I am never sure what to say when confronted with a band like Small Leaks Sink Ships. I understand it, I recognize some of the influences, but I’m not sure if it totally works in today’s music scheme. Our society has become much more immediate and instant gratification is the buzz word of the day. I admit, I am guilty of it too. Especially when I am listening to a band I am not familiar with. I want a payoff and I want it quickly. It is difficult to sit through a minute or more of sound effects and frankly noise before a song actually begins and another 30 seconds or more before we actually get into the song. That is what I was confronted with while listening to their newest release “Face Yourself, and Remove Your Sandals”. This Portland, Oregon four piece unit is probably 30 years behind itself. Had I listened to this record in the mid 1970’s or early 1980’s I would have thought they were great, picking up on the traditions of Pink Floyd and 10cc and some of the other art rock heroes of the day but today in 2015, it just sounds tired and unfocused. If I knew the band or was familiar with their inner circle, I might feel differently but I am not. I am sure the band’s name is a cool inside joke of some sort and the title of the album is also germane to their being but as an outsider, I don’t get it and am a little offended by being on the outside looking in.
Again, if I had heard this album many, many years ago, my attitude might be different but for today, the melodies seem overly complex and the chord structures overly ambitious for a modern audience. Don’t misunderstand, I am not advocating “four bar grids of ‘cut and paste’ monotony over which someone writes shallow nursery rhymes about partying, trucks and beer or bitches and bling, or whines in hardly rhyming verse about their sad little white boy or girl life”*. Far from it. This band has potential but I would recommend that they focus themselves on the music they want to create and get in touch with their core influences and stop trying to impress themselves with their music.
If there is an inside joke to the band name, or album title, or a “raison d’être” to the music, let us all in on it. It might help win a broader audience.
* an excerpt from a recent letter from music producer Bob Ezrin complaining about today's music business.
If you’re not a fan of Goth rock or horror punk music, don’t let the cover art of Nic Nassuet’s new album “Eleutherios” scare you off. To call Nic Nassuet’s music a hybrid is an understatement. Nic is trying to live in the Goth world but this record is not your typical Goth offering. It is so much more that will appeal to fans of several genres. Yes, this record will appeal to those disciples of Goth and punk and horror rock but it will also appeal to fans of folk, Celtic, grunge, punk and neofolk music. Violins, mandolins and cellos are not the typical instrumentation of Goth rock but this record is not typical in any sense of the word.
Nassuet is a seasoned performer, and not simply a musical performer. His stage presence is honed from years of work in musical theater (“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street”, “Side Show”, “Doomsday Cabaret”) and he brings his music to life through that magic he exudes from the stage. One thing that is immediately noticeable from a casual listening of the album is the passion and emotion dripping from every track. Not many performers can impart that level of dedication and fervor through a record but Nic succeeds on all fronts. Nassuet is an award winning songwriter and his songs are well crafted and the arrangements show off the material to perfection.
Thematically, Nassuet’s music fits squarely in the Goth rock sphere. The title of the album, Eleutherios conjures up images of ancient Greek bacchanalia but musically, this offering is much harder to classify. The music is so universal that it should win over fans of multiple genres and appeal to fans of almost any genre. The best tracks on the album are ‘Black Dress’, ‘When It Falls’, ‘Down’ and ‘She Rides Moonlight’. If you get the opportunity to see Nic Nassuet live, it is a show you won’t want to miss. Highly entertaining and very enjoyable.
Normally, I am not a huge fan of electronic music. The genre has been overrun by computer nerds rather than by musicians and the result has been a steady diet of clever “beats” and not enough substance in the music itself. A band out of Seattle is rapidly changing my opinion, however. Gumshen has just released their third album in three years and it is a refreshing take on the electronica genre. The album aptly titled “DigiBites” fuses electronica, EDM, and progressive rock ‘n roll into one enjoyable whole. Make no mistake, the four band members; Ron Hippe, Jan Ciganik, Dennis McCoy and Chip Reno are authentic music makers and use electronic instruments as Jimmy Page uses a theremin. It is a tool to create their music, not music created by a tool.
In addition to hypnotic beats reminiscent of the best work of the krautrockers, there are compelling bass lines, funky guitar licks and lyrics that, although may be repetitive, are complimentary to the musical style. It is evident from a casual listening of the album that these musicians are deeply rooted in their influences and have a basis on which to build. Music has become so disjointed it is sometimes difficult to fit certain bands into certain narrowly defined genres. For example, when you talk about EDM, which even breaks down further into dubstep, house, trance, rave and the list breaks down even further. I suppose one would have to classify Gumshen as an electronic band mainly to give the listener an idea as to where they live in the music spectrum but honestly, Gumshen is a rock band that happens to use a heavy dose of electronic instruments to make their music. The operative word here is “band”. Gumshen is indeed that and if their music isn’t enough to grab you, you should check out their stage show. If the video accompanying the song ‘A Scene Like That’ is any indication, this band has it all together. Great tunes, compelling presentation and a complete understanding of who they are and their place in the music landscape.
The standout tracks on the album are the aforementioned ‘A Scene Like That’, ‘Be Here And Now’, ‘Don’t Stop The Music’ and ‘Pick Up The Slack’.
Steve Benjamins’ new album entitled “Sightlines” is set to be released on May 15th. This will be Benjamins’ third EP in just over two years and is the follow up to 2013’s “Disorientation Man”. Benjamins has a voice best lent to mainstream pop music. His voice is interesting, not distinctive, but interesting. His music, however leans more toward electronica and the juxtaposition just doesn’t work for this reviewer. Benjamins seems to suffer from the same ailment befalling many an indie artist. The songs begin and there seems to be a hesitancy to get to it. I call it musings instead of music. To clarify, Benjamins’ new EP is not all bad. There is something there. Something intangible but not fully formed. The two tracks on the EP of particular note are ‘We Used To Live’, the first single off the EP and a song called ‘Later On’. Both tracks exhibit a songwriter in his prime with a fully formed work of art. The rest of the songs on the EP are a little rambling and not a coherent whole.
I almost get the sense that Benjamins is working against type. He knows what he should be and where he is best suited but someone or something is tugging at him telling him that there is no commercial potential in what he really is. The first rule of being an artist, Mr. Benjamins, is be true to yourself. Artistic expression depends on sincerity and it is something you cannot fake. Only an artist of rare talent can transcend themselves and find success in any genre. Jimi Hendrix would have been a star covering nursery rhymes but those artists come once in a generation, if we’re lucky.
The music business is littered with artists these days, some better than others but without a true and unflinching belief in yourself and what you are about, success will always be just around the next corner. Benjamins’ new EP makes me want to hear more from this artist but doesn’t make me want to rush out and buy this one. All in all, I hear a lot of potential but very little of it realized on this effort.
OK. I get it. In this day and age the music industry has become almost like the Wild West. Literally thousands of indie musicians vying and jockeying for position and a spot on your playlist. In order to get noticed, you need a hook. Many times a great song can set you apart but more often than not, it’s the attention you can draw to yourself that will get you noticed. A stunt, a gimmick; often times the kitschier the better. When I was first asked to write this review, I wasn’t sure what to make of The Ghost of Brooklyn. Should it be taken seriously or is it just another stunt designed for attention. Upon closer examination, I can’t answer that question.
The Ghost’s publicity material states, “The Ghost of Brooklyn is a real ghost from Green-Wood Cemetery. Not the scary nighttime variety, but a friendly musical ghost that meditates, plays guitar and prowls the city streets in search of good vegan food.” Think Casper with a guitar. “Born in 1881 (or about that time), The Ghost of Brooklyn is an animated corpse raised for musical purposes. Cursed with authenticity and tremendous songwriting talent, his raw punchy sound will haunt you.” Alright, I’ll bite. I dived in and actually gave the music an honest listen.
Despite lacking the slick production standards expected in todays’ music, the songs of The Ghost of Brooklyn are surprisingly pretty good. Believe me when I tell you I wasn’t expecting much. The whole project seems a little too contrived to me and not all that well executed but the songs are surprisingly good. I know I said that already but the music is very listenable and quite pleasant. The Ghost does seem to have a talent for songwriting and I think that if he put a little more effort into the production techniques he might have a real chance to break through. Then again, if what he says is real, we shouldn’t really expect any more than what we have. A real conundrum.
Listening to the music, I am reminded of Daniel Johnston who did actually breakthrough for a while but where Daniel Johnston’s shtick was real and authentic, The Ghost of Brooklyn’s is too contrived for this reviewer. Or is it?
You can hear The Ghost of Brooklyn’s music exclusively at his Youtube channel
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.