Thursday, December 28, 2017

Slow Burning Car - Defection (2017)

Written by Larry Robertson, posted by blog admin

Slow Burning Car’s Defection is a smashing rock album, nothing more and nothing less.  If you want some no frills hard-rock with a modern edge then you’ll get 10 tracks of firmly footed, rock solid, riff-centric groove that manages a few intricate stylistic juxtapositions throughout.  Each song is individually sound and the entire album feels sonically cohesive as opposed to a simple collection of songs. 

The gusty, hard-rock slam of “Alpha Duplicor” sets things off like a powder keg fuse.  Going back to the sort of heavy grooves that predated nu-metal’s banal dreck; a dual guitar screech peddles lockstep riffs and spiraling solos that are kept aloft by a homing missile accurate rhythm section and memorable vocal patterns.  Bands like Hum and Shiner went this route on their formative albums before Korn and Limp Bizket owned the airwaves and the only big difference between Slow Burning Car and the early works of 90s indie heavies is that they sport a more polished production sheen.  “Soul Crimes” kicks into a punk-y overdrive all about the crunchy, guitar driven verses leading up to choruses that are inviting as all get-out in terms of catchy, harmonized wordplay.  They interject the same invigorating flair into “The Orb” but alter the background harmonies with some light auto-tuned vocals and dig into a tougher, percussive backbeat while pumping the final product full of noise rock guitar frequencies and sizzling lead/solo outbursts.  “The Devil in the Room,” “The Sunday Derby” and “You Can’t Stay Here” all use punk rock as the main root of their sound while screwing around with the abrasive noise rock textures and fireball guitar solos.  The end result reminds me of experimental punks Victory and Associates or even late 90s legends Adayinthelife. These bands may not have been hugely popular though they delivered unique, innovative takes on punk/hardcore/rock that are well-worth a dedicated listen even long after their respective heydays. 

Elsewhere the album goes for all-out experimentalism on the moody, acoustic pairing of “Bedtime” and “Chrysanthemum.”  These subdued journeys into texture and dual acoustic guitar layers call to mind Husker Du’s work circa the underrated Warehouse Songs.  “Polar Warden” is a cosmic space-rock jam that’s prime foundation lies within a looping, delay-drenched bass line as splashy cymbals, orchestral keyboards and flashes of drippy guitar melody color the track’s background with plentiful harmonic, ambiguous shades of sound.  Album endnote “Clouds” is the heaviest track on Defection.  It’s not directly heavy seeing as highly melodic vocals, celestial guitar drones and plundering rhythms conjure more of a space-y, dreamy groove grind ala Hum’s grand compositions on Downward is Heavenward.   This piece even drifts off into the same sort of lumbering, pavement cracking riffs that Hum laid down during their heaviest moments. 
Defection is a sonically diverse, ever-flowing set of songs that has numerous peaks and valleys.  The band crests high and dives low to bring back the kind of energy that will have you nodding your head and tapping your toes throughout.  Quite frankly, Defection doesn’t have a dull song in the bunch and rock fans should have a field day with this one; good stuff through and through.         

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

J.Briozo - Deep in the Waves (2017)

Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin

Minneapolis based band Swallows have been critically acclaimed and made quite an impact in the folky, old school Americana scene.  Sadly, I haven’t heard any of their music at this point in time.  J. Briozo is the moniker of Swallows’ vocalist Jeff Crandall’s solo project.  Deep in the Waves is the debut record and it’s a challenging, enigmatic piece of work that slips in and out of many different musical styles; sometimes within the confines of a single song. 

Crandall’s got an ear for melody and a mystical songwriting style packed with engaging hooks that really drag you deep into the music.  Lead-in number “Blind” shines brightly with searing vocals harmonies drifting over a light foundation of percussion, creeping bass lines, sullen yet gloriously melodic guitar figures and a feel that’s draped in mystery.  It’s just the tip of the iceberg of Deep in the Waves multifaceted aural explorations. 

There’s really no stone left unturned in terms of the different types of songwriting that Crandall employs.  Several tracks are based on a smoky vocals blues, luminous acoustic guitar shimmer and a wall of auxiliary stringed-instruments.  Cello, violin and viola all appear and oftentimes altogether in several of these sticky acoustic webs; the transcendental atmospherics of the title track come to mind as well as the simplistic yet absolutely necessary bass grooves and dusky acoustic licks of “Rain Song” are stellar examples of this mindset.  “Blue” and “Santa Cruz” also offer up various takes on this similar aesthetic. 

Crandall’s not opposed to all out rock n’ roll with a blues foundation either.  The hard-driving electrified riffing mingles with a tough rhythmic backbone, a gospel organ hum and gritty vocals complete with triumphant harmonies on the infectious “Spinning Out.”  Bursts of harmonized leads and winding solo spires drive home a heady groove and call to mind Lynyrd Skynyrd, Drive by Truckers and the Outlaws; yielding an edgy tune that never lets up from the first note to the last.  “The Big Parade” locks onto the same ethic but throws in some prominent slide guitar and horns for an interesting twist on the sound.  Album endnote “Sun Sun True” also flirts with the same touches yet again (the horn section returns) but twists any idea of formula by making use of extensive vocal harmonies that create a choir/chorale effect. 

Elsewhere, Crandall composes his songs with a symphonic/orchestral approach devoid of rock music and even blues.  These alternate compositions are filled to the brim with immaculate layering of a chamber string quartet, allow for plenty of powerful vocal melodies and thusly come off akin to a movie score (see “Firefly” and “Camera Obscura” for perfect examples). 
Overall, Deep in the Waves is a stunning debut offering that displays Jeff Crandall as a talented vocalist, instrumentalist, songwriter, arranger and conductor.  He knows exactly how to make the songs play out to his every strength.  No two songs on the record sound exactly alike and the wealth of variety yields an album that is sure to see multiple appearances on music journalists’ top 10 lists.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Ben Brookes - The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon (2017)

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

The outstanding debut from Portsmouth, UK born Ben Brookes, The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon, recalls a time in rock and pop music when young artists aspired to more than just pandering for commercial attention. If this album scores commercially, Brookes can feel satisfied that his music has succeeded on its own terms rather than regurgitating the music and poses of others. It certainly succeeds artistically and the ten songs comprising its running order never subject listeners to a single second of filler. Brookes’ considerable talents have drawn the attention of some truly gifted veteran musicians; Mark Healey of Badfinger fame produced the effort and further contributions from Badfinger guitarist Joey Molland, keyboardist Greg Inhofer, and drummer Michael Bland illustrate how seasoned performers with sterling credits in their past are attracted to Brookes’ obvious talents. It makes for a thrilling listen and the cross pollination of American and English influences helps shape the release into something truly special.

“I Wanna Go Home” begins the album on a confident, bright note with a lyric that hints at deeper discontent and a musical arrangement that pushes back against those darker shadows. Brookes’ vocals here, and elsewhere, sound fully engaged with each passage and he shows excellent instincts for when to push his voice and when to relax and let the music speak for itself. “Integration (Not Segregation)” is one of the few instances on the album where Brookes indulges himself with some outright social commentary, but it isn’t ripped verbatim from the headlines and has more staying power as a statement than most as a result of that choice. The song has a generous amount of electric guitar, but it is part of a general trend dominating the album’s first half where acoustic guitar holds a greater sway over the album’s sound. The track “Asleep in Galilee” riffs on traditional English pop rock themes while managing to invoke, as well, a bluesy edge that will resurface later in the album. This seemingly improbable mix of English pop rock with near Americana makes it one of the album’s more successful tracks and elicits a truly memorable vocal from Brookes.

“Before Sunlight” is a deeply affecting number thanks, once more, to the melodic gifts that Brookes shows off throughout the course of this release. It features, as well, one of the album’s better lyrics and it matches up rather nicely with the aforementioned melody. Brookes really demonstrates his vocal talents with this one and follows the melody with sure handed confidence that makes it a great listening experience. The rock punch of “Stories in the Rain” and “Somewhere Around Eight” never feel like they stretch the boundaries of belief; Brookes is just as compelling of a performer as on the album’s lighter numbers and has a convincing jagged edge he’s capable of bringing to bear on songs like this. The album finishes up with “Shackles”, a song depending on the interplay between acoustic and electric guitar for much of its musical spark, and the lyrical themes close things with introspective flair. It’s a powerful release from the first song to last.

Thomas Abban - A Sheik's Legacy (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

It’s not often a Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, etc. type comes along in rock n’ roll that often anymore.  Someone who takes an idea from the smallest seed of a thought, grows it into a living breathing musical organism and cultivates it into an idea so unique that no matter what musical project they decide to tackle next, it will ALWAYS sound exactly like that person.  In 2017 we can say that Thomas Abban is the rooted of such a creative force with his debut album, A Sheik’s Legacy.  This feels like an innovative concept album of yore and though only Abban himself could tell you if it is or isn’t, the songs achieve this connected and kinetic power; a feeling of unity throughout the album that projects a staggeringly satisfying experience for the listener. 

The haunting, brooding “Death Song” hits like a kick in the gut as a roaming, acoustic walk down a wooded path soon becomes a hobbling, granite stomp of manic guitar scrabbles, molten drums and Abban’s primal, feral vocal howls.  It’s the start of an album with split personalities.  An album that unleashes a ferocious edge while tempering its calamity into a gentle melodicism.  Quickly picked, safari hunt acoustics thrust “Symmetry & Black Tar” into an upbeat frenzy.  Abban’s guitar-work glides nimbly atop the surging drum n’ bass energy as the track gives away into heavier guitar riffs and tribal percussion mash ups that eventually crash land into the lava hot, knife-edge blues swipes of “Fear” and “Aladdin.”  This duo goes straight for the throat in terms of heft and downturned groove; it’s got enough sweat n’ swagger to turn the heads of Sabbath fans. 

A dusty, cowpoke vibe paints the image of a gunfight at high noon on “Time to Think’s” country soaked goodness.  These constant but necessary changes in style, tempo, texture and dynamics only enhances the sheer enjoyment of A Sheik’s Legacy,” further summoned up in the exotic instrumentation of “Horizons” which incorporates some flute and provides unique updates to the sounds of vintage outfits like Jethro Tull and Gravy Train.  Further down the line “Sinner” is modern folk that somehow feels like the good, old stuff with a pop-infused but hugely enjoyed chorus vocal from Abban (a combination Thomas returns to with even greater success later down the line with “Irene.”  The album continues to juxtapose numerous musical and thematic elements till the brain-scorching, 60s burnt guitars of the penultimate “Born of Fire” ends the album with a brimstone finish.  Besides the pyrotechnic American gothic, bluesy guitar grinds of the boundless Algiers, I can’t seem to think of anybody going this route with both acoustic and electric instruments recently.  That is to say that Thomas Abban and his debut A Sheik’s Legacy are filling a vast, aching void that’s been present in rock music for quite some time.  For fans of the “album” era, searing, original guitar work with chest-rattling rhythm playing, fascinating songwriting and vocals that scream with personality; Abban’s work simply can’t be beat. 

Yam Haus - Stargazer (2018)

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