Spooks McGhie – ‘Olin’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

‘Olin’ is an interesting piece, because it’s a retrospective of McGhie’s life and his pursuit of his dream through music. The record is riddled with nostalgic memories, delivered in spoken word from his grandmother and aunt. Normally, this tactic would feel cheesy, and would decrease the value of the record’s solo replayability. However, that really isn’t the case with ‘Olin.’ The technique is used sparingly, and it acts as a storytelling catalyst to further the message McGhie is trying to convey.

McGhie’s lyrics are notable, as is his delivery. He’s found a nice balance between hip hop and rhyme rapping, mixing a firm R&B base with a Justin Timberlake-esque style. The entire record roots itself into rhythm and blues, more than anything else. That’s a positive path for McGhie to follow; his voice lends itself to it very well.

The production of the record is top notch, and surprisingly good for an independent hip hop artist. The bread and butter of the studio performance is synthesized with electronic beats and synths, but every so often, an interesting performance emerges, such as the end of the second track of the album, ‘Echo,’ where a hard hitting, energized guitar solo sets the stage for McGhie’s second storytelling voice over, performed by his aunt. As a result of a firm production and a talented performance, the set glides off your speakers, effortlessly entering your space without intrusion through poor production – because nothing is more distracting than a performance that doesn’t gel well or hasn’t been mixed properly.

‘Olin’ is a variety record in simplest terms. Some tracks feel like a soul-pressing R&B album, and some tracks feel like house music. ‘Shine Tomorrow’ would be very at home at the end of a Saturday night dance club set, and ‘Check the Rhyme’ would be equally at home low riding in the hood. (Yes, ‘low riding in the hood.’ I’m pretty white, aren’t I?)

The finale of the record, ‘Olin,’ is superbly produced, and ends the retrospective collection with the perfect amount of flare. It’s McGhie’s anthem to following your dreams: going as far as you can, and then taking one step further. The chorus gets a bit repetitive, but it’s still an apt exit to the record.

‘Olin’ is a very good LP, and one of the better independent records I’ve heard this year. It’s not perfect – tracks like ‘Organic’ have a tendency to drag, and as endearing as the eye witness accounts are to his life, they enter a realm that seems a bit self indulgent. It’s important for independent artists to reach for the stars, but also understand they aren’t one. At least, not yet. The retrospective memories and quips throughout the record would be much more engrossing if McGhie was coming from a higher plane. He’s still a small time indie artist, though, so it feels a bit contrived. That said, it’s still very worth checking out, and fans of R&B, rap, or electronic music will find something to enjoy.

You can download/buy the album on McGhie’s Band Camp, and you can follow him at the different social networking sites below.

http://spooksmcghie.bandcamp.com/album/olin

https://www.facebook.com/SpooksMcGhie

http://spooksmcghie.tumblr.com/

http://instagram.com/spooksmcghie

https://twitter.com/SpooksMcGhie

ARJUN – ‘CORE’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

ARJUN is a three piece instrumental band that hails from New York, specializing in an eclectic mixture of rock and roll and jazz improvisation. ‘CORE’ is their new record, the second in a self described trilogy of ‘sonic dreamscapes,’ the first album having been ‘SPACE,’ which was released last year.

Once you tune into ‘CORE,’ it becomes immediately apparent why ARJUN critics have drawn comparisons to acts like Snarky Puppy. In today’s musical scene, launching an instrumental fusion band is quite a statement, and the crowd is a niche, to say the least. However, bands who effectively harness the power of a strong instrumental sound, like Snarky Puppy, are intriguing, because they can’t rely on a vocalist or defining front man; it’s all out on the table and everything is left to interpretation. Without lyrics, your musicianship has to be top notch, since the tone of your song depends entirely on the emotion you can pull out of your instrument – an intimidating endeavor for any musician.

‘CORE’ draws you in from the first note of ‘Rocks,’ the opening song in the seven track record. It cascades through rock influence and into a jazzy, modern bass line. Throughout the whole record, the trio is at excellent harmony, with each instrument providing a meaningful service to the sonic experience, remaining modest and courteous to the rest of the band. A guitar lick doesn’t go left without a solid, ever-pressing bass line, and the drums waterfall through the cacophony with extreme precision.

Eddie Arjun Peters, the namesake and guitarist of the group, hops through dozens of apparent influences. Everyone is there; you hear Stevie Ray on ‘Core’ and you hear Clapton on ‘Deep Impact.’ His style defines organized chaos: it’s precise like a knife cutting the air, smooth like a B.B. King solo, and as chaotic as David Gilmour on a day where he feels particularly experimental.

The whole album feels like a seven song long parade through musical history, flirting with Ray Manzarek electric organ vibes on ‘Core’ and guitar shredding that is as elegant as ‘Slowhand’ and as rough as ‘Texas Flood.’ The bass is sharp too, with a heavy jazz influence that sounds like Flea got stuck in a New Orleans bar.

Most instrumental groups and records run the constant risk of boring their audience to tears with songs that blend together in one monotonous blur of jamming. Let’s face it – even a good band can become incredibly boring if they insist on jamming a two minute solo into an hour. (I’m looking at you, Phish.) So, it’s difficult to find stable and consistently interesting ground when you are a band like ARJUN. Here’s the thing, though: they do it.

‘CORE’ is fresh from beginning to end. It doesn’t date itself through repetitive instrument wanking. Every piece of the sound is articulate, but exciting. That’s a rarity. So many bands who delve into the instrumental realm just come out looking self absorbed, with the lead guitarist shredding his way from beginning to end without any concern for the intensity of the full band. Each piece of the soundscape feels distinct and purposeful.

Normally, I tell my readers to check out a band based on their genre preferences, but not with this one. Check out ‘CORE’ if you like music. Yes, that’s how broad I’m going to be, because whatever kind of music you like, it’s rooted into ARJUN’s sound in one way or another.

Here’s ARJUN’s info:

Website: http://arjunmusic.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ARJUNmusiclive
Twitter: https://twitter.com/arjunmusic

Prophet – ‘The Midwest Hustle’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

Brandon Joseph Vlasic is a twenty year old hip hop artist that goes under the persona of ‘Prophet.’ As Prophet, he declares that he a true ‘Baller,’ in that he has a  mission to excel in his craft and represent himself as a leader and a professional. He expresses that the term ‘Baller’ doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, represent money, girls or cars. Rather, it should represent respect and loyalty. Good on you, Prophet. You have it right where the majority of your fellow rap artists have it very, very wrong. So, Prophet has a solid moral backdrop to his music, which is refreshing, given the over-flooding of atrocious public figures that plague his genre. That’s a good place to start!

I’ll be honest – I’m not a rap fan. Yes, I’ve spent years now in my efforts to become a professional musical writer through different publications and my own endeavors, but no, I’ve never clicked with rap and hip hop. I’m a white suburban kid who never heard the ‘N’ word in conversation until he visited New Orleans, and the only rap album on my iPod is ‘Yeezus.’ Maybe that’s a good thing, though, because since I am removed from Prophet’s targeted demographic, I can give an honest review of the styling and production.

When I visited Prophet’s page to listen to ‘The Midwest Hustle,’ I was preparing for the worst. The self-recorded rap genre is vast, and mostly, really, really bad. So, I was very shocked when I hit the first song on the album and received a track that was exceptionally produced and recorded. In fact, all of the songs are. The songs’ beats are top notch, and the production value is quite high. Prophet’s ability to rhyme-rap his way through each eclectic verse of lyrics is impressive, and one forgets that this is an independent release. It sounds just as solid as any other rap album I’ve heard come out of the industry at a much higher level.

The songs cover all of the bases of the genre: loyalty, respect, troubled youth, riding with your boys, a frightening overuse of the ‘N’ word, smoking, and pursuing dreams. And you know what? It’s good. It’s really good; surprisingly good. 

The whole album I was a bit on the edge of my chair, because this isn’t the kind of music I listen to. I’m a Bob Dylan fan. I had listened to a Cat Stevens record before this EP. That’s a big jump. At the end of the record, though, I had eased back into my chair and was enjoying the songs. ‘Down A Notch’ is the exit of the record, and the most superb track on the record. The instrumentation is so catchy, and very enjoyable. It’s a track that screams of ‘YOLO’ without being overly cliche. 

‘The Midwest Hustle’ is a good stepping stone for Prophet, and it’s certainly worth a listen. Check it out below:

http://www.reverbnation.com/prophetdonteflon/album/65945-the-midwest-hustle-ep

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Prophet/264962463546298

A&L – ‘Get Me A Drink’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

Before we delve into the single, we should spend a bit of time with A&L. The duo consists of Anthony Casuccio and Lana Marie. Casuccio is a seasoned industry veteran with two decades in the business, having worked on Grammy nominated projects and other endeavors. Marie has reached prominence as a vocalist in the East Coast musical scene, lending her talent to radio and television in the region.

So, with a driving force of two professionals like Casuccio and Marie, the music should be top notch, right? Don’t worry, it is. Their first single, ‘Get Me A Drink’ was conceived in a long meeting. ‘I worked eighty hours, seven days this week. My back is on fire, I need to get off my feet,’ the track opens with – a sentiment many of us can relate to. So, what does Marie want? Hell, what do you think she wants? A good drink! So, the rest of the song is the ballad of the overworked nine to fiver, who’s ‘job runs their life,’ as Casuccio’s lyrics put it. The song’s hero just wants one thing: to get away from their job, have some fun, and party all night.

The track has that electric Nashville country-rock sound that demands a strong vocalist and backing band. Fortunately, A&L has that. The production quality of the single is impeccable; it was produced strongly and has a tight backing band that is right on track the whole song. The song explodes into itself when the electric guitar solo erupts in the latter half of the song. It’s only a few seconds long, but it really does scream. In fact, it leaves you wishing it could have been longer. That may be the first dilemma in an otherwise very solid song. It clearly has a killer backing band, but the band isn’t given much room to breathe. As a result, the sound feels a bit confined, as if a beast of music is waiting to be let out of the cage, and only does so for a spurt of exciting guitar towards the end. Marie’s strong vocals aid in this effort, but something is still left unharnessed by the end of the song. 

The only other folly of the track is in the shallowness of the lyrics. In honesty, though, that’s not the point of the track, either. It’s a self described ‘party song,’ and that’s exactly what it does very well. Expecting more substance from it would make no sense; it would be like being upset that the Bob Dylan record you just bought is too long and wordy. It’s a party song, and in that regard, it excels.

So, check out ‘Get Me A Drink’ from A&L. They’re a new band that is worth taking note of, because if this single is any confirmation of an album to come, that album is going to be something worth listening to.

Below you can stream and buy the new single and follow the band on Twitter:

https://soundcloud.com/buzzrecords-1/drink

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/get-me-drink-feat.-anthony/id911593952

https://twitter.com/AandLmusic

Daniel Angelus – ‘Dream Pop’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In today’s segment of the ‘Independent Spotlight,’ we delve into Daniel Angelus’ solo EP, ‘Dream Pop.’ Angelus is one half of the band ‘Surrender Hearts’ and is signed to the online indie label Black Tower Records. With a background of a troubled childhood, Angelus has devoted his musical endeavors to the improvement of youth organizations, mental health awareness, and a variety of other philanthropic efforts. So, he’s got his head on straighter than most.’

When initially immersed into Angelus’ music, one is immediately confronted with an interesting prospect: what kind of sound is this?! Angelus has constructed a brilliantly complex sound that is difficult for a listener to pin down. It has roots in an electronic genre, but also bleeds 1980’s synthesizers and droning vocals. The instrumentation of each track is top notch, and exceptionally well organized, with the synthesized beats reaching an excellent point of harmony with the cascading piano riffs. It’s also worth noting that the production value is apparent; this EP has been produced skillfully.

Again, the sound is complex. The orchestrations and musical stylings scream of an alternative electronic movement influence, something uncannily reminiscent of The Cure. It’s also a bit avant garde, even David Bowie-esque, especially in regard to Angelus’ vocals. At the same time, though, it manages to feel modern and fresh. It has the aura of a modern Coldplay record and the nostalgia of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes.’ That may sound like an odd combination, but in actuality, it’s quite excellent.

So, we’ve established that the musicianship is solid, and Daniel Angelus is David Bowie and Robert Smith’s love child. The production is something to write home about as well. Now, though, we need to take a look at the weaker side of the record, because there always is one.

This is the second independent record I’ve been sent this week and the second record I’ve been pleasantly surprised by. Most indie artists’ albums and songs are riddled with poor production and weak musicians. This record manages to escape from that demographic. However, it does falter at times. The vocals fall a bit flat every so often, and sometimes the lyrics are a bit awkward in the songs. The record also blends a bit – each song sounds eerily similar to the previous, making the experience blend into one twenty one minute song rather than six performances. As a result of this, it’s hard to choose the best tracks, because they all feel like one. Regardless, ‘Taste My Tears’ and ‘Capture The Dream’ are probably the highlights. The exit, ‘Killing Me’ is probably his most adventurous tune, and his most David Bowie-like track. His vocal experimentation in it echos a 1977 Bowie in every regard.

With that said, it’s a great little EP, especially for Angelus’ solo debut. However, his next step should be to plunge deeper into a more drastic sound, and perhaps be a bit more adventurous in his next outing. It’s an easy collection of songs to enjoy – they don’t make you think too hard, and it’s great background music to just about anything. Angelus’ has talent, and he exercises it well. I’m interested to see what happens when he breaks out of the bubble a bit more.

To stream ‘Dream Pop’ in its entirety, visit the Soundcloud link below:

https://soundcloud.com/surrender-hearts/sets/daniel-angelus-ep-1

Below are Angelus’ website, Facebook and Twitter. Go connect with him! 

http://www.surrenderhearts.com/

https://www.facebook.com/daniel.angelus.7

https://twitter.com/DanielAngelus01

Jana Pochop – ‘Throats Are Quarries’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

‘Throats Are Quarries’ is the third release in a trilogy of records that Texas based artist Jana Pochop has released over the course of the past six years with producer Daniel Barrett. Pochop boasts a strong vocal style, one that is uncannily similar to the likes of Kim Deal, and she leapfrogs through Americana folk vibes and pop melodies. The result is an a five song EP that is largely satisfying.

The EP is heftier on the side of pop, and attempts to find a balance between that and the grass roots folk style that seeps through every song. The percussion in some of the songs feels a bit processed, like it’s going through a Korg drum machine. However, since the record plants itself firmly into pop early on, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, these beats are extremely solid and accent the acoustic guitar very well.

Musically, the highlights of the album surface when Pochop’s songs take a quick turn into spurts of rock and roll with piercing electric guitar riffs. The songs play out like soft pop songs, so every time the electric guitar emerges it feels like a blast of excitement. This is most prominent on ‘Throw You Forward,’ which is the strongest song in the set. The lyrics of ‘Throw You Forward’ are spectacular in their own regard, and the production slowly builds the song into an explosion of music that erupts when the song goes full out at the halfway mark. This song in particular has every aspect of a radio hit, rising in and out of oblivion with the musical tact of a master engineer and studio band. However, unlike most radio hits, it also has substance, which is essential in the progression of a strong lyricist.

The production of this record is impressive, especially when the realm of independent music is riddled with poor engineering, half hearted self-recorded efforts, and eight track players. ‘Throats Are Quarries’ has come out of a studio with a talented engineer, and as a result, it is sonically superior to the majority of music in similar leagues.

So, it’s a strong, fierce recordwith solid production, noteworthy vocals, and exceptional musicianship. With that said, it has a few little bugs – no independent record is perfect. Four songs on the record feel at harmony with one another, complementing the acoustic pop sound Pochop has constructed. ‘Deepest Fear’ feels a bit out of place in this. Now, it’s not a bad song. In fact, it’s admirable both lyrically and musically. It just feels like the odd ball out on the record, as if the session band was instructed to achieve a folkier sound but hold onto the pop aura of the previous tracks. On a different record with deeper roots in Americana, this song would have been perfect. In honesty, though, the album has a more concrete connection to popular music than grassroots, which is certainly not detrimental to the record. It just makes ‘Deepest Fear’ sound excluded from the overarching pop atmosphere.

‘Throats Are Quarries’ is one of the much better independent records that I have heard this year. Jana Pochop exhibits extraordinary potential, and with a grounded record like ‘Quarries,’ it stands to reason that she may very well carve herself a strong following in the coming years. It’s important for musical artists to consistently achieve new heights and arise to new challenges when facing an increasingly turbulent music industry. Fortunately for Pochop, she has the right ingredients.

Below are links to stream the album and connect with Pochop on her website:

https://soundcloud.com/janapochop/sets/throats-are-quarries-ep-jana-pochop

http://janapochop.com/