Like modern day carnival barkers, VWLS tout themselves with the vigor once reserved for Coney Island freak shows. That’s not to imply any strange or sundry motivations (no one’s biting the head off a chicken), but rather to raise eyebrows toward their self-professed brand of “electrifying, tuneful truth telling,” tongue firmly in cheek, if not dragged across ours. In fact, there’s an irreverence to the group’s lengthier bio; a distillation of their joie de vivre which offers an arm-swept, all inclusive consent to join the party. So why ding them for “hilariously inconsistent wardrobes?” This isn’t a haute couture blog, but a review of their self-titled record, VWLS. Purple suits and man buns aren’t spoiling any fun.
Comprised of Gene Holland (keyboard/vocals), Royce Davies (guitar/vocals), Aidan Johnson (drums/percussion) and Sam Wilkinson (bass), this Australian four-piece boasts the chops of a joint writing collective. The result is a hodgepodge of observational lyricism, a five-track sampler of enjoyably diamond cut grooves. Purists would deem it rock n’ roll. And there’s no crime in keeping the beat with one’s hip.
Our introduction to the album comes via “Teething In Your Twenties.” While a skulking, syncopated beat lends a masculine air to the song, its angular riff – catchy in its own right – drives the charge forward. “Neurons come alive / Just starting to get that bite,” springs the first vocal, a telling primer for what lies ahead. The vibe is gritty, but Holland’s keyboards suitably tamp its bite.
“Backpacker Banker” – enhanced by pornographic wah-wahs – channels the sonic feel of a San Fernando Valley cookout, before morphing into a blues-tinged stomper. Plus, its organ interlude is suggestive of the cat suited virility that broke hearts in the 1970s. “Prays enough to get laid / knows enough to get paid,” comes the lyrical brio of the moneyed cocksman. And though the subject matter traffics in predictable stereotypes (see: Gordon Gekko wannabes), the head bobbing delivery is humorous enough to skate on its charm.
“The Mundane,” a more danceable tune, stages a fuller interplay between guitar and keyboards. As the production keeps things grounded, the sounds hit our eardrums like a rust-filled garage boogie. If only the piano outro was better showcased, it might have added more depth. “Livin’ Away,” on the other hand, experiments as a mash-up of Sparks and Queen, minus the range of Freddie Mercury. By leaning hard on sleaze, it glides proudly; a mustache twirling, seaside lazing, burst of punch-drunk whimsy, finger snaps not included (but presumably encouraged). By “Low Way,” however, the group seems to have exhausted its palette, delivering the panache of a perfectly innocuous, yet ever friendly, open house party.
Absorbing these nuggets is akin to unearthing your brother’s collection of obscure B-sides. Sure, they may have been buried under an attic’s worth of Juggs magazine, but such a find just heightens the discovery. And isn’t that infinitely more refreshing than the 7,000th spin of “Back In Black?” Maybe it’s all been done before, but VWLS do it just fine.
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Seattle-based Luke Francis decided to embark on his solo project when touring plans with his other band Fretland fell through. Handful of Songs, Francis’ first EP, is very much a pandemic record, written during the first six months of Covid. The view of the Washington countryside, an hour outside Seattle also served as inspiration for this album. Everything from open pastures, the lilac trees in bloom and the river running through the valley, all served as reminders when he was working on this set of songs. I think this comes through in the warmth of this recording as such acoustic instruments like the acoustic guitar, piano, banjo and mandolin all make an appearance on this EP. What comes across is oftentimes surprising while also pandering to the folk and singer/songwriter genres you know and love.
Handful of Songs gets going with “Two Way Street,” where the track starts off with some dynamic strumming on the acoustic guitar. Soon after, Francis’ vocals come into great effect. I thought this song had a lot of drama and atmosphere to it. Gradually, some drumming beats come in, making this track even more arresting. Some piano also lights up the sounds. I enjoyed this warm vibe coming from the band. Some mandolin eases in with a melodic sound at the start of “Boston.” Next, Francis’ vocals come in. The sound is pensive and inviting. Eventually, some drums strut in for a more pulsating vibe. I enjoyed the somber yet nostalgic vibes of this song. Next up is Jesse’s Song,” which starts off with a sauntering groove coming from this slow burning number. I was loving the easy-going demeanor of the execution of the arrangement. To me, it sounded like a Sunday evening as you relax with your family. The sounds of harmonica add a rich cadence to this track.
Some stripped back acoustic guitar comes in on “A Good Man (Gone, Gone).” Francis’ reels listeners in with his emotional storytelling. I was getting Dylan vibes immediately. Francis’ execution and performance here was really top-notch. On the number “Caroline Street,” the instrumentals arrive with a slow grooving and meandering vibe. I was loving the ebb and flow of this song which had a contagious beat. The percussion also added a lively effect. I think this was a great way to close the album as Francis sends us off with this moving finale.
Francis’ influences range from Bob Dylan and James Taylor to current indie/Americana greats like Phoebe Bridgers and Justin Townes Earle. I think Francis is able to capture these extraordinary artists while he manages to reel in a sound that is all his own. Captivating and unique all at once, these folk, acoustic and singer/songwriter arrangements are great for fans of the aforementioned genres or for people who just want to escape with something that will capture them heart and soul. This was a great start from the artist and I look forward to anything else he has in store for listeners next.
Alan O'Neill is an independent alternative folk artist and producer from Athlone, Ireland with twenty years live music experience before releasing his debut album ghosts of the past. In regards to the music the artist mentions the album is “emotional laid back folk mixed with ambient soundscapes and a touch of Americana. The sound has been compared with that of Bob Dylan, Bright Eyes, Ryan Adams and Bon Iver. All the songs started out by writing the lyrics first before adding a basic arrangement on acoustic guitar.”
The album finds its emotional center with intimate performances. A lot of the performances aren’t much more than guitar and vocals. On that note they were so good I really wasn’t wanting much else.
The first song starts with “try” which is a gorgeous song full of melancholy but also has hopeful lyrics. One of the mantras of the song is “You feel better now / than you did before.” There are other elements in this song like banjo, piano and what sounds like orchestral strings but it’s very subtle. I loved the way the song unfolded!
“sunflower” starts with guitar and piano. This song is also quite beautiful in the same way the opener is. The subtle atmospheric elements do a great job of punctuating certain moments. After this song I was fully on board with his vocals. He knocks it out of the park on this song.
“for you” brings a little more energy. There’s a drum beat which is a big part of it. It’s another great song because of how honest and emotive the song feels. “what am I” and “lark” gets into a pensive quality while “which bed” is arguably the most intimate song yet.
“bound” is a highlight. I loved the vocals on this song. The vocals stuck with me and the lyrics might have you shed a tear if you pay attention. I was happily enjoying the comforting melancholy on “list” and “angel blue.” The closer “the line” felt the most influenced by Bob Dylan. The harmonica sounded great on this song.
O'Neill carves out a signature sound for himself. The album does move at a slow pace but it lets you rest in that space. And if you rest in it long you might find some solace and peace.
Mike Bizzini (Bizzik) and Mattia Santi (Tia) are Bizzik with Tia. According to the duo the story goes that “In September 2020 Bizzik starts a collaboration in Tia's band, the Fall7Times, in which he has the opportunity to compose a keyboard solo by integrating Tia's drums. Satisfied with the result, Bizzik offers Tia a new collaboration in electronic style. Later Tia pushes Bizzik to produce an entire album.” That would eventually lead to Beast Inside.
The album is full of synths, fast moving percussion elements and an overall high energy feel. They tag their music as “cyberpunk” and that makes sense to me. It has a hyper futuristic quality to it. There are a mix of genres but it primarily sounded electronic with an occasional hint of industrial.
The band gets cracking with “Voices of the Head” which will give you a taste of what else to expect. There’s a menacing quality to the music but I think a lot of that came from the occasional demon like vocals in the background. The synths move around at a frantic pace, usually zigging and zagging. There’s a metallic flavor to music and definitely cinematic.
“Ride this Life” starts with that villainous type of voice and a heavy atmosphere. There are some notable transitions in the song and the lead synth provides memorable melodies. A little later in the song you hear a different vocal style which sounds like it's coming from a vocoder.
“Beast Inside” is an intense song and also a highlight. The song sounds huge. Everything sounds big from the drums to the synths. Although there is some warmth at sections the songs have a number of changes which increase the energy quite a bit. At around the two-minute mark the song goes into overdrive.
“Want to Fly” felt a little more rock based in execution and reminded me a bit of Marilyn Manson. The song is a bit scary and works for the band's style. “Misanthropy” is under two minutes and although fully loaded the time length made it feel like a transitional point.
The band gets cerebral on “Not your Doll” which has the best breakdown on the album a little before the two-minute mark. I thought the sound design was very cool and the groove they found might break your brain.
They continue to buzz with “Gratitude” and the closer “On the Moon” is about as close as you will come to a ballad.
The band definitely has their own thing going on. There’s a good amount of originality here and they think outside of the box. I think the best way to experience it is most likely loud or with headphones. Recommended.
Harrier started as a lockdown project in 2021 between Greg Stanley (vocals/guitar/keys/brass) and Brad Smith (drums). The duo from Christchurch, New Zealand have both had other musical projects in the past and have played locally around Christchurch and have been active in the local indie/alt music scene. They recently released Pathfinder which is a complete DIY effort. In their own words the album “delivers a collection of songs looking inward and outward, exploring themes and trying on the shoes of: hopelessness, lost-ness, purpose, introspection and attitude.”
The album opens with “What Is There” and you are greeted with loose guitar work on acoustic guitar. Other elements like percussion start to come along with vocals. The horns sound great when they come into the mix. There’s an interesting mix of styles on this song. The horns give a midnight jazzy flavor but the drums drive the energy in a different direction. I thought this was a very cool juxtaposition.
“As Stones In The River” is this atmospheric ballad of sorts. The guitars are often gentle with the drums again providing most of the energy. There are some great lyrics. Stanley sings “Though the cycle seems eternal, there is a slow change, an erosion, Though I am small and cannot see, Yet I can feel the ground is moving beneath my feet.”
“Save The Environment” is a solid song with a very catchy hook. The guitar work is sleek and the band is the pocket. “Placards” is the centerpiece on the album. It’s a little over nine minutes long. The longer sustained notes from the horns and the kinetic drumming resurfaces and again I loved this juxtaposition. It’s a song that builds with intensity with circling piano and passionate vocals. The song eventually comes down dynamically but still keeps going.
“Mahitahi” is an instrumental piece and by this point their signature sound was becoming more evident. “Pathfinder” is arguably the most single worthy song on the release while the closer “Grateful” is funky and fully embraces wah wah pedal, horns, piano and what sounds like stand up bass but might be a synth.
As an engineer my only critique was the recordings. The drums needed some clarity and the snare in particular needed some more sizzle to cut through the mix.
The newly formed band sounds great on this album. It felt cohesive and I thought the songs were well written. Recommended.
The Formerly Misinformed are a family band based in and around Fort Worth, Texas. The started with an initial idea to write just one song, but that turned into their debut All in a Dream in 2020. Let’s Pretend It’s Fine was recorded in Charlotte, North Carolina and in Dallas, where it was also mixed and mastered. The six-song EP is an extension of the band’s debut in some ways, but this time around the recording focuses on guitars and vocals, including two spoken word tracks. First up is “Roller Coaster” and it rolls along with a dreamy indie style, complete with washy ride cymbal sounds, piano and synths, an extra percussive shaker and beautiful vocal harmonies. Man, the synths paired with the vocals and melodious bass lines really made this song shine – especially towards the song’s end – hypnotizing and lush!
The next song “Why When Where” begins with some retro synth sounds via the ‘80s, a killer bass line and a danceable drumbeat. The band stays tight throughout the song and doesn’t lose momentum. Some random piano chords come in a bit later which added great texture, followed by an interesting arrangement on the bridge/chorus part. Overall, I really liked this song, including the band’s decision to fade it out.
Next up is “I’ve Got That Late Night Drugstore Feeling” and it features one of the band members narrating memories of being in a drugstore during the ‘80s – or rather today but thinking back to the ‘80s. The narrator’s voice sounds so much like the guy who narrated some popular TV show – I want to to say Stranger Things, or the movie Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, but I don’t think that’s it. After a few measures past the one-minute mark, the rest of the band ramps up the song’s energy into this indie rock/gothic/moody creature. The bass and drum rhythms sound so good on this tune! I highly recommend listening to this song for sure, just to get the story down.
“Lip Ice” features some backward instrument sounds, a drum intro and light treatments played on the guitar and bass. Synths are added into the mix alongside wonderful and gorgeous vocal and bass melodies. I thought this track had a very memorable and catchy guitar riff. Another great tune, in my opinion. “Waiting for the Letdown” features one of the female singers narrating alongside a piano and a creepy, low voice stating at the end “waiting on you.” The poetic words suggest disappointment coming from someone or something – a letdown that will certainly happen, but the waiting, as they say, is the hardest part.
The EP’s last track is called “Leave” and it begins with a steady drum/bass rhythm with guitars coming in later. The vocal harmonies are rich and layered, with extra synth work faintly playing in the background. I thought this was one of the band’s more complex and moodier songs. The main melody and repeating words reminded me a little of the Cure. With Let’s Pretend It’s Fine, I was hearing so many influential bands from the past, it was hard to pinpoint this Texas quartet to just one. For me, I was hearing Ben Folds Five, the Cure, the Pixies, Cocteau Twins, maybe a little Howard Jones, Joy Division – who else? Anyway, The Formerly Misinformed has their own unique chemistry that mixes alternative, retro, new wave, and indie rock and it comes out sounding great! The more l listened to this follow up to 2020’s All in a Dream, the more I liked it – perhaps you will, too.
Pay Them Empathy is one individual that divides his time creating visual art for money and audio art for himself. The artist mentions “The music is dedicated to those who make their living pushing pixels on computers. Whether you rock spreadsheets or bed sheets, Stigma wants in your ears.” As far as I can tell the artist has only released a couple of singles on streaming platforms but adds more songs on his website as well. These added songs contribute to his album Sort Routine.
The first song I listened to was called “Lucky” and begins with a stuttering synth, a 4/4 beat, synths and vocals. I was listening on headphones and there was a lot to take in. There are so many changes in terms of the elements that the music was taking most of my attention instead of the vocals. The song goes into a breakdown which sounds like some sort of AI robot. I guess you could say this is a futuristic synth based song with some ’80s funk.
The next song “For Loop” starts with a number of synths and a dark tone. I thought this music has some similarities to NIN. The vocals are intimate and yearning for something. I felt like the artist explored this space in a dynamic way. The artist sings about having something to get him through the night and helping a restless mind.
“Recursion” is a high energy song which contains elements of industrial and takes advantage of vocal samples which sound like they are from an old movie or presidential speech. The song zigs and zags with different synths and explores a lot of different tones and structures.
As the album progressed I thought there were a number of highlights. “Let Go” is still firmly a song founded in electronic music but there’s more of a rock foundation to this song. The hook is one of the more memorable on the album.
“Ghostkiss Clock” was one of the more experimental tracks. The songs go all over the place and each twist and turn showcases something new. There’s a very cinematic section towards the end that I thought was one of the most interesting parts on the album.
“Sort Routine” is another solid song. The darker and industrial vibes of musicians like Ministry and NIN come through here. One of the highlights was “Joyroom” which I thought was one of the most original songs. There’s this slightly funky vibe but it’s turned on its head. This song was hard to classify.
“Souls” is this slowburn of a soundscape with a cerebral and pensive quality. I loved how the pads felt like we're tearing apart. It feels like you’re in a dream on this song. “Swerve” felt like a dance worthy song with elements of post-punk. I loved the energy on this song which also contains some memorable vocal melodies. “Origami” has a sense of serenity to it and it's juxtaposed with an eerie vocal. “Wow!” was an interesting song which contains borderline rapping.
The album contained intricate songs where you will benefit from attentive listening and a high quality listening system. There’s a lot you might miss going through laptop speakers. I thought there were a lot of quality songs on this album and the artist was able to create a cohesive sound. Fans of some of the aforementioned bands should enjoy this. Recommended.
Voices of Memory is the brainchild of John Ziss (guitars/bass/programming) and Paul Zachopoulos (vocals/programming) who have been writing & recording together for nearly twenty years. Their recent release Noise Gate + Reverb takes the listener into the 1980s post punk/darkwave with themes like heartache and unrequited love.
The album opens with “Nothing Without You” and certainly delivers on what they advertise. Their guitars are covered in reverb, the drum machine sounds like it’s from the ‘80s. They have dramatic lyrics which yearn for something else and it does seem to be about unrequited love. The song is quite catchy and gets more intense as it progresses. They start to rock out towards the second half of the song.
“Too Young to Die” is very much post-punk in the spirit of bands like Joy Division and Cocteau Twins. It’s a moody song and they lock onto a groove early on. The guitars shimmer like a light in the darkness here.
“Lolita” is a huge sounding song especially when the chorus arrives. This kind of epic quality reminded me more of contemporary acts like Evanescence although there are some differences. “A Means to an End” felt like a ballad to me. There’s a heartfelt quality to this song and sadness to it. Although it’s not that dark, I was getting a warmer feeling with this song.
“This Cold World” is a great song and one of the highlights. I loved the energy on the verse and the way it goes into the breakdown which is slick. They quickly get back into the verse in an explosive way. There’s some slight NIN vibes on this song.
“Stormrider” felt like another ballad. The song is again very epic sounding. This isn’t an intimate ballad but instead singing into the cosmos. “Come Back Today” takes you on a journey through murky waters as if you feel submerged, which is almost the opposite of “Stormrider.” “Don't Say a Word” is the closer and has one of the most memorable vocal melodies. This song did seem to be about unrequited love as well and ends with an epic outro.
Fans of post-punk, darkwave and liked-minded genres should find some solace in these songs. They deliver the goods when it comes to embracing the darkness and then having a cathartic release.
Saghaley Lewis is an artist from Salem, OR. We reviewed his previously released Narrative of Care and he is now back with a new album entitled Let's Never Go to Space Again*2022. The artist mentions the album “is a DIY experimental rock album with elements of emo revival, post-hardcore and indie/noise/progressive/math rock. According to Lewis, “the album begins with more spectacle, and then it serenades out towards the end.”
Up first is “Let's Never Go To Space Again*” which starts with an interesting soundscape. It’s atmospheric, dissonant and the lead synths clash with the pads in unique ways. The vocals are steady and purposely monotone. The song goes into this breakdown of sorts with piano and then the feeling is interrupted with guitar chords that absolutely slice through the mix. The end of the song goes into chip-tune infused breakdown. It’s a very original sounding song.
“Sensation Was the Goal” is the centerpiece and is seven minutes long. It starts with piano and pads and vocals that are way in the distance. You can’t make out the words at first which linger in the background like ghosts. The song eventually finds this shoegaze inspired groove and then abruptly transitions into what sounds like hardcore around the three-minute mark. It gets orchestral and feels a little like a chip-tune. Similar to the first song you cannot deny how original some of the ideas are.
“A Journey Only You Knew” has a different sound. There's some guitar picking here and a more lush and warm quality. He surrounds the song with pads and filters which add quite a bit to the focal melody.
“The Answer In the Final Stratum Of Half Your Life” starts with a melancholy flavor. I was reminded of the band Mogwai at first. The vocals are again way in the background and the song starts to build with a continuous snare roll.
“I Saw It Too” is another unique and original song but also one of the most catchy. It may take a second listen to have it sink in but the vocals were great. “Backyard” and “Ursula” are lo-fi stripped back songs and are just guitar and vocals which felt very conventional compared to the other songs.
Lewis is at his best when he is testing convention and thinking outside the box. He doesn't follow a predictable pattern most of the time and I enjoyed the album because of that. Take a listen.
Ever put on the right album, at the right time, where every song voices your deepest thoughts, and the music sets it all just-so, allowing your own emotion to bubble up and you just feel? That is how Luoma’s The Maple Plain hit this reviewer this weekend.
Luoma, a multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter, recorded most of The Maple Plain in his various Minnesota homes. Homes, plural, because he and his family moved three times over the course of writing and recording. That unsettled, nomadic life feeds into the songs and the music. The Maple Plain is wistful, sad, melancholic Americana, channeling big-place feelings of longing and trying to find a place to belong, while being acutely aware of the passage of time and unfulfilled dreams.
What better way to kick off an Americana album than with a song (“Bear State”) about California? A strummed guitar and Luoma sings, “I love California / As the place to lay the blame / Face down in sunshine.” The heart strings are tugged from the start, first with the lyrics and melody, and then the backing track as it builds. “Bear State,” and the rest of the tracks, are built around guitars, with prominent slide parts, and wonderful, wonderful space to let everything breathe. Over the course of the record, just about every other Americana instrument makes an appearance, too, including pedal steel, piano, electric piano, organ, mandolin, harmonica and flute. Luoma used a wide cast of (mostly remote) supporting musicians, and their contributions are spectacular.
I mentioned that The Maple Plain hit me hard, with each track digging deeper into my own psyche. If I run through each of the tracks, I’ll run out of superlatives (and print space), so here are just a few notes from the journey through the ten tracks. The pedal steel deepens the sadness of the ballad ”Gift of Time,”supporting lyrics such as “One day I’ll have the gift of time / all wrapped up / the way I like to give.” The hummed counterpoint was a chest-punch. “This is the Song” channels the frustrations of a songwriter (“been trying to follow through”) with a delicate melody and lyrical imagery (“If you don’t write it down / there’s an absence of sound / Just the wind that’s on the sky”), supported by a lovely flute line. The lyrics (and vocal harmonies) on “Country Life” had me ready to pack up and go. Strings add a lovely touch to “Empire,” balancing the piano. As the album unfurled, I found myself carried deeper and deeper into my own heart, my nerves growing more and more raw with each passage.
I held it together, more or less, until the final track, “Leaving Again”. Luoma saves the drama of the drop-D tuning until the end of the album, and the solitary rooster crow just adds to the sadness of the mournful melody and lyrics. He starts, “There are things I’m counting on / just like the wind to be moving along”, set against the yearning pedal steel and the solemn acoustic guitar. He continues, “like running time / and see you soon / and singing songs to an empty room,” and that did it. Glasses off, laptop out of the way, my dog concerned about the flowing tears. And that’s before the chorus, much less the second verse.
I plan to listen again, and again, once I am able to. The Maple Plain may not land for you the way it did for me. Whether it does or not, these are beautiful songs, with haunting lyrics, set to exquisite backing tracks. Your ears are in for a treat. And for the chance that Luoma strikes that deeper emotional chord for you too, isn’t that worth a spin?
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