Shut the front door, Swatches is a Chicago band?! I am all in! Can we talk about their latest album name Youth Can If Youth Wanna, love it, need the shirt. Right off the bat I have got some bad news for these guys, I am DETERMINED to see them live and since they're in my neck of the woods they will at some point be the victims of my presence, but I'm sure it will be a hell of a show. I feel like this band has crafted a sort of alt-jam experience. There's hints of math rock and pure indie/alt blood running through these songs but there's also just so much sweet guitar and key jam action I wanna spread it on my toast.
The album is comprised of songs that were written at the end of summer. That vibe that everyone can feel creeping up on them once a year. Especially here in Chicago as our summer is incredible, but also very brief. That brisk autumn breeze creeps in and the beach parties die down. It's a very specific vibe and I think it was captured very well in these four songs.
The opening track is "Summer Songs" and it wooed me immediately. The gentle intro explodes into an alt rock celebration of bright energy. The song ebbs and flows, slowing down at points and then picking back up. The quirky key work makes this song a solid jam. The lyrics are sweet and romantic and even a little bit nostalgic.
Next up is "Pastel Pink" which mellows out. It is one of those songs that lets you nod your head in constant approval of all the sweet action filling up your ears. Again very romantic with the lyrics and also very innocent and blunt. There's also some good flexing of the vocal muscles, vocalist and guitarist Gavin Schultz has got some range. I dig those high notes. The third track brings a little Chicago flavor with "Red Line" which happens to be my CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) train line, so I might be a little biased here when I say this song is great. It captures the unique urban rhythm Chicago possesses. There's quick movement but also a little time left to smell the roses, or Vienna beef sausages, whatever floats your boat.
The final track is "Youth Can If Youth Wanna." This song is a good cake topper. It incorporates everything they bring to the table in the first three tracks and more. This one is a little more mature lyrically. The rose tinted glasses are gone and now they're keeping it very present. I like this mood evolution and it gives this album an easily digestible amount of depth.
From top to bottom this album was a winner for me. It's a flavor packed little jar of jam I can't resist. I think this group has a sound that can be massively appealing. They bring a healthy burst of sunshine into the grey and muddled world of indie/alt rock, and I think that's pretty damn legit.
The DiTrani brothers, Bobby and Walker began writing songs together a few years back while living in Seattle. Soon after they pulled up stakes and began traveling the country, much like a pair of minstrels, playing for passersby on the streets of cities across America both large and small. They eventually wound up in Vermont for a few years and then made their way back to Washington where they took up with the singer/songwriter and washtub bassist Anastasia Hubanks. On a trip back to Vermont they befriended percussionist Eddie Gaudet and soon after recorded their eponymous debut.
Their latest album together under the name DiTrani Brothers and the Hammer of Spring is called Broken Lands, and as its title suggests it is about the brokenness of so much of our society these days. It is a very personal record which isn’t afraid to take on the tough themes of death, the downtrodden and just the overall state of being a person in America today who is often left scratching their head on a daily basis as they keep up with the news.
The music on Broken Lands however is spry and old worldly folk and jazz that incorporates instruments that one doesn’t necessarily hear too much out of contemporary bands that exist outside of certain smaller musical circles, with the exception of the indie folk stalwart Zack Condon’s Beirut project and the early work of Andrew Bird with his Bowl of Fire and Squirrel Nut Zippers attaché.
This sort of scat gypsy jazz is found on the lively opener “Discarded Names.” Though the song itself deals with the corrupt prison system it is a lively well wielded classic. Next comes accordion and singing saw playing on the story song “Perry and the Dove” which reminded me of some of the early work of the Decemberists.
Later on they take this style even further on the record’s standout track “Early Broken Song” which blends heavy accordion with some staccato percussion as it ambles on for six minutes telling its story. It’s a powerful and moving piece of music one won’t soon forget. Another simpler fixture in the oeuvre but also very catchy is the snappy ragtime feel of “Paper Crowns” as is the equally snappy fixture “Swansong.”
DiTrani Brothers and the Hammer of Spring has done a very good job of not trying to over stylize their specific brand of folk and jazz on Broken Lands. They keep focused and let the music and the lyrics speak for themselves. They are also a wonderfully gifted group of musicians who play instruments that seem to be relics of bygone era, however this record is proof that those old instruments still sound as good today as they did all those years ago.
Zach Pliska started his latest project VAZUM roughly a year ago. He had previously been behind the kit playing drums for a number of different Detroit bands. With VAZUM however Pilska is the main singer, songwriter and guitarist. His influences are the early ‘90s work of Bob Mould’s act Sugar and some hints of Michael Stipe in the vocal department. On his latest record Void he is joined by Michael O'Connor on bass and Zachary Anderson on guitar.
Right off the bat one realizes this is going to be a heavy rock record and no doubt about it. The opening song “Wait” is thick and sludgy bass and guitars and some pretty stylized and rocking drum fills. There is a bit of grunge element hiding in the background too, and it reminded me of some of the stuff that Dinosaur Jr. was doing back then too.
Next comes the hard rocking friend, with its heavy rock riffs that kind of reminded me a little bit of Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream. There is some of this same sonicness in the guitar heavy rock riffs of “Leech.” The band trades down on the super hard rock for the closest thing to a ballad on this record with the buzzing guitars on “Joys of Spring.”
The straightforward guitar rock starts to weary a little near the end of Void with the song “Stand” just not really bringing the same energy as its guitar rock driven predecessors. It’s a bit of a flimsy song, kind of just crumbles down with a solo near the end and then just sputters out. However the closer “Silo” packs a wallop of sound spacey sounding noise-rock guitars that are reminiscent of early Interpol records which I really liked.
On the whole VAZUM’s Void seems a bit more of an ode to Pilska’s guitar heroes more than anything else. The instrumentation and production is pretty good however it just really lacks any sort of originality. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bob Mould et al but if I want to listen Sugar I’ll listen to Sugar. That being said there is plenty here to appreciate.
Canadian Britpop band Road of Trees consists of only two members. Yet the team of Michael Millerman and Alex White are such well equipped musicians that their dynamic sound infuses indie rock, dreampop and shoegaze. Road of Trees’ first release The Hamilton Sessions, features three songs - “Again Now,” “Angel” and “Faith.”
Groups such as Oasis and the Verve heavily influenced the Canadian duo of Michael Millerman and Alex White in their early years and it shows. “Again Now” is the best example. Millerman and White’s echoing voices hypnotize you while you float on a reverberating sea of organ and guitar. However the following two tracks sound more similar to something you would hear from inside a church. The slow, drawn out vibe on “Angel” makes you want to close your eyes, and sway back and forth while the Holy Spirit consumes you.
“Faith” even more so resembles a Christian rock song. The feel good sound is cheery and makes you want to weather through the storm. Look we all lose our way sometimes. I appreciate that this song is trying to be inspirational. It’s not bad nor does it come off as overly preachy. Maybe I’m a bitter person who’s still trying to find his way. “Faith” does however become a little cheesy almost immediately with lyrics like “Faith! I got faith and its golden. / It’s taking me where I want to be. / Lord if you knew where I been taking, would you come back to me?”
With The Hamilton Sessions only being three songs, it is an extremely short album. “Again Now” is the break out hit. The duo channeled their inner Liam Gallagher, providing a song you can just drift along to. But having one song called “Angel” and the other being “Faith” makes the religious undertones completely take over making the album feel more limited. In any case this is an album worth taking a listen to.
The New American Good Time Boys is a cosmic Americana band from Waltham, MA. Their folky, rock n’ roll sounds have a modern but classic feel. Over the summer of 2017 they went from playing open mics to playing venues such as the Hard Rock Café and the Middle East in Boston. This past summer they worked to provide a fun, easy going, but still hard rocking album Drunk By Noon.
Acoustic guitars strums and old timey piano welcome you on “Coffee & Cream.” While instrumentals are pleasant, the lyrics reflect the scary reality that becoming an adult arrives faster than one expects. The coming of age tale when a person must carry themselves like an adult but how can they if we’re still figuring life out. “It’s Captain Crunch and waking up noon. Well I was up so late I watch the sun chase the moon away. Well for what its worth, I’m still drunk.” Bottom line is you’re never ready to grow up but we all have to live with our decisions.
“New York City” is a folky tune. It has a vibrant tempo similar to the track “Coffee and Cream.” If “Coffee and Cream” is about decisions, “Fun With You” is remembering the memories made with your lover. The joyous upbeat tempo makes for an innocent song about young love. Then in the middle of song it breaks out into a good old hootenanny. From gentle kindness the words turn talking about sex and drug experiences shared with your sweetheart in an almost hilarious fashion. It’s sweet, sentimental and vulgar all at the same time. Dirty sentences never come off as overly filthy. It is how people actually talk.
The New American Good Time Boys show off more of their rocker side on “Palm Springs” and “No Money.” The “Palm Springs” sound is like taking acid in the Nevada dessert during the ‘70s with castanets drawing you to run towards the sun. “No Money” is more of a ’50s surfer jam. The change is welcome and allows the band to showcase their range.
Drunk By Noon is a heart-felt album. It’s a slice of Americana that everyone can appreciate. “Coffee and Cream” and “Fun With You” are easily worth listening to even if you are not into grassroots. Followed by the acid rock tracks “Palm Springs” and “No Money” add to the album’s variety. Even though their name is long the band shows why they earn the title The New American Good Time Boys.
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Every week we mention a couple of artists that are worth your time to check out that were not featured in our weekly reviews.
Artist Album Rating
Tristan Puig I Can't Believe
They Invented It! 3.8
The Belladonnas The Belladonnas 3.8
Connor Zee Bedroom Tapes 3.7
James Joseph A Song for All
Modulo Zero Undefined 3.9
Team Mammal Team Mammal 3.9
Cloudgazer aka Sam Ruff recently released a five song self-titled EP Cloudgazer. It’s a psychedelic, heavy rock EP which is comparably to a band like Tame Impala. That being said the EP had more of a bedroom DIY quality to it, maybe a little more on par with a band like Youth Lagoon.
The EP gets going with “Spore” which actually reminded me of the beginning of a song by The Who. There is that sort of classic one chord of distortion followed by a Keith Moon type fill. The song is more like an intro which sets the tone.
“Willow Child” is the first track that we get to hear some vocals on. It’s a pretty catchy track from beginning to end with the instrumental aspects being the focal point of the song. There are some great transitions especially around the two-minute mark which has an atmospheric ’70s vibe.
“Technicolor Yawn” has a great groove. It’s on the verge of feeling disoriented. I’d say be careful if you had a little too much to smoke or drink. The chorus is solid even though I couldn’t understand a single word of what was being said. I also thought the crescendos and dynamics of the song were well done.
Next up is “Melt Into Me” which is a good one. I was most impressed by the fact that part of the song he gets to sound like it’s melting. The rocking out is solid as well. “Odyssey” is the seven- plus-minute epic that was the highlight and most unique sounding. I felt like Cloudgazer was tapping more into his sound. The use of samples works out pretty well and adds to the psychedelic feel of the music. Towards the end of the song I was reminded somewhat of Thundercat and a free jazz exploration of sounds.
Ruff needs to be aware of sounding too much like Tame Impala. There are some melodies, textures and more that sounded very similar to the band. Other than that I think the mixing could use some sharpening up as well on his next effort especially getting more clarity from the drums and vocals.
Overall, this is a sold first effort. I’m looking forward to hearing more from him.
Kyler Walker is a twenty-one-year old musician who recently released his first album entitled New Heights. He has made some improvements to his sound. The delivery is sharper and the songwriting feels more refined.
He opens up with “Shelter.” The song revolves around acoustic guitar, drums, bass and vocals. It’s a pretty simple setup and the song itself felt simple consisting of major and minor chords, a 4/4 beat and no surprises.
“3 AM” was a highlight. It’s a reflective song and Walker sounds good with some melancholy on his voice. In the song he questions what direction to go on with his life. Should he go with his passion or just live a mundane life? He sings, “three am and I am still wide awake wondering how much more of this I can take / Maybe I just should work nine to five. I’ll still be breathing but won’t feel alive.”
The beat and melody gets a little more chipper with “Words Aren't Enough” although the lyrics aren’t exactly that chipper. “This Isn't Me” does some substantial rocking while “Strangers” contains a catchy melody and impressive drum pattern.
“Find My Way” shows his best guitar playing. The guitar is the focal point with his vocals being very subdued in the mix. “Cage” and “New Heights” have their moments as well.
Walker utilizes unambiguous language and basic musical understanding to craft sing along worthy songs. It’s not exactly going to blow your socks off if you are looking for technical mastery but if you want a simple melody to hum along with you should appreciate this.
Break out the beer and grab a friend or someone you just met at the bar; we're diving into Tall Tales, a new album from Invasive Species. The album is a massive folk influenced undertaking that involves ballads, drinking songs and some good 'ole fashioned rock songs. A lot of going back and forth between traditional and modern mediums, it's a full bodied experience with a healthy fourteen tracks to journey through.
There's a lot of moving pieces that put Invasive Species together. To start, it's an international affair. You've got English, American and Scottish players on the team. You've also got a lot of instruments. In certain songs the fiddle and flute really work overtime to give you that traditional sound. There's also organ alongside your more traditional drums, bass and guitar. As far as vocals are concerned, fun fact, everyone in the group takes a turn. This was a great way to add some diversity. One that stuck out as a favorite musically for me was "Di & Stu." I think this was one of the best blends of the modern and old fashioned elements. My absolute favorite musically was what came next which was "Mischief." This is a cool tune. It's got all those folk elements and then slaps a little jazz in there. Also the drums really go for a walk on this one and I loved it.
There is so much in this album that I actually feel like there are three different albums living and breathing in here and I wouldn't mind hearing each one fully developed. There's the homage to the songs of old which this group has definitely mastered. There's this cool folk/alt rock sound that with a little more polish could be a very cool, unique sound. Then there is the experimental instrumental album that sounds like folk shoegaze and it might be the one I want to hear the most. There are some incredibly cool ideas swirling around in these interesting instrumental tracks of theirs.
One thing I wish for this band with future albums is a tweak in the production process. This was a home production process and it could not have been easy given all those moving pieces involved. Music like this doesn't need a heavy handed touch but with just some slight changes in mixing I think this album could have been on another level. I don't think I could ever picture these guys in a studio and nor do they have to be to get the production where it needs to be. DIY recording is our bread and butter here at Divide & Conquer and we always appreciate and commend people who go for it.
Tall Tales is a great album for anyone who pines for a little old time flavor in a new time package. I think there are lots of people who will appreciate the originality and down to earth flare.
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Bye Bye Banshee is a new side project by Minneapolis songwriter Jezebel Jones, She recently released Deathfolk Magic which is a four-song EP that explores dark dreams, magic, skulls and much more. The music is jazzy, dark, mystical and I thought it would work perfectly in the first season of True Detective. It’s also quite eclectic.
Up first is “If I Die in My Dreams” which is a slow moving avant garde jazz piece. It’s a haunting track with a walking bass line, eerie organ and slowly picked guitar. That being said the vocals are the star of the show. Jones is dynamic, sleek and mysterious when she sings. Her inflection fits the music perfectly.
“Bye Bye Banshee” seems like a perfect follow up. The song is ambient, haunting and beautiful. I found the loose percussion, subtle guitar and warm strings hypnotic. The vocals come and go as they please and are in no rush.
“Psychopomps” is another slow burn similar to “Bye Bye Banshee.” The song is so haunting I can’t emphasize it enough. You can practically see tree branches moving against a grey sky. Jones sings, “old souls / surround me / carry me down / down the dustiest trail.” The vocal harmonies toward the end of the track are sweet candy to your ear.
The highlight was arguably “Skull Rattles.” It’s certainly the most upbeat and catchy in its own unique, haunting way. You might even say it’s the most single worthy song in the batch.
Overall, the four song are very unique onto themselves yet build a similar framework which makes them work together. This is one of the more original releases I have heard this year. Take a listen.
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