When I was back in my knob twisting days, the one thing you could always depend on was drummers. Most of them walked into a gig and looked like the meanest SOB in the room but as a whole, they were the guys who were the nicest, most approachable members of the band. I don’t know Kevin Preston personally but I would bet that my theory holds true. According to his website, Superstar Wormhole started as the result of a middle-aged drummer who found a new creative outlet; his laptop. A drummer’s world is different from that of a guitarist, or horn player, or singer, for that matter. When was the last time you saw a guy set up his kit in the park and play for change? It is a little cumbersome.
Technology has been a good and bad thing for the music industry. On one hand, it has allowed many creative individuals the means and freedom to create their art and on the other, it has allowed many “artists” with questionable talent to create what passes for music and bombard the public with too much canned drivel that not even their family would buy. I regularly search music sites like Reverbnation and Bandcamp and some things I hear I just can’t believe. The music business has become a crowded space and everyone is jockeying for position hoping to be the next big discovery. I guess there’s no accounting for taste.
That’s why it is refreshing to me to hear a record that doesn’t try to be anything more than it is; an exercise in creativity. Superstar Wormhole isn’t trying to be the next big thing. Preston’s pet project is just that, a guy with too much time on his hands and tunes running through his brain. I suspect that if something ever happened to Larry Mullen Jr. and Bono came calling, Mr. Preston would jump at the chance but for the time being, he is happy to have a vehicle to take those tunes in his head and give them life. The album is aptly titled “Catharsis” and from my theater training I realize that this album is exactly that; the arousal and purging of musical emotion. Well done.
I’ve been accused recently of being too generous with my reviews. So sue me; I like music and can usually finding something good in almost everything I hear. On the flip side of that coin, however, when I hear something unimaginative and uninspired I will point that out as well. If you’re an artist, and you submit your music for review, you have to expect that at times, the reviewer might not like your music and that goes with the territory. A smidgen of extra epidermis might be necessary from time to time.
I grew up on the music of the late 60’s. All through high school, I listened to the radio and tried to expose myself to anything that was a major label release. At that time, indie music was cost prohibitive and therefore, scarce in my neck of the woods. In college, I discovered classical music and almost OD’d on it. In my twenties, I gravitated toward jazz and couldn’t get enough of the masters; Armstrong, Ellington, Coltrane, and Parker. My point is, I have a diverse and quite extensive music education. I’ve heard music in probably every genre and find something redeeming in all of it; if done well.
I recently heard the single “Watching Over Me” by South African singer/ songwriter Craig Coltham. I really liked the cover art. There, is that too generous? At first hearing, I thought I might just be in a bad mood but the second, third and fourth pass didn’t help much. First of all, the production is not of a standard I would expect. The mix is very muddy and heavy and that makes it hard to pick out the nuances that I’m sure are there. There does seem to be some nice guitar work and a sax solo I wish I could hear more of. Not to pile on but the songwriting itself leaves something to be desired. It’s as if the songwriter picked out the phrase “watching over me” and repeated it throughout the song but did not build anything around it. Songs of this oeuvre should tell a story or at least, according to Aristotle, have a beginning, a middle and an end. The news isn’t all bad. Craig has a pleasant voice and I think could find some success with a better producer and concentrate a little more on his storytelling abilities.
I’ll admit it. When it comes to music, I am a bit of a dinosaur. Rap and hip-hop hit the mainstream when I was in my thirties when I had a professional career, wife and kids. Honestly, I didn’t pay it much attention. I was recently sent, was is billed as a hip- hop song, to review. In order to not dismiss it out of hand, I asked an expert to help me. My seventeen year old son is a typical seventeen year old. He is in his rebellious stage and pretty much can’t stand anything in which I am involved. I have asked him to listen to several things that have crossed my desk in the past year and his opinion is usually the same. “That sucks”. So I let him listen to the new single by Australian artist Nick de la Hoyde, expecting a similar response. Much to my surprise, he actually said that it wasn’t bad. Ahhh, a starting point. I dived in.
I guess the first thing that strikes me about the track is the blending of styles which makes it difficult to pigeon hole as a hip hop or rap record. Yes, the verses are “spoken” or rapped (in common parlance) but the choruses are straight out of the eighties pop songbook. There is enough here to appeal to just about everyone. Choruses with enough “hook” to have you humming it all day, verses that are understandable and heartfelt and for those of you, like me, who like to really listen to the lyrics, enough intelligent expression to keep you engaged. When de la Hoyde sings (or speaks) as the case may be, “Everybody sees what they want / But their too scared to get it / Like what will they say / if they regret it” it has enough resonance to keep even the most cerebral music fans entertained. In the second verse, he sings, “Words running through my head now I can't stop it / That journey that life is the only option / That way / That drug / That fusion / The one thing in the world that can do this / Now watch it all go past cause moments like this never seem to last”. Those lines are real; not contrived and the public knows the difference.
The point I am trying to make is that an artist who is true to himself will almost always rise to the top. Too many musicians of any genre are far too worried about image, agendas and what they think we want to hear rather than create their art from their heart and soul. The legends in this industry are legends for a reason; they had something to say and they found a vehicle to say it. They were real and authentic and in this day and age of packaging and media manipulation it is good to hear a young artist who can at least make me believe that the struggles he sings about are authentic; no matter the genre in which he finds himself.
Music truly is the international language. It is the language of phrases, beats, notes and time signatures designed to evoke emotion and transfer that feeling to others. Where oral or written language fail, music is an expression everyone can universally understand. I recently heard a band from Iceland called Árstíðir. Not only can I not pronounce their name, I doubt I could carry on an intelligent conversation with the members of the band; Daniel Auðunsson, Gunnar Már Jakobsson, Karl James Pestka, and Ragnar Ólafsson. The band formed in 2008 in Reykjavík, Iceland and has released three studio albums and two EP’s. Árstíðir became somewhat of a sensation in 2013 when a youtube video of them singing an Icelandic hymn in a train station in Wuppertal, Germany went viral and to date has had almost 4 million views.
The band has just released their third studio album entitled “Hvel” and to see it classified, as I have, as indie folk music just doesn’t do it justice. The musical makeup of the band is acoustically based with guitars, violins, and piano. This album is a bit of a departure for the band as they are leaning more toward synthesizers, electronic instruments and live drums for this outing. All four members of the band also sing and one cannot discount the soaring harmonies and vocal interplay as instruments all their own. Árstíðir’s music combines elements of classical, folk, and progressive rock into a winning formula. I don’t know this for a fact but if I had to guess, I would say that the band is heavily influenced by the Norse legend and mythology so prevalent in the part of the world they call home. I say I don’t know this as fact but I can hear those themes in the music either overtly or surreptitiously.
If I had to draw comparisons musically, I would have to say that Árstíðir picks up on the tradition of groups like Fairport Convention, Renaissance, Lindisfarne, and to a lesser extent bands like Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd with a slightly more modern and sophisticated palette. Each and every song on the album is an aural sensation and will have a wide appeal to music fans of any genre.
Glitched Orchestrals is back with another fine concept album. The follow up to their 2014 “Dances with Whales” album, “Dances with the Moon” takes the listener on another conceptual journey. This time, the album is inspired by (and just in time for) the total solar eclipse of the moon on March 20, 2015. With song titles like; ‘Blue Moon’, ‘Moon Rise’, ‘Harvest Moon’ and ‘Eclipse’ Emil Schyren and his group of highly skilled and talented cohorts paints an aural picture that evokes Earth’s little neighbor, long a source of inspiration for artists everywhere.
Glitched Orchestrals is a twenty-two piece orchestra whose style is a hybrid of neo-classical electronic instrumental orchestral music fused with rock riffs and urban beats. The group is fronted and conducted by Emil Schyren, a classically trained pianist from London. In addition to Schyren on piano, the nucleus of the band is Stefan Magnus on guitar, Binky Bentley on drums and Susu Kawasaki on bass. Accompanying these four is an eighteen piece orchestra encompassing strings, brass, and woodwind instruments. There are many terms in the popular lexicon that might be used to describe this group like, ambient or experimental but the listener would be sorely mistaken to dismiss this group based on that narrow view. Brian Eno said "Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting." In this day and age of instant downloads and albums with hopefully one good track, it is heartening to see artists with a broad sense of their work and a cohesion to a particular long- form approach. Glitched Orchestrals takes the torch from such artists like Mike Oldfield, Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream and Vangelis and represents the genre quite well in the new millennium.
From the uptempo and very modern beats of songs like ‘Midwinter Moon’ and ‘Moon Flower’ to the more dark and brooding compositions like ‘Moonglum’ and ‘Moonbeams’, Glitched Orchestrals has created a work of approximately 50 minutes that holds together as if bound by superglue. Sure, the tracks work individually but put all together, it is a musical landscape that listeners can devour. I look forward to hearing more from this group and anticipating what comes next.
Glitched Orchestrals Website
Creative people create. It’s in the DNA. If you are an artist, you paint or draw; a writer writes, a musician makes music. It’s what they do. Any artist will tell you that they can’t always make a living doing it and have to supplement with other pursuits, but at their core, artists (with the possible exception of Harper Lee) make art. With that being said, it bemuses and befuddles me to see an indie band with a twelve year gap between releases. Surely, no one but close friends and family were awaiting their sophomore album. The band’s debut album the eponymously titled “Blue Tofu” was released in 2001 and was named by the monthly magazine ‘The Absolute Sound’ as “one of the 40 all-time best albums” some twelve years after its release.
To be fair, Blue Tofu is a duo made up of Tim Story and Andrea Mathews. Tim is a Grammy nominated musician primarily working in the electronic music field and has been hailed by ‘CD Review’ as “a master of electronic chamber music”. Tim’s discography dates back to 1981 and includes collaborations with some of electronic music’s living legends. Obviously, Blue Tofu is a side project into the world of rock music, to which Tim lends his gifts of harmonious ambient sounds to Andrea’s haunting vocal style to create something one critic has said “takes pop music in a genuinely fresh direction.”
It seemed that the pair had hit on a winning recipe and this reviewer wonders why it took them twelve years for the follow up. Blue Tofu’s second release came in October of 2013 and the album “Our Room” seemed to produce little to no fanfare. Unfortunately what might have been fresh and innovative in 2001 now feels like well-trod ground. I don’t hear anything in this record that I haven’t heard from Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, or Sade for that matter. I suspect that if I heard this record in 2001, I too would have hailed it as a breath of fresh air but now it just seems plain and unimpressive. There is nothing “bad” about the record, just familiar and uninspiring. I am afraid twelve years was too long a wait for a follow up album from this obviously talented duo. I would have liked to have heard more in the interim.
I don’t know about you, but good music has amazing qualities and affects me in ways nothing else can. When I was contacted about writing this review, I was just finishing up back to back shifts at my “job” and was about to slip into an exhaustion induced nap. Not wanting to let anyone down, and wanting to be a “team player” I somewhat reluctantly agreed to write this review and, in a way, pitied the subject because I clearly was not at my best and not really in the correct mood to listen to music. I suspected that whatever I heard would not merit a positive review. I got the link on my smartphone and the music began. Within 30 seconds, I was wide awake and felt better than I had in days.
From midway in the first verse of the first song, I knew there was something special about what I was hearing. This was not your typical indie production in any way, shape or form. You can just tell when veteran musicians bring it all to their performance. Like a world class athlete leaving it all on the field, this band clearly had left it all in the studio. I was so excited, I went to my computer to research the group and try to discover why I had not heard them before. As it turns out, I had herd this “band” before as they had created some of the most memorable and enjoyable music of the past (dare I say it) 40 years. First, however, let me give credit where it is due. Pat McGee has written an incredible collection of songs for this, his 10th album. The Pat McGee Band was formed in 1995 and between the recording of ten albums (2 on a major label) the band has maintained a relentless touring schedule.
This particular collection of songs, all written by Pat, was influenced by the classic albums he, I, and millions of fans grew up listening to. We are talking about albums by Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Warren Zevon, Fleetwood Mac, Karla Bonoff, Linda Ronstadt, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and the list could go on and on… and on. Armed with this collection of songs, what better way to bring them to life, than hiring the band that created all that great music in the first place.
I have always said you can tell a lot about a band by the songs they cover. Often times with a new original indie band, that task is harder because they want to release only their work and let the listener decide. I came across a new band recently from Florida that is so confident in their own music that they have included a cover on their debut album. Was it a conscious decision to nudge the listener in a particular direction? I suspect so. The band is called Greye out of Daytona Beach, Florida. At first glance the band appears to be a traditional folk based unit but if you think that, you would be sorely mistaken. Greye combines elements of folk, R&B, Americana, jazz and rock into a style all their own they call progressive folk music. Greye has the unique ability to weave complex melodies, intricate lyrics and hypnotic vocals into a brand of indie pop that is accessible and highly enjoyable. The production is first rate and I would expect Greye to attract a legion of new fans with this debut release.
The cover song included on “Providence” is a tune made popular before most of the members of the band were born. The song is ‘What I Am’ which was a minor hit for Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians back in 1988. The song is covered flawlessly and melds seamlessly with the original compositions on the album. All that being said, one of the most interesting things about Greye is the songwriting itself and where it comes from. The principal songwriter for the band is a seventeen year old high school student named Hannah Summer who also sings lead vocals for the band. An interesting fact that in and of itself is not earth shattering but listening to “Providence” you hear a maturity and polish you would not expect from a group of young adults.
Knowing what I know about the band, I could draw comparisons to Victor Frankenstein and his trusty knave, Igor. You see, the drummer in GREYE is a seasoned veteran in the music business some 20+ years senior to the rest of the band but it works remarkably well. Ray Grimaud has instilled a work ethic in these young adults and tolerates nothing but professionalism in his charges. Ray knows what it takes to be a success in the industry and the other members of the band may not know how lucky they truly are to have Ray in their corner.
There are several bright moments on “Providence” beginning with the opening track ‘Greye’ which establishes a groove consistent throughout the entire album. ‘Josephine’, ‘I Love You’ and the title track ‘Providence’ are all radio ready and aurally scintillating. In the indie rock or alt-folk or progressive folk movement, Greye stands out as a band to watch.
Check out the band HERE
Uncle Duke; a.k.a. Rob Penland is the producer and host of "The Mad Music Asylum" a 4 hour weekly syndicated radio show and now a 24 hour streaming internet station.