1. SO TIED UP – Cold War Kids w/Bishop Briggs (1)
2. HIGHWAY TUNE – Greta Van Fleet (2)
3. SUIT AND JACKET – Judah & the Lion (5)
4. LOVING YOU IS SO EASY – Wide Eyed Boy (6)
5. HOLDING ON – The War on Drugs (3)
6. LITTLE ONE – Highly Suspect (4)
7. SIT NEXT TO ME – Foster the People (8)
8. WALK ON WATER – 30 Seconds to Mars (9)
9. THE MAN – The Killers (7)
10. THE SKY IS A NEIGHBORHOOD – Foo Fighters (11)
11. UNFORGETTABLE – French Montana ft. Swae Lee (10)
12. WITHOUT YOU – Disciples of Babylon (13)
13. ONE FOOT – WALK THE MOON (15)
14. UP ALL NIGHT – Beck (14)
15. LAY IT ON ME – Vance Joy (12)
16. KINKY – Oli Barton & the Movement (18)
17. I LOVE YOU BUT I’M LOST – Tears For Fears (19)
18. NO ROOTS – Alice Merton (20)
19. THUNDER – Imagine Dragons (N)
20. LAY ME DOWN – Candid (N)
Not long ago, I read somewhere that the album is a dying format in music. Reasons given had mostly to due with the overwhelming popularity of streaming, as well as the availability of millions of songs on streaming services that allow people to make their own personal “mixtapes” of songs they like, without having to buy an entire album. Another reason offered was the decline of concept albums, or albums with an overall theme.
Well, I have to say that, based on the huge number of albums that continue to be produced, the album format is not only still alive, it’s thriving. A fine example of that is the brilliant debut album Perception by indie alt-rock band Redram. The Los Angeles, California-based duo have crafted an amazing collection of provocative and compelling songs addressing the deception foisted upon us by the media, and the acceptance of corruption in our society.
Redram is Chaz Gravez (Charles Graves) and Modiso Mike (Michael Coddington), both multi-instrumentalists who refer to their music as “shamanic trip-rock chillwave” – a pretty apt description. They employ unusual and complex melodies, a wide array of instruments and electronica, and lots of different vocal styles and sounds to express their deeply contemplative lyrics with powerful impact.
Regarding their name, in conversations via Twitter messaging, Chaz explained that Redram “is a combination of symbols in one title. First we used a software called Redrum for a lot of our drum parts. Also, we are both big fans of The Shining and the metaphysical meaning behind that film (redrum). And then also, I’m an Aries/fire sign and we love good ol’ satanic rock and roll imagery.”
Chaz also stated that the nine tracks on Perception are arranged to flow as one coherent piece of music, and he kindly explained the meaning behind each song. Beginning with “Electra,” a psychedelic trip of gnashing, distorted guitars, eerie synths and discordant tinkling piano keys, the overall theme is established for the album. The song’s about a young woman trying to define her identity and role in an increasingly technological world of changing archetypes and symbols – something we all must face to some degree or another if we’re going to survive in a tech-based society.
Next up is the mesmerizing “The Program,” with weird synths, acoustic guitars, and a mix of falsetto and echoed spacey vocals chanting “The Program, the program” and “Perception is all my love / What you see is what you believe.” Chaz explained that the musical concept of “The Program” is the use of Mantra, or repetition of theme, to describe the theory suggested by a scientific study conducted a few years ago that there is a 49% chance that this realty we live in is just a computer program.
The hard-hitting “Press” alternates between frenetic riffs of jangly guitars and a slow, hypnotic beat, filled with all kinds of synths and gritty guitars. The lyrics speak of a press that’s manipulative and owned, and we have the power to change it but we’re too divided and distracted to make it happen. “We’re walking around with dollar bill eyes. We can stop the press. We can stop the mess. We move to the sound that pays for our time. We can stop the press, but it’s a full court press.”
“Sheriff” is another Mantra with the repeated phrase “I want to make you sweat,” delivered by an odd, almost disturbing electronically-altered voice. It’s intended to represent a duality of the archetypal character of a ‘Sheriff’ who wants to make you sweat in more ways than one. Musically, like several of Redram’s songs, the track has a powerful hypnotic beat, with guitars and dark synths used to great effect to create a sense of tension. Despite the disturbing vocal sounds, some of the instrumentals are hauntingly beautiful.
One of my favorite tracks is “Chillmilton,” with a fantastic trip-hop beat, rapping and shamanic chant-like vocals. As Chaz explained, the song “is about a young guy at his first music festival (Coachella) trying to decide between positive and negative choices in the devil’s den.” They sing “One pill two pill three pill four. What you gonna do when you hit the floor? It’s not lyrical, we’re hysterical. What will you find on a stage of miracles? / Chill Milton, chill.”
“70 Versions” employs trippy synths and layers of reverb-heavy and mildly distorted guitars to create dissonance. The lyrics speak to religious dogma vs. spirituality: Is the true value of life material or spiritual? “Speak the truth. You’re personal truth. Your spiritual truth. A miracle. My god.” The title phrase “70 Versions” seems to be a double entendre, as it sounds like they’re singing “70 virgins.” Mysterious, spacey synths and otherworldly vocals lend a sci-fi vibe on “To Space,” a song about depression and disconnection from others.
More spacey synths, accompanied by a continuous mournful organ, deliver “Fake News,” a biting attack on media and politics. Chaz stated that, specifically, the song was inspired by the lies of the media with regard to the Syrian conflict. “Western media. That’s old news. That’s fake news. Which side are the real good guys on? Which lie is the moral lie?”
The powerful video features scenes of conflict in Syria and Iraq, as well as several U.S. Presidents, leaders of Middle Eastern countries, and other media figures.
Album closer “The Machines” is an homage to Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine.” (Chaz and Modiso are both big fans of Pink Floyd.) The song represents the complete evolution of a technological society, in which the people have been transformed into machines, with all of their behavior and responses pre-programmed. The track has some great bass and guitars, along with dark, eerie synths that perfectly convey the creepy situation.
Perception is a work of musical art, both conceptually and in its execution. The creativity and musicianship of the two men of Redram is impressive, as is their ability to transmit powerful messages into music that’s incredibly complex yet accessible, and an amazing listen to boot.
For the first time on this blog, I shine my spotlight on Paris, France, to Erwan Pépiot, a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who goes by the artistic name Somehow. He released a self-produced debut album The Desert of Wasted Time in 2016, receiving positive reviews in numerous French indie webzines. In June, he dropped a new album Hidden Memories on Toolong Records, also to wide acclaim both in Europe and the U.S., and has just released a beautiful new single from the album, titled “Someday.”
Somehow’s sound can be described as somewhere between Joy Division and Belle & Sebastian, with a vocal styling reminiscent of Morrissey or Ian Curtis. He wrote, recorded and mixed Hidden Memories in his own home studio, and was assisted by Aurélie Tremblay, who provided backing vocals and some fine cello work.
“Someday” is a sublime pop song with a folk sensibility. The dominant feature is the layered nimble acoustic guitar work that goes from gentle strumming to jangly and swirling riffs. A beautifully-played melodica adds a soothing yet rich sound, backed by subtle bass and percussion. It all makes for an upbeat, incredibly pleasing listen, though the lyrics turn a bit darker toward the end of the track. With his warm, smooth vocals, Somehow earnestly sings of moving on in the hope of finding peace of mind and a better life one day, only to realize there’s no running away from your problems:
Oh it’s time to pull up stakes and become a drifter again Someday, someday, we’ll have a different state of mind A different way of living And some way, someday we’ll find a different style, other ideas to stand for
Our surrounding sky is falling
The surrounding sky is falling apart, there’s nowhere else to go
I usually like to include a bit of background info on an artist or band in my reviews, but it’s a real challenge for the UK indie band Two Islands, who recently dropped their wonderful new single “Still Life.” Though they have accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, they’ve provided scant details and zero photos of themselves.
From reading reviews and articles on them, I’ve been able to uncover that – as their name would imply – they are a duo, and hail from Liverpool. Digging further, I came across this explanation from the elusive duo that was included in the premier of “Still Life” on the online indie music magazine DORK: “We want to reclaim the romance of falling in love with an artist solely through their songs, something that has been lost in the internet era. We’re not looking to hide, we just want to engage through our music.”
Well, I have to say that after listening to “Still Life,” as well as their fantastic debut single “Heaven,” I’ve certainly fallen for this band. Their music is so joyously upbeat that it’s hard to resist it’s charms (unless you’re someone who hates anything pop with an infectious dance groove). The exuberant track instantly grabs you by the hips and impels you to sway to its irresistible dance beat. With its lush synths, energetic drums and jangly guitars with just a hint of funky vibe, not to mention the duo’s gorgeous harmonizing vocals, the song is a dreamy throwback to late 70s disco and early 80s synth pop (two genres I loved), but with a fresh approach that’s found with current bands like The 1975. In fact, “Still Life” reminds me a bit of The 1975’s “The Sound.”
1. SO TIED UP – Cold War Kids, Bishop Briggs (1)
2. HIGHWAY TUNE – Greta Van Fleet (5)
3. HOLDING ON – The War on Drugs (2)
4. LITTLE ONE – Highly Suspect (4)
5. SUIT AND JACKET – Judah & the Lion (6)
6. LOVING YOU IS SO EASY – Wide Eyed Boy (7)
7. THE MAN – The Killers (3)
8. SIT NEXT TO ME – Foster the People (9)
9. WALK ON WATER – 30 Seconds to Mars (11)
10. UNFORGETTABLE – French Montana, Swae Lee (8)
11. THE SKY IS A NEIGHBORHOOD – Foo Fighters (13)
12. LAY IT ON ME – Vance Joy (12)
13. WITHOUT YOU – Disciples of Babylon (16)
14. UP ALL NIGHT – Beck (15)
15. ONE FOOT – Walk the Moon (17)
16. THE NIGHT WE MET – Lord Huron (10)
17. THE WAY YOU USED TO DO – Queens of the Stone Age (14)
18. KINKY – Oli Barton & the Movement (N)
19. I LOVE YOU BUT I’M LOST – Tears For Fears (N)
20. NO ROOTS – Alice Merton (N)
As a music blogger, I’m exposed to a continuous supply of new tunes by scores of musicians, and it’s always refreshing to discover an artist or band with a unique sound that sets them apart from the crowd. London-based indie outfit Oli Barton & the Movement is such a band. With a winning combination of talent, creativity and personality, their eccentric style of alternative rock is a crazy-good mix of post-punk and psychedelia, fortified with touches of funk, grunge and pop. They employ all sorts of instruments, sounds and textures to create music that’s original and unconventional, and their direct, tongue-in-cheek lyrics are delivered with an abundance of irony and humor. I love those lyrics so much that I’ll be quoting them heavily throughout this review.
The five member band is headed by Oli Barton, who does the majority of the songwriting, plays guitar and sings lead vocals. The ridiculously talented musicians helping Barton bring his songs to life include Ryan Wilson on lead guitar, Jamal Lagoon on Rhythm Guitar, Marco Paone on Bass, and Guy Monk on Drums.
They released their debut single “Photograph” through Coke & Dagger Records in late 2016, followed by “Sleeping With the Enemy” in April 2017 (which I reviewed) and “Kinky” at the end of June. On August 11 they dropped their first full album Into the Back Room, and it’s nothing short of brilliant. Most the of album’s nine original tracks address subjects of duplicity and betrayal, whether it be in romantic entanglements, personal relationships or politics. In a terrific interview with Rebecca Singer for her blog Read Between the Lines, which you can read here, band front man Oli Barton explained: “‘The Back Room’ to me is that place where you lock away all those things you’re not supposed to think about or talk about. I felt like I was locked in there for a long time.”
The psychedelic album opener “Cold Call” arrives with distorted strings that have an effect on the ears quite similar to nails on a chalkboard, conveying a sense of impending menace. Then a heavy bass line enters, along with a hypnotic drum beat and gritty guitars, those tormented strings still audible in the background. At one point, we’re even treated to a bit of cow bell. The chorus has a carnival vibe as Barton laments: “There’s a cold call to your name. There’s a cold call and it’s just a game. There’s a cold call and no one’s to blame. Let me hear you breathe.” The reverberated guitar plucks at the end are a nice closer.
Next up is my absolute favorite track “Kinky,” an exuberant ball of fire that’s amazing on so many levels. It starts off with a little guitar lick, then an irresistible Spanish guitar riff takes over as Barton sings the hilarious ironic lyrics about a naughty girl in a co-dependent abusive relationship:
Oh I saw you, saw you in the playground And I saw your boyfriend, I saw him push you down Doesn’t it hurt when he pulls your hair? Doesn’t it hurt when he beats ya there?
The music suddenly erupts with heavy percussion and surf rock guitar riffs as he belts out the racy chorus:
But you’re ki-i-i-inky You’re ki-i-i-inky You’re ki-i-i-inky You’re ki-i-i-inky
Afterwards, a funny munchkin-like voice can be heard in the background singing “Yeah, you’re kinky baby.” The verses continue with a delirious mix of Spanish and surf rock guitars, then we’re treated to some lovely strings in the bridge before a frenzy of distorted guitars and Barton’s out-of-control vocals return for the rest of the song. Barton is clearly having fun on this wild track, as he can be heard laughing at the end. For me, it’s a blast from start to finish every single time I hear it.
The upbeat tempo belies a decidedly unhappy situation on “How Would I Know?” The song addresses the frustrations of a schoolboy that the girl he used to go with is now seeing another guy. With much exasperation, Barton implores”But are you happy? ‘Cause you don’t look like you’re getting enough to me. Yeah, did I ever leave you feeling needy? How would I know?” I love the jangly guitars and Barton’s fervent vocals that are delivered with his charming British accent. (I’m one of those crazy Americans who would enjoy hearing someone with a strong British accent read the phone book.)
To an ominous heavy rumble announcing the threat of something very bad at the beginning of “Photograph,” Barton warns us that “This is where it’s gets a little darker.” Indeed it does, as crushing bass, layers of shredded and distorted guitars, and furious crashing cymbals lend a dismal vibe. With bitterness in his voice, Barton confronts his once-girlfriend of her betrayal:
I thought I saw you in a photograph You looked so good, yeah you were having a laugh I though I saw you in a photograph But who was he? ‘Cause he sure ain’t me, yeah he sure ain’t me
The hard-hitting psychedelic “Sleeping With the Enemy” takes on rampant duplicity in politics that seems to leave people feeling like they’ve been screwed, and the biting lyrics get right to the point:
And I know what it’s like, to be stabbed in the back with a knife
It’s just my life, and I’d better learn to take it from behind
Sleeping with the enemy. Denied any sympathy
Sincerity will soon erode, when you’ve got nowhere to go
Musically, the song alternates between an aggressive, fast-paced beat and a slower, almost hypnotic cadence. The instrumentals are awesome, and Barton’s fervent vocals convey his sense of powerlessness and exasperation with the state of things. At the bridge, it all builds to a cacophonous barrage of heavy buzzing bass, distored guitars, pounding drums and impassioned vocals. It’s a great song.
The bouncy “Waste of Time” touches on a relationship with someone who drives you completely crazy, but you just can’t quit them:
I seem to be a prisoner of war
She is the worst part of my day
I’m just a fool stuck in her way
Her skinny jeans just make me look like a whore
“Talk is Cheap” is a trippy little musical atomic bomb contained in just under four minutes. There’s so much going on: en eerie opening with music and vocals played backwards, strange spoken vocals “George the elephant like mastadons…”, loud industrial reverb sounds accompanied by screams that abruptly end with a slammed door. Next come mesmerizing plucked strings accompanied by a gently tapping drumbeat. Barton’s vocals enter with guitars, then the tempo ramps up with heavier guitars before calming down with added violins, then back up again in a frenzy of gnashing guitars, humming bass, thunderous drums and crashing cymbals.
The band takes a pensive turn with “Rebecca,” a bittersweet song about a woman with a troubled past who’s really good at heart, and deserves to be freed from her prison:
And while they talk about what you’ve done
They didn’t know that could be anyone
A poor young girl without a clue
There’s a story here that no one knew
A hauntingly beautiful piano is the dominant instrument on this track, and band friend Katie Mallinson provides soft echoed vocals as Rebecca.
A lovely mandolin introduces us to the languid “Coming Back for Nothing,” then a sharply strummed melodic guitar and a captivating echoed chorus ensue. It sounds like the kind of song that could have been done by Paul McCartney & Wings back in their heyday. Lyrically, it speaks to the singer’s depravity and how he screwed up his life:
Wishing I could be with a better one I tried it off with your brother but we disagreed But then I took the game to your mother And she left me with nothing but dreams and some fucked-up disease
The album closes with a fantastic EDM remix of “Photograph.” This version has a great retro 80s feel that reminds me a bit of The Pet Shop Boys or even New Order. It’s not as dark as the slower original, but an interesting interpretation nonetheless.
Into the Back Room is a marvelous album, and an auspicious debut for Oli Barton & the Movement. Every track is fantastic and I love them all. Barton is an incredible wordsmith, and one of the most creative young artists I’ve come across since starting my blog more than two years ago. If they maintain the high calibre of music they’ve established with this album, they have a very promising future. Barton says he’s already written songs for their next couple of albums and I eagerly await them!
Tears For Fears are one of my favorite bands of all time. I’ve been a fan from the moment I heard their single “Change” back in 1982. (I lived in Los Angeles then, and though their previous single “Mad World” was a massive hit in the U.K., it got little airplay in the U.S., nor did it make the U.S. music charts, so I never heard it until later.) When their monumental Songs From the Big Chair – unquestionably one of the greatest albums of the 1980s – came out in early 1985, I fell head over heels in love (pun intended) with their music. So it goes without saying that I was thrilled to discover they’d released a brand new single “I Love You But I’m Lost.” It’s one of two new tracks that will be included on their forthcoming greatest hits compilation album Rule The World, scheduled for release on November 10.
Though they’ve remained active, including touring and performing quite a bit recently (my sister saw them a few months ago in St. Louis, where they appeared with Hall & Oates), the single is their first new music in four years. And it’s been 13 years since their last album Everybody Loves a Happy Ending was released in 2004, so we fans have longed for new music from Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith for quite some time.
“I Love You But I’m Lost” is a gorgeous, exuberant song with a captivating dance beat that instantly grabbed my attention and held it straight through to the end. It features their signature sweeping orchestration, sparkling synths and lush harmonizing vocals, along with some terrific guitar work. Smith and Orzabal’s vocals are in fine form, thought Orzabal’s are softer and at a higher octave than he’s normally sung, but still very effective for the song’s dreamlike quality. Though not of the same caliber as their masterpieces “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” or “Shout,” “I Love You But I’m Lost” is a great song nonetheless. It’s incredibly gratifying that Tears For Fears is still relevant, and making new music for us to enjoy.
Though I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the requests I get from artists and bands wanting me to review or feature their music on this blog, it’s always a treat discovering loads of great new music. Such was the case when I was contacted by Tony Hossri, bassist for The John Pagano Band, about their new album One More Round. The album dropped August 1, and I love it! Every single track is fantastic, and I’ve had it on replay the last several days.
Based in Atlanta, Georgia, The John Pagano Band consists of front man John Pagano on guitar and lead vocals, Tony Hossri on bass and backing vocals, and Shiloh Bloodworth on drums. All are accomplished musicians who excel at playing an exciting blues-infused style of rock that’s soulful, seductive and addictive.
First a bit of background on the band. Pagano, originally from New York, formed a band JPBlues in 2008 while still in his teens, along with bassist John Young and drummer Pat Adkins. They recorded two albums Die Happy and I Will Not Go Quietly. In 2011, John left New York for Georgia, where he met Bloodworth, and in 2013 they were hired to back Australian artist Anni Piper on her first US tour. They reformed JPBlues, and set out to record their first album Make Room at the Table, but had problems finding a compatible bassist until Hossri came to the rescue. He proved to be a perfect fit for the band, and their lineup was now complete. They finished the album, and set out on a tour of the East Coast. In 2015, they released Live at Darwin’s.
More recently, wanting to expand their sound, they changed their name from JPBlues to The John Pagano Band. In an interview with Making a Scene!, which you can read here, Pagano said the new band name “better reflects our music and direction, and does not restrict us to a single genre fan base.”One More Round represents that new direction, which retains their signature blues roots while incorporating more rock’n’roll, pop and even a bit of funk into the mix.
Photo by Michael Valentine
OK, let’s dive into One More Round and see what’s so great about it. The guys get right down to business with the rousing “Bottoms Up,” an infectious country-rock song about just saying ‘fuck it all’ to your problems and going out, getting drunk and having fun with friends who have your back.
Been a long day. Keep my mind awake But I’m going out now, gonna lose this frown I’m gonna get drunk somehow Gonna visit my friends, call them Jack and Jim Well they listen real good when I’m in a bad mood And make me forget what I knew And bottoms up, I ain’t hit the floor Fill ‘er up, I want more, more, more
The official video they made for “Bottoms Up” is great, and a lot of fun to watch. I always like seeing a band play their songs, and this video of a terrific Balcony TV live performance of the same song in Atlanta really captures the guys’ energy and charisma. Pagano deftly works his slide guitar, while Hossri – curly hair flying – is a wildman on bass, and Bloodworth drives the powerful beat home with a muscular attack of his drums. How can you not love these guys after seeing this performance?
They turn up the blues on the next several tracks, where their incredible musicianship is on full display. The soulful “Lost In You” features some terrific riffs, and “Trouble in Heels” is pure bliss. This sexy rock’n’roll track aims straight for the hips, leaving you no choice but to get up and dance. Pagano seduces with his lusty vocals, and his guitar solo in the bridge is so damn good. The sultry “Ain’t Mine” is wonderful too. Pagano pleads for relief from a woman he can’t have who’s cast a spell over him: “Baby please, baby please got a hold on me. I said oh no, oh no here comes trouble. Let’s go. You ain’t mine, no no.”
“Rise Up” has a bit of a gospel quality, with gritty, bluesy guitars and humming bass. Speaking of which, Hossri injects some funk into his bass on the superb “Ain’t Gonna Lose You,” the first single and one of my favorites from One More Round. With his soulful vocals, Pagano sings about having to leave town, but promising to return to his woman and take her away. “Gonna take you one day away from here. I ain’t gonna lose you yet.” Great guitar work, great vocals, great song.
The guys keep delivering the blues with “99 Problems,” a reworking of an older song from the JPBlues repertoire that was featured on Live at Darwin’s. It’s one of their most popular songs, and it’s clear why because it’s freaking awesome. Nearly six minutes of bluesy rock heaven set to a captivating beat. Pagano’s jaw-dropping guitar work, Hossri’s buzzing bass, and Bloodworth’s nimble percussion are all perfection.
They show their tender side on “On My Mind,” a lovely but bittersweet song about missing someone after a break-up and hoping they’re thinking about you too. The track starts off like a gentle ballad, then gradually builds in emotional intensity, and really showcases Pagano’s incredible vocal abilities.
But don’t get too relaxed, ’cause the guys dial it all the way up with the sexy “Make You Shout.” It’s an exuberant, bluesy foot-stomping gem, with a powerful driving beat that not only makes you shout, it also forces you to get moving. It’s another one of my favorites, and I’d love to see them play this on stage. They keep the high energy flowing with the hard-hitting rock’n’roll tracks “Bad Habit” and “Catch That Train.” The guitar riffs are killer, and the bass and percussion on-point. And, as always, Pagano’s powerful vocals are phenomenal.
The John Pagano Band have created an outstanding, perfectly-crafted album that’s one of the best I’ve heard this year. As I stated at the beginning, every track is superb, with no filler or throw-away songs, making for a really pleasurable listening experience.
1. SO TIED UP – Cold War Kids featuring Bishop Briggs (2)
2. HOLDING ON – The War on Drugs (1)
3. THE MAN – The Killers (3)
4. LITTLE ONE – Highly Suspect (5)
5. HIGHWAY TUNE – Greta Van Fleet (7)
6. SUIT AND JACKET – Judah & the Lion (6)
7. LOVING YOU IS SO EASY – Wide Eyed Boy (8)
8. UNFORGETTABLE – French Montana, Swae Lee (4)
9. SIT NEXT TO ME – Foster the People (10)
10. THE NIGHT WE MET – Lord Huron (9)
11. WALK ON WATER – 30 Seconds to Mars (11)
12. LAY IT ON ME – Vance Joy (13)
13. THE SKY IS A NEIGHBORHOOD – Foo Fighters (19)
14. THE WAY YOU USED TO DO – Queens of the Stone Age (12)
15. UP ALL NIGHT – Beck (17)
16. WITHOUT YOU – Disciples of Babylon (18)
17. ONE FOOT – Walk the Moon (20)
18. EVERYTHING NOW – Arcade Fire (14)
19. CAN I SIT NEXT TO YOU – Spoon (15) 19th week on list
20. FEEL IT STILL – Portugal. The Man (16) 24th week on list
As I’ve stated before, one of the things I love about Twitter is finding out about new indie artists and bands; in two years I’ve discovered over 5,000! I’ve also made friends with more music lovers and bloggers than I can count, who’ve turned me on to even more musicians and bands. So it was my lucky day when Robert Horvat, who has an excellent blog called Rearview Mirror, contacted me about the indie band Watergod.
Based in Austin, Texas – a city with a thriving music scene that’s produced scores of country, blues and rock artists and bands – Watergod rose from the ashes of their previous psychedelic space rock band Psychonaut. They developed a fresh sound, but retained a bit of their psychedelic sensibility. Comprised of Ethan Schrupp (guitar, vocals), Justin Wilson (bass) and Nicholas Key (drums), Watergod takes an organic, highly collaborative approach to their songwriting and the development of the sound for each track. They’re essentially DIY, but enlisted the help of friend Sean Lochridge in the recording and mixing of their self-titled debut album Watergod, which dropped on the 1st of August.
In an interview with Robert Horvat of Rearview Mirror, which you can read here, Ethan explained the inspiration and/or meaning behind the band’s name, album title, and each of the tracks:
“To me [Watergod] represents renewal and rebirth. We had taken some time off after our last band [Psychonaut] dissolved, so when we came back together we wanted a fresh start. The inspiration [for the album] was what was going on in my life at the time. Amygdala is about a breakup, Whaler and Causality were about a girl I was hooking up with after that, Helios is about being burned by someone you’re trying to help, Motion is about being ostracized for being yourself, Vectors is about succumbing to temptation, and Spirals is about dealing with anger.”
Interestingly, all the song titles consist of a single word. Their music is unconventional, delivering unexpected melodic shifts, guitar change ups and quirky vocals. All this works beautifully to capture and hold our attention, not only within a song but throughout the whole album. We’re compelled to really listen to each nuanced sound and vocal twist and turn, keeping us in a continual state of surprise and wonder. Not one thing about their songs are predictable, and Ethan’s vocals seem to sound different on every track.
Ethan’s falsetto crooning introduces us to the opening track “Amygdala” then some really lovely guitar work enters, accompanied by snare drums and a light touch of cymbals. All instrumentals ramp up as the track progresses. The guys inject just a touch of jazz on “Causality,” featuring some really fine nimble guitar work, a smooth subtle bass line and lots of gently crashing cymbals. There’s something about Ethan’s vocals that are so beguiling as they go from smooth and comforting to soaring falsetto and back again. The little guitar solo in the last 30 seconds is pure delight. “Vectors” borders on psychedelic with an underlying funky groove, making for an unusual and fascinating track. Ethan’s fuzzy vocals occasionally become echoed with vibrato, adding an otherworldly aura.
“Helios” is a perfect example of how Watergod delivers the unexpected. Starting off with a gorgeous, delicate and somewhat melancholy riff, the track has a bit of the psychedelic feel of The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship.” Ethan sings of seeing a deceitful person’s true self in the light of day: “With you nearer, I see you clearer. I see you for what you really are. In the sun.” Halfway through, the guitars become heavier and grittier, as Ethan shrieks his vocals, some of which are distorted. It’s an epic track.
So too with “Whaler,” which flows back and forth from a languid beat with a dreamy atmospheric vibe to a faster tempo with bluesy guitar and heavier percussion. “Motion” is the most psychedelic-sounding track on the album, with heavier bass overlain with shredded, distorted and reverb-heavy guitars. And just as we’ve gotten used to the slow tempo that predominates, the guys dial it up at the close.
Album closer “Spirals” is more melodic, starting off with jangly guitars over a pleasing steady beat. The lyrics speak of letting go of anger: “It will hurt you so much more before you finally learn to let it go. / It’s hard to see the change when it’s so slow.” Ethan’s vocals rise in emotional impact as the guitars become grittier and the percussion more aggressive, until he literally shouts the lyrics later in the song.
If you like music that’s experimental and unconventional, Watergod delivers it in heaping quantities on this stellar album. It has some of the most unusual and intellectually stimulating music I’ve heard in a while, yet it’s still accessible and incredibly satisfying.