Thursday, December 28, 2017

Slow Burning Car - Defection (2017)

Written by Pamela Bellmore, posted by blog admin

No one can accuse Slow Burning Car of predictability. Their avowed influences like Queens of the Stone Age and Foo Fighters promise guitar histrionics galore, but they also embrace psych pop pioneers Love and German art rockers Can and you discern those strains running through Slow Burning Car’s lyrical and musical approach. They bring these seemingly disparate elements together with a coherence and seamlessness that’s bracing to listen to. The ten songs included on their fourth studio release, Defection, never opt for well traveled roads – even traditionally slanted passages are, invariably, spiked with some sense of surprise that sends them off into new trajectories. It’s deeply gratifying to hear a band working with such a level of inspiration four albums into their career – Slow Burning Car are still growing, still searching, and each new release clearly brings them ever closer to the peak of their expanding powers.

It gets off to a great start with the mid tempo riffer “Alpha Duplicor” and the rhythm section of bassist/vocalist Troy Spiropoulos and drummer Adam Idell lay down a monumental foundation for the band’s two guitar attack to fire salvos over. The band’s musical and lyrical approach, alike, never panders to the lowest common denominators and provides entertaining, yet intelligent, artistic experiences for listeners. The second song “Soul Crimes” will justifiably garner a lot of notice as one of the album’s most energetic rockers and it definitely works as an example of the band’s sound at its most unified and outright aggressive. Spiropoulos really excels here with a varied singing performance. The punky stomp driving “Devil in the Room” doesn’t mince much musically and, despite its jagged attitude, has a remarkably clean and commercial sound sacrificing zero credibility along the way. Spiropoulos gives listeners an appropriately cawing, defiant vocal that fits the song to a T.

The palpable swagger and swing Spiropoulos and Idell whip up in the opening moments of “The Sunday Derby” is enough alone to sustain the song, but Slow Burning Car soon takes things a step further and their creative spin on this song is enough to dizzy even experienced music fans. “You Can’t Stay Here” is another definite nod to the band’s punk inspirations with its lean, clinched fist guitar attack and the take no prisoners feel personifying the song. “Bedtime” and “Chrysanthemum” alike are very different tunes than the preceding tracks and the band’s unabashed fluency with acoustic sounds makes them every bit as colorful, in their own respect, as the electric guitar fueled attack in the earlier tracks. They are even bold enough to toss an instrumental into the mix as the album’s nominal centerpiece tune – “Polar Warden” is both intensely musical and theatrical, yet the absence of vocals is never felt as the arrangement proves so commanding. The conclusion “Clouds” brings everything to a graceful rest while still embodying the same attitude we heard on earlier numbers. Slow Burning Car’s fourth release is definitely their most fully realized yet and we get a sense from this album that the band may be reaching another peak in their development.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

J.Briozo - Deep in the Waves (2017)

Written by Pamela Bellmore, posted by blog admin

J.Briozo’s debut release, Deep in the Waves, is the first solo album from Swallows’ vocalist Jeff Crandall and glitters with an accessible and deceptively sophisticated sound quite unlike anything else you’ll hear in recent memory. It’s indicative of Crandall’s prodigious creativity that, in the midst of writing and recording a third studio release with Swallows, Crandall still found the time and creative energy to write and record an entire album concurrently with a distinctly different melodic and sonic signature than his work with Swallows. It’s doubly impressive that he pulls this off while still working with some of his band mates and demonstrates a substantive musical ventriloquism few of his contemporaries or peers readily share. Deep in the Waves is an immensely rewarding and gratifying musical experience capable of resonating with listeners far after the final songs has ended.  

The lyrical mood dominating Deep in the Waves is poetic without ever risking pretension and remains accessible throughout. One of the best efforts in this regard and a truly distinguished opener, “Blind” is largely pushed forward by tasteful keyboard work and drumming while the guitar work takes on a compositional role. Crandall’s phrasing further enhances his already fine lyrics. The guitar takes on much more of a front and center role with the second song “Deep in the Waves” and the title song sets a tone that sustains much of the album – singer/songwriter themed work built around artful vocals and acoustic guitar. There are some exceptions to this formula, however, scattered throughout the release. “Spinning Out”, “Las Cruces”, and the album’s final track “Sun Sun True” employ guitar heroics to spectacular ends with a warm, deeply emotive sound and lead flourishes that are never thrown into the mix just for the sake of giving the guitarist a moment in the spotlight. The first and last song of the aforementioned trio are the best efforts in this vein; “Spinning Out” is memorable for its muscular yet appealingly ragged six string explosiveness while “Sun Sun True” has a kind of wide open, even joyful jamming quality quite unique among the album’s thirteen tunes.

“Rain Song” is another key track illustrating the album’s diversity thanks to the inclusion of strings, but the added instrumentation never imposes itself on the arrangement. “Catalonia”, on the other hand, mixes Crandall’s folky inclinations with his rockier edge to great effect and even has a cinematic touch that’s lacking in the other tunes. “Camera Obscura” is another fine example of his ever growing songwriting acumen and the seeming mystery surrounding the track, along with its restrained sense of melancholy, never prevents listeners from connecting with its sound and message. J.Briozo opens up a lot of new doors for Jeff Crandall and never pretends to be a substitute or improvement of some sort on his work with Swallows, but it certainly demands that the audience recognize we were just hearing a fraction of his potential until now. Let’s hope he continues to pursue further releases in this vein while continuing to help grow Swallows’ reputation and creative power.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Thomas Abban - A Sheik's Legacy (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

Rock n’ roll has been in dire need of a savior for quite some time.  It’s hard to find interesting acts these days, let alone people with a vision that goes beyond settling on and staying in one style and one style only.  Thomas Abban could be the man up for the job of saving or at least resuscitating rock, thanks to his dizzying, wild-eyed debut album, A Sheik’s Legacy.  With an orchestral sense of arrangement, many of the album’s 15 tunes pass through “movements” or “passages” on their way to the finish line and many of the songs end up in far different territory from whence they began.  It’s a testament to Abban’s immaculate writing and composing as well as the reason why this album works the whole way through and its after effects are long-lasting. 

The record’s first four songs alone cover a lot of musical ground.  Mournful and elegiac, “Death Song” conjures up an acoustic trance of wayward, soulful instrumentation that takes a good 4 minutes and change to finally launch into a distorted, riff-tastic crescendo.  “Symmetry & Black Tar” is full of progressive twists and turns; lively acoustic guitar licks sweeping across pile-driving tom-tom fills and thundercrack bass lines grooving steadily along keep things in the red yet the song never goes into an outright frenzy.  Abban saves the frenzy for bruising, beef-up guitar figures on “Fear” and “Aladdin,” a pair of brawny blues-rock hammers that drive home riff after riff of old school songwriting. 

As the record moves into its second phase, the songwriting opens up into arid, open range acoustic textures with songs that trot and traipse but never lapse in holding your attention.  The gusty, bluesy guitar shades, acoustic transitions, heavy drums and whistling vocal melodies of “Time to Think” acts as a calmer interpretation of the hearty riffing of the prior two cuts, settling the album down into the elaborate, finger-picked folk of “Horizons” which smacks of some subtle Dylan influence.  World weary blues is the order of the day on “Sinner” where Abban’s voice wavers between smooth and smoky to a shrieking howl.  Neoclassical strings and symphonic elements add some meat to the bones of the tune’s very traditional framework.  Delta acoustic blues and Nashville country elements wash to the forefront of “Don’t You Stay The Same” and “Let Me Tell You Something,” both tracks relishing largely stripped-down, solo-songwriter ethics with “Irene” applying those same standards to a wandering folk-pop ditty.  “Lord” dips into similar waters before the album goes back to the hard and heavy stuff with the crushing guitar surgery of “Uh,” the fiery atmospherics contained in “Echo,” “Black Water” and “Born of Fire” making for a superb culmination of A Sheik’s Legacy and its many awesome attributes.   

Abban never plays the same tune twice on his debut and the massive amount of stylistic fluctuation between numbers makes for an impressive and engaging listen.  Each tune is very much an individual piece that stands on its own two legs without the songs around it being simply used to buttress any weakness.  A Sheik’s Legacy is all killer and no filler!

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

Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin

The success of The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon will likely define, at least in part, Ben Brookes’ career until he bows out of the music scene. He has debuted with such astonishing variety and imagination that it makes one breathless to consider where he might go from here. His creativity on this collection makes it vividly clear that there’s a world of musical possibility at his feet and whatever direction he takes from here will likely bear ample fruit. The UK born Brookes has brought in a crew of UK music veterans of near musical royalty level – namely Joey Molland and Greg Healey from legendary pop rockers Badfinger. It is, perhaps, natural that Beatles and Badfinger influences come through strongly in the music and Healey’s production skills accentuate that quality when its present in Brookes’ work, but there are other influences coming through as well and they are accompanied by a highly individual quality that raises it all far above mere homage or imitation.

“I Wanna Go Home” serves notice of Brookes’ influences without ever getting lost in them. The ability to transmute the sounds that have influenced you as an artist into something truly your own isn’t as easy it might seem – the requisite talent is often beyond many young performers or else they lack seasoning. Whatever experience Brookes’ lacks is rendered moot by his talent level. He makes the coy vocal melody stick with you and never risks annoying the audience with its playfulness while the real longing at the heart of the song comes across quite effectively. “Asleep in Galilee” is another wonderfully effective number, one of the best on The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon, and the relaxed sweep carrying listeners through the song is made all the more appealing thanks to his vocal. A third high point comes with the track “Before Sunlight” and, once again, it’s melody that wins the day for Brookes. A closer listen to his lyrics, however, should reveal to any discerning listener that Brookes is an important songwriter who, each time out, makes meaningful statements with his considerable writing talents.

Two of the album’s grittier tracks, “Stories in the Rain” and “Somewhere Around Eight”, both rely on twining up distorted electric guitar runs with strong acoustic rhythm guitar underlying the entire song. Brookes gives us a different side of his vocal excellence with each of these songs and communicates vast oceans of feeling both times out. The album’s last song “Shackles” has a more poetic and moodier feel, but it ends the album on the right note and spares the audience any unnecessary histrionics. The quality of this release is such that it sounds like a much more experienced artistic hand is responsible for its excellence, but it’s clear we’re in the hands of prodigious talent with this one. Ben Brookes’ The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon is a worthwhile release in every meaningful respect.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Cyborg Asylum - Never Finished, Only Abandoned (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

Cyborg Asylum is a duo whose first full length album Never Finished, Only Abandoned is one of the most compelling post-industrial alt rock releases to come out in many years. The tandem of David Varga and John Tumminia have written and recorded twelve songs that embrace vivid atmospherics while presenting a master class in how to incorporate melody and introspective textures into a style not typically associated with such qualities. Never Finished, Only Abandoned certainly has some darker moments spanning across the album’s dozen songs, but the flexibility Varga and Tumminia demonstrate as songwriters far outstrips anything offered up by peers and contemporaries working in the same style. This is a musical and lyrical experience alike; Tumminia’s contributions in this area are intelligent and measured while still fitting the musical landscape in a near ideal way. Never Finished, Only Abandoned is a powerful studio release in every respect and the songs are poised to prove engaging in a live setting as well.

A significant portion of the album is instrumental. The opener “Blitz” serves ample notice that this is an intelligent, albeit aggressive, affair more than willing to couple its swirl of instrumentation with ambient sound effects. The first track featuring Tumminia’s vocals, “Synergy”, introduces listeners to a central element of the duo’s treatment of such elements – rarely are Varga and Tumminia content with producing a straight forward vocal track and, instead, adorn his singing with a variety of post-production effects dovetailing nicely into the musical mood. Phil Jones’ guitar work emerges here for the first time and offers a lot to the song as a whole. “My Metallic Dream” doesn’t come off as dream like at all – unless that dream is a nightmare. The pulsing, low hung thrust of its musical attack engages listeners immediately and doesn’t provide the audience with much in the way of breathing space. This hint of the claustrophobic is a recurrent quality on the album and one of its signature virtues. “War Machine” revisits the tandem’s talent for composing and performing evocative instrumental pieces. The focus present in the earlier songs is even tighter here and one of the chief strengths we find on Never Finished, Only Abandoned is Cyborg Asylum’s persistent avoidance of any wasted motion.

“Weightless” begins with Tumminia’s vocals juxtaposed against a dark sheet of synth sound. There’s fewer post production effects applied to his singing on this song and, as a result, it engages listeners much more readily than the obvious atmospherics investing the earlier performances. The dread at the heart of the song only expands as the track develops and, by the end, we have one of the album’s best songs. “Steampunk Highway” features another great Tumminia vocal, although the lyrical content experiences a drop off in quality from the aforementioned gem. “Ion” brings together the industrial crawl at the center of many Cyborg Asylum tracks with an ethereally tinged melody line and it makes for one of the best instrumentals on the album. The closer “Paradigm Shift” is obviously intent on ending Never Finished, Only Abandoned with an emphatic exclamation point driven deep into listener’s memory thanks to the intensely physical tempo and arrangement. There are a lot of different textures employed during the course of this album, yet it retains an overall unity that few debuts can ever hope to achieve.