Summer Somethings for Everybody on Soundcloud

Nick Marzock*

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Review of Soundcloud playlist

I just learned about Nick Marzock from a colleague connection – about a month too late to catch any of his East Coast shows.  This was a real disappointment, because I love having the opportunity to experience local and emerging artists live; especially once I have been exposed to their music on my commute, or online for one of my reviews. You can get Nick’s 2012 full-length album Lead Me Home (11 tracks) on Google Play.  And GhostTown is a stand-alone single, also from 2012.  For this write-up, my review focused on the nine-track collection of songs (a self-titled release, perhaps?) available on Soundcloud.

From Nick’s basic website, it was hard to see how many releases he has made, or how long he has been playing in the area. The bio on his website describes more of his musical style and influences than his history – but it seems that he was NYC-based, and recently did a few appearances on Pittsburgh on his way out west to L.A. (Duquesne grad, apparently).  Sadly, no other shows are on the calendar at this point in time.  You can still catch his music video on the website or Facebook page (the guitar solo is the best part)!

I’ll start by saying that I’m a cynical listener, a tough customer.  Especially for folks that I just hear about, I have high expectations and I’m not convinced I’ll like anything.  At first listen to Nick’s album, I was accepting of the interesting song lyrics, the vocal talent, the production quality – but I refused to be blown away.  It was really the second time around that I quit listening critically, and just allowed the music to bounce around my environment as I typed up this review.

I finally noticed how effortlessly Nick’s voice was thrown about in the texture of each song, and how each song was so completely different in terms of style, sound, and feeling (really rare for newer artists who are tempted to make everything the same so they have a distinctive “sound”)!

The opening track starts with jazzy piano, but semi-robotic drums.  The vocals are soulful though, with great harmonies on the chorus before breaking back to a stripped-down verse.  The lyrics take a dark turn on the kids’ game “Chute and Ladders” as Nick laments “She’s cheatin’, I’m leavin’… this love is shattered”.  The second song (“Gotta Get Something Right”) is almost reggae, but somehow Timberlake-esque at times – hard to describe here, but it makes me think of that scandalous Jordan Knight song from back in the day.  You know the one I mean…

“Numb” is finally your radio pop hit!  Surf rock guitar blends with lovely piano… and next “Come A Little Closer” makes me think of 311 with that reggae beat again.  The sexy chorus of “come a little closer” is very sassy and fun.  Track #5 is full of easy-to-appreciate lyrics like “summer beat won’t you carry me/fill this bottle with something sweet” to help you glide through this song – a song that sounds like Jack Johnson met Blues Traveler and they had a party “on a moonlit beach”.

“You Should Know” is acoustic and countryish, with a bit of Dave Matthews/Zac Brown Band feeling: “she loves the feeling from what I can tell, she knows I need it, she knows me well.”  The next track “Do You Think About Me” is not my favorite (too much like a slow dance), but it might be someone else’s favorite, because I bet this is where most of the advertised John Mayer influence finally peeks through.

The lyrics on Track #8 (called “Kingdom”) struck me as a little corny while trying to be too serious – “I am a story yet to be told, a bestselling novel”… But at least it is in a minor key, with a wide-open eerie feeling like a cowboy ballad, so it adds to the enjoyable variety of the whole list of songs.  And the closing song “Collision” opens so beautifully and softly; with simple yet strong piano.  It is a little introspective and sad, as Nick starts with “Jesus, where you gone to?” and later asks “did I disappoint you?” This is too heavy to be my favorite but it is otherwise fine; and it is a good vehicle for exhibiting Nick’s vocal strengths since the song itself is not distracting.

In my critical way, I found nothing on the album to be extremely original from a style perspective – I heard influences and vocal similarities from Justin Timberlake to Jack Johnson; with a sprinkling of 311, Blues Traveler, Rusted Root, and everything in between. Of course John Mayer seems to be a favorite of his, but as I mentioned a bit of Backstreet/Boy Band influence came through delightfully in “Gotta Get Something Right”!  Even though the music is not novel, the lyrics are clever, and the execution is solid. As a 90s music fan I appreciated it all.

I usually like to pick a favorite song or two to highlight in a review – but in this case, I enjoyed almost each song as much as the last.  This is a pleasant collection of songs for summer listening – so please check Nick out online and show him some support via Google Play.  If you are in LA or have friends there, send him a note and put some pressure on him to come out and do some shows!
*Photo credit to Jimmy Fontaine, as shown on http://www.nickmarzock.com site.

Link to Nick’s site: http://www.nickmarzock.com

Link to Soundcloud songs reviewed:

Link to Lead Me Home on Google Play: 

https://play.google.com/store/music/album/Nick_Marzock_Lead_Me_Home?id=Ba4uahqcptdoazxd2njjs55ms3q&hl=en

 

 

 

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I’m Back!

It breaks my heart to see that my last post was in February.  I really wanted to finish 2015 out strong with a solid 52 weeks of continuous music review posts – but the overall project proved much tougher to stick with than I initially realized.

My boss went out on maternity leave, I sold my beloved Prius, and life got complicated – so as a result I have been short on inspiration and time to share my music finds with you all.  But in the meantime I have been keeping up with monthly reviews for EarToTheGround (ETTG) Music blog, and have had no shortage of great tunes for the daily drive.

I’m coming back strong – aiming for monthly reviews in the summer, not weekly – and hoping to finish up my 52 review goal and come up with a plan on how to reasonable maintain this going forward. My returning gift to you is this special review of a beautiful single from one of my favorite ETTG artists, Michael McArthur.  Hot off the presses, so listen and enjoy!  I’ll be back again soon.

***

“Goodbye Lover” by Michael McArthur

2016-06-14 22_39_40-MICHAEL McARTHUR

When you’re waiting for a new album from an admired artist, it is always fun to learn about new singles released in the interim that keep you happy in the meantime.  “Goodbye Lover” was a nice surprise, recently recorded by Michael in L.A. with support from well-known producer Greg Wells and released to iTunes in April.  I had really enjoyed Michael’s full-length release “Magnolia” as well as his holiday cover of “Imagine”, so I knew this was a song I had to experience.

The song starts out really stripped down, basic guitars creating an arpeggio-type foundation to highlight Michael’s strengths as a vocalist (I would describe him as a slightly more sensitive Adam Levine).  A background feeling from reverb like wind chimes moves in and out, as he laments that “our light burned out too soon”.

Despite the heavy subject matter of heartbreak, this song has a memorable, light and easy-rolling chorus: “Goodbye lover, goodbye friend / We had a good run, but now we’ve reached the end / As for me, if you’re wondering /I’ll be countin’ all the days ‘till I see you again”.  Beautiful harmonies waft in and out, as well as rhythmic backing vocals on the emotional bits, pleading “Please don’t forget about me – I’m scared, I’m sorry.”

Slight drums à la Peter Gabriel chime in at the very end with a world-beat, islander feel.  And Michael’s voice really lets loose here – he is not afraid to let it wail for an effect that is wistful and soulful, vulnerable and broken.

Four minutes and two seconds goes by in a flash – too soon.  This track would be a treat for the listener who is already a fan, or an intriguing introduction to a talented new artist. Check it out!

 

Link to Audio on Michael’s Site:

http://www.michaelmcarthurmusic.com/#music-section

 

My Huron Connection

Review of Strange Trails by Lord Huron

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We have Pandora on almost perpetually at our home on the TV, as just an easy way to put on background music that puts the whole house in a better mood.  We have several favorite stations, but “Indie Folk Revival” is the one that seems to promote the most harmony in our domestic midst.  I don’t usually pay much attention to what particular artist or song is playing at a given moment, unless something stands out and piques my interest.  Over and over again I found myself enjoying a song so much I would look up to the TV screen – and realize that once again, it was Lord Huron.

This isn’t one of my formal album reviews, suggested by a reader and therefore full of comparisons and my basic attempts at picking apart the elements of each song.  This is not my attempt to describe a musical experience on paper for you; rather this is just a summary of my own recent natural exploration – a genuine interest in a new album that sort of organically evolved, as I noticed this artist again and again popping up around me.  I simply must share this!

Huron – maybe I was just drawn to the band’s name, because of where I’m from?   Wikipedia revealed that while this artist was now based in LA (I knew this couldn’t be the whole story), the band was actually named after childhood visits to Lake Huron and memories of good times around the campfire.  Hello, ME TOO.  It wasn’t just the familiar name that evoked this warm response for me, because so often I was sucked into the music itself, and was loving it – before I even looked up to see who the artist was.  I couldn’t resist checking out the new 2015 album Strange Trails on Spotify, and I was richly rewarded by what I found there.

The first track called “Love like Ghosts” is gentle; a little bit echoey and vintagey but still great and not at all cliché for this indie-folk genre.  The second track is really upbeat and punchy with its traditional catchiness, before slipping into a third song called “Dead Man’s Hand” that just really reminds me of Pablo Honey –era Radiohead for some reason.  We’re back to the upbeat again though by Track #4, with a song that it is a little California, and a little surf-y; with happy harmonies and a staccato delivery that just might be vocalist and founder Ben Schneider’s signature singing style.  The music is so good, you’ll find you aren’t too annoyed with lyrics like “Oh Little Darlin’ don’t you look charmin’?” because you are too busy singing along.

Track #5 is catchy and recognizable, one I easily remembered from the Pandora station – revealing Ben’s time spent in France with its gentle title, “La Belle Fleur Sauvage”.  Track #6 has backing vocals that will remind you of Buddy Holly, I kid you not!  By Track #7 “The World Ender” we’re in a space that is a little darker, with Ben singing something like “they put me in the ground, but I’m back from the dead” if I recall the lyrics correctly.  This again features a driving, bullet-like delivery on the vocals, but this time in a minor key.   “Meet me in the Woods” is reminiscent of Keane, with the underlying piano that gives an emotional basis to the song.  I noticed that at times the tracks on this album seem a bit similar to and repetitive of each other – but I still like them all so I don’t mind.

#11 is a little mellower, with a lilting but still rhythmic delivery.  There are great harmonies on this track – I recognize this as one of the songs I first heard on the Pandora rotation.  “Way Out There” is next, as more of a ballad, with minimal drums on the intro, and an instrumental focus throughout.  The wind instruments used give it a folky, almost Celtic feel.  The next track, “Louisa” is dance-y again, with lots of syncopation and a Beach-Boys-esque chorus that you will enjoy.  This is definitely one of my favorites on the album!

The last track, called “The Night We Met” presents itself calmly with graceful arpeggios. By now you’ve noticed that Ben’s voice is mellow, deep, rich, and sweet – like a modern version of Townes Van Zandt mixed with the good parts of Conor Oberst (without the grating wobbly vibrato).  He has a way of allowing the closing vowels of each word to drop off at the end of each phrase, giving a lively, clipped effect to his way of singing that goes along so well with the instrumentation of each piece.

The Wikipedia bio that I found earlier went on to say that the Lord Huron singer started out in his Michigan hometown, before going to study art at U of M and finishing his degree in France.  Wow.  PLUS I love this guy’s songwriting – I’m pretty sure in another life he was my soulmate!  At any rate I can objectively recommend this album based on my music-specific comments above, so even if you aren’t from Michigan, you don’t speak French and you don’t have cherished memories from Lake Huron like I am/do – you will get something out of this beautiful music.

Link to preview tracks on Google Play: Google Play – Lord Huron

Link to purchase album on Amazon: Amazon – Lord Huron

 

Hanging in there…

“Hangman” by Worth Taking*

Hangman

The band is called Worth Taking, and while you may not have heard these guys before, you’ll be no stranger to their sound. The band’s website story states that “Jerod McBrayer listened to Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed America and it changed his life” – you get the idea? This is your power-punk band with expectedly energetic guitars, and gentle vocals that are little bit like Death Cab meets – somebody even cuter than Cutie? This is my first opportunity to preview a 2016 release in the New Year – their new album called Hangman comes out next month.

Before I had finished experiencing the first track, I could envision myself enjoying the whole album – a little Teenage FanClub, a little Blink 182, a little LIT; with a sprinkle of shoegaze or indie-folk style (a la aforementioned Death Cab For Cutie). There’s nothing too serious here, but there’s also nothing seriously wrong with simply enjoying a positive and upbeat commute soundtrack for your daily routine! And have I mentioned that I like the band name – Worth Taking. Worth taking… where? Worth taking…seriously? You’ll have to listen (or read further) to really find out.

The first track, called “Honestly”, honestly opens like you’d expect a punk album to start – as a slightly whiny punk-rawk kid voice blurts out “I’m not a liar, but I know I’ve lied!” This reminds me a little of “Sugar, We’re Going Down” by FallOut Boy. There’s even a pleasantly melodic chorus – which is nothing you haven’t heard, but also nothing to stop you from listening to more. If you enjoy this kind of music, it can be refreshing to have a variety of new bands to choose from every now and then, so don’t count these guys out!

“There’s A Light” is track #2, and I’ll think you’ll find this is like a vintage REM song. There’s a sort of 90s-esqe paranoid tribal sound that is actually really good, coming across aggressive guitars. Add in some innocuous and yet not annoying lyrics; the just seem to fit in with the music and there you have it: “I know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel / But it’s so small”. The radio-friendly pop-punk sound is back in full force on “Counting On You” – which could almost be the theme song for a show like Friends, it has such general appeal: “I’m counting on you to show me the way / I can’t see tomorrow but I still have today / I’ll keep moving forward try to enjoy the light / I’ll embrace uncertainty come on feel this light.”

A slightly darker sound emerges on Track #4 – “The Truth”. It starts out like Collective Soul and evolves into sounding like Linkin Park – showing a little variety for the band’s songbook here. But then the danceable chords are back again on “Say It Loud”. This is one of my favorites on the album, just because it is so upbeat and fun to listen to: “I’ve got to say it loud / I cannot stay proud / The things I’ve done the things I’ve done / Things I’ve said that I don’t mean.”

Track #6 opens with some edgier, very rock; almost metallish guitar chords. Musically, this reminds me of AC / CD on the intro… before going into a Foo Fighterish chorus of “It’s different now”. I love Dave Grohl as much as the next person, maybe more – if you agree then check this album out, or at least this song. The vocals are brighter and lighter – but if you imagine a Gritty Grohl on the vocals then you can kind of see what I mean about the Foo Fighters comparison (purely from a song style perspective).

“I Can’t Believe” is punk again! In fact, this is really the track that sounds like LIT or any other nostalgic punk song that you remember from your college days. Revived into modern times by bands like All American Rejects, etc… this is a fun sound brought into the pop scene by Green Day and Blink 182 and others back in the day – this sound will never really leave our hearts. This track is really short, and a little bit sweet! It is kind of great how this band is alternating the expected with some of their more varied work to keep the fans happy, but also show you that they are capable of something different.

The next song is so straightforward on the intro, I had to make myself listen to the entire thing just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. It had a good chorus with some strong guitars (“I’m gonna make this right eventually”), but nothing unexpected. By contrast, track #7 (“Let Me Try Again”) starts with an interesting and echoey “na nana na-na” on the introduction that right away sounds a little bit different than the other songs. I’d say it is more lyrical, more melodic, more DCFC and almost like Owl City on this one.

As for the song “I’m Wrong” –I love it when someone says this to me, so I was already biased. Just kidding! Objectively though, this song is a bit slow and seems whiny to me – the energy doesn’t really match the other tracks so it didn’t stand out as a favorite. Good thing the pace picks up on #11 – called “Sinking In”. It’s hard to disagree with lyrics like this: “I found peace and understanding and I stopped being so demanding….It’s finally sinking in / I found myself again.” Sounds like this punk is growing up a little bit?

The album closes with “This one’s for you” – which is really the hit single; the one that will get stuck in your head and will have you singing along whenever it pops up on your Pandora rotation. The lyrics are a little cheesy, but that is part of why they are so catchy: “This one’s for you – this one’s for us/ This one’s for shaking off the dust.” In summary, I think the Hangman album would be great for your morning commute, or your anytime workout soundtrack. I figure if you have to commute and exercise, you might as well have fuzzy punk power guitars while you’re at it! The lyrics aren’t half-bad, either.

This album doesn’t come out in stores until February 12, so you might not be able to hear the whole thing right away – but go ahead and check out the band’s website http://www.worthtaking.com for a sweet pre-order deal (just $3.49 for the album!) and the opportunity to preview select tracks. I’m sure that this band, with its people-pleasing style and full sound would make a great live show experience with any of your friends, young or old, so while you’re on the website see if they have any tour dates in your area, too! Enjoy reliving your college days with something new for your collection of fun favorites.

*Photo not taken by rockmycommute – image shown is as originally posted on http://www.eartothegroundmusic.co on February 5, 2016.

You From Before

Try the New Album by Telegraph Canyon*

You From Before

You From Before is the fairly new 2015 release from Telegraph Canyon, and is now widely available even on Spotify so it will be easy for you to check this out! I love the name of the band, as it evokes something lonely yet gripping, like “Across A Wire” from the Counting Crows, or an unmistakable American Southwestern “out there” feel that is just so intriguing. One thing this album already has going for it, in my opinion – the length is just a short, sweet, straightforward 11 songs. None of that egotistic, overbearing, inflated song list that takes so much effort to digest – but just 11 of what Telegraph Canyon considers to be their best songs to release together for 2015.

This album opens with “Hundred Years” – the instrumentation at once echoey and full of reverb, while consisting of mainly a simple piano with background singing. The vocals are reminiscent of the edgy emotion behind a Kings of Leon song – but sweet and steady before being joined with a horn section. Overall the effect of this track is slow and thoughtful; almost dreamlike. By contrast, Track #2 (called “Flood”) replaces the echoes with a more direct approach – it literally sounds like it was recorded live in a single room, all at once. A genuine effect, and appealing if you like it straight. You can see the “Indie Folk” style genre emerging a little more on this one, with some acoustic piano and a rowdy chorus of backing vocals over a nearly tribal and essential backing beat – lending an emotional intensity to rival the 2000s band Arcade Fire, as the singer chants he “could have been your Amen”.

“Why Let it Go” is next, and honestly is sounds kinda eerie at the start – like the Cure “Spiderman” song. This transitions to a soulful chorus, with a lead vocal style somehow like a hypothetical effect of Leonard Skynyrd blended with Beck…. This song is both jazzy and soulful at the same time, with some featured organ bits and overall good beats. I didn’t have much to say about Track #4, called “Hung Up” – including lyrics such as “I’m not the one you want, not what you’re lookin’ for / I’ve even told you twice but you still wait for more”. However the next track is so funky (called “Old Hearts”), it will be impossible for you to stand still. It transitions to something a little shoegazy or emo on the sensitive chorus – I think there is some beautiful instrumentation here as the singer admits he’s got his “head above the water, but the waters always change”.

“Mantle” starts out a little strange, with some broken and creepy sampled sounds, but really this is a little more melodic and upbeat – like the recent “Wilder Mind” release by Mumford and Sons. And “Lightning” (Track #7) brings out a little of the old 90s rock style, like something by Better Than Ezra or the good ol’ Wallflowers. There is some crazy fun guitar on this one – under a lyrical structure and chorus reminiscent of Coldplay, even verbally reminding us that “love is often cold”. “Haunted Woods” comes in with some simple, easy, Banjo chords as the withery, moonshiney, vocals call you with lyrics to “go choppin’ down trees”. As a result, this feels like a good “round the campfire” type of song – for the end of the night when everybody is bleary and contemplative anyhow.

Track #9 is next, called “Wheel to the Garden”. This one is a little bit darker, and almost gospel-y on the chorus. It would seem that this album is getting slower and deeper as we move along – but there are also some good guitars that I enjoy here as well, that really keep the song feeling contemporary and edgy. Track #10 (“Honey”) gives you some crazy Van Halen guitars on the opening – shredding mechanically under a more emotional set of keyboards and other sounds, before breaking into a guitar-fueled chorus that will almost have you singing along… This gritty nature of the guitars and the overall radio-friendly vibe of this song make it the most “Kings of Leon” of them all. This is definitely my favorite on You From Before! My only complaint is that “Honey” ends too abruptly.

At last we have the warbling, ballad-esque finale, the 11th track: a slow and heartfelt ending to the album, a track called “Magnetic”. It even includes violins for a bit of warmth, following a halting tempo, punctuated gently by drumbeats here and there, as the vocalist pines in a warning tone that “all you want is all you got”.

I know I have already mentioned this, but Telegraph Canyon really reminds me of Kings of Leon and Arcade Fire. These are unique, interesting, edgy songs – altogether an album I would otherwise highly recommend – except for the fact that not one single song grabbed me as the “hit” single, the hook, the reason I should fall in love with this release. So here I am, left with a list of songs that I am fine with and I can describe in my own way – but I just can’t recommend any outstanding individual items with my usual passion and enthusiasm.

What do you think? Check this out and let me know if any of the songs speak to you personally. I’m so curious to know, because the basics for excellence are certainly in place – so I’m sure these guys have a great chance and a bright future. Take a listen, and support their efforts by purchasing the album if it really moves you.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play: You From Before – Google Play

Link to Purchase Album on AmazonYou From Before – Amazon

*Photo and artwork not belonging to or by rockmycommute.  Album art is shown as presented on the Amazon.com website – check it out!

 

In Memoriam: A Personal Perspective

If you look online today, or indeed, for many days to come – you will find a plethora of memorial pieces on David Bowie, extolling the virtues of his legacy, his work, his art, his fashion, his personas, his self.  I love all of this – and as I am unable to replicate any of it, I will not attempt to.

But I can share why Bowie’s passing means so much to me – and is giving me quiet pause today.  My older brother might fact-check my timeline, but I think – I think David Bowie is almost solely responsible for my own love of rock.

I first discovered Bowie’s recordings via tiny audio clips in Microsoft Encarta on my parent’s new Pentium processor (we were just entranced by this technical functionality).   I was 10 or 11 at the time, and my conservative parents didn’t want us listening to music that wasn’t instrumental, so naturally I was hooked on Bowie’s magnetic appearance and dramatic voice!

I had always followed my big brother around asking nerdy questions about Star Wars, earth science, Medieval history, classic children’s literature… but now I asked him about music – not just David Bowie, but about any rock music that came up.  What are you playing on your guitar? (Nirvana).  Who is Stevie Ray Vaughan? (Awesome).  And so on… but Bowie’s music always stuck with me, and he became a favorite artist:

  • I remember when CMU played nearly all of  The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust album between sets an an  Elliot Smith show (it was truly the perfect setting and tons of fun).
  • I remember making a lifelong friend in college almost exclusively because of our mutual admiration for Bowie – I still imagine her singing the harmonies to “Starman” whenever I hear it.
  • I remember rejecting the character of the fictitious Brian Slade from Velvet Goldmine, because Jonathan Rhys Meyers just wasn’t as cool as the real Bowie.
  • I remember when my brother invited me to sing the backing vocals to his band’s cover of “Little China Girl” at one of his live shows.
  • I remember missing the Bowie concert in Pittsburgh (with deep regret) because $75 seemed like a small fortune when I made my money $2 at a time as a waitress.
  • I remember singing my heart out to a second-hand Ziggy Stardust cassette, in the first (and only) beater car that my parents gave me.

Small things really – but just examples of how Bowie is more than a stack of albums or even a fashion icon to so many.  In my own life his art was the start of my love affair with rock n’ roll, and a way to connect with friends and make memories over the last 23 years.  RIP, and thank you, DB. 🙂

Bowie

 

 

Theatrical Rock with a Paranoid Edge

Review of “Drones” by Muse

Muse by Hannah

Drones is the fairly new 7th studio release by the very popular yet still edgy (in my opinion) alternative rock group called MUSE (all-caps emphasis is my own).  Of course you’ve heard of them by now, and even I had heard of Muse even earlier than I realized – their 2006 hit single “Starlight” was an awesome, emotionally charged song that I actually thought was a new Radiohead release.  I was listening to a lot of Arcade Fire at the time – and since I’m always drawn to intense male vocal performances involving copious vibrato and emotion, I was totally hooked.

I’m not sure I actually realized that this track was Muse (and not Radiohead) until I accidentally attended a huge Muse concert at Madison Square Garden in 2010.  Of course I intentionally attended the show – I just happened to be there for the opening act (Silversun Pickups) and was totally blown away by the fantastic headlining performance by Muse.  I have also had a crush on the bass player ever since…

I am a sentimental cheeseball, so of course my favorite song on the album is the instantly accessible and emotional hit single “Mercy”.  I just love the simple, open piano chords, and the vocal intensity reminds me of Rufus Wainwright, or Richard Ashcroft of the Verve.  This is actually track #4 on the album, so I found myself skipping through the first few songs quite a bit on the ol’ commute to hear “Mercy” again and again.  It also got quite a bit of radio play!

The next track, called “Reapers” – reminds me of the belligerent vocals of a Better Than Ezra song – or something by Beck; it is both a little sassy and soulful here, and I love it!  The energy of the well-executed yet crazy guitar arpeggios carry through to track #5 in a way that is musical theater-like – the vocal quality here is also theatrical, dramatic, and almost electronic in style.

A fun song you might know from the radio is “Dead Inside” – it feels eerie and zombie-ish, with lyrics like ”your skin feels warm to caress – I see magic in your eyes” that conjure mental images of a possible music video not unlike Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” event.  For contrast, the song I like the least is the “Drill Sergeant” track. Basically this could be a sample from Full Metal Jacket, that just puts me in a depressed and paranoid mood.

As you listen to the album, you’ll observe that my paranoid mood is actually in line with the theme of this album.  You can tell from the title Drones, that this album is projecting a contemporary political, and anti-military type of vibe.  I understand the band’s attempt to be relevant and real – but again this is too depressing for my morning drive.  I try to focus on the musical aspects of each song, instead of just the lyrics or any anti-establishment message.

Each song has amazing drums, great basslines, hard heavy guitars, and expressive (sometimes crazy) vocals – the songs are rarely upbeat poppy hit singles (with the exception of “Mercy” and the thematically appropriate anthem “Revolt”), so they give off a darker, more serious twinge that hints at something deeper beneath.  Matt Bellamy often sounds like Mika or Freddy Mercury, and there are always plenty of well-positioned backing vocals for a dramatic chorus effect.

Another song I’m not sure I enjoy is “the Globalist” – towards the end of the album, this is another statement piece that includes some 1940s-esque whistling samples that give a creepy, haunting, vintage feel.  Running at over 10 minutes, I’m not sure what this track is supposed to be – sounds like a cowboy-inspired soundtrack from either a classic movie or something by Quentin Tarantino.  Either way it is dramatic and very sad to me.

The album closes with “Drones”, a short, tight, renaissance-inspired acapella piece that sounds like the sacred pieces commissioned for and sung in the holy cathedrals of Europe.  All of the cadences and phrasing are you would expect from a well-rehearsed all-male chorus – except I believe this piece is executed exclusively by Bellamy himself.  This took me back to my chamber choir days from high school – except that instead of singing music for the high mass, Bellamy is singing about our modern, remote, unfeeling approach towards warfare and death. The lyrics reference the hit single again when they inquire- “can you feel anything?  Are you dead inside?”

And with that, the operatic arch of this album is complete.  Even with all of the gritty, sharp, provocative, uncomfortable and dystopian futuristic elements – I really enjoyed this release.  I’ll mention Freddy Mercury again, because the theatrical, high-drama style is so similar – at times you’ll think you’re listening to an Andrew Lloyd Weber rock opera.  Another comparable vocalist would be Brandon Flowers from the Killers.

If you like this kind of energy, combined with excellent production quality, and the near-flawless execution of hard-hitting, edgy rock songs with a crisp, contemporary challenging message – you’ll appreciate this album and you should definitely check out the other releases by Muse.  Happy New Year!

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play: DRONES by Muse

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon: DRONES CD by Muse