Friday, March 24, 2017

Raw Rock Fury Lacking a Clear "Vision"

Ecstatic Vision - Raw Rock Fury
Relapse Records
- out April 7
1.5 / 5

Philadelphia's hard rock foursome Ecstatic Vision slash their way through their second LP. Their approach is part gut punch, part slam-your-head-against-the-wall; that is to say, unapologetic. And while we appreciate their forwardness, their energy and approach, we still have to say: sorry, no. Their aimless jams certainly do not appeal to us, and in total feel like an album-long experiment in playing the same few brazen notes obnoxiously loud.

There's nothing wrong with loud, no. But there is when 11 is the only volume you understand: there is a deep lack of dynamics in Ecstatic Visions Raw Rock Fury, immediately from the get-go. The ironically titled "You Got It (Or You Don't)" is the opener, and not much deviates from the formula established here: repetitive rock-god-like slashing, repeat, repeat, repeat again. The music isn't appealing to us on a few levels, on the lack of dynamics (as mentioned), a lack of diverse songwriting (ie the aimless, unstructured note mashing), and a lack of clear vision, from beginning to end. This album doesn't feel crafted so much as hewn from a rough piece of granite - which yes, is a cool feel, but we were hoping for an end product more comprehensible than some strange, faux-avant-garde angles. We like the energy, the exuberance and even the burned-out vocals, but the repetitive repetition (did we repeat ourselves?) is just too much to bear.

The title Raw Rock Fury is indeed accurate, but on this sophomore, the album feels, alas, too raw in its writing. Take a pass.

Listen to a track on their Soundcloud.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Laura Marling's Sixth Is "Semper" Fantastic

Laura Marling - Semper Femina
More Alarming Records
-out today
4 / 5

Laura Marling's sixth album is not something we typically listen to. We like rock-outs, soul sessions, complicated layered what-have-yous. Stuff with a lotta moving parts. Contrary to our usual tastes, the Los Angeles native's Semper Femina feels, to take the opener, "Soothing." That is, sonically, it feels soothing; but make no mistake, behind the comfortable vocals, the sparse guitar, behind the illusion of a soothing album lies a quiet intensity. It's an introverted LP, an album that begs multiple listens to catch the subtle effects that work here. In short, it is not an album to put on in your car; it is an album to listen to quietly, on the stereo, alone, and we like it.

"Wild Fire" is one of our favorites off these nine, a track that comes off vaguely Dylanesque, both in instrumentation, vocal approach, and even, thankfully, lyrically. That is to say, the lyrics are intelligent: visual, perceptive, truthful. "Wouldn't you die to know how you're seen? / Are you getting away with who you're trying to be?" Another favorite is "Nouel," a guitar-and-vocal with solid tension and release. The whole of these nine are above-par, certainly; instead of pulling a least favorite track to compare, we'd rather get across that Marling's work here isn't for everyone, but it's worth reaching out to attempt something new and different and cerebral. It's not flashy, but it's an enjoyable album that grows on us.

We're glad we went against our normal musical bent here, for Semper Femina is a gem. Recommended.

Listen to some of these tracks on Marling's Soundcloud.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Susto Releases a "Fine" Sophomore

Susto - & I'm Fine Today
Missing Piece Records
- out now
3.5 / 5

Susto, a Latin American term roughly translating as "soul sickness," doubles South Carolina's alternative rock quintet on their second full-length. The term is fitting as lead singer and songwriter Justin Osborne, who traveled to Cuba in his mid-20s on a musical quarter-life crisis, pens here a sophomore of songs of wanderlust and disconnection. What comes on this not-quite-dozen are fun, solid tracks that sport a musical twist-and-turn every now and then.

Right off the bat, we enjoy the strings on "Far Out Feeling," which are a powerful accent for a song about drug abuse. So, Susto knows how to open an album; as well, they close with "Jah Werx," a catchy psychedelic song which, yes, we're not quite sure what it's about, but is funky and uplifting all the same. Our somewhat-complaints? "Hard Drugs" and a few other songs between these bookends don't quite deliver; they're average songs, and kind of pass by. But still, a handful of the songs are above-par, the opener and closer are strong singles, and the album on the whole is rather enjoyable.

We found this nascent funky rock group generally worth our time, and hope y'all do as well; recommended.

Listen to a handful of Susto tracks on their Soundcloud.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Flagship Doesn't Quite Set Sail on Sophomore

Flagship - Electric Man
Bright Antenna
- out March 10
3 / 5

Charlotte, North Carolinan duo Flagship hoist the sails again in their sophomore LP, Electric Man. Here, Drake Margolnick (vocals) and Michael Finster (drums) aim is toward mid-tempo rockers, the more emotive ones instead of rock shredders, and generally hit their target; yielding a result like "In the Rain," a drum-pounding anthem. But while Flagship hit their target, we're going to admit: that target wasn't too terribly high. The risks on Electric Man are minimal, the songwriting not terribly explosive, and the execution is above-par, but not much else.

But those drums, though... Yes, Finster definitely hits the percussive spot throughout the album. And Margolnick also tends to nail the vocals, more often than not. But again: the songwriting, the lyrics especially, aren't really anything all that special. We've listened to this album a few times through, and the rough feeling of it is that it's pleasant to listen to, but passes through without sticking much. We'd like to bring up a very different act, Conor Oberst's Bright Eyes, which is vocally inferior (in terms of hitting those notes), but lyrically far superior (in terms of memorability). Bright Eyes has that kind of color, also that deep kind of truth to it, that makes it stick in our mind. For all their musical competence, Flagship just hasn't hit that sweet spot of uncomfortable truth yet; nor do they quite break out of a sense of formulaic instrumentation. Our favorite track here is actually a bonus track: "Pocket Full of Matches" tends to bend the formula by using a bit of sampling, though the track does not appear on the record, rather unfortunately.

It's a close call here, but should the Flagship take sail by you, we're advising you take a pass.

Listen to some of Flagship on Soundcloud right here.

Friday, February 17, 2017

No Extra Words / Ravings Double Team

Hi y'all!
We've got a little surprise for you. Hint hint:

What does this photo mean?? Wait and see... (c) Matthew Keefer

The No Extra Words podcast is running a cool little series call "Writer Spaces" wherein previously published authors (such as yours truly) describe their writing spaces in audio-form.

Here's the next few scheduled posts:

-Episode 75, Feb. 17 (later today!!)
-Episode 77, Mar. 17
-Episode 78, Mar. 31 - OUR AUDIO ESSAY FEATURED HERE!!
-Episode 81, May 12

So yes. Check out No Extra Words on their site, or iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts (or all of the above).

And be sure to stop by here on March 31st to snag our little contribution to this cool little series.

Y'all enjoy now!

PS - We mentioned we were previously published on N.E.W. right??? Once or twice, maaaaaybe...

Monday, February 13, 2017

No Hot Air - Our Take on Dutch Uncles' "Big Balloon"

Dutch Uncles - Big Balloon
Memphis Industries
- out Feb. 17
4 / 5

We're going to try a different approach for Manchester, England based quartet Dutch Uncles here. Their latest full-length, Big Balloon, is number five in their full-length discography. We've covered #3 - 2013's Out of Touch in the Wild - which you can read right here. We also had to follow up with them in 2015 on their fourth full-length O Shudder (also read our review right here). If there's something you, our readers, might have noticed about our reviews of Dutch Uncles' last three albums, they're all good, solid albums, at 4 / 5. (Four of five whats? Ponies, oz. of honey, orangutans? Just 4 / 5, accept it for what it is.)

In any case, yes, Big Balloon is another 4 / 5. These last three albums, Dutch Uncles have delivered, have been dynamic enough not to repeat themselves, but not quite inventive enough to really - we mean REALLY - knock it out. Big Balloon is by no means a disappointment, gosh no, and it's certainly worth your money. But we strongly suspect that within the next two albums after Big Balloon, they're really REALLY going to knock it out.

Right now, Dutch Uncles have proven to us they know their method, they know the studio. Currently, they've only really toured England extensively. What we're hoping for from the Uncles is an album, a truly great one, that hits 4.5 / 5 or better, one that'll give them a real crossover boost into the US market. And do we think it's possible? Yes, absolutely. Our Vegas (or really, RMMM) odds? About 80% chance in the next two albums.

So what exactly are we saying here? If you're that hipster douchebag who always needs to be on the ground floor of a "new indie band," here's your shot. Brush up on these guys, you'll enjoy, and in a couple albums, when everyone's talking about them, you can flood the streets with your excessive douchiness and mention their back catalog and how you "knew these guys were gonna hit it." You're welcome. Send a check our way (or just donate on the Paypal button on the right side here).

Big Balloon = recommended. And absolutely, keep an eye on these guys for the next album or two.

Start buying their merch on their official site right here, ya monstrous indie douchebag.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

"Soul Sick" Missing Sallie Ford's Spirit

Sallie Ford - Soul Sick
Vanguard Records
- out tomorrow
3 / 5

We love Sallie Ford and her Sound Outside's 2013 release Untamed Beast. It's buoyant, joyous, fun, and all-around a great album. It's a rocker, and it knows it.

Fast-foward to 2016: Sallie Ford releases her second official solo, sans-Sound Outside. We'll be honest, Ms. Ford is a hit-or-miss kind of artist. In 2013, she hit. But 2016, on Soul Sick, she missed. This is why.

We've got to bring it back to what made Untamed Beast so good. Ford and her Sound Outside had just hit their stride musically: they felt spontaneous, they gelled, they rocked it out of the park. Here, Ford's backup doesn't feel like they quite gel. Their guitar licks are passable (which, in this day and age of Karen O among others, is sub-par), and Ford's rhythm section never quite hits a toe-tapping groove. It feels like they play because of obligation, not from joy of the material.

Song-wise, the writing is still above-par for Ford. There are good twists, good lyrical depth, but again, without the right kind of execution, it falls so so flat. While Untamed Beast was something of Ford putting on a Beyonce pro-sexual stance, Soul Sick tries to tackle deeper topics here. We'd definitely argue these songs are written better than Untamed Beast's - topic, construction, etc. - but again, sometimes it's more "how" than "what," and this is one of those unfortunate cases.

Simply put, Soul Sick is good material, but it doesn't quite pick off the runway. We just don't find ourselves wanting to put it on again and again; take a pass. And do pick up Untamed Beast instead.

Check out Ford's website right here for to stream.