Album-art-for-Post-Everything-by-Weeknight Weeknight – Post-Everything

★★★☆☆

Andy Simmons and Holly MacGibbon, known simply as Andy and Holly, comprise the New York-based dark pop-rock duo, Weeknight. Their polished debut album with Artificial Records, Post-Everything, touts the pair’s “languid, obfuscous pop.”

A more sonic version of the xx featuring cool, enveloping male and female vocals, Weeknight is where the melancholy of the Cure meets Beach House’s electronics. With a tongue-in-cheek title, Post-Everything is the equivalent of holding one’s own head underwater while thoroughly enjoying the experience.

While not being particularly novel or exceptionally interesting, Post-Everything is strangely beautiful. Andy and Holly’s voices melt together in their duets, providing consistency in the layers of beats and instrumentals. The whole album is dominated by the interplay between guitars and electronic keys, a dance that becomes entrancing.

Album opener “Hallowed Ground” dives right into the dark and unrelenting nature of Weeknight’s sound with sustained synth-organ and a chorus of, “Hallowed ground, I’ll be there soon.”

The blend of bleakness and shoegaze works in Weeknight’s favor, cementing the tone of the album and creating a comforting darkness.

Post-Everything is atmospheric and weighed down with ’80s ennui. A repeated two-note guitar riff creates suspense in “Wreckage,” a creeping synth track featuring an energetic electronic keyboard breakdown. Simmons told Interview Mag that “Wreckage” is a “song about offering forgiveness to someone that isn’t quite ready to be forgiven.” With lines like, “I couldn’t dream tonight if I tried,” the melodrama is evident, but is bolstered by a wall of sound, a sea of droning chopped up by beats and guitar picks.

A quicker pace, high-pitched synth melodies, and a triangle ding characterize the sickeningly sweet track “Honey.” Andy and Holly croon, “My heart still knows which way to go/My heart still knows which way to go,” on top of a soaring guitar line.  A more expressly rock  track, “Dark Light,” goes, “Take one breath and do it again/Pray for death and don’t tell a soul,” words that are intercut with guitar string-bending, a slew of effects, and another keyboard line that pulls one down into the swaying loneliness prevalent on Post-Everything.

High-pitched guitar melodies and a profuse use of pedals are staples throughout the album. Pulling distortion, haze, and simple melodic lines from its toolbox, the duo’s genre is an entanglement of elements including pop, electronic, rock, and shoegaze, all with a tinge of blasé despondency.

Weeknight asks to be made fun of. It’s yet another pale, electronic-influenced rock group from Bushwick, Brooklyn with an everyday band name, a milk-toast sound, and an academic album title for a collection of depressing, overwrought tracks. They’re boring—been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.

Yet Post-Everything is infectious, haunting, and pleasant in a sad way. Despite everything working against them, Andy and Holly of Weeknight are remarkably catchy, leaving a distinct impression between the ears.

Weeknight- Post-Everything tracklist:

  1. “Hallowed Ground”
  2. “Sound of My Voice”
  3. “Tonight”
  4. “Devil”
  5. “I’m the Beaches”
  6. “Dark Light”
  7. “Wreckage”
  8. “Honey”
  9. “Whale”
  10. “Heartaches”
Album-art-for-Panthenon-by-Will-Post Will Post – Panthenon

★★★★½

You have less than three minutes to buckle up and settle in—2:57 into the first track of Panthenon, Will Post launches you into space.

As enticing as it may be to skip ahead to the propulsion–don’t. It’s the slow build that gives the album’s most impressive moments their impact, and the build-ups make breaking through the atmosphere more bearable. The best way to enjoy the amazing Panthenon is to be patient and open-minded. Strap in for a ride and see it through until you’re safely returned to terra firma.

Heavily influenced by sci-fi sensibilities, the songs, epic and thematic, sound like they belong to the alien rock band that Muse listens to for inspiration. The content, too, falls under the sci-fi realm, namely man’s relationship with machine—a co-dependent relationship that Post embraces.

Panthenon exemplifies that as humans, we are in awe of machines and all they can help us accomplish. In fact, neither the album nor the artist would exist without the use of computers.

The album was created on a laptop in the basement studio of Bill Prokopow, Post’s alias. Yet he understands that while humans may be in awe of machines, we are even more impressed by what we can accomplish without them.

While Panthenon is listenable thanks to software, it will connect with audiences because of the human element—because of Post himself.

His singing throughout the album is minimalist in style, using simple, yet well-conceived melodies that complement the music instead of trying to sit above the mix. Post barely ever raises his volume, instead opting for emotion through personal lyrics and a genuine performance.

As is inevitable when sharing such personal feelings, some ideas may not resonate with audiences as well as Post would hope. Lines like, “Though I’d like to hold you through the years/and whisper little goodies in your ear,” (“Little Bird”) can come off a bit creepy, especially when sung in Post’s near-whisper.

Despite these occasional missteps, Post’s expression of honest feelings is crucial, especially considering that nearly every other component of Panthenon is synthetic. In order to pluck the heartstrings, he has to lay it on the line, and he does; sometimes for worse, but mostly for better.

Honesty is an important theme in Panthenon. Lyrics from album opener “Experiment 8” promise the person Post loves that if they stay, he won’t lie to them. In “She Cries,” the tables are turned, and now it’s “she” who is lying to “him.” In the latter half of Panthenon, the outstanding “Ruby” opens with the line, “Once I thought I knew the truth/Once I saw the truth in you.”

It’s possible that Post has seen his share of mistrust before, though he is still willing to open his vault of personal feelings to share with the strangers listening to his music.

With less than 20 seconds before Panthenon comes to a close, Post offers those still listening a summation of the album and all he has learned through his other-worldly travels. “The more you love/the more you’re home.” The music fades, and you’re back on earth, feeling every moment of the ride.

Will Post – Panthenon tracklist:

  1. “Experiment 8″
  2. “You’re Something”
  3. “World on Fire”
  4. “Disappeared”
  5. “She Cries”
  6. “She”
  7. “Little Bird”
  8. “Ruby”
  9. “Meditation”
  10. “State of Affairs”
Album-art-for-Tomorrow's-Hits-by-The-Men The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits

★★★★☆

The Men have come a long way since their noise-rock debut in 2010. Dropping some of the disorderly shenanigans and intense distortion of its first two albums helped the five-piece gain some popularity with its third release, Open Your Heart, and since then the group has become increasingly inspired by folk, country, and surf rock.

The Men’s most recent effort, Tomorrow’s Hits, goes much the same, losing almost all aspects of the band’s initial sound and swapping them for more intimate, upbeat vibes.

The change might seem like a shallow sell-out for success, but it sounds just the opposite. The Men have found the perfect concoction of folk and rock to carve out an enormous, cozy niche teeming with exuberant originality.

The product is a ripe, edgy album chock-full of catchy melodies and songwriting mastery. Tomorrow’s Hits is The Men at their best, going places they’ve never dared to before.

“Dark Waltz” opens the record with one of the folkiest, surf rockin’-est songs, immediately showing off this modified style at full force. The charming, Beach Boys-esque “ooh”s and “ah”s give the simple song a warm feel, while Mark Perro’s rock vocals and the band’s distortion push it past the standard folk song.

“Dark Waltz” picks up even more when it progresses into an epic guitar solo and a lively harmonica bit that ends in a cacophonous mess, capping the song off with a rousing, inspiring climax that hits the emotional sweet spot, creating an intoxicating sensation that never loses its luster.

The band is continually breaking down walls with no regard for genre borders whatsoever, drawing from an absurd number of styles that set it apart by a million miles.

There are so many new components that The Men now reside on an entirely different plane of existence—out in the middle of a country field that’s home to an endless, booze-fueled, folk-rock jam.

Take “Another Night,” for example. The piano-friendly, soulful, saxophone-driven song is catchy as hell and has an undeniably dancey beat. The album’s single, “Pearly Gates,” shows gritty, lightning-fast influences from The Men’s old material, and that mayhem juxtaposes amicably with the ensuing slow song “Settle Me Down.”

Tomorrow’s Hits then ends on “Going Down,”one of the best guitar songs the album has to offer. The tenacious intro riff powers through the track and is joined by Perro’s bold, distorted vocals and proper backing instrumentals.

Despite the song’s irrefutable power and angst, a tinge of disappointment surfaces when the closing track fades out during the unrivaled guitar solo. Even with this poor choice of ending, “Going Down” seals Tomorrow’s Hits as the best album in The Men’s discography and one of the best 2014 has offered thus far.

The shocking metamorphosis from indistinguishable noise to an unparalleled folk and surf rock combo has taken time, but was worth the wait. The Men have done some amazing work with this newly adopted style, straying from their past material only to find a more fitting home.

The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits tracklist:

  1. “Dark Waltz”
  2. “Get What You Give”
  3. “Another Night”
  4. “Different Days”
  5. “Sleepless”
  6. “Pearly Gates”
  7. “Settle Me Down”
  8. “Going Down”
Album-cover-for-Oxymoron-by-ScHoolboy-Q ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron

★★★½☆

During an era in which so-called “conscious rappers” reign supreme and the “gangsta rapper” persona appears all but extinct, it seems ScHoolboy Q has no qualms over trying to raise the dead.

But Oxymoron, Q’s major label debut, isn’t just an exercise in sub-generic necromancy. His (mostly) unique presentation of West Coast-worshipping bravado marks an evolution in the gangsta stratum, providing complex progression in many aspects while falling short in others.

Opening track “Gangsta” isn’t mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination, but delivers (in a not-so-subtle fashion) the first of the album’s two key motifs:

Oxymoron is, in part, a contemporary gangsta rap record about the associated lifestyle.

In fact, the song’s hook is that exact word 24 times, just to make sure no one gets confused.

The second song and first impressive piece is “Los Awesome,” featuring Jay Rock, ScHoolboy’s Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) label mate and Black Hippy cohort. Certainly a banger in its own right, Q has said that it was written for a specific audience. “I needed something that the gang bangers could identify with,” he said at the album’s listening party. “Not so much my core fans, more so the gang members.”

But although the tone of the track succeeds in this goal, here’s the catch: In saying that “Los Awesome” is specifically written for the gangsta demographic, ScHoolboy Q implies that the rest of his record somehow isn’t.

Nevermind that Pharrell (arguably the clean-cut gangsta antithesis out of Virginia Beach) produced the song—which is important to note because it’s an early mark of potential inconsistencies within the record as whole.

Of course, some inconsistencies are intentional. As a matter of fact, the concept of oxymorons is the key motif at work.

Case in point: “Hoover Street.” Production-wise, it’s one of the stronger tracks on the album, and echoes the idiosyncratic style and flow of Q’s 2012 release, Habits & Contradictions. Clocking in at 6:36, the two-part song first regales the listener with the same South Central L.A. bombast and pomp that’s made up the entirety of the record so far.

However, about halfway through, a shift occurs in the beat and, correspondingly, the song’s tone. The darker reality of Q’s upbringing is revealed, and Oxymoron‘s second theme is introduced (and soon to be expounded upon in “Prescription/Oxymoron”): the causes, effects, and consequences of living life as a gang-banging drug pusher on a stretch of South Central called Hoover Street.

“Had roaches in my cereal/My uncle stole my stereo, my grandma can’t control him”— ScHoolboy Q’s most successful imagery emerges sporadically to breathe new life into otherwise tired subject matter.

The titular oxymoron central to the album’s main themes goes as follows: Q is caught up in a negative drug-fueled lifestyle (fueling both his source of income and his recreational habits) with the sole purpose of building a life for his daughter Joy—who appears in the album artwork and a handful of audio snippets.

Another long, two-part track, “Prescription/Oxymoron” catalogues the rapper’s shortcomings due to pharmaceutical drug addiction (ignoring calls from his mother, and so on) that first stemmed, in a tragically ironic fashion, from an attempt at improving his living situation.

“Oxymoron” acts as a play on words here: Oxycontin is one of the drugs he’s selling—legal in a sense, but nonetheless destructive.

ScHoolboy Q is a lot of things, but inauthentic seemingly isn’t one of them. Sure, plenty of hip hop artists claim an unparalleled style, but there’s only one with the audacity to consistently model a series of customized bucket hats and capitalize the “H” in every song title.

And sure, lots of rappers talk about sipping lean and getting properly turnt, but few can say they’ve nodded off while witnessing Kendrick Lamar freestyle live on the radio.

With that being said, it’s difficult to imagine how such a unique artist with two studio albums under his belt could end up creating a record with more than a few discordant elements.

The record’s three singles—”Collard Greens,” “Man of the Year,” and “Break the Bank”—are all undeniably Q’s work, but the rest of the collection seems to waver, specifically with regard to production.

“Studio” is an awkward slow jam—Q’s attempt at romance. The track falls short, despite a decent feature by BJ the Chicago Kid, and seems incoherent with regard to the album as a whole.

“The Purge” and “Blind Threats,” featuring rappers Kurupt and Tyler, the Creator (both fellow Californians) and hip hop household name Raekwon, respectively, are both solid tracks, but seem stylistically upstaged by the supporting cast. The former sounds like an Odd Future song, and the latter might seem more at home on a Wu-Tang Clan release.

So, at the end of the day, does ScHoolboy Q regret his choice to sell drugs and drink codeine? It’s hard to tell. On one hand, he claims on “Break The Bank” that he “just [wants] to smoke weed and sip lean by the quart,” but on the other, is very clearly aware and upset about the effect it’s had on those around him.

The oxymorons on Oxymoron exist on multiple levels—from embracing and flaunting a decaying lifestyle he knows is nothing but trouble, to taking up amateur drug trade for the good of his daughter—but not all serve to flatter him as a conceptual artist, and not all of them seem intentional.

The music on the record is, overall, well done, and will easily contribute to his prospective transformation from one of hip hop’s distinctive up-and-comers into a formidable mainstream competitor. What remains to be seen is whether ScHoolboy Q can better balance and articulate his conceptual goals.

ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron tracklist:

  1. “Gangsta”
  2. “Los Awesome (feat. Jay Rock)”
  3. “Collard Greens (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”
  4. “What They Want (feat. 2 Chainz)”
  5. “Hoover Street”
  6. “Studio (feat. BJ The Chicago Kid)”
  7. “Prescription/Oxymoron”
  8. “The Purge (feat. Kurupt and Tyler, the Creator)”
  9. “Blind Threats (feat. Raekwon)”
  10. “Hell of a Night”
  11. “Break The Bank”
  12. “Man of The Year”
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”