Hailing from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Gradients is singer/songwriter Marc Mongiovi, a talented vocalist whose songs pull from a myriad of influences, coalescing into melodic and grandiose hardcore. On his new EP Heroes & Villains, Mongiovi teamed up with producers Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland to craft a record that examines themes of defeatism and overcoming struggle with a soundtrack that exudes the fighting spirit. Soaring melodies meet colossal arrangements, a musical portrait of strength in the face of adversity.
Opening track “Revival” sets the tone perfectly, as saturated, dissonant chords accompanied by low bass notes and subdued drumming explode into bright harmonies and crashes of cymbals before shifting back into a lower gear.
The repeated push and pull of the production and chord progression perfectly underscores Mongiovi’s lyrics about the resistance that accompanies total surrender. The vocals are clear, powerful and earnest; and Mongiovi is the warrior-hero at the center of his musical Odyssey.
While this album’s mix succeeds in finding room for every drum stroke, guitar riff and bass line, the resulting dense and powerful arrangement setting the perfect stage for Mongiovi’s high octane tenor, the EP as a whole borders on over compression. This may turn some listeners off; but stylistically and thematically this overbearing quality of the sound could be seen as reinforcing the “weight of the world” narrative at the heart of Heroes & Villains.
This is merely a minor technical assessment of a project that on the whole is emblematic of its genre while also progressing the style with grunge and nu-metal influences; and a showcase of Mongiovi, whose vocals pierce the heavens as he belts in the upper range, cutting through thick production and effectively demanding that listeners sing-along.
Midding is a music project based out of southern Utah consisting mainly of Sohn Bradshaw (songwriter/vocals/guitar/lead guitar) and Andrew Hodges (producer/musician). The band is releasing their latest album entitled Charming Lonely.
The album is a unique blend of stripped-down indie folk music with traces of synths and a melding of vocal harmonies in order to reach that soft and sad sound they were aiming for. Recorded, mixed and mastered in Hodges’ bedroom, the record is reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie with its bedroom pop and emo overtures.
Charming Lonely opens up with “I Do But I Don’t,” where an acoustic guitar and melodious synths support some nonchalant vocals. This is a real stripped-down affair that hones a sparse cadence. The vocals are backed by reverb. The melody really flows well throughout the track.
“MyHomeIsAHoleInsideYourChest.jpg” is a somber sounding song with melancholy riffs. Synths add another texture to the mainly acoustic sound being supported by the acoustic guitar. The simplicity of this song really works well in intuiting the heartache and longing etched into this track.
The same formula sees itself realized in “Morning Time.” The vocal is an endless drone as Bradshaw sings, “I don’t really mind / Just as long as / I see you in the morning time.” The loneliness is really evoked here. Reverberating electric guitar riffs sound off on the start of “Park Bench.” Wondering if his love will come home to him, the sound is less static here filled with oohs, upbeat percussions and reverb-filled synths.
On “State Lines,” a spoken word performance is executed in the beginning. Next, some dynamic noodling on the guitar sidles in accompanied by some eerie synths. Addressing the fundamental mindset of every 14-15-year-old ever trying to find themselves, Bradshaw elaborates, “It’s not bad to fantasize about who we will be and how we’ll die / And for now let’s fantasize / Inside our minds.”
Right away “It’s Hard to Talk Sometimes” launches with vocals and ambient synths with the acoustic guitar underlying the gamut of this track. The synths seem to overshadow the quieter vocals. Embodying the unease of youth, he sings, “I’m pacing back and forth / And I’ll try to pretend I’m alive really here / In a room full of strangers.”
On the closer “The Way To Your House,” dynamic numerating on the acoustic guitar jumpstarts this song. The vocals come in as a strong undercurrent to the strumming. The vocals are hushed sung with more emotion than the previous tracks. I could really feel the narrator slipping as he makes his proclamation of love singing, “I think I love you more,” on repeat.
You can really feel the melancholy in these songs with love lost and heartache being the main attractions to the songwriting. The echoing factor in the vocals can be a little distracting but I thought the minimal arrangement and simplicity to the recording process really factored into the genre which is bedroom pop.
Some of these songs are under the two-minute mark and this made me hungry for more. But I felt these set of songs were fleshed out and were a solid indicator in what direction the band is taking.
Goodspace is a three-piece band from Auckland, New Zealand that makes lo-fi, indie rock with hints of hip-hop and songwriter sensibilities. Their EP Goodspace is their first release as Goodspace. First formed in 2017, the trio went under the name Restless Electric and self-released two EPs. Their sound back then was described as ‘a soulful, psychedelic sandwich in which grunge is the bread’ – an indication of their early Soundgarden and Radiohead influences. Over the next two years, the group’s lineup changed and as did their songwriting – shifting from its grunge/rock roots to their current sound heard on their current release. Their name also changed to better represent what the band had become. For fans of hip-hop and something that may be hard to box into any one genre, I think you’ll like this one.
The opener “This Song’s about You” starts off with a groovy, hip-hop beat and a singing style that’s whispering and breathy. The lyrics offer some irony, too – “I’m gonna tell you a secret, keep it to yourself don’t tell no one else / This song’s about you.” I liked the beats and melody in this one. It kind of reminded me of some old murder mystery cop show I used to watch. “Don’t Want No One to Know” offers a funky beat with old school sounding drums mixed with electronics. The bass and rhythm guitar offer their funkiness, too. The words express deep doubts and regret.
The style of “Before” reminded me of a mix of old school ‘60s grooves, Brit-pop from the ‘90s and lo-fi. I really enjoyed the breaks in between the verses where the band breaks the beats down into a fantastic rocking jam. A great song – I wished it had gone on longer. “Underneath” was sung by another member of the band as the tonal range was quite different from the last number. I loved the bass lines, drums and extra percussion – they stood out to me the most on this one. Somehow, the style of this song, or maybe the singing reminded me of Iggy Pop or if the drummer from the Pixies sung a song.
“Time Chasing” is the most mellow song on the EP. Sparse beats, light guitar playing and an ambient styled synth are how the instruments go down here. Lyrically, I read the words like a call to action to take life by the neck and to hold onto your dreams, because time slips away quickly – time that you’re “scared to lose.” Goodspace’s debut offers something unique for me that I wouldn’t normally listen to. I like this band’s style and overall, their self-titled EP was well recorded and produced. I hope to hear more in the future.
STEM, or Sifting Through Eternal Madness, is the experimental synthesizer project by Portland based artist Russell Douglas. Originally from Florida, the move out west is a sizable one (I know from experience); and Douglas has documented his headspace during this transitionary period over the seven instrumental tracks that make up his debut self-titled album Sifting Through Eternal Madness. Thematically, this album takes the listener on an emotional journey: from restlessness and dread to boldness, struggle and an astonishment with new surroundings. As a producer Douglas intends to invoke the dynamics and sonics of a post-rock band with his purely synthesizer setup; in effect achieving a twilight between the earthly and the surreal.
The genre play of STEM is evident from the first track “47 Hours,” a paranoid and animalistic piece in which a synth lead filtered through a fuzz box and a menacing drum loop combine into a twisted nu-metal vibe. The aggressive sonic snarls and moments of arrhythmic percussion are necessarily threatening, reflecting the heightened sense memory of the negativity that provoked Douglas’ journey.
There’s an appropriate nod to Eastern music on traveling song “Western Migration”, which encapsulates the grandness of the world and the fear of uncharted territory. An obtuse jumble of horns and squeaks is swallowed up by a distorted pad; the sound of chaos in the void, while an exotic eastern melody played on a metallic and heavily oscillated synth lead gives the piece a familiar form and character to occupy Douglas’ sonic jungle.
Aside from his highly creative sound design and detailed productions, I believe Douglas’ greatest accomplishment with the STEM project is crafting a conceptual instrumental record that is narratively intelligible and accessible enough to be comprehend in a single listen.
Knowing the back-story of Douglas’ flight from home to a new scene, I found the story of risk, fear and ultimately reward self-evident in Douglas’ choices of color, tempo and sequencing to paint a musical self-portrait. Sifting Through Eternal Madness is an essential listen for fans of industrial music and an impressive debut from an exciting creative force.
Lost James is an artist that started music at a fairly young age. When he turned forty he released Chapman's Pool which was used to mark the occasion. He stated the intention was to produce an EP of just vocal and piano so the aim all along was to make something simple, honest and stripped back. I was actually surprised to find the EP contains quite a bit more instrumentation than just piano and vocal. That being said the vocals and piano are at the center of the songs.
The tone of this EP is dramatic and often felt theatrical. This is a difficult balance in my opinion. If you sound melodramatic if can come off as self-absorbed and at its worst like cheesy music you might hear in an A&E made movie. On the other hand if you pull it off like Radiohead and Sigur Rós then it can be absolutely beautiful. That being said even those bands, as good as they are, can sway back and forth.
Chapman's Pool rides this line but veers more towards the sensibility of bands like Radiohead and Sigur Rós. Some moments feel like they are trying to be too dramatic but as soon as that thought would cross my mind I felt like he would quickly erase that thought in the following moment. Lost James does lean into words by imparting a lot of emotions into the inflection. The danger here again is leaning too much into an affectation where it feels contrived.
The EP starts with “Sunday” and is just piano and vocals. I liked the piano tone he got. The songs flirts with feelings of loneliness and isolation. “Toast” felt like a clear highlight to my ears. There is a nice mix of emotion and energy with this song. It’s upbeat at first but quickly turns to one of his best vocal performances. I thought the effects that were happening with the atmosphere added another layer of emotion to the song. The end of the song is a pretty fantastic jam.
We dip into melancholy and nostalgia with “wintersong.” It felt very theatrical to me. The song is a bit of a slow burn but there are some moments which rev up the energy and transform it into hope. “in bed” is the most nostalgic song yet. It’s soft, warm, pensive and cerebral. “volcano” had the most appealing vocal melodies to me. The lines “there is a volcano and there is an ocean waiting for you” is just about perfect. There is some additional atmosphere that adds to this feeling of contemplative thought.
Albums and EPs with this sort of tone often end with the most dramatic ballad and that’s no exception here. He really digs into the melancholy on this, wondering where a person he had in his life went and ends with a poetic answer. The song slowly dissipates as notes trickle down that try and capture a serene yet hopeful introspection.
I really liked this EP. One important factor is this was an extremely cohesive release. The first track to the last felt like they were there for a reason. I have little doubt the artist gave some serious time investing in how this would sound sequentially and I did notice. If you are feeling a little reflective but at the same time want something life affirming I think this release should do you good.
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Tall Trails is comprised of four people that knew each other in high school and one person in England that they met through Reddit. The band polished off some old demos and released Earlier... - EP.
There are some great songs on this EP and some which felt repeat worthy. For the most part the band plays emotive acoustic indie rock. They open with “Oceanside ’86.” It’s a solid opener but not amongst their strongest songs. There are some issues with the drums staying in the pocket and because of this I felt it was a slightly odd choice to have as the opener.
The next song “Broken Dream” was one of the highlights. The vocals are catchy, the guitars are bright and it’s just a really well written song. I liked everything about it and felt like a single worthy song out of the batch. They have more success on "Wolf" which combines more gorgeous guitar picking and warm, heartfelt vocals. It reminded me of The Microphones in some ways when it came to the music.
“Grown Man” is the full band with drums. The song is solid but the recording quality takes a noticeable dip and sounds more lo-fi than the previous songs. There is a huge boost in fidelity on “Sick Again” which is perhaps the best song on the album. This is a beautiful song with multiple vocal harmonies. The drums are minimal on this song and I liked how the energy flowed which seemed natural as well as unique.
“Front Seat,” “It's All The Same” and “Goodbye (I Found It)” felt more like an ambient, contemplative vignettes and were less dynamic with not as many transitions. They close with “Nowhere You'd Go” which is solid but also doesn't go too far from where it starts either.
There are some bright moments on this release where their talent truly shines. I think it’s a solid set of demos and I am interested to hear what a follow up will sound like. This is hopefully just the beginning and I wish them luck.
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“We Are Infected (feat. Elise Lebec)” is a recent single from Art Tawanghar that has been getting a lot of attention. The topic is about how the world has changed with new technology and how that might be more detrimental than we first suspected. I was reading about the song and they said “Americans check their cellphones or mobile devices over 9 billion times per day; 50% also check their phones in the middle of the night. Technologies are quickly changing the way we deal with our emotions and how we interact with others. Amassing "likes" and receiving validation online has become more important than actual interactions with real human beings.”
Suffice it to say this is a song that has a message but let's get into the music. The song starts with an arpeggiated synth, pads and and stuttering effects. It’s ethereal and hypnotic. Soon enough a steady bass drum hits and the song really starts to gain a lot of energy.
Lebec has a fantastic voice that is warm with a lot of emotions. Her vocals soar when she sings lines like “I’m different now.” The lyrics could be interpreted about being in a relationship and needing to go for unknown reasons. Once the bridge comes the lines (everyone’s on their phones / we are infected / so we don’t get too close) get to the heart of the matter. The song breaks down and then again soars with refined, kinetic feeling as if you are moving through the future.
The song doesn't stop there however. There is a wonderful change around the two-and-a-half-minute mark where piano sounds like it’s pulsating. This makes the return to the chorus that much more powerful.
I think the message is something a lot of people have been talking about for a long time. We realize that something is getting lost especially if time on our phone is taking away from time connecting with another person face to face. It seems like this is becoming more of a problem. I love the message of this song and the combination of Art Tawanghar and Elise Lebec is one that I hope to hear more of. Take a listen.
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
Morning Sun Spending Time 3.8
Tasneem Just Before The
World Ends EP 3.9
Aryl Barkley Attachment 3.7
Evan Bohn April Flowers 3.6
Fishtail Fishtail 3.5
Coral is a singer/songwriter based in the SF Bay area and LA. Her raw unrelenting powerful lyrics and vocals hinge upon compositions that cover lush harmonies with piano-led arrangements overlaid with a symphonic finish. With an aim to “create music that sincerely expresses the human experience and that motivates listeners to choose hope,” Coral has been penning songs since her senior year in high school. Encouraged to “sing-and-play,” she began to cultivate her voice over the piano and began to sing praise songs at church.
Her work is also greatly influenced by soundtracks. Growing up, Coral was a competitive figure skater and she listened to a great deal of film soundtracks when selecting songs for her skating routine. This has segued into a signature sound that filters in light rock with piano ballad-based inspiration embellished with symphonic overtures. Her debut solo EP Dream is no different. On this EP, Coral’s soulful vocals are supported by melodious guitars, symphonic finishes and lush harmonies.
Dream right off the bat launches into a dreamy wash of instrumentals starting off with the evocative sounds of the piano on “I’d Like to Be a Bird.” Some stunning strings also trace this track. The vocals are elegant and really soar. The music is at the same time ethereal and atmospheric. The background vocals provide an arresting foundation of lush harmonies. Your imagination will really take flight on this captivating song. The piano is melodic and takes the lead on this track. Dreamy and haunting, the song has a hushed sensibility with vocals that sail with emotion and power.
Following is “Reverie,” where lush strings jumpstart this song. An intricate piano melody also trickles in. Eighties-inspired synths go on to pave this track that pervades with a new wave feel. This is another dramatic sounding ballad with vocals that soar with range. Strong emotions are felt in the gamut of this song. Coral is adamant when she belts, “This is my reverie / This is my melody.”
“Walk Out Onto The Water” starts off with introspective noodling on the acoustic guitar. The lone instrument alone supports Coral’s vocals at first. Next, the electric guitar, bass and drums struts in. Coral’s vocals sound pure and crystalline.
On “The Lark’s Lullaby,” a piano melody trickles in intertwined with the graceful cadences of strings. Coral’s vocals are soothing. The track has a lulling cadence like that of a lullaby. Dream-like and haunting, soaring stings weave in and out of this piano-based song. The vocals elicit a soulful sound. Centered on a placating cadence, this track gravitates toward a focal point of solace.
The closer “A Seed To Plant” has a folksy rock vibe. Another dramatic sounding ballad, the lyrics and vocals soar on this track. A piano-led song with a symphonic overture, a radioactive guitar solo burrows itself in this track, crescendoing with range and power. The song from start to finish exhibits a whole lot of feeling.
With a singer/songwriter vibe reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan and Norah Jones, Coral’s Dream EP is powered by a symphonic finish as well as embellishments on the guitars, bass and drums. Coral’s vocals are equally instrumental in bringing the music to life. Her vocal range is emotionally powerful and really adds a soulful element to the overall sound. I was really impressed with her vocals. I thought they were front and center one of the highlights to the EP. To me, her voice execution sounded emotionally raw and had crystalline components.
The symphonic overtures provide for an epic cadence on the EP. The expansive ballads on Dream soar with expression and emotional power. Listeners will be swept away by the dramatic sounds. Imbued with the spirit to dream and hope, Dream is an uplifting record filled with positive vibes. This record asks you to follow your heart, to not lose hope – this EP will speak to the dreamer in you. Be sure you have a listen today!
Dan Lederer is a musician who has a lot of experience. He has an impressive resume but I don’t want to dwell there. Six Corners of the Heart is a diverse EP and in a lot of ways you can call this “world” music. Lederer “spans Bulgarian rhythm based rock, afro inspired jazz, hard rock, country swing and Zappa influenced fusion.”
“Slavic Vortex” is the opener and is a mix between progressive lead guitar and Eastern scales. The technical prowess is certainly something worth paying attention to, especially from the drums and guitars.
“Tangier Docks” is where we hear some African percussion along with smooth saxophone. In fact the song feels smooth itself at first. The energy does pick up and starts to sound like a jam band with dissonant chords thrown in for good measure. There are a couple styles thrown in here really making it feel like world music.
“Wagnells Dog” is technically pretty incredible. I’ve always thought a jazz musician and progressive rock musicians were at the top of the food chain as far as technical talent goes and well this has both.
“Ofrenda” has the most overt jam band feel to me. There were points where the Grateful Dead certainly came to mind. “Hey Seed” is very loud compared to the rest of the tracks and one reason I always push working with a mastering engineer who easily fix these sort of discrepancies. Last up is “Coriolis” which is solid instrumental that blends a number if different styles but this track felt a little more aligned with an artist like Frank Zappa.
As an engineer I would have appreciated just a little bump in audio quality. The recordings are very good home recordings but don’t quite have that polish and extra definition a reputable studio will give you.
These songs fall in line with musicians music for me. Some of it might be hard to appreciate if you don’t know what’s happening. The songs move fast and some of the brilliance can be easily missed. Suffice it to say, if you listen to this, don’t do it passively. Headphones might be best but not mandatory. Take a listen.
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