Ali Murray is a songwriter and musician hailing from “…the cold Isle of Lewis in the north of Scotland” who has just released Wilderness of Life, his first solo release since 2017. Murray is the vocalist and guitarist for alternative punk band Fall Town, and has various solo projects including Vapour Night and The Lonely Bell.
Murray’s press release calls Wilderness of Life “…a collection of reflective songs that incorporate the influences of many kinds of music, from dream pop to goth to post-punk to folk, with frequent nods to the lilting traditional Celtic music of Murray's homeland, Scotland. Veering between darkly moody dirges to sweeping, almost uplifting melodic pop, this is an album of uncompromising emotional intensity. Haunting, sometimes bleak imagery is employed in the service of describing the thoughts of a troubled soul, of loss, longing and the desperate desire for a meaningful life.”
Murray handled all recording and mixing at home, and plays most everything. He has a few guests including novelist Hester Fox who contributes spoken word on four tracks. Mastering was by Allister Thompson.
“Wilderness of Life” starts us off with deep and swirly notes on either a synth or an extremely modified guitar. As promised, it’s a moody, dark, slow and driving tune, with restrained vocals barely above conversational level. Though it’s at the macro level, I do catch of whiff of Celtic influence. There’s a bracing moment when what would normally be the “chorus” kicks in by changing to a major key with added guitars and vocal harmonies (but unlike a traditional chorus, it only plays once).
“The Burning Skies” is a sudden surprise: a dark, bluesy banjo screed with foot-stomping bass drum and clapped percussion. The banjo is pretty much the only instrument though it’s been double-tracked with maybe a third overdub added toward the end. “Wasted Eden” is the full Murray package reflecting the more romantic side of the Smashing Pumpkins, including Billy Corgan-style vocal for an upbeat song about a broken relationship. Stef Barcelona helps out on guest vocals, and I love the short sample of Hester Fox’s spoken word: “I’m here for you.” Thematically and musically, “Never Get Old” seems to continue the lush and romantic qualities from the previous song. “I’ll never let go til I know you're alright / It's going to take a whole new other life, to make it all mine / before the last ride leaves us behind.” Great piano by Andy Yearly as the lead instrument, plus Anna Mackenzie on cello.
“Baby Dove” is thick driving rock from the Bob Mould school: the guitars are so loud you can’t really hear any details! A good song pushed to the edge of sonic saturation and beyond. “Rain Box” is another hard rocker, almost punk, but the guitars this time are sharp and clear. This is another song with an unexpected, beautiful chorus near the end.
“Nectarine” has jangly electric guitars that helm another thick slab of rock, with an interesting arrangement that deconstructs and reconstructs as the track continues. Hate to sound like a broken record but this really does remind me of Smashing Pumpkins, and there’s nothing wrong with using their music as a template, though Murray has a somewhat more melodic voice than Billy Corgan. “Invocation” is short, quiet and somewhat spooky, with baroque picking and lyrics that seem to be set several centuries past.
The first 90 seconds of “Twilight Hill” are even spookier than the previous track, with ghostly voices by Hester Fox seemingly in a haunted church with eerie piano by Luke Cowan, paired with strange pads along with Anna Mackenzie’s cello. Then it all fades away and we’re into another melancholic rock masterwork that ends just a bit soon after the magnificent buildup. “I am my mother's son / Looking down upon the darkness of the land and the heart of a man…”
The Eno-like loops of “Don’t Take My Stars Away” lead into a final guitar-heavy tune without drums, somewhat evocative of (yes) the Smashing Pumpkins album Mellon Collie.
Though in places you may feel you’ve heard music similar to this before, Ali Murray has put together a compelling rock package, adding another gem to his long and fruitful career. Recommended!
Eric Jones is back with a new release entitled Observation Songs. I became familiar with him when reviewing Please, Peace! and Lamps. One thing I will say about this release is that the songs are some of the most minimal I’ve heard. The songs mostly revolve around bass and vocals.
I can’t say there is much energy to the songs. In fact it felt like an anti, reverse type of energy. These songs aren’t particularly exciting in a conventional sense of the word. In all honesty I found myself lost in thought at times. My attention was going in and out because of how laid back and borderline relaxing everything felt.
The first song is called “Unripe Fruit” and the bass sounds a little out of tune. Jones slides his finger across the board and it seems like he barely has energy to get out the words. The song ends quickly but had me oddly intrigued.
“Glowing Guy” almost feels like he’s being ironic. He sings “la la la la” but again it feels like he barely has enough energy to muster out the words. In addition to that, the way he plays bass is similar. It’s like he’s just scrapping the strings.
“Let’s See” has a little more gusto but still feels at any point that he could just stop playing. “Fun” sounds like him and a friend literally just having some fun. It sounds like they pressed record in GarageBand and did it in one take type of thing - you can hear a little chuckle after the song.
On “Jack” you get a digital sounding piano that sounds like a default setting in GarageBand. He manages to hit a couple notes and is barely holding it together in terms of the vocals. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I just heard him snoring halfway through the song. That’s how much energy I felt he was giving off. Again somewhat about this was a bit fascinating.
“I Wrote You a Letter” also has little to no energy. There’s some atmosphere and a couple notes here and there. “Terr and John” sort of just sounds like him improvising.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of this release. The songs felt improvised and had an anti-energy quality that was impressive in some weird way. Perhaps this is some artistic statement about the current state of capitalism in the west or perhaps it is just a dude making some noise. Maybe this is genius. I have no idea at this point but I can say at the very least this was a novel and original release
Lars Nelson Band is “a roots rock n’ blooze group” hailing from Minneapolis that formed under a shared love of British Invasion, Chicago blues, new wave and ’90s alternative music. That’s what they say at least. I was very interested to hear if they were going to combine all these genres on their release Midnight Anthems. This is mostly a rock album. It felt like songs you might hear at a bar with some attitude on a Saturday night. I didn’t hear one sliver of new wave but that was sort of expected.
The album contains a whopping fourteen songs, so is essentially a double albums worth of material. They get going with “So Damn Good” and it is a fine song and also recognizable in a lot of ways. The spirit was there and I felt like cracking open a beer even though it was 9:30 in the morning.
Bands like the Spin Doctors and The Black Crowes come to mind when listening to a song like “The Stage.” It’s not the only song that rocks out in this spirit. There are plenty of other songs that took me back to my younger years when bands like this were regular rotation on MTV. There was a time when MTV was how you discovered new music.
The album progresses with fun and loose songs that have that dangerous quality that used to be much more prevalent in rock. They throw in a ballad here and there like “In The HollyWood Hills” which ends up sounding like a ’90s alternative band not too far from a band like Nickelback. “Better Than I Dreamed” goes back to Spin Doctors and The Black Crowes.
One of the highlights is “Whiskey and a Cigarette.” I loved the driving rhythm that was not too far away from Queens of the Stone Age. As the album progressed I thought there were a number of highlights including “Feels Like Love” and “Cross The River.”
I spent most of my twenties wandering in dive bars in the midwest. A lot of bands did and still do sound like this. This isn’t the most original release I have heard in recent memory and countless bands have done something very similar for decades. On that note, however, they do it damn good. Take a listen.
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Faithful Kate is from Chesapeake, Virginia and is composed of Lee Brinn (vocals/guitars), John Houlihan (bass) and Ron Thornburg (drums). The band has been friends since 1991 and are still at it. I found this very endearing and sweet considering how many bands seem to end with a tenuous relationship. The band just released Classic and sounds like it’s classic Americana rock. There’s almost no hint that this is a contemporary release. That could be a good thing depending on your preference of aesthetics.
The album opens with the title track “Faithful Kate” and it was a good choice for an opener. It’s a very lively song that is upbeat and will put you in a mood. The instrumentation felt pretty standard. You have keys, earthy organ, guitar, drums and bass. The band sounds great. They are dynamic and you can tell they are seasoned pros. Brinn has an exceptional voice for rock but I can’t deny I often felt like I was listening to Rod Stewart. Brinn has a very similar strain to his vocals especially on this song. So all you Rod Stewart might want to start spinning this right now.
“August Train” brings the energy slightly down and felt like it was more of a ballad. There’s a tinge of melancholy but the song is more warm and feels like a bed of understanding. The hook is memorable. Great songwriting right here.
“Play Me Home” is this soulful and bluesy hybrid. The lead guitar is on point and I also thought the additional female vocals were a novel aspect that I appreciated. In general the vocals just sound great. There’s a good amount of space in the song which makes the vocals shine.
The band gets the most intimate on “Randy” which is just guitar and vocals. It did feel like more of a transitional song considering it's only about a minute long.
The band gets back to rocking on “Step Long.” Something about this song in particular made me think of ’90s alternative bands like Spin Doctors and The Black Crowes. “C of Blue” is the sort of song that would sound good in the wee hours at the after party. It’s jazzy, light and lush. The song does pick up some energy. I was impressed by the technical ability of this song.
“Classic” is more bluesy and also an instrumental for most of the song. The vocals come in towards the end of the song which I wasn’t expecting but they don’t feel like a lead. “Sippin’ Glass” has a Led Zeppelin vibe with a slightly more country-like quality. I loved the guitar groove here and Brinn hits it out of the park again. They end with “Baby Says” which is a romp and pretty straightforward classic rock tune with a blue collar flavor.
My only slight critique here was I felt like the band was doing perhaps too many moves that come from the classic rock handbook that were handed down from the legends. There wasn’t much experimentation that made me feel they were attempting something beyond the criteria that has been paved. That being said, the exceptional songwriting and delivery more than make up for it.
This is one heck of a talented band. Suffice it to say that fans of the aforementioned bands should love this and even if you’re not a huge fan of classic rock this could be a good place to start. Take a listen.
I have heard a number of albums from the band Vegetables At Last. The band is prolific and consistent. Way back in 1997 the band released their debut album, and their most recent album entitled Winning Apples is their thirteenth release. The band does point out they function more as a collective these days with Paul Morris (vocals/guitars/songwriting/production), Simon Pickering (vocals/piano/organ/songwriting), Carl Fox (bass/guitars/percussion) and Adrian Carr (percussion) contributing to Winning Apples. Gareth Bouch of The Rain Dogs also contributed what he describes as electronica & atmospherics. They mention that the addition of Bouch gives the music a slightly different feel. That may be true but I would say this is still a rock oriented release. One thing to also note is that there are alternative versions of these songs on a different release which are not included in this review.
They open with “You’ll Do” and this is a great song that harks back to bands like Grandaddy, Clearlake and The Clientele. The atmosphere is definitely appreciated on the song but the guitar melodies and vocals really shine. I thought the rhythm section was pulling their weight as well. Great opener.
“Shiny Eyes For Me” is top notch as well. The other vocalist hits it out of the park and the guitar is again very well done with strong melodies that are pretty but also make the song feel like it’s moving forward. There’s a well-done breakdown section and the slight shoegaze quality increases as the song progresses.
“Signals” is a little more moody. The vocals are covered in a heavy hall reverb and the electronic percussion elements were subtle and added a good amount to the song. Bands like Ride and Slowdive came to mind on this song.
“Stars” is happy go lucky in comparison and arguably the most catchy song on the album. You might find yourself singing along with this one on the second spin. It sounds like a manipulated harmonica solo at one point which I thought was very cool.
The band rarely gets introspective in my opinion but they do so on “If the Earth is Round.” It was a nice change in mood and contains sentimental lyrics. That mood lingers with “Stupid Ways To Die” but is more experimental and atmospheric. I loved the distorted distant feedback on this song.
The band rocks out hard on “Emma This Girl I Know” which reminded me of one of my favorite bands from the ’90s - Pulp. On “Underground” the deep baritone voice fits perfectly while “I Need Your Keys” contains earthy organ and lyrics about a turbulent romantic relationship. “Nee Naa” contains some of the most epic moments on the album. Last up is “You’re Not Mine” which is a melancholy closer that wraps you in warm horns and piano that feel like a hug.
I thought the additional atmospheres were well implemented. In fact Winning Apples might be my favorite release from Vegetables At Last. Highly recommended.
The band known as Big Pinch, are also students at the University of Colorado, Boulder. They met in 2020 and have been playing all sorts of shows around the Boulder and Denver area, from frat houses and house parties to Larimer Lounge and Trident Cafe. Their first EP Devil’s Basement was tracked and mixed at Dog House Recording in Lafayette, Colorado. The group worked with Evergroove Studios on the mastering process. Their current EP Along a Speed Track has a mix of what they do – with both vocalists having two tracks. They have fast guitar sections that transition into slower breakdowns, layered guitars, trumpets and a Wurlitzer. The band compares their sound to many of the styles that were popular in alternative music during the ‘90s, such as Sonic Youth, Beulah and Pavement.
Their songwriting process is usually organic, where they all jam together until structure is created. Sometimes someone will come in with a riff or a part they like, and the rest of the members add what they think would fit into it. During recording, they played the songs as a full band without the vocals and then added on any extra sounds they thought could fit in the mixing room. Big Pinch consists of Will Cinnamond on vocals and guitar, Connor Weisburg on guitar and trumpet, Burke Parent on vocals and bass and Ari Epshtein on drums.
The wild and energetic “Mike Piazza” begins the EP with pop punk and a quick beat, along with some scream-singing, trumpets, and distorted guitars. Fun song! Next is “Dalai Lama Subway Station” and it features catchy guitar riffs, and a rhythm that is infectious. The band breaks up their pace and slows things down during the bridge of the song, which I thought made for a dynamic tune. But what I really loved was that catchy guitar groove. “Kill the Hill” gives the listener a different song arrangement, style and sound. With its mellower approach, it also features a heavy bass melody, cleaner sounding guitars on top of a distorted rhythm guitar, cleaner vocals and more complex instrument arrangements. There’s also some flute sounds and an extra Wurlitzer solo. The last track “Lemonhead” features another catchy guitar riff and a fast punk rhythm. During one of the verses, a unique mix happens – the band sounds like they “drop” their instruments out and/or put them inside this sort of ‘vacuum echoey’ filter. The “break” part of the song, where the bridge leads into another great, melodic guitar solo, was another memorable twist I liked about this number as well.
All in all, I liked Big Pinch’s second effort here. Lots of energy, and the songs seemed to work well together as an EP. Sometimes, their guitar sound reminded me of Dinosaur, Jr. Some other bands that also came to mind were ska-punk/metal band from Idaho Black Happy, Meat Puppets and maybe a rawer, less polished version of Green Day – just, maybe. But I think these guys offer something more, though I mean no disrespect to Billie Joe Armstrong, Tré and Mike.
Marion Kaiser is an artist from Las Vegas, NV and recently released Wiser. Kaiser mentions “The album sounds like dreamy folk songs that reflect on some of the songwriter's personal passing feelings and thoughts. Because of the fluidity and ephemeral nature of feelings, the songs are meant to feel floaty and a bit blurry, especially “Won't Last’.” That makes sense to me and I definitely felt that quality within her songs.
The songs are delicate, emotive and atmospheric. These qualities weave themselves throughout the EP starting with “Won’t Last.” This song has more of a melancholy feel that combines with a sense of stillness. The guitar picking is melodic and mantra-like but the song does build with a subtle energy. There are moments where the music comes back down and the guitar picking is backed by ghostly vocal harmonies not unlike something you might hear from Julianna Barwick.
The melancholy turns to warm reflection on the title track “Wiser.” Similar to the previous song there’s a stillness to the guitar picking. I loved the chorus on this song which is around the one- minute mark. There are some gorgeous vocal melodies. The second chorus is even more epic and reminded me somewhat of Sigur Rós.
“Stranger's Eyes” is the most intimate sounding track. This might be the highlight. The vocal melodies stuck with me long after the song was over and the guitar picking might be the most intricate on the EP.
“Maybe” felt a little more loose and playful than the previous songs even though the melancholy is still present. It felt a little more European and I kept on envisioning this song being played in France for some reason.
This EP isn’t pushing boundaries but succeeds in providing a warm bed of solace for the listener. The songs are well written and delivered and Kaiser doesn't need more than a guitar and her vocals to emit this energy.
Bradley Joel is an Australian singer/songwriter from Fremantle, Western Australia. Bradley Joel started as a side project from involvement in the acts Dizzy Planet and Midflight Parasite. He was driven by the desire to write and record music with a more personal edge. That desire manifested itself in the nine-song album MIND MOP.
Joel describes his music as reflective and dark at times. I would add to that there are some playful and even joyous moments as well so let’s get into it. “The Bad Things” is one of the darker tunes on the album. There’s a tortured quality to his vocals at points but it feels wrapped in solace. The music revolves around a couple guitars and I thought there were some creative elements, like the way the strings sound like tears.
“Good Times, Good People” definitely brings up the good vibes as the name implies. I was getting a Velvet Underground type of energy on this song. The jangly guitar chords and loose guitar playing made the song feel inviting. I also thought the subtle percussive aspects were well done towards the end of the song.
“Corridors” introduces drums and more dynamics. The vocal delivery was much different. He doesn't feel like he’s lamenting here and instead feels confident, almost like he’s going through a catharsis.
Whatever goes up must come down and “Feet First” goes back into darker territory. There’s some exceptional guitar playing on this song. I loved the fills as well as the picking. “Holding On, Letting Go” has a mid level country like vibe while “Palm Tree Green” contains some slick lead guitar.
“Slip Away” contains a mix of reflection, melancholy, hope and gratitude. This is also the most confident the vocals have sounded. I loved it. “Struggle Town” is sort of the bluesy close with great lead guitar. John Frusciante came to mind.
This is a heartfelt and honest release. He puts his heart on his sleeves and plays with authenticity. Recommended.
String Factory is a solo project from Bristol, UK-based singer/songwriter/producer Dino Brewster. All the songs were recorded in the artist's home studio, (Red Robin West) and have a boldly arranged, Britpop-adjacent, indie rock style. Brewster cites bands such as Supertramp, The Cars, and Manic Street Preachers as influences on his sound. These Are the Days is the second EP release from String Factory, featuring the title track and three unique B-sides. The EP follows last year's debut album Going South and came together in a similar way. String Factory’s songs are characterized by their personal and acerbic lyrical style, and a bold and varied set of Britpop-adjacent indie rock arrangements.
The EP’s title track “These Are the Days” is a rugged and upbeat rock song, with a psychedelic arrangement that builds up over the runtime, closing out on a luxurious electric piano solo. The track features acoustic guitar work from frequent collaborator Teorstan, who also provided backing vocals on track 2 “It Doesn’t Matter What I Say.” Drum samples were provided by Judd Madden.
“These Are the Days” starts things off with fantastic, Brit-pop finesse – danceable, certainly catchy and just an all-around fun song to listen to. Reminds me of the second wave of Brit-pop that came out in the mid-‘90s and early 2000s. Lyrically, I suppose you could say it’s a tune that taps into the joy of being alive – as long as you have a “bottle of good times” in hand, and a friend by your side. No one is waiting for you at home anyway. The next song “It Doesn’t Matter What I Say” begins with a great, guitar intro and more of those warm bass sounds, like in the first track. This tune seemed to have more sophisticated structure to it, compared to the first track. For instance, I think track one was more straightforward Brit-pop, while track two had a classic rock feel mixed with modern pop, too. Like, I could hear the spirit of The Byrds, The Kinks and The Animals mixed with bands like The Cars. As far as a story line, it seems this one is about a relationship break-up of some kind, or one that is at a crossroads.
“Don’t Worry I’m Sorry” reads like a definite break-up song, in my view, where one party is afraid to lose the other “as a friend” even though they’ve treated that friend like crap. A lot of heavy, melodic bass grooves on this tune, along with sweet-sounding guitar solo. Brewster also seemed to have just the right amount of classic ‘60s Brit-pop spirit with modern sounds of the 21st century. A very well written pop song.
The EPs last track,\ “Just Another Guy” is an all-acoustic number. It has a lot of energy, quick sung lyrics and lots of anxiety filled thoughts. The fast rhythm that Brewster delivers reminds me of Gordon Gano from the Violent Femmes and his honest lyrics, though very ego driven and critical against oneself, kind of remind me of early Billy Bragg material. If you love the sounds and styles of indie/Brit-pop from a very talented artist, give String Theory’s These Are the Days a try.
I usually try to listen to an album first before reading anything about it. Sometimes I get genuinely surprised about what I discover. I was pretty sure The Scrambled Eggs was a full band primarily because I didn’t hear programmed drums and the songs sounded live on the release Do You Believe in Gravity?. That was not the case. Scrambled Eggs is a solo project by d. lamb of South Jersey, USA. He recorded everything DIY style.
The other thing about this release was how it came to be. In fact, it was the first time I heard of anything like this. It was like reverse engineering of an album. They mention “The concept for the EP was a 2020 Christmas gift from dev lamb (d. lamb’s offspring and hardcore garage artist in Philly bands Brain Peel and Sloptart). The gift was the physical EP cover with album art, band name and song titles. The project then was to write and record the songs for this “fictitious” band’s debut EP. Two years later, and here it is, a post-punk space-rock mild-psychedelic offering with no grounding in time or place.”
The EP contains five songs and has a loose and playful quality. I was getting different types of energy depending on the song. The EP starts with “Do You Believe in Gravity?”. This may very well be the highlight and felt like an opener. The first minute gets the energy moving with an upbeat and highly kinetic quality. It doesn't take too long for a breakdown to happen and I was reminded of bands like Pavement that happen to be one of my favorites. The song finds its way back to the initial groove and just feels positive and joyous.
“My Shoes Are Wet” is a good one as well. The groove felt a little more post-punk inspired. On that note it doesn't feel emotionally heavy like a Joy Division song. It’s loose like a song from a band like Pavement or The Shins. The spooky organ and surf rock groove was great.
“Elevator Song” had such a ’90s indie rock energy to me. The whole EP did but this song is the bullseye with slightly dissonant grooves and jangly guitar chords. There is a breakdown I wasn’t expecting however. There’s this fast percussion section with shards of feedback. The main groove comes in with no warning.
“What the Heck” was a solid song. It sounded a little more lo-fi and the organ was too loud in the mix but otherwise it had its moments. “That's the Way it Works” contains an earthy organ and is the moodiest song in the batch. There are a couple significant changes in the song and it gets more accessible as it continues.
This is a solid EP that mixes a number of different styles. The first couple of songs were especially strong. Recommended.
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