from the get-go and quite original. “One Chance” brings in a slower groove with a style that’s soulfully reggae and pop. The addition of a saxophone was a nice choice, too. The band’s message encourages the listener to give life “once chance to live” and to get things right. “Bad Love” features a low, funky vibe and a definite head bopping, toe-tapping beat. The guitars are bright, not to mention an awesome solo, and the keys have a great, nostalgic sound to them.
Next up is “Beat Down Shoes” – a song that instantly became a favorite, simply because I loved everything about it. Sometimes a song’s sound is all that’s needed to grab your complete attention. What I liked best about this one is that the band mixes styles so effortlessly – the intro, verses and solo parts had this alluring, classic ‘70s rock style and then in between they switch things up with a ‘90s indie sound. “Believe” finds the band tapping into a cleaner, hip sound, kind of like post-grunge bands from the late ‘90s – even more recent than that. The song’s melody is happy and light and its message, hopeful. The band looks back to their youth in “Kids in the ‘90s” – a playful retelling of what mattered most before they grew up. “We got our moon shoes – we’re all gonna zoom, zoom – to the moon!” If only we could all go back – “Let’s Go!” – and stay there! Musically, a very likable song.
“Fast Forward” brings together retro-60’ beats with lighter, pop melodies that feel modern. Think of Vampire Weekend meeting up with some bubble gum, surf-pop band from the ‘60s. Count this one as another favorite song. The closer, “Small People (The Hipster Song)” definitely has a different feel starting off with its almost acoustic indie like quality. The layering of two different keyboard parts are in there is you listen closely and that really stood out for me. Overall, this ending tune is as original as the opener and it was hard to pinpoint the band’s sound to any one style of another. Good Ship Gibraltar, also known as GSG, has a very unique way of pulling styles together. I thought the band’s technique was solid throughout their debut and yes, I agree, there is something for everyone.
In 2017 Chmcl Str8jckt released their self-titled album Chmcl Str8jckt. The band is back with their follow-up Wrtchd Thngs. The band said that on their self-titled release they tried to establish connections to the older industrial bands that they loved like KMFDM, Ministry and many more. With this release they wanted to work more on their signature sound.
On that note after spending some time with this release there is not a huge departure in terms of the aesthetics. You can still hear elements of Ministry, early NIN and other like minded bands.
After a quick intro which is the title track the band starts to get into it with “Ode to Peckinpah (Bloody Sam)” which is a highlight. There are definitely some similarities to early NIN on this release and if you back further bands like New Order and even Joy Division. It’s a song that shifts and mutates all the time. I don’t think there is any way you could be bored with a track like this because there is always something new around the corner. The vocals are captivating. It’s almost like dialogue rather than a person singing lead. I also have to say I loved the way the atmospheric guitar was implemented into this track.
“The Only Thing That's Real” is a little more heavy with distorted guitar taking up more of the picture. That being said there is far more going with tons of ear candy you can feast on. This song in particular reminded me of NIN but if Reznor went even more down the Industrial path.
Things get experimental on “Cut Deep.” The song is a bit evil, epic and contains mutated vocals which made feel like I was in a huge cave listening to a villiian talk. It’s sort of a scary song. Perfect for October.
The band is really just get started but I think there are a number of highlights as the album progressed. “Love” was an interesting one. I wouldn’t call this song Industrial. It’s dark and ominous like the other track but the more organic drums give it a sprawling kind of vibe that is a slow burn. “Black Vulture” is also one you won’t want to miss. This song felt like a play in the way it unwraps. It goes in all sorts of directions and contains some of the most unique sound designs.
Wrtchd Thngs does what it was intended to and expands on Chmcl Str8jckt’s sound. The foundation however is still there and fans of some of the aforementioned artists will not want to miss this. Take a listen.
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Cold Sweats is a band from Philadelphia, PA comprised of Pennsylvania Miles Barnes (vocals/guitar), Reana Konstantis (bass/vocals) and Steve Venango (drums). They recently released a self-titled four song EP Cold Sweats.
The band has an interesting mix of rock that combines elements of hardcore, alternative and even punk. It reminded me of some of the bands off of Touch and Go Records that I used to listen to back in the ’90s. This was a nice surprise.
They starts with “Edgehill.” It’s an intense introduction somewhere between early Nirvana-type grunge and varying degrees of punk. After the initial assault the band continues to explore unique territory with “Uncertain Bypass.” I loved this song which is all over the place in a good way. I was reminded of Pavement at times during the verse but then the hardcore Henry Rollins like vocals on the chorus almost threw me off. I liked it the more I listened and the outro about anxiety was on point.
“Blown Microchip” was another great song. It’s visceral, nihilistic and full of angst. The vocals are delivered in the right way. I also have to mention the sweet homage to Zack de la Rocha for a split second.
They close with “Alright” which is the arguable highlight. It seemed like the catchiest song out of the four. The song is like a mix between bands like Hum and Weezer. That being said Barnes is dynamic as ever on vocals and the rhythm section is on point.
This was a great EP. I was a teenager in the ’90s and grew up on similar music. I will be sharing this one with some of my friends. Recommended.
By Design is a group comprised of Brandon Krantz and Kristin Vrona. They hail from Dekalb, Il and recently released their followup to Grasping at a Lead Balloon. The new EP Permanent Measures features four songs and felt like a proper followup that I would say slightly expands on their sound.
The songs are emotive and often serious in that same way I feel when I listen to a band like Tool. This isn’t too surprising given the fact that their influences include bands like A Perfect Circle, Chevelle and Deftones.
The EP opens with “Derailed.” Vrona’s silky vocals are laid against an ambient, ethereal soundscape. I had a feeling the song was going to rock and that was the case. There are some inventive percussive elements that when combined with the distorted guitars bring the band into new territory. Additionally, Vrona finds some of her most memorable vocal melodies on these songs. She sings, “If they ever steal your final thought / They’re holding onto, they're holding onto you / If you ever feel nothing at all.”
Next up is “Same as Yesterday” which hits hard and heavy right off the bat. The guitar work is great with a lead on the verse that had my attention. That being said the chant like vocals that emerge are a new tool in their arsenal that I don’t remember hearing before. There are a number of other inventive transitions such as around the two-and-a-half minute mark. It’s here the band plays with dynamics like they never have before, which then lead to an absolutely wicked groove about a minute later.
“Collapsible” is similar to the first song in that it starts with soundscape and vocals. This song however is more of a slow burn with waves of white noise and distortion. I was reminded a little more of drone metal in the spirit of Sunn O))).
“Exposure Therapy” is arguably the highlight. It’s another example of the band expanding on their sound. You can hear this in the way the initial soundscape unwraps and explodes into intense drumming. They cover so much ground within the first minute. On top of that Vrona kills it.
By Design definitely has a sound that veers towards darker thought provoking themes. It’s music that demands your attention. I love it when I hear a band evolve and that’s what you have here. They obviously wanted to explore what they were capable of and this EP is a testament to their growth. Recommended.
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Nuno Henry Silva is an artist from Portsmouth, New Hampshire who recently released Influx. This is his third album. We reviewed the other two, Beautiful Corruption and Agora. He explains tracks one and ten were written and recorded in 2014, tracks two through five were written in 2017 and recorded in 2019; Tracks six through nine were written and recorded in 2016. With those types of disparity you expect a very piecemeal type of experience. That’s not the case. In fact the songs really just revolve around guitar and vocals.
The album begins with “Intro (influx)” and I have to admit I don’t really understand why he opened the album with this song. It’s more or less an electronic dance beat with dark pads. It sounds like nothing else on the album except the closing track “Coda (Outflux).”
The opening song is “Sapphire” which is one of the highlights. This is Silva at his best in terms of guitar playing. The vocals are fairly sparse and subdued but I didn’t mind since the guitar work was so well done.
“When We're All the Same” is a little more emotive and melancholy. His vocals are more present on this song and his lyrics express doubt. He doesn't know what to say or do. “In the Wrong” has its moment as well and is very intimate sounding. He plays single strings on this song and you can feel the tension.
Up next is “You Only Think of You” which is one of the catchiest songs on the album. He switches up between strumming and picking effortlessly and I was again impressed by the guitar work. The last guitar song is “Into the Night” which sounded a lot like the title.
Influx shows some of Silva’s growth as a songwriter and guitarist. He seems to be picking up a new skill set and I am interested to hear where he goes from here. Take a listen.
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