Album – Wicked Man’s Rest – Passenger

Posted by admin on November 5th, 2008

I don’t why I get so surprised when I receive an unsolicited CD that just blows my socks off, as was the case with the Passengers’, Wicked Man’s Rest. This year has been a truly amazing one for killer albums and this one is right up there in my top 5. In fact it’s in rare company, as one of the albums that’s I’ve hesitated to score 10 out of 10, but I think that kind of perfection has to come from an album of mythical proportions, however this is as close as I think I’ll ever get, but I’m happy to be proved wrong.

Opening with the title track, “Wicked Man’s Rest”, it instantly grabbed me, and brought to mind another UK band, Mike Skinner’s, The Streets. The vocals are not as loose as the almost lackadaisical Skinner’s, but that urban vibe is certainly present. I love the start to “Night Vision Binoculars”, which features what can only be described as one of the old Casio VL-Tone keyboards, that were popular in the 80’s. Don’t let that fool you though, this soon breaks into a full on assault of cracking music. “Things You’ve Never Done” is a really interesting track, not because it’s a gentler, more emotional track, but because it has a flow and lyrical feel that is very reminiscent of US folk Icon, James Taylor. Don’t let that put you off, this is no has been granddad folk, this is a wonderful track that tips a nod to a legend, but manages to pull off a style all it’s own. This style flows over into the next track “Girl I Once Knew”, which has a wonderful piano accompaniment, and that instrument that is like a Zither, where you hit the strings, the name of which I can never remember, but then it may just be a synth sound, nevertheless it’s a wonderful added touch.

The tempo and energy level starts to ramp up again with “Do What You Like”, featuring an almost relentless acoustic guitar, that is just wonderful. “Needle in the Dark”, features vocals that are almost spoken and it’s here that I suddenly realised the lead vocalist was English. Listening back over the previous tracks again, indeed the English access is apparent, but it just seemed to burst forth starting with this track. “Four Horses” is a peculiar little track, as it’s very much a folk song in the James Taylor mould. At first I thought it an odd track, but it wasn’t long before I was won over completely.

“You’re On My Mind” features some wonderful keyboards, almost sounding like bells, evoking a wonderful, almost wintery atmosphere, and then bang, the track is off on a different tack, normally something that drives me nuts, but this atmospheric sound returns and exits, giving the track a kind of split personality, but it works beautifully. The production on this album is wonderful, with little sounds and effects, that really feel like they’re been craft, rather than just slapped together with no thought. This is highlighted in the track “For You”, which starts of with what sounds like a music box. There’s also some great guitar and not forgetting the great vocals. I could witter on a mile a minute, about the soundscape on all the tracks when I listen back over them.

For me, it’s the final two tracks that totally blow me away. “Walk In the Rain”, has that passion and drive, that just sweeps you up in the emotion. The strings are a nice added touch. This is one of those tracks that you can feel makes your heart beat faster and for me is just sheer genius. It’s “Table for One” however that for me has to be the crowning glory, on what for me is a masterpiece waiting for worldwide adulation and accolades. This is a track that I played over and over again. Bloody marvelous.

A final note, the CD I reviewed appears to be in a slightly different order to the album as it appears on iTunes. Just thought I’d mention it, before I get the usual emails.

Conclusion : What more can be said. I’m listening to “Table for One” as I write this conclusion and I can feel the hairs go up on the back of my neck. I have discovered a work of art. Now it’s your turn.

Posted in Acoustic, Alternative, Folk | 7 Comments »

EP – Mode 4 – Robert Bray

Posted by admin on October 28th, 2008

There was something that always bugged me, when listening to Robert Bray, and that was he reminded me of someone who I just couldn’t place. Sitting down to do this review and it just came to me, he reminds me of Double, a Swiss band I think, who had a hit in the 80’s with “Captain of her Heart”. Admittedly the musical styles are quite different, with Robert being more Alternative / Acoustic than Pop, but for me, there’s just something that joins the two.

Opening with “What Were You Thinking”, there’s a wonderful, freshness and calming feeling that washes of you when the track begins. There’s also a wonderful Pink Floyd feel to the track, with an organ/synth that subtly underpins the track and a gorgeous piano that plays throughout. Robert’s vocals, are clear and distinctive, but for me, they compliment the music, rather than the other way round, certainly for this track anyway. “Optimisanthropy”, which being a mouthful, again musically stands out, with some wonderful acoustic guitar. More organ/synth interject, this time however, I’m more reminded of The Beatles’, “Strawberry Fields”. It’s obvious that here is an artists with a wide breadth of musical influences, who’s not afraid to draw from them, but also not afraid to experiment. This is a track that keeps surprising, and indeed surprised me, as it became my firm favourite on the EP.

“Lord Cornflower’s Lament” is a perculiar track, but it somehow comes as no surprise. At a tad under two minutes, it kind of feels like a piece of self indulgence, with what sounds like oboes, or is it bassoons, I can never quite tell, but it sort of provides a wonderful interlude to the EP. “Catherine’s Waltz” is a track given to me by Robert a while back and already played on the podcast. Waltz’s are not something you hear much in contemporary music, the only artists I can think of who’s not afraid to try is Leonard Cohen, who takes a waltz and firmly places his stamp on it. The orchestra on this track is wonderful, you just don’t get enough strings in todays music.

Closing with “April (Part II)”, an instrumental track, that rounds things off beautifully. I never really thought of the music that Robert played to be experimental, which is one of the genres he describes his music as, but this EP is certainly that, but in an assured way. Having reviewed Robert’s previous work “Ludo”, I was certainly excited to get this EP in and it exceeded my expectations in every way.

Conclusion : A great EP, which goes off in many directions, but still manages to hang together exceptionally well. With Robert’s new band, the Predecimals promoting their new album, I’m hoping that Robert still manages to continue recording, giving us some more of this rich vein into which he’s tapped.

Posted in Acoustic, Alternative, Experimental | No Comments »

EP – All Those Pretty Lights – Andrew Belle

Posted by admin on October 28th, 2008

I was fortunate to receive near final mixes of two tracks from this, the latest EP from Andrew Belle and they certainly left me hungry for more. The EP has now dropped in my lap and has not disappointed.

The first track, “I’ll be Your Breeze”, reminds musically of Coldplay as indeed to many of the vocals on this EP, but have a much looser feel and a tempo that engages. Before long, you find at least one of your limbs, or indeed head keeping beat. The vocals for me, are what stand out most, being very easy on the ear, a wonderful tone with just a hint of a raw edge, that really adds a nice dimension. It’s funny, maybe falsely, I was under the impression that this was going to be the title track, instead this honor goes to “All Those Pretty Lights”, which is a great track, but “I’ll be Your Breeze” as that intensity that for me, really sells this collection of 5 tracks.

“In Your Sleep”, starts as a much more laid back, acoustic guitar driven track, that slowly builds into a more produced work. Whilst I love this style, I can’t help wanting to hear a more stripped back and bare track, to let the vocals stand out a bit more. This want, is filled to some degree with “Signs of Life”, but again, the production fills in and I feel that Andrew’s true talent is being shrouded somewhat.

The final track “Replace Me”, again grabbed me with the vocals. Like the rest of the tracks on the EP, it’s a tad over 4 minutes, but it has that rare quality, where you find yourself at the end of the track, thinking it’s only been on for a short while. I also love the piano that is delicately laid down, but seems to shine at just the right moments.

Conclusion : This is a great EP, from an incredible talent. The only criticisms I have, are more selfishness on my part, rather than any lacking on Andrews. He has a great voice, and I’d love to hear more of it. Maybe on the next release something purely acoustic, with just Andrew and a guitar.

Posted in Pop | No Comments »

Album – Something in the Engine – Hotrod Cadets

Posted by admin on October 14th, 2008

Long time overdue for review, this cracking album has been out a few months, but hasn’t been totally ignored as I’ve been listening to it in constant rotation with some of my other favourites. “Something in the Engine” is a follow up to 2005’s Breaking Up, and amongst the first albums first reviewed on Indie Launchpad. Back then they were also blazing a trail with podcasters, allowing their music to be featured, when other bands weren’t too sure. This means that in the podcast community, listeners included they are no stranger.

When I find bands I’m really into, I can be a bit of a pest, I think Alastair from the band can attest with that, as I try to keep in contact, finding our how new albums are going. Alastair put up with me and fed me a track here or there from the new album, so when the new album dropped, I pretty much new what to expect and was not disappointed.

This album feels much more complete, with a fuller sound. I loved the previous album, but this one feels more like a band, than a solo effort. Opening with “Mean Machine”, just the first few bars gave me goosebumps when I put it on, as it was so undeniably the Hotrod Cadets. This is further reinforced when you hear Alastair’s lilting Scottish brogue, something I love to hear in music, as I think some bands try too hard to hide their true voice. “Satellites” again has that unmistakable sound, with some accordion thrown in for good measure. Yes I said accordion, but don’t let that put you off, as soon as you hear it, you realise that this track just wouldn’t be the same without it.

If you nailed me to a wall, and only released me if I picked my favorite tracks, they would have to be “Lost Again”, with it’s quirky wonky guitar intro (love it), the title track, “Something in the Engine”, which has that feeling of striving to arrive, if that makes sense, and “Fly” which for me is the icing on a most wonderful cake, along with the wonderful “Sinking Fast”. If you don’t have to nail me to a wall, then I’d just say the whole album, is full of great tracks, with quirks aplenty, but quirks that bring a welcome smile and a gentle cosseting of the ears.

When the album came to a close I had those mixed feelings wash over me, the one where I’m excited to hear a new album from a band I love, but at the same time, a pang of sadness, that it’s probably going to be a while before the next one. Let’s just hope the next one arrives a bit quicker than “Something in the Engine”.

Conclusion : A welcome return from a band that are firm Indie Launchpad favourites. An album that’s a sheer joy to listen to and certainly one that will enhance your existing collection of music.

Posted in Pop, Rock | No Comments »

Album – Get On With It – Caves

Posted by admin on October 14th, 2008

  • Band / Artist : CavesmySpace
  • Genre : Minimalist / Progressive / Glam
  • Sample Track Download : Closure
  • Buy CD : CD Baby
  • Buy Digital Download : iTunes
  • Rating : 8.5 out of 10

Maybe I’m an old fart who likes to dwell in past musical glory, but here’s an album, that draws on many of the bands, that I grew up with, The Specials, The Clash, The Cure and many others, most of whom strangely seem to begin with “The”. Hearing that undeniable similarity, but with a modern sheen, is a brilliant feast for my ears. On the bands website their genres are listed as Minimalist, Progressive and Glam. Not wishing to contradict them, but I would more put them at Rock, with a hint of Reggae and Ska. You could probably add to that a touch of Pop, but this is by no means a pop record, as it feels lot more grown up, but then maybe that’s my memories skewing my thoughts.

The CD opens with “Curiosity” and it’s hear that The Specials came to mind. Vocally however there a hint of something more theatrical, which I suppose is where they see the Glam coming in. The title track “Get On With It”, filled in the missing piece, of the band I was trying to think of when making comparison, that band being The Beat, or The English Beat as they were known in North America. This band fits them like a glove, but a loose fitting glove, as they manage to carve out a sound all of their own, but the influence is unmistakable, even if in all probability it’s totally accidental.

This is another one of those albums, that just flies by in a blink of an eye. Not that 45 minutes is too short a length, it’s just the result of well crafted music, which washes over you. Particular tracks of note for me are the aforementioned title track, “I Lied” which is one of those tracks that starts relatively slowly and builds nicely. Rounding off my picks for the album are “Without Thinking” and “You(Plus)Me”.

The only song I felt slightly missed the mark was “Samurai”, which has a much darker tone and a much different sound than the rest of the album and for that reason stood out and just jutted out like an awkward angle.

Conclusion : A fantastic find and an album that proved effortless to listen to. Really excited to see what the band comes out with next.

Posted in Glam, Minimalist, Progressive | No Comments »

Album – A Better Life – Scott Krokoff

Posted by admin on October 8th, 2008

There seems to be an ever blurring line between country, folk and pop. The best example of this has been Shania Twain. The country purists shudder at her name, but she’s certainly done the country genre an enormous service, taking it places it’s never been. Scott Krokoff, has that same feel to his music. While there’s nary a mention of country on his MySpace page, his style of Folk Rock, shares remarkable similarities to Shania’s style of Country. Kind of Folk Rock with a pop edge. This boils down to 13 tracks, or pure unadulterated “easy listening”. Ah that term, “Easy Listening”, something I used to think of as my Dad’s taste in music, but I’ve come to learn it’s music that’s well written and a joy to listen to, without forcing your brain to go a mile a minute to disseminate what your ears are listening to.

“I Know Your Story” is the first track, and it was this one that brought Shania to mind, with soft clear vocals, a top acoustic guitar and drums. “Friend in Need” is a particular favorite track of mine. “A Better Life” was also one of my favorite tracks, until the electric guitar solo that breaks in nearly half way through. It’s one of those things, that while good in itself, jars the listening experience as it just doesn’t feel like it belongs.

While the album on the whole, is fairly mellow, there are a few tracks, that shake things up a bit, “Tomorrow’s Coming” and “Acid Rain” being two of them. It’s also a welcome diversion, as without these tracks, and “Do You Wanna Play” which rounds off the album, it would have seemed a bit too laid back for it’s own good.

The country analogy I opened with is pretty much enforced with the track, “Holy Fire”, with it’s country style guitar, and the sound of the vocals. I could just imagine Shania singing this one.

I would be remiss in not giving a special mention to “Autumn Sky” which is one of those tracks, that kind of fills you with hope. It’s hard to explain, but it just has that “Everything is Going to be OK” feel to it. So 13 tracks and not a dud among them. This is certainly an artist I will be eager to hear more from.

Conclusion : This is one of those albums, that you listen to and in the blink of an eye it’s over. This is a trait that marks a fine album.

Posted in Folk Rock, Pop | No Comments »

Album – In Direct Communication – Unknown Component

Posted by admin on October 8th, 2008

Although I get many people contacting Indie Launchpad to submit their material, only now and then does something catch my ear, that brings back fond memories of my youth, as was the case with Unknown Component. Harkening back to the days of addled, angst ridden punk, this is a sound that I haven’t heard in a long while. It’s at times like the Ramones and then it has a more contemporary sound, akin to the OffSpring or Green Day. I do have to get a bit of a major gripe out of the way, the sound quality on this CD isn’t the greatest. The vocals are very muffled and towards the end of the CD, you almost feel relieved it’s nearly over. I understand many bands employ relatively lo-fi recording methods, but this to me is a little sub par. This is a shame as there’s some great songs here.

Opening with “Into the Sun”, instantly there’s that feeling of a someone singing, with their two fingers firmly raised in definance at the world, kind of like Sid Vicious, with his rendition of My Way. The mood softens slightly with “It’s a Fine Line” and it’s here that I feel most comfortable with the bands sound, audio quality permitting.

“Retrospectively Speaking”, musically takes a different direction, but it’s an awkward marriage of, contemporary pop/rock music, with a punk style vocal, something that doesn’t quite sit right. A similar thing can be said of “Between Guilt and Relief”, this time the track is more Ultravox or Depeche Mode with the airy synth. The vocals adapt to fit the music, but I much prefer the more edgy and raw vocals.

Towards the middle of the CD, things seems to tread water, especially in comparison to the opening tracks. Things begin to pickup again with “Identifying Interpretation”. With a very 80’s rock build up, it really comes as a relief and again the album begins to get back into it’s stride. “Brought Up to be Put Down” is certainly very reminiscent of Green Day, which is no bad thing. It’s also a very nicely paced track.

The final two tracks, “Never Ceases to Remain Unchanged” and “The Inconsistent System” round things off nicely. While I have my gripes with the sound quality, it’s the middle of the CD, where things loose their way a bit, but it recovers nicely.

Conclusion : The sound quality will definitely annoy the audio purist, but if you can look past that, there are some great tunes here.

Posted in Pop, Rock | No Comments »

Album – Little Daggers – Val Emmich

Posted by admin on September 25th, 2008

  • Band / Artist : Val EmmichmySpace
  • Genre : Alternative / Rock
  • Sample Track Download : N/A
  • Buy CD : CD Baby
  • Buy Digital Download : iTunes
  • Rating : 9.5 out of 10

Never have I had to sit on an album so long before releasing the review and to think that I nearly didn’t even listen in the first place. The majority of music I cover is stuff I’ve discovered on podcasts, radio (what little I do hear) and recommendations. From PR companies, record labels and management companies with whom I’ve built up a relationship, I often get unsolicited music, that they think I am going to like, rather than just hoisting any old crap on to me. The problem I have however is time and resources. When I got this album in, I read the name, skimmed the sleeve, but nothing really grabbed me, so I put it in the pile of, “To Look at Laters”. My commute by car takes barely 10 minutes, so I don’t get to listen to much music in the car, or rather listen extensively. When it came time to take the car into the shop for it’s service, I grabbed a few CD’s to play on the journey.

Fishing around while driving, I opened a case, took out a CD and popped it into the car stereo. What greeted me was the great sound of “The Lucky Ones”. Once I reached a set of traffic lights, I looked down at the case and lo and behold, there was Val Emmich, staring back at me. This is one of those albums, that you can’t help but by seduced by. “Get on With It”, takes things up a notch and has hit written all over it. The opening of this album is like a car on rocket fuel, you hardly get pause for breath. I say hardly, as the track that follows, “Got a Habit Now”, is at a more sedate pace, but there’s something in the way this song is constructed, that dig it’s claws in further and further, as the track unfolds.

It was when “Hurt More Later” came on that I realised that this was an album to be reckoned with. Many times, I know I’ve found something special when a particular track has me hunting for the previous button on the stereo to re-start the track that’s just finished. This track had me hunting like a caveman who hadn’t eaten in a week. With Val’s strong vocals taking control, it’s the music and vocal accompaniment that drive this song. It all builds up to a wonderful loose, crowd recital of the last verse and it’s something that truly gave me goosebumps.

“Darling Denise” is the one track that for me is a slight blight on what is otherwise an incredible offering. As I’ve said many times before, it’s not a bad track, but just doesn’t press the right buttons. It kind of reminds me of the Plain White T’s, “Delilah”, which is a track that I used to love, but felt it got played to death. “Too Far” is the track that starts the second half of the album, with a slow burning fuse, it funnily enough reminds me a bit of Neil Diamond, more for the phrasing of the chorus, more than anything else. “Wake Up Brand New” lives up to the alternative/rock label and adds another dimension to what is already a truly outstanding album.

When “We Still Bleed” started, it was almost like listening to Marc Bolan, but it soon moves onto a more conventional sound, not that that’s a bad thing. There’s even a hint of the Beatles, with the Strawberry Fields sounding wood flute, synth sound. “Down” begins with a wonderful full sounding acoustic guitar, strumming furiously, yet when the vocals start, there’s a wonderful contrast, as they have a heavy reverb, giving an almost ghostly sound. The album finishes with “Catalyst”, the aftermath of the most wonderful explosion of pop magic.

Conclusion : What more can I say. This is truly one of the best albums I’ve ever reviewed on Indie Launchpad. I implore you to pick up a copy a relive the pure wonder I had when I first put it into my stereo.

Posted in Alternative, Rock | No Comments »

EP – Closer – Jars of Clay

Posted by admin on September 15th, 2008

It’s funny, I’ve been aware of Jars of Clay for quite a time, but never really got around to investigating them. Thanks to my friends at Nettwerk, I no longer have to wonder. This 5 track EP of three news songs and two re-recordings, greeted me in my mailbox and has been playing constantly.

It was only while reading up on the band that I saw they had listed Christian, along with Rock and Pop for genres. I don’t know why this surprised me, but this is certainly like no Christian music I’ve ever heard. Maybe that’s a failing on my part, but it’s never really been an area of music I’ve ever really paid attention two. Whatever the genre though, this is great music.

Opening with title track, “Closer”, there’s no punches held back, as it wallops you full force. This is an absolute cracker of a track, which you’ll find yourself humming constantly. “Safe to Land” also has some real clout, but here it’s much more melancholic, with a decided hint of ColdPlay, both musically and vocally. “Love Song for a Saviour” is the first of two re-recorded tracks. I have to admit, having not heard any of their previous releases, I’m none the wiser, but it has a distinctly subtle African flavour, which is probably not accidental as Dan Heseltine visited there in 2002 and was moved by the poverty, physical and social suffering he witnessed. I have to admit this track took a few plays to bed in, but is now a firm favourite.

“Flood” is the second of two previously recorded tracks, again I can only take the song at face value, having never heard the prior version, but I have to admit, it’s by far the low point of the EP for me. While the other songs have a strength in both hooks and flow, this one feels decidedly disjointed. Redemption however is at hand with the final track “Prisoner of Hope”, which has an almost ethereal feel to it, drawing the proceedings to a wondrous end.

Conclusion : Long on my radar, but now firmly in my sights. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this band as I thoroughly enjoyed what I heard here, bar for a small blip.

Posted in Christian, Pop, Rock | No Comments »

Album – Goddamned – Jay Brannan

Posted by admin on September 10th, 2008

Sexuality is not something that I generally associate to music, consciously anyway. Yes in this musical world of mine, boy meets girl, marries girl, splits up, sticks together or does any of a combination of those things, sometimes multiple times and continues the rollercoaster that is life, experiencing the constant ups and downs. With that in mind, it was at first somewhat unnerving to listen to Jay Brannan. It doesn’t take long to realise that this is a young man, who’s not only gay, but has no qualms about taking us on the journey that is his life. While this may seem somewhat of an uncomfortable ride for the average hetrosexual male, I had no such worries and even if I had, man that voice can thaw all but the coldest hearts.

I found about about Jay, via my friends at Nettwerk. I received an email letting me know about this guy and his new album. I have to admit, I listened to “Housewife” with the expected preconceptions, but as these preconceptions slowly started to erode, I realised that here was an incredible talent who I had to get in for review. That being said, this is not an album for sensitive ears as there are a few things that might make grannies toes curl, in language an imagery.

“Can’t Have It All” opens the album, and the imagery is finely painted with an incredible attention to detail. The track unfolds wonderfully, showcasing some great lyrics, but an even more incredible voice. I’m not usually a fan of expletives in music, unless they add character. There’s nothing worse than swear words being used for effect, rather than for the setting of scenes. At first I though the expletives here, were a little over the top, but the more I listened to the album, the more they felt right, in a surrounding that was true to life.

With 11 tracks on the album, there’s certainly no shortage of terrific songs. “Can’t Have It All” is certainly right up there, along with “Half Boyfriend”, “Housewife” and “Bowlegged & Starving” which has a great quirky flavour to it. It’s funny, put that together with the track that follows, “On All Fours” and you can’t deny that those are an interesting collection of song titles.

The album rounds off with “String-A-Long Song”, a track that has a different feel than the rest, but it works great as a track to lead things out on.

A great collection of songs, from a truly exciting talent. Even if all the songs on this album were awful, here is a guy that could sing the phone book and make it sound good.

Conclusion : A simply stunning album, that sells itself through Jay’s incredible vocals and wonderful musical accompaniment. Certainly this is not going to be everyones cup of tea, but please take the time to at least listen to a few of Jay’s tracks on MySpace or YouTube, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Posted in Acoustic, Folk | No Comments »