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Author: Jen Stuart

Stellar Vector's debut full length exudes a high quality, post-modern vibe

The five-piece, self-proclaimed “post-modern rock band” Stellar Vector are set to release their debut full-length album, A Flock of Cowards, in April and it would be well worth your time check it out.  While the Minneapolis-based group claims to be creatively influenced by the likes of David Bowie and Peter Gabriel, I can’t help but feel that fans of  more recent bands like Of Montreal, Muse and the Cold War Kids will all find something they like in the sound of A Flock of Cowards.  The album has a playfulness similar to Of Montreal but also a raw vibe similar to Death Cab’s “Meet Me at the Equinox.”

The synthesizer-infused, 12-track album starts out blasting “Buffalo Jump” with clean, ear-tingling guitar riffs that channel classic rock yet combine strong, edgy vocals that add a modern tweak.  The second track,”Lacking Self-Control,” is a fantastic example of a musical narrative.  One moment you are tapping your foot to a near reggae beat; then the chorus hits, picking up the pace and lending to a more commercially-appealing alternative rock sound.  In a sense, the instrumental work really allows you to “feel” the story behind the sound as the song progresses.

The band is very upfront about their narrative-driven, lyrical styling.  I could almost hear a hint of Ben Folds in their upfront and at times sarcastic lyrics. There is an especially strong lyrical resemblance on “E.D.” with lines like, “No I don’t wanna be your friend/but I know that I can’t pretend/I’m a pretty damn good actor baby.”

A favorite surprise on the record was the incorporation of a few keyboard-driven melodies on songs such as “Titanic Work Ethic” and the fun little album-ending tune, “The Not So Hidden Song.”  Clearly the song titles alone should be enough to get the potential listener a little intrigued as to what this group is really about.

As you listen to the record, you can’t help but feel your ears smoothly move in and out of the different decades of rock.  They have mastered the art of taking the best from the past while looking to the future. They embody a post modern success.

Overall, Stellar Vector has succeeded in achieving a truly high-quality independent album.  A clean and polished recording is already putting them miles ahead.  They have the kind of sound that could really get a film music supervisor excited, as great soundtrack music.  Keep an eye out for these guys. I have a feeling they won’t be staying in the Midwest for long.

Jacuzzi Fuzz creates a "best case" scenario

Last December, Miami-based Jacuzzi Fuzz released their excellent new album, The Best Worst-Case Scenario, on Treehouse Records.  This reggae- and rock-infused band has created a highly enjoyable 11-track album, beginning with the ear-catching guitar riff on “Milton’s Revenge.”

Fans of Sublime, Nirvana, Rx Bandits and Bob Marley alike will find appeal in the sound of Jacuzzi Fuzz.  The guitar work on the album showcases excellent musicianship, so much so that I’m kind of aching to watch them play live.  The band really has found the perfect balance between the energy of rock and the beat of reggae.

A favorite on the record is “Gold Rush,” for its snake-like guitar that weaves throughout the pounding drums and interesting vocals by Andy Clavijo.  Clavijo’s voice has the ability to express lyrics like, “big up your style, big up your life when you jah to see ya through your strife…”with a reggae swag. At the same time his vocals are tinged with a roughness that gives him a signature raw sound.  Clavijo also takes credit for the guitar on the album, making his work all the more impressive.

Other interesting components of the record include an instrumental track and a political rant, much in the footsteps of Marley.  The record wraps up with Clavijo singing, “our economy isn’t free, it costs dollars,” to the chugging of an acoustic guitar.

Jacuzzi Fuzz is credited with playing shows with the likes of Damian Marley, Against All Authority and the Expendables.  The well-rounded quality from start to end of this record is well worth checking out, even for those who don’t regularly listen to reggae/grunge.  I was impressed by the lyrics, which tops off the impressiveness of these guys.  With one part thoughtful lyrics, one part awesome instrumental, and one part reggae magic that takes you right to the beaches of Miami, listeners won’t be disappointed by The Best Worst Case Scenario.

Lucid pop may be a bit much for listeners on L'illon's debut album

The debut album from Washington, D.C., based singer/songwriter L’illon is an interesting take on many musical genres coming together to create the pop album that is Warrior Angel. The artist herself describes the ten-track album as “lucid pop.”

In a statement regarding Warrior Angel, L’illon says, “I like to think of it as part of a new musical revolution, drawing from ancient tones, melodic filigree, harmonic complexity…”  Unfortunately this “musical revolution” sounds similar to the mood music that the listener would expect to hear while relaxing at a spa.

Although the singer has a somewhat soothing voice, at times it seems the songs would be much more enjoyable if the cheesy vocals were dropped altogether.  The instrumentals are unique and colorful, but it is incredibly hard to take seriously lyrics like “Mister shy guy.”  The percussion and guitar hint at a Latino influence, so the appeal that L’illon has reached with Europeans is understandable.  However, she is definitely lacking the intensity and fierceness of the likes of Shakira and Paulina Rubio.

Despite the fact that the album has drawn some attention from within the indie world, it seems almost misleading to consider her “indie” with the stereotype that follows that title.  L’illon’s music seems of the type that would be much more appealing to under-romanticized, middle-aged women versus the coffee-shop going, rock-concert-attending listener.

L’illon makes it apparent that one of her goals is to be incredibly honest and straight-forward with her lyrics, which is different from the typical vague, metaphorical songs of many indie artists today.  Her listeners will likely appreciate the chance to understand the song’s meaning from the beginning, rather than trying to play a guessing game of decoding.

In reference to the term she coined, “lucid pop,” L’illon says that “you can feel a new spark of sensuality and vibrancy so that everyone can feel cool, modern, and sexy in their own skin.”  The exotic sounds of songs on Warrior Angel will probably achieve that for those who like hypnotic beats mixed with pop vocals.  Songs like “Love Story” and “Navigate Me Home” will leave you imagining belly dancers and colorful costumes in a psychedelic new age realm, which may not be the most pleasant experience for those of us who have become accustomed to the comfort of acoustic and alternative rock.

Sprockets create quality record for fans of the "in between"

Las Vegas based alternative pop/rock group Sprockets give their listener an intense, solid experience on their latest album, Medicated Empty.  I would say they fall into the category of “well-groomed Warped-Tour esq.” bands.  The 13-track album exudes creative writing and well-rounded musicianship.  While some may call them pop/rock, don’t be misled into thinking they are another lovestruck boy rock band.  Their sound is much darker, and the content is at times quite heavy.

The album starts out with title track, “Medicated Empty.”  Singer and lead guitarist Brodie Knight Vans says in a statement that the song was inspired after the “nowhere” feeling he experienced from medication after surgeries.  With lyrics like “Medicate your thoughts with substance that rots away the memory/Instead of pain I’d rather feel empty,” the song goes from mellow, gentle guitar to powerful alternative rock.  The pacing of the song reminds me of the old Brand New days.

Two of my least favorites are “Safety Nets and Fastened Windows” and “New Years Day.”  The only reasoning behind this is that the first has vocals that hint at the dirty rock sound of commercial rock bands like Hinder.  On the second, I just can’t get past the lyrics “f*cking in the parking lots/taking shots of everclear/celebrating the new year.”  This song just screams “young, male angst,” unlike much of the rest of the album, which has a broad and emotional appeal.  However, I am not discounting the catchy beat, which can surely rally a crowd at a show.

The album ends strongly with “Flood Lights” and “The Sound of Existence.”  Both songs exemplify the pop-punk genre perfectly, with the latter showing reminiscence to Rufio and much more pop-like than other songs on Medicated Empty.  Overall, fans of the “in-between genre” will enjoy this record.  By “in-between” I mean not quite hardcore and not quite pop-punk.

There is nothing particularly unique or unusual about the band’s overall sound, but credit should be given when credit is due: it’s solid.   There is definite influence from the band’s producer/engineer Mike Herrera.  Does his name sound familiar? Yep, he was also the founder and lead vocalist of MXPX.

Cameron Blake is En Route to Greatness.

En Route, the second album from singer/songwriter Cameron Blake, is a refreshingly unique masterpiece.  Although the Baltimore musician has his master’s in violin performance, he is clearly a man of many talents.  With fantastic orchestrations from the young musician, the album will take you on a journey paved not only with violin, but beautiful vocals, piano, harmonica, cello, and acoustic guitar, to name a few.  In the beginning of your listening experience, you may find yourself struggling to pin him down under one genre.  The album is a smooth combination of acoustic, pop, blues, and largely folk sound.  It would do him an injustice to not give him credit for his wide range of appeal.  Let’s just label him as this: “talented.”

It’s hard to compare Blake to any one other artist, but fans of everyone from Dave Matthews to The Swell Season will surely enjoy this record.  The album opens with “This is All,” a track that instantly makes you feel like you are listening to a rebellious poet in the bottom of a dark jazz club.  Farther along on the record is “On the Way to Jordan,” which is more than suitable for a pub set in the heart of Dublin.  A favorite is “Interlude,” a slower-paced song that would be fantastic on the soundtrack of an indie flick.  The piano and delicate harmonies will chill you to the bone in the same way as the painfully beautiful songs written by Damien Rice.

Blake provides fascinating vocals through out the album, sometimes emanating a similar sound to Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie.  There is a pleasant clarity in his vocals that allows the listener to enjoy his unique lyrics.  In “Lonely Rooms” he writes, “I held her marigold smile-apple scent rain through slanting silver-lines/ I am the prince and the fool-survived by a breath, a thread, a single room.”  Pure poetry.

If you decide to check out one independent artist this year, make sure it’s Cameron Blake.  With excellent musicianship, thoughtful writing, and exceptional vocals, you won’t be disappointed.

Unnecessary distortion covers up quality sound from Dan Webb and The Spiders

Dan Webb and The Spiders have put forth a new album that hints of greatness underneath layers of unnecessary mudding and distortion.   Released in fall 2009, The self titled album features 9 tracks that take the listener on a roller coaster ride of catchy vs. unmemorable.   The sound ranges from that of garage punk to California beach-rock.  Though the band is Boston-based, they have an appeal that resembles the “west coast sound” often featured on teen shows like The OC (rip).  Think Nada Surf meets garage punk and seasoned with an extra helping of distortion.

Autoexciter doesn't exactly excite

After nearly five years since their last full-length album, 2009 plays host to a new album from the band Skychief. Based out of Akron, Ohio, Skychief is the kind of band you would expect to discover at Warped Tour.  The new album Autoexciter is a testament to this with 13 tracks of hard punk rock.  Of the 13 tracks, 75% of the sound is generic.  While the songs are not necessarily bad, the majority of them won’t leave a memorable tune in your ear.

After nearly a decade of playing together, the four members of Skychief have created an album that shows influence from bands such as Kiss and Smashing Pumpkins.  Also noted is the resemblance to the earlier days of Blink 182 on tracks like “Desire.” Although lacking some of the clean and developed sound of Blink, Skychief has two vocalists that play off each other well on the tracks.  However, the vocals focus more on the “scream-singing” style and suffer from occasional pitch issues.

An interesting addition to the album is the song, “Naughty is Nice.” The song begins by channeling classic rock vocals that exude a more mature sound than the garage punk vocals of tracks like “10 Hours.”  The last minute of the song goes into a short speech set to a rock instrumental, and it actually works for them.  Following up on the inventiveness of this song could be the key to help Skychief break away from common rock clichés in the future.

The National Rifle Aims at Creativity

What do Twilight and a band called The National Rifle have in common? Would you be even more confused if you found out the answer is 100 Monkeys?  Before you start getting frightened with the image of vampires, rifles, and a hoard of wild monkeys, you should know that 100 Monkeys is the band of Twilight star Jackson Rathbone.  The National Rifle is the up-and-coming band who opened up for them on their Twilight Lexicon Tour.  Undoubtedly, The National Rifle is grateful for the exposure to hundreds of vampire-obsessed tweens.  Fortunately for the band, their unique sound could probably stand alone even without the association of this pop culture phenomenon.

The inventive sounds of both The National Rifle and 100 Monkeys make it clear why the two bands would complement each other well for a tour.  It seems likely that the artsy, sometimes “emo” kids that dig vampires would enjoy the unusual conglomeration of instruments and melodies that make up The National Rifle’s signature sound.  Similar to bands like RX Bandits, this Philadelphia-based band combines punk rock with clever jazz and indie influences.

Man Full of Trouble is the National Rifle’s third release since 2006.  This 5-track EP, released in fall 2009, showcases an incredibly distinctive sound that grows stronger with each track.  The rough yet rhythmic vocals accentuated by the poppy female back-up tracks create a colorful experience for your senses.

The first track, “It’s Just Whiskey Momma,” seems to be the weakest on the EP.  It is by no means a bad song, but it does not fully represent the more mature sound in the songs that follow.  In many ways the first track gives a misleading garage punk feel, despite the fact that the other songs include more indie or jazz-influenced rock appeal.  The influence of so many genres on one EP is what separates this band from the hundred of others in the indie/punk world.

One of the most enjoyable aspects on Man Full of Trouble is the inclusion of both the sax and flute.  Perhaps the best songs are “I Think I Have a Tumor” and “Bad News from the District.”  There is a pleasant retro throwback feel to these tunes that would suit a big city club scene well.  “I Think I Have a Tumor” has a fantastic break down and sax solo that you would not normally expect from a “punk rock band.”

The lyrics are nothing short of blunt and seem to reflect the stereotype of life through a punk rock lens.  In the song “Big Units,” the lyrics state, “Everybody fights, then drinks at night/Gotta fall in love, to just get by/Give up again stay home in bed/ We’ll just get old, and that’s the end.”  This seems pretty fitting for the struggling life of many Americans today.

For an up-and-coming band that’s still not signed, it seems that The National Rifle is gaining the success and recognition that will lead to a successful future.  Word on the street is that they would love to be included on the soundtrack for third film in the Twilight Saga, Eclipse.   But then again, who wouldn’t ?

Bravo for Victor!

Victor Bravo upholds the myth that all you need to make rock is a couple guys, some instruments, and a garage.  Forget all of the computerized and technological enhancements of today’s commercially successful music.  With obvious influence from bands such as Nirvana and Hüsker Dü, Victor Bravo’s latest album, Hammer Meets Fire, doesn’t disappoint.

Since 2006, the Brooklyn-based band has been pleasing the ears of punk and garage rock fans alike.  The addictive, angst-filled tunes of Hammer Meets Fire fulfill everything that the New York club scene has become infamous for.  This album embodies the anthem of punk, obvious from various track title such as: “Scary Mary,” “God Bless the USA,” and “Motherfucker.”  The vintage vocals combined with quality musicianship make the band worthy of getting out of the garage and into your ears.  Favorite tunes include “Into Debt,” and the first single off the record, “Jagged Cross.”

The listener won’t be able to help but imagine a room full of sweaty bodies hurling themselves around in rhythm to the songs.  The simple yet hilariously angry lyrics will make you crack up or reversely, give you the urge to punch a hole in the wall. Either way, the record is a fun listen.

Bittersweet fiction from TGL

There’s nothing more disappointing then coming across a new album that you love, only to find out the band is no longer “together” only a year after the release of their first album.  So goes the story for the pop-rock band from DePauw University, TGL.

Released September 23, 2008, the band’s debut album Sweeter As Fiction has the same appeal as bands such as Boys Like Girls, The Starting Line, and Cute is What We Aim For.  With upbeat, catchy tunes, you’ll for sure want to dance to this solid ten-track record.

Favorites on the record include the opener “Beauty School Dropout” and the following song “Valleys.”  With lyrics like, “Don’t worry baby I’ll leave the light on/Just so you know/It was burned out long before you got home,” the band is a sure to draw in youthful listeners.  A pleasant surprise is the tendency of the lyrics to be fun and catchy, yet devoid of the overly “emo” feeling of many similar bands.

Despite the likability of Sweeter As Fiction, the failure of the band to remain together seems to serve as just another example of the cruelty of the industry.  After nearly six years of playing together, TGL officially parted ways in April of 2009, despite having been one of MTVU’S picks for “Artist of the Week.”

TGL seems to have fallen into the category of groups that cannot fully cross the “bump of originality” in the road to success.  Too often talented groups seem to fall apart, not because they don’t have quality songs but because they lack a uniquely original, overall sound.

A quote from the “About the Band” section on TGL’S Myspace states, “”No matter how great things can get….you always have to remember that things change, nothing is forever, except, death. However.​.​.​ with death…comes new beginnings. A resurrection, if you will.”

Maybe we haven’t heard the last from these guys after all.