Billy Dechand – ‘Innocent Sin’

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 evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze onto Billy Dechand, a long-time independent scene veteran who has released a whole slew of recordings over the last seven or eight years. His latest endeavor is ‘Innocent Sin,’ an incredibly ambitious jaunt through a dozen different influences across sixteen tracks. It’s a self-described “irreverent road to funky, humorous, sexy, and occasionally serious places.” That’s quite a designation. Let’s delve right into the first six tracks to get a taste of the record.

‘Innocent Sin’ opens up with its title track, a very funky tune employing some funk guitar, bass, and a full brass section. It’s a bold statement out the gate, especially because the record isn’t necessarily a funk record. The production value of the music is quite good, though I did find Dechand’s vocals a bit peculiarly mixed. The brass section sounds synthesized, which is fine, considering the entire sound is an eclectic soundscape chock-full of sonic intricacy. Dechand’s lead vocals embody a bit of a David Bryne type style, and I’d argue ‘Innocent Sin’ is in a similar vein to a Talking Heads tune or the like.

‘Hungry for More’ is a very short track, almost feeling like an interlude between ‘Innocent Sin’ and ‘When the Satellites Drop.’ It’s a wonderfully intimate little piece. Dechand compares himself to Beck, and while I’m not sure if the comparison is apt, there are tinges of Beck-isms throughout little ditties like ‘Hungry for More.’ ‘When the Satellites Drop’ is a much more coherent recording, one that may be the strongest of the ones we’re delving into here. It has a great pop sensibility to it and feels like the spiritual child to something like Lou Reed’s ‘Satellite of Love.’ I particularly enjoy the atmosphere of the tune; the aural landscape is compellingly well performed.

Dechand continues his genre-hopping with ‘Reproduce,’ a pop track that even has small hints of reggae scattered throughout. It may be one of the more accessible tracks, at least, in comparison to the other tunes we’re delving into here on the Spotlight. The instrumentation is incredibly good on this tune, especially in the latter half of the track when the guitars dance off of one another and impeccable back-up vocals harmonize and bounce around Dechand.

The final two tracks we’re taking a look at in this article make a strong argument for sticking with ‘Innocent Sin’ throughout its entirety. ‘Keepin’ It Real’ is witty and intuitive, hopping through Dechand’s cynical musings with incredible tact. Again, the David Bryne comparison feels apt. This innocent little number is one of the more rewarding songs in the early stages of ‘Innocent Sin,’ jam packing itself with so much personality. “I got my own cat food commercial,” Dechand brags over one of the more poppy pieces he’s written in this segment of the record. ‘Kick Ass’ is equally as witty, perhaps even a bit parody-like. Dechand is especially powerful when he embraces the side of himself exhibited on the latter two tunes of this review.

I really adore some of the pieces of ‘Innocent Sin,’ especially the final two tracks I touched on here. ‘When the Satellites Drop’ and ‘Hungry for More’ are certainly highlights as well. Of the six, I’d argue ‘Innocent Sin’ is the least intriguing, especially when standing next to infectious pieces like ‘Kick Ass.’ I love that Dechand explores so many styles here, though, and I’d most certainly recommend delving deeper into ‘Innocent Sin.’ It’s a wonderfully personable experience with some excellent songwriting.

Voice in the Attic – ‘After Songdown’

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 the Independent Spotlight, we’re going to be delving into a rather unique and fascinating artist. His name is BC Bogey, but his stage moniker is Voice in the Attic. He’s been an incredibly active independent artists for the better part of the last four years, releasing a whole slew of EPs and singles. ‘After Songdown,’ however, is officially his sophomore full-length studio endeavor, one that digs into the realm of coherent album creation and long-form creative direction. Let’s dig right into it.

There are two things I’d like to mention right off the bat – When Bogey approached me with his record, he prefaced that while it is not a concept record, it is an album that he attempted to create as a whole, rather that segmenting parts off that would be good for radio play or as singles. This is an admirable effort, perhaps one that’s slowly becoming archaic, at least, in the mainstream. I massively respect this approach, and in honesty, prefer an artist that takes the cohesiveness of a full album seriously. Second, he’s doing much better than perhaps he even anticipated – the single won an award in the UK and he’s on track for an Australian award and inclusion in a feature film.

When digging into ‘Songdown,’ I listened to the record all the way through thrice without interruption. This allowed me to hone into its quality as a full experience, because again, that’s the point of it. Bogey’s sound as Voice in the Attic is immediately likable and sharply produced. The opening track, ‘Day,’ exhibits him as a masterful crooner with a distinct voice. More so, I love the intricacy of the production right out of the gate. The sporadic piano noodling, the tight percussion, and the sly string sections all manifest into a remarkable experience. There’s an edge to it, and thus, if I was to classify it, I’d say Bogey is meandering somewhere between the singer-songwriter, folk, and alternative rock genres.

‘Glass,’ the instrumental included on the aforementioned feature film, is one of the defiant highlights of ‘Songdown.’ This elegant track truly exhibits Bogey’s prowess not just as a songwriter, but as a composer. I’d argue the piece is tinged endlessly with classical influence, and it is a rather contemporary classical piece in an introspective minor key. The song boils down to two main pieces – the piano which leads the dance and the string sections that are in pursuit.

Bogey has been providing the media with WAV files, which was both immensely appreciated and deeply important to these pieces. In laymen terms, WAV files are much, much higher quality than MP3 is, by a huge margin. These uncompressed goliaths clock the album in at over 400 megs. Thus, your listening experience on MP3’s may be of slightly less grandier than mine. Mine is, though, grand. As readers of the Spotlight know, I don’t just queue up my reviews on Apple earbuds in a coffee shop. No, I go into the studio and listen on industry monitors. Man, Voice in the Attic’s music is a treat in that setting. The folksy ‘On’ is a superb example of that, especially the harmonies toward the end. Breathtaking.

‘Reminisce’ draws ties to ‘Glass’ as a piano/string instrumental. Aurally, it’s similar, too, though it feels more forceful in its delivery. This is very good, because as you’ll notice early on in ‘Songdown,’ Bogey establishes a sound that he doesn’t deviate from too often. He manages to litter that sound with intricacies like ‘Reminisce,’ however, to keep it consistently compelling. ‘Ablaze,’ the following song, is one of the better exhibitions of acoustic songwriting. “They say life takes its toll,” Bogey croons over an intriguing landscape. Vocally, I’m not sure where I’d align him. If Eddie Vedder and Tom Waits were oddly combined, you may have something akin to Bogey.

The best song off the first half of ‘Songdown’ is most surely ‘Tear.’ The sparing female vocals are absolutely haunting, as are the vocals, delivery, and increasingly folksy instrumentation. In particular, Voice in the Attic seems to really understand the balance between a lone, emotional vocalist, and tactful harmonies. ‘Tear’ may be the best excursion of that on the album, and goodness, it’s chillingly well done.

‘Iridescent’ indicates a tonal change on the album. Though the piece still holds tightly to the acoustic guitar musings of the previous songs, it does tediously enter some sort of realm of alternative, or even acoustic progressive rock. It’s a short instrumental, shorter than the others, and acts as a segway between ‘Tear’ and ‘Over.’ Let’s talk about ‘Over.’

‘Over’ scored some significant recognition across the pond Bogey’s songwriting. It was damn well deserved – ‘Over’ is a remarkable songwriting endeavor, definitely one of the more notable pursuits on the album. I’ve actually heard the song before – I had to hastily Google the lyrics to prove myself wrong that it wasn’t a cover. I have no idea where, but the song is definitely recognizable. Anyway, I digress.

Remember my Tom Waits comparison? Well, Voice in the Attic fully embraces the Wait-isms on ‘Rhinoceri.’ Seriously, you’ll think you’re listening to ‘Rain Dogs.’ It’s one of the more experimental songs for sure, but one of the best. I love the spoken word poetry accentuating a very ‘Rain Dogs’ atmosphere. ‘Tribute,’ the tune following it, walks carefully beside a potentially copyright infringement, essentially tributing Foo Fighters and Nirvana. It’s an effective tune, one that technically falls into the ‘parody’ domain. (AKA – Legal.)

Well, this is one of the longer pieces on the Spotlight. Let’s wrap up the three final pieces. ‘Toil’ is a surprisingly infectious song, residing in familiar territory, but welcoming territory at that. ‘Fall’ offers an instrumental composition with a stark contrast to its predecessors, mainly due to its acoustic-guitar driven nature rather than pianos, and finally, ‘Songdown’ closes out the album with one of the more fulfilling acoustic songwriting endeavors of this year in the indie scene.

This is truly a terrific record – From beginning to end, Voice in the Attic proves itself a versatile act with a variety of absolutely breathtaking sounds. In particular, ‘Glass,’ ‘Tear,’ ‘and Rhinoceri’ are the highlight reel. That’s a highlight reel of a masterful piece, even one of the very best in the scene this year… so don’t just listen to those three. Go into it all. It’s worth every second.

Jake Ward – ‘Love Don’t Live Here’

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 evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze onto a rising country rocker in the independent scene hailing from Corpus Christi, Texas. Jake Ward, accompanied by his band, have released ‘Love Don’t Live Here,’ a remarkably ambitious ten track effort that explores Ward’s potential as a relevant Americana country rock artist. Let’s dig right into the man’s debut studio effort.

Independent debut efforts have a history with being questionably produced and rather shoddy. Also, indie country is currently riddled with stereotypical performances and cliches. The incredibly refreshing reality of Ward’s debut is his defiant stand against both those tropes. ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’ is a sharply produced, well-executed, romp through rootsy country that melds beautifully with contemporary rock influences.

Technically, if you want to trace Ward’s recent releases, you’d follow that line back to ‘Hit The Road,’ his first radio single and first regional hit. It’s an impressive number, one that hasn’t been included on ‘Love Don’t Live Here.’ Instead, the album opens with the fiery title track, a tune that makes a bold statement right out of the gate. Like a bull in a china shop, Ward bombards his way through those aforementioned cliches with brute force, which is absolutely fantastic. The Jake Ward Band has blended the perfect harmony of traditional Americana strings/instrumental pieces and bluesy, bar-chord rock and roll. ‘Love Don’t Live Here’ is a resounding success on all counts, starting the album out on a particularly high note.

‘Out The Door’ is a song that’s an absolute treat on a quality sound system. This tightly performed rocker is accentuated wonderfully on a truly solid audio set-up. The production is nothing short of elegant, which took me aback at first – the mix is well-organized and nothing in it is compromised by something else. More so, the sparse usage of panning separates the instrumentation with tact. Translated into laymen terms: don’t listen to ‘Out The Door’ with one earbud in.

Now, on the opening efforts. Ward exhibits himself as a fine frontman – one that can rock two genres simultaneously. Nothing in those songs is exceptionally notable lyrically, however, and one could argue ‘Love Don’t Live Here’ doesn’t have near the depth lyrically it does instrumentally. ‘Sleepless Nights’ is the first quality excursion of Ward’s lyrical prowess. Yes, he does have prowess. This heartache-ballad brings down the walls around Ward’s humanity, which is always a welcome addition to any artist’s work. You can’t just write songs that are catchy; you need to write songs that you’ve lived… otherwise your sound is artificial. ‘Sleepless Nights’ feels honest and authentic.

The bluegrass-tinged ‘Drive’ offers an even deeper look into a fleshed out Americana sound on ‘Love Don’t Live Here.’ It’s a catchy tune, perhaps even making it a nice little highlight of the first half of the album. That half is concluded with the scorching ‘Slow Down.’ Now, the song is actually a slow brewing piece, never quite climaxing into anything climactic. It feels easy-riding and effortless, exhibited powerfully by carefree lyrics and guitar rumblings. Give the Eagles a Texan country twang, you may have something akin to ‘Slow Down.’

‘Ignorant Bliss’ is fulfilling compositionally, offering one of the starkly different productions on the record. I love the country string pieces and steel guitar sprinkled throughout. The song is more of an anthemic piece than anything, honestly. That means it’ll always be best served loud on a car stereo with the windows down in the summer or at the actual concert. ‘Mr. Tonight’ is very similar in that sense, really taking the rodeo to you with a party-influenced number.

‘Take My Hand’ is being promoted as one of the singles on the record, which is interesting since it’s buried so deep in the set list. That said, it does immediately stand out from the rest of the album. The album actually seems somewhat conceptual when you hit this song, because you feel a full-circle rebirth from the Ward you were introduced to on ‘Sleepless Nights.’ ‘Take My Hand’ is far more hopeful, building with Phil Spector-esque walls of sound. The song subsides and ignites several times, really creating a rollercoaster of a tune. Lyrically, it’s a love ballad about an opportunistic beginning to a relationship – nothing new, but endearing nonetheless.

The underdog highlight of the latter half of ‘Love Don’t Live Here’ is ‘See It All.’ The song embraces a beautiful level of traditionalism, as if it’s a contemporary piece ready for the Grand Ole Opry. The plodding, meandering nature of the piece is absolutely stunning. Again, the song continues Ward’s emotional rebirth as a lover – He’s come full circle from the drunken, heartbroken soul to a persona akin to Aladdin flying Princess Jasmine around to ‘I Will Show You The World.’

‘I can’t take one more night being alone,’ Ward declares, which is definitely a drastic departure from his sleepless nights half a dozen songs ago. I love the sense of finality ‘One More Night’ provides on this album. While upbeat and rocking, the former half of the collection is a lyrical downer. (Which is fine. In fact, ‘Sleepless Nights’ remains the lyrical high point of the whole album.) The latter half, which eclipses on ‘Take My Hand’ returns Ward to a place we’re all more than happy to welcome him back to.

‘Love Don’t Live Here’ is one of the best independent country rock records I’ve reviewed this year. I’ll be honest – I get a whole bunch of these artists, and my praise is hard-earned. (Very hard.) With the Jake Ward Band, however, I have nothing but admiration and excitement about their sound. The band is everything I want modern country rock to be, something that definitely isn’t personified by many popular artists in the genre right now. This album is a breath of fresh air; check it out below.

Exit to Eden – ‘II’

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 evening’s Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Exit to Eden, a compelling four piece rock outfit that released their second studio endeavor earlier this autumn. Released on September 25, the aptly titled ‘II’ is a romp through nine eclectic and rocking tracks, all compiled together beautifully with some elegant press content and materials. Let’s dig right into it.

Now, I’m a sucker for a well-packaged effort. All too often, I’m sent reviews with an ambiguous SoundCloud link and a four line bio. That’s not only a detriment to the artist, but to any critic attempting to dig into their material. Exit to Eden is a breath of fresh air in that sense; their materials are wonderfully organized and intelligently designed. I dramatically enjoyed reading through the album’s liners as I immersed myself in the experience. I think that is something incredibly relevant to an all-encompassing review. Very few artists offer this nowadays and its a luxury well-suited to ‘II.’

Now, though, we can dig into the actual material of ‘II.’ The production of the album is a bit of a double edged sword. For such a complex and layered sound, the group does a masterful job capturing themselves in the studio. The production accentuates the instrumentation incredibly well and I found myself consistently intrigued by its intricacy. Listening to the album on actual studio monitors was a treat. With that said, there are very noticeable areas that said production falters. The angsty opener, ‘Vampire Vice,’ is something inhibited by a production that drowns out the vocals during certain segments, especially choruses. Without those aforementioned liners, I’d have no idea what’s going on.

I particularly like how the band accents the banter between the bassist and guitarist. That’s exemplified on ‘Vampire Vice,’ but definitely noticeable on ‘Fade Away (Sarah Pt. 2.).’ The sound of Exit to Eden isn’t really anything new – There are a lot of bands like this in the indie scene that strive for the dark, gothic-esque sound hinging on metal. The tinges of screamo are apparent through tunes like ‘Fade Away,’ but their sparse, and often backed by more accessible, traditional vocals. I found Exit to Eden’s blend of this ‘goth and roll’ especially likable even though it’s nothing brand new, perhaps mostly due to the musical prowess of the compositions.

Throughout ‘II,’ I found myself enamored with the soundscapes the group was creating. The atmospheric ‘The Calling’ is arguably one of the very finest. This brooding, sinister sound is hauntingly provocative. The backing vocals are absolutely stunningly dark. When Bernie, the lead vocalist, (I hate using first names but the group doesn’t market their last names.) dips in and out of the sound, a cacophony of terror ensues. There’s something apocalyptic about ‘The Calling’ and I love that.

‘Neon Sun’ feels accessible, which is a word I’ll use a few times in this review because I think it is pertinent. Many people hear this type of music and turn tail and run. That’s not to say it isn’t good, in fact, it’s great, but it is an esoteric style. Bernie’s Marilyn Manson-esque musings are creepily delightful, embracing classic rock roots and contemporary horror stylings. ‘Lady In Red,’ for example, sounds more like an Alice Cooper song than anything.

It may be worth noting that there couldn’t be a better time to feature this kind of music on the Spotlight. The Halloween season deserves some exceptionally ghoulish music like this. The best song on the entire album, however, isn’t at all like that. ‘Is Suicide A Way?’ is the best song on this whole record. The lyricism of the piece is somewhat sparing, but immensely impactful. Goodness, this song is poignant. The subject toys with suicide as he falls deeper into emotional turmoil and depression. Eventually, though, he climbs out of the hole he’s fallen into with the resolute notion that his lost-love will one day fade, and he’s got a whole bunch to do without her.

‘Face to Face’ is a good romping rocker; I especially like this song for jamming loudly. My studio was really rocking with this tune. Again, I think the likability of Exit to Eden is rooted pretty deeply in their exceptional musical skill. Man, David (Urgh, first names) is one hell of a guitarist. Hernan and Werner, bass and drums respectively, are top notch, too.

Let’s wind this record down to get to a conclusion. ‘Shake Your Hips’ is the best rock song of the bunch. It feels like a rockabilly-infused goth horror piece flying like a bat out of hell. ‘Dreaming Weird’ continues Bernie’s jaunt through emotional crooning, proving his strongest moments are those when he’s whispering softly into the microphone in a dark, scratchy voice.

I’m not a huge fan of this type of music, and often, independent acts embracing it are kitschy and ridiculous self-parodies. Exit to Eden, however, is the real deal. These guys are writing terrific songs that are engaging, fairly accessible for someone like me outside of the clique, and amazingly produced and performed. My only quip the whole record was when Bernie was masked a few times here and there by the instrumentation. So with that said, make sure you don’t depart on this journey without the booklet. It’s a killer little addition to an excellent studio effort.

Malichi – ‘Real Life’

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’m going to be delving into ‘Real Life,’ an eclectic, incredibly ambitious hip hop project from Malichi Male, an accomplished indie artist known in the community for being the only Christian urban artist to simultaneously have a top five single on both Christian and secular radio. ‘Real Life’ is an elegant collection of tunes that defies any sort of religious affiliation; it’s hip hop anyone can dig. (There is a religious backing to Malichi’s passion, but it transcends just being a ‘Christian’ record.) Let’s get right into it.

As aforementioned, the record is ambitious – twenty songs of ambition. Now, I’m typically a very harsh critic of independent artists that put out really long studio efforts. They tend to fall into a realm of obscurity and pretension, quickly declining in quality throughout their run. Fortunately, Malichi doesn’t fall victim to that stereotype. From the soulful ‘Rush’ to the faith-driven, reggae-tinged ‘Cry,’ the collection remains consistently compelling throughout. For the purposes of this review, we’re going to delve into the highlights of the album since focusing on each of the twenty tracks would take just as many pages.

‘Rush’ is a terrific opener, concreting Malichi immediately as a superb performer, wordsmith, and producer. The tune is heavily soul-influenced, and as listeners will notice early on into the collection, those influences hop from song to song with surprising tact. Take ‘B-Boy Stance,’ for example. It’s one of the best straight-up hip hop endeavors on the record, defining Malichi’s rap sound on the album. One of my favorite things about that? How clean it is. Malichi’s excellent lyricism doesn’t use vulgarity as a crutch. He’s real and authentic, and that’s an increasing rarity in hip hop.

‘Child Soldier’ is a haunting song, lyrically. It exhibits Malichi as a songwriter who can delve into meaningful issues, which is again, just another rarity in the scene. His choice of guest vocalists is perfect as well; the female backing on several of the tracks accentuates Malichi excellently. The mid-album highlight, ‘Times Changes Remix,’ has some of the best beats of the collection as well. In order to have a solid hip hop record, especially one as long as this, you need to have continually exciting beats. Most artists can’t achieve that; Malichi does in spades.

As you continue your journey through ‘Real Life,’ make stops at these mile markers. ‘Stressing’ is a soul tune worth writing home about. ‘Dreams’ is an exhibition of astonishing sampling and production, and the gospel-tinged ‘Heaven’ takes you to church in a fantastic way. I’d like to briefly touch on that, too. Even though there are hints of religious connotation throughout this record, nothing feels preachy or self-fulfilling. It’s modest and even a guy like me, who isn’t religious, can absolutely love his time with this music. That says something. It reminds me a bit of Kanye West’s ‘Jesus Walks.’ That tune transcended religion as well.

Malichi is one of the most exciting independent hip hop artists in the community. His songs are enthrallingly good, consistently compelling, and a breath of fresh air amidst a community that’s lost its way in recent years. We need more artists like Malichi, because that is truly what he is. He is an artist.

Pqlyr’s ‘Exothermic’ and ‘Tight Wake’

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’m going to be delving into Pqlyr, (pronounced ‘peculiar’) an incredibly intriguing outfit with a fresh take on pop sensibility and tropes. Their music is “pop music for the apocalypse,” embracing familiar stylings blended together with a tragic element. Their latest record is ‘Exothermic,’ a six-track release that dropped earlier this year in July. This month, they’ve released ‘Tight Wake,’ a new single. Let’s check both of them out.

When digging into the music of Pqlyr, I really wasn’t sure what to expect as a critic. Tragedy and apocalyptic musings don’t typically blend with pop music. I’d argue that self-description is only partially apt, though. I found moments in ‘Exothermic’ to be dramatically uplifting, even anthemic in nature. As is the case with the eclectic opener, ‘Way Forward.’ This tune embraces indie rock, pop, electronic, alternative, and several other influences to the fullest. The reverb-heavy, atmosphere-laden jaunt through synthesizers is a compelling piece of dramatic proportions.

‘It’s Not Real,’ the following song, concretes Pqlyr’s, well, peculiar sound even further. The female-lead piece is fascinatingly complex, toying with sonic intricacies I haven’t heard from an outfit in the indie scene in quite a long time. There’s a retro feel the band’s sound, as if they’re a female fronted Joy Division or New Order with a heavier blend of accessibility. Even though the outfit’s music is bizarre on paper, it actually feels very organic and clicks aurally. Thus, I don’t think the group will have trouble with new fans accessing their catalog or sound.

‘Chalks’ continues Pqlyr’s endeavor through interesting instrumentation as well. The guitar riffs bouncing off of one another as the lead vocalist hauntingly croons are a defiant highlight of the collection. ‘Sinking In’ is one of the more complex tracks of the album. It gives me an opportunity to talk about the production quality of Pqlyr’s music; it’s nothing short of exceptional. The atmospheres and soundscapes the band creates are majestic. The quality, love, and tact that went into these compositions and mixes is boggling.

‘Endless Mondays’ was a favorite of mine, though it didn’t grow on me until my third or fourth excursion into ‘Exothermic.’ This song truly felt apocalyptic to me, especially lyrically. The distress conveyed in the instrumentalism and vocal portrayal of this piece is breathtaking: for a band that describes themselves as a tragic group, their music has a tendency to be some of the most gorgeous indie rock I’ve heard this year.

‘Way To Go,’ the finale of Exothermic, is the best song of the bunch. Goodness, this creepy, but enthralling number is dynamic as all hell. The rock and roll influence melding with the electronica stylings is perfect. The marriage of the styles couldn’t be better. To close out this review, though, let’s touch on Pqlyr’s new single, ‘Tight Wake.’

‘Tight Wake’ is a sonic contrast to the album that preceded it. The same lovable elements of the sound are still there, but this dreamy, surreal song feels uplifting and filled with love. It’s a compelling argument for the band’s ability to continue to build their creativity off of the masterful ‘Exothermic.’ Thus, how do I rate Pqlyr’s recent tunes? They’re among the best indie songs I’ve reviewed in my two year tenure as an independent critic. Go listen to them. Now.

Duece Aviata – Press Release – October 18, 2015



Duece Aviata To Drop New Mixtape Next Week On October 27

Duece Aviata, a rising hip hop artist in the independent community, will be releasing his latest studio endeavor on Tuesday, Oct. 27. ‘Elevation,’ the new mixtape, is being released in collaboration with the Aviator Club, the backing entertainment company. Fans can check out an early excerpt of the record through the single available now, ‘Dabbin Thru Da City.’

Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Deuce Aviata is a driven, passionate, and charismatic artist with a unique approach to his blend of hip hop. He endeavors to connect with his listeners through high-energy beats, uplifting melodies, and meaningful, thought-provoking lyrics. Aviata established this sound on 2014’s ‘Only The Fly Survive.’ This hip hop lineage has direct ties to some of his most enduring inspirations: Tupac, Outkast, and the like.

‘Dabbin Thru Da City,’ the Asap Beats-produced single, is available now on SoundCloud and Audiomack, both of which can be found below. For listeners interested in delving into Aviata’s repertoire, that same SoundCloud page houses music from the artist’s last two years of studio work. ‘Only The Fly Survive,’ Aviata’s previous effort, is available for listen and download on DatPiff as well.

Stream the new single:

Previous Album On DatPiff:



Dave Goddess Group – ‘Blown Away’

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.

Last year, the Dave Goddess Group released an EP entitled ‘Blown Away.’ The endeavor was one designed to “recall the great days of classic rock.” The group’s lineup is a remarkably exciting step in that direction, pairing a traditional rock lineup with additions the likes of a saxist and flutist. Fronted by Dave Goddess, the band creates a Phil Spector-esque wall of sound throughout ‘Blown Away.’ Let’s check it out.

The opening of the album, which is the title track, sets an interesting precedent for the rest of the record. There is a lot going on in the mix. Brass sections, a female backup vocal section, and a myriad of other sonic intricacies are at play on ‘Blown Away.’ All too often, I’m critiquing independent acts that attempt to create this kind of production and end up botching the production or overloading the sound. The more factors in a piece, the more opportunities there are for it to go terribly wrong. Fortunately for all of us, Dave Goddess and company avoid nearly all those stereotypical pitfalls and arrive at a phenomenal sound.

‘One Man’s Passion’ has a very different feel to it than ‘Blown Away,’ embracing a John Mellencamp-type soundscape. One could argue that Goddess’ persona is a multi-faceted one, pulling inspiration from a few different directions. ‘Blown Away’ has the gruffness and passion of a Tom Waits delivery, but with the bombastic style of a Springsteen track. ‘One Man’s Passion’ feels inherently more classic, again, embodying a style akin to John Mellencamp. As Goddess navigates the sonic pastures of his latest release, he seems to find himself four different times on four different songs. That’s admirable: he’s fresh and consistently exciting.

The most well-written song in the collection is ‘Fall From Grace.’ Goodness, this is the kind of track I could spin all day. It’s tinged with every bit of that wonderful classic sound that Goddess lays claim to in his self-description. His vocals are absolutely compelling: gritty, yet smooth. Emotional, yet resolute. ‘Common Ground’ continues his evolution even further, expanding into some unique productional territory that I really dig. I love the Dave Goddess Group’s ability to hop from style to style and maintain a fun and engaging sound throughout.

Go buy the EP now; it’s very much worth your time and money. More so, keep tabs on the Dave Goddess Group. They’re not a young group of guys, but man, they rock like they are. They’re the ultimate bar or club band: I’d love to catch these guys in a New York dive or the like. There is something special in this sound, even if it’s just a fueling of nostalgia.

Daylight Down – Accessible Hard Rock

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 the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Daylight Down, a rock outfit that released their debut EP last year. They’ve received some modest recognition in the independent community and they’ve built up an impressive little fanbase as a result. As a Houston-based band, the group can often be found live around the area with other local groups. In any case, let’s dig into a handful of their tunes to figure out what they’re all about.

Daylight Down doesn’t do a particularly good job of introducing themselves to anyone outside their fandom. If there is a bio in any capacity, I haven’t found it. Aside from the lineup, I’m fairly in the dark in regard to the band’s aspirations, inspirations, or past accomplishments. That’s somewhat positive, however, since I can attack their music head on without any preconceived notions or ideas. ‘Demon You Love’ is one of their more successful tunes, so let’s talk about that first…

‘Demon You Love’ pulls inspiration from modern alternative rock groups and soft-metal. The group is certainly heavy, but they also embrace some pop musings and they’re quite accessible. I’d argue metal is one of the least accessible genres. Even as a professional critic, I struggle to find entryway into it. Even though Daylight Down classifies themselves as a metal outfit, that’s a very small piece of the puzzle. ‘Demon You Love’ exhibits some excellent hard rock stylings that are well executed with fine vocals and instrumentation.

As you dive deeper into Daylight Down’s repertoire, you’ll find they have a few compelling layers, which I immensely appreciated. Sometimes, these groups find their groove and stick within it. Just like any other genre, it’s all too easy to sit still once you’ve found what clicks. ‘Shadows in the Sun’ expands sonically on ‘Demon You Love’ in an incredibly positive direction. It may even very well be the best song the group has put out. This classic-tinged endeavor is so beautifully accented by sparse string sections and stunning composition. Man, Daylight Down brings it on ‘Shadows in the Sun.’

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the group does hit it harder on tunes like ‘Weakness Bleeding.’ It’s an enjoyable track, though it doesn’t embrace very much lyrical depth. Sometimes hard rock and metal endeavor into meaningful lyrical territory, and it is nearly universally benefited as a result. I think Daylight Down could use some growth in that arena. That said, they’re a terrific little rock group with a huge sound. Houston is such a great musical town and I imagine they tear it up there. If you’re local, these guys need to be on your to-do list.

Back to the Ocean – Redefining ‘Indie’ Music

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.

Back to the Ocean is one of the more peculiar groups I’ve touched on in the Independent Spotlight as of late.  The Warsaw-based group is fronted by Agnieszka Olszewska, a compellingly talented vocalist and performer. The three instrumentalists backing her accentuate her wonderfully, providing a consistently intriguing offering of independent music that’s quite unlike anything else I’ve heard in the scene in awhile.

Back to the Ocean debuted five years ago as the musical child of Olszewska. Since then, her work has been acclaimed internationally, winding up in massive songwriting competitions and festivals. More so, Back to the Ocean has enjoyed some very extensive radio play, especially in Poland, and the group has toured all around the country. They’ve even made some notable appearances on this side of the pond in Nashville. Defining themselves as singer songwriter and smooth rock, Back to the Ocean has created a space in which they’ve very accessible to audiences worldwide.

‘Rain’ is the defining highlight of Olszewska’s repertoire. This acoustic piece feels so authentic and heartfelt, embracing a level of uniqueness often lost in acoustic indie productions. Olszewska’s presence is masterful, harnessing that emotion with a beautifully tactful voice. She reminds me a bit of Laurie Anderson, at least, in her delivery. She isn’t ostentatious or self-indulgent. Her vocals elegantly blend with the composition in perfect harmony. Some performers can’t find that kind of harmony.

‘Rain’ isn’t fully representative of Back to the Ocean’s sound, however, which is made clear when you delve into a tune like ‘OMG.’ That song loses the soft, meandering atmospheres of ‘Rain’ for a gritty rock sound. I’d actually argue Olszewska emerges as a very punky figure in tracks like ‘OMG.’ I aligned her with Laurie Anderson on ‘Rain.’ On ‘OMG,’ I’d probably align her with Patti Smith. She’s a defiant frontwoman with passion and gusto.

The soulful ‘Green Eyes’ continues Back to the Ocean’s genre hopping. ‘Green Eyes’ pulls influence from pop, soft rock, and even R&B. It really surprised me, honestly, since ‘Rain’ and ‘OMG’ were already dramatic departures from one another. ‘Green Eyes’ extends that trend to a shocking degree. I think that’s why Back to the Ocean is so likable on an international level: these are great songs that transcend any niche. Good music is good music and everyone can get behind that.

I love Back to the Ocean and adore Olszewska’s presence and delivery. The group deserves all the praise that’s been sent their way the past five years, and I suspect a good deal more is on the way. It’ll be intriguing to see how they evolve since they’re already covering so much sonic ground. That’s a strong indication of a group with immense longevity.