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Dune Rats – Smile EP review

The eccentric, Brisbane-based duo Dune Rats comprised of front man and vocalist Danny Beus and drummer BC Michaels recently released their third EP, “Smile.”Stylistically identical to their 2011 EP “Social Atoms,” “Smile” is comprised of high energy fuzz rock with a slight detour into garage surf pop. Each of the five tracks features upbeat guitar lines which, when paired with a heavy dosage of drums from Michaels and Beaus’s outlandish lyrics, makes for an EP full of catchy summer albums guaranteed to (hence the title) make you smile.

A vocal-heavy album, rare are the moments when Beaus’s voice isn’t the most engaging characteristic of the song. His boisterous, in-your-face vocal stylings, which are featured on nearly every second of the disc, pair well with the album’s laid back “I don’t care what you think of me” mantras, such as “You’ll never like us cause we’re so lame, we’ll never like you cause you’re so vain” (on “Red Light, Green Light:) and “Just hangin’ out, drinking Coca-Cola, I took some drugs and now I’m getting smaller” (on “Stoner Rock”).

On the other side of the lyrical spectrum, “F**ck It,” which verges on emotional, is about letting go of people who bring you down: “You never say you’re wrong, fuck it.” Ranging from lighthearted and carefree to angry and detached, each track on “Smile” sticks with a distinct, overlying theme: be happy, be yourself, and ignore anyone who has a problem with it.

Dune Rats clearly applies this philosophy to their music-making, a refreshing contrast to the overwrought nature of many up and coming musicians. Beaus and Michaels are not out to try and impress anyone; they keep it simple, sticking with basic, repeated rhyme schemes and staying away from any kind of rhythmic or vocal intricacies (the most vocal complexity comes at “All You Do”, which features light vocal harmonizing).

Though “Smile” may lack depth and variety as a result of their taking this approach, Dune Rats has accomplished what they set out to do: lighthearted and fun, their music is an honest portrayal of how much they love what they do. With “Smile,” they have delved further into a medium of music that works for them, and they have more than happy to stick to just that. But don’t expect these guys to adhere to anyone else’s standards but their own.

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Folly & the Hunter – Tragic Care album review

Moving beyond the  uncertain tones of a band first finding their sound present on debut LP Residents, Folly & the Hunter recently released Tragic Care, the indie folk band’s sophomore full-length album. Comprised of frontman and vocalist Nick Vallee, Chris Fox and Laurie Torres, the Montreal-based trio have built upon the raw emotion and dramatic ballad style present in their first album to create a polished, defining work that well demonstrates the group’s closeness as well as their developing musical prowess.

An album inspired by Vallee’s recent real-life experiences, Tragic Care explores themes of finding the beauty in tragedy and discomfort. Musically, each track captures this essence perfectly: a smattering of lilting keyboards, banjo, cello and the occasional glockenspiel work with beautiful vocal harmonies and light, creative percussion to create musical landscapes reminiscent of Sigur Ros. The effect evokes feelings of warmth and nostalgia, pairing well with concepts of elusive satisfaction and the bittersweet nature of life. The album’s opener “Watch for Deer at Dawn,” a song about seeking validation and the difficulties of becoming the person you want to be, opens with a tenderly played keyboard melody that crescendos into a multidimensional tune featuring a soothing cello and a soft percussion backbone. The effect is an airy, inspiring sound that makes you feel as though you are standing alone atop a mountain, breathing in fresh air as you look out at a grand, forested landscape.

Though many of the tracks on Tragic Care follow this same pattern of tension-building, dramatic ballads, style and instrumentation vary and well showcase the musicians’ widely ranging talents. While tracks like “Watch for Deer” and “Our Stories End” depict a gradual buildup accompanied by minimal percussion (which, depending on the track, includes banging on hand drums, tapping drum sticks together or lightly clapping), other tracks feature a more consistently-paced, upbeat style. “Moth in the Porchlight” features a merry banjo melody and vocal overlapping that make for a lovely, cheerful track reminiscent of many songs on Sufjan Stevens’ Welcome to Michigan. “Ghost” is played at a quicker tempo and is carried by heavier, more prominent percussion, making it one of the only tracks on the album that may inspire some jubilant foot-tapping.

Lyrically, Tragic Care does its job well–Vallee’s vocals ideally match the album’s musical style, slightly downtrodden yet optimistic and at peace. “How it Came Down,” a lovely, soothing track featuring cello and glockenspiel, tells a story of one’s loss of sense of self: “Every shakedown I withstand drains more spirit from my begging hands. I give them more than I give back.” Presenting a similar theme, the album’s namesake “Tragic Care” depicts the process of losing your direction: “I am stuck upon a ship, all the rowers lost their grips. We’re being propelled into the rocks…I have done the best I could, didn’t touch you like it should. Now I’m propelled into the wind, I didn’t learn, I didn’t win.” Poetic and melancholy, these lyrics pair beautifully depict the raw emotion that went into writing the album. Though peaceful and elegant, one gets a strong sense of dissatisfaction emanating from Vallee as he conveys his story track after track.

“Indie folk” can be a daunting category. While often limiting, oversimplifying and overdone, Folly & the Hunter proves that the genre can also be multidimensional and exploratory. On the whole, Tragic Care is the sound of a band that has hit its stride. The pictures this album paints are inspiring and sincere, conjuring strong emotions throughout each track. I highly recommend this work to anyone seeking such an experience.

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Milk Music – Cruise Your Illusion album review

Hailing from Olympia, Washington, Milk Music prides themselves on the fact that they are essentially “the ultimate outsiders”. “Too straight for hippies, too far out for punk,” the only element that can be categorized about the quartet fronted by guitarist/vocalist Alex Coxen is their decidedly counterculture aesthetic. Though the group has tightened up since the release of their first EP Beyond Living in 2010, Cruise Your Illusion (their first full-length album) still lacks traditionally structured tracks and in their place features unhinged melodies that give each song an expansive, mysterious feel.

Oscillating between fuzzy, fast-paced riffs and slower, unfocused guitar solos, Milk Music’s first full-length album carries an ’80s Pacific Northwest punk vibe interspersed with a bluesy, alternative twist. As a band that prides itself on being off the beaten path, this is a style that well accompanies Milk Music’s approach and aesthetic. Cruise Your Illusion features spaced out, winding melodies that often feel unfinished, making the album feel vast and unexplored upon first listen. “Caged Dogs Run Wild”  and “Dogchild” each feature rambling, wailing riffs that conjure a sensation of staring out at a sprawling, uninhabited desert. “Cruising with God,” a spiritual track touching on the sacred elements of music, showcases a higher energy melody with crashing electric guitar riffs that evokes a similar vision of expansiveness, but one that makes you want to get up and move around rather than stare out into space. “The Final Scene,” the album’s eight-minute closer featuring ]harmonica and vocal harmonizing, wraps up the album nicely by paying homage to 1950’s doo-wop.

Well paralleling the album’s ambling, border-less musical style, Coxen’s howled vocals add a degree of zealousness to every track. Though sometimes sparse and often difficult to discern, Coxen’s lyrics are heart-felt and sincere. “New Lease on Love” demonstrates the giddy sensation of falling in love through wailing, romantic lyrics while “Lacey’s Secret,” a song about growing up, poetically tells a more cryptic love story: “This one goes out to the weeping moon/I can’t see the road, but I’ve got plenty of room/to hang on a falling star, and changed it with a dance/I’m in a trance.” The melancholy vibe Coxen puts out through his lyrics is unguarded, making his wailing vocals relatable and appealing.

The beautiful thing about Cruise Your Illusion is how unplanned everything feels–from the sporadic, intense melodies to moments of lyrical genius. Listening to this album is like taking an ambling stroll by yourself without a set destination or time frame–you never know what you’ll stumble across, and when you hit something great, you won’t know how you got there or where it came from. It’s a journey that I highly recommend to everyone.

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Dick Diver – Calendar Days album review

Building off of the momentum they gathered following their first album release, the Melbourne-based foursome Dick Diver are out with new material. While stylistically similar to New Start Again (Dick Diver’s debut album), the band’s sophomore LP features complexities and added texture that demonstrate a broader range of talent and greater depth than did their previous work.

Calendar Days still features the same catchy, relaxed guitar melodies and steady drum beats that give Dick Diver’s music a charming 90’s indie rock quality, but also includes a variety of devices that add layers to the compositions. “Blue & That” opens with a soft, consistent keyboard, and also features saxophone and harmonica. Pedal steel is sprinkled throughout the album, namely on “Lime Green Shirt,” a song waxing nostalgia about a past relationship.

But more than just the instrumentation on this album feature subtle intricacies and layers. What I love most about Calendar Days is the way it employs seemingly simple lyrics about the banal routines of life (hence the title “Calendar Days”) to explore complex themes of growing up. “Alice,” a tune about falling in love, opens with a line about his morning breakfast (“I get out of bed/I get/my toast/to the perfect shade of gold”). “Blue and That,” a song about getting high in the park, touches on the fleeting nature of leisure time with friends. “Gap Life,” an acoustic track about the uselessness of channel surfing, conveys a sense of wistful longing for something more (“I don’t know if it was a gap year, or a gap life/But there wasn’t much on between channel 2 and channel 9”). Every word on Calendar Days feels real–the basic yet elegantly described actions and routines described are easy to relate to and unifying.  The result is an incredibly intimate album. This ability to transpose everyday experiences with which we are all familiar into music makes Dick Diver the kind of band you want to listen to when you need some friendly reassurance.

Layering sensations of happiness, sadness, thoughtfulness and nostalgia amongst musically solid compositions, Calendar Days will go a long way toward putting Dick Diver on the map–after all, no one tires of reminiscing about their youth (or enjoying charming Australian accents).  An effort well deserving of praise and attention, I highly recommend digging in.