We are living in a very different world from the last decades of the 20th century. Sometimes it's hard to recognize the world we're living in, compared to the '70s, '80s and '90s. And yet, the fault lines were there, beginning to crumble as subtle societal pressures opened up into wide gaping canyons that could no longer be ignored.
This shifting landscape forms the backdrop for Mainstream Cult, from Encinitas, CA's Prisms. Mainstream Cult is an electronic pop concept album about a future society on some barren planet, trying to recover from the devastation from religious zealots. Mainstream Cult begins with "New Beginnings," all squiggling synth arpeggios and burned out bass until a throbbing beat comes on like an earthquake that will leave you shaking in your Keds. It's great dance music and the perfect opening to get you hooked and pulled into the barren desert planet of Mainstream Cult.
Guest vocalist Lark Remy brings a bit of sweet soul to "Buried City" duetting with Prisms like a drop of welcome rain on cracked nuclear soil, over blurry '80s VHS synths reinforcing the dystopian sci-fi vibes. Prisms’ voice has a raspy edge to it, teetering on the verge of stoner metal, making the end result something like Scott Wino Weinrich singing with Black Moth Super Rainbow on the rings of Jupiter.
Mainstream Cult fluctuates between the two poles of instrumental electronic ambiance and vocal synth pop creating a compelling imaginative narrative that ties the music together making Mainstream Cult more than a collection of tracks.
Prisms is clearly an ambitious man, being a radio DJ, a video editor with several IMDB credits, an audio engineer and a musician. He has recently relocated to California from Wisconsin, post-graduation. I think it's safe to say we will be hearing a lot more from Prisms!
Adam Walters (guitar), Sam Mason (guitar), Zack Reynolds (guitar), Matt Dembicky (bass) and Kenneth Wong (drums) are the members of the post-rock band Behind Blind Eyes. The band recorded their LP In the Shadow of a Tree in a dorm room and the result is quite better than one might expect. The guitars sound full while the bass has a distinct, warm sound. If there was one thing that needed some attention it was the drums. Simply said I think the snare and bass drum were too low in the mix. Even that point is arguable but I would have loved to have been able to feel the bass drum.
Up first is the “Ataraxy” which contains some staples of post-rock but also has a couple of experimental moments that were welcome surprises. The beginning of the song doesn't sound far from bands like Mogwai or Explosions In The Sky. I was happy to hear they avoided the typical cliché of going grandiose and loud during the middle of the song. Instead the band relies on guitars that follow each other and rumbling toms. The band occasionally falls out of the pocket but nothing too glaring. Towards the end they go rather epic but at least they were using flange effects, which helped it sound unique.
One of the highlights is “My Best Friend.” There is a levity in the song which is pleasant. It’s a comforting, warm vibe and right after the three-minute mark the song goes in a number of interesting directions. I loved the restraint the band displayed on this track.
“Ghost Town” is the most original sounding song of the seven and contains exceptional guitar work. The guitar picking is excellent and drives the song. As the song progresses it unfolds with seamless transitions that contains emotional weight. Take for instance the guitar work around the five-minute mark.
“In the Shadow of a Tree” is another success and is a very atmospheric song that contains a lot of reverb while “Breaking Silence” is the heaviest the band gets. Unfortunately, I could barely make out a snare drum or kick drum. The eleven-minute closer has a more standard serene, melancholy vibe but nonetheless has some beautiful moments.
Behind Blind Eyes seems consciously trying to avoid sounding like just another post-rock band, which I have to admire. I don’t think they are quite there yet but In the Shadow of a Tree builds a solid foundation.
Dry Williams is a solo project for Hazen Price. His recent release Volume One showcases a boatload of talent from the twenty-one-year old. There are only four tracks and each one bristles with a slightly different shade of style.
The EP starts with “Almonte,” which was an interesting choice as the opener because it was the most atmospheric and melancholy of the four songs. That being said the song is quite beautiful. The music is atmospheric enough to fall in line with something you might hear from Windy & Carl.
The vocals, which follow the guitar melody are the anchor that make the song work. It sounds as if the only elements in the song are guitar, vocals and the reverb and delay effects, which are used liberally but benefit the delivery. Up next is “Trawlers” which is a full, fleshed-out song that contains elements of folk and blues. I was vaguely reminded of M. Ward when it came to the vocal delivery. It’s a straightforward song without many surprises but does contain nostalgic, original lyrics. The organ was a nice touch.
“A Month in G Major” contains an exceptional vocal performance. Price really nails it and manages to have a good amount of melancholy and tender warmth in his voice. It’s emotionally resonant with great music to boot. The horns are the cherry on top that could very well make “A Month in G Major” the highlight of the EP. Last up is “Hector” which you can hear some resemblance to The Smiths and Jesus and Mary Chain. Price does another exceptional job singing and avoiding typical lyrical clichés.
Volume One is certainly enjoyable in a number of ways but it felt rather subdued. I would have liked to hear one or two more explosive moments and some of the songs felt that they could have been even more fleshed out.
At twenty-one-years old Price is just getting started. The songs on Volume One are indicative of better things to come but these four tracks certainly aren't anything to scoff at.
Joe Trickey aka Anaphora has been releasing a steady stream of music since 2013 including Simplicity and The Tide Factory, which we happened to review. His latest EP entitled Ladies and Gentlemen is his best work yet. The songs have more aesthetically pleasing elements, the production feels more refined and the hooks are catchier than they have ever been before.
You can hear what I am talking about on the title track. Trickey blends bells and soft synths as he slowly revs up the BPM. The way he transitions into the beat is smooth and feels natural. As soon as the beat gets going he tears it away in what feels like more of an introduction.
The next track “The Salmon of Doubt” is a girth-y, five-plus-minute song, which displays some of the production skills he has refined since his early recording. The song works on 4/4 timing but that's about the only thing that stays constant throughout. There are plenty of changes as Trickey trades in lead synth sounds for atmospheric pads and back again. It's a good ride that feels fun, light and danceable.
“Benidorm (feat. Connie Richards)” is arguably the highlight on the EP. The vocals from Richards are the focal point in the beginning of the song. Trickey cuts them up and slices and dices them and than strategically places them in at effective points. It sounded great but towards the middle of track Trickey moves on to different sounds. “Magician” has an 8-bit video game carnival type vibe while the closer “Waterfall Party” utilizes filters and slight distortion so the synths sit very forward in the mix.
The songs on Ladies and Gentlemen fit in well together and it seems obvious that Trickey not only has been polishing up his production skills but also has better ideas of how the songs sound in context of each other. I think it's safe to say Trickey is far from done with his musical endeavors. It’s encouraging to hear how an artist has put in the work and the results are starting to show.
BULLS is a three-piece band from Texas that has been playing music on and off for the last two decades. The band hasn’t released much music. In fact the only thing to my knowledge is their self-titled EP BULLS that features two songs and runs just six minutes in length.
The band plays raw noise rock that can draw comparisons to bands like Liars, early Sonic Youth and even a band like The Stooges. My only complaint is that there isn’t more music because the short duration left me hungry for more.
The first track “DIV” features a swampy bass lines and exceptionally creative drumming. Ominous guitar picking enters the mix and the vocalist sings, “I don’t care where you live.” The guitars become abrasive and jagged but in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. As the song progresses the energy is frantic and brims with spontaneity. The band is way too sharp to be considered sloppy but it seems obvious that the band is just playing off each other rather than a metronome.
The first song “DIV” was good but “PISS” was great. There are certainly some similarities to Sonic Youth during their Daydream Nation phase. The beginning is a dynamic wave of white noise that is propelled by the drumming. There are a good amount of changes throughout the song as the band explores dissonance and harmony. The song goes by quickly but there is a good amount of mayhem that the band is able to pull off quite effectively.
All the cogs in this machine fit. The vocalist’s delivery, which feels like it was done in one take is a key element to making their music work. It’s just the opposite of the vocals you hear on mainstream radio, which are pristine and perfectly produced. For me the former feels infinitely more heartfelt and authentic.
The only thing I ask of the band is to get back in the studio. Two songs simply isn’t enough music of this caliber.
Become A Fan
Skyline Sounds is a four-piece indie rock/pop act from Madison, Wisconsin that recently released Color. Color is a straightforward album that contains twelve songs that have similarities to ‘90s rock demi-gods like Sleater-Kinney, Yo La Tengo and even The Pixies. If you can’t get enough of the aforementioned bands this album should be right up your alley.
I’ll say that Color is an album that sounds great and contains the aesthetic qualities fans of indie rock usually look for. The production isn’t super glossy like that of a mainstream hit but also feels worlds away from someone setting up a bunch of mics and hitting record on their laptop. It sounds like the band is playing live in a room together and was recorded as if the people behind the board knew what they were doing.
The band keeps it rather limited regarding the texture, tone and effects throughout the album. It seems as if they settled on a palette of sounds, which contributed to the cohesiveness of the album. Upon first listen the songs run into each other but with repeated spins the subtleties and nuances start to release themselves. The band starts off with “Winter Song” which was a solid choice for an opener that immediately jumps out of the gate. It’s catchy and full of plenty of great riffs and infectious vocal melodies.
The next two tracks “I'd Like To Say I Miss You” and “Falling Short” establish that the band doesn’t just open strong. “Transplanting” felt like a highlight out of a batch of good songs. The melancholy beginning is exceptional and lyrics such as, “Sometimes I dream of transplanting your heart into me” is memorable.
“The Car” is a slight deviation only because it introduces other elements like electronic percussion and synths while “We Burst Like Balloons” feels like a completely different kind of energy than the previous songs. The band is at their most ambitious and melodic on the closer “Stay Sharp.” It contains one of the best vocal performances.
Color takes a little time to seep but it’s well worth the effort. The album is more than just a tip of the hat to ‘90s indie rock. Highly recommended.
Become A Fan
The six-piece band The Pirate Party Brigade comprised of Adam Montgomery (vocals), Tom Drysdale (guitar), Matt Powell (guitar), Phillippe Jackson (bass), Luc Pallot (trombone) and Josh Gillard (drums) has a name that is indicative of the kind of music they play. Their unique blend of ska, rock and gypsy folk is borderline perfect party music you want to hear in a live environment. I would argue that the music that The Pirate Party Brigade make beats the pants off the majority of EDM when to comes to getting people to lose their inhibitions and dance in a way they would never want to see played back on someone’s iPhone.
Their recent release Filthy Bilge while probably not as cool as having the band in your living room does an excellent job bringing the energy to you anytime you want it. The album from a production and aesthetic perspective is exceptional. It’s obvious within the first minute whoever was behind the board knew what they were doing and probably had quality gear reserved for those who are serious about engineering.
I have to admit a lot of ska sounds similar between the predictable horns and upward strummed guitar chords. The Pirate Party Brigade while having elements of ska certainly know how to keep things fresh by changing things up quite often. The songs do work together but consistently make slight deviations such as the more rock sounding tune to some that have a Persian flare. There were a number of times I was reminded of The Dropkick Murphys, which was fine by me.
Up first is “So Beige” which contains heavy distorted guitars and is reminiscent of early ‘90s punk acts like Rancid and even NOFX to some extent. The song has an ample amount of energy as it ascends with guitar notes and flourishing horns. “Working For Your Greed” is a fast paced song that is grounded in rock. It has some attitude yet still contains plenty of levity somehow.
Lyrically, the songs follow loose narratives but also contain ambiguity. The words avoid tropes and it seemed obvious to me that there was thought behind what was being said. While we are talking about lyrics one of the most infectious vocal melodies belongs to “Before The Crows.” The band closes with “Winning” which starts off a bit more reverently but eventually turns into a party.
Filthy Bilge is a great album all around. None of the songs feel like fillers and the energy this band has is contagious. Recommended.
Believe it or not according to The Bayonettes the band member’s Emmalee Johnson-Kao (bassist/vocalist) and Jasmine Stade (guitarist/vocalist) first informal introduction happened in kindergarten. When the pair wasn’t busy putting glitter on uncooked macaroni and combing each other's hair they were apparently figuring out how to create the dopest rock band on the planet.
This was all back in 2002. A mere twelve years later they decided to bring on Dylan Hadley (drums) and started rocking out local cafes and battle of the band competitions which sent a majority of the testosterone-fueled bands back to the drawing board. Recently, the trio dropped Peaches and let me tell you these young ladies bring the goods.
Peaches is an indie/pop album that meets the criteria for what most people look for in the genre. First of the songs are just well written. They are catchy with plenty of hooks. The trio shows their creativity as well as technical skills throughout the duration on the album.
Then there are the vocal performances, which ultimately carry these songs. Finally, this album doesn’t drag and never overstays its welcome. At ten songs with most of them between two to four minutes the album feels like the perfect length and ends before you might need a breather.
The album kicks things off with an off kilter intro entitled “Peach Supreme A.” It revolves around army-like snare rolls and vocal harmonies. The under a minute intro goes into “Deathbead” which is a fleshed out rock/pop song. “This Morning” showcases a more melancholy side of the band. It sounds good. I was hearing shades of bands like The Pixies and PJ Harvey on “This Morning” and “Oedipus.”
Did I mention these lyrics shimmer with poetic ingenuity. “Embyro” is wrapped in themes of discovery. The vocalist sings, “Ember between my fingertips / Burns so sweet, and so deadly / Always I wanted to be special / And since I was an embryo, got to go away from home.”
Peaches feels like an honest, heartfelt yet not too serious album that is easy to embrace. Good job, ladies.
Become A Fan
For most of us we go through our days hoping to have even half a glimpse of something pure even if we don’t always realize it. We try to connect but sometimes we are confronted with the advertisement of a company's product, the impotent words of a self-professed guru or small talk between co-workers we have nothing in common with. We can go through our day and all the artificial flavor we have to endure can leave one feeling empty.
This is where art comes in. It’s there to fill that void. It’s there to show that something pure can exist. And when it comes down to it music is an art form that has resonated with human beings for centuries and served that purpose. Certain music from artists such as Sigur Ros, Star of the Lid and composer Max Richter contains ethereal, plenary qualities that seem to reflect the truth we seek with sound. Lauren King is an artist from Wellington, New Zealand whose music contains those same qualities.
Her first solo album Inscape is a melancholy, reflective, tranquil and nostalgic album that relies on orchestral strings, white noise, soft atmospheric pads, oscillating synths and much more to create soundscapes. The titles of the songs and the album cover reflect the sentiment of the music. I think that most people will at the very least appreciate this exceptional album. That being said it’s safe to say if the first track doesn't have an effect you I doubt the rest of the album will.
Inscape is broken down into nine songs which transition seamlessly from beginning to end. Up first is the title track, which fades in with sustained sound of orchestral strings. It could easily be used as the music during an epic battle in a movie. The song has a forward moving momentum that is wrapped in both melancholy and hope.
“Introspection” feels like you are underwater and you mind is recalling memories from when you were a kid. The song actually contains faint field recordings of what sounds like toddlers. “Daylight” utilizes a backward sound effect but then transitions into the clarity and refinements of orchestral strings. As the album progressed the two tracks that stuck out to me were “Philosophy” and the closer “Reflect.”
Truth be told Inscape may not be everyone's cup of tea but for me it was an exceptional album. The songs can instill a sense of wonder and serenity that unlock the purity we seek.
Don't Let Me Die At Coco's is the kind of record that makes an album reviewer simultaneously rejoice and throw themselves into a grizzly bear's den. In a world where there's entirely too much to do, when we have to work three full-time jobs just to keep up with the rising tide of living expenses, slim four-track EPs are preferable, as you can listen to three of them in an hour and write five reviews in a day.
That's not why I'm in this biz, however. I certainly wouldn't have wasted $20,000 listening to and learning to write about all manner of music if I weren't into it. This is a labor of love for all of us. Lord knows the musicians aren't getting paid either.
Don't Let Me Die At Coco's flies in the face of easily digestible corporate PR formulas - "If you like this, then this...," by incorporating a procession of patron saints of Avant-Rock. Stoney Spring cites Captain Beefheart, Zuma-era Neil Young and even Daniel Johnston as influences, along with modern weirdos like The Mountain Goats and Father John Misty. If you were to add in the haunted junkyard mutant Afro-Caribbean blues of Tom Waits and a bit of Charles Ives' abrasive, conceptual humor, you'd be in the ballpark.
Don't Let Me Die At Coco's was created with a battalion of open-tuned guitars, marimba, even a bit of trombone, while the lyrics cover bizarre topics such as a deaf football player getting his hearing back after suffering a head injury, atheism, finding love in a post-nuclear dystopia and having a meltdown at a chain restaurant in Reno. Whew. It's a lot to even type into a sentence, let alone take in over the course of a pop record.
Pop this is not, however. Stoney Spring rarely succumbs to the Beatles-tested verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus-out formula, instead following its own dream logic. Verses come and go at their own discretion, following their own inner tides and demented whims. It's what it might sound like if Wassily Kandisnky were to write the chord charts for Elvis fronting The Leningrad Cowboys on a set of covers by Woody Guthrie, Sun Ra and The Cramps.
While it can be daunting at first, especially considering Stoney Spring's slightly off-kilter baritone vocals, Don't Let Me Die At Coco's ends up coming across like some weird and wonderful experimental novel with a wide cast of social deviants and derelict geniuses. If Captain Beefheart (RIP) were to pen a song cycle around a collection of Bizarro short fiction, Don't Let Me Die At Coco's is what it might sound like.
I hope this is a sign that music is getting more conceptual, confusing and interesting. It's the end of the year; you can't blame a guy for feeling optimistic.
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