Struggle With Me is the latest EP from Tampa trio “Phantom Phunk.” Even though the band currently has three members, additional appearances are made on the album by rapper Cloud Master Price. Struggle With Me is an interesting release because it experiments with a combination of punk, neo-alternative, funk and hip hop. The first track, Mediphorical is my second favorite song on the album. It features a terrific, minimalist guitar presence and is fronted by the assertive vocals of Alexa Toro. The song is a great choice for opening track because the energy really gets the album off the ground. Every Where You Go gets into more experimental territory. It’s almost like if you mixed a hip hop jam with a Tegan and Sara song and somehow managed to make it work. No Hard Feelings makes creative use of timing and pauses to set up Toro’s vocals, which display a lot of echoey dynamicism in this song. Something Certain People Say is the best track on the album. It’s got a catchy chorus, the best guitar tone and has potential to be a legit indie hit song. Cheap Thrills is the loudest, hardest rocking song. Cloud Master Price makes another climactic appearance on this track and provides the link it needs to round out the album.
Dandy is the eclectic debut album from Matty Marz. It blends romance, fashion, and pop culture into a record that oscillates between pop and indie rock. I thought I had the sound pinned down with the first track Dirtbag, which is kind of a sassy indie rock song with a sound vaguely reminiscent of mid 00s bands like Franz Ferdinand (Do You Want to.) However, after this the songs transition into much more poppy territory. They are often romantic, soft and musically bright. The backing beats and background music has kind of that early 90′s, funky, summertime Caribbean sound. All these elements are combined in a way which lends itself to an ultimately contemporary feel. Matty Marz’ vocals come across as sincere and tonally are a good fit for this style of music. My favorite track on the album is probably We the People (Interlude,) which is catchy and features an amazing, retro-futuristic beat.
Jet Lag Super Drag is an energetic and soulful rock release from Atlanta based band “Last Chance Riders.” The album has a features a classic rock inspired sound with contemporary flair. The guitars really assert themselves, something which becomes apparent in the first few seconds of the opening track, Downright Disgusted. Whenever the guitars kick in on these songs, they just really have a bite to them. This is not “light rock.” Their sound reminds me a bit of The White Stripes in that it’s very loud and has an analog quality.
Vocalist Jessie Albright does her part with vocals which match the intensity of the guitars and give the band its distinct identity. It would be easy to get away with a less capable singer with this kind of music because the guitars are such a powerful driving force, but Jessie Albright turns out to be a phenomenal vocalist. She really knocks out these songs, balancing emotion, musicality and maxed out rock n roll. Her accent gives it away that you’re listening to a “southern rock” band, but the group’s appeal is by no means regionally limited. The eclectic mix of detectable musical influences ranges worldwide. There are shades of everything from David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” on here to AC/DC. This is a really solid, professional album.
Deep in the Water is an LP from The Gary Douglas band, slated for release next month. It features 11 distinct tracks and is packed with some of the best Americana rock n’roll you’ll ever hear. The album roars right out of the gates with the opening song, River Road, a fast paced, full sounding and passionately performed track that stylistically could be comparable to some of Bruce Springsteen’s classic songs like Thunder Road. Yes, it’s that good, too. Not all the songs on Deep in the Water have the same feel though. There’s quite a bit of versatility here. Devil in Her Soul and Nothing Ever Goes as Planned both have much more of a Southern, soulful vibe. Actually, a good description of this band’s sound is that it combines the best of Southern rock with rust belt / working class rock n’ roll.
Devil in Her Soul in particular has a very haunting tone and is put together expertly. Every detail is nailed down. Musically, I think it might be the most impressive on the album. It’s tough to say though because from a technical perspective these guys are clearly pros. I admit I’ve never heard of The Gary Douglas Band, but this is a major label quality album release (which may not mean as much anymore given the state of pop music.) Normally I don’t like to give someone “too good” of a music review because it comes off kind of phony. However, this recording is pretty much flawless and doesn’t leave any room for nitpicking. It succeeds at what it’s trying to be and even surpasses it.
Ben Rebel already made a splash on the scene when he was younger as a member of the 90′s group, “Lost Children.” I’m told that some of the original members may be reuniting for an upcoming release this November. Betta Dayz marks the first official solo effort for Ben and is being released on Diac Immortal Records. I’ve reviewed artists from this label before, and it suffices to say that this outfit is quickly assembling quite a nice little catalog.
Betta Dayz is categorized as “deep house.” It’s fast paced dance music all right, but rather than coming across aggressive or overly testosterone fueled, this strikes me as cool, laid back and contemplative. This is dance music for intellectuals. The opening track is hypnotic and could probably put the listener in a trance if one allowed him/herself to be totally focused on listening to the music. Lyrics are few and far between as Ben wisely doesn’t make these songs all about him, opting instead to let the music do the talking (and it represents him just fine.) Sporadically some vocals can be heard faintly in the mix, but these merely accentuate and help frame the song’s messaging. The song makes several transitions, continuing to incorporate new musical elements and revitalize itself.
The second track, ReleaseTHAPRESSURE continues in much the same vein. It’s mellow and casually futuristic, but the song retains enough dynamic components and surprises to keep people moving and shaking on the dance floor. Instead of merely building toward a climactic point near the ending of the song, what each of these tracks do is kind of ease in and out of different sound segments, zig-zagging from one groovy hook to the next and back again like a game of Brickout.
I’ve never met Ben Rebel or seen any videos of him, but one gets the sense this guy has to be one of the most chilled out dudes on the planet. These songs are smooooth. No abrasiveness, no attitude…just like the title of the song, this guy has found a way to release the pressure. Production wise, everything here is pretty solid. Everything is where it needs to be in the mix, and effects and EQ are used sparingly and effectively.
If you’re looking to get a hold of these jams, they’re not available quite yet. This EP is scheduled for release on 10/26/18, so you’ll have to wait until then to snag a copy, but it will be worth it.
Pittsburgh based rapper Chuckie Bonner began rapping at age 14. He claims to have been “going hard with his music” until some unexpected family tragedies led him to step away from music for a while. I’m not sure what he used to rap about as a young teenager before the death of his mother and cousin (and an aunt and another cousin,) but he’s done well here in channeling his emotions into his latest songs. Dealing with personal hardship and loss through one’s art is a great way to work through issues, and in doing so something much more meaningful and substantive is created artistically.
His hard hitting track The Intro opens with an inspirational quote from Rocky Balboa (Rocky VI) aboud taking what life throws at you and moving forward. Chuckie puts it out there right away about his family members that have passed, stoically viewing the tragic string of events as a series of tests that God has asked him to pass. He begins to wonder whether God is just messing with him. Then the song proceeds to really go into high gear, with Bonner rapping at an impressively frantic pace (this dude has some real skills) covering a plethora of topics, too numerous to
mention. He really just unloads and lays it all out there for the listener.
Musically The Intro is very engaging and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It features an orchestral almost opera-like hip hop backdrop which emphasizes the mood of high drama and high stakes. This guy just put everything into this song, and it turned out solid. I’m only left wondering why he’s rocking a Kansas City Chiefs hat when he’s from Pittsburgh, home of the iconic Steelers. Anyway this is looking like the Chiefs’ year, and Chuckie Bonner might finally be catching his break as well.
one small stEP is an EP from Boston based band, “Major Moment.” The band is heavily influenced by groups like Linkin Park (the album is even dedicated to the late Chester Bennington,) Nine Inch Nails and 30 Seconds to Mars. The intro is a pleasant surprise, a brief and eerily cerebral instrumental number that sounds like it could have been on the Poltergeist soundtrack. Before it’s Too Late is the first full length song. It features a lot of musically dynamic elements, some solid vocals (the verses are particularly good) and a memorably killer Iron Maiden tier guitar bridge near the end. The songs on here tend to start out mellow, with tepid intros and slowly build until they kick in with heavy, saturating choruses. You can just feel the energy when the song kicks in, like you’re near a mage unleashing a spell at full force. The Release is the softest tune on here. Instrumental in nature, it features delicate piano and captures a quiet, haunting ambiance.
Vocalist/guitarist Andrey Borzykin (whom I never would have guessed is from Russia) has a great, unassuming voice. It has an early 2000s emo quality but without sounding whiny. It’s very soothing and is complemented by (fellow Russian?) Alexandra ‘Sasha’ Razumova. The band plays very well together. They’re all on the same wavelength throughout this album. Lead guitarist Gabriel De Mattia continues in the tradition of excellent guitar players from Brazil (why are there so many?) Drummer Adam Soucy does what drummers do and holds the framework of the songs together. These are not the easiest songs to drum to I would imagine. There are a lot of changes to keep up with.
One impressive thing about one small stEP is the diversity of sound within songs. There is a lot of variety in the pacing, tone and the way in which synths are utilized. They really do cram a lot of creativity into each song. There is not a lot of repetition here, and no corners are cut (no copy and pasting, looping etc.) Unlike with many bands that sound nothing like their claimed influences, the music of Major Moment actually does bear an uncanny resemblance to Linkin Park, although it doesn’t contain the “rapcore” elements many associate with classic Linkin Park songs. This EP is worthy as an homage, but clearly the band has their own distinct sound, which has proven to be able to stand on its own.
How to Polish Your Longhorns is a new full length album from Jay Kipps Band. I would describe the sound as almost a “psychedelic country.” The band classifies their style as “Roots Americana” which explains the eclectic influences. The guitars remind me of the music from old Clint Eastwood westerns of the 60′s. This was my first impression anyway upon listening to the first track, Colt 45. Rotten Apple Blues settles into a more familiar and contemporary country/Americana sound. Featuring a catchy title and chorus, it’s one of those songs that strikes me as an instant country classic. Country/Americana artists seem to be very good at coming up with clever titles and concepts for songs (such Mel Tillis’ Coca Cola Cowboy etc.) What seems like a rather predictable track, Big Old Engine surprises by taking on 60′s rock n’ roll qualities, particularly with respect to the backup vocals on the chorus, which wouldn’t have seemed out of place on a Velvet Underground track. Besides Rotten Apple Blues my other favorite song on this album is Harp Bomb which sounds like music which would appear in a vintage video game RPG. It just has this bright, be-boppin’ feel to it. I don’t know…you just have to listen. This album is genius and demonstrates that Americana artists are far more imaginative than many people give them credit for.
“When a man says he’s a dreamer, there’s nothing on this Earth that keeps him happy.” And just like that I was drawn in by the resonating lyrics of Last Night, the opening track on Trio of Awesuhm’s album Cowboys&Aliens. Trio of Awesuhm (the name for the NY based folk rock band) is only false advertising in the sense that there appears to be more than 3 members of the group. The music is awesome by any standard. I really have to hand it to “lead vocalist, lyricist and composer” Monica Uhm. While everyone plays their part well, her vocals just really carry these songs to another level. The fact that she is a powerful creative force and more than just a voice that sings or a figurehead gives an authenticity to her charisma and credibility to her brand of what she calls “philoso-folk.” She has such a wonderfully pleasant voice to listen to that when the song is over you wonder if you’ve just been hypnotized and been subliminally programmed to carry out some nefarious orders.
There are hints of Americana sound here, and with a few twists, turns and twangs this music could easily make it into country western territory. It doesn’t quite go there though. A better way to describe this album’s sound is that it is like a less cheesy, more folk version of ABBA. The production here is excellent. Kudos to Joe DiGiorgi of Headline Studios, who apparently recorded and co-produced it. The album achieves better than (contemporary) major label production quality without sacrificing its indie folk soul. Cowboys&Aliens is contemplative and mellow, yet still keeps you moving with its consistent energy.
Wonderchild is set to be released this month. It’s a new 7 song EP from “SEDA,” an R&B/Pop & Latin artist from The Bronx, NY. The lead single for this upcoming EP has already dropped. It’s called Deserve and is available on Spotify. If there’s one thing that’s evident from this track, it’s that SEDA can actually sing quite well. Unlike so many artists in this genre, SEDA’s voice comes through bright and clear, without assistance from a bunch of vocal processing and autotune type effects. You just can’t fake it with this style of singing. If you’ve got it, it’s apparent immediately, as it is on this recording. Musically, the song is very minimalistic and ambient. It’s SEDA’s emotive vocals amidst an echoey, dreamlike mix of piano and light synths. This isn’t a club jam. It’s more like music for a romantic, candlelit dinner, with the song invoking a soothing atmosphere. You can tell that someone put their heart into making this recording.