Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Sky Orchid - Oculus (2017)


Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin

The Traknyak brothers from Kansas have long been carving a soon to be musical legacy across their local area.  With tour and recording dates taking them throughout Kansas, Texas and Tennessee, they are making their radius known more and more every single day.  They’ve also received airplay on at least 50 different Internet stations at this point as well.  Oculus is their first full-length outing and it deserves a careful, deliberate ear for its many musical intricacies.  There’s no specific genre and the duo of Gabriel and Daniel traverse several within each of the songs on this 10-track offering. 

The soothing waves of the aptly titled “The River” gets things going with a downbeat piano melody giving way to electronica drum programming and sky shot vocals that really ascend to a big pay-off of hard guitar meat and densely layered sound collage. What starts as a leisurely stroll ends with volume and a wall of sound type production befitting a late great psychedelic rock band.  This record is full of these nuances with “Sneakers” following much of the same blueprint though it replaces the piano focal point with guitar and launches into a heavy rocker of the highest order long before the endnote.  “In the Fire (Part 1)” is a subtle dirge that reckons of the album opener with the follow-up of “Wildfire” changing the trajectory dramatically in a wake of acoustic guitars, superb vocal melodies and lurching beats that open up into wider electric expanses towards the finish line. 

The frenetic “I’ll Stop the World (Part 2)” mingles faster, riff-driven bursts with slower downshifts that showcase a split personality between heavier and lighter vibes that still keep mindful of excellent musical melodies and big vocal hooks.  Tempos descend on the crumbling “Lex” and the tune’s scintillating guitar smolders, powerhouse drum thumping and fire-forged vocal mantras.  This strange otherworldly flavor is offset by the bluesy rollick of “Breathe Easy” and the almost ska-guitar boogie of “Take It All.”  These tracks are certainly the odd man out on the record stylistically, but somehow they fit within the overall framework.  Sky Orchid returns to darkly shaded surrealism on “Yesterday” and “Fortify,” making for a very strong send-off for the record at large.  There are no duds to be found here and all of the songs obviously had a long gestation period for all of the individual parts to develop and solidify. 

Oculus couldn’t be a stronger flagship release from the brothers Traknyak.  They’ve got strong musical chops, sharp songwriting skills, fantastic ears for production and all-around full bodied sense of how their sound should be portrayed to the masses.  With the proper label push and backing that understands their music, there is no reason that Sky Orchid couldn’t become a household name.  The duo has gotten a sizable following from their touring and recording out in the Midwest and it’s only a matter of time before they start branching out and taking over other parts of the United States.  Oculus is a fantastic debut that should be heard by everyone.         

Monday, June 25, 2018

Rhett Repko - Thnx For The Ride (2017)



Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

The title song begins Rhett Repko’s Thnx For The Ride on a rip-roaring note. Repko and the three piece band accompanying him tear through this focused song, stopping on a dime, negotiating transitions into tricky time signatures with seamless skill, and Repko sounds energized throughout to be working with skilled musicians. Even on a recording, there’s a palpable chemistry these four musicians share and one can only assume they are even more explosive in a live setting. “Please Don’t Laugh” carries on with some of the skillful twists and turns we hear in the title song and the guitar sound is a bit more “normalized” compared to lead guitarist Stefan Heuer’s effects laden approach on the opener. Repko’s subject matter for the entirety of the EP is, invariably, romantic relationships, but he finds a way to tackle such time tested subjects in a way that feels uniquely individual. It’s no small thing to pull off this late in popular music’s history.

There’s a sarcastic, bitter edge to the track “It Ain’t Coming From You”, but never bitter enough to make this an unpleasant listening experience. It is invigorating, however, to hear Repko sink his teeth into these lyrics and deliver them with a well deserved emotive spike stabbing straight for listener’s hearts. Backing and harmony vocals for the EP are Stefan Heuer’s responsibility and his voice blends well with Repko’s. The emphasis Thnx For The Ride places on vocal presentation is one of the release’s strongest qualities. “Maybe I’m Weak” brings a stronger personal touch than ever before to Thnx For The Ride’s individual take on modern pop rock and Repko’s dramatic vocal is the finishing touch. His singing transforms “Maybe I’m Weak” from a fine track to among the EP’s best.

There’s some sly shifts in tempo thrown in for good measure on the memorable “And I Told Her So”, but drummer Tom Bryant is, arguably, more responsible for the success of this song than any others before or after. The whipcrack pop from his percussion drives “And I Told Her So” along with a mix of modern and classic rock energy. Stefan Heuer deserves a nod, however, for his commanding lead guitar work near the song’s end. The rhythm section churns out another impressive performance with the EP’s second to last number “Learn Your Name” and the groove established from the first is familiar, but rolls over listeners in a distinctive way. Young bands must bring something of themselves to traditional rock songwriting like this if they want to stand out and a lot of that depends on the musician’s penchant for melody. The song’s central riff illustrates that quite nicely.

Rhett Repko’s Thnx For The Ride is an EP but, make no mistake, it’s a notable addition to his growing catalog. These are song crackling in studio form, so we can only assume they will really catch fire on a stage. Repko, undoubtedly, wrote these songs with his live show very much in mind. They are more than entertaining concert fare, however; Repko has, likewise, advanced by leaps and bounds as a singer/songwriter of note and Thnx For The Ride’s songs clearly show his progress.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Joshua Ketchmark - Under Plastic Stars (2017)



Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin

“We Were Everything” begins Joshua Ketchmark’s Under Plastic Stars on a decidedly elegiac note, but this isn’t a dreary collection of songs. Ketchmark’s first full fledged solo effort, self-produced and written by Ketchmark, finds this longtime musical cohort of some of the music world’s biggest acts stepping out on his own with considerable talent and finesse. The primarily acoustic slant to this album is adorned with other touches like keyboards and even some occasional swaths of steel guitar, but you can’t comfortably consign it to a particular genre. “We Were Everything” has strong melodic virtues that continues with the second song “Every Mystery”, but the arrangement is a little more inventive and less straightforward than we hear from the first song. It doesn’t veer too far, however, from the tendencies established with “We Were Everything”.

The steel guitar present in “Let It Rain” is so thoroughly integrated with the rest of the arrangement that it never calls ostentatious attention to itself and, instead, proves to be just another color in Ketchmark’s toolbox. It’s easy to single this tune out as one of the undisputed high points on Under Plastic Stars and the emphatic nature of Ketchmark’s singing signals he views the song in a similar manner. “Lucky at Leavin’” sounds like it might be some classic country cut, based on title alone, but it’s actually a lush and carefully wrought acoustic number, folk for the most part, that benefits from a swell of keyboard color strengthening its sound. Ketchmark’s singing hits another high water mark with this tune that will, undoubtedly, linger in listener’s memories long after the song ends. “Hereafter” is particularly effective thanks to Brad Rice’s sinewy electric guitar lines crackling throughout the performance and another impassioned vocal never risking overwrought theatrics.

“Get Out Alive” has a little more of a rough hewn gait than the earlier tunes and owes its roots to the blues much more than anything else so far. It’s an evocative piece lyrically and Ketchmark brings just enough gravel into his voice to make this character dissection all the more convincing. He hits another high point with the commercial potential of “Saturday Night”, but Ketchmark isn’t a performer pursuing the path of least resistance. Instead, he throws himself into this tune for all he’s worth and it reaches heights the earlier songs never explore. “In Harm’s Way” is a largely solo acoustic tune incorporating more sounds in the second half and has a pleasing melodic core that will draw many listeners into its web.

“Sweet Surrender” takes some of the same template we hear with the song “Saturday Night” but, instead of relying on guitars, brings piano in to great effect and Ketchmark’s voice responds in kind with a showstopper of a vocal. The near orchestral sweep of this song stands out from the rest and makes it one of Under Plastic Stars’ more memorable moments. The last track “The Great Unknown” adopts a busier tempo than we’ve heard with much of the album and, thus, brings the release to an energetic close. Joshua Ketchmark’s Under Plastic Stars is an obviously personal work, but the entry points for listeners are numerous and inviting.  

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Black Bluebirds - Like Blood for Music (2017)



Written by Wendy Owens, posted by blog admin

This is an album that, despite its often distorted texture and unusual vocals, has an infectious quality. Like Blood for Music from the Minneapolis power trio Black Bluebirds is a condensed, yet often epic and expansive, ten song collection packing punch on even the softest numbers. Daniel Fiskum’s vocals dominant the recording, but he’s often accompanied by second vocalist Jessica Rasche to spectacular effect. There’s some uptempo tracks on Like Blood for Music, but many of the songs on the album invoke a deliberate and cinematic air that never strains to make an impact on listeners. Guitarist Simon Husbands and drummer Chad Helmonds form the other two corners of this power trio, but you can’t readily label the band as some derivative outfit hanging onto clich├ęs often going along with that configuration. Instead, Black Bluebirds makes its own path while still relying on great fundamentals.

“Love Kills Slowly” relies a lot on Simon Husbands’ memorable lead guitar to make its most colorful marks and the combination of Fiskum and Rasche’s singing reach a peak of sorts with the very first number. Her voice isn’t used in quite the same way on the album’s second number “Strange Attractor”, but she has an effective presence nonetheless. The comparatively less cluttered arrangement has a sinewy power we don’t hearing in the first song, but nonetheless leaves it mark on listeners. “Life in White” shouldn’t pass people by as its one of the album’s more potentially underrated numbers, but Like Blood for Music takes a successful turn invoking acoustic sounds on an album where we wouldn’t necessarily expect that at this point.

“Battlehammer” is another of Like Blood for Music’s rockier numbers and unreels in such pyrotechnic fashion primarily thanks to Simon Husbands’ guitar pyrotechnics. He’s never a flashy player, however, and each of those moments across the span of Like Blood for Music makes great sense. One of the album’s undisputed high points comes with the song :”House of No More Dreams”. Despite the possibly overwrought implications behind the title, the song never descends into bathos and instead Fiskum’s lyrics give us a glimpse of some underrated poetic chops. The vocal for “Hole in the Day” gives a new spin to the album’s sound so far without ever venturing too far afield of Black Bluebirds’ musical DNA. “Don’t Fall In Love” continues striking the same fatalistic note that’s characterized much of the release from the start and definitely has added emotional firepower thanks to the contributions of second singer Jessica Rasche. The album’s genuine climax comes with the track “My Eyes Were Closed”, but it’s never self conscious and, instead, realizes the band’s cinematic ambitions in a way that solidifies their claim to present excellence while pointing a way towards the future. Black Bluebirds’ Like Blood for Music is definitely entertaining from the first, but gains even more from the added touch of personal statement fueling each of its ten songs.    

Yam Haus - Stargazer (2018)

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