Review: JUDE. (The Bedroom EP, 2015)

jude-bedroom

West Palm Beach teen electropop duo JUDE. (Kevin James Neal and Sydney Morris) appeared on the scene in early 2014 and have just released their first EP, The Bedroom. Even for an EP, it’s short — three original tracks and one rework (an acoustic take on the beautiful “Drive”). Even so, this brief, sparkling taste makes it clear that JUDE. is one to watch.

jude2The comparison to Lana del Rey is impossible to avoid, especially on the first track, “Can’t Breathe,” and the third, “Without You,” but Morris is a much more palatable del Rey. No poor-little-rich-girl vibe here: just a sensual, long-legged alto crooning songs of strength in the face of love’s devices. “Don’t call me when you’re drowning,” Morris warns us on “Can’t Breathe.” On “Drive,” she’s even more determined: “I think that after this drive I’ll be fine,” she asserts.

Even for such a short EP, the track order isn’t ideal. The weakest track, “Can’t Breathe,” opens the album; whereas the first-time listener is more likely to be drawn in by the elegant “Without You” or the brave, compelling “Drive”:

“And no one sees they can never come clean / But I sit in this car and remind myself / That I’ll be fine.”

JUDE. sounds polished, diverse, and rich, thanks to Neal’s production skills and Morris’ flexible, multi-textured voice. The tone is dark and resigned, but the clear vocals ride across the music like a ribbon of light.

They’re just getting started, but there’s promise here. Here’s hoping they can stick it out long enough to give us a bigger bite.

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: B+

The Bedroom is a free download on band website or Bandcamp. Follow Band on Twitter at https://twitter.com/judemusicfl. Visit the official website at http://judemusic.net/

Review: Muck – “Your Joyous Future”.

How hardcore are things in Iceland? If this record is anything to go by, very. Clocking in at about a half hour, Muck are here to smack you square in the face and then leave before you even know what hit you.

MUCK_by_Alisa-Kalyanova

“Provoke Me” is the first of such shots. Even though Muck would class themselves as a punk band, there’s elements of metal in the blast beat drumming technique used. This is just one of many things that Muck do to try and make themselves stand out from the pack. They’re very good at pure, balls out rock but when the time calls for it, they display a keen sense of melody among the madness in songs like “Waiting”. Arguably the strongest track is the album  is the album closer “Today I’m Hungrier”, which is a maelstrom of speed mixed with technical ability. It’s as if the entire album builds to this finale, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Your enjoyment of this is dependent on your tolerance for abrasive punk rock. At times (for me) it got a bit too much which is why I marked it down a bit, but when Muck stay on course they make a fantastic noise.

– Hevy Kevy

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: B-

“Your Joyous Future” by Muck was released on the 23rd of February, and can be purchased through the Prosthetic Records site. You can check out the promo video for “Provoke Me” below.

 

Review: Dope Stars Inc. – “TeraPunk”

Dropping their fifth release since their inception in 2005, Italy’s Dope Stars Inc.’s new record “TeraPunk” is a fun industrial industrial release that sprinkles in elements from other branches of metal and punk to make something unique, and for the most part it works.

TeraPunk-Live

Full disclosure to start with though. I think this band have the worst name, on paper. No offense to the band themselves, but I had to get that off my chest. But after a few plays through “TeraPunk” I had to concede that, yes, the name suits the band. What Dope Stars Inc. have in spades is the ability to craft perfectly good, catchy rock tune. “It’s Going to Rain For You” without the synth and electronic elements would be a pop punk standard, but the elements the band adds make it something different. “Many Thanks” has a Rammstein style stomp to it, with earworm chorus. “Along With You” is a terrific 80’s influenced, synth driven dance song.

If there’s one issue, it’s the the album starts to run out of steam after “Along With You” and it almost feels like the band have shown their hand a bit too early, which is a shame as up to this point it was a compelling listen. Maybe as a stripped down EP, this would have gotten a higher rating, but it’s one of those things when a band takes a chance of releasing a full album.

“TeraPunk”  is, on average, an enjoyable listen even if it does peter out towards the end. If you’re having a house party though it’d be a great one to have on, and people will definitely ask “Hey, who’s that band?”.

– Hevy Kevy

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: B-

“TeraPunk” by Dope Stars Inc. was released on the 13th of February and can be purchased via the band’s Soundcloud page.  For more information, check out the band’s website. You can listen to “Many Thanks” below.

Crash Course – Where to Start if You Haven’t Started Yet: Oasis

Special thanks goes to Dan Kaplan, from Horns Up – A Weekly Metal Podcast, for stepping out of his wheel house to provide us an Oasis crash course. We hope you enjoy Dan’s piece and visit Horns Up. 

Wonderwall. Champagne Supernova. Live Forever.

Ask most American music listeners if they know any Oasis, and they’ll most likely name some combination of these three songs. That, or they’ll ignore the topic of the band’s music and instead start a discussion of how its central figures, brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher, famously and repeatedly clashed with each other over the years.

It’s the polar opposite of the band’s enduring popularity in their native United Kingdom. Where every single album of theirs has topped the charts. Where they had 23 Top 10-charting singles, including eight that hit No. 1. Where their popularity hit such dizzying levels that even a 14-minute recording of the Gallaghers arguing during an interview could register on the charts. (“Wibbling Rivalry,” which hit No. 52!)

All of this is to say: there’s a lot that people are missing out on when it comes to Oasis. But the following two playlists should help right that ship. The first covers album tracks, while the second focuses on b-sides and “others.” (Oh yeah, that’s another thing that’s often forgotten here across the pond: Oasis had some killer b-sides, many of which became live-show staples over the years.)

So let’s get into it, shall we?

ALBUM TRACKS

A couple of ground rules with this list, before we begin:

• First, none of the three signature tracks above are included. There’s simply no point in featuring three songs everyone knows on a list that’s meant to open people’s eyes to something new.

• Secondly, the list contains at least one song from each of Oasis’ seven studio albums. (Yes, even Standing on the Shoulder of Giants.) How else could one demonstrate the sonic evolution the band underwent throughout its career?

Now that we’ve covered that, what exactly do we have here?

Lots of different things, frankly. We’ve got peak-era Britpop, but we’ve also got some psychedelia. We’ve got pure, unbridled joy, as well as gloomy introspection. There are rockers, but there are also love songs. There’s one song that took part in the infamous “Battle of Britpop” chart war with Oasis’ bitter rivals, Blur. There’s one of the few songs from the band’s overblown third album, Be Here Now, that they managed to keep less than six minutes long. There’s an absolute foot-stomper of a tune from the oft-forgotten Heathen Chemistry album that might just be the most underrated song in the band’s entire catalog. And then there’s a song that proved that, even after losing themselves in excess and late-period-Beatles imitation, Oasis could still write the hell out of a pop song.

These descriptions haven’t been ordered chronologically, but the songs in the playlist have. Give ’em a listen and see if you can match them up. (And also, you know…marvel at all of the songwriting glory on display. Priorities, folks.)

PLAYLIST:
Oasis – Crash Course (Album Tracks)

B-SIDES / OTHERS

Oddly enough, the list of non-album tracks might actually paint a better picture of Oasis than the main list—at least in terms of describing the ins and outs of their history. “Step Out,” for example, ranks as one of the more notable cases of alleged plagiarism against Noel Gallagher, of which there were many. Initially slated for inclusion on (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, the song ended up being removed at the last minute for its striking similarity to Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).” We’ve also got some songs that draw from the Gallaghers’ volatile relationship with each other: “Talk Tonight” was Noel’s response to a bust-up that nearly led to him quitting the band, while “Acquiesce” captures a rare moment of vocal collaboration between the brothers. (One of just four in the band’s entire catalogue to feature both on lead.) There’s also “Noel’s Track,” from the aforementioned “Wibbling Rivalry” single—not even remotely a “song,” but rather an uproarious, obscenity-laced exchange that should be required listening for any budding Oasis scholar.

And in between? Six more of the kind of catchy, uplifting anthems most songwriters would have to make Faustian bargains to happen upon. Unlike the Album Tracks playlist, these aren’t ordered chronologically; in this list, it’s all about flow. So sit back, take them in, and welcome yourself aboard the Oasis bandwagon.

PLAYLIST:
Oasis – Crash Course (B-Sides)

Review: Dethfox (Natural Media Teleforce EP, 2014)

dethfox-nmtReview: Dethfox (Natural Media Teleforce EP, 2014)

With a hardcore guitar speed coupled with a melodic bounce that, at its best, recalls Pete Shelley, and a vocalist with a sinister growl, Natural Media Teleforce starts out better than the band name (‘Dethfox’ looks more like a junior high metal band to these eyes) might warrant. On the third track, “Deathray Specs,” the Montréal band fully embraces melodic punk/post-punk with its frenzied guitar churn, angular intervals, and pogo-ready beat. And running through the whole EP is an intriguing use of spoken audio clips, not normally in the province of punk.

These pluses are offset by the lead vocalist’s near-incomprehensible articulation and the engineer’s decision to dampen the vocals in the mix. We must respectfully disagree with this call. This is a vocal best used as a weapon; covering it with a blanket simply wastes the lyrics and takes away from Dethfox’s most impressive firearm.

If the mix could be better, there are hints of brilliance here. The band is tight, promising an excellent live show, and the audio clips fascinate. Those in the Montréal & Ottawa areas should look out for shows, posted regularly on the band’s website.

Note: the EP is released as if it were a cassette, with two “sides” — this can make for some confusion when listening to the stream, as there are two tracks, but five songs. Even as an EP, this weighs in a bit thin at 8 minutes, 42 seconds.

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: B-

Natural Media Teleforce is available on Bandcamp. Visit the official website at http://www.dethfox.com/

Review: The Wolf Council – S/T

Minnesota three piece The Wolf Council’s self titled debut is a mammoth slab of noise that fills your speakers, and kicks your ass. Simple as.

As soon as the big open chords for “Plans for the Sky” kick in, and it’s main riff augmented by some almost tribal drumming you know what you’re in for. Steve Williams (vocals) has a voice that is made for this kind of music. His pained growl perfectly complements the massive guitars, thunderous drums (Jeff Paske) and, in places, Steve Hook inspired bass lines (courtesy of Steve Post). Not only are these songs bastard heavy, they’re also seriously infections. “Send Help for the Rest” will be in your head after two listens, easy.

I’ve seen this record described as “stoner rock” but I don’t think that’s a fair reflection on this band. To me, stoner sometimes implies meandering unfocused jams and ten minute songs that go nowhere (and experience has shown me the same). The Wolf Council are focused and the songs have no fat or wasted motion here at all. While there are some slow burners here like “Victims” and “All That Was Yours”, they’re also not afraid to put pedal to the metal on occasion too, in songs like “Just One Push” and “No Reason”.

Special mention however has to go to “Waves”, which is the clear standout here. While being an uncompromising, driving metal song, there’s huge crossover appeal here. It’s the kind of song that you could play for a metal fan and they’d love it, but also someone that “doesn’t usually listen to this kind  of thing” would dig it too. It’s hooky as hell, in both verse and chorus, and is played at perfect headbanging tempo. Seriously, it’s an absolute killer tune and is one of the best songs I’ve heard since I started reviewing stuff for this fine site.

A terrific debut record for a band that have only been together since 2013, and one that I’ll easily be spinning for the rest of the year.

– Hevy Kevy

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: A

“The Wolf Council” by The Wolf Council will be available on the 24th of February and can be pre-ordered on BandCamphere or from the Static Tension storehere.

Review: Foxes in Fiction (Ontario Gothic, 2014)

A ribbon of loss and joyful remembrance runs throughout Ontario Gothic, the fourth independent release from Warren Hildebrand’s “healing pop” project currently based in New York. Foxes in Fiction aims “to create a listening experience that provide[s] people with a deeply comforting and psychological healing effect.” Channeling the Cocteau Twins as well as the Nordic tones of Husky Rescue, laced with dreamy vocals and retro synth tones, Ontario Gothic succeeds in creating a ghostly yet soothing soundscape on this short album.

Ontario Gothic pulls the listener on a journey that begins with the delicate, koto-like lines of “March 2011.” “Into the Fields” and “Shadow’s Song” evoke Badalamenti & Julee Cruse’s “Falling,” but “Into the Fields” again adds distinct koto overtones. “Glow,” a standout track that samples Wonder Bear to powerful effect, engages a more electronic feel, but there’s a falling-snow feel here that’s evident across the album. The album notes include “Dedicated to Caitlin Amanda Morris 1988 – 2010,” and it’s a good bet that the moody, semi-ambient “Amanda” was composed for the lost friend in question.

Characterized by ethereal voices, tremulous guitar, and bell-like tones like twinkling lights on snow, the album was recorded over a three-year period, yet seems remarkably of a piece. In fact, if there’s a flaw here, it’s that by the fourth track, the album almost seems to be repeating itself. That may be by intent; there is something pacific, almost tranquilizing in the repetition of these gentle sounds.

ontario gothicHildebrand is joined on Ontario Gothic by vocalists Rachel Levy, Caroline White and Sam Ray, violinist Owen Pallett, cellist Ansel Cohen, and pianist Beau Sorenson. The album was released under Hildebrand’s own label (with Brian Vu), Orchid Tapes.

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: A-/B+

Ontario Gothic is available at Bandcamp, with second pressing vinyl currently on pre-order at Orchid Tapes. Some tracks & alternate mixes can be heard on Soundcloud. Follow Foxes in Fiction on Twitter at https://twitter.com/foxesinfiction. Visit the official website at http://foxesinfiction.ca.

Review: The Golers – In ‘n’ Outlaws

Vancouver BC based thrashers The Golers feel like they’re from the wrong end of the continent of North America. They’re Southern tinged brand of thrash belie the fact they’re from the west coast of Canada.

On the evidence here, The Golers only know two speeds; fast, and not quite as fast. What we do have is a fun record that fuses punk song structures with some out and out thrash passages, reminiscent of Slayer’s work on “Undisputed Attitude”. Songs like “Lemon Eyed Devil” and “Kamikaze” (featuring a Steven Seagal shoutout) are full throttle thrashers that punch you in the face and disappear before you realise what happened, while “Inbred Militia” and album closer “Riff Cult” take their time a bit more, showing that the band can throw together some tunes that aren’t just gone in ninety seconds.

If anything, it’s the brevity of some of the tracks on display that causes some to become a tad forgettable and around the middle of the album some songs are lost in the shuffle.

That being said, when The Golers are in full flight, they’re a sound to behold. Walter Mason’s hardcore shrieks stay on the right side of tolerable, Derek Rockhall (with a surname like that, this dude was MEANT to be in a band) can shred with the best, and the rhythm combo of Stuart Carruthers (bass) and Jason Mosdell do an awesome job of keeping the whole thing on an even keel.

– Hevy Kevy

Unappreciated Scholars review grade: B

“In ‘n’ Outlaws” by The Golers is due for release on the 6th of February 2015. For more information, click here.

Review: Malphas – “The Conjuring”

No joke, the first time I listened to this record I was convinced that these guys were residing in Scandinavia, such is the convincing way that they’ve perfectly captured the Gothenburg sound. Crisp guitar lines, pummeling bass and thunderous drums. Colour me surprised when I found out they were based in Philadelphia, PA.

When you’re talking death metal, it usually conjures (no pun intended) negative connotations among some metal fans, but Malphas stride the line that makes them accessible to people that usually “don’t listen to that kind of thing” with a style that takes the brutality of early At The Gates and mixes it with the theatrical style that Dimmu Borgir. The titular opening track for example opens with the sound of an organ before an almost marching drum line kicks in, before the shredding and blast beats arrive. The song ebbs and flows naturally to bring us full circle once again, which is not something a lot of bands can pull off.

The other two standouts on this EP for me were “Legion” and the closing track “Heaven’s Fall”, as it is in these songs that Malphas embrace the more over the top side of the house, and it’s a style that suits what they’re about. Some clean vocals and some strings would take these songs to another level, but hopefully the band have already made designs on that for their next record. When the next one arrives, you can be sure to read about it here!

– Hevy Kevy

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: B

“The Conjuring” (EP) by Malphas will be released on the 24th of February. For more information on the band, click here.

Review: Ex Hex (Rips, 2014)

Mary Timony has travelled a long road from her early noise-pop/punk-pop days with Helium and its predecessor Autoclave. Her early-2000s solo release Mountains featured a speak-singing style that evoked Suzanne Vega and occasionally exchanged her trademark guitar for a grave piano accompaniment. After stints in Soft Power and Wild Flag, 2013 found her fronting Ex Hex with singer/bass player Betsy Wright and drummer Laura Harris, her guitar back in hand. Speedily signed to Merge Records, Ex Hex put out its first album, Rips, in October 2014.

There’s no question that Timony & company can rock. Rips opens with the strong surf-punk-meets-Tom-Petty strides of “Don’t Wanna Lose,” and finds Timony’s voice richer, more Ex Hex - Rips coverdefined than we’ve heard it in the past. The song is catchy, danceable if you pogo. It’s followed on the album by the equally bouncy “Beast.” The band is competent, practiced, energetic. Played in the background, the album inspires perpetual toe-tapping.

But as licks repeat, rhythm is even, and volume remains consistent, uninspired lyrics like “You never needed no one / You never wanted to have fun” fall flat against the absence of shapely background. In the end, Rips leaves us wanting more — not more of the same, but the more we sense the band could give us if they would only, well, let it rip.

Ex Hex photographed by Jonah Takagi

Guitar and bass evoke Joan Jett or the Pretenders on tracks like “Hot and Cold” and “How You Got That Girl,” but the vocals are lighter, with a sound more reminiscent of Susanna Hoffs than Chrissie Hynde, and girl-group harmonies occasionally swing in (“Whoa-oh-oh”) against Wright’s beautifully fuzzy bass. But Timony finds the dense bottom of her voice in more aggressive rockers like “You Fell Apart,” which employs a punk beat to good effect. Even here, though, the lyrics are a weak point. Neither catchy enough to form a hook nor deep enough to wander past the basic girl-meets-guy, guy-disappoints-girl message, they occasionally become a distraction.

Production (recording by Mitch Easter; mixing by Bobby Harlow, known for his garage/low-fi skills; production by the band and Jonah Takagi), while keeping an admirably light touch and a warm color, favors the bass, often to the detriment of Harris’ drums, which are left too far back in the mix and sound too tinny for the density of vocals and guitars — an odd result in such experienced hands.

If Timony’s voice explores new textures on Rips, her guitar in general seems more canned, less creative than her expressive past would predict. It’s unclear whether she’s choosing to play in a box to let the bass shine, because she needs the vocal focus, or because of some limiting misconception about the genre in which she’s working. When she does cut a little bit loose — as on “New Kid,” one of the albums best tracks — she brings an added dimension to the work that’s much missed on other pieces. If the vocals are a little more rough here, a little off-pace, that’s a welcome disruption. As if in acknowledgement of her overall restraint elsewhere, the album’s final track — amusingly, if appropriately, titled “Outro” — finds Timony spooling out a beautiful lead that channels George Harrison at his best.

But these lovely interludes are too-brief glimpses of what this album could have been, hints of what potential lies untapped amongst these three clearly skilled musicians. Ultimately, Rips is a  disappointment — one that leaves us hoping that next time, someone leaves an open bottle of whiskey in the studio, scatters a few microphones and sneaks off to see what magic might be uncorked if this trio really rips its way out of the cage.

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: C+

Rips is available on iTunes. Follow Ex Hex on Twitter at https://twitter.com/exhexband. Visit the official website at http://www.exhexband.com/

Music News, Reviews, Opinions, and Playlists