Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lisa Ridgely and the Fainting Room: Wine in Bed EP

Milwaukee’s Lisa Ridgely and the Fainting Room have released their new Wine in Bed EP. Lovely harmonies, cool guitars and effective choruses were consistent though out the EP. My first impression with Ridgely’s vocal was its similarity to Neko Case, Chrissie Hynde or in some instances Alan Morrisette. Presented as essentially a batch of “break up” songs, I was impressed by the moody feel of EP opener “Wine in bed”. This track had an end of winter feel and you can sense the writer wanted to move onto spring and away from her relationship tangles. The tremolo guitar added a cool effect to the soft/loud/soft dynamics of this track. “Maverick”, with its slow tempo and alt-country  feel , featured excellent vocals which perfectly fit the instrumentation. The harmonies were tight but I did feel that the track was lacking a concise chorus. “Santa Fe” with its solid piano intro and Chrissie Hynde like vocals presented a fine ballad defining the end of a relationship and seemingly the start of another in wonderful New Mexico, where as the writer describes the scent of burning pinion wood permeating the air. “Two-timed” had a mid-tempo, full band feel with strong guitar and percussion building to an effective chorus. The tale of a jilted lover trying to get revenge for wrong doing proves to be effective and the bonus is some great harmonies.  Closing the Ep was “Karma caught up” , the most rocking track on the EP. Featuring dual lead vocals and scorching guitar work, the writer really got her point across concerning the anger and resentment she was feeling as well as the ultimate justice for her ex-lover in the end. Overall, I felt this EP featured some strong vocals and guitar work. The subject matter has been covered many times over the years, but it was refreshing to hear Lisa Ridgely’s interpretation and I look forward to a full length LP in the future.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Jang: Jungle Duets

Electronic/experimental/abstract artist Jang presents his second collaboration album as Jungle Duets, a collection of brief, chaotic, jittery and sometime melodic pieces that are centered around organic instrumentation, obtuse lyrics and layers of noise. I am a fan of this type of electronic music so I was excited to explore what Jang had created and for the most part I was not disappointed. Although I am not entirely sure what portion of collaboration the guests on this LP offered within some tracks, clearly everyone’s efforts came together very nicely. Polished production on top of varied rhythms, forceful guitar chords and random synth made me stand up and notice this LP and plug in my headphones. At times unsettling, Jang has a way of pacing the tracks to create a mood across the entire album. It was ambitious and powerful in its structure. Some of the tracks reminded me a bit of early Brian Eno or modern Electro’s such Xiu Xiu with the passion of the explosive sound. Certainly brief on lyrics, usually just a couple verses or a single chorus and typically under 2:00, I felt these tracks could have been fleshed out more , however I understand this music as "Sketches of the jungle" thus the brevity is fitting. I feel greater strength would have come with fuller compositions with more capacity to gel rather than a collection of sounds but following the agenda of Jungle Duets is still pretty satisfying in itself. Lead off track "Rest" w/ Cheer accident had a joyful beginning and some vivid instrumentation. "Something holds my heart" w/ Favors had a polished pace, with its moody but upbeat tone. I thought I recognized some finger piano in the track. Neat vocal effects and excellent synth work helped to keep the energy high. "Psirens of Sinharaja" w/Kavus Torabi was more conventional in its structure with bass/guitar and came across as a fine progressive track. "Lioness" w/ Brent Gutierrez had some spooky lyrics and heavy distorted guitar and a solid break before an acoustic trail off. "Little Birds" w/ Musical Charis had some cool cello and violin in the beginning and upbeat percussion. Electric piano felt mellow but uplifting. "Pet" w/ UH had scorching guitar throughout and a solid rhythm. "Epiphyte" w/Blake Hartshorn blazed with its guitar work and driving percussion while "Emperor Tamarin" w/image over being began with a noisy intro but gave way to avante’ gard synth and acoustic strumming. "Lara’s melody" w/ Lady Lazarus contained a pretty melody and superb ethereal vocals by Lady Lazarus. I also appreciated the synth in this track. "Brachiators" w/Forest feeling was one of the fasted tracks in regards to tempo on the LP and felt like straight ahead techo at times. Hand claps were effective and I dug the Xylophone and electric piano. "Tikbalang" w/NYKDLN was a strange piece with slowed down vocals, bird sounds and jangly percussion which all came together on a positive way. "Nightfall through the trees" W/ Kevin Lan of the Common Men was the most conventional track in terms of song structure. Heavy reverberated vocals were incomprehensible but gave the track a lot of depth along with the scorching guitars and strong melody. Overall, I felt this second collaboration from Jang was a success in terms of choosing interesting artists to work with and strong ideas to fulfill his objective. I would like to see how the style of Jang’s work could be drawn out a bit more with greater composition in regards to both melody and lyrical content. Perhaps the third installment will fulfill my wish.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

World5: Global Experience

World5 is an Internet collaboration effort with members as wide spread as New Zealand and Germany as well Sweden and the US). Clearly skilled musicians, they present their new LP Global Experience as a culmination of each members  greatest strengths with producer Randy Miller (Destiny’s Child ,Burt Bacarach) at the helm to bring it all together. World5 has produced a solid, relaxed, earnest and enjoyable work of adult contemporary pop that has a shiny gloss and some feel good moments. This LP had some quality touches. Sax, percussion and joyful harmonies were present on this collection of mostly love songs. Opening track “The morning light” contained some effective harmonies and a bold saxophone solo along with some intriguing percussion.  Standout first single “You and I” was an earnest love song and had an Island getaway feel that set the mood. A pretty melody and some fine acoustic strumming really stood out for me. “All my heart”, with its accapello opening and catchy chorus captured my interest as well. I really felt that the lead singer had a good grasp on the style of music being presented and his core audience and helps to promote that in his vocal style. “So sincere” was a bouncy track with a winning melody, one of my favorite tracks on the LP. “Bring your heart home” was a slow tempo love song that set the mood but I felt that the chorus was lacking a solid hook however, I felt the harmonies were decent. “The line”, a rocker morphing into a moody piece about infidelity, felt a little Cliché in terms of lyrics, but ultimately was effective in its message. “Jump and shout”, containing smooth sax and straight forward lyrics worked well in this writer’s opinion. Fine guitar work and a simple message brought it home for me. “Walk away” had a  pop sheen and some alluring keyboard work while the bouncy “Dream House” , with its soulful intro and shout along chorus was worth repeated listens especially for its fine guitar work. “A day for lovers”, clearly written for weddings with the pretty piano opening, was an earnest ballad and I would imagine could become a hit with brides and grooms this year. “Living” with its pretty acoustic guitar strumming and an acoustic version of “You and I” closed the LP in fine form. Overall I thought the LP was well paced, demonstrated some fine musicianship and production. The LP felt like it was recorded by all members in one studio which is a good indication of the quality production and mastering.  It was a cohesive work of adult contemporary pop that I feel could do well with the genre’s core audience as well as new listeners.


Friday, April 6, 2012

ZProject: Theory

Hailing from California, electronic musician ZProject unveils the EP Theory, a collection of mostly chilled out loops and electronic beats. The premise of ZProject’s music, similar to many other artists in this genre, is stacking layer upon layer of electronic instruments to build a composition which should flow smoothly and effortlessly. Theory has some nice moments of inspiration and sets a mood but tends to lack passion, dynamics and originality in order to set it apart within its genre. To this critic it felt a little too predictable in its form, pattern and instrumentation but was not without its charms. "Beat-89" contained a snappy horn loop and a solid rhythm but tended to be a little too predictable, i.e. cut ,paste, repeat. The flute added a nice touch and I thought the production really helped the track however I felt that some proper mastering might be in order to get the levels standard. "Fashion Gargantuan" had a solid bass line and great breaks. Impressive synth and theremin rounded out the track nicely . "Ibiza" had a laid back chill which caught my interest. There were some issues with volume level and fadeouts which I thought could be smoother and the beat was a bit repetitive and unimaginative. To me the track felt promising but unfinished. "Jeckel", with its heavy synth work and moody vibe, felt like the most complex track on the EP. I found some really interesting sounds in this track, especially toward the 2nd half. "Super" had a funky bass line and solid keyboard work with tight breaks and a smooth flow. "70’s scene", with its groovy electric piano intro and interesting wah-wah guitar effects and organ really impressed me. Solid beats and breaks throughout. Rounding out the EP with "Skank Theory" was a smart move considering its mellow opening, solid pacing and overall chilled out vibe. Good way to finish the EP. Overall, I felt that this EP was a good dabble into the genre of chilled out electronic music but felt it was a little too clean and predictable to leave me with any lasting impression.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Marty’s Invasion

Hailing from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Marty’s Invasion is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Daniel Martin. MI offers a purposeful assortment of indie pop/instrumental tracks that crackle with solid musicianship, accomplished vocals and polished production. Martin has an interesting vocal style that reminded me a bit of XTC lead singer Andy Partridge. The subject matter of the material may not be deep or life altering, but MI has a knack for some catchy melodies and makes fine use the Theremin quite often which I feel is underused these days. "Deep Rooted", an acoustic guitar instrumental, struck me as an accomplished piece with some fine finger work. "Somebody else" offered some great harmonies and cool guitar work. I really dug this upbeat pop tune. "Pretenders waltz" , a pretty solo piano piece, left me a little bored with the repetitive melody in all honesty. "Face" presented some fine guitar work, driving percussion and a super Theremin sound throughout. It was a fun track and I dug Martin’s falsetto. "Post office", with its driving percussion and bass and effective vocals lit up the playlist. I thought the electric piano was well placed and the harmonies really shined. "Cross country runner" had an impressive piano intro before moving into a solid melody. This ballad had Bryan Ferry like vocals and felt like the most personal track on the EP. "Hometown" offered a decent guitar intro, solid bass work and a driving percussion. I felt Martin was approaching pop perfection on this track. "Waiting for a word" was a little departure into a "Rare gothic ballad" according to Martin and I would agree. It was effective in its moodiness, melody and harmonies. "Moments in the sun" ,a full band effort, made me think that a live show from MI would really open up a lot of his music and breath more life into his tracks. Overall though, I enjoyed a lot of aspects in these tracks. A driving rhythm section, solid melodies, great harmonies and of course the Theremin were common recurrences.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Shadows in the Basement

Holland’s Shadows in the Basement impresses with their Swept Away EP demos. Dreamy, ambitious and dramatic best describe SITB’s music. Siddhartha Barnhoorn creates the sweeping, atmospheric music with a wide range of instruments along with Dennis Binnekade contributing vocals. Together they create a cinematic, expansive brand of rock not dissimilar to early 4AD bands such as Dead Can Dance with a touch of Peter Murphy style vocals. "Mesmerized" kicks off the EP as a pretty, broody piece enhanced with sweeping synths and effective builds throughout. Impressive, emotion laded vocals and some fine guitar work standout on this track. "Magic Vale" makes good use of some rarely used instruments in rock such as the Skakuhachi and Melodica in the intro of the track before morphing into a mid-tempo piece with some progressive style guitar tangents. Effective, open lyrics really drew this writer into the song. "Driftwood" begins with melodic guitar,crashing waves and a vocal reminiscent of Peter Murphy. As the song builds to the chorus a strong melody carries the song forward to a really pleasant, uplifting place. Nice use of dynamics on "Driftwood". Overall I was impressed with this set of demos as they present only a taste of the enlightening, dramatic style of SITB. I am looking forward to their full length LP.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ballroom Boxer: Hearts are wild

Ballroom Boxer’s new EP Hearts are Wild is a refreshing take on pop rock. The Boxers hail from Chicago and have produced a feel good summer EP best enjoyed cruising Lake Shore Drive with a group of friends. Lead vocalist Mike Altier has a great voice for rock and brought to mind Joey Ramone and Paul Westerberg. Altier has a knack for writing catchy pop hooks and along with some fine musicianship , this EP offers a melodic, tight batch of tracks. “Genuine July” is an infectious rocker with driving guitar work and a tight rhythm section. “Last cig” is a breakup song featuring some quality harmonies and driving percussion. What really works well on this EP is the craftsmanship, length of the tracks, and content of hooks.  “Hearts are wild”, a track describing first love in a relatable way displays an effective chorus. “Lost in somebody” is the standout single on the EP and contains a great pop hook along with superb vocals and ample guitar work. This track sounds like a hit and should be blowing up in this writer’s opinion. The only misstep on the EP is the superfluous “Feel the wave” , with its lesser quality of production and lack of a real hook. Although I did enjoy a great guitar solo towards the end of the song, the track seems a little out of place on this EP. Overall, I feel that Ballroom Boxers have crafted an excellent little EP with some energetic rockers sure to place indie rock fans longing for guitar licks and rock vocals.

The Root Cause: Let the music do the talking

Chicago band The Root Cause has a new LP, Let the music do the talking, which presents an accomplished set of tracks in the vein of Americana/Roots-rock. Comparisons could be made with Iron & Wine, Uncle Tupelo, Whiskey Town or softer Alice in Chains. Max Riske is clearly a talented vocalist and alongside the varied instrumentation, I think RC has produced a solid, cohesive work full of emotional rockers with lasting melodies. Essentially a collection of love/break up songs, the LP is well paced and reveals more layers upon repeated listens.  “Common man” sets the tone for the LP with some warm acoustic guitar tones and develops into a bit of a rocker. Shades of Dave Matthews come through on “It’s you and I”. “All I ever wanted”, “Bad day”, “Understanding” and “Happiness is you and me” are all solid acoustic pop tunes with fine vocals and harmonies albeit lacking some variation in subject matter and instrumentation. I found that RC really shines on “Remember” with its lilting organ backing and lovely harmonies combined, we get a little more tension in this track which works out well. “Easy to be greedy” displays the bands affinity for rocking out and has a lot of passion. “Temptation” as well, displays some passionate vocals as well as a touch of urgency. There is some expert guitar work in “Dreaming of home” and “You’re the best of me”. Overall, when first previewing the LP, I found it a bit predictable and redundant in subject matter but after repeated listens I discovered a more layered work that can be appreciated as a whole as well as through individual tracks. A solid effort for an accomplished group of musicians.

Colin Tyler: The April Session

Chicago Singer/Songwriter Colin Tyler’s new EP The April Session presents a soulful, energetic set of tracks free of overdubs and overproduction. The production is minimal which gives the listener a real feel for a live set from Tyler with his band in a Chicago club. Skillfully produced by the famous Steve Albini, his work allows the music to breathe and take on a life of its own. It’s the space between the sounds that give this performance its drive. The four tracks on this EP bubble with the urgency you can only get when recording a single take. Pairing Tyler’s vocal abilities along with the skilled guitar work create a quality blend of soulful blues. “What Ailes me” is a captivating blues rocker that tells the brief tale of an attempted exorcism. Scorching guitar work shines and we get some nice falsetto at the end of song. The ballad “Your baby boy” has some pretty strumming and vocals reminiscent of Jeff Buckley. “Sad Grin” is a slow driving blues rocker with some excellent guitar work. Tyler’s vocals really soar on this track as does the band about mid-way through. Love song “Don’t know a thing” has a pretty melody and some fine acoustic strumming. I feel this track has a real sincerity and will connect with listeners. Overall, Tyler presents a sufficient sampling of his approach to blues rock on this EP. His authenticity and love of the craft shine though on each track.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Skatch MC: Sincerity: The Soundtrack Of Life

Jon Boling’s (AKA "Skatch MC") new LP Sincerity: The Soundtrack Of Life presents eight soulful, straight ahead Hip-Hop tracks with verses delivered in a fluid style with sung choruses and sample free instrumentation. Skatch MC has a style best compared with 2pac, Gang Starr, Kokane or at times Outcast. There is an angry, hard edge in the delivery on several tracks but Skatch keeps the beats fresh and spreads a positive message throughout in order to not weigh down the LP. "Hardship" speaks to the inequality, power and greed of modern times. A socially conscious message starts off the LP in the right direction. "Ohh Child", evident from the title, lifts a chorus from the Five Stairsteps classic but the rhymes are fresh on each verse and the delivery captures a good flow. "Check it out" has a fast paced delivery with an interesting piano loop. "Travelling miles" chronicles hard times and reminded this writer a bit of Eminem. "Everyday" presents another side of Skatch with the use of female accompaniment and pretty harmonies. I thought this track was an effective change for the feel of the LP and added some contrast to the earlier tracks. "Time to zone" dazzles with electric piano with some shout outs and looks back at old times. I was feeling Biggie Smalls on this track quite a bit. "Outro" is all about lessons learned and contains some fine vocal tricks, a strong piano loop and some string instrument accompaniment that really shine. Overall, I feel that Skatch MC brings some honesty to the hip hop world with his views and rhymes. He offers some versatile instrumentation, enticing sing along choruses, and a delivery that is hard edged but with purpose and intent.

Check out the music on Facebook!


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Oh No Not Stereo

Here is a link to the band on Facebook. Enjoy!


Oh No Not Stereo: InCaseOfStaresUseFire

Los Angeles pop/punk band Oh No Not Stereo shows up strong and ready to rock on their LP InCaseOfStaresuseFire. Independently released and well promoted, the band offers 10 slabs of positive ,melodic and anthem orientated  rockers that are tailor made for modern rock radio, clubs on the Sunset Strip as well as larger venues ala’ the Warped Tour. Comparisons that come to mind for this writer include recent Foo Fighters as well as Get Up Kids and Fall Out Boy. ONNS, a duo on their recordings, consists of Skylar Nielsen and Mykul Lee, who are both multi-instrumentalists. Their versatility, ambition and experience certainly present themselves well on the new LP with a BIG, solid shine. It’s an LP filled to the brim with propulsive rhythms, soaring vocals, energetic guitar solos and solid production. The subject matter is pretty standard however. Breakups, makeups and lost love are well worn themes in this genre, but it sure sounds like ONNS is having fun putting their own spin on these topics and their enthusiasm travels throughout the LP. Opener “Behind closed doors” kicks off with a guitar assault and then morphs into a catchy melody with some added instrumentation. Although I was hoping for more of a payoff in the chorus, it is still a decent rocker. Vocal harmonies were very tight throughout. “Big hero from a small town” and “Carnivores” are both solid anthems with pleasing hooks and I would imagine they encourage some excitement at a live show. The former contains some nice builds and dynamics as well as polished piano work. The later reminds me a bit of recent Green Day which this writer happens to enjoy. “Brighterside”, a well paced ballad, focuses on the failures we all encounter but the realization that we must overcome obstacles we create ourselves. “Can’t hide out forever” has a great opening riff ala’ Judas Priest, and some fine guitar work throughout, as well as a solid melody that invites repeat listens. “Heartless”, this writer’s favorite track on the LP, has a catchy melody, great hook and stood out as the most likely track to hit it big on college radio. “Make my move”, with its theme of regretting lost love, has some great guitar work to bring home its point.  “She’s electric” and “Static friction heart” both excel as energetic rockers. “Time to let it all go” also has a catchy melody and some super piano work. ONNS is certainly geared to continue their rise in the ranks of pop/punk enthusiasts with the new LP and this writer looks forwards to their success.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hot Hot Robot

Chicago’s Hot Hot Robot new five song EP offers an adequate amount of power pop and modern rock to the Midwestern musical landscape. Covering the familiar lessons of bad relationships, love lost and breakups, HHR isn’t really exposing a ton of originality on the subject matter of the EP. However, the musicianship and production value on the record are pretty darn good and the world always needs more power pop. Vocalist Chris Bogosian has a great rock voice and at times reminded me of Chris Cornell or Dave Grohl.  The band has pretty good energy as well throughout especially when they channel aspects of Cheap Trick or Material Issue.  “Get out”, a good choice for opener and my favorite on the EP, contains a catchy, moody melody, effective bridge and a driving rhythm that would surely hook some rock fans. “You know, you know” offers some nifty vocal tracking and fine guitar work, although I didn’t really sense a hook in the chorus. “No one needs to know” contains some aggressive, emotive vocals and scorching guitar work although the production was a little predictable with the panned guitar solo in the middle of the track and overall the track seemed a bit long. “Running away” starts as a ballad but morphs into an effective rocker. “Over now” starts with a great tempo and contains a decent chorus and gritty lead guitar work. The enjoyed the up-tempo quality of this track and I imagine performed live fans be bouncing quite a bit. Overall, I think the EP is a good start toward establishing a signature sound and I could see more focus on the power pop aspects of HHR bringing them a wider audience.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Link to Jessica Lynne on Youtube!


Jessica Lynne: Spiritual Cowgirl

Jessica Lynne is a rising country artist new to the Seattle music scene after spending much of her life in Denmark. I was a little surprised since her voice is pure country and it wouldn’t be out of place on 2nd Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee. She presents her new debut EP Spiritual Cowgirl as a taste of both modern and traditional country styles. There is an undeniable purity in Lynne’s vocals and a warm tone that really draws a listener into her songs. Comparisons to Trisha Yearwood and Tanya Tucker are appropriate in my opinion. “Singin’ Country” details Lynne’s life in Denmark and her journey toward self discovery and the desire of playing country music. Impressive slide guitar and a catchy chorus, with effective harmonies set the tone for the EP. “Not my cowboy”, a track about not being “the other woman” even though there is temptation, is pure traditional country. Featuring some fine fiddle work and a vocal reminiscent of Dolly Parton, this track is a standout. Lynne’s control and tone are remarkable and therefore this is my favorite track on the EP. “Fallen angels don’t cry” is a track about letting go of fear and the idea that strength can be achieved through having a good cry now and again. Pretty harmonies and a soaring chorus bring this track to the forefront. “Wheels” is a country rocker that begins with a moody tone and develops into a tale of scorn, a quick exit and a new life ahead. Lynne puts some great energy into the vocals and the payoff is a modern country rocker that would fit well on country radio alongside Carrie Underwood or Miranda Lambert. I was impressed with the polished production and effective mood this EP presents. Lynne is very ambitious, talented vocalist and I predict much success in her future.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Adena Atkins: The Slowest Curve

Adena  Atkins is an aspiring young singer/songwriter recently transplanted in Seattle after studying at Berklee College of Music. She presents her new four song EP The Slowest Curve as a representation of seasons changing as well as shifting relationships. The fluidity of nature and human interaction is clearly her inspiration. Initially I was drawn in by Atkins sultry soprano voice, which I would compare with Tori Amos or Ani Difranco. It has a distinct tone which lends itself well to her intimate song writing. A lot of imagery of nature presents itself as the writers vantage point is one in which she is peering  from a window. The “window” may be literal as well as metaphorical as each track on this EP explores interpersonal relationships and opening oneself up to life’s possibilities. Atkins is joined with production and instrumentation by Jay Pinto.  Interesting electronic synths, rhythms and various effects add a modern shine to some pretty melodies. “Glass” opens the EP representing fall and begins with an interesting synth line and electronic drums. The thoughts of a passionate relationship are intertwined with imagery of nighttime and tree branches reaching for the sky. “End of story” brings the listener to winter and the idea that sometimes relationships just need to end. A natural progression has occurred and a separation is inevitable. I thought the melody was beautiful and reminded me a bit “Mad World” by Tears for fears. “April Rain” naturally represents spring with it’s lovely keyboard melody and driving rhythm. This song sheds winter and exposes the patterns in a relationship and asks the question, why do we break up just to make up again? The writers answer is that we live just as nature exists,  however one must learn there is beauty in these patterns as well. “Hot gray morning” represents, you guessed it, summer.  As the writer misses home, staring out the window 3,000 miles away from California, I was mesmerized by the foreboding instrumentation which created an effectively somber mood. Overall, I thought the instrumentation and production on this EP was top notch. A very modern sound with great attention to detail.  Atkins soprano has a great tone and her wordplay was interesting. I’ll look forward to Atkins growing even further as an artist. I hope she continues the path of a holistic approach to songwriting as this makes her unique in the singer/songwriter community.

Emina Rock

What first struck me when diving into Vienna Austria recording artist Emina Rock’s album was the power of the lead singer’s voice. A combination of hard rock wails and bluesy soul stood out on the first listen.  Amazing power and control along with a vulnerability makes it quite appealing.  I would compare the voice to Amy Lee, Johnette Napolitano or Gwen Stefani  on certain tracks. Soaring vocals really shine on this album. Overall, the vocals along with the searing guitar work and driving percussion create instant comparisons to Ritchie Blackmore era Deep Purple, early Whitesnake or perhaps April Wine.  All quality references, albeit not hugely trendy these days, in my prospective. “Action Girl” has a catchy chorus and driving bass line. It reminds me Concrete Blonde. This was my favorite track on the record and I really like the pop rock style shown on this track.  These songs are focused primary on relationships and love gone wrong which has certainly been mined for years in this genre but remains interesting here due to the blend of hard rock/ pop styles as well as some scorching guitar licks and more than a dose of attitude. Tracks such as the driving “Speeding on the highway”, “That’s why I’m screaming” and the suggestive “Bitch” are certainly empowering while conversely “Carry me” seems to have a Christian rock message though it could be this writer’s interpretation.  I felt the track “I don’t need words” works well as a power ballad and the vocals are particularly strong in a Amy Lee sort of style.  Nice acoustic guitar work on the pretty “I’m leaving” and “Carry me”. I think the record has a good mix of rockers and ballads which help keep the listener interested. The lead vocalist’s style would lend itself even better to pop rock. Overall the style feels a slight bit dated on some tracks but the production on the record is very professional and I could certainly imagine hearing some of these tracks on modern rock radio.


Florida’s Elia presents a late-eighties, early nineties style in the stand out track "Let me out". Similar to Da Lench Mob or Brand Nubian, Elia embrace a turbulent, raspy flow, with a funky piano loop but with Busta Rhyme type outbursts of anger. This track has attitude with a fat bassline ala Too Short, and in your face lyrics. The chorus opens up the track and has a nice build up before returning to the verse. No subtleties in the lyrics as they express paranoia, striving to spotlight life’s hypocrisies and bust out of the barriers of establishment. The track "Hostage Negotiations" is a rock/rap hybrid with a solid guitar hook. This is a defiant track, a revolution song filled with in-your-face attitude. Elia have reached the boiling point and will not be held back by the system. Synth intro sets the tone for the fast paced delivery with a strong chorus and nice breaks throughout. "Brap" is a more playful, free style track compared with the other two. The jazz horn loop lightens up this track even though the message is pretty heavy with defiance. I would consider this the "Party" song in terms of the music as it is funky with an old school groove. Overall, Elia show a defiant style with in your face attitude but keep it funky and loose with horns, piano and some catchy choruses.


Tommy Larkin Music : Truth in anger

Galveston, Texas indie alt-country pop wizard Tommy Larkin presents a batch of songs that speak of breakup, regret, tornados, earthquakes, corporate greed and annoying co-workers on his new album "Truth in Anger". What first struck me as unique was the tone and style of Larkin’s vocals. He has a style similar to Beta Band, Ween , The Frogs and in some instances Jay Farrar. The half sung/half spoken word style lends itself well to the acoustic guitars, odd assortment of percussion and quirky keyboards. Larkin certainly has a consistent presence and style on this record and knows how to craft a song with a sense of humor as well as a good dose of truthiness. "Typing and Cursing" is relatable to anyone who’s worked in an IT department and has a bluesy lead guitar hook ala Jack White. Ending relationships is a recurring theme throughout this album and I feel several of these songs may be therapy for the writer in letting go of the past and moving on. "The meaner you are" parts 1-5 may be a bit redundant but send a clear message that being alone is much better than a bad romance filled with passive-aggressive actions. I would have kept this to a single, longer track. "Something Happened" is very effective in relaying the cost of war in a very personal way. "Nicki Bradshaw", a song told in the third person accounts the tragedy of a tornado and uses nice vocal effects and instrumentation to bring the listener into the storm, but I felt the effects were a bit distracting from the message of loss being relayed in the track. "California fault line" is my favorite track on the album evoking imagery of earthquakes as a metaphor for a love relationship split apart. This track has a country feel, with some creative backing vocals. "Mississippi Canyon 252" is certainly a topical track related to corporate greed, lack of accountability and fraud. This track is presented with anger but also a sense of humor in the last third of the song. It’s an anti-corporate protest song for a new generation. The production on this record is fairly professional, more so than some of the instrumentation but when it all comes together with Tommy’s unique vocal style and message it’s really quite enjoyable.


Al Berman Floating Wilderness

Al Berman has a lofty goal with his debut album, Floating Wilderness. The liner notes read "I want to write a song that makes you feel like it could be the last track you ever hear". This is a bold task for such a young artist and the results are mixed. Essentially, Berman has crafted a breakup album most relatable to those experiencing their first "lost love" and its accompanying loneliness, while longing for the great times they once shared. Clocking in at just under 30 minutes, the album is well paced for this subject matter with concise, albeit, well-worn themes. Album opener "Run away" is about setting out to sea with a girl. Good choice for track one seeing the theme of meeting a mysterious girl is recurring on this album. What redeems this track and many on the album from a bombardment of clichéd metaphors , however is the soulful voice, accomplished instrumentation and quality production. Creative bass lines, solid harmonies and nice piano work are abound which equate to fine musicianship. Berman is clearly a talented musician and this album has a high production value. However the "singsong" style of "Run away" is a precursor of a tendency to craft overly wordy verses which emphasize the writers point in a hurried way and therefore detract from the instrumentation and the overall message of the song. A similar problem occurs in other tracks such as "Hot Air Balloon", "Reminded of you" and "Floating wilderness". As a listener, I was waiting for a bridge or a hook in the chorus during several of these tracks but it never came. In terms of lyrics, Berman relies on a lot of "Creative Writing 101" clichéd couplets, for example "lounging on the side of the moon, honey maybe it’s too soon, when i’m with you I feel like it’s June" from "Hot Air Baloon (Ragtime Girl)" and "Your eyes glow like diamonds and your body is the rain since the day you left here your name’s played in my brain" from "Reminded of you". Also apparent are the forced use of rhymes, for example "we could go sailing in the deep blue sea , mumbling incomprehensibly holdin hands and shootin the breeze". Upon repeated listens, these aspects tend to detract from the meaning Berman is trying to get across. On the other hand, I was intrigued by the imagery of "The Ballad Of Crotchety Powns","Lune", which was my favorite track on the album, and the straight ahead theme of "I Wanna Party". Berman will surely grow as a writer with more life experience and I look forward to expanding themes in his writing. What stood out for me on this album upon first listen however was the singer’s voice. Berman has a vocal quality similar to Adam Green, E , and They Might Be Giants with an interesting, slightly nasal tone that I found really fit these tracks well and combined with the accomplished musicians on this album, made it a comfortable, albeit not entirely intriguing listen. Berman has a way to go before he can claim his lofty song writing goals but I feel he is heading in the right direction.


Simon Fagan video


Simon Fagan Unplugged EP

The first thing that struck me upon diving into the music of Dublin, Ireland’s Simon Fagan was the thick, rich quality of his vocals. Comparisons came to mind such as Ryan Adams, Glenn Hansard , Ray LaMontagne and Devendra Banhart. There is certainly a sultry confidence in his delivery which is well earned on this EP and goes well beyond the “folk singer/songwriter” label into blues, rock and soul. I could sense the American influences in his music and was interested in seeing the direction he took.  I was immediately drawn in by the pure, intimate and soulful nature of “Water’s edge”. This track has a sense of urgency and is adorned with lovely acoustic strumming and a yearning, soulful delivery. I felt the track could have been slightly shorter in length and still just as effective, however this aspect doesn’t detract from the quality of this song. “Tomorrow’s another day” stuck me as an optimistic track about letting go of the past and accepting circumstances as they are. Uplifting vocals along with a pretty melody go a long way in this track. “Something I don’t know” , which happens to be my favorite track on the EP, contains lovely harmonies on top of a eloquent lead vocal with a building piano accompaniment. This is certainly the “rocker” of the batch. This track reminded of the great Van Morrision.  I was taken in by the soaring vocals in the last half of the song.  “What’s the point on looking back” was very effective with it’s Dylan like quality. A folk song  about moving forward after a breakup. Great soaring vocals and a heartfelt delivery stood out to me. “Tired of trying” went in a laidback direction with lovely harmonies. The Bluesey vocal style was very effective. Overall I fell this EP is a great introduction to Fagan’s work, both lyrically and stylistically. I get a real sense of the intimacy, soul and power of what it must be like seeing him along with his talented backing band perform live at a small club.  


Link to Countless Thousands


Countless Thousands: We’re just excited to be here

Garden Grove, California trio Countless Thousands brings forth a playful, propulsive shot of modern rock to the landscape where many bands have strived to reach. When first researching the band, it was interesting to learn of the dissimilar backgrounds each member had. Danger Van Gorder came from the choir group, Davey Munch was a former Jazz bassist and Jon David was a former Civil War reenactment drummer. Despite dissimilar backgrounds and influences, together they really gel into a cohesive band with a common goal and a successful sound. My first impression was the amazing voice of Van Gorder and the great harmonies throughout the record. Van Gorder is a top notch vocalist with a very commercial quality in the best way. Accompanied with the searing and often soaring guitar work and  the propulsive bass and drums, these components really give this trio a big sound. Comparisons to Foo Fighters, Cursive, At The Drive In and Ted Leo came to mind as I was giving this record a first listen.  The production value of the record is top notch as well and several of the tracks would fit nicely in a modern rock format. The mastering is not overly compressed/loud like a lot of modern rock these days. I really got a good sense of the record with the opening track, “Overture”. It sets the tone for the record with a dual guitar assault and a big drum sound. “Fickle” had a lot of energy and a neat effect with dual vocals layered. “Chemical exchange”, “Prom Song” and “The Patriot” all utilize great harmonies and driving guitar riffs to draw the listener into the song. “The Patriot” is certainly topical as it delves into the hypocrisy of modern times (“freedom isn’t free”, Fox News, outsourcing, freedom fries). A couple of effective ballads are also presented with “Asskickers union” and “Cockfosters”. The former being a self-referential  love song obviously written from personal experience.  “Devil” was a great take on a classic guitar battle and reminded me a bit of Tenacious D while the A capella “No contest” showcased lovely vocal harmonies and fine musicianship. My favorite track on the album was “Too close to call” with its solid melody and catchy chorus, I think it would make a great first single. My overall impression of the record is that of a showcase for Van Gorder’s wonderful voice and effective/often times humorous lyrics. My only criticism of the record might be the length.  Although I thought the pacing and sequence of the tracks was fine, and the tracks were varied enough to keep my attention through 15 songs and the closer.