Born in Wichita Kansas, JJ McGuigan is a songwriter focused on “lyrical creation.” His latest EP titled “Dissociative” showcases his songwriting ability. What’s refreshing about JJ’s music is that he isn’t just another one man band trying to mediocrely do too many things himself. He sticks to what he’s good at and does it well, leaving other parts of the song to be handled by those with corresponding skill sets. “Dissociative” strikes me as quality and “grown up” alternative rock for people who have grown out of teen angst but still grapple with emotions. The guitar tone has a really nice clean and bright shine to it without any abrasive elements. Some tracks like “Letter” have a mellow, echoey vibe which is kind of relaxing. My favorite track on the EP is probably “Home,” which is peppy and features some highly creative guitar work.
Often times when I review albums from certain genres I don’t normally have much familiarity with, I have to try and put myself in the artist’s shoes, imagine their target audience and try to get a feel for what it is they’re going for and to what extent they’re achieving their desired sound. However, in the case of Canadian based singer/songwriter Ed Roman’s new album “Red Omen,” I don’t really have to do any of that because his music is the sort of thing I actually like and listen to. He describes it as an “earthy, funky and magical mix of music,” which seems accurate to me. It comes across as “funky folk.” It’s occasionally fun, sometimes serious/sad but always down to earth and above all…well made.
Side note: When I saw the name “Ed Roman” I thought it seemed familiar, because I remembered a somewhat infamous guitar maker with the same name ( he died several years ago.) This is not the same guy obviously.
Anyhow, Ed Roman’s “Red Omen” is a gem of an album. The title track is probably my second favorite song on it. It reminds me a little bit of quirky 90′s indie pop songs and stuff like The Aquabats. It is creative, fun, and impressively performed by the standards of this genre of music. Another standout track is “time itself” with it’s psychedelic backing that almost gives you the actual sensation of traveling in time (I can only speculate.) The best song though is “I Wish the Wolfman Was Back,” which should be an instant classic. Great work by Ed Roman. I enjoyed this music thoroughly and expect to hear more about this guy in the future.
One thing that impressed me right off the bat with Henry Metal’s “The Maestro Abides” is how authentic it is. This captures the exact sound of metal as I remember it was when I liked it in the late 80′s, early 90s. Listening to the track “Rock N’ Roll Rebel” made me feel like I was transported back to a late summer evening in 1989 watching Return of the Living Dead II on HBO, enjoying some pop secret microvave popcorn. Henry Metal’s music is refreshingly melodic in a way that most metal isn’t today. The vocals on “The Maestro Abides” are expressive and emotive.
When listening, one understands that the artist here doesn’t merely “like” metal but actually understands metal and how to achieve the precise tone technically at every level. Often times bands and solo artists might be influenced by a particular genre, but their attempt to emulate or channel the sound ultimately spins off into something similar but not quite what they were going for (although sometimes still great.) What Henry Metal manages to do is what every artist aspires to. He actually achieves the sound he appears to be striving for and does it quite proficiently.
Alexander Howard’s new single “Mount Rushmore” is set for July 4th release. According to Alexander, the song loosely follows the events of an eventful and boisterous night in Las Vegas, with the participants trying to maintain a “stone face” while downing “$3 shots of nameless whiskey.” This track is radio ready, and it is definitely a peppy party jam. i could actually picture this being played in casinos and becoming some kind of contemporary Vegas pop classic. The style of the song is noteworthy as well. It’s action packed and Howard sings impressively, his vocals maneuvering complicated rhythms with perfect timing while maintaining his poise and upbeat personality. Setting aside the carefree subject matter, this is what well-made, intelligent pop music sounds like.
Andrew Mancilla’s new album “Subtractive Color” is an impressive pop endeavor. The first song, “Rewire” is well placed as an opening track, as it builds quickly and the electronic energy kicks in. His vocals are goo too, like really good. In fact I’d be willing to bet he’s a better natural singer and has much more talent than most of the existing pop stars that populate the genre he’s looking to infiltrate. The more I listened to his album the more I appreciated how artistic it is. While it has elements of R&B, it is not defined by them. A lot of these jams are upbeat combine qualitie of 80′s pop with a few different contemporary styles. The song “Tell Her” (probably my favorite track on the album) is a great example of this. Overall, this album is excellent.
“Too Bad” is a flavorful new single off Elle Casazza’s new album, “Proof.” The vid has a terrific aesthetic and it exudes a late 80′s – early 90s summertime vibe (if you don’t understand what that means…I guess you just had to be there.) This is exemplified not only by the fashion, effects and color usage of the video but also bouncy, playful nature of the song itself. Unlike many musicians that are merely obnoxious fame seekers pushing overproduced yet empty music, Elle comes off as a true artist. Great songwriting, great voice. In a just world this would be a Top 40 single for the summer of ’17.
KALO describes their music as “pure, heartfelt rock ‘n’ roll with just a tease of blues and roots.” I would agree with all of that, and I would add their music is in fact very good as well. Their new song “Wild Change” lives up to their previous releases like Dear John. “Wild Change” is just brimming with professionalism while managing to retain its authenticity. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Bat-Or Kalo sings with passion and plays with precision. I found the guitar work to be especially impressive. Back inthe day I used to work for a mail order company that sold parts for musical instruments. People would always call and ask how they could get that “great bluesy tone” out of their amps. Well, KALO has managed to do just that. It helps that they are all solid and well-trained musicians. This is just an all around professional outfit, and it shows in their music. “Wild Change” is a top of the line release.
The video for “Gold,” an intriguing, dream-like track by “First Blush,” looks almost like it could be short David Lynch or Cronenberg film. Just seeing the First Blush logo/color scheme, I assumed this would probably be a straightforward vaporwave song. It isn’t though. It’s more of an arthouse, blended synthpop style jam with influences ranging from The Who to The Flaming Lips. Jam probably isn’t the best word to describe this music, as the song and video evoke more of a captivatingly brooding atmosphere than a Technotronic “Get up get busy!” dance party. Creative and unpredictable, “Gold” retains your interest while remaining musically coherent throughout. Charles Sekel, the man behind First Blush, also has some great skills on piano. So kudos to him for taking the time use his talents to experiment and create interesting material. “Gold” is reportedly the second single for First Blush’s debut LP, Monologic (which is scheduled to be out July 14th.)
Indie-pop outfit “Planets” has a single out called “Reflections” which will also appear on their upcoming EP, Colors Alive. It’s somewhat rare for an indie pop band to pull out all the stops as far as production, but I have to say that the video for “Reflections” is incredibly well done, both in terms of production values and artistic direction. It features rising young starlet Elyse Dufour from The Walking Dead in the lead, she somehow manages to give a memorable visual performance despite not having to utter a word. No complaints about the music either. Planets’ singer Rae Anna Beauford has one of those voices that seems like it was genetically tailored specifically for the indie genre. It was an extremely wise decision for the other members (Matthew Morgan, Christian Haberkern and Tim Morgan) to bring her on board. She adds a dynamic which elevates the song’s emotional aesthetic, even though the music itself was already good on it’s own. It just rounds everything off nicely. “Reflections” is the kind of indie pop song that cool people would still like even if it became the radio hit it has the potential to be.
Singer-songwriter Reid Lee describes his latest track “Arrowheads” as “soulful and sweet Americana with a country heart.” It definitely comes across as a blended style derived from a variety of influences. The song really showcases his vocal ability and I found his pleasant and voice contributes to the calming, reassuring ambiance of the music. “Arrowheads” transitions from minimalist verses to epic chorus, and Reid’s emotive presence carries the song steadily throughout. This is very high quality stuff here, and Lee’s musical training at UCLA’s music school really paid off. Reid’s target audience will be thoroughly moved emotionally by this music, and more people deserve a chance to hear it.