Tobacco – Exorcise Tape album review

The heading for this current review is misleading. Yeah, Tobacco is involved in this record, but an entity who goes by the name of ‘Zackey Force Funk’ is involved as well. The end result appears to be called Demon Queen. There are actually a number of guest musicians on this one, but Tobacco and Zackey are the primary dudes on this recording.

Not being all that intimately acquainted with Tobacco’s back catalogue, I dutifully cued up Spotify and took a trip through the weird, theoretically uninformed world of Tom Fec. It was definitely worth the journey, mostly because of the way it informed my understanding of how this new album/sonic mutation sits in relation.

Right off the bat, this recording is dirty, and I’m not talking about production. This is some straight up stripper music; sexual references drop like crazy, and I don’t honestly remember the last time I heard that many references to female genitalia, especially on the aptly named Puni Nani.

The music itself is some kind of electro-disco, with falsetto vocals that are swathed in a kind of detached cool, delivered over a highly electronic musical arrangement. Fec’s innate musicality shows through, as the ideas are nothing short of brilliant. The music teacher in me wonders what might happen if he got over his prejudice and embraced the science of tonal arrangement; the fact that that will probably never happen is fine, because it ultimately doesn’t matter. The upshot is that this album is a very ‘not for children’ sex romp replete with great musical ideas in the writing. It’s a highly worthwhile, and highly naughty, listen. Let it rock you.

Gregory Alan Isakov – The Weatherman album review

For proof that the ‘Americana’ style of music has nothing to do with being ‘American’, here is Gregory Alan Isakov, native of South Africa. For evidence related to this proof, listen to ‘Time Will Tell’, with the banjos, acoustic guitars, and whistle effects that are kind of reminiscent of a musical saw.

Isakov is an accomplished songwriter who manages to convey a type of intimacy through his music. There is a story-telling quality to his singer-songwriter vibe, which turns the songs into images of existence. The songs generally unfold at a leisurely pace, utilizing rhythmic techniques in the accompaniment that convey a heightened sense of motion amidst the incredibly lazy tempos.

If there is anything lacking on this record, it stems from the fact that there is an overabundance of slow, melancholy tunes. Isakov is a talented songwriter with a great melodic sense, but the general aesthetic he conveys unfortunately results in a type of blurring, as the songs tend to blend into one another.

On the upside, Isakov appears to have some kind of training, or at the very least he’s picked up a pretty solid understanding of harmonic relationships and song form since he started touring at 16. His ability to harmonize a melodic line and pace the harmonic rhythm to the line is really solid, leading to moments of subtle emotional intensity.

With Gregory Alan, it’s not about virtuosity or overt intensity, it’s about the human element, the story, and the lives that people live. All that’s needed is a little more variety in tempo.

Kodaline – Love Like This EP review

Irish rockers Kodaline like to sing about such lofty topics as ‘Standing in the parking lot of life’. This is a band that has drawn comparisons to Coldplay and Oasis, two bands I always felt were completely overrated and indicative of all that is wrong with the music industry. So, it was with a high measure of trepidation and uncertainty that I found myself entering into this next assigned review.

Honestly, the band isn’t as bad as all that. They’re definitely much better than Oasis, and way less melodramatic and contrived than Coldplay. I’m not particularly impressed by or interested in the music these guys make, but it’s all quite harmless and fairly bland. They’re competent musicians and songwriters, but every track on the e.p. is built around recycled concepts that are so predictable that any type of tension and release so necessary to truly engaging music is neutralized due to the lack of any tension.

In many ways, the sum and substance of the band is defined by the acoustic version of ‘Love Like This’ which appears at the end of the e.p. The first track on the e.p. is the studio version of the same song, and so the acoustic version acts as a variation which bookends the e.p. The arrangement is piano and guitar, and the general atmosphere is one of introspective seriousness. Though it is generally not a bad approach to interpreting the song, there is nothing about it that makes it really stand out, and this can be relied on as a statement about the bands output in general.

The Builders and the Butchers – Western Medicine album review

Portland residents by way of Alaska, The Builders and the Butchers play what can only be described as straight up country rock. It is literally country music that rocks out. The twang emanating from the vocal cords of front man Ryan Sollee acts as a finishing touch to the overall sound, cementing the aesthetic the band wants to convey.

And what of that aesthetic? It’s somewhat doom and gloom, Southern Gothic served up without a trace of irony or sentimentalism. The lyrics evoke images of burning deserts (Desert on Fire), funerary rites enacted amidst cold winter rain (No Roses), loaded guns and rusted train cars (Watching the World), and fevers, bleeding and poison (Hellfire Mountain).

There is an overall feeling of a sinner seeking repentance, a desire for absolution and release. From an instrumental standpoint, the general accompaniment style presented by ‘Watching the World’ goes a long way towards complementing the stylized pessimism contained in the lyrics; that lone half step dissonance played by the keyboardist is somehow poignant and foreboding, all at the same time.

All this should be expected from a group that started out calling themselves ‘The Funeral Band’. While all of this information may somehow convey the idea that this group is contrived in some way, the reality is that they are far from being contrived. The potency of the stories they tell and the conviction they convey imbues the music they create with the sincere intensity of a Baptist minister preaching to a rural farming community.

Kirin J. Callinan – Embracism album review

Kirin J. Callinan has something to prove musically, which seems to be that one man, a guitar, and a semi-circular arrangement of multiple effects pedals can sound like a tripped out version of new-wave music (Victoria M.) or like experimental music made by one man with a tonnage of effects pedals.

Honestly, when the second track- which happens to be the title track- kicked in, I thought I was going to be disappointed, because it was kind of a letdown after the first track, and I still think it’s a relative weak spot in the overall track arrangement. The general impression is that this guy has a very interesting musical imagination and tons of aural histrionics; this thing is all over the place stylistically. Even a track that I’m not terribly in love with, namely Scraps, is still so musically interesting that you can’t help but be pulled along.

Chardonnay Sean is an interesting musical tryptich. The actual body of the song is bookended by some very intriguing atmospheric work. The actual song itself ends up being a lot more musically interesting than it seems like its going to be.

As you can probably tell, I have a somewhat ambiguous relationship with Callinan’s music. He’s obviously really talented and has a unique musical mind, but there’s something about the end result that just doesn’t quite sit right with me. It has something to do with his crooning baritone and his choice of lyrics; the way those things are juxtaposed against the music does not come off as naturalized to me. The instrumental aspect of things is nothing short of visionary. Maybe I’ll learn to love the whole thing one day.

Palms – Palms album review

Palms is billed as a ‘heavy-metal super group’, consisting of former members of Isis, so you can figure out pretty quickly that this is going to be fairly non-traditional as heavy metal related things go, especially considering that Isis was always considered to be post-metal.

The size and shape of the release is misleading, because it is only six songs long, but the sheer length of some of the tracks means that the whole thing clocks in at just about an hour. That is another indication of what you will be in for when choosing to listen to this recording. This is very ‘composed’ heavy art music; the ironic thing is that it’s not very ‘metal’ in certain respects, despite the whole ‘heavy-metal super group’ tag. What it really is is an experimental rock band consisting of a chunk of Isis with the Deftones vocalist.

What these guys deserve huge credit for is writing music that is not very Isis-like at all. Caxide, Harris, and Meyer definitely have a certain rapport which developed through their time together in Isis. The current manifestation of this rapport shows through in the writing: the songs unfold at their own unhurried pace, and nuances are explored in a calm and confident manner. A perfect example of this is the song ‘Mission Sunset’. Over a fuzzed-out, sparse bassline, Meyer drops a very minimalist guitar part that is much more coloristic in nature than a traditional rhythm guitar part would be. All of a sudden, the main body of the song form begins to unfold, and what results is seven or so minutes of magic.

Megan Wyler – Through the Noise album review

New York native Megan Wyler is a sensitive soul. At least, this is the impression conveyed through her music. This is musician as chronicler of events, expositor of moments, omniscient scribe recording all the fragile moments that transpire in life. While it is in some ways all too earnest for my taste, there is something about her harmonic sensibility and her sense of song form that is intriguing to the point of engaging.

Her normal modus operandi appears to be a traditional acoustic guitar and vocals meets the studio, resulting in songs that consist of her lead vocals with a highly textured guitar accompaniment, augmented by tone colors of various stripes. The overall effect is very subdued and introspective. This is not music to kick off a raging party too, but rather the kind of music that would inspire hushed scribblings in a diary. The last track, Zither, would be the perfect selection to play in the movie scene where the female lead’s character arc has climaxed, and she is staring in the mirror in her room, contemplating her life before making that overwhelmingly huge decision.

Megan appears to be very new on the scene, or else she just wants to remain anonymous. Internet searches reveal little, and the sites one can find, including a Facebook page and a Soundcloud page, there is precious little biographical information. That said, if you like introspective, folk influenced that is full of rumination on life, love, relationships, and the human condition, then this woman is for you.

Damien Jurado – Where Shall You Take Me (Deluxe Reissue) album review

Damien Jurado is a seriously talented singer-songwriter from Seattle. That fact shouldn’t be very surprising, because all musicians are from Seattle, right?

Anyway, Damien is a musician with strong melodic gifts, a grasp of American musical history, and a highly intimate emotional quality that draws your attention in a very intense and focused way. This is traditional songcraft, unadorned, with the right amount of studio wizardry. This is evident on the first track, ‘Amateur Night’. The production is so sparse, desolate even, and Damien tells a story of addiction and violence that is simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. As the track unfolds, a quiet synth wash grows in volume, threatening to envelope and overwhelm the rest of the song.

Some of the strongest material is found in the demo tracks. The lack of production coupled with the very spare instrumentation plays some kind of trick of aural chronology on your perception, because it is very easy to forget that this guy has written this material so recently. As each of the demo tracks unfold, one is reminded that Mr. Jurado is a straight up songwriter. The material is so strong and arresting.

Some people might be turned off by the overall aesthetic, as it is very introspective and the tempos are really laid back. But, if you’re a fan of the more quiet side of Smog and you dig folk music and that genre with the stupid name, Americana, you really can’t go wrong. The emotive content will floor you.

Bomb The Bass – In The Sun album review

British electronic one man band Bomb The Bass are back with a new album. While I find the end result to be intriguing, this style of electronic music always leaves me wanting more.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that so much of the emphasis in this music is on texture, to the point that other things tend to get left out. In essence, I feel like what I’m hearing is a set of glorified bed tracks.

The ideas that are put forth are generally interesting and musical, but the whole thing kind of starts to sound the same after a while. There is a drone-like bassline, some keyboard vamps, and spacey vocals, and after that track ends, we move on to the next one.

Part of the problem is one of tempo. All of the tempos feel the same, to the point the whole thing feels like one giant remix recording with separations engineered to give the impression of actual individual tracks.

The thing is, is that there are many interesting moments on each track, little bits of inspired musical insight that make me wonder why he didn’t allow his muse to have completely free reign over the whole record. Or perhaps inspiration struck and then receded into the background on each track, forcing the use of lots of recycled filler on each track.

Suddenly, when all seems lost to a sort of complacent mediocrity, the track ‘We Are Lost’ kicks into gear. While it isn’t a completely flawless statement, listening to this track gives insights into what could have been.

Hooded Fang – Gravez album review

Canadian indie-rockers Hooded Fang play really bouncy post-punk sounding music. Something about the way the rhythm section coheres reminds me of a happy version of Joy Division. The drums are simple but right on and the bass lines are percussive and rhythmic, and they work perfectly together. The vocalist is nothing at all like Ian Curtis, his vocal style being more melodic and in a higher register, with more of a head voice quality to it.

Something about this bands music reminds me of the type of music Wes Anderson would pick for one of his movies. There is something timeless about the music they make, as the post-punk aspect of the music really does have a ‘live from the late-late seventies feel’ to it.

While every review I write reminds me just how sheltered I am in relation to the state of things in the world of ‘underground’ music right now, I also know that I haven’t heard anything this simple and direct but also as simultaneously musically satisfying as this in a while. This is straight up rock and roll, with minimal studio wizardry and whole lot of rocking out. Nothing is exceptionally complicated or overwrought, and everything gels in an engaging way. I suspect that this is a band that sounds many times better live. Not that the album is bad, because it’s not, but the way the energy comes across is telling that this group of musicians thrives in a live environment. So, listen to the recordings, and then go to the show, and be happy.