Reviews, interviews, articles, and other blather about music from the mind of Yugoboy

Friday, June 8, 2018

Oceans of Slumber - The Banished Heart

Oceans of Slumber
The Banished Heart

Do not allow the very slow, very quiet opening of The Banished Heart lull you into complacency; Oceans of Slumber generate oceans of sound; a sound that, while not unique, is certainly unusual in the metal world.  We've gotten past the point of women vocalists being unusual, and it's not overly obvious even that singer Cammie Gilbert is African-American.  What makes Oceans of Slumber distinctive is the ability and even desire to whipsaw from the heaviest of heavy, pounding out death metal vocals and speed metal drumming to Gilbert's arena-quality vocals reminiscent of the ladies of Heart or Amy Lee of Evanescence backing her efforts with that same death and doom metal or quieter passages of reflective mood and lighter sound.

Some bands have a consistency of sound, it works for them, and they do it very well album after album, year after year (ZZ Top, Megadeth and others come to mind).  Others wander all over various genres looking for a sound that pleases both themselves and their fans (Kiss, I reject your disco phase as some sort of aberration).  Oceans of Slumber do neither, confidently using the best elements of metal and heavy rock to achieve whatever each song needs.  Whether it's the 100% death metal in the middle of "At Dawn," the more lyrical and majestic "Fleeting Vigilance" or the much quieter "The Banished Heart" that more directly recalls Evanescence’s less anthemic tunes.

     Hailing from Houston, Texas, bandmates Gilbert, Dobber Beverly (drums and piano), guitarists Sean Gary and Anthony Contreras and Keegan Kelly on bass (the last three being responsible for all non-Cammie vocals) create some extraordinarily tight tunes - engaging, melodic (mostly) and genre-expanding.  It’s probably cheesy, but I gotta say it: don't sleep on Oceans of Slumber.  Give them a listen.  Preferably several.

Mile Marker Zero - The 5th Row

Mile Marker Zero
The 5th Row

"Source Code" opens The 5th Row with a nifty montage of sound bites and quotes from the past thirty-plus years of US and World history, from Reagan's "Tear down this wall!" to a 9/11 Truther's doubt-filled questioning of the ability of a plane to bring down the towers.  This introduction establishes certain expectations of what comes next. Fortunately, what comes next is excellent.
Mile Marker Zero's tight, heavy progressive rock, filled with catchy hooks, well-integrated electronics, and sing-along-friendly vocals appeals on an aesthetic level engaging both taste and thought.  The tracks sport an abundance of Rush and other prog-rock DNA, including lead bass, synthesizers, and really tight production.  Discursive passages down quieter, reflective paths keep The 5th Row from becoming solely an intense assault of technique and technical prowess.  There's plenty of loud guitar-led awesomeness, but these guys don't just stress attack.
While nothing I can find indicates that The 5th Row is a concept album as such, there's certainly a significant theme of running through the tracks.  From the opening "Source Code" to the symbolic "2001," "Digital Warrior," "Building a Machine," "Sacred Geometry," "UI," "2020" and various other tracks throughout, it helps to bring some nerd cred to the experience.
The New England-based quintet, having met and formed at Western Connecticut University's school of music, wastes no line-up slots on duplication of effort.  Vocalist Dave Alley gets significant help from guitarist John Tuohy, bassist Tim Rykoski, drummer Doug Alley and piano/keyboardist Mark Focarile.  Given the band's origins, very little else should surprise about The 5th Row.  The previous sentence is the opposite of pejorative; Mile Marker Zero produces is some smart, thoughtful music - the kind you might get from guys with the kind of time college students have to collaborate and really dial into their craft, covering the kind of topics students getting a decent liberal arts foundation might be encouraged to read and think about.
It might be possible to put The 5th Row on as some good ambient background tunage, but eventually the intelligence of the ideas, styles and lyrics will break through and force the listener to really engage with the complicated nature of what MMZ hath wrought.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Christian Mistress - To Your Death LP

Christian Mistress
To Your Death

To Your Death, the recent 8-song album by Christian Mistress, an Olympia, Washington-based quintet, is an unabashed celebration of heavy metal done European-style.  Fans of Warlock, Doro, Iron Maiden, Raven, Accept, UDO, and other 80s type bands that avoided the glam rock style flamboyantly erupting from LA like so much hair spray should give this album respect, love, a listen and some lunch money for the glorious assault that their ears will revel in.

The Wikipedia page for CM compares lead singer Christine Davis' vocals to everyone from Patty Smith to Wendy O. Williams to Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top (!?!).  Apparently the editors have failed to enjoy the awesomeness that is Doro Pesch.  As much as Christian Mistress is their own act, and produces music that taps a special place in my heart and my ears' taste buds, I keep coming back to how much it sounds like Doro's Warrior Soul album from 2006.  This in no way diminishes how much I love To Your Death.  If you're gonna sound like somebody else, it might as well be the best sound possible.

Along with the feminine raspiness of Davis' vocals, the twin guitar work of Oscar Sparbel and Tim Diedrich bring a very Iron Maiden vibe to the tracks.  There's enough rhythm guitar to keep thrash fans happy, but plenty of virtuosity by the axe-men to go around.  Rhythm section studs Reuben Storey (drums) and Johnny Wulf (bass) keep the band's sound driving and aggressive in the best kind of way.  The one trap that can trip up bands with this much awesome is the temptation to do a radio-friendly over-wrought power ballad.  Fortunately, despite a couple slower passages (and a contemplative opening minute to "Ultimate Freedom") I'm pretty sure those two words have never even crossed the minds of Christian Mistress.  No passage stays slow, and quiet contemplation is fleeting at most.  This is active music for active people.

The album opens strong with "Neon," a powerful rejection of the rest of the world and an invitation to the lover to return, "meet in the dark" where "everything's alright."  There's pain there, but a hopeful pain.  This underlying theme of damage, pain, anger, rejection, and love's wounds wrapped in dark, sometimes horror-themed imagery back-lit by the glimmer of hope pervades every song on the album.  Whether it's "Stronger than Blood," an invitation to the lover to walk side by side "with blood on our hands," or "Open Road," the band's first video from the album with its yearning to meet up with the lover "if you're on the road that leads us to the end," every track appeals to the angst-ridden teenager buried deep in the souls of anyone who loves this music.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Jake & the Jellyfish - Dead Weight

Jake & The Jellyfish
Dead Weight

Following Dead Weight's forty-eight second "Intro" super-reminiscent of Dropkick Murphys,  Leeds, UK-based quartet Jake & the Jellyfish, launch into an incredibly diverse set of tunes.  Self-described on their Bandcamp page as Folk/Punk/Ska the music charges, veers, rocks and reels from general alternative through ska and reggae influences and blowing right through Gogol Bordello-like gypsy rock, these guys craft some fun tunes for your brain to chew on.
The third song in, "Coffee Tally" demonstrates a thorough understanding of all that makes ska so much fun.  The upbeat, horn-backed tune could fit in easily on a Pietasters, Toasters or Hippos record.
Title track "Dead Weight" encapsulates perfectly the energetic alternative sound these guys play when they're not world-musicking their way through tunes like "Coffee Tally" and "Don't Follow the Leader," a Gogol Bordello sound-alike tune complete with fiddle and acoustic guitar.
This twelve-track collection hosts new music as well as tunes that have appeared on some earlier EPs.  Given the band's half-decade-plus experience, it should surprise no one that they've got some serious musical chops and a really cohesive sound.  The fiddle and horns provide important texture to most of their tunes, and these guys crank out primarily a tinted punk-alternative sound, but when they completely jump all over another genre there's no evidence of experiment or lack of familiarity.  There's no gimmickry here, just right solid fun music I can't imagine anyone disliking.
I simply cannot do the fun of this album justice.  Among the twelve tracks on this disc you can look hard, but you will not find a dud anywhere.  The creativity, upbeat, lively performance is everything that grunge never was.  If the lyrics focused more on revelry and drinking themes, I'd say this would be the best party album since Lord Tracy's "Deaf Gods of Babylon."
Why are you still reading this?  Click on over to their site or Bandcamp or Soundcloud and buy this record now!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Rocket Ship Resort - Megaheart

Rocket Ship Resort
Megaheart EP

Something about being born in the early 70s and coming to musical maturity in the mid-80s instilled in me a predilection for the kind of digital pop music Rocket Ship Resort stuffed into their recent EP Megaheart.  Up-beat and unapologetically electrified, these tracks cannot be listened to without various body parts rhythmically following along.  A little Googling and Rocket Ship Resort turns out to be a solo project from Nashua, New Hampshire-based Skye Meredith who not only crafts the music, but the album art as well.  Skye appears to  be younger than me, and certainly doesn't perform my brand of rock and metal guitars, but where the portion of my soul stuck in the 80s is concerned, he hits all the right notes.  These fun tracks somehow manage all this without becoming annoying earworms, which is even more awesome as far as I'm concerned.
"Pirate" hits the ground running, opening the quintet of tunes at full-bore pop/dance pace.  This fun tune sets a great tone for the rest of the tracks, crafting an anticipation of more fun to come.
Second slot track "Where We'll Go" slows down just a beat or two, but remains pretty up-beat, despite an undercurrent of melancholy in the lyrics.  The melancholy isn't a yearning for things past, but that the future isn't yet here and the fun to be had then will surpass the anticipation expressed by the singer.
"Moans On Loan" begins with the most 80s opening I've had the pleasure of hearing in quite a while.  The only thing that keeps this track from being a complete nostalgia trip is the autotune, which doesn't completely distort the voice, but which does sound perfectly acceptable in the song's context.  Like Howard Jones before them, the fully digital sound works to create a tone and sound that is complete unto itself.  Rocket Ship Resort's sound doesn't require the synth to fill in for inadequate songwriting, it's kinda the point of the thing.
Demonstrating an unusually gentle touch, "Stars The Look Like You" slows the tempo a bit for a tender but not mawkish love song.  The band's signature sounds are all here, but slowed down just enough.  This isn't the school dance song that allows kids to latch onto each other and sway, but neither does it demand the manic energy of the  listener that the rest of the EP does.
Rounding out the collection, "Mistress Magic" ramps the tempo up again.  This track contains the only real evidence of something other than a synthesizer or drum machine; there's at least one violin being used here, but like the singers the strings find themselves pushed through the digital processor.  The producer doesn't make the violin sound fake or wrong, but like the vocals, the modulation and slight digital shine added helps the instrument fit in.
This is the seventh release by Rocket Ship Resort; all can be found on Bandcamp.  If the other six are anywhere near as good, I may find myself shelling out some real cash for this collection.  Anyone who loves some good upbeat digital pop will probably be pushing this to the top of their playlist.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Mrs. Skannotto - Toys

Mrs. Skannotto

Rochester-based ska deities Mrs. Skannotto return with a brand new collection of original tunes, even more wide-ranging and ambitious than their previous effort Outlier (which is awesome; if you don't already own it, follow the link and buy it right away.)  Toys has more range and style, with more risks, most of which pay off nicely.  If you're a ska fan, don't worry about the rest of this review, just buy the record already! (When I wrote the review, I forgot that the disc doesn't come out until March.  Read on, dear listener.  Then, in March... then get the album.)
After the opening trill of "101," the boys jump into "Fire Man," which seems to be typical-sounding ska, but Joe Harmon does some vocal stuff I don't remember him doing before, with some notes being held a beat longer, and just a slightly more crooning sound.  It's not a huge adjustment, but I noticed it and found it added some real texture.  Based on the video found on their Facebook page, the first single is "Affluenza," a righteously rocking ska-punk tune.  Following that mosh-pit-filler, "Heartbeat" hearkens back to a slower, softer ska style.  Emphasizing the horns of Justin Lloyd (trumpet) and Evan Dobbins (trombone), this head-bobber may inspire traffic accidents as listeners close their eyes and sway to the sensation-filling sonic hang-gliding of "Heartbeat."
The majority of Toys hews closer to the Mrs. Skannotto oeuvre.  "Don't Drink the Wine" might have a message my wife doesn't want to hear, but the tune is uber-catchy, and "Grow" just owns everything awesome about the ska genre.  "Salo" slows the tempo down to near crooner level, avoiding a reggae/r&b mash-up by the tiniest bit.  The horns help a ton on that one, I must say.  Closing track "Resistance Is Fatal," starts with a very contemplative guitar solo from Mike Frederick, before launching full-bore into the second-fastest rocking track on the whole album.  The entire collection could not be this awesome without the full compliment of players, including bassist Dan Carter and drummer Alex Bochetto keeping pace.  These guys have been playing together for years, and it shows (in a very good way).
Taken as a whole, Toys represents significant stylistic growth while staying within the lines of ska.  While the genre might be marginal here in the 20teens, the late-90s saturation demonstrated a great deal about the range possible.  Mrs. Skannotto, by remaining true to their style find themselves musically checking out some new avenues and tones, which has resulted in a terrific ten song collection that cannot be missed by any fan of the genre.  Toys plays with styles and sounds, but is seriously excellent music.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Mod Sun - Look Up

                Every once in a while I check out a hip-hop album to see what the state of the art is, hoping against hope that the genre has produced a new sound, a novel voice, or a good album of any kind.  When I finally cranked open this album, not knowing what to expect, I discovered that my most recent opportunity to poke my head in the door had arrived.
                I guess people who enjoy this sort of thing will enjoy this record too.  It features a rapping white guy whose lyrics and delivery are pretty standard for the industry.  I suppose he should get some credit for not being a beat track and rhyming dictionary; there are original musical elements here, including some guitar, and the delivery isn't just a staccato recitation of boastful poetry.
                The singer enjoys the full panoply of what auto-tune has to offer, combining that sound with various musical elements to create his tunes.  From the passages that don't sound like he leaned on digital trickery, he's got a nice enough voice and really didn't need the autotune as often as it was deployed.  His rap delivery will stand on par with pretty much anyone else I've heard, and he tries different styles out at various times to create music as much as he's creating message music.

                While I won't myself be hanging onto this collection, it's more from not being a fan of the music, and that he hasn't created anything that I'm enjoying.  If you enjoy hiphop and rap, this will likely be as enjoyable as anything else you've heard.  As for me... I'm going back to the Hamilton Soundtrack; it's all the hiphop I need.