Album Review: Rock Masters Band - "Hit the Lights" / "Diamonds"

Rock Masters Band are an underground super group from Finland. With the amount of drinking the Finnish indulge in it only makes sense that it is one of the countries' biggest exports. An impressive array of rock bands have hailed from their shores Nightwish, H.I.M,  Apocalyptica, Rapture, Lordi, and Beast Milk.  They are more upbeat than the bulk of their contemporary countrymen.The Helsinki based band formed in 2007 and features members from the bands Species and Spiha. They already have a couple of albums under their belt, so have decide to avoid stagnation by bringing ina fresh batch of musicians to back them and different producer with each session, to explore other perspectives to approaching their songs and discovering new sounds.

Rock Masters  have found a niche no longer occupied by other artists today, that provide them a  unique place in today’s musical landscape.  They might not be  the first band to touch on wave of post-David Bowie British Glam that came out of England in the 70s, but they are putting a spin on it that is not retro, but infused with the band's DNA. Many artists like Muse swing for the fences and attempt to use Pro-tools to achieve the grandiose layers that Queen was able to pull of without the benefit of such studio tricks, but Rock Masters goes for a much more stripped down and organic sound, which ranges from the more Rolling Stones like swagger of "Hit the City" to the more gaudy androgyny of "Diamonds". 

With even rock Godfathers like Gene Simmons saying that "rock is dead " this  celebration of rock n roll  is encouraging . No matter the era they are they are deriving inspiration from. It draws you in. While the chorus to "Diamonds" having a hook that digs a little deeper into you than "Hit the City", but both songs are worth checking out below if you are a fan of 70s glam along the lines of T-Rex, Mott
the Hoople and Sweet.

Tonight: The Tontons and Wild Moccasins

I don't hear a lot about Houston, TX except for news about oil and NASA. I tend to only hear about great bands coming out of Austin, as far as Texas goes. However, when bouncing around the interwebs looking happenings around Atlanta I found that The Tontons were playing at a local spot for up and coming talent right in my home town; The Earl. I clicked on the provided video on The Earl's website and was pleasantly surprised by the minimalistic approach the music took and the vocals of the stunningly attractive lead singer - Asli Omar. Her style  and approach, and perhaps even lyrical content, reminded me of Morrissey of The Smiths - with a soulful, female spin, of course. I also picked up on a dream-pop, psychedelic-country vibe akin Mazzy Star vibe or Cowboy Junkies, from the entire project itself.

Wild Moccasins

Opening up are the Wild Moccasins, whose lead singer is as equally stunning as The Tontons'. Their sound, however, is a bit more 80s oriented and experimental and brings to mind acts such as Blondie and Donna Summer.

All of this is going down tonight at The Earl. Doors open at 8:30. Tix are $10.

Album of the Week: 832's "the Rap-ture"

Sure it might be a tad premature to coin the  phrase Oklahoma sytled rap, since they have yet to prove themselves as a prolific enough demographic to become an actual style of hip-hop. But in the event Oklahoma style does come about it expect it to have taken notes from 832 who have paved the way. It will be experimental, to the point that it might use lyrics from seventies disco songs to create gospel tinged dramatics. It will have subject matter that is conceptual, like the Rap-ture, which refers to the debate occuring on this album  between the album's anti-hero and the angel on one shoulder and the devil on it's other. Oklahoma rap might fall somewhere between the precise lyrical flow of Jurassic Five , but not afraid to throw in some dirty south bravado, amid its soul searching.

The devil shoulder obviously is not only the most interesting element lyrically, but lends itself to having a darker backdrop musically. It is not like Bone Thugs when they got high and played with their Ouija board, but a much more internal element. They should get credit where it's due in their innovative arrangements as they challenge the self imposed confines of the genre. 832 shifts the beats around mid song, giving an almost bi-polar element, sometimes taking an Outkast like alien slant. These guys care about the music as much as they do being on point at the microphone when it comes to laying down the freestyle verses.Singer Juju helps the boys out with some vocal hooks with his slick Bruno Mars pop cadence to the hooks. These more melodic and thoughtful moments that proliferate on the first half of the album are the groups strong suit.The sample in "Pyscho Woman" reminds me of witch house, while the rapping brings more of a dirty south a ghetto mash- up of say the Nappy Root and the Three Six Mafia.

The gangsta lean returns for songs like "Sic the Dogs on 'em" Juju helps smooth out the hard hitting "War", which helps out as gong hard doesn't seem to be 832's calling card. "The Showdown" employs some interesting edm influenced synths despite the regression back into hood mentality of the rap schemes, the chorus is despite this still catchy. The electronic elements flourish like the Tron soundtrack on "Victory" though in final act of the album they are playing it safer and blending in with the current crop of rap, despite their ear for innovative new beats.

Wilson the V shows up for "the Crown" that goes back to 90's Dungeon family styled Atl rap. I suppose in the way the raps are constructed their can be some Kayne felt here as well. Over all one of the better produced underground rap albums I have heard in a while. The tug of war between the devil and the angel parallels the album's tug of war between staying conscious vs going with the same old krunk gangsta lyrics that is lowest common denominator mix tape fodder. They do pull from the last great days of rap in terms of their influence and in doing so make something that is head and shoulders over what is being passed off as hip-hop today.

Album Review : Attik Door's "Never in Agreement"

From Russia with love this now San Francisco based band took the last year and a half to write the songs. Their work pays off in the opener that is vocal fueled radio rock in the vein of Halestorm. the 90s rap rock influences creep their head for the more staccato vocal attack of their singer Liana Tovmasyan. The smoothed out pop sense to her melodies at times do have a Gwen Stefani accent to their phrasing, but as a band they never touch upon ska and thus swerving away from Stefani's new wave quirk. Though her inner Stefani does come out in it's most unabashed manner on "Moody"

Backing off from the straight forward rock approach  on "California" and stepping away from the distortion pedal it allows their singer more room to work with and she takes them ironically in a more Euro sounding direction despite the song's title recalling bands like the Gathering and Guano Apes. The guitar solo tend to straddle the fence of 80's arena rock when such indulgences reached their peak.This 80's element that band's like Halestorm and Pretty Reckless embrace are also given a spot light in the big chorus of "Snorting Headlines", I am sure this would be exaggerated even further if the band had settled in L.A. rather than San Francisco that tends to either have a laid back hippie vibe from the Haight Ashbury days or the metal leanings from the thrash scene that sprung from the Bay- area in the 80's birthing bands like Metallica and Testament.

One of the albums best moments is the darker turn reflected in the lower vocal harmonies of "Cyber World" the guitar chugs in a tighter Tool like manner.One of the albums most interesting riffs its the more progressive "Kosmos". When the verse kicks in it takes a more straight forward direction, though the guitar tone remains a little more organic sounding until the bouncy chorus which is as close as they come to touching on ska elements.  The riff to "Spinning out" reminds me of the Finger Elven song that came out a few years back, where they tried to tone down the metal guitar and and masquerade themselves as a dancey band like Franz Ferdnand They are not recreating the wheel here and obviously wear their influences on their sleeves but this is well written, well produced and well executed, and better than most of the current crop of so called rock bands like Imagine Dragons ,who lack the balls to pull it off. For a band that is almost half girls to have more stones to them ...I'm not sure what it says about the current state of rock on the radio.

Album of the Week : Saint James Band 's "Always Be With You'

This album might start off wits a Beatles like brightness on title track that opens the album, but don't let that fool you. Sure it comes complete with George Harrison like guitar hook and big layers of backing vocals, but what you should pay attention to is the foreshadowing of the blues-based solos that color the corners. So don't think he is limited to folk blending an array of styles in "Sweet Lovely Darling".  Traces of both the Shins and Peter Gabriel  linger in the chord progression, but this is only sweet taste before the saw dust gets kicked up in your mouth. There is ample rock influence in the slide guitar solos and big chords bolstering the choruses capturing the 60s and 70's vibes in a similar manner to say the Black Crowes.

"Everything is Going to Be Alright"finds the vocals backing off in way more like the slacker sounds of 90s indie rock. Then comes the slight psychedelic tinge to " Silent Partner". The blues driven guitars take more of an Eagles rock angle. The harmonies are always well placed on this album and never over done or used the same way twice. Then the albums begins to make it's big turn into what become the true heart of this album. The band goes into a more grassroots feel for a couple of songs, exploring various genres touched on by the clues such as the roadhouse country hybrid "Who You Are" , the closest comparison here might be Neil Young. "Come to the River" is in the same neighborhood as Led Zeppelin's swan dive into the blues on "Led Zeppelin III".

More variations of the blues spin out of "I'm Confused" that takes on a more muscular Texas styled blues. With all this talk of blues it shoulder be noted that the guitar playing on this album is top notch and all the shades of blue are captured with authenticity. This is definatly a guitar players album. Every trick in the book is propped up on the monitor and given the spot light. From the "Gallows Pole" feel of "Better Way" to "Who You Are" they are well versed students of the craft. Not to say it's a hundred percent retro outing. There are some modern rock elements, many of these come closer to those of fellow Led Zeppelin fan Jack White.

The Buddy Guy/ B.B King school of blues is plunged into head first in the shredder  of an instrumental"In Memory Of Elizabeth". This is a perfect ending to the tour of blues this album begins to take you on just before the  mid way point. If guitar solos are not your thing, then the first few songs are still worth a listen, the rest of the album serves as a guitar instructional. Stevie Ray Vaughn and the like did this with still keeping the songs in mind, some where in the 80's rock guitar turned into an athletic event thanks to the Paul Gilberts and Yngwie worship, but Saint James Band gets that a solo is only as good as the song it's in.


Album of the Week: Poois - Soul Spook Collector

The NewYork based band has stepped up their game and gotten heavier this go around. While some of the quirky elements that brought a more eclectic ambiance is still in tact it's just less consuming.  If the earlier work brought System of a Down to mind then the results are something a little closer to more recent Mastodon. Singer Tim Kaim  gives his best performance yet, putting more guts into his voice , he digs down into a lower register to find some common ground with Troy Sanders tonally. To say they are more tongue in cheek at this point would be hard pressed, after all how seriously does Mastodon take themselves. Lyrically the subject matter leans towards frustrations of an average joe. and conspiracies that plague the common man.  On "Love Gun", not the Kiss song, the band goes in a more Stone Temple Pilots direction. It's immediately evident two songs in that this album is really well produced and the vocal over dubs are one of the albums strengths in providing layers to their sound. You can also here elements of the Cult on "Love Gun" as well with the solos winking at  the 80's Hollywood scene.

What started off as frustrations of average joe in the lyrical department take a turn for the gutter as they go into sleazier subjects, pole-dancing and s&m.  Though the most nefarious subject might be the Home Shopping Network on "19.95". The songs dynamically ebb and flow, with melodic passages surfacing through out. They get heavier on "Pistols N' Pitchforks" though it still has ample amounts of arena rock to it. There are some phrases where Kaim's voice takes on a dramatic swagger not unlike that of Jack Black's meatier moments on Tenacious D, though without the Dio worship.

The band have capable chops working best tightly coiled together and grooving on songs like "Skateboard Punk". Guitar solos find ways to squeal out of the nooks and crannies of every song. The album continues to rock with sinewy riffs slithering around alt-rock progressions that are dirtied up like a stripper at a Guns n Roses concert. The backing vocal have that Sunset Strip blues feel on 'Tight Jean Jeannie". The pace changes the most dramatically on "Deep Darkest Night" that is a bizarre power ballad of sorts though midway it changes into a more staccato pattern with the pound of early Faith No More.

They return to a more cutting style of metal on what might be the album's best song"Hypnotic Regression". The vocals shift into a more extravagant soar, that build the most memorable memories as you get the sense band really takes themselves seriously on this song. The closing song goes back into more of a rock n roll strut. If you were to compare them to the current wave of radio rock fans of bands like Avenged Sevenfold, would find plenty to sink their fangs into. If you are one of my regular readers hear it's likely your tastes in metal might find this to be middle of the road hard rock when compared to what we normally classify as metal here as the vocals have balls but never growl and they are tuned higher than a and never use blast beats, but never the less if you want something light hearted and fun, these guys have stepped up their game and conceived an album of good time party rock.

Album Review: Ethan Jano's "I'll Be Fine"

The Blue collar born Ethan Jano busts into his album with an energetic strum that reminds me slightly of the Violent Femmes, before some of the more country elements trickle in. While Jano isn't just trying to hop into the current band wagon of pop folk for the beardos of alt-radio these days, but he is not Rome or any other of the gloomy folk artists of the underground either. Instead Jano opts for a more of a middle ground, which is a Sixties approach to folk following the foot prints of artists like Phil Ochs followed in the pick up your guitar and start a revolution scene Bob Dylan brought into the mainstream. It's the more somber moments like "Faithful Son" that have the most emotional resonance. His strong, but plaintive voice works best when countered with a more minor key guitar passage behind it.

Jano has been playing guitar since his father showed him some chords at the ripe age of eight and he has developed a command of the instrument. He coaxes some interesting chords progressions from an acoustic that might normally be played on an electric. Some times electric guitar is employed to create a more hoe down swing. The wheel is not being reinvented, but Jano does often find himself at the same cross roads Elvis once found himself at, standing between country and rock. Which is surprising as this is a folk album.  He continues to rock and ramble down the railroad at an upbeat pace and finally slows on the more blues based like of  "I Won't Go.  Perhaps it’s the fact Johnny Cash was a big influence in his early days, but vocally over the course of the album he steers things in more of a country direction. By the time you are at the halfway point of the album you will be convinced this guy is legit and not some frat boy who is hoping on the newest trend. The first song that feels like straightforward folk is the banjo inflected "All I Need is You". But the blues begins to win with boisterous banging of "No Idea" that is an abrupt as a punk rock song.

Ethan's sense of melody is best showcased on the easy going vocal of "The Perfect Space". Lyrically the metaphors are rooted in a sense of story telling. This is conveyed best through the more introspective vocal approach on "the Burn" without Jano having to sacrifice any of his robust delivery. He ends the album with a jubilant jamboree of "Wild Fire".  The lyrics to this one are also the most care free on the album.  If you like Americana and would like it to be slathered in blues speckled folk then this is the album you have been waiting for. Even if you don’t consider your self to have much of an ear for folk, but like older full flavored country then you might also find that this album is worth a listen as well.