Band Name: Manny Jasus
Album Name: 5 Songs EP
Best element: Unconventional worship songwriting.
Genre: Acoustic Worship
Label name: N/a
Band e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Christian worship music has been written for almost 2000 years now, solidifying its place as one of the longest-running genres ever (I think African tribal and Indian music are the two major genres that exceed it, as well as the folk music of every tongue and tribe). And even though it’s been around a long time, only about 40 of those years have seen the guitar make its way into worship songs.
But in the last 15 years, worship music has seen an explosion of releases, which is short for “a great amount of songs and albums that all sound like the genre-busting album that started the trend.” And that’s where Manny Jasus comes in- riding the line between finding his own voice and hanging back in the comfort of the already-established worship sound.
Jasus’ debut EP Five Songs is basically a teaser of his talent. At the end of the 18 minute CD, it feels like there’s a bigger project that this is only a part of, due in part to the varied approaches Jasus uses, the stark approach of nothing but vocals and an acoustic guitar, and the fact that some of these songs are really, really good.
Opener “Bon Voyage” is definitely a highlight, as Jasus takes the three main components of any worship song (strum pattern/chord placement, melody, and lyrics) and puts his own spin on them. I say strum pattern/chord placement because in any good worship song, the objective is to make the song as unique as possible while still conforming to chords that make the songs conducive to being easily played by people of marginal guitar talent. And Jasus effectively does that, mixing up the formulaic patterns with a earthier, moodier style than is often expected in worship. The melody is ridiculously catchy- I hum the hook quite often, as it’s just really tight.
The tone he puts out his melodies with is also a positive feature. He’s a tenor that has a lot of the same emphasis that Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins put on his melodies, but with some inflections of Adam Levine of Maroon 5 in the way he ornaments his melodies.
The lyrics are especially good- an extended metaphor comparing live to driving, “Bon Voyage” breaks the norm of worship songs. “Rise” is another track that breaks the norm, sung from the perspective of God addressing men. It’s a very interesting take on the Christian life- a very welcome new perspective. Great melody and non-conformist chord placement also occur in “Rise.”
The other three songs are standard worship fare- strum patterns that don’t excite (“Turn”) or vocal melodies reminiscent of other songs (the otherwise very nice, folky “Benediction”) or gimmicky lyrics (“What’s in a Name?”).
The songs run the gamut from mellow to upbeat to mid-tempo plodding, and while they never reach outside of the restraints of a worship song, there is variation in mood in these songs. One minor note is that the recording of these songs sometimes maxes out whatever he recorded on, creating a staticky, distorted sound on some louder tracks. It’s not bad, but it is annoying.
Jasus has some decisions to make- he can push himself and write more of his more interesting work, or he can keep straddling the line between great and good. Either way, the Christian music world has a very promising new entry into the worship music canon in Manny Jasus.
Band Name: Meryll
Album Name: You’ve Got Cousins
Best element: Passionate songwriting
Genre: Mid-fi, dreamy indie-pop
Label name: Esotype Records (www.esotyperecords.com)
Band e-mail: email@example.com
I’ve got a friend who loves a very classical form of pop music. She wants to hear some very precise songwriting, a great voice, and a perfect melody in the music she listens to- and as a result, she listens to a lot of good bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Jimmy Eat World, Mae, etc. By having such specific tastes, it’s very easy to tell what she will and won’t like- and I can say with confidence that she would not like Meryll.
Meryll’s album You’ve Got Cousins isn’t a perfect pop album- it’s a mid-fi album of indie-pop with some shoegazer tendencies thrown in. It’s rough around the edges, and that’s what makes this album so positively charming. The vocals here are not perfect, and the production isn’t ‘slick’. The guitars are not crisp, and the songs aren’t simple verse/chorus/verse.
So if that’s all that Meryll isn’t, what IS Meryll? Meryll creates a fuzzy wave of sound with an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, a bass, drums, and occasionally keys. The acoustic guitar forms the basis of these songs, laying down the foundation for the second guitar to put melodies over. The bassist layers some more subtle melodies on, and the drummer, when he’s not programming electronic percussion, crushes his drums (“Dotted Lines”), playing simple lines as if there were no tomorrow. The vocalist has a unique voice- it’s a high voice that has a little bit of a warble, a little bit of insecurity and tiredness encompassed in it. It’s a very world-weary voice, and while it’s not perfect, hey- neither was Bob Dylan’s.
Sometimes the acoustic guitar leads to epic sections of rock (“Dotted Lines”), sometimes it leads to simple acoustic ditties (“Classy”), and there’s even a solitary alt-country tune (“Every Stoplight”). But most often, Meryll’s goal is to create lush, hypnotic tunes that ache with beauty. The best example of this is the 6-minute “To Touch/You’ve Got Cousins.”
The song starts out with some otherworldly hum in the background- I assume it’s a guitar effect on the electric guitar. Acoustic guitar and keys play over it, and the vocalist comes in with a beautiful, wide-eyed vocal line. As the vocalist sings in his slightly high-pitched voice “You’re nerve-wracking, still…” it just all comes together. Honesty and passion and talent meet in the first two minutes of “To Touch…” and it’s simply awe-inspiring.
“Leave Me Hate Notes”, “15755”, and “Inside on a Day Like Today? I’m Outraged!” are all of this variety- songs that build into giant climaxes of vulnerable emotion. It’s what they do best.
Meryll’s You’ve Got Cousins is a great album. It’s the type of album that unfortunately flies under the radar because it’s not a huge statement or a big production- it’s just a group of songs that mean a lot to the people who wrote them. That passion shines through on this album, and the joy and honesty in these beautiful shimmering songs is worth a whole lot more than most “big productions.”
Band Name: Shade
Album Name: Fedra EP
Best element: A good sound to build off of.
Genre: Droning, heavy indie-rock
Label name: Lovely Recordings (www.lovelyrecordings.com)
Band e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
I read once that when the Jesus and Mary Chain were young, they would play mysterious shows that sounded like a ten-minute wall of distortion. They would also play with their backs turned to the audience, presumably to ignore the existence of the violent mosh pits that their music created. I assume that some people knew which songs they were playing, but most people just heard the wall of distortion.
If that article on the JAMC is correct, then Shade’s Fedra reminds me a lot of the JAMC. Shade’s sound is a heavily fuzzed-out form of indie-rock that delights in crushing guitar lines, breathy vocals, spartan drumming, and sweeping synth lines. The whole thing blends together as one song to me, thanks to the pervasive buzzing of the hugely fuzzed guitar, which is the first JAMC similarity. The second similarity is that this album seems to be more of an artistic statement than an album that you just play for the pleasure of listening to.
It’s tough to listen to, because Shade by nature has a very droning, anti-pop sound- and they stay firm in that sound for the majority of this EP (the first five songs). These songs all pass without making an effect whatsoever on me- no matter how many times I listen, I just can’t latch on to anything in them.
The last two songs on this album, “Gunner” and “Slowfire”, are the only ones that remotely stick out in my mind. “Gunner” has a squealing, jagged synth line that breaks up the monotony of guitar drone as well as a vocal hook (“Do you believe?”) that almost registers as catchy. The guitars are also a lot more mobile than in previous tracks, and that makes a big difference. It’s what the album should sound like.
“Slowfire” is memorable because it takes a deviation from the solid guitar drones that they use so heavily. While not exactly a ballad, it does have a much more emotional timbre to it than the rest of the tracks, as the slowed-down groove, melodic bass, and chiming guitar create a more aesthetic approach than the rest of the EP. Even when the guitars kick in, they’re supplanted by a melodic piano-esque keys sound, which lends a lot of humanity to their otherwise jarring sound.
This will get looked over by the general public. This may even get looked over by the indie world. Some mp3 blogs might pick it up. But I think that Fedra needs to either make another album just like this one (and establish themselves as “sticking to their guns”) or build off this base sound to get real notice. Because right now, I can’t even remember what the tracks sound like except for a fuzzy guitar.
More International Acclaim!
If you read the singles column, I like to highlight international bands whenever I can. This month’s edition features Puerto Rico, Germany, Italy, and Greece, as well as the good ‘ol USA. It’s a pretty diverse list of sounds, so hopefully you like a lot of variety…
Song: Ternura Inocente de Inconforme Mujer
Band: Homenaje a Una Bella Cancion
Bottom Line: Indie-rock firepower with a great future.
Indie-rock is not just from English-speaking countries, as Homenaje a Una Bella Cancion (Tribute to a Beautiful Song) are out to prove. These guys have spazzy indie-rock chops to rival For the Mathematics and even At The Drive-in. This song is driven by an urgent bass line, thrusting its way through the mix and giving the rest of the band a reason to spazz out. The drummer is pretty solid- he occasionally hits too many cymbals, but other than that, he can spazz out and stay in time quite well. The guitars are perfect for this style- no chord mashing, just a lot of wild single-note riffing, sequences, and patterns. The only problem comes in the vocals, which are a little overbearing for the style. They are a very melodic breed of vocals, which doesn’t fit well with the spazzing. The song works much better in the intro and the outro, which are free from the restrictions of vocals. It’s not that the vocalist is bad- his tone and range are good- it’s just that he needs to speed it up to keep up with the instruments. Homenaje a una Bella Cancion have the talent to stand up to any English-speaking band there is- let’s hope that they can break the language barrier and make it into America.
Bottom Line: Very creative chill-out track.
Some songs are what I like to call “Movie Driving Songs”- deeply pensive, mysterious, beautiful songs that seem like they should be placed in the part of the movie where the main character is driving on a long highway to get away from everything. “Time” by Fadeout is one of those tracks- a very melancholy, mysterious song that is anchored by a solid trip-hop drummer, great washes of background vocals, throbbing keys, and a very strong female vocalist. The keys/drums interaction really makes the song, as they play off each other flawlessly. When the bassist gets involved in the act late in the song, the results are magnificent. The guitars here are content to frolic on top of this concoction, creating a great sound. Definitely expect good things to be heard out of this group soon, as “Time” is a haunting track that demands replay.
Band: Project Nothing
Bottom Line: Intense, immersing, artistic, stomping techno has arrived.
Everyone loves techno- maybe not on its own, but when you’re watching a spy movie, everyone wants to hear some wicked techno in the background of the chase scenes. “Firemouth” is a song that I want to hear in the background of my spy movie. The song starts off innocently enough, with some thick synth chords and click-track percussion. A jumpy, blippy lead synth is introduced, along with gunshot-type percussion. But before you can say “awesome!” the lead riff comes in- a huge bass-heavy thumping riff full of lightning-speed percussion and enough hip-shaking swagger to get your dance groove on. Melodies are interspersed throughout, but the booming swagger is never abandoned, creating a punchy techno track that will catch and hold your attention within seconds. I love this track.
Song: Neue Zeit
Band: Libido Froid
Bottom Line: Eccentric, jubilant alt-pop-rock sound.
They’re German, and boy do they have a weird outlook on music. “Neue Zeit” starts off in a nearly-reggae style, with the guitars and bass both contributing suitably Jamaican styles. The 1-2-3-4 click of the drums holds it back from being reggae, and transforms it into a unique-sounding rock song as the smooth vocals come. The chorus abandons this mood, turning it into an unlikely anthem, with overdriven guitars, fill-happy drums, ba-ba-bas, and even a trombone. You can’t help but be happy when that chorus hits. It’s jubilant. The bridge is minor, and a little dramatic- but it segues right back into the chorus. Basically, this is a pop song that you want on your happy mixes. It just works. I’m not even sure why it works- it just does. Listen and love it.
Song: Homage to the Queens
Band: The New Ultraviolet Vanish
Album: Toys and Dementia
Bottom Line: Rock track that gives me hope in rock again.
The NUV hail from Italy, but they could just as easily hail from Seattle, because this song hearkens back to the days of flannel and Kurt Cobain. The guitars have that same gritty, dirty, semi-heavy feel that characterized a lot of grunge (except the Smashing Pumpkins), and the vocals are a rough-around-the-edges bark that grabs the ear because of the passion involved, not necessarily the amazing melodic strength (although there are some great melodies in this song, especially in the drums/vocals part). The thing that makes this track so interesting is the drum and bass contribution, which give this a vaguely punkabilly feel, like the Violent Femmes would write. It’s a very unique combination, punkabilly and grunge- and I like it. There’s a lot of energy and passion in this sound, and I think that the NUV will put out some really great music in the future if they keep marching to the beat of their own (punkabilly) drums.
Band: Work In Progress
Album: S/t EP
Website: http://www.57thlock.com/canadianposer and www.purevolume.com/workinprogressks
Bottom Line: Promise shown, growth needed.
Death Cab for Cutie has had a lot of influence on a lot of people- they busted open the doors for the mainstream embracing of indie music, they proved that the good guys win in the long run, and they also made a big impact on Justin Klaas, the man behind Work In Progress. Ben Gibbard’s melodic style can definitely be heard in the vocal melodies of “Face”- and that’s a sad thing, because the music below the vocals definitely deserves better than that. The rhythm guitar in this indie-pop song is pulsing and pressing- a great backdrop for a laid-back, whimsical lead guitar part. The subtle percussion in the chorus lends just enough variation to keep this song from becoming monotonous. It’s a very well-written, very enjoyable little song- and as soon as the vocal melodies establish their own style, this will be great.
Band Name: The Appreciation Post
Album Name: S/t EP
Best element: All the pieces come together nicely.
Label name: N/a
Band e-mail: email@example.com
Whether you like it or not, there’s no denying that rock radio has three prevailing trends right now: post-grunge, nu-wave emo, and power-pop-punk. If you’re in one of those genres, you have a serious shot at making it in the current music world. The Appreciation Post falls squarely in the power-pop-punk genre, and I think they’re good enough to get noticed.
The Appreciation Post has every conceivable piece of the puzzle together: catchy melodies, strong sung vocals, 3-minute songs, infectious synth lines, general feel-good attitude. “I’m No Sure Thing” is the song that I would point to if I needed to prove that The Appreciation Post have got it goin’ on: from the get-go, a wickedly catchy synth line blares. The guitars double the synth, the sung vocals call out, and everybody should be dancing by now. The hook “I’m no sure thing! I wouldn’t count on me!” is just begging to be hummed and/or slapped on top of live journals everywhere.
This is the type of stuff that kids right now want. If The Appreciation Post can get their name out there enough, they will be greatly rewarded. The sky’s the limit for The Appreciation Post.