Julia Alsarraf - Mixed Feelings
Julia Alsarraf is a singersongwriter based in Troy, NY. Divide & Conquer has reviewed a past project of Alsarraf’s in which she collaborates with a friend. Left to Write’s album Stories was an intimate lo-fi affair that contained melancholy overtures that though simply rendered was emotionally powering. Mixed Feelings, which is Alsarraf’s first solo EP, does not stray too far from this initial sound. The tracks on the EP are also minimalistic with sparse instrumentation supporting the vocals. In the singer/songwriter vein, this casts an intimate spotlight onto Alsarraf’s vocal delivery and the simplicity simply magnifies the emotion and power behind these songs.
The artist mentions: “The title ‘Mixed Feelings’ is a bit of a pun about using the music production process to translate feelings and emotions into a mix of recorded sounds. More literally, the songs are snapshots of a sequence of feelings I found myself cycling through during experiences of personal rejection.”
On that note, Mixed Feelings opens up with “Won’t Feel It,” where the acoustic guitar is tethered with Alsarraf’s soaring and moving vocals powers toward the start of the track. This is a stripped-down number, made all the more powerful from its intimate approach. A drumming beat sidles in, creating a more upbeat and vibrant feel. The sound of keys is energized and melodious.
Following is “Back To Sea,” where deft numerating on the acoustic guitar starts off this stripped-down song. Simply rendered, the vocals are made all the more impactful from a back to the basics vibe coming from the lone accompaniment with guitar and vocals. Next, the sound of percussions sizzle in, adding a lively vibe.
Noodling on the guitar provides a pensive feel to “Mixed Signals.” Sounds of percussions traces in. The vocals are silky smooth and vie for your attention while the lush sound of strings underscores this track. The beats are jaunty and upbeat on the closer “Such A Waste” where the rhythms are sauntering and fully charged.
Although some of the songs on the EP leaned more towards pop, some had a more folk, Americana, or indie rock vibe. Alsarraf admits that she is more rooted in mood and energy than genre when she writes. You can see what holds these tracks together cohesively is the theme. Revolving around universal themes of love, heartache and rejection, the lyrics retain a deeply relatable vibe that makes these tracks consistently accessible to audiences.
Alsarraf definitely wears her heart on her sleeve on these numbers. Alsarraf ditches the lo-fi delivery in her previous projects and embarks on a more polished sound. Recorded and mixed and mastered by Mike Dwyer at The Bunker Recordings in Catskill, NY, the professional production really added to the sound on this EP. The vulnerability to Alsarraf’s vocals is really highlighted here, which added to the sensitivity of what she is singing about. That combined with the solid instrumental aspect made for a great album.
Little Us is based out of Connecticut, comprised of Rithya Claude (lead vocals/guitars), Alex Pearson (guitar/vocals), Ethan Johnson (keyboard/vocals) and Kallen Colbert (drums). The band is releasing their latest EP entitled Don’t Let Go of Something Real, You’ll Be Fine.
The band started in 2013 with a group of high school friends who wrote original songs and performed all over the Connecticut area. From 2016-2017, the band went on a short hiatus to then return in 2017 with a revamped sound and inspiration. The band decided on a new direction with an emphasis on touching lives using music written with emotion and a positive message. In this vein, their latest EP is to help people that are going through the struggles of coping with depression, suicide and eventually acceptance. Revolving around melodic rock with influences in classic rock and with a new lifting and positive-geared platform, Little Us does some Big Work, championing mental health issues and shedding light on something that is widely experienced but can be overlooked all at once. Their live acts have garnered them a following with sold out shows at the Webster and Toad’s place. With two music videos and a tour of the east coast underway, this is only the beginning for the band!
“Don’t Let Go” is the opener where electronic beats pulsate with rhythmic steadiness throughout the start of this track. A melodic piano melody also sidles in. Then the sounds of hard-hitting guitars and bass lines pulverizes instantly. The vocal delivery is solid and energetic. The style is revved and fully charged.
Synths sound off on the start of “Something Real” with a relentless sound. The full-on vibe of feedback soon gives way to the revved and bombastic sound of guitars. The vocals are kind of subdued, sung in a soft cadence. The music is pressing filled with a strong sense of urgency. This is a dramatic and driven anthem. Claude sings, “Every days the same, I’m a slowly fading flame / Will this be my fate / Will I be okay.” As the background vocals repeat the last line, Little Us reiterates their call for attention for a pressing issue that millions of Americans have to deal with. The band provides a voice for those struggling with depression and anxiety and through their music, they provide a much-needed outlet for those searching for help.
On the closer “You’ll Be Fine,” a soft piano melody courses through this song as electric guitar riffs pave this track. The song becomes more atmospheric as synths soar in the backdrop. The vocals are spewed in a fast-paced fashion. The sound is energetic and amped with a sweeping and epic sound. An electric guitar solo launches toward the three-minute-a-half-minute mark. The music crescendos many times and the buildup is momentous.
With a sound that blends influences of modern alternative rock with a retro-inspired ‘80s classic rock vibe, Little Us’ inspirations include artists like Hands Like Houses, Picturesque, Too Close To Touch, Sleeping With Sirens, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Issues, Journey and Def Leppard. Their energetic performances are relayed through loosened effects of anthemic-like choruses and driven guitars and bass lines. It seems like their recording translates well onto their onstage presence, as they are gaining recognition in the states of Pennsylvania and Colorado. Their powerful and emotional delivery definitely ignites an adrenaline rush as they are on par with the best live acts in the scene, if their EP is any indicator. Driven and exciting, Little Us is an up-and-coming band to look out for. Be sure you have a listen today!
while walking - while walking
While walking is a duo from Barcelona, Spain that recently released their eponymous album while walking. On the Bandcamp page for while walking it states “We make music playing a double-neck guitar/bass with a loop pedal (Callum) & drums (Ingrid).”.My first thoughts were they sound really full for a two piece band.
The music itself is a mix of rock genres. There seems to be notable comparisons to post-rock bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Do Make Say Think. That being said there are also songs which align more with a band like Interpol.
The band opens with “A new city for the first time” and here we have a very post-punk sounding song. The post-rock flavor is rather subdued here at first until the bright guitars come into the mix.
“We went to Manchester” is where we really get into foundational post-rock in the spirit of Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The mood is darker and foreboding. One of the highlights was “Dear green place” which had some first cool grooves. I loved the jazzy tones and textures on this song. There are some very inventive sounding transitions.
“For our Mothers” is sweet and reflective while “Monday's movie” is a slow burn in a way but also drives. Another highlight was “Happy lights” which sounds like the title. “Carrer Astúries” is quite warm while “Hello Sweden” is the most intimate song.
I actually thought more songs with this type of intimacy and meditative silence would have been interesting. They pull it off really well. “Street art” is wild but very cool and has a psychedelic sound. The multiple guitar lines were ear candy. They close with “Stop and enjoy the view” which melts over you with delay and reverb.
This is a very good album and felt like something fans of post-rock in particular would enjoy. Take a listen.
Secret Towns - Small Hours
Secret Towns is Luke Thornton (vocals/guitar), Matt Petino (guitar), Sam Pena (bass) and Harry Dulaney (drums). The band has only been around for about a year but already managed to release a three-song EP entitled Small Hours. They make some comparisons to bands like Yo La Tengo, Warpaint, Interpol, Real Estate and Grouper. I was a little surprised they didn’t mention the band Clientele because they were the first band that popped into my head - in particular their 2005 release Strange Geometry.
The first song is entitled “Secret Towns” and you immediately hear clean guitars and reverb which gives it the aesthetic that the band Real Estate made ubiquitous. It’s fairly straightforward but well performed as the band creates a warm atmosphere with the music.
They continue with “Hand in Hand’ which is a solid song as well and really deliver into a night time fog type of feel. “Suburban Fog” felt like the highlight. There are hints of post-rock with this song in the spirit of early Explosions in the Sky. I really liked how the drummer dictated the pace of the song.
I remember a couple of years after the band Real Estate released their eponymous album there was a wave of bands that sounded very similar. My only critique for the band is to be aware of that. Since they are so newly formed they haven’t had much time to really discover a signature or singular sound which from my work as a producer over the last twenty years typically happens with a band around two years in, if they find it at all.
The thing I really liked about these songs were how cohesive the experience was. There were only three songs but it felt seamless and if you have read my reviews before you know that is one of the things I look for.
Overall, this was a solid first release from a band with potential. I look forward to hearing more as they evolve.
Bagel Pat - Hello Today (EP)
Bagel Pat is a seventeen-year-old musician/multi-instrumentalist from Sacramento, California. His all-original first EP release Hello Today was recorded, mixed and mastered in his garage using, appropriately enough, GarageBand.
Pat plays all the instruments on the four tracks of Hello Today: vocals, guitars, bass,and drums. Given this instrumentation, and the recording venue, you’d expect, and get, garage-rock/indie-rock music. Lyrically, Pat tackles topics that are interesting to him. For instance, “Wallflower” considers a party from two different viewpoints; “Hawkeye’s Lament” is an ode to a favorite Marvel character (in which Bagel Pat unfortunately name-checks himself).
Clearly, Bagel Pat can play, and there are a number of musical highlights throughout Hello Today. His drumming is solid, and the high-register bass figures are spot-on. Guitar-wise, there is a terrific tripled guitar part in “Unsaid,” and a nice distorted counterpoint in “Hawkeye’s Lament.” Pat touches on a number of different feels, including surf-rock (“Wallflower”) and Clash-type punk (“Unsaid”). The start/stop feel in “Dreary Blue” works well. Guest player James Lopez’s sax solo (“Hawkeye’s Lament”) rocks.
The album falls a little flat, though, with the vocals and vocal melodies. Mix-wise, the vocals don’t cut through as they should. Similarly, the vocal lines generally don’t sparkle--they need a little more attention and development. On the plus side, the a cappella coda to “Hawkeye’s Lament” was a nice touch.
Hello Today is a good start. It takes real guts to write, record and release an album of your own music, and I applaud Pat for this. It’s a challenge doing everything in isolation, though: an artist can lose sight of the bigger picture. I’d like to hear him develop the vocal melodies further and intersperse more texture through differing guitar tones. This is where an outside producer/collaborator/extra set of ears can be very helpful. For future releases, I’d encourage Pat to find, and work with, a trusted friend who can help push his artistry to the next level. I look forward to that record.
Adam Banner - Rarely Wronge
Earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, many artists had to decide whether or not to release their music. With venues closing, it would be harder to gain exposure through live shows. Artist Adam Banner of Oklahoma City went through this same process and decided to release his debut solo album, Rarely Wronge, anyway. But with good reason. Banner began the recording process two years before its release. It was initially slated to be an EP, but it continued to grow until it was of LP length. On top of that, he had a son in the middle of recording. After stepping away from music for his family, he finally finished Rarely Wronge. Given how long it took to complete, Banner decided to release it despite the pandemic’s potential effect on its success.
The album features a full band behind Banner’s tender, alt-country songs. The tunes on Rarely Wronge began as intimate tracks written by Banner alone. The production highlights that. His grungy vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica (on most tracks) shine through over the rest of the instruments. Because of this, the soul of each track comes to the forefront, and the listener is allowed to get a more in-depth view of the stories Banner tells.
Banner’s talent as a musician and songwriter really shine during the quieter moments of Rarely Wronge. “Transatlanticism” is driven by its melancholic piano and lyrics about a distant lover. There’s a tension in the song’s sparse arrangement, but it eventually reaches a dramatic climax that accents the earlier melancholy well. “Goodnight” is another quiet track that highlights Banner’s talents.
The arrangement is similar to “Transatlanticism” with acoustic guitar and piano acting as the driving force. But “Goodnight” has a quiet, droning synth in the background that makes it a powerful track. Rarely Wronge is a consistently written and arranged alt-country album. The singer/songwriter influence shines through on quieter moments, and Banner’s rock vocal style allows the album to go that direction at times without feeling out of place. I recommend you check out this release if you haven’t already.
Jack Bolingbroke, hailing from Adelaide, South Australia, has teamed up with bassist Morris Ewings and drummer Rory Amoy as The Slow Light. They offer instrumental progressive rock with a psychedelic twist, and have released the five-track EP Cinema of the Mind.
Bolingbroke wrote, arranged, recorded and mixed the EP himself while also playing guitars and keyboards. He aimed for an “immersive sonic soundscape with lots of twists and turns in every corner of the stereo field.” He’s hit his mark; there are ear treats throughout the disc, including some field recordings and natural reverbs that are unique to this project. Listeners, be sure to use equipment that images well to achieve full appreciation. Skip the AirPods in lieu of your studio-quality Beats, or blast it out on your old-school speaker stacks.
Prog-rock fans will like Cinema of the Mind. For me, it combines the best elements of say, Joe Satriani and Dream Theater. The songs have Satriani’s musicality and melody, while adding Dream Theater’s keyboard soundscapes, theme development and meter changes. The Slow Light leaves off most of the guitar-hero fireworks and the gratuitous “because I can” time signatures, which I greatly appreciate. Think of the EP like you would a trip to Tijuana: there’s enough grit there to satisfy aficionados of the genre, but not so much that you can’t take Mom for a visit.
All five of the tracks are well-constructed, and sound great. “Fractal Perception”, a short intro cut, gets us started with keyboards and some nice stereo effects. “Dream Sequence” starts with guitar picking over keyboards, then adds bass and drums while smoothly shifting meter. A liner note says, “the record lends itself conceptually to the mind's best effort to justify and perceive various struggles and experiences,” and this track is a good example of that. There’s a lot going on (sonically, melodically, rhythmically)--try to piece it together in your mind, as it ends with a ticking clock.
The third track is aptly titled “Circumvolution” and is one of my favorites. The dictionary defines “circumvolution” as a “a winding movement, especially of one thing around another,” and indeed themes wrap around each other here beautifully.
“Clocks Relapse” is the top pick on Cinema of the Mind. The synths start the theme and hold it down throughout. The theme has enough tone-center ambiguity as to allow many harmonic variations, and the band explores these throughout the track.
I quite enjoyed Cinema of the Mind. Fans of prog-rock--and prog-rock tourists--will find it well worth their time to listen.
Stadia - Mood Ring
Mood Ring is the debut EP from Hartford, CT’s Dylan Healy, recording under the nom de plume Stadia. Healy wrote the five songs, and sings and plays guitar throughout. To fill out the sound, Healy enlisted a strong roster of collaborators: Daniel Carr (drums/bass), Dave Bugnacki (drums/bass), Justin Holden (synths), Ashly LaRosa (backing vocals) and Jack Riley (piano).
Healy chose the name Stadia based on his Dungeons and Dragons character (“don’t judge,” he tells us), and that Dungeons and Dragons influence shows in some of the lyrics. Portals, spawning and “obsidian spells” appear across “Dumb Birds” and “Tiny You in a Prism.” (And when’s the last time you heard the word “parallax”? It’s in here too!) That said, the lyrics are deeper than that: he memorializes his great-aunt’s murder (“Dumb Birds”), and works through different aspects of friendship. To his credit, the imagery in the lyrics is indirect enough that we as listeners are able to form our own connections with the songs.
And the words sound great as Healy sings them against the music. The soundscape builds around nylon-string guitar and the vocals. Holden’s keyboards add depth and some spacey effects, and the bass playing is vibrant and melodic. There’s nothing jarring here, just a smooth, languid wash that fits the mood, or the Mood Ring.
Each of the five tracks works well with each having its own arc. “Dumb Birds” builds well, adding extra vocals and keyboards as the track plays out. In a nice touch, Stadia uses instrumental tones to offer sonic coherence between the songs, particularly through the keyboards. A highlight is “Tiny You in a Prism” which is influenced by the Brazilian music Healy heard growing up. It starts off with a nice 6/8 jazz feel, offers a fine piano solo from Riley, and leads to a cool, shifting-meter ending.
“Trellis” was my favorite track. It’s a modern-rock feel, where the keyboards recall classic mid-‘80s Oberheim tones and the melody is poppy and fun. The start-stop ending works too. Like all the other tracks, the arrangement is tight: every section matters, and Stadia doesn’t natter on just to fill space.
Well done, Stadia. I wouldn’t change a thing, and look forward to your next disc.
Beau C. Diamond is an artist from Bristol and recently released Summer Left In Us. Earlier this year I reviewed his release Compass. I mentioned artists like Nick Drake or Damien Jurado. As I was listening to Summer Left In Us I thought the legendary folk artist Donovan should be mentioned.
The songs are sweet, warm, tender, reflective and heartfelt. This is somewhat the default for most singer/songwriters but there are of course degrees of separation and usually it’s subtle which is the case here.
Up first is “Place To Be” which contains some very beautiful guitar patterns. There are multiple guitars and it might just be the double tracking but it feels like there is a slight delay effect. Diamond’s vocals feel stoic and the comparisons to Nick Drake are in the inflection and delivery. It’s a great song and instills you with a sense of stillness. The song sounds like a plea. Our lives go through stages of chaos and order, and light and darkness. This song to me at least was asking for the light to shine as long as possible.
“Summer Left In Us” is another good song. It’s a little darker and the lyrics felt like prime Donovan. The guitar picking is delicate and nuanced and his vocals stay within a comfortable range. He seems to be a natural baritone.
“Little Rain” felt more melancholy, from the lyrics to the delivery. There is some notable slide guitar and I found the song has some very infectious melodies despite the more somber vibe. Last up is the more hopeful but also reflective “(Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)” which brings with it a sense of salvation. That salvation feels like it in the imagination.
I loved all these songs because of how emotionally resonant they were. This is just raw talent on display. Recommended.
Policy - Echo Chambers
Echo Chambers is the debut album from Policy. The album contains club worthy songs which combine different genres but for the most part the songs are a meld of electronic and pop elements There is a mix of instrumental and vocal led tracks.
The album starts going with “Dee Dee” which has a cosmic and hypnotic quality. There is an arpeggiated synth which induces this hypnotic state. The vocals aren’t a lead but are more so just another element in the song which does give it a ’90s Chicago club type quality.
One of the highlights “Art of Fact (feat. Kelsey Hunter” revolves around a trap type beat, airy synths and much more. The vocals were great and once they arrived it felt like ’80s synth pop which has had a resurgence in the last decade with bands like The Chromatics and Cut Copy. It was hard to tell if the vocals were going through a vocoder or just double tracked but either way it has that quality.
“5x One Star” is atmospheric and a little dark. It felt more like a mood piece you hear in a movie. We start to get into more overt pop territory but not completely with “Run into the Night (feat. Claire Rasa)” although the song does get a bit trippy with a long breakdown during the middle section.
“Head Storm” felt like a wordless ballad that revolves around a good amount of phaser effect, piano and percussive elements. Up next is “Push Pause (A & B Remixx) [feat. Amy Jo Scott]” which is really an upbeat beat pop song with a great hook. “The Oracle (feat. Annastacia Monroe)” is also pop oriented but darker and the chorus feels mystical. I loved how dark the song got at points.
“Mind Knot” gets into Aphex Twin territory but not quite as off-kilter while “My Blind Sides’ is a very ambient track revolving reflective pads and meditative synths. Last up is “Reality (feat. Tina Shest) which is an upbeat song but asks existential questions.
The album is diverse and felt like a mixtape in some ways because of different vocalists and styles presented. That being said I liked the flow from beginning to end and some of the individual songs were gems. Take a listen.
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