Les Paul - 1959 reissue

Les Paul - 1959 reissue

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Slow Burning Car - Defection (2017)

Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin

Defection, Slow Burning Car’s fourth album, is a ten song collection aggressively putting this Los Angeles band over as one of the more cutting edge rock/metal acts working today. The band’s four musicians are obviously extraordinarily talent and play without any obvious ego trips, but they are clearly talented songwriters as well who thread influences into their work that further enhance their penchant for the personal and physical. These are songs capable of engaging listeners mentally and, naturally, physically. The muscular movement of the band’s music conforms to certain expectations we have about this style, but they prove themselves equally effective at twisting arrangements in unexpected directions and bringing the listeners with them. This is an album that cannot be denied and Slow Burning Car is definitely intent on winning over new fans to their work so, despite its idiosyncratic air, the songs never fails to strike an accessible note.

Much of Slow Burning Car’s accomplishment with this release rests with their ability to mix up their musical approach, yet retain compelling coherence. Defection’s first half is largely devoted to big, brawling guitars. It begins with thenotic riffing behind “Alpha Duplicor” colored with just a hint of electronic flair to give the song a distinctive modern bite. The band’s guitar sound is current, but their sense of what constitutes a good riff is very much a throw back to older acts and the mix suits their aims quite well. “Soul Crimes” unleashes the band’s aggression in a more pronounced way as the uptempo charge of the song comes at listeners without compromise. There’s a genuine punk spirit you can discern along the edges of their musical attack, but the musicianship remains at a high level throughout. Bassist and lead singer Troy Spiropoulos excels with his vocal every bit as much with a barnstormer like this as he did on the more moderately paced opener. The unusual tempo and herky-jerky movements of “The Orb” allows Spiropoulos’ bass playing a chance to step into the spotlight and he also serves up a simmering, yet understated, vocal that dovetails well with the song’s subject.

“The Sunday Derby” is another idiosyncratic band achievement and another rhythm section centered tune. There’s some particularly jagged electric guitar inserted into the song’s mid way point and second half, but six string heroics aren’t what powers this song musically. It shifts through different textures, as well, to supremely compelling effect. “You Can’t Stay Here” dispenses with any frills and gives listeners probably the closest thing to an all out rocker on the album and definitely taps into a rambunctious punk rock spirit. The album takes on a much different tone and even an experimental edge the rest of the way – it’s largely devoted to acoustic sounds that never follow a predictable path with the exception of the album’s penultimate number, “Polar Warden”, an eight minute plus near ambient workout heavy on electronica and sans vocals. It’s a bold risk to take so late in the release, but Slow Burning Car gamble and it pays off quite handsomely. The finale “Clouds” is best considered more of a coda – after the explorations of “Polar Warden”, casting it in any other mold feels anti-climatic. It’s a graceful close to the album however that underlines many of the band’s strengths. Defection easily qualifies as one of 2017’s most interesting, varied releases in this vein.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Thomas Abban - A Sheik's Legacy (2017)

Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin

Thomas Abban and his maniacal debut A Sheik’s Legacy is the kind of album that you know if going to be great from the very track.  This multi-instrumental prodigy (aged only 21) pulls out all of the stops on opener “Death Song,” wandering through dreamy ballad waters of acoustic guitar, psychedelic keyboard signals and mixed percussion sounding like tabla mixed with a standard kit before smashing into crazed vocal histrionics and throbbing, deadly precise guitar surgery.  The motifs are many and none of them paint a clear picture as to where Abban draws his influence; according to the scant information online given by the artist himself, he’s very much a classical music fan and it’s without a doubt there is a sense of arrangement to this song and the rest of the album that transcends basic “jamming.” 

The hard-hitting passion of Abban’s vocals and the overwhelmingly expressive of his crazed ear for time-signatures lend “Symmetry & Black Tar” an unrelenting barrage of emotional earworms.  Galloping, full-throttle drums are heavy on the tom/kick patterns as the guitar work runs country music through flamenco mysticism and even an esoteric Celtic pulse that one might find on a prime Pogues’ record.  Thomas’ voice embraces wind-whipped falsetto and grainier blues hues as Abban rips out maniacal guitar tapestries that break stylistic barriers with a sledgehammer.  Those tempos get more harried, frantic and angular as the song races towards a monolithic climax that proves to be a pitch perfect set-up for the bulldozing, Clapton-esque riffing (circa Cream and Blind Faith) of “Fear.”  “Fear” is riff after riff piled high atop of a molasses-y rhythm that slowly uncoils its python-like death grip into a lightning fang strike of increasingly complex drum/bass progression.  Again, Abban who sequenced the album himself places the most appropriate track in succession, this time manifesting in the form of “Aladdin.”  The groove is a touch looser not QUITE as heavy as “Fear” but it’s not far removed either.  His chord choices and phrasings, powerhouse riffs and slamming rhythms still will nevertheless knock the paintings off your wall and shake a few molars from your gumline.  If you find it odd that Abban is the only musician I reference, don’t be surprised when you pick up the album and find out that he played every instrument but two on the entire record.  Even crazier, he wrote, sang on, produced, mixed and arranged every single bit of the album himself.  The magnitude of such a feat, so early in a musician’s career is nothing short of mind-blowing. 

A smoldering, slow-burn blitz seethes through “Time to Think” and its lonely, desolate acoustic guitars, whistling melodies, blaring organs, guest musician played flutes and fuzzy electrified riffs deliberately stack the song up to the sky, bit by glorious bit.  “Horizons” is a less intense, subtler take on his ambitious track layering; this time piano and a wall of acoustic guitars providing a softer yet no less commanding fortress of audio might.  Abban’s songwriting literally overtakes the mind, usurps the eardrums and engages the palette, no matter what manner in which Thomas presents a song.  Be it the castle conquering, riff-y black magic of “Uh” and its snubnosed groove, the pop sensibilities of “Sinner” and “Irene,” “Don’t You Stay the Same’s” well-travelled Dylan licks or “Echo’s” long climb from an acoustic well to high-temple, 70s-soaked progressive rock… Abban leaves no stone unturned on A Sheik’s Legacy.  He takes everything wonderful about the 60s/70s and then applies his own 2017 spin on the material which sounds like nobody else playing rock n’ roll in the current musical climate; a highly recommended album from an artist we should keep an eagle eye on.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Cyborg Asylum - Never Finished, Only Abandoned (2017)

Written by Daniel Boyer, posted blog admin

The New York City headquartered duo of David Varga and John Tumminia, collectively known as Cyborg Asylum, are brandishing their own style of post-industrial electro fueled alternative rock with their first recording Never Finished, Only Abandoned. The dozen songs included with this new release crackle with creativity unlike we’ve heard from similarly themed acts and has an idiosyncratic slant thanks to the musical and life experiences they bring to the composition of the album’s material. Varga, an Emmy award winning contributor whose musical scores have adorned film and television alike, brings an artistic point of view deftly balanced with a level of accessibility that enhances the impact of the arrangements while Tumminia’s vocal and lyrical talents give the songwriting an added depth of character it might not otherwise possess. Despite the fact that the writing of the album, soliciting guitar work from Varga’s UK based cousin Phil Jones, is conducted via filesharing before the participants ever occupy the same room at once, the songs on Never Finished, Only Abandoned sound seamless and listeners will be hard pressed to find any hiccups in their execution.

“Blitz” opens the album with an evocative instrumental and the album’s first song with vocals and lyrics, “Synergy”, also announce the presence of guitar on the album. Jones lays down some biting six string work here veering from dramatic string bends over to sharp powerhouse riffing that helps elevate this track to unforgettable levels. There’s a relatively rare excursion into more commercially viable territory with the melodic track “My Metallic Dream” and the duo mixes those qualities quite well with their electro/industrial punch. Tumminia’s vocal is one of his best on Never Finished, Only Abandoned. “Weightless” isn’t quite as commercial, but it doesn’t completely forsake accessibility and the marriage of Tumminia’s vocals and lyrics with some particularly understated yet effective Phil Jones guitar playing makes this one of the more memorable musical moments on the release. It’s certainly among the most realized.

“Angle of Incidence” is another instrumental track, shorter than most, but no less eventful. Varga proves time and again on this album that the size of his musical canvas, or lack thereof, is no impediment to him creating an artful moment and this song arguably embodies that better than any other despite being strictly an instrumental. There’s guitar and synths carrying the melody on another instrumental track “Ion” and the performance essentially see saws between those inviting passages and much darker interludes when the electronic music strikes a distinctly darker note. The album’s final cut “Paradigm Shift” continues exploring the lyrical and musical themes we’ve heard throughout the release but Cyborg Asylum ups the ante by making their musical attack harder and more uptempo than ever before. It’s a hard hitting and well paced ending to the album and should impress listeners thanks to its energy level, if nothing else. Cyborg Asylum has concocted a masterful debut with Never Finished, Only Abandoned.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Nick Black - Summer + Spring (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

There’s scant or no power chords to be found on Nick Black’s Summer & Spring, it isn’t his style, but there’s plenty of guitar driven fireworks spread out over the album’s thirteen songs. One gets the feeling that there’s likely nothing Nick Black couldn’t play if he applied himself to doing so, but the spectrum of styles covered on his third full length album cover the areas of R&B, funk, soul, and a little bit of blues. He’s equally at home on the acoustic guitar as he is the electric and his vocal skills are the icing on the cake – history is littered with the atonal output of expert axe slingers whose singing talents never quite measured up. With Black, they’re part of an overall outstanding package. It’s all wrapped up in classy, first rate production that treats every part of the song as essential and renders the instrumental work with bell-like clarity. The songwriting driving his first two albums was remarkable, but he’s certainly stepped up his game with this release and the inclusion of some comedic elements indicates a performer of growing confidence rather than someone merely angling for attention.

One of the album’s first two singles, “Joy to the Girl”, begins things on a wry and slightly funky note. It’s an infectious, celebratory number that makes great use of the uptempo churning of its verses. This is a song that’s light on its feet and has a bright spirit embodied by the tightly coiled rhythms and crisp dispatch from every instrument. The album’s second single and title track “Summer & Spring” is a much more sedate number by comparison, but its stylishness never undercuts the heart and soul Black so obviously pours into its performance. “Nick at Night” is a rollicking romp with jazzy inclinations that we seldom hear on Summer + Spring, but when those traits come out, they capture your attention. His guitar work has a rugged quality on the song that it doesn’t typically sport, but it also pushes through the song with the same bounce we hear from the horns and rhythm section alike.

“Change” is more like a light rock track with horns brought in as an added musical measure. The steady 4/4 beat never wavers and avoids unduly spicing things up with any sort of ostentatious fills or self-indulgent notes. The same lean, muscular focus defining so much of the release continues with this song, clocking in at just a hair over three and a half minutes, but the relative brevity of these songs doesn’t indicate a paucity of ideas. Instead, Black and his musical cohorts come off as a musical unit that knows exactly what they want to say each time out. He continues flirting with light AOR rock on the song “Neighbor” and it’s the drumming that, once again, gives this a four on the floor quality impossible to deny. It’s the first song to exhibit his talents as an acoustic player, but soon cedes ground to a musical arrangement more common for Black. He turns up the funk heat with his song “When the Morning Comes” and it dials in to a bite missing from most of Summer & Spring’s songs without ever sound radically different from the surrounding material. “The River” closes Summer & Spring with a bluesy acoustic track that varies from the bulk of the material, like the aforementioned tune’s sound, without ever standing out as some sort of oddity. It proves to be a fine ending to one of the year’s most rewarding releases from any genre.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Black Note Graffiti - Volume II: Without Nothing I'm You

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

This is a little bit harder of a review to write than most. You aren’t likely to hear the songs on Black Note Graffiti’s second studio release, Volume 2: Without Nothing I’m You, performed like this ever again. The reason is that, after recording this album, the Ann Arbor, Michigan based four piece added Gabrielle Bryant on vocals. The songs, undoubtedly, will continue to be incorporated into the band’s live set, but they will take on a distinctly new quality with Bryant’s presence on vocals and the chemistry she finds with long-standing singer and second guitarist Ricardo Ortiz. It’s a pivotal time for this band. The eleven songs included on Volume 2 are the band’s strongest yet and it is clear that Black Note Graffiti are a band well on their way towards realizing their potential and, undoubtedly, drafting a female voice to join the band as a singer will transform and, likely, further elevate their art.

They may bring intelligence to hard rock/metal and alternative rock guitar workouts, but they bring the firepower and thunder as well. “No Love Lost” is, indeed, shorn of all sentimentality and is one of a few songs on Volume 2 where the guitars and rhythm section whip up a hard-edged swagger any rock band with ears would covet. “Such is Art” is a little more finessed than the first song, particularly in regards to its lyrics, and singer Ortiz impressively tailors his voice to the song’s demands. Drummer Kurt Keller and bassist Adam Nine often figure as the band’s less than secret weapon with the assertive performances they serve up that, thanks to their good sense and production alike, understand their place in the band’s mix. They also provide all important bedrock ballast for the album’s songs which allow Ortiz to stretch as a singer while the playing can take any direction it likes knowing the two can ably hold down the bottom end.

“Castles” harnesses thumping hard rock drums into a jagged guitar-driven alt rock body and gradually wins the audience over despite being a slow-starter. The guitar sound, warm yet unforgiving, redeems the deliberate tempo and Ortiz hits listeners hard with a desperately emotive vocal. The song “Bars from the Cages” dispenses, for the most part, with any glimmers of hard rock posturing in favor of a more atmospheric and moodier guitar focused arrangement. The vocal emphasizes a more theatrical side of their presentation as well. “Shadows” continues the move away from outright metal and hard rock towards guitar heavy riff music that’s coupled with astonishing variations of texture. The movement of this song from a highly artful introduction into its explosive guitar and rhythm section pyrotechnics is one of the album’s indisputable high points. The strongest part of Volume II continues with the album’s moodiest number, by far, “Why We Trust” and the seeming portentousness of the song title isn’t reflected at all in this intelligently written piece. It grapples with big themes and questions in a decidedly talented way. The dark dance between bass and guitar opening “Relapse” is the ideal sonic preamble for the song as a whole and ranks among the album’s best songs. Volume 2: Without Nothing I’m You may already be consigned to be a bit of a curiosity in the band’s discography, but there’s no question the songs have a tremendous amount of life in them. Black Note Graffiti are a band with their eye on the future and looking to grow in any positive way.