RIVALS - Summer Sweat
RIVALS is a five-piece band from Michigan consisting of Steven Klier (guitar), Bradley Butkovich (guitar) Corey Koski (drums), Matt Langlais (bass) and Alexi Geshel (vocals). The band plays certified pop punk on their EP Summer Sweat. They aren't reinventing the wheel here by any stretch of the imagination but fans of bands like Paramore will certainly want to check them out.
Pop punk in general has been a genre that was made for a younger generation. It’s not exactly smooth jazz. The lyrics, pent up energy and music feels more appropriate for teenagers and young adults in their early 20’s trying to get a handle on the overwhelming feelings they are experiencing.
Geshel sings about topics that most young people have to deal with. Mainly the turbulent, volatile romantic relationships that are practically standard while going through your younger years. Geshel articulately sings about about the frustrations, heartbreak, and appreciation of the process.
They open with “Act Enthused” which really gives you a good idea of what to expect from the remainder of the EP. The band is extremely tight and in the pocket which is omething I can’t say about all pop punk bands. They keep the energy up and don’t let it down.
On “Talk To Me” she sings about frustrations of not being able to talk to her romantic interest. She sings, “Your friends take me on dates because you won't make a move.” Don’t worry it will get easier in a couple of years. The band continues to impress with solid songwriting and catchy hooks on songs like “Six Speed” and “Some Strange Way.” The band closes with “Leaving” which is a reflective, nostalgic look at the relationship.
RIVALS does a great job covering the criteria for the genre. The one thing I would mention is that they may also want to think about how they can also move past it as well by implementing techniques, sounds and energy that other like minded bands have not thought about. It’s definitely a hard thing to accomplish but something that could give them an edge in this oversaturated arena.
Summer Sweat is an EP made by a younger generation for a younger generation. Recommended.
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Just Hangin' Out - I Slept All Day
From her Facebook page Just Hangin' Out is the solo artist known as Cat. She released I Slept All Day which is DIY style home recorded EP which is about demo quality. The EP can be summed up very easily. She strums mostly major and minor chords on the ukulele, often very fast while singing.
That’s one thing about the songs in general that I felt some of them would have been more effective if she slowed things down a bit. It felt like she was rushing on some of the songs when it would have been more emotionally resonant if she would have simmered down at times. The songs are all at approximately at the same BPM and feel like an extension of each other. She has a good voice but it was fully hard to appreciate because of the lo-fi quality of the recording.
She opens with “Nothing” which has existential lyrics. She sings, “Sometimes I wonder how long I will last will I even see my roots change will the grass lose its hue how many friends will I lose.” The song has a number of digital glitches.
As the album progresses she explores different topics but the songs feel almost identical. The best thing about the songs right now are the lyrics which have a lot of thought behind them. I thought the lyrics on “Shower Brain” were especially well written.
Cat has some talent but there's a lot of tweaking that she can do to start to grow as a musician. She needs to explore different tempos and chord strumming styles. That at the very least gives the listener some variety. I think including other musicians as well could help deepen these songs and help her grow as a musician as well.
At some point she will want to work with an engineer or a producer if she is looking to get a professional recording. This was a solid sounding demo to get an idea of what she's capable of but not something that’s radio ready.
Overall, I like the spirit of this artist and the themes she explores. I’d love to hear the music evolve on her next effort.
Isaac Diskin - Isaac Diskin
Isaac Diskin is a young artist who is only eighteen years old but still has seven years experience writing music. He started at eleven so you could say his self-titled album Isaac Diskin was a long time ago. His debut shows potential with original songs that at this point still feel fairly influenced from music he probably grew up on.
I really enjoyed his vocals throughout the album. He has a good voice that is palatable and smooth. His guitar work was also notable. Diskin doesn't attempt anything too fancy or ambitious technically but it fits the song.
As far as the production there are some things that still can definitely be improved in that department; the drums especially which sounded digital were really low in the mix and didn’t add energy. There are other issues such as guitar frequencies completely masking his vocals. Despite some of the issues of the recording quality Diskin builds a solid foundation for himself with these songs.
Diskin opens with the bluesy and soulful “Number Four.” The song is straightforward and didn't throw me any curveballs. I would have liked to hear his natural voice rather than such wet effects but I still thought he sounded good.
I vastly preferred the sound on “I've Been Wondering.” It’s a soft, intimate song that works great with his voice. The song sounded natural and I really hope he continues with a similar aesthetic in the future. “Excuses” show some more reverence for pop and rock acts from as far back the ’50s. “Nothing Seems The Same” contains some inspired moments. A certified highlight was the closer “Silent Room.” His vocal melody in particular was emotionally resonant.
Diskin is still very much in the embryonic stage of his development as a musician. I started a couple of years after him and haven’t stopped and I’m twice as old as Diskin. My point is that Diskin's sound will evolve and most likely improve as the years go by.
The best advice I could say at this point is to either start learning more about engineering and production or save up to work in a studio with an engineer/producer. There will be a vast improvement with the sound with someone who is experienced in the field.
Overall Diskin has talent and is already a good songwriter. I’m sure we will be hearing more from him soon.
Jesse Magenta - Office Hours
In 2017 a lot of music gets made in dorm rooms. It wasn’t too long ago that you actually had to go into a studio to make music. I look at this approach as a good way to get ideas and hopefully the artist eventually hits a pro studio. That's the way I felt with the release Office Hours by Jesse Magenta. The EP which is about six minutes contains some great music but some of the virtual instruments like the stock drums didn’t have the natural dynamics of a real set.
I felt like the three songs were more ideas than fully fleshed out songs. There are some interesting concepts that get introduced but don’t evolve into much else. Up first is “The Real Entry” which combines an electric piano, a standard hip-hop beat and the silky, soft spoken vocals. The vocal melody is catchy and there is a notable instrumental breakdown. The song however does not introduce a hook which could have filled it up.
Up next is “The Oyster” which is the best track of the three. I couldn't help but think of Grimes on this track because of the vocal harmonies. I say that as a compliment. The song gets a little more dynamic as it progresses but there is not another vocal melody introduced which is the song needed.
The last track “Ur Out” is the most experimental track with some interesting effect sand percussive effects. That being said the song feels like an introduction and never gets moving.
I started going to school for music over fifteen years ago. It wasn’t till after I graduated did I feel like I had a good understanding of composition. The reason I mention this is that artists have time on their side being just freshmen in college. I would encourage the artist to get out of the dorm room and try and collaborate with live musicians as well as continue to dig deeper into modern production techniques. That is a certified way to progress fast and get ideas.
Overall, Jesse Magenta is a case of wait and see. I know there will be a good amount of evolution if the artist keeps at it.
Christopher Bull - The Utopia EP
Great songs last a lifetime and Christopher Bull has definitely set the bar in terms of his place in this new generation of songwriters with “The Utopia EP.” With poetic harmonies and heartbreaking lyricism, Bull evokes all the pain of a tortured artist with the flare of a great harmonic overhead created by the arrangements and overall production.
Right into it, I am completely drawn in. His voice echoes that of Jeff Buckley while remaining still it’s own creative entity. Eerie falsettos and downright heart clenching soulful singing create song structures so strong you want to listen to every song. Cohesive songwriting leads to great albums and this EP is no exception. Every song flows into each other like listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Production-wise all the guitars and the bass are fantastic.
Recorded at Jonathan Pearce’s studio in central Auckland, much of the songs are loosely based on Bull’s struggles coming to terms with life and growing. Bull’s struggle is noted through his perception of the world around him. His home New Zealand had been hit by the financial crash in 2008, as well as millions of others around the world. Bull notes “suddenly this life that we’d been told could have just disappeared - go to university, get a job, meet a partner, buy a house. It was destabilizing because that’s what the whole NZ dream is.”
Bull has said of the recording process that “it was made quickly, and with purpose.” With a wide array of wonderfully sonic guitars like the Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul, i have to say as a tone freak myself I am very pleased with how the guitars came out. The guitar sound is fat and rings well with whatever effect is driven through it, also noting it never sounds thin or weak. I would have to say the same with the bass. It is well-rounded and deep like a tree trunk, just keeping the groove.
The isolation of a singer/songwriter album can make or break the album in my opinion, but The Utopia EP really is produced well, and its musical arrangements keep Bull’s songs going up until the end. Listen to the songs “Pile it all on (a toast to the optimists)” and “Utopia” and you will definitely want to listen to the whole experience.
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Ethan Bundy is a solo folk artist who goes by the moniker the man who fell in buffalo. He released a five song EP entitled still talked about the war which is takes direct influence from 60’s folk in the spirit of Dylan and countless others that followed him.
Between the songs are short interludes that were innocuous but fairly unnecessary. The album opens with an Interlude in which you hear footsteps, harps and a radio transmission. If this interlude was connected to the first song I missed it. The first song is “no you don't” which revolves a couple fairly straightforward strummed chords. In general I liked his high pitched voice but certain lines were delivered better than others. There is a certain frequency where he sounds great.
Up next is “The baseball song” which contains a similar strumming pattern. This is arguably his best vocal performance. He sounded great during the beginning of the song when he sings “call the game when the rain floods the field and drives the little league inside folding chairs left behind fill the van seats up and watch the melting sky through the glass."
He makes a wise decision and switches to a picking pattern with “Pickup Art” while “help me jc” is more upbeat but the lo-fi quality effects some of the delivery and potential. He closes which is a seven plus minute song. The song ends and somewhat randomly goes into some kind of psychedelic dream sequence.
At this point Bundy has chops and would be impressive to see and felt like a musician you might catch at a coffee shop. Bundy has some talent but is also attempting a genre that is oversaturated and has been done to death. It’s been done so much because it’s really easy to record these days. All you need to know are a couple chords, have a guitar and have a laptop.
Bundy isn't quite as advanced as his top tier competition such as an artist like The Tallest Man on Earth but doesn’t mean he can't be. I think more intricate and technically advanced picking patterns would be a something to shoot for.
Overall, man who fell in buffalo made an enjoyable EP yet I have a feeling his best work is still to come.
Tim Jones - Dead and Gone
Changing your life is just about the hardest thing to try and do. It often ends in failure because old and ingrained habits are truly hard to break. There are of course plenty of success stories out there but far often there are more tales of failure which themselves often fail to get told, so that the only histories we have of changing lives are those celebrated success stories.
Many of these stories fail to fully document the hard road to these successes. That’s exactly what North Carolina singer/songwriter Tim Jones sets out to do on his debut solo record Dead and Gone.
Jones wrote these songs years before, mostly in 2011, they were recorded. They were influenced by the death of the musician Wes Phillips, whom Jones was listening to a lot during that time and also by the death of Jone’s former self and the dissolution of many old relationships.
Dead and Gone opens with the haunting country dirge “Appalachian Song.” Over a quick picked acoustic guitar Jones laments a dark mantra “Fog come rollin' o'er mountain side / Fog come rollin' on down / Fog come rollin' o'er mountain side / Lay your body down.” Next comes the breathy and beautiful and slightly bluesy “Alina.”
There is a soft hush in the background almost like the sound of gentle waves which helps to give it some depth and dimension it may not have otherwise had, and it would be unfair not to note the wonderful production on Dead and Gone, courtesy of producer Chris Robinette.
For an album about great difficulties and challenges Dead and Gone is rather a beautiful record. Take the six-minute long “Ballad of the Ghost” which unfolds slowly and gracefully as though it is being borne along by a breeze. Then there is the soft yet powerful “Road” which reminded me a bit of the cool vibes which Lou Reed and co. breathed into the Velvet Underground. This is followed by the ghostly sounding “Background Man” which recalled to me the acoustic solo work of Neil Young.
In the end Dead and Gone may be an album about a life that no longer exists, which makes listening to the record a bit like visiting the dead, which in this case is a trip worth taking time and again.
Nancy McArthur - Shenandoah
Nancy McArthur is a musician based out of Brooklyn with a history in theatre. Her debut EP Shenandoah was inspired by a theatre production of the same name she developed herself. She realized after performing the show several times that the music could stand on its own, which was the start of the album.
McArthur describes her sound as “Freak Folk” and I’d have to agree, although “freak” is definitely a term of endearment. The overall vibe is dramatic and intense while McArthur’s vast vocal range tells an interesting story. She does an excellent job of creating visual imagery with lyrics and melodies. Every song has its own aura.
The album starts with “In Solace”, where we’re introduced to McArthur’s unique vocals. The high soprano notes are a little daunting at first but she quickly shows us her broad range, which she uses in a very strategic way.
Her melodies are intentional, which is evident when the first song blends into “Down By The Edge”, a continuation of “In Solace”. The song has a mystical feel and conjures up images of deep green forests covered with moss. It even features a few detailed verses about grasshoppers. Listening to her sing feels more like reading a book than listening to an album. McArthur has theatre running through her veins, that I’m sure of.
“Nonsense” has a fast paced folksy vibe. The song has a country twang and pretty harmonies. The lyrics are at some points nonsensical without context, but you get the feeling that they’re supposed to be.
The album takes a darker turn with “Indecision”. It starts off with an ominous instrumental that blends into complex lyrics with haunting harmonies. The lyrics read like a story, there isn’t the usual verse and chorus blueprint. McArthur takes her own path with this song and it’s refreshing and original.
“Nebraska” is based on a poem of the same name by Ted Kooser and stands apart from the other tracks. It’s melodic and pretty, with hints of a Sarah McLachlan vibe. Her voice is clear and pure in this one with less of a dramatic flare. It’s a perfect way to round out the album.
McArthur is a talented songwriter and uses words in such a powerful way in her music. Her melodies are intricate and complex, reminiscent of Joni Mitchell. The melody becomes a character in the song and almost seems separate from her voice as if it is the melody that is guiding the vocals not the other way around. Shenandoah is an interesting debut. McArthur has seemed to have created her own genre that is hard to define, but I’d like to see where it leads.
The cover of the latest record by Minneapolis alt-country sextet Shoot Lucy, wittily entitled The Soothing Sounds of Shoot Lucy, has on it an old radio sitting on top of a dresser. It made me think of Wilco’s twangy, early masterpiece A.M. Like that Wilco record The Soothing Sounds of Shoot Lucy is chock full of delicious hooks and melodies, and dappled with lyrics and themes which are at times, depending on how you view them both serious and funny at the same time.
The record opens with the song “Disproportionally Hot Girlfriend.” Musically it’s a simple and catchy country tune complete with bluesy guitar licks and a verse chorus verse vibe. The kicker here is the title and the story behind it, which is about a hot girl who is dating an ugly guy. Next on the equally twangy “I’m Blind” singer Dave Berntson tones down the hokey-ness a bit but still manages to glimpse a dark side of humor lamenting during this breakup song “Can’t even go to my bar / because we met there.” They say jokes are all about timing and delivery and this one, sad and funny at the same time, hits the bulls-eye.
Contrast this with the more sing-songy honky tonk of a song like “Devil on Your Shoulder” and you begin to see that Shoot Lucy are a band of elegant tricksters, able to manipulate situations with a musical sleight of hand. One gets lost in the soothing sounds of Jennifer Urbach’s backing vocals, falls under the spell of Chris Berg’s heart thumping bass lines and David Nahan’s crystalline solos, and is willingly trampled by the beats of dual drummers Scott Skaja and Steve Schultz.
The fact that they are all such accomplished musicians and excellent songwriters helps to make their jokier songs that much better, like the offbeat “Church” which has all the upbeat happiness of song that would be on a record for kids.
And then there is the “Never Thought About You” which is genius in the fact that Bernston has been crying wolf on so many of these songs, yet his lyrics here could either be from a man who is trying to convince himself that the dissolution of a former relationship isn’t bothering him. Shooting Lucy return to the children’s sing-song on “Won’t Go That Far” before closing the record out nicely with the slow burn bluesy alt country rocker “What About Me,” a worthy bookend to The Soothing Sounds of Shoot Lucy.
There are very few funny, good bands that I can recall and none of them, Ween or Pavement, sound anything like Shoot Lucy. The music and the humor are different. I do think however of earlier comedy acts like the Smothers Brothers and Steve Martin banjo standup. It’s difficult to pull off a record of serious music with a humorous themes but The Soothing Sounds of Shoot Lucy does just that, and it is a thing of odd beauty.
District Kabuto -Audio Medic
District Kabuto is a one-man classic rock operation out of Michigan who has bestowed upon us his album Audio Medic. If you go in order, the first track you’re going to hear is “Chills.” As soon as the song kicked off I could feel my hair crimping and my acid wash jeans on my body, holy cow I had somehow time traveled back to the ’80s. Be aware, this time warp effect will stick with you throughout the album.
Now with a sound so clearly pulled from this particular decade, there are a few pluses to be had. One, some seriously rad guitar work, which is delivered in this album in spades. There’s also fantastic, satirical lyrics that I don’t want to give away but I strongly recommend track number three “Coffee” to get a few of those good gems. District Kabuto also provides some totally sick vocals. I am almost convinced that his voice alone induces the time travel phenomenon that take place when you listen. It’s utterly radical.
The initial issue I ran into was that the music almost sounds more like a tribute band even though this is all original work. I think the artist has an incredible ear and is able to create derivative work that in my opinion is a bit too on the nose. I can tell this album was a love letter to his influences but the sound is dated and nostalgic. Again, his being able to make me feel like I was traveling through time is testament to his incredible hearing ability.
I am always amazed at what one person can do nowadays. He built himself a whole band which is no small task. He clearly knew the sound he was going for and built it from the ground up. Being a pretty big alternative and electronic fan, it is rare I will curl my nose at digital percussion. There were so many moments in the songs where an organic drum sound would have really helped punctuate his lyrics.
I wish I could hear his voice with a live band; I honestly don’t think he’d have trouble finding one because he’s got great pipes. I have to admit I would love to hear that voice paired with a more modern rock music. That being said there were plenty of things that were executed well. I just think collaborating with others could really elevate what District Kabuto has to offer. If you’re someone who has been yearning to take a trip back to a specific era in rock history, then this is your album.
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