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The Features – Wilderness album review

Indie pop band The Features’ latest studio release, Wilderness, combines rambunctious, high-energy, arena rock flavor with dance floor worthy grooves that are as infectious as they are fierce. The album has technically been out since July of last year but only until recently it has been available online or at the band’s shows. With strong, punchy beats and an impressive collectiveness, The Features newest album sounds as well constructed if not stronger than 2009’s Some Kind of Salvation. Needless to say, if the The Cure and Iggy Pop begat a love child, the result would be The Features.

Lead singer Matt Pelham’s fiery vocals are consistently nothing less than super charged. This, along with his thought provoking lyrics (“say hello to the children born today…what kind of people do you think that they will be?”) gives the singer an uncanny preacher-like ability. Wilderness is evenly layered: Splitting the album in two, one half is electrifying, dynamic rock anthems that demand throwing on your party pants, the other half a mix of sympathetic, yet veracious melodies.

Early to midway through Wilderness, there is a trio of hard-hitting numbers that are, without question, the backbone of the album. “Big Momma Gonna Whip Us Good,” with tumbling drum beats and sweeping guitar rhythms is fast, yet controlled. “How It Starts” is juiced to the max, appropriately synthed and aching to be the official anthem for every house party in America. “Rambo” is high-spirited; distinctly emphasized by the dramatic playing of keyboardist Mark Bond.

But it can’t all be keggers and after-bar parties. Thus the need for an amicable, breezy, tune like “Fats Domino” which will have bros around the globe hugging each other and drunkenly singing in unison, “you can have everything, except my rock n’ roll!”

The Features’ light-hearted style is too much fun not to enjoy. Their playing feels genuine and unpretentious. And with that approach toward music, they have succeeded no matter what the result was they were looking for.

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Chet Faker – Thinking in Textures EP review

Upon first glance, the name “Chet Faker” might evoke images of a cheesy tribute band haphazardly attempting to recreate the music of Chet Baker. In reality the moniker belongs to a 22 year old musician from Australia who also happens to be a fan of the late, jazz musician. However, within the first few minutes of listening to the artist’s debut release, Thinking In Textures, it’s clear the similarities between the two, beyond mood, are virtually non-existent.

Nick Murphy (who goes by the alias, Chet Faker, to avoid confusion with a fellow Australian musician also named Nick Murphy) has earned quite the following since his cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” went viral on the internet. Faker’s ultra mellow blend of electro-house music is clean, uncluttered and certainly has its niche in this digital age. Along side his 11,000 (and growing) facebook fans as well as the legion of supporters he has gathered through his online music blog, Faker finds himself rapidly emerging onto the global music scene, barely having left Australian soil.

“I’m Into You” gets the album off to an inelaborate start. The song drags slightly along side Faker’s groggy voice, making it sound as if the song was recorded the morning after a gig at a smoky Melbourne pub. Faker’s vocal sound and harmonizing skills improve, however, with the r&b tune “Terms and Conditions.” The aforementioned “No Diggity” is certainly a nice rendition. With the sexy, slow tempo, subtle back-beat and cavernous reverb, it’s easy to see why the song has been so popular. But Faker’s sleepy vocals are hard to get past, and one can’t help but feel like the recording could have used just a bit more polishing.

Faker brings a taste of dubstep in with the beautifully dreamy “Cigarettes and Chocolate.” “Everything I Wanted” is a fittingly subdued ending to an EP that practically begs the listener to chill out.

Chet Faker is a man of mystery. While researching on his story, it was a challenge to find much information about him. But something tells me that’s about to change. As the young musician’s sound and style continue to evolve and more are turned on to his music, I have a feeling we will be hearing a lot more about Chet Faker.

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Here We Go Magic – A Different Ship album review

In Here We Go Magic‘s latest album, A Different Ship, singer/songwriter Luke Temple poses a lot of tough questions. An album saturated in ideas of self-doubt and at times bipolar ramblings, A Different Ship’s thematic display of uncertainty weaves itself endlessly throughout the recording.

After a brief percussional intro reminiscent of a sampling from the Broadway production of Stomp, Temple bemoans the difficulties of commitment in “Hard To Be Close,” a song that features some of the songwriter’s best vocal work on the album. In “Make Up Your Mind,” a maniacal, psychedelic shuffle, Temple’s characteristically lyrical voice has a banging-your-head-against-the-wall feel. At the same time, Jennifer Turner’s rolling bass line propels the song into orbit flawlessly; a consistency throughout the album that is hard to ignore.

Here We Go Magic is clearly influenced by spacey rock cadets Radiohead. Temple’s voice and style, to his betterment, sounds like a mix between Thom Yorke and Ray Davies (The Kinks.) But just as Yorke’s unpredictable genius settles for moments of clarity inside a maddening mess, Temple too has the ability to find that harmonious balance. This is clearly evident in “Alone But Moving,” where the singer concedes to satisfaction temporarily.

“I Believe in Action,” a semi-droning, one dimensional tune, brings back the lo-fi sound that typified the band’s previous albums. Not as prevalent on this album, however, is the much present synthesized sound that helped shape 2010’s Pigeons. The final song on the album, which also happens to be the title track, clocks in at over eight minutes, the latter half of the song completely ambient noise. This is a fitting end for an album steeped in hesitation and uncertainty.

A Different Ship has an atmospheric quality that, at times, evokes visually as well as aurally. Yet for some reason, the album as a whole feels incomplete. For all his efforts to seek balance in life’s dilemmas, Temple is left in the end with more unanswered questions than he began with.

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Hot Water Music – Exister album review

Exister, Hot Water Music’s first studio album release in eight years and first since the band’s hiatus and eventual breakup a year later, finds the group not too far from where they left off with 2004’s The New What Next. However, time away from the studio seems to weigh down the album heavily.

In the opening riffs of “Mainline,” it is perhaps convincing that these punk rockers from Gainesville, Florida, haven’t lost a step; Hot Water Music’s trademark tumbling, spritzy rock sound that made them so appealing to the 90s post-hardcore, punk rock scene shines bright from the get-go. Unfortunately, a thorough run through the album exposes a gradual descent with each song becoming increasingly more predictable and similarly prosaic as the last. By the time “Drown In It” comes along, it is clear that a spark is lacking in the 2012 version of Hot Water Music. < Chuck Ragan's voice, which has always been deeper and raspier than vocalist Chris Wollard's, is now clearly more raspy and at times a bit strained. “Drag my body” is unconvincing in it's attempt to display the band's once powerful and aggressive approach and falls short in providing the complex rhythms that at a time drove the majority of HWM's songs. A small glimmer of hope emerges with the album's title track, which seems to hark back to the bands' original sound. Scrapping the punk-ballads for a song, the band makes a successful attempt to re-create what they have always done best: short, concise, crowd rousing numbers that get to the point and pack a punch. The sound of a band that's built on high powered, intense rhythms can unfortunately- due to the conflux of time; lose steam over the years. Having noted that, Exister is hit and miss. In some songs, there is a forced sense of urgency, yet on other tracks, the band cruises through flawlessly with circa 2000 HWM energy. For dedicated HWM fans, Exister is worth checking out. The album, albeit lackluster at times, has something to say: these musicians have no intention of backing down.