Tag Archives: music reviews

The Blankz – White Baby

BlankzCover_white_baby

You wouldn’t know from their music that The Blankz (a Phoenix based band) formed as recently as 2017. Their new EP/single, White Baby, is so tightly put together musically that if I had been too lazy to read the group’s bio, I would just have assumed they must have been playing together for at least a decade. Their music falls somewhere within the realm of “weirdo pop punk.” It has a very 90′s vibe to it, not in a gimmicky kind of way, it’s just that you’d almost have to go back that far to find this style of music being put out at this level of quality. In a deeper sense though, White Baby brings people back to a more innocent era, the pre-9/11 days before confrontational politics and war dominated the discussion in our everyday lives. I’m talking about those 105 degree summer nights spent skateboarding and loitering at suburban Phoenix strip malls (yes I’m from here as well,) when our most heated arguments were over bands and girls. Our tense confrontations were mostly reserved for our interactions with the security guards about to kick us out of the same spot for the millionth time.

White Baby features solid playing, quirky lyrics, and perhaps most importantly…substance. Yes, wrapped up in White Baby’s musical bundle of joy is a theme about the songwriter’s identity. Tommy Blank is white but was apparently adopted into a Mexican family. The song subtly relates his struggles with identity growing up within this unconventional familial arrangement. It is all presented in an upbeat, fun and energetic musical context. The lyrics are extremely catchy, and if you listen to this song even once, the chorus will stick with you. The video for White Baby takes on a kind of desert rockabilly aesthetic, interspersing vintage home movie footage with present day shots of the band around town.

theblankz

There is a second jam on this release as well. The song Sissy Glue boasts some killer synth, the vibrato of which resonates throughout the song. The tone is reminiscent of action oriented battle music in old school games like Double Dragon. Sissy Glue contains lyrics concerned with huffing, but really the track is about so much more. It’s sort of a coming of age story told in a very creative way. The synth on this EP is notable because it is what separates the band’s sound it from so many other bands in this genre.

White Baby/Sissy Glue is quite simply, badass. Living in Phoenix, this is easily one of the coolest current bands in the valley, and I’m kind of surprised I haven’t heard anything about them until now.

For more info:

http://theblankzband.com/
https://soundcloud.com/theblankz
https://www.facebook.com/theblankzband/
https://www.instagram.com/theblankzband/

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The Exquisite Music of Deryo

deryo

Already established for his roles in classic groups like “The Headhunters” back in the 1970s (and since then working with legends like Carl Carlton and Rick James,) Deryo has been around the block musically. These days he’s flying solo, making his own jams, which he describes as being “funk mixed with pop and r&b.” His solo tracks carry the precision marks of a old pro, with backing music that manages to be creatively quirky in expressing its retro grooviness. I’ve always thought that the test of an instrumental backing is whether you’d want to listen to it even if there were no accompanying vocals. Deryo’s songs easily pass that test, and I can’t help but think how great they would sound on vinyl. His 2013 track, Anytime is an excellent example of this, and I just love the futuristic synth hooks on it, which wouldn’t seem out of place on a Buck Rogers soundtrack.

Deryo’s vocals are passionate and delivered with an unpretentious charisma. They are really the driving force in his songs. The lyrical themes are usually positive, romantic and upbeat, though tracks such as I Must Quit convey a sense of melancholic humility. This is in every sense “mood music,” in that it gets you in the mood to enjoy life’s experiences and get in touch with your emotions while dancing to some smooth jams with your significant other…whether in the club or in his/her apartment living room.

For more info:
https://soundcloud.com/deryo/

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hERON

hERON_cover

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.

For more info:

https://heron01.bandcamp.com/releases
https://soundcloud.com/user-110574535

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Guest Actors – By Demand

guestactors

By Demand
is a new track from an alternative indie rock band called “Guest Actors.” The song is from their upcoming debut LP Under Those Silent Skies, which is set to be released in October. Production wiseBy Demand has a delightfully full sound and is very well layered and mixed. The singer’s voice evokes a lot of emotion and dazzles with vibrato near the climactic portion of the song. The backing instrumental performance is very tight and cohesive, while the overall ambiance conjurs up a kind of “rainy day at the coffee shop” vibe. A romantic song which begins and ends quietly, By Demand houses an epic middle filled to the brim with bright musicality.

For more info:
https://guestactors.com/

https://soundcloud.com/user-880858136/by-demand

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnHdyTpGPuA&t=6s

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The Psychic Eye

Rasplyn_Scenes
The first thing that comes to mind with solo artist, “Rasplyn,” is that her appearance and her music wouldn’t seem out of place in any of the Ray Harryhausen “Sinbad” trilogy films(particularly the third movie, “Sinbad and The Eye Of The Tiger.” Her style could best be described as mythological, and she captures the dark ambiance of an alternate fantasy world extremely well.

The song “Circle Round” from the album, “Scenes Through The Magic Eye” has an organic sort of electronica backing. It starts off with a hypnotic trance and then slowly builds to a more orchestral climax. Don’t let the name “Rasplyn” fool you. There’s definitely nothing raspy about this woman’s voice. In fact, there’s really not much negative that can be said about the whole album. It really just comes down to whether you are into new age culture or not(energy healing, clairvoyance, tarot, etc.) If that kind of thing interests you on any level, even a little bit(as it does me just a tad) then you will enjoy this.
Rasplyn’s music uniquely combines classical composition with new age mysticism to create a transcendent listening experience. Her songs are available through record label
http://www.mythicalrecords.com/

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Riding Shotgun With Jay Jacobson

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Don’t you feel like you need a change sometimes? I definitely do, but that’s just the state of my life these days. “I Need a Change” is the title of what is probably the best song on Jay Jacobson’s upcoming album, “The Ride.” A big buff guy with an east coast look(he’s originally from Philadelphia) who writes somewhat thoughtful and sensitive songs, Jacobson’s style I would describe as being adult contemporary pop. It’s clean and well produced(is any music still poorly produced these days compared to when bands used to push record on a boom box and put out a cassette tape of the resulting recording?)

The main things I like about Jay’s jams are the orchestral backings and intros he utilizes in several songs. I notice this type of thing more and more on recordings. You think the song is going to go in one direction, and it turns out to be something completely different. The orchestral intros kind of remind me of 80′s film background music, like from a romantic chase scene or something. Whereas the actual songs are more contemporary pop, like you’d hear while shopping in Neiman Marcus or Nordstroms on a saturday afternoon. The whole album reminds me of soundtrack music to be honest. This stuff belongs in a love story starring Ryan Gosling and some girl. That’s not a bad thing either. There’s a lots of royalty money involved. None of this is surprising either when you look at Jay’s extensive background in theater and acting. According to his bio, he “graduated Magna Cum Laude from Temple University with a degree in Radio-TV-Film and a focus on film directing.”

I can’t really think of anything “bad” to say about this album except that the song titles could be more creative. Titles like “Maybe One Day” don’t really stand out and aren’t very memorable. That’s more of a creative marketing thing though and doesn’t really have anything to do with the actual music. This guy is a veteran professional musician who knows what he’s doing. His musical maturity and sincere approach should attract a wide variety of people to enjoy “The Ride,” which hits the shelves on October 14th.(currently available for pre-order on iTunes)

http://www.jayjacobson.com/

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Stretch Marks

Ah, to be young again, but would I want to be young in today’s world? Probably not. We had it better. Still, it always makes me jealous to energetic kids partying and having a good time. Such thoughts come to mind with a band called “Stretch” who released a video and single “Bringing Down The House” for their upcoming album “Awkward At It’s Finest.” The video has a long intro featuring some friendly hipster dudes(there’s even beard talk) wearing apparel that I recognize as being straight from the racks at Urban Outfitters and eagerly preparing for a small party.

Then comes the surprise, the music! Perhaps showing how out of touch I’ve become with the youth of today, I was expecting some kind of SXSW style indie rock or maybe some screamo. Yet it turns out to be Eminem soundalike rapping with an electro-indie pop feel. I think this is just a result of the heavy mix of genres people are exposed to today, which influence them. The phrase “What kind of music do you listen to?” used to be a defining question where people gave one answer. Punks listened to punk rock. Wanna-be gangsters listened to rap. Rednecks listened to country. Metalheads and heshers listened to metal. Ravers listened to techno. Average people just listened to normal pop rock. Those days are over, and now even country can be hard to distinguish from hip hop. Whether that’s good or bad..who knows?

In “Bringing Down The House,” Stretch has created a great video. It’s easily something I could see playing on the screen in the mall food court. By that I mean that’s it’s as professional as anything out there, and I could see it appealing to a wide range of people. The band was smart enough to feature some attractive girls in the video. Nothing worse than artists who keep themselves as the center of attention throughout a video thinking you are so into looking at them the whole time. Another thing I like is that even though the vocals are delivered assertively, the band is clearly having some fun and not taking their image too seriously. The lyrics are millennial to the core(Aaron Carter references etc.) The music reminds me of the kind of stuff you hear in a modern strip club, and the song is long enough that you’d get your money’s worth buying a lap dance to it. Pretty decent jam. I’d like to see more videos from these guys and hope they maintain the enthusiasm.

http://stretchtheband.com/
http://facebook.com/helloimstretch
http://soundcloud.com/helloimstretch
http://youtube.com/helloimstretch

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Puppet Masters Of Evil Noise

socialp

When most veteran trollish internet dwellers see the term “puppet masters” in a title, they start believing an incoherent rant about either the illuminati or the Anunnaki is coming. However, whenever I think of the word “puppet,” I’m reminded of “Senor Sock,” a talking sockpuppet from the classic  90′s show, “Talk Soup.” When I think of puppet masters I drudge up memories of Metallica and my own regrettable metal phase in 7th grade, the pictures from that era not even being suitable for a #tbt post on instagram(much like the photos from Halloween 1986 when I went dressed as PeeWee Herman.)

Anyhow, what’s all that have to do with the Noise Puppets, another electronic music project from Australia? Absolutely nothing, except for the fact that an article reviewing weird music demands a bizarre intro if it is to reach it’s targeted demographic. As for the Noise Puppets, they(I say ‘they’ because it is somewhat ambiguous as to how many are involved or whom they are, and I think they like it that way) describe their music as “weirdo dance music from down under,”  and I have to say it lives up to that description. What I noticed pretty quickly while listening to Noise Puppets’ debut album “Social Paranoia” is the diversity of styles within individual songs. It’s not uncommon for a song to completely change direction midway through. For example, the 5th track “A Matter Of Time” starts off with an almost tribal feel to it. If you listen creatively, you can hear imaginary voodoo chanting in the background as you picture a death scene from the Bond Film, “Live and Let Die“. However, shortly after that, the song morphs into spacey sci-fi “the super computer is about to attack it’s human creator” mode. The tracks all maintain this level of unpredictability, which keeps the listener engaged. When a song clocks in at 7:00 minutes plus, nobody will listen to the whole thing if they think it’s going to be the same loop the entire time.

The opening track, “Let’s Go F*cking Mental” opens similarly to the Brian Jonestown Massacre song of the same name. Beyond the opening though, they are not even remotely similar. It’s a solid way to kick of the album, with plenty of energy that sets the mood for some creepin’ on the dance floor. If I had to describe the difference in tonality between Subterralien and Noise Puppets, I would say that though they utilize many of the same synthy sounds and patterns, Noise Puppets’ music has a slightly more tribal or groovy feel to it. My favorite song on the album is “Midi Evil,” a catchy tune that seems to be the most melodic of the bunch. Noise Puppets also get bonus points for coming up with cleverly abstract titles that somehow manage to accurately convey the character of each individual song.

You can(and should) purchase Social Paranoia here.

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Secret Treasure Discovered In Wooden Hut

secrets wooden

Seriously though, I don’t mean something fleeting like the Beale Treasure or that German gold bar stash out of “Kelly’s Heroes.” Rather I’m talking about musical treasure, a little known band from Melbourne, Australia, called “Secrets Of A Wooden Hut.”

About 5 seconds into their EP, “From The Outside,”I realized just how incredibly polished their songs are. The production values are as good as anything on the radio in the USA, but without the dumb lyrics or overproduced “autotune feel” that plagues most top 40 American music. My favorite song on their EP has to be the catchy and melodic track, “The Madness,” which I listened to several times in a row. The lead vocals by Samantha Sharpe(an unassuming and mild mannered yet amazing singer) really sparkle. They carry all the songs well and are assisted from the effects which were chosen by some people who obviously know how to mix a jam. The same can be said of Heath Mitchell on guitar. Out of the zillions of different pedals, amplifiers, plugins, filters, etc, he manages to nail down precisely the perfect tone for the music at hand. Drummer Scott Murdoch keeps a solid clean rhythm without any of those overly abrasive hi-hat frequencies I’ve come to expect from indie bands that still play traditional drums. Watching their mini documentaries, you can’t help but notice that for such a talented bunch, the members of Secrets The Wooden Hut seem uniquely down to earth and likable.

If there was any area for Secrets Of The Wooden Hut to improve on, it wouldn’t be in the music but in the marketing. They need more exposure. That’s the thing with treasure though. One actually has to get curious, take the initiative and go out and listen for it.

https://www.facebook.com/SecretsOfAwoodenHut

https://twitter.com/SOAWHband

 

 

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P.A.T.M.A.N. and Robbin’

patman

Nobody is hungrier for their music to be heard than indie hip hop artists. Whenever I am on the strip in Vegas, I always get stopped and accosted by aspiring rap gods trying to peddle their CDRs. They are out there all day and all night hustling on the streets, like 1920′s newsboys yelling “extra extra!” Not just in Vegas though or on Hollywood Blvd. This sort of thing happens in downtown Scottsdale even. Occasionally I have purchased jams from them, more out of respect for their work ethic than any genuine desire to listen to their music(aside from CD’s being cumbersome to carry, who even still owns a cd player? the number of people is surely dwindling fast.)

Anyhow, this brings me to a hip hop artist known as P.A.T.(no relation to the old Saturday Night Live character.) P.A.T.(whose real name is Pat Fraser) isn’t actually one of those street hustlers. He’s more advanced and sophisticated than that(musically and “promotionally.”) The point though, is that the indie hip hop community is vibrant, determined and interesting while most modern mainstream hip hop is lifeless and dumbed-down. P.A.T.’s 15 song album is cleverly called “P.A.T.M.A.N.(Powerful Artistic Truth, Misunderstood, or America’s Nightmare.”) It’s actually aptly titled, as the album contains each of those elements, and the artist leaves everything open to interpretation by keeping you guessing as to what his intentions and motivations are. At times the lyrics seem typically smug and assertive, but you quickly get the sense that he’s being somewhat ironic, covertly making fun of stereotypical hip hop cliches while knowingly espousing some of them at the same time. The song “Pay Me” is a good example of this: “I hate workin’ for the white man…I’m just playin.’ I hate workin’ period… now I’m serious.” Pat frequently injects humor into his rhymes, with pop culture references coming from left field such as in “Legendary.” I got a chuckle out of lines like “I’m movin’ up like The Jeffersons” and a Wrestlemania (III?) analogy transitioned from a biblical one:

David to Goliath pulling out my slingshot
Hulk Hogan to Andre The Giant with my leg chop

He makes very good usage of samples as well, which provide fishing hook intros to each song, as well as backing to various sections of tracks. As such, they give a refreshingly early 90′s feel to most of the songs. He maintains solid enough production values without veering into overly auto-tuned, shamelessy overproduced pop territory. One thing I would like to see is hip hop artists choosing more obscure samples. It’s too cheap and easy to take a known hook from a classic hit song and basically have a built in, time-tested hook. The best samples should be unrecognizable except to seriously detail oriented movie and music buffs, tv trivia nerds etc. In “Heartache and Pain” Pat appears to sample the Foreigner classic “I Want To Know What Love Is.” He also samples an instrumental portion from “The Look Of Love” as well(which actually works very well with his song but has probably been sampled to death by now.) I think I detected some Laurence Fishburne dialogue in there somewhere, The album contains a lot of other samples, most of which blend in smoothly with his beats and music unremarkably(a good thing.) Hint: If you want a good Laurence Fishburne sample for your next album grab the one from “Apocalypse Now Redux” where he is singing a Beach Boys lyric.

The songs on this album are very catchy, and the lyrics are quite poetic for the most part. In “Soul Searching” he somewhat shockingly mentions that he “sympathizes with the Columbine murderers.” Probably many people would on some level, if they had been bullied or made fun of in school at any time in their life. Whether he is serious or whether it is just a lyrical metaphor, there actually is always some genuine soul searching going on when someone faces potentially dark thoughts. This is the type of stuff that ties the album together nicely with the title. Is it artistic truth and intellectual honesty, misunderstood by unimaginative people? Or is P.A.T. just another embodiment of the worst of hip hop stereotypes? Maybe a bit of both? What seems to separate him from most other hip hop artists is a self awareness and witty sense of humor about the matter. Even though you can tell he has some street cred and could get tough if he wanted to, he comes off more as a guy you’d want to hang out with and wax nostalgic about vintage Super Nintendo games and 80′s TV than someone who’s going to corrupt your children and radicalize oppressed peoples. His demeanor is just too polite and reasonable for all that. Check out his music. It’s worth a few listens.

http://patfraserrap.bandcamp.com/album/p-a-t-m-a-n-powerful-artistic-truth-misunderstood-or-americas-nightmare
http://www.patuniverse.com

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