Press "Enter" to skip to content

Author: Emma Richardson

I Love It Almost as Much as I Love Pie (and More Than I Love Cake)

Pie>A Love Like Pi>cake

 

A Love Like Pi’s album Atlas and the Oyster is a buzzing, beautiful electronic/punk/rock jumble of joy. Danceable, rhythmic, and interspersed with surprises, the album coasts along in all its synthesized glory. One song flows seamlessly into the next. Pair that with the fact that there is a cohesive theme (that which can be sensed smashes against the mysteries of the universe results in myth. It’s the themes of John Donne’s A Valediction Forbidding Mourning in an album) and the sweet album cover art, and you have a band that’s ready to explode into the mainstream.

 In the words of the editor-in-chief, “It’s a mix of everything on the radio right now.” Think rhythmic, like that ear-worm of a song “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas; synth-tastic like Lady GaGa; catchy like Katy Perry; and vocals like Panic at the Disco. It’s electronic for the rock enthusiast, The Killers with more obvious synths or Motion City Soundtrack with a chorus of computer-like sounds layered in. And if that’s not enough references to illustrate their sound, I would suggest you go listen. Actually I would strongly recommend you go listen anyway. Right now. So if you’re still reading this, you’re wrong. If you’re still not listening I’ll tell you this: there’s harmonica, a trumpet, and a touch of violin. Go forth and love it. Three stand-out songs to get you started: “Innocent Man,” “Young Men,” and “My Body.”

 

-Emma Richardson

A Girl that Can Scat is to be Praised

Intricate instrumentals compliment Tiffany Christopher’s smooth vocals. This Arkansas native roams around these here Midwest parts laying down her sweet voice and jamming on the guitar. Complex finger picking in the style of Ani Difranco and Bela Fleck swings in and out of her strong, smooth vocalizations. In places you can hear an early-Regina Spektor influence. Songs like “Scat” feature, you guessed it, Ms. Christopher herself scatting.

It’s quirky and eclectic songs like these that make the physical appearance of Tiffany Christopher slightly ironic. She’s small, skinny, and wears jeans and a tank top in most of her videos. Nothing would suggest the dexterous accompaniment she plays along to her own melodious voice.

She graces us with only four myspace songs and a handful of youtube videos, but her reputation has grown through extensive touring in the northwest Arkansas and southern Missouri region. This acoustic/folk queen promises a CD soon. I sure hope so.

Doctor's Order: don't forget to take your iron(y)

Heavy distortion paired with lazy vocals suggest a Death Cab for Cutie influence on Lakeherst’s debut album Euan Aura. The overall sound is interesting, although perhaps familiar.

“Summer Fires” is a standout with an added female vocalist. The beginning of “Fall Back to Me” opens with solid drum set-up and a driving electric guitar, but can’t overcome their own lyrics. They are just a tad too literal; a dash of irony could pull the whole thing together. This is the case for many of the songs on the album. They are pleasing musically, as the sound is tight and accessible, especially on songs like “Messages across the Waves” and “The Bad Sleep Well.” But lyrics like “The ocean is our messenger/destination we don’t know/we’ll watch our words get swept away/by the undertow” threaten to spoil the forceful guitar solo that follows on “Messages across the Waves.”

The last half of the album is notably better than the first, as the lyrics fade behind the heavy percussion and solid guitar licks. In places, these two qualities are reminiscent of  Blink-182.

As a debut, Euan Aura is worth its weight in shiny round plastic material, and at least four of the songs will make their way into my music library for further enjoyment. Lakeherst has a musical talent (and a really lovely cover, done by their own Cody Moyer). With some attention to lyrics, they could make an impact.

Songs you shouldn’t ignore: “The Bad Sleep Well,” “Don’t Walk Around Barefoot,” “No Protection in Silence”

Head-Boppin' Toe-Tappin' Rock/Pop

Brett Harris’ second EP Side Two was released in October as a follow-up to Yesterday’s News. The five-track EP showcases a singer/songwriter with a pop sensibility coming into his own.

“Not Coming Back” is a catchy pop tune with Harris’ voice wavering over upbeat guitar licks. Pop turns rock on the next track: “Haughty Judge Naughty” begins with a sparse guitar in a Red Hot Chili Peppers kind of way. Harris’ gravely voice drives the song to the finish, which features a sweet electric guitar solo. “Red Dress” has a get-up-and-shake-it-like-it’s-1987 feel. Except not in a good way; more in a I-spilled-blue-eye-shadow-on-my-yellow-spandex kind of way. It tries too hard.  The electric guitar solo at the end makes it a little better, but personally I would prefer to hit the next button.

“Crashing Down” sports a bare piano sound paired with Harris’ matter-of-fact voice. The vamping is reminiscent of Joe Purdy’s “You Don’t Like Me Anyway,” bare and pretty.

Overall, it’s clear Brett Harris is a talent; “Not Coming Back” and “Crashing Down” are prime examples of his ability. With the exception of “Red Dress,” I was impressed. With a varied sound and strong musical ability, Brett Harris deserves your ear. And if you were a fan of the 80s, all the better.

Western Wonderful

Some music transports in the way it takes you away from whatever computer or headphones you happen to be listening from and drops you in another place. Jonathan Vassar’s seven track LP The Hours and the Days does this, from the computer screen to the saloon.

With lines like “I was born to get shot/ so I guess I won’t drown/I’ll take a chance with the water and sink right down/ Catch me if you can,” Jonathan Vassar paints a scene of an outlaw running from the man and leaves no doubt: we are squarely in the genre of outlaw country, stylistically and lyrically.

“About a Dog” introduces an accordion and the sounds of a church choir and electric guitar. These elements, along with the obscure lyrics, “Gotta see a man about a dog,” remind me in a way of Tom Waits’ “Little Drop of Poison.” They both paint a scene without ever describing it. Vassar does this throughout the album, with songs like “Knuckle Shuffle.” The lyrics allude to nursery rhymes (“I got my handle but where’s my spout”) and pair with more accordion and a western sensibility.

From ages 6-8 I listened to one CD on repeat. I can’t recall the name, but I know it included Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Baby Beluga.” Vassar’s “Turn Down the Sun” was ripped off of this CD. If it weren’t for the first line, I could close my eyes and taste the paste. “I took him by the leg and I threw him down the stairs,” it begins; that’s a snap back to reality. “Holy Roller” is wholly boring musically, but intriguing lyrically: “What you do in the dark/ will be brought to the light.”

“Arm and Hammer”, is not an oddly placed request for baking soda, but in fact rounds things off nicely, leaving us with a pretty (weird) package. It’s outlaw country with an accordion twist.

Band's got soul

On a bitter, cold night in January, Fundamental Elements rolled into Springfield and warmed things up. Big Momma’s Coffee Shop played host to lead vocalist/trumpeter Russ Mohr, drummer Luke DeJaynes, bassist Mark Dejaynes, guitarist/vocalist Joe McGill , and keyboardist/vocalist Dustin Burggraaf. With a solid set of songs from their new album The Cycle We’re In and a few older tracks, FE showed Springfield how to do soul. In tracks like “Don’t Say” and “Nobody but You,” Russ breaks out some white-boy rap, Jason Mraz-style. Keyboard and percussion layer together, making most songs even more complex than the accompanying lyrics. Songs like “Asking Myself” and “Straight Fallin” feature Russ’ smooth vocals.  In some places, the whole thing sounds a bit like Maroon 5.

The lyrics are simple and straightforward, a reaction and commentary on the world and love; in this way, the band is classically soul. The band incorporates soul, hip-hop, and a little r&b to create an upbeat, eclectic sound. Fundamental Elements hails from St. Louis and has been touring in the mid-west to get the word out.

When asked to pin down genres of music that really get my blood pumping, I generally don’t include soul. And that’s what’s cool about FE. Their music is a variation from the acoustic, electronic, or just plain weird sound of so many new bands. That’s not to say I don’t love these bands. I do. But it’s good to hear something with a focus on instrumentation. Something about a trumpet-playing rapper in a soul band lends authenticity.

My Soul: Crayon in a Car; These songs: Hot Day

I’m not saying it’s ever easy to tie a musician to a genre, but Griffin House exemplifies this challenge. Perhaps some of this challenge comes from the album’s journey. The music and themes change throughout Flying Upside Down, and where it ends is not where it began.

Griffin House begins Flying Upside Down with a sweet, easy-to-digest acoustic piece. It’s candy. The next track, “I Remember (It’s Happening Again)” isn’t made of the same stuff. This one is a nostalgic tale that parallels Vietnam with the Iraq war. It’s strongly political with strong folk elements; Arlo Guthrie, anyone? It eases up immediately with the next track “Let Me In,” and we’re back on the luv theme for awhile. On the song “The Guy That Says Goodbye to You is Out of His Mind” let me say, I am cognizant of sentimentality (and the grammatical error in the title), and my ear is fine-tuned to the sound of heartstrings being played. This song does just that. But guys, it’s so pretty, what can you do?

The classic rock sound of songs like “Live to be Free,” “Heart of Stone,” and title track “Flying Upside Down” are in the style of the Rolling Stones and far in style from the earlier acoustic melodies. “Flying Upside Down” is the arc of House’s story, sung like a man at his end: “Take me all the way/if you take me at all/cause I got nothing but the ground to break my fall.” Oh, the emoting! The guitar and piano, layered with Andrew Bird-style violin and whistling, make a powerful song musically as well as vocally. The last song on Flying Upside Down is a complete transformation, a spiritual answer to the woes and aches that fill the album. “Waiting For the Rain to Come Down” is an all-out Johnny Cash-style gospel song. “I’m like a child on the inside God/But guilty of the crime/Your innocence remains in me/When you strip away the grime/Devils crawl around my house and/Underneath my skin/I’m ashamed that when sin knocked/I chose, I chose to let it in” If lyrics like that don’t illicit a response, check your pulse. You might need a new heart.

Folk. Pop. Americana. Call it what you will, it’s an album you can’t help but put on repeat. Despite some overly sentimental moments, the entire project is comes off as an earnest bunch of songs. It’s not easy to pull off rock, pop and gospel in one album, but Griffin House’s Flying Upside Down is an album that makes it work.

Get it? Good.

Keith Goodwin
Tim Arnold
Dan Schwartz

Good Old War is another band created in the black void of a group on hiatus, and to our gain. The band begins Only Way to Be Alone with the sound of a tambourine clattering (or is it glass shattering?).  Rolling guitar licks enter, which cue the sincere vocals and handclaps. “Coney Island” is the song; it’s an earworm, but a comforting one.

Many of these folksy, acoustic-led pop songs invoke a feeling of warmth, not unlike slipping on your favorite pair of sweatpants made of cottony glory. The male vocal harmonies in songs like “No Time” and “That’s What’s Wrong” are reminiscent of The Beatles’ Rubber Soul with simple lyrics. “Stay By My Side” incorporates female vocals swooning alongside the melancholy male vocalist, and is that a sitar in the background? Good Old War’s first effort is familiar in an “apple pie smell wafting from the oven” kind of way.

It's Mo(u)rning Music

That was my sister’s first reaction to “Darken Me” from Electric Owls’ EP Magic Show. Whether she meant music well-suited to a funeral or to the a.m., I believe she was right. Light beats are juxtaposed with dark lyrics in songs like “Cannibal Superstar.” “Magic Show” suggests bagpipes hovering behind tinkling melodies and “Darken Me” is distinctly Americana, but all of it is electronic. The EP, released in early November, is the work of Andy Herod, on break from his band The Comas. A promising new band, Electric Owls’ album is set to release in the first weeks of April. Four months and counting.