Sparrow and the Workshop – Murderopolis album review

Sparrow and the Workshop are back at it again. They released their third full-length album, Murderopolis earlier this year and fans are saying that the album is bloody brilliant.

Jill O’Sullivan (vocals, acoustic guitar), Nick Packer (guitar, bass, basstard), and Gregor Donaldson (drums, vocals) are the trio that make up the band Sparrow and the Workshop. The band are known for their use of harmonies and bastardized instruments.

Although this album may not be like their previous folk-based sound, it sure has got fans on the edge of their seats and coming back for more.

Before creating this album, Sparrow and the Workshop decided to switch record labels – to Toad Records. Not only does this make the band nervous, but the fans get nervous themselves. However, you need not worry, although the sound is a little different from their previous work.

Different can be a good thing – which in this case, I believe it is. The band stays true to their roots while interpreting a more powerful side of them to showcase. I think that this is something the fans can be appreciative of. Although this is not something I would normally listen to, I can at least appreciate the musical talent these artists put into their new sound. I can also appreciate anyone who takes a chance – and that’s exactly what Sparrow and the Workshop did. They not only took a chance by switching record labels, they also took a chance by tweaking their sound and producing something fans have never heard before.

When I first heard the album title, Murderopolis, I immediately thought of the words – tough, grunge, hardcore, and a little dirty even. That’s exactly what this album is. It makes a bold statement through their new hard rock-alternative-trippy sound.

This album is Circa Survive meets Jefferson Airplane, with the hardcore-alternative feel of bands like Flyleaf and Evanescence.

The Faster You Spin and Odessa really gives off that Jefferson Airplane vibe. It has a modern day Indie feel, but the sound is more alternative and rock and roll. I think the two different tones really give the songs the edge they need to live up to the name of the album.

The song Shock, Shock is more of the punk rock, grunge sound while still staying true to the band’s roots. If I were to give this song its own genre of music – I’d call is Indie Grunge. It gives you a small taste of their hardcore side without being too hardcore for the fans that have been listening from the beginning.

Jill O’Sullivan (vocals) suggested that Sparrow and the Workshop have “always been loud and raucous.” These words from O’Sullivan have definitely influenced their new album. No matter what new sound the band interprets into their albums, I think that fans everywhere can agree that the vocals of O’Sullivan will always be recognized regardless of the band’s new sound.

New Politics – A Bad Girl in Harlem album review

Argh, what a demanding album. With me, that doesn’t even necessarily have to be a bad thing, but in this case it is because this album demands a lot but doesn’t really have all that much by way of payoff. I mean, you can tell just by looking at the cover that these guys really want this album to be a great time, and if that wasn’t proof enough for you, the day-glow synthesizers, constantly fast pace, and feel-good vocals will do the trick, even though the lyrics tell tales of dysfunction and occasionally despair (see “Goodbye Copenhagen,” which isn’t exactly the Smiths as far as sprightly mope-a-longs go, and “Fall Into These Arms”) because hey, irony’s what the cool kids do anymore, right? And you’ll dance along and shout along and at the appropriate moments laugh along and it’ll be a great, great time for all, right? And hey, I’m not in it to ruin anyone’s good time, but I’m just plain not feeling it. It’s the sort of thing I could definitely see other people enjoying, but for me, it’s almost taxing.

I guess the big problem here is that, for all the big sparkly presentation – the crystal-clear production, the sunny melodies, the breezy tempos, the glistening synthesizers on songs like “Tonight You’re Perfect” and “Goodbye Copenhagen” – the songs themselves are pretty thoroughly forgettable. This renders the whole affair quite frustrating for me, as do all of the attention-getting gimmicks themselves, like the echoing vocals on “Tonight You’re Perfect,” the cheerleader chants on “Harlem,” and the club synthesizers on “Berlin” (which almost pulls off jangly guitars in places and has a cool dissonant bridge). All they really do, at least to me, is call attention to the fact to how forgettable the songs themselves are. This isn’t like Arcade Fire, where the bombast adds to the emotional experience. It just sort of drags things down.

They really pull it off once here, though, and that’s with “Stuck on You.” An aching ballad isn’t exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from such an album, and while it’s just as fluffy as everything else is here, it’s at least emotionally resonant fluff, with a pretty good vocal, a good beat, and a pretty violin line. It’s just as over the top as everything else here, but since it’s got a little more weight than the rest, it comes off a little better. And I do like parts of the above-mentioned “Berlin,” while “Give Me Hope” is kind of fun up until the embarrassing rap, which even then isn’t as embarrassing as the rap on “Overcome”). Maybe next time around, they’ll give us more of “Stuck on You” and less of the annoying Muse knock-off “Die Together.” But until then, I can’t really call myself a fan.

Saturday Looks Good To Me – One Kiss Ends It All album review

The melodic musings of one Fred Thomas find an outlet on One Kiss Ends It All, the new album by the Michigan musical mastermind; yet another collection of generally well written tunes to add to an already sizable output. There is an overriding sense of melancholy that permeates the whole experience of listening to this album, as if the listener is privy to some kind of reminiscence.

The opening track possesses some kind of ethereal magic attached to it, some kind of psychedelic spiritual something that drifts in the ether. From there, we move on to a string of ‘dated-yet-new’ sounds which are subject to the meticulous production values he is apparently known for. Vocals are layered with psycho-acoustic spaciousness, while instrumental tracks are subject to various fading and flanging effects.

The music sounds like sixties pop passed through Pro Tools. The amount of production work on one track as ofttimes stunning in its depth. The man obviously spent a lot of time planning the whole album; there is an overriding sense of architecture to the whole thing, not just a bunch of songs with some album art tacked on top. The overriding sense of songcraft is well suited to the recent antiquity of the style.

On top of the production wizardry and obvious love of crafting an album as a self-contained musical unit, the songwriting is really solid. While borrowing liberally from music traditions of the very recent past, Thomas manages to personalize the experience. Gifted with a strong sense of melody, he welds this melodic sensibility to a rhythmicized chordal style well suited to the demands of his idiosyncratic medium.

Dikembe – Chicago Bowls album review

In listening to the recent EP, Chicago Bowls, by Dikembe, I was immediately struck by the basketball references implied not only by the name of the band, but also the weed pun track listing of the album. Each song is named after a former Chicago Bulls player, and they consist of “Scottie Spliffen” “Luc Bongley” “Michael Jordank” and “Tony Kukush” respectively. With the NBA finals starting this evening, it seems only fitting to be reviewing an album that refers to James Naismith’s famous game. Yet, upon placing my headphones over my ears I was surprised by the content of Chicago Bowls. Whereas I had expected some sort of stoner epic that was a tribute to the mighty Bulls teams of the 1990’s, what I got was a pop punk record without any lyrical reference to the four dudes that are named in the song titles. While this was not necessarily a bad thing, I’ll admit that I was thoroughly excited at the prospect of hearing a song about marijuana and MJ.

Chicago Bowls begins with the aforementioned “Scottie Spliffen,” and while it most definitely has a great title, the track is nothing special. It begins with some gently played guitar, before transitioning into a crashing verse that very much fits into a loud / quiet dynamic that holds true throughout the album. Later on “Luc Bongley” the band continues their giant thrashing while occasionally slowing down to add some more distortion and sing, “I’m afraid / I’m afraid / of making any sound / when anyone’s around.” These were unfortunately some of the few lyrics that I could decipher during my listen, as the vocals on the album are very low in the mix, and are sometimes difficult to hear. Understanding what a singer is saying during a song is not always necessary, but when I’m hoping to hear a post rock ganja jam about the first Australian player in the NBA, it would be nice to be able to hear the vocals.

Rounding out the end of the EP are “Michael Jordank” and “Tony Kukush.” The former name checks the best basketball player ever, and is fittingly the best track on the record. It begins with some intriguing drum fills and plaintive guitar strumming before erupting into cymbal bashing verse. Later around the 2 minute mark there are some sloppy flourishes of distorted sound that are the most promising musical offering of the Florida based band.

Chicago Bowls is a somewhat mediocre EP, but Dikembe definitely has a future. They are a band that could pack small venues, and perhaps even score a hit with the alternative rock crowd. Yet, this initial offering would have benefited from a few more hooks for listeners, and perhaps more carefully considered lyrical content. If a song is named “Scottie Spliffen” I want to hear about one of the greatest small forwards of all time puffing a gigantic doobie, not some unintelligible emo howling. I know the titles are meant to be funny, but wouldn’t that be awesome?

Wampire – Curiosity album review

‘Curiosity’ is bass heavy electric infused rock. Rocky Tinder and Eric Phipps, the duo manning the Wampire control center, use their debut EP to explore the nature of death and existence. You can hear them sort the themes out through their instruments; the bass line illustrates their happy-go-lucky attitude, the drums exemplify the chaotic nature of their reality, and their voices show their languid acquiescence to the aforementioned.

The track Outta Money is extremely well layered. It, as with most of the other tracks on the EP, has a haunting feel to it. The reprise in the background, with the soulful moaning up front, paired with the electronic element as well as the general tone of their music…this could easily be the second favourite song of Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill; second only to Q Lazzarus’ Goodbye Horses. Even the reverberating notes that draw the tune to a close do incredible work making one feel the omnipresence of whatever it is that Wampire attempting to articulate.

Moving on to Trains, a track that has a vintage resort feel to it; a small nod to The Black Keys and Buddy Holly wrapped into one amazing song. It works too ways. Firstly as an important break in the heavy content. This song, written about one of the most trivial aspects of day-to-day life, waiting for the train, is surprising refreshing set against the deeper themes. Secondly as an incredible lay-up to the final track on the album.

Magic Light is a must listen. Positioned expertly at the end, it is the conclusion to their exploration, their findings if you will; the answer to their beguiling questions. Everything Wampire think about life can be found in this song. “…on this merry-go-round, your feet never touch the ground, I’ll be in the park, meet me after dark….Come a little closer, let me gaze into your eyes, magic never felt so good.”

There is no shortage of great tracks on this EP. Wampire has an uncanny ability to mix genres in an awe-inspiring way. True, there is a hint of ridiculousness to their approach to music, as exemplified by their name, and their cover art; but do not let the sarcasm of their Glamour Shot dissuade you from believing that this band is genius. True artistry went into the making of this album. The opening track The Hearse has all the makings of true murk pop anthem. It may take a couple of go-throughs to get used to the whimsical way in which they approach the idea of death, their use of the iconic image of a hearse to illustrate the intersection of the morose and celebration is just one example of many in which Wampire pokes fun at the seriousness of dying. Punch lines or not, this band has an amazing sound.

Poor Young Things – The Heart. The Head. The End. album review

Something tells me Poor Young Things are meant to be seen live. As far as instrumentation goes, the five piece band sticks very closely to the rock and roll format that has done so well for the past fifty years. It is because their act is so bog standard, that it surprises me, and almost arises suspicion that Poor Young Things is being considered as one of those indie bands on the rise.

They do have knack for putting together catchy riffs, but while everything is done very solidly, there is a noticeable lack of risk and imagination. The songs will end up sounding the same if you aren’t paying close attention and if you pay too much attention. So what is the happy middle ground? I’m thinking the primary fan base is a second year college student with two PBR’s in their belly and a distracting sexual interest nearby. You know how you’re so receptive to all kinds of new things when there’s the slightest chance you might get lucky? Bands like these thrive on that. 

They do not strive for a musical masterpiece. They are not breaking any new ground. They are here to do their thing, while you go ahead and do your thing. The problem Poor Young Things will face in their future is attracting an audience that doesn’t drunkenly stumble into their show. The constant touring might work for a few years, but eventually they will have to remove the alcohol crutch and stand on their own musical legs. I have absolute faith that they an achieve this, they work together very well, but right now their focus seems to be getting their name out there, not necessarily putting together the next Dark Side of the Moon. 

In their own words:

“Oh man, we are so lucky,” confirms singer/guitarist Matt Fratpietro on behalf of his cohorts. “Touring across Canada is so hard. And there are lots of bands that do that for years and years and don’t get the breaks we’ve had.

“We came here and were signed within a year to a small, very supportive label, Bumstead Productions. I mean, obviously we sold our souls to the devil,” Fratpietro howls. “But still. What a deal we got!”

Ah yes.

Lucky.

Sold their souls to the devil. 

It’s all starting to make sense. 

I like jokes. And to write good jokes you have to use a kernel of truth. Those boys may be laughing about it now, but something tells me that there is a good amount of truth to the absurd amount of luck that must have come their way.

Emma Louise – vs Head vs Heart album review

Imagine this – you’re in a car on an unseasonably perfect day, driving down a practically empty highway. The sun is starting to set and you’ve got the windows rolled all the way down and maybe even the sunroof open. Your skin is tingling with a confused sensation from the heat of the beams of light combined with the cool air whipping past you, rustling your hair and bringing fresh outdoor scents to your nostrils – all while a contemplative song is vibrating your eardrums.

Emma Louise’s latest album, vs Head vs Heart is a power trip. It’s the kind of soundtrack you want for your life when things are going well and you’re feeling empowered. The Australian native’s voice is mesmerizing, makes you weak in the knees, and puts a little fire in your heart. Tracks like “17 Hours” and “Stainache” showcase Louise’s control over her hauntingly beautiful vocals while mellow piano notes ping in the background and bounce off tranquil synthesizing zings.

“Jungle” is probably the most recognized track off the new record as it first appeared on her 2012 EP, Full Hearts & Empty Rooms. The pulsating synthesizer gives way to a syncopated drumming pattern and her voice peeks out in silky tones as she cries, “hey’s” building with emotion and volume, to unwrap an intense lyrical story of what seems to be the realization of the winding-down of a relationship. “Freedom” is another track that is energizing yet soothing, a bit reminiscent of what a Phoenix/Feist collaboration would sound like.

Even though “Braces” is the shortest track, it’s the one that stands out the most to me. Organ keys chime and echo in ripples of powerful thralls while Louise’s voice finds the most perfect regions amongst the busy instrumentals. I think that’s often challenging with “contemporary” artists because all too often a song can become overwhelming when too many elements are thrown together.

Her first full length album appears to be a pretty notable debut at 12 tracks in length and a little over 50 minutes the balance between ballads and upbeat songs seems appropriate. And by that I mean it’s not an album like Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever and it’s not overwhelmingly bouncy like a Phoenix record. It’s very much in the middle and easy listening. Hopefully we’ll hear a sophomore album or equal greatness in the near future from Emma Louise.

The Broken Saints – When The Music Stops album review

Out there in the wonderful world of the interweb, there really isn’t a lot of information that you can find on The Broken Saints. Actually, the more I searched, the more I just wanted to give up and watch The Boondock Saints instead so I could see Willem Dafoe do a pirouette while shooting up south side Boston criminals. But I eventually came across an interview with them discussing the process of making their debut album When The Music Stops, and it included a couple of previews of some of their songs. Now my initial thought was that these guys reminded me of the Bacon Brothers; just two dudes who don’t have any real musical talent but are touring off of the fame of Kevin simply so they can get laid in different cities. But then I realized that neither of them was actually famous and that the uglier brother had just admitted the fact that he can’t write songs unless they are about himself. This is when I realized that these guys were actually worse than the Bacon Brothers.

From the opening track you realize how limited they are both musically and vocally. Neither of them happens to be blessed with a good voice and as a result you are stuck with horrible melodies and average at best harmonies. Each brother plays guitar in the band but unfortunately they play the same two chords in every song. All of this is okay if you are Bob Dylan and have excellent lyrics but not if you’re bringing Hanson quality Mmm Bop lyrics to the plate.

For instance in Nobody Else where he compares himself to a bird, one of them says “I don’t need nobody else, I don’t want nobody else, I don’t need nobody but you, the bird song came true”. Or there was my personal favorite in Scared Again, which I swear is about his childhood nightmares of the boogie man, in which he sings “Shadows dance across my bed, don’t go where the angels dare don’t tread”. Now don’t get me wrong, I realize that you can take any lyrics out of context and make them sound silly but I swear these are just bad poems from someone who watched St Elmo’s Fire one too many times. And honestly I can’t blame them; I can’t get enough of a young, hot, and horny Demi Moore myself. I just wish they had some vocal range to help mask the fact that you are listening to some of the cheesiest lyrics ever written.

Musically, Dreams Never Die and Open Your Eyes are the best of this 8 track effort because they finally infuse some piano into their songs. And thankfully they add a female voice in Eyes to help give a consistent melody but sadly it’s just not enough to save this album. It almost makes the 180 that you usually get in movies; you know, it’s so bad that it becomes comical and you end up liking it. But not quite. I checked their Myspace (yes Myspace) page and it says that they have been around since at least 2008. I just can’t imagine that it took them at least 5 years to come up with this album.

Sadly, when the music finally stops with these saints , you want to repent and claim that you will never listen to this album again. And yes I was channeling my inner David Caruso there; cue the cheesy  guitar music as I put on my shades.

The Orange Peels – Sun Moon album review

If the The Orange Peels sounded any more North Californian, they’d probably have to move to Oregon. This indie-wave-pop band that has just released their 5th studio album (following a coincidentally strict release span of every 4 years) Sun Moon on Minty Fresh Records and Mystery Lawn Music are firmly rooted to their home in the West and it’s very easy to tell. The band and it’s frequently changing lineup (save for singer/songwriter Allen Clapp and bassist Jill Pries) play music that belongs in montage of people hanging out in a sunny park in San Francisco.

The Orange Peels have been performing together for almost 20 years and with a new album out every 4 years it becomes quite easy to track their maturation as a band. Rather than sounding older the band has modernized with the times and really progressed with the indie genres they have helped cement. Keeping up with technology is something the band has done quite successfully, not only have they stayed a breadth with evolving sounds but they have also successfully launched and completed a Kickstarter Campaign for the vinyl pressing of Sun Moon.

For their latest album, The Orange Peels have mixed up their typical recording style and have begun a much more collaborative phase of their career. Previously Clapp would supply the bulk of material and guide the band towards his vision, on Sun Moon however, many of the songs were written collaboratively with Clapp acting like more a producer and adding lyrics and his signature afterwards. While formatted in a different style the album is unmistakably an Orange Peels’ album complete with their surfy tracks and Clapp’s jittery lyrics. If you were a fan in the past this album will not disappoint, if you are a new listener check out track 7, “Aether Tide”, for a good sampling of what to expect.

Dungeonesse – Dungeonesse album review

Dungeonesse’s music seems best suited for party atmospheres where people wont be paying much attention, because under any sort of scrutiny most songs on their self titled album tend to lose something. However, when it fades into the background it becomes rather pleasant, I can imagine mobs prone to dancing being all about Dungeonesse, though I think they’ll eventually gravitate towards inevitable remixes as the poppy song lengths contradict the dance floor affinity they’ve presented. There’s nothing worse for keeping people dancing than a song thats too short, and without any sort of functional outro there’s nothing in place for DJ’s to pick up Dungeonesse’s slack.

For self proclaimed fans of pop I feel like they missed the whole deceptively part of the deceptively simple formula. The lyrics don’t pull any punches and ironically are sometimes too verbose for their own good. Where some more concise prose would make an exceptional counterpart to the singers vocal capabilities, they seem hell bent on fitting as much fluff as possible into a three and a half minute stint. Their maximalist take, accidental or not, could use a masterclass from Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano; there is no need to write a word for every single note sung. There’s no shame in using the voice as an instrument first, and communicator second, especially when the lyrics aren’t deep in the first place. I’d love to see what she can do when if/when she breaks free from trying to emphasize each and every word to just focus on complimenting the music instead. Where Dungeonesse tries to take the scenic route it ends up like a GPS malfunction guiding you through the industrial district on a two lane 30 mph road, but damned if you aren’t in a brand new Ferrari during the journey. Dungeonesse has what it takes to be the luxurious and high end group they seek to be, but they may have to re-evaluate what it is that makes a great song, not just a good one. That is, if they even care about writing great songs, as they might be content with the sound they’ve crafted.

Even though I’ve found a fairly lengthy list of things to nitpick, Dungeonesse is a talented showing. Perhaps I’m being so critical only because its rare to see technical talent like this in the indie scene. There’s psychological effect I’ve found to be true with talented musicians: once you’ve given the listener a taste of your above average skills, they’ll expect you to keep rising above your own average, whereas an artist who’s appeal consists of their character or style alone can skate by with below average skills, so long as they craft a unique sound. In a way, the better a musician gets, the more critical the response they will receive as they’ve proven that they have potential for even greater heights. Imagine a band who only had one song with a guitar solo, but it was the best guitar solo you’ve ever heard (ok so maybe guitar solos aren’t currently in vogue, but just go with it). Going back to their other songs may be a bit of a let down if you’ve come to identify their singular guitar solo song as representative of their true potential.

Dungeonesse has yet to create that song, respectively with vocal and writing chops, but if and when they do it could be a game changer. I just hope their personal goals aren’t set too low by their fascination of pop songs.