Band Name: Rachel Merchand
Album Name: The Ashling
Best Element: Lush, full songwriting
Genre: Female Singer/Songwriter
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Sometimes I feel bad for singer/songwriters who happen to be of the female variety. Since there aren’t a very large number of them who are simultaneously famous and respected by the indie community (I’m looking at you, Liz Phair), a lot of things fall under the umbrella of Fiona Apple-ites, Ani Difranco followers, and Alanis Morrissette idealogues. And since a lot of people aren’t hip to the female music community, they’re perfectly fine with those horrible labels.
I’m here to tell you that Rachel Merchand is not significantly like any of them. I’m also here to tell you that if you’re not already enjoying female songwriters, you probably won’t enjoy this very much.
That’s partially because The Ashling is an extremely personal record- each of the ten tracks holds a potent urgency that makes it feel like Merchand is sitting in your room playing for you. This isn’t a pop album by any means- while there are pop structures occasionally, this is not a hit-it-and-quit-it type of record. There’s no such concessions to the listener (except the ill-fitting “These Tears”)- this is a collection of deep, heartfelt songs that unfold their depth more and more with each subsequent listen. To heighten the effect, the album is perfectly paced- each song seems to flow logically into the next. The Wall this isn’t, but The Ashling does have a distinct musical thread running all the way through it, similar to a concept album.
This thread is easy to identify- it’s the impeccable songwriting of Ms. Merchand. This album is built off acoustic guitar, piano, forlorn strings, and the dusky alto vocals supplied by Rachel. Each of these instruments receives loving treatment in how they are employed- employed often, and always beautifully. A morose, somber cello sets the mood for “Humble”- “Cinderella” features a very (I have to say it) Ani Difranco-esque acoustic guitar- “Endless Day” has a stunning piano line as well as a piercing, aching vocal line.
While each individual instrument occasionally takes precedence, they more often work together, forming a lush, dark, full background to Rachel Merchand’s voice, as displayed brilliantly in the anthemic “You Cause Me to Break.” “You Cause Me to Break” starts off with a swift acoustic guitar line and the strong yet forlorn vocals you will come to love before introducing a groove-heavy drumbeat. In the chorus, the background vocals and strings come in, thickening the sound to a roar and creating quite an impressive chorus.
This is not an easy album to dissect, nor is it an easy album to pick favorite tracks off of. There is no clear-cut ‘best track’ here- it will be up to the listener to pick out which one (or few) of these stellar tracks is ‘the best.’ I’m partial to “Dreams”, but only because it has a nice indie-electronic beat under it, and I love electronics. The Ashling is a really, really dense album- full of tricks and twists and talent. Any fan of female voices in music will highly enjoy Rachel Merchand’s emotional, lush music. Any fan of lush, beautiful music should at least check out some mp3’s from this girl- I would be willing to bet that if you like Oasis, Joseph Arthur, Turin Brakes, or even Coldplay, you’d find something to like in Rachel Merchand.
Band Name: Nemo
Album Name: Signs of Life
Best Element: Great songwriting and melodies
Label Name: Binge Records (www.bingerecords.com)
Nemo lives in that space between indie-pop and indie-rock. They have all the melodies, instrumentation, and charm of an indie-pop band, but their approach is less shiny, their overall atmosphere much more serious, and their themes much more weighty than those of an indie-pop band. Their debut album Signs of Life is a quick-paced, highly engaging indie rock experience.
While Nemo has cultivated a very cohesive sound for their album, their songs are strong enough that even out of the context of the album, these songs stand up on their own. “Metropolitan,” for example, has their signature sound down- while the bass and drums are lively, the guitar is pensive and melodic, setting up a bridge between the fast bass/drums interaction and the mournful, soul-searching vocals. When all the parts work together it is a haunting sound- as if the loneliness of urban life is contrasting against the busyness of it.
This sound permeates their entire album, from the achingly beautiful title track to the soupy, transcendent “Fiction of Reality” to the herky-jerky “Lunar Ship to the Mars” to the eerie “Eternity of This.” The two main players here switch off instruments pretty often, but this cohesive sound never suffers a bit from it- these two songwriters are very in tune with each others’ songwriting tastes and quirks.
While this album is seventeen songs long, it doesn’t feel like it at all. Each of these songs is concise- stripped of any excess material that they might have had. This results in an album that never gets boring- before anything has a chance to get repetitive, it’s done and we’re on our way to the next great track. The downside is that songs that could have been longer leave way too soon- like the excellent closer “Harbor” or the beautiful intro to “Fiction of Reality.”
As with any album, there are a couple of tracks that just don’t succeed (“Chariot”, “Killer Bees”) either due to bad transitions or odd songwriting, but on the whole, this is an extremely well-written, highly enjoyable piece of indie-pop songwriting. When you leave an album humming a tune and in a different mood than when you came, you know that you’ve just heard something good- and that’s how I know Signs of Life is a pretty safe bet for anyone looking for great mellow indie music.
Band Name: Morricone Youth
Album Name: Silenzio Violento
Best Element: Ambitious songwriting and instrumentation.
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Silenzio Violento is a sprawling mess of an album. It’s nearly sixty minutes of jazz-infused indie-rock, dark atmosphere, sudden bursts of near-cacophony, some rocking out, and a lot of melancholy pondering. But yet, when I get to the end of Silenzio Violento, my first thought is “Wow, let’s hear that sprawling mess of an album again!”
Morricone Youth started out as a band that covered soundtrack scores- they even take their name from famous composer Enrico Morricone. Thus, it’s no surprise that opening track “Silenzio Violento (titoli)” sounds pretty much like the opening credits on a movie- the guitars are epic and sweeping, as if surveying a ravaged landscape; the snare-heavy drums are separated and military, punctured with ominous bells in the background; the female vocals are a high, wispy, forlorn aria that deliver even more majestic melancholy.
But it’s not all soundtrack fare here. As if to prove that the Youth are not the ravaged landscape, but the ones about to ravage it, the next track “Starshine” blasts out of the gate in an indie-rock vendetta. “I can’t wait for this rocketship to finally get us off!” calls Dreiky Caprice, as the band launches dramatically into a dark, complex, wondrous universe of music. The tenor saxophone leads the sound here, playing fat and loud. The layers of keys lay down a strong foundation along with the punchy bass and jazzy drumming. The vocals and guitars fit together on top of all this madness, bringing a sense of cohesiveness. The vocals are high but never obnoxious- passionate but never over-the-top.
Morricone Youth enjoys pushing boundaries- throughout this album they consistently experiment with new soundscapes and ideas, all the while retaining the dark, eerie feel of a cramped backroom venue. It’s like OK Computer with less social agenda and more jazzy chaos; more passion, less disaffection.
Because of their scope and range, every song is worth describing. “Bye Bye (take 5)” features fast trip-hop drumming under a slow-moving slab of ‘ah’ vocals, smooth keys, and lounge-esque sax, creating an unique mood, while “Monster” passes almost a minute and a half with fuzzed out vocals of an argument scuffling along under some static and other excess noise. It breaks out into a rollicking chase scene of a song, eventually. “Hoist” is a funky endeavor that calls up memories of 80’s cop shows. No joke. “Brujo Malo” is an amazing indie-rock song- starting out with an ominous low-end piano line, picking up a quick drumline, grabbing a wordless, jumpy vocal line, adding in some distorted guitar, throwing down some creepy organ notes- the song is nerve-wracking.
Silenzio Violento has a dramatic air to it that imparts the notion that Morricone Youth wrote a rock opera about a seedy underworld crime ring and this is just the music part of it. There’s slow songs [“Bye Bye (End Credits)”“>, jazzy songs (“Funny Thing”), crazy songs (“Brujo Malo”), simpler songs (“I.V.A.N.”), and everything in between. Their talent is undeniable, their creativity is unbelievable, and their audaciousness is almost unmatchable. If you’re up for an indie-rock experience that will make you think “What the heck?” just as often as “Heck yes!”, then Morricone Youth’s tricked-out soundtrack music is for you. I know I can’t stop listening to it.
Band Name: Man Alive
Album Name: Open Surgery
Best Element: Talented musicians & great production.
Label Name: The Militia Group
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Man Alive is another band that falls right in with the other stellar acts on the Militia Group label, as their music is solid, heartfelt, catchy, and upbeat. Their new CD Open Surgery is a strong album from start to finish.
The first thing that I noticed upon popping this CD in my CD player is that, even though I didn’t know the lyrics, I wanted to sing along. Man Alive’s sound is an excellent combination of poppy and emotional. They are not bubblegum pop, they’re not emo, they’re more of an Alkaline Trio-meets-brit-pop sound. It’s entertaining and evocative all at the same time.
It is also worthy to note that there is nothing amateurish about this CD. Man Alive is a band of extremely talented musicians on a well established record label. Each track, whether it be a slow and sensitive emo-style track or a more rocking pop-punk track, is both well played and well produced. Make no mistake about it, Open Surgery is 36 1/2 minutes of solid rock. From their catchy guitar hooks to their vocalist’s ability to fit his vocal style with the type of music, Man Alive knows what it takes to make something sound good.
Strong tracks on this album are “Give Me a Sign”, title track “Open Surgery”, and “Fire”. The only definitely weak track is “Against the Wall”, which suffers because it’s more of a hardcore punk song than the other tracks and stands out in a bad way because of it.
Open Surgery‘s replay factor is an eight on a scale of one-to-ten. The only slight drawback is that a few tracks sound similar enough as to become a little repetitive. Aside from this one negative factor, Open Surgery has a great attention-grabbing quality that demands repetitive listening.
Band Name: Making It Right
Album Name: I’m Sorry You’re Uncomfortable
Best Element: Fun yet mature piano-pop sound
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s no secret that the Independent Clauses deals in a lot of heavy, deep indie-rock. The backlash against the simplistic radio drivel that’s been marketed to death is huge- and it’s marked by intelligent lyrics, complex song design, and lots of ideas that haven’t been done before.
But sometimes you have to kick back and have fun. The mellow brilliance of Braille just isn’t that great for cruising in your car with friends. The crushing sound of Century just doesn’t work when you’re hanging out in the backyard, chilling. Making It Right is here with a bright, shiny, rocking slab of piano-pop to help you out in those times.
One immediate downside to Making It Right is the impression that MIR went to the shopping mart of influences and just yanked a whole bunch off the shelves. Shades of the Cars, Relient K, Dashboard Confessional, Something Corporate, Juliana Theory, Jimmy Eat World, and many more can be heard on the 12 tracks that make up this album. The redeeming quality is that although you can hear all those influences in their music, it’s never so much so that you can feel good about pinning them as copycats. Sure, “To the Last Wish” sounds like something Dashboard or even Brand New would write, but it’s a great song despite that. “The New Patriot” sounds like it could be taken out of the Relient K files, while “Ghost” definitely has some Jimmy Eat World vibes in it, but both are ridiculously enjoyable.
Because of those influences, some people won’t ever be able to enjoy this- they’ll be stuck on name-checking forever. Sure, you can predict some of the chords, but if you get past the pretentious attitude and just listen to it, Making It Right has an extremely enjoyable album in I’m Sorry You’re Uncomfortable. They know how to write a pop hook, and they know how to work that skill into a lot of different genres- piano-pop, pop-punk, and acoustic, just to name a few.
The vocals here are solid- in previous releases Making It Right has had some iffy vocals, but they’ve really matured in this release and they are one of the highlights of the album. The line in “The New Patriot” is especially cool, as they offset the lead vocals with group-sung vocals. Another notable is “Big Escape”, in which they display that they can now play punk and keep the vocals in check. “Pre-emptive Breakup Song” is the hands-down winner for best vocal performance, though- with multiple lines and excellent harmonies, it’s excellent.
Despite the excellence of the vocals, the piano here is what many will notice, as MIR employs keys often and well. The band knows when to implement the piano as a songwriter (“And You’re The Reason”) and when to use it as a base for other stuff (“Quarter-Life Crisis”). They rock out with it (the awesome “First Class Ticket”) and mellow out with it (“Didn’t Have the Heart”). It is the heart of their sound, and at the center of all their best songs lies an excellent piano line.
Making It Right is a pop band that rocks. They’ve definitely got their act together, and while this isn’t groundbreaking by any standards, I’m Sorry You’re Uncomfortable is one album that you can instantly enjoy. From the first chord, Making it Right will have your heart, no matter what type of pop you like best.
Band Name: Joshua Radin
Album Name: 5 Song Demo
Best Element: Breezy mood and cinematic ear.
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Ah yes! Joshua Radin. The beauty seeps from your lips like honey and a perfect spring day. It’s warm outside and the flowers are beginning to bloom in people’s gardens as I pass them in my car. Joshua Radin is playing on the car stereo and the sun is shining through the windsheld, heating up the interior of the vehicle.
I believe that setting best describes Josh’s beautiful, radiant folk/pop. He has the same love-ready, optimistic quality as Iron and Wine, Rocky Votolato, or James Taylor. Yet Joshua likes to compliment is simple songs will lush string arrangements that give the music a cinematic quality that should catch on in the post-Garden State indie music scene.
Joshua Radin’s best moments come in “Sundrenched World”, which starts out with a muted violin part that gives a Smiths aftertaste to the song. The chorus comes in with more violin parts and fills the song out. This breezy quality mixed with the cinematic ear Joshua has doesn’t make it hard to understand why his songs have been featured on “Scrubs” on NBC. If Joshua Radin keeps going the way he is, he’ll soon be on his way to John Mayer status.
Band Name: Iver
Album Name: Citadel of Stars EP
Best Element: Majestic, romantic songwriting
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Iver is one of those bands that makes my eyes get wide, my jaw drop open, and my conversations stop. When I first heard “Citadel of Stars” on their purevolume site, I fell instantly in love. How could I not, with two talented pianists (who also happen to be talented vocalists as well) playing their hearts in a torrentially passionate love song?
Iver’s set-up may be unconventional, but once you listen to their EP, you will completely forget that it matters (which it doesn’t, anyway). This band is truly amazing. By having two complete pianos on stage at once (go to their site and look at the photos- they’re amazingly cool), a vocal amp with two inputs, and nothing else, they create one wall of sound- as if a person with four hands and two voices had written these amazing elegies.
But it’s not one guy with a messed-up anatomy- it’s Morgan Cornwell and Blake Powell. Cornwell’s vocals are astounding from the get-go- I’m usually not a fan of female vocals, but the passion and nearly perfect, seemingly effortless intonation that comes out of her mouth blends with the music in a heavenly manner. Powell’s vocals, a tad reminiscent of Something Corporate’s Andrew McMahon, are emotive, low and strong- the antidote to all these whiny pop-punk/emo/pop-rock singers that are popping up like zits on the face of modern music. Whether belting it out on the elegaic “Where Would I Go” or smoothly crooning on the melancholy “Cynical Me”, his voice rings true and is a perfect foil to Cornwell’s dusky alto.
Their piano playing is stellar- as complex as you would expect for a four-handed piece, yet keeping in mind that these are pop songs to be consumed by pop-lovers (no out-of-hand artsy weird stuff). With four hands and two brains writing the songs, there are many parts in these tunes, making the shortest (“Where Would I Go”) clock in at 4 minutes and 41 seconds. But while the songs are long, Powell and Cornwell limit repetition and allow even the most ADD of listeners to listen to Iver with little to no discomfort.
Another characteristic of the two-minded songwriting process is that the songs are diverse on this four-song EP. “Citadel of Stars” is an charging, passionate romantic romp that is easily the best song on this EP. The piano playing on this opening track is jaw-dropping, sucking the listener in for the rest of the EP. “Sun Down” is a long, slow-building ballad with some great vocal interactions, while “Where Would I Go” is a tender, quiet, emotional elegy. “Cynical Me” is a melancholy, introspective track that features some great two-piano interactions and the best lyrics on the EP.
While “Cynical Me” works well in the words department, the lyrics on the rest of the album could be a point of contention. This EP is a mini-story about a romance, and while they play with words quite effectively, they don’t play with them well enough that they can get away with making an entire EP about love. In some places it can come off as a little too sappy- but that’s the nature of the songs. I don’t find a problem with it, being a hopeless romantic myself, but there are some who will look down on this EP because of its preponderance of romantic language. Just warning you.
If you like love songs, piano, or beautiful indie-pop, Iver is the new rising star. I seriously expect them to put a small backing band behind them, write some more amazing songs, go on tour, and take over the indie-pop scene. There’s just too much talented encapsulated within Iver for them not to make it all the way to the top. Mark my words.
Band Name:Harriet Street
Album Name: Cold and Comfortable
Best Element: Deeply enjoyable
Genre: Rock, alternative-pop
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Chess is a game of patience, intelligence, and understanding. Harriet Street’s Cold and Comfortable is solidly built around these three elements.
The lyrics of this album are on a level of their own, putting almost any band to shame. Songs consist of the same old themes but are set apart with bold, sometimes bitter, intricacy aligned just so to bring every word alive. And yet, these lyrics live in the shadows of fantastic music that is so well-coordinated that you can’t escape from listening to it. It won’t be uncommon to find yourself humming along, maybe even singing along to these impeccably designed alt-pop tunes.
Coldplay, everyone’s favorite alt/pop band, will quickly seem incomparable to Harriet Street’s Cold and Comfortable as Harriet Street infuses their music with much more passion and clarity than Coldplay’s recent work boasts.
Sometimes through all the quality and layers of this complex debut album, it feels as if they were holding back- not always being true to themselves and their art. This means that Harriet Street is a band capable of producing many things that are even better than this. This enviable quality makes Cold and Comfortable a must have and Harriet Street a band to watch. You will be hearing more of them.
Band Name: Foosa
Album Name: Four song demo
Best Element: Male/female vocal harmonies
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s always hard to give a band a negative review when there is so much potential. A lot of the problems with Foosa lie not their musicianship, but rather in the poor production quality. This unfortunate job of recording leaves the vocalist’s voice sounding flat and the instruments sounding distorted and sharp. This production quality makes this demo hard to listen to.
Aside from this, however, Foosa has vast potential. “Brace Yourself” exemplifies their uncanny ability to harmonize the male and female vocals, creating a very round and very beautiful sound.
The rest of the tracks are just okay. They are not necessarily bad, but they are not remarkable either. They are kind of a run-of-the-mill emotional indie rock band. There’s just nothing makes them stand out from every other band in this vein of music.
I would be curious to hear more of Foosa’s music after better production. They are very talented, but it is hard to get a feel for how talented they really are when the demo is so very distorted, skewing the sound of the voice and music.
Band Name: Chris Davidson
Album Name: Letting Go
Best Element: Beautifully talented music.
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: n/a
The words needed to describe Chris Davidson’s talent do not come easy. His music is gifted on many, many levels. From the instrumentation to the vocals to the songwriting, he has mastered his craft and it shows. The entire 44 minutes of Letting Go are pure, ethereal, sophisticated beauty.
Davidson’s vocals are from the heart. His lyrics are full of passion and intensity that can only come from a place that is backed by emotion. This, coupled with his amazing vocal talent, produces a sound full of feeling and heart.
His music is much like Dashboard Confessional, but without the forced metaphors and fake emotion. Everything Davidson sings feels absolutely real, making the emotion almost tangible. He is in the moment when he performs, and brings the listener into the moment with him, sharing his intense experiences.
While there is no definitely weak track on here, there are a few which stand out above the others. Opener “Love is a Waste of Time” is a perfect choice for an opening track, as it clearly showcases the beauty, talent, and emotion in Davidson’s music. Another incredibly strong track is “Betrayal.” This song is particularly great because when he sings the line which begins with “all this tension”, you can hear the emphasis on tension – like he really feels it and is genuinely conveying it.
For incredibly talented and intensely real musicianship, Chris Davidson is a very safe bet.