Too Soon Jokes - Too Soon Jokes
The Baltimore Maryland indie-pop band Too Soon Jokes actually began several years ago in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Back then guitarist Dingo, bassist Zane, and guitarist and vocalist Justin, had all grew up around one another and played in various punk and rock bands in that towns scene. Justin began Too Soon Jokes as a solo project and then moved to Baltimore and eventually convinced the other guys to move down there and to join the band. They picked up a drummer, David, and have been writing tunes and gigging ever since. Their first proper album, Too Soon Jokes is an amalgamation of their years together writing songs and sounds like the mid-aught rock revival that was just sixties pop and rock with a newer packaging and a newer and wider audience.
Needless to say there is an ever burgeoning audience for this style of music that is always looking to be satiated by new tunes. Fans who cut their teeth on bands like The Strokes et al, will love Too Soon Jokes for its catchy riffs and dancey guitar pop stylings.
There is also enough for pop punk and post punk enthusiasts to sink their teeth into also. In this way the record is a mixed tape of music that is loosely connected by spastic riffs and up and down tempos with some catchy nuances thrown in for good measure.
The opening track, “No, This is My Territory” begins with a bit of a psychy-guitar interlude before stomping into a fast and furious radio-friendly rocker built around a steely electric guitar riff and fast beats. This leads into a bit more of the same on the dystopian garage rock love song “Brain Sweat,” which gets a Strokes riff added in the second half to keep it from being too different from the previous track or perhaps to keep it from coming off as a bit too punk. Then comes “Mental Math,” which opens with some slow choogs and a darkness pervading it, but after an oddly placed stop and start gimmick, it returns to mid-aughts rock country.
Sometime the gig works like it does on the fast paced and pop punk rocker “What’s Wrong With You” and “07.23.2016” my favorite track and I feel where the band sound the most original and the most like they’ve found a sound that works for them completely. Too Soon Jokes have a lot going for them despite their lack of diversity on this record. The songs, all of them, are taught as a tightrope they have an energy which it takes years for bands to form. I think if they can work the kinks out of their 60s rock style and focus more on writing songs that don’t sound like Strokes one-offs then they’re on their way to forging a promising career as a solid pop-rock band.
On his second record, the Minnesota based singer-songwriter Mark Schirmacher blends his take on life and love into wistful folk songs that have their roots in his personal life and also in the lives of people places and things he’s observed and weaved into his own songwriting process. And this is the primary function of the folk singer as I’ve always understood it, which is to bring people and places to life via song. And like any good folk artist Schirmacher makes sure that the instrumentation, much like a color palette of a painter, remains right for each mood and setting that he is creating for each of the seven songs found on this new record, Bird in Your Tree.
Bird in Your Tree opens with the slow and twangy romance of “Satisfied.” I found it to have a tinge of the Irish dirge to it, both in the way it is paced, and in the way that Schirmacher is able to spin a tale out of his lyrics, the properly placed details having just enough flash and metaphor for us to get a complete picture out of just a few words. I think the same can be said for the title track “Bird in Your Tree” which takes a slightly faster pace and elects a different effect both in its happier tone, and the brass elements; here a trumpet sings bird-like alongside Schirmacher as he spins his tale of metaphorical love like “I love you like the scrabbly pine/towering rest for freeloaders and vines / In your shade the owl spits her bones / and fearful birds create their homes.”
Schirmacher’s ability to create moods with seeming ease is something that really stands out on Bird in Your Tree. He sounds a bit like a mixture of Iron & Wine and the softer, and more poetic side of Death Cab on “Longest Night” and then reminded me a bit of Neil Young on his six-plus minute slow and stolid story song “Old Man (Laughter in the Lines).” He closes the record out beautifully though with the plush and poetic “Are You Okay?”
Bird in Your Tree is a solid batch of songs in the folk genre and Schirmacher is a worthy practitioner and someone who is devoted to his craft. This shows through on each of the seven songs here, as each is put together with gentle meticulousness and as each offers a little something different from the last and yet leaves the listener with a sense of having heard something wholly beautiful and as original as a chorus of birds.
Faded Echo - Two
Mark and Margo from Faded Echo first met in a “mountain community” in 2010, Apparently for years they would sing songs in the community and they recently recorded some of them. Perhaps the mountains prefer a certain type of sound. The songs on Two are in a sense timeless. They sing roots, folk, traditional and gospel music that has been around since recording was a medium. Have you seen the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? And remember the music? Suffice it to say the music from Faded Echo would work on that soundtrack.
This is really all about the vocal harmonies from Mark and Margo. The instrumentation is nothing to scoff at but the reason this is such a great EP is because is of the gorgeous harmonies.
They open with “Trouble of the World.” I was on board before I even heard the vocals. The guitar work is slick and dark that is combined with a simple but effective beat. Once the vocal harmonies come into the mix I loved what I heard. Margo’s voice seems to be the more noticeable of the singers but either way the combination sounded just about prefect. As the song progresses you are greeted with white fuzz from the guitar. Great song!
“Side of The Road” definitely had a different flavor. You could argue it felt more contemporary. It’s a folk song but it felt a little more aligned with pop music. They go back to traditional and gospel roots music with “You Gotta Move.” The song is built on a standard blues progression but man the delivery is fantastic and feels as pure as a morning sunset.
The duo closes with “Atmosphere” which like “Side of The Road” had a more contemporary folk vibe to my ears. It’s a melancholy yet hopeful sounding song that worked as a closer.
Two is easy to appreciate. The singing and melodies are fantastic, I’m a fan and think you might be too. Take a listen and make sure to check out their first EP as well.
With A Fox - Walk Into The Fire
I am familiar with Trudgen’s solo work and went into the EP with certain expectations. For some reason I thought this effort might be more folk based. I was wrong. Walk Into The Fire plays into a straightforward, commercially accessible rock/alternative vibe.
The EP begins with the title track. I was drawn to the initial guitar work which has almost a dark, country vibe. The verse hits and the song becomes a predictable yet enjoyable rock song that seems FM radio ready until about the three-minute mark. I liked the post-rock style breakdown but felt like the indignant sort of screaming which comes shortly after didn’t work as well.
“The Calm” sounds like a straight up single. It’s catchy, fast and could appeal to a broad demographic. My personal favorite track was “Rock Show” but perhaps just as single worthy as “The Calm.” I have to say the style on “Rock Show” which is light, happy and hopeful sounding felt like a significant departure from the title track which felt heavy, intense and even angry in comparison. The EP felt like it got even more happy go lucky and accessible with “Car Crash Critical.”
They get closer to where they started with the heavy and more emotionally intense “We All Need Wings” which was a highlight.
I have to admit I felt like this EP showcased two distinct sides to this band and was struggling to find a foundation. They display that they can pull off the lighter side and heavier side but give up the cohesive aspects I tend to appreciate on a release which creates a signature sound. The two different approaches led me to believe the band is testing the waters a bit before releasing an LP. Perhaps I’m wrong but that was feeling I got.
There is just no denying this is a more ubiquitous type of EP that will appeal to a general audience. I can’t say I heard many things in the music that would lead me to believe an esoteric audience with a more refined appreciation for the fringe would feel the same way.
This is a solid EP. There is no denying the performances and songwriting which is apparent on all the songs. I’m excited to to hear where they go from here.
Darren Sullivan is an artist from California who recently released Alternative Reconstruction. He states that the theme of the album is how we adapt and reconstruct ourselves through life. Each song encompasses ideas or stories about people who change for the better or the worse.
The themes on Alternative Reconstruction may be connected but it’s a little hard to find similarities between the songs. Similar to his previous release Morose Techno Sullivan doesn't seem to care for creating a signature sound. That being said I think this is his best release. The production is upgraded and the songs in general felt like they were written better.
Up first is “Turning About.” The song has a pulsating rhythm that is created with the bass and drum work. I liked what the guitars were doing which was creating a cloud like atmosphere. It felt unconventional and had me intrigued.
“Whatever Is Wrong” is another song that has a fast, kinetic beat and combines distorted power chords with an almost Les Claypool type of bass line. The songs goes into a number of different directions which were unique. I always like a good surprise.
“Can't Live Without You” felt a little more straightforward with catchy hooks while “Shady” had some fantastic acoustic guitar picking that I wanted to hear more of. “Shady” contains some solid instrumental performances. “Validation” felt like a little roller coaster ride through a fun house. The other standouts to me were The Doors-esque “Pink Frost By The Chills” and the most emotionally resonant song “Wait For Me.”
Sullivan did a great job of keeping me guessing what was next. I’m usually not a fan of albums that don’t feel cohesive but he goes so far out there at times even within the songs that I appreciated it more.
Alternative Reconstruction would be a good introduction to Sullivan’s catalog. I think it might be his most accessible work and arguably has something for everyone. Recommended.
Space Horse - Just A Light Jacket
Have you ever had a dream that was so good that you woke up and tried to go back to sleep to reenter it? Have you felt the disappointment that you could never get that feeling back? What would you give to have that one dream again? No matter your answer, what if I told you all you had to do was check out Space Horse on Bandcamp? With the newly released Just a Light Jacket, Space Horse was able to create that dreamy feeling we all long for. The duo is from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Made up of Lindsay Wessinger (lead vocals/drum machine/keyboard) and John Atkins (backing vocals/guitar/drums), they describe their style as “bedroom rock.”
Just a Light Jacket is made up of four original songs and two covers. The covers are “Cannonball” by The Breeders, and “Schizophrenia” by Sonic Youth. The cover of “Cannonball” is more mellow than the original, while still being recognizable. If you’re in the same freshman class as the Breeders’ version, then Space Horse is the senior older brother who drives a Mustang to school. “Schizophrenia” is also done in the same lens of taking an original and putting a new attitude to it.
The opening track, “First & Last” tells of the difference a relationship takes over time. Arpeggiated chords, and a slow yet precise drumbeat drives the song as the story is carried by the dreamy harmonies provided by both Wessinger and Atkins. Immediately following is “Sylvia,”a mellowed-out ballad that follows the same formula. Despite the similarities of the structure of each song, the album does not get boring. Repeat listens are a must. The multiple layers of sound leave things to be discovered that can be easily overlooked on the first, second and even third listens.
The fourth track “Bones” changes from the reverb based slowed down pace of the other tracks and gives an over-driven guitar and space aged synth to the listener. A more traditional rock song, the synth lines still give the floating vibe that is achieved on the rest of the album to keep the name Space Horse relevant. Even casual fans of psychedelic rock are sure to fall in love with Space Horse and their bedroom rock sound.
The album was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Airon Wessinger at his home studio in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Released on January 27, 2018 Just a Light Jacket can be heard on Bandcamp. Space Horse can be found playing shows at many Oklahoma music festivals, including an appearance at the Barnacle Banger just before the release of Just a Light Jacket.
Cranefield - Upstream
Cranefield is a one man band that comes to us from Seattle, Washington. Nick Waters, the sole member, has previously released work under his name, is looking forward to releasing new work under a new name as a fresh start for his fresh sounds. Written, recorded, mixed and mastered all by himself using a DAW (digital audio workstation,) Waters recorded Alterspectrum experimented with effects and sounds to create a dreamier, more psychedelic sound than his previous work.
Alterspectrum begins with “World of Mirrors,” a soft-rock, almost outer-space like, introspective track. The reflective track is electrically-textural, using synthetic noises to keep the listener intrigued,
“Stains” starts off with a bubbly, raindrop-like sound, leading into higher, soothing vocals with horns that interestingly work with the ambient track. It includes the heavier, distorted guitar that gives it that rock edge.
The next track that I found to be the most captivating “Castle Shade” is a softer, slow textural ride. The song has a darker subject matter lyrically, but instrumentally and texturally is so light it almost sounds like a happier track. The song is very self-accepting, poetically written and beautifully sung.
“Journey to the Sun,” the final track on Alterspectrum, is an electrified version of a ‘70s groove-rock song. This winding, rock-ambient track wraps up Alterspectrum beautifully, as it exemplifies the work we’ve seen in the previous eight tracks.
Altrespectrum is consistent in sound, yet it demonstrates creativity an originality musically. It is a groovy, ‘70s inspired album, and I am looking forward to hearing more from Cranefield in the future. Recommended.
Aimee Volkofsky - Dust Lust
Listening to the new record, Dust Lust, from Australian recording artist Aimee Volkofsky reminded me of the painter Georgia O’Keefe. O’Keefe was famous for painting arid desert landscapes of the American west, and often chronicled so many deeper meanings with rather simple images. I would argue the same thing goes for Volkofsky who uses the dessert terrain of Broken Hill, a small mining town in New South Wales as the dramatic backdrop of her music.
On the opening track, “Buried” Volkofsky wastes no time in getting down to business painting a picture of the harshness of mining country. Here she is telling the tale of the miner with whom she is in love, capturing him with crisp images such as “I wonder if today he’ll die?” And then “there goes my man / lead in his veins / crushed by machines / smothered in slime /buried alive in the deep dark mine.” Not a pretty picture to say the least. And the way Volkofsky delivers her lyrics, with a sharpness and an intenseness, which sounds as though she has been hardened by the land as well.
Next up is “Desert Lady” which is a howling rocker that takes on tones of hard country rock but without all the heavy background noise. The music itself is sometimes as arid as the climate she is describing. There are no harsh echoes or long tones. The guitars are quick and crisp, the drums pound tribally and never resonate past their welcome. It makes for a powerful listening experience and much credit should go to her backing band made up of drummer Josh Lobley, bassist Ethan Leversha and Alexandra Rosenblum providing backing vocals.
There are many songs to celebrate the wide-open spaces and beauty here. “Dust Lust” is a quiet piece of perfection that grabs one right away and doesn’t let go. Next comes the waltzing feel of “Gypsy Woman” which is a haunting and exquisite romp. This is followed up by the poetic piano-laden ballad, “More than a Gold Mine,” a fitting capstone to a very powerful record.
Dust Lust perfectly captures the rough-hewn landscape of small mining town. It renders the harsh lives of its characters with exquisite beauty. It is always refreshing to hear an album so full of emotion that it sticks with you long after its last breaths have echoed from the speakers.
HEVVI SYNTHIA - Hevvi Synthia
Hevvi Synthia, a rock trio out of Greenfield, Massachusetts, recorded their self-titled debut album Hevvi Synthia in August of 2017 and released it in December of that same year. The album was recorded and mixed at Sonelab in East Hampton, Massachusetts, and was mastered by Carl Saff. The group focuses on the “nuanced textures of melodic groove,” as they describe it on Bandcamp, along with “a sonic arsenal reminiscent of ‘70s glam gods and ‘90s grunge gangs.” The ten-track album is comprised of chunkier ‘70s-influenced “true rock” songs, along with some softer, lighter jams.
Hevvi Synthia starts off with “Crawl,” a heavy, slow, ‘70s stoner groovy track. The slow paced instrumental sets the tone for the entire textural experience that is the rest of the album. Distorted guitars and slow yet pounding and crashing drums make for a heavy, layered vibe.
The next track “Need Me Too” finally introduces some vocals. The almost rock-glam vocals paired up against the heavy crashing and distortion of your typical rock instruments makes for a captivating number. The instrumentals on “Need Me Too” are that of a true, old-school rock song. Driving guitar riffs, a steady bass line, and a hard drum beat make for a great background for the passionate, yet not over the top vocals.
“Slowin’ Down Fast” does almost exactly the opposite of its title. A fast paced, hard-driving rock song, “Slowin’ Down Fast” is gnarly, hair-trigger track.
REDBLACKNBLUE is a soft, love-ballad-like song, with gentler, more crooning vocals and a less harsh instrumental background. Of course, the song still keeps its true-to-rock vibe as does the rest of Hevvi Synthia, yet having a slower track to lighten things up really keeps the album fresh and interesting.
“The Weeds,” moves even slower than REDBLACKNBLUE. The song starts off with a beautiful, twanging guitar melody, which creates an excellent soft mood for the romanticized lyrics that go with it.
The final, seven-minute track “Youngster,” begins with a deep and heavy guitar intro, only to include a bubbly synthesizer to lighten up the track (only by a little bit) to remind us that the album isn’t just hard rock. It’s all about the groovy textural quality that’s signature to Hevvi Synthia’s work. Over the course of the track, the heaviness of the guitar is consistent, including an ‘80s power-ballad style solo. The electric sounds are intermittent, coming through just often enough to give that funky feel.
Hevvi Synthia is an impressive album texturally and lyrically. The group captures ‘70s rock excellently with their trippy tracks. Recommended.
Kevin Farge - Heaps of Sand EP
I’ve always appreciated a solo guitarist who doesn't need to sing. Artists like William Tyler, Jack Rose and John Fahey have amazed me with how much emotion they can bring to the table with sometimes only a solo guitar. Heaps of Sand is an EP by Kevin Farge that's focused on a single guitar not unlike the aforementioned artists.
The EP fits in the category of a lo-fi demo. You can hear him sniffle but unfortunately couldn't hear much nuance within the guitar. This is a case where I did want the guitar to fill up the frequency spectrum and envelope me.
The guitar work was mixed throughout for me. I can’t say there was much in the technical department that impressed me. However there were moments that I enjoyed for aesthetic reasons. Farge’s best moments by far are the ones where he is fully picking on his guitar with multiple notes going for a John Fahey style. He has less success when he seems to dwell on the meaning, beauty and significance of the resonance of single notes or chords which often sound like your roommate fiddling around with the guitar while you are trying to watch TV.
The opener “Across the Grassland” is example of the latter. It sounds as if he is just messing around on the guitar. Perhaps with some effects like reverb I would have felt more of an emotional connection but I kept waiting for a song to emerge.
That song I was waiting for emerges with “Fireworks” which is a highlight. It’s a basic bluesy picking style but effective and easy to appreciate. He does a nice job of letting the song progress in a natural way by changing tempo and changing it up quite often. Great song! I was excited to hear what was next but got back into navel gazing with “Shimmering Waves” which is more or less one strummed chord for two minutes.
The pace picks up slightly with “Boat on the Sea (Rope and Stars)” and “Surfing the Point.” There is a very similar type of picking style that I heard on “Fireworks.” The other inspired moments come in at “Lovers of Folk Music.”
There isn’t much movement on this album. I felt a contemplative, melancholy throughout that had varying degrees of success.
Farge is a part-time musician that I was impressed by some of what I heard. He definitely has some skill on the guitar and has an ability as a songwriter as he displays on “Fireworks.” I think there are a number of areas he can tweak to get to the next level but this is a solid foundation. I hope he continues to keep at it. Take a listen.
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