Album-art-for-Dirty-Gold-by-Angel-Haze Angel Haze – Dirty Gold

★★★☆☆

“I’m just making it for people who want to get lost,” says Angel Haze as she introduces us to her first studio album, Dirty Gold. Not even 10 full seconds pass before a synth-heavy beat cuts in, and suddenly Haze is spitting a mile a minute.

Known for writing narratives that ooze both power and honesty, her lyricism on Dirty Gold disappoints over mass-produced studio beats. This isn’t quite the Angel Haze that made jaws drop just over a year ago.

There is no denying that that Angel Haze is an amazing rapper, and the tracks themselves are indeed well crafted; however, Dirty Gold doesn’t do anything unique.

Up until this point, Haze has only produced wonderfully profound songs, but Dirty Gold is littered with pseudo-inspiration.

Haze has been through a lot, and one can hear her past seeping through her vague messages, but it all sounds shallow.

She spits with an aggression and venom similar to that of Eminem. Her reflective tendencies, depictions of her reality, and strong position are reminiscent of him; yet, she stands on her own as a female MC.

Haze made a name for herself with her 2012 mixtape, Classick. The connection to Eminem is inevitable, since she rapped over his 2002 track “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” and revealed how she was molested as a child. The track is heart-wrenching and raw, and while Dirty Gold has similar moments, none of them are nearly as powerful.

One of the tracks, “Black Dahlia,” has that same visceral vibe as “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” but it’s not as engaging or breathtaking. “You should write a song where the concept is, you’re basically writing a love letter or, like, a piece of advice to your mother when she was your age,” suggests the start of the track.

Then Haze raps to her mother about how she loathes yet loves her, sees her mom in herself, and wishes she could have changed so much for her mom. The passion in Haze’s voice is rich, and as her emotion spills over with lyrics that manage to be both gritty and sentimental, it causes a deep-seated reaction in the listener, increasing with each play.

However, even the strongest lyrical moments can be overshadowed by the production on Haze’s album, which is oddly Top 40-esque. She dips into some dubstep, too, which is strikingly out of character.

Dirty Gold is disappointing and generic in quality, coming from one of hip hop’s most promising individuals. The album unfortunately lags because of the non-descript instrumentation. The duet with Sia on “Battle Cry” is precisely the type of hyper-constructed studio track, complete with vaguely uplifting lyrics, that makes the album feel played out even though it’s brand new.

“New York,” the final track on the deluxe edition, is also in various incarnations on Haze’s earlier work, like New York EP and Reservation. It’s an odd throwback, but also a reminder of how stellar Angel Haze can be when she’s not pandering to the masses.

Angel Haze – Dirty Gold tracklist:

  1. “Sing About Me”
  2. “Echelon (It’s My Way)”
  3. “A Tribe Called Red”
  4. “Deep Sea Diver”
  5. “Synagogue”
  6. “Angel + Airwaves”
  7. “April’s Fools”
  8. “White Lillies / White Lies”
  9. “Battle Cry”
  10. “Black Dahlia”
  11. “Planes Fly”
  12. “Dirty Gold”
  13. “Rose-Tinted Suicide” (Deluxe Edition)
  14. “Vinyl” (Deluxe Edition)
  15. “Crown” (Deluxe Edition)
  16. “New York” (Deluxe Edition)
Cover-Art-Conveyer-Worn-Out Conveyer – Worn Out

★★★☆☆

“Selfish men die with empty hands” is just one of the message-heavy lines from spirit-filled hardcore band, Conveyer. Contrary to what the title Worn Out suggests, the Wisconsin fivesome is full of energy on its debut full-length album.

Composed of singer/guitarist Ty Brooks, drummer Bryan Malony, guitarist Jake Haag, bassist Ben Greene, and vocalist Carter Daniels, the aptly named Conveyer formed in late 2010 with a message to spread. The nine-track Worn Out is a melodic, hardcore overture about a man with an existential crisis that becomes a crisis of faith.

The group creates a harsh, aggressive wall of sound using fast drumming and loud, muddled riffs intercut with high, soft guitar melodies that break through the din.

Worn Out subverts some of hardcore’s conventions, adding a more complex and digestible layer to its sound.

The first track, “What’s Inside,” is a drum-heavy, head-banging kick-off that leads into the heavy “Nothing,” followed by the static-filled title track, “Worn Out.”

“Give it up; give up the life you planned,” Brooks screams over drum rolls. “Worn Out” is angry and energetic, giving a sense of being fed up as opposed to beaten down. For a change of pace, the album includes “Motions,” a two-minute, melodic guitar interlude that marks a shift in tone for Worn Out, moving from songs about an individual’s frustration and disillusionment toward the album’s real message: spiritual enlightenment.

Conveyer, with passion and honesty as guiding principals for its music, brings in themes like eschewing worldly possessions, finding purpose in one’s life, and figuring out what matters. The title doesn’t describe the band’s state of being, but rather its old way of living, which needs to make a 180.

The way for this group is toward God—perhaps an odd mix with its hardcore attitude, but one that doesn’t seem out of place. “Everything that You are is everything I strive to be,” is cried out in “Patience,” but this is one of few direct references to God.

Unlike many faith-based groups, Conveyer succeeds in avoiding prosthelytizing or being too heavy-handed with religious imagery. It is, first and foremost, a hardcore band with spiritual motivations, as opposed to a Christian rock band attempting to act tougher than it is.

Conveyer is as far from gospel as Christian music gets, and is more closely related to As I Lay Dying’s metalcore than the light rock of Relient K.

“Motions” excluded, Worn Out is a screaming, body-shaking rampage. Reverend Shaw Moore of 1984′s Footloose would most certainly not approve.

The final track, “Resist/Admit,” features a soaring, high-pitched, tremolo guitar picking and concludes with the line, “Please forgive me for all that I’ve done/I’m defeated; a shameful son/Just give me grace and hear my call/I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Worn Out grapples with a crisis of an individual who seeks forgiveness and a greater sense of meaning in life. The closing track is repentant, bringing a sense of closure and fulfillment to the questions posed throughout the album.

Overall, Worn Out packs some powerful sound with a spiritual punch. It’s unlikely that the album will spurn a mass of conversions, but Conveyer has stayed true to its name and sent its message with a solid hardcore album.

Conveyer – Worn Out tracklist:

  1. “What’s Inside”
  2. “Nothing”
  3. “Worn Out”
  4. “Captive”
  5. “Surrendering”
  6. “Motions”
  7. “Patience”
  8. “Disconnected”
  9. “Resist/Admit”
Album-Art-for-Sianvar-EP-by-Sianvar Sianvar – Sianvar EP

★★½☆☆

Usually, receiving word of a new supergroup carries with it the expectation that the nascent collaboration will blend the talents of each of its members.

With the release of Sianvar’s self-titled EP, listeners are given a 5-song trek into disappointingly familiar territory.

But if you ignore the high expectations set for a so-called  supergroup, the tracks do present moments of artistic license in which the players opt to keep things interesting, veering into less formulaic lands rather than letting the music lavish in the doldrums of the over-populated prog/post-hardcore genre.

It’s a tired subheading, to be sure, and one in which many acts choose to only graze the bar set for innovation. Sianvar does well in separating itself from the usual chaff.

Elements of Sianvar’s pioneer effort are clearly hand-offs from individual band member’s established acts.

The busy technicality that guitarist Will Swan brings to Dance Gavin Dance (his well known nü-screamo outfit) is clearly transmuted into the cascading licks that populate much of this EP.

Swan’s playing clasps hands pleasingly with Sergio Medina, whose contributions as second guitar may actually be responsible for many of the more alluring chord changes and tender tonalities heard on this EP–based on the treatment of his primary project, Stolas.

The rhythm section, consisting of Joe Arrington on drums and Michael Littlefield on bass–both transplants from A Lot Like Birds (a slightly more metal-core minded and fast-paced branding of post-hardcore, featuring sporadic moments of ambiance and varied instrumentation that are uncharacteristic of the genre)–may be the motivating force in coaxing the major tenets of Sianvar’s sound into the genre-melding, spastic prog-realm it inhabits—when it decides to settle anywhere at all, that is.

The addition of Hail the Sun vocalist Donovan Melero adds suitable dynamic to the arrangements. He’s able to emit mostly believable guttural voicings and swing on a dime to a pretty, though sometimes nasally, falsetto.

With a hat tip to the tendencies of top-tier experimenters like The Mars Volta or Refused, many of the stylistic choices on the EP are enticingly erratic and well executed, considering that they flirt so overtly with being too busy to give the audience any substantial foothold.

Save for the requisite dancey bits of a song like “Your Tongue Ties,” much of the riffage featured on this release excels at giving the tunes a feeling of movement.

Whether nodding along with the loose, sweeping arpeggiation of “Chest Pressure,” the opening and most balanced track on Sianvar, or tapping in time with the attractively subdivided components of “Sick Machine,” the groove that Sianvar lands in most often is ridden satisfactorily.

The group succeeds in piecing together a sound that allows for a Russian roulette caliber of randomness, but usually finds its way back to the beaten path. Perhaps a more tasteful choice for this initial release would have been for the players to adopt a slightly more controlled approach in order to steer the music into the weirdo, slack-metal territory of millennial, progressively dissonant bands like The Fall of Troy or The Dillinger Escape Plan, both of which can be heard to varying extents beneath the parts of this release that feature real bite.

Over-production and general attitude squanders some really original, genuinely cool, and well-executed ideas on Sianvar’s debut EP.

It seems that the intended audience and the track records of the band members weighed more heavily than they should have on the creative process.

Sianvar does offer significantly more range of musical vocabulary than many acts in its peer group through its less formatted song structuring and aptly cherry-picked influences (stretching back to late ’90s/early ’00s alternative innovators like At the Drive-In or Cave In), but the winning moments are edged to the sidelines more often than not by compressed production and a vocal heavy mix.

Certain aspects of Sianvar bolster and detract from its final product simultaneously. Generally, its shifting motif serves to deprive listeners of context. But it’s that same relentless action that, when pulled off, sets Sianvar apart from its contemporaries, an important quality considering that many in-vogue post-hardcore releases only cloud the already polluted waters of modern screamo-chic.

Sianvar writhes and wriggles as you try to pin it down, both ends pulling in different directions, like a two headed snake. That elusive quality just might be the key to this side project’s success.

Sianvar – Sianvar EP tracklist:

    1. “Chest Pressure”
    2. “Sick Machine”
    3. “Your Tongue Ties”
    4. “Virtual Vain”
    5. “Substance Sequence”
Album-art-for-Hues-and-Calm-by-Morgan-Manifacier Morgan Manifacier – Hues and Calm

★★★★½

Hailing from a small town in southern France, Morgan Manifacier arrived in the US a few years ago to study music in California.

Now, two years after his critically-acclaimed debut Grande, Manifacier is back with his appropriately-titled sophomore attempt Hues and Calm.

“Calm” is the perfect word to describe Manifacier’s newest LP. Using only his tranquil voice, an acoustic guitar, and a bit of drums and cello (courtesy of Matt Camgros and Sarah Hawley-Snow, respectively), Manifacier crafts a colorful, relaxed, otherworldly ambiance that is addictive from the get-go.

Manificier expertly plays on the same sounds that make Iron & Wine and Bon Iver so appealing: the stripped down, raw music and lyrics that really hit home emotionally.

Hues and Calm is in that same category, tugging on the heart strings through the natural awe of heartfelt folk songs blended with melancholy tenderness.

The album starts with the eerie, experimental “Cold Countries.” It’s one of the most avant-garde tracks on the LP, toying with vocal layering and effects as well as a somewhat off-putting melodies. It’s an interesting way to lead into the pleasant, calming tunes that follow, but nonetheless shows the range and variety Manifacier and company are capable of.

The next few songs are where the album picks up, so to speak, in quality if not in tone. From here on out, the album is an intoxicating, placid, beautiful work of art. Hues and Calm is the perfect album to sit back and melt away to. Songs like the gorgeous “My Own;” the rejuvenating, monumental “Ourselves;” and the warm, embracing “Busy Boy” all hit on a different level than most music. It’s hard to come by so much beauty in a single album.

There are no poor moments on Hues and Calm whatsoever; all of the songs are comforting and full of life. It continually gets more inspiring and impassioned as it goes along, hitting a high point at the piano ballad “Faithful & Brave.”

Manifacier experiments once again with the same vocal techniques he used on “Cold Countries,” adding a ghostly feel to the elegant display of musicianship by the pianist, which is the highlight of the track. Camgros comes in toward the end with chaotic tapping on his snare to heighten the emotional tension of the song, making it all the better as it comes to a close.

Just when you thought Manifacier couldn’t write more beautifully, he does.

“The Bridge” and “Oh Joie” are two ravishing  songs that finish off Hues and Calm, both sung in French, though the latter is largely instrumental. The two tracks have a hypnotizing effect that make the language barrier irrelevant. The emotion and passion are more apparent than ever, as is the swelling feeling that each track evokes.

Whether you’re in need of music to help cope with a rough situation or just need a perfect rainy day album, look no further. It’s been a while since such a lovely album has been released. Hues and Calm drips with emotion and fantastic musicianship; it mellows and entrances the listener with captivating songwriting and an intricate atmosphere all its own. Manifacier is starting the new year off right with some incredible, stunningly beautiful music.

Morgan Manifacier – Hues and Calm tracklist:

  1. “Cold Countries”
  2. “My Own”
  3. “Mother, Mother”
  4. “From My Mouth”
  5. “Ourselves”
  6. “Busy Boy”
  7. “Faithful & Brave”
  8. “The Bridge”
  9. “Oh Joie”
Album-Art-for-Rave-Tapes-by-Mogwai Mogwai – Rave Tapes

★★★½☆

It’s difficult for most people to appreciate a band that is still committed to churning out albums that feature mostly instrumental songs. These days, it seems artists who rely on synthesizers to boost their voices and create three-minute (or less), cheesy pop songs dominate the collective attention span.

Therefore, Mogwai’s forthcoming album, Rave Tapes, is a welcome break. It is an elegant, guitar-led instrumental album that is haunting and smooth, and at its best throws out a few pleasant surprises.

The first song, “Heard About You Last Night,” starts off with a voice moaning or chanting something incoherent. Then the song rolls out with the ringing of a snowy, fuzzy electronic bell followed by classic guitars.

This seasoned, post-rock band from Scotland isn’t creating anything particularly new or groundbreaking. Rave Tapes gives listeners more of what they’ve already heard: Guitar solos and synthesizers sounding off hand in hand. That’s not to say the music is bad; it’s just not often surprising.

Most of the songs are not hard on the ears; they aren’t loud or explosive. But Mogwai continues to be dynamic by shifting its tunes in interesting ways.

In “Remurdered,” the song starts with the clock ticking, but it’s not long before the track transforms completely. It starts off slow, with the synth playing back and forth, and then rest of band chipping in. The tune starts to pick up pace a few minutes in, and suddenly, all the instruments roll out, producing a noisy, guitar-driven, and thumping  soft techno mash-up.

On “Repelish,” Mogwai pulls a MacGyver, with random, but pleasant surprises pulled out of a hat.

“Repelish” and “Blues Hour” are the only tracks with vocals, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to singing. “Repelish” instead provides a commentary about Led Zeppelin’s famous song “Stairway to Heaven.”

It’s so amusing that it will throw listeners off.  For a moment, it feels like an annoying Spotify ad just popped up, as a man observes, “Further in the tape, I came across another part that made me throw my headphones right off my head.” At the end, he asks listeners, “‘Cause they have a choice to make, what about you, what do you choose?”

Mogwai might be past its prime, and its post-rock work no longer grabs attention in this hyper age of small attention spans. Warning: This album is not for the masses, but that’s what makes Rave Tapes an awesome, stunning album to cherish. It takes patience to truly enjoy the band’s craftsmanship and the many details that make this album incredible to listen to.

Mogwai – Rave Tapes tracklist:

  1. “Heard About You Last Night”
  2. “Simon Ferocious”
  3. “Remurdered”
  4. “Hexon Bogon”
  5. “Repelish”
  6. “Mastercard”
  7. “Deesh”
  8. “Blues Hour”
  9. “No Medicine for Regret”
  10. “The Lord is Out of Control”
Album-art-for-Sumie-by-Sumie Sumie – Sumie

★★★½☆

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but that’s true of music, as well. Case in point: Swedish singer-songwriter Sumie’s beautiful, self-titled debut album.

Her soft, acoustic guitar-led folk songs are simple, yet elegant. One strum of her guitar, one croon of her silky voice, captures the imagination just as effectively as a thousand words.

Each song is sung so beautifully and passionately that it will melt listeners’ hearts, and there’s an intriguing air of mystery that makes Sumie’s music more enjoyable.

Her voice is seductive, her songs like lullabies. Her music is warm and fuzzy; it seems like she’s serenading each listener, sitting casually on the floor while looking straight into their eyes.

Sumie’s lyrics are cryptic, yet full of imagination. For example, you want to believe “Midnight Glories” is a love song, but Sumie’s lyrics are so abstract that it doesn’t exactly fit into that peg. But though the message is hazy, her heavy figurative language paints a vivid image as she sings, “Midnight glories of walking stories that rust in daylight to drown/Midnight glories of walking stories that burns in star lights… to shine.” Sumie’s lyricism forces listeners to let their imaginations run wild.

If Sumie’s lyrics keep her listeners guessing, so does her tone in each song.

Unfortunately, this is the low point in the album.  Sumie’s vocals remain static and devoid of any emotion. The album’s most popular song, “Show Talked Windows” has a haunting vibe to it; the music sounds eerie and creepy.

The song is carried by Sumie’s pretty voice, but her soft, soothing vocals don’t carry much weight. It would be interesting, and more dynamic, if she sung more forcefully from time to time.

Fortunately, it’s not a major flaw on this album. Rather, it’s a minor nuisance. Overall, Sumie is a well-crafted and captivating release that lacks any pretension. It’s slow, and it definitely takes patience to let the full weight of the album sink in. But with a little time, this gifted singer-songwriter will seduce listeners with her simple, sweet, and delightful sound.

Sumie – Sumie tracklist:

  1. “Spells You”
  2. “Never Wanted To Be”
  3. “Let You Go”
  4. “Hunting Sky”
  5. “Show Talked Windows”
  6. “Burden of Ease”
  7. “Speed Into”
  8. “Midnight Glories”
  9. “Later Flights”
  10. “Sailor Friends”
Album-Art-for-Until-The-Colours-Run-By-Lanterns-On-The-Lake Lanterns on the Lake – Until the Colors Run

★½☆☆☆

Next time, instead of popping Ambien, you can just listen to the British band, Lanterns on the Lake’s new album, Until the Colours Run. The mostly slow, soft rock ballads punctuated with electronic, minimalist sounds and folk tunes are beyond slow; they could put listeners to sleep. 

Lead singer Hazel Wilde’s vocals lack energy or any kind of spark. Instead, her singing is at best uninspiring and sounds like a broken record in every song. It’s soft, but erratic, and that’s just the beginning of this incredibly unremarkable album.

None of the tunes are memorable; they blur into one another so that it’s impossible to pinpoint any standout moments. The album’s only striking aspect is Wilde’s voice, which sounds dull, flat, and outright depressing.

If there are any bright spots in this album, they are few and far between. One, the band has talent, at least when it comes to playing—the songwriting is another story.

Wilde does a great job playing the piano, and multi-instrumentalist Paul Gregory has some wonderful moments on the keyboard. The electronic aspects of the music remain soft and sparse.

There is also some shift in dynamics and tempo within songs, but not enough to make the music exciting. For example, the first track, “Elodie,” starts off with a bang. The song mixes quick-tempo hard rock with Wilde’s slow, light vocals as a sound like tap dancing feet rings in the background.

Most of the songs on Until the Colours Run elicit dark, haunting, and political tones.

Arguably the band’s most important song, “Another Tale From Another English Town,” talks about the hard times coming, with widespread job loss and government cuts. The tune is quiet, soft, and haunting. Wilde’s tone reflects sadness rather than anger. She feels everybody in her town is resigned to their fate, and she ends the song singing, “We don’t want to fight/We want a quiet life/Wish our lives away, wish our lives away.”

While much of the album is similarly cynical, there are moments of optimism. “Green and Gold” reminds listeners that in hard times, love can make them forget about their fear.

Unfortunately, Until the Colours Run does not burst with any huge amount of color or life that reaches out from the darkness. It doesn’t burst with anything, really. For the most part, it simply sounds lifeless. Until the Colours Run might be beneficial in curing someone’s insomnia, but that’s about it.

Lanterns on the Lakes – Until the Colors Run tracklist:

  1. “Elodie”
  2. “The Buffalo Days”
  3. “The Ghost That Sleeps In Me”
  4. “Until the Colours Run”
  5. “Green and Gold”
  6. “You Soon Learn”
  7. “Picture Soon”
  8. “Another Tale From Another English Town”
  9. “Our Cool Decay”
Album-art-for-Intervals-by-Moving-Brooklyn Moving Brooklyn – Intervals

★★½☆☆

One night, not long ago, singer Kevin Teirnan tweeted “Moving to Brooklyn.” Though he didn’t intend to be taken seriously, it was an act that would prove to be the impetus for five friends to begin a new chapter in their lives.

The guitar-driven, pop-punk rock band, Moving Brooklyn, releases its first EP, Intervals, in January, sharing a producer with powerhouses of the genre like Brand New, We Are In The Crowd, and My Chemical Romance. The energetic, six-track Intervals is a pop-punk revival that doesn’t stick out much from its counterparts, but is an enjoyable enough listen.

It follows a story similar to the band’s trajectory—a story of guys who are stuck in rut being called to action, and to grow up—but lacks variety when it gets down to telling that story musically.

The Connecticut fivesome debuted in 2012 at a Vans Warped Tour Battle of the Bands, and its subsequent win gave it a shot at cutting its teeth on the Hartford, Conn. tour date. The group, composed of Kevin Teirnan, Kris Kilgore, and Paul LaBosky on guitar; Antonio Mastroianni on drums; and Bill Laudenslager on bass, cites influences such as Taking Back Sunday, Northlane, and Spitalfield, and has a familiar pop-punk sound with boy band lyricism.

The surging opening track, “If I Ever,” is a poppy lamentation of a good relationship that went cold by November, and concludes with the shouted chorus, “I try and try to get you back/You shoot, shoot me down/And if I ever get you back, we’ll find a way out.” The repetition of this line serves as a decent hook, but it’s unlikely that listeners who are not already in the pop-punk camp will be shouting along.

“If I Ever” could have just as easily been done by One Direction, if anyone ever turned those Brits down for dates.

Regardless, anthemic repetition is a staple of the album. “I know exactly who I want to be/It’s not living; it’s just symmetry,” repeats throughout “Symmetry.” Moving Brooklyn stays true to its genre with fast rhythms, formulaic chord changes, and energetic breakdowns. The music is guitar heavy, but melodic, and doesn’t really shift tonally within the EP. All of the tracks are loud jams cut with guitar solos,  with lyricism that lacks nuance and subtlety.

Intervals is pop-punk for Millennials in a post-2008 world, as opposed to a haven for angsty teens. It’s an exploration of finding direction in one’s life despite insurmountable odds, learning to grow up, shedding toxic relationships, and beginning anew.  The album wraps with “Good Thing I’ve Learned,” a bitter track that indicates that some wisdom, or at least a thicker skin, has been gained on the journey.“Good thing I’ve learned to let it go,” Teirnan repeats.

Intervals is by no means a perfect album. While Moving Brooklyn demonstrates maturity, the band is definitely inspired by a slightly superficial, teen-aged sensibility reflected in its lyrics.

However, all of the tracks on Intervals are well produced. Each member’s talent and chops are evident, and their sound, especially between Mastroianni’s tight drumming and the guitars, is balanced. That being said, Moving Brooklyn could stand to hone in on its own sound. The album is familiar in its adherence to the tenants of preceding pop-punk rockers, but it’s almost too familiar.

The band’s perspective as young artists addressing the struggle to find direction in the face of today’s challenges sets it up to be more than just another all male, pop-punk band. They just have to prove that they are more. Ultimately, Moving Brooklyn is off to a solid start with Intervals, and its theme of moving forward and making progress is hopefully indicative of what is to come.

Moving Brooklyn – Intervals tracklist:

  1. “If I Ever”
  2. “Symmetry”
  3. “Divorce Rock Record”
  4. “Parlor Tricks”
  5. “Actors”
  6. “Good Thing I’ve Learned”
Cover-art-for-Tall-Walker-EP-by-Tall-Walker Tall Walker – Tall Walker EP

★★★★☆

Donning the confident, edgy guise of a band with a large following, Tall Walker released its impressive debut EP under the same name earlier this month, featuring powerful tracks and excellent songwriting.

The Chicago-based trio strips down and unleashes a dynamic tracklist, starting its career off with a commanding rock album with heaps of energy that will cater to fans of Kings of Leon or The Strokes.

It’s hard to believe this is Tall Walker’s debut release, considering how impressive every song is. Each track hits harder than the last, and the EP leaves a lasting impression.

Along with the consistency of the song quality, these guys have a killer sound. Lead singer and guitarist Nick Bays has an undeniable groove to his voice and guitar work, while bassist Chris Hershman and drummer Ben Johnson hit just as hard in the background. The group meshes wonderfully to create one hell of an inauguration.

The EP starts off with the engaging “Deadbeat,” shifting seamlessly between mellow verses and the powerful choruses and bridge. Tall Walker shows off its songwriting skill, drawing from two opposite ends of the spectrum to make a great, catchy song. The foot-tapping, head-bobbing beat and gorgeous guitar draw listeners in as Bays serenades them for the first time of many. Although every song is unique, “Deadbeat” is a perfect indicator of the remarkable songs to come.

Continuing with the same chill vibe, “Clouds” is another foot-tapping hit with catchy melodies and subtle, but stellar musicianship.

Bays’s voice sounds as velvety as ever, especially during the built-up climax at the end where he repeats, “You lost it into the clouds/You lost it but now you’re found.” As the slowest song on the record, “Clouds” still manages to hold the same vigor as the others, exhibiting the group’s naturally raw and powerful sound.

Tall Walker kicks it up a notch on the last two songs, both of which could beat out the previous tracks for the best on the release. Jumping right into the exuberant “Love Is Alive,” the group comes out with an increasingly intense attitude and commanding instrumentals. Once again, this track proves to be unique and fresh when placed among the others, most evidently in the off-time bridge.

Ending on the epic, bluesy “Stay,” Tall Walker’s debut concludes with the same domineering force that drives the rest of the EP. It encompasses the feeling conveyed throughout, fully expressing the raw, soulful undertones that propel each song. “Stay” is mainly instrumental, or has Bays singing passionately alone with his guitar,

Aside from the music itself, the production quality of this album is astounding. It helps show off the band’s expertise and allows the listener to get the full effect of the music, particularly the loud, authoritative instrumentals and Bays’s impeccable voice.  Credit is definitely due to Stephen Shirk of Shirk Studios, who mixed the record.

Aside from a disappointingly quick ending, Tall Walker’s debut effort is nearly flawless. With only four songs from these prodigies, it’s hard not to long for more. As soon as the EP ends, it’s nearly impossible to keep from playing it again.

Tall Walker – Tall Walker EP tracklist:

  1. “Deadbeat”
  2. “Clouds”
  3. “Love Is Alive”
  4. “Stay”
Cover-art-for-Restless-Nights-EP-by-Ula-Ruth Ula Ruth – Restless Nights EP

★★★½☆

Riding on the same edgy, Neon-Trees-meets-Moostache grooves that drove its debut EP Extended Play, Ula Ruth is set to release its sophomore effort Restless Nights EP in early 2014.

Clocking in at  just over 23 minutes, the EP is fresh and deserving of attention. The band has undoubtedly matured since its last endeavor, crafting more complex songs that still comply with its classic upbeat, buoyant sound.

The tinge of angst expressed through a lot of Ula Ruth’s lyrics both complements and contradicts its gung-ho instrumentals, creating an interesting coexistence between the two sides. This dichotomy goes unnoticed unless focus is pointed toward what Nic James, lead singer and rhythm guitarist, is actually saying, neglecting both his cheerful melodies and the rest of the band’s equally bright musicianship.

The album kicks into Ula Ruth’s newest single “Let Down” following an eerie, echoed guitar humming to start things off. From that point, the EP takes off and doesn’t look back, continually keeping a foot-tapping vibe until the end.

The song features characteristically catchy guitar riffs with some killer solos, powerful bass lines, and a bold drum beat.

By far the coolest part of the track  comes after the line, “You don’t even care at all,” when Nic bitterly says, “Fuck it,” as the music stops and segues into one of lead guitarist Andrew LeCoche’s intoxicating solos.

This raw energy juxtaposed with the airiness of the song is what makes this band novel.

The rest of the EP goes the same way, with bassist Kevin Clymer and drummer Luc James backing up Nic’s lamenting lyrics with domineering, stark instrumentals and LeCoche leading the way musically.

A majority of the EP sounds a lot like “Let Down,” which makes for a fun, but slightly repetitive tracklist overall.

Ula Ruth does a great job of taking that upbeat, yet melancholy style and running with it, but a little more variation wouldn’t hurt.

With that said, there are still tracks that stray from the norm. “The End,” which is the second-to-last song, opens with a groovy ’80s vibe, but is contradicted by Nic’s unique vocals.

Ula Ruth takes this classic sound and makes it its own, slowing the tempo and making use of twangy guitar effects to fabricate a toned-down version of the rest of the EP. It’s a nice chance to stop and take a breath, though it still has the catchiness and power of the other tracks.

“Too Late Tonight,” which closes Restless Nights, goes much the same way. Sounding almost like a quicker, more upbeat extension of “The End,” it brings the album to a proper conclusion with the elements that have pushed the album from start to finish: the catchiness paired with the subtle, melodramatic lyrics; the power of the instruments; and the end-of-song breakdown. All of it comes together to give the EP a fitting denouement.

Restless Nights is a solid release that expresses Ula Ruth’s skill and maturation. The EP exhibits a sense of optimism where lyrically none can be found, which is an interesting way to write about such deeply emotional subject matter.

If the group keeps up like this, it shouldn’t have a problem making huge strides in the coming years. Hopefully we will see a full-length from Ula Ruth before too long.

Ula Ruth – Restless Nights EP tracklist:

  1. “Restless Nights”
  2. “Let Down”
  3. “Shake It Off”
  4. “Loser”
  5. “Runaway”
  6. “The End”
  7. “Too Late Tonight”
Cover-art-for-Lost-Here-EP-by-Synkro Synkro – Lost Here EP

★★★½☆

Lost Here, Synkro’s third release on Apollo Records,reconciles the cryptic nature of its title with waves of moody electronica that ebb and flow through a sentimental hyperspace, enveloping the listener in a state of lucid dream-like static that tosses and turns with the mood of this latest EP.

Recruiting the smooth, rounded vocal stylings of Robert Manos for the first half of the EP, the Manchester-based DJ grabs firmly the opportunity presented in this two-song collaboration to highlight a contrast between the organic and the mechanical.

Synkro’s vocal-free vacuum of instrumental music (save for some heavily effected and oft-muffled murmurings) allies with Manos’s gentle lull to forge moments in sound that resonate unexpectedly, stitched together from the synthesized whirs, clicks, chirps, and pops that break up and punctuate the ethereal singing.

Conceptually, Lost Here blooms on the title track, as its tone is illustrated in the pinging of looped pleas and queries from Manos: “Catch me when I fall/Move me when I freeze this time/Chasing dragons in my sleep.”

Acknowledgement of deviating from the course, personal awareness of flights of fancy, wishes to be remembered fondly, and hopes for acceptance arise from the meshing of the two artists’ offerings.

“I got lost here,” the singer admits, and the words float away and degrade in a sea of cascading, robotic machinations.

The celestial groove of Synkro’s music juxtaposes with the nostalgic and melancholy lyrics to make the team effort on these first two tracks the standout feature of Lost Here.

“Nights of Pleasure,” the first of two instrumental tracks that make up the latter half of the EP, paints a crystalline backdrop with a twinkling build-up to a hi-hat laden second act.

The composer layers spaced-out samples with labyrinthine percussion to create a sensation of motionless falling that passes the torch to the pulsing beat of closing track “Fading Lights,” which morphs from tribal-sounding polyrhythm to the clean, cold machinery of Synkro’s programmed drum maps.

Alternating between harried, pulse-quickening moments of imminent arrival and tripped out drawls that mosey from one end of ambient atmosphere to the other, Synkro has offered his followers a brief but well-rounded and otherworldly transmission.

Though some of the landscapes navigated over the course of Lost Here tend toward too stark or too busy, this release provides further evidence that Synkro’s style is evolving and his catalog is expanding in ever more interesting ways.

Synkro – Lost Here EP tracklist:

  1. “Lost Here (feat. Manos)”
  2. “In My Arms (feat. Manos)”
  3. “Nights of Pleasure”
  4. “Fading Lights”
Cover-art-for-Loves-Crushing-Diamond-by-Mutual-Benefit Mutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond

★★★★★

Every so often, an album will surface that reignites an otherwise stale discourse of music, offering a vivid portrayal of how an album is supposed to be constructed.

Such is the case with Love’s Crushing Diamond, the elegantly crafted EP from Mutual Benefit—otherwise known as Jordan Lee. Charged with a natural buoyancy and graceful splendor, the seven-track work is both intricate and beautifully simple.

Marked by rhapsodic harps and calming orchestral sweeps, Love’s Crushing Diamond is accompanied by the soothing vocals of Lee, and each track drips with his gripping vulnerability.

His touching and often heartbreaking lyrics offer a an incredibly wistful portrayal of love and optimism.

The EP’s opening and closing tracks, “Strong River” and  “Strong Swimmer,” respectively, appropriately juxtapose one another as a bridge through the entire body of work. As “Strong River” opens Love with faint echoes of Lee’s voice, it gently lays the groundwork for the rest of the record.

Amid a symphony of haunting chimes, Lee’s voice softly sings, “I clear my mind of joy and sorrow/River doesn’t know tomorrow.” And in seamless transition, the song elegantly fades into “Golden Haze,” one of Love’s shining tracks. Backed by intricate violins and enchanting organs, the song ‘s strength lies in the fragility of the lyrics and Lee’s voice. With heartbreaking candor, he sings, “I could see a piece of what you broke in me/We weren’t made to be this way, we weren’t made to be afraid.” In a similar vein, “Advanced Falconry” plays on Lee’s heightened emotion, and over a sweeping piano and string medley, he gushes over the object of his affection.

The album’s ending track, “Strong Swimmer,” demonstrates the lyrical depth Lee is capable of.  A sweeping and emotional ode to someone—or something—that provided him an illusory sense of strength, the song hints that perhaps the strength was within him all along—like The Wizard of Oz in the form of a softly flowing ballad.

At only 30 minutes long, Love’s Crushing Diamond’s only disappointment is that it isn’t lengthier.

The emotion Lee invokes throughout the album leaves the listener in awe and naturally wanting to explore it further. Each track is exquisitely produced and finely tuned, and the lyrical maturity Lee displays is impressive for his mere 25 years of age.

This is the kind of work that foreshadows major things from a rising talent, and alludes to great promise. Delicately crafted and honestly delivered, Love’s Crushing Diamond quietly demands attention.

Mutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond tracklist:

  1. “Strong River”
  2. “Golden Wake”
  3. “Advanced Falconry”
  4. “That Light That’s Binding”
  5. “‘Let’s Play’/Statue of a Man”
  6. “C.L. Rosarian”
  7. “Strong Swimmer”