Can’t Back Down is a new single from Philadelphia based alternative rock project, “Sightline Heights” (which is set to release its debut EP in June.) Though a lot of bands and artists have casually adopted the label of alternative as a descriptor of their music over the years, Sightline Heights’ Can’t Back Down strikes me as actually capturing the essence of the “alternative” music sound (as I imagine it anyway.) The tempo is slow to moderate, and the drums have a nice kick to them. The guitars have that nice, classic distortion, creating a coveted tone which really is the heart of this song. In addition to his guitar work, singer/songwriter Marc Eimer also does a decent job as vocalist, especially considering his parts are not particularly easy to sing. It’s difficult to actually “sing” at the volume required for this type of music while retaining artful clarity and without devolving into gravelly shouting or screamo type vocals, but Eimer manages to hold his own. Production quality on the track is excellent, right up there with any standard label release.
All in all, this is a pretty solid alternative rock song. I don’t really have any criticisms, but it would be interesting on some future releases to experiment with the sound a bit by adding in some unusual instruments, a synthy bridge or maybe even a surprise female solo. I wouldn’t really mess with it too much though as the artist has a pretty good formula so far.
Diveyede refers to himself as a “Style of No Style.” His latest release There is no Cure//They Will Be the Death of Me occupies an interesting niche somewhere between hip hop, chillwave and spoken word poetry. Despite having a rather calm and pleasant voice to listen to, what stands out to me about Diveyede’s delivery is his impeccable sense of timing. It’s so on point that it almost seems like even a machine couldn’t have done a better job. The tracks themselves are very ambient. The best song on the album is I Lost My Mind in Seattle, which features some killer retro synth and very high quality rapping. Though my personal favorite is the first track, Midnight Thoughts on Alki which strikes me as the most creative and unconventional stylistically (for this genre anyways.) Diveyede is like a hip hop version of the classic lo-fi, avant garde, experimental alternative music, and his music is greatly enhanced by the small collection of talented artists and producers that also work on his projects. Shoutout to “Son the Rhemic,” Siggy and Noob. Their contributions to this did not go unnoticed by the reviewer.
The Space Between is the latest album from LegoHeads (“a one-man ambient pop band” from Vancouver, Canada.) It’s apparent right away with the first track, Headlights, that this really is ambient pop. My first impression was that it reminded me of bands like Erasure, but with a slightly more avant-garde and almost alternative indie feel. You get the idea though: lucid dreamy electronic backing music and passionate vocals out front, coming through with crystal clarity. Not all the songs are the same though. Some of the songs after the first one are less “dancy” and have more of an atmospheric, late night coffee house vibe.
Landon Trimble’s (the artist’s real name) voice does a great job of carrying these songs, especially considering how minimalist some of them are. They can’t simply be hidden away in the mix. His vocals are quite pleasant to listen to. In fact, my favorite track on here is Who Would Run, which is my opinion also features his best vocal performance. In terms of the ambient digital musical backing, I like Here at the Edge (the outro,) which I can only describe as being vaguely reminiscent of cutscene music from old school Final Fantasy games.
Anyway, this album is a quality effort from LegoHeads that left me with enough interest that I will probably now go back and check out his first album.
Alternative hip hop artist Diveyede’s latest single, Pale Moonlight, is taken from his upcoming EP There is no cure//They will be the death of me. The production is pretty solid, but not so great that it takes away from the raw, organic feel of the recording. If production is too good, sometimes it can commercializes out the avant-garde authenticity. Diveyede’s style is somewhat unorthodox in that it blends spoken word slam poetry with conventional hip hop musicality. There are even some emo elements here. Pale Moonlight is filled with angst and displays a willingness on the part of the artist to confront his own sanity and vulnerability. There is a kind of madness to it all (“This is my Van Gogh!” he shouts despairingly.) More importantly, Diveyede displays a self awareness that is uncommon in these genres. The end result is that Pale Moonlight avoids the trappings of superficial posturing and hip hop cliches, managing to be something genuinely experimental.
Released on Valentine’s Day, Ups & Downs of Love is a new mixtape from a Buffalo, NY based hip hop artist going by the name Conscious. As the title suggests, the songs thematically alternate between the high, euphoric aspects of love and the downtrodden episodes of heartbreak and depression. The production quality here is pretty good, though I prefer the vocal effects on some tracks more than others. Let Me In particularly stands out as one of the best tracks on here, with the vocals coming through smoothly and crisply and not tinkered with very much. That’s the point in listening to this where I felt like, “Wow, this guy really has something here.”
As far as the instrumental backing, the final track You & Me is my favorite. It features a bouncy, dreamlike synth beat, reminiscent of video game music. This mixtape fuses elements of hip hop, R&B and pop. Conscious seems like he’s on the right track with this mixtape. Artistically, creating a themed album in which the songs act as components within an overall structure which itself is part of the art, is a good move. It adds a dimension of vision and thoughtfulness that you don’t often see in any plain old mixtape.
A Cave in the Inside is the latest album from Present Paradox, an artist located in Dortmund, Germany. This music could best be described as avant garde pop or maybe ambient pop. The songs have a warm analog quality to them, featuring some subtle noise and hiss that enhance the recording and contribute to the overall ambiance. I could tell right away with the psychedelic intro to the first track, Nightwalk, that this album was going to be right up my alley, and the rest of the song did not disappoint. In fact, the song builds into something even better as it goes on, adding drums and vocals into to the mix. Lots of times this kind of music can be ruined by out of place or obnoxious vocals, but in this case the vocals had just the right tone and effects. The singer has the right voice, without any annoying quirks or attitude. The artist took the song exactly where I expected (and wanted it to go,) right smack dab into a psychedelic, kaleidoscopic dreamland.
The album has a very 60′s feel to it, with theatrically titled songs like Magical Twist and Masquerade, which musically could be compared to bands like The Pretty Things. I suppose younger people might relate it to a more contemporary sound like early Radiohead or even Muse, but I’m not a huge fan of those bands, and in my opinion these songs are better and have a more authentic artistic feel. The title track, A Cave In the Inside definitely gives off a contemporary, European flavored indie pop vibe. I very much enjoyed this album, and I highly recommend it.
Originally from Pittsburgh, and having walked away from a career in engineering, Matt Westin would have seemed to be an rather unlikely prospect for country music artist. Yet here he is. Admittedly I was expecting something rather cliche when I came upon his new single Our Redneck of the Woods, (from his debut album, Legacy) but while it does contain some familiar country music tropes about what rednecks like, the song and lyrics are much more detailed and actually pretty epic. With choice lines like “If a politician came out here right now, we might hook his ass up to a plow,” this track has potential to be a hit. It is just one of those songs where you listen and could imagine it being played everywhere, due to the catchy zingers. Musically speaking, the guitar work here is very good, as it is on most country albums, with lots of delightful twang and note bending. Westin is a capable singer, his relatively deep and authoritative voice matching the confident tone of the song. This is a worthwhile country song with highly entertaining lyrics.
Wilmington, Delaware based gospel and R&B singer Dan Kenneth’s latest song, From the Heart is aptly titled work of passion. Kenneth really does sing as if he means it, and you can feel the emotion in every note. With the vocals out front up against a minimalistic piano backing, he doesn’t hide anything in this mix. He lays it all out there for you. Like most gospel singers, this guy has a great voice and uses it to its maximum potential. What’s really refreshing about this release though is that there are no gimmicks, no fake attitude and no posturing. From the Heart has a genuine quality about it that’s missing in so much of today’s music.
Skeletons is a new single from Ezla, (an artist originally from Texas but now based in Nashville.) Ezla describes her music as “hypnotic pop,” and Skeletons absolutely lives up to this characterization. I would add that the both the song and video have a certain lounge music quality. In fact, Ezla’s style comes across as that of a 21st century, indie lounge singer. Her music is assertive and delivered with the sass of a strong female personality, yet always with a smile. The atmosphere is dark and brooding, like an out of the way night club you visit when you’re up to no good. Her voice is naturally sensual, and easy on the ears. It would in fact be very easy to be hypnotized by this music.
At first glance, you might think contemporary singer/songwriter Ashley J is just another pretty pop music performer, but she actually earned a BA degree in Business Law. She really can sing, too. Her latest single, “Satisfied” is a kind of elegant pop song, featuring a light and cerebral backing track. It has an avant garde quality, aided by her celestial voice and Aphrodite-like command of the heavens. This song has more in common with Björk than with Jessica Simpson or Britney Spears, and that is a good thing. Ashley J exhibits some real potential here.