Paul Hernandez (guitar), Robert Byrne (bass) and Hector Larios (drums) are Paulis Eye. A couple years back the band released Seismic Aura which we reviewed at Divide & Conquer. It was a lo-fi DIY effort that established their roots as a band. Since then they hit a studio and recorded a single entitled “Gypsy Girl.”
The song starts off with a dreamy clean guitar that is a swirl of reverb and delay that quickly fades away. There is a lone bass that comes into the mix. The guitar starts to creep back with strummed chords that last a whole note. It doesn't take long for the whole band to join together. The rhythm section is the backbone here which creates the groove. I feel like the guitar was a lot more ethereal because of the delay and the reverb which create the atmosphere. There are some dynamic shifts.
The first three minutes did sort of seem like a prominent lead was missing, like a vocal. There could have easily been a singer on this song. That being said I liked listening to the canvas of just the instrumentation. My attention was divided somewhat equally between the three instruments. Towards the end of the song there is a lead but it doesn't come in the form of vocals. It’s a lead guitar. The way it’s incorporated into the music was unique. It sort of subtly fades into the music and as it reaches its maximum volume you can hear it panning back and forth which is more noticeable with headphones.
On their Bandcamp page they mention that “Gypsy Girl” is the first single on Frequency Axis. According to their website Frequency Axis is an EP but I didn’t see when it would be released. Suffice it to say I’m excited to hear the EP. The studio recordings made a huge difference and really displayed their talent in a way I haven’t heard before. I’m looking forward to hearing more.
Pink Nothing is mainly an instrumental project that is a blend of electronic, synth wave and indie rock, based out of Winston-Salem, NC. Pink Nothing EP is their self-titled debut release.
Skirting away from trends and fashions, Pink Nothing makes music very much under their own umbrella of electro, indie rock, shoegaze and synthpop. Unresolved melodies eventually become full-fledged electronic soundscapes and a mostly instrumental project enlists a cacophony of overlapping vocals as distortion and discord heavily plays into the recording. Mood and atmosphere are also highlighted on the EP as the band closes into tight-knit frequencies with not just electronica and synths at its core but also live instrumentation like the guitar and bass elevating the sound to new heights.
Pink Nothing EP paves the way with lulling synths that create a bewildering ambience on “NC-17.” Next, full-on guitars shimmer on the forefront. The electronic beats keep an even pacing to the rhythms. Dissonant vocals are added into the track. The sounds are zipped through as if that section of the recording is being fast-forwarded. Overall, the effects are pulling and will really draw the listener in. Oscillating synths shoots back and forth on “Night School.” The bouncy beats become more buoyant once the synths gain more traction. The vibe sounds like something coming from a rave party. The trance and techno flairs were full-on.
On “Heather,” airy synths create an airy sound. The vibes are very dream-like and alluring. Electronic beats sound off in the backdrop, keeping time to this haunting soundscape. Indiscernible vocals softly settle over this song. The sounds are ghostly and fractured. I really enjoyed the ambience here. Driven beats pave “Please Don’t Be Long” with dark undertones. Droning guitar riffs add a low hum to the sound. Melodic keys enliven the mood with its shimmering notes as whispery vocals sound out over the ambience of more guitars. The sound crescendos many times.
The band mentions: “The Pink Nothing EP sounds like a dark, moody and nostalgic midnight drive.” This certainly felt true. Heavily based off of a synth wave sound, the album reminded me of the soundtrack to Drive. Once you hit play on this record, you can imagine yourself in the driver’s seat as Ryan Gosling’s character in the movie, taking your midnight rounds surveilling the streets. Pink Nothing really reels in that cinematic proponent in their EP, fusing both mood and ambience into this album to create something that will reverberate with you long after the record has stopped spinning.
And So On… is the debut EP from inwake, a four-member group from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Band members Mike (guitar), Russ (guitar), Ian (bass/keyboards), and Tim (drums) draw from groove and post-rock influences in their writing and performance.
You’ll note that none of the band members have a vocal credit listed above--all seven tracks are instrumentals. A few of the tracks are musically connected (e.g. “Buddy” to “Spook”), giving a nice, coherent listening experience. The band stays away from odd meters and unusual modes; inwake’s sound is more indie and grunge (albeit with less distortion) than Dream Theater.
The choices that inwake has made--no lyrics, no vocals, standard instrumentation, and straightforward time-signatures and scales--increase their challenge: can they do enough to make a full album interesting? The answer, fortunately, is yes. Starting from the opener “Brighton,” the band displays nice ensemble playing and highlights interesting melodies throughout. Ian’s bass is put to good use and his keyboards are sprinkled around to give it all a little extra zip.
“Buddy” shows some nice flair. The band starts off a little downtempo and introduces a few color tones (but nothing too crazy). Tim keeps the band locked in as they switch to a faster, funk groove; be sure to check out his fast-fast-fast stick work! Showing some writing skill, the band carries over some of the color tones used earlier to keep the composition coherent. They finish with a section that reminded me of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.”
inwake digs into their bag of tricks on “Firsnow” where they explore some light dissonance--the guitars sound almost (intentionally) out-of-tune. It’s a neat effect, especially when combined with the panning in the mix. “Berlin” features some nice call-and-response between the keyboards and the guitars, and could be the outro music to a Netflix show.
And So On… is a fine debut. inwake does a nice job exploring the space they’ve selected for themselves and keeping the musical texture interesting throughout the EP. Give them a spin!
Leaf Eaterr is the solo indie-pop project of Lucas Wager. The three-track EP Leaf Eaterr, released in July 2020, is his debut.
“Spaceship” starts the set. It features clean, poppy layers of guitar and dry, up-front vocals. The first chorus and second verse add more synths and layers, featuring some nice panning effects. Wager’s tone on the solo is very cool and cuts right through--is it a guitar? Keyboard? Doesn’t matter: it works well. The breakdown section includes the obligatory spacey synths (fitting his “now I make spaceship sounds” lyric) before a reprise of the chorus. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s a very pleasant, well-produced pop package.
“Slow,” the second track, follows the same blueprint and general arrangement. The song features accessible guitar licks, a hooky chorus and expanding production as the song unspools. The bass work stands out, as do the keyboard parts on the breakdown and solo sections.
Leaf Eaterr closes with “Water” which is slightly different. Wager wrote this track on keyboard instead of guitar, and it shows, as the song is keyboard-driven. “Water” could have been part of a John Hughes movie soundtrack. Wager makes good use of classic ‘80s sounds (is that a DX7?), and a vintage-sounding drum machine. The bridge features synth sounds that could have been ripped from a Prince record. I loved these sounds when they were “new” and they still work today.
And that’s it. Three pop delights. Hooky melodies. Delectable sounds. Good production. What else do you need?
Ryan Farrar is from Roselawn, Indiana, and recently released the disease. As you could have guessed it’s about our current times. He explains, “I effectively made myself into a character in a concept album (or EP), while blurring the lines between commenting on our society at large and telling my own personal story; my ultimate goal is to help cure the disease of hate which is a plague upon our world, while we await a cure for covid19 and cope with all of the other drama that surrounds us in the year 2020.”
After a short intro entitled "exposure" the EP begins with “The Disease” where he sings about Covid, Donald Trump and plenty of other things that are on everyones mind. I liked the lyrics and enjoyed the melodies. When he sings it sure feels like he means it which was great. The instrumentation was great. That being said I couldn’t help but notice that the drums were not in the pocket at times.
Next up is “Small Minds” which is social commentary about everything which is going on in western society. It’s political and it’s pretty obvious which side of the fence Farrar is coming from. The best song and highlight is “F**k Around” mostly for the fact that the vocals are catchy and I was impressed by some of the instrumental changes. Lyrically, he talks about more relevant issues but mostly about health care. Great song. Last up is “Find Out” which is another solid song and reminded me of a ’90s rock/alternative song.
I have to say I thought the songs were well written and I enjoyed his passionate lyrics. That being said this release is extremely lo-fi. As an engineer and producer for over twenty years I think it would greatly behoove the artist to start working with an engineer or producer who can help with not only the technical issues but things like timing. If that’s not possible I know learning and implementing more about engineering would benefit the power of his music as well as the message behind it.
One pointer I will give him is that the vocals on these songs were on top of the music. There are tools which almost every DAW has you can use like compression and EQ so these elements can blend together. In this particular situation cuts at around 700 hz and two or three dbs of gain reduction on the vocals with a fast attack and slow release would have helped. That is really just the tip of the iceberg as far as improvements that could be made to the fidelity of his music.
Overall, these songs are very much of the times and I appreciated his passion on the subjects which I found attractive. Politically-minded music isn’t easy to pull off but I’m sure a lot of people will agree with his opinions. I wish him luck in his evolution and his subsequent release. This was an impressive start.
Julian Tepper is a musician and an author. He has published three novels and released the album The Disassociation. The Disassociation is pop but pop done in all the right ways to my ears. He mentions that “he co-wrote the song "Don't You Ever" which was later turned into a hit by the legendary band Spoon.” I did think some of the songs reminded me of Spoon. On that note I was also reminded of The Beach Boys and Fountains of Wayne.
The first song starts with the title track “The Disassociation” which features a ’50s style beat complete with hand claps, a steady bass line and strummed chords. It’s not exactly the most technically impressive song but man is it catchy. It’s just a great song and I loved the vocal melodies.
Next up is “A Little Something About Time” which is another killer track. This song rolls and the energy is vibrant and just puts you a good mood. The hopeful “Straight Line” is just as catchy and I thought the lyrics fit perfectly. This song is sort of comforting and provides some solace.
“Just Like You” is picked on an acoustic guitar. I was actually reminded of a more upbeat Elliott Smith on this song. It sounded great and I loved the more minimal and intimate recording. The rocking “I Want to Go Back to Yesterday” is nostalgic, fun and also tender.
The next song “We All Hear It” is somewhere between Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Elliott Smith. He has more success with “Go Ahead and Live Your Life” and closes with the warm and slightly melancholy “Right on Time.”
This is a fantastic pop release. Every song delivers a mix of emotion and accessible melodies. It’s repeat worthy and I think this will attract a broad demographic. Take a listen.
AugustBag is the name of this East Midlands UK blues artist who would rather sing and play his guitar outdoors than anywhere else. A cursory Facebook search finds over 50 videos of Bag (who looks a bit like a young Bob Dylan, complete with Woody Guthrie cap) playing in the bushes on hot summer days. He claims to write and rehearse all his material outside, and the video evidence certainly backs this up! For this E.P. Bag laid down four tracks in his garage studio (which also boasts the occasional cricket).
Bag’s style of choice is country blues, one of the earliest forms of blues music. His songs are short, mostly in the same key, and accompany his vocals with simple but evocative picking patterns. Bag has added minimal overdubs, usually a doubled or harmony vocal and some acoustic lead. He chose these four songs as a quick career overview with two early tunes paired with two more recent compositions.
The E.P. opens with “The Voyage” which I consider Bag’s signature song: a walking-blues workout about a man leaving worldly concerns behind for a journey to seek his riches across the sea “…and never come home.” Here and elsewhere Bag’s English accent is a bit heavy for my American ears, and without a lyrics sheet I was struggling to catch whatever words I could, but the feel of a man traveling far from his former life is undeniable.
“Little Lies,” one of Bag’s recent songs, is played in jaunty 2/4 time and is about lying and playing games within a relationship; it has a great upbeat energy, without a note or moment wasted. (I also detect an uncredited female harmony vocal. Interesting!) The earliest composition here is “Dollar Dream,” another unrequited love song which features nice mysterioso guitar licks and the best solo on the E.P.
“A Man Passing Through” is my favorite track, as Bag’s deft licks and finger-slides recall many of his down-home blues mentors. It’s another song about a man heading away from what he knows, yearning for “the silence in me” away from conversation and distractions.
Though Bag’s recording methods are serviceable, the songs are better than their recordings. Vocals and guitar are mostly clean, but the overdubs seem of a different sonic space and don’t always mesh. I can’t help wonder why Bag - with such a stripped-down sound and love for the outdoors - didn’t go all the way and record his E.P. in nature. Quibbles aside, these four songs stand as a nice introduction to this unique artist.
CaliforniaStop. (you have to include the period, which is endlessly confusing to my computer) is the band name for a Wichita, Kansas recording artist who prefers to remain nameless. The anonymity is intriguing, but also kind of a shame as this multi-instrumentalist deserves to be known. The band website features beautiful but mysterious portraits of the Fender guitars, amps, stomp boxes and keyboards used to create this music, but no faces.
CaliforniaStop. points to the post-rock bands Explosions In The Sky and We Will Destroy You as influences, to which I would add Brian Eno. The sound of this album is consistently dreamlike with shimmering guitars, finely-polished fuzz and gorgeous digital patches.
“Everything Is Different But Nothing Ever Changes” opens the album with a simple guitar pattern upon which overdubs are carefully woven, each instrument claiming only as much sonic space as needed to fill this ethereal landscape.
“Cold Hands Warm Heart” ventures into Eno “Music For Films” territory with a short but evocative lament, layered with wailing, moaning guitar reverb.“The Space Between” begins with a basic piano riff which erupts into thick but clean slabs of fuzz guitar, aggressive but melodic in the Bob Mould vein.
“Never In Doubt” again alternates airy, quiet keyboard figures with hardcore guitar, this time with the addition of Ebow-like fuzz swoops.
“Red Thread” modifies the formula somewhat with a more expansive 4-chord picking motif with a more country sound and pleasing modulations. My favorite moment in this album is when the end of “Red Thread” blends seamlessly into “Bad For The People” by way of a vocal-sounding keyboard sample, which leads into a nice chiming chord pattern. Here, as elsewhere, the bass is unobtrusive but inventive.
“Wisdom” ends the proceedings with a Pink Floyd-esque reverie, featuring some of the best guitar work on the album with a glorious ocean wave conclusion.
Without making it sound like a wet noodle, Names & Facesis one of the most gentle recent musical works I’ve heard, while still leaving plenty of room for biting Fender riffs. I could almost feel my alpha brain waves taking a well-earned vacation.
Meantime is the brainchild of Slovakian and South African expats Stefan Klein (guitars/arrangements/programming) and Adam Stanley (vocals/lyrics). The band recently released Absent, in Recovery which is a nine-song album.
Their music to my ears is heavy hitting rock. It’s got an almost commercial mainstream gloss to the production but not in a bad way. The songs often sound somewhere between bands like Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age to my ears.
The band gets going with “Big Wave” which begins with ambient sounding guitar and vocals. There is a serious tone to the music and soon enough the band starts to rock. As I mentioned, the production is borderline perfect to the point where I almost wanted something a little more raw. That being said there is no denying how explosive the song is. The drumming is fantastic and there are well-delivered passionate vocals.
They really amp it up with “Take Flight.” I loved the surge of energy towards the beginning that simply rocks. “Glass Flowers” sounded like a Foo Fighters B-side. I was getting serious Dave Grohl vibes on this song.
The band got a little more melodic with “Savage” which was a welcome change of pace. Everything was more subdued and atmospheric with this song. They get really heavy into metal territory with “Perpetual Dance Move.” “The Final Chapter” was a killer track and notable highlight in the batch while “Tightrope” is another rocking song in the vein of the ’90s rock the band obviously prefers. They aren’t done rocking and arguably do it most epically on “Mirrors.” Last but not least is the title track “Absent, in Recovery” which is an intense and fast song.
This album had a late ’90s - early ‘00s vibe. The production as well as the songwriting felt like the post-grunge/Nirvana era. There is no doubt the songs are great and there was a lot of work put into these signs. Take a listen.
Pete Cautious is a veteran of the Chicago scene. His debut self-titled album Pete Cautious came out in 2019 to critical success and played at venues like The Empty Bottle. Through the years, Cautious has got to open for some great bands like Tobacco, Karate, Russian Circles and more. Florida Man is his second album.
In Florida Man, Cautious addresses the darkness that lies in each of us. Rather than point his finger, the record tried to come to terms with it, acting as a kind of backboard to let out your inner angst if you will. The album displays a lot of characters, and these characters from all walks of life deal with all sorts of things from addiction, prostitution, gambling and infidelity. Attuned to this kind of lifestyle, the album ends up becoming very visceral with such gritty themes coming up again and again. While the subject matters lies in the darker region, the lo-fi, stripped-down quality to the music and the mellow vibes coming from the smooth vocal performances does not match the primal vibes of the lyrics. If you just listen to the sound, the music is very much aligned to the alternative, indie rock, psychedelic, soft rock, shoegaze and lo-fi scenes. Add the lyrics and you get an unfiltered, unflinchingly raw and honest portrayal of the highs and lows of living life on the fringes. This X-factor really made the album come alive and stand apart from the mass produced and manufactured sounds of pop music prevalent on radio today.
Florida Man begins with “Just Another Love Song,” where shimmering guitar riffs are loosened over the effect of synths. Cautious’ vocals come in, in a smooth manner narrating someone who has a gambling problem and must admit their mistakes to their loved ones. Cautious’ voice is distinctive with real haunting power. On “How Does It Feel?” the guitar riffs can be overwhelming, actually burying Cautious’ voice in the process. I found this effect taxing when what I really wanted was to hear more of Cautious’ singing. “Florida Man” is about the anti-hero to the album, who operates on a very primal level and gets into a lot of trouble due to his antics. The song is executed with more synths powering through this track. The psychedelic-laced guitars roll forth with a sound attached to a real surf rock vibe. Again, the music overpowered the vocals here and I thought the band could do to turn it down a notch or two to give the vocals more fidelity.
Sparse guitar riffs sound off alongside the sound of warbling synths on “You Can Blame Me.” The vibes were fuzzed-out and laid-back. “The First Time,” which is about the newness of love and about chasing that feeling, contains more synths that are unleashed as spiraling guitars meet the forefront. Beats give this song traction as well as a sultry appeal. I really enjoyed Cautious’ vocal flavors here. On “Here In My Car,” bongos give this track an island flavor. This works into the mellow, easy-going vibe of the vocals. This song felt like a very laid-back day spent relaxing on the beach. I loved the tropical notes throughout. Sounds of synths clash with percussive beats on “Some Other Lifetime.” Cautious’ buttery vocals softly ascend over the layers of instrumentation. The displays are lush and dynamic. At the core to his sound are the melody-driven guitars and heavily invested synths and this track is no different. The album closes to another haunting groove.
While the production and arrangement were very minimalistic and sparse, what Cautious was going for by paring down his sound was that live element characteristic – that distinction that every live band has. Having seen a lot of live bands perform, what comes across to him in their performances is that many seem to serve the production rather than playing music. While you won’t be seeing Cautious going through the motions with his band, you can see he brings to the table the fun and spontaneity seen in a live setting with this recording. While these songs are direct, they contain just the right amount of forthrightness that makes them so bracingly candid and alluring. Cautious imbues these tracks with just the right amount of lo-fi to give them the liveness factor as well as the back to the essentials aesthetic that will appeal to fans of the aforementioned genres. This was a solid effort from the artist and proves this is only the beginning for him and his band. I look forward to seeing where he goes from here.
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