Thursday, July 10, 2014

Music Review - Harbour

Cincinnati, Ohio has never been known as a bastion of independent music. Being on the verge of Kentucky, it's often overrun with pop/country and the like, flooding it's airwaves and bars with what people in board rooms believe we should like because spreadsheets and focus groups say it is so. But there is always an exception to the rule. Harbour wants very much to be that exception. The four piece have a very upbeat and poppy feel that nonetheless clashes with most of what's been heard out of Cincinnati in the last few years (READ: since like 1986).

At first listen, Harbour plays melodic offbeat alternapop. It's important to keep in mind they play it masterfully, with a feeling of fun in every song. The beats laid down are very driving without being straight 2/4 or 4/4 dance rhythms. This drummer really likes to explore the set, laying into the hi-hat for an extension or getting tribal with the toms in verses that might be let down were those massive thumps not there. Vocally, Harbour is a bit sassy with a classic feel. Not Roy Orbison Classic, but kind of the neo-classic greaser style we see from bands like The Neighbourhood. Guitars are driving without clashing: there is a nice exchange of leads between the at least two guitars and they tend to be supported by the bass, which always holds the rhythm line. If there is one negative to this self-titled album it's the abrupt endings to many of the songs - they seem to flow on then suddenly hit a brick wall to stop dead.

Some of the stand out songs on this 14 track eponymous album include the starter track, "What I'm Looking For" (we'll ignore the intro as it's, well, an intro). This song really sets the tone for the album, upbeat and dancy (if you are into moving around like that). Another interesting track is the stripped down "Three Seasons" which features some simple drums with vocal melodies and overlays to start off, making it a pretty chill tune amongst some more frenetic tunes. Finally, "Tonight Tonight" really shows where upbeat alternapop can meet a darker side.

With a sound like this, Harbour has the possibility of putting Cincinnati on the map as a place that produces music the rest of us can enjoy. Hopefully there is a bright future for this band from Southern Ohio.

Where to find it:

RIYL: The Neighbourhood, Walk the Moon, Young the Giant

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Music Review - Bob Fera

To say Buffalo, NY is home to one of the hardest working musicians of all time is understatement. Hard work is the hallmark of this town. And Bob Fera is no exception. In fact, he is the poster boy: playing and writing music, raising about a million kids and keeping up with family life, and all while holding down a full-time job. This man is no joke.

While it started in fall of 2013, Bob Fera has managed to complete his latest, self-titled, EP. Five songs featuring mostly Bob with some close friends that often join him on stage, this EP is definitely a good sampler of the man, myth, and legend of Bob Fera.

The most poignant part of this album is the voice. Mr. Fera can create a generous number of emotions that span from awkward lover watching from afar to proud father barely containing the feeling of excitement and loss at a daughter being married. This all is accompanied with an acoustic guitar to drive each track ably and without too much redundancy. The overlay of bass and electric guitars serve to prop up the acoustic and lend it support without becoming too obsequious. Drums are a little quiet and basic. Good as a bit-part, but nothing to write home about.

The song that immediately grabs you is the fourth track, "Watch You Fly". With some metaphor, it could be applied to lots of things, but it's clear this is a song from a father to a daughter. Well-written and thought out, this could be a wedding song for many looking to supplant that horrible father-daughter song John Mayer foisted upon us. Another notable is "Passing Bye Ghost" which comes off with a bit of mid-90's alt/adult contemporary feel.

While it's a short EP, Bob Fera will hopefully find some time in the near future to getting us something in the LP range. In the meantime, we should enjoy what we have.

Where to find it:

RIYL: Paul Westerberg, The Gin Blossoms, Pete Yorn

Monday, December 16, 2013

Music Review - Jeh-sea Wells

It has been a long time since the lone acoustic singer-songwriter has attempted something with a little more gumption than "boy meets girl/girl leaves boy/boy writes lots of songs about it". Jeh-sea Wells seems to be moving back to the line of dark storytelling with the release of an EP entitled When We Die.

Vocally, the influences of Cobain come to mind, but in a way that we can hear it is from the first generation of folks that were not quite of age when Mr. Cobain called it a night (or had the night called for him, if you prefer). It's also slightly reminiscent of the solo work of Jeremy Enigk, though more straightforward. The themes are dark, the voice is a bit haggard. There is a roughness at the edge of Wells' voice, but it doesn't break or crack when expected. He manages to hold that line well. The pain of each song is apparent, but with a smart resolution, an acceptance of reality, though it may seem dismal.

For the most part, the voice is accompanied only by itself and an acoustic guitar. No fancy string arrangements or keyboard overlays. Just a guitar. It's well-played and simple, but in a way that helps you to focus on the lyrics and let go of everything but the story of the song.

The EP kicks off with "And if the Sun is Real" and it sets the tone for an album that is reflective, but do not expect it to leave you feeling happy. A few of the songs (especially the back to back duo of "When we die" and "You Don't Know What It's Like") seem to get a bit redundant. By the end of the EP, the bleakness continues, but so does the desire to hear these songs again.

Where to Jeh-sea:

RIYL: Hayden, City and Colour, Jeremy Enigk

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Music Review - Bad Religion's Christmas Songs

I'm really not sure what to say about this. It is literally an album of well known Christmas songs (and a remix of "American Jesus" thrown in for what can only be ironic purposes) by well-known punk-hardcore band Bad Religion. Yes...those guys with the famous crossbuster logo.

I think that sums it up. If you like Christmas music (I can't stand it) or you like Bad Religion (I'm a huge fan) or you want to confuse everyone you know who knows Bad this album.

This one is kinda goofy. It really has me at a loss for words.

Where to find it:

RIYL: Bad Religion, Christmas Music

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Music Review - Mo Lowda and the Humble

First albums are often a jumping point. They can be a sign of what is to come and be a little rough around the edges. Not so with Curse the Weather from Mo Lowda and the Humble. This is their first full length release and it comes fully formed and utterly polished.

Identity can be an important part of a band's development. It seems Mo Lowda and the Humble have eschewed that in order to express more in the songs themselves. This diversity of style let's them branch out and find spaces that specific genre selection might hinder. This album shows them stretching a bit and finding those spaces. Production-wise, this is a decent album. It would be nice to hear the bass guitar and low-end a little more up front. The vocals and lead guitar are generally in the forefront. Even with this, the album as a whole is still a wonderful patchwork of songs that form a whole.

One of the big stands out with this album are the use of normally neglected instruments, such as the flute and saxophone back and forth play heard on "Where the Whitetails Go". But they also manage to kick around genres and play it all capably. Mo Lowda and the Humble can alt-rock it out ("Lost in You"), play something a bit more straight rock ("The Way Home"), or put something similar to a dark pop song out ("Curse the Weather"). Usually jumping around like this would be a distraction or a gimmick, but here the songs seem to coalesce to form a loose narrative that invites more innovation and more break outs.

If this is just a first full-length, this is a band that will likely skip the "sophomore curse" and we'll see a brilliant second effort when the time comes.

Where to find them:

RIYL: Citizen Cope, G Love & Special Sauce, Kings of Leon

Monday, August 12, 2013

Music Review - Ian Marquis

Ian Marquis is a solo-artist extraordinaire. Playing all the instruments once again on his latest release Faces from the Static, Ian has moved a little away from the harder sounds on previous efforts and really embraced the 80's new wave sound that lead to the harder sounds of later bands.

This new album sees the marriage of two influences it seems: the industrial sounds of the 90's and it's technologies and the poppier sounds of new wave from the 80's (which of course gave birth to the former). With a good sense of production and each piece is in the right place. The only draw back in regard to instrumentation is Ian's voice, which can seemed strained at times, monotonous at others. This is rare though, and overall, it's the right voice in the right place.

The songs that majorly stand out as exceeding expectations on this album are "Everybody Plays to Win", a sonic anthem with an odd Brit-Techno-Pop feel to it, and, the real new-wave hit, "Paper Hearts / Paper Friends", which has some of the most poignant, cutting lyrics on the album. These songs would be the radio hits, if radio was still a thing, and would make the club remix scene without doubt. The real dynamic tunage, though, comes with "I Know Better (We Are Broken)", where Mr. Marquis stretches over all genres and makes a rocking/techno/pop/guitar/piano/alt hit. This is hopefully a direction to be further explored.

Where to find:

RIYL: Stabbing Westward, The Wombats, Ellie Goulding

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Music Review - Golden BC

In finding new artists, it often takes some digging. Luckily there are sites such as BandCamp that make this endless search a little easier. It was here that Golden BC can be found, with a new release of a 5 song EP simply titled Golden BC - Sampler

Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, Golden BC is a single man show. Brian Offredi plays all instruments on the album, commits all the vocals, writes all the songs, and does all the promotion. The interesting thing here is it appears these songs are recorded with mostly live instruments, making Golden BC stand out by not exploiting beat packs and other silly electronic drum tricks.

The voice here is the standout instrument. Brian's vocals are reminiscent of a low, methadone-induced gothic moaning whisper. At times sparse with desperation, at other times quiet with urgency, the vocals are the story teller on each of the five songs presented in Sampler. This is not to say the guitar work is not quite good as well. The percussion is, well, simple, but as there is one person doing all the playing, we can let that slide a bit.

With an EP of this size it's easy to mention every song. The record kicks off with "Afraid to Wake Up", a seeming call out to the life of staying high and letting that be a shield to living up to one's potential. This may have been recorded a bit more hastily than the other songs on the EP, it seems rushed and a bit less polished than the others. It was a rough song to start with, perhaps a bit of a gamble. "I'm Not the One You Want" seems to showcase more of what Golden BC should be known for. Understated instrumentation and a vocal line that showcases the pain of love wanted but perceived as not good enough. This theme carries over to the next track, "Maria", which is a bit of a lazy slog pinpointing the best and worse of a relationship. "Don't Ever Bet Against A Man On His Way Out" is a Louisiana pub owners dream. A down home stomper that tells of how a person can't lose when there is nothing left to lose. The final track, "Memories Lie", is probably the best produced of the EP, from a sound perspective. It breaks away from some of the desperation in the previous three songs. Unfortunately, leaving that pocket takes away from the feel of the songs overall and perhaps the middle three show the strength of Golden BC.

After a full run through, the best parts of the music are the three songs in the middle. These seem most representative of what should be "Sampled" from Golden BC and it would be good to look forward to more songs along those lines.

Where to find Golden BC

RIYL: Mazzy Star, City and Colour, Geron Hoy