Album-art-for-Emotional-Mugger-by-Ty-Segall Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger


Ty Segall releases a new record nearly each year. Whether running solo or alongside the Ty Segall Band, he has over eight studio albums to his name since 2008. This is a prolific number for a 28-year-old. Segall adds another record to his psychedelic catalog with Emotion Mugger. Now backed by his musician friends called “The Muggers,” he welcomes a Stooges-esque brand of garage-rock. The album title says it all, but, as if you needed a description, it’s a fuzzed out and synth-heavy record, but this regresses back into the same old routine we’ve heard before. Filled with songs about a man named Candy Sam and a love that went awry, Emotional Mugger immediately grasps the listeners’ attention — and yet, because Segall has relapsed into his usual tricks, the album can’t grasp it for too long.

The song “Squealer” kicks off Emotional Mugger with distorted guitars, psychedelic keys, and simple drumming that leads the song with a jarring beat. It pulls the listener in, and it’s one that can be sung along to. Segmented and disjointed, “Squealer” sets the abrupt and off-color tone to Emotional Mugger, just the way Segall likes it.

All the way up until midway through the album, with the very unsettlingly titled “Big Baby Man (I Want A Mommy),” Emotional Mugger soars through similar sounds, such as the recognizable, simple (but solid) drumming, strange lyrics (“I’m stuck in my old shoes, waiting for that finger feeling,” from “Squealer”), and carbon-copied guitar riffs.

Perhaps this theme of living in a world that keeps us down also keeps us hanging.

By track seven, “Mandy Cream,” all interest wanders away. As if we haven’t stressed the amount of unwanted repetition enough throughout Emotional Mugger, “Squealer Two,” simply the title itself, is a solid example of this problem. Again, Segall relies on what he knows all too well. The formula he concocted at the beginning of Emotional Mugger is wearing thin. The concept of the phrase “Emotional Mugger” is highly intriguing. The term can suggest that human beings take advantage of one another without any regard for someone else’s emotions. But it’s hard to tell whether Segall addressed the meaning. Between Segall’s overproduced vocal tracks and the guitar riff we’ve become all too familiar with, there’s hardly anything left for us to glean from Emotional Mugger. By the end of the record, we’ve left with more of Segall’s contemplative speculations on the world, but the arguments are simply not as strong as the songs from earlier on in his catalog. In fact, track number ten, “W.U.O.T.W.S.,” begins with straight-up feedback and what can only be described as “noise,” and it lasts throughout much of the song. Segall’s direction with Emotional Mugger can easily be represented within this song.

Any writer has been told the age-old advice, “write what you know.” Despite our mentors berating us with this haunting piece of advice, it’s not a phrase that all writers necessarily agree with. Segall has long idolized musicians like David Bowie and Iggy Pop, and he created an entire career out of his love for those individuals. But what made Bowie’s and Pop’s careers so compelling is how they made a habit out of approaching songwriting differently with their abundant records. Segall is young and holds an engaging catalog. And he should, yet again, listen closer to his idols. They will tell him that venturing into unknown territory can change everything.

Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger tracklist:

  1. “Squealer”
  2. “Californian Hills”
  3. “Emotional Mugger / Leopard Priest”
  4. “Breakfast Eggs”
  5. “Diversion”
  6. “Big Baby Man (I Want A Mommy)”
  7. “Mandy Cream”
  8. “Candy Sam”
  9. “Squealer Two”
  10. “W.U.O.T.W.S.”
  11. “The Magazine”
album-art-for-until-the-end-of-days-by-nick-urb Nick Urb – Until The End Of Days


It’s hard for adult contemporary singer-songwriters to stand out. Because their music must appeal to everyone from high schoolers to middle-aged moms, they have mass commercial potential, but the competition is fierce. To make waves, artists either need to write excellent, catchy songs (Jason Mraz, Damien Rice) or have a signature sound (Ed Sheeran with his loop pedals and hip-hop influence). Nick Urb achieves neither on Until The End Of Days, which is the Kirkland brand of acoustic pop without the benefit of saving money. There’s nothing to hear here. Still, for the sake of your entertainment, I’ll go into the gory details.

First, there’s Urb’s voice. There’s so much breath in it that it feels like he’s French kissing my ear. Tongues don’t belong in ears! Ever. It’s creepy.

At the same time, his whispers make him sound so sincere, as if he’s sharing some wondrous secrets of the real world. This would be excellent if he had the power of Bono or the cutting poeticism of Sufjan Stevens, but the majority of his lyrics sound silly, cliché, and flat-out predictable. If these are the secrets of the real world, I want to take the blue pill and go back to unconscious Matrix bliss, Morpheus.

Take, for example, “This World,” which is perhaps the worst offender among a big, bad crew. Nick Urb talks about a revolution, some sort of uplifting feeling (love, duh) that will bring an end to the angst he feels upon realizing that — surprise! — society is kinda shitty. But “This world is driving me crazy/This world sets my heart on fire/It’s being destroyed from the inside/It’s time we stand as a choir” inspires me to stay firmly rooted to my chair, particularly delivered in Urb’s punchless, saccharine voice. And that’s not even to mention the little pop-punk radio effect snippet he throws in at one point — the single most disgusting music moment of 2016.

He couldn’t start a revolution if he took PCP and ran through a police station stabbing cops.

Most of the other songs have the personality of the cute, disarming guy who gets a lot of first dates but ends up being totally uninteresting. When he tries to wax poetic, he falls on his face. “You’ve got beauty in spades, hair like tidal waves,” Urb whines in “Everything and More” (which excited me at the beginning because the guitar sounded a little like “Paranoid Android”). Tidal waves are among the deadliest natural disasters known to mankind and are not romantic at all. Nice try, Nick.

Urb’s asinine lyricism is backed by the least imaginative instrumentation and production of the year. Until the End of Days is a hodgepodge of predictable piano and shiny acoustic guitar veneers, entirely devoid of catchy hooks. I can’t remember a single top line melody, even after listening to the album three times. Urb has created ten songs as cheesy as Owl City, only without any of the memorable imagery and lacking the experimental sensibility of Adam Young.

I’ll give exactly one song some measure of credit: “Routines,” the album’s closer, builds a pretty sonic atmosphere that swells in accordance with Urb’s voice. But it’s not worth your time to plunge through the first nine empty tracks to get there.

Move along now.

Nick Urb – Until The End Of Days tracklist:

  1. “Out Alive”
  2. “This World”
  3. “Until the End of Days”
  4. “Emily”
  5. “Higher Ground”
  6. “Everything and More”
  7. “Heaven on Earth”
  8. “Brothers”
  9. “London”
  10. “Routines”
album-art-for-the-catastrophist-by-tortoise Tortoise – The Catastrophist


When Tortoise started in the early ‘90s, they pioneered post-rock. Ever since their self-titled debut in ’94, every ambient rocker has owed them some musical debt, and they’ve got nothing left to prove. So with The Catastrophist, the band’s first album in seven years, Tortoise didn’t seek out paradigm-shifting aesthetics or far-flung experimentalism. They simply went out and made an album that’s flat-out fun, full of childlike wonder and funky dance grooves.

From the first notes of the eponymous leadoff track, The Catastrophist bounces lightly on its toes. Drummer John Herndon masterfully achieves a tone reminiscent of the great ‘70s funkers. He ensures that even when the atmosphere gets a little dense (as it’s wont to do with such a texture-focused band), the songs never get bogged down. He stands out during the strutting, clanging “Shake Hands With Danger,” as his booming boom-bap provides swagger underneath a nightmarish collage of saxophones. He even makes Tortoise danceable on songs like the title track and “Hot Coffee.”

And since when has Tortoise been a danceable band?

The beginning of “The Catastrophist” sounds like something Daft Punk would’ve cooked up if they were making Discovery in 2016 for gamers instead of clubbers. Tortoise innovated rock-style music by seamlessly integrating electronic ambience. And on The Catastrophist, their mastery of synthesized sound hasn’t waned. “Gesceap,” in particular, shines by weaving a hypnotic blanket of sawtooth soundwaves that intensify over time. But it isn’t the type of intensity that makes you scream “OH SHIT” and hold fast to the ground. Instead, you’ll want to spiral into its dizziness with laughter on your lips, because Tortoise keeps enough featheriness in the patchwork. Making it maybe one minute shorter is the only change I would suggest — it’s the album’s longest track by far, and its middle drags a bit. 

The record isn’t without its oddities, though. Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley joins the band as a guest vocalist on “Yonder Blue,” and the addition of words disrupts the instrumental rhythm of the album. I wish she could’ve used her voice more like an instrument instead of delivering clear lyrics because it would’ve fit the joyful aesthetic of The Catastrophist better than her current soothing-yet-uninteresting contributions. And, beyond its callback to the ticking of Pink Floyd’s “Time,” the atmosphere on “The Clearing Fills” isn’t dynamic enough to suit the tension.

A stealthy candidate for best track on the album: “Gopher Island.” It’s a little over a minute long, sandwiched between “Rock On” and “Shake Hands With Danger,” but it fits the name perfectly. It made me laugh because the springy synth belongs in a Whack-a-Mole game soundtrack — except that you’d be whacking gophers and maybe tortoises.

The Catastrophist makes for perfect late night Uber music — equal parts festive and familiar, without too much challenge or depth. Tortoise didn’t change the world with this one, but they also didn’t have to. The love they put into each track shows, and that makes The Catastrophist a worthwhile return.

Tortoise- The Catastrophist tracklist:

  1. The Catastrophist
  2. Ox Duke
  3. Rock On
  4. Gopher Island
  5. Shake Hands With Danger
  6. The Clearing Fills
  7. Gesceap
  8. Hot Coffee
  9. Yonder Blue
  10. Tesseract
  11. At Odds With Logic
Album-art-for-Graspers-by-AKASE AKASE – Graspers


Bands are usually spurred by friendships with other musicians. They get together and jam, and then they either come together or fall apart. Longtime friends DJ Harry “Midland” Agius and singer/multi-instrumentalist Robbie Redway stuck together, and they’ve since released a record that isn’t made very often because two music-loving friends created it with a clear vision. Techo, house, and soul combine worlds in AKASE’s full-length debut Graspers.

Graspers is slightly reminiscent of Broken Bells, the partnership between The Shins’ James Mercer and musician/producer Danger Mouse. While these duos merged from different music worlds, they both created a sound all their own. But AKASE creates music on a totally different playing field than Broken Bells because their music blends both Aguis and Redway’s ideas together, whereas Broken Bells feels like another James Mercer project. Mercer’s singing is melodic and evocative of his work in The Shins, whereas Redway delivers his lyrics through long, erratic breaths.

Those who are fans of Midland and Redway will undoubtedly love Graspers; they both wholly bring themselves and their ideas to the table. And those who hear the album for the first time may be a little thrown off. The album’s first track “Adrift” takes about a minute before Aguis kicks in his beat — a long time for listeners with short attention spans. This isn’t just any old pop album, though. Listeners who appreciate the anticipation of an incredible hook, no matter how long it takes to get to, will enjoy the record.

Graspers rewards the patient.

Aside from Redway’s singing, AKASE is different from many other collaborative producer/singer projects. Namely, this isn’t an album to dance around to. It sounds as if a dark cloud loomed over each song, projecting London onto GraspersListeners may instead place Graspers on the needle during a gray day for contemplation.

When listeners finally find themselves hooked on the album’s first single, “Rust,” they’ll slowly delve into all the other great aspects of it. Agius found his sweet spot on Graspers. During the entirety of the album, the beats sound varied and new as they lie under Redway’s ambious and well-written vocals. These two went far to create the album, giving it much-needed breadth.

AKASE may abide by taking their time to create art, and this policy served them well. Although Graspers kicks off slowly, it ends with a fascinating partnership of two friends who love what they do.

AKASE – Graspers tracklist:

  1. “Adrift”
  2. “Rust”
  3. “Borderlines”
  4. “Beseech”
  5. “Call”
  6. “Is It Because”
  7. “Murmur”
  8. “Deft Ways”
  9. “Feel A Little”
  10. “Graspers”
  11. “Extract”
album-art-for-guilty-of-love-by-unloved Unloved – Guilty of Love


When three veterans of film and television score writing come together for a new project, their material will probably sound cinematic. The real question raised by Unloved’s album Guilty of Love was what sort of movie it would create in my head. With Jade Vincent’s sultry, devil-may-care vocals layered over the tremulous and airy production of David Holmes and Keefus Ciancia, the vibe feels like the musical version of a young Quentin Tarantino hypothetically directing Memento. The record blends SoCal surfer swagger with hallucinogens and a dose of deadpan voiceover. The catch is this: when I watch, say, a Tarantino flick, I’m not expecting emotional depth, because he’s all about stunning visuals and clever dialogue. But when I turn on Guilty of Love, I am expecting some feels. It delivers none.

Vincent’s spoken vocals help define Guilty of Love. They contribute to the pseudo-visual experience that the listening provides; effectively narrating the album’s loosely connected vignettes. For example, “When A Woman Is Around” conjures up the image of a nihilistic, Kill Bill­-esque femme fatale wearing sunglasses while driving down Santa Monica Boulevard after manipulating a man out of his money or his life. And I wouldn’t be shocked if Vincent were actually wearing sunglasses in the recording booth. “At the moment, you could say I’m presently optimistic … fuck the travails,” she drawls at one point, sounding as emotionally detached as a Bret Easton Ellis character. 

Detachment pervades the album. Vincent’s languid vocal delivery amid the sparseness of songs like “After Dinner” and “Cry Baby Cry” creates a hazy synth atmosphere. When the subject matter calls for a dispassionate narrator, as it does on the tracks “When a Woman Is Around” and “Damned,” this aesthetic works perfectly and allows the audiovisual atmosphere to take over. “Damned,” in particular, expresses the James Dean-idolizing inner rebel in everyone: “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t/heart’s desire/hellfire.” You don’t listen to those lyrics and then have any qualms about doing something crazy.

But when Vincent sings about any non-nihilistic subject, she sounds insincere.

Just take the album’s title track. Over a backdrop of spaghetti western-influenced garage-rock, she sings “Wrong or right, I’m guilty of love,” but she conveys none of the emotion I need to feel moved by the song. Where is Vincent’s reaction? She’s neither remorseful nor defiant, settling for a Ben Stein-ian monotone that doesn’t invoke love. The same goes for some of the faster songs on the record. “This is the Time” revels in a moment of adrenaline but never achieves any deeper meaning than its title — I don’t care what it’s time to do.

The tracks do sound lush. Toward the end of the record, Holmes and Ciancia get more florid, expanding away from mere garage-nouveau into a gritty, aural variant of magical realism. “Silvery Moon,” if left to its instrumental devices, would fit right into Caspian’s post-rock soundscape. But it feels like the sonic stage has been set for some grandiose production, only for the actors to show up high on opiates and unable to slip into their roles.

The emptiness can be entirely appropriate during a few songs. But for  most of their debut album, Unloved comes off as half-baked and half-willed, indecisive about whether they’re trying to spur any emotional response beyond their stunning audiovisual veneer.

Unloved – Guilty of Love tracklist:

  1. Guilty of Love
  2. After Dinner
  3. Damned
  4. Cry Baby Cray
  5. When A Woman Is Around
  6. Xpectations
  7. This Is The Time
  8. The Ground
  9. I Could Tell You But I’d Have To Kill
  10. We Are Unloved
  11. Silvery Moon
  12. Forever Unloved
Album-art-for-Bruised-Boys-Never-Die-by-Bruised Bruised – Bruised Boys Never Die


Although the band name Bruised may conjure ideas of a death metal or a hardcore rock band, the Chicago group plays punk that’s not even just punk. Self-described as a “punk/dream pop/experimental rock/garage rock,” they released their third project entitled “Bruised Boys Never Die” and that genre description could not be more fitting.

Their punk roots are best heard on songs such as “Money” and “Prairie Style” with a lineup of your rock-based instruments, fast rhythms, and bellowing vocals. But the mixed genres appear in songs like “Caveman.” It starts off sounding like any other punk song with the fast tempos but after about 20 seconds a cacophony of dueling drums and guitar crescendos into a climax. A rock bassline then sets the pace along with audible lyrics and rhythms you can bob your head too without getting whiplash. But then you fall into the band’s trap: after a minute, they turn it up a notch and the cycle begins again. They use this form well throughout their six-song release.

Bruised formed in the winter of 2012. They’ve been around for only a handful of years, but they already they have put out three projects and a couple of singles — a feat some mainstream artists can’t attest to. In this day and age of self-releasing music, it’s easy to think making music is easier than before but the work still must be done. Bruised puts in the work and their recently released Bruised Boys Never Die showcases them reworking a classic genre.

As prolific as Bruised has been, they don’t sacrifice quality for quantity.

Bruised may have no desire to be put in one category and their music reflects it. With these six songs, they do not go beyond the three-minute mark. One even hardly clocks in over a minute and a half, and the yet the band fully displays their message. Some bands try to be unique purely for its own sake, but Bruised band sticks to a classic format while venturing further. This record may not sound as experimental as others in the DIY music world, but it indicates the band’s future.

Brusied “Bruised Boys Never Die” tracklist:

  1. Bleeding Grouse
  2. Cubist Sensation
  3. Caveman
  4. Money
  5. Prairie Style
  6. Haunt
album-art-for-blackstar-by-david-bowie David Bowie – Blackstar


The context of Blackstar changed entirely overnight. When I first listened to it on the day of its release, it was already haunting, sure. I could detect the krautrock influences in several of the tracks’ motorik beat and the free-flowing woodwinds over cold synths; shades of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly manifested themselves in the visceral content of the lyrics and in the decidedly jarring, anti-pop production of Tony Visconti. But then David Bowie died, and now the album sounds like his parting gift to the world. Blackstar‘s oblique, vague references to mortality suddenly transformed into the horrifyingly real meditations of a dying man upon not only his bleak future but also his entire life and legacy. The cacophonic saxophones that swirl throughout the album no longer offered a glimpse into an abyss of the soul; they became the abyss itself.

The task for us is not to determine the meaning of Blackstar because we know it’s about death. We now have the rare opportunity to investigate not only David Bowie’s thoughts on his impending demise but also how he successfully turned dying into a form of art.

This being David Bowie, he of innumerable personae, of course he succeeded.

We meet his newest alter-ego, the album’s titular character, right away. His wavering voice signals to us a certain fragility. Does it waver with the weakness of age or the fear of his “day of execution?” Probably both. The dirge-like woodwinds and drums behind him paint a sonic picture of Blackstar slowly approaching an altar of ritualistic self-sacrifice, preparing for his final statement to the world. And when he makes that statement, the song unfolds into a beautiful valley of strings and confident drums as he affirms his current identity repeatedly.

That’s one of Bowie’s trademarks, and it’s also why his influence reached so widely over the years: he persistently and willingly discarded his old selves while adopting new ones that were no less fascinating. Blackstar is his last, dying incarnation, but he’s just as powerful and self-assured as Ziggy Stardust or The Thin White Duke. “You’re a flash in the pan/I’m the Great I Am,” he intones, aware of the mark he will leave upon the world he completes his ritual. But at the same time, he knows someone from the next generation of artists will arise to take his place in the public consciousness. Then Bowie re-embraces the void as the dirge returns at the song’s close.

The rest of Blackstar takes the same attitude on death as its lead track: defiant and graceful, with a creeping sense of the unknown wrapped up in music that vacillates between frenetic chaos and eerie hollowness. “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)” represents Bowie at his most vital, and no surprise there; it was originally released in November 2014, early into his struggle with cancer. It rocks urgently, with a flutter of demonic sax occasionally interrupting the hard-driving guitar riff. Donny McCaslin shows off his chops throughout the album, echoing the avant-garde shrieks of late ‘60s icons like Coltrane and Frank Lowe.

Then there’s “Lazarus.” Its music video was released just ahead of the album, and people raved about the symbolism of Bowie writhing in a hospital bed and emerging from a coffin-like wardrobe. The opening line, “Look at me, I’m in heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen,” seems to foreshadow the inevitable shock that Bowie’s death would cause. Bowie also sounds more desperate than he does at any other point on the album — from his wailing during the latter half of the song to the way the sparse drums and lightning-like guitar chords make his very voice seem insignificant. He is Lazarus before the Biblical hero’s resurrection, just looking to be free from pain.

Of the other songs on the album, only “Dollar Day” matches this feeling of unease. It repeated refrain of “I’m dying to” is among the bluntest of Blackstar‘s statements. Its polar opposite might be “Girl Loves Me,” with lyrics mostly written in Nadsat and Polari — the slang languages from Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and the 1970s London gay clubs. Though it’s as bleak as the others, its swagger is undeniable; an electric energy stemming from its complex beat.

And then, after just seven songs, Bowie signs off, singing that he “can’t give everything away.” One interpretation of this obviously revolves around his secret illness. But in a broader sense, he’s saying that no one will ever get to the bottom of him — just as he can’t get to the bottom of death. So he leaves us with unanswered questions about his inspirations, his chameleon musicality, his ease of changing skins, and his ability to convert his existence into a work of art. We’ll be in the business of answering them for a long time.

Rest easy, Blackstar. You left us with one hell of a goodbye.

David Bowie – Blackstar tracklist:

  1. Blackstar
  2. ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore
  3. Lazarus
  4. Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)
  5. Girl Loves Me
  6. Dollar Days
  7. I Can’t Give Everything Away
Album-art--for-king-push-darkest-before-dawn-the-prelude-by-pusha-t Pusha T – King Push–Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude


Pusha T surprised the public this November when he announced that he’s releasing the prelude to his long-awaited King Push, which now carries an expected April release date. But when you’re sitting on material this good — even though its narrative does not tell the story of your planned magnum opus — how could you withhold it from the public?

Push tells his story of ascending from coke dealer to impending king of hip hop in Darkest Before Dawn. It’s firmly rooted in the footsteps of ’90s East Coast gangsta rap at every level, from production to lyrical stylings to the fact that Pusha T, like Jay Z, now heads up a major label. That road, of course, is not easy, and the album lives up to its name with a dark tone that confronts the struggles of the past head-on and affirms them as necessary, hustle-building experiences.

The production shines across the album, with Timbaland’s three contributions standing out. He coronates Push with what amounts to an ethereal handing-off of the rap baton: an adroit sample of Biggie’s “Think B.I.G.” that forms the hook of “Untouchable.” The bubbly beat of “Got Em Covered” creates a jaunty background to a celebration of debts paid, and “Retribution” features a menacing, icy sequencer over a sliding bass line that promises cold superiority. The beats from other producers are solid, too, especially the Kanye/J. Cole-produced “M.P.A.,” which brings to mind a glorious hybrid of “Gorgeous” and “Murder to Excellence.” Most importantly, the whole record features no trap beats, which breathes fresh air into mainstream rap. The old-school analog drums, the splashes of piano, and the mobile bass lines bless Darkest Before Dawn with a certain vitality found in hip-hop’s past — a warmth that pervades the works of golden age Brooklyn DJs and forms a beautiful and jarring synthesis with their emcees’ gritty verses.

Lyrically, Push takes us along the painstaking path of making and keeping money, weaving deft cultural callouts together with bald moments of truth. “You’d rather be more famous than rich,” he spits with an acid that melts away the veneer of social media clout. But he’s not merely trading one measure of success for another.

Pusha T is well aware that his money, not his fame, will be what allows him to sustain his wealth, take care of his family, and have a powerful voice in American society.

That’s a mentality he’s built since his coke-dealing days and that he still embraces. “Keep Dealin” might not be a literal exposé, but it does represent the Hovian mindset of being a business, man. Among the other lyrical highlights on the album are Push’s dissection of the rap game in “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets” and his response to the high-profile police killings of black men in “Sunshine,” two tracks that showcase Push’s inability to ever completely escape the dangerous life that is being black in America. The only response is to maintain upward momentum, and fortunately for Push, he has done that.

The real question now is this: Where does Pusha T go from here? He’s told his story and it’s highly compelling, mostly because he’s taken on a persona that hasn’t really been seen in the mainstream since gangsta rap’s “death” a decade ago. Now that he’s on top, perhaps the socially conscious bent of “Sunshine” — the last track on the album and the only one not focused on Push — provides a harbinger that the king will be a Robin Hood and not a robber baron.

Pusha T – King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude tracklist:

  1. Intro (Darkest Before Dawn)
  2. Untouchable
  3. M.F.T.R.
  4. Crutches, Crosses, Caskets
  5. M.P.A.
  6. Got Em Covered
  7. Keep Dealin
  8. Retribution
  9. F.I.F.A.
  10. Sunshine
Album-art-for-Album-Captiva-by-Band-Captiva Captiva – Captiva


Like the coastal Florida island they’re named after, Kansas City foursome Captiva brings the ocean to the American heartland with their self-titled EP. Their debut struggles to find its legs, but they deliver a beachy promise, even if that coastal energy feels more like the Pacific than the Atlantic.

They kick it off with the raucous “Road to Ruin,” which is also the band’s lead single. But these decisions surprise me, not only because “Road to Ruin” does not represent the rest of the band’s debut—lead singer JJ Ries’ voice reverberates from garage-studio walls that disappear on the other tracks—but also because 4:47 is an intimidating length for a high-energy pop-rock song. As “Road to Ruin” starts, the aggressive and jaunty chords that suggest a Mad Max-ish desert speed excite you.

But then you’re abandoned in a chorus that lasts about twice as long as it should, grinding its musical motifs into uninspiring dust and not compensating with compelling lyrics. It’s a shame, because the bridge would be a delight of playful guitars and careful buildup if your ears weren’t fatigued by the time it arrives.

The other three tracks on Captiva land the band somewhere on the California coast between the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ LA funk-driven strumming and Young the Giant’s atmospheric Orange County ocean vibes. “Stimulating Freeze” follows “Road to Ruin” and you can feel the band relax audibly, as if the pressure to create some magical garage hit has ended and now they can return to their base lounge state.

This actually turns out to be pretty groovy in a night-at-the-beach sort of way.

“Chemicals” is the standout track on the EP, both lyrically and musically. It dances hard at the beginning, adrenaline the chief chemical flowing behind Ries’ eyes as his bandmates (Patrick McQuaid on guitar, Nick Riffle on bass, and Hank Wiedel on drums) create an edgy pop-funk riff ready for a bigger stage. But to me, the song peaks at its drop into a slow, reggae-like jam at the end. It changes its momentum without altering its spirit and thereby flows like a refreshing breeze.

“Sometimes,” the EP’s closer, is almost a mirror image of “Chemicals,” starting with Ries’ languid assertion that “sometimes [he takes] drugs” to navigate the worries of life with careless ease but building into a cosmic groove featuring a subtly huge synth layer and excellent work by the rhythm section of Riffle and Wiedel.

The members of Captiva are still young — all in college — and in their nascent stage of wondrous self-discovery, a mixed-bag EP is to be expected. If they move in the direction of “Chemicals” and its moonlit seaside dance party, and away from the aptly named “Road to Ruin,” they’ll find a unique voice in the lo-fi pop-rock world.

Captiva – Captiva tracklist:

  1. “Road to Ruin”
  2. “Stimulating Freeze”
  3. “Chemicals”
  4. “Something”
Album-art-for-joy-by-Beta-Males Beta Males – joy


In the The Beta Males’ latest release, joy, Tory P-Lopez succumbs to hopelessness and loneliness as he skirts his way through a horrible relationship. But when Lopez is at his most vulnerable, the record becomes a powerful experience for the listener — and, as for Lopez, the record becomes a revelation of the love that was never meant to be.

Due to his penchant for acoustic guitars and beautiful-yet-melancholic lyrics, Lopez probably gets told too often that his songwriting resembles the works of Elliot Smith. But he also puts his own soulful heart and musical thumbprint into his songs; this is not just a mere replication of Smith’s music.

In fact, he has a strong sense of who he is as a songwriter. Though only four songs long, joy feels like a meditation by Lopez. His songwriting is often seamless and never jarring. Maybe he owes this to his friend Spencer Tweedy who jumped on the project for his production, mixing, and mastering expertise (acquiring this from his father Jeff, of course). And yet, regardless of who was sitting behind the mixing board, Lopez’s songs still shine through.

Lopez’s lyrics never feel convoluted nor contrived.

Lopez knows how write about falling out of love, or describing love that was never there to begin with. In “Let Me Down,” he sings “Is love an accurate description if it disappears like it wasn’t there at all?/It’s something you never liked to talk about/I love you but time is running out.” The words he sings feel tender and they ache.

And his lyric writing does not overshadow the music itself. Sparse drumming and softly strummed guitars create an soundscape that surrounds the songs like an amphitheater. The addition of female vocals in “I Won’t Pick Up” and “Earlybird” by Eanna Sheena adds much needed tension.

Only two EPs deep now, Lopez has already found who he is as a songwriter. Even if he writes about heartache for the rest of his career, it’ll be true.

Beta Males – joy tracklist:

  1. “Let Me Down”
  2. “Temporary”
  3. “Earlybird”
  4. “I Won’t Pick Up”
Album-art-for-Heart-Wide-Open-by-Bern-&-the-Brights Bern & the Brights – Heart Wide Open


Every now and then, an indie artist emerges to complete stardom — launching from 100-person shows to selling out 2,000 seat theaters in front of their biggest fans. Bern & the Brights are restlessly balancing on the fine line between indie darlings to full out celebrities. Bern & the Brights is back for their fourth EP, Heart Open Wide, with five electronic-heavy songs that ooze with sometimes too passionate bursts in every note plucked, strummed, and sung. The EP’s title itself is a perfect description of the integrity and intent found in each and every song. Bern & the Brights’ vocalists and multi-instrumentalists Bernadette Malavarca and Catherine McGowan must have been in a good place to create such feel-good, inspiring songs. Their intentions, however, can come across as a little too-on-the-nose. Heart Wide Open oversaturates Malavarca’s and McGowan’s natural talents — like their strong, crystal-clear voices and distinct songwriting abilities.

The most sing-along-worthy song on Heart Wide Open is “Beautiful Morning,” which sounds exactly like what the title suggests. This is a song to roll down your windows to and scream at the top of your lungs. Even the promotional lyric video for “Beautiful Morning” mimics a sunny drive down a coastal road. But underneath the seemingly happy exterior lies a hauntingly darker meaning. Lyrics like, “Don’t be mad, he’s a good guy/He don’t remember the punch in the eye/But you do, you remember well/All the pain, all the strife, and the hell,” suggest an abusive relationship. But the song really isn’t necessarily about a specific abuse. It’s about gaining the ability to overcome the awfulness of a harrowing intimate experience.

A mix of sad songs with major chords is usually an interesting contrast, but, as a whole, Heart Wide Open is an overload of cutesy electronic riffs and the same pre-programmed drum beat, and it doesn’t stray far from it. The music resembles elements of radio-friendly electronic-pop, more so than the dream pop label they initially adopted. The “dream pop” direction they’ve gone is drastic, as they included many more guitars and acoustic drums in their last record Work. The huge leap Bern & the Brights made to create a new sound is slightly overdoing it, and may even turn off their core fanbase.

What’s most striking about Heart Wide Open is how Malavarca’s and McGowan’s voices blend together. Whether they both sing a melody or choose to harmonize, they sound like an entire choir booming out of just two throats.

Musically, Malavarca and McGowan were made for each other, and their vocals remain the strongest aspect of the music with a knack for catchy songwriting not far behind.

Although Heart Wide Open is filled with distinct and compelling songs, it is at its strongest during the title track. A driving, yet laid-back drum beat fits quite nicely between elegant touches of keys and, yet again, stunning vocals. Bern & the Brights sound the most compelling when they balance synths, samples, electric guitar, and acoustic drums. They have the songwriting down, but, if they lessen the droning electronic aspect of their music, they might just hit one out of the park. Heart Wide Open is a career-defining change, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bands with similar qualities, like Tegan & Sara, have jumped all over the map by changing their sound, and Bern & the Brights have followed their lead.

Their unique chemistry, unparalleled songwriting, and ability to play multiple instruments are a few of the great many things Bern & the Brights have going for them. Whether or not they care about getting radio play is extremely personal and can change one’s life, for better or worse. There’s a great possibility Bern & the Brights are headed down that road, and there’s no doubt that they’re ready.

Bern & the Brights – Heart Wide Open tracklist:

  1. “Good Friday”
  2. “Beautiful Morning”
  3. “Keep Yourself Together”
  4. “Get Along”
  5. “Heart Wide Open”
Album-art-for-The-Things-We-Do-To-Find-People-Who-Feel-Like-Us-by-Beach-Slang Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us


It seems like the title of Beach Slang’s new album The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us explains so much about how we, as humans, wander around the world and try to find our people. The folks listening to The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us need look no further. This is a study on the people who don’t necessarily fit in, the ones who survive purely on what they feel and not on what is expected of them. Beach Slang singer and songwriter James Alex penned ten punk rock feel-good songs directed specifically at nostalgia, the “good old days,” and never letting go of those memories.

Some may argue that hanging onto memories of a younger self is a waste of time. But Alex sang, “Take down your hair, wake up the night,” in the anthemic “Young & Alive.” Alex doesn’t always write about his earlier years, though. In “Too Late To Die Young,” he sets up a scene of a euphoric moment where he wanders around late at night. He sings, “There’s honesty in these neon lights/We’re animals drunk and alive/I swear, right now I’m alright.”

Even though there are so many moments of utter elation of The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, it’s hard not to notice the weariness running through some of Alex’s lyrics. You can hear this in “Throwaways” when he sings, “No, these streets don’t feel like home/They’re not hungry or wild enough/It’s a dead-end town for trash like us/But I’ve got a full tank and a couple bucks/I mean I never got nothing and I never wanted much/But man, we gotta get out.”

Alex has written to the jaded person that lingers inside all of us. We’re all human.

Alex follows the “nothing is perfect” aesthetic and sings about it in “Noisy Heaven.” “The night is alive, it’s loud, and I’m drunk/Kissing the mic and singing about us/The songs that I make, I barely rehearse them/They’re hardly mistakes, they’re meant to be honest.” Alex has said he and his music are far from perfect, and he likes to keep it that way. He’s not concerned about being “technically precise.” If only the all too self-aware and annoyingly serious musicians could take note of Alex’s philosophy.

If anything, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us is an investigation into the psyche of someone who hasn’t let go of what he felt when he was a younger person. Alex teaches us that we can’t let go of what drives us to feel alive and to be alive.

Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us tracklist:

  1. “Throwaways”
  2. “Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas”
  3. “Noisy Heaven”
  4. “Ride The Wild Haze”
  5. “Too Late To Die Young”
  6. “I Break Guitars”
  7. “Young & Alive”
  8. “Porno Love”
  9. “Hard Luck Kid”
  10. “Dirty Lights”