Friday, September 26, 2008

Capsize Your Surroundings EP (Night Artery)

Night Artery is the artistic expression of Australia’s, Ross Arundale. Capsize Your Surroundings is a 4 track EP that drones from the speakers with dark strings, a simple guitar line, and an enticing drum beat that pulls you in. Arundale’s voice is performed like a Broadway artist might approach a pop-rock album. An Act Ill-Informed of Returns is full of big symphonic sounds, time changes, and furious stops that would make Andrew Lloyd Weber smile.

And the sound remains…this time in Cinematic Shards on the Permanent Way, Arundale introduces a well played piano. Nerve Ending takes on a new sound and Night Artery turns adult contemporary almost without warning.

All in all, Capsize Your Surroundings is a varied album – even in 4 short tracks. I hear traces of the Broadway live-rock-musical, Coheed and Cambria, System of a Down, and late David Bowie. Clearly Arundale is a creative artist with much knowledge and professionalism in his instrumentation – executed with ease. Night Artery’s most recent EP, Capsize Your Surroundings is a ride!

RATING: 3 of 5 stars

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fibonacci's Dream (Lawrence Blatt)

In 2008, Lawrence Blatt released his second album, Fibonacci’s Dream. It’s a wonderful instrumental album featuring 13 tracks of superbly executed acoustic guitar work - not surprising, coming from a player as renowned and talented as Blatt. So whether you know and already love his musical creation, or you’re a first timer, his newest album is a success.

Bern “the bear”, the album opener is a new age soother with ambient and reverb laden guitars swirling around in your head. Towards the end, Blatt’s finger movement and fret noise is a perfect percussive additive to the already stellar song. Immediately the album jumps to an up-tempo, full band piece. Una Vida is full of percussion and rhythm, but I feel distracts from Blatt’s more emotional solo pieces.

Other notable tracks include I’m Leaving Now, a passionate song banging out harsh strums that mimic the crashing Pacific waves native to Blatt’s San Francisco domicile. And in La Selva (the rainforest), he composes an accurate and picture perfect musical of the rain forest. It’s both transportive and telling. You can almost feel the mist wetting your face through his powerful performance. What Blatt is capable of saying through instrumentation only, would leave songwriters salivating.

Fibonacci’s Dream is a solid instrumental album leaving any consumers of the new age, acoustic guitar genre spending hours in ecstasy with Blatt’s talented recordings.

RATING: 4 of 5 stars

Monday, September 22, 2008

Skye (Skye Claire)

Skye is a pop artist from New York where she carefully crafts her tunes. Under the production of Geza X, she executes with near pop-perfection. The opening track, How to Let Go, rips through the speakers with a driving groove and sassy vocals that make me interested. The chorus takes on a choral (almost Shania Twain feel) approach that I felt didn’t compliment the verses and overall song. Her vocals step it up though in the bridge. There’s no doubt Skye can sing!

All That’s Left slows down into a jazzy, artsy-acoustic piece that gives nods to the likes of Regina Spektor and Sara Bareilles. A pop-piano tune with string arrangements that back her vocals nicely is the strength of this tune. Skye sings her heart out and I can feel it in this one.

The 3 track EP concludes with So Far From Love, a darker song that again uses the strength of her voice to communicate her writing. The chorus resounds in its own effects, but the verses are where she succeeds most. And when I thought I had heard her best, all things strip down at about 2:22, and Skye sounds better than she has all record long – a true testament to her vocal strength.

Skye Claire’s EP is recorded with a fantastic production value and her vocals are well cared for. Fans of the genre will enjoy these tunes!

RATING: 4 of 5 stars

The Lost Sea (The Lost Sea)

Pittsburgh’s, The Lost Sea is a great, American, easy listen. They’re an organic, rootsy, pilgrimage of sorts; a band that is right off the bat simple and understandably likeable. I’m sure almost anyone will appreciate The Lost Sea. At times I hear the intimacy and simplicity in storytelling of Ray Lamontagne and at other times I’m reminded of early Counting Crows.

The opener, So Little to Lose, is a waltzy joy ride. Rootsy harmonies bring this song to life and it’s a great start to the rest of the EP. The chorus lifts and the song really succeeds when Sean’s vocals soar in the gritty bridge. His voice sounds best in this register and torment.

Warmer Weather is a gentle piano tune that lilts itself into your ears. Its written with a hooky chorus to please – anyone will be able to sing along by the last chorus. Empty Swings speeds things up a bit with a fun, up tempo, resonance. It sounds like a warm September day. Again, Sean’s vocals soar and make any Adam Duritz fan happy. The song is most complimented with the distant ride and crash cymbals – a great production value.

Goodnight, Goodnight is a simple stripped-down acoustic song that feels like your sitting on the patio around a fire pit enjoying the cool night and the company of a musician and friend. The EP concludes with a slow waltz in, Phone Calls. The harmonies are great and really support the overall song. The verses are low in Sean’s register – not his forte, but resolution is had on the choruses – he nails it near perfectly. Phone Calls puts the EP to bed nicely.

The overall instrumentation is simple with the acoustic strum holding rhythm responsibilities, a simple textured drum beat, and jangly guitars and keys to please - it’s a mature folksy/alt-country sound that they seem to understand and execute most successfully. So whether you’re a fan of Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, or Jars of Clay, I think you’ll really take a ride with these guys.

If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, be sure to stop by The Lost Sea’s website and mark your calendar for a live concert.

RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Loose Ends (Mike Gibbons)

Mike Gibbons, the California based singer/songwriter is a quirky, fast paced lyricist with catchy pop-instrumentation to support his writing, and a face that could place him as Dane Cooks’ stunt double. At first listen I was quickly reminded of the pop-rock jam band, Pseudopod. So any Pseudopod fans will easily join the Gibbons bandwagon.

Notable tracks are Mason Jar Dreams, a soulish tune that you’d swear was straight out of Mississippi. Its a foot-stompin’/twangy tune to please. Chained to Change slows things down a bit in a sound that I feel fits Gibbons the best. It’s an acoustic pop-ballad tune accompanied by cello. Gibbons’ vocals really work well in this lower register tune.

This Won’t Define Me is probably his strongest song considering both lyrics and instrumentation. The whole package is here. A driving 4 on the floor kick drum pulses and drives the intensity. The guitar work dances via atmospheric sounds interplaying with one another. Loose Ends, the title track, also graces the ear (possibly too late in the album) with a more tribal percussive beat and strings galore.

Gibbons’ instrumentation is at times poppy, other times from the deep south, and at other times atmospheric, much like a Pete Yorn or Ryan Adams ballad. It’s obviously a solo artist album though. His vocals soar above the instruments, unfortunately not as tightly mixed as I would have preferred – unlike a band album, it rides the line of adult contemporary pop. I have to give major props to the band and instrumental production.

All in all, there is some solid writing and graces with great influences in his writing.

RATING: 3 of 5 stars

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Stream of Consciousness (Still time)

The 5 piece Still Time, part funk, part reggae, part acoustic rock jam-band, from San Louis Obispo, CA pleases with their newest album, Stream of Consciousness. It’s a 14-track album of fun party music that takes you to California regardless of your locale.

Track 1, Chuck Johnson Spur, jumps from the speakers in a vintage funk/jam band instrumental track paving the way for what’s ahead – a solid opener and introduction. 9 to 5 then kicks off with a back beat acoustic rhythm and sax lead line that introduces Dan’s very Jack Johnson meets Citizen Cope melodies and vocal fluidity. It’s a repetitive song with a falsetto chorus that’s easy to sing along to. My favorite part though is the guitar work at around 4:10 bringing the song to bed with a catchy jammed out solo.

Power of Now uses an uber-catchy delay effect that corresponds nicely with the bass and drums to change it up a bit from the Jack Johnson sound that is so simple, yet popular in today’s music scene. Its in this song that Dan’s voice moves to a more early Counting Crows sound – Adam Duritz in his pre-Shriek days. Catchy and quirky lyrics would surely make “Mr. Jones” smile.

As the album continues it strikes gold on track 6, Fall and Rise. It’s a two-step driven tune that really enables the California boys to cross many styles, sounds, and geographic locations (music wise). The solo is done with ease as it changes the entire pace of the song – not too angular, but doesn’t just hash out the same ole’ stuff, as one would maybe expect within the genre.

Know Your Roots slows things down considerably as it takes on the stripped down effect of a couple friends hanging out in your living room, singing their favorite tunes. Perhaps placing this song a few songs earlier in the CD would have given it greater props, but all in all it’s a good ride.

The title track also is a nice departure from the reggae/jam-band sound as it soothes the ears with pop string arrangements and beautiful vocal harmonies. If I we’re sorting the tracks into order I again, would have placed this one at track 3 or 4; it’s a nice strong piece that breaks their mold and keeps me listening and wanting more. I’m afraid listeners that aren’t sold out on the overall genre might miss this one.

All in all, the album is very solid. The recordings are executed near perfectly for their sound. If you’re fans of Counting Crows, Citizen Cope, Jack Johnson, and/or Pseudopod, you’ll love these guys! Find them online or catch a live show.

RATING: 4 of 5 stars

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Darkness to Light (Will Stern)

This is a worship album. But unlike the stereotype, it doesn't fall flat on the ear. It's not the status quo cliche', trite lyric after lyric, worship album you might be used to hearing. Instead, Darkness to Light soars in its intimacy, sincerity, and rawness. If you're not familiar with worship music; or ever Christian music - its an industry just like the rest. There's even a few guys out there that kind of shape and mold everything else (i.e Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, and the like). Art suffers. The soul suffers. But Will Stern does not fall into that trap.

The album kicks off with Far Beyond Me, a textured and raw acoustic guitar slamming with a bright drum groove. And once the vocals enter, immediately you understand the level of Stern's humility. "This is the song for the song that I can't write..." It continues and launches into a pop-rock melody that pleases.

In All Beyond Compare, the song leads with a reverse guitar loop which adds a gritty texture to argue with his lyrics. Its in the chorus that the kick drum drives with a 4 on the floor beat, driving and grinding the emotive ride.

But the album hits its forte with You Deserve My All. Its a rock anthem throwing down heavy and driving guitars, drums in cadence, and vocals growling praise.

I'm a fan. The album is worth picking up. Heck, Will Stern lets you pay what you want at his site, so take full advantage of that!

RATING: 4 of 5 stars

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Less Of Me (Lacy Adair)

Lacy Adair, a Midwestern songwriter and vocalist, paints a story of compassion and sincerity wherever she goes. Whether she’s performing on stage or tackling issues of poverty in the developing world, her story remains strong and true. Lacy writes from a hands-on perspective about the beauty of creation, people, and her life’s experiences. Lacy exudes the mature, lyrical poignancy and grace of Allison Krauss, while maintaining her innocence and charisma true to her youth. Her music excels with introspective melodies and varied instrumentation which brings her to the forefront of the modern singer/songwriter sect.

Less of Me begins with a very pop-bluegrass tune called Wall of Broken Lives. Its in this song that the listener discovers Lacy's intricate and tight harmonies. In Not Enough, Lacy's vocals begin in a haunting chant..."so un-sure." But at the bridge, the real magic happens. There's harmonies happening that give me chills. Her 3rd track is the title track, beginning with a very textured, almost tribal sound and morphing into a very pop-rock track. Track 4, The River Drive, is quite possibly one of the catchiest songs I've heard in a long while. Its a perfect blend of southern pop-singer songwriter. So whether you're a county music fan or a fan of more mainstream, you'll approve of this one. Why Do I, the next track is Lacy's radiohead friendly track - very atmosphereic and programmed. And the album couldn't conclude any better than how Lacy Adair executes it in Get Lost. A single strummed acoustic and a delayed vocal leave the listener begging for more - but this 1.5 min tune is all you get. AHHHH!

Lacy is clearly able to set herself apart from the trendy pop-mainstream through well executed writing and storytelling, while still lending pop-perfected melodies to its listener. In the vein of songwriting icons Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and the like, she adds her own flare combining the modern sound of Regina Spektor, Radiohead, and Feist - it’s part folk, part electronic, part acoustic, part rock, and all genuine Lacy Adair. So if you haven’t seen or heard Lacy Adair live in concert, there’s a part of you that hasn’t lived. Make it a point to catch a show and thank me later.
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

Narrow Stairs (Death Cab for Cutie)

Narrow Stairs is the album everyone was waiting for. You couldn't avoid Ben Gibbard's face on the cover of a music-related magazine if you tried. The hype was big - but hype is is what you want.

Narrow Stairs isn't bad. Narrow Stairs won't change your life either though. It was predicted and sold as this epiphany record by DCFC in their remote writing and Kerouac-influenced sounds and approach. Don't get me wrong, there is some really good music on this album, but hype is a tough one to overcome; especially when the band is the one responsible for the hyping.

Ben Gibbard's mind is tapped and out comes Narrow Stairs. There's the long intro (which doesn't really do anything dynamically) at the start of I Will Posses Your Heart. I'm not sure why its there. The radio stations obviously edited it out and I'd venture to guess most listeners will too.

Your New Twin Sized Bed is a great song about lost love and heartbreaks. The guitars conflict as Gibbard's voice does what it does best - articulates a story. This song is a great break from the uber-happy pop style on No Sunlight.

Overall, its another DCFC album - different from Plans and different from Postal Service stuff, so I'd go ahead and get the album in full. These are stories worth hearing. And hopefully I've quelled the hype...

RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

Everything In Between (Matt Wertz)

Matt Wertz, a Missouri native and Nashville rising star released Everything In Between in February of 2007. Its a record worth mentioning - great pop music. In the vein of John Mayer's Room For Squares, Everything In Between is pop-success. I can imagine Wertz writing to his peer group but also appealing to the Jr. High kids too. Curse or gift???

It's not just another good-looking acoustic singer/songwriter doing the same ole' tricks. This album comes across as being well crafted and road tested. Wertz, notorious for medium-venue-sell-outs and college girl screams does justice to his songs with each recording.

Notable tracks are Carolina and 5:19. Both in the "single" category, they excel in writing and execution. Producer Ed Cash brings the best from Wertz. And with an all-star cast of studio musicians, its hard to flub.

Lullabye, I Will Not Take My Love Away, is his worship meets crooner meets searcher meets tear soaked pillow (at least that's how it sounds in my ears).

All in all, its a good format for Wertz. The songs are recorded great and the songwriting is there too. Its probably worth purchasing but might take more than 1 listen to agree with me.

RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars.

Teleprompt (MUTEMATH)

In 2006, the boys from New Orleans impress the ear with Teleprompt! From the first notes, I'm engaged. Back and forth between instrumental tracks and catchy melodies, MUTEMATH sells their craft 100%.

Collapse sets the tone right off the bat as the percussion rises and the programming and guitar riffs interject a sort of dance flavor all maintained by an ominous vocal wail in the background. Then it rips your face off as they jump into Typical. It's this 2nd track that brought MM a TON of viewership via their uber-creative, video in reverse. The idea fit the sound and visa versa.

As the album continues its like a roller coaster of catchy hooks, percussive stops, driving guitars, electronic programming, and some of the best effects in vocals I've heard. You know the effect is there - a lot of it - but its not done cheesy-like.

And when I thought I'd heard everything I was going to hear, I was grabbed again by You Are Mine. This song is a perfect testament to the solidarity between us all. We all have our 1 addiction, the one thing we can't let go. It's a song of faith and love. Its a down tempo as you'll get from MM, but its one of my favorites on the whole album.

Its a great CD! Teleprompt is worth the purchase and more.

RATING: 5 of 5 stars

The Cycles (AutoVaughn)

In May 2008, the Nashville, TN based band, AutoVaughn released the e.p. The Cycles. It wasn't long after that, that AutoVaughn was getting hundreds of plays on MySpace - and this album deserves it.

Intense vocals and an over-driven guitar, on Inertia, launch the 6 track e.p. into the listeners ears. Immediately the band joins the vocals in a catchy chorus. The outro bangs out a great solo and snare drum. Maybe not as solid a song as the title track, but Inertia knocks out a good introduction for what's to come.

The next track is the title track: The Cycles. Opening with a great circular riff, I'm immediately drawn into this song. There are great hooks in the verses. The choruses are reminiscent of Depeche Mode, minus the abundance of synth sounds. You'd never guess these guys were from Country Music capital of the universe. The Cycles boasts catchy hooks, pop writing with a very euro-rock sensbility.

Missing Something brings the intensity down a notch with a ballady acoustic introduction. I imagine it won't be long that this song finds itself in the background scenes of Grey's Anatomy and the like. A great story, good song. Less rock, more The Fray/Mat Kearney.

As the album continues, it really picks back up with Our Confidence. Not many songwriters use the word "periwinkle," but clearly AutoVaughn make it work. This track is a kind of chorusy, choral, group anthem that poses their most political ideas and questions.

The Cycles closes with a catchy, TV Theme Song ready, tune in Dream a Little. Again, using his most Depeche Mode qualitative vocals, this song is what you'd expect in a pop-rock album.

All in all, I felt that The Cycles and Missing Something were clearly their strongest songs of the e.p., but the rest is complementary of the whole. My opinion, buy the 2 singles on iTunes and you'll get the idea.

RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars.