Category Archives: Reviews

Ice Creme – Cotton Candy

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DJ Ice Creme’s new electronic music jam Cotton Candy really hits the spot. No, but seriously this is awesome. In the 90′s people used the term “candy raver” (or “kandi raver”) to describe a certain type of raver who wore kids’ backpacks, bright multi-colored bracelets and just gave off the vibe of friendship and childhood innocence. Now, I won’t say that Ice Creme’s music is any kind of direct throwback to that culture, but Cotton Candy definitely has a retro feel to it and abstractly recaptures much of the aesthetic from the early 90′s. Vocal effects and sample wise, it actually reminded me of early techno cassette tapes I owned in 1993 (if you were to replace the standard old school techno beat with something…well like this.) The best way to describe the unique sound of Cotton Candy is that it’s like someone mixed circus music, sounds of people being at the circus, and EDM. It is all very artfully done, and the end result is one of the coolest pieces of dance music I’ve ever heard.

http://www.icecrememusic.com/
https://www.beatport.com/artist/ice-creme/683731

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Natalie Lucassian – 12:26

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Natalie Lucassian’s new EP, 12:26 is light years ahead of most indie albums in terms of quality and artistry. Natalie’s sound has been described as “Amy Winehouse reincarnated as Adele’s indie rock little sister.” However, I don’t think that characterization does her enough justice. Her music seems refreshingly original. In fact, I like it more than the music of either of those other two artists. Natalie has a natural voice for emotive indie rock but is a more talented singer than most indie artists, whom tend to substitute authenticity for technical ability. Natalie Lucassian represents the best of both worlds.

Restless is a brooding track with psychedelic undertones and a light beat that’s slow enough to chill out to but peppy enough that you could dance to if you felt like it. 12:26 is a tad more upbeat and rocking. It’s my favorite song on the album and stylistically reminds me a bit of the music of a band called Magic Wands.

All in all, this EP punches above its weight class, and I can’t think of anything negative to say about it. 12:26 is awesomely haunting.

https://www.facebook.com/natalielucassian/
https://twitter.com/NatalieRae313

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RANZEL X KENDRICK – Texas Sagebrush

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Having done thousands of music reviews over the years, I have discovered a lot of interesting or good music, but not too much of it stands out. I have to say though that country artist Ranzel X Kendrick’s new album, Texas Sagebrush is exceptional. The first track Any Ole’ Song, should leave no doubt to the listener that this guy’s music is right up there with the country legends. This shouldn’t be surprising given that he apparently is the nephew of Grammy award winner, Roger Miller.

Kendrick describes his sound as Texas Roots / Americana, and he has become a pretty much a master of it, so far as I can tell. His style features mellow but articulate acoustic guitar, in a fairly minimalist context, along with sincere and quietly contemplative vocals.

Ambiance wise, the songs on this album would not have seemed out of place on the classic soundtracks of films like “Every Which Way But Loose” (which featured hits from Eddie Rabbitt and Mel Tillis.) They are just very professional and have the feel of someone that has been around the block a few times. Texas Sagebrush is very authentic and evokes memories of the last era of pre-popcommercialization of the country sound. This isn’t to say that the music itself is dated though. What a Pretty Day retains the artful authenticity while demonstrating appeal to mainstream contemporary audiences. Rebecca White’s stellar vocals combine the best of indie folk and country elements. At times on this album I even found myself questioning whether what I was listening to was a Greenwich Village coffee house folk tune or a country western song.

Just about anyone who hears this music will instantly recognize it as being in the top-tier of its genre.

For more info:
http://www.ranzelxkendrick.com/

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LegoHeads – The Space Between

legoheads

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.

For more info:
http://www.legoheadsofficial.com/
On Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/6NDgUe160Ymf6xrSYYTg7r
Soundcloud:
https://soundcloud.com/legoheadsmusic

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Life in Plastic, It’s Fantastic.

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Ahh yes, I’m driving down Scottsdale Rd in the fall of 1998 in my ’93 Saturn (soon to be totaled while parked in Santa Monica less than 2 years later.) I’m wearing a yellow button down shirt from The Gap and sporting frosted tips. Or maybe I’m wearing a blue Tommy Hilfiger windbreaker semi-ironically. What song is playing on the radio? Well, it could be one of many songs actually. Perhaps it’s Harvey Danger’s Flagpole Sitta. Maybe it’s Barenaked Ladies’ One Week or if I’m lucky, Aqua’s Barbie Girl.

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Yes I admit it, I loved this song. I was first alerted to it by friends that said it reminded them of my recordings, not that I ever made anything remotely as good as this, but I used to increase the pitch on my cassettes on 4 track to make my voice sound more indie and alternative, which my friends jokingly said made it sound like “that Barbie Girl song.” It brings back so many memories from a great time in the 90s. I used to think pop music was so shitty at the time, but we didn’t know how good we had it! Aqua’s Barbie Girl is actually a masterpiece, artistically, cinematically, aesthetically, musically, you name it.

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One of my favorite parts of the video is when Lene is getting her hair done and reading a cool looking (but fake) book titled My Little Sea Horse. Whenever I watch the video, I always think about how I wish that book actually existed and I could read it.

Life in plastic, it’s fantastic! Yes it was.

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Good Boy Daisy – Too Hard to Love

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I never heard of the (fairly well known) band, Good Boy Daisy, until I saw them featured on the cover of a local community college publication that I happened to pick up out of curiosity/boredom. Good Boy Daisy features the easily likable and charismatic sisters, Hallie and Dylinn Hayes. Other members include Molly Mashal, Jonathan Henderson and Seth Person. They claim to be influenced by a lot of 90′s grunge. My first impression of their sound was that while the female vocal style is similar to that of The Cranberries. It just has that 90′s alternative, subtly fluctuating pitch that one who lived through that era of music would instantly recognize. However, in this context, the actual backing music is much harder (especially as it breaks into the chorus,) almost more in line with Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine. They’re not a retro or throwback band though by any means. Their music ultimately is of a contemporary, post-grunge nature and will appeal to many different types of people.

The band apparently took its name from a line in the movie Guy Richie movie Snatch, a film I vaguely remember seeing at the then state-of-the-art but now sorta ghetto Arizona Mills movie theater in 2001. Good Boy Daisy is one of those bands that has an aura about them where they are hitting all the right marks, and you just know if they don’t manage to self destruct, get pregnant or get bored that they will succeed.

For more info:
http://www.goodboydaisy.com/
https://www.instagram.com/good_boy_daisy/

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The Sky is Black and Blue Like a Battered Child – Ben Arzate

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For those that might be unfamiliar, Ben Arzate is well known in certain circles as a prolific reviewer of alternative literature and edgy political books. In fact, he may be the most prolific indie book reviewer in contemporary times. Yet, he manages to find the time between readings to author some lit of his own, such as his recent poetry chapbook, the sky is black and blue like a battered child.

At only 25 pages (with some poems only making up a fraction of a page,) it is a true chapbook. Though brief, the book somehow manages to retain enough fullness to pass as a complete work. As a minimalist, I appreciate this in a way others may not. It’s always a good sign though when a poetry book leaves you wanting more, which is the case here. Despite the mildly disturbing title, there is nothing particularly offensive in the book’s contents, save for a couple of lines (you’ll know them when you see them.) If there are observable themes in this work, they would seem to be loneliness, regret and despair…peppered with a touch of apathy.

I found it interesting that in several places, analog “tv static” (also known as white noise and famously depicted in the film Poltergeist) is referred to as being something desirable to watch (though it is unclear whether the author approves.) I can relate to this in that I used to love watching TV static. There is something very calming about it. In fact, back when I used to work in Cubesville, there was a youtube video that simply played 10 hours of tv static, which I would blast into my headphones to drown out the sound of my chubby co-workers making disgusting noises as they gobbled up the unhealthy snacks provided to keep them happy, well-fed and productive cubefarm animals.

From the poem, good night day dreams:

the radio plays mozart
the tv plays static
while she sits on her bed
and reads flowers in the attic

That’s actually my favorite line from the book and sounds like my kind of afternoon.

Arzate frequently makes use of unconventional structuring in his poems, the sort of which would annoy reactionaries and traditionalists in the lit world. Being that I can’t stand those types of people, I perversely enjoyed these deviations all the more. Some poems consist merely of a single sentence, phrased as a question. There is also a poem titled “Reflection Text” in which all of the writing is reversed, requiring a mirror to read unless you’re one of the doppelgangers in Journey to the Far Side of the Sun. Another poem I relate to in this collection is Brad, which briefly chronicles a person receiving wrong number phone calls from a woman and being disappointed when the calls stop coming. There are lonely points in a man’s life (particularly a reclusive writer or artist’s life) when human contact is so minimal that even the slightest, superficially pathetic “romantic” interaction or empty fantasy can be gratifying.

the sky is black and blue like a battered child very much reminds me of 90s zine poetry, both in tone and style. It has a pre-internet quality to it that’s difficult to put into words, but one which someone my age will instantly pick up on. Even though Ben Arzate appears to be about ten years younger than me and firmly within the millennial demographic, this strikes me as a precociously Generation X book. Arzate’s refreshingly not trying to save the world, fight social injustice or do much of anything here. Still, the sky is black and blue like a battered child succeeds in punching above its slim weight.

For more info:
the sky is black and blue like a battered child on Amazon

Ben Arzate’s blog:
http://dripdropdripdropdripdrop.blogspot.com/

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Little Fevers – Beaches

littlefeverssingles

I came cross Little Fevers, a quartet from Minneapolis, randomly on Reddit a few years ago and was instantly hooked by their song Apple Tree. I don’t know whether they’ve released anything recently, but they are still out there performing and going strong and as far as I’m concerned the stuff they put out already is memorable enough to cement them with a fine indie legacy. Their music finds that sweet spot in indie pop that balances between retro and contemporary aesthetics. One of their songs, Beaches(from the release, Singles) offers a great example of this. It has a slightly folk quality but with a touch of innocence and cuteness, pushing it closely toward the category of Twee Pop. Singer Lucy Michelle has a voice that seems tailor made for this genre. You simply could not ask for vocals more pleasant to listen to than these. Had Beaches or Apple Tree or any of their other jams been released in the early to mid 2000s, everyone I know would have been listening to them (or at least heard of the group.) Nowadays, the scene for this style of music is not as large, but that doesn’t mean this band doesn’t deserve to stand out just the same.

For more info:
http://www.little-fevers.com/

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Echosmith – Cool Kids

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As someone who strives to live in as much of a bubble as humanly possible within the modern world (and without  adopting the Ted Kaczynski or Amish lifestyle,) I struggle to block out most contemporary pop music in the moments where I find myself in environments where avoiding it is inescapable (such as the fitting rooms at department stores.) It was some such moment in some such place a year or two ago that I first heard Echosmith’s Cool Kids. I was instantly mesmerized by the synths, which had an unusually authentic 80′s sound at a time when such homage is paid typically in lip-service-surface-level, superficial ways (in pop music anyway, with indie subcultural genres like vaporwave it’s another story.)  The synths in Cool Kids though are not even so much retro,  but retro-futurist, living up to the dreamlike visions of what futuristic pop music would be like.  If this sanguine inter dimensional ambient journey to sanctuary is disrupted by anything,  it’s the lyrics, which are a little too cliche’ to be deserving of an otherwise cerebral song like this. I mean do we really need these tired bromides like “I wish that I could be like the cool kids cause all the cool kids they seem to fit in”? They seem like the lyrics that would play during the contrived emotional scenes on one of those lame, self-important, virtue signaling teen shows like 13 Reasons Why. This is not really a knock on the band’s singer, Sydney Sierota, who’s probably the best thing to happen to pop music since even before Taylor Swift. Sydney’s pretty and unassumingly charismatic without coming off like a tryhard or giving off a lot of phony attitude, and her charming, hypnotic vocals elevate the overall atmosphere of the song in a way that seems irreplaceable. I can’t really tell if she’s a bonafide avant garde “hipster” or one of those basic girls that just looks the part of an American Apparel employee (circa mid-2000s,) but I’m leaning toward the former. As one gets older, it become more difficult to differentiate between teenage social groups, as the previous referential signals become obsolete, and one is no longer privy to the new tells.

Anyway, whenever I was in this particular department store, I would look forward to this jam coming on, and I still do. As I’m perusing the sale racks looking to score some Tommy Hilfiger V-neck sweaters to be worn semi-ironically,  the addition of this song provides the missing piece of the puzzle in completion of the ultimate mall ambient experience. Cool Kidsis one of the best pop songs in recent memory, which I realize may not seem like a very high bar to meet, so let me just emphasize that I think it’s really something else.

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Treasure Mammal – Missed Connections

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I first met Abe from Treasure Mammal around 2002-2003 and briefly lived with him at a house known for late night pool parties in Tempe, Arizona. Before he had started Treasure Mammal, he had been in a number of more conventional and “serious” indie rock bands. Despite being a multi-talented and gifted musician, he probably found standard indie rock fare to be a rather stifling and boring endeavor. He was always the life of the party and someone with Four-Loko tier levels of energy, and so Treasure Mammal turned out to be the perfect creative outlet for him. Anyway, I didn’t intend for this to sound like an obituary and am happy to observe that 15 years later, Treasure Mammal is still around, even as a zillion other Phoenix bands have come and gone.

Treasure Mammal has always differed from other indie “fun” or “humor” bands in that usually these types of groups use theatrics, costumes and funny gimmicks as a substitute for musical ability. In Treasure Mammal’s case though, Abe is actually a very skilled and accomplished musician, who just so happens to prefer to let loose and engage in this kind of wild chicanery. Another thing which distinguishes Treasure Mammal from similar bands was the use of top quality recording and production. While most people would have been content to throw some crap together and record it on 4 track, Treasure Mammal worked on their releases with some of the top recording engineers in the valley (Mike Hissong, Ryan Breen, etc.) Nowadays, almost anyone can make a near radio quality recording (production-wise anyway) with the software available, but Treasure Mammal was insisting on the very best studio production even 15 years ago.

Over the years, Treasure Mammal has had a knack for capitalizing on faddish catch phrases as they become part of the popular lexicon, quickly turning them into songs while their usage is still fairly prominent among the public. Examples of this are Best Friends Forever, Spring Break, and Real TalkThe most recent example of this is the jam, Missed Connections, (from the 2015 album I will Cut You With My EBT Card) which appears to be  a musical satirization of  the kinds of bizarre messages one might frequently see in the Missed Connections section of Craigslist…and it’s epic.

Seriously, this track is awesome.  It combines subtle, ironic humor with an excellent and catchy  pop song. The chorus, where the female vocals kick in (featuring singer Lonna Kelley,)  channels its inner Olivia Newton John in the sense that it is simply magical. The style of the song blends 80s synthpop with avant garde spoken word.  Though it isn’t meant to be taken seriously,  Missed Connections  could be interpreted as a social commentary on the empty desperation that animates these kinds of classified ads.  I assume most people read these ads for amusement, but what about the ones that write them… and do so earnestly, without even a hint of trolling or irony? Who are they? What do they look like? What kind of low point are they at in their lives? There’s something deeper about contemporary society and atomization in this super fun time tune, whether anyone cares or not.

Like many of Treasure Mammal’s previous songs, one would easily envision this becoming a viral, chart topping hit. It’s one of those songs where you tragically muse to yourself, “I can’t believe that dumbass Travie McCoy ‘I wanna be a Billionaire’ song managed to become popular, and yet this crown jewel of a jam isn’t.”

 

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