Les Paul - 1959 reissue

Les Paul - 1959 reissue

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Sky Orchid - Oculus (2017)

Written by Drew East, posted by blog admin

Kansas blood brothers Gabriel and Daniel Traknyak have spent years assembling their debut full-length, Oculus.  Though a few of the tunes were composed during the actual album sessions, others were cultivated over years and years of playing together with the groovy soul/funk/blues of “Breathe Easy” dating back the farthest at 7 years of age.  With only two men behind this project they still put out a ton of sound and make up for the lack of additional instrumentalists by knowing their musical abilities inside and out; applying them with the passion and prowess of seasoned industry pros. 

Some of the material is dark and dreamy, other times they indulge in genuinely uplifting fare and they even break it down acoustic whenever the situation calls for such tactics.  The pushing, pulling dirge of “The River” starts the record off and it’s overflowing with electronic-smattered beats, rolling tom drums and a haunting piano hymnal.  Gabriel’s guitar doesn’t enter the equation till the end with some electric riffing but his stellar melody vocals lift this piece to great heights.  “Sneakers” starts off much of the same way but catapults itself over the introspective buzz and hum with a midsection alive and riff with hard-edge guitar riffs, industrial rock’s machine-syncopated madness and a bombastic vocal performance that really cuts to the meat of the song’s matter.  “In the Fire (Part 1)” makes use of trembling, glimmering clean indie-rock guitars and rollicking drum pulsations for a tune that plays off much like “The River’s” lighter and brighter younger brother.  There’s enough variation to separate the two tracks from one another and this one really shines bright with its melodic and harmonic qualities with numerous counterpoints between the different instruments.  Stripping down to a smoky acoustic duskiness,

“Wildfire” harnesses shades of country, folk and blues for one of the most poignantly unique sounding jams heard on the entire record.  The brothers switch things up yet again with “I’ll Stop the World (Part II)” and its fuzzy, riff-dusted punk grooves and etherized gothic rock textures.  It’s a super catchy track that’s lively and worth a spirited sing-a-long or three.  “Lex” burns the atmosphere in a campfire of swirling, ember-lit guitar melodies, surreal keyboards and another striking vocal performance.  “Breathe Easy” and “Take It All” kick off the dust off some blues and quirky, grooved out rock and rhythm n’ blues that’s all soul, sweat and swagger.  “Yesterday” sends us back to a watery grave of reverbed and delayed-affected ruminations, while closer “Fortify” remains a modicum of the same bleak, ambience. 

Sky Orchid really has it going on throughout this record.  Oculus simmers with drippy textures, layered grooves and unpredictable structures.  The material on this album is varied and dynamic with many unique ideas firing off in every single direction.  Folks that are into the trippy post-rock of the 80s and experimental 90s groups, though they add many of their own ingredients to the brew that makes Sky Orchid a sonically unique proposition that all died in the wool music fans should easily enjoy!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Rhett Repko - Thnx For The Ride (2017)

Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin

Make no mistake, this isn’t a hard rock album. There’s some solid riffing scattered across the entirety of Rhett Repko’s Thnx For The Ride, but the title song and opening cut clarifies from the first that this isn’t closer to a take on classic rock fused with solid pop fundamentals and high octane energy. Repko’s intensely engaged voice pairs up well with lead guitarist Stefan Heuer’s occasional backing vocals and there’s a satisfying amount of post production gloss and effects further enhancing the tune. “Please Don’t Laugh” features a less stylized guitar sound from Heuer, vividly reflected in his lead guitar work, but the same wont for tempo and pacing experimentation remains strong with this performance. The vocals are even stronger than what we heard from the opening number and contrast nicely with the straight rock guitar attack. They slow things down to notable effect just after the song’s midway point and the dynamics of this number are even more dramatic than those we hear with the title song.

“It Ain’t Coming From You” is the EP’s highlight for me. This isn’t a put down of the six other fine tracks featured on Thnx For The Ride, but everything comes together here with just a dollop more of cohesiveness and velocity than the first two songs and you can hear Repko senses that as well. He lets a barnburner of a vocal fly all out here, but there’s always a tight grip on his style and it never feels out of control. “Maybe I’m Weak” embodies the sort of personal, yet accessible and relatable songwriting, that’s brought Repko a great deal of notice and it’s clear he’s refining his style more and more with each new composition and release. The exponential growth of a talented young musician and songwriter is a thing to behold and Rhett Repko is progressing like few others today.

“And I Told Her So” is nearly every bit the equal of “It Ain’t Coming From You” and the only area where the latter tune surpasses it is the lyrics, but that’s ultimately a matter of taste. Lead guitarist Stefan Heuer turns in an especially memorable performance, particularly his guitar solo, and it’s a joy to listen how these musicians respond to each other. There is a smattering of acoustic guitar heard on Thnx For The Ride, but it’s always in support of the electric and adds more muscle to the overall performance. “Learn Your Name”, the EP’s second to last track, is a churning, tightly arranged tune distinguished by a rhythm section working in fluid lockstep with each other and Repko’s exuberant vocal deserves mention as being among the EP’s best. The EP finishes up with the track “Make Me Right”. It’s quite a romp to end Thnx For The Ride and again shows Repko’s tendency to manipulate musical dynamics in a dramatically appealing way. Rhett Repko’s second release of 2017 is one of the best indie rock releases in recent memory and a big part of that comes from the overpowering likability of its material.

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.