Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee are The Lowest Pair. The duo comes equipped with two banjos, two voices and guitars, and not too much else. In their case they really don’t need anything else to make the music sound full. The band recently released two full lengths Fern Girl & Ice Man and Uncertain as It Is Uneven.
Their music on Fern Girl & Ice Man harks back to bluegrass, Americana and traditional songs. The music feels organic and warm. It’s the type of music you could imagine being played during sunset on a front porch. For as warm as this music is it's also coated in melancholy. The melancholy is present in lyrics as well as in the instrumentation.
They kick things off with “The River Will” and showcase stellar vocal performances from Winter and Lee. Sometimes they sing individually, other times they combine. Either way it’s wonderful watching the pair do this dance with their vocals. The music is so sparse as it is held together by a banjo. Although it occasionally feels like it could fall apart the beauty is that it never does.
Next up is the soulful “Tagged Ear.” The music is great but it's the vocal harmonies that truly bring it to the next level. “Stranger” features prominent bass work while “When They Dance the Mountain Shake” has some percussive elements. At points “When They Dance the Mountain Shake” feels celebratory and is certainly one you can lightly shake your hips to.
As the album progresses the duo continues to hit it out of the park. “Totes” features acoustic guitar and vocals and “Sweet Breath” is much faster than anything else on the album. They close with “How Can I Roll” which perfectly balances hope, perseverance and melancholy.
Uncertain as It Is Uneven feels very much like an extension of Fern Girl & Ice Man. They don’t in any way pull off a Conor Oberst by trying to release two radically different albums. Uncertain as It Is Uneven is arguably a little more traditional sounding but even that is arguable.
The duo does take their time in a very beautiful way on most of these songs and that’s why it is a treat to hear them flex their technical muscles on a faster song like “Mason’s Trowel.” Of course there are some other highlights amongst the batch. I especially enjoyed “Like I Did Before.” The lyrics are fantastic here and go against typical tropes. They sing and repeat, “I don’t love you like I did before” and you think you know what's coming next until they drop the line “I love you more.” Congratz and cheers on that one.
One thing The Lowest Pair does so well is making just enough changes in some way to each song that keep you interested. They chose a refined palette of instrumentation and then paint different moods and tones for a song. It's a seamless album and one you can certainly enjoy from beginning to end.
Fern Girl & Ice Man and Uncertain as It Is Uneven are both inviting and heartfelt. They never overextend and never feel contrived. Highly Recommended.
Norra - Far Below It
Hailing from the sunny environs of Bristol, England, the four-piece alt rock outfit Norra, composed of Kieran Marsden, Lewis Spear, James Harvey and Gabe Palmer began in early 2015 while its members attended university in Cornwall. After gigging around for a bit the band went back to Bristol to record their debut EP Far Below It.
There are two forces at work on Far Below It. Those forces are heavily distorted guitar rock that is never let too far outside of the lines, so that it is easily digestible for both mainstream listeners who treat music as a soundtrack to their lives as well as those who take the craft of songwriting very seriously.
I enjoyed Far Below It immensely. The album reminded me at times of bands as diverse in theory as The Cure circa 1980-1985 and The National circa their entire oeuvre, though I thought the band held back a little too much. I refer to the bookends of the four-song EP. The album opens with the title track, a brooding and confessional tune that starts off with the quietness of a prayer, and then strikes out into clamorous thunder of distorted guitars. Unfortunately those guitars don’t get to stay on the stage very long and it’s a real shame. This same shame also happens on the closing track “Out of Mind.” It begins, beautifully with mellow, finger picked acoustic and vocals ghostly reminiscent of the great Jeff Buckley. Then with a seamless change “Out of Mind” turns into a wave of fuzz addled feedback. But it crests abruptly, hitting the end without the force that it had promised as it was barreling its way towards the shore.
Looking at the middle songs, beginning with the spritely and poetic “For Better, For Worse,” at nearly six- minutes long plays off lighter hazy and jazzy guitar riffs which do get a fair amount of time to show off, turning slightly sonic in the middle before holding back enough to pretty up the denouement. The biggest standout as far as form goes is “Busy.” The song begins busily with revved up guitars that come out pummeling, and some pretty good stop-starts work well with the vocals, although the band doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to weep or rock as it goes from balladry to shredding and so on and so forth.
In the end Far Below It is an impressive batch of songs from a young and very talented band. If Norra wants to continue to make distortion riddled love songs, bands to model themselves after would be their British Isle compatriots My Bloody Valentine and The Twilight Sad who are able to pull off this feat with marvelous effect.
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Rivers - Forest Fires
Chris J. Smith and M. Smith are two brothers who started a project called Rivers. Taking some time away from their band Earthman they decided to experiment and see what happened. The result is Forest Fires, which is just over ten-minutes long.
This release certainly does feel experimental but I think there are some styles that the band should follow in the future. The second half of the EP is much stronger than the first but more on that later.
The opener “Emily” feels like less of a proper song and more like an intro. The song is just over a minute long and minimal. It’s sparse, revolving around a couple of instruments and you hear the band counting off in the background. Not sure if this was intentional or not but I thought it took away from the music. The song is an introduction to a pleasant, pretty riff that doesn't go anywhere.
The next track “Winter Theme (Earthman Cover)” is an example of a song trying to meld to many different ideas. Imagine if you took Jamie Lidell, a comical cosmic play and mixed it with that guy who raps in Linkin Park. The music itself is pretty slick and the song starts off promising on the verse. Once the bridge comes I wasn’t sure what to think. I couldn't tell if they were trying to be funny or serious. The lyrics, “Everything in this world is made up of matter / Those different matters behave amongst each other” are delivered hyperbolically and spoken. It’s something you just need to hear.
The last two songs really feel like a completely different band. “Daydream (feat. Lynley Evans)” is a good song all around - the music, the vocals and the production. I heard some banjo in there, which got me excited. The vibe is relaxed and serene. Definitely a song that works bumming out on a beach.
The next song “North” might be better than “Daydream (feat. Lynley Evans).” It’s a simple song revolving around vocal harmonies. My only complaint is the female vocals should have been about 2 - 3 dbs louder in the mix.
Rivers said that Forest Fires was an experiment. If that's the case the last two songs in my opinion should be the foundation in which they build upon. The acoustic, tranquil vibe seemed to work best for them and felt effortless. I’m expecting to hear more from the duo in the not too distant future.
Shawn Hickman (vocals/guitar/bass), Wendy Claire Geib (vocals/keyboard), Ryan Roseborough (guitar/bass) and Andrew Taravella (drums) are For Dizzier Heights. The band has been around for two years and recently released Anchor Lifted.
After spending some time with the five songs it seems obvious the band wanted to showcase their different sides. The result feels slightly scattered as they jump around to different genres. That being said there are certainly some inspired moments and the songs on their own certainly hold up.
The most out of place song out of the five is actually the opener “Anchor.” This is a pop/rock song that does have a distinct ‘80s rock ballad vibe. It’s a solid tune but in no way indicative of what lies ahead. The song revolves around distorted power chords, chugging drums and a supporting bass.
Up next is “Uh Oh” which is more indicative of the style of the remaining songs. This song feels directly influenced by the band Phish. There is a jammy vibe to the music as you are greeted with an organ solo, a funky bass and a guitar solo at the end. When comparing the first and second songs there is no denying there is a very different feel.
“Good Name” has another unique style. The music feels more based in ‘70s rock and Geib takes the vocals. She sure can belt it out and reminded me of both Ann Wilson and even Janis Joplin. “Parasitic Dame” is a piano bar style romp that certainly has shades of the music on Rocky Horror Picture Show. There is some great vocal work here and the song will certainly have people singing along. They close with “Tendency Towards Tangents” which returns to a jammy vibe but I would argue more Grateful Dead then Phish on this song. The music is top notch and the vocal harmonies are arguably the best on the EP.
As much as I enjoyed some of the individual songs I left the EP not knowing what to expect from an LP. Truth be told this is an important aspect to developing a large fan base. As far as talent goes it's undeniable that the band possesses it but hope to get a clearer idea of their sound on their upcoming releases. At the end of the day Anchor Lifted still is one for the win column due to the strength of the performances and technical prowess.
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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
The Fires Of The Way the World Ends 3.7
Shae Pritchard-Martinez Relentless Sundown Pursuit 3.5
Nicole Marie T Nicole's Ambient Mix Volume 2 3.5
Inca Gold Rewilder 3.4
Automatic Fiction Spring Inclination 3.8
Liar Boy Glowing Bright 3.5
Brian Kapler Black Lines 3.6
Peyote Coyote Peyote Coyote 3.5
Nobody Particular Come Over 3.4
Songs By Thom Existential 3.6
Easymess Hermione's Bag 3.6
Reverist - Dreaming Onward
Omar Qazi, Steve Addington, Matthew Walsh and Cooper Johansen are Reverist. The band hailing from Florida released their first EP entitled Dreaming Onward. As the story goes Qazi was an undergrad studying to be a doctor and during his downtime away from the books picked up the guitar and piano. One thing led to another and his passion for music led him to find like-minded individuals to play the poppy, synth-based songs on Dreaming Onward.
Dreaming Onward is an extremely well produced EP with radio ready songs. I wouldn’t be all that surprised to hear one of these songs on the FM dial.
The EP doesn’t waste time with introductions. “Superhero” has some similarities to bands like Keane as well as M83. Huge sounding lead synths fill up the frequency spectrum right off the band only to dissipate and be replaced with soft pads once the singing starts. An arpeggiated synth line appears picking up the energy once again. “Superhero” is a solid opener. Nothing too out of the ordinary and it feels more apt to reside in the mainstream than the underground.
“Machinery” is another success. This song has a carefree dance vibe not too far off from a band like Passion Pit or Cut Copy. The synths during the verse feel playful as the kick drum keeps the momentum going. “About the Past” utilizes more huge sound synths, catchy vocal melodies and palatable textures and tones."
Then we get to “They Are Weak, But We Are Strong” which has a slight ‘50s vibe. The piano and horns are the major elements besides the vocals. They pull it off and I liked the vibe of the song. The title track is arguably the most single worthy of the batch; Kudos to the drummer here for some sick hi-hat work.
Dreaming Onward isn’t breaking any barriers or doing anything that hasn't been done before. That being said the delivery is consistently good and the songs are well crafted.
Calum McClintock - Red Guitar
Calum McClintock is a young artist from Australia who recently released Red Guitar. One look at his Bandcamp page and it's obvious he still has plenty of years ahead of him when it comes to his musical career. When he was nine he picked up a guitar and he's been playing it ever since. I’m going to surmise he’s somewhere in his teens at this point.
He also states on Bandcamp that he isn’t much of a singer, which is why he doesn’t have vocals. I respect a musician who can admit to his weaknesses and focus on their strengths. Hence Red Guitar is an instrumental guitar album. After taking a listen to it may behoove him to look into working with a singer at some point because his style feels conducive to vocals.
His guitar playing is comparable to the Edge from U2 in a number of ways. It often serves as a nice lead that could benefit a vocal but often has a tough time standing on its own. McClintock is a good guitar player but he isn’t in the area of virtuoso at this point. He covers his lead guitar in reverb and delay, which can often make your guitar playing sound more epic than it actually is. It’s not a trick, just a fact and constantly implemented upon thousands of songs.
“Rainy Day (Sunshine)” is the opener. McClintock utilizes reverb and delay on this track and like a U2 song gives it an ethereal, epic vibe. I kept expecting vocals but it obviously never happened. The song mostly relies on swirling notes from the delay rather than any kind of lead. There are some peaks but McClintock sometimes takes a little too long to get there.
“Dreams” feels like a continuation of the first song in a lot of ways; a swirl of notes with a lead guitar that can’t quite carry the song. One of his strongest lead work happens on “Running” about two minutes in while “Out of the Cold” continues with the vibe he started the EP with.
McClintock still has some way to go to compete with his influences but I’m not too worried. It wasn’t till my late twenties when I think I finally wrote a good song. My advice to him would be to team up with a singer and eventually an entire band so he can grow as a musician. I’d also say the reverb and delay are classic effects but overly used can feel like a gimmick.
Jordan Kyle - Chalk Outlines
Jordan Kyle has been singing and writing music since the young age of fourteen and in the five years of his promising music career, he has performed at festivals and toured throughout his home country of Canada. His intimate songs are equally enrapturing for listeners and his unique blend of acoustic singer-songwriter and pop styles are infused with just the right touch of woodsy nature and cutting edge modernity.
Chalk Outlines EP begins with the title track, a wistful ballad with delicate vocals and ultra-harmonious acoustic guitars. Purposeful plucking of classic chords layers under Kyle’s melodic voice that hovers seemingly at the edge of his range while maintaining an effortless quality. A slight vibrato tinges Kyle’s voice, and as the instruments build the dynamics of the song, he matches their intensity without strain or break.
The peaceful aura of Kyle’s songwriting style continues in “In My Head” as fingerpicking guitars lay down the soundscape for an optimistic acoustic anthem to break loose. Subtle percussion, in the form of shakers and electronic tracks, pepper the song just enough to be noticed, but they do not overpower the raw vitality that Kyle brings with his guitars and voice.
“Picture Frames” backs off from the full-band sound, instead championing a single guitar and voice in a minstrel-style folk song. Kyle carries the energy of the song with emotive singing, focusing and honing in on the characteristics that make for a spectacular performance, whether live or recorded. While ethereal harmonies back up the front and center vocals, the instrumentation of this song was kept to a minimum, allowing Kyle to communicate simply and directly with his audience.
While only three songs long, Chalk Outlines outlines Jordan Kyle’s talent and style in a succinct and telling way that bypasses much of the unappreciated, unhelpful baggage that can come along with producing an entire debut album. This EP will serve Kyle as a springboard to recording that album in the future and will benefit by reaping the harvest of listeners that he has sown with this record.
FOTA - FOTA
FOTA comprised of Vance Manu (guitars), Ben Morton (drums), Jay Sellwood (vocals) and Shane McDowall (bass) is an eclectic hard-rock/metal band. The band recently released a self-titled EP FOTA, which contains five songs. They show some promise and potential with this EP.
They start with “Little Green Friend” which initially has a swampy, Mississippi southern rock vibe. The band finds a groove and the high-pitched vocals by Sellwood come in. Once the chorus starts I gave a little smirk because My Little Green Friend is obviously a tip of the hat to Scarface. In fact he has the same inflection that Pacino has when he says it in the famous end sequence.
The second song “4 Walls” was an anomaly and quite baffling when considering it’s not even close to sounding anything like metal or hard rock for the first couple of minutes. I was reminded of Santana, Reggae and even jam bands. It seemed like the band was trying to meld genres at one point.
Luckily, the band gets back on track with the next three songs. “Bed” is reminiscent of Sabbath while “She Got It” has a funk flavor not too far off from Red Hot Chili Peppers or Rage Against The Machine. “Believe” is the highlight of the EP. It's more dynamic; the music doesn't sound as derivative and the band goes into some creative territory.
FOTA is a solid band and with some tweaks would be a threat. I would like to hear the band chipping away at a sound that defines their originality. Throughout the EP I heard a lot of reference points. This is quite common with debuts but the band still has plenty to prove. Considering the fact the band is technically apt and usually creative we should see them coming into their own with future releases. Looking forward to more from this promising four-piece.
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Roman Thomas - I've Got You
Roman Thomas is an eighteen-year-old singer/songwriter who recently released his debut EP entitled I’ve Got You. Thomas is obviously only starting out his music career and I am sure if he continues his best work will lie ahead but I’ve Got You shows some potential.
There are some inspired moments but also a number of mishaps. The biggest mishap by far is the drums. Let's start off with that the drums obviously sound mechanical and too up front in the mix. The even more important point is that he just programs way too much of it. I mean a ridiculous amount of tom rolls, fills and just drums in general. In fact I felt the drums were the focal point and not his vocals on a number of songs.
There are a number of things that Thomas does well. I was quite impressed with the production over all. I thought the vocals were treated well and he does have a very radio-friendly voice. The songwriting is good, commercially viable but also very predictable at this point.
Things start with upbeat and energy filled “Somewhere Beautiful.”.This is a pop/rock song any way you look at it. It’s a fairly catchy song but Thomas’ vocals are literally drowned out by the drums. “Where I Want To Be (feat. Sarah George)” is more of a ballad and emotionally resonant song. His voice sounds good against George and I hope they do some work again in the future.
“I've Got You” follows the trope of mainstream pop to a tea while “When I'm a King” has shades of pop-punk all over it.
I always find it interesting to listen to artists who are this young. At eighteen years old you barely know who your influences are and haven’t lived much life. If Thomas continues his influences will surely change and his style will evolve. These humble beginnings are a good start for Thomas.
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