In 2023, Fluke unveiled "Lost," an album that beckons listeners into a realm where the avant-garde meets electronic allure. The tracklist itself, adorned with enigmatic titles such as "8bit Frungeon" and "Courtroom Therapissed," immediately hinted at an unconventional sonic experience, reminiscent of the experimental ethos found in the works of Aphex Twin, albeit with a distinctive twist toward mixing it with organic instrumentation.
"8bit Frungeon" emerges as a pinnacle of electronic craftsmanship, weaving intricate layers of instrumentation that traverse sub-bass vibrations, dynamic percussion, and a myriad of other sonic elements. It stands tall as one of the album's defining gems, a testament to Fluke's prowess in navigating the electronic terrain.
The collaboration with Candelabra on "Fluud" introduces a delightful fusion of piano and fuzzy lo-fi guitar, while "Ocd" embraces delicate guitar picking and vocals to an unexpected plunge into a realm of intense percussion, creating dynamic juxtaposition.
"Coffee Flatbill" stands out as a triumph where aesthetic elements seamlessly coalesce, showcasing Fluke's ability to forge sonic cohesion. However, as the album unfolds, it becomes evident that the electronic components emerge as the true strength, while the organic instruments occasionally adopt a lo-fi character, struggling at times to harmonize within the same musical EQ curve.
Highlight tracks like "Courtroom Therapissed" and "Morality Gone" punctuate the dichotomy within Fluke's musical persona. The latter, in particular, demonstrates a versatility that could effortlessly translate into a stripped-down acoustic rendition, underscoring the artist's multifaceted talent.
In my assessment, Fluke beckons a profound exploration into the realm of sound design, akin to the groundbreaking approaches employed by luminaries such as Amon Tobin and Jon Hopkins. The potential for Fluke to chart an innovative trajectory in electronic music is palpable, and I eagerly anticipate the sounds that will unfold in the artist's future endeavors.
Way back in 2019 in Birmingham, Alabama, a group of prog rockers was formed called Jack The Elbow. Influenced by the music of Coheed and Cambria, Karnivool, Rush, Yes, and Tool, they’ve spent the last few years in their basement studio planning, writing, and recording their debut album titled "Crush." The time and effort have clearly paid off!
Jack The Elbow is a three-piece group featuring Caleb Wilemon (guitar/vocals), Madison Langham (bass/vocals), and Michael Tucker (drums/percussion). They call their music “guitar-driven prog rock” and state that “moving riffs, both in the guitar and bass, are a constant feature.” They are also known to make sudden key changes at whim. However, these are not gimmicks but add to the band’s “clear focus on composition and quality songwriting.” When not recording, the band plays live shows and tours throughout Alabama. Thematically, the album explores rejecting conformity and creating one's own destiny.
The band recorded and produced the album themselves using Ableton Live in a basement studio designed specifically for this project, with mastering by John Douglass of Vorticist Studios. Though both guitars and bass sound like they’re blasting through a wall of amps, they are mostly recorded “direct” through a couple of passes of amp modeling software. The drums are the sound of real tubs boosted with sampled sweeteners.
Having heard the album through, I can say that the title "Crush" is absolutely appropriate, as these guys crush everything they touch. They present a constantly shifting puzzle of math rock, prog, and metal, with ever-changing patterns and a constant wall of sweet vocal harmonies. I find it interesting that a hardcore prog band like this came from Alabama, the same way that the band Kansas was born in sort-of-nearby Topeka, Kansas.
The opening track “Modicum Of Integrity” tells you everything you need to know about these guys. I remember being blown away by the Jimmy Page guitar overdubs in the Zeppelin track “Achilles Last Stand,” and it’s as if Jack The Elbow took the best moments from that song and built a whole style around it. The verses are hard-driving, but as we rock toward the choruses, the guitar melodies sprout harmonic and melodic outcroppings that steal my breath away, all the while glued together by assertive lead singing and stellar, sparkling choirs of vocal overdubs. And Dudes, thanks so much for including the lyrics! The final third of the song (just before the solo) takes an unexpected detour where the band’s musical debt to Rush and vocal similarity to Jon Anderson of Yes is clear.
“Going Under” starts in the same key as the opening track with a similar riff, so we feel like we’ve entered the second part of the same epic track. However, the musical invention is quickly multiplied. I can also hear bassist Madison Langham more clearly here. There are so many interconnected chord schemes that it’s easy to get totally lost, like in a corn maze. There’s a cool section that’s mostly bass, shimmery guitar, toned percussion, and voice samples, so I know that’s the middle! “Fly Away” takes a lateral move toward Van Halen-style riffage atop a Yes-like vocal arrangement.
“Off And On” thunders forth with an audacious, complex, and frighteningly heavy guitar and bass riff. The chorus is radio-friendly as always, but the rest of the song has its way with these crazed melodic variations, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve said it before but it’s nearly impossible not to imagine Jon Anderson and Steve Howe rubbing shoulders during this epic rocker. There are times in this album where I thought I heard a keyboard following along, and toward the end of this song, the keys and orchestral samples come out of the shadows for a quiet classical coda. “Shame” is one of the more interesting tracks (and that’s saying something). It starts with a fairly simple bass riff, goes into hardcore riffing, then has a section where the boys quiet down so much it actually sounds like Simon and Garfunkel! After that, the riffs actually feel derived from Irish traditional jigs. My personal favorite!
“Hills And Valleys” is an absolute riff-fest where there’s virtually no lyrics to get in the way of the nonstop invention. This moves without pause into “Phoenix,” another vocal-and-riffage fest that’s maybe just a bit more accessible to the average listener but every bit as awesome and celebratory. The closing cut (also the title track) is “Crush” and it hit me like an unholy mashup of Metallica and Yes, though for me that’s quite Holy. It’s obviously about yet another troubled relationship, and there’s nothing I like more than emotional upheaval represented by monstrous, complex riffing and time signatures! “So long, you won’t be missed / Our time has reached its end / And I know you probably never thought this day would come / But you have turned your back on me for the very last time.” I am SO here for this!
I’m giddy over this album and can’t wait for everyone else to discover it too. Get to listening!
Become A Fan
Bryan James Duffey is an Americana singer/songwriter/guitarist who hails from Ontario, Canada and now calls Las Vegas, Nevada his home. Duffy is currently the frontman for The Garage Boys and is also prepping his next solo album titled "The Red Brick Road." Here we have three advance tracks: “Room 8,” “The Red Brick Road,” and “Across the Border,” which were produced by Terry Warren and mixed by Mitchell Sigman.
Duffy admits that he might be seen as a “music industry dinosaur,” but all dinosaurs should have it so good! Among his accomplishments are placing an original song on The Playboy Network, then joining the band See Spot Run as their song “Weightless” hit the Top 10 Canadian music charts (the first independently signed band to achieve this feat). The Garage Boys have opened for Sammy Hagar, Vanilla Ice, Andrew Dice Clay, and many others.
Duffy’s musical influences include guitarists Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Derek Trucks, and Johnny Winter. Vocally he says he doesn’t sound like anybody “other than myself.” We’ll see about that!“Room 8” wastes no time bringing forth Duffy’s sweet, chiming electric guitars and fulsome acoustics. Talk about a grabber opening! Hearing this song through an open window, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Duffy for an Allman Brother. Duffy’s also got a pleasing upper-range voice that grips the song with rock-steady hands. The song itself has a structure similar to the classic Band track “The Weight.” The chorus is packed with harmony vocals, and the production quality overall is totally pro and radio-ready (though maybe that radio is a few years old!).
“The Red Brick Road” is an upbeat, bluesy shuffle mostly carried by Duffy’s crisp acoustic guitars and even higher-pitched vocals. Though it’s true he doesn’t sound exactly like anybody else, Duffy’s voice is like an amalgamation of many late '70s rockers and country-rock artists. This song has another glorious full-vocal chorus, and I’m not afraid to say it owes a little to Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up The Sun” with a side order of the Allman’s “Midnight Rider.” Wherever it comes from, it’s another hit! Aggressively dueling leads and a vortex of processed voices bring this killer home.
“Across the Border” is a blues scorcher that owes a lot to both guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant (sorry, Bryan!) with a structure that ZZ Top would fully endorse. Full-tilt boogie doesn’t come better than this!
There’s also a taste of Derek Trucks' lead guitar to take the track even higher.Three totally impressive tracks, and there are many more where those came from. A monster recommendation!
The Split Squad is a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, all-star band founded in 2011. Their debut album, "Now Hear This," was released in 2013, and they've just released another full-length album titled "Another Cinderella." And when I say "All Star," it's not hyperbole!
Lead guitarist Eddie Munoz comes from the legendary '80s L.A. band The Plimsouls. Guitarist Keith Streng made his bones with the famous Fleshtones. Drummer Clem Burke is a founding member of Blondie and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer, much in demand these days as an A-list session percussionist. Bassist and keyboard player Michael Giblin was a member of the '90s power pop band Cherry Twister and currently produces and engineers projects by The Fleshtones, The Cynz, and Stupidity. Keyboardist Josh Kantor actually plays organ for the Red Sox and has jammed alongside Peter Buck and Mike Mills (R.E.M.) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin).
The album also features a stellar cast of guest players, including Jason Victor (The Dream Syndicate), Brian Hurd (Daddy Long Legs), David Minehan (The Neighborhoods/Aerosmith/The Replacements), Scott McCaughey (R.E.M./The Baseball Project/The Young Fresh Fellows), Joe Adragna (The Junior League), and violinist Deni Bonet. As befits a band with so many diverse and experienced members, they go all over the place musically within these 12 songs. Here are some of my favorites.
The band calls "Hey DJ" a song with "relentless power-pop beats." While not sounding exactly like him, this track has a lot of Elvis Costello's retro energy. And no lie: as soon as I wrote that down, they name-checked "Radio Radio" in the lyrics! Joe Jackson is another touchstone, but they also sound like those late '60s acts with chiming guitars and Farfisa organ. If I woke up hearing this on my clock radio in 1968, I wouldn't be surprised. Quickly following is the title track "Another Cinderella," which is cut from the same cloth, with an even higher jangle quotient. "Cinderella" here refers to the fairy tale character, though the album cover evokes "Cinderella Man" boxer Jim Braddock.
"Palpitation Blues" takes a detour into "deep-fried blues," with squonky harmonica and gritty, balls-out vocals from the Jim Dandy-David Lee Roth school. Not to ignore another famous '60s genre, "Taxi Cab" is a phasing psychedelic excursion where the harmonies and even the lyrics perfectly recall that tripping time, very much like The Dukes of Stratosphere. There's also a blues streak running through the tremolo and slide-drenched guitars in "Invisible Lightning," which the group calls "a romper-stomper." I call it catchy as hell!
With both its title and music, I was certain "Trying to Get Back to My Baby" was a '60s cover tune (it's not). Again the vocals, guitars, and organ perfectly evoke a bygone era of high-energy hits. I daresay there's a bit of early Who yearning to break free. "Sinking Ship" is another power popper heavy on earworm riffs and a structure that recalls Elvis Costello ("Lip Service") and R.E.M. simultaneously.
"Bigger Than Heroin" has a killer bumblebee bass heralding a riff similar to the Animals' "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place." It's got a classic combination of jangly high-end and growling lows, plus stellar pop harmonies (natch). The concluding track is a reprise of "Hey DJ" but with an army of soulful horns. Nice to come full circle!
Supergroups are super for a reason, and there's little surprise that the songs they make together are so good. But these guys are even better than that, especially if you grew up on these sounds or love them like I do. Recommended!
The Easy Button is a power pop-rock band from Tampa, Florida that has been around since 2017. They have released numerous albums and collaborated with other artists, and after a long break, they are back with a new album titled Through Our Own Parade. Fans of Weezer, Ozma, and Fountains of Wayne should find much to love here.
The band members are Brian Jones (vocals/guitar/piano), Rich Tiemann (guitar/vocal), Preston Jones (bass), and Cailun Seay (drums). After the "kitchen sink" approach of their previous release, "Lost on Purpose," the band decided to create a more cohesive, consistent album this time, both musically and lyrically. There's an undercurrent of melancholy that the boys are known for, but with a positive thread indicating that brighter days just might be ahead.
For myself, this band represents a kind of power pop I truly love. I was first reminded of The Weakerthans, but even more so of the legendary indie band LMNOP because of the vocals, the tight-as-a-drum arrangements, and even the somewhat depressed world view. Writing and recording were done by singer-guitarist Brian Jones, with mastering by Frank Calcaterra. The album will be released on CD and vinyl, along with digital downloads and streaming. Eleven killer tracks, but here are some of my favorites.
"Valley High Junior Prom" has a beautiful Badfinger-like acoustic guitar and piano intro. The lead vocals are youngish-sounding in a pleasing upper range, perfect for the teens-in-angst subject matter: "I could go on and on about the Junior Prom… Boys will be boys, but no one will love you like I do." When the electric guitars kick in, the mix still stays nicely balanced like the best pop music going way back to The Beatles. "Buffalo Gal" jangle-rocks right from the top, with some impossible-to-resist vocal harmonies. It's loud with great energy, but everything sits exactly where it should in the mix. "Stargazer" has a more deliberate, stately tempo but also features some cool chiming electric grace notes during the choruses. Another great couplet: "She is a laser / My stargazer."
"Mansions" is the fastest and most energetic track thus far, and yet again, I'm amazed how these guys project such power while still sounding so clean. There's a cool, quiet middle section where all the instruments take a step back before roaring back for the finale. Speaking of quiet, "That Side of Me" has a jaunty British Invasion arrangement where the guitars have little to no effects for the opening (you can easily imagine them on Ed Sullivan!) before cranking up the fuzz boxes yet again. Stellar harmonies here, and I'm sure that's gonna be the case on every track. Quite sophisticated major-to-minor chord changes too.
"Light Went Out" lumbers in on the wings of a primitive, trebly bass riff. This is the band on the hardest rock setting. The wall of guitars is thicker with heavier cinderblocks, but those cool chord changes and bright, note-perfect vocals still abound. This song also has a "written" guitar solo that's either a neat plugin or has been overdubbed a few times. The ending is a "crazy breakdown," which is always fun. "Headlights" has a hint of the early Smashing Pumpkins. It's yet another ode to a troubled romance ("Headlights / Something that blinds you and fades in the rearview"). A heavy jangle quotient sets this track apart, so that it sounds happy though it's probably not! The final track, "Don't Take My Keyboard Away," not surprisingly features a keyboard, but it is a surprise to hear a melody clearly inspired by "A Whiter Shade of Pale." At any rate, it's a fitting conclusion as the piano floats off into a cloud of oblivion.
I love retro power pop, and this album is going on my playlists. If you do too, check them out, like right now!
Arised is a rock band from Norway with three newly released tracks: “My Son,” “Nothing Left,” and “Run on Fumes.”
The members have friendships that go back to the mid-1990s and recently added a new lead singer to lock in their new musical direction. The band describes their style as “instrumentals, melodic rock, ballads, and a few spiced-up cover versions of songs we enjoy.” The band does all its own writing, recording, producing, and publishing, releasing on their own Flathill Studios label.
The boys chose to start us off with a rock ballad titled “My Son.” Minor chord-picked electric guitars provide the intro, undergirded by a smooth blast of sustained lead. The vocals evoke pleasing memories of Greg Lake in King Crimson. After the extended intro, the song settles into slower tempo hard rock, with power chords supporting the vocals like a stone edifice. Though I have no idea what a Norwegian accent sounds like, I’m getting a sense that’s what I’m hearing in the main vocal lines. This track runs over five minutes, and it ain’t no three-chord wonder: I was constantly surprised by its many unexpected twists and turns. There’s a “composed” lead guitar section where the backing chords are almost symphonically constructed. The track ends where it began, with picked notes on the electric guitar (though the final fade is a tad abrupt).
“Nothing Left” is a much faster metallic rocker, like a guitar army firing on all cylinders. The vocalist is a bit more upfront here, almost like the leader of a staged rock musical. It’s not speed metal; more like super energetic riff rock. More clever, accomplished lead soloing takes up the middle, unexpectedly moving up the scale toward the end. So wildly effervescent that I nearly got whiplash!
Our final track “Run on Fumes” starts with a guitar that’s as sharp as a straight razor cleaning out your ears through the headphones (and that’s on Spotify!). This track feels like the ’80s bands who were influenced by Cream and other power rockers, with assertive growly vocals, cranky guitars, and an aggressive rhythm section. And there’s not just a guitar solo but a sweet, note-perfect harmonic duet. The tempo kicks into overdrive for the final third, sliding into home with victory flags waving.
Three solid tracks waiting for appreciative ears. You know that’s you! Give them a listen!
Cercles recently unveiled Under The Gun, a concise three-song release that firmly establishes them as an unabashed rock outfit with a penchant for delivering an electrifying live experience. The opening track, "Lockdown In Mexico," kicks off with a gritty bass line that seamlessly intertwines with locked-in drums, setting the stage for a high-energy spectacle. The guitars make a gradual entrance, leading into a verse that gains momentum through a well-executed syncopated bridge. The singer's dynamic vocals harmonize seamlessly with the music, reaching a climactic point towards the song's conclusion, marked by the emergence of a powerful lead guitar.
In "Casino," a more introspective tone prevails, accompanied by a distinct vocal approach. While initially contained, the song gradually builds energy, undergoing a significant transformation around the minute-and-a-half mark.
The band delivers a rapid-fire barrage of words per minute, with a potent rock energy that crescendos to the vocalist emphatically proclaiming, "Take your money and fold." The keys add a captivating layer to the sonic landscape, contributing to the overall intensity that carries through to the song's conclusion. The final track, "Burn Brighter," presents an intriguing blend of influences. The initial riff draws parallels to Rage Against The Machine, but the introduction of the organ infuses the song with a classic rock quality, adding a distinctive dimension to the overall sound.
Collectively, these three tracks adeptly showcase the diverse facets of Cercles. The listener is taken on a journey through high-octane energy, introspective moments and a fusion of influences, ultimately leaving a lasting impression. As I spent time with their music, I found myself becoming a fan, and you might too – a testament to the band's ability to captivate through their sonic versatility.
Two decades ago, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven led me into uncharted musical territories. Back then, I was drawn to bands like Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins, and instrumental music wasn't on my radar.
Witnessing the fusion of rock with orchestral elements completely reshaped my musical boundaries, revealing a newfound power in this amalgamation. Despite the world not fully embracing it, the underground scene nurtured the genre's growth. Some argue that the era of post-rock has passed, yet emerging artists like Biscuit Shrine keep the flame burning, embodying the essence ignited by the pioneers years ago.
In their debut album, Between The Real, Biscuit Shrine doesn't aim to revolutionize the genre; instead, they tend to its fading embers, emitting an intensity that rekindles the initial allure for devoted followers. The album explores varied sonic paths. Some tracks delve into cerebral, ambient explorations, while others ascend to dizzying, intense crescendos, emblematic of the genre.
Amidst this musical canvas, the guitar takes center stage, but it's the meticulously crafted atmosphere that stands alongside the notes, equally essential to the experience. While not necessarily surprising to genre enthusiasts, the meticulous craftsmanship evident in each song is undeniable. Every reverb tail feels meticulously scrutinized, ensuring its precise blend within the mix.
This album lacks conventional singles designed for radio play; instead, it invites you to explore a constellation of sound from the very first track to the last. Biscuit Shrine's artistry unveils unexplored layers within the genre, waiting to be discovered. Between The Real signifies a promising direction for enthusiasts keen on delving deeper into the uncharted territories of post-rock. As a listener eager for musical evolution, I'm wholeheartedly tuned in to these revelations.
Become A Fan
I always love a good comeback story and The Prime qualifies. The band first formed in 2009 and quickly got work making music. In 2010 they released their first album and in 2012 followed up with their second album. I’m not sure of the details but it would be about ten years before they got back together to collaborate once again for the album Listen. I couldn’t find their first two albums on major platforms but their most recent is certainly there.
The first thing I need to mention is the production. This is the kind of production I think fits with rock music. I don’t know about you but I’ve been feeling like almost all popular music is sounding quantized and locked into a grid. These recordings strike a nice balance. It sounds like a band playing live together in a room but the mix sounds just about perfect. For me if you get a good drum and bass sound the rest usually falls into place and the rhythm section on Listen is dynamic, rich and robust.
As far as the album goes Listen is compact and doesn't contain an ounce of fat. The total run time is a little over a half-an-hour but also contains nine songs. Out of those nine songs there were a couple that stuck out to me.
“Nova'' comes off the gates with an energy that’s somewhat reminiscent of My Morning Jacket. I love it when a band does this trick of letting the guitars and bass dip for about a second while the drums and vocals stay steady. When this is executed well as heard on “Nova” you get some magic. The verse then seques into an expansive chorus. This song got my adrenaline pumping. There’s something about it that makes you feel like you can conquer anything.
Another standout track was the title track “Listen.” This is a gritty one and I desperately want to know how to get such a distorted bass sound without sounding harsh, which is often the case. Beside the bass tone the song is just a blast. It’s a little dark and misty but also contains a chorus that will make you want to learn the lyrics.
“Bring It Back” felt like the most technically impressive song. Kudos to the drummer for knocking it out of the park. That drum beat drove the song. The guitar and bass work is nothing to scoff at either. This felt like a song that needed to be experienced live.
Rock music seems to be going the way of the dodo at least in terms of the Billboard charts. The Prime is doing their part to keep that flame alive. Two thumbs up.
Ridge Banks channels influences from luminaries like Jim Croce, John Denver and Eric Clapton. He seamlessly melds their picking styles with the rhythmic pulse of modern virtuosos such as Ed Sheeran, John Mayer and Tommy Emmanuel, crafting a distinctive sonic signature. With roots deeply embedded in the alternative tunings reminiscent of Stephen Stills, Joe Bonamassa and Dave Matthews, Banks infuses his music with an authentic edge. His compositions effortlessly blend blues, rock and country, resulting in an uplifting melange that resonates with genuine emotion.
Having released his debut five-song EP in 2016 and a full-length album in November 2018, Banks migrated to Nashville in 2019, continuing his musical evolution. Presently immersed in the creation of a new album, both with his original quarantine garage band "Ridge Banks and the Wall of Sound" and as a solo artist, Banks has recently unveiled his single "Stare Too Long," released on Jan 4th, 2024, followed by the freshly dropped "One Note at a Time."
Delving into the sound, a detailed exploration begins with "One Note at a Time." The track radiates organic authenticity. its clean instrumentation creating an atmosphere akin to a live performance while maintaining impeccable production. Banks showcases his vocal abilities with a confident delivery, weaving a spectrum of emotions throughout the song. The strategic use of a banjo and nuanced brushwork on the drums injects a vibrant energy into the composition.
"Stare Too Long," Banks' most recent single, unfolds as a beautifully crafted piece. Resonating with echoes of William Tyler's guitar work, the song carries a tender and sweet thematic core. Banks' vocals shine, expressing a range of emotions with a delightful touch of humor, making the listener resonate with relatable moments of self-awareness and contemplation. Rounding out the exploration is "Half a Mile from Normal," the most rock-oriented offering in Banks' repertoire. A joyous ride from start to finish, the track boasts crunchy guitar fills and a steady, hard-hitting drum beat. The bass, with its tasteful fills, deserves due recognition for complementing the track's overall vigor. Banks' sonic versatility captivates, and the diverse facets of his sound showcased in these tracks leave a lasting impression.
The anticipation for his upcoming album is undoubtedly fueled by the intriguing glimpses into the multifaceted artistry of Ridge Banks.
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