Hope for a Healing World

If you are following my Facebook or Instagram then you probably already saw this sweet video from Michael McArthur – I think this touching cover of “Imagine” is just beautiful.

Reflect, enjoy, and check out his other work!  Then follow me on Facebook and Instagram later. 😉

Have a great week,

Hannah

Pleasantry is (not surprisingly) Pleasant.

Synapses by Pleasantry*

Synapses

Pleasantry has a sweet name that just begs you to take things lightly – but their 2014 release called Synapses is anything but trite.  You’ve got 10 solid tracks with some good album art – and as the name suggests, this is a mental experience that will get into your head! So just sit back and relax with your headphones on for this one. Don’t even try to multitask.

According to the band’s Facebook Website Bio, “Pleasantry was formed in late 2010, from members that have been active in the Singapore indie music scene under post rock, indie pop and experimental projects.”  Add “shoegaze” to that list of music types, and you’ve got a pretty good description of what Pleasantry provides with its multi-instrumental approach, fronted by both male and female vocalists. If you like the Sundays or Sixpence None the Richer, you might enjoy this. I am also reminded of some 90s groups from the Christian label Tooth & Nail Records – Wikipedia is confirming that my memories of Bon Voyage and Starflyer59 are good examples.

The first track, called “Channels” opens up with a sound like helicopters or cicadas backed by waves of fuzzy melodic chords and a smooth, soothing singer – just soaring effortlessly over it all.  This will remind you of Mazzy Star a little bit.  It is pleasant, with a soft, slow beat.  The keyboard solo is almost like something you’d hear on a Flaming Lips album.  I haven’t seen a music video for this myself, but mentally I am taken to a place of pink cotton candy, in an outer-space, 80s kid dream.

Ready to hear more?  The second track is a little more indie in style – again there are great vocal harmonies, but the romantic phrasing suits the waltz-like song complete with surf guitar styling.  I definitely like this one much better than the first (just from a style and personal taste perspective).  There is even a little bit of violin, just making a sweet breakthrough appearance that lends an emotional feel.

Track #3, called “False Realities” is happily upbeat, beachy, and dancy with strummy mandolin chords and sunny vocals that make this song a lot of fun.  If you like Jack Johnson and Colbie Callait mixed with a little Vampire Weekend – then this is for you.  Next is “Habit”, all jazzy and funky, with a little bit of RHCP influence – but much lighter.  Sounds like something by 311 or Deathcab for Cutie, featuring vocals that emerge more aggressively like Paramore.  You’ve got to keep listening at least to this point in the album, since the first two songs don’t show too much variety and you don’t want to miss the future breadth of styles embedded within this album.

I really enjoyed Track #5, called “Take It In”.  It has a great rocky, indie, 60s horn band-inspired feel with still a little bit of emo on the guitar and the vocalizations.  The danceable chorus makes you feel good with a positive, major-chord progression.  I would consider this the showcase song of the album; even the hit single, if you will.

The other tracks on the album bring in arpeggios of emotionally familiar chords over nearly-angelic orchestral backgrounds – tinged with the occasional faintly electronic, metallic echo… For all of these songs the instrumentation is more important that the words and vocals – no wordy distractions, so you can enter a state where you can truly experience the music.

Words like “dreamlike” and “soothing” come to mind as I try to describe this album.  Beautiful vocal harmonization throughout are beautiful and even romantic.  On “Owls”, the guitar and female vocals combine for an ethereal yet vintagey effect.  The title subject and execution of this piece would make it a suitable soundtrack choice for any lighter scenes in the theoretical 2016 revival of Twin Peaks!  Heartwarming, bright, almost country-ish violins and a rich vocal chorus break through liltingly, about halfway through the track.

I also liked Track #9 “Nothing’s There” with its surf rock guitars and jazzy drums; and I appreciated the energetic switch to a 90s alternative guitar style on the chorus.  As I was reading the lyrics to this song on Bandcamp, I realized how the delivery of the vocals doesn’t really highlight the text at all – the words just blend into the texture of the overall song as the singer breathes “This is a whole new war of worlds, go – set my eyes ablaze in cadence”.  The delivery itself is not aggressive or angsty – so you have to really listen to get the full picture and all of its meaning.

The album closes with “Terminals”, the most esoteric of them all – with a constant mechanical heartbeat sound throughout, under undulating guitars and some dissonant and very reverberating vocal effects.  Pleasantry’s Bandcamp site says that their songs are “drawing inspiration from dreamed-up scenarios based on real-life scripts”, and again I can see this being true.  I would say that their songs and lyrics are both poetic and sincere without being pretentious or heavy.  The “Dreamed-up” sentiment is right on, because this whole album sounds like a fantasy scenario….

You might need to call in an expert on the Shoegaze genre to give you a full and accurate assessment of Synapses, since all I can give you (as usual) are my impressions and descriptive comparisons.  Admittedly I don’t really know how this compares to other similar albums for artists of the same style, but is it good?  I would say a firmly supported yes:  The songs are pleasant, the lyrics are thoughtful but not trite or excessive, the musical execution and recording quality is not distracting, and the vocals are slightly unusual but enjoyable nonetheless.

*Album art not by rockmycommute.  Image shown is as presented when piece was originally posted on eartothegroundmusic.co on November 29, 2015.  

Link to Preview Album on Google Play: Google Play

 

Good ol’ Don – Still Good as Gold

Cass County by Don HenleyIMG_20151118_232604.jpg

I admit it, I don’t know the significance of the title.  A super-quick Google search revealed Cass Counties all over the U.S., including: Nebraska, North Dakota, Michigan, Nebraska, Indiana, Missouri… Initially I thought it was called “Cass Country” which would be fitting – as this truly a country album.  If you have a problem with this genre of music, then read no further!  Don Henley’s post-Eagles-greatest-hits voice might be a little thinner and reedier (if you can believe that) with time, but it is still so distinctive and familiar that if you loved it then, you will still love it now.

The album opens with “Bramble Rose”, lilting in a sing-songy way that is enjoyable and sweet – until Mick Jagger’s whiny twang breaks through the texture, that is.  You can’t be mad because it is such a fun surprise to hear these two working together, so just go with it!  Next is “The Cost of Living”, which just feels like a good ol’ timey country song – from the Merle Haggard vocals to the down-home, honest-dirt title of the track.

Track #3 is a sentimental, piano-fueled vehicle for Don to warble and whine his way into your older and wiser heart.  Called “Take a Picture of This”, I actually really enjoyed this simple melody and the lyrics – “year here’s a suitcase, here’s a ticket for a plane” –that are so basic yet honest.  “Waiting Tables” is a little corny, and as a tall girl who used to be a waitress, I’m just a tad offended at phrases like “she grew up tall in a timber down”… and “she’s just waiting tables”.  Say what now?!

Thankfully, the next track called “No Thank You” is one of the few upbeat tracks – it has a great honky-tonk line-danceable chorus, and some really hilarious lyrics with plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor.  “Praying for Rain” is slow again – but forgivable in that it is good enough to possibly be one of my favorites on the album.  Honest and straightforward, with a beautiful chorus.

Track #7 (“Words Can Break Your Heart”) is a little cheesy and predictable, but is otherwise a harmless and even bittersweet duet about damaged feelings and lost love.  The trend continues with “That Old Flame” with Martina McBride – not one of my favorites, since there is just nothing really spectacular or noteworthy about this.  Although there is a hint of slightly building momentum with some basic power chords in the background that are very Don Henley…

The album picks up again a bit with “When I Stop Dreaming” – a nostalgic waltz complete with slide guitars, and the familiar and lovely warble of Ms. Dolly Parton.  And Don’s performance on “A Younger Man” is sweet and gentle, as he croons “I aint a knight in shining armor… you’re lookin’ for a younger man, not me”.  But again this feels a little predictable, obvious and slow in the rhyming of the chorus and the cadence of the melody.

Now “Train in the Distance” is a stripped-down and bluegrassy song, evoking “summer nights at grandma’s house, cozy in my bed  / I dreamed of other places swirling in my head.” A piece really heavy, HEAVY on the country nostalgia factor!  Track #12 called “Where I am Now” is sassy and fun, basically an older dude giving the middle finger – or maybe a less aggressive shrug – to the world that thinks he should bother having anything to prove.  It is pretty much the perfect ending to the newest release from this gem of an icon (with an unforgettable voice!) who already has decades of hits under his belt.

It is always great to hear from good ol’ Don – you already know you love him.  So the real treasure nuggets on this CD are the guest appearances, and there are plenty! Each song is a star-studded sing-along featuring some big names on backing vocals.  Mick Jagger, Merle Haggard, Trisha Yearwood, Allison Kraus and many more – they all chime in and lend their style to this pleasant, if not rocking (at all) compilation.  It would make a holiday gift for a wide range of people on your list who have been curious to check this out!

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play: Don Henley – Cass County – Google Play

Link to Purchase Tracks on Amazon: Don Henley – Cass County Amazon

 

 

 

Rock n’ Roll Legend – Delivers!

Crosseyed Heart – by Keith Richards

IMG_20150929_225703

Keith Richards’ new solo album dropped on September 18.  Called Crosseyed Heart, I must say the cover art, the name and the concept reminded me a little bit of the film Crazy Heart starting Jeff Bridges as an aging country music star.  I was excited to listen to it all last week, hoping to get a write-up out to you as soon as possible.  Of course like everyone else in the world I like the Rolling Stones, so of course I think Keith Richards is an amazing guitarist (although I have never paid much attention to his solo work).

I also didn’t read his recently popular book Life, although maybe I should have.  It came out about six months after Patti Smith’s Just Kids which took me awhile to read, but was good enough to be fully distracting.  So what I’m saying here is – I know enough about Keith to be intrigued and curious about his new album; but not enough to be a loyal, crazy, all-knowing fan that is going to write you an extremely detailed or insanely insightful review. At this point, I’m just writing it like I hear it!  So let’s proceed.

A not-very-popular Rolling Stones album from 1994 included a surprisingly tender and un-offensive tune called “Sweethearts Together”.  I was reminded of this song multiple times during my reviews of Keith’s new album, because his songs aren’t about booty and hookups – they’re about real relationships.  Certain artists can write about love in a way that is actually rock n’ roll, and of course anyone affiliated with the Rolling Stones can pull this off.  Sweethearts together forever!

With that said, some of the songs (lyrically speaking) had a “mature” feeling or sentiment that evoked memories of the Eagles’ post mid-life crisis relationship song, “Too Busy Being Fabulous”.  Maybe we can’t all relate to the lyrics, but we can certainly all appreciate good driving guitars on memorable rock songs. Here are my initial thoughts on each track:

  1. “Crosseyed Heart” opens the album with your standard blues guitar fare.  It is a slow head-shaking, toe-tapping, sitting on the corner type of song you would play on your guitar among friends.
  2. “When She Holds Me” breaks into the ROCK feeling a little bit – the guitar is rollicking and fun on this one, but there is a cell phone reference or two that gives an old fogey feel.
  3. “HeartStopper” is good – Keith evokes Mark Knopfler’s vocal stylings here, but this song includes the worst line of the album – “I didn’t even know the Titanic Sank”. An unfortunate example of very routine lyrics placed methodically along with the otherwise fine music.
  4. I just loved “Robbed Blind”! This particular song – theme, lyrics, and all – is so ludicrous it is hilarious and very funny in a dry way.  I love lyrics like “they planned to screw me” delivered with such rich yet deadpan vocal intention.
  5. I noticed on the album cover that “Trouble” was the hit single. When I popped the album into the CD player I didn’t realize how easy it would be to identify the logical choice for a single – this song is catchy, fun, and has a great chorus (that almost seems a bit difficult for Keith to sing – this is way more melodic from a vocal perspective than most of the other lower and more growly tracks).  The song itself is rocking and sassy, like a Chrissy Hinde delivery on a Pretenders hit.
  6. “Love Overdue” is all reggae beats and backing vocals, with a snazzy horn solo and Tommy James style throughout on the echoey vocals. I have no idea why this song isn’t actually called “Prisoner of Loneliness” but that’s just fine anyhow as-is.
  7. “Nothing on Me” is probably my 2nd favorite after “Trouble”. It is slower and more chill, like a song by the Wallflowers.  But knowing Keith Richards’ long partying past, a song about how “they’ve got nothing on me” is tongue-in-cheek and kinda cute.
  8. “Suspicious” – is at once both dark and slow. Could be the token slow dance love song of the album?  Grab a dance partner and/or get your lighters ready.
  9. “Blues in the Morning” – is about what you would expect. Just good guitars on a fun blues song.  I don’t happen to enjoy blues as a genre very much (I know, heresy) but out of respect I will let it be known that there is nothing wrong with this track.
  10. “Something for Nothing” – Very much like a standard Rolling Stones track; a typical rock n’ roll song that is fairly catchy with rockin’ guitars, solos, and the ability to make you imagine those guys up on stage prancing around (and getting the whole sold-out arena to dance and clap along).
  11. “Illusion” is another Mark K. type of song, but this one is a duet with Norah Jones. She sounds really whisky-and-cigarette on this track, which is just perfect for the song.
  12. “Just a Gift” was puzzling to me. How is this really different from the earlier track “Suspicious”?  I will have to double-check and listen to them both a few times more.  Honestly I didn’t really want to listen to this very many times, it just wasn’t my favorite.
  13. “Goodnight Irene” is the old classic waltzing old-timey Leadbelly tune recorded yet again as a cover. Pleasant and depressing like it usually is, I wasn’t surprised at all when my Prius passengers fell asleep in the backseat during this song.
  14. “Substantial Damage” is awesome, because this is the perfect song name for a track on a Keith Richards album. I don’t even have to listen to the tune to like it – but I did, and I actually do.  It is the funkiest on the album, with lot of spoken/shouted-word lyrics of actually fairly routine relationship concerns – like “I’m paying for dinner – and I might as well not be here” and “what ARE we doing together?”
  15. “Lover’s Plea” on an ending note was too slow for my taste; turning even to horns and corny backing lyrics at times did not help this case.  The chorus theme of “this is my lover’s plea to you” sounded like someone with an enthusiastic David Bowie presence was dramatically crooning along to this cheesy sentiment.

I hate to be too rigid or prescriptive, but in my mind, 15 songs is way to long for almost any album – 12 is about perfect.  I would get rid of #8 and #12 because they are so similar.  Next I would axe either #15 “Lover’s Plea” for being uninteresting (if I heard it on the radio I would just skip – it sounds old-fashioned and not fresh) or #13 for being too familiar.  Then you would have a leaner, tighter, more rocking album for this much-loved musician.

All in all, this is not a bad buy or a regretted purchase – I got a few good chuckles and really enjoyed the guitars especially on “Trouble” and “Something for Nothing”.  Thanks Keith!  Always awesome to hear from you.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

Crosseyed Heart – Google Play

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

Crosseyed Heart – Amazon

Welcome!

This site is a work in progress… something I’ve been meaning to do for quite some time!

rockmycommute.com will go live in January 2015. It will be the platform for publishing my own bi-weekly or weekly music reviews of albums suggested by readers.

Please come visit again in January!  And in the meantime, you are welcome to leave your suggestion for a music review below.  My boring daily commute thanks you for your input.