Got Twang?

Broken Hymns – by Matt Bradford*

Matt Bradford

Here’s my initial warning – if you don’t like country or bluegrass and you hate that steel guitar sound, then this album is not for you.  It is packed full of whiny twang that many of us just love – so if you are still reading, then you are in for a treat!  With that said, this is not an over-produced Trace Atkins or Alan Jackson album, but rather a more rustic and raw tribute to that Americana sound.

The album opens with “Break Easy”, and Matt immediately sets the tone by launching into a rather broken, cracked-with anguish vocal style – the way he sings is gentle, yet rugged at the same time.  The music follows a simple chord structure, and somehow even though the tempo and instruments are completely different it reminded me of that old song “Operator” by Jim Croce (must be that overall pleasant vibe of the song that creates an instant nostalgia).

I can imagine “Break Easy” being covered by someone like Darius Rucker to popular effect on hit country radio; it is the type of song that almost everybody likes.  I don’t usually appreciate slower songs, but somehow on a rainy summer Saturday night, this felt just about right – it would be fitting for an evening with friends, a date, or just hanging out on your own.

Track #2 is “The Singer”, with a rolling guitar entry that evokes something by the Counting Crows (from back in the “August” days when they were really good).  Lyrics like “put a penny in the jar / open up your heart” portray a singer as a storyteller, in a narrative song about some kind of life-changing traveling troubadour encounter.  The whole story is set over perfectly countrified guitar that feels just so healthy and homey here.

And Matt is back to sweet and slow again on #3!  I would say that “Recognize” has that waltzy “last song of the night” type of feel, followed by “The Worst Goodbye”.  This one isn’t bad, but I’ll admit it gets a little repetitive. I went back to the first track to see if I had different words to describe this song – I would say this one is more stripped down without the organ background and perfectly constructed backing rhythm of the opener.  Here you have mostly just Dobro and vox – which is fine but not really remarkable, with expected country-song lyrics like “I can take the pain, but I won’t take the blame / it’s your love that’s killin’ me.”

But don’t stop listening yet, because then we get Track #5 – “Ain’t Ready To Stop”.  This is the kind of song I was waiting for! There’s a driving train-track beat and some real twang and wail on the guitars, with laid-back lyrics like “cruisin’ though that desert kiss / sure don’t get better than this / I ain’t ready to stop for days”.  If you like the idea of a mix between Ryan Bingham and Old Crow Medicine Show, then you will enjoy this one.  Matt’s skill on the guitar really shines through and there is a lot of that pedal steel sound here too which is just awesome.

Next is “Going to Hell”, which sounds like a hyper-romantic and emotional slow-dance of a song.  Don’t play this on a date though, as the chorus “everything just keeps goin’ to hell” is a bit of a downer.  And I loved the title of the next track “Stronger Than The Song”; but this one was really slow and sobering as Matt sings “there’s lines on his face, the scars of loves lost and prices paid”.

Both of these songs are really fitting for an album called “Broken Hymns”, as you would expect the songs to be slow and simple with a trend towards the damaged, more depressing characters.  A pleasant female vocalist takes over here on Track #7 (as a more mellow version of Carrie Underwood) – adding some energy to the third slow song in a row as both singers harmonize pleasantly together.

Finally we have “Broken Hymns”.  This is a gritty relationship song, utilizing those lovely vocal harmonies again, on this – the title track and the album closer.  The instrumentation is full, and the tempo is upbeat enough to be catchy and memorable while still slow and sad.  The music has to be sad enough to support lyrics like – “I didn’t even say goodbye, just found a place to lay down and die / there’s nothin’ worth hearing in my final words.”  Yikes!

I think “Broken Hymns” is really a strong ending to the album – if this had been the opening track I would have certainly kept on listening.  The artist’s style is consistent, the musicianship is good, and his songs are solid.  Again, if you aren’t afraid of country music or slow tunes – you’ll like most of the tracks on this release.  Check out www.mattbradfordmusic.com for samples of the music right on the website!

*Image not created by rockmycommute – album art from http://www.mattbradfordmusic.com used as part of review written originally for eartothegroundmusic.co and published on June 21, 2015.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

https://play.google.com/store/music/album/Matt_Bradford_Broken_Hymns?id=Bmpf6f3uskno7jfqthjllb364hy&hl=en

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Broken-Hymns-Matt-Bradford/dp/B00UPRBZUW/ref=sr_1_2?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1435202024&sr=8-2&keywords=Matt+Bradford

Lots to Love about this New Album!

No Cities To Love – By Sleater-Kinney

IMG_20150616_213218

I don’t remember when I heard that Sleater-Kinney was putting out a new album; I think someone mentioned it in passing, and I was only vaguely interested.  I was only vaguely interested, because I am getting old and I was confusing Sleater-Kinney with Rilo Kiley – still fun but “meh” by comparison.  When I saw the No Cities To Love album on a Pitchfork list a few weeks later, I was super excited to check it out!  So fun to remember an edgier, indier time when Carrie Brownstein was making her own way with a guitar (she is more than just a funny sidekick with a cute haircut on Portlandia).

The musical styling is of course very similar to Bratmobile (Google both bands if you need a refresher on riot grrrl music and culture) with lots of punky rock and nary a slow, gentle song in the mix.  But I also heard the influence of one of my personal female heroes – Patti Smith.  The poetic chanting, sometimes yelling, sometimes singing with a loud and not-so-sweet-yet-seriously-feminine voice is so powerful and so familiar.

The album opens with “Price Tag’, which is of course about the high prices we are paying every day for our modern lifestyles.  There are middle-aged mom references (“I scramble eggs / for little legs”) but good descriptive verses you can feel (“the fabrics itch / the fit’s a little rough”) and no lack of rock.  The vocals here are similar to Gwen Stefani if you need a fairly recognizable comparison – strained and emotional, but still capable of evoking a vibrato.

“Fangless” is dancy and energetic, with upbeat backing vocals that make you feel like this song could really be from any decade.  The guitars remind me of Franz Ferdinand and the Strokes, but of course these gals came wayyyyyyy before those guys!  And track #4 is the type of rock anthem that you’d want to scream along with during a live show – “we win, we lose / only together do we break the rules”.  The title track “No Cities to Love” is something that will definitely get stuck in your head – the vocals are more yelled than sung, with jazzy guitar interjections and a line about a “walk-off” that for some reason conjures images of David Bowie…

I think track #5 “A New Wave” is my favorite, and not just because of the fun name.  The opening guitar is just awesome, rippin’ and wailin’ you into a frenzy of female resistance by rock – “I am raw material / Make me plastic, make me fuel / I can be… I can be all.”  But I also really love the next one, “No Anthems” because it is sorta creepy; sorta minor in key and breathy in voice before launching into the bridge – supported mostly by an aggressive drum break.  “Gimme Love” might seem like a Rolling Stones song title, but I think this is one of the most Bratmobile of them all – abstract guitars and powerful, percussive singing.

“Bury our Friends” is probably my least favorite because I have not listened to it as much as the others (I usually start at the first track when turning on the ol’ Prius) but I think this is also the most Patti Smith in style – you can just imagine her singing along in bare feet with hands outstretched in solidarity.  “Hey Darling” is a little sassy and a little more singerly; again with the Gwen vibrato and flirty-yet-careless breakup song vibe.  The album ends with a song fittingly called “Fade” which also is not one of my favorites, since it is a little slower, less melodic and more esoteric – but still it is hard to complain about 10 songs of welcome rock that hold up not only to nostalgia, but also against anything that is being played and produced this year.

No Cities To Love will not disappoint you – it is of course more polished and better produced than some of the stuff you were listening to in the 90s, but it still is just packed with razory guitars, raucously-belted girl-power vocals, and hard hitting drums.  Every single song took me back to the one time I was lucky enough to see Bratmobile open for the Donnas – and back to the days of thrift store t-shirts, greasy shag haircuts, stapling up band flyers, handing out stickers, and collecting little pins (for your hoodie or messenger bag, of course).  An authentic and fun point in time – for music, art, and good rock bands that are worth re-discovering time and again.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

https://play.google.com/store/music/album/Sleater_Kinney_No_Cities_To_Love?id=Bkeqq6gv2ntlikotbp4sqtsnps4&hl=en

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/No-Cities-Love-Sleater-Kinney/dp/B00OPMI3N0/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1434591145&sr=1-1&keywords=No+Cities+To+Love&refinements=p_n_binding_browse-bin%3A387645011

Sitting and thinking about this fun album…

Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit – By Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett’s album came out in March 2015 – I had just seen this out on the Pitchfork list of best albums and decided to give it a try.  Right away I recognized “Pedestrian at Best” on track #2 – I had heard it weeks before on public radio and I loved it immediately because it called to mind a mixture of my three favorite girl-rock songs:  “Kool Thing” sung by Kim Gordon, “Seether” by Veruca Salt, and “Never say Never” by Romeo Void.  Hmmmm, I thought – this girl can ROCK!

But let’s start with track #1.  A great rhythmic start to the album, with a spoken-word style that showcases Courtney’s sarcastic and darkly humorous treatment of semi-dark, sorta jaded, daily disenchantment.  There’s something about the dichotomy of bouncy, upbeat chords against lyrics pleading “don’t’ jump little boy!” that make you stop and think.   Yikes!

Track #3 sounds exactly like a Sheryl Crow song – think of this as Courtney’s updated version of “All I Wanna Do”.  Same swanky beat, complete with a bit of sassy twang.  Next is “Small Poppies” – the “Sleepwalking” doo-wop piece of her album – fittingly hazy and lazy for a song title that calls to mind um, opiates and in particular that scene from “the Wizard of Oz” (where Dorothy succumbs to the doping effect of the pretty poppies), yawn

“Depreston” is fittingly depressing, as it is basically a flatly-described view of the daily hum-drum of domestic life and the mundane history that houses and homes carry with them.  This song is perfect for Courtney’s middle-of-the-road (mostly spoken) vocal style.  And next is another Sheryl Crow-styled song called “Aqua Profunda” – so sassy and fun, while being a little silly at the same time.  Next #7 called “Dead Fox” features an upbeat (almost 80s style) background bass that will have you bopping along, even as you realize the lyrics are a cynical tale of denial about turning a blind eye to whatever you can’t handle at the moment….

I LOVED the name of the track “Nobody Really Cares If you Don’t Go to the Party”. This is exactly the right attitude for handling that sort of self-important indecision that someone may be whining about to you.  Nobody cares!  This is full of the sort of 90s girl rock that I loved from the beginning of the album, with a really amazing guitar solo that is so much fun.

Track #9 – called “Debbie Downer” – could be cut and pasted directly from a Juliana Hatfield album.  Cute structure, semi-sweet lyrics, and lots of girlie attitude.  Perfect for rocking out and singing along in your car!  I thought #10 was the most serious of them all – an environmentally-conscious song told in a mostly poetic, beatnik bass style that is almost too much for this otherwise tongue-in-cheek album.  The CD ends on a mellow note with “Boxing Day Blues”.  I’ll admit it was kind of hard for me to get into this one, when all I really wanted to do was keep rockin’ with the rest of the album.

I tried looking Courtney up on the internet, to see how much of this guitar music she was writing/playing herself – but no matter who is performing the instrumentation on the album, it is nothing really spectacular or noteworthy.  Even on these stripped-down songs what makes each track so great is the combination of music, lyrics, and deadpan Courtney delivery.  Somehow it all really comes together in this great “retro” 90s indie-girl style. Wikipedia for Courtney Barnett says she has released two EPs to date, but that this is her debut album.  What?!  This is AMAZING for a debut album!  Check it out!

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play (FREE Download of Hit Single!):

https://play.google.com/store/music/album/Courtney_Barnett_Sometimes_I_Sit_and_Think_And_Som?id=Bkywviwrr2xbmca2swnfrv6vlvq&hl=en

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Sometimes-Sit-Think-Just/dp/B00SSL4DA6/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1433815016&sr=1-1&keywords=Courtney+Barnett

Maritime Melodies and Island Moods

Maritime – Album by Dave and Mandy*

Dave and Mandy

Maritime opens with an elegant, balanced, harmony carried by both confident singers.  This first track is jazzy and full of movement, even while being simple and clean.  Dave and Mandy are actually Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer – no flashy band name for these two!  Their website states that they have “shared the stage” with many acts, including Iron & Wine and Mandolin Orange – and I must say these are perfect pairings.  Mandy’s voice reminds me a little of Mindy Smith, but deeper – and I’m still not sure how to describe Dave’s vocal style.  Gentle like Jack Johnson maybe, but more singerly and sustained somehow?

Dave and Mandy are in the same style vein and able to hold their own alongside these comparable, well-known bands.  This album was recorded on an island, so you’d expect it to have a sharp beach-grass, biting wind, salty air, roaring wave type of feeling; but honestly I think the overall style and feeling takes you to any natural out-of-door place that allows you enjoy music – and your own memories – in a calm and uninterrupted peace.

The second track on the album (“Compass”) is a beautiful acoustic guitar piece, supporting Mandy’s solo voice in a darker minor key that gets both rollicking and wistful.  It is just upbeat enough to have you singing along to the flavorful lyrics – “all these cigarettes and smiles, smell the salt that’s in the air”.  Track #3 is “Carillion”, with music that really doesn’t interfere too much with Dave’s lead vocals – you can really hear each sustained vibrato and therefore feel connected in some way to the singer, as he proposes “I would like to play for you, a song that is my own.”

Track #4 brings in a little energy, with crashing drums and a train-track rhythm that breaks through at just the right moments.  But the next track didn’t impress me as anything novel – even as I enjoyed the brighter feeling and warmer texture of this more upbeat piece aptly titled “Morning Song”, I realized that this song actually plays upon the familiar.  Dave’s voice shares words that pop out individually to tap into your own associations, words like cattails, fence posts, coffee, mason jars.  Even though it is not earth-shatteringly innovative, I have to say “Morning Song” is tied with “Compass” for my favorite track!

Dave’s turn to get jazzy is on #6, a piece called “How the Sea”.  This song really highlights the electric guitar – apparently Mandy played lead guitar for several other bands and her musicianship is well demonstrated here.  The storytelling style on #7 reminds me a little bit of Ani DiFranco – a coffeehouse style song brimming with angst.  Then “Rain on the Rosemary” actually has a, well, rainy feeling that calls to mind the Pacific Northwestern island setting where this record was made.  I just love the name, and again the electric guitar solos sprinkling in and out are just perfect mood-setters.

It might seem hard to have much patience for a song called “Silence”, but Dave and Mandy do a pretty fair job of it.  Slow, bare, and about someone who “can’t stand the silence”, Mandy’s voice is mostly alone on this piece before it ramps up; and she carries a rich strength that compares to one of my favorite singers, Susan Tedeschi.  The melody here leads you to unexpected places which is admirable – but I have to say this piece was probably my least favorite, as it is a more serious than energetic song.

“Tide Moon Ship Horn” (Track #10) is the song that uses words most explicitly to bring out the maritime theme.  In addition to the title that repeats throughout the chorus, you’ll hear other pepperings of salty words including gales, gray, anchor, and sail… that all work to bring you the place the artists want you to see.

The album ends very simply, with a sweet song crooning “I’ve got all the time in the world for Victoria”.  If you love Iron and Wine, Norah Jones, and if you have ever heard of an Ohio group called Over the Rhine… then you will love Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer.  They are certainly talented and intentional – and they have a couple of tour dates coming up in August.  I hope that some of these are outside shows – because this is the kind of music best enjoyed from a blanket in the grass, on a summer night with a bottle of wine.  Dreamy, mellow, and memory-making.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

https://play.google.com/store/music/album/Dave_McGraw_Mandy_Fer_Maritime?id=Bttwbnfdevbsjmeoa3mmekr4vc4

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Maritime-Dave-Mcgraw-Mandy-Music/dp/B00PO54RIW/ref=sr_1_2?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1433296282&sr=1-2&keywords=dave+mcgraw+mandy+fer

*Photo not taken by rockmycommute.  Image is as shown on www.daveandmandymusic.com/about on 05/31/2015.

Intentional-yet-not-too-campy Spaghetti Western Style

Rich Coast – by Kids*

Kids - Rich Coast

Why aren’t more bands called “Kids”?  No other word has so much attitude and energy, smacking of defiant grins and gonna-die-young teenage abandon.  It is almost perfect for a rock band (if you can keep the 1995 Larry Clark movie out of your mind).  This group keeps true to its energetic name by approaching this album boldly and earnestly.  Their soundcloud.com bio proclaims that the band intentionally added a “throwback vintage cinematic feel” to their pop album, Rich Coast, inspired by “old spaghetti western films and Kung-Fu movies”.  This is totally evident throughout the album, and kind of fun to look out for.  The images you’ll see in your head as you listen to this collection of songs are of graceful, martial arts curves; and bold, colorful open skies.

I liked the first song “Man on the Moon” right away. The vocals remind me of Coldplay and Richard Ashcroft, in that the singer is not afraid to get high-pitched and emotional.  Lots of the aforementioned Kung-Fu influence is apparent on this one.  The next song (“Vistas”) calls to mind a California Cowboy movie.  The Rich Coast title of the album seems like a fitting home for this song that could be written by One Republic – but with more cinematic background instrumentation throughout.

Track #3 is “Love’s Song” – The heavy echo on the vocals is somewhat dramatic and romantic, and the melody itself is like a stirring Celtic ballad from a Clannad album (just missing a tin whistle or bagpipe solo).  Just when you think this feels a little long, it rebounds into a huge choral session that breaks from the highland mood, before tapering back down again to the simpler lyrics and folksy feel of the opening.  “Second Star on the Right” has that Western feel again, complete with a horseback-riding lilt. It launches fully into an up-tempo energetic start, with mellow lyrics and sprinkles of sounds (almost like bells or a xylophone) adding a bit of sparkle.  On the chorus I noted again that the vocals have a very Chris Martin style to them.

“Paved Paradise” is next with a funky, upbeat, and bouncy style –like something by Vampire Weekend or Ra Ra Riot.  It has a cute and summery feel with some ska-like horns and a memorable chorus that plays like a top hit from almost any of the past three decades.  The Kids want you to dance along to this one, with lyrics like “expectation tends to make my heels itch”.  There are little bits of fun funky bass too, under crashing rock drum breaks.  “The Standoff” is probably my favorite on the album, with an almost edgy, electronica opening.  Vocals take a John Mayer-ish appeal with lyrics that don’t annoy, even with their simplicity – “Wasted all your good love when you were young – so tonight is gonna be another lonely one”.  The central theme of this song has an EDM-esque hook on a danceable chorus that I really liked.

Track #7, called “Lone”, really has the cowboy vibe I kept looking for throughout the album.  It is a storytelling ballad, with all of the Wild West bells and (literal) whistles.   Then comes “Rides”, a sing-along, sort of musical theater number about the ups and downs of life set to a gentle beat while the singer laments “you’ve come around on a carousel ride – lifting me up just to fall back down.”  “Falsetto” has some fun rhythms and the sound of a guqin, while “Sera” has a little more stripped-down appeal and some grittier lyrics, such as “how does a cigar makes the cheapest of whiskey so sweet?” (even though I think this combination of substances might actually give you the worst headache of all).

“Broken Homes” features a cowboy tempo again, also with a slightly of Celtic feel, and something like the whinnying of a horse popping out every now and again.  This has a bit more of that indie folk revival sound that is popular now – you could imagine a more mellow version of this being performed by a group like “Head and the Heart”. I lingered a little bit on the final song “Sunshine”, listening to it several times, because I found it both poignant and sweet, sad and full of hope – a combination of piano, horns, and even cymbals – while being a little like Death Cab for Cutie at the same time.

Some of the songs seemed a little bit lengthy, and because it is highly stylized and musically complex the album can feel a little decadent, like frozen yogurt with too many diverse toppings.  But there is something really fun about the intentional-yet-not-too-campy spaghetti western style, and the perfect song titles that help to carry the theme through the album, including “the Standoff”, “Lone”, and “Rides”… I love it when an album does not get too slow towards the end, and this one kept the energy moving forward the whole time.  And I must say that the overall effect is unique – this collection of vivid sounds is not something you would hear every day!  So pick up a few old movies at the library, view them on mute while listening to this album, and give Rich Coast a try.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

https://play.google.com/store/music/album/KIDS_Rich_Coast?id=Blzaqulbdgqak2oyrx3hacxxkfu&hl=en

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Rich-Coast-Kids/dp/B00T530Q3O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1432785266&sr=8-1&keywords=rich+coast

Link to Band Website:

http://www.thebandkids.com/

*Artwork/photo not owned or created by RMC.  Image shown is as presented on Rich Coast by Kids soundcloud site: https://soundcloud.com/bandkids/sets/kids-rich-coast-lp-private

Poetic and Poignant

Vulnicura by Björk

IMG_20150507_215344

If you know Björk, then you will know she is amazingly talented as a music producer, writer, performer, singer, and lyricist.  Her work never ceases to push new boundaries and challenge old assumptions about what music should sound like, and Vulnicura is no exception.

The overall themes are 1) a very classical, traditional, ethereal violin orchestral sound, balanced over 2) harmonic vocals wailing poetic lyrics supported by 3) electronic beats and sampled sounds.  The whole album tells a chronological story of a relationship and breakup that is “brutally honest”, as one colleague (who recommended the album) enthusiastically pointed out.

Admittedly, I tend to like music for the superficial, intangible qualities – if it makes me feel good and I enjoy it then I just happily move along, without questioning it too much.  For this album I was personally challenged to read the lyrics, so I pulled the liner notes from the sleeve, and…. I was completely sucked in.  I felt like I was reading a (poignant and non-annoying) book of poetry!  I was suddenly compelled to do an internet search about Björk’s relationship and figure out who was this guy, who was this daughter, what was this rift that tore them apart…

In my search I learned more about the album’s two co-producers, and again I was blown away by the sheer wealth of talent and intelligence present in the stories of these two men.  According to Wikipedia (which could always be just fancy lies), Haxan Cloak is an artist who got his start recording his own instrumental samples in his parent’s shed; and Arca has already presented at MoMa PSI and worked on a Kanye album.  Intriguing, to say the least!

My favorite song on the album is “Atom Dance”, because even though it has a slow and melodramatic start, it eventually weaves into an energetic yet silken wave of song, with lots of pizzicato strings (that at times, fall into sharp, robotic beats).  Another one I really like is “Mouth Mantra”, because it is one of the most electronic and percussive on the album.  My least favorite is “History of Touches” because I am a cynic and it is just too romantic – also it seems to take Björk a really long time to verbalize her intent and get her point across.  Otherwise (or should I say musically, instead of verbally) it is completely fine, and I don’t lose too much patience – the organ chords give the piece sunny bursts of energy that are interesting.

The icing on the cake is that there is a special exhibit this month at the MOMA in NYC dedicated to Björk and her music, with certain features specifically highlighting this exquisite album. I cannot wait to go check it out, and I encourage you to do the same if you get the chance!

While my favorite Björk songs will always be “Big Time Sensuality” from Debut and “Army of Me” from Post, there is something about the sophistication and essential ability showcased on Vulnicura that I cannot ignore, and I simply have to respect.  Whether you are a Björk fan or not, please check this out and prepare to be very impressed.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

https://play.google.com/store/music/album/Bj%C3%B6rk_Vulnicura?id=Blyrgbkvslwpnk2bpn7vdvpw3oq

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Vulnicura-Bjork/dp/B00SKFJGMA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1432092193&sr=8-1&keywords=vulnicura

Another Newbie

Westside Royal – by She’s A Keeper

Westside Royal

Prepare yourself for an engaging album from a seriously talented band, with a super-sweet name!  Westside Royal is a five-track digital album released by She’s A Keeper in January 2015, on the heels of their full-length release Sterlin from 2013. This little gem is an energetic and upbeat treat for your commute, or it also works as little fun background music for a productive Saturday afternoon.

The first song is “Wannabe”, and sets the album off to an interesting start featuring strong chords with melodic vocals. This sounds like a heavily harmonized version of Vance Joy with a little Modest Mouse mixed in there. I would say the vocalist reminds me of the primary singer from the Head and the Heart, but the style is way different (and way more rocking).

The second track remains upbeat, with a 60s-feeling blend of Nick Drake, CSNY, and even Band of Horses – the opening reminds me musically a bit of Mindy Smith’s hit single “It’s Amazing”. The feel of this song is echoey and rhythmic, with great harmonies that I really enjoyed.

Next is “I Won’t”; something just a little darker, and more emo – with buzzy reverb on the guitars and banjo-esque strumming popping through the texture. These broken, jazzy, arpeggios break through to crashing guitars every now and then, to create a great level of complexity here under the smooth vocals and sensitive lyrics. And again the vocalist reminded me of the Head and the Heart – with a David Gray comparison presenting itself more obviously than ever.

“Dead Serious” is the 4th song, and this one will have you moving your feet! The guitar chords in the intro have a surf rock feel – with a little clashing/dissonant tension in there, under laid-back vocals that complement this bustling and complex musical background. The overall effect is more of an “indie folk revival” feel than some of the other songs; in fact I would say this is definitely similar to Mumford and Sons.

Everything wraps up on track #5, a straightforward and calm song called “Pennsylvania”. The musical styling, and even the entire chorus for this song is almost basic and direct – but there are beautiful, sensitive strings on this track that make up for its apparent simplicity. I listened to this one a few extra times to try to get a sense of the lyrics – what they are, and what they are saying. Through the layered effect of the vocals and instruments all I could gather for certain (other than the chorus) was one repeating refrain – “Are we gonna shout, are we gonna…”

I would personally shout that this group is worth checking out – I really enjoyed the 5-tracks on Westside Royal as an intro, and I look forward to hearing the 2013 full-length album too. You may also appreciate the local interview done by Kansas City’s own music and entertainment publication, the Pitch (www.pitch.com). The band has a few show dates scheduled in Missouri and Wisconsin, so you might be able to experience them live – if you are lucky!

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

https://play.google.com/store/music/album/She_s_a_Keeper_Westside_Royal?id=Bhkztgoj36g4dttygnurdpojb5e&hl=en

Link to Purchase (digital) Album:

http://www.amazon.com/Westside-Royal-Shes-Keeper/dp/B00S95S208/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1431484401&sr=8-1&keywords=Westside+Royal

*Please note:  This piece was originally posted on EarToTheGroundMusic.co on May 10, 2015 – the image shown was captured from that website.  The article itself was written by rockmycommute and is subject to my copyright notice as detailed in the About link.

Take A Bow

Take A Bow – By the Reveurs*

The Reveurs

 “The Reveurs” is French for “the Dreamers”, and this band fittingly presents songs that are nostalgic and sensitive without being too corny.  Check out their edgy black-and-white website for gorgeous photos (www.thereveurs.co.uk), and the whole Take a Bow 4-song release – available for listening right online.   You can easily order the CD from here, or digitally download it from Google Play.

The lead singer has a familiar voice, yet it was hard for me to pin this down for a good comparison – the closest I could determine is that this sounds like the guy from Incubus – when he sings in a slower, mellower way without screaming.  Mix that with a little Gavin Rossdale, and you’ve got the idea!

In their press pack, the Reveurs are described as “a four piece Manchester based rock/indie band who are committed to writing and performing intense, unique and lyrically engaging indie-rock anthems.”  I’m no expert on the lyrically engaging part, the songs seem straightforward and singable enough; but I can attest to the indie-rock part – these guys have got the beat!

“Take A Bow” is the opening track of this little 4-song collection, demonstrating a solid sound that is reminiscent of Kings of Leon, and Toad the Wet Sprocket all at the same time – with the aforementioned Bush vocals to keep things going.  If this sounds like an unexpected combination, it actually works perfectly!  I really enjoyed the second song, called “Harriet” – quick and poppy, like the Strokes with a little old-school Lit which is really fun.

Next comes “Control”, a song that turns things to a more serious note in a minor key, with sensitive harmonies and heavy guitars.  Here the Reveurs channel some Depeche Mode to appeal to the 80s enthusiasts among us, as they chant “reach out and touch faith” through the intense end of this song.

The CD ends with “Saint Marie”; starting with a great bass opening and lots of hi-hat drums, before sliding into awesome rock guitar then quieting down to feature the singer again.  Good vocal harmonies lend depth and texture to the determined, repeating lyrics – “Saint Marie I’ve got to run my way; I don’t know what I’ve been told…” that repeat over and over.

You could hear this album in a sports bar, in an indie record store, or your own hip car – and the Reveurs wouldn’t be out of place anywhere.  I think they are a solid act with some general appeal that could really make it big.  Now, we’ve got to get them to play some live shows outside of the UK!

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

https://play.google.com/store/music/artist/The_Reveurs?id=Aspv7rlc4zszsb5mp3gfsktwv3q&hl=en

Link to Band Website with Online Album:

www.thereveurs.co.uk

*Please note:  This piece was originally posted on EarToTheGroundMusic.co on May 3, 2015 – the image shown was captured from that website.  The article itself was written by rockmycommute and is subject to my copyright notice as detailed in the About link.

Break The Cycle

Sisters and Brothers – by the Vespers*

The Vespers

Not overly poppy, upbeat, or sweet – you may find yourself considering the Vespers more seriously, and you will not be disappointed!  They really hit hard in the opening of this album, making sure you know what their sound is and that they aren’t afraid to rock and wail. Sisters and Brothers is a full-length, full-production release; with twelve tracks on the album, it is the third album for the Vespers.

I confirmed on Wikipedia that the band is actually made up of two real brothers, Taylor and Bruno Jones; and two sisters, Callie and Phoebe Cryar – Callie and Phoebe both sing on the album, but it’s not always clear who is taking the lead.  The vocals blend beautifully with the country-ish instrumentation – the first descriptive comparisons that came to mind were that the lead vocals sound like the singer from the Sundays, over a band that is reminiscent of good ol’ Whiskeytown (if some of their alt-country songs had even more edge, and feisty female vocals).

The album begins almost exactly like “Ohio” by Neil Young, with a plunking banjo that seems to speed up as the lead singer brandishes a voice like an indie Gretchen Wilson.  The words “Everybody looks like someone else, we all just wanna look like ourselves” encourage one to “break the cycle” – in line with the band’s website admission that this album is inherently about growth and discovery.  With that said, nothing about this feels adolescent or naïve, and the music on Sisters and Brothers should appeal to almost everyone.

The second song is more lilting, with almost whiny lyrics over solidly building rock and roll drums.  “We Win” is really an anthem – definitely the kind of song you can raise your lighters to!  The following track features a vintage reverb microphone sound on the vox, with lots of country twang on a song that is otherwise a little eerie and taunting.  Next comes the title track, featuring a simple strummy guitar, with 90s backing vocals on this classic song – the feel-good piano on the bridge will remind you of Joan Osborne.  I appreciated the plain openness of the lyrics here –“We already know the ending of the story, we don’t have to worry about the little things… gotta take care of eachother.”

The fifth song opens with bright piano chords, creating a rhythmic background for the second leading vocalist to pop through with an equally lovely yet grittier voice of her own.  There is enough energy on the repeating chorus at the end to evoke Bonnie Tyler herself (“It’s not enough!”).   And track #6 “Out West” is just a big ol’ moody country song, like something performed by Carrie Underwood – brimming with a heavy molasses feeling of deep and sorrowful secrets.

“Signs” is one of my favorites – super-upbeat and danceable, with funky organ instrumentation that creates a vibe like Dolly Parton-meets-Tony Basil.  Given the somewhat somber mood of some other songs on this album, this is a refreshing change to something lighter.  The next song opens with fresh banjo picking, and great harmonies on this delicate track about a “churchgoing girl” with “perfect attendance”.  Beautiful piano fills in like little rain drops, building a full wave of instrumentation.  “The Curtain” is a stripped-down contrast to some of the big, rocking openers on this album – but as always, the singing is fantastic on every track.

Track #10 “Please” is a little slow for my liking, but it is also the kind of song that will eventually grow into a favorite.  There is no shortage of emotion coming from the desperately pleading lyrics and angsty vocals.  And just when you think the album has turned into a soft collection of lullabies, “You Leave Me” breaks out with a ton of vintage soul and raucous attitude.  I think I’ve heard this track before on some Public Radio show – it definitely could be considered the “hit single”!  Finally comes “Thirst No More”, the hymn-like closing song with gorgeous violins and tribal drums beneath.  This song is less country, and more Innocence Mission – at once gentle, and ethereal.

There is enough variety from track to track that you won’t ever get bored.  I think the Vespers would be an amazing band to see live, and if you check out their website you’ll find they have PLENTY of upcoming shows in their lineup across the US.  What impressed me the most about this group is that while their sound is not necessarily new, the variety of song styles they are willing to try on a single album is ambitious yet effective – somehow this diversity of content is unified by the awesomely unique, almost hauntingly elfin vocals that allow the group to leave its own mark.

Link to Google Play to preview tracks:

https://play.google.com/store/music/album/The_Vespers_Sisters_and_Brothers?id=Bq6uto2go62445czyndq6dnqyc4&hl=en

Link to Amazon to purchase album:

http://www.amazon.com/Sisters-Brothers-Vespers/dp/B00L92DBTK/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1430183160&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Vespers

*Please note: This piece was originally posted on EarToTheGroundMusic.co on April 26, 2015 – the image shown was captured from that website.  The article itself was written by rockmycommute and is subject to my copyright notice as detailed in the About link.

Sky’s The Limit

Future Self – By Silas Fermoy*

Album Review Silas Fermoy – Future Self – Sky’s the limit for this talented ind_2015-04-20_21-22-20

Now this is the kind of album I have been waiting for!  Clouds That Dropped You is something that sounds new enough to be exciting, but familiar enough to be instantly appreciated.  His picture may look a bit like Justin Timberlake, but according to his bio just five years ago Joshua Mash was playing gigs in NYC under the name Shilo Andrews – now he is Silas Fermoy and the sky is the limit.  I foresee great things for this talented, fresh and innovative artist.

On the first track – “Passed Time” – the Hammond Organ sound starts simply enough, with a little choral reverb and static-y sound featuring prominently within the clearly sung lyrics.  You’ll notice this sounds a little bit like the Killers, but more upbeat and lighter – with a great indie whine on the guitar solo.  The song is catchy and pleasant, with a message about how “you never grow but you feel safe anyway” that breaks into a call-and-response-chorus with a great complexity of sound effects.  It finishes with that cool, retro fade effect that I adore.

I think the second song is my favorite – it is both romantic and poetic, while being edgy at the same time.  Then it just bursts into a full blown chorus with rolling drums that call to mind the days of 311 from the 90s (remember “Down”, “Amber” and all of those great sounds?).  The vocals are ultra-echoey here, with a lower register twin on the backing vox – think Temper Trap on “Sweet Disposition” and you’ll know exactly what I mean!  I think the downtime break in the middle is really good, and there is also an ethereal and dreamy bridge with great guitar that drops back to remind you of some of those emo bands you used to love, as Josh croons (“In this boy’s world, in these green eyes, in these cruel skies”)…

If I had to choose a least favorite, it is probably the title track (#4), as it is definitely the slower and more lyrical song on the album – like a carefully crafted Guster song.  I have to admit, there are eventually great drums here, just like on the whole album – it really moves into a driving piano-based beat on the chorus.  I can also see a little Arcade Fire influence here, with a great rocking guitar under delicate vocals.  However, I do feel like sometimes the songs on this album move through too many elements and exploratory phases in a short time span –  personally I think it is OK for a piece to just sound like itself.  With that said, there are absolutely no moments when the music is stagnant; when the songs do not feel full of movement.  Change can be good!

Overall, I have to say that this release has so much energy, and attitude!  I love Josh’s expressive voice, with the unique and extra-wobbly vibrato on the sustained notes.  The music is definitely danceable on almost every track, without losing substance or becoming too “bubblegum”.  And there is nothing distracting about the quality of the recording – it is truly a well-planned and well-produced piece of work.  You will really enjoy this!

Link To Full Review (Commentary on All Tracks) at ETTG:

http://www.eartothegroundmusic.co/2015/04/19/album-review-silas-fermoy-future-self-skys-the-limit-for-this-talented-indie-rocker/

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

https://play.google.com/store/music/album/Silas_Fermoy_Clouds_That_Dropped_You?id=B3oaof4s7mnhh4rw767ufmlpkue&hl=en

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Clouds-That-Dropped-Silas-Fermoy/dp/B00TK8WYG6/ref=sr_1_15?ie=UTF8&qid=1429579870&sr=8-15&keywords=Silas+Fermoy

*Originally published as full-length review with commentary on all tracks; published on the ETTG blog (www.eartothegroundmusic.co) on April 19.  Image captured from ETTG website.