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
Roseville Candy Rock 3.7
Ember Valley Welcome Back 3.9
Yuppy Caillou 3.8
Marrowtones Little Songs 3.7
Jon Gengle Lemon 3.9
Somerset Maugham’s retelling of the old Arabic folk tale “Death Speaks” came to mind as I was listening to Grey Fields latest release, the three-song EP Sometimes the Dark Outweighs the Wonder. In the folktale a man in Bagdad sends his servant to the marketplace for provisions. While there the servant comes upon Death who makes a “threatening gesture.” Frightened, the servant flees and tells his master about this encounter and then says, “now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. Later on the servant’s master encounters Death in the very same marketplace. He asks Death, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?” To which Death replied, “That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
The three songs which comprise Sometimes the Dark Outweighs the Wonder come from having stared death in the face and coming out of that encounter triumphant. These songs are both about this new life that has been leased and about a reflection on the old life.
The opening track “If You Surround Me with Love I Won’t Feel Alone” is a haunting track of sparse acoustic guitar and eerie hums, chant like, which creates this funereal image. Then come the lyrics, a sort of stripping down of what a person is made of in this day and age; “Take away my money then take away my phone” singer Alex Dzamtovski sorrowfully croons in a wispy falsetto and later comes “take away my body then take away my soul.” He is essentially deconstructing himself in terms of his life, of what it’s made up of essentially. Musically the song is brilliant in its sparse acoustic guitar and hushed vocals which reminded me of Leonard Cohen and the bright yet spare pops of single xylophone notes.
Even more haunting and shadowy is the song “An Idea for an Acoustic Ballad” which echoes the title of the song “Exit Music (For A Film)” from Radiohead’s OK Computer, a muse I have ascertained Grey Fields holds in very high regard. Again the Spanish guitar makes its appearance amongst ghostly bells and whimsical “lah di dahs.” The song is touching and heartfelt, and perhaps even more accessible than Radiohead’s ballads largely due to their being just one piece of a bigger puzzle.
The equally haunting and Radioheadesque closing song, “Crawling Through the Dark” is the widest reaching of these songs in terms of a sense that there may be light somewhere near the end. It’s a sweeping ballad which gives the album a wider scope, and an ascension of ideas.
There is so much beauty in sadness. However sadness is not the easiest emotion to portray on a record. There are many pitfalls both lyrically and musically especially when the record is made purely as a reflection of that sadness, when there is not another voice or a third party to patiently point out that emotion must be carved out. It must be molded from its raw form, and worked to perfection to give the intended effect, or else it just becomes another log on the fire. It is this great focus which make these songs so powerful, and which makes certain that Sometimes the Dark Outweighs the Wonder will continue to burn on long after the fire goes out.
Logan Douglas is back with his most recent release entitled Keep Moving On. Douglas went to an isolated cabin to record these songs. This practice of going to an isolated cabin to record seems to have become a popular practice amongst folk musicians. Perhaps it was all started by Bon Iver.
The songs all revolve around guitar and vocals but there is some additional instrumentation that is occasionally implemented. Douglas hits upon a fairly straightforward ’60s folk sound with this record. That being said, it also contains some of the best songs.
He gets going with the title track “Keep Moving On.” The guitar work consists of a couple strummed chords to support the interesting story he is telling. It’s a song that tells the story of a bohemian folk singer. It a classic tale that has even been seen in movies such as Inside Llewyn Davis about a singer hopping on trains and always moving to another destination with his guitar in hand.
There is more storytelling on “Gambler’s Blues (St James Infirmary).” This song actually reminded me of Tom Waits in some ways especially in the way the cover song is sung at some points. “Lost” contains some harmonica while “Familiar” is about the trials and tribulation of a romantic relationship which blends into the vibe of “The Driver.”
One of the highlights was “Coffee and Cigarettes” which again tells another tale of a bohemian artist. It’s an artist who seems to looking for answers and is in desperate need of some sleep and a healthy meal. “Gallows Cross” has its moments. “At Night I Cry” contains some electric piano and “Open Your Eyes” contained electric guitar and felt a little more aligned with The White Stripes. “When We Met” and “Why” builds on traditional folk we have come to appreciate from Douglas.
Douglas has proved himself a poet and storyteller and Keep Moving On certainly displays that.
Karly D is an artist is from Toronto who released Mad Chedda. The album is a little hard to generalize. There are five folk songs and one rap song which seemed to be an attempt at humor.
The EP starts with “The Shipwrecked Alchemist” which is the highlight and an honest and heartfelt song. This is the style I really hope Karly D stays with. He is a solid guitar player and singer. The song creates a pensive, contemplative type of energy not too far away from early Bon Iver.
Up next is “Mad Chedda (over top of The Sunfish Song by Ronald Jenkees)” which is far removed from every other song on the EP. Hence, it was hard to know what to make of it. It’s a very lo-fi rap song with a new age type energy. This song is only on Youtube and to be blunt, I thought this song should be released separately from the other songs because it’s obviously a joke and takes you into a completely different headspace than the other songs.
Up next is “Luxurious Interlude” which is pretty guitar playing. There is some melodramatic whispering that happens at some point and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. “Shaded Sanctuary” continues in the contemplative heartfelt feeling of the opening song.
“Part 1: How To Be Alone” works well with the warm hum melancholy. He closes the EP with “Part 2: How To Feel At Home” which had its moments but I was wanting to hear vocals again.
Imagine if you will, Simon & Garfunkel in their prime playing to a huge audience at Central Park. They have performed beautiful renditions of “Kathy's Song,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “I Am A Rock” and instead of going into the “The Boxer” or “America” they start beatboxing. Simon starts to laugh and they start hooting and hollering around the stage rapping about how they need more mayo on their sandwiches. People's heads might actually explode and it would completely ruin the atmosphere they were weaving with their beautiful and heartfelt songs. My point is that if Karly D wants to rap I think it would greatly behoove him to put it under a different moniker. I’ve been working with musicians for over twenty years and if you are going to attempt completely opposite styles it’s best to do it under a different name or at least a different release.
The songs are very lo-fi and as an engineer I have a couple suggestions. At some point I think it would benefit him to, at the very least work, with a mastering engineer to balance out the volume levels and create a similar sonic imprint to the songs. I also noticed a lot of frequencies between 200hz and 450hz that if cut could have provided more clarity in the mix.
Karly D’s strength to my ears are the heartfelt songs that contain vocals. The first song especially showcases the talent and songwriting chops he has. That is where I feel he should focus on. I look forward to hearing the artist evolve.
When an artist decides to make an album there is a lot they need to think about. One of the things is the palette of sounds. In today's world it’s almost overwhelming with a countless amount of virtual instruments and effects that are available to everyone. The latest release entitled Elevate by Marcus Gee is an album that explores the bass. It’s an instrument that usually doesn't get much credit unless you are Flea, Les Claypool or Victor Wooten.
The album also contains some vocal work but it's really never at the focal center of any of the songs. “Elevate” is the opening track and it doesn't take long for Gee to display his technical ability. At points the instrument sounds more like a guitar. There are some slight effects like delay which gives the song a slight pad to rest upon.
“Smoked Out” contains some vocal work. The song however had a familiar style to the opener “Elevate.” “Psycho-Acoustic Horse” opens us to more of his abilities. Gee implements harmonics and a little more slap on this song. The bass work felt like ear candy.
“Angora Bait” slows things down and is a very ambient piece. It’s more hypnotic. The vocals are very distant and covered in large amounts of hall reverb. That being said there are some dynamic moments as well. “Personal Jolly Japer” features more prominent vocals while “Kimberly DnB” implements what sounds like percussive elements into the song.
“Vessels” is technically impressive and arguably has some of the catchiest vocal melodies. “Every 5 Minutes” is another atmospheric piece that feels more cerebral and meditative while “Saanen Balloon” provides some very impressive technical skills. Last up is “Psycho-Acoustic Flamingo” which sort of puts an exclamation point on his diverse abilities to sum things up.
Elevate has a broad appeal but if you also happen to appreciate technical ability and minimalism I would check out this album.
Look, I'm not gonna lie. It's very easy to sucker me in with a grunge album in this day and age. The slew of modern trickery available to give grunge a brand new spin is pure ear candy to me. There was a lot to enjoy from Mr. Man & The Big Eyes' latest album Rainbow Mouth. The group hails from London, Ontario. They are quick to make a ruckus and amp up the guitar riffs with a very crunchy satisfaction.
I feel that despite the album's size, it is very ambitious. With just six tracks, there was a healthy amount of transcendence. The second track, "Man of Science" is a wonderful romp through experiments with rhythm and vocal ability, and I feel in this track alone I really got a sense for how dedicated they were to their sound and their off beat aesthetic. While yes this is very grunge, it is never dated, I can't just slap this one in the ‘90s. In fact, the whole album comes off as something outside of time. It's not exactly a "now" sounding sort of thing, but it by no means can be contained to one decade. Very interesting, in the best kind of way.
The production had a few different hands involved. Recording went down at The Sugar Shack in their local area. I can safely say that I feel the recording itself was a huge success. They really captured the lively elements of the group that make them pop. Where I got a little hung up was in the mixing. These guys have a big and bright sound anchored by high powered guitar riffs, thick bass and loads of energy. The band also happens to have stellar vocalists, however it's hard to find them. Unfortunately with every track I found myself straining and digging for those words and fantastic vocal performances. I hear them, I know they're there, but they are decidedly buried in the musical elements. Don't get me wrong, the musical elements sound fantastic, I love the very neon colored vibe. It's everything I want from grunge. It just seems like a waste of some great vocal and lyrical work to have it get so overwhelmed. For mastering the group went to Railtown Mastering in Vancouver. There is a lot of great polish on this album that makes it larger than life and so the mastering was also a smashing success.
I love the story and spirit this album is bringing to life. Despite my hand ups in terms of production, I appreciate this album. I feel I have at least a glimmer of an understanding of what they wanted to project into the world, and I am here for it. They are bringing fun and flare back into grunge and garage rock and I would love to hear more.
Hopeless Ghosts is the moniker of Ontario based Kieran Ponsonby. His debut album Haunted is indie rock, combined with elements of emo and heavy rock and grunge instrumentation. It tells the story of a protagonist lost inside a haunted house where ghosts of the past and monsters of the present and future confront them as they try to find a way out.
To truly gain a feel and appreciation for this project, you have to take the nine-track concept album as one, a continuous story of Hopeless Ghosts' battle with inner demons portrayed with raw emotions and a painful but admirable honesty. It’s the equivalent of each song being a chapter in a book; each one adding layers and depth and building the chilling and frightful story akin to a horror movie.
Haunted kicks off with a bang in the form of the first song “Run and Hide” a teasing and powerful track, which is driven on by the imperious and distorted guitar riff and menacing use of the ride cymbal. This track is a great introduction into the journey ahead, and is sure to capture any listener.
The dark metaphoric lyrics are apparent throughout, and none better than on “Monsters” with “I realise my greater fears / with every single monster that I find” a truly haunting portray of the singers battle with mental illness. The heavy use of metaphors creates graphic and distinctive imagery that really pushes the bleak and emotive tones of the album.
Ponsonby's screaming and piercing vocals hugely complement the dark lyrics on this record. This is especially prominent on “Broken Mirrors” which is conveyed in such a striking and powerful manner that you can almost feel the singer’s personal pain.
The album comes to a grand finale on the closing track “Sleep” which is a fitting title to end this emotional journey. On this eleven-minute colossal track, Ponsonby really saves his best until last, and brings together a gargantuan climax, which feels like the whole album has been leading up to with the heavy distorted and minimalistic guitar work really adding a sense of doom and tension to proceedings.
Throughout Haunted the use of distorted guitars, post-hardcore intensity and shoegazing like effects is evident, which works to a certain extent within the themes of the album, but I also feel could be developed further, as I feel a lot of the tracks were quite similar and almost a replica in Ponsonby's formula (almost like at points he was resting on his laurels), I would love to see this talented artist push that boundary even further to create an even bigger and dynamic sound.
Having said all this however, Haunted is an uniquely, ambitious and emotional roller-coaster, which truly showcases Hopeless Ghosts unwavering talent, due to its honest and at times brutal nature. Give yourself into this album, and you will get so much back in return.
See.Double.You is a solo effort from a musician located in Iowa City. He recorded a stripped down album entitled Curtis Wayne.
The songs are all just acoustic guitar and vocals. I thought the artist had a naturally nice voice. The songs aren’t much more than a couple of strummed minor and major chords.
The album starts off with "Aimless" which is a softly strummed song which is indicative of the style you will hear. It's a well crafted song that starts off melancholy but has moments of hope interjected.
He has more success with "Sleeveless" which has a little more energy to it. It's bluesy with a southern back porch feel to it.
Up next is "Joni Mitchell" which is a highlight. It's a catchy song with some of the more notable melodies on the album. The next song that stuck out the me was "Trashy" which mixes a number of emotions really well. I think I liked the 60's folk sound to this track.
They are some highlights but the songs all have a similar feel to them with the subdued melancholy. “Webbed Hand and Bipolar Bears” and “A Father's Sin” were the other notable songs to my ears.
I've spent a lot of time listening to See.Double.You over the last couple of weeks. His songs have grown on me. On that note I think the next move for him would be to record at a studio. These songs almost have a warmth just in how they are played and sung. If he can get studio recording to match he should really be on to something.
The songwriting was impressive but also a fairly popular sound. He has a melancholy, intimate singer/songwriter vibe closer to Jack Johnson than The Tallest Man on Earth. I think See. Double. You’s style and sound is accessible and will be easy to appreciate by those who are looking for authentic music that is from the heart.
I wish him luck as he evolves and am looking forward to more of his music.
Big thanks to Seattle's own Northern Thorns for bringing the boogie with international flare and a lot of depth. Their self-titled album Northern Thorns is a dance album head to toe, but I would not categorize it as your typical dance album. Not all of the themes are light and fluffy. There are dark personal narratives at play and yet, I found myself moving my body all the same. It was actually very comforting to be able to dance to these dark lyrical themes. Everyone deals with negativity and tragedy in different ways. I found an immediate kinship with group founder and drummer Adam Kozie for his choice to present his woes with such a ripe and vibrant sound.
Northern Thorns has crafted such an interesting mix of African musical influences and indie rock. The music is many levels above “catchy." It's enchanting. Kozie's percussive instincts are spot on. I could not help myself, some part of my body had to be moving while listening. Kozie wrote the music and the lyrics and he had a lot to say with nine fabulous, head bobbing tracks. Lots of intricate rhythmic layers are strung together with sensational harmonies. The music bobs and weaves like a sentient being. It's its own creature. I know there is a lot of wonderful electronic magic at work here, but the album at its core sounds very organic to me.
Given the length of the tracks, one could file this under trance pop or possibly even jam band, that's kind of a tough call. The music is so distinctive I'm not inclined to label it as either. For one, I don't feel like I'm getting that signature trance effect. As far as jam bands are concerned, that's a genre for loose and indefinite composition. The compositions of this album are tight and intentional. There is a place for everything and everything has its place. On a composing level alone this album is so ambitious and has me in awe. This includes the vocal performances. The synergy is a live and well and really pays off for this album.
Production is another key element to what made this album successful for me. It would be such a waste to not be able to hear all the aspects of this careful assemblage. Luckily Kozie and his crew were in good hands. This album passed through a few different hands between recording and mixing and mastering. However I get the sense Kozie was never too far away. He was hands on for the recording process. The treatment of the music was well worth every penny, hour or whatever was spent on it. The quality is undeniable and I always like to encourage artists who take production seriously.
The more I listened to this album the more I understood what a catharsis and labor of love this album is and that really moves me. I would file this album under "highly recommended" for just about anyone looking to hear a new perspective.
Arian Jones is a rapper, singer, and songwriter who began his career in Pittsburgh's hip-hop scene in 2010 with the hip-hop group Heroes & Terrorists. He signed to the label Tribe Eternal Music Group and after releasing a number of songs released his debut in 2017 entitled Enter The Mind. His latest release I Am King is the follow up to Enter The Mind but is also the second part of a compilation.
I Am King contains six songs. There is a lot of diversity with these tracks. Jones has a large palette of tools and made these songs a pleasure to listen to. Up first is “I Am King (Intro)” which sounds like more than an intro. It’s a full fledged song that showcases Jones’ ability to manipulate his voice. He not only raps at different tempos but changes inflection in a natural and seamless way. The song has a lot of levity to it. It’s fun and easy to enjoy.
Up next is “Live Your Truth” which is a little darker in terms of the tones and textures. That being said the message is positive and a saying that seems to be prominent in 2019. The hook is catchy and I thought the song was single worthy. On top of that I loved the sub bass on the song.
Although I was born in 1981 I was able to appreciate “Born in 1990.” Jones mentions some prominent cultural references like Kurt Cobain. The song itself even had a very chill hip-hop vibe not too far away from The Pharcyde or A Tribe Called Quest.
“Smile (feat. Jaya)” is very smooth in terms of the song itself and the rapping style. The song has a lounge-y ’70s feel to it. “All On Me (feat. Mike Lux & Pharaoh Lum)” is the arguable highlight. It’s dynamic and about regret, being broke and a lot more. He closes with “I Am King (Outro)” which is a slightly psychedelic sounding yet dark track.
I Am King is one of the best hip-hop releases I have heard this year. Take a listen.
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