Sunday, July 30, 2017

Quantum Split - America (2017)

Written by Alonzo Evans, posted by blog admin

Led by Berklee College of Music student, musician, and singer Soliel Laurent and joined by Adrian Read on guitar, Ivan Hardy on bass, and Anthony Anderson on drums, Quantum Split is one of those once in a generation bands who emerge from near-obscurity fully formed and guided by a fiery creative vision. Laurent’s unique talents as a singer and interpreter of the band’s material – the lyrics certainly touch on themes of personal freedom and empowerment, but Laurent brings them to vivid, colorful life with her passionate bellow and abundance of chops. Her band mates bring the same combination of inspiration and skill to their role and guitarist Read, in particular, proves to be a compelling foil for Laurent’s singing. Their debut recording, America, may only contain two songs, but it carries the force of a full length release thanks to the gripping presentation they concoct for these two tracks. It makes a deep impact that lingers long after the last note fades.

“America”, the title song, has a current events sort of feel if, no other reason, than discontent with the current political situation is so omnipresent in nearly every medium. Laurent conveys that dissatisfaction and a generation’s resolute response to it with a varied vocal approach that imbues the song’s “narrative” with all the requisite drama. Anthony Anderson and Ivan Hardy provide plenty of punch from the band’s rhythm section, but it’s Adrian Read’s neo soul and funk stylings mingled with rock guitar posturing that really makes this musically distinguished. As hybrids go, it’s an interesting blend that the band credibly brings off from the first. “America”, despite the occasional stridency of its attack, never risks self indulgence and delivers a timely message fortunately possessing resonance transcending current events.

The second track “Runaway” shows off other facets of the band’s talents. Laurent can make some claim, based on this performance alone, that she’s a capable blues singer, but the vocal never slips too far away from the powerhouse rock workout that she gave her vocals on the earlier track. Adrian Read steps up to the plate in a big way on this track, as well, and his playing deftly straddles a line between emotive beauty and outright aggression. The rhythm section delivers once again and gives the song a strong foundation that’s nonetheless light on its feet and keeps things musically fluid. Its strengths are a little more diffuse than those on the title cut, but “Runaway” is still impressive throughout and has some of the same decisiveness setting the first song apart. Quantum Split embody the brash refusal to accept injustice and offer a clear, inspiring path for listeners to channel their discontent through music and make something greater from it. There’s little question after hearing this brief two song collection that their first full length, whenever we are afforded an opportunity to hear that, will be an impressive experience.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

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

Written by Alonzo Evans, posted by blog admin

Authentic southern rock here from the south, Georgia to be exact!  Russ Still and the Moonshiners are a force to be reckoned with, serving up a hearty stew of groove, grit and rock n’ roll gravitas missing from the spotlight for a long, long time.  The album’s 9 tracks follow an arc of peaks and valleys thanks to diverse composition and jammed out instrumental passages.  If you’ve come to move, boogie n’ swing, you’re at the right watering hole. 

A rocking initiative is set thanks to “Promised Land,” a track full of tasty licks, winding lead guitar figures and a bustling groove laid-down by the rhythm section.  On an album of this type, you need a hot opener and this one is in-the-red yet plenty melodic thanks to Still’s power crooning and the way the band keeps things lush.  “Long Way from Home” kicks off in acoustic throes before heading to the backstreets of Nashville with a tuneful approach to riffs and the electric guitar.  This sounds like country radio back in the days when rap and pop hadn’t touched the genre just yet.  “Glorine’s” has strong interplay between the ultra-soulful lead vocals and the back-ups, almost calling to mind a rock-oriented version of “Lucille.”  The tune’s about a lady, so that could be the connection.  Grand piano and acoustic grace sets off the spark in “I Can’t,” a more downbeat number where the boundaries of balladry are pushed and exceeded.  There’s stellar singing throughout and the increase in volume in the second half gives it a nice climactic finish. 

“Goin’ Fishin’” is catchy if a bit standard issue by the lofty standards set thus far, so “Juanita” spices things up by incorporate bluegrass-y, amplified guitar licks with excellent melodies in the verses and chorus.  It’s probably the catchiest tune on the record and it also has the distinct honor of sounding the oldest (in terms of the decade that birthed it).  “10, 000 Ways” treads similar ground to “I Can’t” and comes out fine as a result even if a bit of repeat and “Workin’ Class Hunter” is all riffs though it could benefit from more emphasis on the leads.  Closer “Run Away” is a textbook country rocker that gives a Texaco hat tip to the innovators of the genre. 
Still Cookin’ is a timeless entry into the southern/country rock genre.  The band is tight but still developing its very own songwriting blend that comes off strong more often than not.  There are more than enough great tracks, plenty of good and only or two that could use a little more in the instrumentation department.  Overall, this is a solid second outing. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Donoma - Falling Forward (2017)

Written by Shannon Cowden, posted by blog admin

Eclectic, schizophrenic rock with odes to rural and rustic Americana is the order of the day on Donoma’s Falling Forward.  Two albums deep into their collective career this five-piece band themselves at the heart of a maelstrom; a maelstrom which can be defined as the band members’ own minds spinning violently out of control.  Produced like a late 60s/early 70s vintage hard rock masterpiece, unusual like 80s post-punk and sporting a refreshingly original approach to free-form song composition, Donoma’s twelve tune juggernaut hits more than it misses. 

The record begins with a triple shot gun blast of songs that are the definition of tough, intelligent rock.  “Sick” curls the toes like fermented moonshine, balancing potent flavors of gritty proto-hard rock, the early SoCal cowboy punk movement, outlaw country and cancerous Marlboro blues.  It’s a rousing introduction to the band’s work ethic and singer Stephanie Vogt’s punch-drunk, piss n’ vinegar gospel.  “Jack in the Box” could be a lost Steve Albini production; the band’s “giddy-up partner,” Hank Williams-inflected raucousness rubbed sandpaper raw by skronk-y, Big Black-esque clatter n’ pound.  If these songs have you cowering in fear of the next punch, the molten slow-blues of “Memory” and “A Change is Gonna Come (a reworking of the Sam Cooke classic)” will heal the wounds of the more turbulent material.  These juxtapositions run rampant through the album and for every cool-headed track, you get a couple of hardheads looking for trouble.  “He Loves Me Not” relies on the rhythm section and piano in the lead roles with the guitar adding atmosphere until the pacing kicks up later; the mission statement being to seamlessly splice cabaret, 80s goth/post-punk, country and hard-rock into one unique tapestry…this mission is a success by the by. 

They play Russian roulette with musical styles, revolvers and liquor on the immediately succeeding “Deep Beneath the Woods,” a tangled forest where dub, dark wave and psychedelic inspirations steal secret breathless kisses.  “Another Light” drops the mood from high noon into sundown as the country ramble remains present even when the tempos slow from a stagecoach chase to a drunken stumble.  This relaxing of intensity is busted wide open yet again by the furious squeal of “Splinter’s” cutthroat guitar lacerations and hoof breaking drum/bass interplay.  Vocalist Stephanie Vogt gets a huge chance to shine on the earthen heavy blues rock of “Unfortunate One,” where trace elements of The Groundhogs, The Brandos, Royal Thunder and Janis Joplin can be heard.  As the record winds to a close, the soft balladry of “A New Shed of Colors” and “Come with me” actually feel rather out of place; “Come with Me” is especially in need of vocals even if the arrangement is pretty enough.  “Otherside” delivers the snub-nosed blues rock goods with aplomb and a fever sweat.   

Despite a couple of minor issues with flow and a small number of slight filler pieces, Falling Forward is a retro feeling rock record possessing teeth, toughness and identity.  It’s a progression from the first album for sure and one can only wonder what ionosphere album #3 will launch Donoma into.  The sky is the limit from here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Heavy America - ...Now (2017)

Written by Lance Wright, posted by blog admin

Beyond the heyday of grunge, there’s been a whole revolution of modern bands adopting 60s/70s songwriting tactics and production techniques.  Some bands can’t quite catch the vibe and end up as parody while others sound like the real article.  After repeat listens, Boston three-piece Heavy America prove that they can nail the feel with authenticity and integrity.  Straddling the fence with hip-shaking rockers, layered minimalism and songs combining the two worlds, these cats offer up plenty of variety on their latest recording …Now.

Although not quite a concept album but more of a collection of likeminded tunes, …Now is still best enjoyed as an uninterrupted whole.  There’s a flow from track to track that starts with lead-in belter “Proud Shame.”  Half indie styled alt-country and half bellowing blues rock damage, “Proud Shame” shimmers in the verses and wails with abandon in the choruses.  Vibrant lead vocals courtesy of Mike Seguin range from growly Tom Waits’ whiskey chants to arid, dustbowl crooning.  Clean guitars and wandering rhythms quickly turn to smash n’ crash, rocked-out mantras, a similar tactic that follows true on “Bleed Mary’s” simultaneously sweet and surly guitar work, pulsating bass damage and fluid drumming.  There’s not really a lead instrument here with each player (guitarist Mike Seguin, bassist/keyboardist Bud Lapham, drummer Dan Fried) all painting individual brushstrokes onto the canvas that congeal into a crystal clear portrait.  Shorter, sharper and more straightforward “Pray for Me” does away with ambient build-ups and song structure swapping for a heavy, weighted rocker that sounds like Helmet’s syncopated surgical strikes gone full-on blues rock. 

After the opening trilogy establishes the band’s forward reaching arc, the rest of the album delivers on the promise.  Bud’s swinging bass licks cement a presence straying from outside of Seguin’s stark, noisy guitar melodies on the bustling swagger of “Sweet Kisses.”  Jazzy cymbal splashes and near off-time beats make what could be a simple rock song something more dissonant and oblique as a second half melody break brings the mood down appropriately.  Smoky, searing riffs swirl amidst the sound of a phone ringing on the bipolar shuffling contained within “Casting Stones,” an easy album standout.  A hymnal keyboard hum drenches the softer parts in blue-collar sweat which explodes in a fury fever during well-fortified bouts of knockout moonshine riffing befitting of a more experimental version of Clutch.  “Goliath” is sheer southern-rock might; the kind they don’t make anymore, again reckoning of Clutch with monster 4/4 blues churns lit up like a Roman candle by scattershot lead work via Seguin’s fireball frets. 
Just as the album began with a killer triplet of vastly unique tunes, it ends the same way; “I Can Take It” rings with trippy ambience befitting of Pink Floyd jamming with Queens of the Stone Age (circa Self-Titled and Rated R) with phased-effected guitars and space-rock riffing, “Heavy Eyes” touches on relaxing electric folk and “Achilles Fail” utilizes the gruffest vocals on the record and apocalyptic doom-y hard rock n’ roll. 

With no two songs sounding exactly alike yet a uniform theme running throughout the record, Heavy America crafts …Now into an underground winner that is probably too smart for mainstream radio but of serious value to real music fans.  Advanced songwriting is prevalent from the first note to the last and dedicated rock fans that are looking for some music with meat on the bones will be truly satiated by what they find.