Sam Joole - Shapeshifting
For the last decade Sam Joole has been touring, making music and fully immersing himself as a musician. On his journey he has built an appreciation for a myriad of styles and it shows on his latest release Shapeshifting. I am usually not a huge fan of artists jumping from style to style on an album but Joole pulls it off if only for the reason of the exceptional delivery, songwriting and production.
There are a number of highlights amongst the batch of songs. The first song was “Poverty Blues” which sounds like a mix of Vampire Weekend, Paul Simon’s Graceland and Brazilian music. I really think you have to be one jaded individual to not appreciate this song. It bursts with life, energy and puts you in a festive mood within the first thirty seconds. “Poverty Blues” is perfect for a party where people may want to dance or just talk with the music in the background. It has enough of a beat to dance to but isn’t obnoxious like EDM can be.
Joole sings, “Jonny walked into the town. He looked into the house of holy`s and he started to frown / Jonny looked at the horizon and he sang about the day when all his pains and problems would just start to fade away / He was caught up in the cycle, of the poverty stricken blues.”
Joole pulls off Django Reinhardt style guitar playing on “Hollywood.” You can picture people dancing during prohibition and I thoroughly enjoyed the violin, walking bass line and Joole’s vocals. It’s top notch. Then you have a song like “Reality Show” which is folk/pop and showcases another side of Joole that somehow he pulls off. It contains some of the most infectious vocal melodies. He sings, “you remind me of the girl next door. Now you'll please me like you couldn't before share your soul on my reality show. A 15 second superstar. She`s happening again.”
Joole even takes on reggae with “Soul Shine” which immediately made me want to lay down in a hammock with a coconut drink and forget about all my problems while “Survivor” has some of the unconventional uses of tone and sounds but ends up sounding very good together.
I’m not going to give away everything but I will say that Joole doesn’t have many kinks in his armor. Shapeshifting is the rare anomaly of an album that pulls of very different styles from song to song. Highly Recommended.
OneofYou - ReEducation
Kansas City, Missouri's OneofYou dish out a modern day protest record - screaming loud in protest with a battalion of blues metal riffs and powerful percussion!
There's a lot of problems with the world we're living in - rampant inequality, racial profiling, global warming, gentrification, economic instability, on and on it goes. OneofYou's Kevin Adams seeks to lay them all out, like a litany of crimes, on ReEducation.
ReEducation is designed to be a crash course in the ills of modern society, with each song tackling a difficult subject matter. There's the criticism of the blind sheep herd mentality, obliviously staying in the dark about global warming of "We Were Wrong." There's scathing commentary about police brutality on "Us Against Them" and religious persecution on "The Witness."
There's a lot that can be said on each topic. At first glance, Adams' lyrics read like manifestos of wordy, unbroken text that can leave you befuddled and lost. Thankfully, the thick quagmire guitars and popping percussion are compelling enough to make you look and listen closer. There's a lot to love in the details, from the galloping guitar solo at the end of "We Were Wrong," to the moody dark psychedelia of "Silence Kills," which should please those desperately waiting for a new Tool LP to drop.
ReEducate was recorded in a blitzkrieg 30-day recording session at Hope Studios. To their credit, as well as engineer/producer Matt Richards, it never comes off as forced or rushed, instead benefiting from the rawness and immediacy.
Anyone who thinks that metal is all about brain dead knuckle-dragging violence will have to think again, listening to ReEducation. It's not a perfect album - they can come off as a bit preachy and over-sincere, sort of like Zach de la Rocha fronting the Foo Fighters. If you're not paying attention, you might miss the subliminal messaging, as OneofYou deals in sarcasm and satire; just one more example that you shouldn't judge a record without digging your teeth in and really paying attention.
There's still power in rock n’ roll, even as it becomes a tired lifestyle commodity for most of the world.
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Scott A.F. - Under Your Skin
If you take a dash of Twin Shadow, Disclosure, Sam Smith and Justin Timberlake and mix it in a bottle you will have a concoction that resembles the EP released by Scott A.F. entitled Under Your Skin. The music on Under Your Skin feels very much like it was made in 2015, which only makes sense since the aforementioned artists are seeing continued success and relevance as I write this.
Under Your Skin is a tight, well-produced album that revolves around big bright synths, heavy kick drums and slick, funky vocals. It works best on a Friday night as the evening is building to a climax. The club is getting more packed, more shots are being thrown back and no one is drunk enough that things start getting shady.
The EP starts with “One Step Away” which has the most resemblance to Disclosure. It’s an addictive thumper that contains a number of inventive changes that showcases the skill of Scott A.F. I loved the vocal splicing and the Cut Copy style breakdown. Not a bad way to open up an EP and get people’s attention if you ask me.
“Opening Night” is smooth, lounge-like R&B. It is chill and relaxed compared to the opener but definitely still has its place in a club but maybe after hours. You can hear a little bit of Jamie Lidell on So Cold if he collaborated with Twin Shadow on “So Cold.” The chorus is one of the most memorable and the song also boasts a number of inventive sounds and textures.
A.F. saved the best for last with the title track “Under Your Skin.” This track not only felt the most original but also the most single worthy. It’s a song you can picture being played on the radio or blasting out of someone’s car. He crushes it and in the end leaves a lasting impression.
Scott A.F. has got chops in all areas from sound design to songwriting. He is certainly one to look out for because you might be hearing more about him in the not too distant future.
Hailing from Australia, Wesley and the Crushers are Andrew “Big Wes” Brown (bass, backing vocals), Pete Martel (drums, percussion, backing vocals), “Goo” Calligeros (guitars, vocals) and “Phizz” Calligeros (keyboards, melodica, glockenspiel, vocals, sound effects). In 2014 they released their first album THE “Bite” ALBUM, which was about the movie Jaws. They just released their second album entitled Creature Feature, which is a fun, doesn’t take itself too seriously rock album that tips its hat to classic rock bands from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The band lies somewhere between Frank Zappa, The Doors, Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple to name a few.
It’s not the most inventive music this year but it sure is unpretentious fun that seems conducive for a live atmosphere. You can picture people smoking joints and filling up beers at a Halloween party while these guys are playing.
The album starts with a fifteen-second preamble called “Scene One” which someone starts the ongoing dialogue about a film, Dracula and more that runs throughout the album. There are eight scenes total with are intermittently placed in between the songs. I have to say I wasn’t a big fan. There was some comic relief and I did chuckle but the inclusion of these “scenes” felt abrupt and oddly separated from the music. It ultimately took away from the flow of the songs.
First up is “LRK” which is a solid song. It’s pretty basic classic rock revolving around warm guitars and infectious melodies. The vocalist is a bit nasally sounding during the verse but sounds better with the vocal harmonies during the chorus. Overall, it is a solid song and opener but the band has better material as the album progresses.
In fact the very next track “Prey for Rain” is one of the highlights. Everything works well on this song and it reminded me of the “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller band. “Stopming In The Jungle” sounds like a tribute to “L.A. Woman” from The Doors. The vocalist borderline impersonates Jim Morrison, which was a bit comical.
The band has a seven-minute epic entitled “Creature From The Black Lagoon” which has a reggae inspired breakdown that the band pulls off surprisingly well; so good in fact they should consider doing more of it. Creature Feature is far from perfect but is a solid, enjoyable album. The band members seem like guys you would want to have a beer with and it shines through on their music. Keep rocking out guys.
Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Mark Kraus grew up in Massachusetts. But not the Massachusetts one affiliates with the jet set politicians or the country club set. Kraus grew up in the other Massachusetts, the one of abandoned factories and working class turned drinking class families. These towns are what drove writers like Jack Kerouac and Andre Dubus III to set out and explore different parts of the country, and more importantly what gave them their early themes and ideas that they would later flesh out in their poems, stories and novels.
Along with some friends Mark Kraus escaped from one of these towns and made it to Boston where he formed the indie folk band Jr. Corduroy. Jr. Corduroy enjoyed some success in 2002 with their record I Don’t Want to Be Around When You’re Gone For Good, which earned praise from The Boston Globe who picked the record as one of their ten best for that year. I Don’t Want to Be Around When You’re Gone For Good also charted on the CMJ Top 50. Despite the acclaim garnered the band broke up shortly afterwards and Kraus moved to New York City. Over the next decade he experimented with music and played around with various bands until he finally gave up on music for nearly five years.
Now Kraus has resurfaced with a debut solo record full of slow and heartfelt acoustic meanderings called The Story of Everything. Overall Kraus seems to take to the role of the troubled troubadour rather well. Over The Story of Everything’s ten songs one hears the echoes of such doleful compatriots as Bruce Springsteen, Elliot Smith and Ryan Adams. One also hears their musical influences, with strings added for effect and the pitter-patter of brushes against the toms, like mood lighting.
These cited influences are in no way comparisons. Kraus faces the pitfalls of so many first time acoustic guitar wielding solo artists. Though Kraus’ mistakes here are ones which every solo artist, beginning, intermediate and sometimes even well established make, which is melancholia that lacks wit. And it is this wit to which listeners cling, not the empathy. This is not to say that The Story of Everything doesn’t contain instances of great beauty. Kraus’ vocals are tender and they know the terrain, which they traverse. Kraus’ arrangements are warm and well thought out, and his songs never suffer the monotony, which seems to hinder so many solo artists.
The Story of Everything shows Mark Kraus as an artist on his own regaining his footing after being out of the game for a while. On these songs one hears talent hatching, a talent, which as it continues to grow will only become sharper and more refined, provided that Kraus has the patience required to turn talent into the genius he is so clearly working towards.
Chand K Nova - The Wrath of Chand
Last year Chand K Nova released the instrumental guitar led Solar Bliss. The next logical step would be to name your next release The Wrath of Chand as if you are some unstoppable badass and smother your listeners with more intense guitar. The Wrath of Chand is a twelve song album that continues very much where Solar Bliss left off.
Nova continues to prove his technical and creative abilities on the guitar and for those of us who enjoy a good solo you won’t be disappointed. As much as I can appreciate twelve songs of guitar based instrumental rock I have to admit a couple of the tunes this time around seemed to beg for some vocals.
The album opens with “The Wrath of Chand” which between the guitar fills and heavy hitting drums had a bit of southern flavor mixed in with the metal in the beginning. As the song progresses it because one long Eddie Valen guitar tapping session with plenty of double bass drum to boot. “Restless Savage” has some of the best lead guitar work on the album if you ask me and the overall vibe is hardcore.
The next track “Warlord” was one of the songs that I could picture Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne or another metal singer laying vocals over. I think it was the fact the guitar work was more or less a lot of fill between chord changes. That being said the solo at the end is solid.
One of the tracks that was a pleasant surprise was “Different Faces of the Same Beast.” The deep electric kick and subtle percussive elements was a nice deviation. The guitar action utilizes some manipulation this time around and it fits the song. Nova trades back to his traditional progressive metal rock style with song like “Chasing Shadows” and “Final Strike.” He saves some of the best for last with the cosmic closer “Above the Downward Spiral.”
The Wrath of Chand isn’t trying to be anything it is not and it is obvious that Nova has a clear idea of the music he wants to make. At the end of the day The Wrath of Chand is an album for those of us who enjoy virtuoso lead guitar playing in the essence of artists like Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani.
Vinyl Sunday - Vinyl Sunday
Suited well for a leisurely Sunday afternoon, Vinyl Sunday’s self-titled EP Vinyl Sunday embodies an authentic blend of musical styles and genres while using a plethora of instruments and voices. Hints of jazz, blues, folk and gospel permeate the record collectively evincing flavors from geographical regions such as New Orleans, Detroit and little-known towns in the backcountry of Alabama, making the album accessible to a wide audience of listeners.
The opening track on the EP “Honey or High Water” incorporates classic steel guitar riffing into a chorus of guitars, piano and percussion, which gives the song a slight twang, though not enough to become distasteful. The lead vocals, as well as the background vocals, are sweet and relaxed, giving the tune a pleasant flow without descending into mellow monotony.
The next track “Blue Mountain”, a wistful ballad, is much more melodic towards the beginning of the song before spiraling into a jazzy, bar-swing instrumental section featuring trumpet, cello and light additions from strumming guitars and piano. The track alternates between the two modes, finishing out softly and leading into the dark, reflective intro of “Leave A Whisper.” Although the piano ballad eventually employs a full band, the plaintive, longing vocals end up sustaining much of the song’s energy.
With ukulele, tribal percussion and playful piano riffs, “Happily Ever After” feels like a short, amusing jaunt to a tropical island. The vocals, while present, are not forceful or very loud, giving the song an extremely relaxing, tranquil feel. The unique combination of zeal and peace exuded in this song make it one of the EP’s best moments.
The final two songs make use of new (for the EP) instruments, namely a saxophone in “Procession” and a flute in “Whatever, Wherever.” Other than that, the last two tracks are what any listener would expect given the first four tracks of the EP, and while they are similarly entertaining as the earlier songs on the EP, the similarity in sound causes them to feel rather repetitious. This is not to say that the value of the album as a whole is impacted significantly; however, branching out from one particular sound usually improves a band’s appeal, and the same is true for Vinyl Sunday.
The End Period - Ghost Town EP
In 2014 Greg Caprioli and Henry Weber, who were both vocalists, combined forces and later went on to record their songs at Westfall Recording Company. The owner of the studio Anthony Lopardo ended up playing the drum parts and then joined the band permanently. Last but not least longtime friend Anthony Barcolena was tapped to play the bass.
Their band The End Period’s five-song EP Ghost Town is a palatable mix of rock-based music that unequivocally has mainstream viability. I often thought they sounded like a mix between Fountains of Wayne and Foo Fighters. That’s certainly not a bad thing and it will appeal to a broad demographic. The songs revolve around basic chord progressions and don’t spew innovation but the songs are well produced, delivered and recorded. One thing I will say is the band is a bit bi-polar in terms of style, which is often a trait newly formed bands tend to take on.
For instance, the ultra poppy, upbeat love song “The Last Goodbye” paints a picture of happy, go lucky, even sensitive (due to the lyrics) guys. The very next song “Follow” is hard rock on the verge of metal that while I wouldn’t go as far to say feels indignant it has a tinge of anger. The ironic part is that both songs are essentially about the same thing - the end of relationship. It’s just seems like “The Last Goodbye” seems to want to embrace their last moments together while “Follow” wants to forget about it.
To further confuse the listener as to what to expect the opener “Ghost Town” is more or less reggae (during the verse) which very much sounds like 311. In fact the vocalist almost sounds slightly Jamaican when he sings during the verse. That being said when the chorus rocks it caters to that style which actually might be a different person. “Give Me Hell” is a straightforward rock song you can picture alongside other similar sounding songs on FM radio while “Sunshine” veers towards a more poppy Fountains of Wayne style.
The band is on point with everything besides the fact they haven’t discovered who they are as a band yet. It’s far from uncommon and time will most likely sort this out as they continue to get more comfortable writing music together. They should be proactive about nailing down a style people will identify the band with. I have a good sense that their next release will be under the umbrella of rock but it gets foggy after that. They aren’t far off the mark but ultimately fall into a category of wait and see.
Every week we mention a couple of artists that are worth your time to check out that were not featured in our weekly reviews.
Artist Album Rating
John and the Vacant Posts The Sleeper 3.5
Trowler Instrumental 3.4
Just For Men Brunch 3.8
Day Of Age Never Again 3.3
Centrefolds Fashion 3.7
The Hochers Reflection 3.4
We All Like Girls Chasms 3.3
Tonepot Pickle 3.6
amory plain america's birthday 3.0
TWINSPEAK - Breakwell
Maritime climates are funny places. There's the warmth and sunny optimism that comes from a day at the beach, leading to a kind of dazed haze from the sun and heat. Then there's the misty moodiness of overcast days, when the skies seem like an endless wall of featureless grey clouds, lending themselves to distant staring, dreaming, and reverie.
Melbourne, Australia's TWINSPEAK capture this dichotomy using a mixture of '60s surf and moody Pacific Northwestern indie rock. The end result is a delicious honey/balsamic marmalade of upbeat guitars and thoughtful lyrics.
Their EP Breakwell comes charging out of the gate with "I'm Not Well," guitars pumping like a horse's heart at full gallop, overlaid with crystalline harmonics for that melodic edge, with some slyly psychotic lyrics. Singer Quilty Blue clearly has studied his Modest Mouse records, as his delivery favors a similar falling, deadpan delivery that serves as the cloudy sky, over the emerald lagoon of chiming guitars.
"Hemingway" is cut from a similar cloth, giving a cohesive flow to the collection. Guitars bend, twang and twine over a basic but deadly effective backbeat rave-up. Things break down into a moody half-time breakdown that really lets TWINSPEAK dig in their talons, laying into the groove!
The only downside is a bit of lackluster on the drums, which have just the tiniest tint of lo-fi, creating just a bit too much fuzz, being just a bit too flat when a bit of sparkle would carve and pop through the mix. I don't doubt this is due to limited means. It shall be most interesting to see where TWINSPEAK goes from here. They're excellent musicians with pitch perfect delivery, laying down their infectious grooves and melodies clean, clear and sharp as a sewing needle.
For some, the similarity to Modest Mouse may be a sticking point, but I've loved the bittersweet mixture of melody and lo-fi grit. TWINSPEAK perfectly captures the dichotomy of living in a seaside town, proving, yet again, that Australia is an essential source of exciting and innovative guitar rock.
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