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”
Album-art-for-Ill'e-Grande-by-Analog-Rebellion Analog Rebellion – Ill’e Grande

★★★☆☆

A lot of pressure can come from being signed to a major label halfway through your senior year of high school, and that pressure is telling of Daniel Hunter’s early years as a Myspace darling with an Island Records imprint.

That brought Hunter’s brainchild, PlayRadioPlay! through the ether to much success within the  mid-2000 pop-punk and power-pop scenes. As these genres peaked and declined, Hunter’s musical visions changed in tandem with his departure from major label. To mirror this shift, he has been performing under the moniker Analog Rebellion for some years now.

The latest release from the North Texas native is telling of Hunter’s maturity as a songwriter and as a musician, as Ill’e Grande reaches for the heights of the self labeled “stadium lo-fi” medium as well as introducing diverse flows of tone and emotion.

There are moments of musical clarity here that demonstrate Hunter’s maturity since his early releases.

The album begins with the distortion-heavy, grinding title track. Hunter’s androgynous voice cuts through with the wail of far too much reverb (stadium lo-fi, alright), but confidently cuts through the thickness of the track.

“Goblin King” drives through as well, with prog sensibility inlaid in Bono-ian echoes, in continuing the album’s almost frenetic pace and grand size. The album’s middle and late sections aren’t as noteworthy, probably due to the lack of genre and tone shifts as compared to the front section. The level of musical consistency and a good ear for rhythmic blueprinting is strong, though, as no song is a total disappointment.

In the wake of Hunter’s abounded musicality, one cannot help but notice his tired use of motifs from the pop-punk age. “The Genre is Self-Aware,” while sonically impressive, is a lyric-less track that feels subjugated by a title that tries too hard.

These surface-level philosophical quandaries may have sounded cool on a PlayRadioPlay! album in 2005, but not today.

Hunter and his collaborators do well in appropriating different styles of alternative music without diluting too much of their own watermark, thus keeping true to a whole and consistent theme for Ill’e Grande—from the infectious groove of early New York millennium art-punk grinder “Hot Shit” to the jazzy flow of the wonderful closer “Sing with me Kelly.”

Many who attempt this end up sounding campy, seeming to try too hard to be something they can’t pull off. Analog Rebellion’s understanding of the difference and Hunter’s ability to treat that line is what makes an album like Ill’e Grande not only worthwhile, but actually noteworthy.

This should not go unnoticed, as Hunter’s musical evolution has allowed him to adapt to an ever-changing pop landscape. This isn’t to say that Hunter’s music has never been unimpressive, but he’s one of the few artists from his genre to be able grow with the musical trends of the 21st century, and do so without a complete 180 (looking at you, Sonny Moore).

The album may have some tried themes and motifs throughout, but they stand in homage to Hunter’s past more than eye roll-inducing triggers. Ill’e Grande is impressively mature and surprisingly enjoyable.

Analog Rebellion – Ill’e Grande tracklist:

  1. “Ill’e Grande”
  2. “Out of Your Mind”
  3. “Goblin King”
  4. “ATM”
  5. “Hot Shit”
  6. “Now I am a Cobra”
  7. “The Genre is Self-Aware”
  8. “Group of Theives”
  9. “Draw that Armadillo”
  10. “We’re Not Talking to Anymore Lawyers”
  11. “I am a Ghost”
  12. “Sing with me Kelly”
Cover-art-for-Steve-Hears-Pile-in-Malden-and-Bursts-into-Tears-by-Krill Krill – Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears

★★★★☆

Who knew an EP featuring both a life-threatening existential crisis and poop-based metaphors could be so good?

Experimental three-piece Krill set out to write a concept EP using the characters Steve and Mouth, both of whom are taken from Exploding In Sound labelmate Pile’s song “Steve’s Mouth.”

In the story, Steve wants to create something worthy of Pile’s praise, only to hear “Steve’s Mouth” and realize he and Mouth are characters in the song, hence the EP’s lengthy title, Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears.

It’s an interesting concept that ties the tracks together well, but in the end, the group’s innovative musicianship surpasses the story and ultimately makes for a bizarre, brilliant label debut.

Blending sounds from the likes of Fugazi and Pavement, Krill is definitely a handful.

The mixes are chaotic and dynamic; the lyrics are introspective and spewed lawlessly over heavily-distorted instrumentals; and the songwriting is intense and creative, all of which makes Steve one hell of a release.

Starting with the discombobulating intro to the title track, the story is introduced when Steve and Mouth are jealously discussing the greatness of Pile’s latest album. Krill’s unique skill becomes apparent from the beginning of “Steve Hears…”—the music is controlled mayhem, and Jonah Furman’s screeching, noisy vocals only become more severe as the EP progresses.

“Sweet Death,” the second track, is where things really pick up. Krill shows off its artistic, emotional side with Furman’s vocals looming fervent and intense, backed up by groovy bass lines and catchy guitar. Here, elements of Pavement singer Stephen Malkmus’s style begin to surface and Krill’s songwriting skill is fully realized. This track shows off everything great about the band, including both the obvious mastery of its instruments and the relentless passion expressed by each member.

However, “Sweet Death” throws the story off kilter a bit. Steve becomes pessimistic and suicidal, but this shift is never explained. The rest of the EP plays on that hopeless feeling.

Even though “Sweet Death” is the high point of Steve Hears, the EP never hits a slump afterward.

“Turd” is the most poignant song, and despite the inane metaphor, it’s a valid comparison as Furman sings, ”But I’ll never go down, ’cause that would just be way too easy/ I will never kill myself, but live forever.”

“Unbound Nameless Future” shows off the band’s more math-rock elements with its unpredictable timing and spastic drums. At this point, Steve feels lost and can’t see a future for himself, wishing he could live the simple life of a passing dog he sees on the street.

Krill portrays this disconcerting mental conflict through mass musical pandemonium as Furman aggressively begs a dog to take what’s left of a person he’s attacked.

After this outburst, closer “Fresh Pond” calms the EP down. Steve has seemingly given up, and drones on through life in a bored haze. Once again, musical dissonance gives the track an off-putting feeling, forcing listeners to empathize with the main character. Unnerving, jumbled, and repeated riffs close the last few minutes of the song, reflecting the monotony of Steve’s mind. It’s a fittingly uncomfortable, anticlimactic ending.

Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears works as a concept EP, but it also stands alone as five great songs. It’s hard to ignore the Bostonian three-piece, which hasn’t changed since its previous release, Lucky Leaves.

The EP plays as an ultra-meta joke, but Krill’s real skill and emotion bring it far beyond the realm of the sarcastic.

Krill – Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears tracklist:

  1. “Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears”
  2. “Sweet Death”
  3. “Turd”
  4. “Unbounded Nameless Future”
  5. “Fresh Pond”
Album-Art-for-DTCV-Hilarious-Heaven DTCV – Hilarious Heaven

★★★☆☆

About halfway through Hilarious Heaven, DTCV’s (pronounced “detective”) quirky and exploratory debut release, the murky picture that the band had painted of itself up to that point began to take a more defined shape.

Heaven, which packs 26 songs into just over an hour, is the work of seasoned players who are pushing the boundaries of their comfort zones. The 11-minute track “How Not to Be”–a winding journey through dissonant horns and stuttering drums punctuated with flute-driven breaks–attests to this point precisely.

Following the old-timey, top-of-the-hour radio introduction to the record, listeners are treated with two back-to-back songs that act as introductions to each half of the songwriting duo whose sounds bookend the wide range of tonality explored on Hilarious Heaven.

Guylaine Vivarat shows her hand first on “I Was Where Were You,” enchanting us from the offing with a throaty vibrato that will bring a blush to any bearded cheek. Laid over buzzing, bubblegum guitar that’s infectious in a Dinosaur Jr. kind of way, Vivarat displays DTCV’s ability to write a solid, catchy number—and thus the weird depths of the album will be given a little more credit.

James Greer, former member of the eminently credible rock band Guided by Voices, steps in on “Improving Ground” to relieve his female counterpart. Tinged with melancholy plucked straight from the early ’80s and a melody informed by that era’s brand of lo-fi rock, Greer’s matter-of-fact vocal manner brings to mind the image of a more refined–and possibly British–Frank Black.

Though the collaborative efforts on Hilarious Heaven are apparent, both Vivarat and Greer seem to remain consistent within their own bubbles, rather than working as a cohesive duo.

That’s not to say that they don’t complement one another—DTCV’s instrumentation melds with a heavy post-punk bent that tends to keep the album flowing no matter which pilot is in the jump seat.

Proof of that sturdy meeting point between Vivarat and Greer are tracks like “Alpha Waves in a Gelatinous Conductor” and “Tiptoe,” which demonstrate that while DTCV generally does not settle into an easily definable genre, the musicians know how to handle themselves no matter where they land on the spectrum.

Esoteric sound clips, many of which are in French and seem to be “found sounds,” act as intermittent bridges between tracks. Opting for this feature seems to better seat DTCV at the strange and conceptual intersection of weirdness that asserts itself through a widely cast net of influences. It allows for some kind of loose subtext to be on continuous repeat in the background, but can at times serve as a distraction.

Hilarious Heaven can be digested as a cerebral outing that, while long-winded, is well arranged into components of differing sizes, providing the audience with a wide array of context for DTCV’s sound. On the other hand, the process of wading through the protracted record can sometimes leave the aftertaste of a makeshift product composed of more carelessness than consciousness. Still, overall listenability and an abundance of personality will likely leave listeners’ appetites satisfied.

DTCV – Hilarious Heaven tracklist:

  1. “Everything Is Cinema”
  2. “I Was Where Were You”
  3. “Improving Ground”
  4. “Sundial”
  5. “Cars Missing Vol. 1″
  6. “Ghostery”
  7. “Hyperdoxxing at Dowager Inn”
  8. “Impostor Horse”
  9. “How Not To Be”
  10. “J’irai pas”
  11. “Alpha Waves in a Gelatinous Conductor”
  12. “Electrostatic Inc.”
  13. “(cis)x”
  14. “Soulsville USA”
  15. “The Sickness”
  16. “Contre Jour”
  17. “Cars Missing Vol. 2″
  18. “Windsor Hum”
  19. “Gone 2 Quickly”
  20. “The Wild Party”
  21. “Creative Class Dismissed”
  22. “Hotspurs of Nicely Light”
  23. “Los Angeles Street”
  24. “Tiptoe”
  25. “Gone 1 Quickly”
  26. “Shut Up”
Album-Art-for-Morgan-Delt-by-Morgan-Delt Morgan Delt – Morgan Delt

★★★★½

Morgan Delt doesn’t reveal a whole lot about himself. The Los Angeles-based musician and graphic designer hasn’t done many interviews, and the press photo that accompanies his self-titled debut looks like it was taken in 1968: the artist, in hippie hair and sunglasses, stands in front of trees that look painted into the scene.

Paired with the Morgan Delt record sleeve, on which he’s standing behind wildflowers, the phrase “lost classic” comes to mind—something reissue labels and record clerks like to toss off.

In just one listen, it’s clear that Delt is running with this paisley-decorated scenario. He could easily be mistaken for an old obscurity. On the other hand, he’s got a Facebook page, so he’s not exactly Sugar Man.

Delt’s debut full-length, which contains a chunk of the limited cassette, Psychic Death Hole (2012), is an acid-drop homage to Left Coast pop-psychedelia and folk—the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, the Byrds, and Tim Buckley come to mind, even the Beatles in their Meet the Maharishi period. He absorbs it all, then lays his own interpretation to tape.

Opener “Make My Grey Brain Green” is a Dalí-melt of sitar over vintage guitar fuzz, a bit of “Kumbaya” with one foot in the garage. Flanked by slaps of tambourine, “Barbarian Kings” invites a good bliss-out, but a dark undercurrent in Delt’s voice can keep the listener on edge.

He’s both sweet and sinister—selling you the brown acid with a smile but ducking out of sight before the trip.

It’s easy to dismiss a song called “Mr. Carbon Copy”—he’s got the aesthetic down pat—but one shouldn’t overlook its intricacies, like quick changes in tempo, a trick he also employs in “Little Zombies,” where a brittle quiver gives way to full-pluck chamber folk.

Delt nimbly moves from lush to lithe, never getting too serious, and the result is playful and listenable to the point of hypnotic repetition—a Fab Four-approved mantra.

“Sad Sad Trip” plays on atmosphere alone and doesn’t bring anything to the set but a little authenticity. Instead, “Little Zombies” and “Barbarian Kings” best lay out Delt’s expansive ideas.

Like a leather lanyard with collected beads, Morgan Delt is carefully crafted: tinkles of guitar are embedded in static, as from actual tape in a home recording. His trills, multiplied, echo fellow travelers of the British Invasion. Delt has done his homework, but the sound here is his own.

Morgan Delt – Morgan Delt tracklist:

      1. “Make My Grey Brain Green”
      2. “Barbarian Kings”
      3. “Beneath the Black and Purple “
      4. “Mr. Carbon Copy”
      5. “Obstacle Eyes”
      6. “Little Zombies”
      7. “Chakra Sharks”
      8. “Sad Sad Trip”
      9. “Backwards Bird Inc.”
      10. “Tropicana”
      11. “Main Title Sequence”