Sunday, July 30, 2017

Quantum Split - America (2017)

Written by Joshua Stryde, posted by blog admin

Quantum Split is based out of the New York City/Boston area and formed around Berklee College of Music student and vocalist Soleil Laurent. Her individualistic lyrics, unique vocal talents, and charismatic presentation will certainly draw in an ample amount of listeners, but her band mates are a significant reason the band has already logged appearances at the 6th Annual Kigaliup Music Festival in Rwanda and at important New York City venues like the Gramercy Theatre and Irving Plaza. Their fusion of rock and soul includes strands of other musical influences – they exhibit a penchant for classic hard rock muscle, funkier passages, and even a smattering of blues primarily manifested through Laurent’s voice and some of the flash in Adrian Read’s guitar work, They bring a rare mix to the table and it helps set them apart from other modern rock acts – the musical daring coupled with unbridled passion and more than a little technical expertise.

The title track of the release, “America”, is a song embracing this moment in our national history. Laurent has anger to burn in the lyrics, for sure, but this song isn’t just some rant against forces seeking to undo or destroy the social progress made in the last half century. There’s an ample amount of intelligence behind the lyrics and Laurent varies her approach enough to give the vocal interpretation added depth. Adrian Read’s lead guitar takes the same varied approach. There’s an abundance of melody and rugged, hard-charging rock guitar certain to bowl over listeners. There’s an understated funky edge to some parts of the song that insinuates itself in the audience’s consciousness and it gives it a lightly percolating feel that sweetens its rough edges.

“Runaway” doesn’t pack quite the same punch as the title song, but has an arguably better build and more atmospherics than the earlier song. The interplay between Laurent’s vocals and Read’s guitar work is very noteworthy, but they benefit enormously from great rhythm section support from bassist Ivan Hardy and drummer Anthony Anderson. Laurent’s emotional vocal has the same power heard on the earlier track but she gets even deeper into the personal and heartfelt with this song than the more impersonal first one. Regardless of their individual slants, the two tracks on this release have incredible flexibility and raw force quite unlike any other new rock act working today. America has enormous ambition and manages to cover a lot of bases over the course of two songs. The band, likewise, avoids even a hint of self indulgence and gets their musical goals over without ever noticeably straining themselves. Quantum Split is an act sure to be around for some time to come and they’ve gotten off to a rousing start with this recording.   

Friday, July 28, 2017

Russ Still and the Moonshiners - Still Cookin' (2017)

Written by Gary Fuller, posted by blog admin

This sort of music may be considered passé and commercially unviable by the tastemakers who spend their time promoting such things, but Russ Still and the Moonshiners are still plugging away at a form long since deserted by many of their peers with a sense of inspiration and craft that gives lie to the idea Southern rock and its stylistic antecedents are well nigh exhausted. Instead, Russ Still and the Moonshiners’ Still Cookin’ strikes the same critical nerves that have always made such music successful and they do so with an utterly believable presentation never stretching the boundaries of the listener’s patience. Their guitar based attack isn’t just a riff and roll jamboree either – there’s an abundance of melody heard on Still Cookin’ and the band are adept at invoking atmospherics with their instruments alone. Make no mistake, however, that Still and his partners can deliver the knockout rock and roll blows with the best bands of both the present and past.

“Promised Land” comes at listeners with such energy and earnestness it promises much for the remainder of the album. Russ Still’s singing is the perfect vocal vehicle to get this over with audiences and he has the sort of skill with phrasing and vocal melodies that make the solid lyrics seem like all that much more. That’s further illustrated on the album’s second song “Long Way from Home” where he revisits a familiar conceit in this musical form (blues) and makes it his own through idiosyncratic use of language and his unique talent for getting inside the song through his singing. There’s certainly more acoustic guitar in the second song than the first and it makes for a nice change of pace from the opener. The first of the album’s big ballad numbers comes with the track “I Can’t” and, unlike the efforts you get from a lot of modern country acts, there’s little doubt listening to this that it isn’t somehow ripped straight from the pages of Russ Still’s autobiography. The band proves quite up to its measure and builds a nuanced, highly patient musical narrative serving the song quite well.

“Gone Fishin’” is personal, but good fun nonetheless and has a fiery musical backing that will get audiences on their feet. The chorus is very strong and readymade for the sort of crowd participation moments that this form often prospers with on tour. “10,000 Ways” is another powerful ballad, a little less personal than the earlier “I Can’t”, but musically varied with its strong harmony vocals and sparkling piano lines. “Run Away” ends Still Cookin’ with a final blast of Southern rock grit, but this is a band that never applies those effects with a cudgel and, instead, shows equal parts swagger and finesse that distinguishes their work from many acts and performers working in this vein. Russ Still and the Moonshiners have left a visible mark with their fourth album and appear to be at or near the peak of their musical powers.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Donoma - Falling Forward (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

Avant-garde, Wisconsin rockers Donoma who take their name from Native American Omaha origin (the name meaning “sight of the sun”) really lays on the throttle throughout the twelve tracks of their second long-player Falling Forward.  With an absolutely demon possessed front woman in Stephanie Vogt and a ragged sound featuring all sorts of electric shock and varied instruments, there’s personality to spare in each and every song contained herein. 

The opening couplet of “Sick” and “Jack in the Box” are chockfull of dirty guitars, country twang, slide licks and chuck wagon rhythms that reckon of spaghetti western movies, 60s legends The Doors and The Stones and even the Dead Kennedys in “Rawhide” mode.  “Memory” lifts the same template but gussies up the guitar work in noisy, angular pop and fiery solos set to the key of Robbie Krieger.  Vogt’s trembling, vibrato-rich blues voice is an easy standout, crafting a monster melody pattern that just takes over the brain while the rhythms drive hard and the violin/viola additions mix up a sarsaparilla of sultry rock n’ roll.  “A Change is Gonna Come” is a Sam Cooke cover twisted into a Joplin-styled guitar churner that manages to capture the feel of the howling blues queen’s music without sounding like her, all the while possessing even grittier, grimier instrumentation. 

“He Loves Me Not” twinkles with a hop-a-long saloon piano coupled to achingly gorgeous jazz rhythms and overdriven guitars that vault through faster pacing as the overall tempos pick-up…  Stephanie street-preaches her way from front to back cover, giving a cheating companion a verbal lashing in sharp bursts of manic vocalizing.  Elements of chamber music, dub and theatrical instrumentation paint “Deep Beneath the Woods” as one of the album’s oddest but most unique pieces of work.  Vogt’s expressive crooning rides like thunder over haunting keyboard drones, electronica oscillations, violins and a strange Middle Eastern slant.  Elegant and exotic, this track could be the record’s finest import.  Jingling, dissonant guitars and folksy malice turn to cracking snare fills and doom-y crawls on the night-black oddities of “Another Light,” another masterpiece track.  60s twisted psyche-guitar swirls further the simultaneously comforting/dangerous atmosphere. 

Exploding with jarring, rhythmic stops/starts, nerve-frayed guitar solos and a venomous attitude punctuating the vocals, “Splinter” is a prime slab of noise rock that could have easily landed the band on the Amphetamine Reptile Records’ roster some fifteen years prior.  Stoned out riffing buried by the blues collides with melodic violins in the hard, heavy rock of “Unfortunate One,” which happens to feature Vogt’s strongest vocal performance on the record in my opinion (ringing of Morrison at his gruffest).  “A New Shred of Colors” is one of the few ballads to be found here (the other being closer “Come with Me”) and it’s a different trip overflowing with touching acoustic guitars, snappy snare work and walking bass lines that really tell a story.  A sky burning psychedelic riff assault returns the mood back to the vibe on “Unfortunate One,” thanks to the powerful performances heard on “Otherside.” 
Falling Forward is a near perfect record.  Intense performances, outstanding musicianship, songwriting variety and diesel fueled energy give Donoma a power many bands can only dream of.  Real rock and rollers will want to pick this one up without hesitation. 

Heavy America - ...Now (2017)

Written by Ed Price, posted by blog admin

Roaring their way onto over twenty college radio stations including my local Pittsburgh one WPTS, Heavy America are boldly taking the international scene by storm.  With a focused rock sound devoid of trendy elements such as overdone programming, rap/rock hybridization, synth-pop and 8-bit Nintendo sounds, this threesome places a rough n’ tumble guitar, organic bass/drums and a strong vocalist front n’ center at the heart of their sound.  Sprinkles of keyboards are there for atmosphere but this is a rock band the way it should be; organic, untouched by overproduction and roaring in their dynamic juxtapositions.
Forward thinking songwriting is all about the meat and potatoes.  Though certain pieces like the mid-album gargantuan “Casting Stones” roll the tape for a mammoth five minutes and change, the complexity is in the composition, not over-the-top soloist efforts that outshine some of the musicians’ unified playing.  And unified they are, apparent right out of the bullpen in “Proud Shame’s” country-kissed, rock n’ blues gumbo.  This is down home vittles with a pocket rhythm section holding down the 4/4 yet veering slightly into other signatures thanks to spacious, Wovenhand-esque country guitar breaks going supernova into hard rock raucousness in the chorus.  Vocalist/guitarist Mike Seguin has the right voice for this type of stuff, capable of lower hums and a higher wail with his band mates coloring in the gray areas around him.  “Bleed Mary” is cut from similar cloth in the same mill as open, ringing notes sustain graceful melody until the moment when big riffs are necessary to hammer home the railroad spikes. 

Sometimes the treacherous dynamics from softness to sizzling are abandoned for songs with a singular mindset.  “Pray for Me” has been available for purchase as a single on CdBaby and several digital outlets for some time and it’s a showcase for booming hard-rock where the riff is king and the slashing cymbal strikes and tautly tuned snares of Dan Fried deliver maximum mayhem.  The same can be said of “Goliath” and “Achilles Fail,” both of which are completely unwound rockers meant to ignite the dance floor with pumping fists and swinging hippie hair.  “Sweet Kisses” takes raging blues rock n’ roll and slows it down a half-step for another jam that could easily hit radio stations and stage a hostile takeover.  Digging deeper into the record you get weird, Doors influenced psychedelic rock filtered through Seattle grunge on the sultry undulation of “I Can Take It” and “Heavy Eyes,” although the latter presents a more anthem-ready, ballad quality. 

The songwriting is almost fully fleshed which is rare for new bands and despite “Sweet Kisses” and “Heavy Eyes” perhaps lacking stronger choruses, the rest of the material is elaborately put together.  …Now perhaps stands for Heavy America’s time, because their music is certainly needed in the right here and now. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dru Cutler - Hometown (2017)

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

Hometown is the newest release from musician/vocalist/songwriter Dru Cutler and the title song alone makes it worth your time. Cutler obviously has a design for this brief release and there’s little question you can make a case the second song is a continuation of themes and concerns first brought up in the title song. Cutler’s collaborators and cohorts come together with him to make this one of the year’s more memorable indie releases regardless of duration. The two songs aren’t unfinished drafts or padded out with filler to hit some arbitrary running time. There is, instead, a feeling that every note and line is focused to a specific goal and Cutler inhabits the center of each track with vocals more than capable of exploiting each song’s promise to the fullest.

He’s particularly effective on the first song. “Hometown” will likely make more of an immediate impact on listeners thanks to its direct line of attack and transparent construction. You can hear how Cutler put this one together, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable and there’s no visible stitching. The interlacing of glittering, even elegant, piano lines with the persistent acoustic guitar is a basic fundamental Cutler and his band approach with total command. They play and sing with confidence, but the song’s tempo never becomes strident. The song, instead, sounds filled with purpose without ever straining for that effect. It, undoubtedly, makes Cutler’s job as vocalist all the more easier, but his lyrics also take a lot of the burden off him as a singer. Instead of vesting this familiar topic with a carousel of tropes all too common to any listener, Cutler grounds his songwriting in concrete imagery and distinctive point of view that make this song more enjoyable than most.

Hometown’s second track “Infinite Moons” shifts gears in a memorable way. There’s a strong Pink Floyd/Beatles influence on this song, but it’s never so pronounced that the track lapses into some weird imitation or tribute. There’s a plethora of harmony vocals in this song, much more than the opener, and they provide a nice contrast with some moments of pure dissonance that come during the performance. “Infinite Moons” dovetails nicely with the preceding songs and listeners can certainly hear how this song, at least emotionally, carries on the character and mood heard in the earlier track. It’s a much more musically atmospheric number, but never self-indulgent. These two songs show, without a doubt, that Dru Cutler is far from some one trick pony and has both the talent and fearlessness to follow his creativity wherever it may take him. We, as listeners, are better \off for the experience and Hometown will reward you more with additional play.

Yam Haus - Stargazer (2018)

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