Les Paul - 1959 reissue

Les Paul - 1959 reissue

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Black Bluebirds - Like Blood for Music (2017)

Written by Laura Dodero, posted by blog admin

Black Bluebirds, coming out of the Minneapolis area, prove they are expert at pouring old wine into new glasses thanks to their invigorating mix of adult and highly personal themes with traditional musical structures handled with more than the usual amount of skill. The ten song Like Blood for Music is never formulaic – instead, Black Bluebirds prove themselves to be orchestrating textures and mood in such a way no two songs sound exactly alike while each maintain an individuality helping to make this an unified experience from the first to the last. Keyboardist, singer, and songwriter Daniel Fiskum definitely emerges from this album as being a truly formidable talent, but Black Bluebirds is far more than some sort of glorified solo project. Instead, guitarist Simon Husbands and drummer Chad Helmonds bring a great deal to the table. There are other important contributors outside the three piece, particularly guest vocalist Jessica Rasche, and their additions to the album make it all the more powerful of an experience.

If Like Blood for Music were an academic exercise of some sort, the opener “Love Kills Slowly” would be the album’s thesis of a sort – it lays out much of the same thematic path Black Bluebirds follow over the course of the album’s remaining nine songs. It might prove to be a bit deceptive for some listeners. They lay out a distinctly hard rock course with this tune and, while echoes of this approach abound throughout the band’s music, it isn’t a defining aspect of what they do, but rather part. Daniel Fiskum’s lyrics are ideally suited to a musical setting and show obvious care, but he has an intelligent flair to each of the album’s ten lyrics that few writers in this vein can boast.

Later songs like “Strange Attractor” and “Battlehammer” are, arguably, closest in musical approach to what we hear with the opener, but there’s never any sense of the band repeating themselves. Much of Like Blood for Music is devoted to more cinematically minded pieces like “Life in White”, “My Eyes Were Closed”, and “House of No More Dreams”. The second and third of those songs, in particular, are obviously keyed to be the album’s showpieces in this regard and show how adeptly the band mixes the dissonant hard rock edge in their music with more near orchestral approaches. The diversity is carefully modulated and never sounds too far afield of the band’s initial impulse and it’s equally praiseworthy how the three piece can make very adult themes accessible for even those who haven’t experienced such things. The hard rock edge is often present in Black Bluebirds music but, even when it isn’t, there’s the same sort of intensity brought to bear we readily associate with that sort of sound. Like Blood for Music is one of the best offerings in this style I’ve heard in quite some time and opens up the future nicely for this band going forward from here.  

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Rejectionist Front - Evolve (2017)

Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin

Rejectionist Front has scored some important appearances on compilation recordings and shared the same stages as legendary acts like George Clinton and P-Funk, Joan Baez, and Tom Morello, among others in an obvious confirmation of their growing status in the modern music world. Their music doesn’t necessarily remake the wheel, but it takes up the mantle of intelligent hard rock and adds distinctive multi-part vocals to their songwriting mix that set them apart from the pack. They also share the rare distinction of never overextending things the way some acts in this vein do – instead, Rejectionist Front specializes in songs that never run on too long yet contain a vast musical world within relatively contained space. Evolve is a wildly expressive and musically satisfying ride that their existing fans will embrace and new listeners will admire a great deal.

The album begins with “Ride” and it’s one of the near anthems on Evolve from a band who could likely turn out “call to arms” songs in their sleep. The passion coming across through Michael Perlman’s singing and the backing vocals from bassist Tony Tino and guitarist Lincoln Prout play an important role in planting this first song deep in listener’s memories. The near progressive guitar textures of this first cut give way to a clearer rock and roll edge from the second tune “All I Am” and it’s much more of a vocal performance resting on Perlman’s back with strategically placed secondary singing along the way. This is one of the rhythm section’s best performances from Evolve and has a free-wheeling, barnstorming quality that the band revisits and refines in later tunes as well. Rejectionist Front’s strong lyrics stand out on the third song “Savior” and the vocals enhance them quite a bit with their fierce yet musically aware phrasing. Prout’s guitar work makes a number of songs on Evolve soar higher than they perhaps might have with a lesser player, yet has a sense of restraint uncommon to lead players in this genre that strengthens the song’s impact.

There’s a slightly lighter air surrounding the track “All Is the Same” and Perlman’s voice recalls Eddie Vedder’s delivery, but never slavishly. There’s some great backing vocals too that dovetails well with the near jangle that Prout’s guitar adopts for significant periods of the song. They toy with another near anthem on the album’s sixth song “Reclaim” but, as before, Rejectionist Front stays away from the sort of histrionics typifying most songs of this type. The personal stakes informing the band’s socially conscious material is one of the factors that set them apart from many of their generation. Prout’s six string playing is especially good on this song. The single “Flush” has been accorded a video as well and there’s a strongly commercial quality to the song that makes it one of the more appealing cuts on Evolve. The second to last song on the album, “Resurrection”, has a wildly inventive arrangement that plays well in its spartan and heavier iterations. Their mastery of bringing dynamics into their songs is notable from the opening to beginning of Evolve and there’s not a moment of filler to be found on the band’s second studio release.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Shofar - s/t (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

Shofar’s early catalog, available on CDBaby, doesn’t differ wildly from their return to recording, a self titled six song effort. Perhaps their songwriting concerns are a little more secularized than they were in the Minneapolis band’s earlier incarnation, but Shofar has always been more about a thoughtful, intelligent hue for the songwriting rather than some pulpit thumping broadside in a musical package. The six songs on this new EP lean more towards commercially minded and melodic rock with a mid-tempo pace, but there are some notable exceptions on this new release. Vocalist and main songwriter Larry Hagner remains a vital force at the center of the band’s compositions and has a talent for pouring a definable presence into the band’s performances. A number of these cuts should prove especially effective in a live setting.

“Running” opens the EP up with a blend of aggressive riff-focused guitars and some lengthy passages, especially during the verses, where they are more fixed on offering color to the piece. The hard rock portions of the track never really come again on this release, but Shofar shows they are more than capable of discharging some believable crunch through their music. “Powerman” is much more in keeping with the bulk of the EP, though it does place a greater emphasis on melody than instrumental assertiveness. It is, probably, the song on the EP best illustrating some of the band’s more obvious musical influences while still stamping the lyrics with a distinctive identity. “Shades of Grey”, unlike the aforementioned tune, looks within instead of without and demonstrates the immense artistry that Hagner and his band mates bring to the band’s more obviously personal material.

“Hands Down”, however, is much more clearly in a rowdy rock mode than any song save the first one. It boasts a particularly zesty chorus, as well, with Hagner riding high on the wave of its momentum. The band turns in their most inspired performance of the release as well and it’s keyed by a superb bit of drumming that sticks in the memory. We end up in a more poetic, imaginative realm with the EP’s final two cuts as “Countdown” envisions impending global calamity while the ending tune “The Coming” is open to a number of interpretations depending on your own imagination and familiarity with Shofar’s past material. Once again, they distinguish themselves by providing a compelling musical landscape and allowing listeners to arrive at their own conclusions. This self-titled EP is an experience like that – it doesn’t force itself on listeners but, instead, shares its heart and communicates with the hope that it finds different meaning with each new encounter.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Blue Apollo - Light Footed Hours + Circles (2017)

Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin

With music to match the EP’s cover (a girl’s face with eyes closed surrounded by the infinite cosmos), Dallas three-piece Blue Apollo dig into spacey, gracious textures and serene melodies that collide head-on with rock n’ roll brawn on their debut, Light-Footed Hours.  It’s a delicious difference split of sound with some pop-vocal hooks, surprisingly complex instrumental threading and tougher movements that leave behind a memorable impact.

“Walls” kicks the EP off with Jeremiah Jensen’s big sound that practically throttles the toms while peppering the mixture with monster cymbal crashes and agile rim playing.  As his performance slips in more volume and rhythmic trip-outs, Luke Nassar colors in the gray space around the beat with head swimming melody chords blanketed in low-end warmth thanks to Rodman Steele’s prominent bass swagger.  The track works up a good head of steam, seemingly getting louder by the minute, until releasing all of its pent-up energy into a semi-progressive indie hard rock jam.  One moment the instruments will dip out and allow Nassar’s emotive voice take center stage and the next the band will lock onto a groove like a homing missile that ultimately explodes with crashing crescendos of epic soundscaping.  Subtle touches of keyboard mimics a clavinet and is probably the reason that the trio added a fourth member to handle all of the group’s various auxiliary instruments.  A superlatively rocking and careening lead topped off by a smacking snare-fill sends the tune hurtling towards a whirling, oscillating and truly exciting finale. 

“Feeling Right” is all about the groove and Nassar sips his guitar melodies from the tropics with some flamenco/funk/reggae flourishes that wouldn’t be out of place on a Sublime record (albeit more subdued than Nowell and company would mess with).  Ragtime piano maintains a lively atmosphere and the stop/start bass lines also toy with funk as the mix between straight timekeeping and syncopated jabs sprinkle some jazz into Jensen’s drumming.  Pitching yet another curveball, “Therapy” repeats its main guitar lick akin to a mantra and by doing so it becomes permanently ingrained in its audience’s memory.  It’s a cool amalgamation between pop punk’s instant immediacy and indie rock’s mind wandering charms.  Luke’s voice carves wonderful verse and chorus hooks as his guitar trades-off between being a lead instrument and a backing one.  A few craggy, jagged drum fills and scorching guitar licks give this piece an occasionally aggressive bite that fluidly transitions into the song’s more sugar sweet ideals.  

Album centerpiece “Avalanche” throws in the kitchen sink and everything else it can find into a sprawling piece that begins as just picturesque melodic singing and melancholic piano beauty.  Cellos, violin and a filled-out string section encompass a vast array of influences that unexpectedly sees the entire band joining in with smashing percussion (heavy on the crashing symbols), rubber burning guitar peel-outs, soul screaming blues guitar licks and quaking low-end grooves.  “Meant to Be” is mostly based upon Luke’s stunning lead vocals, his acoustic guitars and the return of an exotic string section, though it doesn’t forget to include a rock n’ roll finish for good measure.  The EP’s final cut and the band’s most recent single “Circles” mingles never-ending, kinetic tom-tom rolls, piano majesty and ringing melodic chords into a penultimate track that couldn’t have been a better closer; cementing Light-Footed Hours into a sweeping indie-rock release that pulls out all of the stops and succeeds at every single turn.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Man Called Noon - Everybody Move (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

It’s evident from the shucking and jiving pop n’ rocky fury of lead-in number “Everybody Move” that Man Called Noon is intent on getting limbs swinging and bodies bumping with their danceable acrobatics.  Anthony Giamichael’s post-punk guitar shimmers and scorching solos work up a good melodic sweat set to a thrilling tempo ride set by drummer Josh Fontenot and bassist Dave Aitken’s well-oiled swagger.  Citing soul and Americana influences these elements ebb to the surface of Man Called Noon’s style thanks to the call n’ response vocal dynamics of Giamichael’s leads and Erin Piortrowski’s lavish back-ups; together the team makes the verbal component of the band’s sound airtight uber-contagious.  There’s a breathy, slightly nasally vibrato to Anthony’s leads that sounds a little like Tom Petty, but he keeps subtly shifting his tonality for a very original feel. 

The second composition “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” might be the EP’s best overall piece but with the quality of material on offer here, well, that’s a tough call to make.  Still this tune charges forth on a careening drum performance that embellishes punk rock tempos but twists them towards new wave’s lockstep syncopation and fluid bass work.  The guitars hang back in this one and seem to add extra notes to help complete certain grooves, embracing a near minimalist approach to the playing which delegates synth-player Nathan Crone to a pivotal role that sees his swelling, sonically tough keyboards riffs placed right upfront in the track’s production mix.  Speaking of the production there’s a fine sheen to the total package yet a certain amount of rawness is present on each instrument; rendering Man Called Noon as a rambunctious act who can take a wiry rock song and sand it to a smooth pop masterpiece.  Again the harmony vocals shine as the instrumentation delves into a complexity one seldom hears when exploring this style of music.  These cats should be all over rock radio and hopefully they are. 

This superb EP crosses the finish line with “One Last Ride’s” raucous punk n’ soul shakedown; Piortrowski steps into a co-lead vocal position providing some wordless blues melodies that wrap around Giamichael’s hooks like man-eating pythons as a throttling rhythmic groove nails everything down tightly.  Upper echelon vocal trade-offs and some of the most striking guitar work on the recording (marked by another killer little solo run) yields this jam a rowdy aura that will make you really want to bounce off your bedroom walls.  The alchemical split between soul, rock, punk and electronic music isn’t performed quite like anybody else out there.  Man Called Noon is fiercely original when stacked against their closest competition. 

All three tracks on this EP hit the bullseye with abandon and attitude.  Though pop elements prevail and the songwriting is tailor made for dancing and bedroom mirror vocal performances, there’s a sonic slap in the snout to this music that makes it a bit more in your face than anybody else that does it. Man Called Noon is poised to release the best album of their career based on the strength of Everybody Move; keep an eye on them!