Review: “This Book Belongs To” – The Liquorsmiths

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“We’ll build it right,” Vocalist Drew Thams sings at one point in the middle of the slow-burning ballad, “Iris Song”. When Tham’ sings “we’ll build it right”, he’s referring to a relationship, but you can’t help but get the feeling that he’s talking about his band and a quest for credibility.

As the singer and songwriter for The Liquorsmiths, Thams is the architect behind the band. His songs that fill the Liquorsmith’s latest release This Book Belongs To, takes cues from Americana, Folk-Rock and songwriters from the early ’70s. There’s a passion and a knack for good songwriting found here (check out the laid-back country-tinged shuffle of “Get Well Soon” and the aforementioned “Iris’ Song”), but too often this set sounds like a quest to be taken seriously.

Comparisons have been made between The Liquorsmiths and Alt-Country pioneers Wilco. At times, you can hear Wilco’s influence and occasionally Tham’ does sound a bit like Jeff Tweedy. But even at their most Alt-Country moments, Wilco was always pushing themselves forward and mixing noisier elements with ones of beauty.

That sort of experimentation is nowhere to be found on This Book Belongs To.  It mostly keeps to an easy approach, augmented by Tham’ acoustic guitar and soft drums provided by Clayton Payne. The band’s secret weapon is keyboardist Ryan Fischer who gives some depth with his playing on songs like “Devil I Do.”

This Book Belongs To is a fine set and worth a listen, but at certain times you wish the band would push themselves a little further. They’re certainly talented enough.

Check out “Get Well Soon” below:

http://www.theliquorsmiths.com

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Review: “The Mantra” – Nature Gangabaigal

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On the surface, Nature Ganganbaigal’s The Mantra isn’t that much different than his To Where Tengger Leads Me. Gangabaigal’s music is still rooted in Asian Folk music and its epic sweep. On Mantra, the electronic elements that hang underneath as a way a sort of gateway for Western Ears is gone in favor of a more traditional sounding record.

As listeners, we’re better off for it. The sounds of Ganganbaigal’s native Mongolia truly come alive in a way that wasn’t apparent on To Where Tengger Leads Me. There’s no pretense of trying to fuse two distinct cultures together, it’s just the sound of a brilliant art sublimely paying homage to his heritage.

In a way, the music found here isn’t all that different in terms of delivery than American Jazz. Ganganbaigal’s instruments weave in and out of each other seamlessly. The hand drums create more of a cushion for sounds to bounce off, rather than an anchor from which everything falls into place. The Mongolian fiddle, (Morin khuur) creates an eerie sound that at times scary and comforting with its two strings. It’s the fiddle’s sound that most listeners associate with traditional Asian Folk Music.

If you’re into exploring world music, The Mantra is a good place to start and it’s definitely worth your time.

Stream the album here, and for more info on Ganganbaigal check out his Facebook page.

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Video: “Melancholia” – Vince Grant (RIYL Elliot Smith)

Vince Grant has been featured on Leading Us Absurd a couple times before, because his latest album My Depression is Always Trying to Kill Me is highly recommended.  Single “Melancholia” is the sound of a singer-songwriter baring his soul out for everyone to hear. Still, there’s a hint of hope in the song’s arrangement and sparse electric guitars and Grant’s voice. Without a doubt, Grant is a singer-songwriter who deserves more attention.

Grant recently released an intimate video for “Melancholia” and you can check it out above.

 

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Review: “Ghosts of the West Coast” – no: carrier

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California’s no:carrier’s Ghosts of the West Coast isn’t so much a covers EP, but rather a completely new telling on some familiar songs. This electro-tinged set is full of melancholic beats and synths that bring an aura of heartbreak, loss and regret.  Each song is sung by a different vocalist who gives each their own unique perspective. The band describes the EP as the “American dream deferred.”

Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” has long been a perennial favorite, ands here its shinny surface is replaced by a feeling of sadness that really brings out the lyrics in a way like never before. Sung Kalib DuArte by It’s no longer the shiny pop song you’re familiar with but rather a lament on times past and a loss of innocence. Belinda Carlisle’s “California” is a moody piece with icy tinges that showcases the darker side of the state. “It took a lot for me to stay,” Melissa Harding laments in a way that really makes you feel her struggle.

The most interesting piece on the set is the update on the traditional Irish song, “She Moved Through the Fair”. That song has alway been mournful and sad, but no:carrier’s own Cynthia Wechselberger gives a truly haunting performance over the cold and distant music. To paraphrase Led Zeppelin, the song remains the same in terms of melody, but it’s given a contemporary spin that is really interesting and beautiful.

Ghosts of the West Coast shows that covers don’t have to be faithful to the originals to be worth listening.  No:Carrier have deconstructed much of these songs and brought out some interesting perspectives in these songs that you might not have noticed before.

For more information on no:carrier check out their web-site.

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Review: “Cha Cha Cha D’Amour” (Single) – Michael Cullen

“Cha Cha Cha D’Amour”, the latest single from Michael Cullen finds the singer-songwriter in total Nick Cave/Leonard Cohen mode. The mid-tempo song slowly unfolds like a hazy summer night. The music is dense and thick, with the drums giving the song just a bit of heft. The rhythm provides leaves plenty of space for Cullen and his band to provide jagged pieces of guitar that cut through the fog, giving a sense of danger and paranoia. If you’ve ever seen the Netflix show, Peaky Blinders “Cha Cha Cha D’Amour”, would fit in perfectly with the show’s soundtrack.

“I’ve been crashed, I’ve been burned, but I’m as good as new,” Cullen sings with just a hint of spit and disgust. You can tell that Cullen isn’t letting past transgressions go away easily.

True Believer (the album which “Cha Cha Cha D’Amour” can be found), finds Cullen  trying to figure out if he should be mournful or pissed at his past life.  You can read my original review of True Believer here.

 

 

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Review: “Vaudevellia!” – Kiravell

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Kiravell’s Vaudevillia! is an exercise in genre-busting and experimentation. It’s the sound of a a musical traveler who shoves all of her ideas and influences – jazz, indie rock, world music, elements of hip-hop – so much into Vaudevillia! that the record is practically At bursting at the seems with originality.

At times, Vaudevillia! reminds me of a bit of M.I.A.’s early work. Not so much in terms of sound, but in execution, attitude and a general willingness to try anything. Whereas, M.I.A. used Hip Hop and Electronica as her template while incorporating different sounds, Kiravell uses Jazz piano as a starting point.  Almost all of the songs here are based around Kiravell’s haunting piano melodies, but the song structures and sound collages are hardly traditional.  There are also hints of Anti-Folk hero Regina Spektor too.

Opener “Pache Mama” begins the set with Kiravell’s stream of consciousness spoken words over a soft piano which is given a harder edge with a hip-hop inspired beat behind it. Mid-way through the song, the tempo changes and an instrumental break-down appears showcasing Kiravell’s awesome piano skills. “Veiled Lady” is slightly uncomfortable (in a good way) due its use of strings, dense production and shifting dynamics.

Those tensions and unconventional song structures make Vaudevillia! a compelling listen. Each subsequent experience is new, bringing out various sounds and ideas that you might not have noticed previously. That’s the sign of a good record and a good artist.

On the other hand, because of that Vaudevillia! is not a particularly easy listen. This is not something you put on in the background (nor should you, come to think of it.)  It demands you to know a little bit more about music and music theory to truly “get” it. If you’re up for the challenge and are well-versed in various genres of music, then you’ll find Vaudevillia! to be a rewarding listen.

For more info on Kiravell, visit her Facebook page.

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Review: “Full Coverage” – Grumsling.

 

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Grumsling’s Full Coverage defies any sort of formal categorization. At times, there’s a punky energy to it, other times there are spacey jams, and in other songs nods to the weirdness of alt-rock favorites Pavement on “Downtime”.

Through their web-site, Grumsling describes themselves as a character; one who is a trickster and maker of mischief. That trait is apparent throughout Full Coverage: one moment they sound transcendent and majestical like My Morning Jacket records (“Whiskey”) and then follow-it up with a musical ode to slacker-ism in “Skyline”. The two songs couldn’t be more different: the first is perfectly executed in arrangement and playing the second is perfectly flawed in its sloppiness.

The odd-ball drums rolls and rhythms that make up much of Full Coverage are driving force behind the record. Drummer Dominic Rodriguez gives even the slower songs an aggressive edge and provides some structures to the otherwise jagged guitar lines that cut through some of the arrangements.

Full Coverage is an engaging listen, and you have to admire it’s oddness. However, the very thing that makes it interesting is also it’s major flaw. It lacks a coherency and cohesiveness for repeated listening. There’s not much of an identity to be found here other than just general strangeness. Even the best mischief makers have a purpose and intent, something which Grumsling seems to lack here.

Check out the lyric video for “Downtime” below.

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Review: “Sarah + 1, A Tribute To Sarah Vaughan” – Delilah

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Jazz-revivalist Delilah offers her take on Sarah Vaughan classics on her latest EP, Sarah + 1, A Tribute To Sarah Vaughan. Needless to say, this is a daunting task for any vocalist since Vaughan’s stature is beyond legendary.

But Delilah is more than up to the task at hand and presents a beautifully constructed tribute. Sarah + 1 isn’t a retread or a completely new take on the Vaughn classics.  It retains much of the smokey feel of  Vaughn’s classic era during the 40’s and 50’s while sounding contemporary enough to attract new listeners.  Delilah is in complete control of her voice here, letting some notes hang in the air like a soft summer wind while others go down like a smooth glass of wine. She strikes the right balance between technicality and soulfulness, especially on her stunning rendition of “Just Friends”.

While Delilah is clearly the star of the show here (and rightfully so), the backing musicians shouldn’t be forgotten. The piano, horns and drums are smooth and sultry, giving the EP a sense of romance and a tiny hint of sex. The musicians know when to pull back when Delilah pushes her harder, giving her vocals an extra sense of grandeur.

Delilah’s take on Sarah Vaughan is a reminder that the late Jazz singer had a profound influence on music in general, not just Jazz. Indeed, Vaughan’s music left a huge effect on a young Delilah who was born in Budapest, before moving to Toronto in 1988.  This EP, is clearly a love-letter from a young girl to one of her biggest idols. Even the title is a reference to Vaughan: her 1963 album was titled Sarah + 2, due to the backing of two instruments – double-bass and guitar.

Sarah + 1, A Tribute To Sarah Vaughan is definitely a worthwhile listen, and Delilah should be commended for her interpretation of a giant in the world of music.

Take a listen to “Just Friends” below:

 

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Review: “House of Words” – Aurian Haller Band

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The Aurian Haller Band might hail from Quebec, but the music found on House of Words is full of American sounds: Jazz, Americana, Alt-Country and Folk. Like Neil Young and (most members of) The Band, Haller’s takes most of his inspiration from the land below him. There at times when he references his homeland, by singing in French, but that seems more like a nod to fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen than anything else.

On paper, the different sounds found on House of Words might seem like they’d be out of place together. But Haller makes sure that House of Words blends all of these sounds together seamlessly. In part, it might be the dense production that gives a feeling of Autumn some of House of Words its focus or declaration of intent. Its stripped down enough so that every instrument can be heard perfectly, but also dense enough to give the songs a melancholic mood.

Together with Haller’s craft at the forefront, the Jazz-inspired “Sister Moon” sits comfortably next to the Alt-Country vibe of “And Still”.  Strange as it may seem, the guitar solo found on “And Still” feels just as organic as the sliding piano, soft bass and harmonica that is the backbone of “Sister Moon”.  “Do Me a Favour” might be the set’s most rollicking number, but the song’s harmonies and organ make it clear, that it’s really just a country-song in disguise.

There’s an easy rhythm to be found here, and as tightly constructed as the songs are, Haller still gives the songs plenty of room to breathe and live. Even when songs of the songs break free for several bars, it’s never aimless. The overall effect just heightens the mood and atmosphere.

House of Words is probably best listened to on a cool evening with a neat glass of whiskey in hand. The individual songs sound good, but together as a piece House of Words is a rare breed in the digital era: a fully realized album.

Check out the video for “L’Amoure et Ses Couteaux” below:

 

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Review: “Disconnect” – Monks of Mellonwah

 

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When Alternative Rock turn into Alt-Pop? That’s a question I keep asking myself, every time a new “alternative rock” act emerges, and the focus seems to be more on the pop side of the spectrum of than the rock.

Australia’s Monks of Mellonwah seem to have taken that route to heart on their latest EP, Disconnect. Every vocal, instrumentation and arrangement here seems made with the intent of creating a hybrid of pop-rock. The vocals are pushed up front and the music itself, while clearly made by a band is layered enough, so as not to be confrontational or offending in any way.

Unfortunately Monks of Mellonwah never really seem to embrace either genre completely. Their songs are too melancholic to be considered “pop” and they never really catch fire a as band in any way. Opening track “Never Been Good Enough” starts with a synth track and processed drums that could be mistaken for a remix. Mid-way through a brief guitar solo breaks through, as if to tell the listener than Monks of Mellonwah are not, “pop” with a capital “P”.  Monks of Mellonwah would be wise to take a page out of Cheap Trick’s book if they want to have melodies and want to rock. Or, better yet take a listen to Sirius XM’s Alt-Nation to see how other Alt/Pop acts have crafted their songs.

The closest they get to a fully realized sound and vision is the piano-driven title track. It’s a sort of camp-fire song in the tradition of early Coldplay, but there’s a lack of passion in it that keeps it from becoming truly epic. The vocals are almost too polished and perfected for it to be believable or convincing.

And ultimately that goes for the entire EP as well. Try as they might, there’s little for the audience to actually grab onto, making Disconnect a pretty apt title.

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