Archive for June, 2008

Album – Songs of Hope and Despair – Antiqcool

Posted by admin on 29th June 2008

This is an album that’s certainly in no hurry, with 13 tracks, each being on average around 5 minutes, for a total of an hours worth of music. The music here is very much in the vein of Steely Dan, especially the vocals, which are very distinctive.

The album opens very strongly with “Englishman Out in the Midday Sun”, which is one of my favorite tracks on the album. However it’s the second track, “Vows Were Made of Glass”, which really stands out from the rest of the tracks, both in musical content and size, weighing in at just a tad under 7 minutes. There’s a lovely feel about this track, that’s hard to quantify, but it really has that AM 70’s sound, that seems to be featuring strongly over the last year or so. “Pearl” is also noticeable, as the high pitched voice is replaced at the start of the track, with a vocal style that is much easier on the ear. This alternate vocal style is also evident in “How Much More of This”, “Just a Little too Late” and “My Avatar”, where the higher pitched vocals are used to good effect harmonising.

Admittedly as an album, this feels a little strained, however for me there is enough here to enjoy, but also to get me interested enough in watching to see how this band progresses.

Conclusion : Musically excellent. However while the vocals are certainly distinctive, they are also my only cause for concern, on what is otherwise a really pleasant and relaxed album. The vocals are comprised of some great harmonies, but the lead vocal is often very high, almost unnaturally so. At first this come across as fairly unique, but after a while it tended to grate, as there is just not enough diversity to stimulate the ear.

For me there’s enough here to enjoy and I’ve found myself on a couple of occasions just letting the vocals wash over me, before realising, so this could very well be an album, that digs it’s hooks in over a period of time.

Posted in Jazz, Pop, Rock | No Comments »

Album – Learning to Bend – Ben Sollee

Posted by admin on 29th June 2008

I’ve mentioned before my love of the cello, an instrument that in the hands of the right person, is almost able to speak. So when this album came in, my interest was immediate. Unfortunately though my interest was immediate, my listening schedule was not, so it’s only now, after having the able for a few months that I’m able to give it the attention it deserves. Fusing an interesting blend of genres, from folk and acoustic, to an occasional hint of jazz, this is an album that’s a real tour de force. The vocals also are a perfect companion to the music, clear and soulful.

The eleven track album opens with “A Few Honest Words”. A plucking cello starts the track and you know in an instant, that this is something quite different. Not too sure it’s the right track to open the album, as it’s quite a laid back, almost dark track. “How to See the Sun” in my opinion would have been a much better opener, which I can’t help but feel I’ve heard somewhere before.

For a title track, “Bend” is just a beautiful listening experience, from the wonderful use of the harp, to the great female accompaniment. This vocalist at times reminds me of another, whose name escapes me, but she’s featured on the Roger Waters album, “Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking”. Things liven up a little with, “It’s Not Impossible” and it’s here that I had this strange thought that this sounds like a Canadian artist, which I know isn’t the case, but there’s a sound that runs constantly thorough this album, that I’ve heard many many times here in Canada.

“Prettiest Tree on the Mountain” sounds a little like one of those early Elvis tracks, only not quite so rockin’, which in this case is a good thing. Ben even manages to pluck his way through a cello solo and for the first time, I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve ever mentioned a cello solo on Indie Launchpad and this is one of the reasons I get so excited when encountering an album like this. Too often people get trapped into stereotypes, pigeonholing their own tastes in music. Tell some people that this album has in it some wonderful cello and they’d probably run a mile and that’s pretty much the failing of main stream media.

“Panning for Gold” is probably one of my favorite tracks on the album. It has such a wonderful vibe to it, especially again the cello, that features throughout and I think a violin or two, it does take something of a lacadasical detour after three minutes however. “A Change is Gonna Come” is a reworking of the Sam Cooke classic and Ben manages to really take ownership of it. Not too sure about the saxophone on this track, which I think makes things a little too busy,

“Built for This” allows Ben again to flex his cello chops. This is one of those tracks that I can imagine being played on a fiddle, around a campfire. It has that real turn of the century feel to it. The final track “Copper and Malacite” again seems to draw influences from elsewhere almost sounding like it should be on the soundtrack to a western.

Conclusion : An album that manages to stand out from the crowd, for all the right reasons. A wonderful mix of instruments and music, result in a wonderful listening experience. This is one of those albums that while you could choose to have playing in the background, when you are in a mellow mood, but you get so much more out of it, if you consciously decide to sit down and really listen.

Posted in Acoustic, Alternative, Folk | No Comments »

Album – A Fifth of Nowhere – Jonny Dongel

Posted by admin on 22nd June 2008

Not wishing to insult Jonny, if “Jonny Dongel” is indeed his real name, but I can’t help but put him along side the likes of Jilted John and Buster Bloodvessel as names that conjure up fond memories. In Jonny’s case it’s the fact that his music takes me back to my last days of junior school, 1978, when Jilted John’s self titled single was riding high in the UK charts. This whole album, is full of pent up anger, aggression, love, hate and the kitchen sink. Think punk, new wave, powerpop and you’ll be pretty close to the album that is “A Fifth of Nowhere”

Nearly every song on this album, has that boozed up, chanting, singalong factor. The last tracks that I can remember sharing this same quality were Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Wonderwall”. “Snocker Snog and Shag” alludes to many a favourite past time and really sets up the album very nicely. The title track “A Fifth of Nowhere” gives more of the same. “The Cause” with it’s high octane guitar and drums, takes a slightly different turn. With it’s slightly harder edge, it’s more rock than punk, but it still has that hallmark sound.

“Sorry Simon” is the track that’s garnered much interest, especially with podcasts and rightly so. This track kind of reminds me of a Sex Pistols track, with two fingers firmly raised at Simon Cowell, the acerbic and often downright cruel judge on both the US and Britain’s Idol talent show. It’s one of those tracks, like “Jilted John” that could very well take the charts by storm if given the chance.

Of the 11 tracks here, 4 really stand out, “Sorry Simon” being one of them. “Radio Caroline” is another, written about the pirate radio station, anchored off the UK coast during the 60’s. The others are “Mighty Irish” and the track that closes the album “Here for the Music”. The other tracks are all in the same spirit and while they’re all highly enjoyable, I can’t help but worry that this is an album that’s going to have a limited appeal, as if you tire with one song, you’ll probably tire of them all.

Conclusion : A real blast of an album, that’s fun and greatly captures the spirit of summer. While I do have concerns that as most of the songs are all pretty much in the same mould, you may tire of it more quickly than other albums. However I can well see this album being dusted off from time to time and reliving it all over again, with an air guitar and attitude, but most importantly a smile.

Posted in Pop, Punk, Rock | No Comments »

Album Snacktime – Barenaked Ladies

Posted by admin on 22nd June 2008

It’s not often you pick up an album to find over 20 songs, in this case for the latest release from the Barenaked Ladies (BNL) is 24 tracks. Upon delving a little deeper you can see why there are so many tracks, as the average track time is around 2 minutes, with some tracks just under a minute and eight, on or around the 3 minute mark. All is revealed when you discover that this is an album intended for kids. This is a fact that has slipped a few peoples notice, from the comments I read on iTunes. It’s funny to see reviews on the one hand criticise the album, but on the other note that this would make a good kids album. Mmmm, maybe it’s a good thing this is a kids album.

To be honest though, to say this is a kids album, is pretty shortsighted. Yes many of these tracks are intended for children and the subject matter bounces around all over the place. While some of the songs border on the infantile, it’s all held together beautifully and man some of these songs are catchy. Take the opening track “7 8 9”, which was my introduction to this album. This track has been featured quite extensively on CBC children’s television. With it’s play on words and simple melody, it’s a track I wasn’t able to get out of my head for days, after hearing it for the first time. “The Ninjas” is pure BNL, with it’s catchy melody and distinctive vocals.

It seems that lately, I’ve really begun to notice lyrics more and more. The opening line to “Raisins” really made me smirk in a way I haven’t since I was a kid :

“Raisins come from grapes. People come form Apes. I come from Canada”

The whole track follows in a similar vain and I couldn’t help but repeat the track again and again.

With so many tracks on the album, it would be sheer craziness to cover them all, suffice to say there are many that really tickled my fancy, but we won’t talk about that, this is a kids album after all. “7 8 9” and “Raisins” are particularly strong tracks, as are “I Can Sing”, “Humongous Tree”, “Bad Day” with it’s Gordon Lightfoot overtones, “Curious” and “Crazy ABCs” which is probably not the song your kids are going to use to learn their alphabet, but will surely turn them into smartarses, should they learn the lyrics by heart.

The album ends with “Here Come the Geese” and almost feels like a Muppet song, with it’s froggy vocal overtones. Trying to dissect this album on a song by song basis is totally pointless as everyone is going to get something different out of this album. The kids will love the basic, easy to remember songs, based of course on their age. The older kids and adults will all take something totally different from this album, but the things that’s most surprising is that this is an album anyone, of any age should enjoy.

Writing songs for children is no easy task. Writing songs for children, that children will actually enjoy is an art form all to itself. For this album, not only are the songs great, but it’s so apparent that BNL not only had great fun making this album, but also put into this album a lot of love.

Conclusion : Hard core BNL fans will probably either lap this up, or think the band have gone a bit nuts. Personally, while I’ve followed BNL over the years, I’m guilty in that I don’t own a single one of their albums (apart from this one of course), which is something I’d like to rectify, as this album has shown me a different side to the band and certainly renewed my interest in them. Fun with a capital F.U.N.

Posted in Children, Pop, Rock | No Comments »

EP – Life as an Extra – Jacob Jeffries Band

Posted by admin on 17th June 2008

It was immediately apparent upon hearing the Jacob Jeffries Band (JJB) for the first time, that here was something very special. I have my friends over at the BinaryStarcast podcast for steering me in JJB’s general direction. It wasn’t long after here them for the first time, that I was seeking some review material and I was not disappointed. First time around I secured a pre-release EP, which later morphed into what we have here. This is the first of three EP releases. These 5 tracks comprise of acoustic tracks, with the second EP being made up of studio material and the third EP consisting of live material.

This EP, is slightly more laid back than some of the other JJB material I’ve heard. Keep an ear out for the fantastic track Wonderful, probably coming on the next EP. The 5 tracks here are more sedate and mellow, but don’t let that fool you, the vocal performance of Jacob Jeffries is sensational and at times electrifying. The title track opens with piano and immediately George Michael’s track “Mother’s Pride” came to mind. The more the track unfolded, the more this similarity burned into my subconscious. No matter your views on George Michael as a person, there’s no denying his Listen Without Prejudice album will go down as a classic, and I think this EP sows the seeds for JJB to go onto similarly great things.

“Fairfax Diner” is a pleasant track, but I can’t help but feel it would have been more at home on an album, rather than an EP. It has a wonderful feel to it, but I just feel it would work much better with some more content around it. “And I Say” also has a strong George Michael feel to it and I can’t help but wonder if this is more intentional, rather than accidental. Not that I’m hinting at plagiarism, as this track more than stands up on it’s own two feet, it’s just I can’t help but wonder if Jacob has come across this album in his musical travels.

“Old Friend” very much leads the album to a near conclusion. It’s hard to quantify, but this is very much a track that you expect on the tail end of a release. My only question was how is this EP going to end? In the end, “Getting There” the final track, draws the EP to an end in style.

Conclusion : This isn’t the EP I was expecting as I’d heard a few more upbeat and pumping tracks from JJB. However I was pleasantly surprised. The thing that is most apparent, apart from the great music is the vocals of Jacob Jeffries. Here lies a talent that should scorch a path to the top. Great things start with a first step and this is one helluva step.

Posted in Pop, Rock | No Comments »

Album – How Can I Make You Mine – Vel Omarr

Posted by admin on 1st June 2008

I’ve got to admit, were I in a record shop looking to pick up a new CD, the cover of this would have me running a mile. No disrespect to Vel Omarr, but this cover, which to my mind, is a little cheesy, just does not do justice to the great music contained within. Now regular readers of Indie Launchpad, are probably going to be surprised by this albums inclusion, however I’ve been a big soul fan for many years and used to be a complete nut for the old Motown classics, so when I heard one of Vel’s tracks on Lynn Parson Red Light Zone podcast, my ears pricked up a little and suddenly those memories came flooding back, which is just the kind of nudge I need to find out more.

There’s 11 tracks on the album, with 3 of those being cover songs, although none of these were immediately recognisable to me. The album opens with “How Can I Make You Mine”, and you can almost hear Barry White’s voice singing a top the airy strings. When Vel’s vocals do kick in, you can’t help but compare them to Sam Cooke, vocals that are smooth and eminently listenable. “Hurry Back Home” continues this great sound. This is one of my favorite tracks on the album and the style on the album that I feel most comfortable with. “Feels Like Love” is the track I first heard on Lynn’s podcast and at just over 5 minutes, one of the longest. It’s an interesting track that seems to go on forever. This is one of those tracks you can imagine dancing to with your partner in some tropical climate and then just leading them off to the bedroom, I can almost imagine it being used in some movie scene.

“Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day” is the first of the three covers and this is where we’re first introduced to the brass section. I’m not sure if it’s real brass, but my suspicious are that it’s not. These suspicious are further endorsed when the track ends. It’s a real shame, as this is a great track, that is pretty much spoiled by the brass. The song also has a very lame ending, which is something akin to a cabaret act. “Trouble Blues” is the second cover and as the name implies is more blues than soul. Again this is not a cover I’m familiar with, but this version has some fantastic qualities and is up there with my favorites on the album. “That’s All That Matter To Me” is again a more bluesy track and while I like what Vel’s done with it, I much prefer the more soul inspired tracks.

“Baby Please Come Home” is the final cover and while I can’t quite place it, it does sound somewhat familiar. The feel of this track, reminds me a lot of Otis Reading and I can just imagine a few keyboard embellishments here and there, as used on “Tenderness”. “Lover’s Deja Vu” didn’t really appeal to me. Again I’m not sure if the drums here are real or electronic, but there’s something that sounds very artificial about them, consequently I found myself, listening more for those and less for the song itself, which is a shame. “Stay Where You Are” has that authentic soul sound, but there’s just something about it that didn’t gel with me. This was also true of the following blues/rock track “Al’s Sugar Shack”, which just didn’t really do anything for me. I think some of this is because it stood out too much from the rest of the tracks, I also wasn’t a huge fan of the keyboards. With regard to the keyboards, the same can be said for the last track, “I Believe I’m Falling in Love”.

This is an album that starts off very strong and tends to straggle somewhat towards the end. There’s enough here to really enjoy, even though there’s some tracks that are not quite to my liking.

Conclusion : This is a nice collection of songs, especially for listening to while snuggled up with the one you love. The only minor concerns I have is at times, the brass featured on some of the tracks sounds a little too artificial and a couple of the arrangements sound like they wouldn’t be too out of water, sung by some lounge act. That aside, this is a genre of music, that doesn’t get the exposure it deserves and there are some fantastic tracks here.

Posted in Blues, R&B, Soul | No Comments »

EP – In Between the Lights – Naama Hillman

Posted by admin on 1st June 2008

While I have many relationships with artists, labels and PR/Communications companies, there’s nothing quite like the buzz of finding music by myself. Admittedly this is often helped by the many podcasts I listen to, and one in particular, the DarkCompass podcast is where I discovered Naama Hillman, who was being interviewed at the Goldhawk Sessions. I immediately like what I heard and when she mentioned the free EP on her website, it wasn’t long before I had it in my possession.

The EP is made up of 5 tracks, including one which was a very nice surprise. The first track “Falling” reminded me of Tracey Chapman. Now at first you may think this is a little out there, but there is just something in Naama’s phrasing that is really similar. On MySpace Naama describes one of her genres as Americana, a genre I always have trouble with. I understand what it’s meant to be, but many times, I just can’t make the comparison. When “Let’s Go Out Tonight”, Americana wasn’t my first thought, but another certain American, Jewel was. This is very much a compliment, both feature strong vocals and acoustic guitars. I kind of forgot about Jewel, many years ago, but the similarities hit me like a shovel in the face.

The next track is probably my favorite, which is surprising as it’s a cover, where the original is one I’ve never really liked that much, the unofficial theme tune of Preparation ‘H’, that old Johnny Cash favorite, “Ring of Fire”. OK, everyone’s heard the jokes before, but I just can’t help adding to them. Comedy aside, this is a stark rendition and a very beautiful one at that. It was certainly one I played a good half a dozen times, the first time I put the EP on and one I’ve played on it’s own a few times since.

“Glory” is probably my least favorite track on the EP, as it feels a little busy and I couldn’t quite focus on it. Rounding of the EP is “I’ll Be Home”. The Jewel sound is very distinct on this track and it’s a very nice track to end things with.

Conclusion : While I don’t think there is enough on this EP to really allow it to shine, I can at least see a huge potential here and will be looking into Naama’s work a little more. Certainly as a free download, this is a cracking bargain and I’m sure one that many people will enjoy immensely.

Posted in Americana, Folk, Rock | No Comments »

Album – Albertine – Brooke Fraser

Posted by admin on 1st June 2008

I love how great music sometimes comes back on you, even when you seem to hit an obstacle. So was the case with Brooke Fraser. Based on a user recommendation from Australia, I checked out this New Zealand native, but at the time, she was on a major label, so I thought little of it and continued to scout for other artists. Fast forward over a year and I got an unsolicited submission from one of the PR/communications companies I work closely with. I had a quick listen, and although little alarms were ringing in my head, it wasn’t until I started writing this review and doing a little research, that I realised Brooke was the artist I’d looked into all that time ago.

I have to admit, whilst I really love this album, at first, it came across as a bit too pop for me. I immediately had visions of other singers upon hearing the first song, “Shadowfeet”, names like Celine Dion and Shania Twain. Indeed Shania Twain comes to mind, with many of the songs here, as while there is no directly country influences, there is just something about the style of songwriting that comes across as similar. “Deciphering Me”, is much more my style of track and indeed this is where you begin to hear Brooke’s vocals smolder and the pop side of the album starts to fade.

“Love is Waiting” is definitely a track more to my tastes. It’s long intro and basic arrangement, prove a wonderful vehicle for Brooke’s vocals. “Albertine” is an interesting title track, in that it has a flavour all it’s own. This is very much the style I’d like to see Brooke develop and move away from the more conventional pop style. I can hear tiny fragments here and there that remind me of Jennifer Warnes and even Suzanne Vega, albeit a much more produced variant. This to where I began to get really excited. The following track, “C.S. Lewis Song” reinforced this even more, but here I couldn’t help wanting to hear a more raw version of Brooke’s vocals. The song has a great production, but I just get an inkling that there lies a much more complex and to my mind more interesting voice waiting to break out.

That old cliche of being like an onion, really does hold up here. The further the album progress, the more you feel like there’s another side of Brooke exposing itself. “Faithful” is a track, that I’d say for the first time we begin to hear Brooke’s real voice. This is where I began to feel that she was singing to me and when a song begins to reach out to you in that way, you know that you’ve found something special. I would love to hear Brooke sing this live, with some minimal accompaniment. The further you get into the album, the more that pop overcoat is cast aside, no more so than on the track “Seeds”, with it’s very mystical intro and the wonderful acoustic guitar throughout. The only slight criticism here, is that I felt the mix was slightly off and I felt Brooke’s vocals were at times competing with everything else happening on the track. With “Hosea’s Wife”, that pop influence is back, but this is more intelligent, mature pop and I actually got lost in this track a few times.

The final two tracks on the album gives us a something a little more downbeat, but in my mind, this is just what this album needs to draw it to a fitting close. “The Thief” is one of those tracks that’s stark, almost melancholic, but there’s a real beauty, with some great synthesizer lying oh so delicately underneath, giving the track a wonderful atmosphere. “Hymn” is the final track and again, a very simple piano arrangement to accompany Brooke’s vocals, with some great strings interjecting here and there.

Conclusion : While this is certainly not an album that I would have gone out to purchase, based on the few tracks available on MySpace, it is most definitely one I am glad I had the fortune to really get to listen to. If you can overcome the strong pop overtones that are present in the first few tracks, what you have left are some fantastic arrangements and above all else an amazing voice, that really shines.

Posted in Folk Pop, Pop | No Comments »