Feature: “In A Starry State” – The Great Depression

 

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After eight years apart, The Great Depression have returned and released their latest album, In A Starry State. The result is an ambitious piece of work that is both atmospheric and anthemic. There are shades of Coldplay-esque melodies over textured and layered guitars, piano and rhythms. There’s a cinematic quality to the music – which shouldn’t come as a surprise – as the album follows a science fiction narrative about a young girl in a parallel universe who goes on a quest for ancient wisdom.

Most of the songs on In A Starry State are mid-tempo numbers that rely on piano and synthesizers. This is big music, and the songs are arranged as such: choruses that soar and sweep. Each song is  played with a grand gesture, designed in part to take the audience on a journey. Like many concept albums – the narrative is an after-thought – the music itself is designed as a journey for both the audience and the band.

In A Starry State is as its best when The Great Depression breaks free and lets loose a bit.  The fast-paced “Hey Easy Go (Serpentine)” manages to rock while maintaining the album’s trade-mark atmospherics. With the album’s sci-fi narrative in place, it’s not hard to imagine this song as a musical trip across the stars. Meanwhile, “New Salem” contains a complex rhythm, and the double-tracked vocals create an eerie feeling.

As a listening experience, In A Starry State works the most when listened to as a full album. These aren’t songs that are meant to be listened to individually, but rather as a collective unit. In an era when the focus seems to be on one particular song, it’s nice to see bands who still feel the album as a vital piece of art.

Check out “Hey Easy Go (Serpentine)” below:

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New Video: “Take Off the Edge” – Black Taxi

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New York rockers Black Taxi have recently released the video for their latest single, “Take Off the Edge”.  The which directed by Carlos López Estrada contains some quirky animation over live action footage. Musically, the song is a blast of upbeat dance-punk with an infectious and sing-along chorus.

“Take Off the Edge” can be found on the group’s latest album, Electroshock Death Grip.  Black Taxi have established themselves as one of NYC’s most exciting live bands.  For more info on the group, head on over to their web-site and check out “Take Off the Edge” below.

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Feature: “Say Somethin’” (EP) – Nik West

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Funk/rock bassist Nik West has rightfully received numerous accolades from high-profile artists such as Steven Tyler, Prince and former Eurythmics mastermind, Dave Stewart.  One listen to her latest EP, the ridiculously funky Say Somethin’and it’s easy to understand why West has garnered such praise.

Say Somethin’ plays like an updated version of late 70′s Soul Classics. It rocks as just equally as it swings. Its filled with thick, melodic bass lines, distorted guitars and drum beats that move the music along.  This is particularly true of the title track which starts thing off with a bang with its explosive groove and catchy chorus. There are shades of early ’80s Prince, as well as Lenny Kravitz but make no mistake, this is no Name-That-Influence set of songs.  Even the covers (AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and Rudy Toomb’s “I’m Shakin’”) are beaming with originality and spark.

If you’re a fan of impressive bass playing, Say Somethin’offers plenty of that. West knows when to lock in with the drummer and provide the backbone of her great rhythm section.  But she’s also not one to shy away from showing off her impressive chops as evident on her  slow and seductive cover of “I’m Shakin’” or “My Relationship (Reprise)”.  Not surprisingly, West has been featured on the cover of several bass magazines including Bass Musician Magazine and Bass Player.

For more information on Nik West, visit her web-site.  Take a listen to “My Relationship” below.

 

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My Life in 33 Songs: #17: “The Sunnyside of the Street” – The Pogues

 

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ChieftainsIn a sea of hundreds of people dancing and jamming to The Pogues onstage, I watched as my older brother disappeared into the crowd when the band kicked into “Sunnyside of the Street”.  One moment he had been beside me in the safety of the back of the venue where it was less packed, and then he was gone.  Moments later, I saw his head poke out of the masses only a few feet away from the stage singing along at the top of his lungs.

Pogues shows are known for their rowdy and drunken crowds.  But it’s also much more than that.  There’s a sort of an underlying unity among the crowd, that doesn’t exist in any other band I’ve seen perform. In a way, their shows are a sort of celebration of Irish heritage — many of MacGowan’s lyrics deal with Irish Nationalism – just as much as it seeing one of the best bands of the 1980s.

“Sunnyside of the Street” holds a special place in the hearts of many Pogues’ fans with its memorable tin whistle line, upbeat tempo and Shane MacGowan’s defiant lyrics. You could also argue that it’s perhaps the last truly great song that MacGowan recorded with The Pogues, before his departure after completing Hell’s Ditch on which it appeared.  When the song began, the already crazed crowd erupted into a frenzy.

I rolled and groaned my eyes for a second, knowing what this meant. I couldn’t stand in the back while my brother – 10 years older than me — jammed away up front. I’m not usually a competitive person, but there was no way I was going to be outdone. I shoved my beer into the hands of my friend who was standing beside me and shoved my way into the crowd.

After getting numerous elbows in the chest, beer and cigarette ashes spilt all over my hoodie, I finally managed to find my brother.  We exchanged a quick look at each other without saying a word.  But I knew what the look in his eyes meant. What took you so long?  Let’s do this!

I was introduced to The Pogues at a young age by my brother, but at first I hated them. Despised them even. Their Celtic approach to punk was lost on me. They may have played with aggression, but to my mind they sounded too much like the Chieftans, a group who my mother loved.  I didn’t want to spend my time listening to traditional Irish music – I wanted loud guitars, not tin whistles, harps and accordions.

I watched in glee as MacGowan – only a few feet away — slurred his way through the lyrics of the song. It hardly mattered how he sang it.  The audience knew every word, and the band seemed to feed of its energy.  When the song ended

 

 

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Album Feature: “Not So Black And White” – Rachel Potter

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The path to Potter’s turn as a country singer includes being a finalist on the X Factor and several stints on Broadway.  No longer content with being in the background, her latest album Not So Black and White finds Potter coming into her own as both a singer and a songwriter.

Ten of the 13 tracks on the album were co-written by Potter.  The songs favor strong melodies and hooks which seem destined for Country Radio. Potter makes no bones about that very fact when on “Radio” she declares it’s “just you me and the radio”. Elsewhere, on the LGBT-friendly “Jesus and Jezebel” Potter makes it clear where her allegiance lies, despite her religious background.

Sonically, the album presents a clean sound with plenty of space to Potter plenty of room to weave in and out of the melody.  She seems equally comfortable in low registers as she does belting out, particularly on such tracks as the laid-back “Butterfly” and the Charlie Daniels-band sounding “Gonna Get Burned”.  The somber piano-heavy “Try” is the album’s highlight, it’s the rare moment on the album when lets her guard down and is sure to be the center-piece of her live show.

Not So Black and White is available now and for additional information on her, check out her web-site and listen to “Tail Lights” below.

 

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Feature: “Songs from the Hive” – Brian Dunne

 

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When Dunne sings that he just wants “to ride easy on the slow train” with steel guitars and piano behind him, you get the feeling he’s more comfortable with the past than the present. You can probably bet he’s not referring to Amtrak in “Slow Train”.  The music found on Songs from the Hive – with shades of Heartbreaker-era Ryan Adams, The Basement Tapes, etc – evokes a version of America that doesn’t really exist anymore.  As such, Dunne’s version of Country is more authentic than anything on Country Radio at the moment.

It shouldn’t come as surprise that Dunne’s influences include Bruce Springsteen, The Band and Bob Dylan.  The quieter and more introspective side of Springsteen hangs over Songs from the Hive like a guiding light: with references to “the promised land, and dark tales over acoustic guitar.  Songs from the Hive is more Nebraska and than Born in the U.S.A.

Much of Songs from the Hive moves along at a crawling pace, leaving plenty of space to draw the listener in. There’s nothing fast or hurried about this set. This is a collection of songs that have been lived in. You can hear the bruises in Dunne’s voice especially on the somber “I Don’t Wanna Lose You.” Even the louder songs – “California (Rock Me Slow)” and “You’re Not Ready” – never really blast off but contain a down-home shuffle that fits the vibe of the rest of the album.

Remarkably, Songs from the Hive sounds neither contemporary nor old. Like the Dunne’s influences it manages to exist of out of time. When you listen to it, you wouldn’t think that these songs were recorded recently, but rather that they’ve always existed in some form and you’ve just now discovered a hidden gem.

For more info on Brian Dunne, check out his web-site and listen to “Born a Fool” below:

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New Video: “Sunday Morning” (Maroon 5 Cover) – Austin Valencia

 

Singer songwriter Austin Valencia recently released his cover version of Maroon 5′s “Sunday Morning”.  Valencia’s version of the Maroon 5 song peals back the layers of the soul influenced song and turns it into an intimate performance that feels like a lazy Sunday morning while the clouds over the previous night still loom high.

The son of two Philippine Immigrants, the Detroit-raised Valencia began playing piano at 5.  His influences include John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaugh and Jimi Hendrix.  Valencia’s first full-length Directions is available now.  For more info on Valencia, check out his web-site.

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Feature: “Industrial Love Scene” – Great Highway

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Industrial Love Scene is the fourth album by synth-pop band Great Highway due out on March 16th. Synth-pop may be enjoying a moment in the sun as dozens of indie bands have taken their turn at the genre, but Industrial Love Scene is made more for adults than younger hipsters.  Great Highway more akin to established acts like Mates of State and the New Pornographers than any act coming out of Brooklyn.

Great Highway were formed originally in 2011, when Jason Hunter decided to create a band that highlighted great live vocal harmonies. The current line-up consists of Hunter, Sarah Morgan, Sean McAllister and Meredith Whelan.  Since then, Great Highway have made it there mission to create engaging, quirky and thought-provoking music.

The vocal harmonies between all four members of the band lie at the heart of Industrial Love Scene with melodies that will ease their way into your brain particularly the driving “Little Black Book” and haunting first single, “Smoke”.

Musically, the album has some darker shades and sparse beats that make it perfect listening for a late night.  ”Smoke” is driven by a haunting piano melody, strings and ghostly vocals.  Meanwhile “Instant Crush” is more immediate with hints of guitar, and more traditional beat. “The Venom in Me” rides a shuffling beat which allows the band to sing gorgeously against it to great effect.

Great Highway will have a release party for Industrial Love Scene on March 20th in Oakland. Check out the band’s web-site for more information and tour dates.

 

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Feature: “Grace” – Nita Chawla

 

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Nita Chawla’s latest EP, Grace contains shade of Fiona Apple, Sara Bareilles and “Like a Bird”-era Nelly Furtado. But it’s Chawla’s set of pipes that set her apart. The simple and sparse arrangements – augmented by gentle acoustic chords – give Chawla plenty of room to dig deep on songs like “Bite the Bullet” and “All or Nothing”.   When she sings, “I’m going to pack my bags and tell myself everything will be alright,” you almost want to go with her just to see what’s in store. Her voice isn’t necessarily technical or perfect. But that’s hardly the point. It’s easier to identify with someone who has feeling behind the voice.

The two “pop” songs on the EP – “They Scream” and “Fantasy” – would probably help her achieve some attention for their accessibility, but they don’t do her voice the justice the way the rest of the set does.

Grace is available now.  For more info on Chawla, visit her web-site. Check out “All Or Nothing” below:

 

 

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Review: “My Depression is Always Trying to Kill Me” – Vince Grant

 

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“The pain makes it true,” Grant sings on “How Many Times You” off his latest release, My Depression is Always Killing Me. For Grant, his music is a life-line for personal salvation. Having dealt with depression and substance abuse throughout his life, each song on this EP offers an insight into Grant’s psyche.

While there’s a lot that Grant wants to come clean about on My Depression is Always Killing Me, he’s also not above slinging mud at those who he feels have done him wrong. On first single, “Melancholia” he seethes, “She’s always leaving me for dead.”  Later though, he seems to reconcile those feelings on “Edge of the World”.  The song acts an apology of sorts for all the wrongs that has done throughout his life: careless ways, selfishness, anger and his own ego.  As the list continues, he finally seeks atonement for the previously doomed relationship, declaring over layered guitars, “I’m sorry for all that has happened.”

While songs like these can offer catharsis for the writer, the question remains whether it can also be gratifying and compelling for the listener. Like his hero Elliott Smith, Grant has created a set that is musically satisfying while generating sympathy. The songs on My Depression is Always Killing Me are well structured, yet moody with choruses that offer release. The production highlights each song’s individual mood and vibe.  The mid-tempo rocker “Oceans II” offers a driving drum beat and crunchy guitars, while “Edge of the World” is given a darker shade to highlight its tortured lyrics.

My Depression is Always Killing is a solid EP from an emerging songwriter who uses his music to deal with his demons. Of course, the very things that make it memorable also work against it. Its subject matter makes it hard for repeated listenings. It might be hard for Grant to lighten his mood slightly, but if he did it might be easier to generate more listeners and subsequent replays.

For more information on Grant, check out his web-site.  My Depression is Always Trying to Kill Me is out now.

Listen to “Melancholia” below:

 

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