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Author: Nate Williams

Clearly Distorted Well

The Sess Agendumb

“Distortion” is the name of the game that is played by San Diego rockers The Sess with their album Agendumb.

It would seem that The Sess believe not only in turning the volume up to eleven, but also the gain. Everything, right down to the vocals, has a distinct crunch that immediately makes the band’s recorded sound grab your attention. The catchy riffs and lyrics only add to the feeling.

Initially, I was concerned. Agendumb opens with a sort of ambient intro that has a slight drum beat to it accompanied by odd sounds and recordings of various political propaganda such as Hitler speeches and the like. The intro, “Abraxas,” is very deceptive, making the album appear like it’s going to be one of those weird psychedelic opuses that you have to be on mushrooms to really understand. Then “Sheep City” comes in with some good, solid rock that’s very easy to get into.

And then the use of distortion on the vocals concerned me. When “Sheep City” ended and “Silly For Sirius” begins, the distorted vocals continued and I was very afraid the songs would all start to sound the same. Fortunately, this proved not to be the case, because The Sess manage to give most of the songs very distinct sounds and the distorted vocals quickly start to feel like an organic part of the music.

The album itself is very brief at only about thirty-two minutes. The first half goes by especially fast, but it’s the second half of the album where the band really shines. “Mary” reels you in quickly and their cover of The Remains’ “Don’t Look Back” is so full of soul that you can’t help but have a ton of fun listening to it.

The instrumental work really shines on “Wisdom Tooth Gumbs,” and the vocals are pulled back a little, really letting all the instruments shine. The Sess favor two guitars, bass, drums and some very tastefully done synthesizer. A lot of times when a band puts keyboards into the mix, the rest of the music is overpowered, but The Sess succeed here with the keyboards playing a strong supporting role and occasionally coming out to propel things along themselves. The keyboard work on the album closer, “Tunnel Love,” is especially well done.

I could have done without the intro track and the hidden outro track, since they don’t really seem to mesh with the band’s overall sound. But nitpicking aside, Agendumb is an excellent release and I look forward to seeing more from The Sess.

Stuyvesant – Linden Calling

While their album Linden Calling might not be as monumental as the Clash album from which they pun the album’s name, New Jersey rockers Stuyvesant (pronounced “sty-vas-ent”) churn out a well-crafted range of rock and roll that should satisfy the palettes of all kinds of music lovers.

After a brief intro track, Linden Calling launches into the type of blue-collar pop and punk influenced rock and roll that drives parties all over the country (well, the good parties at least).

Dominated by the kind of bright-yet-crunchy electric guitar riffs and progressions one might expected from bands like blink-182, the music is a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. Guitarist Sean Adams and Ralph Malanga shine throughout the album, but never outshine each other or the rest of the elements of the band. These guys have found an excellent balance in their sound, making the band feel like one cohesive unit. They don’t even list a lead vocalist or guitarist, which is a nice way of affirming the band’s sound in writing.

The band is also deftly capable of writing a variety of sounds. From the blue-collar rock anthem of “Victorian Lawns” to the lovely balladry of “Salieri,” Stuyvesant manages to succeed where many bands fail.  They provide enough varying sounds in the album to prevent the songs from all blending together. Each song is a separate entity that is easy to give individual attention to. The band knows how to write catchy, they know how to write somber and they know how to write pure fun.

Essentially, it’s hard to find something not to like about the album Linden Calling. The songs “Victorian Lawns,” “Salieri,” and “Bullshit Away” are highly recommended. Anyone who just likes good rock and roll, especially if you’re into pop-punk, should love this album. I sure do. I foresee this getting regular playtime on my iTunes.

Unfinished Mansions

Coming March 3 from Doghouse Records, New Best Friends, the debut album from the Louisville, KY/Winston-Salem, NC, group Mansions, is an entertaining release but presents a somewhat pigeon-holed view of the band.

In a world where, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, originality is not as highly valued by the masses as it once was, New Best Friends seems to fall victim to that desire to fit in. Mansions seems to be largely dominated by vocalist Christopher Browder. This album presents Browder as an extremely talented musician and lyricist with a voice that sounds like a fusion of Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and blink-182/Angels & Airwaves’ Tom DeLonge. Unfortunately, the album also shows that Browder has stuck himself into the contemporary world of pop-emo. In essence, Browder just didn’t seem to bother to write any songs for this album that aren’t full of regret and sadness.
It’s okay to be happy on occasion. People like happy music.

That being said, Browder shows a lot of potential in his songwriting skills. The album’s opener, “Talk Talk Talk,” is an instantly accessible and catchy track that shows a lot of broad appeal. The same goes for “Gotta Be Alone” and “The Worst Part.” But, as stated earlier, unless Browder can climb out of the typical pattern of emo-tinged lyrics, he won’t get ahead of the pack. The lyrics on every song end up coming off as bitter or regretful. I’ve always been of the firm belief that all albums need a variance of emotional highs and lows. This album simply stays with the lows, and that is unfortunate.

Browder’s distinctive voice shines on this album and, even though his vocal style emulates other artists, it helps make the album memorable. It makes the emotions behind the songs feel authentic. If he could just find some emotional variety in the songs and put that same authenticity behind those emotions, I’m sure many hearts of many teenage girls would swoon at this guy’s voice while many music-savvy fellows like me could appreciate Browder’s obvious talent.
As the last track of New Best Friends closes, it’s easy to see that Mansions has a lot of potential. The group is highly marketable as it is and I’m sure they will receive a lot of attention very soon. For now, some more variety in lyrics would make them even more appealing.

The Powerchords – …Think I'm Gonna

My immediate reaction the first time I listened to …Think I’m Gonna by The Powerchords was that I wasn’t very sure I liked it. Before I listened to it a second time, I expressed that sentiment to my friend and editor, Stephen.

Stephen: My apologies. I recant my previous statements and submit a new one – this album is actually pretty awesome.

Hailing from Chula Vista, CA, The Powerchords are on Single Screen Records – a label I have done several reviews for and have been very pleased with. But considering the releases by Visions of a Dying World and The Red Feathers that I had reviewed before lay in the folk-rock arena, I wasn’t really prepared for The Powerchords’ brand of pop-punk, which is probably the reason I was initially turned off by their sound.

But then I gave the album a couple more listens and found that the short-and-sweet, punk rock style was right up my alley. Guitarists Jon Hammer and Seo Parra seem to have a lot of fun with producing the shrilling, catchy riffs and driving crunch of the power chords that drive the band (hence, the band’s name is appropriate). Bassist Craig Barclift is often pounding away with Parra and Hammer on the riffs and the chords. Combined with the catchy lyrics and the high-pitched vocal stylings of Hammer, the band comes off as carrying the torch first lit by The Buzzcocks.

Unfortunately, due to the brevity of the songs and the lack of variation in the formula, it’s hard for many of the songs on the album to stand apart from one another. When listening to it as a whole, it might feel like several of the songs just bleed into one another.

That said, some of the tracks such as “She’s A Virgin” or “Bad Guys” stand out for the sheer catchiness of the lyrics. And to this Wayne’s World fan, “Tia Carrere” was enough to put a nerdy grin on my face.

My recommendation is that if you like old school punk in the vein of The Buzzcocks or The Ramones, you really can’t go wrong with The Powerchords.