Razika – Program 91 album review

Four nineteen year-old Norwegian girls make up Razika, a ska heavy indie-pop band who work together as tightly as sisters.  And well they should.  Lead singer Marie Andam, Maria Rakal, Marie Moe and drummer Embla Dahleng have known one another since the age of six, and have been playing together since they were fourteen.

Named for New Wave Norwegian band Program 81, Razika’s debut album, Program 91, is full of jangly, high-gain retro guitar and concise melodic transitions.  The album is roughly half in English and half in Norwegian.  Primary songwriter Andam doesn’t utterly surprise with her English lyrics, though she does have some interesting angles.  On first track “Youth” Andam sings, “let me share my youth with you tonight…” revealing they are aware of the power of their wee age.  They have a practically alchemical combination of burgeoning sexuality, waning innocence, and above all an ear for the musical zeitgeist.  Comparisons have been drawn between Razika and Best Coast, Vivian Girls, and Tennis.

The album’s cohesion is no coincidence.   Because they were attending school while it was recorded, Program 91 took a year of weekends to complete.  Those musicians out there who have saved up their coffers for a marathon recording session would probably agree– maintaining focus for an entire year on a single project  is a daunting prospect.  However, Razika obviously had a great deal of time to refine their songs, and their youthful zeal no doubt helped.

Although the English lyrics are average, what really drew me in were the songs sung in Norwegian.  Norwegian indie isn’t something I hear everyday, and I was delighted by the taut intonation on songs like “Vondt I hjerjet” and “Eg vetsje.”  There is also a tasteful retro vibe going on, especially on “Why Have We To Wait,” a cover of a song by fellow Norwegians, 1960s band The Pussycats.

Although I don’t have the proper characters as I type this, a few translations of the song titles are New on New for “Nyt Pa Nytt,”  Middle Ages for “Middlealder” and Never for “Aldri.”  Razika is currently signed on the Smalltown Supersound label.

Mister Heavenly – Out of Love review

If Voltron wore black rimmed glasses, rocked skinny jeans, and had a crushing sense of inherent fallibility, then you might as well call him Mister Heavenly.  The group is forged from indie royalty, featuring the union of Nick Thorburn (Islands, The Unicorns), Ryan Kattner/Honus Honus (Man Man), and Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse, The Shins).  And as if that wasn’t enough star power, last summer they toured with Micheal Cera playing bass.  But enough with the preamble, what about the actual album?

As is the case for most supergroups or side projects, the new entity attempts to go in a somewhat different direction from what they do in their day jobs perhaps keying on one element of the sound the mother group makes but can’t or won’t pursue themselves (see The Postal Service).  Mister Heavenly takes this phenomenon a step further by creating a whole new genre instead.  What the group calls “doom wop” amounts to the unexpected synthesis of 50’s-era  R&B and modern indie and punk rock.  It`s a little bit of Tom Waits, a little My Chemical Romance, a dash of The Airborne Toxic Event, and the Platters.  Oh, and this whole crazy collaboration is going down on halloween and there’s a full moon…and the backup harmonic singers have been replaced with skeletons.  If there were a hipster bar in Tim Burton’s Halloween Town from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mister Heavenly would be the house band.

This unanticipated fusion found in the sonic element of the album extends into the lyrics as well.  The eponymous track “Mister Heavenly”, which amounts to a theme song, contains the line “I won’t ever desert you” but then carries on to claim “I’m not Mister Heavenly”.  “Your Girl” might be a take on the classic “My Girl”  by The Temptations.  Even “Pineapple Girl” puts a twist on a normally wholesome narrative, depicting the true story of a ten year old Michigan girl and her pen pal, former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega (this actually happened, Google Sarah York).  As well, the album title itself is a double entendre as the band’s bio on their label Sub Pop’s website explains,  “Out of Love, is both a nod to passion as a motivator (“I did it out of love”) and also the absence or dissolution of same (“She fell out of love with me”): two seminal lyrical themes in the annals of pop music.”

The first track “Bronx Sniper” could really be on a lot of other albums, only hinting at the onslaught of “doom wop” to come.  But by the time the next two tracks “I am a Hologram” and “Charlyne” are done any attuned listener will realize something different is going on here.  This is followed by the aforementioned “Mister Heavenly” and the album is off and running.  The “doom wop” vibe is perfectly captured in “Hold my Hand”, “Diddy Eyes” and “Your Girl” before the closing track “Wise Men” brings us back somewhere closer to reality.

There aren’t, admittedly, a lot of takeaway tracks from Out of Love.  But rather than giving us a few singles to remember, they’ve given us a whole new style to ponder.  This album was an absolute treat (especially after reviewing Mat Kearney last week).  It is engaging both musically and thematically without ever overwhelming the listener as a lot of today’s progressive acts tend to do.  Don’t be so hard on yourselves gentlemen, you might be Mister Heavenly after all.

Pepper Rabbit – Red Velvet Snow Ball review

A pair of twenty-somethings that look like they would be more at home playing video games present their sophomore release, Red Velvet Snow Ball, named for a traditional southern comfort food-flavored snow cone.

Beautifully produced, it’s ten tracks of full of drifty, haunting melodies that make use of a variety of loops and instruments, although no one style really stands out. Xander Singh, lead and most instruments, and Luc Laurent on percussion meander their way through soft psychodelia-imbued synths, breathy mixes and surprisingly mature vocals. No off-key whining here, the lyrics are evocative and tantalizingly complex, especially the closing track “Tiny Fingers”.  There’s never an edge to the songs, though “Murder Room” starts off promisingly and the absence of an anchoring melody turns from pleasant anticipation to exasperation by the time “In Search of Simon Birch”, the seventh offering, rolls around. All of the songs are about the same length as well, adding to the overall feeling of, well, beige.

The duo promotes themselves more experimental than New Age, but this release doesn’t support that. I’m all for artists exploring their craft and reaching beyond boundaries but musically, there was not much distinction between the tracks. There is so much potential in an artist, or studio engineer for that matter, who is capable of really using all the instruments and techniques they bring to the table that it’s almost a shame nowadays to ‘only’ layer some tracks. I found this album to be an awkward cross between wanna-be electronica and old-fashioned fuze-pop, without a definitive nod in the direction of either.

Pepper Rabbit is touring to promote the album, including a swing through most Canadian provinces. Not sure what their fan base is up there, but I suspect a little more ‘pepper’ would be welcomed.

William Elliott Whitmore – Field Songs review

I have a confession.

I always wanted to review THE folk album. A few came and went, wisps of sweet vanilla in the air. Few ever passed my tried and true test of what I call the ‘foot tap’.

The idea with the ‘foot-tap’ is, take any song on the album and without paying much heed to your body, check to see if you are tapping your foot or swaying from side to side. If by any chance you are eyeing that lighter on the table next to you, with eyes full of lust and ideas of fire in the sky, then you my friend have got yourself THE album of the summer.

Keep all that in mind as I tell you about William Elliott Whitmore’s  Field Songs.

Field Songs is that moment when your ice cream melts and it starts to run down your hands, but you are quick and lap it up before it finds the ground. It is sweet satisfaction.

I don’t often find myself saying this, but I am a convert to the Whitmore gang. Think banjos and mandolins with earthy acoustic guitar riffs and deep drums reverberating through-out. Then add a voice that penetrates all the acoustics with lyrics that twist your gut and push your body a little bit to this and that side.

The album is a collection of songs about rural life. But it is more than just tales of lifting bales of rye, there is satisfaction in those lyrics, and more importantly there is meaning. The album is a story, and like all good stories there is sorrow, a sadness at the vanishing culture and deep roots of rural life.

You hear the growls of Whitmore’s voice as he straddles blues, folk, and personal ties to Mississippi and bluegrass, and you can’t help but be a convert to his music, his home-grown crowd winning sound.

The construction and sound manufacturing is true to the genre, and the lyrics true to what you might imagine a farmer feels when a month with no rain passes by. There-in lies the magic of the album, a story woven into fabric that envelops you in a history saturated with harness, work, and long hot days in fields of cotton and rye.

I have a confession…

I’ve fallen hard for this album, much too fast.

Her Space Holiday – Her Space Holiday review

I always appreciate a proper introduction to an album, one that somehow grasps the feeling of what you are about to experience while emanating mystery and excitement. “Massive Expressive Enter” is a beautiful gatekeeper into this nine tracked moniker recording of the multi talented Mark Bianchi.

Bianchi is one of the few “indie electronic” artists out there, a genre I have come to fully appreciate after I figured out what the hell it is. Listeners are then exposed to “Lydia” which features subtle and sexy male and female harmonious whispers that surf along the electromagnetic beats. Her Space Holiday’s relationship with electronica is mathematical, well timed and pre-meditated which concludes in a clean and fresh outcome.

His relationship with Indie (which I realize is an ambiguous title for music styling, so let’s call it folk rock in this case) is dreamy and ethereal. The duration of the album consists of heartfelt, energetic and relaxing tunes which make you dance slowly while thinking which is entirely refreshing in contrast the most others that make up the world of overly MDMA infused electronic music.

A Particularly interesting piece is “The Ringing In My Ears,” in it’s softness, and “Hassle Free Harmony” in it’s instrumental diversity. “Perfect on Paper” is the most honest portrayal of admittance around tormented love I have heard since Wilco’s “Radio Cure.”

The use of violins are featured throughout the album which always give me the chills, as does Bianchi’s patient voice. Lyrically the album is symbolic and contains a perfect mix of introspection and melancholy. In respect to the beginning of the album, Her Space Holiday (which by the way, is a perfect title for this musical endeavor) is concluded with an outro titled “Manic Expressive Exit” which is so humble, it actually thanks the listeners and after spending time with this gem you will want to thank it several times over. Enjoy your journey into space; don’t forget a good pair of headphones.

Boy and Bear – Moonfire album review

I believe the disconnect between the individual and the family isn’t just an American phenomenon, and perhaps mistakenly found some evidence of that in the new album Moonfire by Australian quintet Boy and Bear.  The nomadic lifestyle the millennial generation has been forced into will probably be OK for a few years, say their twenties and early thirties, but eventually all that rooting around for the next buck is going to take a toll.   The best song I could find on the record, closing track “Big Man,” made me think about this, especially the lyrics, “somebody told me that your nephew was born…in a wonderful way it was making me feel so small.”  “Big Man,” is basically a love song about the importance of family, and for all I know it’s genesis came from one of the band member’s wife and kids.  Still, I imagine if you’re on tour for a few months, and on your travels you meet a kid whose ego is bigger than yours, it could put things in perspective, make you think about the future, and whether you have one.   Moonfire’s Paul Simon influenced song “The Village” may have similar underpinnings.

Originating from Sydney, Australia in 2009, Boy and Bear has had a skyward trajectory, with Australia-wide airplay on NovaFM and Triple J.  In 2010 they toured the UK with Laura Marling, and released their debut EP “With Emperor Antarctica.” Their song “Mexican Mavis” was even featured on an episode of “90210.”

Moonfire has some good points, including a well constructed sound manufactured by producer Joe Chicarelli (The White Stripes, The Strokes).  They use the banjo to good effect, and some mandolin. Comparisons have been drawn between them and The Killers and Mavis Mumford.

Thematically, Moonfire is rather disjointed, but the lyrics are often inspired.  They also use some inventive orchestration, which will hopefully increase as they mature.  The delicate Asian ambience on “House and Farm” and the stretched thinness of the vocals on “Percy Warner Park” are high points.

All five members are singer/songwriters, and if they can break loose of the pressure to fit into the indie-folk mold, there’s no telling how far they can go.

ICS Vortex – Storm Seeker album review

I’m not one to always voluntarily listen to prog rock of any sort. Progressive metal is sometimes a different story, as I’m a big fan of Between the Buried and Me – but you’ll never find me listening to a Rush album unless it somehow comes up on shuffle in my music library. Regardless, I’m open to anything – and I don’t mind listening to a black metal vocalist/bassist’s attempt at making a solo album. Surprisingly enough, ICS Vortex, formerly of Dimmu Borgir, has put out a solid effort with “Storm Seeker.”

You might think that this album is going to be more metal than progressive upon listening to the first track and single, “The Blackmobile,” which punches you in the face (in a good a way) with some hard hitting guitars upon pressing play. Along with these guitars comes Vortex’s vocals, which are great at first, but may start to annoy you with their high-pitched tones. Unfortunately, the track never simmers down to give way to what the rest of the album will sound like, and that’s what disappoints me. It’s an oddball of a song if it’s anywhere else in the album. “Skoal!” starts to transition Vortex’s album into what the album is really about, while still lending a bit of metal sound.

While most of his lyrics are about eternal doom and all that good-happy-fun-stuff, Vortex delivers “Aces,” a song about gambling when the “stakes are high.” Still having that metal touch (it’s got a breakdown halfway through), but sounding as proggy as ever, it’s weird how a black metal artist can sing about betting games. Following that comes “Windward,” which could easily be a love ballad with Vortex’s lyrics, but intersperses guitar solos throughout to assure you he’s not getting too sappy. The title track itself is a great standout – just listen to “Storm Seeker” if you get the chance. It’s probably the most progressive song on the record and it’s about sailing out to sea. Weird, but it works.

Some things just don’t work on this album. I haven’t heard a vocoder in progressive rock before, and I do not think that “Oil in Water” should be an example for what black metal artists should go off and do. The song is just too much of an oddball to be considered anywhere near good. Also, why the hell is there a synth-filled instrumental outro track? C’mon now…

ICS Vortex’s experiment with his lighter side seems to have worked, albeit not a masterpiece, and probably not as good as his typical black metal. Nonetheless, it’s worth a listen, and the dude deserves some recognition for being brave enough to step outside his comfort zone.

Chimaira – The Age of Hell review

Chimaira’s the Age of Hell is a groove metal album with a bit of grunge and some thrash influence. In other words, the Age of Hell is accessible and angry. It has some heavy bass lines and growling vocals. It sounds like a sped up Nirvana with worse lyrics.

There’s plenty of distortion that smacks of autotune. But, The Age of Hell is a catchy album. It probably goes over well with fans of Slayer and other bands that create mainstream metal that isn’t really metal at all, but designed to be accessible. The album panders to listeners’ anger and vague frustration. So much mainstream thrash and groove metal caters to the kind of free-floating anger present in teenagers, the broke, and the Juggalo.

The Age of Hell is the perfect album for those unidentified feelings of frustration and disenfranchisement that mainstream metal listeners and grunge enthusiasts can’t quite place. The lyrics are standard fare: “Rage… stronger make stop us nowstrike … concur make stop us now…broken…” It isn’t clear exactly what Chimaira means, but it is plain that they’re angry. This works because any disenfranchised listener with little appreciation of music can get into the songs and identify with the lyrics.

Various metal and grunge bands have approximated this style, including Slayer, Megadeath, and several 90s grunge bands. So, it’s no surprise that Chimaira’s The Age of Hell would sound like those genres. Chimaira knows their audience and they have a shtick. If one can numb oneself to the auditory assault and pointless lyrics it is almost possible to lose oneself in Chimaira’s hissy fit.

“What kind of gun is this? We were so powerless” sounds a lot like “well, I smell and I don’t have a gun.” The main difference between Chimaira and Nirvana, who wrote the latter lyric, is that Nirvana understood the power of understatement and simple drum lines. Chimaira is overblown and zealous. For some, this makes listening all the more powerful.

If you aren’t especially angry and have some appreciation of music than it might be harder to let The Age of Hell highjack the senses. Still, this type of music works for plenty of people. The Age of Hell could start a mosh pit at the drop of a hat.

Robert Ellis Announces Tour Dates With Jamey Johnson, Jonny Corndawg & George Jones New Album Photographs

Robert Ellis Announces Tour Dates With Jamey Johnson, Jonny Corndawg & George Jones New Album Photographs

Listen to and Embed Robert Ellis’ “What’s In It For Me”

Robert Ellis, who just played the last several nights with Dawes, announced a new run of dates, including shows Jamey Johnson, Jonny Corndawg and the young artist’s hero, George Jones. Robert and his band, who according to the Houston Chronicle have “…built a concrete reputation for impeccable live performances,” have also been confirmed to perform on the Next Big Nashville Presents Soundland festival with Jason Isbell and Justin Townes Earle. (Full list of dates below)

Photographs, Robert’s New West Records debut album which received 4 star reviews in both Mojo and Uncut, is garnering key radio support from KGSR and KUT in Austin, WNCW in Asheville/Charlotte, WNRN in Charlottesville, WFPK in Louisville, KRCL in Salt Lake City, WNKU in Cincinnati, KHYI in Dallas and WSM in Nashville. The Houston native is also gaining critical acclaim from the press, as Spin Magazine says “… the amiable singer projects a Zen sense of calm, part Gram Parsons and part John Darnielle, whether he’s singing about growing old or getting even. He’s only 22, but sounds well acquainted with both” while the New York Times (TX ed) describes him as “Equally inspired by Jackson Browne and George Jones” and Aquarium Drunkard says “…it’s easy to forget there are true heirs to the old masters writing, recording and performing in the here and now of 2011. Robert Ellis is one such artist.”

Photographs, which according to Mojo Magazine contains “Beautifully simple songs that will strike a chord from Tennessee to Trondheim,” is an impressive and diverse concept album, split in two sides with vinyl in mind. Robert explains “The A-side represents a more folksy, dark side of the music while the B-side is a full band country sound. While the songwriting is all very personal, the arrangement and distinct style difference is meant to reference and pay homage to all of the great artists who have influenced me.” My Old Kentucky Blog picks up on Robert’s sentiment stating that “Photographs is a must have for fans of vintage country…”

Robert Ellis Tour Dates

Thu-Aug-25 – Winnie, TX – Nutty Jerrys w/ Jamey Johnson
Thu-Sep-15 – Hot Springs, AR – Maxine’s
Fri-Sept-16 – Fayetteville, AR – George’s Majestic w/ David Nail
Fri-Sep-23 – Nashville, TN – Next Big Nashville Presents Soundland w/
Justin Townes Earle, Jason Ibell & the 400 Unit
Sat-Sep-24 – Birmingham, AL -Bottletree w/ Jonny Corndawg
Sun-Sep-25 – Waverly, AL – Standard Deluxe w/ Jonny Corndawg
Mon-Sep-26 – Mobile, AL – Callaghan’s Irish Social w/ Jonny Corndawg
Wed-Sep-28 – New Orleans, LA – Hi Ho Lounge w/ Jonny Corndawg
Thu-Sep-29 – Baton Rouge, LA – Manship Theatre w/ Jonny Corndawg
Fri-Sep-30 – Fort Worth, TX – Lola’s w/ Jonny Corndawg
Thurs-Oct-6 – Austin, TX – ACL-Live
Fri-Oct-07 -Winnie, TX – Nutty Jerrys w/ George Jones
Sat-Oct-29 – Houston, TX – Ziegenbock Festival

*additional dates will be added.

Photographs Track listing
1. Friends Like Those
2. Bamboo
3. Cemetery
4. Two Cans Of Paint
5. Westbound Train
6. Comin’ Home
7. What’s In It For Me?
8. I’ll Never Give Up On You
9. No Fun
10. Photographs

Dom – Family of Love EP review

Hailing from Worchester Massachusetts comes Dom, with a story to tell. At first glance the trio aren’t strikingly ruthless, but take a closer look…

Let’s start at the beginning, breaking onto the scene with their 2010 Sun Bronzed Greek Gods debut EP – Dom graced the public with their anguish coated manifestos “Burn Bridges” and “Living in America” – declaring “it’s so sexy to be living in America!” Some may call it a rags to riches tale, but nonetheless it’s something to boast about. What I’m talking about here is the smart aleck group, Dom, that attained the prized spot atop indie pop’s junk pile through the most improbable means – gloating bizarre anthems by means of do it yourself of the most substandard kind.

And there’s more: Comprising of a front man too intimidated to divulge his last name to the public and part of a record label that comprises the likes of Kylie Minogue. Nonetheless, Dom’s charm rests in the gems of their stupefied, stoned, wistful summer synth pop tracks.

Although, their Family of Love EP follows the same formula, it is undeniably more refined than their previous recordings. Dom and company undeniably know their vocation and therefore have flourished to make it their goal to pander to it without breaking a sweat. Through all the hazy sunny dream anthems lie flashy influences from David Bowie to Mariah Carey, ultimately attempting to amalgamate ‘teenie bop with space rock.’

In keeping with the other host on their label, Minogue, Family of Love spits out ‘80’s insipid, corny pop. The EP consists of the inane, “Telephoned”, title track featuring a telephone keypad dialing solo and the superbly ambitious “Damn” is filled with an ocean of surf-grunge guitar riffs. The vivacious guitars on “Damn” showcase Dom’s vigor as their space rock side becomes apparent. The second to last anthem, “Happy Birthday” conjures up the synth pop of their past catalog, and is filled with a fun and unquestionable catchy synth riff, which roughly compensates for the absent lyrical value. The album comes to an end with the soothing, bar-piano gambol, “Some Boys”, in which Dom introduce the female vocals of ‘Emma’ giving off a Best Coast vibe to Family of Love.

It is impressive that with an EP of such brevity Dom are able to hone every single track. All this to say that maybe it wasn’t the best choice to record this cunning five-track, Family of Love EP in a real studio produced by Nicolas Vernhes… The charm of Dom lies in the unpolished psychedelic synth tracks, which the identifying Dom furtively or drunkenly sink into your head, and not when they creep in all bona fide and lacquered.