HMS ASH - Songs for Sinking
HMS Ash is a bedroom indie-rock band (bedroom indie?), based in Adelaide, Australia. Their first release Songs for Sinking is an experimental debut about validating the way people feel after experiencing trauma. The three-man band features Rory Hellwig (vocals/guitar/tape loops), Thomas Fenner (bass/backing vocals/synth) and Axel Heinrich (drums/backing vocals), as well as three other artists on trumpet, clarinet and backing vocals. HMS Ash got their start in high school, then known as the Bad Boy Teenager Club. Playing live shows, the trio went under the name Mum Said Yes. Musical influences include the groove of Mac DeMarco, the lo-fidelity of Modest Mouse and the atmosphere of Mount Eerie. Songs for Sinking is described as a “groovy, lo-fi indie album that is equal parts atmospheric and experimental.” Their next album is already in the works, as the group makes plans to record sometime in the second half of the year.
“Grooving in the Goo” sounds just like that – groovy. My first impression of this one makes me think of the Velvet Underground meeting up with The Lovin’ Spoonful, but with less rock and pop and a more psychedelic vibe. “Between Waves” starts out with wave sounds and some guy narrating things about dreams, and that’s it. “Mr. Woolworths” begins with a fast tempo a few bars in, and then drops down to a slow and playful beat. The bass line and guitar carry the main melody in this echoing, jangly number. Heinrich’s taps a rhythm on the snare rim and hi-hat in a dynamic way – each member partaking in some kind of jam fest. “Tarot” offers a funky off beat and a guitar sound that sounds like summertime, along with a trumpet played by James Chapman and backing vocals by Alex Olle. For me, this one jived together so well – I liked it a lot.
“Dreamlike Days” definitely makes use of the band’s lo-fi interest and I think that without the way in which this song was produced, I don’t think it would be as enjoyable or charming. I mean, every instrument just evoked a mood. Oh yeah, this one has trumpet in it, too. “Rains of Yaegi, Pt. 2” starts off with hard rain sounds, muffled talking and humming from somewhere. “Masquerade” was a fun song to listen to, simply because of the juxtaposition of the three main instruments and the clarinet, played by featured artist Seb Walker. This one was quite eclectic – styles of art rock, jazz and lounge all come through. Another one of my favorites no doubt. I thought the most mysterious song on the album was “Part of It” probably because the band just has a peculiar sound and approach to this tune. My closest comparison would be early Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett.
“Snow” ends the album in a low, atmospheric way. The bass drum and brushes slowly move a beat while a synth and a Theremin take hold of an eerie sounding melody. It’s quite an instrumental trip. The band briefly kicks up a faster tempo and then switches back into a trippy ambiance. Brian Wilson probably would’ve wanted to do more of this kind of thing as a side project, but these kinds of songs didn’t go over well on ‘60s pop music radio. Well, according to his father anyway.
For the most part, HMS Ash is a highly creative band that give themselves a lot of room for experimentation. Songs for Sinking is no exception. I might add that the album’s title is very apt, as I felt like their songs put me in a mellow, “sinking” kind of mood.
Hearse House - Hearse House
Hearse House comes from the southeast region of New Hampshire and is made up of Landon Loveday and David Steadman. The duo writes American folk music and their brand of American music is best described as mid-tempo, lo-fi, big sky, blues folk – a “moonlit daydream” as you will. Loveday’s “unapologetic rhythmic riffing and flat picking create a rock steady canvas for Steadman’s slide guitar, vocal and his abstract imaginative stories.” Most of the songs on their self-titled debut Hearse House were recorded in Loveday’s home in Manchester; the one exception is “Sweet Girl” which was recorded live at Steadman’s home – (a 1985 Scottie tow-behind camper doubling as Hearse House’s creative space). I’ll say for the record, the band’s album cover is creepy as hell, but strangely appealing.
The lo-fi, buzzing amp and fuzzy, echoing guitar certainly gives the listener images of a rustic American folk soundscape on the band’s opener “Bear and Vulture.” The quality of sound, production and all that comes with recording feels so real, so honest on this beginning song – that if I was a TV producer and my network’s number one show was a post-Civil War cowboy western, I’d snatch this tune right up. “Broken Will” begins with rolling guitar chords and more of Steadman’s haunting slide guitar. In terms of the vocals, the pair’s tones – one taking the lead at a higher range and the other a low, brooding baritone – are a match made in heaven. “Letter to Our Leader” carries on the duo’s storytelling mystique and chilling, American dusty folk sound. The song’s words echo a plea “help me to save this life.”
“Ghetto” features deeper, more stirring guitar chords as if the guitar itself is telling a sad, dark story. I believe the band is singing on the chorus, “My mind is Ghetto – it’s always been” – phew! that’s downright sad, my friend. After this fourth song in, it hit me – whoever is singing lead vocal – his tone and the way in which the tune was delivered, reminded me of Chris Cornell – but make no mistake, way less screamy and scratchy than the former singer for Soundgarden. On the next tune “Sparrow” the duo delivers a low down, gritty and blues-ish style. Very moving. Lastly, there is “Sweet Girl” – you can definitely hear the “live” sound on this one, and yeah – it sounds damn good. Lyrically, I think the song is about a girl’s wedding day. What stood out for me here was the acoustic solo, whereupon I could distinctly hear the rhythm of the other acoustic. Perhaps because this number is the band’s longest song, it naturally gave them the freedom to do a solo.
If you ever need a dose of American folk music that has with it an alluring style and haunting presence, as if from another era, check out Hearse House.
Become A Fan
Clusters Of Fornication is a project from Sean C. Cook. He recently released a self-titled four- song EP Clusters Of Fornication. His music blends music like post-punk and new wave that came from the late ’70s and early ’80s. The music is dark and misty not unlike Joy Division or The Cure but there are also plenty of early dance MIDI sounds that bands like New Order embraced.
His music certainly feels like an homage to that era from the production, aesthetics and even the monotone vocal delivery that was made popular by Ian Curtis. The first song is entitled “Catacomb Song” and Cook mentions that “the act of saying goodbye to a dying loved one is addressed.” This is a dark but dance worthy song that sounds like it could be coming out of a dance club at two o’clock in the morning. It’s a catchy song and covered in the aesthetics from that period.
Up next is “Styrofoam Flurries” which is a little more bleak and like a synth heavy funeral march. The electronic drums keep a steady 4/4 beat while pads float around. Cook’s vocals don’t have the slightest bit of levity.
“Beacon” is the most upbeat track yet. Cook continues to utilizes a similar palette of sounds however and creates a very cohesive experience. It’s also arguably the catchiest song in the batch. “Earth Warden” is the closing track and perhaps the most contemporary sounding. The sounds and production felt a little closer to NIN. This makes sense as Trent Rezor was heavily influenced by bands like New Order.
This EP felt like a salute to an amalgamation of bands that were connected by vision and vibe. If I heard the music without knowing when it was released I probably would have said 1980. Recommended.
Doctor Offbrand - First Words Ever
Doctor Offbrand is a softcore punk four-piece band from Saint Louis, Missouri consisting of musician Hannah, vocalist Eddie, drummer Kevin and guitarist Raine. Having met writing music in high school, the band has since played in various house and benefit concerts. Now Doctor Offbrand is breaking in the local scene by performing alongside fellow musicians. In 2018, the band released their first single “Kiddos.” Now in 2019, they’ve taken the next by dropping their first album First Words Ever, available now off streaming platforms.
First Words Ever opens with the mellow track “Hello.” In unison Eddie, Hannah and Raine sing the chorus beautifully. The laidback vibe keeps the intro simple, not needing any dynamic instrumentation necessary. Doctor Offbrand switches gears to a much more energetic track with “Soppressata.” Hannah starts things off and showcases her chops throughout the song before Eddie takes over. “Unrequired love, pair of rubber gloves. Ninja turtles, jumping hurdles.”
The next few songs all have the same themes of growing up starting up with “Mighty Human Beings.” The guitar riffs and chorus try to make this into a rock song. But the edge is gone with lines like, “We may not have a lot. We may make mistakes. But my dad makes pancakes on Sundays.” Luckily the following track “Kiddos” accomplishes its goal of capturing the spirit of being a kid while adding a punk flare. It is an anthem for ’90s babies who are grappling with adulthood while looking back at the fun times memories of childhood. The chorus is upbeat and very catching, “We were the kids 2000s! We were the kings of the couches! We were hanging out TV screens! Going on adventures for hours!”
After being a child comes “Adulthood.” Doctor Offbrand shares the growing pains of being a young adult that everyone can relate to. From drinking cold coffee, to checking bank accounts to wanting to sleep in - realities can hit you fast. And while responsibilities stack up, it’s useless to feel helpless. You might as well accept this is what life is now. “Mowgli Boy” has a dance vibe to it that you can move to. Yet the message is still the same: wanting to be free from a social conforming system that is in place. Credit to drummer Kevin and trumpet player Brendan Solis for keeping the beat of the song fun and engaging. “Continue (Y/N)?” closes out the album with a voice that is desperate and emotional backed by chord progression from “Hello” played in reverse. Its title and placement hopefully foreshadows the progression of the narrative Doctor Offbrand has started, perhaps on the next album.
First Words Ever is the perfect title of this album. The majority of the album was written when the members were getting ready to graduate high school. The overall theme the album reflects is about childhood, growing up and taking care of yourself. The band is young and naïve but sincerely reflects on age experience while dealing with the joys and frustration that a new phase presents. They never want to comply to capitalistic pressures. First Words Ever also provides bright melodies that you can dance to with delay and flange effects and dual vocals with multi-part harmonies. They sound similar to The Rentals, Plumtree and The Pillows which is why they labeled themself “offbrand.”
Jacob Donham - Blue Ochre
Jacob Donham is an artist from Asheville, North Carolina who recently released Blue Ochre. The album is primarily folk with a good amount of Americana and rock in there as well. The music felt somewhere between Wilco and Bill Callahan.
Donham’s vocals were pretty unique to my ears. He has a deep voice and his delivery is sincere but it also feels like he is laying off the affectation.
The first song is entitled “Waves” and starts with acoustic guitars and vocals. I thought the guitars sounded warm and crisp. The vocal melody is memorable as the song builds subtly with shimmering cymbals and flickering keys. Those sort dynamics run throughout the song.
Up next is “Old/New” which drives a little more. The chorus is absolutely infectious and runs deep. There is a CCR vibe here as well as some Neil Young. The lyrics are also clever and often funny. I liked the lines about Taco Bell.
“Doomsday Parade” is up next and is perhaps the highlight. The song is very catchy and has a saloon type pf sing-along vibe. I thought the female vocal harmonies were a nice addition on the chorus. “Caves” was another highlight. The song gets a little psychedelic with blaring lead guitar and a very epic sounding chorus. “Space Monkey” was a side step. It feels sort of silly but I thoroughly enjoyed the piano led song which has a back and forth between the two vocalists.
The album sort of gets back on the track with the beautiful and atmospheric “Thin Air.” I liked the weird sort of cosmic vibe that was happening. The guitar was getting some interesting tones and textures. There are more good times to be had with “Room on the Moon” however the closer “American Dogs” is by far the most reflective and melancholy song in the batch.
This is a great album. There is plenty of variety but also an undeniable flow to the songs. Recommended.
SääD - SääD
Made over the span of two years in Sydney, Australia SääD is as ethereal as it is contemplative. The Arabic word where the moniker comes from translates to happiness, success, and prosperity. This is the perfect music to set the scene to a contemplative practice. The vocals remind me of Bon Iver, and the mood is a bit like a slowed down Royksopp.
I felt the self-titled album SääD had different distinct emotions in three parts. In the first three the melancholy is ever-present. It wants to lift you up but it invites you to sit in the discomfort so that the next stage feels quite different.
The album opens with "Sinking Suns" which is beautifully haunting. It's quite ambient and the music works together as if it's one big wave. There is quite a lot listen to if you want to explore the textures of white noise in the background."Ghost of My Heart" is a little more uplifting while also being stunning melancholy and ethereal while utilizes harp, pads and hypnotic patterns.
The second set of songs, opening with "When It's Cold Outside" has a hint of Sigur Ros and crescendos into more major chords, fewer minors. A conversation of gentle transition that prepares us for "Underneath the Wave," that definitely brings the imagery of waves, water and a rising theme. We then go into a cycle of completion and discord with "Twilight Fades."
"Rest Your Eyes" felt like an invitation to take a breath from the rising and falling of the second act of the album. A calming integration. The last two songs in the final act of the album feel like a separation. I adore the harp, piano and electric ambiance that plays in "Hard to Watch You Falling." Everything comes to a full circle completion with "Taking Chances." The vocals are bright, clear, and the piano acts as drums.
This is an exceptionally gorgeous album. Highly Recommended.
lavender sky - secret place
Lavender Sky is a band of grad students at the University of Hawaii. They met while staying in dorms and recorded this EP entitled Secret Place. The songs are lush love songs and actually do have this sort of serene, tranquil quality that you might associate with Hawaii.
The first song is called “Secret Place” and the music on this song has a bit of a noir feel to it. It’s mysterious and sounds a bit like some you might hear in Twin Peaks. The lyrics however are straightforward and about lost love. I liked the way the utilized reverb and how it changed the mood when the chorus arrived.
Up next is “Border” which has more of an indie rock feel but they also seem to utilize pads and orchestral strings. It's a catchy song and the vocalist sounds really good on this track. “This Is Love” is very dreamy, tranquil and atmospheric and one of the songs that made me think it was about Hawaii. The band did a great job with instrumentation on this track. The bass is smooth, the guitar is vibrant and the percussion is implemented only when it needs to be.
“Stronger Than Pride (Sade Cover)” is a song they made their own and it fits with the sounds they are experimenting with on this release. “Nothing to Lose” is a great song. The bass and drums really drive this song with the clean guitars and pads providing the atmosphere. I also thought the vocals were again really well done. The vocalist has a great voice and there are plenty of memorable melodies. The close with the subdued and sleek “Secret Place.”
This band really grew on me the more I listened. In fact I hope as they continue their studies that they also make music because they sound great together. Take a listen.
GEt Set Go - Burning In The Rain
Burning In The Rain” is the second single off of Go Set Go’s upcoming release. The first single he released you can check out here and it is worlds away from “Can't Last Forever.”
This song revolves around guitar, piano and vocals and is a soft and warm ballad. It’s an intimate performance and had a similar emotional residue to a song like “Dust in the Wind.” On top of being warm and soft it’s also haunting.
I really loved the way the piano and guitar worked together on this song. The guitar picking is hypnotic while the piano playing feels like it coming from the romantic classic era. I haven’t even mentioned the lyrics yet which are poetic and visually stimulating but also lean towards melancholy. Mike TV sings “the fire in my head / is raging as it spreads / and it’s burning me down.”
This is a very heartfelt performance by Mike TV. He sounds really good even as he tries to hit certain notes that he can just barely get to without cracking. The shifts in energy are subtle in the song from the way the piano is played to how a certain note is sung.
Suffice it to say the two singles released so far sound like worlds apart. The first was a fun, relatively chipper alternative rock and then we get a beautiful ballad like “Burning In The Rain.” I for one am interested to hear what other surprises might be around the corner.
SCENARIOT - Worlds Within Worlds
SCENARIOT is a progressive rock band from Melbourne, Australia. Worlds Within Worlds is their follow up to 2017’s debut Scenariot. The new album establishes the band's intent to challenge the alt prog rock genre and develop their songwriting and musical creativity. The record was recorded on a Mac computer using nothing but ProTools. The band states that they continue to evolve and that their latest release is a testament to their originality and versatility. Songwriter Michael Totta explains the album’s concept: "the main theme reflects the unknown and fragile world often hidden behind smoke and mirrors. The music and lyrics were inspired by a blend of personal life experiences and how the world has changed over the last few years. The theme uses a fusion of different ideas to tell i's story, including alienation, trust, improbable hope and an evil and destructive computer code." Totta also plays guitars/keys, Dan Swan is on vocals and JP Glovasa on bass, with the addition of drummer Greg Stone, who adds a new dynamic and feel to the band.
The album’s title track opens with a tight progressive sound. Stone’s drums are crisp and clean and the play between Totta’s guitars and keys go from light and airy to dense and aggressive. The lyrical content of this opener reminds of something from Rush’s “Grace Under Pressure” or the phase in the Canadian trio’s career that was a mix of electronic synth and more ‘80s progressive rock. Like the previous song, “Upsilon-7” starts with electronica type beats and clean sounding guitars, and then switches into fifth gear tenseness a la distorted guitar. The guitars certainly sounded like they had a heavy metal edge to them. The pairing between the band’s metal and imaginative electronic/progressive styles was quite good. The acoustic beginning on “Fade Away” with light strings playing in the background, then switching into a format of a metal ballad offers the listeners another side to SCENARIOT’s unique talent.
I really like the “jaggedness” to “Sea of Fire” both in the way the drums begin and continue throughout most of the song, Totta’s catchy guitar riff and Glovasa’s low end bass lines. The guitars get really edgy and tight during the break. Next up is “This Hope” – a nearly seven-minute song that begins with fantastic synths and then, boom! – in your face distortion. Stone really goes to town here with his drum fills as well! Over two-anda-half-minutes in, Dan Swan starts singing with his clean and clean tenor. He sings about a hope that seems to be waning – “I’m trying to survive / I will try to hold on / But I’m slowly falling.” What I liked best with this tune was pretty much everything – each member of the band was giving it their all, and I think that comes out strong in the way the song was written and arranged.
Glovasa’a beginning bass lines on “Last Doubt” were insane and you’ll hear more of Stone’s dynamic off beats. What really caught my attention – and I don’t even know how to explain this properly – but the band goes off into this strange time signature (if that’s the correct term), somewhere around the two-and-a-half-minute mark. Remarkable!
“Vortex” features a faster tempo and frenzied sound and crazy, rapid drum fills. Swan sings, “So slow my body lost inside this black hole / It draws me in” adding to the intensity of the song’s rhythm. The group goes off into this riff, along with the keys, playing together for a few measures – not one tight note or beat was out of place. “Mysterious Skies / Afterlife” begins with a terrific soundscape style, complete with keys and spacious guitars, and mixed electronic drums. Glovasa effortlessly plays the bass, like he was a stand in for Geddy Lee and again, the band goes into this crazy off beat that makes me wonder how in the world they played it. Mixed with edgy guitars and ethereal synths, this last number really showcases the group’s strong progressive style very well.
Overall, Worlds Within Worlds was an exceptionally cohesive album, both thematically and musically, and it was well produced.
drew flippin - all pity. no party
drew flippin is an artist from Chicago who currently resides in the Ukrainian village. I actually lived in that area a couple years ago and recorded music there as well. This artist did the same thing.
all pity. no party. is his release and is a mix of lo-fi Americana folk and indie rock. The themes are diverse and felt tongue-in-cheek while others were more sincere. Up first is “my brain made me do it” which is a one-minute song that really felt like it could have been longer. I suppose it was an intro but stopped after the first verse.
Up next is “mcdonald's fries” which sort of feels like a stream of consciousness walking around Chicago when it comes to lyrics. I can relate to it as I’ve lived in Chicago for quite a long time. The song is cathcy, fun and clever but so lo-fi at times the mix begins to buckle.
“nobody's fool” has a very classic Americana feel not unlike a band like Wilco. It’s a solid song as was “indifference” which is a sort of mopey indie rock song. I thought the highlight was “i can explain.” First of all the recording is much more improved on this track but it's also the artist at his most sincere. I thought the way he delivered the vocals on this song was heartfelt, tender and the most emotionally resonant.
“reverse the curse” is a good song, a really good song and reminded me of Pavement. “sensitive type” sounded a bit like early Mogwai while “canberra” goes back into folk Americana.
As a recording engineer myself the one issue I had revolved around the quality of the recordings. The recording quality and sonic imprint which can be changed with tools EQ, multi-band compressors, M/S signal and more was different on every song and there were moments where the high frequencies overwhelmed me. I understand recording is expensive but in cases like this I think working with a mastering engineer is invaluable. Chicago actually has some of the best mastering engineers in the world one of whom I work with all the time.
The mix of Americana folk and indie rock sounded good and despite the lo-fi recording the songwriting came through. I became a fan of his music and hope to hear some more of his work in the not too distant future.
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