Flatfoot 56 – Toil album review

I’ve only had the occasional run in with the Celtic punk genre: a Motorhead show featuring the Dropkick Murphy’s as the opener, an acquaintance with a heavy Flogging Molly habit, etc.  So I’m not exactly sure of its history beyond the vague impression that The Pogues were involved.  Even though it’s not completely my thing you’d have to be nuts not to instantly realize that, for whatever reason, Celtic music and punk work incredibly well together.

Flatfoot 56, out of Chicago, stretch their influences a little beyond the standard bagpipecore by incorporating mandolins and the occasional acoustic guitar playing more American, bluegrass type runs.  Given Appalachian music’s deep roots in the scotch-irish tradition this isn’t an exceedingly crazy stretch.  But it works and it gives songs like “Strong Man” and “I Believe It” an identifiably American grounding.

This doesn’t mean that they are missing any of the muscle.  From the opener “Brother, Brother” the main thrust of the album is uncompromising street punk with only the occasional folk excursion.  Mostly, I imagine, to let those in the pit rest for a moment.

So strong is their commitment to keeping it loud that they manage to shoehorn it into the most unlikely of spots in two songs at the end of the album.  Second to last is “Winter inChicago”.  A lesser band would have turned this into a Springsteen/Bob Seger classic rock ripoff.  Not these fine men.  A jaunty piano riff pretty quickly gives way to power chords from an amp that has had the “Gain” knob glued to 11.  The piano player tries to plink along with some sort of comparable aggression.  He of course fails.  Finally, the album closer is bluegrass spiritual “I’ll Fly Away”.  They let the mandolin work for about 45 seconds before reminding you that this is a punk album and it’s time to get stompin’.

This album ain’t genius. However, if you’re the type who likes to make some bad life decisions involving too much beer and some friends with neck tattoos then you could do a lot worse.  You even get a bit of redemption at the end.

The Crookes – Hold Fast album review

Pleasant riffs and decent pop sensibilities are the defining traits of Hold Fast, the sophomore release from The Crookes, but if it is musical depth you are looking for, this probably isn’t the album for you.

The sound of The Crookes is not one that offends by any means, one that comes off as a blend between Buddy Holly and Elvis Costello. Unfortunately, they don’t quite have the freshness of Holly and lack the musical craftsmanship of Costello. Opening the album is a track called Maybe in the Dark and there is hint of promise here. An engaging riff and the sound of a band that enjoys what they are doing. Unfortunately, this same energy starts to immediately die down by the time we hit the second track, Afterglow. What we are left with for the rest of the album is background music. Nothing bad by all means, but not a work that really engages the listener and leaves them wanting more.

This isn’t a completely bland effort though. There are moments when The Crookes really try to shine. The namesake of the album, Hold Fast offers some life to the listener with earnest vocals and riffing guitars. The closer of the album, Sal Paradise, is an attention worthy song and one that stands out as a soulful and heartfelt piece. Next to these songs though, the rest of the album just feels like musical filler.

The genre of pop music filled with jangly guitars is one that is strongly coming back into vogue, and The Crookes are certainly a good example of this style. The music is decent, the themes of love and relationships that are lyrically explored are common enough and resonant, and the musicians are energetic enough. The problem is that there really isn’t anything below the surface here. Hold Fast is not a deep thought provoking release…and that’s ok. Not every band needs to be a complete cerebral experience. It does leave the listener wanting a little more though from time to time.

Alberta Cross – Songs of Patience album review

For their first album in three years, Alberta Cross had to do a lot of traveling. At times, they literally traveled across the globe, and musically, they traveled across a varied sonic landscape.

After the release of 2009’s The Broken Side of Time, vocalist Petter Ericson Stakee and the rest of the band toured extensively, effectively draining themselves to the point where the band had to regroup, several times, on their way to 2012’s Songs of Patience. Returning to their original two-man line up after performing for a period of time with five members, Ericson Stakee and bassist Terry Wolfers assembled this somewhat piecemeal record.

Having traversed across North America and Europe to perform at festivals and open for bands like Them Crooked Vultures and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, it feels like Alberta Cross have absorbed influences from the musical scenery in addition to just passing through.

On several tracks they have imported the far away, fuzzy sounds of Brit-pop bands such as Superchunk and Oasis (another band they opened for.) There are some echoey, drugged out moments on one of the best tracks, “Crate of Gold,” where Alberta Cross survey the territory of bands like The Music and to a lesser extent their American counterparts, The Vines. Speaking of America, they would have been right at home in 2003 when Jet and pre-Because of the Times Kings of Leon we’re gallivanting through the mainstream with their retro sounding southern rock and garage revival hybrids. On “Wasteland” they bring these comparisons all together as it sounds like a Brit-pop version of a Rooney song sung by Tim Wheeler of Ash.

If this all makes the music seem familiar, it should – and that is hardly a criticism. On Songs of Patience, Alberta Cross have built an impressive musical library. In literary terms, this album is less of a novel and more of a short story collection. Assembled over the course of thirty six months, a time during which Alberta Cross were at a crossroads, attempting to figure out who they were as a band, Songs of Patience, an album that could’ve been a complete train wreck, instead emerges as the successful end of a well worn journey.

Jets Overhead – Boredom and Joy album review

“How can I tell you what I want to say?” This line from ‘Your Desire’, track 8 off of Jets Overhead’s new album ‘Boredom and Joy’, sums up a great deal of existential angst in relation to the object of our desire in a very succinct and elegant way. While it sounds like a bunch of songs about a bunch of relationships, it is, according to their press release, an album about a single ‘evolving relationship that moves quietly from certainty to uncertainty’.

Relationships and their difficulties have been fodder for artistic exploration probably about as long as human beings have been expressing themselves artistically. While that might incline one to think that this album is going to be more of the same, this band definitely deserves a listen, especially if you’re into songcraft welded to lush pop orchestration. This group understands the power of layers, and the combination of instrumental arrangement coupled with tasteful use of effects generates results the resonate with emotional potency.

One of my personal favorites is track 10, ‘Directions’. For starters, the way the rhythm of the bassline sits right in the pocket with the rhythm of the ride cymbal is so very satisfying. On top of that, there is a sense of quiet melancholy evoked by the references to shoe-gaze indie pop that will tug at the heartsleeves of the hopeless romantic within all of us. The languid tempo adds to the introspective quality. While the general mood is one of wistful quiet, the relentlessness of the bassline coupled with the ride cymbal adds an undercurrent of urgency, even desperation. Remember, the direction is towards uncertainty, and by this point in the narrative, things are definitely uncertain.

If I have any complaints, it relates to the uniformity of tempo. Unless it’s related to hardcore punk in some way, I find a uniformity of tempos to dissipate my sense of focus while engaged in the act of focused listening. Kicking the bpm up a few notches for a couple of numbers would help to break things up a little and could be used for artistic reasons. Uncertainty does beget mania and sometimes rage. This is just my opinion; ultimately, this is a trifling concern, and the end result is a beautifully and thoughtfully constructed indie pop album. If you enjoy intelligently constructed music, give this a whirl. You’ll find something engaging in just about every track.

P.O.D. – Murdered Love review

One of the premier turn-of-the-century rapcore bands, P.O.D. has kept consistently busy during its time in the limelight. The band releases an album every few years, touring in between and attributing all of its success to God, as is the Christian metal way. Even since the notable heyday of The Fundamental Elements of Southtown and Satellite, P.O.D. manages to pop up in commercials, movies and as background music for extreme sports montages on YouTube.

Murdered Love, the band’s eighth full-length studio release, brings more of the same, a heavy, detuned guitar-driven sound combined with elements of hip-hop and alternative, melodic hardcore. The album opens with a fade into the first song, “Eyez,” which immediately establishes the “surrender to the higher power” agenda: “When it all goes down/we will rise/but you ain’t seen/nothing yet.” Sonny Sandoval, the group’s lead vocalist, often speaks his way through verses while singing choruses, as on “Higher.” The high energy of the tracks carries most of them, which have a way of starting softly before blowing into distortion and heavy, plodding guitar riffs accompanied by throaty screaming through the speakers.

A subtle highlight on Murdered Love comes at the halfway point with “Beautiful,” an upbeat rumination on the meaning of life and apathetic tendencies on the parts of young people: “Hey/you’re beautiful/and there’s enough love for the whole wide world.” While the album mostly presents positive imagery through its lyrics, “Beautiful” actually sounds like a happy song rather than a Metallica rhythm track overdubbed with a Christian message. When the track does get heavy, its sound leans more on the side of, say, Lifehouse than Black Flag.

On the second half of the album, the band retracts back to its generally accepted method for producing songs: energy, guitars and sometimes unintelligible, ethereal vocalizations. While there are some catchy moments amidst the madness (the “Stop, drop, ROLL!” chorus of “On Fire” comes to mind), P.O.D.’s lack of growth and experimentation beyond standard nu metal practices generates a mostly forgettable record within a mostly forgettable catalogue from a probably soon-to-be-forgotten band. For the moment, however, if you have always enjoyed what P.O.D. does, Murdered Love fits the bill.

Royal Wood – We Were Born to Glory album review

Upon listening to Royal Wood’s new album, “We Were Born to Glory” I could not help, but get the sense I was listening to a modern-day Beatles musician. Canadian pop singer and songwriter, Royal Wood’s brings an energetic, positive pop sound to his music, which is why I went so far as to say he sounded like someone from The Beatles.

The Beatles were known for their playful pop sound, their fun, get-up-and-dance beat, their powerful lyrics, and their high-energy rock sound. It is evident that Royal Wood’s has had some influence or has found inspiration in the fab four as shown by his musical style, which focuses on: basic rock features, incorporation of the acoustic piano, pop ensembles, slight vamping and vocal harmony.

The albums on his tracklist capture a powerful meaning, as does the title of his album. Very few times will an artist arise or release a new album that actually has purpose—ironically since music was “intended” to be a medium of expression and not an avenue or gateway for lyrics like, “You a stupid, hoe,” or anything similar that bases itself on over-9000 vamping.

“The Fire Did Go,” “Will We Ever Learn,” “Not Giving Up,” “The Thick of It,” and many more, are just a few examples of his pop influences and inspirational lyrics. I really encourage you to take a listen to the lyrics and really appreciate them for what they are worth. I am actually very impressed with the entire make-up of the album and it can serve as a beacon for those looking for good music out there in the sea of sequences, synthesizers, and horrible lyrics and vocals.

Bend Sinister – Small Fame album review

The members of the band Bend Sinister took their name from a book by Vladimir Nabakov about a nation where the government’s one requirement is that everyone is ordinary and no one can be spectacular. It’s an odd source of inspiration, especially for a band that is anything but ordinary who just released a new album that is pretty darn spectacular.

The new album, Small Fame, is full of energy and exuberance. Formed in British Columbia in 2001, Bend Sinister bears more resemblance to British indie-rockers than anything else. Frontman Dan Moxon’s theatrical vocals have a twang to them, sometimes similar to that of Luke Pritchard of the Kooks or Matthew Murphy of the Wombats. The rest of the band sounds relatively similar to these Brit poppers, too, with lots of pianos and cheery drums.

She Don’t Give Up, the opening track on Small Fame, is driven by a soulful piano rhythm and Moxon’s jolly and fun words.

Track four, One Shot, more or less the entire album in a microcosm. It’s chock full of the electric guitar and keys that make this album what it is. Moxon plays with his voice, breaking out into a falsetto at points. It is a bit slower and not as danceable as some of Small Fame’s other tracks, but a star nonetheless.

Near the end of Small Fame is Black Magic Woman, a 70’s inspired glam band-esque jam about a woman that is making a fool out of all of us. It’s a theatrical and glitzy song that features a screeching organ solo midway through as Moxon laughs and howls. I must admit, it’s kind of weird, but also kind of genius.

The rest of Small Fame falls somewhere between the glam of Black Magic Woman and the poppy sound of She Don’t Give Up. There are a few low-lights, like the funky yet overly-repetitive My Girl, but some parts are even so good that the creativity-hating government in Nabokov’s government might have to allow it.

Beak> – > > album review

Sometimes – just sometimes – I question why on earth people create such obscure music for a niche market. A year ago, I reviewed some drone music that sounded like absolute garbage, as it was one singular note repeated for forty five minutes. Now I’m graced with the privilege of reviewing Beak>’s album “> >.” I would try to explain the band and album’s name, but I can’t provide any more insight than you already have.

The Bristol band opens this album up with the strangest of tunes, as “The Gaol” kinda sounds like wailing sirens in the streets of Manhattan with an occasional drum machine beat behind it. Sirens. Or poorly played wind instruments – take your pick. Somehow, it doesn’t sound all that bad, but this is just musically confusing to me. Their following post-rock tunes aren’t all that stunning either: “Yatton” and “Spinning Top” both feature very monotone guitar rhythms that bored the fuck out of me. Somewhere in the background, there are some ghostly vocals that I fail to decipher after multiple listens.

Much of the album does sound like it was made by a Star Wars drone – and that’s not a good thing. It’s bland, obscure, and just not likeable. The sirens of the opening track even return in “Ladies’ Mile,” not differentiating itself from the pack at all. I’ll give the band some credit: “Wulfistan II” sounded like a promising track. However, its downfall is its seven minute length. There’s no fun in hearing the same guitar notes being strum for that long, and while the band has an interlude to change things up, it goes right back to a guitar beat pulled from Apple’s GarageBand library. “Elevator” has the same kind of promise, but falls apart when the band overloads the track with a variety of sounds that don’t mesh well. Don’t even get me started on “Kidney” – it takes half the song to build up to anything that’s barely listenable.

Beak>, or whatever you want to call them, have failed to impress. They’re appealing to an incredibly niche market that I’m simply not a part of. The good thing is that you won’t need to pay to find out whether you like this kind of genre, as their album is available to stream on their site: http://beak.bandcamp.com/releases

I, for one, will stick to something that doesn’t sound like R2D2 getting it on with C-3PO.

Suit of Lights – Shine on Forever album review

Suit of Lights sounds like the first rock band you ever listened to.

Even if you’re a first time listener, there is a familiarity that reminds you of the first time you discovered rock music; it has that carefree, mellow sound reminiscent of the 90s. You can picture the band, led by Joe Darone, playing in a packed, back alley warehouse to a huge crowd of teenagers and societal misfits.

In contrast to their alternative rock sound, there is a slight modern indie rock tie in tracks like “Goodbye Silk City” and “Slap Me Five,” (from their 2005 release entitled Suit of Lights) where the use of horns and acoustics soften up the resolute, dark theme of the album.

Their second album Bacteria, released in 2009, has less of a mysterious essence and more of a commercial feel to it that is subtly unrecognizable in their previous work. Nevertheless it’s quite an intriguing album because it doesn’t feel like a follow up to their 2005 debut. It feels like something completely different because the tunes are refreshing; it’s like the band experienced an epiphany during the writing process.

Their latest release Shine on Forever gives us the opportunity to hear more of Darone’s hypnotic and soothing vocals, and puts more of the emphasis on the musical arrangements; there’s more going on musically in this album than any of its predecessors. The tracks are modern and take Suit of Lights right out of that 90s rock feel and places them directly into the category of indie pop-rock.

Suit of Lights is one of the most honest bands I have come across, in that they fully encompass the rock music many of us fell in love with as a teenager, while at the same time growing with the mainstream. It’s gritty and electric, and even a little spooky at times.

New York’s The Sanctuaries release 2 videos + Not Guilty EP out 8/28

New York’s The Sanctuaries Release New EP Not Guilty On August 28, incl. Dinowalrus, Ava Luna’s Felicia Douglass, BILO Remixes

Premiere “Not Guilty” Video with The Deli

Plus “Judgin’ You Is Easy” Video with The Vinyl District

In light of The Sanctuaries’ upcoming self-release Not Guilty EP, the quartet share two instructional cooking videos which end with endearing mom-activities as a reward. The Rickenbacker-loving band teamed up with The Deli to premiere the recipe for chicken schnitzel alongside their track “Not Guilty” HERE calling it “the perfect blend of indie songwriting charm and culinary know-how.”

Beautifully recorded by Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, JEFF The Brotherhood) in his Nashville studio, The Sanctuaries’ new EP, Not Guilty, is a mix of timelessness and remixed versions that are stylishly performed and produced by dear friends such as Dinowalrus, Ava Luna’s Felicia Douglass, BILO, Erik Grundel and Bedouin Tea City Center. The self-released EP comes out August 28.

Balancing the jangly guitars of the 60s with the arty cool of 90s indie rock, New York City quartet The Sanctuaries are a welcome addition to a scene that has so often lost sight of songwriting. With each member of the band providing a distinct and essential role in the group’s formula, their songs range from the bouncy pop, remixed with a danceable beat of “House of Noise” and drifter ballads like “Hey Brooke” to the Kraut-influenced drone of “Heaven is A Mountain,” creating a sound that is equally classic and contemporary.

After playing throughout the New York area with such bands as Delicate Steve, Gringo Starr, Tony Castles and Dinosaur Feathers, The Sanctuaries add on more upcoming shows in Baltimore and New York.

The Sanctuaries Live Dates:
7/27 – Baltimore, MD @ McHenry Row
8/01 – Brooklyn, NY @ Big Snow
8/29 – New York, NY @ Pianos (EP release show)

The Sanctuaries – Not Guilty EP – track listing:
01. Not Guilty
02. Heaven Is A Mountain (Erik Gundel Remix)
03. Fooled By Youth (Dinowalrus 2012 Remix)
04. Judgin’ You Is Easy
05. Brief Encounter (Felicia Douglass Remix)
06. Hey Brooke
07. House of Noise (BILO Remix)
08. Generations (Bedouin Tea City Center Remix)