Album-art-for-The-Helio-Sequence The Helio Sequence – The Helio Sequence


Indie-rock duo The Helio Sequence is reinventing the way it approaches music. Its eponymous sixth album, The Helio Sequence, came of a popular competition called “The 20 Song Game,” wherein a band attempts to hammer out 20 songs in one day. Originally created by an organization called the Immersion Composition Society, the game pushes musicians to create organically and on-the-spot, rather than spend copious amounts of time thinking about music and waiting to be inspired. Influenced by musician friends who had just completed the challenge, The Helio Sequence took it up, allowing one month to create an entire album.

Vocalist/guitarist Brandon Summers and keyboardist/drummer Benjamin Weikel usually create meticulously thought-out albums, but the time spent working the challenge produced 26 songs conceived without discussion of musical inspiration or themes. After a month, the band sent the songs to friends and family, asking them to create a Top 10 list of favorites from the sampling. The result is The Helio Sequence, a soaring album about forging ahead and moving forward, reflecting the band’s revitalized musical efforts in its lyrics and construction of the album.

Hints of the need for change are peppered throughout the album. Opening track, “Battle Lines,” begins with a series of reverberating synths, giving way to Weikel’s complex beat. Summers’ guitar comes in, echoing with each chord. Summers sings of movement—a fallen tree, a foaming sea, and “the shadow of another day.” The lyrics evoke imperfect imagery, whether it’s broken, agitated, or referencing drifting darkness.

As Summers sings, “I cut the tethers that are holding me,” it becomes clear he’s freeing himself and moving on from the past. He’s growing and changing, similarly to how The Helio Sequence is open to new ways of producing music. Throughout the song’s chorus, Summers sings, “Looking for a new direction/Looking for another way.”

The band was ready for something different, and it seems The 20 Song Challenge inspired it in more ways than one.

Although Weikel and Summers approached their creation processes differently, the new album retains the duo’s atmospheric tendencies, erring on the side of the band’s more fluid last album, Negotiations.

The track “Deuces” maintains an overall fuzziness and features Summers’ signature soaring vocals, but the disjointed electronic sounds that were more prominent in 2008’s Keep Your Eyes Ahead are mostly gone in the new album. In its place, loud drums and a melodic guitar set the stage for another track about moving on—after all, “deuces” means “goodbye.” In this case, Summers is saying goodbye to a relationship on his own terms: “It doesn’t matter how you want it all to be,” he sings. “And there is nothing more that you could say to me.”

Similarly, “Never Going Back” begins with a combination of electronic sounds, serving as background music. But it’s a departure, serving as a slower final track to close it all out. Light background fuzz, a crunchy beat, and melodiously ringing electronics are somehow harmoniously pieced together. Summers’ voice echoes one word into the next, adding a kaleidoscopic edge.

Another deviation in the album, “Inconsequential Ties,” features an acoustic guitar and steady tambourine alongside a lively beat with prominent cymbals. The songs don’t sound random, though; they add unexpected, refreshing twists in an album inspired by a game that supports creativity via snap decisions.

In “Never Going Back,” Summers sings of getting “away from shackles and away from restraint.” With The Helio Sequence, the duo loosened its grip, letting creativity reign.

The Helio Sequence – The Helio Sequence tracklist:

  1. “Battle Lines”
  2. “Stoic Resemblance”
  3. “Red Shifting”
  4. “Upward Mobility”
  5. “Leave or Be Yours”
  6. “Deuces”
  7. “Inconsequential Ties”
  8. “Seven Hours”
  9. “Phantom Shore”
  10. “Never Going Back”
Album-art-for-Welcome-Back-to-Milk-by-Du-Blonde Du Blonde – Welcome Back to Milk


Beth Jeans Houghton gained acclaim with her 2012 debut album, Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose. While the psych rock effort did well, Houghton didn’t feel fulfilled. After a pair of life altering moments, including a psychological episode in Zurich, and the decision to break up her band and scrap a follow-up album, Houghton took a turn, and Welcome Back to Milk acted as the soundtrack.

Following the ways of Cat Stevens, Yusuf Islam, Mos Def, or Yasiin Bey, Houghton has changed her stage name to Du Blonde. Her reasoning was to gain artistic agency without ties to a distinct sound—to make music she describes as more “exhilarating.”

Houghton’s versatility is evident from the first track, “Black Flag,” which can be described as rock with its heavy drums and guitars, and Houghton’s stern vocals. The dynamic shifts with the next song, though, that can only be thought of as punk. The slight change of genres isn’t a complete shift, but it does show Houghton’s experimentation.

“After The Show” is drastically different from “Black Flag.” It is slowed down with melodic vocals backed by a soft guitar, drums, and piano. This style evokes her earlier work, but the lyrics speak more to inner psyche issues than before.

The lyrics in many of the slower songs relate to relationship issues, whether from a current one or the post breakup state. “I remember you asking what did you expect/All I needed was a bit of your respect,” she sings in “After The Show,” recalling the dynamic of a previous relationship.

Other tracks touch on relationships, but don’t focus on a dual nature, but rather the toll they take on a solitary person.

The Joan Baez-like track, “Four In The Morning,” is very powerful with lyrics such as, “It’s four in the morning/in a motel miles out of town/and time has worn you down,” backed by only a piano. The song deals with her mental wellbeing, analyzing a relationship in a very solitary place—perhaps an homage to her ordeal in Zurich.

Houghton takes full advantage of the opportunity of a fresh artistic slate and used Welcome Back to Milk as a cathartic expression. The future of Du Blonde might be hazy, but the future of Beth Jeans Houghton’s music could not be more radiant.

Du Blonde – Welcome Back to Milk tracklist:

  1. “Black Flag”
  2. “Chips To Go”
  3. “Raw Honey”
  4. “After The Show”
  5. “If You’re Legal”
  6. “Hunter”
  7. “Hard To Please”
  8. “Young Entertainment”
  9. “Mr. Hyde”
  10. “Four In The Morning”
  11. “Mind Is On My Mind ft. Samuel T Herring”
  12. “Isn’t It Wild”
album-art-for-Peanut-Butter-by-Joanna-Gruesome Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter


Filled with fuzzy guitar riffs and the type of drumming that barrels through a crowd, Joanna Gruesome’s sophomore album, Peanut Butter, is like a heightened continuation of the band’s 2013 debut, Weird Sister. Joanna Gruesome’s sound—part Riot Grrrl-era punk, part dreamy nu-gaze—is louder, grimier, and sweeter on Peanut Butter, creating an album that, in all its clamor and commotion, reflects the tough and beautiful aspects of life.

Hailing from Cardiff, Wales, Joanna Gruesome is comprised of guitarist Owen Williams, guitarist George Nicholls, bassist Max Warren, drummer Dave Sanford, and vocalist Alanna McArdle, who all allegedly met via anger management class.

Joanna Gruesome was born of a class project involving the creation of art as a way to calm the nerves.

Peanut Butter certainly isn’t relaxed, though. The songs on the album fly by, literally and musically. Each track is around two minutes long, with just two songs hitting around three minutes. The album begins with a flurry of sounds with “Last Year.” A guitar rushes in, accompanied by upbeat drums and McArdle’s yelling voice, an effect to make her sound a bit gritty. It’s the kind of music that could elicit a mosh. And suddenly, the music changes about a minute into the song. One moment, McArdle is screaming, “I will not!” and the next, her voice becomes light and sweet. The tone of the song becomes sunnier with the addition of a more melodic guitar. It’s perhaps a bit bipolar, but Joanna Gruesome really captures the ups and downs of life—one moment, it’s angst-filled, and then, out of nowhere, something happens to make it all right. Somehow the tone change works, possibly because the song retains its fuzzy quality the whole time.

It’s as if the band cut and pasted two pieces of music together to create a mismatch made in heaven.

The band’s DIY aesthetic is heard elsewhere in the album, too. “Crayon,” interweaves its hard and soft sounds more seamlessly than “Last Year.” “Psykick Espionage,” aside from having a fun track name, succeeds at mixing grungier melodies with a lighter chorus. Glaring sound effects, such as messy guitar, distorted vocals, and feedback, are scattered throughout the songs, so even the album’s indie-pop moments have some edge. “I Don’t Wanna Relax” begins with harsh, effected guitar and intense, cringe-worthy feedback, which may not be pleasant to listen to, but does a good job at shocking the system. In true form to the song title, the effects create a kind of anxiety over the otherwise upbeat tune.

Joanna Gruesome’s songwriting can be unclear at times—McArdle’s voice tends to blend into itself word after word, and the music’s varied effects muffle them even more. Some bits and pieces can be ascertained, though, such as in “Jerome (Liar),” which, by referencing clichés, seems to poke fun at an artsy archetype. “You talk about the moon, you think about stars a lot,” McArdle croons. “You write about trees, impressions in sand.” The subdued lyrics go along with the band’s sound, but a better understanding of what Joanna Gruesome is trying to say within its music would be appreciated.

The band’s lyrics do lend some mystery to the songs, though. At the end of “Psykick Espionage,” McArdle repeats, “I want to avoid psykick espionage,” which will make imaginations run wild with ideas as to what the band is singing about.

Lyrically understandable or not, Joanna Gruesome knows how to combine the musically abrasive and soft, screaming against life as the band strums along to it.

Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter tracklist:

  1. “Last Year”
  2. “Jamie (Luvver)”
  3. “Honestly Do Yr Worst”
  4. “There Is No Function Stacy”
  5. “Crayon”
  6. “I Don’t Wanna Relax”
  7. “Jerome (Liar)”
  8. “Separate Bedrooms”
  9. “Psykick Espionage”
  10. “Hey! I Wanna Be Yr Best Friend”
Album-art-for-Sinking-As-A-Stone-by-Vaadat-Charigim Vaadat Charigim – Sinking As A Stone


Vaadat Charigim’s second album, Sinking As A Stone, is both a success and failure, depending on the listener’s perspective. As described by the band, the album is meant to distill feelings of boredom that accompany growing up in Tel Aviv. The Israeli trio has crafted an undeniably well-made, but ultimately hollow and suffocating album. Vaadat Charigim crib wholesale from the tricks of shoegaze godheads like My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Cocteau Twins, with a healthy dose of modern post-rock’s operatic tendencies. The band’s songs skillfully languish in beautiful, dreamy spaces for minutes on end, but by the end of the runtimes, they always grind to a halt, all to repeat the same process over again.

Opener, “Neshel” appropriately establishes the arc of each of these songs—a droning surge building into a chorus and lots of pedal work all leading into a tidal wave. There’s plenty of the towering climbs up the fretboard, but over ten minutes, it all feels like too much of nothing.

More often than not, it’s about picking out a snatch of melody or a quirk to grab onto than really enjoying the album as a whole.

“Hadavar Haamiti” is more successful with its galloping drum beat and spin cycle guitars. Yuval Guttman makes every bass drum hit sound like a shotgun blast and has a welcome verve, effortlessly adding double-time cymbals and other flourishes. “Klum,” meanwhile, sounds like a cosmic prom anthem with its disembodied fingerpicking and yearning vocal melodies. Again, Guttman steals the show with a deep tribal drum solo right at the end.

But after those initial checkered successes, the album starts to feel pretty generic. “Imperia Achrona” is as achingly melodic as most B-level Ride songs with an appealing mysticism to its sound, but it becomes tired long before its seven minute plus runtime. Similarly, closer “Hashiamum Shokea” has the biggest opening ear worm with a winding, My Morning Jacket-like guitar riff at the beginning, but it soon switches to stale grunge power chord chugging.

Vaadat Charigim has said it wanted to communicate the boredom of waiting for something to happen, the boredom of being hopeful for change, a possibility of change that’s hung over the head of the band’s troubled home country. And true to its aim, Sinking As A Stone is conceptually successful and deliberate in its choices to let songs swirl and swirl until they find direction. And it’s equally brave of the band to sing all the songs in its native language of Hebrew.

But all the melodic texture in the world can’t change how much of this album just stands there without either thematic cohesion or structural pleasures.

This is clearly an immensely talented band that is familiar with the structures and dynamics of the pioneers. There’s the drift and swaying dreaminess of the genre along with the punishing low and high-ends, and there are disparate cultural elements that at least to this Yankee listener scan as unique, but all of this hero worship doesn’t really add up to anything. There’s nothing to hold onto in this impeccably chaotic slush.

Vaadat Charigim – Sinking As A Stone  tracklist:

  1. “Neshel”
  2. “Hadavar Haamiti”
  3. “Klum”
  4. “Ein Li Makom”
  5. “Imperia Achrona”
  6. “At Chavera Sheli”
  7. “Hashiamum Shokea”
Album-art-for-numun-by-Johanna-Warren Johanna Warren – nūmūn


Immediately bewitching and otherworldly, Johanna Warren’s nūmūn is a captivating album inspired by the phases of the moon. Following her 2013 release, Fates, Warren’s sophomore album will transport listeners to an ethereal place. With prominent acoustics and mesmerizing effects brought to life by sound engineer Bella Blasko, nūmūn explores life’s cycles with wonder, hope, and the knowledge that they bring peace and healing to our complicated lives.

“Black Moss” begins with chimes and a sound similar to the ringing a wine glass makes when a wet finger glides around the border. A melodic acoustic guitar comes in as Warren sings, “Fear is the weight we carry/From the cradle straight to our graves/And love is the treasure we bury.” Her voice may be sweet and lilting, but it’s full of soul and wisdom, reminding us what’s really important in life.

Warren’s music is like mystical-folk—if there is such a thing—drawing listeners to an enchanted forest, where light shines and darkness looms.

As “Black Moss” unravels, Warren tells the story of a relationship that seems to have ended unexpectedly, but was perhaps never solid in the first place. “You’ve been a lot of places/Left me forgotten by your side/Maybe the feeling’s baseless/But something still stirs in me when I look in your eyes,” croons Warren. That ringing noise floats in and out of the song, creating an atmospheric sound as Warren sings of having trusted a relationship that was apparently doomed to fail, like all things that are beautiful in the moment, but could easily end in sadness.

Life and death are also major themes in the album—whether referencing the breaking down of relationships or actual mortality. Warren addresses death with curiosity and fearlessness, though, as exemplified in the line, “I may be here today, but soon black moss will cover over my dead body,” in “Black Moss.” She’s juxtaposing life and death with how relationships cycle in and out of our lives. Warren isn’t afraid of the unknown, and she knows it’s a natural part of life, just as the moon wanes and fades to darkness every month. It’s the “circle of life,” so to speak.

In “Noise,” Warren explores death as inevitable, and wanting to make the most of her time living. “You see, God has his plans, but I’ve got mine/And little good will come to those who stand in line,” she sings during the chorus alongside a folksy, acoustic guitar.

Similarly, “Less Traveled” explores her desire to take the reins rather than waiting to find out what life has in store. A cheery, encouraging melody begins the song, and the addition of a flute adds to the “enchanted forest” aspect of the album as Warren sings of wandering through the woods. She conjures beautiful images of nature, and if there’s a forest close to your heart (like the Big Sur redwoods for me), you will immediately want to make a trip back to it—and perhaps play nūmūn while you’re there.

Warren tells listeners to open their minds to the possibilities of life.

“If you clear a path, it doesn’t matter where you wind up/Who knows what you’ll find,” she sings—good advice to those of us who are still figuring out our path and searching for peace.

Soft, whispering voices in the background of the track allude to an inner voice or gut feeling that guides us. Although at first a little creepy, those voices are another effect that add mysticism to the album, but it doesn’t come across as intense new age spirituality (although there is a touch of it). Warren may sing of going to a special place in her mind, but her lyrics are still based in reality, giving them a relatable edge.

Warren’s music is like a curiosity cabinet of unique sounds, melodies, and perspectives. With nūmūn, she creates a voice all her own.

Johanna Warren – nūmūn tracklist:

  1. “Black Moss”
  2. “Follow”
  3. “True Colors”
  4. “Figure 8”
  5. “Noise”
  6. “Apogee”
  7. “Less Traveled”
  8. “Pin Oaks”
  9. “This is Why”
  10. “Found I Lost”
  11. “The Wheel”
Album-art-for-Ratchet-by-Shamir Shamir – Ratchet


Shamir is a lanky queer kid from north of Las Vegas with a septum piercing, dreads, disco beats, an impeccable falsetto, and an absolutely stellar debut album. His new album, Ratchet, is made up of deep house dance tracks, intimate ballads, and pop anthems that give insight into the 20-year-old’s persona through his unique singing voice and wildly clever lyricism.

Three previously released tracks appear on Ratchet, “Darker,” “Call It Off,” and “On the Regular.” While all of Ratchet is an open portrayal of Shamir’s personality and style, “On the Regular” appears halfway through the album and establishes a more formal introduction. “This is me on the regular, so you know,” he sings on the chorus, which is sandwiched between rapped lines over a cowbell-heavy (yes, cowbell), club-ready beat. Shamir’s lyrics are witty and on-point, such as in the line, “Don’t try me/I’m not a free sample,” which is easily the Best Comeback 2015.

What’s most striking about Shamir is his voice: high pitched with just a hint of graininess. Most likely a first listen would lead one to believe that Shamir is female. He has spoken a lot about his own gender ambiguity, in his voice and identity, expressing his embracement of complete fluidity. In a way, this makes Ratchet more vibrant, and not strictly because androgyny makes it more intellectual or enigmatic, but the quality of Shamir’s voice is so distinct that it makes the album more entrancing.

With his very R&B/pop singing style, Shamir has production that is DFA-esque in style, but like Beyoncé, takes us from ballad to banger.

Sonically, Ratchet is a bouncy blast with passionate pauses. At times, it’s slinky, such as on the sax-filled opener “Vegas.” Other times, it’s throbbing disco, such as “Call It Off.” There’s a hint of RuPaul-iness to “Hot Mess” because of the theme, production, and dramatic introduction. Even on slower tracks, Shamir maintains a style that keeps Ratchet cohesive.

While the bulk of the album is upbeat, Shamir takes us to a more intimate place when it turns emotional. “Demons” is a love song of sorts. Shamir begins the track with, “The honor roll is all I’d known ’til you took me over to the dark side/The thrill was good, together we stood/Like a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.” “Darker” is also one of the more impassioned tracks, crooning the track to a close with, “You can’t contain the truth.”

It is very exciting to see where Shamir will be in the coming years, while he hasn’t fine-tuned his skills yet, there is potential to be a pop music game-changer. Currently, he is leaning into his aesthetic and personality, using his stylized persona to brand himself, and it works wonderfully. Once he has matured as an artist a bit more, he will be a more powerful force.

Shamir’s personality is magnetic—not simply because of clever lyrics, but with Ratchet, one gets a sense of his entire self. The album is fun yet meaningful, and very intentional. While one can note what it sounds like at moments, Shamir isn’t easy to pin down, a clear part of his personality.

Shamir – Ratchet tracklist:

  1. “Vegas”
  2. “Make A Scene”
  3. “On The Regular”
  4. “Call It Off”
  5. “Hot Mess”
  6. “Demon”
  7. “In For The Kill”
  8. “Youth”
  9. “Darker”
  10. “Head In The Clouds”
Album-art-Imager-by-Barbarossa Barbarossa – Imager


Snare drums and bass aren’t often paired with soulful lyrics and sensitive vocals, but Barbarossa’s new album doesn’t see why not. Imager is the second album from Barbarossa, aka James Mathé, following up his 2013 album Bloodlines. Before his full transformation into solo artist Barbarossa, Mathé was a folk musician in more background roles. He worked with the likes of Johnny Flynn and Jose Gonzalez before releasing his more electronically-infused debut album Bloodlines as Barbarossa. After toying with electronic production on tour, he has a full metamorphosis into electronic artist completed.

Imager is indeed growth from Bloodlines—the beats are more polished, yet the influence from his folkier projects is still strong. While Mathé swapped old school instruments for digital mixing programs and an iPhone app that simulates drums machines, the tracks on Imager embody a similar vibe to the work he did with Gonzalez’s band Junip: airy, a tad psychedelic, and danceable.

The album’s instrumentation is dynamic, but also satisfyingly simple at times. The opening/title track “Imager” has a pulsating rhythm that’s catchy with a subtle funk and lyrics that echo the soulful groove. There’s a fine line the album straddles between slow, ballad-like moments, and more up-tempo ones.

There’s always some funk, but it’s controlled, never blowing up into an all-out dance track, nor does it turn down to the point of slow and sorrowful.

“Nevada” is precisely this type of track. It engages listeners’ bodies and ears with its bass drum and snare, and continues to stimulate with the tension from the slower, more impassioned vocals.Mathé sings, “Sometimes I need to talk about it/Sometimes I need to laugh a little/Sometimes I’m drowning/Sometimes I’m calling,” with a light strain in his voice. These two elements seem at odds, but complement each other very well. As the track continues to develop, a bluesy keyboard steals the spotlight before listeners are reimmersed in the original rhythms.

Barbarossa is in the same lane as a Chet Faker-type, applying more expressive and emotional vocals to digital beats. One can’t help but make a comparison between these two Brits. Barbarossa stands out because his vocals are often taken to a more ephemeral place, particularly when paired with the production.

His folk background is heard in the vocals. The style of the lyrics and the way in which he sings all reflect his indie folk roots. The marriage between these vocals and the electronic production makes Barbarossa a unique act. While the lyrics are not particularly revelatory —thought-provoking, but not saying anything terribly new—the style in which they are sung and their minimalism do complement the instrumentation nicely.

Imager is indeed a development for Mathé, but does seem to lack some level of depth. What’s lacking is not musicianship or artistry, but perhaps Mathé hasn’t quite found his niche yet. There is a lot of potential for growth, and Barbarossa can become an innovative project in due time; however, in the meantime Imager is solid, insightful, and engaging.

Barbarossa – Imager tracklist:

  1. “Imager”
  2. “Home”
  3. “Solid Soul”
  4. “Settle”
  5. “Nevada”
  6. “Dark Hopes”
  7. “Silent Island”
  8. “Muted”
  9. “Human Feel”
  10. “The Wall”
Album-art-for-Tundra-by-Lakker Lakker – Tundra


Noisy, bass-heavy, glitch-ridden tracks swell on Tundra, Lakker’s latest album. The Dublin-based electronic duo, composed of Ian McDonnell and Dara Smith, mixes more ambient and subtle electronica with aggressive composition and nuanced percussive elements. Tundra’s unique sound presents distinct beats, but lacks enough luster to leave an impression; while the tracks are captivating in the moment, they aren’t stimulating enough to go back for more.

The album begins with a smooth, echoic introductory track, “Echtrae,” that sets a more relaxing, yet rhythmic tone, with gentle synths and subtle coos. The atmospheric vibe on Tundra is engaging from the beginning, but changes quickly as the beats become more abrasive. Periodically the album shifts back to a more mellow and melancholic sound, such as on “Halite,” a track loaded with high-pitched percussive notes and a rhythm similar to a creepier part of an 8-bit video game. Still, the majority of Tundra is driven by deep bass and soft grooves, such as on the title track, a standout of the album because of its textural and visceral accents.

Lakker uses abrasive sounds, which enhance the sonic landscape of each track, and seem to function as a trademark of sorts for Tundra. The consistent presence of intentionally uncomfortable sounds makes each track unique; it’s as though Lakker is trying to use these more distinct qualities as if they were pleasing to the ear.

The album becomes more interesting because of these nails-on-a-chalkboard-like sounds.

The foremost sounds on “Tundra” are pops that sound like hot grease in a a pan, right in listeners’ ears with a discomfort that distracts from the foggy drone and drum kit kicks. That popping textural sound becomes increasingly aggressive and grainy as the track builds—to say it becomes noisy is an understatement.

Another form of grainy and oppressive accent stands out in “Mountain Divide,” and is accompanied with higher-pitched screeches, with a steady bass rhythm and minor details in the background. While the track ebbs and flows, it still feels as though nothing happens. All of the different sonic layers combine to make a track that still sounds one-dimensional. Much of Tundra is composed of tracks that have very dynamic elements that simultaneously seem to go nowhere.

While Tundra is in interesting album, and Lakker creates engaging music, it isn’t memorable. The album doesn’t leave an imprint on the listener, even after many listens. While immersed in the album, the dynamic beats catch one’s attention, but it’s fleeting.

The tactile elements are unique; the kinds of sounds used emulate a tangible quality. The actual songs aren’t anything particularly special with their conventional structures and the like. If the rhythms were more complex or distinct then Lakker could take its use of visceral sounds and channel it in more interesting work. Tundra is indeed an experiential album, but it’s the musical equivalent of molecular gastronomy—interesting concepts, uncommon qualities, but doesn’t stick to your ribs or leave you full.

Lakker – Tundra tracklist:

  1. “Echtrae”
  2. “Milch”
  3. “Mountain Divide”
  4. “Three Songs”
  5. “Ton’neru”
  6. “Halite”
  7. “Tundra”
  8. “Pylon”
  9. “Oktavist”
  10. “Herald”


Album-art-for-1000-Palms-by-Surfer-Blood Surfer Blood – 1000 Palms


Surfer Blood’s 1000 Palms is the resulting bitterness and frustration that consumed the band after signing to Warner Bros. Records. After parting ways with the label, Surfer Blood wrote and recorded this album on its own. Home recording freed the band from major label finger pointers and directors, and freedom is a nice thing to have. Sometimes, though, a little direction is needed to push boundaries and get musicians out of their comfort zones.

Surfer Blood’s music is usually driving and extremely fun, but the band seems to have taken a completely different course. What was once exciting about listening to the band, like the obvious but unique take on ’60s pop music, has taken somewhat of a downturn. Surfer Blood has been known for creating fun, inoffensive, and carefree rock, no matter who the listener is. 1000 Palms is a step away from what the band is used to, branching out to explore new territory.

The opening song “Grand Inquisitor” is a strong and lively beginning to 1000 Palms. The theme of having open arms and an open mind runs through it. It’s a positive note to start on, but musically, a particularly brave choice. “Grand Inquisitor” isn’t exactly sing-along worthy, but that’s okay. The guitars are choppy and jagged, and its rhythm section is ferocious.

Starting an album with the least relatable (at least musically) song is a bold move.

Pitts can certainly sing; his voice has an innocent and soft, but throaty quality, and can actually accentuate the softer moments in the album. Most of the time, though, Pitts’ vocals are a miss completely, compared to what he’s proved he can do with past albums. The melodies Pitts sings hardly strike that sweet spot in pop music that is very hard to catch, which takes the form of a song that constantly replays in someone’s mind. The fog of words Pitts sings seems to settle under the good playing all the musicians display. Pitts has so much potential as a vocalist, but if the melodies aren’t there, it’s hard for a good voice to shine.

The album’s single, “I Can’t Explain,” is about finding romance on New Year’s Eve—what Pitts describes as an ineffable experience. A new and unfamiliar romance is intimate and personal, and though a New Year’s Eve fling is, well, just a fling, it’s different for everyone. Pitts should’ve taken the opportunity to describe what this moment felt like to him, but he fails to let listeners immerse themselves in his story.

1000 Palms‘ strongest song, “Saber-Tooth and Bone,” is reminiscent of a song the Beach Boys might have written, but with a little more edge. The song breaks away from what’s expected at the end of each verse, when the melody takes a turn and strikes a minor chord. It’s the interesting changes like this that keep listeners on their toes—it’s also when Surfer Blood is at its best.

Taking chances and pulling away from a familiar spot is something that’s very appealing to Surfer Blood, but oftentimes, the band doesn’t base its decision-making on gut instinct, and 1000 Palms is an example of that. There are very little dynamics to the songs, and when they happen, they are usually subtle, like when an instrument drops out of a song for a brief moment. 1000 Palms regularly feels like a straight line that keeps going and going until the line just simply ends without an indication of when or where it ceases.

Sure, Surfer Blood has taken a detour from what it’s used to, and 1000 Palms certainly isn’t its most defining work. The album is, undoubtedly, the biggest effort Surfer Blood has ever put into its music. Breaking free from a safe place seems to be worth it for Surfer Blood to gain some creative independence.

Surfer Blood – 1000 Palms tracklist:

  1. “Grand Inquisitor”
  2. “Island”
  3. “I Can’t Explain”
  4. “Feast/Famine”
  5. “Point Of No Return”
  6. “Saber-Tooth and Bone”
  7. “Covered Wagons”
  8. “Dorian”
  9. “Into Catacombs”
  10. “Other Desert Cities”
  11. “NW Passage”
The Tallest Man On Earth – Dark Bird Is Home


The Tallest Man On Earth is Swedish-born Kristian Matsson, known for his folksy, acoustic guitar-driven songs, and gravelly voice. On his fourth album, Dark Bird is Home, Matsson brings in more instrumentals than usual, adding depth to his sorrow-tinged songs about living with and overcoming fear.

Matsson’s past albums feature a solo act, so Dark Bird Is Home may disappoint fans expecting more of the same. But the extra instrumentals peppered throughout the album don’t have to be a bad thing—he still stands out from Iron & Wine, Bon Iver, and others in the indie-folk crowd.

Many of the album’s songs stay true to Matsson’s one-on-one sound, with perhaps the addition of a synthesizer or banjo. Dark Bird Is Home may mark a turning point in the musician’s career, but it still sticks to Matsson’s roots while pushing ahead to different territory. The album keeps loyal fans at bay by delivering some solo tracks, and the new instrumentals don’t take away from The Tallest Man’s uniquely personal quality.

Even the subtler musical additions add a lot of feeling, like in “Fields of Our Home,” which mostly features Matsson and his guitar. As he croons, “What if you’d never been through the last sorrow, wailing alone/What if you’d never seen through that, to the fields of our home,” a somber synthesizer comes in, adding an extra layer of emotion. By the end of the song, the music builds up to include backup vocals and louder synthesizers, creating a tune that surrounds the listener with emotion as Matsson sings about how overcoming challenges is an essential part of living and growing.

It may be a universal theme, but Matsson’s songwriting adds beauty and honest emotion to a normally stale topic.

Matsson’s unique voice, which has drawn comparisons to Bob Dylan, is his power, and it comes in close and clear throughout the album. His singing may not be quite so gritty here in comparison to his previous albums, but that clarity creates the feeling that he’s in the room (albeit one with awesome acoustics) with the listener, singing directly to them.

That intimate quality adds depth to lyrical themes that might otherwise be common. One of the best examples of this is in “Beginners,” where Matsson sings about choosing his own “wild and wonderful” trail with his love. Playing solo on a bright acoustic guitar, he sings about making up life as he goes and living in the moment, a notion that reaches out to many 20-somethings, particularly newly graduated students about to enter real life this May. “We have no idea, but then what else do we know?/We let it out to let it ride,” he sings with so much hope that listeners are bound to feel confident in their own winding paths. It’s like musical therapy for those of us trying to find our way through life’s uncertainties.

With Dark Bird Is Home, Matsson finds a way to expand his sound in a way that supports his originality and adds musical depth on par with his usual, courageous songwriting.

The Tallest Man On Earth – Dark Bird Is Home tracklist:

  1. “Fields of Our Home”
  2. “Darkness of the Dream”
  3. “Singers”
  4. “Slow Dance”
  5. “Little Nowhere Towns”
  6. “Sagres”
  7. “Timothy”
  8. “Beginners”
  9. “Seventeen”
  10. “Dark Bird Is Home”
Born-Under-Saturn-Django-Django-Album-Art Django Django – Born Under Saturn


Born Under Saturn is the second effort from British, genre-defying band Django Django. In the group’s short existence it has already received national attention for its self-titled debut in 2012. Riding that wave, the band took its time to explore musicianship while making this album. Born Under Saturn builds on Django Django’s versatile reputation.

The band could be considered a rock band with their utilization of guitar, bass, and drums; however, most songs include a synthesizer. Samples are scattered throughout the album, as well. Regardless of differing styles, the songs feature catchy melodies courtesy of the synthesizer, guitar, and tambourine. Django Django’s sound might be described as dissonant or cacophonous, but the band has mastered the art of layering and controlled experimentation. Django Django is very comfortable testing out new sounds, like with the saxophone solo in “Reflections,” or the electronic samples in “4000 years” or “Vibrations.”

While the album’s instrumentation is vital to its stellar upbeat themes, vocalist Vincent Neff takes them to another level.

His vocals are somewhat distorted, but still light and airy. The layering of multiple melodies from pianos, synthesizers, percussions, and electronic samples on songs such as, “Pause Repeat” and “Reflections,” are definite factors in their catchiness, but without Neff’s vocal shifts in pitch, the tracks wouldn’t be the earworm it is.

The lyrics in “Born Under Saturn” follow the same theme of experimentation the other elements of the album do. Most songs speak of nonsensical topics, holding no apparent meaning, like, “We work these mines for far too long set our lives in stone/The tracks that led us down are overgrown,” in “Reflections.” The lyrics might have been an afterthought, and the emotions of the band might be truly communicated through the production. Even though Django Django doesn’t speak of heartbreak or political issues, the lyrics are still catchy.

Django Django embraces its lack of genre classification, seeing it as a freedom to try new things and not be reprimanded for sonically venturing out. The band still has a distinct sound—one that’s upbeat and playful in tempo.

Django Django – Born Under Saturn tracklist:

  1. “Giant”
  2. “Shake and Tremble”
  3. “Found You”
  4. “First Light”
  5. “Pause Repeat”
  6. “Reflections”
  7. “Vibrations”
  8. “Shot Down”
  9. “High Moon”
  10. “Beginning to Fade”
  11. “4000 Years”
  12. “Breaking the Glass”
  13. “Life We Know”
Album-art-for-Peripheral-Vision-by-Turnover Turnover – Peripheral Vision


Turnover’s new album Peripheral Vision identifies and inspects relatable and worrisome problems facing anyone who’s ever had feelings. Dealing with a bad breakup or feeling lost and confused about life and its ever-morphing meaning are commonly feared. Turnover’s singer and guitarist Austin Getz touches on these aspects of everyday life in Peripheral Vision as he explores his dilemmas and how to fix them.

Breaking up with a romantic partner is a common theme in Peripheral Vision, and listeners often only get one side of the story, like with “I Would Hate You If I Could.” Getz is clearly upset that his lover never believed in their relationship, and he sings, “I knew you’d been telling all your friends that you’re done with me/Like you always knew things wouldn’t work out.” The lyrics express hurt, but they also come off bitter and angry when Getz sings, “And I’ve been hearing things from people that I don’t want to talk to/Like it matters who you’re sleeping with now.” It’s hard to not side with Getz on this one; who wouldn’t feel upset after hearing their ex never believed in their relationship in the first place? Getz expertly immerses the listener in the song, leaving them feeling just as much grief as he once did.

On “Hello Euphoria,” the dread of getting older and life passing by too quickly are mentioned, and listeners can see the great weight these things hold in Getz’s mind. The lyrics present a sense of impending doom, especially when Getz sings, “There’s really nothing like the first time/It’s a long way down when you’re falling and you miss cloud nine.”

The influence of emo is obvious in “Hello Euphoria,” mostly because of the guitar work, which is intricate, but interesting and tasteful; there is no over-playing on the track. Getz’s vocals also add depth to the song. They are monotone, but still melodic and easy to sing along to. “Hello Euphoria” features some of the best musicianship the album has to offer, including mellow guitar riffs and repetitive but consistent drumming.

Although there are many great moments in Peripheral Vision, they don’t all hit quite as hard as the next.

On “Intrapersonal” the lyrics feel rushed and vague, like, “I can’t see you beside me/In my peripheral vision/Always right there/Always aware.” They don’t leave the listener with much to latch onto. Mental illness is very briefly touched on (manic depression, specifically). Mental illness could be discussed for hours, and on “Intrapersonal,” it could’ve been analyzed more seriously. Turnover has the innate ability to write incredibly straightforward and meaningful songs, which it should use it to its advantage.

Perhaps the angriest song on Peripheral Vision is “Take My Head.” Ironically, it’s also the catchiest and most melodic song on the album, complete with a cheery guitar riff, upbeat drumming, and an anthemic chorus. With lyrics like, “Cut my brain into hemispheres/I wanna smash my face until there’s nothing but ears,” it makes for an unusual, but welcomed contrast that really perks up listeners’ ears. The song hits its prime when it makes fun of stereotypically happy people things, like summer, radio-friendly songs, and picturesque girls with smiling faces. With an idea like that, we’d all probably like to smash our faces in.

Turnover isn’t lacking in realness or authenticity. Actually, those elements are what the band captures best. There is no sugarcoating or glossing over. Everything is as it is, and why should it be any other way?

Turnover – Peripheral Vision tracklist:

  1. “Cutting My Fingers Off”
  2. “New Scream”
  3. “Humming”
  4. “Hello Euphoria”
  5. “Dizzy on the Comedown”
  6. “Diazepam”
  7. “Like Slow Disappearing”
  8. “Take My Head”
  9. “Threshold”
  10. “I Would Hate You If I Could”
  11. “Intrapersonal”