The Cast of Cheers – Family album review

As soon as I saw the assignment for my next album, the first thing that popped into my mind was “where everybody knows your name”. Unfortunately, this wasn’t an album from Sam and the gang, but what I found from this frenetic purveyor of math-rock was a band that didn’t quit and is really good at making you bob your head and go nuts. The Cast of Cheers with their new album “Family” have hidden too long in the shadows with their second full-length album and first for a major label. In fact, I am just going to come out and say that I really like this band. They are refreshing, bold, lyrically sound, and have some really creative videos that I think will soon catapult them to that next level (which I am not really sure why they aren’t there yet).

The band plays their instruments with fervor and a kinetic energy that makes you think they will die if they stop playing. Connor Adam’s singing creates resonance and has this echo that meshes well with the fast-paced music they play and which continually keeps the listener on their toes while they jump and move around with no method to it at all. And if that isn’t enough, their lyrics prove their music true with lines such as, “Woke up in the western world as a western child and I can’t find God” and “I will need another home, I will need another family”. When you first listen to them, if you hear a little Bloc Party or Vampire Weekend then you won’t be alone because that is exactly what I first thought when I heard them, which makes sense considering they are from across the pond.

Family is another stellar turn-out from The Cast of Cheers effectively proving that the move to a bigger studio greatly enhances instead of detracts from their talent and brilliance. The album is full of fun music that I hope you will listen to because I know I was glad when I did and I know you will be too.

Tell Me That You Want Me – A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac album review

Fleetwood Mac is simply Fleetwood Mac. Rumours is one of the greatest albums put together and there is a reason why it is one of the best-selling ever. With that said, the only way to truly do a tribute album to a band that is as iconic as Fleetwood Mac is, is to go do a complete 180 with the artists and their renditions. Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute Album to Fleetwood Mac does just that with its great mixture of artists, taken from all types of genres who pay great tribute to this band while making these songs sound new and fresh.

My only real qualm with the album, and before you say anything yes I knew it was going to be on here, but “Landslide” has been covered much better by both The Smashing Pumpkins and The Dixie Chicks (I know, but it is true).

One of the standouts has to be “Oh Well” played to perfection by Billy Gibbons and Company, who brings his distinct Southern drawl and slows down an already slowed, bluesy standout. Great tributes take a song from one genre and make it seem effortless the way it weaves into another genre, and this song is the epitome of that thought. From MGMT’s psychedelic cover of “Future Games” to one of my new favorite bands The Kills cover of “Dreams” the songs on this album give the listener exactly what he or she needs. It entertains, transforms, and makes you fall in love again or for the first time with one of the great classic bands of yesterday.

Tribute albums can be the best thing in the world if done right. One thing it does is change those songs you have heard hundreds of times and makes you love it again with a new sound. They aren’t meant to be better or to replace the original, but only to revere and educate. Covers done right can be the best things in music, because it gives you two new songs to listen to, and that isn’t bad.

Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine album review

I have only reviewed one other black metal band before and I remember being rather lukewarm on the album. I’m not sure if it’s the genre of the actual bands themselves, but this output by Nachtmystium makes me think it’s more the genre, because behind my general dislike for the particular sound Nachtmystium’s latest effort, “Silencing Machine” is a tour-de-force of energy and technique that I believe is a must-own for all black metal fans. Although, I do admit I haven’t heard much beyond a few songs of the genre, I feel confident in that suggestion.

A great thing about this album is how quickly it gets moving. The first song is “Dawn Over the Ruins of Jerusalem” and the guitars and drums come roaring out along with front man Blake Judd’s deep and loud screams. Man, are they some loud screams, which is why I recommend not listening to this album with headphones on as my ears are still trying to recover. Now, if you only listen to one song on the album I have to recommend a song I actually liked, which is an eight minute epic titled, “The Lepers of Destitution”. I think the reason why I liked it was because while it had all the usual elements of a black metal song, it had this inviting, almost melancholic sound that really ups the ante on what a song of this genre can actually do. The only bad thing I can really say about the album is just how niche it truly becomes. I mean, if it was not for this assignment I would honestly not have listened to it, and now that I heard it, no matter how good it is, I am not going to listen to it again.

For those black metal fans this is a masterpiece. Pick it up and you will be listening to it over and over again and Nachtmystium will quickly grow into one of your favorite bands if they aren’t there already. “Silencing Machine” is a great album that deserves a broader audience and I think it’ll get it.

Alex Riggen – Rabbit album review

One thing I love about this writing position is the chance to experience new artists each and every week. Sometimes they are good and sometimes they are bad, but it is never not interesting and enlightening. People revel in discovering what is new, especially in the entertainment world where we always want to be the first person to tell our friends about the new, awesome song/singer and how that person should listen to it right away. Now, I do not think that Alex Riggen’s first full-length album Rabbit is that kind of revelatory experience that propels you to drop what you are doing, but given time he might be able to get there.

The folky acoustic song styling’s of Riggen’s music along with his voice echoes an early Smashing Pumpkins/Radiohead influence that is really hauntingly symbolic. Symbolic of what I am not really sure yet and this is precisely my problem when listening to this album. It has all the hallmarks of a great album with the right touches, but where it inevitably falls flat is in the execution. The songwriting is all over the place, but when it hits, it hits good. The first single “Dawn” comes off like a guy singing to a girl after the first date when he is trying to seal the deal. Unfortunately, the song also has the refrain of “the day is much too long” and while that is true, it also represents the problem of the album as a whole. The album does drag on, which may have to do with the songs themselves, but until the second album comes out, it is hard to know for sure.

In the end, this is a good album from a really good singer with a lot of promise that I hope to hear one day when that promise is fulfilled. Until then, treat yourself to something special and enjoy some haunting, soulful music from a person who seems to truly love what he does and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Shovels and Rope – O’ Be Joyful album review

Shovels and Rope are a folksy, country-inspired folk duo who most closely resembles the sounds of The Civil Wars, to touch on a band that is pretty hot right now. Their lyrics on their new album O’ Be Joyful are infused with Christian themes, but it plays out more as a belief and faith in each other. While this isn’t my favorite genre of music nor has this inspired duo become my favorite depiction of this genre, Shovels and Rope’s Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent put enough energy and spirit into their songs that it actually grew on me as I listened to their raucous playing.

I didn’t know it before I listened to them, but they are actually married in real life and that connection and chemistry breathes life into their music and in their playing. Cary Ann Hearst plays like a nubile Loretta Lynn with attitude pushing her powerful country voice to the forefront of a lot of the songs to only increase the wild, backwoods infused sound that they still experiment with, as that is what this album truly becomes. This is their first album under this new band name and one can’t help, but be reminded of going to see that new niche band you heard about in a concert hall that only seats 100, but today has no more than 20. In their title track, which is one of their more bluegrass offerings, Hearst belts out, “Aint it good to be alive, aint it nice to be fighting on the winning side” and I can honestly say that they are and it is.

Shovels and Rope are very heavily defined by their rural roots in the deep south, and have taken bands and singers who sound like them and have created a nice little indie-sound to mix it with, attributed to Trent whose side work with his other band The Films showcase this sound nicely. With my interest level peaked by this new offering, they are definitely a band I will be keeping an eye on from here on out.

Magic Trick – Ruler of the Night album review

Magic Trick is the newer side project of the incredibly prolific Tim Cohen, more famous for bands such as The Fresh and Onlys, Black Fiction, Sonny and the Sunsets, and others. Magic Trick started out as a solo project back in 2010, but after the release of his first cd he attracted members from other bands around the California area leading to this very well crafted, much more lush and haunting album that really encompasses a smorgasbord of instruments you will not find anywhere else. The only problem I have with Ruler of the Night is that it’s a very niche album.

Maybe it was the mood I was in when I first heard it, but I liked the cd a lot more after coming home tired after working a double, lying in bed, and hitting play, rather than listening to it while I review it. For one, all the different instruments, such as sleigh bells, tambourines, washboards, and more are a nice gimmick, but after a while that is exactly what it is, and gimmicks can get stale, really quickly. For instance, in the song, “Next to Nothing” there is some sound effect continually present in the background that’s very distracting and annoying. In fact, if I was going to describe this album to you in one word, it would be moments. I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what any of the songs are called or how they sound in a week, but I guarantee you I’ll be able to inform you about the whistling on “Angel Dust”, the intro to “Torture” that seems like the music to Starry Night, or the folksiness of “Invisible at Midnight”.

These moments are great, most of the time, and Tim Cohen has a very alluring, hollowed voice, but in the end the album itself is rather hollow and seems more of experimentation than a flat-out album. For those who are interested, I would take a look at the title track as it is the best depiction of what the band is trying to do and it does it superbly in that song.

Saray Pray – A May Morning album review

I never caught Sarah Pray’s first album, and frankly speaking, I didn’t know this album wasn’t her first album till I started doing some research. I’ve just returned from hiking for a week and the first thing I did when I returned (well, not the first thing, but you know what I mean) was to check my email and I saw this assignment, so I immediately found the album and listened to it straight through while relaxing after a much needed shower. And sometimes, you just need the right setting to really enjoy an album, because I highly doubt I would enjoy the album anywhere else. I wouldn’t play it driving to work or have a song of it play over a party, but as a nice little serenade to a weary soul Sarah Pray’s “A May Morning” is quite a treat, beautifully worded and sung from one weary traveler to another.

Sarah Pray started off singing Linda Ronstadt songs and her influence along with Emmylou Harris and Mazzy Star punctuates all 11 songs on this well-constructed album. Although, unlike those forbearers, Pray doesn’t have a hook song or something I can really play or recommend to you that would show you what I am talking about. First, the songs all blend together without one really forcing you to replay it right after you hear it. This may sound like a criticism, but it is more of a frustration because it is very hard to convince a person to sit through an entire album, just so you can really be interested in an artist. Not a lot of people have that kind of time.

If you do listen to the album and then want to share it with someone, you can always explain it to them like this: “A May Morning” is an album of experience, loss, and hope painstakingly written and sung from the soul of a young woman with an almost child-like voice, but with very powerful lyrics never hitting you with more than you can handle, but giving you enough to lay down, look up, and breathe.

Toe – The Future is Now EP

Truth be told, I don’t get out into the world of music much. I know, it is something I chide myself on and the band Toe is a shining example of why. A mostly instrumental band from Japan they are categorized in the Post Math Rock genre (for obvious reasons), but on their new EP The Future is Now they are so diverse, fluid, and free that it really makes you want to pick up the rest of their albums. In fact, after going through the 4 songs found on this EP I immediately went to YouTube to check out some more songs and while you can definitely tell it is them, they really seem to mature and change with each passing release.

As I said, there are barely any words spoken on the songs, the most coming from the song “Tsuki Kake”, which might immediately became my favorite song of theirs as it features both male and female guest vocalists, but what really sells the song is the addition of a r&b element that weaves in perfectly with their math-rock leanings. Just like “Tsuki Kake”, the other songs “Run For Word”, “Ordinary Days”, and the requisite title track have really perfected how an instrumental band should mold together. The guitar riffs are stunning and seem impossible, the drums seep away into the background in a fantastic way, and you can really tell that this band has been playing for as long as they have. They anticipate and complement each other so well that if you have never delved into math-rock or any Japanese music, I anticipate you turning into it from now on.

Receiving the assignment for The Future is Now was a revelatory experience that is a perfect example of why I am trying to break into the music journalism field. If you are open to escaping from your comfort zone and seeing what else the world has to offer, then Toe is just the band to open the doors for you and you will be glad at what you find.

Soho – The Debut EP

It was not easy to find information on Soho. When I finally found their website, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a decently sounding band that has the potential to turn into something once they mold their sound and technique more, but the question is will anyone be there for that seasoning needed.

Soho are a band based out of London whose sound most closely resembles classically rendered pop infused with folk and rock. If you are a fan of The Smiths or The Cardigans, this band will sound familiar to you as that is precisely what I heard when their first song “To The Sea” started up. Hattie Marsh, the lead singer, has a truly beautiful, haunting voice and when paired with her band mate Ludvig Helberg they really sound quite good.

However, their weakness lies in their adolescence. It is a decent starting EP, but the techniques need work. The sound isn’t as crisp (which is to be expected) and the instrumentation does sound one step removed from the bar scene (which it is), but those problems are all things that can be fixed with time and more seasoning. The part that isn’t so easily fixable is the lyrics. They aren’t bad lyrics, but they aren’t really lyrics that will make you think about the songs or draw you further into the band. It is more reminiscent of that song you hear on the radio once and you hum along to it, but once it is done you completely forget about it and you don’t rush to find out who sang it or what it was called.

The worst thing you can probably say about some artistic work is that it is forgettable, but that is precisely what happened once I finished with the 5 song EP by Soho. Given time, I think the band could really find something worthwhile, but unless I hear that new something on the radio one day I won’t keep tabs and I wouldn’t advise you do either.

Smoke Fairies – Blood Speaks album review

Any musical act that has the support of Jack White immediately becomes “aces” in my book, which is precisely the case for the Smoke Fairies and their new album Blood Speaks; well, on some levels that is. This blues-folk rock duo from England has a true smooth, mellow sound unlike any other. This would be their second full album and compared to the few songs that I heard from the first album, they have created a bigger, more technically sound album.

The best thing I can say about this album is how they have really come into their own, especially in terms of their backing instruments. The two women have really turned a corner with how they introduce and use the rest of the traveling musicians they bring along with them, most evident on “The Three of Us”. Along with their improved musicianship they have completely grown as singers not fighting against one another, but complimenting each other. Their experiences together have really helped mold them to the point where you can’t recognize which one is singing. Their voices are in such unison it adds depth and camaraderie to the songs, not truly seen in other acts of a similar dual-voiced nature. In “Let me know”, the whole song should be used as an example of how two singers perform together as it starts from word one and doesn’t let up till the end.

Unfortunately, their skill at singing and incorporating other instruments doesn’t translate to their song writing. Now, I am not saying all albums or songs should be fun, but the whole album is a chore to listen to with the mellowness amped up to an unnerving level. I definitely wouldn’t advise a listener who is depressed to take on this album as it definitely won’t help in that regard.

I imagine any Smoke Fairies fan would like this album and I can even recommend a song or two, but I can’t recommend the whole album for non-fans as I feel like I wouldn’t be doing my civic duty as a writer and a genial human being.