ID required - You'll Be Fine
ID Required is a three-piece band from Manitoba, Canada comprised of Tanner Stregger (guitars/vocals), Troy Graham (percussion/vocals) and Jakub Czypinski (bass guitar). The band members have known each other since kindergarten and they started playing music in 2007.
Their first release You'll Be Fine is a demo quality release that showcases familiar aspects of the rock genre. Take for instance the opener “May” which felt like a standard hard rock song mixed with a little blues. The song by all accounts felt very influenced from myriad bands. It’s a song that would sound great at a local bar but not something that could be the next big thing.
The band plays homage to Pink Floyd on “Purple.” They shoot for a more cosmic, contemplative sound. The lyrics are just as contemplative as the music. A little after the two-minute-mark the band starts to effectively rock.
Up next is “Cruising In F#” which is a basic blues scale with some classic rock style tropes for effect. It’s an instrumental song with a guitar solo. The highlight was “You'll Be Fine” largely in part to the vocal performance. Unlike some of the other vocal performances Stregger finds his natural range where he sounds very good. The song also seems like an obvious tip of the hat to Pink Floyd in a number of ways. They close with a catchy and fun garage rock tune “To Cage An Animal.”
ID Required is a solid band but they still have some work to do if they want to compete with some of the most inventive rock bands out there today like Deerhunter, Grizzly Bear or Viet Cong. The band sounds very different on most tracks and doesn't have much of a defined sound for themselves at this point. If they want to take it to the next level it's something that will have to be a little more apparent in future releases.
The band has talent in the songwriting and delivery department but in terms of really finding a unique, distinct sound they fall into a category of wait and see.
Grown Man Pete - Placebo Jesus
Grown Man Pete aka Pete Duffy is a solo artist from Massachusetts who recently released Placebo Jesus. It’s a lo-fi dirty recording of guitar and vocals. The style is a bit scattered and is firmly rooted in folk.
He opens with “Peaches” which embraces a basic blues scale. I was heavily reminded of early Devendra Banhart. HIs inflection is very similar. The verse works very nicely despite the vocals which occasionally feel a bit too hyperbolic. Once he starts strumming hard the distortion gets a bit overwhelming but I still appreciated the passion
The production is noticeably different on “Lilacs” and the song isn’t as loud. That volume is an issue within the EP itself. Some songs like the last one on the EP entitled “Roses” are a good 4 - 5 dbs softer than the opener. That's an issue that is normally handled within the mastering process with a limiter.
“Lilacs” is more subdued Johnny Cash-esque type folk song. It's very basic all around but quite well delivered. His vocals sound great here and are way more natural and comforting than on the opener. His best moments are usually the most subtle in contrast to “Spirits” for instance where by the end it sounds frantic and chaotic.
Placebo Jesus is a mixed effort both in terms of songwriting and production. There are more inspired moments than attempts that fall flat but either way it feels like a rough demo. I’d like to hear more from Duffy soon with at least a little more instrumentation and consistent production.
Steven Bryan - Gravity Always Wins
Steven Bryan is an artist from the UK who recently released Gravity Always Wins. Before I started listening I read that his influences range from Thom Yorke to Bob Dylan and he makes indie rock.
To be honest his album sounds nothing like Dylan or Yorke and I would not classify his music as indie rock. His music falls much more precisely into a category like pop or singer/songwriter.
The whole aesthetic with his breathy vocals to the palatable harmonies have an appeal that is more aligned with FM radio. Take for instance the hopeful and grand sounding opener entitled “Sing To Me” which has a popular uplifting vibe that you heard from band's like Coldplay and many other like minded band's. One thing that was evident throughout all the songs was how smooth it sounded.
The more folky “Dolled Up” is very warm for a number of reasons. It’s a very intimate sounding recording as if he is singing to you next to a cozy fireplace and both of you are sipping wine. Yes, the song is a bit seductive. “If Only” is another single ready type song that hits upon a folky pop vibe while “Lights” felt more dramatic and contemplative.
A personal favorite was “Mr Charm.” I really enjoyed the harmonies on this track and the instrumentation as well which actually reminded me a bit of Enya. “The Call” is perhaps how he defines an “indie track” but really it didn't seem to have much in common with bands like Wolf Parade, Modest Mouse or Grizzly Bear. As the album progressed the standout to my ears were “You Silly Thing” and “Open Your Eyes.”
At the end of the day I feel like Bryan made a good record that is firmly aligned with pop sensibilities. The production is great and songwriting is familiar at times but well executed. I don’t think this is a release that you will need a whole lot of time figuring out if this something for you. Do yourself a favor and judge for yourself.
Poly Action - Baby's First Rock n' Roll
Some albums are just fun. They put any pretension aside and make music that contains infectious hooks and puts you in a good mood. That’s one of the ways I would explain the exceptional new release by Poly Action entitled Baby's First Rock n' Roll.
The band mentions bands like Ween, Pavement, Wilco and Beck as reference points. I’d argue that Poly Action embraces surf rock more than any of those bands. Their music doesn’t contain the undercurrent of weariness and melancholy that you hear from Wilco or the genre hopping nature of Ween. A much better parallel would be the band Girls that embrace very similar aesthetics and often combine similar genres.
Baby's First Rock n' Roll contains ten songs and no lulls. Sequential order matters to some of us out there like myself who was raised listening to tapes. It seems it matters to the members of Poly Action as well. The band cuts the fat off the tracks and leaves us with songs that felt like a pleasure to listen to in sequential order.
Without saying a word that band gets your attention with the opener “Outta Tune” as they launch in a Sonic Youth-esque wall of sound. They quickly lay off and launch into a catchy and buoyant verse. It’s amazing how much you can cram into two minutes and forty-six seconds with a talented group of musicians. It feels substantial despite not getting past the three-minute mark.
From there on the band delivers the goods. The surf rock inspired drumming on “Ten Hundred Years” and the saloon style beginning on “Black Smoke Cloud” are just some of the impressive moments throughout this album.
The band's single “The Accident of 1993” combines surf with a vibe that work in a frivolous spy thriller from the ’70s. I love the combined sense of danger, noir and levity. The band can even get you emotional with songs like the closer “Staying Awake.”
This is a great album and one I will be revisiting quite regularly. Highly recommended.
Famous For A Day - Epilogue
The two-piece band Famous For A Day comprised of Nick Newcomer and Kevin Ploth just released their first full length entitled Epilogue. It was obvious to me that the band went for a different approach from their three-song release The Pre-Sides. The band adds distorted electric and pounding drums with this release and for the most part does away with the acoustic feel of The Pre-Sides.
The band still plays pop-punk and still embraces the aspect of the genre that make it what it is. They also occasionally try to defy convention which is somewhat scattered amongst the songs. One thing that has to be said is the band's exceptional technical ability. The drum work in particular was often jaw dropping.
The band starts off with “Alinea” where the song is divided into two distinctive sections. The first relying on guitar and vocals. There are some engaging vocal melodies in there. The feedback starts to swell a little before the two-minute mark and eventually goes into full fledged pop-punk mode. The band has more success with “Memento Mori” which again has a more subtle beginning but with this time there are angelic vocal harmonies and great drum work.
“Hold My Beer, I'm Goin' in” has some of the most interesting transitions that felt unique. The moment that grabbed me was the pounding drums the entered around the 1:40 mark and how the anthemic vocals followed.
The first real deviation in tone is “Part of Me.” It’s an undeniable, sweet and emotive ballad. This style actually works fine within the pop-punk genre but it did kind of catch me off guard considering how texturally different the song sounded.
They close with the title track “Epilogue” which felt like the most ambitious song out of the pack. There are a lost of dynamic transitions, crescendos and a general mix of different genres. They end the song by pretty much going as epic as they could.
Epilogue is an impressive effort. There's no denying that fact. This is certified listening for fans of pop-punk.
Night Tree - Night Tree
I want to appreciate world music, (whatever that is I didn’t coin the phrase) but sometimes it’s hard for me being a white guy from a small Wisconsin town. But then when I use half my brain I can understand that world music is really just a way of focusing in on a style of music that at its heart is dripping with nostalgia for the old days.
But these days there are bands such as the Boston based sextet Night Tree that take this longing for sound of the old traditional ways of Irish folk and suffuse it with a bit of lively jazz at times and even a little klezmer. Oh and a whole lot of heart. And it’s nice to hear this style of music not surrounded by a bunch of loutish drunks, which for better or worse is normally how I have heard it or rather recollected I’ve heard it.
But enough introductions let’s get down to the business portion. Night Tree opens Night Tree with the slow boiling roll of the Irish balladry on “Night Trees/Viva Galicia” which envelopes with the slowness of the pouring over the moors in the early morning but then quickly turns into a fully formed fugue of fiddle and fife, accordions and gut busting percussion that later brings in a wicked soprano saxophone to throw the whole thing off wild kilter. Next we are treated to a more instrumental and traditional Irish folk song on “A Wish on the Wind.”
Later on the mellow “Wheel in the Forest” gave me a Rachel’s vibe which I really liked as it slightly diverged from the traditional Irish folk into a more instrumental and experimental guild of melody and all out togetherness with a jam band feel that wasn’t going off the rails, but rather staying within the lines. Next up “FoWrist” shows the band’s willingness to expand beyond the genre of Riverdance with a bit of well placed percussion and keeping a happy style with the upbeat accordion.The closing piece “Survivor's Nign” opens slow and quiet but then builds into a Celtic cry.
Night Tree is very much a record of time and place. But it is also a record of super talented musicians who have formed up to elaborate this time and place. As St. Patrick’s Day fodder as it may sound to the average schmo, Night Tree is a record for music lovers year round, not just those who are Irish once a year.
I am at an impasse in my life. Call it a midlife crisis or call it what you will but lately I’ve felt that something needs to give. I can’t keep going on this way I tell myself but yet I keep going on this way. I jump when I’m told to jump and even worse I jump when I tell myself to jump. I wish I could put it a better way but I cannot. However the German born Denmark based singer/songwriter Thomas Büchel seems to have the same problems and seems to have them under control. Perhaps it’s his debut record Songs about Life and other Incidents that made this all possible. It’s an open book of personal stories set to music that ranges from jazz guitar and folk and even has some faint hints of electronics.
Songs about Life and other Incidents wastes no time in getting into the nitty gritty as it opens with the short but confessional “Prologue” which details his comeuppance as a musician and how he seemed to find himself as a musician after some years being away from it.
The personal stories continue on the “Sønderboulevard.” Buchel seems to be having a conversation with himself about the choices he has made up to this moment, “I’m hear asking myself why/couldn’t I just stay where I was before / couldn’t I just go on like I used to do,” he laments in a plain-spoken voice that still carries in it a hint of sadness when recollecting the past. He begins, “Goodbye” in this same slow pace of recollection but then the song takes a rocking turn and Buchel’s voice seems to have gained more confidence.
Even when Buchel’s not singing, as on the wittily titled “Instrumental” he shows off his guitar chops and his excellent use of sound and echo comes through; the song is almost then like the white space in a painting. His guitar skills remain sharp on the tough yet brutally restrained strumming of the alt country styled “Crossing the Line.” Later he adds some interesting instrumentation to the mix on “Song For My Father,” as he brings in musicians Christoph Titz on the Flügelhorn and Lars Vestergaard Larsen who plays the marimba. The song is touchingly sad but also very beautiful.
Songs about Life and Other Incidents is essentially like reading someone’s journal or listening in on a conversation that you’re not supposed to. This sentimental story telling style is the very heart and soul to this record, and I was glad to listen.
The Austin, Texas five-piece proto-punk band The Profane Anything Band is on their third studio album and after the week I’ve had it’s nice to listen to a band that has their stuff together in a certain sense. A musical sense I should add. Even as I read these last few sentences back to myself I realize that I shouldn’t be enamored by this fact, but I still am.
A lot of times I catch myself hearing some top 40 artist of today and I think; this blows, how did this person get a record deal? And then I think better of it and that it was probably touched by millions of hands and spit polished before it hit the airwaves. That’s the way of the world. But The Profane Anything shine due to hard work and what I can only guess is a tight knit group of people who really like playing music and who refuse to put out anything that may sound like a one off. No matter if I like a band’s style or not, I respect anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort to make a record that flows well and sounds like it wasn’t recorded by Edward Scissorhands.
On their self-titled album The Profane Anything, cue up the first track “Escape Club,” a happy and jolty uppity poppy and rocking tune that is as jovial as it is rocking. Here I felt that The Profane Anything has begun to lay the groundwork for the remainder of their record.
There’s gonna be taut riffs and lyrics that deal with personal issues without getting overtly sappy about them. Game on. Next we get the short and sweet mid ‘90s indie rock of “Secrets” which is followed up by the more uppity pop punk of “Too Many Rules,” which follows the formula so far to a T. Right on target then comes the semi-sweet rock ballad “Alright” after which hot on the heels comes the head swaying rocker “Right Where You Are.”
If we could fast forward a bit (don’t worry the album is sixteen tracks long) let’s stop at the shortest song on the record which is called “We All Die From Living” which is a tongue and cheek plain speak tune that has all the power of an anti-smoking commercial. This is then followed by the squiggly blues-infused rocker “Come on Down” which has flavors of Pavement and a bit of Lou Reed. They take it home with their classic form on the wily and slightly silly “Life and the Dream.”
The Profane Anything has made an album of the same song over and over. That may at first sound harsh but then just remember that Nirvana and so many other bands of ill repute hath done the same thing in the past. But the thing to realize here is at least it’s consistent and at least the recording sounds well done. With that said I don’t think The Profane Anything were ever trying to make a record that anyone, myself included, were gonna crap their pants over when they heard it. They’re a tightly knit band making the kind of music they wanna make. To quote Mr. Malkmus “Come on now, give us a grade/A for effort and a B for delivery/C for devotion when the world starts encroaching on your plans.” Enough said.
Flo Rotter & Friends - Summery Rhymes
The name Flo Rotter & Friends is spot on. On the recent release Summary Rhymes Rotter (vocals/guitar) who wrote the three songs has some help from Monika Hagitte (piano/violin/vocals), Dorothée Pusch (piano) Martin Fehling (E-bass) and Reinhard Gross (drums).
The best way I can describe this music to you is by telling you to imagine Robert Smith writing happy folk songs. It took me a little bit of time for me to have this realization but that's kind of it in a nutshell and it’s pretty great.
Up first is “Confidence” which contains pristine, clean instrumentation that all works very well together. The piano and guitar work is top notch and could be the focal point in an instrumental version of the song. It’s a warm, happy song and never feels saccharine. There are subtle waves of melancholy and it gets better with repeated listens.
Up next is “Dear Surprise” and it is arguably even more festive and jovial. The juxtaposition between the sometimes sad lyrics about a lost love or break up works wonderfully. I thought the violin was the cherry on top.
He closes with “Coast lines” which is a little more solemn and also contains female vocal accompaniment. It was a well written song like the others and a good one to go out on.
Rotter goes three for three here. The recording is polished and well produced with undeniably good performances. I’m definitely going to keep tabs on this artist and hope to hear a full length in the not too distant future.
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
Rufus Cesspool Surrender EP 3.7
Ekhobos Birth 3.5
Laney Blue Dreamer Do 3.8
Biscuit Bored and Boring 3.4
Rufus Cesspool Surrender EP 3.4
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