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.