Kaia Kalise - Tangents E.P.
Kaia Kalise is a singer/songwriter from Madison, Wisconsin who makes piano-based pop music. The style that she displays on her recent EP Tangents certainly isn’t anything new but nonetheless there is no denying that she has a copious amount of talent. She has a great voice and is also an exceptional piano player. Her songs feel more destined for the mainstream rather than the underground and I don’t think there is any denying that when you listen to her music. No one would flinch if they heard one of these songs on FM radio.
Even though these songs contain instrumentation like drums, guitar and bass it’s ultimately her piano and vocals that are the core of these melodies. In fact any of these songs could easily work with just a piano and her vocals. Kalise opens up with “Malady” which is a kinetic, pop song that rocks out more than anything else on the EP. Kalaise finds a nice balance between a narrative and ambiguity with her lyrics. She sings, “a jail cell, a pretty face, these are the things we can't replace / with cotton swab memories for shame for shame for shame for shame.”
“Paper Boy” is a straight up pop song that is undeniably radio friendly. It goes down easy, is unthreatening and could be enjoyed by a large demographic of people. Kalise continues to avoid tropes when it comes to the lyrics. She seems to be singing about a departed lover but interjects clever metaphors much like Paul Simon comparing himself to a rock Kalise compares another person to paper and stainless steel. She sings, “were you made of paper/ when they built you/ were you made of stainless steel/ have you even noticed/ that i've hurt you/ or have you been programmed not to feel?”
You can make an argument for “Looking Out” being more of a pop song than “Paper Boy.” It’s a good mix of melancholy and hope. It contains that hopeful sensibility that tends to be present in commercial music. The closer “Scars & Stars” was an interesting way to end her EP. It’s more melancholy than anything else and it revolves around just her vocal and piano. I especially loved the piano towards the beginning, which sounded mysterious and beautiful.
Kalise is unequivocally talented but also has some stiff competition out there in the pop arena. She has a good foundation and knows how to write a song. I think she still needs to do some digging as to what can separate her from her peers and she should be well on her way.
Goldtripper - Goldtripper
There is that certain type of band one overhears in a bar with a stage venue on a Saturday night, or sees onstage at a street festival or county fair. The music is a blend of late ‘60s to late ‘70s covers and originals. The band is rather large with guitars bass, drums, and then there is a percussionist and a group of female backup singers and a few horn players in the back right who wait reverently for their time to play.
The crowd gathered is into it, especially when the band plays a familiar cover. The band though is also always into it, and from time to time, in the midst of a jam session you see the guitarist smiling give the bass player a familiar nod that says, “yeah, they’re loving it out there.”
The Alex Golding project Goldtripper is precisely that kind of band. On their first four-song EP Goldtripper Golding shows off his instrumental skills in a big way. Aside from being the lead vocalist and guitarist, Golding also plays mandolin, bass, drums, percussion, additional keyboards and programming with additional help from Harriet Roberts on backup vocals and James Hllawell who plays piano, Hammond organ and Wurlitzer.
The Goldtripper EP explodes right out of the gate with the raunchy rocker “Senorita” on which Golding spins a tale of a man trying to find a woman who he had spent only one night with but that he cannot get out of his head. Its big and over the top in a good way with blaring horns, powerful backing vocals and features some pretty dam catchy guitar pop riffs. Golding takes on a splashier dream pop sound on “Don't Hide Your Love” on which he shows off his vocal range taking on the ooh and ahh backing vocals himself. The song seems to fall in the vein of soft rock balladry.
The feeling changes on the raucous rocker “Like a Diamond” which is a complete one hundred and eighty degree turn from the two prior tracks. From a standpoint of a listener it seems as though Golding is trying to pander to a very wide audience, which on a longer record may work, however on a four-song EP focus is the key. The sparkly slow alt-rock jam “You’re Sky” seems to bring things back into perspective to close out the record.
Each of the songs on the Goldtripper EP is wholly realized and the instrumentation and recording is spot on. However given the multiple directions each of these songs takes it is hard to get a sense of the EP as a whole and of exactly the direction Goldtripper is trying to move as a band.
The Nash Brothers - The Nash Brothers
The Nash Brothers EP by The Nash Brothers is a fantastic collection of heavy dark classic rock bluesy stomps. Combining growling vocals, facile guitar playing and huge bass and drums, the EP really shows off a tight knit band.
“Accordion Shark” opens the EP with dropped guitar tuning echoing acoustic Zeppelin with deep low tones and bluesy/folky chords. Once the gritty vocal enters, the song turns much heavier with drums, bass and electric guitar dropping in with a thunderous crash. The song employs a great build throughout never peaking or standing still, but constantly adding to the drive and groove as if playing at a midnight revival meeting in the woods with Robert Johnson. The solos and riffs are good, and the rhythm section huge without being overpowering.
“Faces In The Mountain” continues the Jimmy Page riff-a-thon, playing over a great pattern of drumsticks on the rim. It adds a quasi-folk element to the heavier bluesy song and makes for an excellent contrast for when the song opens up into the main groove. The instrumental goes on a bit long without much happening, but there’s some great slide guitar work later on in the song producing exciting countermelodies that interweave with the lead vocal.
“Jimmy Lima Lamp” features an almost Tom Waits-ish vocal that is smoky and gritty which eventually evolves into the bluesy “come hither” nature of Jim Morrison. Based around a shuffle, the guitars and drums chug along for most of the verse before opening up into a halftime feel. It’s a clever and effective contrast, really letting the vocal stand out and the lyrics come across uninterrupted but fully supported.The song could benefit from some editing, it does go on a bit long. That said, the bass work throughout is admirable and worth listening to as its own journey throughout the song.
“Norheimsund” closes the EP with a takeout intro of quiet introspection before an explosion of snare drum hits propels the song into a driving dangerous groove. There’s some great tom work on the second verse and some cymbal features along with rim clicks on the third verse, making each section contrast with a previous one in a smart way.
The contrasting sections of the last song are a great indicator of songwriting to come. The Nash Brothers thrash and groove well through their songs with lots of energy and power. Adding some contrasting sections to some of those songs could let them stretch out even more.
In January of this year, All The Trees Are Hers, a band comprised of singer songwriter Jake Elsaesser, bassist Evan Beckstedt and drummer Nick Heffron, released American Angels EP, a standout four-track record. The music is very catchy pop/rock that happens to be made from people who actually play their instruments.
American Angels is more destined to find a place on mainstream radio then the underground. These songs are easy to enjoy as the melodies are infectious and the brand of rock they play isn't very intense. The music is bright and the guitars are usually clean with the vocals being the clear focal point in the mix.
“Blackeyes & Northstars,” a lyrically driven, melodic anthem, begins the album in an upbeat manner. The percussion in this song keeps the mix interesting as Elsaesser’s vocals lead the way through vivacious choruses, slightly subdued verses, all while maintaining an emotive feel throughout the entire song.
The second song of the EP “Halloween Night” is arguably the best on the record as it combines poetic lyrics with catchy melodies and tasteful harmonies blended together. Formatted in a fairly typical pop song structure, All The Trees Are Hers manages to infuse enough of their own personalities into this tune as to make it unique to their band.
“I Can’t Run From You” features a relaxed, swing beat forming the foundation to a wistful, yet hopeful piece. The intensity of the song continually builds to an apex at the end of the track, upon which a piano gracefully fades the song away.
The record ends with an optimistic and energetic tune, “Obsessed (Glow In The Dark).” Repeated riffs on bright guitars and a peppy bass surround the layered vocals and percussion of this track, bringing the album a resolute finale. Overall, this band shows much promise in American Angels EP, and the four tracks serve the band well as an introduction to their talent and style.
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
PURRS PURRS 3.8
Psych Emergency Psych Emergency 3.6
Gone Dead Train Where There's Blood 3.4
Andy Hughes Inclinations of Desire 3.3
HonKo Stir Crazy EP 3.6
apologetic wreck what happened after you left 3.3
Alberto Menezes Constant Shift 3.5
The Righteous Wicked The Righteous Wicked 3.5
Years ago I remember reading somewhere or hearing secondhand a reply that Replacements front man Paul Westerberg gave an interviewer who had asked him why the band hadn’t picked up and moved to either New York or Los Angeles, why in fact the band had stayed anchored in Minneapolis.
Westerberg answered something to the effect that if someone shouldn’t have to move somewhere in order to become something, that if they were good enough they would eventually make it to some extent or another. Having been born and raised in the Midwest myself, Westerberg’s theory of success has always been something that has stuck with me, for what shapes one’s perception, one’s art, one’s life more than their environs.
The catalyst for these reminiscences on place are a direct effect of listing to First Time, Long Time, the first commercial release from the self-described “Cleveland lifers” Lawton Brothers. On First Time, Long Time one hears that classic rock meets college rock appeal of bands like Hüsker Dü and early period R.E.M. It’s refreshing in a way because it seems this sound, so lauded at one point seems to have all but been forgotten these days, in favor of genres such as folk and shoegaze which have lately seemed to have been remarketed into the mainstream.
First Time, Long Time was recorded at Waterloo Studio in Brecksville, Ohio with Todd Tobias, the man who, in my humble yet widely shared opinion, has worked with one of the greatest rock bands of the last thirty years, Dayton, Ohio lo-fi maestros Guided By Voices. One hears echoes of Guided By Voices on the crash and bang opener “Thunderclouds” with its driving guitars, crisp hard pounding cymbal crashes and plain spoken vocals that slightly resembles “Postal Blowfish.” Next on “All World Office Romance” a title that could be called Pollardesque the lazy lo-fi grit guitars and well noted drum fills sound as though they’ve been unearthed from a time capsule.
The album’s closer “17 Wolves” is the best song on the record. Its construction should be a roadmap, which Lawton Brothers should follow for future efforts. Its catchy and jangly hooks are precisely made ‘90s underground rock the saving grace of that decade’s musical output still relevant today
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Thunderchief - E.P.
With a fresh, modern approach to Delta Blues, Thunderchief exploded onto the music scene with E.P., the band’s first release and a definitive introduction to the band, their style, and the unique sound that they bring to the table.
Upbeat, rhythmic and catchy from the very start, “Skinwalker” employs classic rock & roll percussion with bright guitars, gravelly, layered vocals and bass that blend effortlessly into the mix. Instrumental sections with blazing guitar solos, the occasional falsetto note from the vocalist and the unexpected tempo change in the middle of the song keep listeners on their toes.
The continuing unfettered energy abounds in “Sudden Death in the Flesh,” which maintains a light aura in what would otherwise be a overly dark song given the title and lyrics. However, Thunderchief possesses the skill needed to make even such a song exciting and fun to listen to. The contrast within the song between heaviness and vitality bring out a particularly special quality in the music.
“Bad Man” brings a slightly more sinister atmosphere to the EP, but it does not descend so drastically as to become unlistenable. On the contrary, the emotionally diverse song brings variety to the record and convinces even the flakiest of listeners to continue listening until the very end of the record.
The end of this EP is “Soldier Song,” which opens with a twang-y acoustic guitar reminiscent of Civil War blues. The tune quickly builds upon the simple guitar riffs and buds into a full-fledged rock song, complete with distortion, forceful vocals and hard-hitting percussion. The song alternates between quiet and loud, ending solidly on a drawn out chord.
Overall, this EP is objectively entertaining and Thunderchief has managed to fit a surprising amount of material into four songs. This record is certainly a job well done.
James Gordon - Circus
James Gordon is no newcomer to music. He has played shows all over the UK and Europe and also has been able to teach many students. After parting ways with his last band Gordon went at it alone and recorded Circus.
Gordon did all the recording and production and the results are quite impressive. The vocals sound polished and the distorted guitars while are meaty and girth-y mid-range. A little bit more definition in the low-end may have helped even further but even that's arguable.
It seemed obvious to me that roots of Circus could be traced back to ‘80s rock. Gordon not only has a vocal delivery that is similar to a fair amount of vocalists from that era but the hooks and general structure certainly can bare comparisons as well. The album opens with “I'm Your Monster.” Do you hear the ‘80s rock opera style chorus? Take a dash of Meatloaf, Ozzy Osbourne and Scorpions and you aren’t too far from what this sounds like. I happened to enjoy what I heard. Gordon certainly doesn’t sound like contemporary mainstream rock and is very far away from Pitchfork-approved rock bands.
“I Know it Hurts” is the ballad on the album. It is a piano led song that feels inspiration and hopeful. The orchestral strings are a nice touch, which are used sparingly. Lyrically, Gordon paints a very clear picture about experiencing pain and recovering. The lyrics aren’t particularly poetic but instead slice through any ambiguity with vivid imagery. Gordon shows off his skill on lead guitar on this song and he certainly has some talent in that area.
“Old Lover's Ghost” is straightforward rocker that doesn’t need much explanation while “Smile Before You Die” is even faster and more intense. Both songs continue to showcase Gordon's soloing skills and both also have a catchy chorus that are memorable. Gordon changes things up for “For the Love of the Game” which felt like classic, huge arena rock. I say that as a compliment. The chorus will certainly be appreciated by Journey fans.
Circus was an enjoyable EP that displayed consistently solid songwriting. I encourage everyone to give it a spin but I have a feeling it will resonate most with people over the age of thirty.
Burly Herd - South Sea
One of the benefits of being a band in 2015 as opposed to any time before the turn of the century is that all you really need is a laptop to make a demo quality recording. That’s exactly what Burly Herd did. The band formed in 2015 and as soon as they had some material went to work recording their music in a cabin.
They named their recording South Sea that contains four songs which give you an idea of their sound. The recording quality is about what you would expect from the conditions but certainly points to a band that has already managed to click and demonstrate their chemistry. I was reminded of a number of bands such Wild Nothing, The Smiths and even Radiohead at times. I realize those bands are quite different but you should understand what I am referring to when you take a listen.
In fact my reference to Wild Nothing comes from the first song “South Sea.” It contains reverb laced guitar and a serene dance vibe that sounds good on the band. Truth be told you could easily make a case for “South Sea” being the highlight of the four. The vocal delivery is smooth and the vocal harmonies are also done quite well.
“Your Burden” contains some falsetto, which reminded me of Thom Yorke. It sounded good. Unfortunately there are some other times where the vocal delivery didn't quite pan out as well. For example the vocals were too buried underneath the distortion right after the four-minute- mark. Things get better when the vocalist moves up an octave. “Climbtime (Time To Climb)” is another solid track revolving around bright pads and clean guitar while the closer “Ordinary Day” is a stripped back acoustic number that really shines a light on the vocals.
The next logical step for Burly Herd is to get a bump in the recording quality and continue to define their originality. For as long as they have been together the band shows a lot of promise. They fit into a case of wait and see but I predict good things.
The Lower Depths is a recording project from Angus Gibson. His recent release The Wild Environments is a demo quality recording that showcases an artist with some talent but who still has some work ahead of him if he hopes to get close to his goal of creating the “perfect record.”
Gibson recorded everything and there are a number of things left to be desired. His vocals are consistently way too buried in the mix and it's extremely hard to make out any of the words he is singing. Gibson occasionally sings in this Dylan-esque way but often slurs his words as if he is tipsy or extremely lethargic. Gibson’s vocal style bears some resemblance to Lou Reed and even more so to Kurt Vile.
“The Restless Spirits” is the opener, which sounds as if it's barely being held together. The song isn’t always in time and lead guitar and percussion are the key elements. “Death Is a Loving Affair” slowly trudges along and works decently enough. That being said the song like the previous one is noticeably off time at points and feels as it could crumble at any second.
As the album progresses “Nowhere Blues” is one of the highlights but contains digital distortion which is distracting while “Nothing At All” is a distorted instrumental piece that is more or less one big solo. Gibson has some success with the closer “Solo Flyer/Armed Provider.”
If Gibson hopes to compete with formidable bands than the recording quality is going to have to improve. There are too many aesthetic issues here to even qualify some of these recordings as lo-fi. When it comes to the music Gibson has some talent but still needs to do some digging to figure out who he is as an artist. The similarities to Kurt Vile become more apparent as you listen to the music.
Furthermore, Gibson may want to tone down the nonchalant, hyperbolic “I don’t care enough to try and sing” vocal style. That goes for his instrumental style as well. On some songs he sounds good but other it seem obvious he is trying to fit that role rather than to sing in a more natural way.
The good news for Gibson is that he is releasing a lot of music. As long as he continues to work on his craft his own style will become more defined and some of the parts that need tweaking will get tweaked. I hope to hear more from the artist soon.
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