It’s hard to find good morning music especially good Monday morning music. After skipping through a number of playlists I usually revert to NPR or a podcast. I usually don't like dance music in the morning nor rock or hip-hop. My a.m. music has to be an almost perfect balance of emotions. I prefer reflective, melancholy sounds but at the same time it can’t be so relaxing that I will fall asleep in my car. Enter the exceptional debut of Winter's Season by Flowers On the Fence.
From the limited info I have about Flowers On the Fence it seems to be the solo project of Cory Teese. Teese makes quite a statement about his songwriting abilities on Winter's Season. Not only does it contain catchy vocals and memorable melodies but the structure of the songs deviate from simple verse/chorus/verse type formations.
The first thing that should be talked about is his voice. As I see it Teese has two different ways of delivering his vocals. His first form of delivery is fragile, nostalgic and has warm childlike qualities that make it inviting. An accurate comparison would Trevor Powers of Youth Lagoon. The other style sheds the childlike qualities and instead feels like a visceral, cathartic explosion of pent up emotion. Perhaps his delivery here is most comparable to Conor Oberst when he chooses to sing a couple of octaves above his natural range (although the tonal and aesthetic qualities don’t have much in common).
First up is “A Generous Grave,” which revolves around a lone reverb laced electric guitar and vocals. He sets up an atmosphere that feels tranquil but also kinetic. The lyrics are poetic and ambiguous. He sings “ You can’t find me, so keep looking” and “I’m finding that I’m nothing.”
The energy becomes slightly more intense when the bass and drum enter in the mix. I respected his decision to show restraint. He could have easily gone grandiose but he didn’t go overboard. Teese proves that first song wasn’t a fluke with “Bloom and “In The Morn.” “In The Morn” sounded a little like Band of Horses and also has an incredibly catchy chorus. The drums beat hard, the guitars are clean but powerful as Teese delivers an inspired vocal performance.
He closes with a beauty entitled “Juxtaposed.” The first forty-five seconds of Sigur Rós-inspired atmosphere had me hook, line and sinker. The four songs on this EP are all strong and point to good, possibly great things to come.
Make sure not to miss this one.
Last year Robert Ranaldi aka Man and Things released an impressive eight-song album IN DEEP that experimented with often quirky, off-kilter midi sounds and organic instrumentations. Some of the appeal was the original blend of sounds that you wouldn’t expect to work. Ranaldi is back with a three-song EP entitled From Where The Sun Was. On his Bandcamp page he explains the transitional aspect of the EP. He says From Where The Sun Was represents the current change of musical affairs for Man And Things. Some tracks were retrieved from the IN DEEP period (“Think About It” and “From The Sun”) while “Machine-Easy” marks the new direction into song meaning that he is singing.
The vocals on “Machine-Easy” stick out like a sore thumb. Ranaldi heavily distorts his vocals so much so that it will pierce your ears at high volumes. They sit on top of the music and almost feel completely separated from the music. The music is warm, eccentric and uniquely his own while the vocals could be considered harsh.
If this track is indicative of his future work I think he might benefit from a little bit of tweaking. The great thing about IN DEEP was it felt like a circus of sounds that sound disparate but original. With “Machine-Easy” the vocals are so front and center it was hard for my attention to go elsewhere when he was singing. I hope at the very least Ranaldi will pull back some of the distorted, high frequencies and EQ and compress his vocals in a way in which it will sit comfortably in the mix not outside of it with some of his future releases that have vocals.
“Think About It (Does It Make Any Sense To You?)” is a enjoyable song where Ranaldi fiddles with numerous sounds that come in and out of existence. There isn’t a lot of percussion but there doesn’t need to be. The song works on a number of levels and has a foundation of free jazz within it.
The third track “From The Sun” revolves around a couple of chords that sound like a introduction but ends up being the entire song. I don’t mean that as an adverse statement. It’s an atmospheric, bright ambient piece that while simple felt effective.
I’m looking forward to Ranaldi’s future work. He is a talented artist and like any artist doesn't want to stay stagnant. In the meantime Where The Sun Was is a decent appetizer that will help the wait until his next full length.
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Young Ones - A to Be
Young Ones is a little true to their name considering young ones are their main audience. It’s that infectious punch of pop punk and mid tempo power ballads that brings tweens to their knees. I’ll be the first to say that I like this genre as much as the next Warped Tour die-hard in their ironic band T and Chucks, but when does the formula end? I feel this recipe has been passed down so much that it can’t help but fall victim to oversaturation. Like eating that third bag of Skittles. Maybe a bad idea? But then again, maybe not.
I hear a lot of my favorite millennium era bands in this group and who doesn’t want that fresh nostalgic revival in their life? If anything, that’s where I classify this style currently. A to Be doesn’t take many risks and I found myself holding out for some refreshingly original moments. What I found was sparingly creative drum parts and a few clean poignant vocals that brought fond memories of Fall Out Boy and the like.
For what it’s worth, fans of the boy band rock scene will eat this up no problem. It is in no way a thrown together collection of what pop punk is supposed to be. When that is the motive it almost always misses the mark. What we have here are some of the better attributions akin to Boys Like Girls and All Time Low.
The spread of material tells a good story beginning up-tempo and anthemic with “Graduation” and carefully falling into a more somber yet inspiring tale with “New Year.” This track gave me the surprise I was looking for. It has a melancholy vibe just perfect for a heart to heart exchange or the confessions of a broken heart. The repeating motif is this panging of effects like a dead church bell accenting the lament. Piano eases its way into the mix and makes a great outro clocking this song in as the longest of the album.
I’d like to see these guys explore some more mature chord progressions and grooves on their future efforts because I see a lot of potential, but not a lot of X factor. One quick suggestion would be to crank that volume and move their work into a post hardcore realm. I’ll say it again, there’s some Fall Out Boy in there and it would grow some sweet legs with a few squats. Load the rack a little heavier and graduate from the bubble punk camp.
The Blind Tellers take it slow out the gate. The opener of their self-titled album The Blind Tellers fades into the listener’s ears like a soft dream that can’t decide if it should end or not, soft and vivid like the sunset. The vocals are rich and confident with fantastic instrumentation from the subtle shaker to the commanding organ. The album art sets the tone in and of itself. Take a look and get lost in the variance of stroke width and color saturation. It’s whimsical and psychedelic, but also holds a strong root in what it means to be indie rock, to think simpler and beyond the veil of the conformist, to act on your true emotions. These guys take wild imagery and give it purpose. I want to be that person amidst the surreal.
“One More Time” showcases a bagpipe intro that takes you to the highlands and back. The acoustic evens out the sound along with Matt Gentile’s pure voice taking leaps and striking with ease. He soars with a full timbre that seems fashioned by Jim Morrison and Eddie Vedder. It’s something to really sit back and enjoy. He doesn’t require constant doubling or harmony either to make an eye widening performance. That’s exceptional in a world where we tend to be suckers for flair.
“All We Said” goes back to the slow and steady groove and adds a pinch of the blues for good measure. That fat backbeat could be a little more present in my opinion, but I’m glad it was enough to get me thinking. The guitar rides a beautiful wave and rings out despite the band breaks up until it’s ultimate climax just before the song’s understated exit.
“Angela” closes off the album in a great way. We have Gentile joined by the equally rich voice of Jamie Coppa. It’s harmonious and sad at the same time. Sad might not be the right word because you can’t help but smile throughout. The group lets the harmonica shine, but I was hoping for a return of the flugelhorn. Nonetheless, this song delivers and I love the name Angela so more power to them. The Blind Tellers album fits like a glove for backyard or front porch swing relaxation. Get some sweet tea and kick up your feet.
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It’s not every day you hear of rock bands with eight members. There are only a couple I can think of that have over six and fewer still that actually make good music. I got the opportunity to listen to Diesel Tunes by Working Class Hussys that happen to have eight members and actually make good music. The band features Ian Patrick Gentles (lead singer, acoustic rhythm guitar), Anthony Mann (drums), Brian Casale (electric bass), Mike McClellan (lead guitar), Gregory Winka (lead guitar) and vocalists Pattie Lynn, Amanda During and Ann Shi.
The band explores a topic throughout the whole album that is a niche and pretty darn specific. According to the band they “explore the common thoughts and experiences from professional truck drivers longing for home while living life on the open road.” You have to wonder where that idea came from. Was one of the band members a truck driver, or a parent of one of them maybe? Who knows? Either way this is a concept that could have easily collapsed without well-written songs and lyrics that go past the surface level. The concept is a vehicle in which the lyrics point to broader topic such as loss, sadness and hope. Of course there are some lyrics which refer to CB radios and traffic but quite often the lyricist is able to use it as a metaphor and sometimes not.
The journey begins with a formidable rocking tune entitled “To Tennessee.” The electric guitars have a country twang while the vocal harmonies complement the lead. It is a solid tune to start with because the vocalist sings about leaving, coming and going, which are the some of the general themes you hear throughout. He sings, “ A thousand miles to drop the load and move. Then it’s home, here I come. Every second I’m away is way too long, because everywhere I go reminds me of sweet Tennessee.”
“Life on The Road” contains a decent amount of melancholy, which sounds good on the band. There is a rich combination of instrumentation including drums, piano, bass and guitar that sound like a band playing live in a room.
Most of the lyrics are painted from a first person perspective throughout the album. Quite often they delve into actions and emotions from the “truck driver.” Take from example the lyric, “I'll get to bed by ten so I can rise at two a.m., and let the caffeine open my eyes like a true friend, but the street-lights look like full moons.”
Diesel Tunes is a unique album that covers a topic that was never done in so much detail before. It’s a cool concept but to be honest the songs would have worked either way. The writing and musicianship is the foundation and ultimately is what holds it together.
Low Flying Planes - Paper Hearts
Hailing from Rochester, NY, Low Flying Planes describe their music as “energetic pop rock as an outlet for stress at work and school.” I would have to agree with this statement but it’s a certain type of release. The first kind you might think is ambient, atmospheric with warm tones that instill feelings of tranquility and relaxation. That’s not the type of music Low Flying Planes make. Their music is intense. It’s the type you put on your MP3 player before going for a long run or lifting weights.
On their recent EP Paper Hearts the band indulges in their own brand of pop/rock alternative music that is hard to ignore. You probably won’t put this music on during a dinner party if you want much conversation but if you are participating in a game of flippy-cup, it might work.
One of the most appealing aspects of the music is that there are two lead vocalists. Singers Devin Aldrich and Jenna Owens provide an engaging ying and yang making the music more dynamic and versatile. I can’t say I prefer one or the other but I do think they work well together especially when they split vocal duties on the same song.
They open with power pop ballad entitled “Push Me Around” that comes right out of the gate with unbridled energy. Owens delivers confident, powerful vocals. She belts it out with authority. As much as I liked her performance don't overlook the technically impressive drumming that drives the song.
The second track “Breakdown” opens with cascading synths, power chords, drums, bass and a fast BPM. This time around Aldrich and Owens split vocal duties. Rather than splitting lines they both handle a verse and combine voices during the chorus. As the EP progresses you get a couple of more solid songs before getting the only real breather, which is the closer “Something To Do With Me and You.”
Paper Hearts is a solid EP. Not every song had me but overall it was an enjoyable listen. The music is commercially accessible and should resonate with a large demographic.
We Were Yesterday - old south
Who says you need to have more than one person to make post-rock? Aaron VanDuynhoven aka We Were Yesterday of Ontario, Canada sounds like a full band on his recent release Old South. Old South is a five-song EP with certified instrumental post-rock. While not reinventing the formula he brings you well-polished songs that are refined. Fans of acts like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions In The Sky and Mogwai will embrace these songs and sounds.
The EP kicks off with a short song entitled “Cynthia,” which is the sound of a lone, clean guitar. VanDuynhoven layers reverb on his guitar as he picks a melody that is subtle, atmospheric and gives off a sense of stillness. The next track “Askin” was the highlight of the EP. Like an alchemist VanDuynhoven blends just enough melancholy with wonder instilling emotions that seems all too familiar when listening to above average post-rock. The song takes its time growing more intense and lures you in with a hypnotic guitar vibe. VanDuynhoven shows some restraint, as he stays free of pouring on a copious amount of distortion.
“Craig” on the other hand rocks out quite hard. The song is a roller coaster as it goes through dynamic peaks and valleys, loud to soft and places in between. The next track starts off more akin to hard rock then post-rock. VanDuynhoven plows through power chords, rockin’ drums and a steady bass before mellowing out a bit. The song’s best moments are often its most delicate when he is picking his guitar and you can hear the complexities of the bass line.
VanDuynhoven closes with the longest track entitled “Baseline.” The song has a unique structure in that is starts off soft, builds in intensity and then fades out. At this point I thought VanDuynhoven might have just left us with two minutes of silence but instead he makes his way back in with a lone guitar.
It’s hard to resist a good dose of post-rock and VanDuynhoven delivers. His songs aren't particularly innovative and might not have you blogging about him being the next big thing but his music is certainly enjoyable. Check it out!
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luckless - Vindication Blues
In the press release for Vindication Blues, the New Zealand band Luckless’ sound is described as "elusive as smoke but as enveloping as fog." Naturalist imagery seems to surround Luckless, from their press to their lyrics. Vindication Blues, the band's fourth LP, is the sound of the natural world coming through the artificial overlay of society. Raw, heartfelt, primal emotions crack through false politeness, like flowers cracking through concrete, revealing something real and powerful amidst the desolation of superficiality.
Luckless started off as a solo venture for lead singer Ivy Rossiter who is very much the main attraction. She's been compared to PJ Harvey, and the comparison is apt. Rossiter can be as smooth and sailing as silk, then rapidly shift into a gravel mudslide. These seismic shifts are beautifully accompanied by her guitar playing, with tasteful and effective repetitive riffs, sturdy as cedar, all set to the mechanistic foundation of Logan Compain's powerful drumming. Their music has also been described as "poised somewhere between the ethereal haze of indie folk and the propulsion of alt-rock," and then goes on to name check some more recent inspirations like Warpaint.
Vindication Blues is very in line with a certain strand of doom-inflected, raucous gothic country records, from bands like Chelsea Wolfe, Wye Oak, Marissa Nadler and Sharon Van Etten. Basically, what all of these records have in common is a devotion to roots music and classic rock 'n roll, which are then captured in luscious fidelity. There is no mistaking this for a record made in 1968. In 2014, we've got the art of capturing bass frequencies down to a science. The bottom end of Vindication Blues is rich, powerful, full and thunderous and throttling. In an act of masterful mastery, the high-end is just as sparkling, making for a wide-screen listening experience that is edging on a masterpiece - a timeless classic for people who like smart, guitar-centric indie rock with flickers of experimentation.
About my only criticism is this record can be a bit too thunderous at times. It can become a bit shrill after multiple visitations, like on "When You Asked Her To Stay.” It's a minor moment and just shows how much of an alchemical science mastering is (which is handled, in this case, by Angus McNaughton). It's still one of the best-produced records I've heard this year and if the deities are just will catapult Luckless into the big time.
the ripofs - irrelevant hits
The genesis of The Ripofs EP titled Irrelevant Hits lie in August of 2013 when lead singer and main man Ambrus Nagy had a revelation. He had been frustrated for a long time with his music and lyrics, and had been unable to finish anything. He unexpectedly found himself able to consistently write decent material after composing "Ripof Blues" and the fictitious band The Ripofs was born. Nagy decided to stop worrying about if things sounded like other things and just started writing songs he liked, and filtering them through The Ripofs moniker.
Songs range from bluesy to psych face-melt to abstract sound collages. Acoustic instruments are frequently featured to give a more intimate feeling to the air. Nagy enlisted several members from his old cover band, FelEmLek, featuring Anna Lorencz on violin, Akos Dombi on drums, Gabor Fekete on bass, and Robert Kul on guitars. The end result sounds like some '70s lost classic private press psych record, crossfaded with an epic instrumental post-rock band. Rootsy folk blues meet timeless keening violin and high crystalline guitar lead as on "The Ghost Station near Jacquelin's House" making the best of all genres and avoiding the pitfalls.
It's sort of funny, but the more seemingly humble a record is the more noteworthy it seems. Maybe it's because I'm wary of hype or dislike braggarts, but the more people are straightforward about their art, saying, "This is what I do, to the best of my ability. I hope you like it," the more I like it. And the more I like a record, the more I find evidence to support that claim because no amount of meta-fiction narrative will make your music good or interesting to listen to. But behind the backstory, Nagy has a warm and inviting voice, and both Nagy and Kui are both effective and interesting guitar players, not that flashy, but playing exactly what is called for in the context of the song. I even find the warm surface crackle of vinyl at the beginning of the record very interesting and inviting, creating a timeless feel, perpetuating the time traveling sensation.
Sometimes the dirtier or grittier a record is the quicker and more immediate it becomes. Irrelevant Hits is honest, imaginative and thinks outside of the box, re-imagining psych, folk and blues-rock, and what is possible in each, along the way. Fans of other out there lo-fi auteurs like Kurt Vile or The War On Drugs will get into this one, as well as fans of obscure '70s vinyl.
I'm glad Ambrus Nagy finally broke his dry spell because he appears to be a passionate and creative individual with a lot of interesting things to say. Can't wait for the next one!
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Helen Culver - critic's choice
London-based singer Helen Culver flirted with major label success back in 2010, though due to differences of creative opinion, she decided to walk away. She chose instead to work with her long time friend Liam Alexander who both produced and composed all of the music on Culver’s debut six- song EP Critic’s Choice.
Critic’s Choice was recorded over a period of two years, during which Culver and Alexander wrote and recorded more than twenty different tracks. From those twenty they chose what they considered to be the best six to mix, master and release. Perhaps that length of time is why the album seems split in half. The first three tracks are radio friendly pop songs, with at times funny and flirtatious lyrics, where as the other three show off Culver and Alexander’s more experimental efforts.
The EP opens with the oddly titled “Krokodil” (think crocodile) a techno-pop infused tune perfect for the club scene. The beats bounce off the wall, while laser-beam sounding synths and scaly samples like warning sounds at a nuclear reactor plant about to blow, help to build the track up to its drop bass interludes. Culver’s lyrics help to illustrate a relationship gone awry, as she sings, “With teeth that sharp / Don't you dare smile / I can see your scales /Y ou wanna be hostile / You're a krokodil.”
The next tune “Touch Me” is another clubby number though here the beats take a back seat as the scratchy synths move the dance-inducing melodies along. On “Touch Me” Culver now becomes the predator with crisp vocals and lyrics both orgasmic and witty she tells the tale of a woman in a club who wants a man to take her home, singing, “You're not the only one staring / But you're the only one daring / To come over and talk to me / See if we got chemistry.”
Again in “Hands Tied” Culver’s lusty lyrics tell the tale of man so looking to get laid by that he offers to let himself be pinned into submission. This tale of seduction is set against bouncy beats that lead into synth soaked choruses. By the song’s end, Culver uses a lyrical twist, hinting at the fact that it is now the woman who wants to be tied up.
Beginning with the next track “Here to Use You” the album takes a dark turn both musically and lyrically. Here Culver’s spacey sounding vocals echo across smooth siren-like synths and machine pounding drums.
“Ghost” opens with a haunting piano riff and ghostly samples like wind howling through a forest full of dead trees. Worth noting here is how Culver shows off her vocal range. On the chorus her voice is sharp and powerful, hitting all the high notes with expert precision. The EP closes with the sweeping epic, “Enjoying the Ride.” Bringing the album to its culmination it blends together all the best elements from the previous tracks as it moves from a prophetic pop ballad and finishes in a fugue of dance inducing techno pop. Your ears will be glad Culver invited you along for the ride.
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