Thursday, December 28, 2017

Slow Burning Car - Defection (2017)




Written by Raymond Burris, posted by blog admin

Slow Burning Car offers up a 10-track, hard rockin’ groove fest on their 4th record Defection.  This twin guitar, energetic group mixes grand melodies with a rough, unpolished edge that is sure to ignite a spirited little mosh-pit at one of the band’s many concerts.  With airplay on 130 stations, this Los Angeles bred quartet has made quite an impact since their inception. 

The aesthetic Slow Burning Car settles on is as follows; not too heavy but certainly not too light.  Songs toss and turn between punk-fed melodies with a lot of pop phrasings and white knuckle guitar heroics where riff and rowdiness are king.  Lead-in number “Alpha Duplicor” is a prime example, the cut settling into a meaty, drop-D groove that allows the 2nd guitarist to add leads and insert melodic indentations.  Bassist/vocalist Troy Spiropoulos constantly pushes the riffs into action with his bouncy, clearly felt bass lines lifting up from underneath as his voice’s well-contained anger never crushes any of the melodic intentions.  “Soul Crimes” is just as loud but ups the pacing by several clicks and weaves some harmonies into the vocals.  They’ve got a cool, breezy punk vibe that culls from goodtime punkers like Pulley or even Avail.  The mix of hard and soft mainly, not the exact dynamics of those bands; that’s one of Slow Burning Car’s biggest strengths, the fact that they really only sound like themselves. 

“The Orb” uses punk as a foundation but messes with some new wave, FX-dabbed vocal harmonies in the chorus.  It’s an unusual track from the beginning.  Drummer Adam Idell smashes out the intro solo with a syncopated, madman fill and the tune goes tumbling into down tuned riffs and angry, rhythmic vocal jabs.  They combine at least three different elements of genre and mash them up into a seamless barrage of sound.  “Devil in the Room” has got the kind of pop punk smarts that could easily land these guys a record deal with Epitaph; it’s no-nonsense and harder than the stuff that radio plays.  “The Sunday Derby” might stop for some catchy lyrical turns of phrase but this song feels like some twisted, gussied up version of really rocked-out 90s indie that is sandwiched in by another couple chord rocker, “You Can’t Stay Here.”  “Bedtime” is a fine acoustic guitar ditty, a sort of couplet alongside the equally sublime “Chrysanthemum.”  Just when you think the record is going to settle into a singular vibe, the band again pitches a curve in the form of “Polar Warden,” a psychedelic rock piece with a tapestry of loops, sound FX, molten bass riffs and sporadic vocals floating like vapor from your stereo speakers.  “Clouds” brings the album home with some epic, skyward guitar riffing, overcast drumming and stormy low-end yielding an emotionally stirring hard rocker that couldn’t have found better placement as a final number. 

Defection is really in its own league as an album.  It’s fresh, original and pretty rocking with a challenging songwriting approach that skips across several rock genres.  You can tell the band really enjoy and get down on their sound and this plays out to the listener’s advantage while listening to the record.  This album rocks hard and is a lot of fun; well-worth a buy for rock, punk, indie, grunge, and even hardcore fans. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

J.Briozo - Deep in the Waves (2017)




Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin

Jeff Crandall’s work over two studio releases and numerous live appearances with Minneapolis’ Swallows has positioned him as one of the indie scene’s best vocalists on the rise, but his first solo album as J.Briozo, Deep in the Waves, should gain him further renown as a songwriting powerhouse and compelling performer away from the auspices of his full time band.  He tries his hand at multiple forms with this collection and achieves across the board credible results without ever straining listener’s acceptance. There’s a rare level of confidence coming off this release for a debut solo album and one can only ascribe that to the likelihood that Crandall began recording these songs with a sure idea of what he wanted the final results to sound like. There’s little question that he’s pulled that off with considerable aplomb.

There’s obviously a lot of thought and consideration given to these thirteen songs, but there’s ample evidence of a loose, spontaneous approach as well that’s capable of capturing true studio magic. This balance is heard strongly in the album opener “Blind” with its keyboard propelled arrangement and the measured duet-like aspects between Crandall’s voice and the artful instrumentation. There’s none of the acoustic musing in the opener that we hear in the album’s title and second track “Deep in the Waves”, but it also features a much cleaner and accessible approach than Crandall adopted with the first tune. The folksy strum of the song’s foundational acoustic guitar pairs up very nice with his voice. The alt rock confidence coming from “Spinning Out” makes good for Crandall and his listeners thanks, in no small part, to how much the mileage the song gets from its title and the steady fundamentals that enable the track to go deeper than most. It’s one of the few tracks on Deep in the Waves to show off some lead playing, as well, and it punctuates the song to magnificent effect.

“The Big Parade” betrays some bluesy influences while still following the acoustic template that’s been established a few songs in on Deep in the Waves. It’s one of the album’s most involved lyrics and comes off well, colloquial yet eloquent, yet the language manifests a rough and tumble quality we don’t get from the stylish and satisfying arrangement. There’s just enough hint of the epic in the song “Catalonia” that helps it stand out from the pack and the obvious work put into realizing the vocal arrangement leaps out as one of the song’s true highlights. Influences from psychedelia rear their head at various points during the recording and one of the best examples of that strand in Crandall’s musical tapestry comes to life with the song “Firefly” and its focus on atmospherics never plays strained. The tune “Santa Cruz” opens with a mix of ambient electronica before spartan acoustic guitar swells out of the mix alongside Crandall’s dreamlike, smoky mid-register singing. It’s one of the album’s shorter tracks and pairs up well with the next song and album closer “Sun Sun True”, a practically raga-like electric guitar workout with big, ringing chords and an inspired vocal from Crandall. This song closes Deep in the Waves with much of the same individual air surrounding the songs from the first cut onward. Anyone who appreciates fine, stylistically diverse songwriting will find much to admire on this release.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Thomas Abban - A Sheik's Legacy (2017)





Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

Minneapolis guitar rock titan Thomas Abban may only be 21 years old but his first record A Sheik’s Legacy rings of a grizzled, hardened legend of the stage and studio.  This 15 song shambling beast of a debut feels like an album from a man AT LEAST twice Abban’s young age.  The enigmatic rock n’ roller of Welsh/Ghanian heritage also paints his face with strange symbols around his eyes and on his arms for performances and his music also possesses a wild, alien quality that is a wonderful yet rewarding challenge for reviewers, concert goers and listeners alike. 

“Death Song” comes off like a musical suite; several distinct passages are incredibly lush as they unfold in a storm of orchestral themed, multi-layered guitars parts from acoustic to electric, jazzy strutting bass lines, wild African vocal screams and chants, Abban’s breathtaking falsetto melodies, tom-tom leaned drum patterns that are gloriously wild and untamed…all wrapped up in a total package by the magical, darkness-charged lyrics.  By the time the song is over, you feel like you’ve listened to an entire album.  There are that many peaks and valleys in “Death Song.”  “Symmetry & Black Tar” further ascends the lofty ambition of the opening track by expanding on the same theme but consistently ratcheting up the tempos of the acoustic guitars while rifling off some deadly lead guitar sizzle played at a mountainous volume.  Abban’s vocal range empowers the ears and soul as he goes from trembling lower notes to sky high shrieks, as unusual facets like clavinets add a Spanish feel and classical strings whip up some truly provocative texture washes. 

A 4 second piano intro morphs into a hammering, arena destroying guitar riff during “Fear’s” no b.s., hard-rock assault.  Proto-metal progenitors like Led Zeppelin, Free, a fledgling Judas Priest and Bloodrock all made legendary albums completely culled from a similarly tattered, warts n’ all approach derived from the blues.  Thomas also has the danger in his voice to dive headlong into such material; he shows it in spades here and carries it over into the immediately following, gluey grooves of “Aladdin.”  The lyrical content switches to grand Arabian fantasy while the preceding “Fear” came from what seemed to be a very personal experience.  Just like the music, Abban’s wordplay and vocal delivery are constantly fluxing in a way that just cements your attention span to the stereo speakers.  For more big riffs, the shack shakin’ earthquake of “Uh” and the late game power-blues climax of “Black Water” practically declares Thomas Abban as a new age proprietor of the groove alongside names like Jimmy Page, Joe Bonamassa, Tommy Bolin and Steve Gould.  You even get a lead-loaded, spacey, up-tempo freak out as the acidic “Born of Fire” is no stranger to blasting volumes. 

Then just when you least expect it, Thomas will anchor the album’s mood to a totally different aura altogether.  There are largely acoustic numbers that meld folk-inspired harmonies to gritty blues or southern-fried country grace.  These traits appear in all sorts of mix n’ match road swerves on husky, dusky tunes like “Don’t You Stay the Same,” “Let Me Tell You Something,” “Lord” and the swift, harder-charging “Echo.”  Then these schematics will disassemble some of their darker qualities into bewildering, bewitching tenderness during “Horizons,” “Sinner” and “Irene’s” triumphant, heartfelt melodies where Thomas’ voice shows just how soft, subtle and contemplative it can get. 

A Sheik’s Legacy is nothing more than a triumph of breaking down genre walls.  Rock n’ roll is one of the biggest features but there is so much going on here that it’s impossible to truly nail down Abban’s sound.   This is a one of a kind record that no serious music fan should miss.

Ben Brookes - The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon (2017)




Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

Ben Brookes is a renewing blast of fresh air in a staid popular music scene. The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon is a ten song collection that definitely embraces classic rock and pop themes while still shaping them in a distinctive way that speaks volumes about Brookes’ growing artistry as both a writer and performer. Brookes enlisted some heavy hitters to help bring The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon fully to life – chief among them is the presence of former Badfinger members guitarist Joey Molland and Mark Healey. The latter handled the production duties for the album and his contributions have an immeasurably positive effect on the overall quality. The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon is a polished sonic experience, but never so much so that it sacrifices its palpable human qualities. This is an invigorating and ultimately very human listening experience insofar as it pulls us into Brookes’ expansive lyrical and musical imagination with minimal effort.

The album opens with a brief swath of sound effects to set the scene for “I Wanna Go Home”. There’s a strong sing-a-long quality to the song’s vocal melody and a gradual escalating quality to the vocal that builds numerous small peaks into the performance. There’s shades of both former Marillion vocalist Fish and Cat Stevens in Brookes’ vocal tone, but the phrasing is all his own and sustains a high level of attentiveness to the arrangement. Inhofer’s keyboard work adds crucial color. “Asleep in Galilee” definitely has some obvious commercial appeal from the first and the acoustic chiming carrying listeners through the opening expands across an even wider melodic canvas once the song is moving along in earnest. There’s some nice steel guitar fills coloring the song at key points. The lush, languid sound of “Crack a Smile” gains even more thanks to the patient sway of the vocal melody.. Brookes takes on each line with consideration, never belaboring it, but investing it with every bit of passion he can muster at a given moment. The lyrics are among the album’s finest and convey heartbreak in an understated way.

Another high point comes with the song “Before Sunlight” and it rates as one of Brookes’ best vocals on the album thanks to his phrasing and the spot on beauty of the song’s vocal melody. He amps up the rock muscle on the track “Look Through My Eyes” and the nimble stomp of its mid-tempo march packs enough melody that it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable listen. The electric guitar has enough bite on it to catch and hold your attention without ever attempting to dominate the song’s sound. “Siren” has some strong electric guitar work as well while still retaining many of the balladic elements distinguishing so many of Brookes’ songs on The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon. There’s a little bit of everything powering “Somewhere Around Eight” and it definitely transitions into a raucous, mid-tempo rocker by the song’s second half. There’s a strong bluesy influence spiking this track for a positive effect. Brookes ends the album with the gentle lope of “Shackles” and it makes for an effective, perfectly modulated conclusion with just a hint of the rustic influences we heard in the previous song. The elegiac mood is punctuated by some lovely, even lyrical lead guitar. Ben Brookes has talent that comes along only a few times per generation and it’s heartening to see him receiving the support he deserves from some important and talented collaborators. He’s come through with a debut release that poises him to be a major talent for years to come.

Yam Haus - Stargazer (2018)

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