As it becomes increasingly easy to produce perfect sounding recordings from your bedroom or living room, people's tastes seem to be drifting back to the raw and immediate, the lo-fi, the personal and homemade. There has been a re-appreciation of grunge, as well as spindly post-punk, from labels like Blackest Ever Black or Sacred Bones, that have re-launched careers, like Dinosaur Jr., Mudhoney and many, many more.
With people turning their ears back to grunge, the time is ripe to hear Blue EP from Calgary's Crowchild, who blend the goofy misanthropy and shredding guitars of The Melvins with some rootsy twanginess, all Western acoustic guitars and crawling chord progressions.
This scant EP, clocking in at a mere six songs, is intended as a sampler of what Crowchild is capable of, as they're cranking and gearing up for more. Crowchild rarely sits still, never succumbing to one generic style, so anyone who appreciates good grunge, and any kind of hard guitar rocking will find something to dig their fangs and claws into on Blue.
Crowchild reminds me most closely of the earliest, demo-era Nirvana, or the thin, spindly acerbic sound of Mudhoney mixed with the knuckle dragging sludge of The Melvins. Crowchild doesn't get bogged down in the bottom end like many of their sludgy cousins, however, as their guitars coast over the rhythmic bedrock, like carrion crows, while the high-pitched drums cut through the mix, in an unusual mixing style you don't hear often in metal derivatives. It's like grindcore mixed with lo-fi punk rock, all while rootsy blues guitar synchronize dance and swim.
For anyone who loves to blur the boundaries, who wants to remember when grunge was good and interesting, and not just bland radio unit shifters, check out Blue this very moment! Great stuff!
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Boston based solo artist Vision Flight had one goal in mind when he created his artistic outfit. That goal was to combine his background in the genres of classical music, rock and folk with his love of electronic music. And the artistic medium of music has always been manipulated since its inception, and hopefully always will be. But that doesn’t mean that every musical genre goes together as well as chocolate and peanut butter.
To give Vision Flight his due credit on his initial release, the five-song Determination EP is a valiant effort, and there are moments that one can see how this strange amalgamation could work. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking on my part, though I found myself pulling for Vision Flight most especially on the track, “The Beach House,” which was co-written with Matt Giordano of the band Such Hounds. As I listened to “The Beach House” several times I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the opening bit of hollow sounding acoustic guitar and the sparsest bit of drum machine. But when the bland ‘80s era synthesizer kicked in it felt ruined.
I had the exact opposite feeling on the tune “Determination,” which bounces along on an albeit cliché drum machine beat, though the synthesizers sound great. Then out of nowhere comes the wail of an electric guitar riff, which later turns into an acoustic guitar riff. The musical flavors threw me off, like drinking orange juice after brushing my teeth.
I did highly dig two songs on Determination EP. The first was the spritely “Beach Cop Sunglasses,” which is a mellow piece of synth pop infused with bit of a Caribbean flair. To be honest it is a precise piece of electronica with a catchy melody. The other song I thought was really good was the closer “Coast,” a sort of low-fi slow core piece of electronic excellence.
I understand the want to be experimental. I understand the need to try and create something new and exciting. But I am also a realist who realizes that sometimes one should keep work and play separate. I respect the efforts Vision Flight has taken to create a new hybrid genre, though sometimes experiments are best left in the lab.
Dunedin, New Zealand has a long history of adventurous, experimental pop/folk-infused rock and roll, going back to the early ‘80s; it even has its own name "the Dunedin sound" giving us bands like The Chills, The Clean, The Verlaines, along with more fried rootsiness from artists like Alistair Galbraith and Peter Jefferies.
Dunedin's Falconets are keeping the tradition alive with this short EP The Birth comprised of six songs of twanging acoustic guitars, bouncing African rhythms and fuzzy electronics.
The Falconets would do well to focus more on the "experimental" or "adventurous" aspects of their sound, like the brief, shimmering Atari soundscapes of the album opener "Forethought #3" with its rainbow organs and distant vocals, which sound glorious against the earthiness of "Goodbye For Now," which departs the Southern Hemisphere for the Cape Of Good Hope, sounding like a rather good Paul Simon outtake as covered by Yeasayer.
The Falconets drop the experimental, electronic globe trotting with "No One Can Do It Better Than You," which features that glassine, strummy acoustic guitar sound wielded by John Mayer, David Gray and Dave Matthews in the late '90s and early '00s that acts as sand in the lubricant, which seriously, seriously chafes.
It's a brief misstep, which almost ruins things for me, no matter how much clever filtering is used in the beginning, as I cannot and will not endorse this bland, strumming folk lite and it almost obscures how damn good nearly every other aspect of this recording is.
The guitars are killer and soulful, ranging from an economic rhythm to soaring, flying-finger lead, while the drums are tight and popping, wrapping around the steel strings like a popcorn air popper.
My advice for Falconets would be to look more towards the future than the past, and to investigate the rich, sonic exploration of their own island, and to stay far, far, far away from any whiteboy hippy allegiances (except for Phish or The Grateful Dead, both of whom are awesome.) Don't be deterred from checking out the wonders this EP has to offer, however, as the sweets are like golden honey.
Spectral, by the Brighton trio three-piece Kinship, is a classic example of pre-conceived notions coloring your perceptions, as the band describe themselves as an emo/punk band in the second sentence of their press release, before going on to mention melodic indie rock and hardcore.
I realize we're supposedly in the thralls of a ‘90s/early ‘00s emo revival with newfound re-appreciation of bands like Mineral and Braid, and lavish, deluxe vinyl re-issues of Olympia, Washington's Unwound, but I remain unconvinced. It is my journalistic duty, however, to get beyond my own biases and try and listen objectively while still being honest.
For the sake of argument, calling a rose by a different name to see how it smells, consider Kinship post-hardcore, mixed with elements of psychedelic metal as the band shares a sensibility of bands like Botch, Cave-In, with some Deafheaven windblown guitar sunspots, mixed with melodic indie elements; wavering, quavering vocals, beautiful delayed guitar, all held together by primeval, pummeling percussion.
This music kicks when it hits, like the sludgy menace of album opener of "Visions" but is also capable of beauty and sentimentality, like on "Sensory//Primal.” Basically, I like almost every detail and aspect of this recording. The drummer seriously slays, while the guitars pump out menace and tug the heartstrings simultaneously.
The good outweighs the negatives, neutralizing my biases - I just pretend the gang’s vocal 'OOH's are ghost pirates, rather than Tiger Army or Green Day knock-offs.
I really, really dislike the quavering emo vocal styles, and always have, since the day they set the airwaves on fire, in the early 2000s. But there has been an interplay between pop and punk since punk began, practically, with bands like The Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers, The Ramones, Bad Religion, et al. So if you like those bands and can imagine them paired with modern bands like Pelican or Russian Circles this might be your cup of tea.
In the meantime, I will work on getting over my fuddy-duddyism, as this short EP is quite well executed and ticks a number of my requisite boxes. So if you like good emo, pop punk or adventurous metal that is not afraid to be sweet and heartfelt this is for you.
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Anthony Farina is a singer/songwriter and musician that I had not heard of until very recently, who released an EP called The Color Wheel back in late 2014. What makes Farina a real standout artist is that he was once deep in the heavy-rock, post-hardcore scene and has now transitioned into a much more mellow, acoustic sound. But he is still able to carry some of those rock sensibilities.
"The Color Wheel" begins with some incredibly sweet acoustic instrumentation, intricately melodic. Farina's voice nicely complements the production surrounding it. The whole song is incredibly relaxing and contemplative with a sweet up-rise in tempo and energy during the hook. And the guitar solo in the last part of the song completely makes it original.
"Here I Go Again" carries a more indie feel to it; soothing vocals with more humble instrumentation. The lyrics in this song in particular painted a pretty vivid picture of someone asking himself questions about love. The double harmonizing with the female vocalist Hillary Capps adds a real beautiful dimension to the song. "Simple Mazes" is one of my favorite tracks on the EP, which finishes off with another fantastic guitar solo, ending with all barrels blazing.
The track "Greener Days" begins with a lot of energy, carrying a much more noticeable alternative-rock influence, flowing into a mellow production style for the verses. Also there is some really great percussion work. And ending the EP with "Drawn In," which is a lovely song that mainly encompasses an acoustic guitar and gives the project a sweet, emotional finale.
Farina sometimes plays the emotionally fragile singer/songwriter angle. Whether he is cognizant or not he does and it's the same angle John Mayer and his clones have been barking up for years. Ladies will swoon but can also feel contrived if you don't play your cards right.
Any fan of indie/acoustic music, or just alternative music in general should give this a listen and be the judge.
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
Youth League First EP 3.8
Owner Shame Face 3.6
Blood And Bourbon Blood And Bourbon 3.6
Lupus Star To Shine 3.0
Keel Her Keel Her 3.6
Martyn Wilson Restless 3.9
III.XV Volume 1 EP 3.5
Jimmy Willden Band Melodies of the Aftermath 3.3
The Radical Monkeys Dinnertime 3.0
Yard Dogs Delphi 3.7
Sunset Maintenance Sunset Maintenance 3.4
Jeremiah Daly Live at True Tone Studios 3.3
There is as the saying goes, no accounting for taste. And the music the Sussex, New Brunswick duo Jake & Hannah make is not anything I would seek out to listen to on my own. But the job of the honest music reviewer has nothing to do with taste in music. It has to do with ones take on the technical ability of the music one is given to review and how well that music represents the genre or genres it is working within. In the case of Jake & Hannah the genre in question is acoustic folk pop. And from the beginning straight through to the end of the slim five-song EP Sing for Me, the Canadian duo do not disappoint.
Sing for Me is the result of a year and a half of the pair playing together, though in that short span they’ve managed to create songs that sound to be the result of a longer residency. For folk-pop, as simple as it would seem to make, as simple perhaps as the two words which make up the genre’s name, I have come to find can be easily messed up, mostly due in part to the fact that many who attempt to make folk pop fail to infuse it with what it takes to succeed; heart.
And one hears this heart from the very beginning of Sing for Me. The lovely opening title track, “Sing for Me” begins with a scrappy ukulele riff and Hannah Cummings’ bright and crisp vocals. As the track builds it takes on piano, a fluttering of drums and Jake Freeze’s vocals, which wrap around Cummings’ and help to accentuate them even further.
This vocal mixture is even more prominent on the borderline alt-country ballad “Hold On,” which is driven by rippling piano and crisp acoustic guitar. The piano continues to ripple on the inspiring power pop balladry of “Dreamer.” Closing out Sing for Me is the finger picked acoustic beauty of “Come Away.”
The songs on Sing for Me exist like a musical sunset. Each time one listens to them they are beautiful, though each time they are beautiful in a different way. There is plenty of talent in the world, but talent only goes so far and only lasts so long. The songs of Jake & Hannah have heart, and that is something that is earned and ingrained. And heart is what makes music last.
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The antonymic Happy Sadness is the moniker that Yorkshire based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jason Brown records under. The sixteen songs on Brown’s latest lengthy release The Long Play LP were chosen from the over one hundred which he wrote and recorded in his bedroom over a period of two years.
It is an impressive feat to have written so many songs in such a short span of time. However as the saying goes, “Less is more.” I don’t necessarily agree with this saying and generally find myself somewhere around the middle ground. However I will attest to the fact that every artist, no matter what their medium, struggles to get just the proper amount of words on a page, paint on a canvas, or in this case, songs on a record.
And it is only when the artist has become a master of his craft that he is able to humbly see that he must delete words, paint over a canvas or set songs aside for another record. And it is this last idea that concerns the matter at hand with The Long Play LP.
There are gems on The Long Play LP like the psychedelic “Papaver” strung together with ethereal strings, keys, backwards guitars and Brown’s stark baritone vocals. At first I was waiting for the song to kick in and do something, and frankly the first time around I was disappointed that it didn’t. After repeated listens I began to understand that it didn’t need to kick in, and I feel in retrospect that if it did I wouldn’t like it. “We Fall as we Rise,” “The Night Has Woken” and the lustrous acoustic closer “The Window Pane” are all three closely styled odes to the Beta Band. So closely in fact that if I didn’t know any better I would have thought they were covers.
The low fi feel works for many of the tracks on The Long Play LP, yet on others such as “Colour Blind” and eerie instrumental “Looking Back to Sundays” ends up sounding like caricatures of early ‘80s experimental noise rock bands.
Being a prolific songwriter is not something that Jason Brown suffers from. The excellent musicianship and arrangements on the album are very good, and this can only be a reward of spending so much time honing his craft. The problem with The Long Play LP is that it sometimes sounds like a schizophrenic compilation of an artist with many influences but little idea of his own input. This is a burden that all young artists struggle with, though over time the best shed their influences and only then do they themselves become influential. Brown is certainly one to keep an eye on
Anova Skyway sounds like an alt-rock band that has listened to a lot of Mars Volta in their time. The vocals say, “Hi, we are the second coming of Faith No More.” The guitars: “Oh, Hello, we’re Circa Survive.” Genre amalgamations aside, A Great and Sudden Change is a speeding train that never stops chugging, but can’t always stay on the tracks.
Few can fault the band for pulling from “The Simpsons of melodic prog-rock:” the Mars Volta; they’ve literally done everything. Listeners tuned into the Texas prog scene will liken this five-piece to Fair to Midland but the Volta comps are hard to shake off. A little over a minute into the album sounds eerily similar to the part forty seconds into “Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore: B.”).
Credit plenty of bands for inspiring the music on this album (listen to the opening riff of “Mobius” and tell me the part wasn’t lifted straight from the intro to “The Fall of Aphonia” by Children of Nova). The guitars are spastic, effects drenched and often weave together in a similar vein of Coheed and Cambria or Closure In Moscow or Tides of Man or Stolas or Dance Gavin Dance or The Sound of Animals Fighting or A Lot Like Birds or… well, you get the point. To be sure though, the rabid guitar shredding and gushing atmosphere is on point for the genre. Songs “Primitive,” “Wishful Thinking” (the album’s single), and “Panoramic View” underline the group’s obvious strength.
Elsewhere, the drummer plays tight, complex beats most of the time but his contribution to the rhythm section goes largely unnoticed. Vocally is where the band struggles most—a note to prospective melodic prog acts: You must be able to hit the high notes to play this music. Vocalist Garret West is far more M. Shadows or Serj Tankian than he is Cedric Bixler Zavala. Here is the area where the band shouldn’t be bashful about imitating.
“A Great and Sudden Change,” like a best-selling paperback, manages to entertain without doing anything wholly novel, but originality doesn’t have to be a chief concern moving forward so much as fixing the vocals. Howard Benson pulled off a Houdini act with Cove Rebber’s voice on Saosin’s self-titled album; maybe more production wizardry is all Anova Skyway needs to fit in with all the Volta spawn
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Michelle Renee has one of those voices that you probably won’t be forgetting anytime soon after you hear it. Haunting, layered, powerful and thick are a couple of words that came to mind when I started listening to her recent album entitled Reflections. Reflections is an eight-song album that not only features an excellent singer but a rich surplus of instrumentation. Sheralyn Wellman (back-up vocals), Brendan Gosson (violin), R. Aaron Walters (piano, electric guitar), Samuel Roux (bass) and Gavin George (drums) chipped in to contribute a wide array of sounds that are quite diverse. There are elements of bluegrass, folk, country, rock and pop. Some of the music reminded me of Dave Matthews Band but I actually preferred the songs that felt loose and almost dreamlike.
All you need to do is hit play to know what I’m talking and let “Lullaby” take you over. The song starts off with an acoustic guitar and Renee's voice and to tell you the truth I would have been ok with that combo throughout the whole song but I didn’t mind one bit when the other instrumentation was introduced. Everything was subdued and really left space for her vocals to shine through. It was a great introduction that showcases why Renee is an exceptional singer.
Another highlight for me was the very next song entitled “Crashing Down.” The music starts off with a beautiful combination of waltz style piano and a crying violin. Renee’s lyrics are deep pertaining to existential dilemma. She sings, “ Scattered my thoughts flow, plotting and planning, running on high I sprint to the future searching for answers that may never come.” As the song progresses, it gets more intense and dramatic but doesn’t go overboard.
I feel pretty confident in saying “Surrender” was the centerpiece of the album. The seven-minute song is the most non- traditional and is all the better for it. It starts off with loose instrumentation that is breaking apart at the seams. A gust of wind could blow it over and all that really is holding it up is Renee’s voice. The song moves slow and steady until the huge change at five minutes in. Good stuff all around.
Renee sounds best at her most intimate and when the songs flirt with some sense exploration. The songs I previously mentioned all do this quite successfully. A couple of the other more upbeat jam band type songs didn’t sound as original and didn’t focus on her strongest qualities. When looking at the whole album there are only minor missteps and overall is a very enjoyable experience. Renee is a certified talent and I hope to hear more from her soon.
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