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.

Album Review : "Mood Swings" by Ships Have Sailed

While their album might be called "Mood Swings" these guys are pretty consistent falling  somewhere in-between Snow Patrol and Death Cab For Cutie. More soulful than Death Cab and not as caught up as being an introspective indie rock band, then go for the big melodies like Snow Patrol and embrace pop as not being a bad word. The album cascades from vocal centric ballads to more dance inducing flourishes of electronic soft rock. The reflective tone that shifts to big radio rock on the first song, is abandoned for a summer high school party soundtrack feel on the song that follows. And so the album goes shifting moods with each songs while retaining an upbeat undercurrent that would be the signature of Southern Californian rock these days.

The singer's  mellow tenor harmonizes with over dubs in a manner that makes me think of Jimmy Eat World. This was obviously spawned from that era of "emotional rock" that came into being late nineties. Ships Have Sailed's most rock element is in the guitar playing. It might be third generation Police influenced, but they share Andy Summer's effects have tone. Sure the Edge could also be another source this sound comes from. The Drummer is filling in for a drum machine though it sounds like the case could be the other way around as the hybrid electronic sound bands like the Postal Service made popular is intact here.

The structure follows the condensed pop formula, keeping all songs under four minutes and going for the big hooks that are to be hammered into the back of your mind. Sometimes this is more inspired than others, "Insomnia" the steam begins to leak into bland, though the band are skill songwriters and this album keeps you engaged more often than not. Any one who knows my writing here would say happy pop is not my thing, but I do appreciate the emotional connection a band like Snow Patrol makes with the listener and an objective listen discerns this band is on a similar current.

Production wise the album is immaculate for what they are going for and with this sort of thing this element matters almost more than the playing. The production shines the brightest on the vocals and where they are placed in the song. The harmony vocals are mixed tightly against one another and the more breathy sections of vocals sound like he is right up in your ear whispering. This is highlighted on a song like "Echoes" that has an ethereal sound that is not what you would consider typical of their sound. Then they are able to achieve a more organic sound in strum of "Imaginary Friend"

Overall if laid back yet emotive pop rock with an electronic sheen is your thing then you ship has arrived with Ships Have Sailed, you will be getting on a the ground floor because before you know it these guys will be plastered all over every show on the CW.

Tonight : Crypt 24 & Half God

The suburbs will be rocking tonight with an emphasis on dark being brought to you in different shades of loud with the Rockbilly horror punk of Cyrpt 24 to the more conventional metal groove of Half God. This leaves Lost Solstice to cover all the other bases. These guys hail from the punk band Whiskey Shit Vomit, the Little Five Points rock Star Orchestra, who did a Tribute to Iron Maiden and Jesus Christ Super Star, the theatrical element continue as Lost Solstice originally formed to perform a a horror musical  the Smith tribute at the Basement  in 2012.. They are leaving the theatrics at 7 Stages and focusing a heavier darker take of post-punk.

over 21 door are only five bucks , shows starts at 9.

Album Review: John Helix's 'Chronic Happiness"

This follow up to Helix's 2014 album "I Fell in Love With a Memory" album starts off  with bi-polar mood swings . The opener has a decadent Brit pop feel, but soon comes down into a more Damien Rice like ballad.  The urgency he sings the line "I don't need California" is pretty convincing. John Helix weaves various genre elements together to make them into something his own. "Conceptual Whistling" is an almost Lennon like take on country. The first instance his Elliot Smith influence becomes noticeable aside from a few harmonies here and there is on the song "I Don't Speak Los Angelese", however being a college professor by day rather than a despondent self professed alcoholic, Helix has a slightly optimistic vibe in comparison.

The Elliot Smith harmonies linger on into "Up This Time". The combination of guitar and piano providing the backdrop to Helix's musings. The simple strum of "I Can Only Hold On" conveys the appropriate measure of melancholy. The formula for this album seems to be where ever the guitar is the piano can not be far behind.This formula seems to work,as the meat of the album holds onto this introspective balladry. The deceased purveyor of Helix's inspiration, held a more folk footing to his emotive yarns that also inspired the likes of Bright Eyes. John only flirts with folk. He generally has a smoother pop feel even on songs like "There's Nothing Left" which comes the closest to folk. The bright side of this is Helix has a knack for hooks and melodies.

The album gradually gets darker as it goes. It is more of a reflective rainy day darkness. Nothing as morose as say the Smiths. The best piano composition on the album aids to this dark cloud on "Nekula". The vocals hold back until the songs builds, to create the albums most powerful moment. It almost carries a shoe gaze like drone reminding me of Alcest. Things perk up a bit after this for "Life in the Conditional Tense". Helix closes the album out with the piano driven"Psychotropic Dreams" that grows into a sonic spectacle as it is adorned with a horn section chiming in.

If you like clever well written singer-songwriter pop with touches of Brit Pop like sparkle then this album is well worth seeking. While there are liberal winks to Elliot Smith at times, Smith is long dead so somebody has got to carry the torch and it might as well be John Helix. Look for "Chronic Happiness" to drop March 6th. Check out "I Don't Speak Los Angelese"  below.

Preview: Surfer Blood

Playing the Earl this Friday, January 2nd, presumingly to prime the general public for their upcoming 3rd full-length release in 2015, Surfer Blood's music is a dreamy kind of surf rock that you feel completely comfortable listening to on dreary winter days. Baby-faced lead singer John Paul Pitts' buttery smooth wistful vocals blend seamlessly with the often melancholy, Smiths like mood the band tends to project.


Opening up are Turbo Fruits. Based out of Nashville, their sound is also along the lines of surf-rock, but a bit more punk and upbeat and less reflective and brings to mind acts such as San Diego's Crocodiles or maybe Tame Impala. 

Tickets are $10 in advance. $13 day of show. Doors open at 9pm. 

Album Review:Dave Plaehn's "Radio Sister"

If you were to compare the pop of today versus the pop of the 80's , the flaring difference would be the emphasis on song writing and the uniformity of production due to the reliance on technology such as auto-tune. Not that the 80's didn't have producers slapping effects on singers voice to tried to compensate for lack of talent, but there was less homogenization. "Radio Sister" takes you back to the golden days of pop music, where  even the adult contemporary had a depth to it. Dave Plaehn follows a path not unlike that of the 70's rock stars who found themselves uprooted in the 80's and forced t to contend with the  post- disco world. During this time established artists scrambled to reinvent themselves.  Dave released his first solo album in 1981, so he lived through that period already and those lessons stuck and stayed.  This is not a bad thing as , he embraces that same courage to redefine himself with each song. He sets gospel backing singers against reggae grooves, and then on the next song "mix fusion jazz with the type of pop Paul Simon dabbled in on his"One Trick Pony" album.

The  host of new wave haunts the  title track with  Polices like guitar holding a taunt folk like chord progressions, before the  Culture Club like harmonica chimes in. Plaehn is an excellent singer, throwing his voice around while retaining a James Taylor like smoothness. Other influences bubble to the surface like the Elton John  belting out on "Is Any Body Listening". This is hidden by the fact its not a piano driven song. Despite the 80's thumbprint there are songs that would sit well on the radio next to today's pop market.The Jimmy Buffet island feel to 'Hello, Melinda" could be something Jack Johnson or Zac Brown would do.The Tom Petty meets Fleetwood Mac swing of 'Better Things to Do" might not transcend  arrested development, but it is fun.

The frenetic jangle of the guitar to "Soda Fountain" mixes the Proclaimers and Talking Heads, before it launches in a more ska section.I suppose Paul Simon's "Graceland" period also had these elements.
Despite his blues background which doesn't show it's face until the finally song , Plaehn comes across more like a pop crooner. His voice often resembles Lyle Lovett's plaintive mid range, without dropping  into Lyle's moodier lower register.He does have a much more adventurous upper register than Lovett. When does reach down into a baritone,it's boisterous and more Elvis fashioned. He really showcases on a A Capella Leadbelly Medley. The blues that he comes from is really only fully embraced on the closing track. Overall this album takes you back to a time when songwriting had more soul  and was about the songs not product. This album is honest and endearing.