Archive for February, 2008

Album – This Road Before – God or Julie

Posted by admin on 26th February 2008

It seems that I’ve been in a bit of a funk with regard to music that is on the rockier side of pop. It’s not that I’m adverse to harder rock, it just seems that there hasn’t been much that’s really appealed to my musical tastes. I have to admit, when I originally got this album in, I knew in an instant that my two teenage daughters would love it. There’s a strong, almost emo like sound to the album, which puts the band in good company, with the likes of Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco and the previously reviewed The Higher. The term emo has been one that is often misused, indeed I’m probably going to have a fair few people telling me this is not emo, but for me, it’s the easiest way to define the bands sound.

Opening with “Nothing Further From the Truth”, I can see no reason why this should not sit a top the charts, with out fear of feeling out of place. The bands sound is tight, with vocals you can actually easily digest.Call me an old fogey, but there’s is a lot to be said, for being able to actually understand what bands are singing about. “Waste Your Tears” has a very interesting sound. I can hear memories of the 80’s and 90’s but can’t quite put names to the memories. It’s funny, when “Bury Me” came on, I almost wanted to start singing “I am an anti Christ, I am an anarchist…” the opening line to the classic Sex Pistols track, Anarchy in the UK. Even though the track soon changes direction, I love how even modern day music, is able to invoke such powerful memories, be they presumably unintentional.

Some tracks evoke great memories, others do something akin to the opposite. “Being Human” really felt like a chunk of cheese, in amongst an otherwise great collection. I understand that for such an upbeat and energetic album, a slice of something a little easier on the ear is needed, but this really felt out of place. This is really highlighted, when the following track “Let it Bleed Again” starts, and you can really see the chalk and cheese effect. “Fallen Angel” is an amazing track, with an absolutely fantastic intro, with guitar accompaniment that hangs just below the horizon, it reminds me a lot of the Smiths, surely one of the greatest indie bands of the 80’s.

“This Road Before” really stands out, as the vocals are really clear, succinct and prominent. It really stands out as one of the strongest tracks on the album, even though it’s not one of the more explosive tracks. “White” is the last track on the “album” and again that hint of cheese returns, like an extreme case of Extreme. The final three tracks are in fact extras, with two bonus tracks and one demo. “Oxygen” really manages to hit all the right notes, with a great intro, then morphing into a sound, that reminds me a lot of Weezer. The final two tracks, “Fallen Soldier” and “I’m So Happy I could Die” are OK in themselves, but really do feel like they are thrown in for good measure, rather than being there by design.

Conclusion : A album that’s been sorely need to clear my ears of a few cobwebs. A great sound, which I’d love to see develop with even more edge.

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Album – Arthi Meera – Arthi Meera

Posted by admin on 26th February 2008

Sometimes with life running at a mile a minute, it’s a good idea to mellow out and let your fractured soul heal a bit. With that in mind, I pulled out this CD, as I’d been hanging onto it for a while, as I really wanted to be in the right frame of mind to review it. This is one of those CD’s that no matter how wound up you are feeling, it manages to soothe and relax.

A great opener, “Silty Sea” really wastes no time in showcasing Arthi’s gorgeous voice, with just the merest hint of accompaniment, both musically and vocally, just a fairly prominent acoustic guitar to drive the song forward. “Wander Away” is fairly upbeat, in comparison to the majority of tracks, but it works and really comes alive when the chorus breaks, with great production on the vocals. “It’s Not You” is a more dour track, on the subject of breaking up and it’s not until I really listened to the lyrics, that the song really came alive.

“Write It Out Plain” is a track that really failed to deliver for me. It’s all very sweet, but there’s just something about the track that feels like it’s just plodding along. “LV” raised a smile with me, but not due to the song, but the memory the title invoked. LV was often a symbol seen during the 80s, which meant that a shop/cafe took luncheon vouchers, a bit like gift certificates for food, which some companies gave out as an added bonus to employees. I haven’t thought about those in many, many years. Anyway the song itself has the most wonderful guitar track, where again repetition proves a well skilled art form. Wonderful stuff. The album ends with the elephant inspired, “Pink and White and Gray” where again Arthi’s voice comes out in force to bid the listener farewell. Talking of elephants, I have to mention the album cover, which is just a wonderfully simple, but very effective.

I have to say Arthi has a wonderful voice that draws direct comparison to one of my favorite independent artists, The Weepies’ Deb Talen. There’s also a more than passing resemblance to the early works of Suzanne Vega. All 10 tracks on this album are very, very mellow, which on one hand is great, but also the albums biggest problem, as I very rarely listen to albums like this, unless I am in a particular mood. Maybe I should just take my own advice and mellow out a bit more, I have the perfect album for it.

Conclusion : Beautiful, mellow and just the perfect antidote to the breakneck speed of life.

Posted in Acoustic, Pop | No Comments »

EP – That Down-Home Astral Sound – Bathtub Sophist

Posted by admin on 26th February 2008

I’m often making shoutouts for submissions from countries other than the normal US, UK and Canada. I’ve reviewed a fair few bands and artists from Australia, but never one from New Zealand, this I’m hoping to rectify now, with Bathtub Sophist, a name that really stands out from the norm. This 6 track EP, which is only currently available for digital download, has a fairly eclectic sound, but one thing that all tracks share, is an amazing soundscape.

“Jah Playground” opens the EP and it’s such a mellow, basic sound, that it would be easy to disregard, were it not for the fact, that there’s a wonderful fusion of everyday life sounds and a downtempo, almost dub musical accompaniment. “Efficiency – Effectiveness” , takes a female Stephen Hawking and again fuses it with a very simplistic music track, which shouldn’t work, but somehow does. It’s by no means the stronger of the tracks on the EP, but it really manages to get under your skin.

“Martian Lullaby”, unsurprisingly takes a more spacey, electronic turn, which at times, sounds like something that should feature on the Logan’s Run soundtrack. It’s also the shortest track on the EP at a minute 20 seconds. “Shanghai Sapera” as the name indicates, has a more eastern flavour, with drums that sound like those drums with two balls on strings that hit the drum as you twist the shaft. I kept wanting to hear some kind of choral vocals, to really make the track pop, as at times I felt my mind begin to wander.

“D Train” again unsurprisingly has a heavy train accent, but at the end of the day, I could not escape the persistent drumming that really made my ears appreciate silence when it finish. “Space Junk” is the track that really stands out and shows the real magic on this EP. It was indeed the track the brought Bathtub Sophist to my attention.

Whilst this EP represents an eclectic range of tracks, there is much to enjoy, but also a little to annoy. Whilst I’m a big fan of repetition, it has to be constructive and not consist of a constant banging of drums. The final track for me, really shows the magic that can be achieved and I’m hoping this is the direction that is taken in the future.

Conclusion : Something quite different, but enjoyable. If you are a fan of electronic / alternative music, there is surely something here you will enjoy. If this genre is new to you, it may prove an interesting introduction.

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Album – Self Titled – Bayard Russell

Posted by admin on 21st February 2008

I have to admit, I overlooked this album, purely because I kept misreading Bayard as barnyard, so thought it was going to be something a little left of centre. While thumbing through my CD in pile recently, I looked at the CD again and first noticed my previous mistake and then got hung up on the name, as Bayard isn’t your every day Tom, Dick or Harry name.

The first track to greet me, was “Living at My Moms” and when I heard the electronic inspired beats, I thought this was going to be some teen, locked in a bedroom with a new synthesizer. As the track unfolded, I found my self being drawn in, by the simplicity of the track, but also by the wonderful production, with the vocal and music mix almost spot on. This is one of those great tracks that really benefits from listening with headphones, which I predominantly do with most of the music on Indie Launchpad.

“Just Feel” is a real slow burner, with enough going on musically to intrigue, but with vocals that wash over you. Similarly “I Know” is deceptively simple, but really manages to hook, with it’s almost Eastern, subtle undertone. “Uh-Huh” is like one of those annoying repetitive songs that you sing as a kid, like “99 Bottles of Beer” or “I Know a Song That Will Get On Your Nerves”. However there is a real charm in it, and at just a tad over 2 minutes, it’s refreshingly brief.

“A Candle That’s Burning” is one of the real gems on the album. Again, there’s that deceptive simplicity, but it also has a really great hook, that just grabs you by the lapels and shakes you. This would not be your usual chart track, but I could well imagine it being a surprise hit. “I Will Chase You” is far more chart friendly, but while it is more upbeat and contemporary, it just doesn’t have the same charm, unlike “City Lights” which again pulls back to a more simple arrangement, which is just terrific stuff.

“My Heartbreak” is for me the weak link and wouldn’t have impacted the album at all, had it have been left off. Everything about it reminds me of that teen locked in his bedroom as mentioned in the opening of this review. Not so much of the music, but the vocals, which are flat and very uninspiring, when compared to the rest of the tracks. “I Will Make You Proud” again, is a more upbeat track, and is just a joy to listen to. The vocals again however are slightly off, but it doesn’t detract from the song at all. “Uptown Harbour” rounds off the album wonderfully, with it’s simple piano accompaniment.

This is actually a re-release from 2006, with the actual new release date set for early March, however as you can see from above, it’s actually available now from all the usual places.

Conclusion : A wonderful find in amongst my in pile. I love the simplicity of the arrangements which really allows the tracks to shine. With one small blemish in a field of great tracks, this is definitely a great album, especially for fans of a more acoustic sound.

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Album – Draw a Distance. Draw a Border – The Details

Posted by admin on 16th February 2008

I’ve reviewed many albums via the Crash Avenue PR company, but I have to admit, none has raised the hairs up on the back of my neck, like this release from The Details. I really shouldn’t have been surprised, considering my exposure to Canadian music, that this band is from Canada. Indeed they hail from Winnipeg, home to another Indie Launchpad favourite band, The Weakerthans. There is much that sounds similar to The Weakerthans, whether it’s a result of where they are from in Canada, or from Canada itself, but what does it really matter in the grand scheme of things. Great music is great music, no matter where it is from.

The album opens with “Always, Always, Always, Never” and was the track that got me really hooked. It builds so beautifully and at times reminds me of the classic U2 track from their Rattle and Hum album, “Van Diemens Land”. I love this track to death and would buy the album based on this track alone. When listening to “Reunion Souvenirs” I couldn’t shake of The Killers as a comparison. This track is probably a bit less pop and more rock than The Killers, but there are many similarities. “Burns Brighter” and “Underground” are great tracks, but they don’t have the same fire that is prevalent throughout the rest of the album.

It seems many bands like to have a gob smacking title or two on their album, The Details decided to do it with “I Asked What We Should do. You Said ‘I Just Don’t Want to Think'” which is a track name, I’m never going to remember in a month of Sundays, but the track itself is very pleasant with some wonderful violin accompaniment. “A National Anthem” is just an amazing track. It builds and builds and then crashes to an almost brick wall end. At a tad under 6 minutes, it speeds by surprisingly quickly.

“The Height of Land” is another track that brings a surprising comparison, this time to the 90’s UK band James. Not so much the vocals, but the music which could have been lifted from a James album. I also love the guitar that plays throughout the track. “Floor Plans” is an unusually sedate track, featuring strong the piano, and it’s such a sweet, but sorrowful track.

The album closes out with “Far Off Places” and again this is a 6 minute marathon, but one that is enjoyed, rather than endured. It’s also a track I can hear The Weakerthans singing in my head. A great album that shook away the cobwebs, or rather opened my ears again to something a bit on the rockier side. The Details are certainly a band I’d like to keep firm tabs on, as they have all the hallmarks of a top grade, enduring act.

Conclusion : A terrific album that opens strongly, boils away and then lets of all the steam in the final track. Brilliant stuff.

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Album – Hopeful Monsters – The Arts and Sciences

Posted by admin on 16th February 2008

This is an album review sorely overdue. I first discovered The Arts and Sciences and indeed Paul Melançon, the lead singer, via the Evil Genius Chronicles podcast. Dave Slusher interviewed Paul at great length and featured tracks from both his solo albums and his Arts and Sciences collaboration and to say I was stunned is an understatement. I was so excited I hopped over to his website like a giddy school girl and ordered all three albums, based purely on that podcast. Again the power of podcasting should not be underestimated. When I got the albums in, I was not disappointed.

While the two solo albums are fairly upbeat, this album has a decidedly darker twist. However it’s not a doom laded album by any means. The thing that really sells it is the amazing vocals. I recently sang the praises of Andy Liotta, of the Billie Burke Estate, as a master pop vocalist, along with many of my vocal idols. I would be remiss if I didn’t also add Paul as I find myself returning to his music again and again. There’s an incredible feeling of familiarity, which at times feels like putting on the slippers of a classic album, you know exactly what you are going to get, but you are constantly amazed at how incredible it is.

The album opens with “Tell it to the Bees”, which has featured on a few podcasts. It’s a very strong opener, but only gives the merest hint of the brilliance to come. “What She Kept” is a tad more sedate, neither exploding into chorus, or working up to a climax, but it still manages to be very listenable. “Dark Double Bed” is a track also featured on various podcasts and it’s hard to ignore the similarities to this track and Crowded House. “O Columbia” shows another side to Paul’s songwriting and it’s a side that whilst enjoyable, still has me hankering for the more upbeat style of writing.

With, “You are Her(e)” we are drawn back into the more melancholic sound and although melancholic, it’s hard to feel too dour and downbeat. This is certainly no Morrissey maudlin tour. I love “Gravel Queen” as the opening reminds me of the TV theme tune to a great British police show called The Sweeney. It’s a comparison that certainly bears no relation to the track itself, but I love it when a song takes you in a direction you are not expecting. “Fluoxetine” is again a more melancholic track, which appears to be about drug dependency, but again Paul’s vocals are more optimistic, rather than hopelessly lost.

With “Fall Down” I realised that again I’m going through the track by track analysis, which I’ve been trying to avoid, but each track has something compelling to offer and along with the relative tardiness of this review, I thought “what the Hell”. This is however a pleasant track, which has a driving beat running through the heart of the song and making it hard to dislike. It’s not one of my favorite tracks on the album, but even my least favorite track, would compete with the best track on some albums. “Boom Echo” is a very interesting track, with very prominent guitar and great contrasting male and female vocals. The album supposedly ends with “The Monsters at the End of This Book”, which has a wonderful vocal track, with just a hint of reverb and loftiness. With the acoustic guitar track it sounds amazing.

I said before that the previous track was supposedly the end of the album, as once again Paul manages to add a bonus track. As is usual, the track is a cover song, but surprisingly enough, the cover here is of an old Hot Chocolate track, “Emma”, a great song, that proves an inspired choice.

Conclusion : Don’t skip a beat, purchase this album as a matter of course, to make your music collection more complete. For the ultimate in completeness, also pick up a copy of Paul’s two solo albums.

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Album – Let Your Heart Break – The Billie Burke Estate

Posted by admin on 12th February 2008

When you put an album on, and within seconds it has you playing air piano, you know you are on to a good thing. When you come to the end of the album and realise that the last 55 minutes of music have gone through you quicker than a vindaloo, something special has occurred. This is exactly what happened with the latest release from The Billie Burke Estate (BBE). Inventive pop at it’s finest, which at times reminds me of Billy Joel, and other 70’s powerhouse AM radio friendly artists. “99 Liberty Lane” is just 4 minutes of fantastic pop, which if it were a 45 (remember those), I’d have the arm up and across for multiple plays. “I Want U” continues at the same break neck pace.

“Everybody’s Gonna Die” maybe takes a darker turn, but it’s undeniable that while the track is darker, it’s still incredible pop, which also at times reminds me of Warren Zevon. “Hold On” is also a darker, more laid back track, but it’s almost a relief, to be able to take a moment to draw breath. That being said, when you actually closely listen, it’s then you realise what a great voice, Andy Liotta, the mastermind behind BBE has. Although the style and tone is different, I’m reminded greatly of Neil Finn, Tilbrook and Difford and Paul Carrack, who to me are masters of their craft and I put Andy right up their with them. I’m purposefully not trying to disseminate each individual track as to be frank, there’s little point. Maybe “Perky Muscle Girl” is a little bit of a throw away track, but it’s still enjoyable nonetheless.

It’s funny, given the break neck speed of the first few songs on the album, the last 5 tracks are more mellow and relaxed. That being said the flow from one, to next is effortless. In “Skin” I can hear remnants of Dean Friedman, especially with his track “Lucky Stars”. The opening on “Dreams Come True” also has a recurring piano segment, which sounds just like the beginning of another 70’s classic, but I just can’t think which one it is and it’s been driving me crazy.

“Let Your Heart Break” closes the album and what a way to sign off. It’s an amazing track, weighing in at nearly 6 minutes. The first 2 and a half minutes are just the most wondrous atmospheric build up and from there on the track really comes together, also featuring some great, almost Beach Boysesque harmonies. Suffice to say, I think you can guess at my conclusion.

Conclusion : 2008 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for independent artists. The Billie Burke Estate has set a benchmark for other artists to measure themselves against. Absolute power pop at it’s finest. If you love inventive, well crafted, upbeat pop, this is a no-brainer purchase. Flippin’ marvellous.

Posted in Pop, Rock, Soul | No Comments »

Album – Exotic Bird – Jessie Kilguss

Posted by admin on 11th February 2008

I got this album in via a MySpace request and have to admit it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, based on the tracks I’d listened to. This 12 track album, has some flashes of pure brilliance, but also some tracks that aren’t quite my cup of tea. The opening track “Desert Song” is one of those tracks that failed to grab me. It almost sounds like a country track, from the guitar that opens, but turns into a more theatrical song. I can’t pinpoint what it is that just doesn’t hang with me, but I think it just doesn’t do anything to sell Jessie’s amazing voice. The track that follows “All I Am is Breath”, however is pure magic. It’s a song that’s reminds me very much of a Jennifer Warnes, Leonard Cohen collaboration. I love the male vocals which provide a great contrast to Jessie’s. “Lord Lucan” is also an amazing track, albeit with an interesting subject matter, Lord (Lucky) Lucan, the 1970’s aristocrat, who supposedly murdered his children’s nanny, thinking it was his wife and then disappeared. “Pulling a Lucan” became a phrase in England synonymous with making a disappearance.

“Don’t” is one of several covers on the album, which can be very difficult things to pull off. People have been covering popular artists forever, but there are two different approaches to take, either cover the song in a similar style, or run with it and make it your own. Jessie takes the former approach and I couldn’t help but wish she’d firmly stamped her hallmark on it. “The Word” is a quite remarkable track, which really shows Jessies voice to it’s fullest. As making comparisons is my forté, I’d say there is a remarkable likeness to Karen Carpenter. Not so much in the tone, for which there are few to match, but more in the tone and phrasing. In fact this track and the two that follow, “The Crypt” and “The Acrobat” are the style that I find most enjoyable. Jessie’s swings from the sweet and gentle, to the dramatic and theatrical, which while still entertaining, don’t excite me in the same way. Her vesion of Tom Wait’s “I’ll Shoot the Moon” is in fact a cover I really enjoyed. I’m not too familiar with the original, but have to admit I’m not a fan of Tom Waits at all. This however is a great track, which I have to attribute to Jessie’s vocals. It has a very 40’s feel to it and reminds me of the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life.

The album draws to an end, with “The Desperate Ones”, originally by Jacques Brel, a name I’m not too familiar with. It rounds things off nicely, with a more melancholic sound.

Conclusion : Whilst there’s no doubt Jessie has a wonderful voice, there’s a couple of songs here that I feel don’t let Jessie shine to her fullest. The majority of the tracks however are terrific.

Posted in Electroacoustic, Experimental, Rock | No Comments »

EP – Ludo – Robert Bray

Posted by admin on 6th February 2008

There’s something undeniably comforting in listening to a story unfold via music. Without wanting to come across the wrong way, Robert Bray’s vocals remind me a lot of Billy Bragg, although not quite as laddish, but their not over refined and smoothed out. This leads to a sound that is very much a the sound of someone real, if you know what I mean. I imagine the sound we get here, is as near to a live performance as you’ll probably get on CD, without it actually being a live performance.

I have to admit, I’m coming back to this EP, after it didn’t quite gel with me first time around. As music styles develop, so do musical tastes and I know it was me at fault, which is why I just put it aside for another day. With fresh ears, I have to say I really started to get confused as to why I didn’t get it first time around.

Musically and to a certain extent vocally, I keep being reminded of Double, the Swiss band who had a hit in the 80’s with “Captain of the Heart”. A memories indeed.

Opening with “A Plague of Singer-Songwriters”, the mood is subdued with vocals very prominent and pronounced. The acoustic sound is just such a delight, with choral vocals (electronic?), really elevating the track to the next level. “The Breakers of Their Own Rules” is a much more radio friendly track, but radio friendly here means late night, mellow, as opposed to daytime pop/rock, not that that’s in anyway a criticism.

“Reasons to Consider Becoming a Hermit” features some wonderful acoustic guitar, which for some reason had me smiling, which was quite a surprise to me, when I became aware of it.

I wonder if Robert is trying to compete with the Manic Street Preachers with his verbose song titles. It’s not going to be easy to remember the name of the fourth track, “A Butterfly Caught in a Web No Longer”, in fact it’s doubly not going to be easy, as I found this probably the weakest of the tracks on the EP.

The penultimate track “Don’t Look Down” reminded me a lot of the nutty boys, Madness. The main reason for this is the piano, which is very reminiscent of Madness on their Rise and Fall album. This track is also the longest on the album at a tad over 7 minutes. With the final track “The Priestess and the Tower”, we have the final sound introduced, that of a violin, which nicely adds another dimension to the EP.

Conclusion : A wonderful acoustic sound that really comes alive with Robert’s vocals. An EP that really unwinds and reveals itself very nicely.

Posted in Acoustic, Alternative, Folk | No Comments »

Album – Yours Makes Mine – Pete Samples

Posted by admin on 6th February 2008

If there’s one thing I love, it’s having my aural senses cosseted and caressed. This is exactly what happened when I put in the new CD from Pete Samples and was greeted by the amazing, if a little short track “Bouquets of Balloons”, which really appeals to my love of the repetitive. Listening to amazing sounds and music that just roll in and out, like the serene majesty of the sea.

I’ve mentioned frequently my love of what I can only call the repetitive. One of the greatest examples is the first 30 seconds of the Who’s, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” which I’ve always wanted to splice together into a track that lasted an hour or so, but just never got around to. That same itch is ever present throughout this album. “Standing Upon the Shoulders of Giants”, is simply an amazing track that has all those early mentioned traits, but also has an almost hypnotic beauty. No complexities, no over production, just sheer magic.

All through the album, there’s the unmistakable sound of vinyl, the crackles and pops, that remind me so much of listening to Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd. Indeed there’s a very strong 70’s flavour to many of the tracks, or rather influence, that combines effortlessly with the sound of the naughties. “Angered Man: Novelty Store” is probably the most intense track on the album, which is hardly surprising given the title, which certainly does little to hide it’s wrath.

The 10 track album ends with “And All the Kids Smile” which feels very much like a reprise of sorts. It’s interesting to hear so many different elements of the album converge on this one track. Kids singing, repetition, harsher sound. Although I said this is a 10 track album, on my pressing there are in fact an extra 3 tracks. Track 11 seems to be a reworking of “Standing upon the Shoulders of Giants”. I say reworking, but it’s probably just a different mix sans vocals, as it lasts the exact same amount of time. Similarly for the other two tracks, which are different mixes of “If Something Changed” and “And All the Kids Smile”.

Conclusion : This is such an interesting album, from so many different viewpoints. I love to put this album on to unwind and just let me mind go soaring. If you are into the ambient and mellow, there’s so much here to enjoy.

Posted in Alternative, Electronica | No Comments »