With a name like The History of Gunpowder the album already peaked my interest. Apparently they are a freak out ensemble from Montreal, now based in Vancouver, with an ever changing cast of members that put on unpredictable, chaotic live shows. The lead singer called Axmo seems to be the circus leader. Their release The Epileptic Volume 1 contains six songs where each song averages around seven minutes in length.
I don’t use this word lightly but these songs are epic. There’s a lot to unpack here so let’s take it from the beginning. The first song is “Buenas Aires” and you are greeted with orchestral dissonance that is on par with the incredible composition “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” by the composer Krzysztof Penderecki. As the song progresses it somehow transitions into this Tom Waits type march that somehow doesn't feel displaced or jarring. The orchestration is back but minus the dissonance. It’s thematic and swells. The crunch of rock comes in with a spaghetti Western style lead guitar. Soon enough the song is tearing at the seams with sound before re-visiting the Tom Waits style breakdown. Hot damn, now that’s a song.
Someone get Quentin Tarantino on the phone. “First Come for Peace'' needs to be in the director's cut for Django Unchained. The song calls to action the winds from the west and heroes journey into the unknown.
“Greased Up in the Port” was the first song that didn’t feel like the music was from a different planet. That being said it sounds like Tom Waits was backed by a brass band that are all in flow state from feeding off the energy of the crowd. I was actually thinking a little more intimacy and sorrow might be a good call at this point and the band delivers with “So You Think You're Alone.” There is a whole lot to this song. At its peak the song felt like a tornado of sadness and frustration. Then you are overwhelmed with nowhere to go and not knowing what to do. This song is willing to meet you halfway and provide some solace for those lonely moonlit nights.
The centerpiece of the album is arguably “Early Riser.” It started off innocent enough, sounding a bit like The Black Keys. The song starts to take off in multiple directions with the mix barely being able to contain all the instrumentation. After the last big crescendo the sounds dissipate in moments that sway between serenity and detachment. They close with “Cold Dead Hands” which was surprisingly the most straightforward song on the album. This song could have been on the recent Bruce Springsteen album Western Stars.
Words only do so much. Listen to this on as big of speakers as possible.
Low River aka Paul Bardsley is a musician from the UK who recently released New Mothers. The album at its core is a guy playing heartfelt songs with his guitars. There is some accompaniment but not too much.
The album starts with “The Flood” which was a highlight. I thought the mood here was early more acoustic oriented Dinosaur Jr. or Kurt Vile. The acoustic guitar picking pattern is hypnotic and melancholy. Once the drums and bass lock in I really liked the groove. The vocals are fairly subdued and fit the song. There is a slight rise on the verse with a catchy sing-along type of melody,
The next song “The Wolf That Cried Boy” is a little more expressive and dynamic. It felt like a fitting followup after the opening. There is a lot to appreciate from the soaring lead guitar to the catchy chorus.
The rocking and catchy “I Remain” contains philosophical insights that seem to be about consciousness itself. Bardsley sings, “Do you ever come back, when nothing really goes away /Will I ever learn that, I am here and I remain” which reflects the popular phrase “I think, therefore I am” by Descartes. Some of the songs had more of a clear country flavor to my ear such as “Fire.” Even on a song like that however the verse which is dripping with country flavor goes into a more indie rock type vibe during the chorus.
You hear a softer side to his music with “In Time.” I thought he sounded great on this song which focused more on the guitar and the emotive vocals. Similar to some of the aforementioned songs, he creates memorable melodies on the chorus which you will want to hear again.
Some of the songs are cryptic. Take for instance “Knock On My Door.” This is a smooth song with more palatable vocal melodies. The lyrics however are shrouded in some mystery. He sings, “I know my fate I know what i’ll get / I know the curse of knowing what I have been / I know my sings I’ll try to forget / I’ve been nothing I can be nothing again.”
I wasn’t expecting orchestration but I got it and liked it on “Bye Bye Big Sky.” He closes with a stripped back song called “Shiner.”
I thought this was a great album. It’s on the lo-fi side in a number of ways but there’s no denying the emotion. Take a listen.
Kieran, Al, Paul and Garf are Midnight Architects. The band initially formed in 2016 and just released Tales Of The Town. They are a fun and loose rock band often combining various sub genres. The band says they are “Inspired by local culture, our foot stomping tunes tell tales of our favorite watering holes, and life experiences with a coating of northern grit and tongue in cheek humor.” That’s the general vibe I was getting. They don’t take themselves too seriously which translates to a good time when it comes to the tunes.
The band has various degrees of humor. “Reminiscing” is a fairly straightforward song that often harks back to ’90s punk in the spirit of bands like The Offspring or Green Day. It’s a great song with an explosive chorus but not nearly as comedic as some of the other songs.
You then have a song like “Cock Of The North'' which feels as frivolous as a song by Spinal Tap. The song mixes Rage Against the Machine with an anthemic chorus. I’m pretty sure Game of Thrones was the inspiration behind the lyrics.
That Rage Against the Machine pops up a couple of times during the album. Take for instance “Sit On The Chair.” The verse sounds like a British version of Rage. That being said the chorus has a more pop oriented hard rock feel.
The band has songs which were very unique. “Karmakazi” for instance has a verse that is somewhere in the realm of Primal Scream. That riff would have sounded right at home on XTRMNTR. The chorus however is completely different. It is more post-punk inspired and again has this anthemic quality. It works really well.
The band is really just getting started. There is a lot to explore at thirteen songs but there were some highlights. “New Generation” has a revolutionary feel not too far away from The Who or Cheap Trick. I can’t help but wonder if that was a conscious decision. “Simple Song” and “I'm Stuck Feeling” were some of the other repeat worthy songs.
Being from the states myself I can notice a British accent and I have to say I loved how distinct the vocals were to me. It definitely added to the experience in a positive way.
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Temi Gordons (drums), Sofia El Salahi (vocals), Minnie Cunningham (vocals), Armand Ste.Croix (trumpet), Anja Wylie (piano), Brian Coulton (guitar/bass) and Derek Wylie (guitars/vocals) are Thursday Night Shift. That’s one full band. Back in 2017 we reviewed Feast to high regard. The band is back with Fake Muse.
The band unequivocally has a lot of people. This can sometimes be an issue if there is a lot of ego in the band. If everyone is going to want to be the focal point it’s going to sound overcrowded. Thursday Night Shift seems to be well aware of this fact because the songs breathe. The musicians pick their spots which make the instruments have more of a symbiotic relationship.
As far as themes and lyrics there are a lot of topics ranging from politics to the value of friendship. I would say the lyrics are pretty deep both in how they are delivered and the actual words. There were multiple times where I was reminded of Pink Floyd.
The album opens with “The Embrace.” You are greeted with a strummed acoustic guitar and a lead guitar. Derek Wylie has a distinct voice. It's not as deep as Tom Waits but was in that territory. I think the mix of Nick Cave and Tom Waits sounds about right. It’s a warm and beautiful song. I would say it’s a very comforting song from the lyrics to the general vibe. Almost reassuring.
A good horn player can make it sound like the instrument can cry. That’s what I was hearing on “Eden.” I loved those horns that were strategically placed. This song also contains notable vocal harmonies and impressive crescendos that feel empowering.
Those Pink Floyd vibes are probably most prevalent on “Dreams Of Home.” There is a resurgence of energy on “Rise Up” which blends post-punk with a band like Arcade Fire. “No Visa” is all around joyous and celebratory at least in terms of vibe.
As the album progressed I thought the band did a great job shifting the energy in ways that made the experience one worth listening to sequentially. That being said I thought there were some highlights. “Magnetic” was the catchiest song to my ears while the closer “Sixteen-Ten'' has a number of wicked grooves and transitions that caught my attention.
Simply put this is what a band sounds like that is on top of their game. The songwriting and delivery is all there making for an emotionally resonant and powerful album.
The album cover artwork for Monkey Road by Uncle Brent & the NoStone really sets the mood perfectly. Before I listened to a single note I was thinking this is a good old fashioned rock album with attitude. To be blunt - I nailed it. Well, at least for the first song.
The album brings straightforward, no frills rock that goes back decades and flirts with the pop arena as well. If you didn’t notice for the last couple of decades mainstream country has also become very rock oriented. It's a far departure from Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. There are a lot of dudes in cowboy hats singing about good times, driving in their Chevy and drinking. It’s a bit of a trope but it’s very real. This album certainly more than flirts with that genre but there is a lot of sub-genre and stylistic hopping from song to song.
The EP opens “Forget U” which has a classic “Let’s get on our bikes and ride” type of vibe. It’s a summer type jam that will sound appropriate at a BBQ cookout. The song has a good mix of attitude and good times. All things considered this is a straightforward song and unless you have been living in a cave you will notice similarities to plenty of rock 101 type moves they pull off.
The pop country vibe I was referring to is most noticeable on “Monkey Road.” I have to say the song seems to have all the criteria for a standard pop country/rock hit. They pull off a bit of a 180 with “Bullets” which comes closer in mood and vibe to a song like “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. The song does build with percussive elements and pads which give it a thematic quality.
That country/rock/pop is again revisited on “Her Pain.” I would also add that on this song there is more of an Americana vibe that reminded me of Tom Petty. It might have been the palm muting. They close with “Tequila Nights” which may be the best but the mornings sure aren’t. That was supposed to be a joke but seriously I don’t screw around with tequila anymore. The song is fun and slightly nostalgic which makes for a solid closer.
There are rock/country stars like Sturgill Simpson and Shooter Jenninsg who have been experimenting with the rock/country formula. Monkey Road is not that. All things considered I think Monkey Road will appeal most to purists in a sense as well as fans of the modern country/rock vibe. Above all that though is the fact these songs are well written and also very well delivered. Recommended.
Austin Zaff is a musician but he is also currently finishing his degree in Studio Production. With that in mind I had my ears focused on the production for Wasp on the Window. He does mention artists like Radiohead, Frank Ocean, James Blake, Perfume Genius and Bon Iver as influences which are basically influencers in terms of production style.
Suffice it to say I was impressed by the production. As a songwriter myself for well over twenty years I still believe almost all good songs should be able to be stripped back and there is still something worth listening to. Melody still matters to me no matter how inventive the original production is. After listening to these songs I get the feeling Zaff would agree with me.
Take for instance the impressive percussion aspects, white noise and more on “Compelled” which are juxtaposed against a catchy vocal melody that drives the song. Zaff will take time to splice a single vocal phrase or control a single note. This attention to detail is fantastic and rewards repeated and attentive listening. “The Veil” contains a hip-hop infused beat not unlike Four Tet but also experiments with pads in a unique way.
I was getting Radiohead vibes on “This Fleeting Dream'' when it came to the music but the vocals are distinctly different than Thom Yorke. The beat on “A Slow March” felt a little more pop infused but slightly off kilter in the spirit of FKA Twigs.
Being a good producer also means knowing when to let a song breathe. Space is important. “My Old Soul” contains swells with pads and leaves plenty of room for subtle elements to sound crystal clear. “Giving In” is another sparse song that lets the instruments breathe but with a different approach.
The energy gets ramped back up with “Spin Out” while “Just So” contains some memorable vocal harmonies. He closes with “Grainy Eyes” which is another different side to his production and songwriting. The vocals sound great.
Zaff is off to an exceptional start. The production and songwriting come together in the way I'm most fond of. Highly recommended.
Tennessee-based high school quintet Gradient has released What You’ll Find as their debut EP. Through its four songs the group takes us on a journey through a teenager’s lens, underscored by power-pop tracks that evoke Neon Trees, or even Roy Thomas Baker-era Cheap Trick. The lyrics cast a cynical eye first toward media, then to broader society, before an uncomfortable acceptance of social order.
Opening track “Sugar Pills” starts off strong, with jangly guitars, pulsing bass, and poppy drums with dance-hall hi-hat work. The band exhibits some nice start/stop dynamics. The following track “Trains” takes us somewhat down-tempo but maintains sonic coherence with similar jangly guitars. Ethan Weaver plays some tasty melodic bass lines, and his brother Dylan chips in some nice lead guitar licks.
The band hits its peak on “Did You Forget,” the highlight of the EP. Here they add piano to a wash of guitars and strong bass work to build a lovely atmospheric track. The distorted bass guitar in “Did You Forget” offers a nice shift in tone and there is a fun guitar/bass call-and-response. Ethan Weaver’s playing here is again very melodic; it made me wish that his brother’s guitar solo offered something similar.
These four songs hold together nicely - sounds from “Sugar Pills” reappear in “Trains;” the last lyric of “Did You Forget” is repeated as the first line of “Assimilate.” But Gradient give us seven tracks on this EP: the next three tracks are acoustic re-readings of earlier tunes. The arrangements and performances are fine, but the tracks don’t add anything to the story. In a vinyl release, the electric tracks would work as the A side, with the acoustic tracks as the B side.
These criticisms aside, I enjoyed What You’ll Find, and Gradient should be proud of what they’ve produced. I look forward to hearing them build from this strong base on their next release.
Nathan Edmunds (vocals/guitar/keys), Matt Warner (vocals/bass/guitars/keys) and David Taggart (drums) are The Lowsiders. The band from Ohio recently released Can't Stop The World From Spinning.
The band is atmospheric but also plays into garage rock. I was reminded of a lot of bands from the ’60s and ’70s which is their main aesthetic. They utilize this foundation to make their own unique sound.
The very first song is called “End Times, pt. 2.” I chuckled at the fact that pt. 1 didn’t seem to be anywhere around. One of the bands that kept coming to mind in the background of my mind was The Doors. You can hear a similar sacred type of energy as if they evoking spirits from the dead. It’s moody, gothic but also has a great groove. Additionally it’s quite catchy and with an epic, dynamic ending.
“Tradition” was where I really came on board. This has a bit of Pink Floyd, The Doors and I would even say Tom Waits in some regards. The song for the most part is very dreamy and atmospheric but also had this moonlit night type of feel. It feels like a song that leans into the darkness.
The band continues to kill it with “Revolutions” which blends catchy melodies with their uniquely haunting vibe. I was picking up more on this gothic southern vibe. It felt like a song that you could play in the show True Detective. “Desire” rolls with a bluesy flavor. It’s again very catchy and their use of vocal harmonies was impressive.
The band gets brighter with “Half of It.” Some of the gothic moodiness is gone in favor or a more straightforward garage rock vibe that is melodic and palatable. They do what they do best with “The Man Who Laughs” while “Disney Girl (2017)” is a short '50s inspired song that brings to mind The Beatles as well as The Animals.
They capitalize on that vibe with “I Hope You're Happy” and go back into wonder reverb infused atmosphere on “Craters on the Moon.” They close “Pay The Man” which is probably the most funky the band has been but also go back into the more ephemeral dream like vibe towards the end.
The band is on a bit of a spectrum with this album as it sways back and forth between the moody, atmosphere and the more grounded garage rock. They do it very well. Highly recommended.
Bladderwrack is a two-man band from London, UK, playing punk with an overdriven 12-string acoustic and a stripped-down drum kit. They released Good Mourning Britain. The first thing I need to do is heap some praise on the band for making a punk album that is twenty-four minutes long. For the love of god punk albums should be short. It’s a bit of an unwritten rule and I was happy to see Good Mourning Britain obliged.
Punk also sounds great with a British accent and Good Mourning Britain is no exception. The vocals inflection veers towards Johnny Rotten territory most of the time but not always. There is a sense of urgency, anger as well as a cathartic release.
The band opens with “I Can Run Your Country” which is political in all the right ways. I loved the dissonant guitar pattern. There seems to be some kind of harmonizer on the guitar which gave the song some kind of dissonant effect. The drums are tom heavy and although this music wouldn’t be confused with anything other than punk I thought the band had an original sound.
The band continues to crush with “Gargoyles.” It’s dark, aggressive and utilizes some descending guitar progressions that I thoroughly enjoyed. “They Tell You They Love You” actually had a little bit of a different vibe to me. There is some classic rock infused here and even a hint of blues with the vocal melody. The chorus is best yet with catchy, memorable melodies.
I also enjoyed how jagged and cutting the song “Sexy Priest” was. I think the implementation of xylophone was a good call I wasn’t expecting in the least. The band is just getting started as they have more success with “Hit Her,” “Demagogue” and the politically infused “My Name Is Donald.”
There is a tip of the hat to Willy Wonka on “UKIP” while the closer “God” is philosophically thought provoking in a very nihilistic manner.
This is a fantastic punk album that has its roots with legends from the ’70s English punk scene. Two big thumbs up.
Here’s a tip. When you are pushing your music, being humble is usually the best way to go. If you explain that your music is an intoxicating mix that is genre defying but combines all the strengths of Radiohead and Led Zeppelin you are creating an impossibly high benchmark. I was reading about Dreaming of Electric Sheep aka Rick Sullivan and his album Elsewhere. and to be blunt I loved the humble and slightly self-deprecating way he was describing his music. Even if it was on a subconscious level I was already rooting for him. It turns out I really enjoyed this album.
Apparently his music is sometimes compared to Neutral Milk Hotel. I don’t think that is a good comparison mainly because the music felt too joyous and upbeat in many regards but mostly because of the vocal inflection. I think a better comparison would be the acoustic duo The Dodos or Whitney.
At the heart of these songs are palatable vocal melodies and acoustic guitar. That's the foundation to the music. If you took away the occasional lead guitar and drums out of a song like “Daydreams” or the album highlight “Sulphured Soul” you would still be left with great songs. That being said, additional instrumentation does add some additional layers of texture and emotion.
As the album progressed I felt like the center of the bullseye were the songs which expressed a positive, hopeful and joyful vibe but with lyrics that hinted at an existential dilemma. Take for instance the introspective lyrics on “Foxes.” He sings, “is this all there is to life? / always unsatisfied / tied to the places I put myself / Caught by the rye / What would they think of me?” “The Valley of Nightshade & Aconite.” and “Between the Peaks.” are some of the other high points.
As an engineer myself I have two minor critiques. I would encourage him to work with a mastering engineer for a couple reasons but mainly to balance out levels on all the songs. There are also some minor issues in timing that I noticed pop up once in a while. It’s nothing too striking but if I notice them other people might as well.
Overall, I really thought this was a great album from a very talented young musician. I hope this is just the start for him and I want to hear more. Take a listen.
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