The True Musical Symbol is an artist from Milwaukee who recently released Fake Joy. He explains: “Years of experience and experimentation have resulted in a massive project depicting a diverse look into a depressive state of mind and the thoughts of suicidal individuals.”
The album starts with “Abnormal” and I liked the groove. There are some starts and stops in the music but for the most part the melody doesn't change as he raps over it. My favorite line was when he referred to Rick & Morty.
Next up is “Bodies” and it sort of feels like mumble rap. The rapping style is different and it was hard to make out some of the lyrics. That being said this song has more hooks than the opener and more variation in general.
“Endangered” is a little darker and also more melancholy. The song revolves around piano, a deep sub bass and constant flow. “Fake Joy” was one of my favorite beats. There’s some haunting violin with piano that sounds like it's coming from down the hall. I liked the way his vocals were produced here. There’s more clarity and I was able to hear more nuance in his voice.
“Purple Rain” has its moments as well and is more lively. “Depression” is a slow burn that revolves around reverb tails and somber and pensive sounds. He ends with the most playful and upbeat song entitled “Mood Swings.” Some of the flow is really fast and impressive.
I’m not sure if he was making these beats some scratch but if he was I’m really impressed. The production is quite good as are the performances. This album isn't pushing boundaries but has some solid songs as well as a subject that seems to be on a lot of people’s minds these days.
Amimi is a 25-year-old folk artist from New Forest, England. Her name sounds a bit like “Anime” and her publicity photo looks like an Anime character; she also states that her music is inspired by tabletop “role playing games” and other fantasy influences. For me, her beautiful and otherworldly voice could have come from Galadriel of The Lord of The Rings, but in earthly terms she also sounds a bit like Kate Bush.
Of Winds And Waters is Amimi’s first EP. She’s been playing for nine years and is: “deeply influenced by folk music and mythology, and I wanted (this EP) to be something that wouldn’t be out of place in the soundtrack world. The word I used most to describe how I wanted it to be was atmospheric.” She lists her musical influences as Mykur, Malukah and SKÁLD. Of these three, Amimii’s artistically closest to Malukah, given their shared interest in video game music, while her persona seems highly influenced by the Viking aura of SKÁLD.
Amimi recorded these four songs by herself using Reaper, and mixed two of them. The remaining songs and mastering were performed by James Holt of Sayomaki Studios.
“Sirens Song” opens the set with ominous thunder hits, a low drone and Amimi’s voice trilling and wailing out of the darkness. The lyrics are “cyclical” as in an Irish ballad or folksong. After just two minutes, “Dythel” follows in a similar vein with the rain and thunder deepening, the drone continuing, and Amimi’s singing again conjuring the cloudy, tumultuous atmosphere of the ancient British isles.
In “Morrígan” the storm has passed, and Amimi’s vocal takes centerstage with a subtle, throbbing pulse as backdrop. This is where the connection to Clannad or Kate Bush starts to feel strongest. In all these songs, I’m amazed at the power of Amimi’s voice to hold my attention without undue trickery or excessive ornamentation. She truly feels of another time.
“Wolven Storm” concludes the EP with a major change, featuring keyboards in a melodic and lovely duet with Amimi, now singing with more range and even more confidence, it that’s possible. This is the only song not written by Amimi (Marcin Przybytowicz gets the credit) and shows that she can retain her sound and persona even when channeled through another composer. Without a doubt this is the most beautiful and accomplished song on the album.
So there you have it: a short and stunning debut by an amazing young singer. I’m excited to see how she might expand her shorter song template for a longer future project, but what she’s done here is inspiring.
Alex Ward is a solo alternative/indie artist from Staunton, Virginia who recently released Just My Mind. The artist explains: “This is a conceptual album about feeling alone and rejected and realizing that those feelings come from the mind thinking you need the people who don't support you. It is about holding onto the ones who do you right and dropping the ones who do you wrong. Mostly it is about becoming self-reliant and not allowing the doubts in your mind to take you over.”
The album is a long one with fourteen tracks. There’s a wide variety of genres and emotions. The first song “ADD” revolves around dark textures and is in very similar territory to a band like Massive Attack or Burial. I really enjoyed the instrumental aspects in the song. The next song “Tiny Legos” sounds vastly different. It’s much more positive and upbeat. It’s closer to Vampire Weekend but it also sort of reminded me of worldly music and of a Disney movie where an entire forest of different animals starts to sing.
“Alone” goes back into darker territory and revolves around drones, inventive production and catchy vocals. The more pensive and thought provoking track is more or less a ballad containing piano and sweeping strings.
One of the highlights was “Rejection” which has some killer production especially the programmed drums. The juxtaposition between the instrumentation and vocals was well done.
The ambient title track “Just My Mind” was solid and “Vocab” was much more hip-hop inspired than the other songs.
There were a couple more highlights including the slightly reggae infused “Do It Anyway” and “Grow.” On that note I thought all the songs had their moments.
Truth be told the topics on this album would have resonated with me more when I was twenty- five and not forty. By the time you’re forty you sort of figured out who is going to be in your support system and not only how to be self-reliant but in the case of having children having others be completely reliant on you.
That being said I thought this was solid explorations of these themes that were brought together through a fusion of solid songwriting and production. Take a listen.
Chris Desmond, Steve Chapman, Chris Sandin and Ed Chapman are A BEAUTIFUL RUIN. The band recently released a self-titled six song EP A BEAUTIFUL RUIN. Their music contains existential ponderings that are backed by atmospheric music that combines elements of rock, jazz and folk.
They start off with “Everyone Has a Story” and it also serves as a bit of an introduction to their sound. There’s some really nice guitar work and the song builds right off the bat with a nice array of elements. It’s very dreamlike but not too warm where it feels corny. There’s enough dissonance at points which seems like this dream can go either way.
“Together Now” was a highlight. The song is very jazzy but also absurdist. I loved the lyrics which seem to revolve around amnesia. The guitar work here is key which seems to have some tremolo and perhaps a harmonizer which creates just enough dissonance for the song to also feel haunting. There are also some cool transitions and they play around with time signatures which aren’t 4/4.
“Another Dream” is much warmer and more dance worthy. The guitar work is again exceptional but the whole band sounds very good. “Oakland” is a lush song which contains vocal harmonies that work nicely. The song ebbs and flows with atmospheric elements.
“No One Knows” takes advantage of more vocal harmonies that sound full. There are also some horns which did have a digital quality to them but work well in the song. They close with “Found My Love.” There are some beautiful sweeping strings before the three-minute mark that I really enjoyed.
This is a thought provoking EP which definitely aligns with a band like Pink Floyd and to a lesser extent a more contemporary act like Fleet Foxes. It’s a cohesive and fun listen despite the existential topics. Recommended.
You've Been Unboxing Gilles Snowcat is the recent release from Gilles Snowcat. The music is funky and sort of Zappa-esque but also dabbles with other styles like reggae. I thought the vocals sounded a bit like Tom Waits if he had a French accent.
Snowcat opens with “Let Me Buy You a Drink (feat. Hetpampa)” and it has an absurdist vibe. It sounds plastic to a point but in a cool way. There’s a good amount of experimentation and it caught my attention. The production has a ’70s type of aesthetic.
I loved the groove on "Squeeze 'em All (feat. Hetpampa, Brick Bosso & Jazz House Fx)” which got more funky but again this is Frank Zappa type funk. “(You've Been Drinking) My Limoncello [feat. Hetpampa, Brick Bosso & Lunear]” is much more chill and has some influence from reggae but this is by no means a straightforward song. The vocals are Leonard Cohen like in his later years which gives the song a welcome dose of melancholy. There are some very lush and beautiful moments as well.
"Sleep-in Closet (feat. Hetpampa & Brick Bosso)” is a slick jazzy number with Pink Floyd style guitar. The vocals are more spoken word at points and it fits perfectly with his deep baritone. “This Place Is Empty (feat. Hetpampa, Midrone, Maz & Mister Dumont)” is a great song. It’s warm, intimate, melancholy but provides solace. The song felt a little more sincere rather than absurd.
“Hot Towel (From That Funky Hotel) [feat. Sousbock, Midrone, Brick Bosso & Hetpampa]” brings back some of the reggae style rhythm and feels like the perfect song to follow the more intimate and warm mood. “We See Limes -Interlude- (feat. Sousbock, Hetpampa & Brick Bosso)” is a short interlude as it mentions but not a filler either. He ends with a string instrumental entitled “Tulips Trap (Grand Finale) [feat. Lunear, Brick Bosso & Jazz House Fx]” and actually the first time I was thinking prog-rock in the spirit of the band Yes.
This album was a fun but also occasionally heartfelt listen. I think if you enjoy any of the aforementioned artists you should test this out.
Unison is a band that hails from the Coffs Coast in New South Wales, Australia. They formed in 2018 and are composed of Julia Wilson (vocals/keyboards/guitars), Marty Bouma (vocals/bass/guitar) and John Burnip (drums/vocals). The band recently released a twelve-song album entitled Unison.
The music is organic rock music from what sounds like seasoned veterans. I found the music easily digestible and also familiar sounding upon first listen.They start with one of the highlights entitled “Time and Space.” There is a nice mix of piano, bass, drums and more into relatively clean but driving sound. It’s the type of song that might fill you with some energy and even motivation.
The very piano driven “Only mother nature” continues to build on this energy provided from the opening song but takes it up a couple of notches. I would say the first change in approach might be “How lucky we are” which introduces a different lead vocalist but also some very nice harmonies. There’s a bit of a world type of vibe with this song.
“I ain’t living in the past” is the first song that sounded like a more pensive and thought provoking ballad. There are some highlights as the album progresses. I loved the warm and inviting “Little Brother” and the more subdued closer “Flight.”
There weren’t a lot of surprises with this release but there was a lot of consistency in regards to the songwriting quality and delivery. The band can play and has a very live sound to my ears. It’s the type of band that would sound great on a Friday night with a beer in your hand and good friends.
This album has a good amount of appeal. Take a listen.
Mike Green has a familiar story. He’s a passionate musician who has a family and music became more of a side hobby as those responsibilities started to accumulate. The pandemic did give him some time while in lockdown to explore his creative side again and he recently released The Years to Come.
Green explains: “The Years to Come is a collection of songs about love, loss, and family written over the last 15 years, but recorded in 2020 and 2021.” I definitely had some preferences in terms of songs so let's get into it.
The first song “The Years to Come (Elliott’s Song” was a solid and especially loved chorus when all the instrumentation comes together. It blends guitar, harmonica, drums and bass into a warm mix of folk. The lead rhythm guitar had some odd distortion coming from it but overall the mix was good.
“Face the Day'' has its moments as does the relaxing and chill “First Kiss (Emily’s Song).” One of the highlights was “Dying Day” and it definitely was one of the better vocal melodies and vocal performances in general. The more organic acoustic instrumentation sounded really good.
“A Toast” was a little hokey but still heartfelt. There’s some warm organ and a little more drive on “Nice to Meet Ya (Ashton’s Song).” The next highlight goes to “Making up for Lost Time” which contains one of the better vocal performances. I like it when he belts it out. The more pensive “Keepin’ On” was solid and again I liked the more stripped down acoustic song “Two Hearts as One.” Last up is the very American sounding “I Was Young When I Left Home.”
The production had a very DIY home recording quality. As an engineer I can say he did a solid job with the tools he had. The songs were a bit hit and miss for me but more hits. There are a couple notes I noticed he struggled with in terms of the vocals but again minor quibbles.
Overall, I thought this was a heartfelt and emotive album. It felt personal yet relatable. Recommended.
Ross Harley has been in bands for twenty-three years now. He has an impressive list of accomplishments and I am jealous he got to make a record with Steven Alibini. By the time you’re twenty-three years in you’re no longer in your youth. I’ve been playing music for around twenty- five years and your priorities change. Harley explains: “In and out of lockdown, while working full-time and parenting. My wife as my workmate across the hall, my 18 month-old daughter as the impatient, erratic boss. DADDY CLEAN is about that and everything else. It’s everything I can offer using only my own wits and an 8-track app on my phone.
The itch to make music usually lasts a lifetime and this album is a testament to that. This album contains ten songs and has a lush and atmospheric quality. The drums all seemed to be programmed but sounded good with the organic guitars which are usually clean. One of the things I enjoyed about this album was just the structure of the songs. It’s like he creates a foundation where he sort of streams his ideas. There weren't always clearly defined hooks and verses and I thought that was pretty cool and unique.
Take for instance the first song “Start” which starts minimally with bass, drums and vocals. Guitars enter into the picture but it almost feels like it starts over in a sense. It works and with repeated listens it really starts to click.
Harley does a nice job building subtle crescendos and dynamics on songs like “Ducks,” “Blush” and “Clocks.” There are also some nice grooves as well. I loved the very consistent 4/4 flow of “Breathe.” I could have done without the auto-tune effect on “Boot” but it is a minor quibble.
One of the highlights was “Stories” which has a forward moving momentum with philosophical insight into existential topics. “Void” has its moments as well and I really enjoyed the subdued funk of “Stop.” Last up is “Grace” which is very haunting but also changes emotive qualities quite often.
This is a great album. I still make music to gain perspective and although I never met Harley I feel like we are similar in this regard. Take a listen.
HYHT is a Portland, Maine-based quintet that gigged for several years before the release of their Ep1 collection in November, 2020. They call the four-song collection “a subtle response to the times.” We at Divide and Conquer were fortunate enough to have our ears treated to a review copy.
The band’s core sound for Ep1 is centered by bass and drums with complementary electric guitars in each ear. Keyboards fill the space in between, and provide the glue that gives the tracks an easy, almost atmospheric feel. While the feel is smooth and easy, it’s never lackadaisical, and the arrangements are pleasingly devoid of bloat or indulgence. Each part contributes and is performed with a purpose. The music is very tonal with pop sensibilities, rooted around regular major (or relative minor) scales; any dissonance is in passing and won’t upset the overall pleasantness of your listen. The band does employ some odd meters, but they do so with skillful grace, fitting the mood and groove of the piece.
Ep1 kicks off with a slow keyboard build into the mid-tempo instrumental “September 21st.” It’s a pleasure to hear real drums--with the keyboard start, loops and programs were certainly possible. Those drums set a 7/4 rhythm that flows well with the chiming guitar parts and layers of diaphanous keyboards. Even better, the song has utterly nothing to do with the played-into-the-ground Earth, Wind, and Fire song that references the same date.
The next three tracks all include vocals (both male and female) and continue the mid-tempo, smooth vibe. “Bloodletting” features some swooping slide-guitar effects, mixed low and deep, that are a fine complement to the vocals, as well as a solid guitar lead on the outro. “Marble”--this reviewer’s favorite track--has terrific guitar interplay and dynamics changes. The closer “Atlantis II” deploys some piano sounds with its odd (15/8) meter and the band builds an epic ending around one of those piano themes.
Ep1 is a lovingly crafted disc. You could spin it Monday morning at the office as you ease into the week, or Friday evening as you wind down; in either setting, it’s worth the twenty minutes. Enjoy!
Stalled is an indie band based in Chicago, IL with Jack Curtin (guitar/vocals/bass/mellotron) and Jonah Murray (percussion/Korg MS-20). Another pandemic band, the duo got started after their previous band Sci-Fi Sleep Cycles dissolved. After the release of their first single “Governor’s Dodge/Off Kilter” on October 2020, the band returns with a new EP Blank Conduct that incorporates a noise/quiet/noise dynamic as the band blurs the realms of chaos and order into soundscapes that functions as a mix of alternative shoegaze, post-punk and indie rock.
The band keeps you on your toes, careening from hard to soft at a drop of a hat. Curtin and Murray have created a unique and unexpected sound. Usually at first starting off soft, this changes in tone for a harsher sound that really creeps upon listeners and is like a near ambush. Like a powerful current, audiences will be swept by the ebb and flow of this incredibly dynamic release.
“A Feeling Of Accomplishment” begins with a slow burning almost shoe-gaze-y sound. The soft and hushed notes are really realized here. Curtin’s vocals come in in a near drone. Cutting in and out is a rush of sound that then changes up to more softer notes. The vocals often appear buried in the sound, but this seems to somehow work here. On “Beyond Understanding,” bouncy rhythms and beats right away jut in on the start of this track. Though the music is jaunty and lively with a hard rock flavor, the vocals come in as a drone. Sounding emo and punk rock inspired, the noise level increases, making for an aggressive and hard-hitting sound.
“In Tandem” changes things up for a more shoegaze-y and slow grooving approach. The sauntering rhythms will get listeners swaying to the free-flowing sounds. Guitars and a dancing drumming beat ups the simmering vibe. In a barely audible whisper, the vocals arrive. Again, the instrumentals nearly bury the vocals. This seemed to work here since it made the vocals seem more a part of the ambiance than the focal point. More reverb-drenched guitars add a touch of distortion to the sounds on “No. 7.” The fuzziness levels are at max levels here, as samples coming in and out rough out the edges. The driven indie rock music creates a disorderly feel to the track. Gradually, Curtin’s vocals come in in a stop and go motion. The music seemed more improvised here, heavily leaning on the percussion elements. The hard rock notes dive at an aggressive and edgy sound. The band really jams out here on this hard-hitting closer.
Mixing samples with an often surreal and hazy, atmospheric vibe Stalled melds sections of noise and chaos to perfect an indie rock and post-punk fusion. A delicate balance that the band is able to maintain, they’re painstaking efforts to sculpt a sound from the bottom up shows. Curtin and Murray seamlessly weave from harsh to soft effortlessly, able to ease us into the sounds with assuredness and agile dexterity. Deliberately keeping listeners guessing throughout, if this EP is any indicator, then the band definitely has something worthy of note here. This is a good start and I look forward to seeing where they go from here.
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