Author Archives: ryanHLrobinson
I recently was sifting through my old high school stuff, and came across one of the most important items of my childhood. Torn at the edges, I found my old, stolen copy of On The Road which I took from my school’s library. It made me realize how eventful and quickly life can change, and although on my first read, I hated it, it eventually made a lasting impression on me that I still look back today on. I use the book as a powerful motive, and I’ve been drawn to any form of art that conveys adventures and the unknown. Luckily, the coincidently San Fransico native, Keith Alan Mitchell, has released recently his album, This Clumsy World, and it fills the void perfectly.
As an Americana alt-country artist, its obligatory to have the classic quick, sing-songwriter guitar shuffle in at least one track, and luckily it opens with the song, “Been Buried”, which completes this prerequisite. I can only describe the song as generic, and gladly the album doesn’t follow this route. The upside is Mitchell has an incredible voice that fits a unique niche in alt-country.
Following this song is “Swaying”, a wonderful track that fits the On The Road theme of longing. From the music alone, it’s easy to pick on this idea. It’s a slow, sweet, idea that flows like a conveyor belt, shifting from instrumental tints to timely harmonies to Mitchell’s soft voice. The simple lyrics are a strong choice, as any sort of complexity would ruin the mood. Mitchell has a strong control of his acoustic sound, as there’s no signs of accidental hits that can come with self-produced albums. He has an ear for perfection, and “You Just Disappear” combines the upbeat staccatos of palm-muted guitar strums and tambourines claps.
While on the topic, “You Just Disappear” has the chorus of a late 90’s radio tune, which I like to argue as the best time for alternative music because of the raw need to make music, and Mitchell somehow captures this image in a little tune that resembles a Barenaked Ladies or Blue Rodeo track (Do yourself a favour and listen to “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” and tell me that you didn’t sing along). This Clumsy World follows the sound of softly floating through songs that produce images of a road trip or new beginnings. The dreary roads at noon, the hot sun through a car window, the capturing of a perfect moment, Mitchell has put these words into art. “Crossed That Line” has a soft acoustic solo that flies right into the track, “What It Means To Soar”, which I found myself pressing repeat on.
Even the album artwork has this idea of releasing yourself from your routines. The artwork, done by Lena Gustafson has a dark hue and watercolour air ballon could easily be lost in the background as the colours are so close. Only until you examine it do you realize that it’s breaking free. Mitchell has found the right way to tie in all the necessities for a true album, from the visual aspect to the lyrical to the most important, the lyrical. Even the solos are on tune (and killer) with the entire albums idea. Artists can sometimes use the time to solo as a time to show their talent. Keith Alan Mitchell uses this time, especially on “Tavern Angeline” and “The Feud”, to enhance the tracks, not overshadow.
Now Mitchell keeps This Clumsy World fresh with his own unique sound of blues, acoustic rock, and alternative country, and “The Feud” is the peak of the album. Placed perfectly in the album, and the climax for many listeners, this song has everything that the album leads up to. I love the way Mitchell sings the chorus with slight aggression and quick word releases. This Clumsy World was a surprise for me. I went in thinking I would have a lot to pick on, but there’s nothing I can call out. It’s an overall incredible album that will sadly be overlooked, but it’s these hidden gems that people keep coming back to. It’s like finding that old book you loved as a teenager. It gives you hope to find another important thing that continues the nostalgic and content memories that one could look back on in the future.
Check out the track, “The Feud” below
I have a clear memory of putting on These New Puritans’ latest album, Field of Reeds when it came out and not having a clue what to think. It was a pretty long listen through, and the only sound that stuck with me was the droning key notes and high pitched falsettos. It was dubbed “neoclassical”, and I’ve heard nothing like it before. I immediately wanted to hear more.
Luckily I was introduced to Andrea Remondini, the Italian synth-pop artist, who has released his full-length debut, Non Sequitur. It’s compiled of one long 44 minute track that revolves heavily around whirling synths and layered piano riffs. It’s an interesting concept, combining true classical music with the European dance-floor sound. Remondini walks a fine line the entire time, finding a balance between sounding innovative and sounding cheesy.
From the beginning, Remondini falls into the “cheesy” category, but quickly recovers at about the 5 minute mark. What Remondini does well is creating that epic sound many concept albums fail to produce. I’m brought back to a medieval theme every time the synth produces a choir track overtop the galloping pianos. It’s hard to nail down one influence Remondini has, as there’s tons of different levels to this monster piece, but I can’t get out of my mind Mike Oldfield’s 1973 album, Tubular Bells. It’s a great progressive rock album, and Remondini has taken the innovative and forward-thinking sound that Oldfield originated, along with King Crimson.
Even though this is more of a neoclassical, synth-pop album, there’s a progressive influence found in structure of the piece. It’s long, divided with multiple ages of noise packed into one, incredibly layered compilation of the musician’s art. Remondini uses the quiet sections to show how dynamically sound he is, breaking from a slow, steady pace that resembles a marching band, to an upbeat, DDR track. Sadly, that’s where Remondini fails.
What probably is fun to play sounds forced to the ear. His rock beat drums and back & forth piano licks that are frequently placed in the album bring me back to the flash games I used to play as a kid on my parents computer. It’s almost uncanny how identical some of these riffs are. Many might find these catchy and fun, but I could not shake for the life of me these nostalgic memories. In a way, that is a plus in itself. The title of the album fits perfectly, as sometimes I wonder where this piece is going, and for the most part it leads to a logical conclusion.
The riff that is found throughout the entire piece is perfectly timed. It’s found strictly in the slower sections of the album, and I really do think it’s a strong hook. Remondini knew that this was the selling point to this album, but I wish it opened the entire album. Having the knock off DDR riff open Non Sequitur only turned me off on a first run through. Listeners and fans should note that a sit through will be a rewarding listen. To make matters easier if one isn’t enjoying the upbeat sections, think back to the sounds of the arcade scene in Lost In Translation. I immediately felt better and found these parts very cheesy, and somewhat enjoyable. Luckily Andrea Remondini knows how to keep the album mostly innovative and not forced. I’m now stuck on where to go next to get my fix of neoclassical synth-pop.
Check out a clip from the full album below!
Summer is here. Cue the niche releases that will be played for two or three months out of happiness, and then after they’ll be played out of nostalgia and sadness. It’s a broad and cryptic way to describe that one album that sums up the feeling of the hottest season, but I have a specific album in mind when I think of the past few years of July and August, and that would be Days by Real Estate. For the past three years, Real Estate has dominated the small time indie scene with this record. It’s everybody’s favourite alternative record to anything by Vampire Weekend, and bands are beginning to jump on board to be ‘that summer band’.
Eric Frisch has the same thing in mind. Creating iconic pop tunes in New York in hopes that they’ll connect with a faithful audience. Originally from Toronto, he’s migrated down south to pursue music as his main goals. I place him into the category of wanting to make impression summer tunes, because, well, that’s exactly what they sound like. Goodbye Birdcage is the singer-songwriter’s new full length release that has throwback ties to the 50’s/60’s era of pop music.
With titles like, “Pretty Girls”, or “Stick Around”, it’s easy to spot where the simplicity comes on the surface. It’s easy to miss the complexity of adding in horn sections and blasting dynamics when Frisch’s acoustic leads the rhythmic way. “Pretty Girls” is the forefront of the entire album, and I wish I had more focus on the use of horns. Nonetheless, Frisch’s unique twist on a relatable genre for many people by the addition of he nonchalant attitude in his singing is a great perk.
Goodbye Birdcage is a warm, fun album. At only 31 minutes, it’s a solid album to have playing as the sun starts to fade away on a sandy beach. The clean, fun-loving sound has a typical underlying theme of sadness which is surpassed by the overall jumpy, relaxed vibe of the album. “Telephone” is easily the most apparent song that displays sadness, and it’s not even that upsetting. “Learn To Swim” reminiscences sounds from a local Vancouver band, Said The Whale, who are the local god’s of summer rock, and “Goodbye Birdcage”, although an incredible track, could’ve used better production and less reverb because the attempt at literally sounding 50’s is tacky. There’s an upside to this, and that’s the assumption that seeing this song live will be killer.
Eric played most all the instruments on this album and mixed them himself, which that alone deserves an accolade. The man has knowledge on what a good album sounds like, and it works most all the time on here (except for “Goodbye Birdcage”, but I assume it’ll grow on me). “The Sun in Santiago” is chalk-full of the surf-rock of the 60’s and literally sounds like a Beach Boys cover mixed with Typhoon’s melodic overloads. An incredible track.
While there’s going to be an insane amount of releases in the next couple of months, don’t let the underground names fly over your head. Give Eric Frisch’s release a listen. A solid album that fits well into the canon of 2014 summer albums with a unique and fun vibe that is hard to find in today’s over saturated acoustic singer-songwriter genre. Goodbye Birdcage sets itself apart by being itself and not forcing other sounds in, which is a hard task for most musicians today because everyone wants to be other people. Frisch embraces himself and for that he releases a great record with amazing album art. Sorry. Had to say that some point in this review.
Check out the video for “Pretty Girls” below!
I never grew up in the presence of blues and I wish I did. I mean, there were times where I heard a tradeoff blues song covered by rock musician like The Allman Brothers or Jeff Beck, but there wasn’t a time until I discovered my own music that I had a true blues artist. I remember hearing Live at Regal Hall by B.B. King for the first time and falling off my chair, absolutely amazed by the power of the music. The solos, the crooning, the tone of the guitar and voice working together. It was as if I heard music through new ears. As I dived further, I found Moanin‘ in the Moolight by Howlin’ Wolf, which to some is the greatest album ever made.
Tomás Doncker and his band surely found it impactful, as they’ve dedicated an entire album to this release and Howlin’ Wolf in general. What they have in common the most is Doncker’s powerful voice, which relates to the original Howlin’ Wolf. Not to mention the production us also clearer, but let’s take away some of the unfair variables. To compare, Moanin’ At Midnight is a modern recreation of what Howlin’ Wolf would have wanted to release if he was still kicking today.
The addition of a fuller band also allows for more versatility when it comes to working around a blues arrangement. Doncker is backed by some of the most creative musicians you’ve never heard of. Mark Henry on Sax, Damon Duewhite and Michael Faulkner on drums, David Barnes adding in some crazy harmonica, especially on the cover of “Evil”, and many others who kill it time after time on these tracks. It’s easy to believe these guys were raised from the get-go on blues and lived this album for the recording process. The soulfulness of songs like, “Killing Floor”, and “Spoonful” had me grooving in my chair while sifting through my life. It made everything I did enjoyable, and that’s a compliment.
What Moain’ At Midnight fails to do is create an innovation that hasn’t already been heard. I could write all day about how amazing these artists are, or how awesome solo was. Anyone who has or will listen to this album knows what I’m talking about. What I was hoping for was something new or something I haven’t heard yet in blues. There’s so many great and timeless aspects about the genre, but it’s been pigeonholed into a niche sound. Tomás Doncker and his band have an opportunity to change that. They have a good thing going for them, and they know themselves as musicians. I just wanted a change in sound from the usual blues.
Now this is a solid album. Everything flows at ease, with Doncker leading the way with pride. In a way, it was doomed to be innovative from the start by being a tribute album to a musician, who at his time, was innovative. Nonetheless, everybody in this album lays it all on the line for the songs they play. Howlin’ Wolf is grooving in his grave for this wonderful tribute to a timeless musician.
The album is released June 8th on True Groove Records, but stream it below:
If there’s one band that controlled melancholy and sadness in the 21st century, it would be The Antlers. While the 90’s was about the anger and rebellion for many youths, the 2000’s are about trying to capture that feeling with a different sound. Arcade Fire completed this with the 2004 masterpiece, Funeral, and The Strokes did it three years earlier with, Is This It, the real destructive masterpiece of the decade came in 2009 with Hospice. There isn’t an album released with the same amount of critical acclaim to tears ratio in my lifetime, with the only other contender being Diamond Mine by King Creosote and Jon Hopkins.
Fans of these Brooklyn indie-rockers have been waiting for a release that can compare to Hospice, but the band has taken a different direction over the past few years. With the 2011 release, Burst Apart, the band was showcasing their side as tight-knit members of a traditional indie rock band. Although it was solid, it was forgettable for the most part. Then an EP came providing fan with a side as a clean cut, jazzy, atmospheric dream-pop group using silence as their best tool. It was until now that we see a completely different side to the band.
Familiars is a terrible name for an album. It was a horrible choice because when a band decides to take a different stance on a winning method of sound, then title an album “familiars”, it throws off listeners. But what The Antlers due similarly is grasp the understanding of sadness and put it into a realm of no other. Familiars is their darkest, dreariest album released in other ways than before, due to the overall feelings released while tackling the album. I questioned by existence about 6 times during the opener, “Palace”, alone, which isn’t exactly different from other Antlers.
Like Undersea, an EP from the band released two years ago, this album is remarkable slower. Bringing back themes from Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad, it has everything from solemn horns, to syncopated drum beats with well placed jazzy piano keys. It tries to capture the dream-pop sound and convey it into a unique album. Vocally, this release is extremely strong. Peter Silberman’s falsettos are clearer than ever and they’ve been a highlight throughout The Antlers entire career. “Hotel” is a prime example of how masterful the band is of playing off each other using techniques they’ve never tried in the past. Getting a horn section to climb overtop the already massive landscape of noise is the cherry on top of a song that already is knees deep in depth. The entire album follows this structure, with many diverse sections to each song. There could be, for example, a sweet guitar riff that happens exactly once, but then it might be repeated later by horns, but because there’s already a strong drum beat and clear-cut singing, it’s lost underneath.
Normally this is a negative aspect to an album, but because this album is very easy to listen to at any time of the day with any emotional state, the draw to re-listen is extremely high. It’s a very familiar album in many ways to Destroyer’s epic, Kaputt, because of the content and nostalgic themes presented throughout a listen. “Stat” is a song thats forgettable from the get-go, but after a few enjoyable listens, I began to pick apart and remember the many parts I loved. Not to mention the opener, “Palace”, is the saddest, most internally wrenching song released since “Epilogue”. Any Antler fans will know exactly what I’m talking about.
As a whole, this album is very pleasant, but on a deeper level it’s damn heart-breaking. Don’t get caught up in all the la-di-da of the slow song tempos and nostalgic interplay between instruments. Familiars is meant to trick you. When the time comes when the eyes require some tears, throw on Familiars and just listen. It’ll happen. Silberman is a man who conveys many emotions out of a listener, and when you reach “Intruders”, the salty waterfalls will subconsciously happen. I guarantee this with my life.
Familiars is to be released June 16 on ANTI- in the US, and Transgressive Records in the UK
Life sucks, I understand. Many of the most important decisions come at an age where the brain hasn’t fully developed to make rational decisions. The irony behind setting out on a plan to make the life defining choices when the maximum potential for making the choice hasn’t been reached yet is unbelievable. At 19, deciding whether to spend the incredible amount of money to attend college or not isn’t a pleasant choice. We’ve all been faced with blindly following our paths because some elective course in high school “..sorta interested me?”. We’re also at the age where our kids, younger brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces are heading full speed into these choices. What captures me is how they cope with it. I naturally turned to music as an escape from my future. Pavement, Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, and especially Archers of Loaf were my leaders in deciding the key moments of my young life.
It’s been growing stale, having the same old bands breaking up, and ultimately forced into replaying old albums. Cloud Nothings have been one of the few bands that capture the essence of the 90’s alternative rock scene, and doing so accurately. They’re aggressive, in your face, and lo-fi. With the release of the incredible Attack On Memory 2012, I finally heard something that defines the term nostalgia. It’s now 2014, I’m two years older, and Cloud Nothings have released the follow-up album, Here and Nowhere Else.
How is it? Well, it’s even better. At a speedy 31 minutes, the band packs an insane amount of content in. Their aggressive, distorted sound is very tight. Hearing that Steve Albini didn’t produce this album scared me a little, but it helps to have a change of pace. The production is still top notch (which means it’s even shittier for the sound). The drums strike resonance that blare into the listeners ear like a gun shot. Opening with “Now Here In”, they charge full speed in using every technique they’ve grown in this very song.
Dylan Baldi has surpassed any expectations set out for him when he started this solo project. They noisey, grungy singer has developed a perfect voice that’s comparable to Stephan Malkmus of Pavement. He’s a defining character in indie rock who let’s loose on songs like “Quieter Today”, which showcases the bands tempo-changing noise rock, and “Giving Into Seeing”, the loudest of the eight songs. They play within a certain distinct sound, but keep the overall sound fresh with “Psychic Trauma”, which many first time listeners will love. They noise pop opening of sweet sounding chords jumps right into a screaming match between the guitars, drums, and Baldi’s amazing voice.
Like Attack On Memory, they keep the addition of a longer song alive with “Pattern Walks”. It feels better placed in the track listing now, as the listener is eased into the monster that is this song. Sprawling seven and a half minutes, it doesn’t change much. Whether it’s a change of hook near the end, or an instrumental section, the bass driven track flows smoothly (if ‘smoothly’ correctly describes Cloud Nothings) from section to section. Baldi also mentioned that he was planning to make this album darker, and it’s very noticeable. There’s no light anywhere on these songs. Even the single, “I’m Not Part Of Me”, has sucked out any form of positive energy and transferred into musical rage. It’s beautiful.
I have to admit, Cloud Nothings have challenged themselves to grow as a band and musicians, and they have. Even as song-writers, they’ve improved. Baldi’s lyrics strike a chord for a stronger element on Here and Nowhere Else. On the final track, “I’m Not Part Of Me”, Baldi keeps the simplicity of 90’s alternative lyrics, but strengthens the words by using such incredible energy to leverage his disbelief of a broken relationship by writing, “Leave it all to memory of / What we did when we were young and / Now you could just leave me on my own”. He’ll connect with a lot of fans for what he sings instead of how he sings.
To many people picking up and trying out Here and Nowhere Else, they’ll dedicate many hours, car rides, lonely walks, and tough nights to Cloud Nothings. They’ve released an album that resonates with a younger age group of indie rockers the same way Sonic Youth or Pavement defined an entire decade of music. Dylan Baldi won’t understand the impact of releasing an album like this, as for him, this album is him releasing unset emotions through an art form. For the many who give this a try, it’s a defining album that showcases itself in the listeners darkest times. Hopefully, it brings them the escape that many of us needed in the toughest challenges we’ve faced so far. At the end of the day, though, Cloud Nothings are just a band with an amazing album.
I recently embarked on a cultural exchange to Japan. After a tedious set of arrangements from a brutal plane ride to an awful hangover from time change, I arrived in Tokyo. If anyone has seen Sofia Coppola’s incredible movie, Lost In Translation, I felt the need to recreate the opening scene. I blasted My Bloody Valentine through my headphones as I whizzed through the Shinjuku district, dazed by the overwhelming feeling of loneliness. It’s quite accurate, but I felt the soundtrack was misplaced. I decided to put on The Cure instead, and immediately felt the British Gothic Rock was better fitting.
I was recently given the new no:carrier album, Wisdom & Failure, as soon as I left, and gave it a whirl when I arrived at my hotel. My room was a 3 bedroom room with 7 strangers squished in. It was placed on the 18th floor of an empty sky scrapper in Tokyo, with a view that almost put me into tears. Where does one begin in a city so big? I indulged into the background notes of no:carrier, and it soon served as my anthem for city trekking in a lost world.
Every song on this album is constructed to be played firmly. The duo feeds off of each other so well, and they never stop with energy until the final note is played. The opener, “Alone Now”, serves as a strong starting point for an album, with a Florence + The Machine sounding croon, along with jingly keys and heavy horns. It feels as if they demand the listener to apply the song to the scenario they’re in, whether its in relaxing after work, or lost in Japan with no agenda. “Confession” follows the same path. Noted as the single of the album, I wish it wasn’t as tailored to a certain audience, and no:carrier holds back on the subtle experimentation they tend to have on tracks. It seemed bland to me.
The third track is promising. “Life” dips in the 80’s space rock, which has been applied to other bands today (Spiritualized, Galaxie 500), although this songs really commits to the original, vintage, true to form sound. I connected with “Sunset Castle” the most while I wandered Tokyo during sunset. The slightly oriental keys felt frosted against the incredible voice of Cynthia Wechselberger, (I may have placebo effect of music).
Two songs that I felt similar were “Losing Sight of the Coast” and “Last Scene”. Although completely different in sound, I noticed some strange meshing in the vibe it gave off. It came off as slightly ironic, although a serious undertone still struck me. The bluesy, aggressiveness of “Last Scene” was a side the duo hasn’t presented, and the same could go to the bubbly “Losing Sight of the Coast”. Maybe the duo are expanding their sound horizon? “Thoughts/Shoot The Sky” presents Chris Wirsig singing under a cloud of pedaled reverb, applying a softer, absent diversion from the isolated and deprived vocals from Wechselberger. Both push the track forward, and are wonderful together as a duo.
As a whole, Wisdom & Failure attempts and succeeds at giving off the effect that it’s bigger than just a duo. They have everything from spacey keys to icy drums, and deprived lonely lyrics that anyone can take from (“Owes You Nothing” is key). It’s hard to believe that when I read this press release they claim to be a duo. They apply heavy burdens of sound as each track progresses, ultimately to it’s climax of melodic noise. “Wisdom & Failure” closes the album with a saddened succession of notes that sound as if it can end a season of Game of Thrones. Wisdom & Failure keeps the goth rock sound alive by sticking to the core roots of the genre. Nothing too boundary pushing, but a solid release.
Heartbreaks are easily spotted when sung in a baritone. Matt Berninger and Ian Curtis have proven this theory time and time again. Both Joy Division and The National cover a lot of topics in their musical discographies, but isolation, loneliness, and heartbreak are the reoccurring theme. Michael Cullen is another name to add to the list, with a title that rolls of the tip of the tongue. The Australian singer-songwriter brings aboard his New Order style synthpop and combines it with a bleak outlook on personal topics. It’s a great way to have an insider view on the intimate topics that Cullen is expressing.
Although his album, Love Transmitter, was originally released in 2012, it takes new life with a remastered copy after critical acclaim in his home country. Heralding itself with a terrible album cover (don’t judge it), it opens with the wonderfully titled, “Do You Believe?”, which had me thinking he was covering a Flaming Lips track. This is the complete opposite. His apparent love for the boiling drum beats that grind out the entire song is shown here. It lays the blueprint for the wonderfully crafted tune. The sharp, but sad synth keys trickle like icicles into Cullen’s crooning voice.
The song is followed by a shift in pace with “Tidal Wave”, which caught me off guard with how low Cullen’s voice can reach. He pulls out his darkest ego and punishes the listener with a wispy side until he reaches the chorus. Lyrically, the song is pretty bland, but the striking, Interpol style guitars are incredible. “All Used Up” seems to have soft, blast-beats opening the track, which works it’s way into a steady downward spiral of noise. Cullen finds ways to take miserable noise and transform it into a memorable tune that I find myself falling back too.
It’s no wonder this album has won many accolades with the indie community in Australia. Michael Cullen and fellow musician, Tim Powles, control space like it’s in the palm of their hand. They shift from an in-your-face bruiser of a song into a soft and somber tune like, “Hey Sister”. Every shift in keys present a new emotion that only music presents. Arms spread wide, and eyes closed, this is how the track is supposed to be listened too. “Transmission”, which isn’t a Joy Division cover, seems appropriately titled due to the related sound to the band. I find that when Cullen goes for the high notes, it flows better with the spashing guitar and brittle drums. His music has a very deep sound and the handshakes of approval should go to Tim Powles’ help with instrumentation. The duo just kills it as musicians.
What makes my job incredible is when I’m presented with musicians like this that people need to hear. Love Transmitter is a find that makes me smile, even when the dark theme drains any happiness from my head. It’s knowing that I’m only going to enjoy every sound on this album. Combining the Gothic tones on “Chinese Hammer”, and the spoken word sections on “Spill”, Michael Cullen transitions ahead and keeps this ride entertaining.
Then there’s, “Professional Entertainers”, which is the best song I’ve heard in ages. It’s contrasting joyful tones and brutally depressing lyrics keeps me pressing repeat. Perfectly timed at just under three minutes, this is a song that needs to rock the airwaves. “One Is Still My Number” is the one track that I couldn’t dig on my first listen. It felt too thrown together and tacky. When it drives into the chorus, that’s when I was convinced that I enjoyed it. It’s the best song-writing on the album though. Michael Cullen shines as a song-writer and musician. His ability to stay ahead of the curve and keep the 80’s goth rock stylish really takes talent (Have you seen Robert Smith lately?). Love Transmitter is an album that requires a setting. It requires and mindset that brings out the worst, but it demands the listener to open up their mind. What it provides is a shoulder to lay on, with 10 solemn stories to hear while the tear-ducts are worked to death. It’s the best sadness I’ve ever felt.
Take a listen below!
At least once a week, Apostrophe by Frank Zappa is played in my perimeter. The weird, comedic vibes Zappa gives off on his most traditional blues rock album puts a smile on my face that I can’t seem to shake. It’s incredible put together, with songs flowing into one another like a Cirque du Soleil show. I wasn’t around when Zappa revolutionized rock and roll, but I have a strong feeling that he allowed the rules to be bent and humor and strangeness to be added to a genre like the blues. The history behind the creation of blues and blues rock is hard to forget, and we shouldn’t, but thanks to Zappa, we’ve been given an alternative style to look at without all the despair.
Now it’s been 40 years since Apostrophe has been released, but when I was given the New York-based Marla Mase to listen to, I had to have both playing at the same time. They both have the slightly ironic, intimate spoken-word sections, jacked up solos, and the band plays extremely tight behind the main leader. In this case, Marla Mase. The EP opens with “Drown in Blue”, a blazing and unforgiving opener that kicked me back in my seat. Don’t make the mistake of having the volume too loud for this one. A nod to Iggy Pop, Sonic Youth and British punk rock, this song is killer. What drags it down is Marla’s softer vocals that collide with the angry, resistant vocals on the chorus.
I was caught off guard when I heard the spoken word sections. They release so much emotion that sometimes are poetically imaginative and emotional, and at other times, ironic and passive aggressive. Nonetheless, they all have a true, deeper meaning behind the veil of words. Musically, this album is outstanding. “Half-Life” is absolutely beautiful, bringing me back to the days of female alternative rockers like Alanis Morissette and PJ Harvey. (On a side note, Alanis didn’t get enough credit for being a badass. She kicked ass in the 90’s.) The song is a highlight to me, and I really want to see Mase progress this side of her music. It’s captivating and magical. The backing instrumentation by the Tomás Doncker Band is sharp. all the subtle melodies stand out and are memorable.
Sadly, it’s followed up by the outrageous “Things That Scare Me”. It’s humorous, but that’s about it. The lyrics are cheap, and it’s trying to many different ideas without sticking to a main idea. The chorus flows out of place after it has it’s forced half-sung verses. “Try and diagnose me!”, that’s all I can really agree on with that song. “The Heart Beats” brings the same anger into light with better results. It’s slow, stranded, almost like words flowing out of Mase’s mouth walking across the Sahara. Loved it.
At just over 30 minutes, this EP flies by. It covers a lot of ground, from comedic, funky songs, to the serious, intimate side. “Gaping Hole” was one piece off from being an alternative rock standard. It has the homemade vibe that’s a must for any traction in the indie crowd, but it was missing stronger vocals from Mase. She’s showcased her ability on, “Drown in Blue”, and I was itching to hear it come alive again. Even the style on the reprise of “Drown in Blue” would’ve worked. Speaking of the reprise, keep it up. She truly has a talent for an intimate setting.
It’s followed by another funky tune, “Bitch in Heat”, featuring Charlie Funk, so it’s proven to be good. Finally, “Hold Fast Your Dreams” closes off this EP, and it’s also great. Like on the “Drown in Blue (Reprise)”, Marla Mase can control a listener with her soothing voice, spilling out poems that show a piece of true self. It’s no wonder she’s been recently signed to True Groove Records. I do believe Mase will have a promising career, as she’s shown her ability to control a large band and get the sound she wants, but this EP has it’s incredible ups and immense downs. Yes, I understand, it’s an EP showcasing her variety of talents, from poet, to singer, to angry civilian, but I can only say that Mase is a great alternative artist who rocks it on tracks like “Half Life”, or “Drown in Blue”, but when it comes to her trying to copy David Byrne from the Talking Heads, it feels forced. I’m excited to see her progress with a full length that we can expect to hear soon!
Be sure to give the EP a listen below!