Album Review: Naked Tunes by Leonino

Jorge Gonzales  Los Prisioneros,  are the biggest Chilean of time . So this new project Leonino by their singer Jorge Gonzales deserved to be noticed. Despite his background this album is not "world music" by any means the opening track "I Think We Should Be Friends" might catch you by surprise if you are not familiar with his work as it sounds like many of the  new wave artists who adapted to change with the times, once their 80's hey days faded,  Joe Jackson being the first  of these that comes to mind . He morphs slightly from song to song going for a more soulful approach on "Don't Change Your Mind." Sometimes he opts for a minimal approach, than at other he employs an  odd array of organic instruments like harmonica in his work.

 At his more upbeat moments "My Time is Gonna Come" he touches a surreal contemplative pop tapestry not unlike "Sign O the Times" era Prince, though he never takes the kinda of dark skepticism of the human condition that the Purple one did. Perhaps the fact English is not his first language hinders the depth of lyrical content, but he sings it with enough conviction to make up for this fact. From a production stand point it's what you would expect from some one who has sold over 2 million albums. The vocal layering is pretty close to perfect . As far a pop singers go his pipes get the job done. Jorge never over does it with melodramatic trills. The albums other strong point is Jorge's ability to switch gears and do the unexpected, once you think you have him figured out he throws pretty country elements.

Aside from Prince another surprising influence I detected is John Lennon, as "Not a Sound" has an in electronic back drop, as if Lennon was trying his hand at Kraut rock. He gets by with a little help from his friends, with Marino Scopel lending vocals and  Argenis Brito lends his talents to another t track as well. The first hint of Latin flavors simmer up on the  ballad "It Wasn't Mean to Me". His influences converge as it sounds a jam session with   Prince sitting in with the Plastic Ono band. The other Lennon element is how he gives the songs room to breath like John's post-Beatles work. The Latin swing returns on "Down By the River" though the lyrics feel like they are lifted from any one of a hundred 90's slow jams.Where he really grabs my attention is on "There is a Light" that closes out the album. His vocals capture the album's title "Naked Tunes" as the song strips it down to just the layers of his voice bared in beautiful harmony. This is not unlike something Imogen Heap might have pulled off in her earlier work.

 Something here is working for Jorge  if he consistently brings to mind greats like Prince and Lennon. He possess a similar ear to those two when it comes to arrangements and how to place the sounds on this record. Prince is a perfectionist so that might tell you how  good this album sounds. After three decades of work , the  experience paid off on this album. This is fun quirky pop for those who ,so if appreciate  the likes of  Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello or Bryan Ferry's solo work, you can't say he really sounds like any of them ,but his music comes from a similar place and worth checking out.

Album of the Week: RxGf's "Any Other Way"

"Any Other Way" is the 3rd album from John Morgan Reilly's  Seattle based project.  RxGF or "Radioactive X Girlfriend". This album benefits from a collaboration Reilly formed with  20 year old vocalist Angeline Schaaf in 2013. She carries a charisma to her voice that keeps her from being just another  Siouxsie impersonator. Schaaf  combines the influence of darker singers from the 80's and 90's, that is not limited to Siouxsie, but includes the whole post - Nine Inch Nails  industrial pop movement. She leans more toward smart pop hooks than grit , and is not caught in a time warp but seems very aware of what's going on in pop radio.

 At times electronic elements come across like  A Perfect Circle re-mixes, but their guitar sound saves the day with the  perfect blend of effects. The fuzzed out bass lines that crop up from time to time also help add to the sound.They touch of the sleeze of   Lords Of Acid  on "Flesh and Bone", Schaaf's vocal persona expands to include the sultry drug pout of Lady Gaga in her more pop moments. Then there are the quick bursts of male vocals  more akin to Mindless Self Indulgence.

They sometimes indulge in pop bombast to it , but more like if  Kmfdm tired to pull off  the weird anime influenced pop that's so huge in Japan. The beats sometimes carry a pulse  similar to Bjork's "Army of Me". The Lady Gaga feel returns on "Tombstone Soiree". This is where Schaaf flirts with the New Orleans swing of Concrete Blonde in the way the melody flows "Never Felt So Good" dips into Massive Attack like trip hop. The layered vocals she uses here is effective since  she uses this effect sparingly. The backing vocals on this song remind me of Madonna's"Justify My Love". The song goes into an almost kraut rock exploration, simmering over the surface of the moon like the soundtrack to a lunar landing.  As they wander  over the five minute mark it allows them to broaden the expanse of sound to allow for more experimental use of samples. "The Dying Grace of Machines" is a piece of  weird plastic techno that sounds like if Aqua wrote a song for the Blade Runner sound track. The male vocals here come across more Thomas Dolby than industrial.  Dynamically the song builds into something more akin Nine inch Nails synth heavy work.

 They drop into the more organic  "The Hit". Allowing the male vocals return, with a wink to  "Mechanical Animals" era Marilyn Manson . When ever these male vocals pop up you can't help but wonder if this song would not be more intresting if we got to hear  Schaaf's interpretation of them .It not that his  melodies don't eventually  find it's way, it's  that there is a sneaking feeling her apporach might be what really makes the song.  The album kinda of ives off the deep end. The plunge is lead by "Things that go bang " a sample driven techno piece, where the heavy handed  political approach, is shoved down your throat in a manner that  Ministry obviously set the bar for. The synths continue to take the  quirky androids on parade .  Marching to beats that are a simple hammering, not unlike the more "Army of Me" styled beats  employed earlier on, but work better with the driving nature of this song.Some of these more experimental moments would sit better interspersed among the album's poppier , and help retain the album's focus. "Kontrollier Die Kontrollierenden" continues using the males vocals, it's like Rammenstein in a higher register. Lyrically it's more interesting to hear them rage against the machine, but the delivery comes across like Roger Waters collaborating with Jonathan Davis of Korn.

 The instrumentally dominated dance  trend continues with "Flow". Interesting sounds offset on another without adhering to any kind of  structure , but isn't that the nature of dance music  flow like the waves, so it lives up to it's title.  The album closes with a re-mix of one of the bands earlier singles "Belladonna Dream". the song is surprisingly gentle and airy. Almost like a Sarah Mclaughlin song, in the way it falls back into it self. This album hits more than it misses,  they work best when in falling into the same  neighborhood as KMFDM's more light hearted moments.  Schaaf 's songs are the album's strongest moments, but the album has it's heart in the right place and look forward to hearing what Reilly and Schaaf's partnership brings, as it sounds as if their best work is yet to come,  but in the meantime enjoy where they are at.

Album Review: Dimestore Prophets' "Be Yourself"

It makes sense this album came out in April , as it is almost to upbeat for October , but if you are missing the lazy summer days getting blazed then here is a perfect soundtrack to romance those times. From Moses Lake, Washington the band has been honing their chops on the college circut of the Pacific Northwest  having played over two hundred shows in the  past three and half years , which found the band opening  for The Verve Pipe and Indubious.

This three piece does draw from reggae, but they are not a reggae band. They have collected a variety of influences on the road, and fall some where in between the 420 friendly jam band movement and alternative rock of the 90's, not the grunge scene , but more middle of the road act like Blues Traveller and the Spin Doctors, that are the guilty pleasures of people who grew up in that decade. The kind of Hacky sack rock, that adorns festivals everywhere, just a shader lighter than say Dispatch. They find grit in a passage or two , but the songs return to the sugary melodies their pop inflected singer tends to adhere to. Even when a Hammond organ bubbles up from a songs like "Good Lovin"  to great an almost Black Crowes  like feel,  singer Ray Glover's addiction of pop stylized hooks , comes across more like Jason Mraz. The drummer and bassist are pretty impressive in the manner they bring a much larger rambling sound to these simplistic songs. Glover also starts throwing in some sparse soloing, he has a really good tone on his lead channel, for what these guys are doing. The guitars on the album are largely strummed acoustics, the electric guitar is more of an accent. When the chill out into a slower pace it feels like Jimmy Buffet or Zac Brown.

As the album progresses the reggae influence creeps out more, but it also bears some pop country elements.If these guys had grown up in Venice Beach or South Beach, the reggae element might be more convincing. "Sunny Day" is the closest these guys come to playing authentic reggae, the are still a few blunts short of Sublime or even the Police. Though some of the punches that come up mid way into "Sunny Day" would not be out of place on "40 oz to Freedom".The album sounds good from a production standpoint. Ben Smith at Synergy Studios in Seattle certainly did these guys a solid and captured some really crisp organic sounds.

This is the kind of band that any one who knows them is going to tell you "the albums don't do them justice, you really have to check them out live." in this case even  I have a feeling it's true. Musician's old adage  to always serve the song is a cruel master at times for Dimestore Prophets . They are  better musicians than they are a song writers. They do a dis service to themselves to not make the most of this fact, hell bands like Widespread Panic have been milking that sort of thing for decades now, and to some extent the same could be said about the Allman Brothers .  Confining themselves to three and four minute songs is losing a lot  in translation. Not saying these are  bad songs, it just seems if they need  to cut loose and jam out more in the studio. After the kind of  mileage they have clocked in on the road it seems a shame to miss out on what they have learned. If you want fun easy going and stoner friendly pop you have come to the right place.

Album Review: Unfathomed of Abyss' Arisen upon Oblivion

This odd excursion into atmospheric darkness is spawned  from the depraved mind of Texas based artist Kevin Price , who  undertook the creation of this album all by himself...and with a little bit of help from drummer  Kevin Talley of Dying Fetus / Daath .  This is far from the raw black metal sound that came out of Norway that Burzum and Darkthrone made popular. Price does not go down the path of  most commonly associated with black metal forgoing the organic approach almost entirely. He is creating more of a sound track that opens with the odd 14 minute epic "To Unequal the Balance of the Cosmos". Production has never been a key element to  the second wave classic black metal, as they had a more punk rock approach to lo-fi recording. This album captures the sound, they are just  sometimes placed questionably on the stage Price has set.  Kevin Talley is one of metal's more talented modern drummers, but comes from a more death metal school of thought, so in this case being out of his element find Talley playing around the music rather than with it .

Black metal is  only the predominant element in the vocals, recalling early Emperor, before Ihsahn began to employ actual singing.  Death metal growls providing a good dynamic against the more more Ihsahn like snarls. The vocals are better placed in the mix and seem to be given the most love at the mixing board, leaving synth lines to wander like lost ghosts over the songs. The  doomish passages some of the songs sit well against the angular dissonance Price creates allowing it  to melt into something looking more like free form jazz. By the second song the guitar is dialed in more appropriately for a metal album, but where the drums should be bringing the thunder they are sitting back  in the mix. This shifts over the course of the album, y with the synths and guitars trading places as center pieces. This leads you to suspect the problem with the drums is the manner in which they were recorded  at Talley's Florida Studio, then compressed down into thin wave files, that digitized all the boom from them. After a few listens this sounds is something you get used to and gradually becomes less of a distraction, though still coming across like an odd karaoke of sorts.

It seems when shorter and sweeter the song are often heavier. There is  more of an atmospheric death metal vibe to "Within the Glory of Other Lights", making me question if this is really black metal, sure it's dark and has the dissonance, the vocal when reaching up into a more venomous register are more black metal than death metal, but it lacks some key elements like tremolo picking and blast beats. This is flirted with on "Within the Glory..."  There is almost a Meshuggah like pound to the bass at times that would make this more aligned with death metal. Despite what ever genre it is aligned to it's heavy and effective.

A sound more commonly thought of as black metal  emerges  on "To  Nothing" . This is also one of the albums best songs, though if you are going to compare this to Emperor it would be fairer to compare it to Ihsahn's solo works than "In the Nightshade Eclipse". Where price hits the mark best is on a song like  "Within the Void' he finds  perfect balance  atmospheric elements against an angular tangle of progressive mathematics. Overall this is much more along the lines of a studio project like  Cold World, that focuses on being heavy through the atmosphere it creates rather than just kicking up feral metal. Price aims high here and  the mix rather than creative output is the album's only flaw though it is something you begin to get accustomed to when you focus more on the atmospherics. Price is obviously going for something different here I could it could best be called Atmospheric blackened death metal, so if you like your journeys into the abyss to be more scenic than visceral then this is the album for you.

Picking Up The Slack for MTV: Grace Askew - Empty Rooms

As pretty as autumn in the Smoky Mountains, Grace Askew, who was not only on The Voice and won 1st place in the Folk category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, and probably has many other accolades I'm not aware of, hails from Memphis, TN
Her infectious and dynamic voice takes her brand of country and blues and gives it an honesty that not many singer/songwriters are able to project. Her clever wordplay lyrics tell of ugly breakups and gritty struggle. 

The video below while giving off the loneliness she sings about in the song and staying true to the imagery projected by the lyrics with it's open spaces and wind blowing misses the mark of what could be a really great music video. I wish Ms. Askew were a bit more animated with her hand claps and her singing and moving around a bit more as she with her stage performances. I also feel like there could have been a guy wandering around or fixing an old or truck maybe that one could perceive as being the muse she pines for. 

Tonight :Twin Peaks

No not a staged translation of the David Lynch show, but the garage rock band from Chi-town . They just released their new album "Wild Onion" that shares a great deal of common ground with other indie rock bands like the Black Lips who have taken their sound into the party rock of the late 60's. What you hear is what you get with these guys. It doesn't get any more bare bones straight up vintage party rock than this. So bring your beer goggles and dancing shoes. They are playing on the newly renovated Purgatory at The Masquerade

Tweens and Minor Miracle open

Ten Dollars

Doors are at 8:00, but there is a lot of stuff going on down there tonight to get there early to find parking.

Track of the Week: Watkins Music's "One Life One Love"

The family formula has worked with such  early soul masters ranging from  the Jacksons to Brothers Johnson...No, Sly and the Family stone were not actual family, but this  brother and sister duo consisting of  Asa and Arriel  Watkins  are. Her brother  an L.A. based producer lent is magic to this track. He gives an ample nod the  Chicago house scene of the late 80's , that changed dance music as we know it. To call this pop music would be only giving this the most passing listen, and not hearing the very intricate arrangement that layers the vocals of Airreal and Adrian Battle atop a groove that wraps around it like a velvet glove. This is more than a song, but an education to those that are too young to remember when dance was once an organic entity, that was preformed using real instruments rather than pull-down and plug - ins from a computer screen.

That is not to say this track is not birthed from outstanding production, seeing that Asa' production skills capture bursts of modern dance sounds and combine them with the timeless grooves birthed from post- Vietnam era Soul that has been most recently revisited by the likes of Grammy award winners Daft Punk's most recent collaborative effort with Pharell Willaims. Here Watkins Music is not just settling for pop music , but have woven together something more akin to something Herbie Hancock  might have penned if he had wanted to make a disco jazz-fusion album. This sophisticated approach is not just their thumbprint on their new single "One life One Love" but seems to mark all of the other output i have heard from this project  as their other single  "Black Widow" employs similar elements though utilizing male vocals , however it's Airreal's ability to achieve such a vocal blend that makes their newest release stand out.

"One Life One Love"  opens with an ultra- dexterous bass line  courtesy of Taiki Tsuyama . Tsuyama is a Japanese bassist, who cut his teeth playing bass in the Gospel Circuit. His playing is a mix of Bootsy and Pastorious. The bass propels the song. When it comes to serving the song and laying back to hold down the groove and reminds me more of bassists Paul S Denman from Sade's band..The  shades of Kool and the Gang are no coincidence as their guitar Noah Hernandez also plays with Rodney Ellis of Kool and the Gang, so Watkins Music searched in all the right places for their session guys.  The pedigree of talent doesn't stop there as the Horn Arrangements and brass section were handled by Winston Byrd who has played with a who's who of Jazz,, Soul and funk including the Chi-lites, the Dells the Stylistics Chaka Khan, Usher and Charles Mingus's Big Band. He knows where to throw the accents in the old school manner that makes this sound all the more authentic.

It is often said that common secret among CEO's is they surround themselves with people smarter than they are. I think left to their often devices this brother and sister team have enough musical smarts to compete, but the factor that pushes this track and others over the edge into greatness is the level of talent they have gathered to just to make what but first listen might be a retro tinged dance / pop song. It is layered with so many textures of groove highlights the vocals and brings out the best of their preformance, but in a manner that makes them the icing on this cake, rather than having thin synthetic track playing karaoke to auto-tuned vocals that is now common place in this world of disposable pop, where r&b has nothing at all to to with the blues. This restores faith to those disillusioned with the hungry money machine that is now the music business, pumping out hits with all the substance of a Twinkie.

The future can only hold bigger and better things for this duo, and I am curious what a full length from these two might mights like. While they could certainly achieve a broader level of commercial success by heading into a more blatant dance oriented direction, I think they are not interested in dumbing it down for the masses as this is what seem to flow most naturally from them, a progressive soul vibe that would not sound out of place on the soundtrack to the next Quintin Tarintino movie. If that sound like the sort of thing that lights your fire then make sure to step away from the bong and  check out this track and their video for "Metronome" below