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Ali August and the Abandoned Buildings – Is This Darkness?

June 04th, 2017 by Edward, Filed under: Reviews
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Eli August is back, and he is better than ever. This is no cliche, it’s the honest truth.  Eli and his fellow musicians  have done some excellent work in the past, and I have been impressed with it all.  But with Is This Darkness?, they have outdone themselves.

Honey features very visceral, gripping guitar that is diamond sharp and distant, almost reminiscent of the Doors. Backing vocals are fabulous, and the percussion is masterfully emphatic and hard . Eli’s voice is filled with strength and hope.  

Kentucky is a mesmerizing song with a fun Calypso type air.  There is some hot Jazz wonderfully thrown in.   The horn interludes add some real bite to the song . Backing vocals are superb. There is a choppy kind of percussion that nicely contrasts with a touch of bluegrass style picking.  All in all, Kentucky is a pure masterpiece. 

The Writer slows the pace for a bit before launching into a rousing,  energetic paean to the craft of writing.  “If there is no one to read what you write,  do you vanish into the night?” This theme echoes some of his previous songs, and it is nice to recognize the connection. The percussion relentlessly  pursues the furious guitar, that rages evocatively as Eli’s vocals rise to anthem-like heights.  Play this song LOUD. Then play it louder.  

Alive Again begins with slow, reflective piano. Eli’s vocals are low, fervent, and intense. The simplicity of the arrangements are very effective, proving the old adage that sometimes, less is indeed more.  And the listener certainly needs no more here.

The War is very much  anti-war, with a rolling gait almost reminiscent of a sea chantey, along with military-type snare percussion, and Eli’s fervent vocals. The backing vocals are a superb counterpoint, and clarinet soars as the song rises to a crescendo of poignancy and loss. ”Bodies are baptized with shells on the shore/that never come back from the war.”

A Light in this Life starts low and quiet, then launches into a rousing rock-type anthem, possibly the hardest that Eli has done to date. But then suddenly the tone drops into a very moving tableau of guitar, horns, and flute. Then Eli’s vocals practically explode, buttressed by strong percussion, and finally the song sinks to  murky depths of reflection and regret. A thunderous, nearly orchestral  finale abruptly ends the song. “A Light…” will linger in the memory long after the final notes subside. This is Eli’s  own“Ride of the Valkyries”.

Shadow and Stone is poignant and slow, but somehow keen and crystal clear. Eli’s vocals are showcased here, and his delivery is quite similar to pieces on his previous albums. The backing instruments are soft, with sort of a Renaissance “drone” effect that is very subtle.  Suddenly at about 3:00, percussion rears to the fore into and the song turns heavy, finally ending with a clever bit of a militaristic tattoo. ”But then the But I press on, into the dark.  And hope for change, somewhere in your heart.”  

Wilhelm Screams is one of my favorite songs on the album.  It begins with a Gothic Western sort of feel, Neil Young meets Marty Robbins, with a touch of the Heathen Apostles. There is a wonderful cadence to the song, like a stagecoach rolling across the dark plains. Eli’s voice is firm and strong. The guitar is very interesting, understated but solid.  Strings flow around the vocals like clouds stirring ahead of a storm.  “When you look up at the moon you see only a lie…“   

Next, Eli goes into a minimalist mode with Misery. This song is delightfully reminiscent of 19th century parlor music. Vocals are evocative and sincere, with keyboards and strings providing a sparse, yet poignant atmosphere. There is an odd sort of discordance here, that is very subtle, but quite gripping.

A Waltz After Midnight continues on the path set by  the previous song, but with a darker edge.  A swinging waltz tempo glides with Eli’s vocals as strings swirl around them like phantoms. There is a wonderful sort of Gypsy or Latin feel here, with a duet of backing instruments that is phenomenal, they culminate in a fast, rousing romp that momentarily reminds me of the long-vanished Israeli band Geula34. The pace slowly increases, becoming a vaguely sinister panoply. This is simply a great song.    “We all know the price but too often we can’t pay the cost...”

A Departure is a fitting end to this fine album.  Stylistically it is similar to Waltz but the theme is more direct. Part anthem and part plea, there is another fine interplay between Eli and the band. Deftly handled, sharp guitar and vigorous percussion set the pace, while Eli’s vocals are clear and sincere. In many ways this is an archetype for Eli’s work.

Is this Darkness? is Eli August’s finest work, and this is no mean feat, as his last album was a pretty tough act to follow. The production is fantastic, superb arrangements, great lyrics, and he is backed by an outstanding ensemble. Eli’s voice is stronger than it has ever been. Many of his songs have lost his trademark tremolo, and are more vocally diverse. While his music is tinged with melancholy and regret, you will find no fashionable, over-the-top angst here. His music will resonate for us all, reflecting the deep heartache of the soul that everyone feels in the darkest hours of the night. Yet there is always something more,  the possibility of some sort of redemption. Eli’s music remarkable honest and sincere. He is not afraid to step outside conventions, and you will certainly never find him following the herd. Is The Darkness? stands as the artistic pinnacle for Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings, but I am sure it will only remain so until their next release.

http://eliaugustmusic.com/

 

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Sweet Soubrette – Burning City

September 11th, 2016 by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

This review is long overdue, and my apologies to the band.   Though Burning City was released over  two years ago,  I wanted to give a proper nod to this fine work.  The project of Ellia Bisker,  New York City’s Sweet Soubrette has been called a “ukulele-powered indie rock band”, but Sweet Soubrette is much more than that.

Rock, Paper, Scissors begins with rather languid piano, balanced with heavy percussion and wistful violin. Vocals are smooth and reflective.  Suddenly the song erupts in an explosion of Broadway-style magnificence. Violin and wonderfully discordant, layered vocals dominate the last part of the song before the chorus ends with a final boisterous fling.

Charlatan features infectious vocals, horns, and mesmerizing piano.  A very catchy melody and rambunctious percussion contrast with the story of a fortune-teller who “knows who they want to hear from/what they long for her to tell“  A girl who is driven by a compulsion, but  “they think she’s a scam/but she’s no charlatan/she cannot stop til she is done“.  The vocals are very complex, with layered harmonies that bring the Beatles to mind.  The arrangements here are  resplendent, and simply pervade the listener’s senses. Each replay will reveal more discoveries.

Live Wire has a fabulously Big Band feel juxtaposed with very contemporary vocals. The song starts evocatively with descending guitar and bass alongside haunting violin. Trumpet and trombone are smooth as ice, melding well with the militaristic percussion and fabulously cadenced vocals.  Piano is sharp as diamonds. The overall effect is as deliciously dangerous as “little Miss third rail” can get.

Burning City is an unforgettable song that begins with a sense of  whimsy that proves to be far deeper than it seems.   I am reminded somewhat of  the band Pretty Balanced.  The lyrics here are phenomenal. “You knew you shouldn’t look back /but the past it snagged you like barbed wire“  Measured piano and plucked strings that proceed to meander desperately through vast musical  gardens,  along with mesmerizing vocals and  heart wrenching violin.

Sweet Time is a romantic paean that begins simply with slow ukulele, but rises to a plateau of  regal horns. The bass is prominent here, with a swinging cadence that has a sort of Victorian air, magnified by the abrupt percussion.  The violin interludes are wonderfully evocative  and the vocals are sincere and heartfelt.

Next is the rollicking Just Your Heart. Playful and upbeat, there is this song reminds me of such disparate elements as Calypso, Swing, 70′s Rock, and ’50′s Pop very masterfully combined.  Bass driven, with fun horns and hand-claps, the vocals are nicely layered on the chorus. The sharp but smooth violin reminds me of certain Cat Steven’s songs, while horns suddenly bring Chicago to mind. Play this at your club and the dance floor will be full in no time.  

Be My Man is another song where bass is featured prominently. I love the high hat percussion and and boisterous horns.   Vocals are earnest and evoke Anita O’Day, singer for Gene Krupa’s orchestra. Backing vocals are subtle but effective. The song also gives me a slight ’70′s R& B feel.  

Opening with ukulele and wistful vocals,  Port in a Storm then launches  into a wonderfully Beatle-esque rhythm, with heavy percussion and music hall swinging  bass. An interlude with  a bit of hypnotic, waltzy violin  frames the strong, yet introspective vocals.         

What’s My Desire? starts with slow and forlorn. Then the song rises to an almost operatic crest, with vocals teemed with resignation and acceptance.  Bass, percussion, and horns soar magnificently.  The violin weaves a soulful dirge around the vocals, which are sad, yet resolute.  “Yes I’ll let you read me I’ll keep nothing secret/
But all my love letters are forged
.”  This is a very insightful song addressing the contradictions inherent in us all.   

Homing Pigeon is the perfect song to close the album. Ellia’s fine, clear vocals are showcased admirable on Homing Pigeon.   Poignant, crisp  ukulele is accompanied by doleful, yet quite edgy violin. “Are you guided by a vision of what you love the most/  Like a homing pigeon or a restless ghost…”

Sweet Soubrette is one of those rare bands who can transcend genres without sounding contrived or artificial.  Ellia Bisker’s voice is one of the best, and her lyrics are second to none. She successfully tackles the frustrations  contradictions of everyday life without resorting to the common platitudes.  Themes range dark to hopeful, many times in the same song.  The arrangements are simply excellent. All elements of the band flow together seamlessly. I am particularly impressed with the way that Sweet Soubrette effectively incorporates  their horn section. The various genres mentioned in the review are masterfully amalgamated as a means to a musical end, not the end itself.   Like the band itself, Burning City is filled with originality and purpose.  I hope we hear more from Sweet Soubrette.    

http://sweetsoubrette.com/


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Heathen Apostles – Fire to the Fuse

August 27th, 2016 by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

Following up their excellent debut album Boot Hill Hymnal, Heathen Apostles draw their musical six guns, and stalk once more through haunted graveyards, dangerous streets, and debauchery-filled saloons. Fire to the Fuse continues the epic Western Gothic  journey, and demonstrates that Heathen Apostles are musical  desperadoes  to be reckoned with.

Fools Gold is a rousing, tumultuous frontier anthem. Rollicking guitar and galloping percussion accompany Mather’s exquisite vocals. The fiddle adds a magnificent touch.

Drowned in Trouble features very evocative fiddle and powerful guitar. There are a lot of elements here that are blended together seamlessly and add up to very hard hitting song. The rhythmic percussion and lonesome picking makes me want to take a train to Johnston Country, Montana to see if anyone needs another hired gun. The layered vocals are eerily effective.


Yveline changes the pace a bit.  Rolling like a rock n’ roll freight train through the dangerous darkness of the musical plains,  the song rides on fierce percussion, lethal guitar, and razor sharp fiddle.  Mather’s vocals are as smooth as deadly as Bat Masterson’s six gun clearing his holster.

Fist City opens like a dirge, slow and dark.  Bleak banjo and grim  fiddle stalk along with ominous percussion.  Mather’s vocals are like the snick of the hammers being drawn back on a 10 gauge stage gun. “If you don’t want to go to fist city, you better detour around my town”. The finale is fast and furious.  Great song!

Evil Spirits combines Rio Grande grit with Celtic fire. Hard acoustic guitar and rampaging fiddle hit the trail at breakneck speed, as percussion rapid fires like an 1873 Winchester. Mather’s vocals are forceful, and the backing male vocals are superb.

Looks are Deceiving is a delightful old-time hoedown with an edge like a straight-razor pulled from a shotgun boot. The fiddle and banjo  rambunctiously ride with fast percussion and some fine picking. Vocals are smooth and even a little Bluesy.

Fire to the Fuse is low and baneful, a perfect tapestry of direful sound. Percussion beats a doom-laden tattoo, evoking boot heels stalking down an empty main street. Guitars and discordant fiddle weave a sinister cacophony around Mather’s exquisite vocals. This song demonstrates her versatility quite well.

Death’s Head continues the dangerous journey into a neo-western heart of darkness. Dark and malignant guitars team with cutting fiddle in an unholy union as Mather invokes the terrifying entities that preside over a pitiless destiny.  Screams of terror accentuate the driving percussion, as doomy bass lays down a positively Stygian undercurrent. About 2:30 there is a superb  and some fine rock guitar.

Bang Bang is perhaps my favorite song on the album. Infectious percussion and guitar vie with  edgy fiddle, as Mather’s sultry vocals tell a tell of loss that somehow resonates with an odd feeling of optimism. There is a touch of vaudeville here, and  guitar has a brief gypsy flourish. The song is evocative of an old saloon ballad, as the  fiddle deftly weaves a haunting melody.    

Measure of Time is a bit more contemporary, with mournful vocals and plaintive guitar. The fiddle is mournful, with emphatic, well-timed percussion. Backing harmonies are fabulous, balanced with a powerful guitar solo at about 3:35. This is a very moving and rueful song.

Without a Trace makes me want to get up and dance. The high, lonesome fiddle is perfect, with martial percussion and rollicking guitar.  Vocals are dark, but they strike true. This song has a  little bit of  Celtic, a little bit of down-home, and a whole lot of sheer energy. 

Before You Go is in a slower vein with a rather macabre look at a “love that’s run astray”. Smooth and languid, the song has traces of a calypso feel. Romantic, meandering strings vie with suave guitar to accompany velvet vocals that incorporate some great harmonies. “Before you go and wish me dead, dear, choose the plot where I will lay”.

The traditional Lily of the West is the perfect song to close the album. Spirited, boisterous, yet cynical and dark, there is some fine picking here and truly infectious rhythms. The Heathen Apostles turn this classic into a boot hill ballad in their finest tradition.

What more can one say about Fire to the Fuse?  The music truly speaks for itself.  The production is fantastic.  The Heathen Apostles seamlessly weave their aural artistry into a well-crafted album filled poignancy as well as  well as corral fisticuffs.   The Heathen Apostles are clearly the finest musical guns under the Big Sky. I feel as though if I were to walk through the doors of the Oriental, I’d see them leaning on the bar, steely eyed. with a guitar as close at hand as a Peacemaker.   For all comers, Fire to the Fuse will be most pleasing the ear. Give it a listen.  You’re a Daisy if you do.  And keep one eye on those dusty plains. The Heathen Apostles will be back.

http://heathenapostles.com/site/



 


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The Heathen Apostles – Misery and Gin

July 16th, 2016 by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

Misery and Gin” is the new Merle Haggard tribute EP be released on July 22 by the fabulous Heathen Apostles!   The Heathen Apostles are Mather Louth (Radio Noir),  Chopper Franklin (The Cramps, Nick Curran & the Lowlifes) Thomas Lorioux (The Kings of Nuthin’) on bass, Stevyn Grey (Christian Death, 45 Grave) on drums,  and Luis Mascaro on violin. 

I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can” is a new take on Merle’s classic song of romantic retribution, which begins with a burst of Bluesy cacophony that levels off into a boisterous honky-tonk rhythm.  The fiddle has a fine Charlie Daniel’s style edge to it, while the fast-paced percussion and galloping guitar give a fine saloon blues backing.  Mather’s vocals are  energetic and  alluring, reminiscent of a young Reba, and like Jeanne C. Riley, Mather socks it to ‘em and  closes on a seductive, yet dangerous note.

Misery and Gin” is a bit slower, with  a full, lush sound that brings to mind the superbly produced Country songs of the ’60s and ’70s.  Orchestral fiddle, tight guitar, and steady percussion provide the perfect backing for Mather’s reflective vocals. The instrumental interludes are particularly evocative of the age of classic Country.  “Misery and Gin“  is a fine interpretation!

“I‘m Gonna Break Every Heart I can“  (Amighty Watching Remix”)  is a modern twist on this Merle haggard standard, with a bit of punk and electro.  From the highlight buzzsaw guitar to the electro backings to Mather’s bewitching vocals, which evoke a bit of of Debbie Harry and Terri Nunn, this is a rousing song. 

The Heathen Apostles is one of the best bands out there today, with their imminently successful Southern Gothic meets The Old West sounds and imagery. You can almost hear the wind blowing tumbleweeds on Boot Hill.  Most people who have tried this end up sounding like they are trying to giving the listener a music lesson.  But not The Heathen Apostles. They sound genuine and spontaneous,  inspired by the past, but firmly here in the present.  They understand completely that it isn’t what the listener knows about music that is important, but how the music makes the listener feel. The Heathen Apostles put their own soul into the tracks here, but also keep true to the original spirit of the music. “Misery and Gin” is  a worthy tribute to Merle Haggard.  I think he would approve.

If you like great music with an Old West flair, you can’t go wrong with The Heathen Apostles.  (NOTE: I have it on impeccable authority that Chopper is working on some soundtrack material! Stay tuned….)

Check out the brand new video for Misery and Gin!

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sOGHe-8jJaA&feature=youtu.be

And don’t forget:

http://heathenapostles.com/site/

 




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Red Sun Revival – Identities

January 07th, 2016 by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

Identities is the third release  from Red Sun Revival, following the excellent Running From the Dawn and Embers (EP). Red Sun Revival consists of  Rob Leydon, Panos Theodoropoulous, Christina Emery and Matt Helm.    Live drums are provided by Simon Rippin, with Sam Morrison on  keyboards for ‘The Condemned Part I’   Without further fanfare, I’ll get to the music:

Premonition has a piano intro and then launches into  a magnificent bass line, energetic percussion, and  Rob’s trademark powerful vocals.  There is an anthem like quality to the song that rises with each chorus.  Angelic backing vocals add to the intensity.  Guitar, percussion, bass weave layers of sound around the main vocals, and supporting arrangements fill in the tapestry.   

Echoes begins with a classic sort of Gothic choral flourish.   An utterly  fantastic baseline and steady percussion are coupled with keyboards and Rob’s trademark dark vocals.   The pace quickens,  followed with female backing vocals.    Layered choral vocals drift from the depths of the song, the percussion ceases, and then the song fades.   Imagine equal parts 69 Eyes and Mission UK,  with vigorous post-punk percussion and a slight touch of ethereal. 

After a sweeping intro, the bass continues its relentless assault in Four Walls. Keyboards and percussion are dynamic without being overpowering, with a very cool rock guitar solo at about 2:45. Backing arrangements are dark and sweeping.   Vocals are gripping and poignant. I hear a bit of early Clan of Xymox here, and a hint of Garden of Delight.

The Reckoning is a brilliant musical epic, featuring orchestral arrangements with an inexorable,  measured  cadence. Vocals are a touch higher than usual, which lends strength to the sense of impending fate.  There are wonderful bell effects, and strings are gorgeously layered underneath, which resonate profoundly at the end.  

Fade in Time
begins with a choral flourish, then launches into a rousing cavalcade of sound.   The thundering  bass accentuates the sheer crispness of the percussion and backing instrumentation.  This song really reminds me of 69 Eyes, only a tighter and with a fuller sound.  Vocals are a bit more strident than some of the other songs, which heightens the sense of a fervent requiem.    

In Your Name rolls on, with pounding bass and cleaver-sharp keyboards.  Electronic backing effects weave around the vocals and race in counterpoint to the bass.  Keyboards rise between the verses like a wave of sound, then subside briefly as the vocals peal onwards.   There is a strong orchestral effect, then at about 3:50 the guitar sweeps all before it. 

Mistakes begins ominously, then rises with a juxtaposition of poignant vocals and sweeping  electronics and guitar.  Percussion is steady and strong.  “Sometimes when I see your face in dreams, everything becomes just like a memory”. Rock guitar rises to anthem proportions at about 4:20.    This is a fine song for driving down a darkened highway. Play it loud. 

The Condemned part I clocks in at over seven minutes of pure musical doom,  as irresistible as a storm at sea.  The song opens with Heavy, pounding synth and percussion, as irresistible as a storm at sea in the distance.   Keyboards and guitar come to the forefront, with some excellent, eerie backing effects.  I am reminded of Love Like Blood.   The bass becomes stronger,  resonating with rising synth, and then a gripping guitar segment sweeps all before it, in the vein of Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder days.      The song rises to a majestic, thralling peak, as percussion steps in, sharp and inexorable.    Then Rob’s vocals emerge and assume center stage.  Powerful, compelling, yet poignant at the same time, the vocals have Rob’s trademark sense of deep, turbulent  emotions without seeming theatrical or contrived.   As the great Lawrence Welk would say, “Wonderful! Wonderful!” 

After a gripping intro, The Condemned part II continues the grand epic.  The pace picks up, showcasing  some fine guitar work that has some definite bite.   Driving, hypnotic percussion rolls on, pursued by thundering bass.    Vocals are strident, nearly Homeric, but not overreaching, as dark backing synth adds a hint of a chorale and  keyboards add a fine, discernible edge.     

The Awakening begins with clear, evocative keyboards, before the rush of sharp guitar and bass hits.    Upbeat and fast paced, yet oddly reflective, this is the perfect song to end the album. While clearly bass driven,  there is fine support from percussion.   The backing atmospherics are marvelously bleak, but they fill the musical spaces perfectly.  Shadows of Strange Boutique are interwoven  in there somewhere,  and very evocative strings.  Vocals are fast, but with the usual sense of longing.    The song contains a hint of despair, yet is also vibrant with rising hopefulness.

Identities is the best Goth/Postpunk inspired album of 2015.     Very well crafted, both musically and lyrically, Identities displays a superb consistency across the entire album.   There are no “weak” tracks here.  Another reviewer said that this album puts Red Sun Revival on the map, but I think they were already well established on the map with their last two albums.   One of the great things about Red Sun Revival is that they are not rehashing the same old ’80s or  ’90s era Gothic sound like many other  bands.  Intensely original, they eschew the usual leaden, doomy, swirly morass that characterizes much “dark” music.   (If I want to hear that sort of thing, I’ll just dig through my collection.)     Red Sun Revival is firmly here in the 21st century, while clearly building upon their Gothic and Postpunk roots.  We look forward to their fourth album!

http://redsunrevival.com/

https://www.facebook.com/RedSunRevival 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Premonition 4:35
2 Echoes 5:44
3 Four Walls 4:58
4 The Reckoning 5:42
5 Fade In Time 6:08
6 In Your Name 4:37
7 Mistakes 6:37
8 The Condemned Part I 6:37
9 The Condemned Part II 3:21
10 The Awakening
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