At just twenty years old, Wyatt Baldwin has been performing music for five years already. He's collaborated with other bands, acting as a drummer or front man, but his instinct has always been to be a solo act. I'm a bit of a lone wolf myself so I respect that instinct. I would also say it works pretty well for him. His album Satisfaction Guarantee is a ballsy statement, and not just because of its name. Baldwin brings romantic blues, alt rock and a healthy dose of Americana into these four fascinating songs.
The opening track "You Can't Lie If I Pay You First" is a slow building epic that almost sounds as though it should not have been the opener. The song is the perfect backdrop for credits rolling or a slow motion montage in where the audience is given the opportunity to observe in careful detail all the damage that nasty plot twist has done. The piano performance is a lovely additive that adds to the picture being painted along with uncanny lyrics. So yeah, not typically ideal for a first track, BUT I liked it this way and i wouldn't change it. It was a distinctive introduction to Baldwin to hear him be so utterly vulnerable right off the bat. Especially with a song that was nearly seven minutes long, oh yes, I said seven minutes. Again, BALLSY, but the song was so beautiful I hardly noticed. Luckily he kicks it up a notch with the next song.
The second song is "Elevator Music" and I assure you sounds nothing like the title might suggest. This one comes with a refreshing crispness of the Americana element along with modern indie rock elements. It's a lighthearted mix which again comes with solid lyrics that make this one particularly addictive.
"The Storm" brings a bit of harder rock edge. He illustrates turmoil both within the brashness of the music as well as the lyrics. Here he is at his most pointed and defensive. You can tell walls have been put up, emotional boundaries have been betrayed and crossed. However this song is not without its vulnerabilities as well. If you listen carefully you can hear it in the music which in a few key moments will relent. Same thing with the lyrics. Whatever had been done to trigger this song is a lesson well learned and something that I feel he may inevitably come to terms with.
"Serendipity" was the quintessential closer for this album. I would classify it as dreamy Americana. It has a sweet hopefulness to it that makes it sound very innocent and charming. I like that I got to hear it after hearing "The Storm.” It made for a nice change up and perfectly illustrated his ability to communicate his emotional range.
I was delighted to know Baldwin hails from Williamsburg, Virginia, I have actually been through there a few times. I think it's a hidden gem and I can see how he might have pulled this cool sound of his from his environment. It really is a fantastic and unexpected little album, worth a listen.
Aisling Urwin (harp/vocals), Andy Yelen (guitar), Ronan Murphy (guitar/bass), Sean 'Ted' O' Sullivan (piano/percussion/vocals) and Aidan Crowley (vocals) are Meridian Daze. The band released The Ever Be Ep which is their debut four-song EP. They seem to be pushing that they are an indie/alternative band but I felt like these songs identified more with folk. The songs are melancholy, atmospheric and brimming with clean acoustic instrumentation.
The band starts with “Ever Be” which from the get-go is heartfelt, pensive and nostalgic. Their performances are understated and quite beautiful. The atmosphere feels ephemeral and the harp added a unique touch. The vocalist sings, “fight the sleep that creeps over me.” As the song progresses the dynamics get a little more intense but it’s subtle.
Up next is “Sisyphus” which like the opener provides the warm glow of solace. The vocal harmonies are gorgeous and reminded me of The National at times because of the low baritone. About half way through the songs the addition of drums push the song over to a more optimistic and hopeful vibe.
“Window Pain” is another success. The song is so lush and the instrumentation feels like a cloud floating in the sky. It felt like the song was going to float away. That harp was again just adding a unique aspect to the music.
They close with “In The Woods” and I can say the band goes four for four. The song starts with acoustic guitar and vocals. Other instrumentation is layered and the song reminded me of a hymn. The song is perhaps the most delicate sounding until the lead guitar comes into the mix about half way through.
The band self-produced and someone knew what they were doing. It’s a couple shades better than your average DIY production.
This is a great EP that showcases the band's sound and talent effectively. It’s a very promising start and I can only predict good things to come. Recommended.
Looking to go somewhere but can't afford a trip at the moment? Chicago's Soft Rain Airplane has you covered with their fantastical album called Feast of Frenzy and can transport you from even the most mundane of circumstances. It is indeed a feast of groovy, dreamy, folky, indie rocky gems that are so far from anything I have heard recently. I am unabashedly smitten with this album which is a well-rounded experience for any kind of listener. It's not an in your face, commercial kind of thing. It's more ambient and iridescent. The band has only been together since 2016 but in this album alone they will shape shift into what feels like three different bands that have been playing together for ages.
The first track "Amber" is interesting. Somehow I had a feeling I was going to be lead in with ambient nature noises, and sure enough they appeared, but it worked. It was appropriate. The song opens up into a long, mostly instrumental overture that goes on for six minutes. It's very funky and unexpected and then there's this cool spoken word bit towards the end that is a bit unsettling, but in a good way. The songs that come after are light, airy pop like pieces with breezy vocals and airy lyrics. Songs like "Carbon Copy," "Vanilla" and "Light Roast" are infused with sunlight and guilt free malaise. They are light in calories but packed with nutrient rich substance. The riffs on these are just incredible, so jazzy, funky and self indulgent.
Musically everything is built around these incredible cool guitar riffs. When the bass feels like it, it creates a one-two punch that compels one's head to at a bare minimum nod along. Keeping everything on a more low key tempo level is the percussion. They also make good use of peculiar samples that keep things sounding very lush and organic. However they use those sort of tricks sparingly and rely heavily on the organic sounds. Vocally, this album is a literal feast of talent. Holy smokes, I loved EVERY voice I heard on here. There were some lovely duet performances alongside the solo ones. All of them were noteworthy and ALL of these performances were complemented with endearing lyrics.
This album being a DIY basement recording project only further proves to me that the future for music creation is looking so bright. The engineering on this album is spot on. The spotlight always shines where it's needed, whether it be a wicked awesome jazzy riff or putting forward the vocals to get those incredible words across. While anything is possible, after my first listen, I did NOT have my money on DIY, and this is one of those areas where I LOVE being proven wrong.
I can see Soft Rain Airplane finding a very diverse audience. They have the ability to satisfy the tastes of so many, from classic rock, to jazz, to funk and indie rock fans. Their sound is so fluid and uncompromising in its originality. It's got some very sturdy legs that I feel can go the distance.
I was reading about Terry Derosier’s story before listening to his release Thunderin' Down The Road. The story bares repeating becomes it sounds a little like how a superhero gained his power. Derosier was working on a construction site when he had a bad fall. Apparently he hit his head hard and had to step down as the CEO. On his road to recovery “something strange began to happen. He would hear words or see images and it would almost instantly turn into a song. At the time of the initial accident, Derosier also had bleeding on the brain. I don’t know if some of the wires in my head got crossed, but the creative side of my brain was really stimulated. The lyrics and songs were just flowing out now."
After I read that I was expecting experimental, cutting edge music for some reason. It’s not exactly what I got. It was very familiar sounding, warm americana music. The music felt wholesome and the album art of a motorcycle on the open road with sunshine reflects the tone of the songs.
Derosier’s music goes down with no problems but the influence is often obvious and he doesn't’ deviate from the musicians handbook of things that should occur in a song. I liked his voice, the songs were well written but there were zero surprises good or bad. The songs range from Jimmy Buffet type sing-alongs as we hear on “Carolina Always on My Mind” to clean americana that we hear on “Restless Dreamer.” “Thunderin’ Down The Road” reminded me a lot of “Turn The Page” while “Ten Thousand Ways” is a bright love song. I really enjoyed the bluegrass stylings of “Hot Summer Sun.”
Derosier is a talented musician. He has a really enjoyable voice and he can write a memorable melody. I have to admit I wanted more of a signature sound.
All the proceeds for this release go to FeedAKid.org. On that note if you are looking for straight forward americana style rock that is well performed with plenty of emotion then you should support the cause.
Scanner is at it again with their latest release In Your Head. The band hasn’t deviated from their roots which is punk inspired rock n’ roll that doesn't need an update. In Your Head as the band explains “takes listeners on a rock n’ roll journey through old-time monster movies, dark recesses of the mind, vintage hot rod drag racing and the eerie glow of late night black and white TV.”
The band starts to rock out with “Frankenstein’s Flivver” which is a solid dose of what the band does best. It’s a song you could imagine being played opening up for Alice Cooper. It’s a bit more fun and frivolous than scary just like the band KISS.
“Never Go Back” brings the good as well. The song is catchy but that lead guitar tone is undeniably pure ’70s rock. I thought the song was actually quite motivational. It got me amped to “get on with it.”
If you are going to name a song “Switchblades and Leathers” it better be badass. Luckily, the song is and might be about an underground fight club for skeletons and ghosts. The rock n’ roll continues to spin out of control with “Big Daddy Dragster Rock and Roll” and the somewhat psychedelic absurdity of “TV Light.”
The thing I love about Scanner is the way they play rock and the time they are doing it in. I was having a conversation the other day about how guitar bands are almost completely absent from popular music. If you look at the charts it's almost all hip-hop. My point being the chance of a band like Scanner finding themselves on the charts with Travis Scott and Drake is basically non-existent.
That fact alone is all the more reason to appreciate what they are doing. They are making this music because it electrifies their soul when they play it. And once you start to embrace the distorted crunch of the guitar, the sing-along type melodies, the hyperbolic vocal inflection and theatrics it may electrify your soul as well.
Rectified Mind is the solo project from Austin that released Still Ocean. The album contains a mix of instrumental and vocal based songs.
The production very much felt like bedroom type DIY from the effects, presets and guitar tone. I think sometimes this worked to the album’s advantage and other times it could have benefited from a more studio type sound.
The album opens with the title track which is a solid instrumental. I liked the guitar work and the bass sound was great. The guitar is really the focal point with a number of ’80s prog rock inspired type leads.
Up next is “HUMANS 2.0” which is vocal based. The vocals were sitting on top of the mix and there were too many effects happening. It came off a bit comical in a Flight of the Conchords type of way. He goes on to sing about upgraded humans and I am pretty sure the song was tongue n cheek.
“PUNK SURFER” sort of sounds like the title which is a mix of surf and punk rock. I would argue math rock is in there as well. He goes into a reggae beat with “EMPATHY” while “GOING WITH THE FLOW” is a funky and blues based song. There are more twists and turn with “NEXT ONES” and the psychedelic heavy rock of “DEMON IN MY HEAD.” “SENSORY DECEPTION,” “GATES OF LIMBO,” “DEEPER THAN DNA” and “DARK LULLABY” have a lot of variation.
I think the strongest aspect of this album is the guitar work. The singing is a little rough around the edges and I would say there is a good amount of work that could be done for him to improve this aspect. In fact I think working with a vocalist should be some food for thought.
The album is scattered with different styles and there were some effective moments especially when it came to the guitar work. I wish him luck in his evolution and hope to hear his future work.
Under Axis is the solo project for Alex Ward. He released Odyssey which is an emotive pop/rock album. Ward explains the themes which seem to be a very familiar topic for songwriters such as going through dark times, facing your fear and other like-minded subjects.
The album is very well produced with dense instrumentation. It’s also quite diverse when it comes to style. I had some preferences along the way. The album starts with “Outside” with a straightforward pop/rock song that felt FM radio ready. Ward strums major and minor chords while lamenting about depression and empathy. He sings “Can you feel my pain? / Can you find me the drier side of my rainy day? / Don’t just walk away / Try to feel what I’m feeling like /Trapped inside this cage.” The song rocks out cathartically but the song followed a standard pop format and there weren’t any surprises along the way. By the time it gets to the end it’s rocking out as epically as possible.
I preferred “Break Me Down” which had more of a singer/songwriter vibe with electronic elements mixed in. There was a nice mixture of elements around the two-minute mark. Ward is at his best when he goes into a Thom Yorke-type falsetto where his vocals seems effortless and fluid.
“Coming Age” felt abrupt and jarring right after “Break Me Down.” In fact I got a bit jolted at first. It ends up being one of the more dynamic songs with subtle lows and intense adrenaline inducing highs. “Tidal Wave” felt like a song I would hear in a Disney movie for kids. It’s motivational and has the same emotional resonance. Most of that was coming from Ward's expressive vocal delivery.
“Take This from Me” was perhaps the most predictable song that still has its moments while “Time” is a melodramatic ballad that felt like a Tony Robbins convention come to life. “Time” felt very inspirational. He sings, “The time is here to take our chances, forget all our fear / The time is now to stand together, make our final vow.” There are two alternate versions which close out the album.
Odyssey is very emotive and can come off as saccharine at times. I was hoping for some of the performances to be a bit more understated so I could emotionally prepare for the next song. That being said it’s the type of album that I would put on to conquer the day or listen to before running a marathon. It’s not exactly great music for listening to when going to bed or writing a paper.
Odyssey was obviously an album that had a lot of work put into it. The production matches the emotional heights Ward tries to capture. I think there is accessible pop/rock that will be enjoyable to those who enjoy acts like Avenged Sevenfold and Thirty Seconds to Mars.
Chloe Dances In Twilight is a twenty-year-old artist from Ontario who released Gloomy Murron. The artist comments on the theme. He mentions, “it's a concept EP about tragically brief love. Thematically and lyrically, it is all about romance, death, beauty and nihilism. The story is about a young couple who fall in love and when she is taken from him he has to learn to move on, but there is an over arching theme of futility.”
The EP is comprised of distorted guitar and vocals. It’s also very lo-fi. He opens with “Is This A Dream?” which is just guitar. It’s a simple, sad melody and really not much more than that which sets the mood.
Up next is “River Stones” where the artist sings a little above a whisper while strumming chords. He paints a dark, ominous mood. The vocals were overpowering in the mix and a little more compression would have helped balance the dynamics. He sings, “Never before has a sight been seen, By these river stones of two bodies intertwined.”
I was having a hard time with the guitar tone on the next song “Gloomy Murron.” Its recording sounded raw and like a ball of white noise. The vocals were also hard to make out because of the recording and how he was singing.
“Let's Go Back To Our Grove” was the highlight. It’s an eight-plus-minute song which has some of the catchiest vocal hooks. The song is also dynamic with some of his best guitar work. After a short instrumental called “Murron's Reprise” he goes into the closer “I'll Be With You When You Dream.”
I felt a little like I walked into a guitar center and was listening to the metal guy who always seems to be there waiting on guitar. I don’t say that in a pejorative way because there is talent here but everything from the sound quality to the general style gave me the imagery of having a guy sitting next to a Marshall amp playing for a small legion of impressed patrons.
There are some solid ideas and implementation but I kept on feeling the style that was he playing needed a full band. It wasn’t like folk style picking which could get away with that better.
In my twenty-five-plus years of writing music I can pick a couple of things out. I appreciate the minimalism of the music but adding additional layers to the music or working with more musicians could open up a world of possibility. At some point I suggest the artist work with an engineer to elevate the impact of his music.
Overall, there were inspired moments on this release but I have a feeling the best is yet to come. I hope to hear more soon.
Shoot Down the Sun are two students (Christopher Golab and Marisa Jenkins) which started as a project for a class. They released a five-song self-titled EP Shoot Down the Sun which showcases some of their music.
“Boomerang” is up first which is a pretty straightforward pop punk song. The song is basically composed of a couple of distorted minor and major chords and a programmed drum beat. Golab has a solid singing voice but occasionally gets off key. Jenkins comes into the song and is effective with her vocals. I thought they sounded good together.
Up next is “Mistakes” which is a little more grunge oriented then the opener. Golab was still having some slight issues with staying in key but they sounded good together and were working on vocal harmonies. “Miss You” is arguably the highlight. It’s definitely the catchiest song with a memorable hook. There are some inspired moments on “A Road of Tribulation “ and they end with “Make You Smile” which struck me as wholesome.
As an engineer the biggest issue I had to get past was the production and recording quality. I know sometimes you just have to deal with what you have but this duo’s goal should be to work will a full band and get in an actual studio. The guitar sounds like they were recorded on a consumer audio interface with preset Garageband style drums. Suffice it to say the music they are playing needs to be dynamic, explosive and high energy.
The songs were catchy but simple. I felt like some more technical creative parts would have helped as well. The fact is that the band will need to take it up a couple of levels to compete with similar bands in the genre that are at the top of their game.
I think Shoot Down the Sun has some potential and falls into a case of wait and see. They have a cool dynamic and I think their voices work well together. I wish them luck as they evolve with this project.
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
Dead Hearts Club Dead Hearts Club 3.8
Luna Neptune Next Automated Wave 3.7
Happiness Junkies Happiness Junkies 3.9
The 1984 Draft Makes Good Choices 3.7
Room 25 Vacancy 3.6
The Friends of Batman Pain EP 3.6
Goat Faction Goat Faction EP 3.6
Cosmic Lovers Cosmic Lovers EP 3.8
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