If I had to muster a guess as to what the Michigan trio Polus sound like just from the cover art of their new EP Stellar Moons its cartoonish depiction would have me leaning toward California pop-punk. However I would have been completely wrong and probably would remind myself that one should never judge an album by its cover. So perhaps I would have a look at the names of the album’s five tracks, which in this case would then have me leaning towards hard metal. And even though that would be an excellent guess, it would again be wrong. The genre in which Polus belongs would likely be called progressive rock, though they exercise jazzy influences throughout, as well as employing a certain low level ambient quality to it also.
Stellar Moons opens with the instrumental “Blood Moon Chapel.” Here eerie sounding synths and wild electronic samples are intermixed with sound bites taken from the congregation of Westboro Baptist Church. The track borders on cliché but it does provide one with an idea of the spacey sounding mellow mood music that is to follow.
The title track “Stellar Moons” is a five-minute long prog-rock jam. It begins slowly with funky and jazzy bass lines and quiet drums and keys, and vocals that exist just above a whisper. It is here that the trio begins to show off their jazz laden roots and it pays off well. The grooves make you want to bob your head and get lost in the music. At just about half way through, the track somewhat clumsily turns into a nearly two-minute jam session, which is centered around a keyboard programmed to sound like a church organ. Despite the clumsy lead in, the track helps to lend some diversity to album from the start.
The slow and haunting “Flesh to Carbon” is about as depressing as a song can get. If not clearly evidenced by its title, the song is about the fact that everyone dies in the end. The lyrics are as haunting as the slow and rippling bass line and eerie, watery sounding synths with lines like, “every fire begins with heat / and ends with nothing / every death begins with life / and ends with nothing.” The following track “Requiem” is equally as haunting and again uses soft vocal melodies and echoes influences of shoe-gaze and hints of soul, which emanate from the long and slow organ solo.
Polus has made a solid sounding EP with Stellar Moons. Advice for a follow up full length would be to try and diversify their sound, and to let the bass and drums come out from behind the often too loud keyboard tracks. And this is not a blow, only a suggestion, for the very meaning of progressive rock is simply progress. And progress, as they say, makes perfect.
The Granite Countertops is a different breed of musical knowledge and articulation. The songs on Planets Don’t Twinkle are predominately dictated via the very conscious monologues of their male and female vocal counterparts, spoken in lecture format and, most importantly, engaging with poignant lyrics and hypnotizing, cool beats. And that’s only half the equation as quite a few of the songs thrive in a lower level of intensity using repetition and powerful meaning to do the work rather than any strong danceability. A sense of linguistic and modern art lingers throughout the album like def jam poetry or open mic intellectualism. It follows an educational and entertaining path all the way until it’s climax and my personal favorite “High Definition.”
This is a track you have to hear to believe. Truly some of the most hip and conscious language I’ve heard in a pop effort. The ideas and content that spill forth with compete confidence and collected delivery range from the way we misinterpret musical nuance as a society to how musical genres have grown and changed along with the expanding of our minds on things like the acceptance of cultural elements and influence into popular Western music.
The conflicts of race, oppression, class and love are introduced as our narrator brings us up to speed with the cause and effect of style reinvention and pioneering. The message seems to be to find deeper meaning in our surface knowledge on musical terms and find continued richness in the musical renaissance that transcended social norms and created substantial equality amongst the populations.
I think what we have on Planets Don’t Twinkle is a gradual excitement in the beginning that builds like a valley does a peak. That peak being halfway through, subsequently gradually losing it’s reign and falling back toward the valley as the album reaches its end. Quirky and random, informed and controversial; The Granite Countertops will take hold of your life’s view and throw it in new light. They have a keen sense of this world and simply have chosen their music to reflect it upon us. So keep your eyes and ears open for their call. Again, “High Definition” is something like a post-modern gem. Start with that and let the immersion begin.
Yesterday Vs. Tomorrow is a project that was formed in 2011 by Jesse Kaufman and Kevin Stuitje. It originated as a studio project but later formed into a fleshed-out band. Although the band has gone through some lineup changes they were able to release a seventeen-song album entitled Aurora Borealis. The band is varied, very varied, and some of it works really well and some of it falls flat.
Before getting into specifics there are some general traits that album displays. The vocalist sounds undeniably young when he sings and for better or worse that’s how he sounds. Some of the songs work to his benefit such as the one the veers towards punk rock and backdoor acoustic sessions. HIs vocals don’t work as well when they play grandiose arena rock song similar to that of Thirty Seconds From Mars and U2. His vocals are really a microcosm for how the album plays out. There hasn’t been a album in recent memory in which I had such an ambivalent relationship with from song to song.
The album starts off with “Astronomy,” which unfortunately isn’t the band at their strongest. This is over the top arena rock in which the mere production they have buckles at the seams. This is a lo-fi album and when they go over the top reaching for the heavens it just doesn’t work. The thing that surprised me was on the second track “Local Millionaires” they do a complete 180 and play into the production as well as the band’s creative strengths.
It’s basically a jagged, western spaghetti punk rock and they pull it off wonderfully. The vocals work here, the guitar sounds good and overall it is a damn good tune. “Just Wait...” is a sparse song revolving around vocals and acoustic guitar and like the song before it they embrace the lo-fi aesthetics. It works.
“[Sprawl Song Singalong]” is a worthy song but the vocals were way too low in the mix while “Goodbye, Goodnight” is an atmospheric, melancholy piece that sounded good on the band. “Northern Lights” is yet another deviation and is an instrumental piece that sounds like a synth being torn apart. Just when I thought they were out of genres to explore they mix in Postal Service like electronic hybrid entitled “Renaissance Man.”
I’d have to say that Aurora Borealis is the most varied album I have heard - maybe ever. It almost sounds like a different band from song to song, which gives way to zero consistency. It’s going to be hard for the band to build a solid fan base since their music is so scattered. At some point the band may want to concentrate on any given genre or subgenre and work to refine that so they can release something that is more cohesive and unified.
At the end of the day Aurora Borealis is a good album and you most likely will take a listen and gravitate towards particular songs. As matter of fact once I treated Aurora Borealis as a bunch of singles rather an album it became a lot more enjoyable.
A change of scenery can have a great influence on the mind, body and spirit; a change which is often for the better. And if you’re an artist, this change will definitely make its way into your work. The Seattle based singer/songwriter BYSON knows about change all too well, having left Las Vegas to move to Seattle, Washington, two places that couldn’t be more different from one another. Inspired by this change of scenery BYSON began to shift his influences from lyrical bands towards the genres of new age and ambient music. He described the process as being very freeing and that he was then able to write “things from an open point of view and stopped thinking about the rest of the world and the music that was a driving force for it.”
BYSON’s debut album Audiology is stylistically a blend of ‘80s techno-pop tunes with bits of folksiness and tinges of Americana. Tonally the album has a very haunting feel, much of which may stem from the fact that BYSON wrote these songs alone in the dense woods of Seattle’s Discovery Park.
Loneliness is another theme that Audiology is immersed in. It begins right away on the rock and synth- based lament “Alchemy” and continues right on into the pop-centric danceable beats of “Factoria.” BYSON doesn’t hold back the emotion for very long as is demonstrated on the sad-song balladry of “Mora.” The ambient sadness continues with the softly sung “Paragon,” which over the course of the track begins to pick up with hollow bass beats that sound a bit clubby though given the sad lyrical undertones, one can surmise the song probably wasn’t intended for the dance floor.
Ironically enough the next track “Commodore” is perfect for the dance floor with its sparkly synths and well-timed beats. “River” comes out of nowhere with an acoustic guitar, which as the song progresses goes away to be replaced by keyboards and starry sounding loops. “Effigy” works much the same way, only it begins with a clean keyboard riff and BYSON singing, and then it eventually becomes another synth soaked track, which one begins to notice shares many similarities to many of the previous tracks on Audiology, a characteristic which fans of ambient and new age style music may choose to overlook. However it is the one thing I cannot overlook. As the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” And even though Audiology marks a change in BYSON’s career and sound, he isn’t necessarily bringing any change to a genre that is already brimming over with machine made beats and fanciful keyboard riffs. He may not be reinventing the wheel but this is an accomplished album that is not to be missed.
Ah yes, the familiar taste of singer/songwriter My Else is fresh and alive with this one Land of Life & Times. The minimalist approach wavers in approach and movement never really finding a stride to carry on with for more than a song or two. We have slow pace, we have medium pace, and nothing else. What is risky here is the loss of active attention. I’d hate to find my craft losing out to the unfortunate boredom that tends to settle once sensory stimulation lays dormant just waiting for menopause. My Else has moments of lush harmony and oddly orchestrated progression, but this isn’t the stuff that’s going to be your next jam.
Land of Life & Times is a special record and it could be better appreciated while bedridden and hoping for sleep. It has a sedating melancholy that acts like half lullaby and half love song although far too loose and damp to pull it off. The bright quality of a ballad or the distinct punctuation of really anything exciting just isn’t there. Vocals and guitar meander in the soundscape like lost echoes attracted to lonely shadows in a park long forgotten. I couldn’t help but feel uneasy for most of this album.
“Feral” acts like a mid point light in an otherwise gloomy tunnel. This is mood music after all and I hope you find yourself in the right one to get the most out of this work but everything seems to lean on the fact that it will dictate instead of enhance what might already be a dreary state. The songs have passion and emotion just like the instrumentation is so known for, just maybe not enough lift. Not enough foundation for a release of all the pressure, all the internal conflict; instead the tracks all reach similar boundaries of breaking points and stay all too safe.
“Her Song” shows us a more vulnerable sound in the vocalist’s subtle breaking and yearning delivery. The guitars keep a pulse alive and maintain relevant chords so as to provide a soft landing for our ears when it comes to expectancy and exposure patterns. For those looking to curl up in the fetal position and enjoy a solemn late afternoon, this might be your go to.
A Social State is an alternative rock band from Scranton, Pennsylvania that just released their follow-up to their debut LP entitled How To Get To Heaven. The music they make probably isn’t anything you haven’t heard before they just do it incredibly well. They share the same space as bands like Queens Of The Stone Age, Foo Fighters and Saves The Day. Right off the bat the album has that “sound” that separates itself from a copious amount of DIY bands barking up the same tree. On further inquiry the band tapped Steven Haigler (The Pixies, Local H, Quicksand) to produce, mix and master the music.
The band has a ubiquitous appeal and will unequivocally attract a broad audience. Some self-indulgent hipsters may dismiss the music of sounding too similar to music in the mainstream but in my opinion they do a good job balancing mainstream appeal with having an underground edge. How To Get To Heaven isn’t a skimpy album at thirteen songs with no filler but it doesn’t feel arduous. The songs are ultimately pop songs that get stuck in your head and are easy on the ears. It’s the type of album you can pop in at a party and you’re set.
The album opens with “Milk,” which is the shortest song and serves as more or less as an intro. It’s a slow roasting but effective song that revolves around dripping guitar distortion and feedback. I really enjoyed what I was hearing and I was hoping for some more tunes with that kind of drone metal type vibe. The band serves up a healthy dose of energy on the next song “Side by Side.” It’s got all the elements of a “single” worthy song you might hear on FM radio. Catchy hooks, basic rock instrumentation and great production.
Fortunately the band has more versatility than distorted guitars and power chords as they display on “In Dreams.” The verse at least displays melodic guitar picking I wouldn’t have minded hearing more of throughout the album. “Unlike You” was a highlight as they implement a clash-like start and stop guitar progression while “Aging Egomaniac” talks about musicians imitating Kurt Cobain (which if you were born between 1978 and 1985 you saw a lot of).
The biggest hurdle for A Social State is that they do have a sound that is competing with thousands of other bands. They are a good band but they aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel here. This is a solid album but I wouldn’t have minded a couple of other elements that may separate them from like-minded bands. That being said as I mentioned earlier they do what they do really well so do yourself a favor and give it a spin.
If you aren’t familiar with Cyril Monnard at this point then it’s finally time to get acquainted. He plays an active role within Sinn/rd, Larkian and CYLS. Most of his music has been released on his own label DeadVox but his most recent album with CYLS entitled Z took a home with Everest Records. CYLS is a German/Swiss project consisting of Niels Hesse and Cyril Monnar and their music consists of in-depth instrumental soundscapes that spew with emotion and originality. Z is no exception as the music is on par if not exceeding their previous work.
What is organic instrumentation here and what is electronic? In the end it doesn't matter because the music in no way sounds artificial. The songs are more like organisms that evolve over time. Layers are added, taken away and at no time does it feel unnatural. Take for example the first track “Zombified,” which starts off with a haunting alien-like atmospheric that slowly builds into a chugging moving percussive heavy machine. A sporadically placed bass makes itself known as electric anomalies zing and zip across a heavy hitting drumbeat. The changes are subtle but significant and eventually start to break down to nothing more than the beat.
“Skelton” favors atmosphere instead of percussion and slowly trudges through cloudy, gas-like moods that feel alien. The feeling you get isn't one of contentment but perhaps wonder. “Undertaker” combines digital crackling elements that sound like the motherboard in a computer that has been possessed by a spirit. It forms into a unique combination of hypnotic elements that is certainly one of the most original compositions I have heard recently.
The closer “Deathsurf” contains an ample amount of energy and is indeed one of the most vibrant songs on the album. I was once again impressed by not only the beat but by how they constructed and then reconstructed it in the song.
The most impressive aspect of this record is how distinct yet connected the songs seem. It’s not like they are using the same palette of sound but they feel undeniably interlocked. Z delivers on all aspects
This has to be one of the coolest and unique albums I’ve come across in a long time, odd title aside. I say this on the basis of true musicianship and understanding of just what two guys can do with an acoustic and a little bit of percussion. The mix is poor, mic location is off, the all around recording leaves some to be desired, but I just didn’t care. It’s one of those novelty traits where the sound can’t help but feel good with a little imperfection…or a lot.
Whether the songs are gold or not, the listener is taken on a long- winded, yet short-tracked experience full of spoken words, little stories, slow burning “round the fire” songs and pagan-like hymnals that would find great homes in the forest. It’s a varied group of musical content that jumps between the reclusive stories of something out of The Waterboys meets Willie Nelson and unabashed silly wit, see titles “Fishy Wishy” and “Whoop-dee-doo.”
This group is dynamic by design with 72-year-old Dwain Story rattling off and doing his best contributions as tenor, while 32-year-old Aaron Cooper strums the guitar and most likely enjoys the show closing his eyes in simple enjoyment one minute and choking back laughter the next. At least, that was me. These singer/songwriters both find solace in their shared personal struggles.
Suffice it to say their conditions make an appearance from time to time, notably on “Talking Alcohol Blues” where Story just kicks back a slightly maniacal chuckle as the song fades. The way he enters with it right after the lyric is off-putting to say the least. And yet, don’t get lost in the woods listeners. The next track just might be your favorite. “It Was Neither” moves in medium dance tempo and plays around with a very basic application of more recent Beach Boys. You’ll be hooked once you hear “Who wrote the Iliad, who wrote the Odyssey?” Best moment of the album quite possibly. The harmonies shared in that moment are marked with just the right amount of strain and contrast thanks to the simple fact that Story’s voice is this thinning fragile descant, passionate and scratchy. Let it ease your mind in the morning hours over a cup of coffee and good whiskey.
Hailing from Toronto, Canada, Morning Fame is a four-piece band comprised of Joe Liranzo (guitar), Vik Kapur (vocals), Al Dennis (drums) and Rob Giberti (bass) that just released a four-song EP entitled Voyager. The songs are well-produced rock songs, which have a definite ‘80s vibe more than any other decade. The music could be compared to Scorpions except Morning Fame prefers less distortion on their guitars. They also prefer melodic guitar riffs that rock but at the same time I wouldn’t call this heavy or hard rock.
The first song and single from the band is called “Dreamality.” It actually starts off sounding like ambient thematic landscaping but rather quickly gets trampled by the combined force of the band rocking out. The band settles in a groove during the verse that revolves a clean picked guitar while Kapur sings. They don’t waste time and pull off a copious amount of changes before the chorus hits. Kapur sings, “catch me now, keep on falling.” The song is fluid, moves fast and is catchy. Job well done.
“Cast Away” starts with tribal like drums where Dennis sounds about as tight as a metronome. As with the first song they don’t waste much time getting to the verse and chorus. They already are at the second verse at about a minute and a half in. It was evident to me at this point the band doesn’t take kindly to filler. They appreciate a well-written pop song that isn’t self-indulgent.
There is great guitar picking on “The Golden One” that is supported by the foundational bass and drum work. The melodies from the instrumentation are attractive overall and the band does some considerable rocking that is the most intense within the last thirty seconds or so. The band closes with “The Colour Of Sound,” which follows a similar formula pattern of guitar picking during the verse and rocking out during the chorus. I have to say the vocal melodies on this song were particularly anthemic and were the most immediate and memorable. It also contains a worthy breakdown with some exceptional drumming and the last minute or so is rather epic.
Voyager has a big rock sound without sounding overproduced. These songs feel a bit displaced in terms of decade and the hipsters may have some cynicism towards it since it lacks overt artsy self indulgence. I for one enjoyed the songs Morning Fame brought on this EP and hope to hear more soon.
My Famous Mistake comes to us Minneapolis bred and born on the rock n’ roll styling of Bruce Springsteen and the aspiring American hero. The lyrics are anecdotal and tell stories set to a collection of songs that find their zenith through a mix of emotional drive and steadfast instrumentation. Monuments To Mileage prides itself on not sounding dated and instead sounding organic and more truthful in the process.
The recording process was conditioned to allow for a final sound that would be free from all the modern polish that today’s rock acts utilize. In this case, they let the quality speak for itself, raw and undisturbed. Typically, this starts the conversation about production value and I’ve seen the “raw” style go down in flames more than I will admit. Thankfully, these guys have their game cranked high enough to escape unscathed when issuing an end product that is so vulnerable and mildly edited.
It was recorded over a three-month period in weekly sessions that worked around locking in one song and completing it before moving to the next. This is unconventional method but effective especially when timeline isn’t an issue and the members involved don’t necessarily embrace musical multi-tasking. Most often, bands will be pressured to track and get done so multiple tracks are simultaneously being analyzed, revised and recorded. You can tell My Famous Mistake’s level of attention was comfortable and paced on this record, however that doesn’t guarantee a solid album, of course. It takes much more than that – do these guys stack up?
The answer is yes, mostly. “The Kids Like Us” is a great song and the strongest single-worthy cut. It feels like a memoir of the golden years this band shared on the journey of being in a band. From bumming around record stores to playing their favorite songs over the car stereo, it’s clear that the times when they weren’t playing may just as cherished if not more. The tracks that follow have their place but failed to leave a lasting impression. The structures just didn’t have the same sensory pleasure that came from the bond and brotherhood on “The Kids Like Us.” Every track is worth some time and interpretation so you be the judge and see if one of these hits you differently. That’s what’s great about music – subjection.
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