Matthew Iris is a Chicago based artist, originally from Myrtle Beach, SC who recently released a six song self-titled EP Matthew Iris. The artist explains this is more or less a concept album with a narrative. “It deals with a main character realizing that the love of his life simply isn't right for him. And as he has this epiphany he goes through the 5 stages of grief.”
The music felt goth heavy to me in line with groups like The Cure and Joy Division. Up first is “Tattoo of You'' which is one of the catchier songs on the EP and my personal favorite. There’s a mix of synths, strummed guitar, a little bit of lead guitar and drums. The chorus is memorable, infectious and sort of playful yet dark at the same time which is very much like The Cure to me. Great start!
Up next is “Ludovico” which is a solid song as well. The instrumentation and color is similar to the first song. There are dark sounding synth pads that combine with cleaner guitar. Iris pulls off the falsetto. He sings “I want you / I want you / I want so badly”.
“After hours in the Afterlife” is a little more ballad-esque. The vocals are again the focal point and provide the melodies that will make you come back again. This is a little more Joy Division-esque in tone. The declaration that he is “not the one” is delivered with a sort of confidence that this might be a good thing for him and implies that he wants to move on.
“Semi-Unscathed’ is actually even more Joy Division-esque. The bass melody, the drums and even the vocals have more of a monotone type quality similar to the way Ian Curtis would sing.
“Old Love Matinee” is a solid song but the song “Final Chapter” is a another highlight. The song starts with organ and vocals. There’s some bass and the song does build like a slow burn. The vocals are very strong and the song felt a closer.
The EP is on the lo-fi side. I wanted a little more fidelity at points. For example, the vocals, while delivered well, could have been treated differently in the mix which could have benefited the dynamics and warmth.
Overall, this is a very solid release. I thought the songwriting was top notch and does a good job exploring the darker shades of post-punk. The songs are cohesive and fans of the aforementioned should enjoy this. Take a listen.
Morningbird is a recording and performing duo based in Barcelona, Spain that have just released their debut album The Weight of the World. Sandra Bossy-Retti is the lead singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist; Richard Hayden is the guitarist and co-lyricist. Previously they released an EP titled The Spring and gigged all over Spain, France and the UK with plans for another tour to promote this release. The band says this album “does not sound like anything out there,” and though that’s mostly true, I found traces of Kate Bush, Gong, Renaissance and even Melanie within their sound. One listener called it “folk noir” but other clear influences are jazz and electronica with lyrics that “seek out the beauty and glory that lies beneath our relationships with each other and society.”
The band states that though the songwriting process was “as varied as you can imagine,” most composing was done with a guitar, followed by a lot of demo recording, live run-throughs, refining, etc. Recording took place in a small studio using Cubase in Igualada, Catalonia, Spain. Mastering was performed on tape by Graeme Durham at The Exchange Studios in London. The songs are so consistent that it will be hard to describe them all, but here are my standouts.
The title song “The Weight of the World” jumps right into what the band calls an “art-rock-influenced track” with jazzy tempo changes. Bossy-Retti’s voice slowly floats in a cloud, finally kicking into the lyrics as the music takes on a sudden King Crimson-like detour. The recording quality is a bit cloudy but I love what’s going on. For this track she is joined by Victor Nic on electric guitar, Nico Roig on synth and Roberto Castillo on drums (the latter two players also appear on most of the other songs).
“Sunflowering” is built around Bossy-Retti’s vocal overdubs, which have a mysterious but lovely Kate Bush quality, and an almost Celtic lilt. The acoustic guitars and ukulele have a gentle, early Genesis sound. Juan Berbin provides the roiling drums. “For The Morning” continues this same template, though with more muted and varied percussion. Xavi Lloses provides orchestral-sounding synth.
With “Went Solo” the Morningbird style has pretty much locked in: gentle but surprisingly complex acoustic guitar arrangements, tasteful synth or electric guitar, and restrained percussion atop which Bossy-Retti sings her lyrics and poems; she rarely follows the backgrounds exactly but provides a constant, beautiful tapestry of counterpoint. “Raven’s Wing” is a collaboration between Bossy-Retti (vocals and guitars) and Nico Roig (guitar and synth). This one comes within hailing distance of pop, but only if Burt Bacharach were a classical composer.
“The Caller” especially reminded me of Kate Bush, partly because it’s a vocal collaboration with co-lyricist Richard Hayden in his first (and only?) appearance on the album, so that Bossy Retti’s vocal mannerisms have a deeper male voice to contrast with and bounce off. The music and arrangements are also “Bush League.” The next track “20 Years” begins with an arresting solo acoustic picking scheme, leading into a compelling mediation on relationships. “Love is hard, like a rock you must shatter / It’s not me, it’s not you / It’s not the sex, it’s not the money / It’s not the kids, it’s not the worry… like a rock, you must shatter.”
“Cars & Trains” is noted as a song that’s been redone from the Spring EP: “It retains the lyrics but has undergone a radical musical metamorphosis, enhancing it with a more complex and sophisticated musical structure.” Indeed, the original version feels like a Celtic tune with a more upbeat, hopeful sound despite the sad lyrics: “I have strayed so very far / been gone from your door / nor wings of birds / nor your sweet song / will ever bring me home.” The band feels the new version is closer to electronica, and it’s certainly different and more experimental. Nico Roig provides the analogue-sounding synths. “Winter Dance” ends the collection with a “dream-like vibe” using bleeping synths and reverb guitars to create an immersive, comforting bed for the lyrics. Bossy-Retti’s vocals distantly recall the melody from the show tune “Bali Hai” though I’m sure that was coincidental.
This isn’t an album that you’re going to “pick up” on first blush, but its many wonders do reveal themselves with careful listening. It also wins big points from me for its thematic consistency, which is a hallmark of all my favorite albums. Well worth a listen!
Right after releasing their self-titled debut in 2017, Little Rock, AR’s Recognizer immediately went back to the studio to begin working on their follow-up release. Their newest album This Conversation Is Echolocation sees Mike Mullins (guitar/vocals), Michael Mullens (bass) and Steve Cook (drums) coming together once again to drill into this recording their hard-hitting rock-based sounds. Those who have an ear for math-rock and psychedelic prog rock will find Recognizer’s sound just what they are looking for. With a whole lot to take in, let’s get going.
This Conversation Is Echolocation starts off with “The Panic,” where some synths greet the intro of this track. Slowly some guitar riffs make themselves known jutting in and out of this recording. The sound takes its time in evolving. A slow grooving rock-based sound soon arrives. Once the vocals hit, the band ramps up a happening indie rock and alternative flavor. The guitars were radioactive, a nice blend of hard-hitting and psychedelia. The song immediately segues to “Locus of Control,” making for a seamless transition. Immediately the reverberating guitar riffs are interchanged with a dynamic drumming beat that right away fills in the sounds. Next, more guitars make for a hard-hitting arrival as Mullins’ dynamic vocals come in for some great energy. More guitars arrive on the start of “The Takedown.” As drums set up the beat on the backdrop, Mullins’ vocals which are shouted out enthusiastically embrace an energized and driven sound. The band shows no holding back as they hit it with a hard and aggressive sound. This proved to be a highlight.
Synths join in on the synergy as guitar riffs loudly add its powerful range on “Move.” The energy turns more slow burning once Mullins’ vocals enter. This track had a more sauntering groove as slowly each instrumental came together. Guitars and synths made for an atmospheric sound towards the start of “Bite The Bullet.” Next, the sounds become more full-blown with a full band backing. The music is immediate and in-your-face. More radioactive guitar riffs sound out for a pulverizing start on “Cave-in.” Once Mullins’ shouted-out vocals enter, it certainly adds to the momentum of the music.
On “The Emperor’s New Mind,” some bass lines come in for a rhythmic pulse. Soon synths come through for a moody feel to the music. The sauntering groove continues to stay consistent as the sound of guitars arrive. What sounds like a newsreel is juxtaposed alongside the music. The band shows their range with this meandering instrumental. On “Fuse, Meet Match!” after some static the band gets right to it. The instrumentals crescendos for an energized prog-rock sound. It sounded a lot like arena rock bands from the ‘80s. The band employs a heavier rock vibe here that balances hard rock with classic rock notes. Some sparse guitars sound out on “Wait, Son.” The minimalistic approach to this track pointed to a new direction for the band. Synths in the backdrop give off an atmospheric sound as the guitar riffs continue on. Next, the band returns with a heavily syncopated beat and guitars. The groove here felt more like a slow burn as the band takes their time in setting up the sound. The band bids good-bye with this slow burning closer.
I thought the band had a great melodic pop rock sound with hints of math-rock and psychedelia in the guitar riffs. They sounded a lot like bands like Muse and Minus the Bear but with a heavier vibe that I thought a lot of fans of the aforementioned genres would grow to appreciate. I think the band does indeed further the sound they were going for and offer in their own take of different rock styles an original sound. This looks like only the beginning for the band and I look forward to any new updates down the road.
Brooklyn-based Arlen Hart Ginsburg has just released his first album as a solo artist, titled Radian (“a brief look into the infinite story of New York City”). Ginsburg has performed internationally with jazz ensembles and hip hop groups, and his last decade was spent touring with Lady Moon & The Eclipse as well as composing for film, theater, dance and podcast.
Ginsburg describes his music as “underwater, groovy, wavy, day glow.” His Bandcamp page also lists “chill and meditative.” Ginsburg explains: “The sounds of New York City are a constant and significant presence; the machines, the people, the animals. The cacophony is inescapable and inspired me to create music that soothes the tension, embraces it and can feel like jumping into it!” Instrumentally these songs have a range of audio palettes featuring pianos, synths, mbira, strings and drums. Recording took place in Ginsburg’s Brooklyn apartment using Logic. Mixing was by Matt Shane and mastering by Alex DeTurk at Bunker Studios in Brooklyn.
“Thawing” is based on a gentle percussive shuffle, in a time signature I can’t quite ascertain. It’s filled with somewhat mysterioso keyboards, and feedback is even used as an instrument. It’s the longest cut here and takes its time exploring opaque variations in tone and mood. “Underwater Robots” features a great stutter-y beat like a remote submersible machine doing its work and then slowly dying down. I can easily imagine this is the kind of music Ginsburg composes for films.
“Making Lights” has circular rhythms that suggest an android’s dance floor, somewhat in the Kraftwerk vein. It’s mostly percussive dance music with simple melodies and a slow build. “Ordinary Confusion” continues the previous drum template but with slightly dissonant or “confusing” keyboard parts with a classical solo piano break toward the end. “A Bath” features cheeky bass lines and jazzy keys, laying a background for bursts of hiss (or bathtub steam?) as the second lead instrument!
“Horizontal Thunder” begins with tinkling percussion and metallic, retro synth patches before settling into an Asian-influenced piano and bass riff. “Missing The Sunset” suggests distant explosions which then kicks into a triple time beat like a victorious army marching home with appropriately glorious banks of keys.
Though some of this album leans a bit “virtual” for my personal taste, overall I loved Ginsburg’s sounds and melodies and look forward to more in the future.
Sam’s Play is a solo artist currently located in New York. Prior to working on his release Trailer Grapes he played lead guitar in a number of bands in Rhode Island. The artist mentions: “Inspired by acts such as Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Songs; Ohia, Tom Waits and many others.” I’m also a big fan of those artists and just based on that information I was guessing this was going to be a dark and melancholy experience.
The EP starts with “Castle Walls” and you are greeted with a soulful bluesy sound. I loved the guitar melodies especially how two different guitar parts sounded together. The vocals are hushed but lacked an intimate quality I was looking for. I was having some trouble making out the lyrics but regardless this was still a great song.
“Wam” is next and again the guitar work is great. The drums and bass while solid felt like they were supporting the guitar melodies. I thought the vocals were a little more clear on this song and definitely worked in terms of the mood and emotive quality.
“Liaison” is just guitar work and there are multiple melodies. In this case there’s intricate picking and the first time we hear the artist play lead. He does thrive here as well and treats it more like he’s playing in a rock song which somehow works.
Last up is “Under The Weather” and I was all about the introduction of the banjo on this song. It fits the song and was a surprise I was happy to hear. Lyrically, this song is about the concept of heaven. The artist sings “Can you hear the birds singing / As you lay there on your own / Have you found a private Eden / A place that you can call your own.”
This release is lo-fi but works for the style of music it is. I think a little more compression on the vocals may have made it sound more intimate but overall the instruments were well mixed.
If you enjoy the aforementioned bands I think you will enjoy this release. Take a listen.
Lonely Neighbourhood got started as a way for the artist to channel his feelings during a difficult time in his life. Launching the songs off his guitar, he began writing and recording in the attic of his home. He is located in Cornwall, UK on a narrow lane surrounded on all sides by fields, hence the moniker ‘Lonely Neighbourhood’ to emphasize the idea of living on your own in the middle of nowhere. He says his sound is inspired by bands like The Fray, Skullcrusher, Beabadoobee, Kings of Leon, Coldplay and Soccer Mommy.
While he does sound similar to these bands, I’d also like to add Glen Hansard and Bon Iver to the list of like-minded acoustic acts that are in the same wavelength as him sonically. Immediately when I hit play on his self-titled Lonely Neighbourhood – EP, his sparse but emotionally powered sound surrounds and immerses me in the musical detail. He makes the sort of music you want to enjoy on a quiet and contemplative night on your own.
Lonely Neighbourhood – EP opens with “Sad Country,” where mournful strumming on the acoustic guitar sets up the vibes here. The mood feels very melancholy once the artist’s vocals come in. This is a quiet and contemplative track. The simplistic style creates greater emotional resonance in the end. The music just builds and builds for a powerful crescendo. Some synths bring in a moody vibe towards the start of “Typical.” This felt like an atmospheric track packed with mood and feeling. As he sings about small town life, you readily feel the emotions coming from his lyrics and vocals. On “Sociality,” slowly as strands of guitars lift this track off the ground, the sound of percussive beats adds an invigorating vibe to the music. I was enjoying the uptick in pacing. This felt like a sunnier direction for the artist.
On “Euphoria” some synths and guitar riffs slowly open up the vibes expanding from his acoustic-based sound into a fuller vibe. This felt like a rock-based ballad. Warbling synths greet the start of “Cause Concern” as acute strumming from the acoustic guitar binds the sound. Once his vocals enter, the somber vibe wraps around listeners. Next, the music grows for a rousing buildup with this dynamic closer.
Lonely Neighbourhood certainly has a great singer/songwriter vibe to him that purveyors of the coffee shop or open mic scene will certainly appreciate. I really liked his simple style with just vocals on guitar, but his other tracks that layers in other instrumentals are also good too.. I could imagine myself sitting in a coffee house somewhere (it doesn’t have to be a Starbucks) and hearing his voice coming through the speakers. With that in mind, I also thought that perhaps in his next recording, he could get other musicians on board for a fuller sound. Maybe having a live drummer sit in could help flesh out the vibe he was going for. All in all, this was a nice record that I enjoyed and I hope to see more in the not-so-distant future.
Johnny Deerest is from Sarnia, ON, Canada. The band consists of Shawn Bentley (guitar/vocals), Jennifer Brace (bass/vocals) and Kyle Stewardson (drums). They released My Teepee which they describe as ’90s lo-fi. I would agree with that label.
“Putting Chaos Back Together Again” is the first song and is slowly moving. It drags but not in a bad way. The lyrics are interesting and abstract. As the song progresses there aren’t any major changes besides the vocal range of Bentley.
“Repetition's A Smack” is a fuller song with a more complicated arrangement. The band creates some notable grooves and even tries to go epic which is harder to do in lo-fi like this. “Gentle” is a gritty and dark tune and almost an early Pavement vibe with this song mixed with Guided by Voices.
“Chesterfield” is the ballad of the batch. Last up is “Blank Eyes (electric)” which is a slow burn very similar in energy to the first song. There are some well done background vocals by Bentley. This song reminded of a song by The Pixies but slowed way down and vacant of the punk energy.
I grew up on ’90s indie rock. The band does have a similar quality to the aforementioned bands as well as Yo La Tengo, Belle and Sebastian and other like-minded bands. This music definitely thrives in lo-fi. In this case some of the songs go beyond ’90s lo-fi. I do want about twenty percent more fidelity on some of the songs. There was masking of frequencies and also a little more separation would have helped.
The EP has a nice flow to it. It starts and ends with very low energy but they also do a good job in making the body of the songs fairly dynamic and quite often rock in a jangly ’90s type of mode.
Suffice it to say fans of lo-fi and some of the previously mentioned bands should enjoy this. Take a listen.
Auckland, New Zealand trio Silk Cut came to life in early 2020, as a batch of songs inspired Andrew Thorne “all at once.” Thorne (guitars/vocals/synths) took his reverb pedals, added Aidan Phillips (bass/backing vocals) and Mike Burrows (drums/backing vocals), and produced ‘astronaut’ EP which is planned as the first of a pair of EPs.
This four-cut release is an indie-pop delight. Thorne describes the tracks as “echo-chamber daydreams,” which is an apt description. The songs all feature layered guitars and ear-coating harmonies. Phillips’ bass is prominent, driving the songs against Burrows’ in-the-pocket grooves. Synths and backing vocals fill out the sound space. There are lots of little parts and themes to pick up, if you want, or you can simply enjoy the catchy melodies and well-constructed overall sound.
“Getting in Close,” the lead single, opens ‘astronaut’ EP. Phillips’ stellar bass propels the verse. He grooves and moves things along, and throws in just enough subtle variation to keep it interesting. There’s a cool switch of feel for the chorus, and lovely layered vocal stocks, especially on the refrain.
“Dream King,” up next, keeps it going. Phillips’ bass is grooving again--especially on the breakdown section--with Thorne working in smooth guitar arpeggios and fills around the dreamy vocals. The auto-pan on the solo section was a bit disorienting; to this listener, the gimmick detracted from the solid playing.
Silk Cut breaks out the ethereal synths for “Black Night Sky,” which is appropriate for a song about UFOs. Burrows’ drum patterns shine here, especially locked in with more great bass work from Phillips. Thorne’s guitar solo (with shades of surf-rock tone) is his best on the album, and he shows his keyboard skill with the multiple parts and sounds here.
“Undone” closes the EP. Again, Phillips delivers a cool bass line, and the band lays down vocal harmonies reminiscent of Abbey Road. Keeping us alert, Silk Cut throws us a curveball (or bowls us an inswing, as they might say) by shifting to a heavy, scary-interval guitar-riff coda. They don’t go all-out metal on us (the tone is more indie than Iniquity), but the change in style worked as a nice contrast to the rest of the disc.
‘astronaut’ EP is an engaging, interesting album with terrific playing from the whole band. Four songs just isn’t enough! In good news, the companion EP is coming, and we’ll get more for Silk Cut soon. While we wait, give these four a shot in your indie-pop rotation.
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
The Bitter Ends. The Ends 3.6
couch bard trite nonsense 3.7
Croc Pot Croc Plop 2 3.7
Tay Temple Painfully Aware. 3.7
Ten Fields Loner 3.7
The Stifftones is a husband and wife dynamic duo who are back with a sneak peak of their new album Bitter Findings & Silver Linings. They have toured, released some impressive music (which we reviewed here) and seem to be going strong and continually evolving.
The first song I listened to was “Backwards Down A Hill” is a fun and fast song that more or less combines elements of punk and surf. It starts with a gritty and dirty chord progression, 4/4 time and a classic surf rock guitar move. The male and female vocals work together and there’s also possibly a third person doing background vocals. It’s under three minutes and goes by fast. This was not a style I was expecting from the band but I thought they did a great job keeping the music live sounding and like you’re in a small concert space with the band.
The second song “Starting Over” which is a demo, however has almost an exact type of feel. There are reverb laced guitars, emotive and passionate lead vocals and the song feels like more of a pop/rock ballad. This song is five minutes long and slowly builds with intensity. It feels more and more motivational as it progresses especially with lyrics about starting over. By the time the guitar solo arrives, the song is going for an epic, sweeping energy. The song does crescendo there but does simmer back down.
I liked these songs but for different reasons. It did leave me wondering what else to expect from the album. Is it going to be more punk oriented or a mix of all different types of rock genres? I think the band is evolving in new and exciting directions. They already released songs which display their talent and skill and with these songs they seem to be reaching for new heights.
These two songs piqued my interest and I’m sure their fans are eagerly anticipating what’s around the corner.
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