Category Archives: Rock

Enter Shikari

entershik1The Mindsweep by Enter Shikari (Hopeless Records)

On January 20th, Enter Shikari made their official Hopeless Records debut with The Mindsweep – a very defining move in sound establishment by the English foursome.

There seems to be an underlying concept to this record. Close your eyes and lay down with it in your ears and you’re flying through the cosmos, enjoying a digitally ambient selection of tunes intersparsed with passionate poetry. Yes, I mean poetry.

Front man Rou Reynolds is and has been truly poetic in some of his deliveries during his tenure in Enter Shikari. The introductory track of this album, The Appeal and the Mindsweep Pt. 1 melts like butter, moving spoken word along a beautifully controlled crescendo. When it drops, it’s super powerful and in much the same way, it’s very different. Try not to think too hard about picking your jaw up off the ground…you might as well leave it there; The Mindsweep is a journey that will surprise even the most avid Enter Shikari listener.

entershik2I say this because the band seems to have found an equilibrium of control in the writing and production of their songs. Everything runs together so tightly. There’s something really raw about the screams, yells and even the accompaniment. I commend Enter Shikari and their production team for being able to create this feeling in a genre otherwise muddled by accusations of being completely generic — particularly because of their electronic elements.

This record really kicks in with The One True Color — You can feel the profundity that Rou Reynolds conveys in this ambient jam. This song serves as a true demonstration of Enter Shikari’s ability to mesh the synths with powerfully progressive instrumentals without creating any dissonance.

Even general EDM listeners will get a kick out of tracks like The Last Garrison and Torn Apart. These songs give the electronic aspect of this record a well-deserved opportunity to shine. In contrast to prevalent thought about electronic elements in post-hardcore music, there is a real individuality to what Enter Shikari is producing. The connection between each of the musicians and their craft in this record is refreshing — perhaps revolutionary. The truth about The Mindsweep is that you really haven’t heard anything else that sounds like it.

Even earlier Enter Shikari albums don’t really hold a candle to this one in my mind. There’s something more melodic and consonant about Reynolds’ voice in the choruses of these tracks. Since the band released the very lengthy A Flash Flood of Color in early 2012, it’s evident that they’ve been working on their togetherness and instrumental implementation. Rather than a cacophonous mixture of wobbling saws and bass with exceedingly progressive drums, we hear what can only be the result of creative maturity. Give The Bank of England a careful listen if you want to know exactly what I’m talking about.

The instrumental team of Rob Rolfe (drums), Chris Batten (Bass) and Rory Clewlow (guitar) really couldn’t have come together in a more resonant way. Rolfe seems to have more control in contrast to their last record, and the guitars, as previously mentioned, mesh beautifully with the synths.

Something worth discussing is the six and a half minute cool-down that is Dear Future Historians…. This track directly follows the powerful There’s a Price on Your Head (which, in a strange way, reminds this reviewer of Hypnotize era System of a Down). If you really want to hear Reynolds demonstrate his vocal maturity, give both of these tracks a thorough listen. You’ll hear a different man on each track. It’s kind of difficult to come to terms with the fact that the same man is singing, but when you wrap your head around it…it makes this record all the more impressive.

Can your emotions handle a pretty difficult coming of age story? Not to say that Reynolds is coming of age, or anyone else in the band for that matter…but rather, Enter Shikari as an entity and as a whole has grown and found an extremely definitive sound. In this reviewer’s opinion, they’ve found a sound that they need to absolutely stick with. I’m going to give this a solid 4.5/5 — I genuinely hope we do not have to wait another 3 years for a new Enter Shikari record.

(Review by Zachary S. Valladon)

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Gang Of Four

gangfour_whatnextlpWhat Happens Next by Gang Of Four (Metropolis Records)

A Gang of Four album without their original vocalist Jon King is a strange proposition. For the first album led by sole original member guitarist Andy Gill, What Happens Next features four vocalists over the course of ten songs.

Photo by Leo Cackett

On the first track Where the Nightingale Sings The Big Pink‘s Robbie Furze contributes some dour vocals to a downbeat song. What should have been the lead track Broken Talk opens with a pumping beat, scratchy guitars and features The Kills‘ Alison Mosshart’s sassy and bold voice, the song giving hope to jaded and wary ears that the Gill-led band can keep the fire burning for the dance-rock sound they pioneered decades ago.    Herbert Gronemeyer sings on The Dying Rays,  a slow and contemplative song with just the lightest of guitar accompaniment but with some haunting piano. The singer has a soulful voice and creates a mournful mood. An interesting choice but considering Gronemeyer has the first and third best-selling albums ever in Germany, not a bad one: he has gravitas.

On First World Citizen John “Gaoler” Sterry takes the mic and he’s not too shabby, surrounded by menacing and funky bass and vigorous percussion and Gill’s textured and varied guitar approaches.  On Stranded the strident beat and vocal back and forth between Gill and Sterry is fun and a little nostalgic yet Gill’s forays into atmosphere and slower sections show the man attempting a new and darker sound.  Dead Souls follows, a true Gang of Four song if there ever was, with bombastic bass, in the pocket drums, itchy and angry guitars tearing through and punching your guts, Sterry going for different vocal approaches to make for an enjoyable listen.

Photo by Tom Sheehan
Photo by Tom Sheehan

Embrace the new Gang of Four or don’t.  Andy Gill doesn’t care, he’ll still be doing his thing as long as he can hold a guitar pick and strum six strings.  There are a few songs on What Happens Next that contain the template of his band’s earlier sound, but time will tell how the band evolves and finds their voice without Jon King. See them on tour in the States this May.

Gang of Four is Andy Gill (guitar), John “Gaoler” Sterry (vocals), Thomas McNiece (bass) and Jonny Finnegan (drums)

(by Bret Miller)

LINKS:
Official website
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Swervedriver Return for I Wasn’t Born To Lose You, Stream new single Setting Sun

swervedriver full length cover 2015On the same day they officially announced the release date, cover art and tracklisting of their first album in 17 years, Swervedriver also share with us Setting Sun, the new single from I Wasn’t Born To Lose You Yet.  You can listen to Setting Sun HERE.

Swervedriver album cover 2015On January 13th, Swervedriver will release their second single from their long-awaited fifth album, Setting Sun and b-side Days, a cover of the Television song.

Swervedriver knocked on the doors of the rock world with their debut Raise and kicked it into splinters with their follow-up, Mezcal Head.  Songs like Son Of Mustang Ford, Rave Down, Duress, Last Train To Satansville and Duel inspired many to pick up a six-string and plug it into a multitude of pedals and effects but no one could beat the original for their revved up signature sound.

Ejector Seat Reservation and 99th Dream showed the band’s influence from The Beatles and The Byrds with more textured guitar layerings and spacey moods without losing focus on those driving guitars and rhythms on songs Stellar Caprice, You’ve Sealed My Fate, Son of Jaguar “E” and The Birds.

New single Setting Sun enters and exits on guitars, the opening setting a mood of positivity, the beat chipper, then Adam Franklin’s vocals soar in, singing of capsized ships, hearts of gold and casting shadows, creating just a bit of unease against the upbeat guitars, then before you realize it, there’s a spacey guitar part and it’s all over, leaving you grasping at the rays of light that just left the sky.

I Wasn’t Born To Lose You will be released March 3rd, the first day of Swervedriver’s North American Tour.  Below are the track listings and tour dates.

I Wasn’t Born to Lose You:
1. Autodidact
2. Last Rites
3. For a Day Like Tomorrow
4. Setting Sun
5. Everso
6. English Subtitles
7. Red Queen Arms Race
8. Deep Wound
9. Lone Star
10. I Wonder?

Swervedriver – 2014 Tour Dates
03/04 San Diego, CA – Casbah
03/05 Los Angeles, CA – Roxy Theatre
03/06 San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall
03/08 Seattle, WA – Neumo’s Crystal Ball
03/09 Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
03/12 St. Paul, MN – Turf Club
03/13 Madison, WI – High Noon Saloon
03/14 Chicago, IL – TBA
03/15 Grand Rapids, MI – Pyramid Scheme
03/16 Cincinnati, OH – The Woodward Theater
03/17 St. Louis, MO – The Duck Room @ Blueberry
03/19 Dallas, TX – Club Dada
03/20-21 – Austin, TX – SXSW
03/23 Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade – Hell Stage
03/24 Durham, NC – Motorco
03/25 Washington, DC – Rock & Roll Hotel
03/27 Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg
03/28 Cambridge, MA – The Sinclair
03/29 Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer

LINKS:
Swervedriver.com
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Crazy Lixx

crazylixxcd1Crazy Lixx by Crazy Lixx (Frontiers Music)

If Crazy Lixx had been around in the high flying 80’s, their popularity would have skyrocketed into the stratosphere and well beyond! Performing anthems in the grand tradition of Skid Row and Def Leppard, these raging rockers from Sweden bring back the glory days of Hollywood metal with an all-out vengeance. And don’t think for a minute that Crazy Lixx reside in the past – there is nothing more timeless than wildly infectious hooks and epic choruses that blissfully remain in your head for ages. The brand spanking new Self-Titled album from Crazy Lixx is destined to captivate all types of music fans looking to “rock this city black and blue!

crazylixx2014_2The opening track Hell Raising Women is catchy beyond belief, and should be scorching up airwaves all around the world – that would be if commercial radio actually played anything cool these days! Sound Of The Loud Minority is a song of empowerment for the badass rock and roller in us all. Another true stunner is the rambunctious Girls Of The 80’s, guaranteed to have you singing along rapturously while recalling those blazing hot women of the past, present and future.

All Looks, No Hooks and Ain’t No Rest In Rock And Roll is sure to resonate with those toiling away in bands for the passion of it. A real treat for the longtime Crazy Lixx fan is their glorious remake of Heroes Are Forever, from their long out of print first album. Another standout track is the final cut Wrecking Ball Crew, smashing the listener in the face and leaving them wanting a whole lot more of those Crazy Lixx!

Ready to rock your world with their fierce and blistering tunes, the Crazy Lixx lineup consists of Danny Rexon on vocals, Adde ‘Andy’ Zäta on guitar, Edd Liam on guitar, Joél Cirera on drums, and Jens Sjöholm on bass. Be sure to check out the fantastic Self-Titled album by Crazy Lixx, as well as their trio of past releases. With a collection of songs as glorious and triumphant as what’s heard on this instant classic, rest assured that sleaze rock and hair metal will live on and thrive in the wild and wicked ages ahead.

(Review by Ken Morton)

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The Ever Evolving Sounds of Outrun The Sunlight

Photo Credit: Andrea Wright
Photo Credit: Andrea Wright

In November of 2014 I became aware of a band named Outrun The Sunlight.  Their debut album The Return of Intertia came out in 2011 and their new album Terrapin is out now, with a vinyl edition coming in the new year.  They check all the boxes when it comes to what I like in music: virtuoso talent, willingness to  take chances, a melding of heavy and light playing and varied tempos.  This is progressive instrumental rock by passionate people.  I listened to their debut daily until Terrapin arrived.  A departure from the downtuned “djent” style guitars, their second album shows a maturation  and again, the willingness to take chances, with a more organic flow to the songs and smoother production.  During the last two weeks of the year Outrun The Sunlight‘s Austin Peters and Cody McCarty were kind enough to talk about their amazing band.

If it’s just two of you creating the music, who plays bass, drums, keyboards? You’re both listed as guitars but that doesn’t really do justice to all your efforts. Are you a full band now?
Austin Peters: We recently met our bassist and drummer Connor Grant & Pedro Villegas after they asked us if we wanted to jam, summer 2013. We started learning songs from The Return of Inertia, and then Terrapin. Adrian [Perez], our keyboardist, joined after he helped us film the video for The Pace of Glaciers, and our musical tastes and personalities just clicked. So yes, we are a full band now.

outrun terrapinWho produced your two albums? What did he/she or you do to improve the recording of Terrapin from Return?
Austin produced both albums in his bedroom in Chicago. The Return of Inertia was produced after spending 4 years messing around in Garageband. I (Austin) honestly can’t even listen to that album anymore because of how compressed and edited it sounds. I tried to make Terrapin sound natural; I worked a lot on my own playing technique, and applied very little editing to the performances. I’ve learned a lot of mixing and tone techniques since TROI, and I think it shows in Terrapin, but I know I can learn a lot more. The main difference between the two was that Terrapin was actually mastered correctly by our good friend, Jordan Nelson.

Please explain your style so we can tell you two apart.
Cody lies on his bed without an amplifier and just plays sad post-rock stuff.  Austin sits at his desk with PodFarm and messes around with amp settings, never really getting anywhere with his writing.
That’s part of why this album took three years to make.

What part are you proud of playing on a particular song on Terrapin?
I think as a band, it’s The Pace of Glaciers because that song was so daunting when we first started learning it, but it’s come so far as a live performance. Austin recorded most of the guitar parts on Terrapin, but individually, Cody’s proud moment are the major-third runs that happen near the end of Permanence because they were a total bitch to play on his Agile. Austin’s proud moment is the very beginning pick-tap riff of And Every Glance Given Has Only One Meaning just because of how odd the rhythm and fingerings are.

What initially got you interested in music and at what point did you realize you couldn’t live without making music?
To start, we both have rock n’ roll dads. I think early on, without that, we may not have held the appreciation for music that we do today. Cody was an eighties hair metal kid, I was a classic-rock kid, and we met in the middle with modern metal. I think I realized Cody couldn’t live without music when he moved from Kalamazoo to Chicago just for this band. As for myself, I majored in film, but now work in the music industry, and have been geeking out about metal for the better part of my existence, so it almost seems like second nature.

What was the first song or instrument part you learned to play? What is the most difficult song you’ve learned and what song do you think you’ll never do well?
We both started guitar separately at age 13. However, Austin’s first instrument was piano when he was 8. I (Austin) can still play most of Resistance by Veil of Maya, but honestly the tempo and my poor picking technique prevent me from playing it cleanly. Cody doesn’t learn songs, just riffs: for instance, the opening riff to In Dying Days by As Blood Runs Black. He always plays that fucking song.
And I don’t think either of us will ever learn how to sweep-pick properly, so any song that uses that technique is out of the question.

I so rarely see true progressive or even instrumental bands play live. Pelican is one of the few. When you play live do you simplify the parts played from the songs? How are the songs translated from disc to stage?
First off, unlike The Return of Inertia, we wrote Terrapin to be able to play it live. That decision has paid off so much, because so many songs on TROI require 3 guitars. On stage, we perform with a backtrack that has strings, ambient guitars, and other soundscape elements that we don’t need to reproduce ourselves. Nothing is being simplified.

What is a particularly great memory of playing live and touring?
I think our first show will forever be this incredible experience that only comes from being a “studio project” for four years and finally making it to the stage. We had envisioned this project to eventually reach a live audience, but we never knew when, and we didn’t think anyone would care. But we packed 150 people into Reggies Rock Club on a Tuesday night (which was also the coldest night of the polar vortex in Chicago that season) and it was surreal. The best part was we got to pick the line-up, and all our friends who had bands played with us, even if they weren’t metal in the slightest.

Have you toured extensively? Will you make it to Los Angeles?
No we haven’t, and hopefully someday we will. Everyone reading this, go tell Cloudkicker we want to tour with him.

What bands should we listen for if we are openminded and enjoy your band?
If it’s not obvious: Cloudkicker, Cloudkicker, and this dude named Ben Sharp who has this studio project called “Cloudkicker.” But we have a wide range of tastes, and we could probably list them for days. Honestly, we don’t want to compare ourselves, so we’ll name 3 bands that we think need more exposure: Mirorist, Eden Circus, and Uneven Structure.

I’ve only bought digital copies of your music. Is there an effort by you two and Rogue to make the physical copies worthy of purchase?
Cody McCarty: Austin spends so much god damn time perfecting the artwork on each release that sometimes it overlooks the production of the actual album. He fucking hand-drew the pictures on the inside cover, multiple times. Holy fuck.
So yes. Terrapin is out now on digipak CD with original artwork by Austin, and will be out on bone-colored vinyl in April. Our awesome Indiegogo-backers helped us make the vinyl a reality, which we are the most excited about.

Tell us about Rogue, the people that run it and the bands.
Rogue has been very helpful in the organization of our band’s Indiegogo campaign and good about keeping our music DIY. They essentially help us with distribution and give us insight to help us mature as a band. Dean Martinetti is good people.

Who has the most divisive musical tastes? Is there someone that listens to bands that the rest of you can’t stand? What are some the acts you all agree upon? And what are some of the most out there bands/acts that you take inspiration from but don’t sound anything like?
We all have diverse tastes, but in different ways. Adrian listens to Big Big Train, Cody listens to Wu Tang Clan, Connor listens to Flying Lotus, Austin listens to Wild Beasts, and Pedro listens to Yung Lean. I think the biggest gripe some of us have is with electronic music. But mostly we agree on what makes music good. Cody and Austin listen to quite a bit of obscure jazz; The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Tigran Hamasyan, The Young Blood Brass Band, Dawn of Midi, and Pimp & Soil are just a few.

Austin, I read that you are getting a degree in Film. What will you do with that degree? How does film inspire your music? I tend to like music that sounds like it might fit with visuals or an overarching theme or story.
You’re the first person to ever ask me about my degree in an interview, so thank you for that. I studied film & video at Columbia College in Chicago, mainly focusing on film post-production (editing/motion graphics) and directing. I realized quickly that I was not a strong director, and spent my last year learning technical skills that I could apply to my own work, e.g. OTS. I’ve scored many of my own films, and a few of my friend’s. I’ve been told before that OTS music paints a picture or tells a story, but I have to admit I don’t have a visual in mind when I am writing. Eventually, I would like to mold my skill of filmmaking with my love for music, and score a film that I can tour with.

Terrapin is somewhat lighter than Return of Inertia, especially without the down-tuned guitars throughout. While that does take some of the visceral feel from the overall sound, on the new album we are now able to focus more on the details and flow. It’s not so immediate and takes more effort to really listen but is a fulfilling experience. Was there a specific reason to drop the djent guitars?
Mainly our tastes have changed, and we were drawn to different genres and sounds. I think the post-rock element is key to how we’ve grown, and like I’ve mentioned earlier, we were more concerned with the experience of this record rather than its edit, and how it would translate live.

outrun returnWhat is it about this balance of heavy/ugly and lighter/pretty that you try to create in each song? I think of it as if the more delicate and melodic aspects of Rush were mixed with the harder guitars and rhythms/drums of Meshuggah. But I like being challenged and find it a challenge to describe how Terrapin sounds.
It’s hard to display dynamics in metal, and this solution of melding harshness with softness helps us accentuate each part. If it were mostly a heavy record with a few soft bits, the heavy bits would have far less effect. But creating sparsity in the heavy moments, we feel we are able to engage dynamics. We also really love a good crescendo.

Will the next album be an even bigger departure than from the first to second album?
More than likely yes. More and more we move toward what people seem to be referring to as “post-metal.” We don’t know what that means, but we’re just going to keep writing music that we like to play and feel creates emotion.

And finally, what do you think makes your band distinct through your evolution?
I don’t think we are that distinct, and I think a lot of amazing musicians are doing the same sort of things we are doing. The in-the-box technique is being utilized all over the world, and allows many artists to express themselves. It’s taken us a while to get to where we are, but that’s not unique either. I guess as long as people keep feeling our music, that may be the only distinction we’ll have, which is fine with us. We just want to engage our listeners more than anything.

Thank you Austin, Cody and all for your time. I look forward to hearing more from you and possibly seeing you live!
Hell yeah! Someday, we will surely meet in person.

Outrun The Sunlight also have released a vocal version of The Return of Inertia album, a live EP, their early demos and many singles.  Seek out their vinyl too. Help bring Terrapin to CD and vinyl HERE.

(Imterview by Bret Miller)

LINKS:
Bandcamp
Facebook
Youtube
Rogue Records Bandcamp

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Bret’s top albums of 2014

Here are the bands I listened to endlessly throughout the year.  The music that stirred my soul, got my blood racing and made me drive fast on the freeway.

Cheatahs
Cheatahs

CHEATAHS BY CHEATAHS (WITCHITA RECORDINGS)

Cheatahs‘ S/T first album amazed me with their take on gloriously noisy shoegaze. I bought up their first EP’s and eagerly await their The Sunne EP in February. They’ve have already released lead track Controller on Soundcloud.  The feelings these Brits evoke are blissed out and energetic with a heady mix of melody and distortion.  Listening to  Cheatahs all these months later I’m still blown away by the immediacy of their performances.

[Cheatahs] hit all the notes that turn me on with heavily distorted guitars and quiet vocals as counterpoint to the noise.  With all the effects and volume you’ll also find a sense of pop melody throughout, with some exceptional instrumentation.

Further Deeper
Further/Deeper

FURTHER/DEEPER BY THE CHURCH (UNORTHODOX)

The Church return with Further/Deeper, their first without founding member Marty Wilson-Piper and their first with new guitarist Ian Haug.  Every song is lush, with a subdued beauty and menace. The mostly mid-tempo songs possess an energy that is undeniably captivating.  They’ll be on tour in the States in  February and the Highwire Daze boys will be at the El Rey Theater show singing along.

cynic_album__cover__kindly_bent_to_free_us

KINDLY BENT TO FREE US BY CYNIC (SEASON OF MIST)

I somehow missed the release of Cynic‘s Kindly Bent To Free Us after reviewing their three previous releases.  How these two guys combine metal, jazz, electronica and clean vocals with progressive arrangements is simply magical.  The new album is another example of emotional and rocking music performed by intelligent and talented musicians.  On Youtube you can watch their evolution from Florida death metallers through to the amazing genre-defying band they are today.

Engineers
Engineers

ALWAYS RETURNING BY ENGINEERS (KSCOPE)
Mark Peters and his Engineers band  come back after several years with Always Returning.  Peters recorded the songs in analog for a warm organic feel.  He’s also done two albums with electronic producer and Engineers member Ulrich Schnauss that are worth seeking out if you appreciate the meeting of these two talented and thoughtful musicians.

Always Returning is full of pretty songs that would float off in the clouds if it weren’t for the talents behind their making.  There’s a sense of sadness and longing permeating the album giving many songs a compelling emotional weight.”

exodus cover

BLOOD IN, BLOOD OUT BY EXODUS (NUCLEAR BLAST)

Exodus kicked my ass this year with Blood In, Blood Out, a return to focused form by the Bay Area thrashers.  With founding singer Steve “Zetro” Souza back in the fold, the band are at the top of their game.

Food For The Worms is how you’ll feel after being battered and bruised by the last song on Blood In, Blood Out, a go-for-broke song that alternates between stupid-fast beats and heavyosity that still remains accessible.

 

Fairweather
Fairweather

FAIRWEATHER BY FAIRWEATHER (EQUAL VISION)

DC’s post-hardcore darlings Fairweather dropped out of  sight for a decade only to rise like a phoenix fully formed, as if they’d never left.  Though the members may be older and wiser, the songs on their Self-Titled return still contain the fire and passion the band instilled in their sound from their beginnings.

[On the song No Flags Fly] “The band surprise with a soulfullness in their instrumental interplay as well as a bare-it-all vocal performance by [Jay] Littleton.

The Glitch Mob unmasked
The Glitch Mob unmasked

LOVE DEATH IMMORTALITY BY THE GLITCH MOB (GLASS AIR)

The evil beat scientists that are The Glitch Mob crafted Love Death Immortality in their dark basements, feeding off the Big Beat spirits of their ancestors to make one of the funkiest albums of 2014 with some excellent vocal contributions from Metal Mother, Aja Volkman, Yaarohs and Sister Crayon.

“…[T]he trio of ediT, Boreta and Ooah have punched up the more visceral elements of their past efforts, bringing to mind The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and The Crystal Method.  If you hear the young punk vitality of Liam Howlett, then the trio are doing something right.”

Photo credit: Wil Foster / rockcandyphoto.com
Information Society Photo by: Wil Foster / rockcandyphoto.com

_HELLO WORLD BY INFORMATION SOCIETY (HAKATAK International / MVD

_hello world is the fun(ky) return of Information Society, less interested in hairstyles and splashy music videos and more focused on moving booties.  Even if you didn’t care for their 80’s pop  hits, if you’re a fan of synth pop, Information Society show the youngsters how it’s done right. Not with auto-tune and computers cutting and pasting preset sounds but by actual drive, heart and talent.

There’s a techno dance party you might want to go to, and if Arnold Schwarzenegger tells you to ‘Get your ass to Mars’ you should listen.  The Prize is all pumping beats, buzzing synths and popping bass, with Kurt Harland singing ‘I’m coming up from the ground with my eyes on the prize’ like he’s trying to overcome some herculean challenge.  If the challenge is to get the listener to dance, then he’s succeeded.

J.D. and Jessica Wilkes of the Dirt Daubers Photo by Bret Miller
J.D. and Jessica Wilkes of the Dirt Daubers Photo by Bret Miller

WILD MOON BY J.D. WILKES AND THE DIRT DAUBERS (PLOWBOY RECORDS)

J.D. Wilkes and the Dirt Daubers started out the year right with their jumping rhythm and blues album Wild Moon. Wilkes also heads Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers but this is his new baby.  Joined by wife and bassist / vocalist Jessica, drummer Preston Corn and guitarist Rod Hamdallah (also of the Shack Shakers) , Wilkes sings, plays guitar, bass and harmonica on a collection of riveting and rocking songs about good love gone bad, bad love gone worse and all the things that make life worth living with an understated aw shucks delivery that is inviting and enjoyable for even people that aren’t normally fans of the sound he’s keeping alive. And Jessica’s sass and sway is a wonder to hear, and pleasantly surprised at this new voice in roots rock.

Here’s what Wilkes had to say in an interview we did at the beginning of the year when asked who he was thinking about when writing and recording Wild Moon:  “I guess Little Walter, Ray Charles, a little Creedence, a 60′s rock and blues and R&B thing.  There’s something intangible, there’s something like a Ouija board: you never know what you’re going to get out of it.  All these personalities coming together in the middle.  There’s something odd and cool about this record when you listen to it.  Its a weird, dark feeling you get in the end, you can’t put your finger on it.  I get that over and over, even though I took a trip back after recording it because I was sick of hearing it.  Then I went back and listened to it and it gave me a weird, cool feeling, its kind of dark and strange and dreamlike.  I’m glad that still comes through, even after hearing it to death.

Days of the Fallen Stars
Days of the Fallen Stars

DAYS OF THE FALLEN STARS BY JUNIUS (PROSTHETIC)

On Days of the Fallen Stars, Junius inspired my to write a short story instead of a standard album review.  Their uplifting yet dark rock sound is epic in scope and in a live setting absolutely thrilling.  Play their music loudly and revel in the soaring vocals and muscular performances of Junius.

He breathed in deeply the smells of freshly cooked meals, of perfume and musk, felt a pleasant chill as the trees and plants exhaled their life-giving oxygen.  Then the trumpet announced the arrival of the night and the audience got to their activities with a crash of cymbals.

Lightfoils Photo by Shawn Brackbill

HIERARCHY BY LIGHTFOILS (SAINT MARIE RECORDS)

On Hierarchy Lightfoils wrapped me in a warm blanket of lush melodies and female vocals.   Lightfoils excel at blissed out vocals and guitars set to punky and punchy bass and drums, the band manage to bring something new to the shoegaze genre.

Here’s what drummer John Rungger said in our interview:  “The basic tracks for the album were recorded with us all in the same room, playing the songs. Something that doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should nowadays. I think it gives it an organic base that translates through to the rest of the music.

Machine Fucking Head 2014
Machine Fucking Head 2014

BLOODSTONE AND DIAMONDS BY MACHINE HEAD (NUCLEAR BLAST)

Machine Head continue to amaze with Bloodstone and Diamonds, their first on Nuclear Blast and with new bassist  Jared MacEachern.  It’s also their highest charting album to date.  Epic doesn’t even begin to describe the songs on the album.  Progressive in the best sense, Robb Flynn and band leads the listener on a journey through hate and hope, with heavy yet fast instrumentation and intelligent lyrics and impassioned vocals.  Bloodstone and Diamonds reveals new facets every time you listen.  

Photo Credit: Shawn Brackbill
Nothing Photo by: Shawn Brackbill

GUILTY OF EVERYTHING BY NOTHING (RELAPSE RECORDS)

Coming out of the hardcore scene, Nothing‘s Dominic Palerno wanted something different for his new life after his time in prison.  Inspired by the shoegaze bands of the 90’s he began Nothing.  With the release of Guilty of Everything music fans the world over are sure Palerno is on the right musical track with his beautifully noisy new songs.  They’re touring constantly so be sure to be on the look out for this amazing new band.

B&E begins in a pleasant mid-tempo, their wall of sound getting knocked down to an anxiously mellow segment reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Animals album before tearing into their instruments for a heart-wrenching finale that will leave you gasping for breath.

seasurfer band
Seasurfer

DIVE IN BY SEASURFER (SAINT MARIE RECORDS)

Since learning of Saint Marie Records this year I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every album I’ve bought and reviewed (see Lightfoils, SPC ECO).  Their Static Waves compilations are a treasure-trove of excellence, now there’s three editions to delve into, the third physical release including a third disc of Slowdive covers.  German trio Seasurfer’s Dive In was my first purchase and I immediately fell in love with their drama and flair and dynamic arrangements. Singer Dorian E.  has range and control of her voice and her delivery is confident and sassy, the perfect foil for band leader Dirk Knight’s textured guitars and Mikel Wegener’s chunky bass.

Rose Berlin Garcia of SPC ECO
Rose Berlin Garcia of SPC ECO

SIRENS & SATELLITES BY SPC ECO (SAINT MARIE RECORDS)

In a year of amazing music SPC ECO has been busy. They released Sirens & Satellites, The Art of Pop, The Art of  Pop Remixes+ and the Nocturnal EP and 2+2=5 free downloads plus many singles.  The duo of  Dean Garcia, formerly of Curve, and artist daughter Rose Berlin juxtapose ice and fire throughout the songs on Sirens.

Make Me Say is brutal and bloody guitar slashes and crunchy rhythm loops, Rose purring and cooing like a mantis before taking off your head.”

Terrestrials
Terrestrials

TERRESTRIALS BY ULVER AND SUNN 0))) (SOUTHERN LORD RECORDS)

Terrestrials is an EP credited to Ulver and Sunn 0))) featuring contributions from multi-instrumentalist Daniel O’Sullivan, who performed with Sunn 0)))’s Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley for the band’s 200th show in Oslo, Norway in 2008.  The band jammed at Ulver’s studio and Ulver’s Krystoffer Rygg pieced together the performances with bassist Anderson, O’Sullivan adding trumpet and keyboards and Rygg contributing vocals along the way.  O’Sullivan has since joined Ulver. The end result is an  atmospheric, ominous and involving journey through the psychedelic reaches of space.

Eternal Return puts some of Ulver’s atmospheric dark beauty into the alloy with O’Sullivan’s languid keys softening  O’Malley’s sharp guitar strums and drones.  As the music surges, violins and trumpet float in.  At about the halfway mark the arrangement segues to a looping and vibrant synthesizer and Rygg’s velvety voice.  The finale drifts in with sawed violins, percussive guitars and menacing atmospheres.  Quivering strings fade out at the end.”

Eddie Spaghetti Photo by Bret Miller
Eddie Spaghetti Photo by Bret Miller

GET THE HELL BY SUPERSUCKERS (ACETATE RECORDS)

The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band in the World, The Supersuckers, are back with their most rocking album in years, Get The Hell.  Their first without founding guitarist Rontrose Heathman, and first album with current drummer Christopher Von Streichan and new guitarist Marty Chandler.  Singer/bassist Eddie Sphaghetti and Dan “Thunder” Bolton lead the charge and wail on the future classics Something About You and Pushin’ Thru.

Supersuckers’ Get the Hell is focused on boot kicking, middle finger raising and sing-along anthems sure to please the most jaded of music fans.

Family photo by Cassandra-Bialek
Walking Bicycles family photo by Cassandra-Bialek

TO HIM THAT WILLS THE WAY BY WALKING BICYCLES (HIGHWHEEL RECORDS)

The Chicago quartet Walking Bicycles are back with their most focused, angry and cathartic album to date in To Him That Wills The Way.  Noisy, catchy, danceable music, Walking Bicycles sound like no one else.

Here’s what guitarist and founder Julius Moriarty said in our interview about Walking Bicycles’ balance of noise and pop: “We have always tried to walk the line between weird and catchy.  If both exist within a track then there can’t be too much of either.”

Loco and "Weird" Al Yankovic
“Weird” Al Yankovic

MANDATORY FUN BY “WEIRD” AL YANKOVIC (RCA RECORDS)

There are a few constants in pop culture: talentless “artists” appear daily with a flick of an auto-tune machine and synthesizer preset to sell clothes and fast food, and one “Weird” Al Yankovic will make fun of the pop songs that these supposed singers and bands churn out.  He’ll also write some funny “homage” songs played in the style of someone, on 14th studio album Mandatory Fun Al tips his hat to Southern Culture on the Skids and Foo Fighters, as well as hoary oldies Crosby, Stills and Nash and Cat Stevens.  My favorite though, is First World Problems done in the style of The Pixies.  When Al rants about how the barista forgot to make a design on his banana latte you just have to laugh.  One of the best lyrics Yankovic has ever written is to Blurred Lines, here called Word Crimes, a song that is both hilarious AND educational.  Sample lyric: “You should never/ Write words using numbers/ Unless you’re seven/ Or your name is Prince”.  “Weird” Al Yankovic makes pop music palatable for those with intelligence, humor and self-awareness.

Photo by Jeff Elstone
Zola Jesus photo by Jeff Elstone

TAIGA BY ZOLA JESUS (MUTE RECORDS)

One of the most stunning albums of the year came from 25 year old Nika Rosa Danilova, aka Zola Jesus.  Her most accomplished album to date, Taiga references the coniferous ancient forests that cover 1/5th of the world and over northern Russia and Siberia.  The album is filled with soulful and textured electronic and live instrumentation and Danilova’s bold and emotional vocals.

Dangerous Days is catchy and often light, yet has a delicious and dark under current of churning and scraping synths that bring solidity to the song.  Danilova sings sultry and soaring, drawing you in to her world.”

diothisisyour1_375x164
This Is Your Life expanded album cover

RONNIE JAMES DIO – THIS IS YOUR LIFE BY VARIOUS ARTISTS (RHINO RECORDS)

Anyone that calls themselves a metal head or fan of rock’n’roll should know the name Dio.  Ronnie James Dio passed on to the great stage in the sky but his legacy lives on in the lives and spirits of musicians the world over.  This Is Your Life is a tribute to the great man and a thrilling listening experience.  The album is also a great introduction to bands in the heavy metal arena as they all do a fantastic job of channeling the soul and positive energies of Dio.

I confess to knowing nothing of Adrenaline Mob but their take on Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules is killer.  I mean, this song wails, kicks ass, all those metal clichés.  The song was Sabbath’s attempt to remain relavent in the punk era is clear in the fast pace and raw power and the suitably named band distill all the fury of the original and spit out flames. Amazing guitars at the end too.”

(by Bret Miller)

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Ivadell

bcr-046-cover-hires-300Flow by Ivadell (Broken Circle Records)

While there are only three songs contained within Ivadell’s debut for Broken Circle Records, the auditory odyssey this South Carolina based band embarks upon will infinitely tingle the senses! Even the most finicky of music aficionados will surely be enraptured by the wondrously atmospheric sounds of Flow. References such as Hum, Failure and latter-day Cave In come to mind, and yet Ivadell manage to be thoroughly original with a trio of songs that will leave the listener thoroughly enraptured.

ivadell710The commencement piece is The Love Of Will, a gorgeous tapestry that will enchant the senses with its thrilling set of dynamics. Calming vocals mesh with a stunning score that alternately soothes and then pummels the senses. Breaking Light begins with its gorgeously hypnotic refrains before exploding into a dazzling wall of impenetrable sound that is epic in scope. And then closing out Flow way too soon is the wildly infectious Flickering, featuring all musicians weaving a sense of magic and intrigue throughout the entire composition.

Presenting its post hardcore reveries with a stunning amount of conviction, expect Ivadell’s upcoming full length to be nothing short of a magnum opus. In the meantime, check out Flow as well as their previous entreaty The Young Design, and let the resourceful musicians of Ivadell set your imagination in flight. Skillfully recorded by Kris Hilbert at Legitimate Business in Greensboro, NC.

(Review by Ken Morton)

Ivadell on Facebook

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Burnt Belief

burnt belief etymologyEtymology by Burnt Belief (Alchemy Records)

Jon Durant is an American guitarist and producer and is the owner of Alchemy Records. He’s played with the likes of King Crimson bassist Tony Levin and pianist Michael Whalen.  In 2011 Durant and Porcupine Tree founding bassist Colin Edwin  worked together on Durant’s Dance of the Shadow Planets album and joined forces as equal collaborators as Burnt Belief for their self-titled debut.  On their follow-up Etymology they are augmented by the drummers Vinny Sabatino, Dean McCormick and Jose Duque.

On opening track Chromatique the drumming is energetic, skittering and funky, Durant’s guitar work is textured and draws the listener in, building tension until almost the end when he really lets loose like a light rain turning into a violent storm.  Dissemble follows, with an interesting drum pattern and strings that evoke desert winds, Edwin playing a dubby groove.    Precis takes a minute to get going, Durant and Edwin circling each other on their instruments, Durant layering riffs and textures throughout.  On  Hraunfossar the duo include what sounds like a flute in their dubby mix, delicate guitars build tension and just when you think its all going to get big and loud, Edwin lays down a juicy bass line that just oozes out of the speakers and the song coasts to the end in a slow groove.

burnt belief band shotNot Indifferent starts out slow and quiet and for the first half of its 12 minutes threatens to fizzle out into nothingness if not for Edwin’s slithering bass.  But then the whole mood changes when clattering percussion and an electronic bass pattern are then introduced and Durant joins in with layered guitars: angry and vibrant and delicate and soothing, piling the various approaches on until you find yourself nodding along.

On Squall Durant and Edwin sound like they’re having fun riffing off of the various rhythms and each other, Durant providing one guitar tuning after another, all spinning and harmonizing with a violin sound giving the song an exotic yet funky air.

Etymology closes with Charlatan, Durant stabbing his guitar between treated hand drums and Edwin’s jazzy rhythmic interplay, getting spacey with odd synth effects. Durant’s epic harmonized guitar leads bring Etymology to a satisfying and uplifting end.

(by Bret Miller)

LINKS:
Facebook
Alchemy Records
Colin Edwin’s page
Jon Durant’s page

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In Flames

siren-charmsSiren Charms by In Flames (Epic Records)

There’s plenty of bands that started out metal and went on to something else: The Gathering turned their back on metal adding influences from Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins to their style, Anathema evolved into a more atmospheric rock band and Cynic turned into a progressive, ambient, jazz, rock amalgam that is a thrill to hear. On their two most recent albums Opeth channels pastoral and psychedelic bands of old without losing their own past heaviness. And there are plenty of bands that incorporate pop elements into their metal.  In Flames want to be catchy and accessible and metal all at the same time.  After two decades of causing neck damage they continue to experiment with textures, vocal approaches and rhythms searching for that one (or, hopefully, an album’s worth) great pop metal song.

in-flames-2014-640x400On Siren Charms  the band sounds eager to bring in new ears. In Plain View balances heavy & hard with a softer side in Anders Friden’s varied vocals, swinging from anguished clean singing to gut-punching screaming in the chorus, it’s all crisp and shiny and razor sharp.  Everything Is Gone combines several tempos, Daniel Svensson showing off his skills, speed punk one second, double bass kicks the next, then slamming into an all-out brutal metal part.  Paralyzed sounds like In Flames’  version of a post-apocalyptic love ballad with Orjan Ornkloo’s buzzing synths and Friden’s singing about being out on our own in a wasteland.

With Eyes Wide Open begins with harmonized guitars leading to a very catchy rock ballad, the keyboards way in the background, Friden singing clear and strong, Bjorn Gelotte and Niclas Engelin’s guitars shining through for maximum uplift.  When Worlds Collide remind you In Flames can do dangerous and they don’t disappoint. Swedish opera singer Emilia Feldt joins in with her sexy croon and angelic fills to add a sense of wonder.

Creeping up towards the end of Siren Charms, on Monsters In The Ballroom, In Flames tempers what’s mainly a soaring and heroic rock song with screamed vocals and chugging and harmonized guitar riffs. The crunchiness and double kick drum finale is especially satisfying for the headbanging.  To wrap up the album, Filtered Truth features Peter Iwers’ bass, carrying the melody along with Ornkloo’s keyboards, Friden screaming about the rage inside as the guitars and drums burn and crash.

In Flames will be on the Siren Communion Tour with Red Fang and Opeth this winter and will play the Hollywood Palladium on December 9th.

(Review by Bret Miller)

LINKS:
Inflames.com
Facebook
Twitter

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Engineers

Engineers_-_Always_ReturningAlways Returning by Engineers (KScope Records)

Until speaking with electronic producer Ulrich Schnauss for an interview for the last album A Long Way To Fall, the music of Mark Peters and his band Engineers had flown under my radar. Little did I know how much I’d love his music.  The band is multi-instrumentalist Peters, Schnauss  and drummer/keyboardist Matthew Gilbert Lindley (who releases music as “Gilbert“).  Always Returning is full of pretty songs that would float off into the clouds if it weren’t for the talents behind their making. There’s a sense of sadness and longing permeating the album giving many songs a compelling emotional weight.

engineers band shotOne of the many incredible songs on Always Returning is Fight or Flight where synths swell and wash over the song, electronics perco-lating and dancing throughout.  One of the most blissful songs you’ll likely hear for years to come. It Rings So True showcases a mesmerizing guitar lead, lightly accompanied by keyboards, Peters’ close-mic’ed voice drawing you in and building suspense and mystery.  The final minute of the song is an understated prog rock masterpiece.

Drive Your Car begins with pretty piano and Peters’ quiet vocals, acoustic guitar and swirling synths join in, rising into a rocking climax with a buzzing electric guitar lead dueling with an energetic piano performance.   Innsbruck presents a tight and bright guitar pattern that is played off of by Schnauss’ keyboards and powerful drumming by Linley.  The song is reminiscent of New Order’s instrumental Thieves Like Us with its cautious optimism and colorful outbursts of guitar and piano.

Smiling Back is a hazy nostalgic song with echoes of early Pink Floyd in their slower more introspective moments.  On Smoke and Mirrors Peters’ piano and guitar and Schnauss’ motorik synth loops meld wonderfully.  A Million Voices is a straight-up rock song, though one coming from the corner of synth-pop, Peters’ whispy vocals float through a peppy beat, shiny keyboards and a thrumming bass guitar.

Closing Always Returning, the title track offers so many memorable melodies that I found myself humming the piano refrain this morning. The song somehow sounds both sad and uplifting until the final third where the guitars, bass and piano riff off each other fading into the heavens.

Peters and Schnauss have also collaborated on two albums under their own names.  Both albums released on Bureau B, link below.

(Review by Bret Miller)

LINKS:
KScope
Facebook
Bureau B Records

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