Audrey Smilley - Audrey Smilley
Audrey Smilley is fairly fascinating story to me. The band originally formed in 1988 and played together up until the early ’90s. They re-formed in 2013 and apparently they have gotten a huge response. According to the band “Old fans and new begged for a re-issue of Audrey's original record - so the guys did a Kickstarter, funded a re-master and digital pressing (the ’80s version was totally analog and releases were on vinyl and cassette), and voila, the record was alive again.” Even more interesting is the documentary entitled “Audrey Smilley: The Life of a Struggling Band.”I highly recommend watching.
As far as their music goes I was thoroughly enjoying what I heard on their self-titled album Audrey Smilley. The music sounds like it came from that time period. There is just no denying that. It doesn't sound contemporary and doesn't sound over-produced. It sounds like a band rocking out in a room. I really liked the sound and it has an undeniable celebratory rock feel it that is very similar in my opinion to the band KISS and Blue Oyster Cult.
This can be best heard on the opening track “Alone.” It’s an anthemic song with catchy vocal harmonies and straightforward lyrics. The song is just easy to appreciate and I love that old-fashioned ride cymbal. In an alternative universe this song could have been a hit when it came out.
“Alone” is arguably the highlight on the album but there are plenty of other songs that sound great. The more melodic and nostalgic “Never Did The Crime” hit the right spot while “Flash” has an ’80s feel to it that is not far from a band like Cheap Trick. Perhaps the band was a little ahead of their time on “Blind Lead The Blind.” There is a bit of an ’90s alternative vibe that melded with a ’70s classic rock style. There are other standouts like “Fence” and “Losing Proposition.”
The thing that I really liked about this album was how much the music seemed to encapsulate rock n’ roll. It felt really pure and natural to me. I also love the redemption story behind the music. The band officially has one more fan. Sorry I missed the boat the first time around but I was only about ten years of age then.
WhiteDot - Point
Conner Mulcahy (vocals/guitar), Gabriel Penunuri (vocals/keys) and Cole Schroeder (vocals/bass) are WhiteDot. Apparently it took them four years to make a six-song EP entitled Point. The band has a sound that combines a myriad of different styles from hip-hop to rock. The reference that came to mind was Gorillaz.
Right up front I will say that I think the band has a unique style. I liked the music a lot and how much thought they put into it. That why it's a shame the recording quality is extremely lo-fi. When I say lo-fi I mean really lo-fi. The mixes sound boxy with little to no separation. I could go on about the laundry list of engineering issues but this is far and away the thing they have to work on next time around.
The album opens with “Off” and I really liked the style. The music sounds disorienting but kind of unique and interesting at the same time. Unfortunately I could not make out the lyrics in any shape or form.
Up next is “Cotard Delusion” which sounds like it is coming from across a huge gym. I really have little to no idea what is actually happening. It’s confusing as I could barely make out any elements. It was like they deleted the instrument and just left the reverb.
“Circle C” has a little more foundation but not much. There is some inventive things going on but it sounds like it's all floating away. You hear some talent on other songs such as “Point” and “The End of the World (Is Over).”
The production on the EP needs to be far better if they are hoping to gain a large audience. Those are just facts. If you want to be competitive it has to meet some standards on engineering end. The band has some interesting ideas and I would really like to hear them reach their potential. As of right now this falls into a case of wait and see.
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StonedFox - StonedFox
StonedFox is a solo project by a guy in Brooklyn who from my research goes by Fox for this project. His DIY effort StonedFox EP is a four-song EP which gives us a little taste of his talent and style. I was enjoying the music right off the bat.
His songs are atmospheric with a lot of clean elements but also a lot of reverb. Take for instance the opener “bury me” which has slightly morbid lyrics on paper but they didn't feel like that within execution.
He sings, “Theres a hole is my soul I cant fix/ I'm fading out fast and I hope I die quick.” It’s a pretty catchy song. It took me a couple of listens to seep in but when it did I was thoroughly enjoying the arguable highlight.
Up next is “ghosts” which is another solid song. His voice sounds almost as atmospheric as the music. The song has some serene moments and some of the sparest are the strongest. “Lovers” relies on a strong hook where he sings “tonight we could be lovers” while “skeletons at the heart” is the most dynamic song which starts off soft and minimal and eventually gets to the powerful ending.
There isn't much on this EP but there is enough where he built a solid foundation with his music. I thought the four songs were cohesive and each song shared similar aesthetic.
Overall, this is a solid EP which certainly made me think that he was one to watch. The production was good and so was the songwriting. Great start and looking forward to hearing more soon.
Jake Ford - Jaggedbloomer
Jake Ford is an artist from Ohio who released Jaggedbloomer. It contains three tracks of him messing around with different sounds from his guitar most of which were recording on his iPhone. Call it genius or call it self-indulgent art its a lo-fi recording of improvised guitar.
I’m a fan of a lot of experimental music from Keith Fullerton Whitman to Fennesz to John Cage. A lot of their sounds transcend the traditional sounds you might associate with that instrument. Ford isn’t like any of those artists. All I could think of was a person trying get sounds out of his guitar.
Up first is “kfjbsh kfjbsh” which initially sounds like he is rattling some keys and hitting his guitar. The sounds are jarring and in no way musical. He scratches at the string, silence, then more hard to listen to scratching. Then it sounds like he is tuning his guitar, after that we are greeted with out of tune guitar and dissonant notes. A bit of a pattern starts to emerge but then it's followed hard to listen to dissonance.
Up next is “.75” which is extremely lo-fi. This time around he implements basic delay effects making harsh noises. His guitar screeches and sounds like a person who is just thrashing at his guitar. Sort of like Nirvana used to do after one of their songs. Up next is “.58” which might be the hardest of all to listen to. There are harsh high frequencies and feedback.
It’s hard to even critique music like this. When does music become music? Is the silent piece “4’33” by John Cage music? Apparently Ford is an accomplished musician of jazz at Oberlin Conservatory. He was a folk songwriter and got interested in avant-garde improvisation. I do enjoy experimental music but this music certainly tested me. There is a lot of dissonance and almost nothing palatable about the tones and textures.
I’m happy to see Ford exploring experimental terrain. I’d like to see where else he can go and essentially make the guitar not remind me of guitar. Perhaps sample the guitar and combine it with white noise and a sine wave or reverse the sample and introduce a bit crusher. If he wants this to be a foundation I’d like to see him take a full plunge into the genre and find out how dissonance and harmony can co-exist in the same space.
Serrated Joy - A Stranger Stranger
In less than a year the prolific band Serrated Joy has come out another album entitled A Stranger Stranger which build on the success of their first album Eyes. It seems they also may have changed their name.
They are still a guitar band fusing different sub genres of rock like post-punk, alternative and shoegaze. One example of this is the opener “Reaper.” The vocals low lay in the mix in classic shoegaze style while the root notes on the verse bring to mind a band like Joy Division. When the chorus comes the band veers towards ’90s alternative than anything else. On top of that the song is just plain catchy. Great opener!
Up next is “All Death” which isn’t quite as bleak as the title implies. The verse got my attention. The vocals are softly sung with inventive guitar and bass lines. They follow a similar pattern to the first song by stepping on the distortion and getting loud during the chorus. It’s an effective formula that saw its peak in the ’90s but still sounds good to my ears.
The loud and soft dynamics play through the rest of the album but sometimes they just nail it. “Hand Sail” is the band at their most inventive and dynamic. There are hints of post-rock here as the band gets into epic territory. There are a copious amount of changes that all happen within a couple of seconds Great stuff. The other standouts to my ears were ”Made if Glue” and “How To Be Something All Alone By Yourself with Nothing.” Don’t miss these songs.
The more I listened to the band the more I wanted to revisit my favorite ’90s bands like Hum and Yo la Tengo. It’s a sound that you don’t hear quite as often these days as the radio seems to be filled with a lot of EDM, synth pop and flashy rock bands.
Serrated Joy isn’t reinventing the wheel here but the songs are solid with a couple of gems. Fans of ’90s rock will be happy with this release.
Danny Randell - First Name Basis
Danny Randell is a singer/songwriter based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He’s been pursuing the elusive world of music for three years, at which point he started seeing songwriting as something more than a hobby; Randell saw an opportunity to strive for more, so he began to record his work. After working on his debut EP for two years, back at Backbeat Studios in Calgary, he’d already released a polished, captivating single entitled “Eastbound Train” online by August of that same year in an attempt to grow a dedicated, intimate fan-base. I can say that he most certainly deserves dedicated fans, because consistency is a concept Randell definitely understands. His debut EP was released late last year, and it’s well worth a listen for those of you looking for a new indie acoustic/alt-rock artist with some raw ability and polished, well-mixed work.
Randell’s five-track debut EP entitled First Name Basis opens with its title track, serving as an introduction to this artist, getting to know him on a real level, rather than as any other country or alt-rock indie artist. He sings about being “on a first name basis” in case the title wasn’t enough of a giveaway, but the blunt, gentle simplicity of the track is what makes it so appealing. A soft, infectious acoustic chord progression and alt-rock-esque screeching electric guitar create a beautiful dynamic between captivating moments both loud and quiet. In much the same way, Randell’s vocals offer real variety, soft and sweet at times, belting and beautiful at others. Ed Sheeran vibes abound on this track, as with the rest of the EP, but there’s something a little unique about Randell’s raw approach to songwriting. He’s got all the elements an artist needs to be successful.
Randell really hones into his inner feelings on “Bright Blue Eyes” which also benefits from one of the most enticing pieces of ear-candy on the whole EP. Sliding electric guitar sits atop a head-bop-worthy chord progression and Randell’s emotive, passionate vocals, as he sings, “I just wanna stand here all night / Looking into those eyes / If I fall, then just let me go / If it’s gonna hurt, I don’t wanna know.” We’ve all been there. We’ve all felt love’s uplifting and heart-breaking tendencies. Randell captures the tender beauty of both the highs and the lows of love through both his vocal performance and the songwriting present on this track.
“My Flower” is a stripped-back, tender experience. A sweet acoustic chord progression guides Randell’s melancholic vocals. Sugar-coated, yet raspy vocals, Randell pushes his voice into the upper reaches of a tender, fractured falsetto. He sings, “You can be my flower / I’ll be your sun / Keeping your warm / From the crack of dawn.” For all the times that Randell can show pessimism and darkness, he can just as easily show moments of warmth. That’s what makes his performance so human, and, in turn, so raw. There’s beauty in embracing both the good and bad parts of life. Of course, there’s also beauty in being musically gifted, and Randell checks that box too.
All in all, for a mere five tracks, Danny Randell accomplishes a lot here. I’m intrigued to see what he’ll accomplish on his next release, whether it’s a mere handful of tracks, or, hopefully, a full-length album.
Opus Rogue - Shadows
Shadows by Opus Rogue is a project completed by the duo of Mark Robertson and Austin Scott. Opus Rogue had a humble beginning via an ad online for a “guitarist seeking drummer” in Laramie, WY. The classic rock vibes are strong on this album but there are also many other influences if one listens carefully, including blues, metal and even a small node to the likes of the great 1980's hair bands.
“Ghost in the Night” starts the set off with a solid classic guitar heavy rock feel. The first seconds of the song were unexpected as it wasn't the usual lead into a rock anthem but interesting nonetheless. I enjoyed classic rock feel but also noticed a bit of a bluesy feel as well. There was an extra level of emotion and swag that went beyond the classics.
“Digital Breakdown” was a solid rock anthem with an undertone tied to the big names from the late 1980's and early 1990's. This was a pretty timeless hit with lyrics that were relatable. It could easily be interpreted to be a throwback to an age where technology was just starting or a current song about our dependence on things like smart phones.
“You Build Me Up” was a departure from the two previous songs, but the styling was enjoyable. The mix of a classic rock feel with blues type lyrics was refreshing. The heavy drums in this cut were also new for the album and a nice addition.
“Sittin' Downtown” reaches back for an amazing combination of R&B, and raw rock music. The guitar heavy focus is back and I enjoyed this song the most of the album. It was effortless yet cool. “Lock and Key” was a nice end to the album. It as a showcase for both musicians with a balance between the guitar focus and nice drum work.
Overall the style of the band was eclectic with something enough different about how they tied their influences together to make it interesting. The guitar focus was enjoyable due to the talents of Scott with a solid performance of Robertson. I would like to hear more from the band and even see them live to get to watch both the guitar work and drums.
Luca - Pillars
Luca has been creating and performing music basically his whole life. He is an inspired musician, driven by jazz, hip hop, rap, rock and classical music. About a year ago, the talented artist began working on Pillars. It’s an homage to life, that connects his poetic, lyrical writing with his love for the piano and music. Pillars is an original, creative and eclectic mix of different vibes, sounds and genres.
The first track “Trashed Pages” has a cool intro, a soundscape of outside sounds of people talking and birds chirping. It sounds like we are outside of a plaza, people watching and enjoying a chill environments. It gives the album a very human element right away; it’s a nice touch.
Soon after the vocals come in and they are strong, clean, and powerful. The music and melodies are unique. They have a ‘90s grunge/pop sound. The instruments that accompany the vocalist are right on par, they have great chemistry with the type of vocals. The instruments and sounds are spacey, they are always there but never overshadow the vocals. They are very aligned and melodic with the singer’s style.
The next track on the album comes in with an awesome piano introduction. The piano riffs are jazzy, fast and intense. That type of jazzy and quick intro is joined with and works perfectly with the spoken-word, poem-like lyrics that come in. The spoken-word lyrics and the jazzy piano are a great combo and “Stirfry” is a great showcase of the jazzy style of Pillars. “Stirfry” is like a cool jam session. First the song starts out with just the piano, then the vocals come in, then the drums and finally the bass. The drums and bass do add a dark but very fun feel to the rhythm of the song.
Overall, Pillars is an album that’s just as much about the instruments as it is about the vocals. Some of the tracks, like midway through “Stirfry,” have excellent instrumental interludes thrown in and others, like “Pillars,” have melodic piano riffs or guitar samples in the background that give the album a lot of instrumental life. Pillars also features a wide variety of sounds, it’s diverse and exciting. Most of the tracks have a fast jazz sound with a ’90s grunge feel to it, but then there’s other styles or genres splashed throughout. “Pillars,” for example, is an all acoustic track that changes the direction and style of the album. It varies from the traditional sound of the album, but it’s exciting and fun to listen to regardless.
All in all Pillars is a fun and varied album. Luca is young and his sound still needs some sharpening and maturing. The lyrics are great and marry with the instrumentals very smoothly, but some experience and maturing of the musical talent will only make his next album that much more exciting.
499M - 499M
499M is Chrys Berryman. He comes from New Zealand and these days it seems he's more of a music hobbyist. He gave up playing bass in bands about twenty-five years ago and hasn’t released much music-wise besides his self-titled EP 499M. His EP is a complete DIY effort which was recorded on basic consumer gear. The recording quality is about what you expect, far from a professional studio with all the imperfections that digital gear provides. Luckily Berryman keeps it simple relying on guitar and vocals. That being said the recording quality varies from song to song which is a sure sign of a DIY effort.
I couldn't make out a lot of the lyrics but of what I could seemed pretty tongue and cheek. He doesn't seem to take the songs that seriously which I appreciate in a lot of ways. This makes a little sense since he was a stand-up comedian.
He opens with the title track which is pretty, melancholy and bizarre. The guitar riff is simple and pretty. You also hear what sounds like an alarm and a kid sort of singing along with him. Berryman repeats the words of the song. I honestly have no idea what the song was about.
Up next is “I Can Live With That” which revolves around a couple of basic chords. The song grew on me. Something about the inflection in his voice, the ambiguous lyrics and rawness of the track worked for me. It was a highlight.
Unfortunately, “Pissing Off Our Patio” takes a pretty notable dip in volume and the recording quality isn't as good. All things considered it was another song that grew on me. There was something I liked about the music which was hard to pinpoint. I think it reminded me of Guided by Voices in some way.
“Bury Me In An Elephants Graveyard” is a great name for a song while “Vern Cracknell Came To Our House” has a bit of a rock n; roll edge to it.
I have to admit I wanted a little more than a strummed guitar and vocals on the album by the fourth song; I needed some diversity. In this day and age it is usually not enough for me unless you have great fingering picking skills and an exceptional voice.
499M is far from perfect but is still a solid DIY effort. There is something endearing about these songs however. They feel authentic without an ounce of pretense. Something that most mainstream music lacks.
Blanket Boys - Lake Hope
I fell in love with Blanket Boys this month, thanks to being assigned to review their album Lake Hope. The two-piece is comprised of guitarist-vocalists Joe Camerlengo and Lisa Brokaw, and with that, I’d really just like to jump in and start talking about this project.
Lake Hope kicks off with the superb “Lost on Me,” which is led by Brokaw’s intoxicating, wistful vocals and mesmerizing picking pattern. This song is definitely a favorite of mine from this project, it is perfect at drawing the listener in and making them feel comfortable. It’s a sweet, warm pop song, but the best I’ve heard something like this done since the passing of Elliott Smith; the song is in the same vein as contemporaries Family of the Year’s “Hero,” but I actually prefer “Lost on Me.”
“Never Know” is another mesmerizing sweet song which again is led by Brokaw’s vocals, but the droning guitar note that begins each verse is really what grabs me each time I listen to it. It’s a simple addition, but adds so much atmosphere to the piece (as well as some tension, musically).
Next follows the titular “Lake Hope,” the first song with drums, as well as the first song led vocally by Camerlengo whose voice sounds like a slightly poppier Sam Beam. I love the tone on the lead guitar on this track, as well as the slightly dissonant and reverb-laden rhythm guitar during the choruses. This song probably has my favorite soundscape of any on the album; I love the distortion and dissonance, and their interplay with the beautiful harmonies and melody on display.
A cover of (funny enough) Elliott Smith’s “Angeles” follows. It’s pretty good, but the only song I really question the inclusion of. It’s a good performance, but doesn’t quite live up to the original song, despite the beauty of Blanket Boys’ arrangement. “Bite” is the final song, and features a return of both the drum kit and Camerlengo’s vocals, and is just as dreamy as one would expect, given the entire rest of the album that preceded this. The passionate, strained falsetto was one amazing addition to this song, especially since that was something I was thinking would sound great just as I was listening to “Lake Hope.”
“Bite” is a sweet and powerful end to the album; I especially am enamored of the way the final line of the song, “there’s no end in sight,” is sung, and the song immediately cuts off there. That’s a great way to finish this powerful dream-pop project. The production was perfect, the performances were emotional, and Blanket Boys really establish a sound for themselves and stick to that sonic palette. I highly recommend checking Lake Hope out.
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