Band Name: Remnant
Album Name: A Life Lived EP
Best Element: Positive lyrics, good guitar tone
Genre: Modern Rock / Alternative Rock
Label Name: Self-released
What first caught my eye when I opened Remnant’s five-song EP A Life Lived was the simple recycled brown cardboard envelope. My hopes were raised as I began to anticipate a unique, DIY-inspired album. I leafed through the stack of boutique-paper note cards covered with fine script lyrics; I became even more intrigued. However, after reading through the lyrics my hopes began to deflate. Although chock full of positive lyrics and imbued with a good message, the writing itself lacked ingenuity. I shrugged my shoulders and popped A Life Lived into my stereo for a listen.
Not knowing what to expect as far as style, I was a bit miffed when I was confronted with the rich guitar tones characteristic of a 90s modern-rock outfit. The lead singer’s voice confirmed this as he belted in a vocal texture reminiscent of some offspring of Creed and Pearl Jam. Listening for something that might distinguish Remnant from numerous carbon copies, I waded through A Life Lived with fingers crossed, ears perked. “Only a Memory,” the third track, opened with a fresh drumbeat and a catchy, indie rock flavored guitar lead. “I can dig this,” I thought to myself for a moment. Unfortunately, I was denied reassurance. After the introduction, “Only a Memory” lapsed back into the alternative rock mode, which typifies this album.
As I made my way to the close of A Life Lived, I felt as though I had just lived a lifetime listening to this album. It’s not that Remnant doesn’t have talent and potential; they’ve got both. The production on A Life Lived was more than I expected from the earthy, home-brewed CD envelope. Their lyrics, although a little flat, aimed at high sentiments. These guys want to say something important; they’ve got good production, they’re tight and they can play their instruments well. Let’s hope they can find a new sound to convey an important message.
—Timothy C. Avery
Band Name: Bray
Album Name: Pins and Needles
Best Element: Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice
Website: www.braymusic.com, www.myspace.com/bray
Label Name: Self-released
Straight off the California coast comes the sound and energy of Bray, a man with a mission to revive the sexual energy of music spawned from the pelvis of Elvis and the sneer of Billy Idol. Bray’s newest release Pins and Needles will keep you on your toes as you journey through its orgy of pop, rock, lusts and thrusts.
You can immediately tell Bray is itching to get out and get it on with the opening track “Cocoon.” He lets you know what you’re in for by setting a driving beat under catchy guitars, pop vocals and various wacky effects within each other to add depth to the simple message: He wants you to want him.
“Invisible Man” gives birth to the relative simplicity and catchiness of his lyrics during the choruses of his songs, in turn giving you and his fans the opportunity to join the show and sing along loud and proud. The thick fuzzy guitars of “Invisible Man” carry with them a new sound as well, straying from regular distortion or clean guitars that many pop artists of today use.
The seduction begins with “Snapshots,” a cool suave tune sure to get any lady who listens to it right into the backseat of his caddy. Bray then pays homage to rock’s beginnings with a bluesy 12-bar groove in “You in That Dress.”
Perhaps the most sensually arousing song is “Wrap Yourself,” in which Bray pulls out all the stops and comes out straightforward with his desire for the lady fans: “Wrap yourself around me.”
As one listens to Pins and Needles, the pop and rock influences are obvious. Even Bray’s MySpace declares his similar sound to both Prince and Lenny Kravitz, which is exactly what both “$” and “Iceland” blend together. “$” caters to pop culture, bringing to light the power of greed and money on the road to fame. “Iceland” hides within it a bouncy guitar line, head banging verse and an opportunity to rock out after the easygoing “$”.
Bray wraps up the album with “Piece O’ Cake,” one of the different, yet better, tracks on the disc. Significantly toned down from the other songs, this track trades in the disposable pop for memorable harmonies, melodic guitars and well-crafted vocals.
The effort that is Pins and Needles delivers everything you would expect from a man that carries the image of Bray: Fast cars, hot girls, lots of cash, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. With the energy of rock, catchiness of pop and his own unique twist on both, Bray’s album is a keeper for fans of fun music. If by the end of the album, however, you still don’t understand what exactly Bray is all about, simply listen to his parting words: “Everybody wants to get laid.”
Pick up this album, throw it in on a date and you just might.
Pontiak: It’s the end of the label as we know it (but don’t worry)!
No news is good news. At least that’s what it feels like in a musical climate where every press release and blog write-up is about some way that major labels, major bands, independent labels and independent bands are losing money.
But in this sea of pessimism, there are optimists. The three brothers of Pontiak (Jennings, Lain and Van) are in the minority of people who have an upbeat take on the status of the music world.
“People still want music,” Jennings says. “It’s the face of music that is changing.”
The brothers feel that this lack of attention to the changing face of music is why big record labels have suffered so greatly.
“Record labels are crumbling, really,” Jennings said. “I talked to the Director of Marketing at Sony/BMG, and he said he’s already looking at what he’s going to do next.”
But what will take the place of the large record labels when they’re gone?
“Niches for everything, that’s what’s happening,” says Lain. And the reason that niches are possible, they explained, is an economic theory entitled The Long Tail.
When heavily simplified, The Long Tail theory describes a scenario in which a large number of things selling at a small volume will eventually bring in more money than a few things selling in large volumes.
“The old model of the label is 1-2% of the catalog making up 90% of the profit,” Jennings explained. The new model is exactly backwards of the old, with 90% of the catalog bringing in 1-2% of the profit each – if not less. Thus, mass markets are not as necessary.
“If 100,000 people in the world know about us, that’s only one tenth of a percent of the population. But it’s enough to make it profitable,” Jennings said.
“Take Will Oldham. He’s a millionaire. Bright Eyes, he’s a millionaire. Most of America doesn’t know who Bright Eyes is,” Jennings said. “He’s got a family, a motorcycle and people who know about him. He’s not going for the top.”
“It’s no longer the Rolling Stones,” said Lain.
Jennings referred it back to Pontiak’s own experience of starting their own record label Fireproof Records.
“All we need is 20,000 people. If you consider all the cost of making a CD lost, then selling a CD for $10 makes you a lot of money,” Jennings said.
The Long Tail has been especially effective considering the proliferation of the internet, as consumers all over the globe are no longer subject to mass marketing to find their music. They can cut out the middle man and buy music straight from those who make it – thus, the viability of starting your own “record label,” and yet another nail in the coffin of the large record label idea.
That optimistic theory of world access is proved in mail that Pontiak gets.
“There’s a girl in Rangoon who told us that “Eyes” is her favorite song. We’re on in some bar in Rangoon and we don’t even know it,” Jennings said. “And there’s 14 or 15 year olds in Norway who play us on their Ipods.”
Even with the amount of money to be made from the vast amount of new consumers, they’re not trying to get rich. Just like the future of music is not in large record labels, it’s not in the rockstar mentality either.
“If I were able to make money off this, I wouldn’t even know what it’s like,” Van said. Jennings agrees.
“It would be a huge shift in the way I think, cause right now 20% of the stuff I do is the stuff that pays the bills,” Jennings said.
That’s just one of the huge shifts that will be taking place in people’s minds if Pontiak is correct in their assumptions about the future of music.
“People still want to see music,” Lain said. “It’s just that the interaction is changing.”
Anderson, Chris. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More. 1st. United States: Hyperion, 2006.
Album: Society in General
Best Element: Don’t be afraid, it’s only humor.
Label: Squish Records
This album made me laugh…hard. Of course, Plecostomus is a comedy band consisting of Jimmy and Matt from Omaha, Nebraska. Society in General touches on a few topics, like the obesity problem in America, how fun roller-skating is, how awesome the sun really is and how everybody poops. Actually, if you are not open-minded and cannot handle a tad of political incorrectness, this is not for you. These guys will not hesitate to have fun and offend you.
The cover of the album has the State of Liberty with a foam hand as her torch and cradling a large sub. The inside has a picture of astronaut with a beer and a cigarette, with beer bottles and cans littering the moon. Take some pity on these boys; they are only having some fun with your political and social issues.
The music, if you want to call it as such, is simple but well done for being recorded in a bedroom. There is the occasional vocal harmony (which adds to the funny), actual audio and a nice mix of guitar and synthesizer between the tracks. The vocals are a mix of singing, talking and just plain yelling. They have some random stats too; in “Fat America,” they tell you how much of America is actually obese…then ask why and give some helpful suggestions to fix it.
Speaking of “Fat America,” in their lovely press pack they state that “Fat America” and “The Sun” have been requested heavily on local college radio stations out in Omaha. I can totally understand that. They are amazingly hilarious! Then yet, that is the point now, is it not?
Band Name: Pinched Nerve
Album Name: Mission and Highland
Best Element: Beck-ian hip-hop with electronica-influenced beats and confusing vocals
Bad vocals can totally thrash a release. It’s a sad fact, but it’s also a very true one. You have to either make the vocals work for you or make your music absolutely brilliant to cover for the bad vocals. In Mission and Highland by Pinched Nerve, neither happen, and an album full of enjoyable beats is nearly run into the ground by odd vocals.
Pinched Nerve plays Beck-ian hip-hop with beats that are vaguely reminiscent of many bands: Aphex Twin, Beck, Nine Inch Nails, Black Eyed Peas. Those widespread influences do result in beats that are creative and interesting. Synths play in a lot of the beats, and although they occasionally devolve into meaningless noodling (“Trashstorm”), Pinched Nerve usually knows what he’s doing with the synths. “In the Street” melds a heavy bass synth with cowbell, tambourine, handclaps and NIN-style creepy melodies to great effect. Accordion-esque synths and a good drum groove anchor “Pigeons,” while the various pieces of shaken percussion fill out the beat well.
Where the beats are mostly good with an occasional error, the vocals are the opposite. Pinched Nerve frustratingly employs a variety of vocal tones, never establishing one home tone. On top of that, the lyrics are strange. Chronicling “life in the ghetto,” Pinched Nerve creates raps that occasionally don’t rhyme or have rhythm. It gets really confusing when there’s no rhythm or rhyme at the same time (“In the Street”). The lyrics are observational and bizarre -“Scabs and Mice” is a dialogue about scabs and mice, while “Vicodin, Act V: Judge Judy” is a song about Judge Judy. I would laugh, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to. Right now I’m just kind’ve confused.
I really don’t know what to make of this release. I really like the beats, but I can’t stand the vocals or the lyrics. Liner notes might help my confusion, but there are none, really. Myspace is minimal, as well. The only thing to do is go to http://www.tallbobsmoke.com/sharing/disco.html and listen for yourself.
Band Name: Mynera
Album Name: Shut the Light
Best Element: Mature songwriting with great melodies
Label Name: N/a
Band Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mynera have their heads on straight, an accomplishment to be well respected in a world where guys spend the majority of their “work” time throwing their skulls off their spines. What profession does Mynera excel in? Simple: Rockin’.
It shows in their debut release Shut the Light, an album released frighteningly near the birth of the band itself. Considering the short amount of time these six Kansas City boys have been together, Shut the Light delivers eight mature, solid tracks. The band may be just a baby, but its members are seasoned rockers who know how to write a song.
The album kicks off with “World Is Blind”, and right away traces of Dream Theater and their brand of metal oozes out at you. Only it’s not Dream Theater, it’s Mynera, and they manage to not only throw their own style together, but do so extremely well.
You can literally feel the life energy of Mynera flowing from their fingertips to their fretboards in “Alive” as they slowly set you up for the mosh pit of your life. Moving past the excellent “Saddest Story”, the title track of the album features Clinton Nichols’ blasting double bass beats as well as a melodic chorus (a Mynera trademark you’ll come to find).
If there’s one thing they guys are excellent at, however, its dynamics. They go from raging rock riffs to toned-down staccato verses relatively smoothly, allowing singer Bryan Harrison to show off his pipes.
“Justified” is one of the better tunes on the disc. These K.C. boys show their softer side with this tune, opening up with an acoustic intro while still maintaining their brand of big, melody-filled choruses. Sticking to their rock roots, “The End” gives off a Killswitch vibe and offers up a beautiful keyboard lead from Scott Curts.
Mike McNally gets his chance to show off his slitherin’ skills on bass with “Tulips and Puppydogs”, a headbanger loaded with guitar harmonies, keyboard leads and plenty of McNally’s screams.
“Sorrow” closes out the album, letting Daniel Reid and Dan Zielinski draw out the emotions of the listener with soft dissonant harmonies.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Mynera know how to write a song. To me they come across as the bastard child of Dream Theater, Killswitch Engage and Fear Factory. If you like any of the aforementioned bands, or are a fan of rock AT ALL, you will definitely dig these guys. Either way, keep your eyes peeled and your ears open, because Mynera will more likely than not be making a lot of noise in the days to come.
Band: Mean Creek
Album: Around the Bend
Best Element: A perfect synthesis of folk and indie rock.
Genre: Folk/indie rock
Label: Clubhouse Records
Around the Bend is a gem of a debut album from Boston indie rockers Mean Creek. It’s full of tight harmony, great songwriting and that rare sort of emotional resonance that makes you want to listen to it again and again. Mean Creek has created a wonderful synthesis of folk and indie rock that is positively refreshing. In places, their tight harmonies recall the Mamas and the Papas. In others I can almost hear Bringing It All Back Home-era Bob Dylan. Also, their mastery of the indie-pop song reminds me of The Shins.
“Hands Behind Our Heads” is a catchy raucous romp of a pop song complete with a driving drumbeat, great lyrics, excellent vocals and all the enthusiasm of a live show. “Momentary” is yet another exquisitely-crafted pop song. Wailing, distorted guitars coupled with another driving drumbeat will have even the most jaded audiophile tapping his toes. As far as sound-alikes go, think Death Cab for Cutie with a bit more enthusiasm.
“Ohio” might be the highlight of an excellent album. In stark contrast with the previous songs, “Ohio” is a mellow folk song that warms my soul as a folk junkie. Other reviewers have compared Mean Creak to Simon and Garfunkel, and at the risk of being unoriginal, I will too. Soaring harmony and folksy finger-picking certainly recall the legendary duo.
The title track is positively thrilling. “Around the Bend” is a sophisticated, upbeat electric folk song full of bright, clean sounding arpeggios and lines about sunshine, but it is no shrill bubblegum pop song. I love this song. Did I mention there’s a harmonica part?
I love this album; it is marked by a degree of versatility, skill, and sophistication that I did not expect. I would have bought this album if they hadn’t sent it to me free. I might buy a copy anyway. If you like music, you should buy one too.
Band Name: Marc With a C
Album Name: What the Hell is Wrong with Marc with a C?
Best Element: Hilariously witty lyrics, smart, memorable lines.
Genre: Acoustic pop / emo
Label Name: Neighborhood Nuclear Superiority
Marc with a C needs a hug, and What the Hell is Wrong with Marc with a C?, Marc Sirdoreus’ latest full-length, is his petition for said embrace. Sometimes, you stumble upon a CD that just tells it like it is. And no matter how far out in left-field, how full of insecurities, how laced with suburban drug experimentation, how straight-up, downright, undeniably emo the songs are, you can’t help but bop your head and laugh. Marc Sirdoreus gleaned twenty of his most catchy tunes from as far back as 2002, repackaged them on a new CD and effectively chronicled his musical Live Journal on disc. Armed with an acoustic guitar, a nasal yet endearing voice, an uncanny ability to rhyme and a razor wit, Marc Sirdoreus whines and self-effaces his way through these cute and memorable songs.
I enjoyed the honesty and willingness to spill his guts that punctuated What the Hell is Wrong with Marc with a C?. From lines like “Did you ever wake up with the prospect that nobody of the opposite sex is going to call you when you get home from work? / And did you ever spend a day off by yourself because nobody of the opposite sex cared if you were free that night or not?” to “Maybe it’s the fact that I’m slightly overweight or all the girls that want me are underage,” (both lines are from “Why Don’t Girls Like Me?”), Sirdoreus paints a picture of your average guy with big dreams. Everyone wants that fairytale life, no matter whether they have immaculate teeth and salon hair or if they’re less-than-blessed with a made-for-radio face, and Sirdoreus’ commiseration is—if borderline maudlin at times—heartwarming.
I absolutely loved the song “Nerdy Girls.” With its stand-up comedian introduction, infectious wit (“a nerdy girl can straighten up the wheels on my mental shopping-cart”) and stripped-down acoustic presentation, this song simply begs second, third and fourth listens. I can’t help but break into laughter at the opening verse: “I raise my eye just to inspect her as she adjusts her pocket-protector / there’s nothing wrong with a nerdy girl / she’s the kind of chick that I’d like to meet but she’s busy thinking about Anime.”
This album is intensely personal, yet it refuses to exclude. I feel that every guy has a bit of Marc with a C in him, even if we aren’t willing to admit it. From scenesters to hipsters to hoodlums to class presidents and computer-programmers, it’s hard not to agree with Sirdoreus’ humorous, yet poignant, observations. Sirdoreus also shares his love for lo-fidelity recordings—as chronicled on “RetroLowFi” and “Broken Record Player”—and his nostalgic self-doubt: “I’m so sad, I’m fifteen, life’s so hard, life’s so hard” (the chorus from “Life’s so Hard.”). It’s his utter normal-guy observations through a witty string of lyrics that make Marc’s songs enjoyable.
Doubters will listen and complain about… well… Sirdoreus’ incessant complaining. Yeah… he does that, but he does it well. It’s not just whining; it’s thoughtful, funny, and catchy whining; it’s whining with class, and that’s what separates this CD from the countless acoustic emo acts that beg for attention. What the Hell is Wrong with Marc with a C? earns the right to our attention.
—Timothy C. Avery
Band Name: Josh Small
Album Name: Tall by Josh Small
Best Element: A hit-and-miss collection of rootsy, banjo-led folk songs
Label: Suburban Home Records
Josh Small sounds authentic. Small’s weary tenor resonates with the clarity of someone who knows what they’re talking about, and the creepy, mournful, banjo-led songs he writes sound like they came crawling straight out of the bayou. Standout track “Peek Out the Windows” features a quick finger-picking banjo, tambourine slap and a teetering vocal performance that hangs on the line “look out the window/oh my Lord.” I don’t know if he’s from the bayou or not, but he sure could convince me if he said he was.
The only problem with Tall by Josh Small is that even though Josh Small has his name on the album, there’s a full band playing on most of these songs. The full band is not as exciting as Josh Small solo (or nearly solo). For the most part, his solo songs are fast – the full-band tracks are mostly mid-tempo to slow. It feels almost as if Small couldn’t bear to have many people in on his best songs (“Knife in My Belly,” “Peek Out the Windows,” “Boozin Susan”), but tried to fill out his lesser tunes with more parts to bring them up to the same level as his near-solo tunes. This is given some credence due to the strange relationship between number of players and quality: the more people present per song, the less interesting the base songwriting was to begin with.
The two exceptions to this are “Who’s Foolin’ You” and “Move Your Hips.” The banjo part to both songs could stand up to a Josh Small solo rendition, and the arrangements provide zip to both tracks. The drums and Rhodes contribute a lot of mood to the more upbeat “Who’s Foolin’ You,” while the piano delivers some enough melodic wallop in “Move Your Hips” to necessitate multiple listens (especially in the bluesy solo section at the end). Neither are as memorable vocally as “Peek Out the Windows” or “Knife in My Belly,” but they do have a lot more staying power than “Indiana” or “Moses.”
Tall By Josh Small is a scattered affair – I enjoy half of the tracks very much, while I can’t remember the other half at all. Josh Small is very talented instrumentally and vocally, but this particular set of songs was a little bit messy. I hope that Small can spread the best aspects of his sound into the rest of his tunes and create a solid album next time around.
Band Name: Lafayette
Album Name: Transformations
Best Element: Sweeping, careening, beautiful post-rock that seems to make time stand still
In this perpetually busy world, music that makes the flow of time unimportant is very important music. Lafayette’s Transformations is, by that logic, very important music.
Having seen what Lafayette can do live, I’m not surprised to hear that the sweeping, careening post-rock they create translates magnificently to CD. Like many post-rock bands, they build from small beginnings (a drum line, a melody, a synthesizer burble) towards giant slabs of noise; but unlike many post-rock bands, they do it with a profoundly optimistic bent. While there is the occasional remorseful tune on this 7-song album (“Rest These Tired Hands”), most tunes suck the listener in by being the aural equivalent of a warm blanket. This is perfectly displayed on “A New Life,” where the blocky guitar chords and snappy drum-beat give way to beautifully cascading, lithe guitar work that makes me sit back and sigh a happy sigh.
That beautiful, cascading guitar work dominates “Zzyzx,” making it easily one of the highlights on the album. In addition to the beautiful melodies and tight interactions between various guitar parts, the drums add a lot of mood here; perfectly recorded, they create a epic, powerful mood without ever overpowering the sound. The drums, as well as every other instrument, are given room to breathe in this mix – no part covers the other. It’s an extremely well-produced album, and instead of production stifling or changing the sound, it brings out all the best in Lafayette.
The variety of sounds employed here is also impressive. “Series Fruition” is mostly synths, while “Fireflys” is drums/guitar/bass, proving that Lafayette is equally adept on both mediums but dependent on neither. This makes songs that deliberately incorporate both sounds very thought-provoking, as the listener has to think why a certain sound was chosen when it could just as easily been done a different way. Why is the beat in “Series Fruition” electronic instead of organic? It’s a question to ponder
Transformations is an album that can be deeply enjoyed on many levels. You can sit back and chill out to it very easily; the optimistic, warm-blanket feel ensures that. The bombastic drums and snappy rhythms definitely lend themselves to driving music, as well. Yet the album also stands up to those who would deconstruct the sound and think about all the inner workings. It’s post-rock of the highest order. Lafayette has a gift for creating music that is accessible yet still credible; enjoyable, yet talented; hooky, yet clever.