One largely forgotten entertainment relic of the 80′s (that I was huge fan of) is the show Braingames, on HBO. It was an educational, animated program which featured puzzles and encylopedic trivia, presented in a uniquely creative manner. I don’t remember anything particularly offensive, but the show often used mildly caustic and cheesy humor of the sort you would not really see in more sanitized and watered-down “kids” programs of today’s atmosphere. That’s a subject for another day though.
One of the episodes had a brief vignette called “Memory Rock,” where they show clips of a band performing, and you had to remember things about the group, such as what they were wearing, how many members etc. For this segment they actually used a real band, The Cucumbers, and their college radio hit song, My Boyfriend. This song is archetypically 80s awesome and soooo catchy, I have to wonder how many additional fans they got even from this obscure Braingames placement. It’s catchy enough that I frequently find myself jokingly singing this song to my girlfriend (which annoys her,) even though it’s titled My Boyfriend and features a female lead vocalist. They redid the song a few years later for an album, adding some synth and changing the section where the guy sings solo to one where the female vocals are out front. However, I think the original version (the one heard in Braingames,) which appeared on an EP released on Fake Doom Records in 1983, is superior. It’s an abstract postulation, and I can’t really pinpoint the reason why, but the sound just has so much more vitality. My Boyfriend is one of the best relatively-obscure-yet-memorable jams of the 1980′s, and The Cucumbers are actually still around! Check them out.
This review’s a tad overdue, given that Magic Wands’ album Jupiter was released back in 2016, but we’re operating on another timeline here I guess. I’ve previously written about this band a couple times, most recently here. I wrote:
I first discovered Magic Wands at SXSW in 2010 when they played at The Ghost Room (at least that’s where the old schedule says they played, I can’t remember to be honest.) I never forgot the band though. When I got home I looked them up on Myspace when that was still kind of a thing at least for music.
When I was younger, it was always my dream to be in a two person “boy/girl” band. I was never able to find the right girl to partner up with though. The ones who seemed like good prospects (Dawn Aquarius, etc) all either lived too far, and/or were already partnered up. The long distance dream became real for Magic Wands though. They represent everything about why I loved these types of groups, right down to the name. “Magic Wands,” indeed.
Well, I loved their track, Black Magic. It is always stuck in my head, and I think it’s one of the best songs of the last ten years. So that left Jupiter with a high standard to live up to. So often with indie bands, the new material just doesn’t quite manage to conjure up the same level of magic as the earlier releases (a good example would be The White Stripes.) I’m happy to say though, that in the case of Magic Wands, Jupiter is awesome and doesn’t feel like a sell out or departure from their earlier sound. It is every bit as good, and clocking in at over 50 minutes…is nothing short of an epic masterpiece.
Like other contemporary indie bands, Magic Wands tends to blend different styles, an almost inevitable consequence of growing up at a time where one is exposed to so many conscious and subconscious musical influences. Their sound could be described as an alchemic combination of late 60′s psychedelia and avant garde 80′s synthpop. The reverb drenched title track, Jupiter, really does echo all the through to the underground oceans of icy Europa. It serves as a nice, spacey, cryonic intro for the next track Love Soldier, which absolutely rocks. Yes, the Roman Gods would be pleased with this peppy paced, heroic jam. It’s extremely danceable and could make it on the club circuit, even though the kind of people that typically go to clubs probably don’t deserve something this authentic. I can say this because for decades I was one of them. The amusingly titled “Lazerbitch” sounds like something straight out of The Legend of Billie Jean. I can almost picture Helen Slater mouthing the chorus, “I’m a Lazerbitch.” I should mention also that these are not particularly short songs. Several of them run 5 minutes plus, keeping true to the genre.
Just when you think they’ve probably led with their best foot forward (most bands are told to put their best songs first to hook in the listener,) used up their pixie dust and shot their wad, you soon find that the songs just keep getting better. Chariot is another fast paced song, which retains its dreamy ambiance while taking you on a wild, far out ride, like Charlton Heston in Ben Hur if his chariot had been retrofitted for space travel.
My favorite track on the album is Dream Street. It’s just so much more dynamic than the other songs and really allows Dexy Valentine to showcase the impressive range of her vocal capabilities. She reminds me of a hipster sorceress version of Blondie. It’s as if Blondie took one of Alice’s pills in Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, but instead of growing larger or smaller, she just sang about weirder, more imaginative stuff….which is interesting considering one of Blondie’s greatest hits was literally titled, Dreaming. Magic Wands actually transports you to a dreamlike state, rather than merely touting the act of dreaming.
Blue Wall is one of the more mellow songs on the album. It’s relatively slow paced and gives you a chance to chill after an action packed half hour. It’s followed by another lively track, I’ll Never Go There Again, which I don’t have much to say about, as much of what I mentioned earlier regarding Love Soldier would also be applicable here.
The album closes with an ambient, instrumental outro, Jupiter II. It’s beautiful. You feel like you’re right out there in Jupiter’s orbit. You’ve opened the pod bay door, deactivated HAL 9000, the whole shebang… and you’re quietly staring into the monolith. What do you see? It’s full of stars? Your future self on your deathbed? Or do you observe the image of the God of Jupiter himself, hurling a mini thunderbolt toward you with an intent not to kill or punish, but to electrify and spark your imagination and creativity ever further, as a token of reward for making it to this level.
Motivation is the product of former pro basketball player Ugonna Onyekwe, who is now “releasing music with his sister under the name SYBS.” It’s a high quality R&B/pop song, with elements of hip hop as well. The video features Coss Marte, a former inmate who developed a prison style workout, which he now performs in an NYC gym and livestreams the sessions. Reese Scott also appears in the video. She was a Creative Director for a publishing company to start Women’s World of Boxing ten years ago, in order “to offer women a safe, comfortable and uplifting environment.”
As you can tell, the song Motivation deals with individuals struggling with doubts or a troubled past, who seek and eventually find motivation to improve their life and pursue their dreams. The track transitions effortlessly between several cultural styles of music. If you just skipped to a random part of it, you might think it’s a completely different musical genre. The transitions are done extremely well. The female vocalist is particularly impressive, absolutely nailing her vocal parts and elevating the song to another level. All in all, this is a very cohesive release, and the video is shot professionally. I feel like this song could actually motivate people.
Roadtrip is a new single from award winning country singer, TJ Leonard. He’s Swedish, but I swear you’d never guess that from hearing this song, as it sounds as authentically American country as you can get. Roadtrip chronicles in detail a trip throughout the southeastern United States, and I do mean in detail, with play by play lyrics like We bought a gift for my mother in law at a place called Quilt Connection.
The production on this track is excellent, and Leonard is a real pro performer. His voice is easy on the ears and his overall vocal presence carries the song well. Roadtrip is a solid single by an artist with major label potential.
Crooner Steven Chera’s new album, The Classic Standards, features him performing classic songs from the early part of the 20th century. Inspired by Sinatra, Martin and the rest, Chera keeps the spirit of the Rat Pack alive. One can almost wonder if he is being channeled by Old Blue Eyes himself. Both musically and aesthetically he successfully captures the style and ambiance of this era with these songs. He does not merely mimic or emulate these legendary artists though, but rather he incorporates his own personality into the tracks, giving them a bit of personal flair. The result is that the album does not come off as overly derivative. This is a high quality production by an artist who has clearly spent quite a bit of time and effort in mastering this genre.
Caterpillars(from the album “No Mud in Joyville“) is a new track from Boulder, CO based indie folk rocker J.W. Schuller. It should be mentioned also that a host of other artists are credited with contributing backing vocals, drums and other instruments. J.W. Schuller’s everything but the kitchen sink approach gives the song a much fuller sound than one would get from an ordinary “guy with an acoustic guitar” project. Somehow he manages to juggle all these sounds to keep the song tight, organized and impressively coherent. Caterpillars is delightful, peppy and brimming with positive energy. I really like the vocals on this track. The singer is originally from Minneapolis, and his vocal style has a similar quality to other notable bands from the Minneapolis indie / punk scene like The Siren Six. Something has to be said for the guitars too, which are terrific both in terms of tone and performance. J.W. Schuller plays volunteer gigs at retirement homes, and I could see people of all ages tapping along to this jam and gaining a bit of vitality in the process.
Rainy Day Crush, a veteran midwestern band that falls somewhere in between indie, pop, punk and alternative rock has a new EP out titled, I’m Still Alive. It’s an appropriate title, given that the band has appeared, disappeared and reappeared in many incarnations an forms over the years, going back to the 90′s when they were known as “The Other Side.” It’s great to see musicians displaying such tenacity and continuing to come back to what they love and do well.
The band features good clean guitars and a solid vocalist. One of their newest songs, Heartbreak (or How to Get Over It) could almost be described as “adult pop punk” but without whiny vocals. The singer is very good in fact, giving the track a dynamic and full quality which enhances the melody of the song rather than merely going through the motions. The tracks on this EP could very well qualify as potential pop hits, if we were still living slightly in another time when bands like Third Eye Blind were in high demand and before we entered the terrible era of garbage pop music we’re mired in now. I”m Still Alive is essentially indie music that’s produced at radio quality, released at a rather unfortunate time. There is always room somewhere for high quality music made by professionals, though. I’m pleased to say that Rainy Day Crush is operating in that space, filling the void with these catchy and coherent jams. They also have a cool album cover imo.
Well well well, what a pleasant surprise this is. It’s not every day that I’m fortunate enough get to review something that I personally would listen to, but this is just one of those days. hERON is a collaborative effort between Progeny of Chisme/Ghost Palace (MPC, guitar, records) and Rob Castro of Grayskul/Chisme/Ghost Palace (bass.) It is also long distance musical project between Seattle and San Antonio.
hERON has released a self titled album,(12 songs) and it’s damn good. It has a very authentic 60s-70s psychedelic vibe. The sound and production give it a very retro aesthetic but not in a tryhard way. It’s like if someone recorded an album on an old analog 4-track, but they really knew what they were doing so it came out better than 99% of major label releases.
The opening track is titled “chillmode,” a nice little scratchy instrumental jam that would not seem out of place on practically any 1970s Japanese film soundtrack. I thought for a minute that maybe the whole album would be instrumental only, but some tracks like “Kissed Dreams” include vocals, which have a nice warm “AM radio” tone. My favorite song on the album is probably “Flipout,” which could best be described as elevator muzak you might imagine yourself hearing while wandering through a haunted dead mall, and I like elevator muzak.
Anyway, there’s a lot of good stuff in here, so I recommend you check out hERON if you have good taste. This bad boy is available on cassette and vinyl as well as digitally.
Chapter X is a new release from Audiobreeze, an artist based in Sofia, Bulgaria. The song bills itself a “melancholic piano piece,” but really it is so much more. The tone may be evoke emotions of sadness, yet it comes in the form of a lovely and elaborate musical composition. Chapter X is pure ambiance. The slow piano pacing, deep space sounds and rain (yes, the song actually has rain,) provide the track with a brooding atmosphere. It all has a very “cinematic” feel to it. While I listened to it, I actually pictured sad, contemplative scenes from various films I have seen. Though it’s only one track, this is a very professional release, and hopefully we’ll see more from this artist.