Sunday, October 29, 2017

Elliot Schneider - Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basketcase (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

Elliot Schneider’s musical career is, in some ways, a microcosm about the rock and roll experience in the second half of the 20th century and beyond. Schneider’s talents as a composer and musician are great enough that they earned the attention of luminaries like Les Paul and Schneider’s later musical acts like his band the Pitts played live in seminal venues such as New York City’s CBGB’s and move in the same circles as iconic performers of that era such as Television and the Patti Smith Group. Schneider later followed another path, returning to college and embarking on a teaching career that sustained him until his recent retirement. Schneider, at this point, committed himself to playing music again in a much more public fashion and his fourth album, Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basketcase, serves as an excellent introduction for those unfamiliar with Schneider’s skills and a glorious affirmation and elaboration of his gifts for those already familiar with his work.

Many songwriters would love to have written “The Moon Has Flown Away” and the graceful, free-flowing unity of the music and lyrics is so natural that one can easily assume it emerged fully formed from Schneider’s imagination. He has organic, effortless pop inclinations thanks to the ingrained sense of melody he possesses and few songs on this release express those gifts as clearly as “The Moon Has Flown Away”. His love for traditional rock and roll gets a nice workout on “Diehard Killjoy”, but it’s more than just an entertaining raver. The deceptive simplicity might mean some overlook this tune, but that’s a mistake. Everything from the well-placed backing vocals, the transitions between verses continually winding themselves up and straight-ahead rock muscle, and tight interplay between the instruments makes this tune stand out as being far greater than the sum of its individual parts.

He throws some organ into the mix on the nostalgic “Lost on the Radio” and it adds a new dimension to the music that complements his lyrics and vocal style. “Captain Argent” has a more vital contemporary sound than any of the album’s first four songs and the indie alt-rock posturing we hear has a lot of verve and breezy, chiming guitars. Schneider turns in one of his more gritty and engaged vocals. The traditional rock vibe returns with the song “Overruling Neo-Fascists” and it makes for one of the more likable tracks on the album if, for no other reason, the sheer incongruity of bringing this musical style together with the subject matter. You can hear a small, but significant, punk rock influence in the song that gives it at least a little of its expected bite. He wheels out the organ again and some fist-clinched guitar rock attack with the song “Surreal Survivor”, a recut of an earlier song from his career.

The final song on the new album “I Just Don’t Really Know If You Exist” is, arguably, the most unique track on the album. The staggering array of influences in the song Schneider brings together in a cohesive whole are far from easy sells to one another, but coupling some of the sheer musical perversity we know from artists like Zappa alongside pastoral folk song-like melodies with meditative singer/songwriter styled work in the vein of Cat Stevens makes for a potent mix. There are also narrative strengths on the song that aren’t shared by the majority of the album’s tracks. Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basketcase is Elliot Schneider’s best work to date.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Kittens Slay Dragons - Big Big Heart (2016)

Written by David Beals, posted by blog admin

The debut ten song collection from singer/songwriter Sarah Donner’s electronic project Kittens Slay Dragons is entitled Big Big Heart and provides further evidence of her artistic range. Donner’s work usually falls in the singer-songwriter genre and has strong Americana leanings, but she works just as well outside that mode and her voice finds its footing with the same ease it does navigating around traditional instrumentation. While this is a strictly indie affair musically, that never means the production errs on the side of frugality. Big Big Heart, instead, is full of dynamic colors, clearly rendered arrangements, and has a bracing sound that grabs listeners straight away. It explores many of her concerns as an individual but, particularly, her love for animals and the writing makes use of a number of effective literary devices to help make her experiences more real listeners.

The surging opener “Gatekeeper” never relies too much on its electronic backing and, instead, balances things quite nicely between Donner’s voice and the musical accompaniment. The percussion is, naturally, electronic in nature, but everything about this part of the song’s presentation moves with organic energy and genuine warmth. Donner’s emotive skills get a full workout here and come across vividly. She brings the same emotive fireworks to bear on the album’s second song “Castiel”, but it relies a little more on the electronica than what the first song does, but it filters that through a sharper sense of dynamics than we ever heard on opener. The chorus is particularly effective. The talent for dynamics that Kittens Slay Dragons exhibit on the aforementioned song is treated much more expansively on “Smile Pretty” – this is a track with ebb and flow that keeps listeners on the edges of their seats and Donner’s vocal inhabits it with intimacy and dramatic skill.

The title song is one of the album’s unadulterated gems. “Big Big Heart” has a nearly perfect build that crescendos in a thrilling way and the same penchant for crafting memorable choruses in this style sustains Kittens Slay Dragons through this tune as well. The glistening musical textures powering songs like this could be sickly sweet in the wrong hands, but Donner and $hClane! aims its uses in a much more emotional direction that listeners will find impossible to ignore. ShClane!’s skill with laying down beats gets a real exhibition on the song “Symbols in the Sky” and the slightly darker, more intense hue to this song is an excellent shift in gears compared to the relatively bouncy approach of the earlier songs. It has the same effortless stride and energy, however; the urgency filling the album’s ten songs makes it all the better. The finale “Head Down, Heart Up” is a wonderfully stirring closing curtain for Big Big Heart and Donner saves one of her finest vocals for this moment. Big Big Heart is a worthwhile release from first song to last and there’s no escaping the inspiration that obviously gives this work such enormous spirit.

Yam Haus - Stargazer (2018)

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