Sunday, July 30, 2017

Quantum Split - America (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

It’s fitting that Quantum Split hails from New York City.  The endless music clubs, the rich scene of performance and entertainment, the allure of the nightlife and the fact that tons of artists from the city go on to conquer nationally…it’s the perfect breeding ground for the dark, smoky soul-rock of this soul/rock quartet. 

This band has been making a name for themselves through frequent, visceral live performances and America is the band’s debut recording; a 2-track EP brimming with powerful melodies and rugged guitar rock that really stirs a fire in the soul.  The title track kicks things off and showcases the band’s strengths in a concise, succinct 4 minute rocker.  Opening with subdued guitar melancholy and pulsating drum/bass swing, the band sounds as if they would positively own any club they play, especially in a midnight spot.  Their music is uplifting but is charged with a slinking darkness that never lets up.  As the dynamo vocals work their way into your head, the music suddenly shifts into a slamming, dirty riff that is of a deadlier persuasion.  It’s not common for a soul band to graft Led Zeppelin and Cream styled metallic thunder onto their sexy sounds but Quantum Split have no qualms with doing so.  There’s even some squealing, edgy Jimmy Page-esque solos to feast your ears upon.  Vocalist/guitarist/band mastermind Soleil Laurent has a booming, heart-pounding range to her voice and she runs roughshod on this track with infectious melodies, intense solo leaned showcases and powerhouse crooning that is unrelenting in its amazing grace.  “Runaway” is an equally captivating piece that also teeter the balance; somber, soft and soulful one moment with echoing guitar figures, deep bass melodies and killer pocket drumming and the next it drops an atom bomb of fuzzy riffs, punchy beats and walking bass licks.  It’s this refusal to settle into one exact identity that makes Quantum Split such a pleasure to listen to.  

America’s only failing is that there simply isn’t more of it.  Quantum Split is going to be an awesome “album” band.  You can tell that fact just from the two songs on here.  Maybe soul and heavy rock were never supposed to marry but try to convince Quantum Split of that.  This band shows no weaknesses when tackling any style of material that they desire.  America is just a taste of what’s to come and let’s hope this band has a long, rewarding career ahead of them.  I think that they do. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Russ Still and the Moonshners - Still Cookin' (2017)

Written by Joshua Stryde, posted by blog admin

As the album title indicates, Russ Still and the Moonshiners don’t regard themselves as a finished product by any stretch of the imagination. Their fourth studio release is a nine song collection featuring the six member’s distinctive take on traditional Southern and country rock themes and sparkles with added sharp songwriting distinguishing it from similarly slanted efforts. It certainly has retro qualities, but those qualities never come at the expense of the band’s personal vision for their music. Much of the material on Still Cookin’ qualifies as much more than genre material – it often has a singer/songwriter approach thanks to the personal line of inquiry Still’s songwriting seems to take and it never rings hollow while still speaking with a voice undeniably its own. Still Cookin’ finds Russ Still and the Moonshiners firing on all cylinders.

“Promised Land” is an ideal beginning track for this album. It introduces all the strongest elements of Russ Still and the Moonshiner’s presentation in one package and with high energy coming on from the outset. Still’s voice, in particular, sounds perfectly suited to take advantage of this rousing arrangement and he embodies all the wide-eyed optimism brimming over throughout this performance. They certainly invoke strong strains of country music through their writing and playing, but it has an irrepressibly gritty texture that gives it the weight of truth. There’s a little bit of a different style employed on the second track “Long Way from Home”. It’s a popular conceit for songs in this tradition and Still takes his place in that tradition with finesse and emotional authenticity. The primarily acoustic feel of the song strikes a nice contrast with the first performance and the Moonshiners carry it off with every bit as much aplomb.

Some might find “I Can’t” a little too sentimental and even predictable, but the former is a subjective reaction and the latter rates as one of the song’s strongest qualities. Some truly great material has certain inevitability about it and the song’s slowly evolving chorus pays off big for longtime followers of the form. The band’s impressive balancing act between the blues, rock, and country music idioms continues here with an appropriately high reaching ballad that never takes a cheap route like so many other songs of its type. The striding acoustic guitar opening “Gone Fishin’” makes the expected, but satisfying, transition into a powerful riffer with a memorable chorus. Still and the Moonshiners deliver the song without a hint of parody and the celebratory air filling the track is genuine throughout. The finale “Run Away” begins as a scintillating guitar rock before settling into a hard-charging style picking up energy along the way exploding with a muscular chorus. Russ Still and the Moonshiners might be supreme practitioners of an outmoded style in some listener’s worlds, but they clearly never got the memo and invoke all of their influences while still expanding on those roots with their own signature style. Still Cookin’ is likely the band’s finest studio effort yet and sports a number of natural fits for the band’s live set.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Donoma - Falling Forward (2017)

Written by Aaron Ellis, posted by blog admin

Expertly produced by Mike Hoffman (The Verve Pipe, Willy Porter and Victor DeLorenzo of the Violent Femmes), Donoma’s musical strange brew is a tour de force of ragged rustic rock, country, blues, folk, punk and psychedelic thrills.  No band past or present is really comparable and giving points of reference feels like taking the easy way out.  It’s best to judge the band’s second album, Falling Forward, on its own merits without giving into the status quo. 

Opener “Sick” has an Ennio Morricone soundtrack hustle flowing beneath its big, brutish guitar riffs and economical, 50s rock rhythms.  Vocalist Stephanie Vogt intones her lyrics from the gut and violins, slide guitar and keyboards are all fair game in a thick, slobbering sound meant to belt you across the mouth.  The violins even step up further to the forefront of “Jack in the Box” which takes the opener’s pacing and vigor, doubles it and adds a lethal scorpion sting of poison to the warring riffs and grooves.  “Memory” clamps down on a 4/4 blues swing that showcases some of Vogt’s strongest, most pop-oriented vocal melodies on the album (though her tone is much more of a bluesy storyteller).  You could play this for a fan of Savoy Brown and the Groundhogs and they’d go, “Hey man, this ain’t bad!”  Those lamenting riffs, low to the ground rhythms and caterwaul wails retain their unique signature on a rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” a curious but expertly executed inclusion to the quintet’s own arsenal. 

Donoma wanders off into some outside the box turf on the gothic colloquialisms of “He Loves Me Not,” where you can picture Stephanie Vogt hollering her lines sitting atop a grand piano (and piano is one of many complementary instruments here).  The album’s midsection also throws in change-ups like the keyboard/programming goosed “Deep Beneath the Woods” which is befitting of a sound that closes a nightclub PA at 2 in the morning while the campfire tale, electric folk-rock of “Another Light” takes the band’s heavier minded ideals and turns them into a gorgeous ballad.  “Splinter” flirts with the kind of quirky, jazz-esque punk-metal of White Mice or one of Julie Christmas’ crazed projects as the rest of the album slips into blues/country mantras that are most powerfully delivered via “Unfortunate One’s” harrowing vocals and pokerfaced, 5-card riffage. 

Falling Forward is a cornucopia of light and shade; volume and swell that ride every good idea to the end of the trail.  There are no weak songs or duff filler tracks.  Even music fans that don’t dig on some of the genres exemplified may very well come out of this experience as a lifelong fan of Donoma’s work.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Heavy America - ...Now (2017)

Written by Shannon Cowden, posted by blog admin

Founded in 2015, Boston bruisers Heavy America cement their message from the wayward intro of their debut record’s first cut “Proud Shame” with American Gothic throat singing coming off like a Native American ritual.  Beyond that mesa, the music delves into plaintive psychedelia anchored by Mike Seguin’s countrified guitar plucking, Dan Fried’s Jekyll n’ Hyde drumming (from punishing crunch to graceful fills to standard blues’ laments) and Budd Lapham’s deeply cut bass prowl.  Then just when you think you’ve figured things out, they got for the throat with a pickaxe swipe of burly classic rock.  Every melody hits the mark and every hook rings out like a gunshot proclamation at the Alamo.  This is the opening track of …Now and it sets the tone for things to come.

“Bleed Mary” expands on the more vulnerable qualities of “Proud Shame” by stretching further the melodic verse qualities.  Seguin’s lead vocals ripple like water, the contemplative guitar melodies utilize sparse notations, Fried softly ghosts the cymbals and Lapham’s bass endlessly roams in quiet thought.  The chorus is shell shocked by louder vocals and harder guitar muscle but the rumble quickly reverts to restraint.  Each verse also adds almost unnoticeable additions to the song composition that need to be listened to closely to even catch; for example, the snare joins the cymbals in the second run. It’s the mark of a band dedicated to fully exploring each song to the fullest.  Dirty, palm-muted riffage and more aggressive singing cultivates the gentle rain of rock n’ roll into a full blown tempest culminating with a solo psychedelic bass line giving way to guitar licks and blown out riffs fully scorched by the desert heat…you could swear these guys have ties to the Palm Springs’ stoner rock movement spearheaded by Kyuss and Fatso Jetson.  “Pray for Me” traverses the absolute opposite route of that sonic movement with attitudinal stoner riffs culling equally from 70s rock and grunge luminaries like Skin Yard and Soundgarden, valuing pure volume over subtleties. 

There’s no limits or boundaries on the styles utilized, lending each song a unique identity; galloping blues goes indie on “Sweet Kisses,” “Casting Stones” is the big centerpiece epic where grandiose late 60s/early 70s hard rock takes its sweet ol’ time building up to the show-stopper Hammer of Thor riffs, “Goliath” tips the Texaco hat to the days when rock n’ roll filled up arenas, “I Can Take It” allows the cosmonauts a good musical incentive to light up that last joint, “Heavy Eyes” is the huge melodic number and only closer “Achilles Fail” seems to falter lacking a signature movement in a somewhat standard heavy groove send-off.  “Achilles Fail” isn’t necessarily a bad tune, a little more filler than the rest; it just feels somewhat out of place in the track order.  “Casting Stones” or “Heavy Eyes” would have fit much better as a curtain call.
Overall, Heavy America is a rock solid band that shows even greater hope for the future.  This is a fine set of tunes with the only nitpicks being some flow problems in the track list and one tune that’s more average than great but …Now is a debut not to be sneezed at and with classic rock influenced bands experiencing a spirited revival, these guys are on their way to becoming leaders of the pack.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dru Cutler - Hometown (2017)

Written by Michael Saulman, posted by blog admin

Though musician, singer, and songwriter Dru Cutler might have traded in the sunny climes of South Florida when he relocated to the comparatively dour urban sprawl of Brooklyn, there’s an effervescent creativity glowing in his music and voice brimming over with pure life. His most recent release, a duo of songs united under the title Hometown, finds Cutler balancing artistry and commercial appeal in a way unmatched by many of his contemporaries. It is no small feat how both songs demonstrate a facility for exploring compelling instrumental textures, memorable melodies, and intelligent lyrics with a high gloss sound that never betrays the material with cheap turns or outright pandering. Cutler benefits from production emphasizing the bottom end but showing a keen enough ear to lay upper register instruments over top with an even hand. This mix of strengths results in one of the year’s best releases of any length.

The first song, “Hometown”, sparkles thanks to a pleasing blend of acoustic guitar, piano, and authoritative drumming. Cutler’s voice emerges from within the mix just as strong and well balanced as his surrounding instrumental attack. There’s understated melodic excellence powering much of this performance and much of it comes on the backs of Cutler’s vocal and the piano playing; the chorus is impressive and there’s some harmony vocals scattered throughout making a positive impact on the track. The lyrical content, however, is arguably its marquee attraction. Cutler does a fantastic job of adopting just the right tone for his examination of youth and our impressions of it in retrospect. There’s obviously some unavoidable sentimentalizing that goes on, but Cutler takes on a remarkably rich adult point of view with this time-tested subject matter.

The second song on Hometown couldn’t be more different. “Infinite Moons” shares some similarities with the aforementioned track – the similarities are, largely, confined to production values, but much of the instrumental approach remains the same – there are no individual spotlight moments for players to step to the fore. His take on melody in a song like this is more diffuse than on the earlier and much more concretely arranged tune, but the rewards are the same; Cutler just takes a different route to get there. His lyrics for this song aren’t as evocative or detailed as we heard in the prior song, but they serve the song nonetheless with a tight focus and understanding of the arrangement’s needs. Dru Cutler’s latest release is a sturdy and remarkably complete reminder of why he is one of the foremost talents working on the indie scene today. “Hometown”, the track, has much more obvious commercial appeal than the second song, but both have a tremendous amount to offer listeners. This is one of the interesting “smaller” releases thus far in 2017.