Rexford – ‘Good Lie’

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 this review I’ll be taking a look at the band Rexford and their new EP,’Good Lie.’ The three piece band is one of the more interesting acts I’ve looked at in recent memory, combining a pop influence with hints of soul and other indie music to craft a rather original sound. First, though, let’s check out some info on the band.

Rexford consists of vocalist Matthew Hashimoto, keyboardist Floris Boere, and drummer Derek Nelson. The New York-based band’s lack of a guitarist was immediately intriguing to me, however, since a modern lineup without one is increasingly rare. They perform all of the synthesized instrumentation live as well, which is certainly a compelling way to attack live performance.

‘Good Lie’ is an EP that is exceptionally produced. The musicians sync together incredibly well in the musical soundscape and the mix sounds like its straight out of a professional, high end studio. That’s always a huge selling point for an independent act since the scene is often plagued with poor self-production efforts.

Now, a band that centralizes around synthesizers runs the risk of sounding overproduced. Rexford manages this space well, however, and it doesn’t feel overproduced at all. In fact, you get so lost in the mixes that you forget you’re just listening to three guys – they emanate the illusion of a much larger, more complex act.

Musically, the songs are top notch. The title track introduces you to Rexford in an epic fashion with incredibly catchy choruses, beautiful verses, and an irresistibly lovable synthesizer lead. ‘Don’t Look Back’ captures a more soulful persona on the part of Hashimoto, making it a stark contrast to the title track. It works, though, and Boere plays off of Hashimoto’s vocals beautifully.

‘Space Parfait’ boasts an intriguingly different spoken word introduction followed by the strongest vocal performance of the record. For a pop-based group, the lyrics are surprisingly excellent. ‘Anthem’ feels like the weaker of the five tracks with a slightly stereotypical chorus and droning nature, but with that said, the weakest of five powerful tracks isn’t anything to be concerned about.

The album finishes up with ‘Yes, Virginia.’ Boere’s piano is exhilarating on this song, crafting the most magnificent sound space of the record. When Nelson drops in, the song comes full circle, managing the perfect balance between soul and pop.

I don’t normally add music that I get asked to review to my own personal playlist. With ‘Good Lie,’ however, two or three of these tracks are getting thrown into my regular rotation. These songs are truly beautiful pop music. I have the tendency to harp on modern pop artists and hammer them for unoriginal music, overly produced tracks, and stereotypical lyrics. Rexford is the shelter from the storm for me, proving to me that pop music isn’t dead, it’s just sleeping. Rexford is the right band to wake it up.

Rexford’s Website: http://www.rexfordmusic.com/

Zayed Hassan – ‘Symphony for a longing heart’

In this edition of Independent Spotlight, I’ll be taking a look at composer Zayed Hassan and his new single, ‘Symphony for a longing heart.’ Hassan is from Bangladesh and boasts a wide and versatile palette of influences from Linkin Park to Cat Stevens. His genre is a bit more obscure, however, defining itself as independent ethnic fusion. Let’s check out the song:

‘Symphony for a longing heart’ immediately emanates an incredibly strong production. This atmospheric, droning mix is mastered perfectly. The instruments find their place exceptionally well amidst the soundscape and nothing is overpowering or overly dramatic. In a very Phil Spector-esque fashion, Hassan builds the groundwork for the song in a very simplistic fashion, eventually rising into a cacophony of sound – a wall of sound, perhaps.

Every so often, I review an artist who allows me to break out one of my favorite terms in musical review, what I like to call ‘intelligent music or musicianship.’ Intelligent musicians force the listener to ponder about what they are being exposed to; the music isn’t spoonfed into your senses like a top-50 summer jam. It’s introspective, contemplative, maybe even existential. ‘Symphony for a longing heart’ exemplifies intelligent music.

The musicianship of the track is refreshingly haunting. Beautiful piano mixes with atmospheric reverberation and multiple parts continue to overlay one another in an epic fashion. It does feel ethnic as well, introducing superb percussion and brass sections, too. The track hits full stride when the orchestration reaches its tipping point with one of the most beautiful string sections I’ve ever heard in independent music.

The brevity of ‘Symphony for a longing heart’ is wonderful as well. Too often instrumental composers get bogged down in dramatic numbers that overstay their welcome after five minutes and drone into oblivion. This song is paced and executed perfectly, making for a wonderful listen numerous times without ever wearing out its welcome.

If all of the music that was submitted to me to review was as good as ‘Symphony for a longing heart,’ my job would be very easy. It’s not, though, and that’s why I savor a good track like this when it gets thrown my way. Good on you, Zayed Hassan; keep up the good work.

Metro Expo – ‘Metro Expo 1’

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 this edition of Independent Spotlight I’ll be taking a look at ‘Metro Expo 1,’ the first album from Metro Expo. The band name is the moniker of Fred Marcoty, who wrote and performed the entirety of the record by himself. The project will drop this spring, but we’re going to take an inside look at the record before it’s made widely available.

‘Metro Expo 1’ is a concept album that is very introspective in nature, focusing on a transition between teenage years and adulthood. Concept albums are a difficult beast to tackle; they can be direct in their narrative or they can be much more obscure: think ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ or ‘Ziggy Stardust.’

Immediately, the production value of ‘Metro Expo 1’ is notable. It’s elegantly mixed and mastered and Marcoty has done an superb job self-producing. His instrumentation is eclectic and provocative, dancing through a few different rock-based genres with ease. Essentially, Metro Expo harnesses a garage band-esque sound that finds a nice balance with electronic instrumentation and synthesized effects. If you took Dave Grohl’s rock and roll drive and combined it with musical tinkering the likes of Thom Yorke, your product would be reminiscent of Metro Expo.

The songs utilize a wide array of instrumentation, though perhaps the brass sections are the most unique and compelling. The songs on ‘Metro Expo 1’ are also quite lengthy, but that tends to come with the territory on concept albums. They’re drastically different, however, and the darker tones of ‘You’ve Stolen Millions’ are a stark contrast to the atmospheric soundscape crafted in ‘The Shore.’

Personally, I’d claim there’s something about ‘While You Look Away’ that is absolutely magical. It’s damn catchy, incredibly musically inventive, and flirts with an oddball mix of traditional European jams and New Orleans jazz clubs. The jazzy nature of the track sums up the musical persona that Marcoty amasses throughout the record: diverse, cultured, and intelligent.

The lyrics of the album are very introspective and even existential as Marcoty leads you on musical journey about crafting one’s identity. His vocals are peculiar, and even sound a bit like the crazed frontman of Gogol Bordello. With that said, I can’t imagine this music presented by any other vocal style. His deep, raspy crooning is very enjoyable, even when it is a bit overproduced in tracks like ‘Inertia’ with droning echoes and reverb.

‘Metro Expo 1’ is an absolutely incredible achievement. From the stellar seven minute introduction to ‘The Swan Lullaby,’ listeners will be transported on an intelligent, beautifully written voyage through one of the most interesting musical environments I’ve encountered in a very long time. It sounds a whole lot like some of the best records Pink Floyd put out, actually. That’s a high compliment for an album that definitely earned it.

Random fun fact: Marcoty performed the drums on my second Rivers Rubin record as well!

David Arn – ‘Walking to Dreamland’

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 this Independent Spotlight review, I’ll be taking a good look at David Arn and his new record ‘Walking to Dreamland.’ The album drops in just a few weeks, but Arn has given me the opportunity to analyse the ten track record ahead of it’s February 1st release date. Let’s jump straight into ‘Dreamland.’

When I conduct a longer analyse of an artist’s music, I tend to find some background information on them to provide better context to the music. David Arn is already accomplished; ‘Walking to Dreamland’ is his second record and he’s been featured on NPR stations and commercial Delta Airlines flights.

The song ‘Walking to Dreamland’ is absolutely stunning and mesmerizing. It’s bluesy, dark, atmospheric, and moody. The lyrics are surreal and dreamlike, surrounded by an exceptional production. In particular, the electric guitar and piano riffs are superb, with the sparse organ arrangements giving a wonderful aura to the track. It’s a powerful introduction to David Arn.

‘Better Off Today’ has very intriguing instrumentation; it’s softer and much more acoustic. Arn’s vocals are distinctive: raw, emotional, and charged with the wisdom of his years. His musical style is especially similar to J.J Cale or an older Nick Lowe. The production is minimalistic yet full.

‘Even in a Town of Seven Churches’ introduces a beautifully haunting violin. Arn’s biographical information boasts of a characteristic lyrical style. In that respect, he delivers in spades. The lyrics are lovely. At it’s heart, ‘Real Time’ is a charming little love ballad, one that is exquisitely written and performed. The acoustic jam and brass section give this song the folk feel of Greenwich Village and the jazzy feel of Bourbon Street.

‘When You Lost Your Situation’ continues to exemplify the musical prowess of David Arn and the musicians performing with him. There’s something about the eccentric electric guitar blues riffing and subtle organ orchestration that gives tracks on this record a uniquely different appeal in comparison to the rest of the independent music scene. Arn showcases his ability to rock and roll and croon in space of a few minutes. That’s special.

‘Rosalina’s Music’ has a much heavier dose of classical orchestration applied to it. It’s alluring, though, reminiscent of the latter half of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Jungleland’ or something similar. ‘Hungry Kisses’ lends the lead to the pianist, backed by a powerhouse bass line. Arn remains in an interesting state of solitude on this album; the music cascades around his vocals as he stands unmoved.

There’s an impressive amount of musical diversity on ‘Walking to Dreamland.’ David Arn skips effortlessly through folk, blues, rock and roll, jazz, and classical arrangements, genre-hopping like nobody’s business. To make a musical analogy, it’s like if you took every song Bob Dylan has ever written and scrambled a playlist of ten of them. That is the kind of musical diversity that gleams from ‘Walking to Dreamland.’

‘Something More Between Us’ returns to the rustic, folky sound of Arn’s acoustic guitar. He embodies the perfect Nashville crooner in tracks like this, a stark contrast to the harder songs on this album. The enticing instrumentation on this track is matched perfectly by the light harmonies with a female vocalist on the choruses.

‘The Last Word’ may be my favorite track on the record. It’s just a classy track, doused in catchy vocals and complementary riffing. ‘Water Lilies’ closes out the album with an enchanting synthesized melody and drowned out vocals. It feels experimental, yet classical. Think ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ meets ‘Day in the Life.’ Floating synthesizers descend into silence like an instrumental left on David Bowie’s cutting room floor after composing the soundtrack to ‘Labyrinth.’

‘Walking to Dreamland’ is an incredibly good record. I hadn’t met an Independent Spotlight review I didn’t have any constructive criticism for until now. Furthermore, I hadn’t met a record that left me so astounded that I’ll actually go out and purchase it when it comes out. David Arn’s new album accomplished both of those feats. Those looking for a new addition to their musical libraries should check out ‘Walking to Dreamland.’ It’s a superior album that has something for nearly anyone with an appreciation for finely crafted music, and that’s exactly what it is: finely crafted.

Connect With David Arn:

http://www.davidarn.com/
http://twitter.com/David_Arn
https://www.facebook.com/DavidArnMusic
https://soundcloud.com/davidarn/tracks
http://youtu.be/OaZQNVkzbYw

The Notionaries – ‘Excited Eyes’

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 this Independent Spotlight review, I’ll be delving into The Notionaries, an alternative rock band from the midwest who recently released ‘Excited Eyes,’ their new single. They aren’t unsigned like most of the artists here, however, they’re signed to Brickhouse Music Group, an indie label. Let’s check out ‘Excited Eyes.’

Immediately ‘Excited Eyes’ is filled with musical adrenaline, pushing forward a heavy bass beat accompanied with an electrifying guitar riff and droning atmospheric synthesizers. The drums are incredibly heavy on the track as well, but it’s all mixed together well. The lead vocalist holds his own amidst a soundscape of solid musicians. The song even employs some good old fashioned hand clapping which gives it a nice retro-pop aura reminiscent of a Nick Lowe track or the like.

There’s a short solo section pumping up a final chorus, both of which are splendid. The chorus is catchy and fun, though in turn creates a superficial space lyrically, but that’s to be expected with this sort of track. The Notionaries fall into a sub-genre of rock I call ‘summer pop-rock.’ It’s perfect music for a ride down a beautiful highway on a summer night.

There’s something about the music that does feel stereotypical, though. This sound has been employed by artists like Of Monsters and Men and Imagine Dragons. The explosive nature of it demands your attention and constructs wonderfully catchy choruses with lots of group clapping. There’s nothing wrong with that, but The Notionaries are in the shallower pool of lyrical and instrumental depth.

I wouldn’t categorize The Notionaries as an alternative group based on this track. That seems to be the genre independent bands default to when they can’t decide where they lie. These guys align more closely with pop-rock. Summer pop-rock is a genre that scares me a bit as a musical critic, because it has exceptional ties to music like the Beach Boys and Bruce Springsteen. Each generation has their own incarnation of the genre. Unfortunately, songs like ‘Excited Eyes’ don’t hold the weight of something like ‘God Only Knows’ or ‘Born to Run.’

It’s a great and catchy tune certainly worth downloading for your workout playlist. If you’re looking for something with a bit more diversity or depth, you may want to skip out on The Notionaries. However, when you consider how well they do align with a modernized, youthful crowd’s music taste… they could very well be in for the long haul.

Connect with The Notionaries:

www.bhgmusicgroup.com
https://www.facebook.com/thenotionaries

https://soundcloud.com/brickhousemusicgroup/the-notionaries-excited-eyes

Robert Haggarty – ‘RH’

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 this Independent Spotlight review, I’ll be taking a look at hip hop rapper Robert Haggarty’s new record that is currently being dropped across the web, called ‘RH.’ Before I delve into this fifteen track record, however, I’ll take a brief look at Haggarty as an artist to give context to the music we’ll be taking a look at.

At first glance, Haggarty is far more proactive and prolific in his pursuit of the arts. He has a nice portfolio of poetry and short stories that he’s published on his official website and he boasts a love of poetry and creative writing. This review is particularly intriguing for me, because Haggarty attended the college I’m currently attending for his creative endeavors: Columbia College Chicago. With a major in fiction writing, his journey has led him into hip hop. Now that we’ve had a brief introduction to Robert Haggarty, let’s dig into ‘RH.’

The first track on ‘RH,’ titled ‘Ringing The Bells In,’ introduces Haggarty in an endearing fashion with a brief explanatory monologue for the record. His realization isn’t entirely original, but essentially Haggarty drops into the record by letting the audience know that life could be a whole lot worse. When his rhymes dig in, they’re powerful… almost accusatory sounding. The song is appealing for a few reasons. First of all, he’s not pretending that he’s a troubled inner city reject from the south side of the city, he’s real. He briefly runs away from home at the beginning of the track, ending up in Wisconsin. Instantly, this honesty makes Haggarty relatable, perhaps even more so than rappers with an overly tragic, even stereotypical upbringing.

There’s a deeper meaning behind this music right off of the bat. Haggarty slips in and out of sly rhymes as he explains how he used to smoke, but gave it up when he realized that people cared for him. He ponders the level of life one must be driven down into in order to have to rob someone to stay afloat. Your problems may feel real, but hell, at least you aren’t the person grabbing $20 at gunpoint.

‘Say The Things You Say’ has a sweet production in the backdrop,; it’s cinematic and suave. The song is introspective in nature, focusing on family travels and places that have made him higher than a good run in with Nyquil could ever make him. This song is certainly the first time I’ve heard great lyrical words like “philosophize” this side of 1962. (‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, Bob Dylan, comes to mind.) The song toys with political messages as well, such as a concern with governmental data collecting.

‘46’ has a beautiful sample centerpiece that kicks off the jam. Haggarty contemplates all sorts of notions here, namely a confused country that’s never truly recovered post September 11th, one that’s overly paranoid and dependent on a “24-hour tele-news infection.” Furthermore, his grandpa has lost his pension, the nation is ultimately focused on incredulously unimportant pop-culture filth, and we’re 46th in worldwide press freedom. This song kicks you in the face harder than Jeff Daniel’s ‘Newsroom’ speech at Northwestern. Are we truly the greatest country in the world?

‘Bring Me Kepler’ has a beautiful atmospheric vibe with saddened vocals; he’s reminiscing since a girl from his high school passed away. It’s a mental health awareness song at heart. Personally, this song touched me since I have been on a mission to increase awareness of suicide and mental health after being present during a school shooting last December. It’s a track like this that will bring Haggarty’s lyrics close to home for audiences, hopefully sparking meaningful debate.

‘Embrace or Attack’ is a beautifully produced number, focusing on a fictional alien who attempts to aid humankind but is met with alarming hostility, causing the human race to drive itself to ruin. ‘Miss Universe’ is Haggarty’s vision for world peace, as if he was a contestant for Miss Universe. It’s his favorite beat on the record, and it’s mine, too. ‘I’m Going Into Stocks!’ criticizes Wall Street, playing with the notion of the government extorting citizens and ambitious stock brokers who get into shady dealings.

‘Sufferin Succotash’ is a refreshing beat, featuring a guest vocalist and a surprisingly delightful reggae style. The song continues Haggarty’s ruthless pursuit of injustice in America, satirizing corrupted big business that destroys the blue collar worker and gets subpoenas dished out like candy amidst a scene of equally corrupt government officials, judges, lobbyists and more. ‘Pizza’ begins in a seemingly comedic fashion… he’s out of pizza! Quickly, though, he delves into the pressure of our generation and the burden of student loans. How do we rise up as a generation if we’re beaten too far down fiscally and socially?

‘Young Populi’ showcases Haggarty’s extreme frustration with the American mentality: talking all day long without necessarily walking the walk as well. He wants to reach out to the world and give a helping hand, but he can’t extend it very far. He’s hoping the government shifts positions over the next few decades to be more favorable to a more dynamic generation. ‘From Death Springs Life’ tells the story of a deadbeat dad who never had the opportunity to make it in society. When he kicked the bucket tragically, his death brings indirect meaning to the life of his son, who grew up understanding how to get through life following a dream.

‘Where’s Einstein’ has the most intriguing sampled production; it’s really quite unique. It’s a ballad of self-creativity, the beauty of building something yourself and becoming great through your own ingenuity and motivation. ‘The Age to Break States’ has a wonderfully minimalistic production. ‘Passing Away’ introspectively contemplates death and dying. ‘Pop Tart Dreams’ exits the record with an uplifting message after a record of dismal revelations. There aren’t any obstacles besides falling asleep, or so Haggarty philosophizes.

Normally I give about 800 words to these reviews. Once I got into Robert Haggarty’s ‘RH,’ however, I got sucked into a mystifying landscape of exceptional lyricism, strong production, and powerfully invigorating messages. This record is something very, very special, and a must-listen for anyone who needs to blow steam about what’s wrong with the world, and then wants to get around to fixing it.

Check out Robert online:

http://www.roberthaggarty.com/

https://soundcloud.com/haggartymusic

https://www.facebook.com/haggartymusic

RichiedAHippie – ‘Skinny Jeans & Nirvana Tees’

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 this Independent Spotlight review, I’ll be taking a lengthy look at RichiedAHippie and his new record, ‘Skinny Jeans and Nirvana Tees.’ Now, it’s a hip hop / rap record, and it’s incredibly different than what I normally tackle on Independent Spotlight. Why? Well, it’s an album that stands out as a result of the vague introduction I’ve had to it.

When approached to review this record, I wasn’t given much information. I got the artist and album names, a download to tracks that aren’t yet fully completed without a specific running order, and a Soundcloud link that didn’t offer much info. Normally, I start out my reviews by outlining the artist’s history and past in order to best give context to the record, but I can’t necessarily do that here. So, I’m just going to jump in blind to ‘Skinny Jeans and Nirvana Tees.’

Right off of the bat, the title refers to a very specific subculture. Nirvana fans in the early 1990’s didn’t don their favorite band’s t-shirts or skinny jeans, that fashion/subculture phenomenon rose to prominence a decade later. It’s a confused culture, because it resembles something that Nirvana never truly was – Nirvana fans were never attempting to make a statement about fashion, they wore flannels and baggy jeans. So going into the record, let’s attempt to figure out why RichiedAHippie named it the way he did…

Immediately, the production quality of the record is surprisingly good. Independent artists are always plagued by poor production, especially rap artists. RichiedAHippie’s production is very sound, though, and it accents his vocals very well. I absolutely love how he has chosen to introduce himself on this record, because he utilizes a unique repeating sample and droning electric guitar riffs in the distance. (That’s ‘Metaphor 4 Misery.’)

His rapping is exceptional as well. You can understand him as he slinks through verse after verse and the rhyming is surprisingly good. In ‘Metaphor 4 Misery,’ he’s telling you his story about how nobody understands him and his world is falling down around him as he slips deeper into the sand. He’s stressed, depressed, and he’s stranded at sea. What’s even worse is that he can’t float. It’s a saddening song, but powerful and relatable. The sampling backup vocals and electric guitar make it incredibly unique musically.

‘Time Ft. B-Eazy’ is features a very atmospheric beat and introspective lyrics regarding time. RichiedAHippie comes to the realization that time is fleeting and he’s moving through life much quicker than he may have wanted to. It echoes a similar sentiment to ‘Metaphor 4 Misery’ – He needs help; he really isn’t in the best place. The chorus is amazing on this track, and it ends in a much more positive fashion as he becomes resolute to climbing back up the ladder he fell down.

‘The Probation Blues’ is a bit stereotypical, departing from the introspective nature of the previous songs. It’s one of those rap tracks that centralizes around drugs – He’s got a piss test in the morning for his probation officer and he’s sure as hell not going to pass it. ‘The World Is Mines’ puts the foot to the pedal; he’s going to spread his wings and fly, become strong, and take the world that he knows is his.

‘Hendrix Diaries’ may be one of the most intriguing tracks on the album, beginning with a sound clip from an interview with Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix is wonderfully humble and honest in the interview, shying away from the spotlight a reporter is trying to shine on him. The lyrics are rock and roll personified through rap. ‘Thank God That I’m Alive’ reflects on RichiedAHippie’s mortality, he wants to celebrate that he’s alive. It’s an uplifting song about how he’s going stay strong even some people try to push him down.

‘Hoes and Nintendo’ is endearingly comical, actually utilizing some Nintendo sound effects at the beginning of the track. This track continues the album as an indication of the originality of the subject matter; each song is delves into a different aspect of life. ‘The Blood Pharaoh’ is a bit weaker of a track. It’s a tad predictable, though the production is one of the better mixes on ‘Skinny Jeans and Nirvana Tees.’

‘The Heist’ could do with a name change to separate itself from Macklemore’s critically acclaimed 2012 record, but in any case, it’s a nice track. ‘Love is a battlefield, I’m ready for the war, walking on the ceiling, looking at the floor.’ ‘Ace of Spades’ has a really unique production, utilizing much more instrumentation which sits very well with the rhymes.

‘The Art of Happiness’ relies heavily on a sampled backbeat, ‘St. Elmo’s Fire,’ the Michael Franks version. It’s reminiscent of ‘Bound 2’ from Kanye West’s last album, ‘Yeezus.’ The musical soundscape behind this fast-rapped jam is blissful, though the sung choruses are very flat. ‘The Tribal Chant’ is the last track I took a look at, it’s instrumentation is equally unique as the previous tracks.

In honesty, I can’t answer the question I set out to answer at the beginning of this musical journey. I have no idea why RichiedAHippie named the album what he did. With that said, I did discover a surprisingly good independent rap record that deserves some recognition. As I mentioned, it’s still being finished up, but I imagine the final mixes will polish this album into something certainly worth the time of an indie rap or hip hop fan.

Check him out on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/richiejones216

Empire Affair – ‘Pangs’

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 this Independent Spotlight review, I’ll be taking a look at the band Empire Affair and their third EP which dropped back in September, titled ‘Pangs.’ The junior release from the band follows ‘Red Light’ and ‘Sparks in the Dark,’ the latter having been released in 2012. Considering the longer amount of time between the second and third outings, the band promises ‘Pangs’ to draw a creative line through the previous two records showing their progression as a band.

Empire Affair uniquely describes their genre allegiance in comparison to other independent acts. While they still classify themselves as indie rock and post punk, they also align themselves with dark disco, which is a bit more obscure genre. The band cites acts like The Killers, The Strokes, and Joy Division as inspiration. Let’s check out ‘Pangs.’

‘Press Reset,’ the first track off of the new EP, introduces Empire Affair in an atmospheric fashion. Mystifying synthesizers, droning guitar riffs, and increasingly dramatic drums create an intriguing soundscape. Right off of the bat, Empire Affair’s production is of the highest quality. That’s certainly an accolade for an independent act, because the scene is too often packed with poor self-productions and bad mixes. The mix and master are professional here, and ‘Press Reset’ echoes that strongly. It’s a short, haunting track, something that sounds like it’s off of a Vaccines record.

‘Don’t Let Me Down’ gets down in the dirt as a more gnarly rock and roll track, and it’s the first real introduction to Neil Tallent’s vocals. Empire Affair’s brand of rock and roll is similar to their cited influences; it’s family friendly, but still a bit daring and flashy – sort of like a mix of old Cheap Trick and new Coldplay with a musical direction eerily-like The Wombats.

‘DNA Code’ has an incredibly strong synthesized lead and it’s likely the most memorable track on the record. It’s catchy as hell and it’s the kind of song that’s best at home blasting absurdly loud from your car speakers plummeting down an empty street in the dead of a summer evening. ‘Forest Beyond the Trees’ feels a bit stereotypical lyrically, though it has a killer guitar lead. ‘End of Disco’ opens with a dark organ piece and reverberated drums. It’s the perfect exit to a strong album, a piece that resonates fiercely as a reminder of the musical prowess of the band.

‘Pangs’ is a really strong record; it’s well produced, well executed, and musically sound on all ends. The musicianship is much stronger than the lyrics, which could probably infuse a bit more depth and be better off. With that said, their sources of inspiration have always fallen into a similar sphere as well, no one has ever accused Chris Martin of being overly insightful. It’s a great record, though, and certainly worth the time it takes to surf through the five tracks.

Visit Empire Affair at – http://empireaffair.co.uk