Trick Bird - Window
Trick Bird is the moniker behind which Cambridge UK singer songwriter Dominic Kershaw releases his refreshing take on the pop song. I say refreshing because these days pop music has been so twisted into so many different forms with so many prefixes that it’s just nice to hear guitar, drums, and vocals un-manipulated by noise or heavy sampling.
His first release as Trick Bird, Window is a five song EP. The songs were handpicked by Kershaw from dozens he had written over the years. Kershaw recorded the songs at home using digital recording software and a Mac computer. He then had it professionally mixed and then mastered it himself. And right there is where it should have all went wrong, and the production value of Window should sound like crap, the way so many self-recorded digital albums seem to sound these days. But Window is a testament to Kershaw’s production talents as much as it is his musical talents. The album sounds professionally done and definitely makes for a better listening experience.
Kershaw wastes no time getting started on his first five song EP Window. The opening track “Window” is like a sweet and poppy punch to the face. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. A jangly guitar riff is paired with a drum beat that exists purely to keep time. Meanwhile Kershaw’s sing-songy vocals lure to a catchy chorus which quickly lodges itself into your brain. This is followed up by the equally poppy though slightly more rocking “Horizontal View.”
Kershaw experiments with some mild synths and vocal overdubs on “The Great Escape.” But his experiment works much better on the mellow swoon inducing “Chase,” which hints at some of the quirky moments of fellow Englishmen Blur. The experiment doesn’t work as well on the closing track “Sleep all Day (Dream all Night)” which doesn’t contain the fervor of the previous four tracks.
Window is a solid first effort both for the quality of its well-crafted pop tunes as it is for its excellent production value. Any unsigned artist looking to make their first solo recording at home would do well to take a peek through Trick Bird’s Window and get a glimpse of the magic going on behind the scenes.
The Holy Hecks! - The Holy Hecks!
The Holy Hecks, the self-titled debut EP from the Los Angeles quartet, has a bubblegum pop soul, but rolled in soot and iron filings. It's like a strawberry milkshake, shared with your sweetie, laced with a dash of balsamic vinaigrette.
The Holy Hecks is built around the brain trust of Johaina and Elias Crabtree, on lead and rhythm guitar, respectively. Their garage-y psychedelia is fleshed out by Andrew Anderson on bass and Robert Perez on drums. The guitars favor a late-night, shivering, reverb-laden rockabilly romantic sound, with occasional forays into post-punk psychedelia, with gloopy gelatinous flange, as on album opener "Aubade".
The saccharine outweighs the strychnine, from here on out, as The Holy Hecks! venture into slow and moody late-night terrain, a la Mazzy Star or Beach House, on "Aubade", which also features some tasty lead licks from Elias, and some tasteful vocal harmonies that really flesh out the sound and bring it to life.
The Holy Hecks! debut EP is a recorded approximation of their live sound, with only some keyboard overdubs from sound engineer James Haworth. The EP was captured with rough and ready equipment, and heavily compressed, throughout the recording process. This results in a raw, 4-track sound that places this EP more in the 'lo-fi' or 'experimental' camp. But everyone knows most notable records are leaking out of basements and garages these days. If you're looking for radio-ready commercial fare, go watch a commercial.
The Holy Hecks! manage to convey the multiple layers of life in Southern California. Their debut EP is infused with sand and dust; you can practically smell the mesquite, and feel the beating Death Valley sun on your forehead. They also capture the innocence and freedom of the '50s/'60s youth culture paradise.
Think The Handsome Family's soundtrack for the first season of True Detective blended with Brian Wilson's agoraphobic meltdown. They transmit the complexity of living in a place and being young. It's complicated, but the enjoyment of this music is simple and sweet.
Flies - Under The Lid
Flies is the moniker for Stuart Raymond who recently released Under The Lid. Under The Lid is an album that will most likely have two camps of people. Those who like it and those who can’t handle it. The songs on Under The Lid are a highly intense sometimes maddening ride that resembles video game music and can also can make you feel like you ingested too much acid and are living inside a cartoon. The only real artist I can compare this music to is Dan Deacon. In particular his 2007 album Spiderman Of The Rings has a similar feel. You kind of just have to listen to both albums to hear what I’m talking about.
I’m willing to bet Raymond’s music won’t be playing at your local club or sports bar anytime soon but it has its purpose. Under The Lid is certified headphone music because there are so many elements going on. It’s perfect for playing on your train ride to work and imagining the people you are forced to look at are cartoon characters from Bojack Horseman.
For what Under The Lid lacks in identifying human emotion it makes it up in enough sounds that it really doesn’t give you anytime to think. Take for instance the opener ”GOAT!” which is probably around 180 BPM. It doesn’t rely on textures and tones that translate into identifiable human emotion. The song instead feels like you spun around in a circle for about five minutes and were thrown into Pee-wee's Playhouse.
The apprehension that sets in as if you are about to embark on a really bad trip is only intensified with the aptly named “French Toast and Flies”. You may get visions of evil clowns throwing cream pie in your face or if you’re insane may attempt to start dancing along with the beat. For some reason Raymond decided to add another ten songs just to make sure you lost your mind before it was all over.
I’m sure most of you are already listening to this album and probably purchased it for you and your family members. If you haven’t then get on it. Overall, this album is weird, sometimes wonderful and certainly original . Like deep fried pizza it will only appeal to some people but that's what makes the world both beautiful and horribly terrifying .
Armonite - The Sun is New each Day
The road which London classical prog-rock duo Armonite took to form their band was quite a long and winding one. The classically trained composer Paolo Fosso and violinist Jacopo Bigi formed the first incarnation of Armonite in 1996 while in college in Italy. The pair eventually split up with Jacopo moving forward with his career as a classical violinist and violin teacher, while Paolo turned his sights to a career in music administration. Fifteen long years later the pair reunited under their former moniker and began to make music again.
The pair recruited Porcupine Tree bassist, Colin Edwin and Dutch drummer Jasper Barendregt, and recorded all their parts remotely from different parts of the world. And the fun didn’t stop there. The album they put together, The Sun is New each Day, was produced by Paul Reeve, who famously worked with the band Muse, and if that wasn’t enough it was also mastered at London’s infamous Abbey Road Studios. With so many talented people working on The Sun is New each Day, it’s no surprise that the sound quality is outstanding, the arrangements powerful, and each and every note taught as a tightrope.
Right out of the gate Armonite lays out what the main vibes of The Sun is New each Day are going to feel like. The songs are heavily driven by Jacopo Bigi’s electric violin, which is as powerful, if not more so than the guitar on Joe Satriani solo record. The opening track, “Suitcase War” is bursting with power led by the violent violin, though it would be nothing if not for the bass thuds, the whirling keys, and crisp drums which accent the violin driven fugue so well.
“G as in Gears” gets a boost from some spritely electronica and a bit of spoken word from Samuel Gomper's famous speech, “What does the Working Man Want?” and the track “Sandstorm” has a bit of Middle Eastern flair to it, while “Slippery Slope” and “Satellites” have a bit of Gypsy flair mixed with early electronica.
The Sun is New each Day is a brilliant and bold album. Paolo Fosso and Jacopo Bigi along with their mates are talented musicians and without question have mastered their respective instruments. But the sheer power and force of their music deserves to be heard live, which is the only nag I have about such music being listened to through speakers. If you see Armonite on a bill near you, you’d be wise to check them live.
Exit Vehicles - Stages
In May 2014, an up and coming indie band known as Exit Vehicles released a self titled EP that garnered a positive review from The Even Ground writer, Demeria Harris, who spoke highly of the Washington, D.C. by saying “This is the type of band with a unique enough sound to garner a cult like following even if it takes a little time.”
Given what’s happened in the last year or so, Harris was most certainly correct. Since the release of their well received EP, Exit Vehicles have been quite busy. The Capitol Hill Quartet is made up of veteran Twin Brother rockers, Adam and Brian Polan and on guitar and bass, Jacob McLocklin on drums, and Brian Easley, the band’s lead singer who they found by accident on the internet.
Building on the success of their first record, Exit Vehicles went in the studio earlier this year to record their first full-length album, which was christened Stages and released to the record buying public earlier this month. This was a big moment for the group and they celebrated it by playing a special release show on the day the record came out at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington D.C. with other bands from their native scene like Rom and TONE!
Listening to Stages, you’ll hear the sounds of a smooth indie rock band ready to hit the radio. Two of the top tracks on this album would definitely be “Paint” and the album’s opener “Module”. The bass follows the lead guitar part well on “Up All Night” and vaguely sounds similar to material from the Killers. Some have compared Exit Vehicle’s sound to Pearl Jam as well.
It’s easy to see why when you listen to the album’s closing track, “Millennial”, a track which acts as a bit of an homage to post punk and grunge rock and laments about the baby boomers trashing the internet generation and calls out the old guard by saying “it’s our turn to have a go” at running things. This track first appeared on the band’s 2014 EP. Given the song’s message, it’s easy to see why they put it on the album, as it’s got some substance to it.
Stages shows that Exit Vehicles are not just another indie band. They’re a group with something to say and a great sound. If they keep things up, who knows how far they’ll go. If Exit Vehicles keeps making records as good as this one, maybe we can expect to see them make an appearance at next years Pitchfork festival or Lollapalooza.
Valenti - Valenti
The debut album Valenti by Valenti “Funk” Thomas is quite a production He enlisted an impressive array of people including The Effinays’ lead singer Joe “Big Spook” Martinez, hip-hop artist Kedrian “Versatile” McPhearson, touring background vocalist for Erykah Badu, LaLa Johnson and Zach Pohl of the Zach Scott Pohl Band. That is really just the beginning.
Valenti himself is a multi-instrumentalist and was in The Effinays. The Effinays are a funk/reggae band and it’s not that surprising that some of the songs on his album are rooted in funk and reggae. The first thing that came to mind when listening to these songs is that they would sound great live. Don’t get me wrong the production is great but there is something about the groove that makes you want to grab a drink and dance along with other people.
The album starts off with “Irving/Bear Creek” which is more or less an intro. It’s a heavy hitting groove led by a couple of synths. After I heard “Irving/Bear Creek” I wasn't expecting the relatively straight forward reggae of “Party Fiesta.” The spirit of the song is really all in the title. It’s more a less a party in a song.
If “Party Fiesta” is the party then “More Light” is the after-party. “More Light” has a very chill, old school Bob Marley type vibe that eases you into a state of tranquility. There is some fantastic saxophone on this song towards the end that mixes with a number of different elements.
“You” is a bit of an unexpected deviation. It’s a purely instrumental track that is atmospheric and dreamlike. It more or less felt like an interlude into the upbeat, party jam “Same Mo’” that is funky and probably a crowd favorite. “Oh My” is an exceptional song that contains soulful female vocals while “Backslide” has a 90’s r&b vibe. “Chill On The Couch” is whimsical song revolving what sound like a wind flute.
My one minor issue of the album is the disparity of the songs. The tracks don’t feel connected which made it have the feel of a compilation album of different artists rather than the vision of one person. At the very least it will cause some confusion as to what to expect from Valenti in the future since he tackles everything from Reggae to Hip-hop and a lot of styles in between.
Overall, the album was enjoyable because of the stellar production and well written song. Recommended.
Matt Epp - Ready in Time
Matt Epp has led a life that more or less seems to revolve around music. He isn’t a musician that dabbles in everything from digital photography to painting while trying to make a living from it. Epp has released eight albums, and has toured around the world playing his music and doesn’t seem to be slowing down one bit as he just released Ready In Time.
The first thing I noticed about Ready In Time is the stellar production. When you think about music that is feasible for national radio play Ready In Time passes that test with flying colors. The music is warm and every element sit perfectly in the mix. It’s also nice to listen to an album where you can actually hear the lyrics.
I should note that for those who maybe interested in checking out his back catalog he has changed his style quite a bit. Epp used to make music that was minimal, revolving around little more than an acoustic guitar. He leaned towards a country, melancholy singer/songwriter vibe and occasionally added more elements to his music. I have to admit that I really loved some of his older material so encourage you to check it out.
Epp kind of like Taylor Swift has transitioned into pop music. The melancholy is mostly gone and is replaced with upbeat pop songs that have an affinity towards the elements of rock. Epp utilizes a fairly standard palette of guitars, bass, drum, piano and of course vocals. Ready in Time is a diverse album but not so much in style but intensity and delivery. There is something about some of these songs that feels contemporary but also has elements of 80’s rock. For a number of reason I was reminded me of Bryan Adams, the song “jessie's girl “, and even Bon Jovi.
The highlights not that surprisingly were the songs that veered towards the singer/songwriter style like the opener “Aftermath”. The guitar and piano work is exceptional and Epp sounds heartfelt and honest. Another highlight was “Hard To Say.” It’s a gorgeous song that revolves around inspired lyrics, organ and acoustic guitar.
I think many people would agree with me that Epp sounds best with a tinge of sadness. Songs like “Let Her Know” while having some decent moments also have parts that sound too much like predictable bubblegum pop that is marketed towards a very general demographic. It feels like Epp is trying a bit too hard to appeal to everyone under the sun.
Luckily, there are more songs that work then don’t. “Cash and Blood” has a light UB40 type vibe while the closer “North Star” contains a number of inspired melodies.
I think it fair to say that Epp’s departure from songs like “This Old House” and “On My Way” may cause a rift in his fanbase. There will be those who embrace it and those who may not. The great thing about an artist with this many songs is that there is plenty to chose from .
Chaotically Zen - Liquid Diet
In general bands don't debut with a double album for a whole slew of reasons. The main reason is you are trying to establish a solid fan base while not going bombarding them with so much material they are already sick of you. This logic went completely out the window for the band Chaotically Zen whose debut Liquid Diet is an impressive sixteen songs. There is no filler on this album. Every song is a meaty tune with its own vibe.
If there is one word I can say to describe this album it would be "organ". Organ is all over the place and really is the other focal point besides the vocals. It permeates the song and also seemed to be prevalent within the mix itself.
The most obvious reference point to the songs would be The Doors. There are songs such as "Ode To Woman" which sound like The Doors 2.0. The vocalist sounds like Morrison, has similar lyrics to the late poet while also sounding eerily similar to the music. Luckily, the band finds songs which establish their own identity as well. One such song is the exceptional "Lullaby". The vocalist sounds distinctly his own and the addition or orchestral strings was a big plus. I obviously preferred the latter and hope the band continues to establish their own identity instead of going the way of feeling like an homage.
This would be a good time to make notable points. The band from a technical standpoint is tight. There are a number of notable guitar solos, organ parts, etc scattered throughout the sixteen songs. The vocalist also has a number of exceptional performances. Take for instance "Leaving Home" which is a soulful, dynamic performance.
Even though Liquid Diet would have been more effective and impressionable in my opinion if you trimmed some of the fat and were left with best eight to ten songs, it's still a very enjoyable listen.
At the end of the day Chaotically Zen are on a good trajectory but also like most bands in their embryonic stage lack the definition that can catapult a band's presence and make them break. Time will tell if the band can take it to the next level.
Out Of Ashes - Chapters
Out Of Ashes comprised of Hakan (Vocals/Guitar) Florian (Guitar/Backings) Bero (Bass/Backings) and Max (Drums) are a fairly straightforward hard rock/alternative/metal hybrid from Germany. In the US you have heard a very similar type of style hitting the airwaves for about the last fifteen years or so. The emergence started in the post-Creed world where grunge was out and metal was in. In 2015 this format is still popular and bands like Out of Ashes are a testament to that fact.
The admirable thing (yet with varying results) about Out of Ashes that their recent release Chapters approaches a lot of the songs in a different way. The band rarely depends on template and don’t seem to rest on their laurels.
The first song ”Symbiosis” is dynamic song that go from clean guitar picking to heavy distorted power chords without much warning. The song does into death metal territory for brief moments and someone in the band attempts the overused demon like growl we have heard countless times before.
“Et Tu, Brute” best moments are about three minutes when they introduce a sound that might be a flaying archangel. The song does have similarities to the first song in that one guitar slashes away on a distorted guitar and the other picks a melody. “I Robot” is an intense song that has some similarities to early NIN while “In My Arms” in a highlight that contains some of the most unique transitions and impressive vocal performances..
“Android 01” has some stellar drumming and also feels like straight up intense metal which sounded good on the band. They hit a couple of grooves that were exceptional.
“Android 01” is a microcosm for how I see the band. They are at their best when they indulge their pure metal tendencies instead of the pop/metal/hard rock hybrid that we have heard way too often. I have admit The closer “Run Away” left me wondering why they would depart with a song that sounded so different from their other material. Out of Ashes are sending out a confusing message at times but one that can be easily fixed if they start tweaking and refining their sound. Hopefully, the band can really come into there own with their next release.
Lus Sangules - The Wave Show
The is a vulnerability when listening to The Wave Show by Lus Sangules aka John Caldwell. There is something so pure about his delivery even though the recording quality isn’t great (or really isn’t even good) and the songs are often off time that is endearing. It’s like he is saying take or leave it but this is me with no protective coat. There are some inspired moments on the Wave Show and other moments that don’t pan out so well.
Caldwell starts off with 'Why Not Here?' which is one of the best songs and also contains a decent recording. The song which contains banjo, loose percussive elements and possible a piccolo sounds like it can fall apart at any moment in which it often does. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was recorded in one take because it sounds largely improvised. Caldwell sings about the existential curiosity of being from a particular location. He sings, “When the silliness of borders no longer obscures the gradient of everything human Your feet my stop somewhere and you may ask a simple question: 'Why not here?'.”
Things get a bit too sloppy for my liking on tracks like “The Thought of Going” and “A Song from the Beach at Corpus Christi, Tx”. The sloppiness gets out of control on “The Mind of An Old, Fading Adventurer” but it gets so wacky and experimental that the song is enjoyable. That being said the drone like organ that quickly faded in and out gave me a case of vertigo.
The drums and are loud and obnoxious on “The Thought of Staying” as is the dissonant guitar chords. “Northern California” contains some emotional resonance none of the previous songs had. I was vaguely reminded of a fantastic band called Shalabi Effect. There is a stillness and tranquility that none of the other songs possessed. “To the Ones You Meet Out There” is a fairly straightforward song revolving around acoustic guitar, horns and flaying vocals while “Always Serious” is a solid yet off kilter track. He inject dissonant sounds that felt unnecessary. The highlight of the album was the last song “Something Was Missing.” He displays some decent skills on the banjo.
Caldwell will definitely need to do some work in a number of areas if he hopes to make this music thing anymore then then a hobby. I don’t mind lo-fi recording when used properly but the mixes range from harsh to striking on some of these songs. I like the sloppy, falling apart vibe he has going for it but some of it sounds like just that and not in a cool, artistic way like that of a band like US Maple. Caldwell is a couple degrees off from being prolific. He might have it in him with future releases.
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