Located in Fairfield, Iowa, Lilly Miller has spent the last year and a half working on her first EP, and first ever release entitled The Fool. Making music has been a personal and private endeavor in her life until recently, when she realized that songs were meant to be shared. Miller held songs from The Fool very close to her heart. She hopes now that these songs will bring comfort to anyone who thinks about the same things that she often does. The EP was recorded live at Flat Black Studios, a renovated barn in Lone Tree, Iowa, and engineered, mixed and mastered by Luke Tweedy. The Fool is a collection of songs that were written quietly over the past few years. Since this EP was recorded live with just vocals and guitar, Lilly chose pieces that she thought were melodically interesting on their own.
What the artist ended up with was an assortment of the introspections she had between the ages of 19-21. They stem from Miler’s time living in downtown Portland, Oregon. Later, she moved into her car and worked seasonal jobs in national parks and forests, which were followed by a return to the quiet plains of Iowa where she grew up. Lilly originally intended for all these songs to be acoustic, but she decided to bring her old hollow-body electric guitar to the studio, just in case. When she plugged it in for the first time ever, just to experiment, it was way too much fun. She decided from there to record two of the songs reviewed here.
On the opening track “Cathedral” Miller sings about heaven as a “place you always go, a place you call your own, a dock upon the water and a feeling you know.” Sounds like a place I’d like to visit! Miller’s guitar is full and warm, inviting and frankly, alongside her gorgeous and captivating voice, the two gave me goosebumps. From my ears, I’m hearing echoes of Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez with the lonely melodic tones of Nick Drake. Next up is the title track. “The Fool” rushes over with lush sounds of the acoustic, or rather Miller’s instrument of choice here – her hollow bodied electric. There is also some low, drowning synth in the background as well, giving this number a haunting presence. Lyrically, the words seem to suggest a relationship that’s not working out so well – “I can’t always play the fool.” This one had me pulled in from the first strum. “Ancient Ritual” is a prayer for comfort, a call out to ‘God’ while praying the “Rosary on a broken string.” Miller’s voice here is rich and breathy, taking on a lead role more than her guitar I would say. Another song that just floored me.
Last is “Window” and it features a nice, full soundscape style. What I liked most about this one, well, besides the gorgeous guitar sounds and Miller’s voice, was the way she wrote the song in three short poem-like stories – the neighborhood drunk riding his bike, a man at the bottom of a well and a memory she had of being in love. That third part she sings “I was in love, the kind that keeps you lonely” – dang, if that didn’t make me cry – I mean, that’s deep stuff! I closed my eyes the second this one started, because I wanted to picture all I was hearing in my head. I was thoroughly engaged.
Although The Fool is a short four-song recording, it engulfs the ears with rich tenderness and deep feelings. A beautiful debut, that well, I’m going to say it – you’d be a fool not to listen to. Here’s hoping this midwestern musician puts out a full-length album sometime soon.
King Chron is currently a solo band. Tim Kutz recorded all the instruments himself. Kutz mentions: “Spent 39 years of my life in Seattle playing in numerous bands and playing hundreds of shows all over the city and west coast and neighboring states.” Kutz now lives in a small town in Tennessee and hopes to find ways to continue playing music and shows and such. He recently released a self-titled nine-song album King Chron.
“Twofer Away” is the opener and is a heavier song. The song to me sounded somewhere between NIN and Tool. I liked the industrial elements and intensity of the vocals. The lead guitar works as well. There’s a number of great riffs but the mix on this song in particular holds some things back. The bass drum click is too prominent, the low end is a bit flat and the lo-fi mix can’t seem to handle any of the intense sections. Fortunately, the other songs are mixed a little better.
Next up is “People Are Strange” which is a cover of The Doors. I loved this version, especially the guitar breakdown which is intense and dissonant. The vocals are well done and symphonic elements sounded grand.
“Jurr Knee” is a good song and is the best mixed one yet. This song is an interesting concoction of heavy guitars and psychedelic aesthetics. There’s a great instrumental breakdown before the three- minute mark and I also thought the vocals were catchy and well delivered.
“MYMGA” contains a rocking groove not too far from Queens of the Stone Age. It’s aggressive and fun and also comes with some epic crescendos. “Eeriesponsible” is a change in direction. It’s more lush and contains some solid guitar patterns. At first the vocals seem to be too on top of the mix but it works better on the more rocking chorus.
“May Kin Peas” was the arguable highlight. The riffs are rock solid but I mainly thought the vocal melodies were great. Early Metallica came to mind on this song in some ways. “No Storm Uh Cummin” has its moments and has this synth based chorus and also a vicious resurrection before the four-minute mark. “The Need Dulled” is a solid song but the closer “3AM” is an almost eight-minute epic. The song melds elements of Pink Floyd and metal and is the most ambitious song. Awesome.
The production is a bit mixed and this is the type of album that feels like it was meant to be recorded by a full band. As an engineer myself it didn’t have the dynamics you can achieve with that setup but I was very impressed by this DIY effort after listening to the whole thing.
Overall, this is a solid album that melds elements of psychedelic and metal. Take a listen.
Innocent Postcard is a studio project of J. Caleb Means. Means has worked with Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine) and Matt Talbott (Hum) on projects over his career. On his latest album entitled Is It Everything You'd Imagined, he worked with Roy Ewing (drums) and Paul Chastain (bass).
I was a teenager in the ’90s and ingested a lot of shoegaze and alternative bands like My Bloody Valentine, Hum, Sunny Day Real Estate and other like-minded artists. This was an easy album to appreciate due to the similar aesthetics.
The production has an almost classic shoegaze type of implementation. Take for instance the vocals which sound like they are covered in a deep hall reverb and the guitars which shimmer and shine. The album benefits from exceptional production that’s consistent on every song making it feel very cohesive and singular.
The songwriting and melodies blend with the production to make a sweet throwback to one of the eras I appreciate most in music. There are twelve songs and a number of them which felt like highlights.
The darker and almost post-rock infused “Contend” and more high energy “Limbs” were solid starts but “Salt” really got my attention. “Salt” is a lush and melancholy soundscape that bleeds with moments of beauty. The vocals are contained and for the most part stay in a single octave range but the music itself contains most of the dynamics. Great song.
“Belly of a Beast” is a good example of how to make shoegaze catchy and accessible. I loved the melodies here which are backed by a formidable rhythm section and walls of guitars that sound huge. That being said the dynamics are intact and the song can let go at times and let the song breathe.
“Dwelling” is another huge sounding song. There are moments on this song where the music seems to break from the seams. The vocals manage to peak their way through the mix even at times like this. If you can call any song a ballad it would be “Moments.” The song is free of percussion and concentrates on a more pensive and cerebral mood. Lyrically, the song seems to focus on broad existential topics.
One of the most straight rocking songs is “Drift” which absolutely soars while the closer “Wide Angle” is one of the more melancholy songs with some exceptional guitar patterns.
This is a great album and fans of the aforementioned bands should enjoy this. Everything comes together from the production to the sequential order of the songs. Take a listen.
Mark Ainsworth (bass), James Kirk (guitar), Scott Stronach (drums) are Matador. The band formed in 2020 and got to work quickly with They Were Here Before Us which we reviewed here at Divide and Conquer. The band worked on and released their followup The Surge. This release contains songs in typical post-rock fashion that are long and range between the six- and ten-minute mark.
“Dissociator” is the opener and again in post-rock fashion this song builds and builds to higher crescendos. One thing I noticed between the reverb-laced guitars and huge sounding drums was how good the production sounded. And once the distortion came I was completely on board with the aesthetics. Similar to their previous album, Sunn O))) and Deafheaven are reference points to the general sound.
“Projections” felt like the centerpiece. It almost reaches the ten-minute mark and is a bit of a roller coaster ride in terms of the dynamics. I really enjoyed this aspect of it because it felt a little more unpredictable. The song starts off with a strong performance in particular by the rhythm section. I loved the way the drums and bass drove the song at first. The middle section of the song was sort of like a breakdown and build. Right before the five-minute mark, it’s as if the band is going into the second section of the song. This time however the song excels and amplifies into some of the most ferocious moments on the album with a grand finale towards the tail end of the song.
I loved the drum work on “Ego Death” which takes fairly simple guitar and bass patterns and makes it feel dynamic and robust. There are major drone metal vibes around the three-minute mark but the song shifts in tone as the dissonance becomes a horizon of clarity which felt like one of the most hopeful moments on the album. The band starts to rock out hard and reaches a crescendo which drizzles with feedback from the thunderous storm.
They close with “Business Trip” and this song contains nasty and driving grooves. I was reminded of Tool on this song at points although still more post-rock inspired. The song does have other sections which turn the dynamics on their head. Towards the middle it feels like you’re in the middle of the desert before the whole band, without much warning, comes to slay.
This is a great album from a band that has chemistry. It’s an epic ride that I suggest starting from the beginning, if you want the full experience. Take a listen.
Wick Stephens is an artist from Philadelphia, PA. The artist recently released a six-song EP entitled The End. There’s a mix of styles, so let’s get into it.
“The End [feat. Wylie Something]” is the opening song and the first thing I noticed is this was a very lo-fi sounding. It revolves around a basic 4/4 beat, fuzzy bass, cleaner guitar and vocals. The vocal melody is catchy and the song felt a bit like an intro. It's a a fun and playful type of vibe.
“Moonchild” is actually better than the opener in terms of the mix. It begins with delayed guitars and a pulsating rhythm section. The song also begins with the hook which gains your attention. After the hook the song simmers into a solid verse. I found the lyrics memorable and something you could sing along with. Stephens signs “Incantations that I know you know, / Recite the good parts, / The good parts, baby.”
“Headshots (in the Kitchen)” is the best song yet. The guitars are clean, the vocals are on point and overall there’s a solid groove. It sounds like there’s an auto-tune like effect on the vocals which melds with an Americana vibe.
“The End, part II” is more synth heavy and has more elements than the previous songs. This song is more cosmic sounding but is also dynamic and powerful. The best moments are towards the end where the cascading vocal harmonies come into the song before it abruptly stops.
“Yer Old Dog” starts with a declaration of sorts. The song is loose and perhaps a little funky. It seems to be satirical and humorous. I wasn’t expecting the song to fade out and go into a lush vocal soundscape. “Sleep for Days” is the most realized arrangement. The song does attempt to rock at points but also doesn't mind going into a cerebral section which feels a bit meditative and psychedelic.
The songs more or less find one idea or theme and run with it. There are some solid ideas here but I would encourage the artist to explore more possibilities as to where they go and how to implement more intricate parts. The songs felt a little disconnected from each other in terms of genre and the production which all have a lo-fi recording quality. I would encourage the artist to consider working with a producer or engineer if he wants to take the songs to the next level.
Overall, this release has some solid ideas and points to an artist with some potential and true talent. I look forward to hearing more of his output as his ideas continue to evolve.
Harry Anne Linseed is the third release from Haniell. The artist previously released People Doing Things and Ocmundtune-mastix & Now which happened to get Top Album honors from us here at Divide and Conquer.
The theme of this release is broad. Haniell explains: “The two main subjects in my songwriting are first, my childhood in Devon, and second, the mysteries of the subconscious, as expressed in dreams and myths. Therefore, the album is like a dream-myth about my countryside childhood. I have to be honest that I’m not sure what he meant at first by that last sentence but it made more sense as I listened. So let’s get into the music.
The album starts with “Haunted Keep” which is one of the more immediately accessible songs. It starts off with a strong groove made up of guitars, bass and piano. There are field recordings inserted into the song. I will say it does give it a bit of a dream-like quality. The other thing was the guitar melodies which contained a unique combination of melodies and scales.
“Harvest Festival” is a piano ballad of sorts that contains a good amount of other elements. The song picks and drops off in unexpected ways. I say that as a good thing. Perhaps the interesting part was the ending. It definitely feels dreamlike but this sounds more like a nightmare sequence where everything vaguely blurs together. It builds suddenly to “Roulette” which might be the nightmare he alludes to in the previous song. The song does seem to transition emotionally almost as if the nightmare is becoming more pleasant or at least displaying some light at the end of the tunnel.
I wouldn't call this dance music but if there’s any song that has some dance worthy moment it's the beginning of “I Was Walking Again In Dreamland.” That however doesn't last long as we are whisked away to a more dream-like atmosphere. The guitar and vocals patterns are steady as chaos seems to unfold. There are some stark changes and surprises which worked well.
The album is just getting started. “Don't Let The Weather Bring You Down” and “Fall Of The Granite Man” continue to form a cohesive foundation to the album. One of the most infectious grooves is on “Good.” “Lullaby (For Some Sleeps)” is a great track that implements field recordings in musical ways.
“Herebefore” is one of the most emotionally resonant songs. It’s pretty upbeat and joyful in its own way. The album ends with the more warm and melancholy “Ever Since Greenwich'' which contains some incredible crescendos due to the orchestral strings.
I was listening to a podcast on the psychology of music recently and one of the things the scientist mentions is that people are attracted to music that is familiar but also novel. If it’s too novel people cannot listen but if there’s a taste of it then people will listen. This seems to be the case with this release. There’s just enough here that feels familiar and also feels novel. Highly recommended.
Siri Byrkjedal is a Danish artist who goes by the musical name Siri Birk. Ways of Being is her second album, and became a collaborative project when Byrkjedal lost her studio time during Covid and had to record in her bedroom. Musicians in London, Paris, Oslo and Copenhagen all contributed remotely.
Besides singing and playing guitar, Byrkjedal is also a writer, painter, arranger and composer. She began her musical project four years ago, when she felt called to “use her music to create spaces for intimacy, vulnerability and honesty.” She states that Ways of Being is “a celebration of life’s journey through highs and lows, fuck- ups and flows, pain and love. The album is a poetic collection of stories, field recordings and soulful songs.”
“Homesick” introduces us to Byrkjedal’s sweet voice and gentle acoustic guitar picking, with varied background vocals, bass, cello and percussion slowly creeping in and embracing the song. For a song that was put together in sections and over long distances, the sound quality and mix are exceptional.
“Liza” starts at the beginning where “Homesick” eventually got to in the middle with the same easy beat, lovely vocals and spare percussion. There seem to be violins as well, which adds a classical touch. Byrjhedal’s voice has a similar quality to Joni Mitchell with maybe some of the rough edges sanded down. Love the whimsical imagery here: “With a summer dress on / Chewing a strawberry chewing gum / Running barefoot in the sun.” This song in particular was quite easy to float away to.
“Andy” starts out with a similar structure to Elliott Smith’s “Not Quite Right” before morphing into a mellow jazz lament. There’s a great moment or two where Byrkjedal’s vocals are matched perfectly by an accordion. Lots of playful moments from the other contributors within this song, who will burst into the song without warning and have fun playing around with the melodies. I previously mentioned Joni Mitchell’s influence on Byrkjedal’s vocals, but this song winds up sounding a lot like Mitchell from her jazz phase.
“From Earth To Hand” starts in an experimental vein, where it sounds like the wind is causing the string section to resonate. Byrkjedal’s folky vocal is quite intimate and direct with a hint of Sandy Denny. The arrangement for the strings has a classical complexity, and the mix features them prominently while still feeling expansive and airy, as if this song were recorded in a huge, open cave. “Doing” feels especially intimate with the acoustic guitar alternating between a major and minor chord and the vocals built up into an expansive, all-embracing choir; a true thing of beauty and an album highlight.
“I Needed A Hand, You Gave Me a Sigh” (great title!) is a field-recorded demo with Byrkjedal playing and singing “in the wild” complete with bird chirps. The intimacy of the recording matches the vulnerability of the heartbroken subject matter.
“We Got Lost” concludes with a classic yearning folk song that Byrkjedal begins solo, then ornaments with tasteful harmonies. “Thank you for the dance,” she sings at the end, “it was a lovely dance.” And indeed it was! This was such a lovely album that I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of everything it has to offer. Check it out!
Dick Draggers formed on the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales, Australia during the first Covid-19 lockdown. Boogie boarding sessions became the impetus for multiple recording sessions in the newly formed Four Shore Studios in Hallidays Point. Tipsy scribbles by local Bodyboarding champ Mitch Baker inspired countless improvisations on the microphone, fronted by well-seasoned performance artist Timothy Ohl with almost every other sound effortlessly chewed out and produced by surf rocker Rory Parker of Dork Gently. Starting from a surf punk rock aesthetic, Parker and Ohl transcended genres blending funk, blues and heavy rock to produce over 20 demos in under nine months.
Their first single release “Stay Moist” entered the stratosphere (with an intoxicating video clip to boot) which comes on the release of their debut EP Auxiliary. Joining the lineup is bassist Eyal Herzberg and drummer Alex Dumbrell (Caravana Sun, Benji & the Saltwater Sound-system), rounding out Dick Draggers’ live show. This “raw, visceral, expulsion of pent-up frustrations and excitement” is flamboyantly led by a man with a 25-year professional dance career under his belt and is not to be missed. Auxiliary was recorded and mixed at Four Shores Studio and mastered at The Pet Food Factory in Sydney. To describe the band’s “game plan” – Ohl searched through camo pant pockets for lines of lunacy, being hurled boogie slang by Baker, whilst Parker's swirling surf guitar riffs coaxed the ascension of grunge. With a drive like an Australian road train sprinkled with guttural afflictions from a “truckies stream of consciousness,” this delight is best served sucking down oysters after sliding down waves on a summer’s day – spit it out and suck it up again. Alright then, enjoy listening.
The opening track “Slide with Pride” has a raw fuzziness I have not heard in quite some time. With dark tones, guttural singing, and a new wave/punk style, I immediately thought of a mix between the Buzzcocks, Bauhaus, Joy Division, Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Mudhoney and perhaps other band comparisons I forgot. “Stay Moist” keeps the band’s raw, live sound alive with more surfer guitar riffs and a belting rallying cry of lyrics. “Horizons” has got a sweet, trippy, shoe gaze beat. Jammy with a swing, I’d say the band’s style here is part avant-garde, part experimental topped with trippy psychedelic lyrics. I liked their use of “glass/bell” sounding keyboards and an echoing effect on the drums, too. This one made me wonder what would have happened if Syd Barrett allowed himself to keep recording music and then release it for the masses to enjoy. Although, I think he did record some songs for his own pleasure after Pink Floyd. Anyway, it is by far the band’s longest track.
The EP’s title track was my favorite to listen to. In surf punk/garage rock fashion, this one features a catchy low-toned bass groove and a fantastic guitar solo. Picture ‘50s guitar riff pioneer Link Ray teaming up with The Cramps. Next up is “Pledge to the Wedge” and it features another catchy guitar riff with plenty of deep bass and some spooky backing vocals, too. I thought this one sounded danceable as well. The band’s last track is “I Lament” and it’s kind of curveball, in a way. It’s sort of old school hip-hop, meets funk and jazz all in one. Production wise, it’s a cleaner sounding track, as the instruments and vocals sound like they were recorded without any extra embellishments or effects. More great bass lines to this one, too.
Overall, I liked this short but very impressive EP and I hope to hear more from Dick Draggers later, with or without another lockdown.
After releasing a few singles in 2019, Canadian Gillian Moranz headed back into the studio in early 2020 with more songs to record. These tracks, cut pre-pandemic, remained unreleased until October 2021, and now form her debut EP, Quiet.
Moranz (guitar/vocals) incorporated an additional four musicians for the album. She’s joined by Jon Wood (guitars/banjo/backing vocals), C. R. Avery (harmonica/piano), Kathleen Nisbet (violin/backing vocals) and Jodie Ponto (drums). This instrumentation supports the acoustic, folky Americana songs, well-sung by Moranz.
It’s Americana, but it leans toward “Americana noir,” to use Moranz’ words with the songs tending toward minor keys. The storytelling in the lyrics provides a tough realism and Moranz’ smoky vocals drive them home. Avery’s spoken-word performance on “I Heard You Signed A Treaty” is appropriately unsettling, too.
Each of the first three tracks (“Quiet,” “I Heard You Signed A Treaty” and “The Devil Makes Three”) works well with their slower tempos, picked acoustic guitars and supporting instrumentation that drifts in and out as needed. There are bursts of Avery’s harmonica, and Wood works in various tasty electric and slide guitar bits. Avery’s piano and Wood’s banjo work, too. Nisbet’s violin parts are appropriately additive as well with a particularly nice counterpoint on “The Devil Makes Three.” Everything is tasteful, and in support of the song. The only odd bit was the auto-pan on the end of “The Devil Makes Three”--it’s an unnecessary studio trick that seems out of place in this folky album.
The final track “The Brink” ends on a slightly more upbeat note musically, although there’s another tough lyric (this time, about distance, or possibly unrequited love). “You ain’t living / if you ain’t livin’ on the brink,” Moranz intones, evoking an almost sing-along drinking tune. If done by a pop-country artist, this song would take on a tongue-in-cheek irony. Here, it’s real, immediate, and it hits a bit too close to home. That is what Moranz brings us in Quiet: genuine, bluesy folk, done well.
Dresden Woods is a post-punk band formed in San Antonio, Texas in 2015. The band released a self-titled album Dresden Woods in 2020 and are back with another full-length entitled Misanthropic Moon. They state: “Our second album Misanthropic Moon marks a few new developments for the band. For instance, Shen (formerly Vitold Buzinsky) takes up lyrical and vocal duties on some tracks.”
The album is full of post-punk inspired tunes. There definitely seems to be a good amount of influence from Joy Division. On that note, they twist things up on occasion which makes the music feel novel and fresh. They do stick to the gloomy and goth oriented themes that make the genre what it is.
They get moving with “Waves II'' and find a solid groove to start things off. The bass sticks to mostly root notes as the reverb laced guitars loom in the background. Shen establishes the theme quickly by singing “It's good here. / Solitude and nothing but. / The outside fraught with ill meaning.”
They amp things up with “Achilles Heel” which is more intense than your average post-punk song. It moves into the hardcore genre at times and I also thought some of the unique bass work helped make the song feel original.
“Bare Limbs” is another solid song which starts to solidify their sound. There are traces of shoegaze on this song on top at points. The guitars create a canvas of distortion and white noise which adds to the dark qualities.
“Onyx” has a hint of new wave which I thought worked really well, while “Pointless” creates a good amount of space for the nihilistic vocals to come through. There’s a good amount of movement on “Nightscape” and I was again impressed by the bass work. “Alone” is deceptively catchy at points and the band Interpol came to mind here. “Cold’ and “Soju” both have solid grooves. The drums on “Soju” were incredibly fast. Kudos. “Falling” is almost relaxing in comparison. They close with “Misanthropic Moon” which is arguably the most single-worthy song.
The band sticks to criteria that make post-punk appealing in the first place. I thought the songs were well written and delivered and fans of the genre should appreciate this.
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