The Space Wizards - Adding Color
Here's a ballsy band name for ya, The Space Wizards. I mean really? You're just gonna bridge broad, sweeping genres between the likes of Tolkien and Roddenberry with a single handle? The audacity! If you're coming at me with a name like that you better come out swinging with some goddamn fantastical science fiction magic. I'm not just a science fiction fan, I'm a science fiction WRITER which makes me all the more dangerous should this album not deliver. Nerds like me are jaded and cynical. My fangs are razor sharp from gnawing away on the bones of movies, books and comics many times over. So, The Space Wizards has delivered unto me their latest album, Adding Color and what say me? I am completely over the intergalactic moons for this thing.
Fantastical science fiction magic only begins to describe what you're getting with this otherworldly rock album. Bluesy, rootsy guitar twanging electronic rock layered with psychedelic and experimental elements. It's groovy, jazzy, fizzy and sometimes just downright insane. There were times I wanted to bang my head; other times I was looking for my dancing shoes. It's a great album if you're taking a road trip to the edge of the galaxy. I have been on a serious classic and hard rock streak lately and then one thing that keeps getting stuck in my craw is how dated so many of these albums sound. The Space Wizards has written several love letters to several genres in these songs and yet, you cannot mistaken this album for something you've heard before.
So what is the source of this magic? First thing that stood out to me, drums. The percussive instincts on this album command respect and more importantly, body movement. Song structure on this album is a playful and unruly concept. The drumming on here does a great job of bringing your foot on the ground as you slide through transitions. As for guitar work on here, you'll will get a full ranged experience. You'll visit different decades and entertain many schools of thought when it comes to the instrument. If you think about it too hard, you'll be exhausted thinking about all the places you've been through guitar playing alone on this album. There's also the incredible vocal performances. It's with the vocals that the album finds a cohesion. It's a strong vein, and it works with EVERY track. Those pipes are downright swoon worthy. Last but not least, the lyrics. I'll just say, these are words to live by. The production choices on here were solid. There may be a few snafus here or there or things I didn't totally agree with, BUT overall, just solid.
It almost makes me sick how big the grin on my face was the entire time I was listening to Adding Color. I want to extend a congratulations to this three-piece sensation from Montreal. This album is an elsewhere treasure and I am truly fond of it.
There's a certain flavor and tone that defined what I got from Bonnie And The Mere Mortals and their EP Tennessee. That flavor is bittersweet. A lot of charm and lonesome, hunting lyrics combined with a southern sweetness. Now don't let the EP name fool you, the band hails from Pittsburgh. The band has an eclectic mix of tastes. I think there was a splash of everything put into the music here. It's a curious album, somewhere between goth wave and Americana. I appreciate this EP mostly for the mini evolution that takes place in terms of mood and tempo.
"Tennessee" kicks off with a dangerous and quick tune that races and spins. It seems to be engineered to disorient and spin the listener's wheels. There's a little touch of a gothic surf vibe in here blended generously with Americana. The road is dark and winding with vocalist Bonnie Ramone talking the helm and navigating the wicked and wild weather. Her voice is powerful and foreboding. I really dig it.
"Hold Fast" seems as though we've found an eye in the storm whipped up by "Tennessee." Here the gothic Americana really hits home. There isn't the same sense of thrash urgency, but there is this hidden math rock element in here that I found very refreshing and unexpected. I'm a sucker for pleasant surprises. That's what this song is in a nutshell. Track three is "309" and now it sounds like we're getting a little sun peeking through the clouds. The lyrics still hold onto to a more somber mood, but again, I was taken by surprise. I did not expect something so hopeful and ambient and yet it still works. In fact it fits like a glove.
The final two tracks are sort of like icing on a cake, lovely little additives. "It All Ends Like This” is a live performance. It's an intimate performance and the clouds do come back to darken the skies here, and I welcomed them with open arms. It's a beautiful song, especially in the lyrics department. Via a Bandcamp exclusive you'll get that distinctly hopeful tune "309" again in acoustic form. The vocals on this track are truly stunning, the song clearly was meant to be shown off this way. Production on here was aces - a bare bones approach was just what the doctor ordered.
If you're looking for a healthy dose of girl power and elegant brooding, Tennessee is a fine concoction to wrap your lips around. While dark and mysterious, this EP is never desolate. There are thick veins of sticky sweet nectar pumping through this music and it's delicious. I highly recommend checking this one out and try to not be surprised or at least raise an eyebrow. This one has that subtle something special.
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Randy Klawon - True Fiction
Randy Klawon is a musician from Cleveland who has been involved with music for decades and doesn't show any signs of slowing down. His release True Fiction to my ears sounds like a mix of music from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
The album starts off with “Temptation” which leans more into ’70s classic rock from the guitar riff to just the general energy the song has. It’s a catchy song with melodies and hooks that are memorable the first time you hear them.
“Real Love” however felt more inspired from the late ’50s and the early ’60s. The distorted guitar is put away and is replaced by horns and vocal harmonies which create the aesthetics from that era. “Even When She's Wrong She's Right” is more of a ballad. It reminded me of a song you might hear on the Ed Sullivan show where a vocalist is singing on a stool with a microphone. There is also a slight David Bowie feel that had some resemblance to the song “Space Oddity.”
The ’70s rock vibe comes back with authority on “All Day All Night” which is one of the best songs on the album. Another highlight was “Shine Your Light” which again feels ’70s or perhaps late ’60s inspired. This song in particular reminded me of The Beatles. Klawon’s vocals sound great on this song; in fact it may have been my favorite vocal performance on the album.
“Rain or Shine” is a joyful and upbeat song with a memorable hook while “Deborah Ann” is a refined song that is a nostalgic song about discovering the guitar and his love for music. “Deepest Oceans” has some deeper concepts and ideas. Another highlight was “I Still Believe in You” mainly due to the chorus which felt like a classic the first time you hear it.
“The Waiting Game” is pensive, thoughtful and heartfelt. Klawon closes out the album with “Savior's Call” which has a chant like quality to it. I could imagine a group of people singing along to it.
True Fiction is an eclectic album and displays the talent Klawon has in different areas. Take a listen.
Innuendo - ei8ht
Innuendo is a melodic, classic hard pop/rock band from Arizona that was established in 1994. The band has been prolific since then releasing a whopping eight albums. Their latest entitled ei8ht is a certified rock album.
The band unequivocally has a more old school rock flavor that was at its peak in the ’80s and early ’90s. I could picture some of these songs being utilized in a classic film like one of the Rocky movies or something similar.
Their sound is also driving and the songs are the kind that demand your attention and usually sound best loud. I think a lot of the songs sounded like anthems. Your adrenaline should get pumping with the first song “Back Home” which starts with a heavy beat, distorted guitars and a pulsating bass. It reminds me of the type of energy you would hear on a Van Halen album.
“Elvis” is a great song in concept and execution. The song is about Elvis and there are even these sections where the instruments play something similar to what the The King would play. It comes off quite seamlessly.
“Hard to Remember” is driving hard rock not unlike a band like ZZ Top while “Unglued” is a ballad and the first time we hear some melancholy and nostalgia in the music. The mood and energy become kinetic with “Dreaming On” which is a single worthy song with a memorable hook.
As the album progresses I appreciated all the songs but there were some highlights including “Coffee & Cigarettes,” the lush and midnight infused “Glimme” and “Those Days Are Gone.”
There are plenty of pros and cons about how music is consumed these days. I think one of the more positive aspects is that you can find any style and genre with relative ease. I’m not saying this won’t appeal to all age groups but it’s actually scientifically proven that the music you consume when you are younger (teenage years) gets imprinted in your brain in a different way. I was a teenager when this music was at its peak and on the radio or on MTV and all this nostalgia started to fire when I heard ei8ht. I’m glad Innuendo is keeping that spirit alive and new.
The Milk Riot - Marcos Libre EP
The Milk Riot is a band from Oakland, CA that recently released Macros LIbre EP. I love that name. The songs on Macros Libre EP are rock songs with a good amount of attitude. The EP is also very raw and sounds like a full DIY “lets just press play” type recording. It sounds like a recording you would get if you were recording live at a rehearsal studio.
They open with “King Kong X 38 Special Dreams” and the first thing you hear is that mild hum you get when you plug a guitar into an amp. There is a build that leads to a good amount of distortion here which goes into this lead guitar part that sounds Jimi Hendrix inspired. The band jams for awhile and there is a breakdown with nothing but feedback and the song just kind of feels like it’s ending. They build back up but do this in a slower down tempo with mounds of distorted guitar.
Up next is “Flies” which is a little more mellow and clean and just builds with more intensity as it progresses. “Day of Reckoning” was the first highlight to my ears. This song is fast and has a three chord punk rock quality. The vocals are catchy and have a good amount of energy.
“Pirate Queen” is another winner and again has a punk rock quality. I was reminded of the Sex Pistols on this track. They get into a bit of metal mode on “Pililau” while “King Kong 2” is a slow burn like the opener.
As an engineer myself I would love to hear the band move from rehearsal studio lo-fi to recording studio lo-fi on their next release. For the most part these songs sound best recording live with some analog gear. You definitely don’t need high fidelity but I would say a lo-fi aesthetic you hear from bands like Ty Seagell, Metz, or even the now defunct Les Savy Fav is the mark they are looking for.
The band actually goes through a number of different styles - psychedelic hard rock, punk and even hints on metal. I liked everything they attempted but this variety has all the tell tale signs of a band that is still in the embryonic stage when it comes to finding a signature sound. I think this is a solid start and showcases a lot of potential. I look forward to hearing more from the band and where they go from here.
Maylin Lei - When Pigs Fly
Maylin Lei went to school for painting but also became interested in songwriting. He picked up a guitar and ukulele and started playing open mics. Recently he released When Pigs Fly which is a six-song DIY effort.
I remember being in college myself about twenty years. At the time I was a music major studying composition and would also frequent the open mics. Most of the artists at this one particular location were similar to Lei in that they would strum a couple chords and sing solemnly.
Lei stills seems to be in the early stages of his development. The songs are based off minor and major chords and he seems to have one zone where he seems to be most comfortable. On that note I think that zone was him building a foundation I was able to greatly appreciate.
He starts off with “Between Two Artists.” Lei’s vocals tend to be somber and monotone. He seems to be leaning into the whole tortured artist vibe between the lyrics and his inflection. He sings “I’m not doing that much / It’s boring to tell you the truth / I got nowhere to go / All that’s new is I’m just / Playing this little tune while staring out the window.”
Up next is “Se l'amore” which is the highlight in the batch. This song is a little more dynamic and I felt like there were more distinct transitions. It became evident Lei is a skilled lyricist with “The Happiest Day” and “Yesterday's Trip” which also contained some great melodies. The last two songs are very somber and slow. “Walk On” is almost seven minutes long.
Lei certainly has some talent but there are a number of areas which I hope to hear him evolve as the months and years roll by. I would argue a song like “Walk On” didn’t need to be almost seven minutes. The dynamics, melody and mood doesn't change that much. In music it’s usually called trimming the fat. I think almost all seven minute songs need dynamics, transitions and energy to keep a listener’s attention. For example, “Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t even six minutes long and think about all the places that song goes. Lei has a good voice as well but putting more dynamics and energy into his performance on occasion is going to be one of the things I think would be benefit the variety.
Lei is off to a solid start here. It’s obvious he has skills and as a lyricist seems to have a good grasp on songwriting, guitar and singing for as little time as he's been playing. The teacher side of me hopes that Lei will continue to learn about the aforementioned topics. I’ve seen it plenty of times before in this very website. I look forward to hearing more and wish him luck as he goes down this musical path.
Rei - The Bridge
Rei is an artist from New Zealand who recently released The Bridge. His music is a mix of pop and hip-hop.
The album starts with “Present” and Rei sort of rides a similar theme to “Started From The Bottom” from Drake. On that note it's not a totally feed my ego type deal of how far I’ve come. He sings about being mindful and as the title implied present.
Up next is “Good Mood” which is definitely a good club thumper. He sings about his good mood and why he feels that why. There’s no philosophy behind it and it’s pretty straightforward. He’s hanging out with good friends and has plenty of drinks and food to keep the party going. That sounds good to me.
“Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” is another song that felt like it would work in a club late at night. The breakdown, builds and hooks are all there. “Too Easy (feat. Lion Rezz)” was one of the highlights. Rezz sounds great with Rei. Rei’s delivery sounds a little more relaxed on this song and I really liked how his vocal sounded.
“Fine Wine (feat. PT & bKIDD) is such a chill song that’s perfect for a lounge. It’s so smooth with very infectious hooks. As the album progresses Rei continues to showcase a lot of talent. The production is very well done and sounds contemporary. He questions wanting a wife on “Younger” while on “Instinct” he sings about his life on the road and how he makes decisions. Don’t miss the lush and motivational “Work In Progress (feat. EL Waves).
The Bridge is a very well done and professional sounding album. I think this album will appeal to a lot of people. Recommended.
The Nova Fiends - never survive
The Nova Fiends is a Melbourne based band. The band’s first complete DIY release never survive contains four songs.
They get going with “Blind on Daylight.” The song reminded me of The Velvet Underground in some ways. There is this kind of relaxed delivery which sounds sort of stoned. That's the best way I can describe it. The music is pretty dissonant and the energy feels sort of reversed. There is a raw and very messy quality to the music as if it’s barely being held together but was actually very appealing to listen to.
Up next is “People Watching” which goes into more of the sound that The Velvet Underground made popular. The person who is singing uses a similar inflection and cadence to Lou Reed at least on the verse. This song felt a little more full and while there was still this kind of reverse energy to the music it was growing on me more and more.
“Mr Carson” is a little more atmospheric and reverb heavy. It’s hazy and atmospheric with psychedelic qualities. The vibe is also serene in some ways but also feels a bit disconnected as if this trip could go south at any moment. They go into garage rock territory on “never surprised.” I liked some of the vocal parts but some of the screaming was also jarring.
This band seems very influenced by the late ’60s. In fact it seems like music that would be playing at the famous and infamous studio known as The Factory by Andy Warhol. The band has some striking similarities to The Velvet Underground and I would actually suggest they actively fight against it. There is nothing wrong with being influenced by a particular band but I think actively moving away from that particular influence would help them create more of a signature sound.
The influence from the late ’60s is nothing new and bands like Foxygen rose to success by embracing that. The Nova Fiends might be the next in line but it’s very early in the game to know. I wish them luck as they evolve and I hope to hear more soon.
Video Dead - EP One
Jon Howland (vocals), Jay Buettner (guitar/backing vocals), Joe Howland (bass) and Carl Birkholz (drums) are Video Dead. The band recently released EP ONE which is their first release and a complete DIY effort.
The band plays into a dark post-punk sound close to Joy Division and other gothic acts. These recordings are very lo-fi and have the classic signs of a DIY recording.
The band attempts to create a gloomy and ominous atmosphere. It’s a slow burn for sure. I couldn’t make out some of the words because of how lo-fi the quality was. On that note It starts with a low spoken rumble and has more clarity as it progresses. I liked the mood of this song although by the end I was hoping for more energy.
I felt the band was reading my mind because “Muck and Mire” has that energy I was hoping to hear. The song sounds like a Joy Division B-side from the bass line to the synths but with the band's unique spin. That being said the vocalist seems to be more inspired by Jim Morrison or maybe Danzig. It’s a good mix of influence and definitely the most energized and maybe even fun sounding song on the EP.
The band sounds their most original on “Prom Night” which is also the most catchy. It’s dark and does have a bit of ’50s pop quality to it. The vocal harmonies on this song were the best moments on this EP. I also really liked some of the melodies on the last song “Empty Love.” It moves slowly but the guitar and creative aspects make it work.
I really like this band's sound but as an engineer myself I feel it would be a disservice to the band if I didn’t mention a couple things about the engineering. The band's first priority moving forward when it comes to making an album/EP in my opinion is learning more about engineering or working with someone who knows a couple things about engineering. There are different sonic imprints on every song which made the experience of listening to all the songs in a sequence incongruent. For example on “Muck and Mire” the vocals are startling and piercing when he screams. This sort of thing is avoidable with a tool like a compressor and a low pass filter. On “Empty Love,” the lack of frequencies between 100hz and 500hz made the instruments like the bass and kick drum less pronounced but those lower frequencies are there on “Muck and Mire.” Despite these common issues I hear all the time in DIY projects I think the most important thing is the songs and the vision, both of which I was impressed by.
I’m a big fan of post-punk and am old enough to remember when it first became popular. Video Dead is doing all the right things for a young band trying to keep the flame alive. I’m looking forward to hearing more from them as they evolve. Keep you ears on them.
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
High Mountain High Mountain 3.7
Team Vom Sloth Gospel 3.6
Liam Ferguson Shades of the Same 3.7
Glass Tree Season EP 3.7
Astro Gala Inside Out 3.6
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