Jon Boy - Jon Boy
Jon Boy is Jonathan Mercer. The full-time high school English teacher who likes to rock out when he isn’t assigning detention and enduring the excitement of a faculty meeting delivered a badass eponymous four-song EP Jon Boy.
I’m going to surmise Mercer is around my age. High school was a good twenty years back for me and back then I was listening to a lot of indie rock. Guided By Voices were underground gods at the time within certain social circles but The Replacements were fairly ubiquitous. Suffice it to say those bands were influential to Mercer. The four songs are certainly raw and emit a lo-fi punk rock aesthetic. This type of music could be ruined when it’s overproduced.
“Bleeding Through My Back(Wasted on the Throne)” is the first track and revolves around a driving beat, aggressive distorted guitar and catchy vocals. It’s the type of track that sounds better with every increased decibel. In fact this type of music is best heard live, in a small club that smells like beer and piss. The song is just under three minutes and contains a blaring guitar solo towards the end.
“My Way” isn’t as overtly punk rock as “Bleeding Through My Back (Wasted on the Throne)” but might be catchier. The vocal melody is pretty infectious and if he is promoting a single I think this would be the song. I also dug that breakdown. Is that tremolo I hear or just a comb filter caused by phase?
The energy continues with “Flat On My Face.” It's another solid track and kind of a mix of different genres. The lead guitar feels a little bluesy, the verse has an alternative ’90s feel and the chorus doesn't back down and felt a little like early Pavement. Last up is “Gonna Be Delighted.” The lead guitar is wicked and works really well against the enthusiastic vocal melody. Mercer gets epic towards the end with reverb laced vocals and mounds of distortion.
Mercer isn’t introducing new places these types of songs could go but stays faithful to the ethics and spirit of the pioneers. On that note fans of the aforementioned bands should throughly enjoy this. I’m sure some of his students do. Recommended.
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The Put Outs - Heart Surgery
The Put Outs is a band comprised of Mark Freifeld and Robin Anderson. They have only been around for about a year and a half and released Heart Surgery. This album embraces distorted guitars and busy drumming and has a drone like meditative quality to it some of the time. I definitely have some favorites amongst the songs. One thing I will say is that they have a pretty original sound and there were some sparks of brilliance that can hopefully be built upon.
The album starts with “Self-Loathing.” You are greeted with a distorted guitar and tom heavy drum beat. The song feels like a slow burn. That’s not a bad thing and in this case it works to their advantage because the vocal melody is catchy.
Up next is the ambient “Shirtless, loveless.” The song ends with the same energy it starts with. I have to admit I wanted some more dynamic moments from the music itself. The vocals carry the song although the tone and texture of the song paints a very nostalgic and pensive energy. The backing vocalist may be attempting humor when I heard “mother fucking shit” but it really didn’t seem to fit the mood they were painting.
“Whiskey For Breakfast” has its moments as a sort of anthem like sing along. “420” had some of the best music, especially the layering that happens towards the end. “Franco” is actually about James Franco. Similar to “Shirtless, loveless” the lyrics seemed too be humorous and have levity but the tone didn’t feel the same. “Horizon (Aldous Harding Cover)” is pretty interesting because of the instrument that sounded like an accordion.
Their best attempt at ambient music is on “Complacent=Vacant” which is an obvious highlight. The hushed vocals work very well on this song and so do the more subdued drums. It also pulls off some of the dynamics I was looking for. The best moments on the song, possibly on the whole album, are around the three-minute mark. It’s actually kind of beautiful in a Sigur Rós type of way.
“Again, Again” is a pretty solid song with notable vocal harmonies. “Headache (Grouper Cover)” is a valiant attempt at a beautiful song. They close with “Etherdad” which sort of sounded silly again but was hard to tell. I had conflicting emotions.
The Put Outs is a young band that have a lot of typical signs of a band in their embryonic stage. This is my opinion but I think you either have to go all in with humor or not. Their strength to my ears is a song like “Complacent=Vacant.” I think this song should be a sort of a foundation for the band as they evolve.
This is a band with a lot of talent and when they get the mood right they seem to thrive. I hope to hear them build on the fairly loose foundation they present on this album. There is a lot of potential with this release and I wish them luck as they evolve.
Kurt Knickrehm is an artist from New Castle, Pennsylvania who released A Silhouette and a well. The album revolves around an acoustic guitar and his vocals. It reminded me of early Bright Eyes. The vocals are very dramatic and often he sounds like he is lamenting or yearning for something.
Lyrics in my opinion are very important with this type of music as a couple strummed chords which are mostly major and minor aren’t the thing I usually want to focus on. The meaning of the song feels more important to me with these type of cathartic songs.
Due to the lo-fi recording I had a hard time to make out the words. Luckily, the lyrics are printed on his Bandcamp page and I was able to figure it out. The music felt very similar through the songs as the strumming style and tempo doesn't change all that much. On top of that the melancholy stays at about the same level.
The lyrics which were the main draw for me were poetic, ambiguous and poignant. Take for example “Needle and a thread” where he sings, “Comfort is a candle when you're mourning the dead” which can be interpreted in a number of different ways.
The songs are almost all over the five-minute mark. I thought there were a number of highlights like “Humanitarian” and “Wasting away.”
The recording quality is varied but the vocals were consistently thin and distant. As an engineer myself I think it would behoove Knickrehm to look into close mic-ing techniques, ways the compression can make a vocal feel more intimate and how EQ can make thin vocals sound a little full.
Knickrehm is a poet and musician who seems to just be starting out. I thought a number of the songs were notable. On that note I think a little more instrumentation here and there could help give the songs more variety. I’m looking forward to hearing more from this artist.
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
Wardrobe Giving Up A Ghost 4.0
Humble Narrator Sitcom Drip Feed 3.4
Secret Admirer Secret Admirer 3.8
Tracksuit Shadow Box 4.0
FEIGNS FEIGNS EP 3.6
Paul Cafcae - Sophisticated
Paul Cafcae is a Toronto based musician who recently released Sophisticated. The album blends a number of like minded genres like rock, blues and pop. One of the things that stood out to me was the aesthetics. The recordings have a vintage, old tape quality to them. I personally can’t stand the sound of overproduced music and this has a quality to it that feels like musicians playing in a room.
“She's My Town” starts off the album and is one of the more lively songs. The organ and guitar play off each other in ways that come close to sounding like reggae on the verse and the walking bass line on the chorus really changes the energy of the song.
The title track “Sophisticated” is next and is a piano led ballad. Elton John came to mind on this song. I liked Cafcae's voice which had some melancholy on it. The song opens up as it progresses tremolo tinged guitar which makes the emotion shift from melancholy to hopeful.
“Outlandish Graces” is another track covered in melancholy. The main elements here are a warm organ and bluesy guitar. It’s a pretty gorgeous blend of instrumentation. The drums really sounded great as well because you could hear the room and the person playing it.
“Wonderful Day” is a dynamic song. The song begins rather subdued with the hum of the organ controlling the emotion of the song. Once the song reaches the chorus the most straightforward rock on the album thus far is heard.
“Single Flower in Her Hair” was almost straight ’50s pop with a dash of surf rock. The song is unequivocally one of the catchiest if not the catchiest song in the batch. “Three Days” goes back into ballad territory that sounds somewhere between Willie Nelson and more ’50s pop.
“Bury Me Not” is a highlight. I really love the instrumentation. There is a nice layer of spaghetti western on this song. Last up is “The Last Love Song” which ends the album with optimism and energy.
Sophisticated was a good album from beginning to end. The blend of a lot of older genres combined with the production was a winning combination. Recommended.
Jugular is a band that originally formed in 2005 and took a hiatus in 2011. They are back with As Birth Becomes Life Becomes Death. The album contains pretty straightforward metal (although there are deviations as well as hybrids) mixed with imagery and lyrics that fall between Carl Sagan and astrology.
The album opens with “Revolution Around the Sun” which felt like classic metal to my ears. On that note the vocalist sounds more emo. He doesn't have a classic, angry death growl you hear from a lot of metal bands. It sounded a bit like The Offspring attempted metal and sung about existential themes.
Up next is “Angel of Darkness.” The song is more lush and not straight metal like the previous song. This song felt like a mix of the ’80' and ’90s rock. It’s fairly atmospheric and the lyrics felt mythological with lines you have heard before like “I will wait for you till the end of time.”
“And into Dust” is another metal based song. The lyrics are existential and cosmic. This song’s best moments come from the blazing fast guitar solo. Up next is “There’s a Body for the Soul (Unshackled Me) which builds mounds of distortion and more impressive lead guitar work.
“The Passenger” asks broad philosophy 101 type existential questions such as “what’s on the other side” and “will I be remembered.” Topics like reincarnation and infinity are tapped upon. The band closes with one of the hardest songs entitled “Dying to be Alive.” The vocalist touches on the brevity of humanity as well as religious tropes such as the dark and light.
I love myself some astronomy and I love myself some philosophy. Even though the insights into the nature of reality on As Birth Becomes Life Becomes Death aren't equivalent to a lecture from Brain Cox or reading a critical essay by Jean-Paul Sartre, the mix of music and contemplation is a nice combo. In fact if you like heavier music and tend to find yourself wondering about your place in the cosmos, I think you will greatly appreciate what this offers.
Six Mile Grove - Million Birds
Six Mile Grove is a band that has been around twenty years and recently released their seventh - yes, seventh album entitled Million Birds. There is no denying this band has experience and tons of talent. The band definitely has the Americana thing going on but they don’t mind getting melancholy and atmospheric either.
The album begins with the title track “Million Birds” which embraces warm instrumentation, tones and textures. I loved the inflection of the vocalist. There is plenty of solace and understanding in his voice but also hope at higher registers. Great stuff. The song taps upon old tropes of trying to get an old relationship back on the rails.
“Patrols Cars” felt like a classic right off the bat and also reminded me of the band Calexico. The three elements of the distant pads, driving beat and heartfelt vocals was a combination that could not be beat.
“Shame On Us” is such a dynamic song with plenty of emotion. The verse leaves plenty of space for the vocals and the chorus reaches impressive heights. “Wage a War” is a perfect blend of hope, nostalgia and gratitude while “Early Morning Rain” is a song you should play after some good old fashioned heartbreak.
“Not My Fault” felt like the single. It’s very catchy and and was a very joyful and happy song. It is a song that will get stuck in your head and most likely that you sing along with.
The band continues to impress with the slightly badass “Shot in the Arm” and the warm glow of “The Radio.” “Money Doesn't Matter” is somewhat classic Americana. I also agree with the sentiment on this song. “Damned If I Do’ has a lot of beautiful ambience behind a steady, soft kick drum. The band ends with the upbeat and celebratory “Goodbye to the Loneliness.”
Six Mile Grove is a veteran band that delivers an exceptional album. Highly recommended.
The Sigmas - Parade of Another Day
The Sigmas is a band that formed in 2017 and recently released Parade of Another Day. It is a lo-fi album that melds jangly rock not too far from The Velvet Underground with some funk, experimentation and even horns.
The band opens with “Tonight” which was a warm song largely in part to the horns and general dreamy atmosphere. That’s not to say that the clean, reverb laced guitars had their moments especially when the drums come in.
The band changes things up on “Where You’re At.” It’s pretty catchy especially the chorus where they chant the title of the song. I liked the jangly sound here that’s very reminiscent of early recordings from The Velvet Underground. “New Age” is a great song. It almost sounds like you zapped the funk out of funk in a good way. The juxtaposition of clean, dream guitar and vocals work against the more straightforward funk bass line.
“He’s Holding Up” is a pretty big shift in style. It’s a pretty yet very melancholy folk song. I was wondering if that was a theremin at the end of the song. The band rocks out the most yet on “Bombe” but in their own kind of way. There is a tinge of surf rock but the off-kilter vocal melodies gloriously deflect cliches and predictable melodies and words.
“Some Mistake” goes back into folk territory with a picked acoustic guitar and vocals. The vocals were so well delivered on this song. It’s a mix of nonchalant observation and passive indifference. “Untitled” is a jangly jam of sorts that ends the album.
I definitely like where the band's head is at and the jumping of genres somehow works for them. Lo-fi fits with this style of music although I would have liked the drums to not sound as thin with too many high frequencies.
Overall, I think this was an off-kilter unique album that still had some depth. I hope to hear more soon.
You know, as an indie music critic, I always get highly annoyed when people want to say rock n' roll is dead. Is it? Are you just being lazy? Thanks to today's technological advances, there is more music out there than ever. If you're looking for good rock, you'll find it. Case in point, Prophet Holographic from Ohio's Tree No Leaves. Their music calls back to the days of jam bands and psych rock. Their songs are layered and nuanced to be miniature journeys. I swear these songs feel about two minutes longer than they actually are. I love a band that can manipulate time.
From a musical standpoint, you get all the fantasy and flight like you would get from a proper jam band, but they definitely have a modern indie rock vein in their work. Obviously there a plenty of love letters written to decades past, but this album maintains a freshness that is endearing. Also the fact that these songs are not the traditional jam band length makes them more accessible. There is a robust lineup of instruments and sounds at play here. This includes things like synth which creates a subtle ambiance in some of the tracks that adds to the spaciness. I was also very smitten with the saxophone work. Even thought there is a lot going on, this album is very tight and cohesive on the musical end. They always seem to bring it full circle, no loose ends.
The vocal work is beautiful. Vocalist Dustin Galish is very ranged and expressive. He can settle into any genre they may be toying with at the time in a very organic way. He is never overbearing; he rides alongside the music like a co-pilot. There is an equal exchange that works to the group's advantage. He is tasked with delivering incredible lyrics. I find that the lyrics fall heavily into the poetic category.
Prophet Holographic is a studio project and it shows in the best kind of way. As I said, these songs almost sound longer than they are. Their sound is one that is big and sprawling. It needs room to breathe and that's what their studio time did for them. The mixing and mastering is worth an honorable mention as well. This album is finely tuned into a very even handed balance. Again, there is a symbiotic give and take and it works so well. This album sounds utterly fantastic.
So who would be into this album? I would say this album is for rock fans who like digesting something with layers and nuance. I don't know that this album has classic mass appeal, but I wouldn't put it past this group to pop off soon. Not only is this album great, but I am heavily motivated to see them which I think would be incredible. I would love to be able to say I knew these guys before they were cool, and something tells me I just might have the pleasure one day.
Gina Brooklyn - Normal
Gina Brooklyn is a young artist who seems to making all the right moves. Apparently, she was discovered which means she has an entire team behind her. That’s pretty obvious when you listen to her release Normal.
The six songs all feel like separate singles rather than an artist with a signature sound. This may seem like a good tactic to throw out an eclectic assortment of songs to see what sticks but it also can be a little confusing as to how to label the artist.
The first track “Take Your Time” is a 4/4 dance song. The song contains a steady kick, a catchy hook and perfect production. It’s the kind of song you would expect to hear in a club.
The next track “Normal” couldn’t be more far away from “Take Your Time.” “Normal” fits more in the singer/songwriter category. The guitars are really the main element other than the vocal. It’s another very well crafted song from the production to the hooks.
Next up is “Somebody Save Me” which felt like the most conventional single. I would put this song into the pop category. There is some melancholy in the song but not enough for it to make it feel like anything other than pop. It’s the chorus that makes it feel like a single.
“In My Mind (feat. bonez 703)” is very moody and contains some rapping. “Warning” was my personal favorite song. The song has a ’50s pop feel to it with additional pads that give it a contemporary feel. Last up is “Falling Away” which is a slow, melancholy piano ballad.
There is no doubt there is a lot of talent all around from the writing to the delivery. My advice would be for the team to work on creating a singular vision and signature sound. There is no one genre I can classify Gina Brooklyn in. When you think of artists as far ranging as Pink Floyd to Aphex Twin to Tame Impala you sort of have an idea of who they are once you immerse yourself in their catalogue. Brooklyn in my opinion would benefit from that type of foundation.
All that being said Normal displays the potential of an up and coming artist I’m sure we will be hearing a lot more from.
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