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.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
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.http://therootcause.bandcamp.com/
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
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.
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Tuesday, February 7, 2012
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
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.