Saturday, June 16, 2018

Black Bluebirds - Like Blood for Music (2017)

Written by Brad Johnson, posted by blog admin

Few indie rock albums start off as well as Black Bluebirds’ Like Blood for Music does with “Love Kills Slowly”. It also works ideally as an opener as the song, essentially, lays out the band’s musical identity without ever seeming like they are pushing too hard for an audience reaction. The natural slant to their performances on this ten song studio effort, especially in regards to song structure, help make it one of the most satisfying guitar-heavy releases in recent memory. “Strange Attractor” hits hard without ever coming off as heavy handed and much of that is due to the effortless swagger Chad Helmonds brings to his drumming. Daniel Fiskum’s vocals take the lead here, but Jessica Rasche’s vocals offer some unobtrusive support while stukk enriching the final result.

The vivid qualities of “Life in White” are the first indisputable peak on Like Blood for Music and Fiskum’s writing takes a decidedly poetic turn. The acoustic flourishes built into this song give it an added shot of urgency that it might otherwise lack despite its overall excellence and Fuskum’s singing imparts the right amount of seriousness to the performance. “Battlehammer” and “Soul of Wood” are the album’s two strongest rock efforts and a big reason why is Chad Helmonds’ propulsive drumming that presses on the songs with a lot of verve and attitude. The lyrics for the latter tune are particularly effective and biting.

One of the album’s more dramatic moments comes with the spectacular “House of No More Dreams” and the weaving of Fiskum’s synthesizer work and Simon Husbands’ electric guitar is often rather stunning. They deliver a distinctly theatrical experience on songs like this without ever sounding overwrought. The strong pulse guiding the song “Don’t Fall in Love” gives Fiskum and Rasche alike a chance to flex their vocal chops in slightly surprising ways. Another powerful piece of quasi-musical theater comes with the penultimate track “My Eyes Were Clothes” and it’s arguably the album’s finest expression of using music to create a narrative of sorts for your ears to follow. It’s one of the album’s finest lyrics as well and it’s notable how Fiskum maintains the same laser focus in his writing that we hear from the band’s musical imagination. The songwriting suggests things for listeners rather than spelling everything out for them and the choice deepens the listening experience for devoted music fans.

Black Bluebirds’ journey out of a classic music hub like Minneapolis is considerably aided by how individual they are. They still use a familiar idiom, however, and that helps get their intensely personal songwriting over with a potentially wide audience. Like Blood for Music is a relatively short effort at only ten songs, but the discipline and focus that goes into making these songs potent is very memorable.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Rejectionist Front - Evolve (2017)

Written by Laura Dodero, posted by blog admin

Rejectionist Front’s continuing ascent to the upper echelon of modern rock acts picks up speed with their second album release Evolve. The four piece hasn’t been together for very long in comparison to where they are in their development and the exponential growth of their power and potential is a phenomenon they’ve successfully parlayed into plum festival appearances as well as important placements on high profile various artist releases as well as theatrical and television programming. They are politically engaged, particularly lead singer and songwriter Michael Perlman, but never in the quasi-evangelical way many music listeners find repelling. The band’s songs are, in one overriding one, about the challenges of being a human in an often inhumane world and their second album Evolve features a dozen songs further establishing them as one of the best hard rock acts achieving prominence today.

“Ride” kicks off this full length album with resounding emotional and sonic force. Michael Perlman is a singer who gives himself over to every track and manifests his talents differently each time out. Guitarist Lincoln Prout and bassist Tony Tino provide spot on backing vocals for this near anthemic number that makes it doubly effective. “All I Am” dispenses with the quasi high flown style they flirt with on the opener and instead take things in a more rough and ready, straight hard rock direction while losing none of their apparent chops and crisp attack. The sonic architecture of the album’s third song “Savior” is much the same as the second, but the construction is even tighter here and the chorus, in particular, is carried off exceptionally well.

Perlman’s ability to bring a distinct character to each of Evolve’s twelve songs continues to shine through on the track “All is the Same” and it previews a pensive side to the band’s songwriting that they explore in later songs as well. Perlman is, undoubtedly, the straw stirring the band’s drink in many respects, thanks to his aforementioned qualities and the way he handles the lyrical content, but guitarist Lincoln Prout demonstrates a similar chameleon-like talent for adapting his guitar sound as needed. The contrast of Perlman’s near bluesy growl and accompanying guitar jangle opening the song “Reclaim” soon transforms into one of the band’s more rousing numbers and a definite highlight of the release. There’s a more menacing quality conveyed by the song “Innocent” and the claustrophobic bite heard in some of Lincoln Prout’s guitar playing, likewise, ranks among the musical highlights of Evolve and their continued strength in building hard hitting choruses and instrumental breaks continues to serve them well. The finale, “Inside of Me”, is naturally one of the album’s more inward looking efforts, but Rejectionist Front’s songwriting is such that even the personal finds an universal resonance – as it should. This New York City four piece has passion to burn, but Evolve makes it abundantly clear they are a band of the world as well.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Chris Murphy - Water Under the Bridge (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

Hailing from Los Angeles, California Chris Murphy drops one off the most excitingly innovative yet truly vintage sounding LPs of the decade.  His debut with The Blind Baker Blues Band leaves no stone unturned in its compositionally impenetrable and harmonically cascading musical hybrid.  A true mad scientist’s potion that seamlessly and intoxicatingly meshes together blues, pop, singer/songwriter folk, rock, rockabilly, swing, jazz, soul and sweeping, lush multi-tracked movements into a cohesive shakedown where genre and style have no place.  In Murphy’s world passion and playing mean everything.  These two components of Murphy’s music truly mean everything and are worth their weight in pure gold. 

Though steadfast and stalwart implementations of organic instruments are the main theme of this record, they are practically incorporated into each song in quite unique and transcendental ways.  Yet Murphy’s adherence to the classic ways on Water Under the Bridge keeps this record devoid of pretentious inclinations and showboating just for the sake of it.  Water Under the Bridge is packed full of honest to goodness songs that are daring in their tried and true instrumentation but willingly stretch the boundaries of somewhat set in stone musical styles (country, blues, pop, rock, rockabilly, folk, soul, etc.).  It’s the jazz element on this record that makes it dangerous and unpredictable and that dynamic is in full bloom on opening shack-shaker “Moveable Feast” and its blitzing acoustic/electric violin attack, rockabilly rhythms, crystalline acoustic guitars and fierce, surprisingly aggressive piano playing.  This anything goes formula carries over into the more moderately paced and tongue-in-cheekily titled “Joan Crawford Dances the Charleston.”  The speedier rushes of the opener are reduced to a simmering blues crawl with a 1940s country slow dance permeating the measured pacing and thoughtful piano melodies.  Six shooting vocal harmonies draw a bead on your eardrums as guitars, banjos, violins, upright bass licks and brimstone chucking fiddle playing hurtle in every direction on the road-burning bluegrass scorch of “Table for Two.”  The overload of attitude and melody make this track a keeper across the board and Murphy’s understated, honey-coated vocals paint memorable lines throughout.  This ditty meets its polar opposite in “Riverboat Blues’” creeping blues wail where extensive violin licks underpin a workingman’s rhythmic groove and searing acoustic bits. 

If anything, Water Under the Bridge is completely airtight from the first note to the last and the songwriting is of a high melodic standard yet unafraid of experimenting with genre parameters.  “I Swear I’m Going to Learn This Time” implants an accessible pop vocal harmony into an angular old school piece that gets jazzy, halts to a soulful flicker and then layers on a successive series of instrumental blows where each instrument gets a chance to shine with a lead bit.  “My Spanish Lover” has shades of Al Dimeola in its graceful, elegant acoustic guitar lines and spicy time-signature switches.  “The Lemon Rag” returns to a bluegrass blitzkrieg where speedy pacing and layer upon layer of stringed instruments coil around the tightly woven piano melodies.  There’s something for everyone on Water Under the Bridge.  Chris Murphy is a multi-instrumental visionary that really knows how to compose enrapturing music.  If anyone in the last 20 years has been a virtuoso of these particular genres, it’s without a doubt Murphy and the Blind Blake Blues Band.     

Alpha Mule - Peripheral Vision (2017)

Written by Larry Robertson, posted by blog admin

Country n’ western meets folk when Alpha Mule dons their instruments for a down-home BBQ full of tight melodies and rising vocal harmonies.  With touches of bluegrass, blues and other rural Americana sounds; Peripheral Vision is the band’s debut of original songs and there’s some great stuff to behold here.  Lots of quick banjo, acoustic guitar shakedowns with verse vocal patterns giving way to grandstand choruses that really make you want to sing-a-long at the top of your lungs.

“Corpus Christi” kicks things off in dusky bluegrass mode; relatively upbeat instrumentation smothered by a layer of production darkness that creates a nice sonic blend.  Banjo and acoustic guitar duel while the group’s two main players cook up some delicious vocal harmonies.  The group, comprised of Joe Forkan on guitar/vocals and Eric Stoner banjo/vocals manage to cover a lot of ground as just a duo while bringing in a few players to handle additional instrumentation like upright bass, etc.  “On the Moon” is decidedly more upbeat with more twinkling to the stringed instruments and a cleaner, more arid sound, as particularly fat, beefy bass lines drive the action as the banjo and guitars glide overtop.  The end result has an overall happier feel with some cool lead vocals paving the way into listener’s memories.  The title cut is a classic Nashville tearjerker with the stalwart steel guitar accoutrements coloring in all of the dark spaces and making for a soulful slow-burn full of authentic country twang thanks to the acoustic guitar n’ banjo duel that happens in the body of the song.  “The Distance” tempers the old school country style with jazz piano and it’s another strong piece that comes in and hits you in those low emotional places. 

Turning to that boogie upright bass pluckin’ of the rockabilly style, “Pavlov” is a funky number with emphasis on the rhythm section as the guitars and banjos crackle n’ fade alongside some husky low-toned vocals.  It’s obvious that these two are in tight control of their sound at all times.  Similarly driving and uptempo “Mule in the Mine” has that river panning, coal miner’s tinge borrowed from bluegrass but it comes off as more far country than farmland.  It’s an interesting old school track that’s catchy but expressive at the same time.  “Step Outside” brings the steel guitars back into focus before “The Ballad of Huell Howser” goes back to a body shakin’, country two-step.  The flamenco flavored, Spanish guitar of “Music of Our Hearts” is another unique aural deviation from the band’s core elements and “Empire” ends the album with a dark-folk apocalypse.  Some B-side bonus tracks and alternate duo versions of the album tracks (without the extra instrumentation) round things out for a very complete listen that covers all of the ground that you want it to when the listening is all said and done. 

Peripheral Vision is a modern classic of the country genre that nobody should miss out.  With excellent and tight playing, powerful words and vocals and a production job that brings out every song’s greatest strengths, there’s a lot to discover here for fans of the way back style.  Anyone that digs country, folk, bluegrass and beyond should have a heck of a time with this one.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Blue Apollo - Light Footed Hours + Circles (2017)

Written by Raymond Burris, posted by blog admin

Blue Apollo’s 6 song debut finds this trio getting started off on the right foot and then some.  With a rocking sound equally composed of melody and unusual indie rock swerves that include dramatic build-ups, trippy texture work and some musical arrangements that are almost symphonic in their delivery.  Light-Footed Hours is an EP with enough musical variety happening that it hits with the satisfaction of listening to a full-length. 

The back to back attack of the dexterous and speedy “Walls” which muscularly flexes its way through pop punk tempos, diamond sharp indie riffs focused on higher-end melodic pinches, busy drums with a steady tom-tom battery, beefy bass grooves, spitfire guitar solos and guitarist/vocalist Luke Nassar’s gorgeous melody vocals are wonderfully complimented by the slower paced though no less gnarly “Feeling Right.”  “Feeling Right” seems to cherry pick its deep, bustling bass grooves from funk while the guitar work and heartfelt vocals are straight out of the soulful r n’ b department.  All throughout both tracks Nassar threads the material tightly with his pointed indie licks that enjoy minor keys and noisy 90s indie melodies but somehow smoothens out the rough edges for the creation of some really snazzy pop leaned stuff.  The band’s more rocking grooves reach an apex on third cut, “Therapy” where a fuzzy rock riff is filtered through an 80s style sonic production tone with rhythmic dedication and cresting melodic vocals that complete this piece to perfection.  There’s not a bum or sour note hit throughout this three track marathon and then the album starts to morph and shapeshift into its next phase. 

On the second side of this EP the trio draws down the mood on the plaintive and sublime “Avalanche” where Luke’s voice is accompanied by a piano in a lengthy intro movement that ratchets up the melodic drama more and more with each passing moment.  As the backbeat begins to fill in thanks to Jeremiah Jensen’s stern kick drum thump and a budding root system of guitar/bass inflections, the tune eventually reaches a climactic point where things step up into some melodic rockin’.  They ply the same mindset to “Meant to Be” but hold back on the piano accoutrements and replace that stylistic component with some showering drops of acoustic guitar and another deliberate climb to a summit of groovy indie pop.  It’s a cool facet of the band’s sound that even when they are tackling full on ballads that they always set the songs up to go somewhere truly special and noteworthy.  Finale number “Circles” is a bonus track but it fits in with the framework of the rest of the tunes without a hitch.  The rushing tom-tom percussion creates a busy, swatting backbeat that’s colored in by radiant guitar licks and lush, organic bass lines.  A few dabs of piano and some fully fleshed vocal hooks round this track out into a pyrotechnic explosion of atmosphere and ambience that’s all wrapped up by a bow of stellar songwriting. 

Light-Footed Hours is an ear pleasing EP with all killer and no filler.  Blue Apollo know how to rock and they are a truly “alternative” sounding band with a style that would have really made during the 90s or the indie/emo surge that went into the early two –thousands.  This is a solid release and it comes with a high recommendation for fans of the genre.

Black Bluebirds - Like Blood for Music (2017)

OFFICIAL: FACEBOOK: Written by Brad Johnson, posted by blog...