Album-art-for-Suck-My-Shirt-by-The-Coathangers The Coathangers – Suck My Shirt

★★☆☆☆

Much like a forgotten bowl of cereal or a patch of land when it rains, many music genres get over-saturated to the point of producing stereotypical, soggy muck in due time. Such is the case with most of the emerging garage rock these days, which not only comes across as boring, but just plain bad.

The Coathangers are no exception to this trend, essentially releasing 12 unoriginal copies of the same monotonous song on their fourth LP, Suck my Shirt.

The trio, reduced to three members after their keyboardist Candice Jones (aka Bebe Coathanger) left the group, holds to its roots as it continues on the path of mediocrity, trying and failing to revive the ’90s rather than creating its own sound.

The remaining ladies, guitarist/vocalist Julia Kugel (Crook Kid Coathanger), drummer/vocalist Stephanie Luke (Rusty Coathanger), and bassist/vocalist Meredith Franco (Minnie Coathanger), carry on with the same definitive chick garage rock sound that they’re known for, but lose a lot of the experimental aspects that made them a somewhat interesting in the past.

The lack of originality is shown in almost every song. From the unbelievably repetitive “Shut Up” to the atrocious “Springfield Cannonball,” the tiring “Merry Go Round” to the predictable “Smother,” a majority of the songs lack any depth or ingenuity whatsoever.

The Coathangers have taken 10 steps back by dissolving intriguing riffs down to a heap of power chords and stock drum lines.

The band has never been one for lyrical depth, and still isn’t, so riding on colorful instrumentals was a necessity. Without that, there’s a huge hole that can’t be replaced by whiney vocals or fleeting creativity.

Suck My Shirt isn’t entirely shoddy, though. The short-lived flashes of appeal are infrequent and largely fueled by Luke’s gritty vocals, but often last too long until they become dull, as well. Most of the songs seem to drag on thanks to the group’s primitive instrumentals and shortage of variation.

Take the power-packed single “Follow Me,” which features Luke’s bold vocals and some of the catchiest instrumentals on the record. The song loses its luster before the bridge comes in to save it, then loses it even more once that’s over. This style of punk-rock is hard to handle in anything more than short bursts, so hearing a four-minute patch of it that barely changes proves taxing.

By far the best song on Suck My Shirt is “Love Em and Leave Em,” another Luke-driven hit. It’s obvious from the introductory guitar riff, fresh with grungy fuzz guitar and harmonics, that The Coathangers have found their niche.

This is where the three-piece should exist: between steady blues verses and controlled insanity. No fucking around with the same tired chord progressions or vocal restraint, but rather capitalizing on the talent they do have by following this example. The song has an edge lost in the rest of the album, though clearly The Coathangers are striving for it throughout. It’s direct and deliberate, flowing flawlessly between each clashing verse and chorus. Kugel also shows off her hidden talent in a classic punk guitar solo that is unmatched by any other on the album.

“Love Em and Leave Em” proves that the potential is there, but the focus is off on most of the release.

The Coathangers have restrained themselves on the majority of Suck My Shirt. By trying to be a weirdo recreation of the ’90s riot grrrl scene, the group has trapped itself in a box that it needs to break out of.

The Coathangers should embrace the catchy, empowering spirit of the good songs on this album and become their own band rather than a poor copy of the past.

The Coathangers – Suck My Shirt tracklist:

  1. “Follow Me”
  2. “Shut Up”
  3. “Springfield Cannonball”
  4. “Merry Go Round”
  5. “Love Em and Leave Em”
  6. “Zombie”
  7. “Smother”
  8. “Dead Battery”
  9. “Adderall”
  10. “Derek’s Song”
  11. “I Wait”
  12. “Drive”
Cover-art-for-Haunted-House-Pizza-Party-by-Absolutely-Not Absolutely Not – Haunted House Pizza Party

★★★★☆

Haunted House Pizza Party is a blitzkrieg of an EP, standing at five songs and just short of ten minutes.

But don’t just play it as a one off; Absolutely Not has crafted a short introduction to its potential, and in the allotted time, has proved its prowess. Absolutely Not’s penchant for groove-infused lo-fi is a force of grungy goodness, flowing through short, to-the-point songs that are as fierce as they are fun.

Haunted House Pizza Party revels in being snotty to the point of amusement (“You better check your money, ’cause you’re bleeding out”), as Absolutely Not’s frontman Donnie Moore follows up on last year’s Mister Something with an EP/casette whose mockingly short length leaves the listener yearning for more.

Weakest among the pack is opener “Bleeding Out,” whose Auerbachian bass drive, spaced groove, and repeated cooing is a misleading introduction to a much fuller and harder-sounding release. Once that’s out of the way, though, Haunted House Pizza Party blossoms in a haze of rhythmic, grimy grandeur, where bratty, strutting lyrics break through the static onto a plate of glam and punk garage rock.

The EP’s standout track, “A Hole in Yer Heart,” begins with the hilariously flippant threat, “You wanna taste blood, bitch?” and pushes through with a screeching lead guitar and frantic chorus.

The remaining three tracks follow suit, as high-tempo punk- and hardcore-infused garage rock fights its way through the speakers.

“Haunted House Pizza Party” and “West Coast Sluts” are more straightforward than “Medicine Man,” whose intro, which is almost kitschy in its execution, fully forms into one of the best instrumental breakdowns on the EP, complete with frenetic pace and a climactic crescendo of sound and emotion that would fit equally well on a Bloc Party or Fucked Up track.

Absolutely Not is able to bring its own elements of pop to a relatively solid grasp of garage and glam punk. This formula for punk has become, in the past year or so, one of the most effective and popular veins of the genre, with bands like Perfect Pussy, and perhaps even Speedy Ortiz, bringing it to a head.

That bunch includes Massachusetts’ own Potty Mouth, whose latest release Hell Bent, while sonically different from Haunted House Pizza Party, still seems to occupy the same emotive place. Perhaps a bit more theatrical than the rest of the bunch, Absolutely Not still fits into this fold of up-and-comers. With an EP like Haunted House Pizza Party in its arsenal, an outing at SXSW or a productive summer tour can do wonders for this Chicagoland standout.

Absolutely Not - Haunted House Pizza Party tracklist:

  1. “Bleeding Out”
  2. “A Hole in Yer Heart”
  3. “Haunted House Pizza Party”
  4. “Medicine Man”
  5. “West Coast Sluts”
Album-art-for-Sirens-by-DA-and-The-Jones DA & The Jones – Sirens

★★★½☆

“I stayed as true to the course as I could, but the sirens are hard to ignore/Once you open up to the song, you’ll go down, down, down before long,” begins Sirens, DA & The Jones’ debut album.

Singers and songwriters Daniel Ahearn and Mindy Jones follow-up their ELECTRIC LOVE EP with an endeavor produced by Mocky Recordings (Feist, Peaches). The album is stripped down and simplified in comparison, and airs more on the side of traditional folk than their previous electronic-pop-folk fusion.

The duo that met by chance in Los Angeles found that they shared a deep connection and have created Sirens, a beautiful collection of modern folk songs for falling in and out of love.

“Sirens,” the opening duet, croons, “I’ve got a bad heart/Got a mean streak/Good way of leaving you weak/Got time to kill/But time don’t equal love/It just reminds you of the water,” accompanied by Jones’ hums, a simple piano progression, and a sea of horns.

The “sirens” of the album are not confined to mythical creatures calling to sailors, seducing them into crashing into the rocks—rather, any of life’s temptations that offer pleasure but ultimately lead to a classic, disastrous end.

The sirens are distractions that drag souls downward, and that concept is the backdrop of the album.

Sirens isn’t about a single couple, and a number of characters come into play throughout. Tongue-in-cheek apologies flow throughout the fourth track, “I Owe You.” The breezy song about a girl who commandeers and sells all of her lover’s stuff because she “needed the money more than I needed you” primarily features Jones, her breathy, feminine vocals repeating, “I owe you.”

“Take Me Home” stands out as the most experimental track on Sirens. It’s darker than its surrounding tracks, opening with a low drone and staticy bass beat with DA & The Jones’ crisp, clear vocals floating over them.

The song dissolves into a slow-rolling breakdown featuring fuzzy jazz, gospel, and other singers performing a chorus of, “Take me home” that fades to nothing. It’s clearly the most interesting track on Sirens, but it feels out of place among the more traditional folk songs that dominate the album.

While most tracks place an emphasis on heartbreak, that’s not to say that some aren’t lighthearted. The closer, “Crazy Along the Way” is reminiscent of traditional folk songs with a melodic line borrowed from Billy Joel. It’s a chipper story: “Born and raised in the USA/Father left my mother the American way/A breaking heart makes a horrible sound/What goes around, comes around.” ”Crazy Along the Way” tracks the ups and downs of love and relationships, with a chorus of, “We all go a little crazy along the way.”

The album moves and feels like it’s a living creature, with an effervescence breathed into it by Ahearn and Jones and their effortless vocal harmonies. They stretch the boundaries of folk, infusing their pension for electronics, while still ringing true to classic Americana. Despite its emphasis on loss and heartbreak in its various forms, DA & The Jones is a musical match made in heaven.

DA & The Jones – Sirens tracklist:

  1. “Sirens”
  2. “Doubt My Love”
  3. “Could’ve Had It All”
  4. “I Owe You”
  5. “If Only It Could Be”
  6. “Love Lights the Way”
  7. “Make it Right”
  8. “Undone”
  9. “Take Me Home”
  10. “Crazy Along the Way”
Album-Art-for-Boneset-by-Diane-Cluck Diane Cluck – Boneset

★★★★☆

Boneset, Diane Cluck’s first album since 2006, is like a welcoming tune pouring out of a haunted house, projected from behind drawn shades.

Her songwriting recalls a pensive sensibility similar to Laura Marling, equally fragile but more esoteric. It offers a maturity on par with some of Joni Mitchell’s musings and content, but is delightfully rougher around the edges. Cluck’s texturing is stark, but the songs feel full nonetheless; what Boneset might lack in length or elaboration, it makes up for in intensity.

The majority of the eight tracks find Cluck emitting her soft, warbling voice alongside acoustic guitars that circle minor chords and pentatonic progressions with a folksy flair. Songs like “Why Feel Alone” are tinged with an air of Eastern influence in the droning instrumentation, with Cluck’s nearly fearless voice breaking pleasantly as she leaps from note to note, like taking the stairs two steps at a time.

She spins tales and speaks to us as though she knows, deeply and intimately, something crucial that we’re still struggling to see.

Cluck displays her familiarity with an “otherness” through vivid storytelling. She is fluent in the ethereal and seems able to view earthly, sensual conflicts and feelings through a wide scope.

“One must be brave to unwind/and I am not afraid to be kind/Do I know? Yes I do/how pain follows you when you won’t give in to gentler ways shown to you,” she sings on the nearly a cappella “Not Afraid To Be Kind.” Her manner is wise and her voice flutters over the notes like a bird as she gently compels another to look upon the bigger picture.

Cluck is confident, yet acknowledges the change she has undergone and might still be in the throes of. Cleverly and without hesitation, the listener is guided through a healing process that alternates between anger, resolution, and maybe self-destruction.

On the chorus of “Content To Reform,” she narrates, “I die and I die/discarding my skulls/crushed into powder and spun into bowls/Content to reform and then break again.”

Dark and flirting with the mystical, much of the ground Cluck covers on Boneset is foggy and shrouded in mystery.

In “Heartloose,” the most tender track, Cluck pulls back the veil on her surprise at the foreign feeling of affection forming in her heart. In her sweetly reluctant and macabre manner, she compares her weeping to that of a blister, framing her ribs as rungs to be climbed if one wishes to come inside.

Boneset may take a few listens to grab hold of the audience’s interest. String accompaniment gives the record a chamber-type ambience, and the album sounds as if it were performed in one seamless go. These qualities can relegate Cluck’s stylized performances into a more esoteric category; some of the depths she offers may seem too murky for the more winsome or detached ear.

Whether it references a collection of bones or the process by which an appendage or piece of the skeleton is set after a break, Cluck’s first album in eight years is concise and as poignant as you’ll allow it to be.

Humoring the songwriter and following her through the movements could reward the listener with advice on how to set the wounds you may not have known you suffered. One may not feel a connection to her content immediately, but sailing above those depths will still offer an intimate exchange.

Diane Cluck – Boneset tracklist:

  1. “Maybe A Bird”
  2. “Content To Reform”
  3. “Draw Me Out”
  4. “Not Afraid To Be Kind”
  5. “Why Feel Alone”
  6. “Trophies”
  7. “Heartloose”
  8. “Sara”
Album-Art-for-Physical-World-By-Bart-Davensport Bart Davenport – Physical World

★★★☆☆

“Fame, what fame?/I never wanted it, I never needed it,” Bart Davenport sings on “Fuck Fame,” perfectly describing the attitude of his upcoming album Physical World.

He croons with coolness about how he prefers to be an unknown rather than some superstar. Power-pop, soft rock, and a touch of synth merge into an album that sounds simple, mellow, and unpretentious.

Physical World is a fantastic album to listen to while getting high (or, for that matter, drunk). The guitar-driven, softly-inflected melodies; steady rhythms; and eclectic, sparse electronics bring a laid-back vibe that complements Davenport’s reaction to the modern world.

He’s not preaching or shouting to his listeners, though the subject matter is often dark. Instead, he uses his dry sense of humor with a light, nonchalant tone that evokes Sufjan Stevens.

In “Dust In The Circuits,” Davenport sings about the cons of living in a big city and finding the “right” person, only to be left bitterly disappointed. He cynically reminds listeners, ”Just when you found what you were dreaming of, there will be dust in the circuits, dust in the circuits of love.”

The track is a conventional pop-rock ballad with a thin texture and colorful guitar notes that sync well with Davenport’s calm, matter-of-fact tone.

“Dust in the Circuits” sounds intimate, a buddy-to-buddy song that listeners can relate to. Davenport sounds more like a friend, warning you: “Hey man, be careful, that person is not what he or she really is.”

On “Loop In My Head,” a song about lifting oneself from depression, Davenport disturbingly repeats, “I have had enough,” then adds wryly,  ”feeling fucked up, deranged.” The catchy tune with a steady back beat, strong guitar chords, and jangly notes juxtaposes with Davenport’s impatience with feeling like shit.

As the song progresses, he sounds more urgent, encouraging himself with, “Any reasonable person will get out of this maze.” Finally, he lets his guard down when desperately bellows, “I have had enough.” He sounds stiffer on “Loop In My Head,” tense but hopeful. Davenport is vulnerable to the bleak circumstances around him, yet he confronts them head-on.

While “Dust In The Circuits” and “Loop In My Head” deal with dark themes like depression and isolation (injected with a bit of humor), “Physical World” is more whimsical, and leaves you wondering whether Davenport was on shrooms.

“Physical World” is not an earth-shattering, poppy shtick. However, it does have a trippy vibe to it. Davenport sounds spaced out while he bellows, “We rely on the physical world for love/I give in to the gravity of this time,” and other nonsensical lyrics full of metaphysical allegories. He sounds relaxed and playful, spontaneously telling the band, “Oh, take it away” midway through the track.

Physical World works because Davenport keeps his listeners engaged with a dry sense of humor and the accompaniment of an exceptional band.  Davenport knows what it’s like to be hopeless or lost and turn that around, making Physical World the perfect antidote to a shitty day.

Bart Davenport – Physical World tracklist:

  1. “Wearing The Changes”
  2. “Fuck Fame”
  3. “Dust In The Circuits”
  4. “On Your Own Planet”
  5. “Girl Gotta Way”
  6. “Pamela”
  7. “Physical World”
  8. “Every Little Step”
  9. “Vow”
  10. “Loop In My Head”
Album-Art-for-Direct-Effect-Sunburn Direct Effect – Sunburn

★★★½☆

On Sunburn, Florida-by-way-of-Philadelphia noise rock outfit Direct Effect crafts a temperamental sound that’s like throwing screeching feedback, cheap beer, potent edibles, and a good bit of pop sensibility into a blender cranked to eleven.

“[ ],” the first single, is a treatise in the erratic. It begins with double tracked, taunting guitars that seem to forgo riffs in favor of shrill ringing, then change their minds and switch back.

Accompanying this spastic delivery is a catchy, uptempo rhythm that devolves from a fast cadence to an all-out blast beat by the time the track’s two minutes slam to a halt. Slather this mess with vocalist Jeff Fonseca’s snarky demeanor–he sounds like a rabid dog that is about to lose it, for real–and you have a working model for Direct Effect’s brand of heavy.

It’s a contagious force that beckons the blood in your veins to pump faster.

Floating somewhere between the abrasive, but loose swagger of Pissed Jeans and the uncompromising angst of Nirvana, Sunburn is a crossover record above all else. Grungy and wholly impure, these 13 tracks will probably have some appeal for listeners to aggressive music of many persuasions, though the unrelenting pace can be a bit tiresome.

Breakdowns rife with tamborines, a penchant for melodies that stick in the mind, and an ability to never sound like it’s taking itself too seriously show that Direct Effect’s influences are widespread. This is some of the most unlikely and feral pop music around.

But Direct Effect doesn’t cultivate a loud and biting sound without also laying down a worthwhile, honest emotional foundation. By keeping its structure persistent and piercing, it alludes to the audience that the fat has been trimmed from the body of this debut. This thematic choice, while streamlined, can come off as a bit stubborn at times. The continuing quickness makes some parts–and some songs–difficult to distinguish from others.

Still, many of the band’s grooves roll right off the tongue. Direct Effect excels at keeping the ball in play for the entirety of Sunburn, not venturing too far outside of its sloshy comfort zone, but utilizing a full arsenal of ideas. However, by the end of the record, listeners might feel like that arsenal was explored too thoroughly.

Whether in the sweeping, frantic solo that shreds relentless at the end of “Permanent Vacation” or the tonal chaos in the album’s rock ‘n’ roll (a joint) closer, “Thoughts of Honey,” the group finds its footing in the subtleties of its musical choices. The volume may never lower–and the barrage can be a bit maddening–but if you’re willing to spend some time separating the strands, there is taste behind Direct Effect’s consistent aesthetic.

Sunburn is not only a voicing of 20-something frustrations or a loosed bundle of looming blues. It’s a wild celebration of that tension, raucous and pointed, that kindles the listener’s baser instincts. While Direct Effect would do well to diversify on future releases, this one encourages you to embrace those animal instincts booze-soaked and in a dive bar.

Direct Effect – Sunburn tracklist:

  1. “Permanent Vacation”
  2. “Digested
  3. “Unknown Disorder”
  4. “[ ]“
  5. “Commit to Memory”
  6. “Solar Flare”
  7. “Yo No Quiero”
  8. “Sunburn”
  9. “Thursday”
  10. “Moderate Rock”
  11. “BWPV”
  12. “Nostalgia”
  13. “Thoughts of Honey”
Album-art-for-Twin-Forks-by-Twin-Forks Twin Forks – Twin Forks

★★★★☆

Twin Forks’ debut, self-titled album is like a warm hug from a friend you haven’t seen in a while.

Mandolin player and vocalist Suzie Zeldin, bassist Jonathan Clark, drummer Ben Homola, and singer and guitarist Chris Carrabba (Dashboard Confessional, Further Seems Forever) are the working parts of this foot-stomping quartet from Boca Raton.

Influenced by classic folk, country, and roots music, Twin Forks is filled to the brim with bubbling, effusive love songs, and while it’s not breaking new ground, the albums’s familiarity is what gives it its spark.

Themes of falling in love, girls leaving, and getting them back comprise much of the record.

Opening track “Can’t Be Broken” begs to be accompanied by claps and laughter with  its sweet-as-pie lyricism: “That’s a love that can’t be broken/That’s the sting of a heart cut open/That’s the thing about blind devotion/That’s a love that can’t be broken.” Zeldin and Carrabba’s two-part harmony throughout the album gives an additional dose of charm to their sound.

Track after track is designed to be sung aloud and swayed to.

Cheerful, infectious whistling kicks off “Cross My Mind,” a percussive song that can do nothing but bring smiles. Mandolin and guitar picking pervade the album, but are especially fun in this number, accompanying the chorus, “From time to time you cross my mind/Good company is hard to find/From time to time you cross my mind, so stay with my just for the night.”

Carrabba’s knack for emotion-filled songwriting isn’t lost with this group. Not entirely full of flowery fields, Twin Forks also has a touch of folksy darkness with lines like, “Whistle past the graveyard, even the dead deserve a song,” (“Back To You”) peppered throughout.

The album loses steam in the latter third; these last tracks lack the same star-quality and catchiness of the opening ones. Nevertheless, stand-out tracks like “Come On” are only found lacking when compared to the other songs on Twin Forks.

Slower and more somber, closing track “Who’s Looking Out” calls, “Who’s looking out for you/Who’s looking out for you now?” It hints that maybe the love sung about throughout the album went south, bringing yet another hint of the foursome’s affection for classic country, where happy endings aren’t guaranteed.

Twin Forks is enthusiastic and approaches being excessively delightful, but the band is too honest for the music to just be schmaltz. It plucks at heartstrings with every pick and strum of the mandolin. An outpouring of affection through folk and Americana, every song is one to clap, dance, and sing along to.

Twin Forks- Twin Forks tracklist:

  1. “Can’t Be Broken”
  2. “Cross My Mind”
  3. “Back To You”
  4. “Kiss Me Darling”
  5. “Scraping Up the Pieces”
  6. “Something We Just Know”
  7. “Danger”
  8. “Reasoned and Roughened”
  9. “Plans”
  10. “Done Is Done”
  11. “Come On”
  12. “Who’s Looking Out”
Cover-art-for-Mindspeak-by-holychild holychild – Mindspeak

★½☆☆☆

The doughnut gracing the cover of holychild’s Mindspeak EP is a good indication of what’s inside: candy-coated trash pop that will make you sick to your stomach.

The not-so-dynamic duo, Liz Nistico and Louie Diller, has gotten early praise from Billboard and Nylon, but don’t believe the hype. Mindspeak is utterly trite, unoriginal, and repetitive, full of solid beats that are ruined by annoying and poorly mixed vocals.

Mindspeak is a completely sugar-coated synth-pop shtick layered with Nistico’s heavily filtered vocals and hyper-crunching beats. Opening track “Happy With Me” begins with a tuneless hum that sounds more computerized than human. To be fair, the beats are nicely arranged and the tune is catchy. But the song is a cliché; it’s been heard over and over again.

Though “Happy With Me” was intended as a feminist message, Nistico’s auto tuned wailing reduces it to a teeny-bop pop anthem.

Her squalling of the chorus, “Every day do you notice that we’re never free/Oh, why can’t you be happy with me?” is best fit for a torture chamber.

Mindspeak only becomes harder to listen to as it continues. “Playboy Girl” sounds like it’s meant to be hard edged with a strong guitar section, but it’s still a forgettable, conventional pop ballad. Nistico sarcastically sings about how women are reduced to shallow-headed objects of desire. The lyrics are well crafted, but with more humor and personality, they would have been more obviously satirical.

Holychild does redeem itself, a little bit, with the third track, “Every Time I Fall.” The dense rhythmic section is the only saving grace in this track. The rest of song, especially in the chorus where Nistico sings, “Every time I fall, fall away, I can have it on my way/I’ll never leave it for today with you” kills it. It’s intentionally catchy, but very bland; she wastes the opportunity to be hard-hitting and raw with her vocal delivery.

Instead of evoking a punchy, in-your-face tone, “Every Time I Fall” sounds juvenile and wimpy.

“Pretend Believe” continues that trend with a nice set of beats and a wonderful electronic track. All that comes in the way are Nistico’s mixed vocals, which send the song straight to hell—they sound like a broken record and out-of-sync with the song. If her voice was removed, the song would actually be worth hearing.

Let’s be clear: holychild is sending out a clear and strong message about how women should break free from the suffocating norms they conform to in our society. That should be applauded. But the way Mindspeak addresses the issues is so juvenile and trite that it will make listeners cringe. The EP suffers from an overdose of cutesy, bubbly aesthetics that detract from its message.

A more controversial attitude could have worked wonders for this EP. On tracks like “Playboy Girl,” holychild sticks to tired pop tropes and overdone effects, which might drive listeners away before they can fully absorb the message.

Holychild has potential, but Mindspeak sounds like the musical equivalent of a Twinkie—a pre-packaged, fluff-filled pop disaster that will make you lose your appetite.

holychild – Mindspeak tracklist:

  1. “Happy With Me”
  2. “Playboy Girl”
  3. “Every Time I Fall”
  4. “Pretend Believe”
Album-art-for-Blank-Project-by-Neneh-Cherry Neneh Cherry – Blank Project

★★☆☆☆

Veteran singer-songwriter and rapper Neneh Cherry is back with Blank Project, her first solo album in 18 years. Unfortunately, it was mixed and recorded in five days, which is blatantly obvious upon listening. But even with more time, the ideas fueling Blank Project would have ended in disappointment.

Cherry’s most recent effort is a step away from her previous works; she’s presenting herself as a singer and lyricist rather than the rapper she’s known to be. But despite adding more embellishment to her vocals, her beats have shrunk to an even simpler state, crossing the line from artistically minimal to downright boring.

Sadly, combining the two modifications to her past proved to be a mistake. Shifting to a more soulful, raw singing style was a good idea.

Throughout the album, she’s a bit off-key and unrefined, which adds a charming, natural element to the music at times, but the lack of engaging instrumentals makes the record nearly unlistenable.

The album starts off on “Across The Water,” which is the best song on the record and coincidentally the only song using real instruments. Even though the only thing backing Cherry up is some simple percussion, it’s beautiful, proving that this stripped-down style could have worked with the right execution.

And unlike on many of the other tracks, Cherry is actually putting effort and emotion into her words when she sings, “With my hands across the water, with my two feet in the sea/My fear is for my daughters, but will God wash over me?” Her voice is somber and passionate, the percussion adds a steady and intoxicating pulse, and her lyrics are pure poetry.

Regrettably, this is the high point of Blank Project, which has its moments but ultimately is forgettable. Cherry’s voice starts to lose its luster as she belts out stodgy lyrics over atrocious, jumbled beats. A perfect example follows the mildly entertaining, but still discordant and awkward, title track.

“Naked” is a cluttered mess of mediocrity with a primitive beat and an over-embellished chorus.

It’s difficult to focus on anything other than the unbearable, overpowering instrumentals that drown out Cherry’s nonsensical vocals. “Cynical” goes much the same, though it’s a much more valiant effort. It falls hardest during the lackluster chorus and midway through the track, where the beat becomes mush and Cherry’s distorted voice can’t save it.

Blank Project seems rushed and poorly produced. Despite these fatal flaws, there are some redeeming moments where Cherry reaches her full potential for the vision she’s trying to render.

In addition to the opening track, “422″ shows the direction she needed to go in. It’s calm, she’s soulful and passionate once again, and the instrumentals actually complement her for the first time since “Across The Water.” The song is animated and lively, building up on a few occasions to an epic crescendo of touching vocals and rousing, spacey synths.

Then there’s the dancey “Dossier,” which is the best of the fast tracks. It feels more along the lines of what Cherry was trying to reach, but missed for most of the record. It seems a coherent beat and story can work wonders. The chorus still could use some fine-tuning, much like the entire album, but it’s better than the others.

The last track, “Everything,” is once again staunched by crude musicianship, barely keeping it above water. The only factor that saves the song is Cherry’s rap in the middle that reaches back to her earlier career. This is short-lived, however, and eventually backtracks into random bursts of “hey, hey” and crazed dolphin imitations.

Blank Project is a failed attempt at a new beginning. There’s so much potential in Neneh Cherry’s voice and lyrics, even at times in the accompaniment, but the idea crashed and burned.

Neneh Cherry – Blank Project tracklist:

  1. “Across The Water”
  2. “Blank Project”
  3. “Naked”
  4. “Spit Three Times”
  5. “Weightless”
  6. “Cynical”
  7. “422″
  8. “Out Of The Black”
  9. “Dossier”
  10. “Everything”
Album-art-for-Someday-the-Moon-Will-be-Gold-by-Kalle-Mattson Kalle Mattson – Someday, The Moon Will Be Gold

★★★½☆

Under an umbrella label like folk-rock or Americana, it takes more than an acoustic guitar to make a name for oneself. Kalle Mattson fuses popular elements of each of those genres to adorn his specific region of folk-tinged, triumphant nostalgia and makes a solid case for his latest record being wheat rather than chaff.

Informed simultaneously by the sorrowful melodies of ghosts of country troubadours past and the still-kickin’ grit of genre-melding songsmiths his senior, such as Ryan Adams, Wilco, or undoubtedly Neil Young, Mattson bends the rules to create his brassy atmosphere on Someday, The Moon Will Be Gold.

In “Darkness,” the first single on the record, Mattson plucks a pack of chords that ride on the minor, while a horn section embellishes the choruses. It’s a good representation of the more fleshed out, foot-tapping moments on Someday, a clever reinterpretation of classic country Western atmosphere. Colored with some grit and the hint of an Edward Sharpe homage, it conjures imagery of stretched landscapes and a far-off sepia sunset.

Mattson and his players craft ambiance through skillfully layered instrumentation that supplements otherwise repetitive song structures.

This elaboration, along with the rich lyrical imagery, gives a sense of movement to the music, which otherwise might stagnate a bit, ebbing and flowing in the same manner again and again. His ability to narrate personal experiences in a relatable manner ushers the listener into the role of confidant more than audience.

Mattson navigates themes like lost love, lost homes, and death gracefully.

“Late summer in fields of gold/and a story sung is no story told/Waste the days away for the young and old/Waste them all up for you,” he pines at the beginning of “Eyes Speak,” weaving the melancholy and the silver lining into one thought.

Though consonant and unobtrusive to the ear, many of Someday‘s dynamics center around progressions that unto themselves are not persistently exciting. Reverberating guitars, buzzing harmonica, and a snare that rolls along like a tumbleweed do well to beef up melodies that might otherwise be little to write home about.

The vocals can come off a bit affected at times, notably on “Hurt People Hurt People.” But this track is a mostly upbeat romp, and Mattson’s control over his intonation and understanding of his range keep the patterns from veering into the cliche.

“Amelie,” the bare and tragic closing track, in some ways sets a tone for all of the songs that led up to it. With only an acoustic guitar and his voice, singing, “These are the words of a much younger man/I dream of your ghost just to feel you so close/and I don’t understand,” Mattson takes our hand and walks us through memories that play on raw nerves. It’s an acknowledgement of the point when one becomes too tired of wrestling with loss and a vacuum to keep fighting, but still finds themselves empty-handed, without closure.

The trails trod on Someday, The Moon Will Be Gold are not newly mapped territory. Mattson does manage to wind his way down some paths that were overgrown, but revisiting these trails does not constitute forging them. Sometimes, though, as we’re shown through Mattson’s melancholy and patient delivery, the most true way isn’t always a new one.

Kalle Mattson – Someday, The Moon Will Be Gold tracklist:

  1. “An American Dream”
  2. “Darkness”
  3. “The Living & The Dead”
  4. “Sound & Fury (A Dream Within A Dream)”
  5. “Hurt People Hurt People”
  6. “Eyes Speak”
  7. “The Moon Is Gold
  8. “God’s Only Son”
  9. “A Love Song To The City”
  10. “Pick Me Up”
  11. “In The Morning Light”
  12. “Amelie”
Album-Art-For-Kid-Tiger-By-Daniel-Ellsworth-And-The-Great-Lakes Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes – Kid Tiger

★★★☆☆

Kid Tiger, the sophomore album from Daniel Ellsworth & the Great Lakes, is a musical roller coaster—it’s unbelievably fun, raucous, and energetic. But that nonstop energy can actually make the music stale.

Following the formula of debut album Civilized Man, lead singer and guitarist Daniel Ellsworth continues to blend indie rock with hyper, aggressive synth-pop. Ellsworth’s unique high-pitch vocals soar along with vibrant time signatures and electrifying beats that will keep you on your toes.

Kid Tiger is all about quirky pop anthems and upbeat rhythms—it’s easy to imagine Ellsworth dancing along to each track, and his singing style is fittingly energetic.

Every single song explodes in your ear drums, urging you to get up on your feet.

With a sound similar to that of Minus the Bear and Fall Out Boy, Ellsworth & the Great Lakes blends punchy, rock anthems with power-pop ballads; Their guitar-driven track “Tourniquet” is the best song that exemplifies this unique sound. There’s fantastic chemistry between the classic guitar melodies and the pop hooks, along with stirring guitar solos that keep the momentum churning.

Another track, “Fits & Starts,” continues to kindle that momentum. It begins with colorful keyboard notes that ignite a strong beat, while a lush array of abstract noises provides depth.  The song oozes with a frenetic tempo, rolling beats, and a catchy chorus that would give Napoleon Dynamite plenty of dancing ammunition.

The production for the instruments is impeccable, but Ellsworth’s voice sounds somewhat muddled. He has one of the finest voices in the music industry, but on Kid Tiger, it sounds like he’s eating some of his words. It’s hard to understand him in some songs, especially on the occasions when the instruments overpower him, like in the chorus of opening track “Static.”

But that’s only a minor flaw. Perhaps the biggest problem with Kid Tiger is that it becomes a little stale. While the band’s high-energy, let’s-dance tone is fun, it gets tiresome eventually. Each song evokes the same old vibe. In fact, single “Sun Goes Out” simply feels like a regurgitation of the first five tracks.

Regardless, Kid Tiger deserves praise.  It generates a colorful and festive vibe, like watching a Broadway musical. The music is raucous and outstanding, but even more impressive are Ellsworth’s vocals.

His enthusiasm, along with the band’s penchant to infuse chaos and charisma into its work, deserves a standing ovation.

Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes – Kid Tiger tracklist:

  1. “Waves”
  2. “Idle Warning”
  3. “Phantoms”
  4. “Fits & Starts”
  5. “Tourniquet”
  6. “Sun Goes Out”
  7. “Ready/Set”
  8. “Static”
  9. “Echoes”
  10. “Little Light”
  11. “Frontline”
  12. “Backfire!”
Album-art-for-Psychic-Mess-by-Creative-Adult Creative Adult – Psychic Mess

★★★½☆

San Francisco post-punkers Creative Adult are anything but laid-back with Psychic Mess.

Harnessing the most essential aspects of ‘80s post-punk with influences that range from Joy Division to Black Flag, Creative Adult is a sterling representative of the Northern California hardcore and punk scene.

Preceded by a handful of EPs and collaborations, this full-length debut overshadows them all and marks a shift in style for the four-piece known for a harsher sound. Psychic Mess is a fuzzy, sonic, dark, and aggressive venture in post-punk and noise, all with a California vibe.

That vibe is most present on “Far Out,” a slow-growing head-banger with a string-bending riff akin to the opening of Nirvana’s “Come as You Are.” Creative Adult’s skewed style of building sound gives the album its playfully aggressive character.

Prominently featuring Goth-rock, haze, and the group’s staple method of piling of riffs on riffs, Psychic Mess demonstrates an ability to craft gripping hooks outside of conventions.

Released by Run for Cover Records (Modern Baseball, Pity Sex) and produced by Efrim Menuck of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, it’s a good album, but misses the mark when it comes to being memorable.

Album opener “Control My Eyes” is a rock-ish, feedback-heavy jam with crashing cymbals and snake rattles. Male belting à la Ian Curtis pervades much of the album, except for “Psychic Message.” The foursome takes the track title literally, omitting vocals and letting the far-out, psychedelic, hazy instrumentals speak instead. And using the opposite mentality, closing track “Haunt” is more rocking and rambunctious than it is haunting.

Arguably one of the most enjoyable tracks on Psychic Mess, “Flash” totes a chugging bass line and sick minor-key guitar riffs, demonstrating the group’s solid melodic and rhythmic sensibilities.

The Bay Area four-piece is a lot like a more sonic, effects-heavy Fugazi, only not as good as Fugazi. The potential is there, but the group is reaching for something it hasn’t gotten ahold of yet. It lacks a resounding hit like Fugazi’s “Waiting Room”; The infectious single “Deep End” comes close, but lacks the same punch. Regardless, it’s unlikely that something so trivial as a hit is of great concern to Creative Adult.

It’s a punk band with a taste for energetic brooding. A stand-out, raucous party-anthem, “Everyone Knows Everyone,” aptly features fast rhythms and vocals screaming, “Everyone knows everyone.” The track’s style is clearly an ode to raw, honest music played to audiences of flailing friends in pits and basements.

Creative Adult’s honesty and visceral, energetic songwriting brings a listener into the backyard, dark venue, or house party where the album was probably born. The foursome is obviously connected to its Northern California scene, its roots, and is still the same rough-around-the edges group that laid down the preceding, less-stylish EPs. Psychic Mess isn’t perfect, but perfection isn’t exactly punk.

Creative Adult – Psychic Mess tracklist:

  1. “Control My Eyes”
  2. “Charismatic Leader “
  3. “Flash”
  4. “Far Out”
  5. “Halfway”
  6. “Hyper-aware”
  7. “Public Transit”
  8. “Psychic Message”
  9. “Deep End”
  10. “Everyone Knows Everyone”
  11. ”Exposed”
  12. “Haunt”