John Greska is an artist who recently released Life as An Ocean. He explains that the album takes its listeners on a trip across the ocean and back. Additionally, he mentions that the album is an electro-classical fusion.
The album seems to be built of electronic elements, even the strings and other instrumentation you might associate to be designated to an organic realm. It reminded me of the Destroyer album Your Blues in this regard although I could argue Life as An Ocean feels more organic in some ways.
There are a number of moods throughout this album, some of which were quite unexpected. Perhaps the most beautiful song is the opener “Learning To Sail.” The virtual piano notes and synthetic strings sound like an approximation but it works wonderfully when it combines with sine waves. At its peak the song has resemblance to Sigur Rós. The song brought me into a cerebral and contemplative mood. I was ready to stay for awhile and go down this road of introspection.
The next song “A Sea Shanty For Losers Who Want To Win” is such a departure in mood. It sounds like a sea shanty as the title says and the first minute or so I felt like I was at an old English pier. The whole feel is playful and you can even do a little dance to it. The second song really confused me as to what else was going to be on the album. On the cinematic “As They Drift Away” he melds melancholy and hope while on “An Angel To Protect Us” he combines stuttering synths and a serene harp.
The mood feel robotic with a lot of early midi on “Danger On The Sea.” It revisits the levity and then goes into the slightly ominous on “The Calm Before The Storm.” “The Storm” is another very cinematic piece. “As We Drift Closer” is a pleasant follow-up while “Sailing Back To The Pier” is a smooth adventure and “A Neverending Journey” is a fitting closer.
I love when artists meld orchestral and electronic elements. Max Richter, Jon Hopkins and Ben Lukas Boysen have some amazing work. This felt different to me in that this seemed like such a story based auditory experience. I would say to such a degree that I felt like I was missing dialogue. Perhaps food for thought.
I applaud Greska for attempting and pulling off such an immersive journey at sea.
Dead Nettles is an artist from New York who recently released Wither. His album is a lo-fi, DIY effort that contains darker goth based tendencies as well as ’80s synth pop.
Things get going with “Fireflies” which has a consistent 4/4 kick while numerous pads and lead synth float around. The mood here leans towards a band like The Chromatics and feels very ’80s influenced. It takes awhile for the singing to come up in the mix. His voice is thin and lurks in the background of the song. There are times when he is missing the notes he seems to be aiming for.
Up next is “Auburn and Blood” which brings up the energy but is still dark. There is a mix of bands like Joy Division and New Order here. The synth parts are great and the vocals have these moments as well in the song.
Up next is “Fatal Romance” which again finds itself in a similar company with a band like Joy Division but with a more ’80s sounding drum kit. His singing is the best yet on this track. He is a little more lively and also stays in key more often.
Then we have “Never Going to Leave the Lake.” This song probably contained my favorite music and hits hard in the paint with a thematic, video game type vibe not unlike some of the music you hear on Stranger Things. “Clarity” is the most dance worthy song in the batch while “Carousel” has a smooth, dark gothic vibe. He closes with “Tearfall” which has its moments as well.
I thought this was a seamless cohesive release. The music was also really well written. I’ll admit the singing was at times rough around the edges for me. That being said I might be prone to picking up on this more than most people since I am a musician and an engineer.
Overall, this is a solid post-punk and gothwave hybrid. Take a listen.
Overself is Peter Tueller (vocals/guitars/synths), Oscar Paez (bass) and Alex Meza (drums). They are located in San Diego, CA and are made up of former members of local dream pop/shoegaze band Battery Point.
They recently released Pulses which is a seven-song album that contains elements of post-punk, shoegaze and post-hardcore. It’s a certified sounding “indie rock” album with a lot of elements that fit the criteria from the last twenty years or so.
The album gets going with “Transient.” For about thirty seconds you get some atmosphere before the band comes onto the scene. I was feeling an Interpol vibe coming from the rhythm section but the guitars were laced heavy with reverb making it more dream pop oriented. The vocals were mixed in a more shoegaze style. They were low in the mix.
“Effigy” is next and I really liked the instrumentation right off the bat. The vibe is off-kilter almost like a masonic, mystical thing going on. They crush with “Ego Crush” which is a highlight. The song really lays into heavy distortion and reverb, making it have an older shoegaze vibe in the spirit of a band like Ride or Slowdive.
There is a short song that was called “Interval” that sound like an interval and then they head into the album highlight “Thought Experiment.” It’s a catchy tune with some wicked guitar work and exciting changes. Next up is “Duality” which is a transition and didn't seem all that necessary They close strong with “Dissolution” which is more or less pure shoegaze.
The band will surely appeal to a wide demographic. Fans of shoegaze are obvious but post-punk and all the bands that emerged years later should like this as well. Take a listen.
The Max Headroom is a psych-rock band from Australia that have spent the last year playing live and developing the songs on their debut album Ways Road EP. The album is a throwback to the ’60s with a notable garage rock aesthetic. The Max Headroom avoids overt polish for raw energy. With only a single song, the punkish “Blue Eyes” clocking in at under four minutes, it’s clear the band puts no stock on cutting to the chase, instead preferring drawn out pieces that allow them free reign to explore their musicianship and dynamic song structures.
The singer cuts through his band with an impassioned snarl somewhere between Archie Marshall and Julian Casablancas. As songwriters The Max Headroom has managed to balance a lead vocalist into their sifting soundscapes and melodic detours quite well. On the jagged love song “Working” the band muses on distant relationships over a a shuffling beat and hint at psychedelia with heavily delayed guitar textures in the post-chorus.
They also find room to simply explore on “Weird One” a beautiful instrumental that takes the listener on a journey from a submerged and watery utopia to light speed interstellar ascension over three parts. The middle ambient section is a pretty reprieve before a blistering rhythm guitar thrashes and rolling drums carry the song to a dramatic conclusion. This is the most forward thinking song on this track list and a good indication of the band’s sonic potential.
While I do believe The Max Headroom holds themselves back to a degree, doing little to reinvent the wheel, this does not take away from their quality songwriting and impressive musicianship. I would hope on later releases to hear them experiment more with what rock could be, instead of merely presenting their own spin on what rock has been. However, their rugged persona, personal lyrics and outstanding guitar work is more than enough to keep them on the road and on the radar of new fans while they continue to develop their own unique sound.
PMP and Дinsky met in 2018 and they formed KNSTRKTVST. They released Do It Yourself Or Die not too long afterwards. They band is international. Дinsky was in Russia, PMP in Amsterdam (now in Barcelona) and they worked by sharing Dropbox files.
The band calls themselves “cyberpunk rap” or at least that’s the best description they can give. In my opinion there are so many different styles on this release it’s hard to put it into one genre. Take for instance “Breakdown!” This is a mix between chiptune and ’80s sounding rap. I liked the energy and rhymes quite a bit but it also has a pretty silly sounding vibe compared to a lot of other songs.
Things change with “Artificial.” The chiptune is gone and so is the ’80s vibe. It's thematic, cinematic and a bit alien sounding. The band has some cerebral technological insight with “Clickbait” which gets unexpectedly serious about politics. Three songs in and I felt like the mood was everywhere. The band then gets angry or aggressive on “No Reason” and it was the first song that sounded like cyberpunk. They then get dark and moody. “Zombie” displays more dirty rap and goes back into a sort of more frivolous sound perhaps a little on par with die antwoord. It might be the highlight.
I’m not even sure what genre to call “Echo Chamber” but it is the most experimental. They don’t simmer down with the dark and bass drum heavy “Pull The Plug.” They close with an industrial and mechanical sounding song entitled “The Revolution Will Not Be Digital.”
I felt like I was listening to about eight different artists. These songs are very loosely tied together and perhaps that’s a bi-product of working remotely. It wasn’t just the style but it was the overall mood which pulled me in a number of different directions. This sounded like a mix-tape of various artists and perhaps that's what they wanted. Take a listen.
White Collar Crime is a group from New York City and they have released a couple of songs before their album comes out. I read a little about the band and apparently the band’s schtick is that at least some of the members are lawyers. Ok, I get it. Work hard, play harder - I like it. Let’s get into the tunes.
The first song is entitled “Dream the Dream” which is a pretty straightforward rock song in the style of many American bands. There is plenty of Americana along with a ’70s vibe not too far from a band like Steely Dan. The song is warm with clean, reverb laced guitars and really great production overall. There are two singers, a female and a male lead. They take time swapping verses but then sing harmony on the chorus. They sound good together with the male vocal feeling a little more prominent in the mix. It definitely has a nostalgic vibe and in all truth we most likely resonate most with people who were alive when this style of music was popular.
“To Be Real” is the other song the band released. There is a slightly different vibe here. It plays more into nostalgia and while a rock song it leans towards feeling like a ballad with an epic ending. The guitars and instruments in general are treated in a similar fashion to the previous song with a lot of warmth.
Lines like “what are you doing with the rest of your life” create this pensive, almost cerebral quality. I’ll also say the music has the early Bruce Springsteen vibe. No one singing sounds like the boss but the music has the celebratory, organ fueled feel that he was doing back in the ’80s.
While I’m not saying a younger generation won’t enjoy this there is just no denying the demographic this music will appeal to. So suffice it to say if you like bands like Tom Petty, Steve Miller Band, John Mellencamp and other like-minded bands this should be in your wheelhouse.
Andy Michaels is well known for his journey from being an incapacitating car accident survivor to a contemporary/pop songwriter. I took some time to listen to his latest release Incendiary Heart.
The first thing I saw was the album cover and truth be told I thought was a picture of some dude getting killed by dragon fire. On further inspection I think the idea is the flame is coming from him. You can see an outline of a heart if you look closely.
Incendiary Heart is a straightforward pop album with top notch production. There is a second lead female vocalist who sings as well. The first song “Darling It Hurts” has a Jack Johnson by the beach singer/songwriter type vibe. Instead of it being sparse however it’s a full on production. Up next is “Only Love Knows the Meaning of Goodbye” which is one of the highlights of the batch. I liked the vibe especially on the verse. On the chorus he digs way more into an epic, the doves are flying everywhere and love is glorious type of vibe.
“Fireflies” is an intimate acoustic song for most of it. It’s again very produced with a lot of elements happening. The song instead of staying intimate and warm decides to go full epic towards the end of the song. I thought the title track was a good choice for a single. “Rambling Heart” was another highlight. The song has a subdued vibe and I liked the fact the song wasn’t pushing too hard to get to another crescendo. It’s also one of the best vocal performances. The next songs were also quite good entitled “This Songs For You.” This song reminded me of Cat Stevens but with more production.
As the album progressed there were a lot of different ways to approach the songs. Some were more electronic based while others were more rock oriented. I often thought the best moments were the guitar and vocals.
This is a varied and diverse pop album. I will say the production certainly is good enough to compete with any other pop album out there.
Indie-pop songwriter Jason Legacy has been releasing music under the moniker Slow Buildings for a few years now, growing as an artist while continuing to build an expanding catalogue of material and play live shows. His newest release The Ecstasy Of Winning EP is a real blend of genres on the production side, while maintaining a tight focus on catchy melodies and relatable lyrics. Described by Legacy as a document of of his past year, the lyrics touch on abstract love, escapism and political discourse. While the instrumentation does vary from track to track, at its core this EP is a successful example of a compositionally cohesive singer/songwriter record.
Aside from Legacy’s voice, whose sweet tone reminds me of Rivers Cuomo, the glue that bonds this EP is the guitar, which consistently lays the foundation for his songs prior to any creative adornments. The way Legacy chooses to dress his songs tends to evoke a deeper meaning in his words or elevate the emotion of his narrative.
Take the use of sustained toy piano notes on the chorus of opening track “The Sickness” which following the minor chord progression of the pre-hook adds an additional lift as Legacy returns to the major key and speaks of wanting love despite its downsides. Similarly the track “Amazy Dayzee,” his metaphor of an ideal life which is exotic and far away, is served by a heavily percussive production featuring conga, guiro and marimba over surf rock chords. The dark mix and suspenseful, descending melodic guitar hooks draw images in the mind of a cursed, uncharted island.
Although the project is mostly a triumph due to its clear identity and strong collection of songs, I do find avoidable shortcomings in the mix which sometimes falters due to a combination of a muddy instrumental and buried vocal. Not the case on every track, but noticeable on the dark “Amazy Dayzee” and closing track “Orange Clown.” The latter is worth discussing further for its additional strengths and weaknesses as the EP’s only political narrative. Best described as circus-ska, there is an interesting modulation in the chord progression which gives the song a surreal quality to match the unlikely ascension of Legacy’s subject, Donald Trump. As a piece of political commentary, it’s not overreaching or uninformed, but might come off as too crass (the soundbite; the toilet flush) for certain listeners (although again, I do believe the crassness fits his subject completely). Regardless, not a bad tune by any stretch, and the guitar solo and interpolation of the national anthem are especially vital and piercing.
Overall, Legacy remains a singer/songwriter to follow for his refined melodies, unique perspective and inventive production choices.
River Bottom is a band from Seattle that blends a swampy aesthetic and folk storytelling on their debut album Dead Inside. Formed by lead singers Rascal Anne and Johnny Mischief with a handful of friends from their local live scene, the band is equal parts exuberant energy and sophisticated concept; their album being a successful exercise in world building and self-mythologizing.
Dead Inside is essentially murder folk romanticized which spares the more gory details of a Harley Poe in favor of a greater deference to love songs. The thematic elements and narratives collected here are in service to a dark and stylized portrait of their hometown social scene whose atmosphere easily absorbs the listener.
My favorite aspect of River Bottom’s artistry is their contrasting use of a dark subject matter with a bright pop sensibility. A good example is the highly narrative “Cold Hands,” a tale of infidelity that leads to a gruesome murder/suicide.
Musically, the song has a light and jangly rhythm built on acoustic guitar strums, a nimble walking bass line and crashing cymbals. There is a change from minor key in the verse to a soaring major key on the chorus which tonally underscores the twisted love that motivates the character’s violent end. While River Bottom mostly writes from a fanciful perspective, they do get soberingly personal on standout track “Pappy’s Booze.” The song is a blunt and sad tune about Mischief’s father’s struggle with alcoholism. The old-time country shuffle and walking bass lines invoke the plodding ups and downs of drunkenness as well as bar culture and the generational aspect at play in the lyrics. I believe it is an important song.
It is a real task to find your artistic identity, which makes River Bottom’s success on their first attempt admirable. Although their stylistic influences are plainly apparent: their sound a derivative of folk, punk, country, and rock ’n roll in different blends across the track list, their singular vision of a pulp-fiction Seattle will read to listeners like a dusty novel about the frenzied side of infatuation, youth group politics and generational trauma. Dead Inside is simply a must hear for listeners with a taste for macabre tales and infectious melodies.
Australian indie pop artist Dean Manning is in top form on his new full-length album Sunday Mountain, a subdued and atmospheric release in which Manning blends acoustic instrumentation with synthesizers; in effect softening the lines between the real and the surreal, a fitting accompaniment to his colorful narratives.
Previously a member of the critically acclaimed groups Holidays On Ice and Leonardo’s Bride, Manning’s newest release is a singular vision; although he does employ the talents of Kurt Vile drummer, Stella Mozgawa and Beck collaborator Justin Stanley to help him bring that vision to life. What emerges is a philosophical and sonically adventurous journey through the mind of one of Australia’s most consistently accomplished artists.
A minimalist sensibility defines Manning’s work, his voice dynamically lifted but highly emotional; his productions textured and meticulously crafted but sparse. Manning and company abandon any sound that lacks a purpose to the overall story of the song.
Take “Casino Town” a somber and lethargic tune built on an eerie call and response between acoustic guitar strumming and a dissonant picked melody. The lyrics are city blues; the all too real story of living around deteriorating culture, relationships and architecture. As the first song on Sunday Mountain to leave the electronics at the door in favor of mostly acoustic instrumentation, the production has an effect of grounding the listener and perfectly mirroring the realistic lyrical lament.
What separates Manning from the pack is his comfort in both worlds, eschewing bygone stylistic rivalries in favor of the possibilities a genre bending record can offer. Such an effort cannot succeed without a steady personality at the center, and Manning possesses an assured conviction that never falters over Sunday Mountain’s nine tracks; whether spinning a yarn over the lo-fi gypsy shuffle “Hola Señorita” or probing the outer reaches of consciousness and his own sonic palette on the album’s most abstract offering: the title track “Sunday Mountain” where Manning’s vocoder tuned voice cuts through a miasma of warbling synth chords with a light beam precision. It is a great, reflective soundscape and a meditative close to a deeply moving album.
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