Eighties Slang - Shark Magic
Intense, raw and edgy, Eighties Slang’s retro-inspired sound is a lot like verbal graffiti. Pulling forth a post punk rock cadence similar to Metric, the National and Future Islands, Eighties Slang right away hooks you with their wash of anthemic vibes and melodic guitar riffs. Hailing from Chicago, the band is comprised of Ted Collins (vocals, guitar, bass), Devin Delany (vocals, guitar, bass, synth), Manuel Sanchez (lead guitar, synth) and Steve San Pietro (drums). With a wide catalog of music, the group has a number of their songs featured in films and documentaries. The band’s recent single – “Just A Start” – was featured in the indie film When Jeff Tried To Save The World, starring Jon Heder. Four songs were included in the soundtrack for the documentary, F*** Your Hair, which tells the story of 5-Rabbit Brewery and its struggle in breaking business ties with the current president of the United States.
With the release of their latest EP, Shark Magic, Eighties Slang goes on to cement themselves in the Chicago punk rock scene. The EP is a collision of sounds and colors that culminates with a maelstrom of synergy. Each instrumental on this record is played with reckless abandon, a wild pursuit into sonic territory.
Shark Magic opens with “Sweat, An Ambulance,” where synths pave the way for an ambient backbeat on this track. The interlude reminds me of the theme song to Stranger Things. The electronic beats call forth an ‘80s-inspired tune. This is a groovy production as electric guitars, bass and drums also add to the driving beat. This song is catchy and anthemic with a seamless flow. The music eventually climaxes with some cathartic tunes. The vocals are shouted out with gusto near the end. The cadence is overall jaunty and filled with a contagious energy.
On “Impossible Me,” early on a wall of guitars add a sonic discourse to the very start of this track. The guitars are melodic with the music conveying the longing and regret that are evoked in the lyrics. A coalescing of guitars, synths, bass and a rhythmic drumming beat as the sound dives into a melodic and dynamic cadence. Spiraling guitars course throughout this song. The punk spirit is highly evident on this track. A tragic song about a “closeted covenant of someone afraid to love,” a pressing sense underlines this track. Tantamount emotions are filtered through this dramatic sounding song. Fast-paced drums sets the pace on the rhythms section.
Following is “Lost And Found,” where dramatic strumming on the guitar embraces the start of this track. The synths add an atmospheric layer to the music. Ghostly feels arise on the backdrop. Then the cadence steadily builds up for a more dynamic and upbeat vibe. The chorus is catchy and infectious. There is some really lush harmonies and vocal layering.
Toward “Lower Wacker,” anthemic guitars rises and takes over the gamut of the song. An angsty song about one’s descent into anger, intimacy and deception, this is a darker sounding track that feeds into heavy bass lines and eerie synths. The intricate melodies on this song reminds me of the guitar work on Minus the Bear. Provocative lines like “darker the more beautiful,” suggest the mental descent into darker waters. The chorus dives into a more aggressive sound.
On the closer, “Don’t Call Me Out” the beat pounces with bouncy rhythms with a catchy backbeat and a jaunty tune. Reining in the pitfalls of heartbreak with an amped energy and catchy riffs, this is a dance-worthy track. A cascading wall of guitars pivots off this song. Midway into the track, fuzzed out vocals shout out the lyrics.
A recognizable wash of iridescent melodies filled with light and colors, Shark Magic is a stirring release. The music chases something lost but then found, evoking a feeling that simmers in the backdrop but eventually seethes into the forefront. Harnessing a whole lot of feeling, listeners will really feel the music deep in their bones.
Pasta Sauce Exchange - Open Your Eyes
Pasta Sauce Exchange is a three-piece band from New Brunswick, New Jersey. Made up of Tom DeMarco on guitar and vocals, who met with Andy Laufer, on bass, in 2015. After trying out some drummers for a couple years, the pair welcomed Mike LaMattina and after playing for a while, released their debut album Open Your Eyes in September of this year. The album’s songs range from ska and reggae to psychedelic rock, from smooth jazzy rock to tight upbeat rock. As for songwriting, some songs were written years ago by DeMarco, some were written weeks before recording, and some were written and learned by several different drummers. The trio have been compared to The Police, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Sublime. With sharp reggae, funk and metal influences, Pasta Sauce Exchange serves up a blend of styles that some describe as “alternative rock with a splash funk and reggae.”
The opening track “Fate” starts with a creamy, warm sound – smooth and mellow, but funky and danceable at the same time. I could hear Sublime influence here, but the solo guitar parts bring an element of contemporary soul flavor which contrasted nicely with the funky rhythms of bass and drums. Next is “Anywhere” – a jumpy tune that moves along fast, with some fantastic tight breaks in between the verse. I loved LaMattina’s work on the hi-hat and the backing vocals by Laufer, I’m guessing.
“Shoulda Coulda Woulda” starts off good and funky with plenty of reggae and funk beats. This one to me is comparable to the Chili Peppers, in the way it’s delivered lyrically and how the instruments were played. The saxophone adds a nice touch too, reminding me of a local favorite Midwest band back in the day – Fat Rudy. The next tune has an amusing title – “Asshole First” – and it’s a slower song from the get-go, but with a rather likable melody. Adding elements of psychedelic, alternative pop rock and a metal ballad guitar, this instrumental adds great variety to the band’s debut. The trio amps up the song’s tempo, adding another great and unexpected twist.
“Open Your Eyes” reminded me of a cross between Sublime and Madness, showcasing both old and new influences. The guitar solos brought an added spark to the contrasted styles. The band switches things up with their beats, reminded me of the old punk/reggae-jam sessions of The Police. “Be Free” sounds like a pretty straightforward pop rock song with likable style, giving the listener another good take on what this band can do. “Slippy McJanglez” is a song that serves up styles of funk, rock and pop with a title that sounds like the name of some character, and perhaps it is.
The last tune “All the Time (Outro)” is a dreamy, soft number where the guitar melodies reminded me of the soft rock of the ‘70s and where the repeating lyrical format made me think of a lesser known, but no less brilliant B-side from The Police – a beautiful song in every way. Apart from the flawless, recording chops of J.R. Sanson at Bullet Proof Recording Studio and mastering technique of Kevin Reeves at Universal Music Group, Pasta Sauce Exchange really made an impression on me. This band has great chemistry and it amazes me how three-piece bands can sound just as full and rich as a four, or five piece one. I’ll be looking forward to their follow up.
The Stroppers - The Stroppers
Joel Monroe and Jasmina Bonilla are The Stroppers. The band formed not too long ago and recently released their eponymous album. They have an ever popular sound that has been around for about as long as rock has existed. The duo combine blues and garage rock not unlike The White Stripes, to a lesser degree The Black Keys and many other like minded bands.
I’d say about seventy five percent of the allure of this type of rock music is just the attitude. It’s fun music to play and hear live. These type of songs can work in a big venue or a local dive bar well past the hour everyone should be home sleeping.
The album opens with “Ride” and in the first five seconds you should know what you are in for. Can someone say “I did a bad bad thing”. Did you picture the guy on motorcycle on the freeway yet?
Monroe gets the mood right with the vocals and really does so through the remainder of the album. As the album progresses the song are on spectrum between garage rock and blues. Take for instance “Summer Heat” which veers heavily into garage territory more aligned with contemporary artists like Ty Segall as well as pioneers like The Clash, The Buzzcocks and many more english band's.
A song like “Black Cat Blues” leans more heavily into blues rock. The duo does crush on a song like this. The songwriting and delivery is consistently top notch with “One-Eyed Suzy” being a possible break out single material amongst the pack. On that note there weren't any songs that felt like duds either. This is an album that you can play from the beginning.
The band has done their homework and refresh some classic moves that continue to make this style of music popular decade after decade. This release does not contain any surprises but does continue to flame the fire. Recommended.
Braxton Hicks - Extraordinary Girl
Braxton Hicks hails from Dover, Delaware, and consists of Carrie Baith (vocals, keys), Bill Bush (guitar), Rod Whisner (drums), Roger Hillis (bass) and Mike Fernandez (guitar, vocals). While the indie rock band cite bands like Middle Kids, Echosmith, The Smiths, The Cure, Sleater-Kinney, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Dum Dum Girls, The Beths, The Pixies, The Police and U2 as their influences, their signature sound of melodic-driven guitars, amped keys, layers of vocal harmonies and on-point lyrics combines to shape a sound that is all their own.
Braxton Hicks is releasing a six-track EP entitled Extraordinary Girl that they recorded in the summer of 2018. While timely, there is no denying that these energetic indie rock tracks retain a timeless vibe that will leave a searing impression onto listeners long after the record has stopped spinning. Each song on this EP is worth repeatable listens.
Right away the Extraordinary Girl launches into “High” that hones a rock-ska sound. The drumming beat is rhythmic and fast-driven. The song describes the high of writing, recording and performing live music: “Feeling alive / Feeling a high once again / Music in my head / Words cannot express.” The band really shows their love of music in this euphoric and dynamic track. The anthemic energy will give audiences an adrenaline high. There is evident on this song a rush of sounds speeding by that is edgy and raw.
“I Get By” starts off to some numerating on the acoustic guitar. This changes up and the acoustic guitar is being supported by a more electric sound on the electric guitar, bass, keys and drums. This is a happening rock track with bouncy rhythms coming from the drums.
Distinct strumming on the acoustic guitar fills the start on “Extraordinary Girl.” With lyrics that exclaim, “Extraordinary girl in an ordinary world,” some melodic keys course through this song. An anthem for women everywhere, Baith sings with style and flair on this rocking track filled with positive vibes.
The guitars are heavy with pummeling bass lines on “Oil And Water.” The music has a metal-tinged feel. The vocals in contrast are upbeat and melodic. With a raw energy and sound, the song describes a raw breakup. With a cathartic cadence reeling with a raw pulse to the energy, this is music meant to be played loud. So, turn up the volume!
“Boy King” is a political outcry that addresses the stresses and tensions some of us may be feeling in regards to the current administration. This is an acoustic song is simply rendered with the acoustic guitar accompanying the vocals at first. Next, the ambient sounds of keys sidles in as well as traces of staccato strings weave in and out of this track. The simplicity of the song portrays the earnestness and pleading in the lyrics as Baith sings, “Mercury rising in this frozen battle bottle / If we could just uncork it delete this dangerous debacle / I wonder when the truth will sink down in?”
On the hope-filled closer, “Stranger Days,” a wall of guitars justifies the start of this track. Upbeat and catchy, this is a happening melding of infectious indie rock and alternative sounds.
Braxton Hicks generates music that looks forward, paving the way to a brighter future. With the message that women are by nature, extraordinary as they go about their lives, jumping hurdles and meeting on with life’s challenges with grace and optimism, such tracks like “I Get By” and “Extraordinary Girl” are filled with female empowerment and positivity. “Girl power” is a reoccurring theme on this album. Baith with her powerful vocals and persona on this EP is a strong role model for young girls everywhere. At a time when females only accounted for 35% of this nation’s summer festival line-up, Braxton Hicks being a female-fronted band, goes above and beyond to produce music that will speak to this generation of music-lovers.
Raw, expressive and riding off some hightail energy, if this record is any indicator, Braxton Hicks is a kickass band. Jam-packed with melodic hooks and fully charged anthems, Extraordinary Girl is a great example of the band’s live sound.
Delilah Fang - Lonely Once Too
Minneapolis band Delilah Fang’s biography at first reads like an article from The Hard Times: local indie band’s plan to put out a single album and then break up is successful. The premise seems comical only until you hear the music because the personal, groovy and wistfully melodic songs Delilah Fang has put together for Lonely Once Too are frankly great.
The results are especially impressive when you consider the band existed for only a few months, in which they played a handful of shows and recorded the album in only two days, before lead singer/ songwriter Betty Taylor was set to depart for California. While the condition of its creation does give Lonely Once Too a certain flighty sound, that rush only adds an additional layer of excitement to a polished collection of compositions.
The production on Lonely Once Too strikes a good balance between live energy and methodical arrangement. The slow and gorgeous “Trespasser” expresses a feeling of vulnerability with a stripped down drum intro, delicate keyboards and cathartic noise guitars. The booming and rich bass line supplied by Lee Carter centers the more ephemeral elements wonderfully, allowing Taylor’s detached vocal to find some grounding.
Delilah Fang delivers an engaging song sequence throughout, striking a balance between energetic and danceable songs like opener “Goodbye” and the groovin’ “Imposter Syndrome” and slower cuts like the previously mentioned “Trespasser” and closing track “Plastic Champaign Flutes,” a stripped-down and sad tune that features harmonized vocals and songwriting in a similar style to Better Oblivion Community Center.
What Delilah Fang is, and what Lonely Once Too serves as a document of, is pure transience. However, while some projects of lesser quality or aspiration might use this context to justify certain innate inadequacies, Delilah Fang instead presents their fleeting nature as an example of creating art for the sake of it. And while some moments here do suffer from the time constraint (the title track comes off as underwritten) the project as a whole reaches a level of quality that makes me wish Delilah Fang was busy at work on a follow-up. And really, that’s the best compliment you can give a band that never indented to stick around in the first place.
Strange Gardens - A Ritual
There are a lot of repeated things I notice when critiquing so many artists. I’d say somewhere between seventy and eighty percent of the albums or EP’s say something about being in a dark place when writing music. Whether it be a breakup, a recent death or just a long periods of depression that artist utilizes the creative process in a way that is simultaneously cathartic and some would say therapeutic. The other thing I notice is drummers who are tired of sitting behind the kit and want to have more creative control. Both these things are true for Strange Gardens.
On his release A Ritual there is simply no denying the dark qualities on this post-punk inspired EP. In fact, it’s not very hard to draw comparisons to two very popular band's who are associated with dread, anxiety, depression and many other emotions you don’t want hanging around. The first glaring band is Joy Division which has to be mentioned. From the aesthetics to lyrics this has Joy Division written all over it. You could also make a case for The Cure but it’s not as overt.
The album starts with “Cat People” which sounds like a funeral march. It’s ominous because the low hanging synths and delayed guitars. The vocals are way in the back of the mix. I was having a hard making out the words which are covered in some type of hall reverb.
The energy does jump up quite a bit on EP highlight "Medusa". It’s got a goth inspired dance groove going on that plenty of ghouls and goblins should appreciate. "House Of Flames (A Ritual)” is a slow burn. The vocals felt more like ghosts in this track. They are less distinct than before and perhaps more haunting. “The Tower” is a very drum heavy song with the bass drum and snare really taking up most of my focus with a lead guitar line that is wrapped around it. He closes with “1000 Days Of Sun” which might be the other highlight all things considered. The vocals had some clarity here and enjoyed following along with the words.
As an engineer myself I thought he did a great job capturing a classic 70’s post-punk sound. The guitar and drums sounded very similar to what you hear on Unknown Pleasure or Closer. I would have liked to hear more prominence from the vocals on number of the songs but to each his own.
The artist embraces the tried and true aesthetics that was created in the late 70’s. The artist certainly embraces it and you can say he is a purist because he doesn't in the least seem to try and color it up and make it sound more contemporary. To state the obvious if you’re a fan of post-punk you should enjoy this EP.
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Flight Of The Penguin is a solo project from an artist in Galveston, Texas. It’s apparently a side project from To Whom It May which I haven’t heard. I did however spend some time with A Sleeping Dragon which is a five song EP.
I first off have to give the artist props for making a good sounding post-rock album all on his own. Post-rock by all accounts is a genre that sounds best with a full band in a room. You only need to look at the most popular and notable acts the genre has to offer like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky and Do Make Say Think to hear this.
There are some great melodies throughout this EP coming from both the bass and guitar. Take for instance the opener “53 Seconds” where there is great back and forth between the instruments in a way where neither one takes a clear lead. The melodies and pattern are hypnotic and as with most post-rock slowly reaches a crescendo. Again to his credit it seems like the field recording sample was used to tell a story.
In this case the artist explains “This EP centers around the subject of the Manhattan Project. Each track features dialogue from individuals involved in the creation and use of the atomic bomb, and their description of how it affected them.” Very cool - I’m down with the idea of the narrative. On the other side you could argue Godspeed You! Black Emperor may have inadvertently made this idea of inserting samples too prevalent and ubiquitous within the genre. It feels like every other post-rock song I listen to implements this to add dramatic effect. More to the artist's credit I feel like he used to with tact. Take for instance “For Better Or For Worse”. The sample here certainly feels like the focal point of the song. He changes the volume of the sample but also quite brilliantly uses it in a more melodic fashion around a minute and a half mark to create this whirlwind of psychedelic sound.
“The Gadget” is the highlight and centerpiece. This song is a ride that is dynamic and don’t miss the killer bass line around the four minute mark. “The Paradox” felt like a vignette that has a cerebral quality to it. In fact so did the closing song “Most People Were Silent” which also had this cerebral, reflective quality that feels a little more in the wheelhouse of Explosions in the Sky.
This release felt dedicated to fans of post-rock by checking off a lot of the criteria that makes the genre what it is. I think there are a lot of people who will embrace what is here. Take a listen.
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
Maskots Maskots 3.6
The Golden Lips The Golden Lips 3.7
Odon Odon 3.7
Cooling Tower Cooling Tower 3.8
Best Mann ...And the Sky 3.8
Luis Mojica - How A Stranger Is Made
The last time we heard from Luis Mojica it was on his album Wholesome which received Top Album honors. He is back with How A Stranger Is Made which contains piano based songs that are layered with emotionally resonant instrumentation. He teamed up with Mercury Prize Winning producers David Baron & Simone Felice (Lumineers & Bat For Lashes), as well as Grammy Award Winning producer Justin Guip (Levon Helm).
There is a cohesive quality that is brought together with a palette of sounds which is reinforced throughout the album. The anchor you might say is clean piano and Mojica’s vocals. All that said the album is thick with emotion which comes in different forms.
Take for instance the opener “Insane.” The song contains thought provoking lyrics but there is also a sense of gratitude and even a playful quality that runs through it. If you compare that to the much more solemn and haunting “Invoked” you will most certainly notice a very different pattern of energy. A song like “Invoked” does feel theatrical and like it could be performed in a full on broadway play. You get that sense on a song like “Shaman Food” but with more dance worthy riffs that isn’t all that far away from sounding like something you might hear on The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The feeling that these songs are full on productions is continued with the songs like “Moon Men,” “Cowboys” and many others. There are some songs that hint at more mystical experiences as the cover art implies. “Witch Love” sounds like what you might think an Ayahuasca Ceremony sounds like.
I enjoyed “City Friends and “Queen Song” but “The Ranger” seemed to be straight up the catchiest song on the album. The closing act you might say is “Stranger Song” which is so theatrical I felt like I was at a play.
Even if this music isn’t your thing you can’t deny the artistry, attention to detail and scope of these songs. If it is your thing then get ready. It’s a very immersive audio experience. Take a listen.
Twill Distilled - I N V A D E R
Twill Distilled is an artist from Washington, D.C.who recently released I N V A D E R. I should probably state I felt a little too old while listening to some of this music at some points. I’m thirty-eight and it’s an odd age because you’re not young anymore but not old. At any rate it felt like a factor while appreciating this music. It’s hard to pinpoint and I won’t waste precious ink but the energy at times had a youthful glow, a sense of rebellion, an inflated yet playful sense of ego and lastly an indication that she is going to be stealing your significant other. Some of these themes simply aren't in my wheelhouse anymore although I was happy to enter her universe.
On that note the songs do have a lot of qualities that seem to be reoccurring tropes within hip-hop. There is this Nicki Minaj thing happening at least some of the time. The more aggressive yet catchy “Bitch PLZ” embraces alpha like dominance as does a number of other songs.
The album starts with “Spotlight” which contains a dark beat and that sub-bass you often hear in songs by Drake. There is simply no denying that the rapping is really well done. She shifts through different cadences and inflections with ease which take on different personas.
Songs like “Becky Zone” have menacing music as if you are watching a horror movie but the elements like the bass in particular give it swing. There are a lot of hooks as well. You can hear a number of them of the chip-tuned infused “Snake Chase” while “PAINT Ft. Lex the Lexicon Artist” felt like a club song you might hear in a white hot night in Miami.
There are some songs which dig into themes that felt a little pensive and more emotionally resonant. Take for instance the darker and reflective “Nightmare Ft. Lex Lingo.” You could say the same about the anxiety fueled “Temper Ft. Vincente Bellofatto & Osiris Green” which actually rocks out. There is a lot more to explore. One of the highlights was the experimental yet occasionally sublime “Genuine.”
My sense is the person behind the music is having a lot of fun exploring. The more I delved into the music, it felt like she was taking on different characters. I’m not entirely sure I got to hear the real person, the approximation of one or a completely fictional account. I’m not sure it matters and I think that is a lot of the fun of hip-hop. I’d say a lot of hip-hop artists are taking on something that’s bigger or at least different than themselves.
Overall, this is an expansive release that was really well done. I can go ahead and give this my full on recommendation.
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