johnsong - Like A Good Son
To me the best part of reviewing music for No More Division is that I get dealt, at random, albums from unsigned artists from all over the world. I’m not waxing poetic here, though I do fancy myself a man of words, but I really do feel, whether the music I get to hear is good or bad, if I can use such subjective terminology to refer to someone’s hard work and “art,” lucky to be able to hear music that I probably wouldn’t have heard if I hadn’t been dealt these random cards. It makes the big world out there seem just a little bit smaller, and perhaps in that way a little bit more comfortable.
In my tenure as critic for No More Division I have often found myself being the toughest on the genre of the singer-songwriter. When I think back on why I am often tougher on this genre, this lone genre as it were, it is often because I put myself in the shoes of the solo performer; shoes that I wear myself every day.
For the writer and critic, much like the singer-songwriter acts alone. There is no one else on whom to blame our flaws, our not quite perfect offerings. The reason for this is is that I am tough on myself and so for good reason. I want to get better. I want someone to show me where it is I’m going wrong and what I am doing wrong in order to get to where I want to be. Of course criticism is subjective and one must always keep that in mind.
But enough about me, let’s talk about johnsong, the moniker under which Sydney based singer- songwriter John Anthony plays his unflinchingly introspective acoustic songs. Anthony’s strengths are noted right away on his latest four song EP Like a Good Son. On the ballsy finger-picked opener “Two Hounds” wholeheartedly stating “If I am honest then you put me in a jam / can’t seize fit / if I am honest then you’ve really dumbed me down.” He even goes so far as to curse in the next line saying “voodoo shit” which in his straightforward and soft spoken Harry Chapin delivery is quite powerful. By the time one hears the sumptuous broken love ballad “Conniver” one realizes they are in the presence of a brilliantly broken man. The strings come in and Anthony’s vocals erupt with a loving hatred and it’s impossible not to be hooked. Anthony throws a loop on the eerily titled but beautifully R&B tinged “Bleed Out.” He finishes off Like a Good Son with the heartbreaking piano ballad “For the Fall.”
Listening to Like a Good Son reminded me of why I love music. It’s everywhere yes, and some of it is given more hype than it should. But that’s for someone else to decide. I don’t have the power to make people famous. Although I do have the power to point people in the right direction to hear great music that they’re not going to likely find on their own. Right now my finger is pointed at johnsong’s Like a Good Son.
LANessa Long - Lanessa Long
Lanessa Long is an artist form Portand, Oregon with a rich musical background. In 2014 she moved to Los Angeles to study music at the California Institute of the Arts. She has developed her skills as a vocalist, cellist, composer and songwriter. Her recent five-song self-titled Lanessa Long EP showcases some of her talent.
The first thing that stuck with me is what an expressive, dynamic singer she is. She is the opposite of a monotone singer. She puts a boatload of emotion into every word and simultaneously has the ability to change the vibe of the song with her inflection.
Take for instance the opener “Are You Ready For Me?” Her singing style at points feels more prone to a play especially towards the beginning of the song. The song starts off with a saloon style piano and her vocals and I would have been happy with that but she pushes some boundaries as the song progresses. Her lyrics are unapologetic and you get the sense she is in charge here. She sings, “I don’t mess around / Not with the ones that I care about / Do you want to love me out loud? / What do you say, / Are you ready for me, / Are you ready for me? The song eventually starts to rock out which I wasn't expecting but thoroughly enjoyed. In addition to that there are some tasteful use of effects on this song.
“1960” is another testament to her talent. The vocal delivery is fast, fluid and often sassy. The music is jazzy, and slick with a tinge of rock. It’s definitely a different side to her talent that she starts to uncover. “Annie” is even jazzier and has a Fiesta vibe. I loved this song the first time I heard it. The vocals are catchy but it's everything that adds up that makes it such a good track. The vocal harmonies, strings and horns were on point. Fantastic.
“Wild” displays yet another side to Long. She sounds coy at times and other times just belts it out. This may be the single on the EP. She closes with “Deep Blue” which is the cherry on top. It’s a cool with a lounge-y feel that still has some good energy. Her dynamic, expressive vocals are in full effect. She changes the feel with her voice alone at time but it doesn't hurt the music is top notch.
Long has the talent and skill to make a go at it with music. She certainly has a style and as long as she keeps on a good trajectory it will only strengthen over time. This is a great EP and I hope to hear more soon.
Nathan Kim - Moonchild
Nathan Kim is a singer/songwriter from New York who recently released a nine-song album entitled Moonchild. It’s a loose concept about a fictitious character called Moonchild who was based on Kim many years ago. He explains “ moonchild is like any ordinary person that falls in love and feels sadness. However, there's an emptiness inside him that makes him feel like he is from another world.” Truth be told feelings of being isolated, empty and like an anomaly are quite common. In fact I think everyone goes through something like this at some point in their life. I have. I know friends who have and there are probably a ton of people reading this right now that feel similarly. The point is that people will relate to the story Kim is telling.
Musically, Moonchild is quite varied with elements of blues, jazz, pop, rock and R&B. The songs are catchy but some take a little time to sink in while others I enjoyed right off the bat.
He kicks off with “When It Rains On the Moon” which moves at a slow pace and mixes R&B blues and rock. It was an odd choice for an opener in my opinion because of the pace and melancholy. He sings “If I don’t see anyone out walking around, my loneliness is justified /Maybe that’s why I like the winter, ‘cause then I won’t notice that you’re gone.”
The energy starts to pick up with “Lone Blue” which is more or less classic blues rock. It’s a solid song with some notable lead guitar and electric piano. The highlight on the album is “Easier” Kim’s finest moment is during the verse. He sounds excellent in this octave when he sings “Cause it's easier when you are here, no dream could scare me since you were my dream / Yeah it's easier when I can hear your voice when I'm up and when I'm asleep.” This is his best vocal performance.
“Strange Enough” moves really slowly and takes a little patience to get through. It’s a ballad that reminded me of ’50s pop with karaoke. There are some more successes as the album moves forward. He definitely enjoys the slow moving blues jams as he closes the album with the title track.
Moonlight is a solid album with some mishaps and inspired moments. I definitely enjoyed some songs more than others. Check it out.
The Cyrenaics - Snake Oil Woman
Connor Wood (electric/acoustic guitar/vocals/percussion), Wesley Boyd (electric guitar/vocals), Jeff Harper (bass) and Aaron Apaul (drums/vocals/noise/tape loops) are the Cyrenaics. From more or less the band's inception they have been releasing music and a lot of it. Their latest is Snake Oil Woman which is too eclectic to fit into one genre. The band jumps all over the place from avant-garde experimental pieces to more traditional pieces. It’s hard to get a grip on a specific style they are going for but there are some gems along the way.
These songs sound like complete live recordings. I could be wrong but that's the general feel of the songs at the very least. Up first is “Spring Forward” which is one of the more straightforward songs on the album. The song doesn’t have much energy and feels like it is dragging its feet. In fact the singer at times sounds as if he is on a heavy dose of Ambien. It's an odd choice for an opener but was still enjoyable. The next song “For The Birds” picks up a little more energy which is provided by the drums. It’s a well-written song and has a classic ’50s pop feel. The vocal harmonies are the best part.
“Conversations With Your Dog I” is where things start to get a little psychedelic in a most peculiar way. The song has a good amount of energy and would have served as a better opener in my opinion. It sounds as if the singer ingested some helium before he sang but it works to their advantage.
The band goes into a classic blue number with “Women & Chicken.” I wanted to hear the vocals more. They needed to be compressed and turned up in the mix. The seven-plus-minute song “River City Jam-Band” is indeed a jam. It sounds improvised. There are noodling guitar solos that never amount to a significant transition. The band goes off the wall experimental via the twilight zone with “SSD Hotline” while “Blue Eyed Rendezvous” sounds like another unorganized jam/noodle song.
The Cyrenaics are churning out a lot of material but not much of it feels too refined. Some of their songs sounds like skeletons that with some more time and effort could be something substantial. The band has talent and I think their live shows would be cool to see. That being said a little more attention to detail on some of the songs may make a big difference.
C.K. Flach - Morning, Looking East
C.K. Flach is a folk singer/songwriter from Albany, NY who recently released Morning, Looking East. This is an album that really doesn’t need much explanation. Morning, Looking East is a folk album and a simple one at that. Flach strums his guitar, plays some sparse harmonica and has some female accompaniment of the song.
Morning, Looking East is a solid album. The good outweighs the not as good but let's start with the latter. I’ve mentioned this plenty of times in my critiques that sparse albums like this need some versatility and it has to come from somewhere. Morning, Looking East relies on the same elements on each song. While this can be good to an extent it can start to feel mundane. Flach strums his songs in a very similar way in each song. It’s not only that, but each song has a strain of melancholy which feels interchangeable if not a mere couple degrees different. My point is I would have liked to hear more peaks and valleys on this album. Some distinctly different guitar picking and more distinct shades of emotion than melancholy would be a good start.
The strongest thing about the album are the vocals and lyrics. Flach isn’t exactly a dynamic singer by any stretch of the imagination. He stays within the same octave for most of the album. I think he knows where he sounds good and comfortable and that’s fine by me. The last thing you want to hear is a singer who stretches his vocal chords past their ability to work. From a purely aesthetically perspective I enjoyed the tone and texture of his vocals. I also thought the strategically used female vocals were a nice addition.
The album is a concept/story album that tells the tale of a man’s birth, life and death. Truth be told I don’t think I would haven’t figured this out if I wasn’t told. The lyrics are sometimes ambiguous, poetic and you will need to do some scrutinizing to put together that there is an interwoven story between the ten songs.
The songwriting is so consistent and similar that I had a hard time finding highlights. Suffice it to say it may take multiple listens for individual songs to stick out. Although since this is a concept album maybe it's better that way.
Morning, Looking East is far from perfect but it works because of the crafted storytelling and pleasant aesthetics. I will say that if you are in the mood for something a little more somber this could be your ticket.
Water City - Real Bad Women
Being a woman is confusing enough in the modern world,with absolutely everybody and every institution having an opinion on what kind of woman you should be, what you should like, your lifestyle, your moods and, ultimately, your mind.
These identity battles are hard and challenging for everybody, but triply so for trans-women, struggling against societal prejudices and deep-seated fears and phobias every step of the way. Real Bad Women by Minnesota singer/rapper/producer Water City explores not only what it is to be a woman, not just a trans-woman, but, most importantly, herself. It's a brave, unflinching and uncompromising look at a lot of hard subjects in a VERY sensitive world.
This candor is what makes Real Bad Women so important, no matter if you agree with Water City's philosophy or not. Actually, it's not guaranteed that Water City is even advocating for some of what she sings about, or merely showing a slice of society. "Drill Me Down (The Sissy Chant)" is the most striking example of this, detailing the desires of someone looking to be abducted and feminized. It's a shocking listen, spelling out the deepest, darkest desires. Sexual fantasies, desires and taboos are some of the hardest and touchiest subjects out there, making them almost impossible to talk about. Whether they're autobiographical or not, there are a lot of people out there - of all genders - with fantasies like these. It is part of art's role to discuss these depths, no matter how hard, how controversial. Otherwise, how else will we know what's out there?
Musically, Water City favors a raw, lo-fi trap, witch-house or future pop template. Simple, thudding kick drums and scintillating synth arpeggios create a loose web of sound behind Water City's harrowing, psychosexual psychodramas.
On "Sanctuary Mind,” Water City speak-sings, "Girls like me are of a lower station / girls like me can't expect to get married / Just a freak with impossible expectations." Lines like these suggest a deep self-loathing. It's one of the things about fantasies and desires - they are a window to the mind and to the soul. And while it is impossibly brave, powerful and useful to explore and be honest about these feelings, it is important to not linger there. At the very least, it's important for Water City to know that there are plenty of people out there who would love to introducer her to their family friends. Of course, if she's happy in the margins, that's cool too. Or even better still - how about the best of all worlds?
If only more of the music that pretends to be edgy and boundary-pushing were even 1/10th as dangerous, real, raw, powerful and honest. This is more metal than metal, punker than punk - kinkier than noise and more real than hip-hop, while still having hooks to sing to and beats to sway with.
Tommy Dow (vocals), Eric Wagnblas (drums), Gerry Forte (guitar), Carrie Horvath (bass) and Tony Pereira (guitar) are Feed The Pigs. These badasses from New Haven, Connecticut play old school, unpretentious rock on their album Beer Gut Rock n' Roll. This is the kind of rock that really defines what rock was about back in late ’60s and ’70s. Rock with some attitude, songs that were supposed to stick it to the man and some seriously crunchy guitar.
There are a number of bands that came to mind when listening to Beer Gut Rock n' Roll. Suffice it to say if you can get down with a band like Motörhead or Led Zeppelin you will like what Feed The Pigs offers. Let's get a couple of things straight about this band. They can play their instruments like pros. From the Jon Bonham style drumming to the intense guitar action the band is on point and in the pocket.
The band opens with “Split By Two” which is an opener that establishes their sound. I loved the vocal work and Jimmy Page-esque guitar riffs. This is the song you hope to hear at 2:00 am in a crowded bar.
They do not let down the intensity with the next track “One of These Days.” The song is somewhat hopeful and I also thoroughly enjoyed the ripping guitar solo. As the album progresses the band doesn’t play any ballads or slow songs. They continue to rip it up with songs like “Immortal Curse,” “Into The Wind” and “SMUT (Show Me Ur Tts).”
I wouldn’t go as far as to say the band is a one trick pony but the songs come from the same ilk. Pure rock. Feed The Pigs isn’t the first and they aren’t the last to pay their respects to some of rock's most prolific artists. That being said they are one of the bands who do it right.
The Corridors - End of the times
End of the Times is an ironic title for the third studio album from The Corridors comprised of Adi Mosko (vocals/guitars/keyboards/back vocals/bass/programming/acoustic guitars/percussions), Roi Tal (bass/back vocals), Daniel Nahmod (guitars) and Peleg Mor (drums). The reason I say this is because these songs aren’t gloomy, nihilistic and depressing. In fact they are quite the opposite. Regardless of the lyrics, the music and melodies have a optimistic, hopeful air about them not too far off from U2 or Doves.
At their heart this is a pop rock band. They play songs they you could hold a lighter to in an arena or sing along to. It really is not much more complicated. The band sticks to the basics implementing mostly 4/4 time with a good amount of major and minor chords.
The band is a rock band through and through but also isn't afraid to dabble with a synth on occasion. Although it's usually just atmospheric. They open with an anthemic song entitled “Stop the World.” It's hopeful yet definitely has a tinge of melancholy. Lyrics like “Something In our hearts is missing” feels like a declaration not only to the band but to everyone listening.
The band gets more optimistic with “Face The Ground.” They also introduce some levity. The band doesn’t feel heavy here. I was reminded of early Primal Scream and The Stone Roses. “Delicate Condition” is a fun rock song while “Just like The way she Thought it will be” is more atmospheric and contemplative.
The lyrics on “End of the Times” are pretty bleak. At least the music on this song is quite the opposite. He sings, “Future is gone / Something is going wrong / Nobody feels anything anymore It's the end of the times.” The song has a short section that makes you think for a second they went electronic.
The band closes the second half of the album strong. I especially enjoyed “I'm on fire.” The horns towards the end are excellent. They close with “Wild as a River” which relies on arpeggiated synth. I wasn't expecting a song like this to close out the album but I enjoyed it.
End of the Times might not be all that bad if we have uplifting music like this LP along the way. Recommended.
Jonny Phillips is a British acoustic songwriter from Dorset, South England. Phillips recently made the decision to begin a solo career, as he is additionally the principal songwriter for Indie folk group Willowen.
The Great Train of Thought Robbery is an apt name for this four-track EP, brimming to the surface with introspective, quirky and often emotive lyrics. “This Keeps Happening” is an acoustic opener which employs elements of R&B - such as choppy, hurried instruments and crisp melodies. The highlight is Phillips’ fluctuation between a beautifully-fragile voice and deep, powerful tones nearer the end of the track.
Without much warning, “So Hard To Read” bursts forth from the EP; reggae-styled guitar and sustained organ chords blend unexpectedly well. Intriguingly-mismatched lyrics cut through this noise, as they question: “Am I here? / Am I there? / Frankly, I don’t care.” These dark, introspective thoughts are masked by Phillips’ uplifting vocal melody; ceaselessly guiding the track towards an optimistic close and promise of light at the end of the tunnel.
“Mr. Investor Man” is a tongue-in-cheek song about the music industry. The lyrics are blunt and lacking in subtlety, but that was evidently Phillips’ intent. Whilst this flavor of song can often be grating, a smooth strumming pattern coupled with a light-hearted, chirpy melody forces all the elements of the song to embrace and create a satisfyingly-fun piece.
The Great Train of Thought Robbery is a creative EP in terms of Phillips’ songwriting skills and musical delivery. I hope, in the future that he may expand on stylistic ideas tinkered with at moments on the four tracks. Phillips delves into the pond of reggae and R&B, but I hope he will strive to push even further. When it works, he brings passion and thought-provoking lyrics to even the most simple of acoustic melodies.
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Jason Matkin - Forget the Dark
Music seems to run through Jason Matkin’s veins. In high school, Matkin taught himself how to play the electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, drums, ukulele and mandolin. Since the age of eight, Matkin has also been playing the piano, thanks to his mother, a former professional choir singer from South Korea. These skills have been put to use on his debut album, Forget the Dark, a refined, yet emotionally stirring and raw album.
On Forget the Dark, Matkin is unabashedly youthful. Evident from his lyrics, Matkin constantly absorbs his surroundings like a sponge. This album seems to be an outlet for everything he has retained and is desperate to release. His musical talent forms the backbone for this acoustic, singer songwriter album, but through lyrics, Matkin makes his statement.
This album sounds like a recently scabbed wound that remains itchy on the sides as it heals. Each track on Forget the Dark expresses vulnerability, and often, sadness. Through this vulnerability, Forget the Dark is deeply personal, but also relatable. It forces the listener to re-evaluate their own past experiences and relationships, feel the feels and get a bit salty eyed. So be warned.
Lyrically, Matkin sounds like a softer Ben Howard, The instrumentals remind one of Wake Owl or the Lumineers. On the track, “Hide Away,” Matkin sings that “silence is a virtue because the things we say are untrue and the honest are the ones who rose so high.” These lyrics represent themes of uncertainty and path-finding present on the album.
Matkin expresses his struggle to understand himself all while dealing with the hazards on the bridge between youth and adulthood. On occasion, Matkin’s lyrics verge on being overworked, with a few too many metaphors, similes and idioms, which can come off as cliches.
This fall, Matkin will be a junior at the University of California, San Diego. At the age of sixteen, Dave Matthews described him as “clearly an accomplished songwriter.” Matkin undisputedly has talent and youth on his side. It will be exciting to see where he goes next.
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