MARC SCHUSTER – EP Review: “There Is No Down”

One of my favorite humans on the planet is Marc Schuster, who’s not only insanely creative and multi-talented, but also incredibly generous, funny and kind. I first got to know him several years ago through blogging (he has a terrific WordPress blog called Abominations), and he’s been among the most consistently loyal supporters of me and my blog.

A true renaissance man, Marc is an educator, author, literary critic, songwriter, musician and even a pretty decent visual artist. In addition to teaching English at Montgomery County Community College in southeastern Pennsylvania, he’s written several books, scripts for two short films, and numerous book reviews. He’s also a prolific musician, writing songs and recording music both as a solo artist and as part of multiple music projects. In just the past six months, he’s not only released several of his own singles and EPs, but also recordings by The Ministry of Plausible Rumours, a joint project with his cousin Vincent Zabielski, who put out a terrific album Summer Again last October, an outstanding improvisational instrumental album Simmons and Schuster that he made with fellow musician/educator Tim Simmons (you can read my review of that album here), and the single “In the Pink” by his collaborative music project Plush Gordon this past December.

Though Marc likes to experiment with different sounds, styles and textures, most of the songs he records as a solo artist have a delightful, indie bedroom-pop sensibility. Not only are his songs infectiously catchy, he has a wonderful knack for putting a youthful, often tongue-in-cheek perspective on everyday situations and problems many of us have faced at one time or another. On his new EP There Is No Down, which dropped February 2nd, he delivers five optimistic tracks (actually four plus an acoustic demo of one of them) assuring us that, no matter how crappy things may seem at the moment, there’s always reason to celebrate. For the recording of the EP, he was assisted by Paul Sanwald and Tim Simmons, who I’m guessing played piano.

Case in point is the trippy opening track “Funky Underpants“, wherein ‘funky’ refers to colorful and fun, not, well, you know… Over a languid bass-driven groove, Marc layers some lovely shimmery guitar notes and thumping drumbeats to create a jazzy, psychedelic backdrop for his dual auto-tuned vocals, half of which sound like Mick Jagger. He sings of wanting to pull himself out of the doldrums by letting loose in a pair of funky underpants: “Wishing I could dream, dreaming I could fly. Waiting on a world where we never die. I could be a saint or I could live in sin. I could live forever if my life would just begin. I want to sing. I want to dance. I want to wear a pair of funky underpants. I’ll take a drink. I’ll take a chance. I’ll take the world on in my funky underpants.

Along a similar vein, “Feel Free” explores misbehaving, even if just for the night, in order to have a bit of fun: “Everyone says we should know better, but I never could tell wrong from right. Let’s hit the town like we won’t remember it. Let’s disappear into the night. I’m up to no good, and you’re just as bad. This could be the best time I ever had. I’m looking at you, you’re looking at me. Is this what it’s like to feel free?” Musically, the upbeat song has a bouncy pop-rock sound with a lively mix of jangly and fuzzy guitars.

All We Are” has more of a rock vibe, with Marc’s marvelous fuzz-coated reverby guitars taking center stage. On this song, his vocals sound a bit like the late, great Tom Petty as he sings about the impermanence and brevity of our lives on this earth, and that we might as well make the best of things while we’re here: “The clouds roll in. The seasons change. We disappear. The world remains. All we are is right now.”

I think my favorite song on the EP is “Elevators“, a bittersweet piano-driven affair. I love the melancholy but beautiful piano keys, and the electric guitar solo in the bridge is superb. The lyrics speak of reminiscing about what seemed like simpler, more innocent times, yet not wanting to wallow in the past, but instead remain hopeful about the future: “So keep the fire burning to get us through the night. The wolves are creeping closer, but I think we’ll be all right. We used to ride in elevators, look down on the world below. We used to ride in elevators though we had nowhere to go.”

The fifth track “All We Are (Demo)” is an acoustic version of the third song on the EP, with only Marc’s gentle vocals and guitar. The spare treatment of the song nicely fits the simple and direct message expressed in the lyrics: “All we are is right now.” It’s a fitting finish to a lovely little EP.

Connect with Marc:  WebsiteTwitter / Instagram

PHYSIA – EP Review: “Physia”

physia

I continue to be amazed and a little amused that I’ve gained a reputation as a music blogger who artists and bands reach out to in hopes I’ll listen to and write about their music, especially given the fact I play no instruments, cannot read music, have never written a song, and know zero about computer music programs or synthesizers. Hell, I only learned a few years ago that a bass guitar has only four strings as opposed to a standard six-string guitar! That said, I’m immensely impressed by people who can do all those things. I also try to keep an open mind about all kinds of music, and (almost always) know a good song when I hear it.

With that in mind, I’m pleased to feature a young, promising musician from Canada who goes by the artistic name PHYSIA. It’s the basement project of 19-year-old college student James Bings, who just released his self-titled debut EP Physia on the 25th of January. Now based in Victoria, James grew up in the small city of Williams Lake, deep in the Cariboo region of British Columbia, and learned to play guitar and bass at a young age. He developed his skills performing live with his late grandfather, mostly jig and waltz songs. Drawing inspiration from bands like Mac Demarco, HOMESHAKE and Mild High Club, he wrote the songs for Physia during his freshman year of university, and recorded, produced and mixed them by himself. He played guitar and bass, and used synthesizers for the percussion.

james bing

His songs are all instrumentals, characterized by his lush-sounding reverb-drenched guitars, subtle bass and gentle percussion. The first track “Cool Cat” is an aptly-named, pleasing song with jazz-infused jangly guitars and just a hint of percussion. The title track “Physia” is sublime, with a lovely melody and terrific jangly and chiming guitars. I especially like the watery guitars that appear later in the song that add a bit of funkiness to the track. “Beach Interlude” is a short track, only 1:16 minutes long, but it’s a beauty, with some fine guitar work that conveys images of a romantic night on the beach.

Nice Dog” is a mellow, happy tune with jazzy, reverb-heavy riffs, accompanied by a pleasant little percussive beat. The song seems to end at the 3-minute mark, then suddenly starts back up with a sped-up version of the same melody and guitar riff, ending on an exuberant note. “Floral” is another brief track, but James’ intricate guitar work is really beautiful.

My favorite is “Drag Queen” which has the most complex and fully-developed melody of all the tracks. The sweeping jangly and chiming guitars are gorgeous, and I love the effect of James’ soaring vocals that meld so beautifully with the guitars, creating a wonderful glittery soundscape. I asked James why he gave the track that title, and he said he was inspired by RuPaul’s Drag Race, which he and his girlfriend enjoy watching. The laughter of who I’m guessing is James and his girlfriend at the end is a fun touch.

Physia is a great little EP, and a very respectable debut effort that James should be proud of. He’s a fine guitarist and composer, and I really like his sound. I’m confident his skills will continue to grow and improve as he matures, and I’d like to see him use more complex melodies, guitar riffs and synths,  and perhaps even try writing lyrics and adding more vocals to his songs.

The cool artwork for the EP was created by graphic and digital artist, editor/motion designer and composer Harrison Ames Barrett  https://www.ames.digital/

Connect with Physia on Instagram / Facebook
Stream/purchase his music on Spotify / Bandcamp / Soundcloud / iTunes