album review

Album Review: “Modern Jukebox” by Of Gentleman and Cowards

Hamilton, Ontario fellows, Of Gentlemen and Cowards, released their debut record, Modern Jukebox, on January 27th of this year. After 7 years together Josh Dawson (bass, vocals), Simon Edwards (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Christian Fedele (lead guitar, vocals), and Jake Warren (drums) are sharing what hard work they’ve been up to.

Modern Jukebox begins with a handful of lighthearted pop tunes that roll by with ease. The album changes tune as it progresses, however. It gains a sense of maturity as new styles are explored and the instrumentation expands. By the time you reach “Make You Mine”, the guys are experimenting with blues and funk.

 

 

Then comes my favorite on the record, “Now That the Love is Gone.” The brass came as such a fantastic surprise. I have to admit I thought I had the album figured out after the first few tracks but the change in mood in “Now That the Love is Gone” was such a beautiful surprise! This kind of diversity within a single record is not only challenging but brave. It’s risky to combine genres within a single record but in doing so, you may increase your breadth of fans!

Altogether, Modern Jukebox is a danceable record that is sure to perk the ears of fans of rock, funk and even blues. The album is out now on Spotify, iTunes and Bandcamp. Follow the band on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and their official website.

 

 

Album Review: “Rock and Roll Bye Bye” by SKATERS

As a listener, you don’t really know what to expect when the opening track begins. It’s soft, simple, echoes in the back of your mind. Then it explodes, and blasts full speed ahead. You know you’re in for a wild ride on SKATERS’ sophomore full length, Rock and Roll Bye Bye. The trio is based in NYC and recently parted ways with Warner Brothers record label to take full control of their musical product. The new LP which is due out March 24th is going to be released on the band’s own label, Yonks Records.

 The opening cut, “Just Like Your Mother”, bleeds into the hippy dippy psych-rock track, “Northern Soul.” The track rides like a smooth wave, swaying the listener back and forth, eyes closed. But, at the same time it maintains a raw quality, a bit of an edge, gritty guitar and sandy vocals, smoothed over by psychedelic strings and fading out hand claps at the end.

“Head on to Nowhere” has a bit more of a grunge feel and retro rock tune, “Song 19 (Revisited)” is short and sweet, highlighting the true diversity in sound on Rock and Roll Bye Bye. Slower tracks like “Restless Babe” and “I’m Not a Punk” offer clever lyricism to make up for the lack in speed. “I’m Not a Punk” is a sweet little ballad where the band pleads, “Come on man, I’m not a punk! I’m a punk rocker,” as these two characters really are different.

My personal favorite on the album is “Respect the Hustle.” The track has a lighthearted darkness (yes this is possible) to it, and pushes the bands focus to a more electronic feel. They sing:

 

New York, New York, New York, New York

Is the city of dreams.

Some come from far and wide to see what that means.

It’ll take your heart out just to see how you bleed.

New York, New York, New York,

It’s a heartbreak machine.

 

Deep, gravely vocals, sliding electronic beeps and boops, and interesting chord progressions make the track a unique listen.

The record rounds out with the penultimate title track, perhaps paying homage to the infamous chamber choir vocals of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones and finishes with the single, “In Your Head.” The accompanying music video follows a young teenage girl who wanders through a rainy town, dancing, kicking and stomping in frustration but at moments expressing pure bliss and resolution. The video captures the complicated innerworkings of the human mind:

 

 

 

The LP leaves you feeling satisfied and refreshed, not bored or exhausted from listening to the same genre for 12 tracks. The full spectrum of rock-related genres is visited and at the start of each track, you don’t really know what you’re in for. Give SKATERS’ upcoming LP a chance because, they’re not punks! They’re punk rockers! Rock and Roll Bye Bye is due out March 24th on Yonks Records and you can pre-order on iTunes now.

Album Review: “Singing Saw” by Kevin Morby

Kevin Morby hadn’t spent more than a few moments with a piano in his lifetime until he stumbled upon an old upright in his new home in Mount Washington in LA. With the piano, was some simple sheet music and a book of fundamental piano chords, enough to instill in Morby a new love for piano and the spark that became his newest record, Singing Saw. Within his neighborhood in LA, a dichotomy arose, a striking bifurcation between the expansive city skyline and the complex beauty of the natural world surrounding him. This, too kindled what became Morby’s stunning lyricism and storytelling material, the duality simultaneously reflected in the blooming instrumentals on the album.

Singing Saw is the journey of a man through life, from wakefulness to dreaming, joy to sorrow, acceptance, relief and surrender. The record is stitched together with mentions of the singing saw, both its power as an instrument and a tool and mentions of tears, always streaming, gathering in his eyes. The record opens with “Cut Me Down”, the first sound you hear, a singing saw. It is the perfect introduction to the album. It displays his simple lyricism that is deeper than each word’s surface value:

Take me as I am, a man.

And they’re going to do,

what they came here to do.

I can see it in their eyes,

They’re going to cut me down.

The following track is a powerful ballad with a commanding bass line, decorated with prevailing vocals and of course, the piano. Like many of the tracks on the record “I Have Been to the Mountain” has a blossoming quality. Morby’s songs grow, expand and became something more beautiful and sprawling than what they were at the start. A unique music video accompanies this song. According to Morby, “‘I Have Been To The Mountain‘ is a song for those struck down by the hands of evil – senseless killings which have always overwhelmed our planet, but especially recently,” says Morby. “It’s dedicated to and inspired by the death of Eric Garner.” It stars dancer, Nathan Mitchell.

Besides “I Have Been to the Mountain”, “Dorothy” is the most up tempo piece on the album. Fuzzy guitars surprise you from the get go and hold steady through the track, while Morby plays tricks with the song, it slows to a crawl, piano holding it together and all of a sudden, it’s back at full speed:

Tears will gather in my eye.

Hold my hand, ah babe you know I’ll cry.

The title track, “Singing Saw”, is the first time Morby literally describes the duality of the singing saw. The track is a dream, the singing saw cutting down willows, destroying what’s in its path and chasing after him. The song lingers on and on for 7 minutes, like those moments between sleep and wakefulness where voices echo in your mind, leaving you unsure of what is real and imagined. The singing saw prominent in the track, eerie and ominous.

One thing that makes Morby unique is his singing quality, it’s somewhere between speaking and singing, giving his music a gentler feeling. My favorite display of this on the album is “Drunk and On a Star.” His voice rises and falls as though he’s telling a story but he simultaneously is singing, changing notes.

After “Dorothy”, the latter half of the album is rich, slow and gorgeous, ending with the celebratory track, “Water.” It builds, flourishes and grows while Morby begs to be put out like a fire:

If you find water,

Please call my name.

Put me out like a fire,

Cover me in rain.

The Singing Saw is a special album and is constructed in a way in which the listener is brought full circle from the start of the album to its end. The record is out now on Dead Oceans and is available on iTunes among other music-purchasing platforms.

Check Kevin Morby’s website for his fall European tour dates.

 

Album Review: “Down in Heaven” by Twin Peaks

Down in Heaven is the third record to come to us by Chicago fellows, Twin Peaks. They set out on a recording mission in the comfort of a friend’s home in Massachusetts where the goal was to focus on creating an album that they themselves would want to listen to. Not restrained by the sound of their previous records and inspired by bands like The Velvet Underground who created albums that were each unlike their others, Twin Peaks came up with Down in Heaven.

 The record is a celebration of heartbreak, triumph, being a loser and not really giving a f#ck. The record is acceptance and acknowledgment of the life you live, what you can and can’t have and what you do and do not want. In the track ‘You Don’t’, over and over again we hear them sing “I don’t wanna be yours.” Plain and simple, sometimes love just doesn’t work out in both directions. Melodically the track is fun and low key, an easy jam with hoots and hollers in between the verse and the chorus. This mellow attitude is the overriding theme for the record.

Tracks like ‘Butterfly’ feature a slightly more garage rock feeling with a catchy “Ba ba ba ba” bridge that sticks relentlessly in your brain. Twin Peaks’ ability to write catchy sound bites is apparent on Down in Heaven. The tempo is slightly more restrained on ‘Cold Lips’, ‘Heavenly Showers’, and ‘Stain’ but the boys’ energy is apparent, the record never losing steam.

They play with their musical abilities, featuring a variety of instruments on each track. The piano at the forefront of the whimsical track, ‘Getting Better’, and brass featured in ‘Lolisa’, the fellows showcase their knack for layering instruments and writing songs in a way that gives each track a unique sound. My personal favorite on this record is ‘Holding Roses.’ It has a familiar sound, there’s something retro about it but Twin Peaks puts their spin on it and creates the most ridiculously satisfying sound. Unfortunately, it’s one of the shortest tracks on the record! The chorus demands a belting sing-a-long.

Down in Heaven was the perfect record to kick off the 2016 summer and has remained a favorite of mine throughout. The record was released May 13th on Grand Jury and is available on iTunes, among other music-purchasing platforms. Catch them touring this fall!

9/06/2016 Columbus, OH @ The Basement
9/07/2016 Louisville, KY @ Headliners Music Hall
9/08/2016 Asheville, NC @ The Mothlight
9/13/2016 Orlando, FL @ The Social
9/14/2016 Tampa, FL @ Crowbar
9/15/2016 Tallahassee, FL @ Club Downunder / Union Productions
9/16/2016 New Orleans, LA @ Gasa Gasa
9/17/2016 Houston, TX @ Raven Tower
9/19/2016 Dallas, TX @ Club Dada
9/20/2016 Austin, TX @ Mohawk Austin
9/22/2016 Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom
9/23/2016 San Diego, CA @ The Irenic
9/26/2016 Santa Cruz, CA @ The Catalyst Club Atrium
9/28/2016 Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
9/29/2016 Vancouver, BC @ The Biltmore Cabaret
9/30/2016 Seattle, WA @ Chop Suey!
10/8/2016 Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue & 7th St Entry

Album Review: “The Switcher” by Lonesome Shack

If anyone out there knows how to find and communicate rhythm in its purest, most raw form, it’s Lonesome Shack. There are no frills, bells or whistles: Lonesome Shack streamlines their music and the result is a smooth, clean and crisp boogie blues n’ rock sound. Back in the early years of the new millennium in the lonelier parts of New Mexico, Lonesome Shack front man, Ben Todd, discovered the voice (his voice) that bears the vocal weight of Lonesome Shack. Later on drummer/guitarist and friend, Kristian Garrard joined Todd and the duo released two records, Bound to Die and Slidin Boa. When 2011 rolled around, bassist Luke Bergman joined Todd and Garrard and three years later the trio released More Primitive. Between album releases the band toured across the US including opening for Blitzen Trapper at the Bartlett in Spokane, WA in 2014 which was where I heard their music for the first time. The buzz in the crowd during their performance was undeniable and all of us that got there early enough to see the opening band were glad we did.

For the fellows’ latest release, they decided to go big and release a four side full length titled, The Switcher. The record was released for public listening on June 24th, mastered by Johnny Goss (who also mastered More Primitive) and recorded at Dandelion Gold. The objective of the album was to create something that gave the listener the experience of being at a live show, and they did just that. Though, this is something that I have always loved about Lonesome Shack so it didn’t come as a surprise to me that The Switcher fell in line with their previous release. The way in which their music is recorded leaves the listener with a richer, more intimate experience. It’s that raw and pure quality I mentioned above. It is present live and it is present recorded, therefore whenever listening to Lonesome Shack, I feel transported.

The Switcher is an assortment of variations on the blues n’ rock theme, the groove unavoidable and the beat upfront and easy to find. They experiment with tempo, lyricism, rhythm and mood on this album, constantly changing these aspects but always staying true to their style. The record opens with “To the Floor”, a consistent groove that bleeds flowingly into the following song, title track, “The Switcher.” “The Switcher” is gritty, low and shady, the tempo slow and muddy.

The A side closes with one of my personal favorites on the record, “Dirty Traveler.” It’s sly and brooding, maintaining a shadowy temperament throughout. The bass secretly keeping time, the drums in the forefront and this sound effect that sounds like it’s straight out of a 70’s mystery flick. “Dirty Traveler” is something new and different for Lonesome Shack and it works.

The three tracks on the B Side couldn’t be any different from each other. “Chemicals” is quick, up tempo and dance-able while “True Vine” is a marching blues jam. Check out the music video created by Lonesome Shack member, Kristian Garrard.

 

“Stuff From a Cup” is a beauty in itself. There’s something tender about this track which isn’t a quality often heard or expected for that matter, from these fellows. The lyrics describe being young and dumb, finding love and expectations of becoming who you hoped you would.

The remainder of the record is decorated with dance-inducing tracks like “Sugar Farm”, “Mushin Dog” and “Safety Zone” and other more viscous grooves like “Pain on Me”, “Junk Train” and the closing cut, “Blood.” “Safety Zone” is another favorite of mine on the record, once again because it sticks out, it’s a standalone track. The attitude is more light hearted and it’s reminiscent of something you’d do the two step to at an old bar in a small town in Montana.

Altogether, The Switcher is an incredibly diverse collection of tracks that are blues-oriented but blur the lines between traditional blues, rock and old time folk/Americana. I commend these deeply talented musicians on their continuing creativity. You can purchase the album (digital and vinyl) on their Bandcamp page.

Album Review: “Blue Cheese” by Kane Strang

Palatable like the cheese it’s named after, Kane Strang’s latest record, Blue Cheese, packs a creative punch. Despite the fact that the tracks are quick, over in the blink of an eye, their melodies hang around in your brain space, again, like the flavor of the cheese for which the album is named. Psych-pop-garage rocker, Kane Strang, is originally from Dunedin, New Zealand where he wrote his debut full length while house sitting for his folks. This writing environment was similar in a sense to the one which lead to the creation of his demos, A Pebble and a Paper Crane, which was  a WWII bomb shelter in Germany: both lonely places, dripping thick with memories of your past, and others, perhaps a rich source of inspiration and writing material. Within Blue Cheese are mentions of being lonely, moments in which he alludes to this empty space in which he developed the record, both glaringly obvious lyrics like:

I’m a lonely boy, never kissed a blonde (“Never Kissed a Blonde”)

And…

I won’t answer my telephone, sit inside all alone. (“The Web”)

Or more subtle moments where within his lyrics, you can sense the introspection and reflection that came with the fact that he was spending a significant amount of time alone, writing music. In a number of tracks, he seems to be singing to a woman. Whether the mention of this woman in different tracks refers to the same woman, I don’t know but whoever she/they are, they’re on his mind.

Blue Cheese is a deeply satisfying record, it’s like an 11 course meal at a fancy restaurant. Each track is its own dish: small bites of music that satiate but don’t overfill, bursting with unique flavors that are different from each other track but still clearly from the same source.

The record opens with “The Web” with its grungy, growling bass and abrupt finish, immediately followed by a bit of advice from Kane Strang himself in “Things Are Never Simple.” Then comes “Full Moon, Hungry Sun” which opens with a guitar riff that sounds like it could’ve come straight off an album by The Strokes. The moment of similarity disappears as soon as Kane Strang launches into meat of the track, showcasing his distinctive songwriting style.

There’s a certain kind of simplicity to Kane Strang’s music. Back to back tracks “What’s Wrong” and “The Canyon Her River Carved” offer melodic simplicity nested in instrumental complexity. My favorite part of “What’s Wrong” is when at one point in the track, a simple conversation occurs, one which all of us are all too familiar with:

What’s wrong?

Nothing, nothing.

What’s wrong?

Nothing, nothing.

 One of my favorites on the record is “You Think.” It’s my favorite for a lot of reasons: the synthesizer, the lyrics, the insanely catchy melody and the irresistible urge to sing along when the “ba da ba’s” come in. This track is a lot of fun, that’s all that can be said.

Finally, I can’t talk about Blue Cheese without bringing up “Never Kissed A Blonde.” The guitars are ridiculous on this song. It opens sounding like something out of a Scooby Doo episode. You feel like you and the gang are trying to solve the mystery as to why he’s ‘never kissed a blonde’ even though he knows ‘they taste like sugar!’

Blue Cheese is delicious and you can purchase it on iTunes and Bandcamp now (out via Ba Da Bing Records).

 

 

Album Review: “Plaza” by Quilt

Quilt has been creating deliciously psychedelic tracks rooted in folk rock for the past several years, over which they’ve released three full lengths. The band name was inspired by the idea of congregation, people, ideas, thoughts, beings coming together like the pieces of a quilt. An interesting recent coincidence lead the band to what became the creation of their third and most recent record, Plaza. In 2014, the band bumped into Matt Arnett who together with his father were responsible for the traveling exhibit of “Quilts of Gee’s Bend”, which was the original inspiration for Quilt’s debut in 2011. Arnett opened up his home to the band and it was here that the first bits of material for Plaza were born.

The concept for Plaza was to signify a “meeting place” and this record was absolutely a collaboration and “meeting place” between family, friends and others (including Arnett) whom the band interacted with during their time on the road. The record opens with “Passersby”, featuring main vocalist and one of the founding members, Anna Fox Rochinski. Her mesmerizing voice blends so flawlessly with the instrumentals, it is almost difficult to pull her voice from the flitting flutes and dizzying guitars.

The tempo picks up and vocalist changes during “Searching For”, a short and sweet more indie rock-oriented track. The sharing of vocals and alternating of main vocalist adds another layer of sonic diversity to Quilt, allowing the listener to get more out of the band.

Along with Plaza signifying a congregation of people and ideas, it also denotes a new sense of togetherness within the band. Given that this is the third record from Quilt, a true understanding of what their music is and what it can be has been reached and  together, the band showcases their higher sense of cohesiveness. On the record are Anna Fox Rochinski and Shane Butler who are the roots of Quilt, John Andrews (drums) and the new bassist Keven Laraeu.

“Eliot St.” is one single released by Quilt in anticipation of the record, a true representation of the new sense of interconnection within the band and a display of what more Quilt has to offer. “Eliot St.” is surely a stand out track on the record. Whereas up to this point on the album, most of the songs are akin to the sounds we heard on Held in Splendor, “Eliot St.” is what we know and love about Quilt plus more. It is outfitted with sliding strings, woozy backup vocals and a fantastic bass-driven line that fortifies this new sound for Quilt. The following track “Hissing My Plea” is another prime example of a new era of sonic exploration for Quilt. On this track, they play with unique rhythms, add a hint of rock and there’s something disco-esque about the role the strings play.

Among my favorites on the record is “Padova.” To me, it shines on this album and it came to me as a surprise on the record. Even though this album is full of surprising new sounds for Quilt, “Padova” brings it to a new level. The gentle pitter patter percussion is what introduces you to the song and carries you through. This rhythm remains familiar and holds strong while the song blossoms and changes, a sense of hopeful yearning the underlying theme.

And true Quilt form, the record closes with “Own Ways”, a fantastic psychedelic wrap up of what Quilt is: an amalgamation of genres, styles, stories, interactions, instruments, humans and lives – much like that of a quilt.

Plaza is out now on Mexican Summer and can be purchased on iTunes and Mexican Summer.

The band will begin touring this June:

JUN 05, 2016 HUNTER, NY MOUNTAIN JAM

JUN 16 – 19, 2016 DOVER, DE FIREFLY MUSIC FESTIVAL

JUN 23, 2016 NEW YORK, NY BOWERY BALLROOM

JUN 24, 2016 BOSTON, MA THE SINCLAIR

JUN 25, 2016 PORTSMOUTH, NH 3S ARTSPACE

JUN 26, 2016 PORTLAND, ME BLUE

JUL 22, 2016 PITTSBURGH, PA CLUB CAFE

JULY 23-24 STERLING HEIGHTS, MI MO POP

JUL 26, 2016 AKRON, OH MUSICA

JUL 27, 2016 ROCHESTER, NY LOVIN’ CUP

AUG. 5-7 SAN FRANCISCO, CA OUTSIDE LANDS MUSIC & ARTS FESTIVAL