Snailbones is a Pacific North West noise rock band, composed of guitarist Timothy Francis, Kelly Minton and Drew Owens. According to the band, they formed in 2017 in Portland, Oregon and were playing shows on a consistent basis until the pandemic hit. Instead of doing nothing they started to make a record which would eventually become Keelhaul ‘em All.
The band mentions their sound aligns with other acts like Shellac, the Jesus Lizard, the Breeders and other like-minded bands. On top of that they worked with the great Steve Albini. I had a feeling I was going to like this album before I heard a note and my assumptions were correct.
This is the type of sound that was more prevalent in the ’90s in terms of the production. It’s organic and raw but also beautifully mixed with analog overtones that make you feel like you’re in the same room as the band.
All things considered this is a short album, coming in around twenty-six minutes. That being said this is the type of music that avoids navel gazing or any extra fat. From the moment it starts with “Mouse Clap” you know the band wants to get down to business. On “Mouse Clap” you are greeted with some gnarly grooves, dissonance and occasional cathartic screams which sound like they are coming from the pits of his stomach. There’s a good amount of distortion and I was impressed by the immediacy of the vocals.
“Dead Inside” opens with such a killer groove. It’s grimy and covered with guitar that sounds like knives. The drums and bass hold it down here with a steady foundation. I thought the vocalist sounded a bit like Kurt Cobain which I think is hard praise.
“Sweet and Serene” sort of continues with a grunge inspired sound. Soundgarden came to mind when listening to the beginning of the song. The song reaches some intense heights. It’s again very cathartic where all the pain is boiling to the surface with release.
The band is just getting started. One of the more accessible and possibly single- worthy songs is the post-punk sounding “Slave To Hate.” That’s followed by “Floating” and “Death Face” both of which are solid songs that build upon their signature sound. “Dissension” refuses to not be heard while “Break Apart The Day” has multiple vocalists which create some variation. The band baited me with “Bury Me Meow” which I thought was going to be a muted closer but ends up being the arguably most intense sounding song.
Wow - this album was incredible. It hits upon a lot of the things I love about music but perhaps most of all is how visceral and real this feels. Recommended.
Darken The Sky is Jesse Hale's latest three-track EP. It kicks off with "I'm Waiting.” Wow. I could easily leave my song review at that one word. Chugging power chords and booming drumming create a solid rock track, but that wasn't the thing that distinguished Hale from other rockers in my eyes. It's his voice. There's such a raw power that just can't be fabricated. We can all practice to become skilled guitarists, and there are so many talented songwriters out there, but few people have an innate vocal ability. Every note carries such power. That's what makes the song. Hale delivers hooks with an effortlessness that really just feels like showing off. It makes the melody stick in the mind on "I'm Waiting,” and there's no doubt about that. It's a strong start to the EP.
"Wastes Away" demonstrates Jesse Hale's range as a songwriter and musician. He opts for a toned-down, flanger-heavy, finger-picked electric guitar rhythm on this downbeat banger. I love the sizzling lead guitar riff too. Again, of course, it's the vocals that really sell this song. Hale absolutely blows me away on the choruses of this track. I felt like I'd been listening to a classic Smashing Pumpkins track at times. It's not just that the hook is catchy in the choruses (and it definitely is catchy). It's that Hale sings with such immense energy. When I consider that the distorted power chords and smashing drums are so insanely loud, that makes it all the more impressive. Hale still manages to be heard over such noise, and he manages to make his voice the prominent instrument in the mix. It knocks everything else out of the park, and everything else is fantastic too. Another great song.
And then things end on a strong note with “Ashamed." This is definitely the catchiest guitar on the EP. That riff is addictive. I could listen to the note-bend over and over again; it fits into the rhythm so well. Then things take a gentle turn on the verses, which really makes the loud moments all the more effective. More flanger-ridden guitar and gentle drumming dominates the verses, and Hale demonstrates that he can nail soft, stunning singing, as well as the booming vocals he offers on the choruses. What a cacophonic hook. And the distorted lead guitar riffs in the softer post-chorus breaks are really powerful too. There are so many great sections to this song. I'd love to sit here and dissect every last second, but it's hard to capture the effect of this track in words. You'll just have to listen to it for yourself.
My only real complaint is that Darken The Sky ends too quickly. It's always a shame to be so invested in an EP and realize it's all over before it's truly started. But that's a good thing, I remind myself. It means that I should be excited to hopefully come across more of this band's music in the future. So, give these three tracks a listen, and you'll see what I mean. It'll barely take any of your time, but you'll wish it had lasted longer.
I’m a fan of both Teenage Fanclub and Tom Petty so my interest piqued when I was reading about that Cold Irons Bound sounds like a combination of those bands. The band describe themselves as “straddled between the rootsy alternate tunings of Americana and the heart of a scruffy rock n roll bar band.”
“I Wasn’t Thinking At All” is the band's most recent single. I spent some time with the song to get an idea of what this band was about.
The song starts simply enough with strummed guitar vocals. Additionally guitars, bass and drums come in a very classic rock type of way reminiscent of the band The Who. Some of the production does lend itself to more of a ’90s alternative aesthetic but that ’70s flavor is certainly in there as well.
The song moves by fast. The verse is catchy and the vocals are well delivered. It was a little hard to pick up on a hook and it’s hard to make a claim there is one. There are changes to the vocal melodies but it doesn't feel like a chorus in some ways which is fine. The song moves about on a nice pace leading to a brief but effective breakdown right around the two-minute mark. They are able to quickly get back on into the groove and soon after the song ends.
This was a great song. In fact I sort of wanted a little more of it. It’s a little less than three minutes long and I think they could have stretched this out by about another minute. On that note there’s really nothing I didn’t like about this song. The production is great for rock, the band sounds tight and it makes you want to listen to some more of their music.
That’s in fact exactly what I did and also checked out their song “Conversation.” I swear the vocalist sounds very similar to Dave Grohl on this song. In fact the whole song has a lot of similarities to Foo Fighters. The band of course brings their own signature sound. The verse and chorus are more compartmentalized here with a clear divide. Similarly to the previous song I very much appreciated the memorable melodies.
I thoroughly enjoyed these tunes. The band is not reinventing the wheel but they have chemistry and can write a great song. Recommended.
Alex Blizzy was born in Buffalo, NY and raised in the metro-DC region but is now based in Nashville. His upbringing framed some of his music according to his website. Blizzy mentions “This contrast between rust belt and beltway, brought about ruminations on identity, social strata and inner belonging that would ultimately lead him to become the type of writer he is today.”
Blizzy has been steadily working on his debut album entitled A Step Behind with a number of collaborators including Aaron Liao, Caleb Gilbreath, Andy Ellis Valdini and Kate Atanian. The album has an inviting and palatable sound that is simultaneously original yet familiar.
The album starts with the title song “A Step Behind” which felt like a single. It begins with a couple of guitars, drums and bass. The vocals bring you into the song and I was impressed by them right off the bat. One of the reasons I mention this song sounds like a single is the hook. It sticks with you. Great opener.
“Drinking Town” is next and another very well written song with a great hook. I absolutely loved the guitar work in this song especially when the chorus hits. Blizzy hits the center of the bullseye when it comes to creating an Americana/country/rock hybrid. We get some melancholy with “Wrong End of Goodbye” which I was kind of waiting for. I also loved the solace an Americana based song can bring and that’s no exception here. “These Footsteps” has a similar sense of melancholy but this song feels like it has a bit of a redemption arch. The instrumentation is really quite gorgeous at points between the guitar, organ and keys.
We get in party mode in the spirit of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band on “Comin’ For You” while “Even The Strongest Girls” has a nice mid level energy with a ’70s quality. “Love On Paper” was more like a ballad. It’s a great song and it was nice to hear Blizzy on an acoustic for the first half of the song. The energy increases once more with “Culture King” which is infectious, fun and actually quite motivational. I loved the lyrics on this one. “Never Felt Better” felt like a perfect closer mixing melancholy and gratitude.
Wow - what a great debut. Blizzy combines exceptional songwriting with stellar production that should appeal to wide audiences. Recommended.
Heated Bones is an up and coming group from Colorado playing across the west with their debut album Heated Bones. They mention “With similarities to King Gizzard, Arctic Monkeys and the like, Heated Bones is blending the illusive sound of rock in their caldron to create BROTH ROCK.” I guess that’s a genre they made up. To my ears their music aligns well with Baroque pop in the spirit of a band like Grizzly Bear.
You can hear this on the opening song entitled “Is It Any Wonder?.” I loved this song for multiple reasons. It’s catchy yet experimental and displays some musicianship from everyone in the band. The beautiful ascending chorus was an inventive transition from the verse. It’s a very lush song as well which is dream-like and creates an atmospheric cloud of cascading melodies.
I was reminded of Joy Division and Interpol on “Have I Died?.” The vocalist delivers a fantastic performance here. The ’80s synth pop vibe that comes is killer and when combined with the organic bass makes some magic.
“I Can’t Help Myself” is next and is wonderfully off kilter in all the right ways. The song contains another fantastic vocal performance. I think the delivery was a little more subdued here and David Bowie came to mind in a number of ways on this song. The band continues to hit it out of the park with “How's The Weather?.” which is a gorgeous mix of styles and vibes. On this song The Beatles came to mind but more experimental.
“Dopplegänger” felt like it was the single. The song makes you want to sing aloud the first time you hear it. It’s also just a ton of fun. There’s a nice juxtaposition of elements here. The song drives but there’s also a lot of air elements. The EP continues with great songs including the dynamic “In The Charge” and the kinetic and forward moving “One Trick Pony.”
Wow - this release blew me away. I thought the vocalist was truly exceptional and the songwriting is next level. This is one of the most original releases I heard this year. Highly recommended.
The mysteriously named artist H.Pe is an Irish-Canadian singer/songwriter from Ayr, Ontario, Canada named Ben Hope. He’s just released his third studio album titled Lines which he calls “electric folk with a tendency to change genres.” The songs themselves are said to be about “how it feels to be here, how it feels to be with each other and how it feels to let go.” I actually recognized this artist from a review of 2020’s Interfaction on the Pitch Perfect site, with one of the best cover photos I’ve ever seen.
Hope cites as influences David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Talking Heads, The Cure, Radiohead, Elliott Smith, Glen Hansard and Bon Iver. Tracking details are scarce but the collection was recorded at Old MacDonald Studios in Ayr, with production by Cornelius. H.Pe also has a website with cool graphics and the lyrics to all these songs.
As opposed to Interfaction (with its synth-pop beats) or Computer Rock with Notes on Translation (more of a pop rock sound), Lines is an album based on solo electric guitar and vocals, like early Billy Bragg. I definitely hear Glen Hansard, but also U2, which may be the Irish coming through.
“Dublin” starts with a lovely, tentative picked guitar motif, with Hope’s lead vocals taking the reins and not letting go. He has a great, emotive voice that reminds me of other singers but is also quite unique. On this track he double-tracks his singing (as on most of the others), with a bit of call and response. At the three- minute mark he takes a dramatic pause which was unexpected and quite cool. The song appears to be about memories of a lost love, whether they be real or imagined; and of course the Irish connection is brought full circle with the song’s title.
“Favorite Line” fades in with a faster, Get Back-tempo, both picked and strummed. The guitars for the entire album have a refreshing organic feel, not tied to any click track, thus changing tempo as the song dictates. Not sure what’s going on here lyrically but I love the idea of someone in a relationship saying “That’s my favorite line.” Hope’s vocals are even more richly doubled here.
“Wait” leans on just two alternating chords for the verses, which finds Hope yet again yearning for someone and willing to wait. “I’ll never stop ’til I’m loving right / I’m going to wait for you tonight / I’m going to wait for you this time.” For guitar players you can pretty much see the chords Hope is playing in your head, but that takes us all back to the discovery of the guitar as a compositional instrument and how evocative these simple chords can be.
With “Gulin Gu” we switch to acoustic (I’m guessing nylon stringed) guitar with an uptempo, vaguely baroque picking scheme. Hope doesn’t really explain who “Gulin Gu” is, but his name makes for a great chorus chant. “She and the Dancer” brings us back to the electric, with sad minor chords strummed like an acoustic. The title of the track pretty much says it all, where Hope has accepted the loss of someone with a stoic “I don’t want to make this right… it’s better to give than to run.”
“All My Friends” features almost subliminal whistling to open the track, giving it a sort of “Great Escape” vibe. Hope seems to be feeling the loss of friends and an uncertain special relationship, performed with Glenn Hansard-style anguish.
“Hurricane” has a surprisingly sophisticated melodic opening, verging on prog. Overall this song is pitched a bit higher than normal, while retaining that jangly minor key feel. Hope’s lyrics seem simple on the surface and are often variations on the theme of troubled love, but i always have the niggling sense that more is going on than meets my ear. “Carolita” has an opaque, jazz-like riff that’s new and different for this collection, perhaps illustrating lyrics like “It’s what we do / like we try to be cool.” I daresay there’s a touch of The Police here in the vocals and rhythms.
“Enemy” has another one of those great H.Pe chorus couplets in “You’re the enemy / you’re the end of me” with chunkier, higher energy guitar playing. The concluding track “Lay Awake at Night and Call it Dancing” has one of the best titles, and brings the tumultuous relationship at the core of this album full circle, without resolution except to lyrically echo some of what’s come before. “There’s something going on / Lay awake and call it dancing / She said / There’s nothing going on…”
For some listeners, an album of guitar and voice can be an adjustment, but the deeper you go, the more this style begins to feel like the norm, with very little standing between you and the artist. This is an interesting direction that H.Pe’s taken and worth checking out!
The Quiet Riders came together in 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tuck, Matt, Caden and Josh got together for some impromptu recording sessions (because there was nothing else to do), and wrote much of their debut album The Quiet Riders on the spot. They mention bands like The Meters, The Grateful Dead and Allman Bros that have a similar quality and I would agree. They make upbeat music that to my ears sounds like it’s meant to be experienced live. The band has the jam band quality that’s easy to groove to but are also more than that.
They get going with “Sixes on Straight '' where it doesn't take long for them to lay down some fun riffs and rhythms you can move to. The vocals which are very heartfelt and pure sound great. They take you through a dynamic voyage and are impressive. I was ready to hear more.
“Marvin” is up next and this song is more lush and down tempo. You quickly sink into the silky guitars, warm piano and other instruments. The band is in no rush here as they create steady grooves with backbone. “Up In Smoke” has a similar lush feel but on this song you have vocals. The song subtly fuses with more energy but the vocalist keeps it in the lower register which works for the song.
The band started to groove again on “Donny.” It’s funky yet they keep it fairly contained. The song is played in a jazzy way as well. This is a very ’90’s term but it had an acid jazz type of aesthetic.
“Keep The Faith” was one of the highlights. I thoroughly enjoyed the vocal performance on this song. The organ hits the right frequencies and the band is just on point here with their parts. They are playing what needs to be played to support the song and nothing more.
We got some crunchy grooves with “Rubberband Strut” which is one of these songs that I felt like I needed to hear live with a beer in my hand. Those college memories started to flood back. Another clear highlight was the rolling “Sticks & Stones” where you can clearly hear the Grateful Dead influence. “Anderson” is a bit sensual and sexy and I say that as a compliment. They close with “Peter Pan” which is a dream-like song with a hint of melancholy.
The band sounds great and they hit it out of the park on this release. I expect more great things to come from The Quiet Riders.
Edward Reynolds writes and produces his own music in the basement of his suburban house in Denver, Colorado. Under the moniker The Dreamer Blue, he creates introspective music with a blend of nostalgic melodies, insightful lyrics and atmospheric instrumentals. You can hear this on his recent release Lost At Sea.
The album starts with “Understand” which felt like an introduction that is a little over a minute long. It revolves around a lead guitar pattern, synths and a beat. It goes by fast but I like the mix of tones and textures.
We get into the meat and potatoes of the album with “Imposter” which contains vocals. The vocals are well done. Some of the delivery is sort of static but then he changes it up on certain parts. It works well and makes the song more dynamic. The music contains a 4/4 beat, a prominent alien like synth, guitars and bass. It’s a solid song and quite catchy.
“Alternative, indie rock, alternative rock, lo-fi - Sideways Pull of Gravity” has this airy and dreamlike quality that I thought felt inviting and comforting. It’s relatively simple progressions but it’s all about the mood and delivery to my ears. “Midnight, My Love” is much more pensive and reflective than any of the previous songs. It sounds good on the artist. I loved how the melancholy feeling gets lifted during the chorus.
“Into the Haze” is a great one. The vocals sound really well mixed on this song. I could hear all the nuances. The groove is top notch as well which is the sort of off kilter post-punk melody but more acoustic.
I was getting Radiohead vibes on “Data Point” which contains some of the most inventive synth patterns. “Small” has its moments as well which is more of a straight folk song. “Want You With Me” is performed on a ukulele which was a nice surprise while “Dead Language” is a slow born with some elements of post-rock. “Last Voyage” was a nice ambient piece. I loved this piece and hope to hear more like it in the future.
Overall, I thought this was a solid album from beginning to end with some songs that felt like standouts. There’s a lot to appreciate here. Take a listen.
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
Matty Dubbs Love Sweet Love. 3.8
Daniel Greenwich Dwellings 3.9
Max Max 3.7
Lush self-titled 3.6
Fighting Chance! is a Toronto indie/alternative rock outfit founded by brothers James and Joe Flanagan in fall of 2021. According to the band, “The name Fighting Chance! was lifted from a ’90s self-defense-for-kids VHS that a friend had to watch in school. A rather poetic google definition of the expression captures the band's mission statement: “the possibility of success if great effort is made." They recently released a five song self-titled EP Fighting Chance!.
They also mention “Their music mixes sunny homages to ’90s radio rock with slick, power pop anthems, containing influences from Pavement, Weezer and Nada Surf to ’60s acts like Simon & Garfunkel and the Kinks.”
They get going with “Cauliflower” and it definitely had that ’90s vibe they mentioned. The music sounded somewhere between power pop, alternative and pop punk. There’s a coming of age type of quality that was easy to appreciate. The song is catchy and light, similar to Weezer. I loved the explanation about what this song is about. They say this about the song, “The song ‘Cauliflower’ is a classic case in which an early song title from a throwaway lyric has such a distinct phonetic quality to it that it becomes irreplaceable. As such, on ‘Cauliflower’ lyricist James Flanagan had to construct a story about how one man’s meal prep conjures up a storm or sensory flashbacks of his previous romantic relationship.” Musically, the song is straightforward relying on major and minor chords and 4/4 time.
“Summertime” felt like it leaned heavily into pop punk especially on the verse. The band Blink 182 came to mind but I would also say the raw sort of delivery aligned with a band like Car Seat Headrest. “Twisted” was a highlight. I loved the drones of distortion and the more lush and shoegaze type of song. The vocals are really well delivered as well. This song sounded like pure indie rock from the ’90s in the spirit of Yo La Tengo or Pavement. “Pink” is also a good one with some well-done dynamics and some great guitar work. They close strong with “Godfrey” which has arguably the best vocal delivery of any of the songs.
The band has a lot going on. There are a number of different styles they flirt with. They sound good attempting all of them. The duo is talented and I look forward to hearing more soon.
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