Charlie Raphael-Campbell is an eighteen-year-old musician from North London, UK who recently released Julian. The EP contains four fairly different sounding songs that display a boatload of talent.
Up first is “Lemon Moon.” This song in particular reminded me of Courtney Barnett. Raphael-Campbell has a carefree quality to her voice similar to Barnett. The song starts off with a lone acoustic guitar and vocals. An entire band comes in seconds later and really adds a lot of heft to the music.
Once the chorus hits I wasn’t expecting such a joyous and infectious chorus but there is it was and I loved it. The song is single worthy and I find it hard that anyone could not love these palatable melodies. There is just enough attitude as well.
“Re: Anne” which has a different feel. It’s a lot more melancholy but sounded just as good as the opener. The elements are warm and you get surrounded with an acoustic guitar, orchestral strings and some additional instrumentation that blends together perfectly. I thought the drums that come in about half-way through the song needed that extra energy that starts to make the song feel hopeful and quite beautiful. Raphael-Campbell’s vocals are covered in emotion and she pulls off this song with ease.
“Seashore Suicide” felt somewhere between the first two songs. It’s not as heavy and dripping with rock as the opener but the song is quite melodic with clean reverb laced guitars and has plenty of hooks.
Up next is the piano ballad entitled “Birds.” It’s a powerful closer. The last minute where the orchestral strings comes in is pure magic.
Raphael-Campbell is really young and has all the time in the world to gain an audience. This is a fabulous start and I would not be surprised if we heard a lot more from her in the not too distant future.
cuzoh - Dirty Violet
Dirty Violet is the latest released from Cuzoh. The album was produced by Centric. It’s a smooth, diverse ride with impressive production and infectious hooks.
The album gets going with “Power” which is actually one of the tracks I felt would work best at an after hours party. I heard atmospheric pads that create a dreamy canvas that is layered hard hitting sub bass and digital hi-hats. The lead vocals which sing the hook have the popular auto-tune effect. It’s a solid opener.
“Invincible” (feat. Layzie Bone, Bright & Tr3) is one of the highlights. There’s an interesting dichotomy of sounds. The pads are serene and tranquil while the bass and rapping crackles with energy. I really liked the production on this track.
Things become very lush on “Cherish” which is the most atmospheric song yet. The hooks here really pop and there is no arguing you will remember it after you hear it. “Feenin’ for Your Love” has arguably the best beat on the album. It really drives the song and melds with the synths and other elements on the song. The song also has a catchy hook.
“Gone Forever” is another impressive track. On this song he laments about lost love. The song submerges in what sounds like water. It almost has a new age vibe. The percussive aspects are again top notch and unique to the song itself. “The Late Show” and the darker and ominous “Code Red” continues to showcase versatility.
“Nothing Like Me (feat. Centric) is optimistic and has a positive message. The album closes with “This Time (feat. Centric) which is another darker song with haunting tones and textures.
There is a lot to appreciate on this album. No two songs are the same while not going into areas which go too far into left field. I think this type of album will appeal to a lot of people.
House Plants - House Plants
Eric Bustamante (guitar/vocals), Robert Stewart (guitar) and Nate Lujan (drums/vocals) are House Plants. The band from San Antonio, Texas released a five song self-titled EP House Plants. They play emo/pop-punk in the same vein as bands like Modern Baseball, Weezer and other like minded bands.
The songs mostly revolve around youthful love. All the ups, downs and things most people go through in their teens and twenties. The songs are well written and catchy as Bustamante laments about broken hearts and better days.
The EP starts with “Woahzers” which is indicative of what you can expect from the band. Bustamante’s vocals are fairly subdued and veer towards monotone on this song. The style actually works well as the energy is really provided in the music.
Bustamante’s vocals are a little more dynamic and vibrant on “Just Another Song About A Girl You Don't Know” which is a catchy song from beginning to end. The song is well written and contains zero fat. “I'm Sure Something Will Come Out of This” is pure emo more or less about feeling sorry for yourself because you can’t get over a former lover. “Marlow” has its moments. “I Hope You Don't Hate Me As Much As I Hate Myself” is an acoustic song about the same topics.
I’m in my late 30’s and truth be told this kind of existential heartbreak just doesn't exist when you get older. There is some solace in that fact. You are a lot more certain of who you are and it really makes a significant difference in moving on. That being said these songs seem like they were made for a younger generation and that common ground can be comforting. Bustamante sings from the first person. He sings about his pain, his heartbreak, etc. My one piece of advice here is to include the listener in on the conversation every once in awhile. A simple change from “I” to “you” can make it a little easier for the listener to feel like the song is reflecting their struggles as well.
Overall, this is a solid start and I wish them luck as they evolve. Recommended.
Plike - Seven
An easy drive down 55 would land me in Champaign, Illinois, home to a dark and dreamy pop artist known as Plike. I'd like to welcome Plike back to Divide & Conquer. It's my first time reviewing her work. Her latest album is Seven, and it's a gothic road full of twists and turns in a soft, velvety darkness. Musically her work is wholly electronic with lovely vocal performances. This created a lovely juxtaposition between the concrete of the electronic elements and the organic sound of the incredible voices on here. The album also has a deep feminine power to it where it presents women in several dimensions and colors.
The album paints with a hefty brush, thick stroked of deep black and violet wash across my mind as I listened to it. It's very coy, likes to tease the senses, play with balance and tickle curiosities. There are a lot of samples beyond the instruments. There are spoken word elements which are often ominous. There's lots of creeks and squeaks tied into the percussion very organically. It works. In terms of unconventional sampling, I think this album does VERY well and the creativity really shines.
When it comes to the musical samplings I felt like there were sounds that were boxed in with the shrink wrap still on. It's hard to blend a lot of the sounds in with the unbridled vocal performances and the cool unconventional stuff. It needs something extra. This is a tricky business in the world of electronic music and happens often. There are a few different cures. Sometimes you have to dig outside your normal electronic tools for samples. Sometimes it just takes a few minor tweaks when mastering to really punch up a particular sound. All in all I appreciate what is being done musically here. It is very ethereal and expressive.
The voices are really fantastic, again, the strong feminine presence is conveyed so well in the vocal work. Every now and then there are a few lyrics which was a nice surprise, because I never see it coming when it happens and it is not typical for albums like this. Most of the time it's just the vocalist flexing on those beautiful, haunting notes.
While the album is dark, it has a lot of emotional genres at play. Sure, horror is in there, but this album is not a one trick pony. I get a lot of sci-fi, action and thriller. Sometimes I swear I could hear these songs as scores for some of my favorite video games. Sometimes I see war and epic battles. This is one of those albums that sets a very specific mood; it takes control. A great tool to let your mind relax and let someone else drive for a while. So if you're looking to be transported tune into Seven.
The Gallerys - Lucid Trail
With critical praise like ‘one of the most promising bands in the country’ and songs that harken ‘iconic British songs from the ’60 era’ I was eager to listen to the up and coming, three-piece UK band The Gallerys. Hailing from their home town in Kent, the trio have a fresh take on the alternative, mixing sounds from ‘60s rock, Britpop and new wave. And with already over 200 gigs performed, playing with such acts as Madness, The Sherlocks and The Isle of Wight Festival, these lads are well on their way.
The latest EP release Lucid Trail was recorded at Square Head Studios in Sittingbourne, Kent. The short collection of songs includes themes about overcoming anxiety, growing up in less-than-perfect circumstances, difficulties of making money as a young person and going after creative ambitions – stories we can all relate to I’m sure. Members are: James Wood on guitar, Craig Barden on bass and Dan Maggs on drums.
“Lucid Trail” begins right away with a sweet-sounding melody, dreamy and acoustic pop and great vocal harmony. It was a definite pleasure to listen to and if you’re familiar with The Hollies, you may hear some echoes of them. “Shadow Street” features ‘60s influences for sure with its “la la la” vocal melodies but also, the thrashing drum beat in between the quieter parts show the punk-indie side of the band. “Steady Beat” is the trio’s hardest rocking song with flavors of new wave and punk influence, reminiscent of The Buzzcocks and The Knack.
The ending “Silver Lining” is another shining example of The Gallerys’ gorgeous vocal harmonies. This song was perhaps the band’s best take on how they mix old and new sounds and come out with something completely fresh and all their own. After just four songs, it wasn’t hard for me to tell that this UK trio are gaining ground in their home country and in the virtual world of the Internet. I wish them well and look forward to hearing more soon.
Ava Anderson - Ava Anderson
Ava Anderson is a musician who got her start early. She started around age eleven writing songs and playing piano. Recently she released a self-titled EP Ava Anderson that contains six songs.
Her EP is a mixture of styles including some rock and country. Anderson has dynamic vocals and the songs are well written. The song also felt conventional in a lot of ways. There really weren’t any surprises in terms of structure, production and delivery. The songs were easy on the ears but I think a little more experimentation or pushing a little more on convention may have helped the songs not sound as familiar.
Up first is “Dead Ringer” which fuses country and rock. This song in particular had a sense of familiarity to it. That being said there are some impressive aspects to the song. The swelling chorus in particular sounds great. “Back to Earth” felt like straightforward rock.
The next two songs is where I think Anderson sounds her best vocally and sounds a little more at home. The melancholy in her voice sounds great on “Wonder Woman.” “Tennessee” is arguably the highlight. The song is minimal and builds organically. Anderson rocks out on “Last Call” which is a pop oriented single worthy song. “Breaking Hearts (Acoustic)” is self explanatory and another song that shows off her vocal chops.
Anderson no doubt has a lot of talent but I can’t help but think it may behoove her to surround herself with musicians who are willing to push some boundaries and explore some more sonic possibilities. All the fundamental elements are in place but I get the sense something is being held back.
Overall, this is a solid EP with well written songs that tend to feel safe but are also enjoyable. I look forward to hearing more from Anderson.
The Mutant Sea - The Mutant Sea
The Mutant Sea is the solo project of Phoenix based songwriter Zak Fischenich. He released a lo-fi self-titled demo The Mutant Sea. The album has a bedroom pop/indie vibe to it.
The album gets going with “Lost on a Mission.” It’s a darker song and I heard hints of Kurt Vile. The song is deceptively catchy but you might miss it because of how lo-fi the song is. Fischenich hits upon a more playful, light vibe on “A Kindred Heart” which works much better with bedroom aesthetics. The guitars are fairly clean with just a touch of crunch and the electronic percussion sounds good in the song.
“Truly Love” is somewhere between Deerhunter and a ’50s pop song. It’s a fairly catchy song with some good lead guitar. The vocals are solid but I wanted some more dynamics. They felt a little too subdued for the song. The song would have felt better at around three-minutes in length.
“Enclosure Spires” starts promising with catchy bass and guitar melodies. The song is off-kilter in a good way. Its lack of vocals was not an issue and I felt the song was one of the highlights in the batch.
“Blue and Gold” had the potential to be the centerpiece. It felt instantly catchy but again I was hoping for more dynamics. I needed a crescendo or two or an elevated chorus to really bring it home. “Miss Amelia” is arguably the catchiest song in the batch. “8 2 8 2 8” has a match rock section with vocals that almost follow the guitar pattern. He closes with the melancholy and atmospheric “Truth and Understanding.”
The Mutant Sea seems like a project that would benefit from getting out of the bedroom. I think a talented group of musicians particularly in the bass and drums department playing in a room would make a considerable difference to the dynamics. As an engineer myself I had a little difficulty getting past how lo-fi this was but on the same token there is no denying there are some solid songs.
I look forward to hearing more from Fischenich as the project evolves because I felt like there was a lot of talent as well as potential.
LOOKERS - Mirage
You know somehow while listening to Mirage, the latest album from Lookers, I pictured myself with scissors in hand, ragefully cutting up my t-shirts like it was seventh grade all over again. If you can't tell, that's a good thing. That’s my subconscious saying a big fat "YES" to this album. Like dude, LOOKERS, can we have a sleepover? This dark pop loveliness hails from Rhode Island and that gives me a hint as to why this group is so good at bending misery to their will. There is nothing so savage as a New England winter for those who don't know. It's like a record stuck on yuck and just won't go to the next track for months. This is a collection of very post punk head nodding jams that I absolutely adore. I'm fine with them opening the wounds I have from middle school, as long as I can boogie to it.
So much angst and pent frustration stuffed into the catchy songs. The lyrics are blunt, stark slaps to the face. Right away with the first song "Body Bag" they are not kidding with that title. Although I feel like the term of "body bag" could be a metaphor for lots of things in my life that house my endless unfortunate happenings. My shitty Kia for example, could qualify as a body bag. It costs me money and has been there for so much of what has made my existence less than ideal. Maybe my body bag is the blanket I use on my couch which I wrap myself up in to try and keep life out. I feel I have gotten off the rails a bit here, but I personally love an album that makes you think.
Another favorite that I can't get out of my head is "Crisis." This song has my favorite vocal performance and for me was a such a dance inducing tune, that I had to get up. I cannot begin to explain how lazy I am, so if I gotta get up and jam, you win.
What I like about the music is that there is a heavy homage to the first wave of post punk, but that era does not define the sound. The percussive elements are wholly new school and very addictive. The production also plays a part in what makes this album so fresh. Mirage was a local studio project done at Big Nice Studio and I am truly impressed. LOOKERS has a sound that I think needs professional studio attention to really be done right. Even with the album so polished, it never looses its edge. Whatever they paid was a worthwhile investment.
This album has the appeal of a cult classic movie. It conjures up emotions and unbridled enjoyment with such a dusky and dank flare. I love having a soundtrack for my shitty moods, and this one just made my top ten.
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Zoo Lake - Zonk
Formed in 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa, the psychedelically leaning noise rock outfit Zoo Lake has just released their debut record Zonk on label Permanent Records. The band consisting of vocalist and guitarist Givan Lötz, guitarist and mbira player Adriaan Hugo, bassist Brett Rubin and drummer/synth player Joe Paine. The band made their festival debut last year at Endless Daze playing alongside other like-minded psych-addled acts such as A Place to Bury Strangers, Nonn and Dead Meadow.
On Zonk they delve into a funky and psychedelic miasma with a bit of a harder edge to it that reminded me of the Cures’ Seventeen Seconds and Pornography. It’s definitely not an album of light hearted wanderlust pyschedelia that makes you want to float on clouds and have wonderful ideas about everything. Instead it’s just the opposite really, a sort of borderline netherworld of dark and haunting tracks that would be best accompanied by lying on the floor alone in a dark room and lolling your head about on the floor. There is a darkness to these songs and the thing about it is it’s not feigned, rather it’s quite sustaining. There is heart and soul behind Lötz’s cries sounding like some Neolithic wounded animal as all around him the guitars sound like shattering glass and the concentrated screeching of a pack of starving vultures circling their first meal in weeks.
The opening track “Anaconda” begins to set the tone with shrieking siren sounds of guitar and synth while the bass and drums play a very subtle Joy Division like role of darkness. There is however a bit of rock n’ roll catchiness to it that gets the point across for what’s to come.
Outside of this larval stage come songs of great eccentricity like “Warble” which learns to take the more glam side of the darkness and exploit it well enough with a chunky riff and some sort of satanic sounding ether. “Black Gated Mega Dungeon” is a slow and steady grimy and sludgy mix of noise rock and doomsday sounding revelations via Lötz’s hollow and fanned out vocals.
Later on, the band cleans up its dark image a little bit to offer some more shimmering and class conscious offerings of psychedelic music that land in the more middle class fantasies of people who want to listen to psychedelic music but also want to have a 401k and brunch on the weekends, much of what I expect most Beach House fans to be. The songs referenced here are “Jawbone” and “What Party?”
The songs seem to me like a band who’s still trying to hammer out just where they want to go. That being said, as a whole the record’s songs are all very well wrought and each of them seems to hit the mark and tick the boxes of what proto-psychedelic rock should be.
David Copp - Exodus Climber
Since about 1994 David Copp has been playing in bands, working at a recording studio and has just been involved with music. Copp who is now a father and decided to give some solo material a whirl. I’m in my late 30’s myself and totally get it. People just aren’t around like they were in your 20’s and finding enough time to do the solo stuff is hard enough.
At any rate some things get a little better with age and one of those things tends to be recording gear. Copp has got himself a solid setup that is more than just a laptop and an audio interface. Sonically, the songs on his album Exodus Climber sound great. The song which are sort of explorations of off kilter rock were a blast to listen to.
The songs are meaty starting with the first song “Sworn to Secrecy.” It’s a six-and-a-half-minute song. Copp mixes distorted guitars with aggressive vocals, unique percussive aspects and more. I liked the whole song but the last minute or two sounded like NIN to me in a good way. The guitars sound fantastic.
Up next is “Seek Nothing” which felt a little more like a straightforward verse/chorus/verse type song. Copp’s vocals are again pretty intense. On this song they are also more dynamic. Around the three-minute mark there is a descending metal breakdown with vocals samples which just rocks out hard.
The title track is an eight-plus-minute song. It’s the darkest song yet with a lot of tom drums and sheets of distortion. The result sounds somewhere between Alice In Chains and Sunn O))). “Nothing to Hide” brings the tempo and energy way up for the catchiest song in the batch. He might have saved the best for last with “Mettle Fatigue.” There is a bit of Dinosaur Jr. vibe here at times but a little darker. On top of that the song is just a roller coaster ride of sound and unique transitions.
This is one of the better home recordings I have heard in recent memory. Recommended.
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