Monday, August 14, 2017

Rhett Repko - About Last Night (2017)

Written by Pamela Bellmore, posted by blog admin

Acoustic/electric troubadour Rhett Repko hails from the mighty Maryland scene; a scene that has given us everyone from heavy riff master Wino to the wild psychedelia of Animal Collective.  Anytime that I receive a promo or demo from the state, I’m always at ease knowing that I will probably be in for some really good music; Repko’s debut EP, a 6-track effort entitled About Last Night is no exception to the rule.  Splicing together tuneful charm and chunky guitar work, Rhett and his three-piece band provide some dazzling grooves and anthem-ready choruses for the listener to sink his or her teeth into.

The lead-in composition “Were You Ever Really Mine?” sports a slick, radio-friendly acoustic groove and prominent vocal melodies that showcases Repko’s knack for sultry high-note melodies.  Though he could steer the track in one sole direction, acoustic meditation is intersected by Stefan Heuer’s heavier riffs and busy lead guitar licks.  As the rhythm section goes from softly accompanying the lighter portions to employing slightly more bombastic on the rock portions, the song ends up far more than the sum of its parts.  “She Loves Me” has a punchy, drunk by noon country feel that’s more befitting of the outlaw originators than the false successors.  Filled to the brim with dirt-under-the-nails blues riffs and zippy lead bits, Repko and his acoustic maintain soulful melody even when things start ripping a little harder than usual. 
The EP’s centerpiece “About Last Night” could wow them at pop radio or ignite an arena crowd into silent communion with lighters in the air.  It’s a soft, slow motion number totally built around Rhett’s airy vocals, wandering guitar trips and a symphonic section.  A pair of late game rockers “Inside of Me” and “On the Run” ramp up the mood, respectively before closer “Bye Bye Baby” sends things off in waves of tranquil singer/songwriter, acoustic-guitar led pop.  It’s a romantic track that stands as one of the EP’s defining moments. 

This EP could become a huge crossover success with college radio behind it.  Mainstream radio could additionally benefit from adding Rhett Repko’s tunes to their playlist.  In the meantime, intrepid rock explores that search every corner of the Internet for satisfaction through music will no doubt find quite a gem in Rhett Repko’s flagship release.  The standout tunes on the release are  “She loves me,” “About Last Night” and “On the Run”, but it’s quite solid overall and should appeal to music devotees and casual fans alike.

Jackson Howard - Just for the Mystery (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

Singer/songwriters are a dime a dozen these days but good ones are a really rare commodity.  Jackson Howard proves that he is the good category with his second album, Just for the Mystery.  It’s largely an acoustic affair with a showcase placed on Howard’s finely aged, well-fermented vocals which glide through the tracks with potency and energy.  The journey taken here explores tender bits of folk, grizzled yet highly melodic country, groovy blues, playful jazz and just enough rock n’ roll to switch things up. 

Rock is the order of the day on the lively title-track with its electric guitar expositions running roughshod over acoustic bliss and tautly played rhythms (full of swinging beats and walking bass licks).  It allows for Jackson’s voice to crest several hills and reach its full potential throughout as he sings with the chops of a well-oiled soul/blues artist that’s right in his element with such a twitchy track.  “A Place in this World” draws down the sun in starry sky displays of melodic acoustic guitar, blue-eyed vocals and expertly controlled tempos.  The chorus rocks thing up slightly, in a more adult-contemporary kind of way than the straight mainstream rockin’ of the title track, but reels your ears in and keep them there when that glorious chorus comes on.

“Run with Me” is softer still until the last 30 seconds and the tune’s aura invokes an after midnight feel where the guitars serenely ebb alongside Howard’s emotionally charged musings.  “Hideaway” is an uplifting country/folk duet where the acoustics adopt a tangible southern twang and the vintage vocal duet with Mandy Cook reminds one of when Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton would intertwine their melodies (as they did so lavishly with “Islands in the Stream”)… it’s not EXACTLY that kind of song, but the material reminds one of those days. 
A sizzling Led Zeppelin cover, “The Battle for Evermore,” reinstates Howard’s tougher blues side and thanks to Rachel Horter navigating Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny’s harmonies, we have a solid winner that relishes its muscular acoustic guitars and rhythmic backbone. 

Elsewhere, the album stays cool and collected thanks to countrified, acoustic burners such as “Surround You,” “Driftwood,” “You Are More” and “Tribute.”  The jazz rocker “Dizzy” interjects another altogether different musical feel that pairs nicely with the piano/vocal ballad “If I Fall’s” glimmering hope.  A rowdy, rocked-out recreation of EMF’s “Unbelievable” ends the record in all out rock n’ roll excess, cementing Just for the Mystery as a recording bursting with  musical surprises. 

Circus of the West - We'll See Ourselves Out (2017)

Written by Craig Bowles, posted by blog admin

Circus of the West’s first album We’ll See Ourselves Out covers a surprising amount of stylistic ground while tackling themes few configurations feel comfortable grappling with on a debut. The confidence radiating from this collection clearly indicates Circus of the West believed and likely still do how they can “establish” their presence, not through perseverance and refinement, but rather through sheer talent alone. There is a strong argument this is the case. Bands like this are largely absent from the mainstream and those that are commercial mainstays lack the innate chemistry Circus of the West exhibits here. This sounds like a group of musicians who didn’t come together arbitrarily, but rather formed into this existing unit because they are meant to be playing alongside one another. We’ll See Ourselves Out is one of the purest expressions of creative fireworks between top notch performers in recent history.

“Birdhand” gets the album off to an impressively wild and wooly start with its battery of guitar flourishes. The interplay between guitarists Ben Court and Joel Leviton is one of the defining elements of the band’s sound and they exhibit their talents here in an energetic workout that clearly inspires the rest of the band around them. Vocalist Edwin Caldie unleashes a white-knuckle, wild eyed vocal that, nonetheless, shows a deceptive amount of control. It’s always thrilling to hear a band who command their material so completely they can give listeners the thrill of sounding like they are about to run off the rails without ever actually doing so. The pace and intensity calm down with the album’s second track “Some Connections”, but the same kinetic interplay between guitars Leviton and Court create much of its creative spark. The track “Nothing Special” is one of the darker numbers on We’ll See Ourselves Out and the contrast between Caldie’s clean, emotive vocals and the lightly underlined strum and drang of the ominous piano melody is key to its ultimate success.

The comparatively low-fi outing of “Valentine Eye” strikes a notably different note on the collection without ever sounding out of place, but “Looking In” returns listeners to the fiery guitar rock we heard on the album’s opening number. The bass and percussion on the song “Asma” has infectious pop energy and a visceral sound attributable to the production. This is a band that sounds like they are playing right next to you and gunning, in the friendliest way possible, for your throat. The lyrics are rather dark despite the bounce in the arrangement and it makes for quite a compelling juxtaposition. The last full song on We’ll See Ourselves Out is the simply titled “More” and finds the band returning to a more sedate musical landscape with tangible pop leanings. There’s a little something for everyone on We’ll See Ourselves Out and Circus of the West get the material over with great style and deceptively simple sophistication.  

Monday, August 7, 2017

Julia McDonald - Gravity (2016)

Written by Joshua Stryde, posted by blog admin

Julia McDonald’s debut Gravity is a first release you’ll remember for quite some time. It’s a six song collection carrying every bit as much lyrical and musical weight as most full length albums but features a collection of tracks with a well honed focus that never veers off track. McDonald is nineteen years old, but she already sounds like a seasoned artist capable of conveying any song to listeners and tailors her voice quite nicely to the musical accompaniment around her. Six songs, furthermore, seems like an ideal length for this release and affords McDonald ample opportunity to show off her talent for taking on a variety of styles and tempos. There’s also a strong singer/songwriter presence on this release thanks to the frequent presence of acoustic guitar but the drumming gives it a modern feel and avoids much straight-ahead, predictable percussion. It’s a lot of little touches that takes these great songs and make them into something even more.

The relaxed and confident movement of the EP’s title track starts Gravity off in fine form. The lyrical excellence of the song gets an added shine applied thanks to McDonald’s evocative singing. Her skills with phrasing and bringing an emotive quality to each line are amazing for such a young and quantifiably “inexperienced” singer. McDonald, at only nineteen years old, sings these songs full of thorny emotions and subject matter with the assurance and insight of someone much older. Regardless if her interpretations and the songs themselves are culled from personal experiences or purely imaginative acts inspired from another source, McDonald approaches the EP’s songs as if her life depended on nailing them and the title cut is one of the best examples. “Games” has traditional instrumentation providing much of its musical shape, but there is a stronger pop edge powering this track than we heard on the opener. The shifting rhythms she explores are quite modern and seem to reflect a little hip hop influence on a release that, most assuredly, doesn’t belong in that genre. The percussion does, however, give these songs a quirky twist that they might otherwise lack with a simpler treatment.

“No Good for Me” is cynical, vulnerable, and often nakedly cruel. It is, however, a brutally honest song that McDonald conveys to her listeners without any overt displays of sentimentality. It’s much more in the singer/songwriter area than “Games”, but there’s commercial appeal built into all of those songs to one degree or another. The EP’s final track “Simpler Things” has a strong synthesizer presence than many of the earlier track and a much more threatening posture. McDonald is obviously a performer focused on writing and recording serious minded songs rather than pursuing empty stardom alone, but she frames all of her efforts with a five star pop song sound that gets the music over in the best possible way.   

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Suburbs - Hey Muse! (2017)


Written by Jay Snyder, posted by blog admin

It’s obvious from the first notes of the title track that The Suburbs are hearkening back to a time when New Wave ruled the roost.  Thanks to genre forging releases from American bands and the UK outfits, the signature sound was forged in stone.  What you might not know is that The Suburbs was among that first tier of the new wave movement. In this opener they cement all of the various components of the sound into place; chunky, funky bass guitar, stop/start guitar riffs with a punk/new wave/reggae kind of groove, well-aimed percussion and a strong lead vocal leading the way to pure bliss.  It sets the tone for the excellent tunes to come. 

“Lost You on the Dance Floor” has a hip-shaking, reggae-infused guitar stingers interpreted via ska, new wave and punk that really stick in the craw…  The dark yet breezy bass lines and driving drum beats n’ slinky snare fills craft night sky imagery as each element is sewn together by the starry synths and the juxtaposition of the impacting lead vocals and heavily manipulated female background melodies.  Combine a punk band, a mariachi band and Dire Straits then you will get the steamy, fizzy boil of “Je Suis Strange.”  There are vibes culled from hard rock, wandering riffage heavy on the ethereal twang, top tier vocal trade-offs, trumpet accoutrements and one of the album’s strongest lyrical arrangements.  A funk-leaned, rock n’ roll swing is employed on the blue-eyed strut of “Lovers.”  This mid-tempo cut is propelled by swooping bass guitar lunges and keyboard bass double while the brass interjects and the vocals answer with another set of contagious verses/choruses.  The Suburbs prove that they can manage any type of different tempo and make it seem easy all throughout Hey Muse! 

Despite a major in new wave the band’s has honor-roll minors in every other genre; the funk punk, guitar heavy jamming of “Can’t Take You Back” and “Unified Force” rocking a bit harder than anything else, “Our Love” making a tropical splash with conga style percussion dancing to watery synths and growly horns, “Cupid” turning to vintage 80s new wave for a strictly vintage representation of the sound, “Butterfly” drifting off into an ocean of sparse, arid synths and somber vocals that allow the penultimate “When We Were Young” returning to the aural feel of the band’s earliest releases. 

Hey Muse! contains 10 tracks and there’s not a bad one in the bunch.  The alchemical origins of the band’s sound are truly old school new wave but the band isn’t afraid to incorporate whatever style is needed to balance the songwriting mixture.  All killer, no filler, this album is a downright winner. 

Yam Haus - Stargazer (2018)

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