Thursday, December 28, 2017

Slow Burning Car - Defection (2017)

Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin

 Los Angeles based Slow Burning Car has given audiences a number of different looks since they first formed. Their fourth album Defection finds them in particularly robust shape as they serve up a rather eclectic collection firmly in keeping with their identity as a stylistically varied band. Defection is the band’s fourth album and features ten songs arranged in such a way that the release flows with its own internal power running far deeper than mere surface textures. The band, operating as a four piece with this release, mixes heavy guitar riffing with acoustic textures and a smattering of electronica in a compelling fashion never risking self indulgence. The band’s professed influences never shine too brightly through their own songwriting and it shows Slow Burning Car are a band capable of transmuting sounds and tendencies they admire through their own personal vision to craft something, in the end, uniquely their own.

There’s not a more appropriate song on Defection for the opening slot than “Alpha Duplicor”. It doesn’t win over the audience with some breakneck tempo or flashy instrumental work, but bulldozes you into blissful submission while still entertaining you with a variety of unexpectedly musical moments. It’s clear from this song alone that Slow Burning Car are an unusual band and demand audiences deal with them on their own terms rather than the listener’s preconceived notions. “Soul Crimes” is one of the album’s undeniable high points. This pedal to the floor hard rock track shows off the band’s influences in that vein better than any other individual cut and the lyrics are a cut above the usual fare with their occasional startling turns of phrase. There’s a fair amount of the elements in this song that will prove familiar to listeners, but there’s enough of a signature style behind a song like this to bear out the assertion that Slow Burning Car have something of their own to say and the talent to do it.

They definitely have a hint of punk influences percolating in their music and we hear it quite clearly in “Devil in the Room”. It isn’t the careening, out of control get in and get out punk rock style, Slow Burning Car’s songwriting is far too considered to embrace that pose. “The Sunday Derby” is another highlight thanks to its ability for showing off the band’s arranging nuance within an idiom not particularly known for its understatement. Slow Burning Car do memorable things with tempo and the feel of a piece; “The Sunday Derby” shifts gears often while still never sounding too cluttered, yet it retains the expected musical intensity throughout. Listeners are reacquainted with the band’s punk side on the track “You Can’t Stay Here” and it’s a nifty new coat of musical paint for some time tested songwriting subject matter. The tracks “Bedtime” and “Chrysanthemum” are quite unlike anything else on Defection thanks to their vulnerable, near lyrical acoustic textures and the band, to their credit, sound equally at home with this fare despite the radically different sound. Slow Burning Car isn’t content with one approach and prove, with Defection, that their talent for successfully juggling styles is quite unlike any other band working today.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

J.Briozo - Deep in the Waves (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

The thirteen song release Deep in the Waves from J.Briozo is the first solo release from Jeff Crandall, songwriter and vocalist for the band Swallows. The album came to being during the recording sessions for Swallows’ third album and Crandall quickly moved to capture the material in its current form utilizing some of his longtime musical compatriots in Swallows as well as other collaborators. He covers an assortment of musical bases over the course of this baker’s dozen worth of music and the fearlessness of weaving seemingly disparate strains of sound into a coherent, unified whole pays off enormously for both listener and artist alike. Deep in the Waves heralds a beginning of a new chapter in Jeff Crandall’s creative life and we can only hope there’s more to come under this imprimatur.

The creativity defining this album is apparent from the first. “Blind”, the album opener, comes off as both delicate and solid, invoking a dream-like ambiance while still having a solid structure that’s inexorably moving towards its inevitable conclusion from the first. There’s definitely a traditional sense of song structure driving the first track, but it also has theatrical overtones that are difficult to ignore. There are no such overtones with the album’s title song, however, and the comparative grounding of this song to the first track is notable. It’s also carried off without even a hint of hesitancy. “Deep in the Waves” has a full, warm acoustic sound and an emotive vocal from Crandall that sound shorn of any effects. The clear, honest presentation of his voice here underscores what a fundamentally sound singer Crandall is and how deeply he can get inside of a performance. Some light orchestration creeps in with the song “Beautiful Mess” and it’s seamlessly incorporated with the acoustic sound we heard on the previous song with excellent, memorable results. Crandall’s vocal receives a little different treatment here and the light doubling and echo effects placed over his voice accentuate the atmospherics he’s clearly aiming for.

“Spinning Out” is a wonderfully shambolic, cacophonous rocker with more than enough swagger for the form and a return to presenting Crandall’s voice largely devoid of any effects. His singing is double-tracked, however, to excellent effect in a number of places. There’s some particularly punchy lead guitar that further spices things up. The slinky acoustic tilt of “The Big Parade” has some adult language, but it’s never served up as a cheap way of grabbing attention – instead, it’s quite fitting with the artfully restrained defiance and anger bubbling in the heart of this subtle, understated musical arrangement. There’s some more striking lead guitar worked into this song that gives it just a little added shot of attitude. “Blue” has some lovely melodic qualities that are twisted in a decidedly moody direction and the bare bones approach of the song focuses listener’s attention on Crandall’s sensitive vocal. There’s some nice color from organ playing swelling from deep within the mix, but it never threatens to overtake the recording. “Camera Obscura” continues that mood with its gliding downcast tenor, but it has a beguiling quality that immediately pulls you into its shadowy web. The psychedelic infused guitar rave ups of “Sun Sun True” sound ragged but right and concludes Deep in the Waves on a satisfyingly idiosyncratic note. Jeff Crandall’s first solo outing as J.Briozo is revelatory and serves to confirm what many already knew – this is one of the more formidable talents on the scene today.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Thomas Abban - A Sheik's Legacy (2017)

Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin

Move over singer/songwriters.  James Blunt, Chris Daughtry, John Mayer, sure they all have their appeal with only Blunt’s mingling of styles, structures and instrumentation being in a somewhat close ballpark to the review subject, Thomas Abban.  In A Sheik’s Legacy, 21-year old Minneapolis man Abban has them all beat.  Though this shapeshifting, chameleon-like debut album is best listened to straight from track 1 to 15 without interruption, comparing its opening and closing track is a great way to get a hint of just how exciting of a ride that you’re in for. 

Opener “Death Song” straddles a fence of sweeping, acoustic street busk and raucous yet classy 70s rock.  It leaves a psychedelic, surging and ethereal imprint on the mind with its sheer number of vocal/instrumental mood changes but when you stack it up against closer “Born of Fire” and its somber cellos, piano and swinging electric guitar drones n’ licks, well you can still tell the handiwork is Abban’s but the flavors have uniquely individual spices that separate them. 
This unwillingness to settle down into one mode or dumb down to fit flavor of the week subgenre’s is what gives Abban’s work its resonance and A Sheik’s Legacy its instant effect on the eardrums. 

He never plays the same tune twice.  One moment you’ll get the overcast atmospheres and emotionally devastating acoustic/electric, quiet/loud bursts of “Symmetry & Black Tar,” “Time to Think” or “Echo” and then suddenly the manic pacing, deliciously in-the-red drumming aggression, frantic electric guitar flurries and falsetto, street preacher vocals will die down and be reborn with cautious mid-tempo, dreamy time-keeping, melancholy acoustics and introspective vocal harmonies in songs like “Sinner,” “Let Me Tell You Something” or “Lord”, a song that features the album’s most daring vocal performance. But Thomas doesn’t stop there.  With only half of the songs mentioned in this review, one still hasn’t even touched on the true range of the album.  Whenever Abban isn’t relishing purely quiet, soothing gems or finding that sweet spot in the quiet/loud dynamic, he’s playing with all abandon; axing his way through a forest of tangled, Redwood bending guitars riffs across oaken numbers like “Fear,” “Aladdin” and “Uh.”  Every single element that a rock fan could hope to hear on an excellent, eclectic album can be found right here…crystal clear and diamond sharp.  Along the way he dabbles with symphonic stringed instruments (violin, cello), toys with keyboard/piano/organ texture-work and even provides a specialized take on vintage, Americana music with the punchy, moonshine makin’, acoustic guitar jabs of a country tune like “Don’t You Stay the Same.” 

There is simply no defining or categorizing A Sheik’s Legacy neatly.  Every inch of this album will yield no atmospheres to acclimate to.  You are not guaranteed an easy listen but once you take in and bask in the many components of Abban’s songwriting standards and fiercely original musical/vocal quirks, you ARE guaranteed a rewarding listen.  Everyone should put an ear to this record and challenge themselves to discover a daring new artist.

Ben Brookes - The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon will stand indefinitely as one of 2017’s best musical releases and even a single listen to the ten songs will bear out why. Ben Brookes doesn’t sound like a young singer/songwriter making some tentative but promising forays into the marketplace – his work on this full length album sets a high bar for his future releases that’s its scarcely imaginable he’ll clear anytime soon. The uniformly high quality of the performances here is breathtaking and there’s an overall coherence to the album, manifested in elements like its track listing, missing from a boatload of modern releases. This UK born icon in the making has all the hallmarks of a long career in front of him and The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon ushers it in with considerable fanfare.

Melody is one of the defining factors driving this release. Many of them are instantly memorable and catchy like the opener “ I Wanna Go Home” and, if they are reminiscent of acts like Badfinger and The Beatles, Brookes pushes back against those comparisons with the uniqueness of his lyrical point of view. His songwriting, likewise, expresses universal sentiments in a way that comes off as profoundly personal to Brookes. Any adult with a certain level of life experience will easily relate to this song. “Integration (Not Segregation)” is one of the album’s more impassioned moments and the mix of jagged guitar fills contrasted against Brookes’ voice make for an appealing mix. The intensity is turned back down to a lower simmer on the third song “Asleep in Galilee” and there’s a liberal mix of pop and rock influence woven throughout the track. Some of the songs on The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon come off with an electric folk character and it hits listeners in just a right way. The Biblical imagery spices up Brookes’ lyrics just enough without ever sounding forced.

“Before Sunlight” is one of the best moments on The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon. Much of its excellence comes from one of Brookes; best vocal melodies and it embeds itself in listener’s memories with precious little effort. Its winding qualities are quite charming without ever trying listener’s patience and the lyrical content locks up very nicely. Michael Bland’s drumming is especially strong on the song “Stories in the Rain” and the slashing electric guitar fills peppering the song match Brookes’ slowly climbing vocal in a particularly gripping way. It’s another of the more obviously emotional tunes on The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon. The second to last song on the album is “Somewhere Around Eight” and none of the aforementioned emotional performances readily match this outing as Brookes red-lines his voice without any obvious sense of strain. It seems, in retrospect, to be the album’s natural climax while the final song “Shackles” acts as a coda of sorts that brings The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon to an elegant and heart felt ending. Ben Brookes’ first full length release is an important release that deserves all the plaudits it’s sure to receive.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Cyborg Asylum - Never Finished, Only Abandoned (2017)

Written by Stephen Bailey, posted by blog admin

Cyborg Asylum’s debut full length Never Finished, Only Abandoned heralds the arrival of a major new force on the alternative rock/industrial scene. This isn’t your typical mishmash of electronic embellishments, guitar histrionics, and overwrought tortured lyrics – instead, there’s an artistic standard the duo aspires to here that goes well beyond by the numbers industrial alt rock and, instead, brings a level of imaginative sophistication to a genre that, unfortunately, has too often settled for going through the motions and relying on tired tropes. There’s none of that here. Instead, Cyborg Asylum has crafted a release that speaks from an intensely personal space while also providing an entertainment experience that a widespread audience can enjoy and relate to. Never Finished, Only Abandoned is a profound and powerful outing for a duo who will likely be around for years to come.

 The album has quite the opener with “Blitz”. It’s the first song written for the project before David Varga recruited John Tumminia to add his vocal and lyrical touches and it’s a near cinematic instrumental complete with sound effects that further thicken its atmospherics. Tumminia’s first contributions come with the second song, “Synergy”, and the song is further strengthened by the contributions of guitarist Phil Jones. The latter’s guitar wizardry expresses itself in a variety of ways and never embraces a paint by numbers cookie cutter approach to complementing the duo’s industrial alt-rock overtones. “My Metallic Dream” and “Weightless” are, likely, the most accessible numbers on Never Finished, Only Abandoned and mixing the duo’s industrial influences with genuine excellent melodies makes for an interesting stew sure to garner much attention and praise. Even if you aren’t familiar with the genre, as a whole or in part, Cyborg Asylum’s approach to their music affords casual listeners an opportunity to latch onto what the duo is doing thanks to tracks like this.

The brisk pace of “Steampunk Highway” propels a track more electronically driven than industrial and Tumminia’s vocals arguably hit their peak moment with this performance, particularly on the chorus. Never Finished, Only Abandoned’s longest track “Asymmetry” begins with an expertly recorded drum pattern that the duo spices up with some sustained sheets of synth sound. Tumminia turns in another strong vocal brimming over with the same atmospherics we hear in the backing track and shows the same potential for exploiting unexpected turns to the audience deeper into its web. The distorted guitar crunch just under the surface of the mix is a further addition that strengthens the tune. It’s the album’s longest song, by far, but never comes off as a six minute plus outing. “Paradigm Shift” is the album’s final curtain and it seems to bring together the various musical strands of the album into one track while ramping up the close, intimate vibe and spiking the pace. Never Finished, Only Abandoned would be an admirable second or third album from any outfit, but the fact that this is a debut effort is all the more impressive.