From Leeds, United Kingdom comes singer/songwriter Jim Bower with his new release Life Support. Bower has been musically active in Shatner and various other bands since the ’80s (and he thinks that’s old, but it doesn’t phase me!). This is Bower’s first “proper solo album” under his own name, and he says that “It's been liberating to not be capturing a band sound; I've really spread out into some varied arrangements with way more orchestral and keyboard parts than my recent output. Lyrically it's about how we respond to the climate crisis and covid, which highlight our interdependency and our duty to save each other's lives… but there's also a few laughs.”
Any time I see “Leeds” mentioned, I automatically think of The Who, and I’m sure most Americans share this tendency. As it happens, both Bower’s voice AND his music very much recall Peter Townshend, and that’s not a bad pedigree to have! Bower says he recorded “the basics” at home but then finished up at Eiger Studios in Leeds with producer Will Jackson, who adds guitar and keyboards and also mastered the album; Anthony Sergeant plays drums. Bower’s album is available on Bandcamp and on CD, but he’s also taken time to create videos for each or these ten songs on his website.
“Manifest Destiny” begins with Quadrophenia-era synths and a smooth Townshend-like vocal with Christella Litras singing background and offering vocal reactions to Bower’s dark lyrics: “As we roll downhill / No, there's no escaping a black hole / It's out of our control.” The next song continues the feel of dread left over from the Trump years, conjured with phrases like “alternative facts” and “false flag.” Musically it’s jumpy and machine-like, as all the people within the song line up obediently.
“Shut Up About Your Girlfriend” is every bit as funny and engaging as you’d expect, which is a welcome relief after the gloom of the previous tracks. “Shut up shut up shut up about your girlfriend!” Bower sings with great humor. I would suggest you stop reading this right now and play this track; it’s so dryly humorous and musically quite pretty. “Wrong” takes an interesting detour into DEVO territory; this is another funny idea where somebody is so wrong that “to tell you so, I wrote a song.” The music is strident, robotic and goofy but really fun. “You failed authentication / Until you’re verified / That’s an invalid statement / Access denied.”
“When David Bowie Died” is a moving tribute not just to the Great White Duke but many other artists we lost too early. Bower makes the point that the whole world seemed to unravel just after Bowie passed, and it’s hard to argue. After the cynicism and the humor, this song shows Bower’s empathy and hit me right in the gut, especially with the sneaky sample of David Bowie (or a great soundalike) playing piano at the end. “All You Need Is Time” is smart pop rock with great hooks, nice guitars and a sophisticated musical structure, including some Rolling Stones “Satanic Majesties” church bells. “Can Of Worms” returns us to Bower’s rightful fear of our current state of affairs with upbeat chords threatened by creeping dissonance.
“Life Support” features guest Lauren Bower on piano, on whose playing the song’s driving tempo seems to be based. The concept of life support appears to be a metaphor pointing toward a life-saving relationship for which the plug might be pulled; ICU beeps and nurse P.A. calls are included free of charge. I know this is becoming redundant but Bower’s Townshend throat muscles are especially strong on this one. “Starting Tomorrow” ends the set with a very funny paean to promises we make about improving ourselves tomorrow, or next week, or next year. It’s joyous pop rock, short and sweet. I daresay drummer Sergeant takes this last chance to channel a bit of Keith Moon, and the bass has an Entwistle urgency.
Clearly fans of The Who will love the sound of Bower’s songs, but Bower’s not a cover artist and his songs easily stand on their own two feet with tons of delight and nary a dull moment. Highly recommended!
Last Tree On Earth is a solo project that originated in Bern, Switzerland. Over time, Last Tree On Earth found its home in such European cultural hotspots like Berlin and Paris. For the past 15 years or so, the endeavor has served as a creative outlet for the artist to express himself. For his latest release King Of The Desert, Last Tree On Earth combines his love for electronic and rock into a highly accessible and flavorful sound. Saturated with an undeniable kind of energy, these electronica/pop rock tracks will be sure to make you feel something as well as get you moving at the same time.
King Of The Desert comes right at you with “Desert King,” where the sound of synths and electronic riffs start out the sound here. Alongside this ambience is a spoken word passage. Next, some piano and percussive beats jut in. Once the vocals came in, the music really came together for a really flavorful blend. The music felt very upbeat and catchy. I got the impression while listening to this that this would be great for the dance floors. “Planet” speeds up for a racing electronic backbeat. Though the music in the backdrop is faster paced, the vocals here are sung in a very slo-mo fashion. The contrast is very nice. The sound of the piano acts as a certain backbone. This is a track with a lot of layers. The guitar solos faintly sound out in the background, underlining the track with its consistent riffs. Moody bass lines churn up the sounds on “Desert Sand.” More glitch-y electronic sounds also join in. Next, more of the artist's melancholy vocals erupt. The sounds are more somber, coming across as very meandering. A definite slow burn, the music just builds and builds, growing in structure and tone.
“Teddy Bear” starts off with a very acoustic vibe. Gradually, some wonky synths accompany the music. As some bouncy beats also come in. Once the vocals arrive, you can feel the despairing feel to the music come to life. Feeling very sad and melancholy, you can’t get away from the strength of the music which is in the vocals which really tie the music together. Some melody keys, synths and beats enter this song toward the start on “Lovely Birds.” This seemed to be an EDM infused track that incorporates some very ‘80s-sounding synths. The juxtaposition of emo-inspired vocals and jaunty music makes for a very startling sound. Next, the music then swells up for a melodic crescendo. Shooting electric riffs flares out in the start of “Cataclysm” making this feel very trap and trance-like. The sound just continues to grow in momentum, flexing its iridescent sound. This was a pure instrumental interlude, though distorted background vocals could be heard faintly in the backdrop.
On “Mirages,” a moody piano piece settles in the start of this track. Mainly a piano ballad, as the vocals come in, the music begins to expand outward, making for a sweeping feel. The song becomes more sprawling in tone as the sound of synths spread across for a very ambient sound. Next, a full band backing rocks this track, making for a fully embellished attempt at a glossy pop rock production. The sound of trumpets and more makes for an impactful sound. On “Wasteland,” some edgy synths send out a very gritty vibe. As some keys flow through this section, the industrial-like music feels very dark and pulling. The artist’s vocals are very ominous, feeding into the aggressive and hard rock sound. On the chorus, the tune changes up for something more melodious. More of a sauntering groove sounds out on “Cactus.” There is also a meandering feel to the music that makes it feel like a slow burn. The slowly evolving vocals feel nearly spoken word. With the artist half-speaking and half-singing the vocals, the album closes with this atmospheric finish, perfect for putting listeners in a relaxing mood.
This nine-track collection was a long time coming. For over three years, the artist let this group of songs grow, changing form and direction before finally being finalized in this album. A bedroom recording, the artist uses a good amount of organic instrumentation as well as digital programs to get this recording off the ground. The album is a blend of both worlds, as you can see a good deal of guitars and other instruments mixed into the electronic vibes. There are a lot of layers to the sounds here on the record. As you dive further into the sounds, it looks like the artist is only getting started and I look forward to seeing where he goes from here.
Olympic Bingo is the band name of multi-instrumentalist William Bahnisch, whose 2019 album Aloof has just been re-released by Paper Rock Scissors of Adelaide, Australia. Aside from the Bandcamp download, his label is offering a beautiful CD Digipack featuring surrealist artwork by Kaspar Schmidt Mumm.
Bahnisch was raised on music by Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Wu Tang Clan and Warren G, along with close proximity to his father’s guitar collection. Starting at age 11, Bahnisch developed an appreciation for electronic music, jazz and world music. During his university years he played guitar, bass and piano, then performed in various bands including Thom Lion, The East District, EVOLETAH and most recently Los Palms. Bahnisch tapped many of his musical compadres as backup for the Aloof sessions, which began in 2016. Recording took place at Chapel Lane Studios and Twin Studios, and was mastered at Hillside Studios by Matt Hills.
“Opaque” is a short and fittingly surreal opener with swirling ocean waves surrounding a simple synth melody that gently repeats. “Things To Do Today” begins in a similar fashion with retro-sounding keyboards heralding an easy, smooth jazz instrumental. Bahnisch adds his instruments slowly, building up an intriguing layer cake of textures. The bass playing is melodic, not just hitting the root chords but providing its own interesting counterpoint. The energy level of the tune accelerates toward the end with even more spacey synths. Whoever plays the Rhodes piano does an excellent job.
“Clouds” was co-written with Clara Walsh who is featured on vocals. This song feels highly modern and commercial, reflecting some of the textures of Sarah McLachlan or even my pals New American Hustle. There’s a great string section that’s possibly digital, but it works for me!
“Lemonade Serenade” has a tropical vibe with the sounds of what might be a cave with lightly splashing pools of water… or are those insects? The indeterminate nature of the sounds adds to the charm. A bank of saxophones, horns and vibes then state the main melody, again in a smooth jazz mode, leading into a short and mellow sax solo. “Seconds” starts with spoken dialogue from a movie or TV show that I can’t identify, then uses pieces of that dialogue as samples for an upbeat synth rock excursion with a disco beat. Harder driving than the other tunes but interesting and compelling.
“La Piage” features words in French by Albert Camus from his novel “The Stranger.” Bahnisch builds a quite engaging musical background for the Camus spoken word with tidy basslines, sharp piano, and more retro-spacy synths, as if UFOs are landing throughout the tune. “Tropacalismo” sounds like it was built up from location recordings somewhere in the tropics with appropriate island-sounding guitars, percussion and background insects.
“Should’ve Known Her” ends the set with the surprising addition of loud electric guitar and driving bass with distant, echo’d vocals by Bahnisch. It’s somewhat different from the other songs (though still thick with synth textures) and makes me wonder what more hard rocking from Bahnisch might sound like in the future. When it’s over, it stops cold just like Lennon’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”
Though Bahnisch’s label identifies this music as “alternative / experimental” I believe jazz lovers will take to this right away, followed by anyone open for upbeat, mellow music with interesting backgrounds.
Andhi O’Neill is an artist from Peekskill, NY. He played in the folk rock band Origami Sun from 2012 to 2018. The artist got started working on solo material and it ended up being on an album called MEMORABILIA. It contains eight songs and is around thirty-minutes long.
MEMORABILIA is a folk rock album with some influence from hip hop and electronic music. The music to me was experimental folk with very little emphasis on rock, hip-hop or electronic music. I thought the music was somewhere in the same vicinity as Andrew Bird but overall more somber in mood.
The album gets going with “Under the Sun.” It’s a simple song on paper which relies on slow guitar picking and O’Neill’s natural sounding vocals. The use of space works well and overall it feels like an intro. “Too Soon” is a synth heavy song with electronic drums but the vocals have a similar emotive quality. The band The Antlers came to mind. It's a pretty funky groove and has the most energy but also subdued. There’s also a meditative section around the four-minute mark. The vocals are heavily manipulated with auto-tune like effects.
“Song for Akira Yoshizawa” is spacious and sort of calming with a heavy sense of pensive melancholy. There’s very little change in the dynamics except the additional vocal harmonies towards the end.
‘“Forecast” felt like an interlude. There’s a couple people having a philosophical conversation while rain and synths blend in the background. “Rainy Day” is the arguable highlight. It contained some of the best vocal melodies and there was a good amount of variation. The music is very much a slow burn with the dynamics coming mostly from the vocals again.
“Broken String” has a very similar emotive and musical quality to the first song “Under the Sun.”At this point I was picking up on similar patterns. The songs stay in a similar dynamic range and usually end with flush vocals.
“Drive” is another slow burn of a song with emotive vocals while “Too Late” goes back to the space of guitar of “Under the Sun” and “Broken String.” Last up is “Thirty” and it revolves around sad atmospheric pads and mechanical sounding metronome tight drums. There is again some very well-delivered vocals.
This album felt like the definition of a slow burn which I do generally love. That being said my critique is I wanted more dynamics and energy at points. I think a rhythm section of human players may have helped with this aspect especially on songs like “Song for Akira Yoshizawa.” Perhaps session players next time around? The vocal delivery and lyrics felt like the strength of the album to me. I liked it when his delivery leaned towards a light sadness although he pulls off a more dramatic lamenting tone as well.
I thought this was a good album that felt cohesive where there was enough uniformity that I recognized a signature sound. There’s a good amount of talent here and I look forward to where he goes from here.
Singer/songwriter KayHowl who is based in Ontario, Canada is no stranger to the scene. She has been playing originals and covers throughout North America not only as a solo artist, but as a dueling pianist and as a sought-after session player in a number of musical projects including the S’Aints and her former duo the Oh Chays. Howl brings her experiences from playing for other bands and takes it up another notch with her latest album Pink Trees. Here you can see Howl letting loose her evocative vocal performances to the march of minimalistic keys and finger-snapping percussions. Her singing is very soulful with touches of blues, singer/songwriter and soul in the mix. Her at once uplifting and fiery vocals are packed with the type of worship that is almost like a religious experience. You can’t help but be hooked upon the very first listen, as this album is a testament to the artist’s impassioned stance and delivery right from the get-go.
Pink Trees starts off with “Whatever,” where some groovy keys set the stage for this opening track. There is a dash of funk to the musicianship, as the melody slowly evolves into a bluesy finish. Once Howl’s vocals come in, you can really feel this blues sound take traction. Her vocals are filled with a warm timbre, packed with range and tons of soul. The song had a very minimalistic approach which though simply rendered gave more width for emotional resonance in the long run. The title track “Pink Trees” starts off with some synths. The atmosphere of this track opens itself with the sound of bouncy beats. Howl’s vocals come in with a lot of mood and feeling. This song felt very single-worthy with its catchy finger-snapping beats and melodious riffs. It had a very club feel to it that probably will make it a hit on the dance floors. More groovy keys settle in here in the start of “Living Room Stars.” Off to a sauntering start, the sound of percussive finger-snapping fills the air here. As Howl’s vocals arrive, you can feel the blend of soul and blues really coalesce for an effective sound.
Some more bluesy keys sound out toward the start of “High On A Woman.” Once Howl’s vocals enter, there was a soaring effect to the vibes that recalls a very ballad-esque feel. Next, some beats join in with the music as the sound really starts to take flight. More keys simply start off “Keeper” alongside finger-snapping percussion. Howl’s soulful vocals send its smooth and soothing details over the soft grooves of this track. You can’t help but be carried away by the ebb and flow of the music. Up next is “Natural Disaster,” where the groove changes up for a faster-paced tune. Though still retaining the nit and grit blues, there was more ‘umph’ and feeling to this song overall. The attitude and sass being evoked from the vocals really added something extra.
With an up-close-and-personal vibe, Howl’s stark vocals alone with the sound of bass makes for a sparse yet inviting sound on “Love Songs.” Once the keys come in, more of the smoky blues gets actualized here. This was really something you could sink your teeth into, as there’s no holding back here as Howl coos and croons with feeling. Starting off with a more melancholy start is “It Must Have Been Love.” This track seems to come from a very personal place from the singer as her vocals capture the feelings and emotions behind the lyrics. Howl continues to establish her minimalistic keys and vocals approach on the blues-induced “I Wrote You A Song.” Through its simplicity, listeners will truly feel the emotional impact coming from the track. This is a great way to close the album.
According to Howl, the album captures a relationship from the very start to finish. “It starts curious and flirty and builds to passion and romance and inevitably tumbles into hurt and confusion then ends with heartbreak.” You can see the evolution of a relationship from the slow burning bluesy groove of the opening track to the sassy “Natural Disasters” and to breaking down the blues on “Love Songs,” Howl’s hand in the ebb and flow of the music is evident. At the core of the vibes are Howl’s vocals. She flexes her vocal cords to add color and range to these tracks. Like watching a moth to a flame, there’s just something so hypnotic in the way she obviously throws herself fully into the sounds. This proved to be a great start and I look forward to seeing more music like this soon.
Seth Boyack (vocals/guitar), Ben Hedlund (drums), Matt Lloyd (guitar) and Cassandra Clark (bass) are New Chums. The band recently released a five-song EP entitled Shruggin’ off the Feelings.
The band has a very accessible rock/pop type of sound somewhere between Passion Pit and The Strokes. They get going with “The Ride” which is a song that should give you an idea of their general sound. The song is straightforward following a verse/chorus/verse type structure, minor and major chords and a 4/4 beat. I thought the song was quite catchy. The hook is undeniable here.
They continue to rock with “Recall.” The band plays into the dynamics here. There are explosive sections and again some really fantastic hooks which will get stuck in your head by your second play of the songs.
“Trade The Market” is a little more emotive and reminded me more of a band like Band Of Horses. The guitars are killer but the whole band sounds quite good. “4 on 1’s” is another really catchy tune and perhaps the most single worthy out of the batch. They close strong with a very dynamic song entitled “Don’t You Know I Know.” This song had a couple sections that sounded post-rock influenced. There’s a breakdown in crescendo lead by the guitar around the two-minute mark which might be the finest moment of the EP.
The band has done their homework. I thought these songs have mass appeal to a very broad audience. It’s catchy enough to be somewhere between pop and rock with a smidge of a more underground type vibe. The production was also top notch.
There’s not much I didn’t like about this release, so take a listen.
David Brookings has a new album coming out in November called Mania At The Talent Show. In support of the album he released two songs to showcase what you might expect.
The first song I listened to was “Get Off (My Mind)” and my first thought was that the song sounded familiar. Brookings plays somewhere between classic ’50s pop, Americana and rock. It’s a conventional song with structure that contains no surprises. The song is catchy and accessible but Brookings doesn't seem to want to go farther than that with this song. It’s a single- worthy song.
“Hard Times” starts with some guitar picking and synth drones. There are drums and bass which immediately come in afterwards. The song is a mix of pop and rock. I thought the vocals were great on this track and even better than the first song. This song is a little more melancholy but nothing that felt dismal. There’s also a lot of hopeful sentiment in this song once you start approaching the two-minute mark.
After hearing these two songs I feel like Brookings has a good amount of mainstream appeal. The songs aren’t experimental in the least and felt like they had a sense of familiarity after listening to them only once.
I also thought the songs felt pretty distinct. They seemed to be born from different types of influence. On that note it made me think there are a lot of different styles that Brookings will present on his new album but who really knows since it hasn’t been released yet. If you’re a fan of an accessible rock sound under the umbrella of pop you might enjoy this release.
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
BARK. Chump 3.7
Lenny Personal Celebrity 3.6
Marti Marti 3.6
Mangy Bones Mangy Bones 3.7
Reality Cult Close My Doors 3.7
Betty Moon is a Los Angeles-based songwriter and artist who has just released COSMICOMA. Signed to A&M records in the ’90s, she has since embraced the DIY ethic with ten albums released on her own Evolver Music Inc. Even as an independent artist, Moon has over a million Facebook followers, plus thousands of Spotify and Instagram adherents. Her music has been featured in TV shows and movies including Californication, Dexter, Bounty Hunters, Teen Mom, Young & Pregnant, The Walking Dead, Last Gasp and the upcoming film Butter.
Aside from her iconic voice, Moon wrote, produced and mixed the album at her Southern California studio with help down the road from Justin Smolian and Owen Barry. Moon’s press release states that COSMICOMA “continues to inject genuine sex appeal, soulful vocal prowess and massive production all the while experimenting with new sounds and modern genre trends.” Her influences range from rock, soul, punk rock, electronic and electro-soaked pop.
“Black Bloods” is a thick, moody opener with Moon’s killer pipes atop razor sharp guitar, bumblebee bass, strident pianos and keys, and titanic drums. “My Only One” is the key track from this collection, starting with the lyrics: “I know you think this song’s about me / But don’t you know the song is all about you.” This dense rocker was inspired by Moon’s early days in Los Angeles which she had dreamed about for years, and features overlapping lead vocals and haunting harmonies.
“Give You Up” has the bluesy drive and insistence of a Led Zeppelin tune with more intimate and inviting Moon vocals along with sliding electric guitars offering wry counterpoint. Given my taste for that nastier rock sound, this is one of my favorites. “I’m A Mean Girl” rocks even harder, hinting at the gruff abandon of The Breeders or Sleater Kinney. It’s basically a stew of killer guitar, multiple vocals and metallic drums. “The Mexican” features thick slabs of guitar with Mexicali-Inspired lead riffs and a dynamic Moon vocal. This is truly a combination I haven’t heard before! Moon seems to increase her hard rock quotient with each new track.
“Where my Heat Is” slows things down for an acoustic-based ballad where Moon runs through places that will never replace home. “Have you even been to Paradise Cove / On the edge of the golden coast / Nice cars and fancy clothes / Yeah It’s real nice, but it’s not home… home is where the heart is.” By midpoint the acoustic feel has given way to walls of guitars and a virtual chorus of overdubs. “Screamatorium” (great title!) ends the set with a triple-speed grunge rocker featuring punky Kim Shattuck-style vocals.
I’m overwhelmed by Betty Moon’s talent and creativity and this album is yet another monster from this unstoppable artist.
Shotgun Waltz is an “alt-roots-rock” quartet from just outside of Boston. Led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Jim De Tore, the band includes Bob Metzger (guitars/vocals), Pete Abajoli (bass/vocals) and Rick Weden (drums). The six-track Shifting Gears is their 2021 release.
Some of the names here may sound familiar. De Tore and Abajoli lend their talents to another Boston- area alt-roots-rock band, Penny Outlaw. We at Divide and Conquer reviewed Penny Outlaw’s recent release Sea Level. If you liked Sea Level, you’ll like Shifting Gears, and vice versa.
But back to the album at hand. The opener “Ghost Train” grabs you straight away with its bluesy, reverb-drenched guitar which then cuts into a straight-ahead rocker. DeTore and Metzger have constructed nicely complementary guitar parts (separated widely in the mix), and Abajoli locks in his bass with Weden’s varying drum patterns. The vocal melody (and vocal harmonies) recall John Hiatt; DeTore’s voice works well, providing the right amounts of push, longing and grit to support his lyrics. We’re off to a strong start.
Shotgun Waltz characterizes their album as “thoughtfully written, carefully arranged and mixed” and their attention to detail and musicianship is clear throughout. All the instruments sound terrific, and there isn’t wasted space anywhere. Guitar tones are interesting and varied with both rhythm and lead parts thoughtful and melodic. The Elvis Costello-like “Safety Net” is a great example of this: guitar parts come in and out so easily that you don’t even realize it’s happening. Leads are woven in smoothly, backing vocals add support where needed and the whole package is just right.
The other tracks draw elements from familiar places, including Brian Setzer-like rockabilly, early ‘80s rock (Cheap Trick or Joe Jackson, maybe), a little country and even some old-school sounds (a Farfisa organ). DeTore’s songwriting is accessible and melodic, and he uses interesting chords away from the standard I, IV, V, and vi. His lyrics deal with risk and relationships, and he offers some slightly cynical commentary on trendiness (“Fashion Slave”) and suburban life (“Big Wheel”). All six tracks are thoroughly enjoyable--you won’t go wrong on shuffle.
Shifting Gears is a lovingly crafted piece of rock n’ roll with catchy songs that sound great. If this were released in 1982, it would be all over the radio. Instead, you can have it in 2021 all over your streaming devices. Enjoy!
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