Milan Hendrik EXP – ‘Applegate Drive’

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 on Milan Hendrik EXP, a blues rock outfit with that’s about to release their third studio endeavor, an album called ‘Applegate Drive.’ The eleven new tracks are particularly refreshing for fans of soulful blues performances in the indie scene – a seemingly increased rarity these days. The album is set to drop this Monday, August 1, and will be available on all major digital music platforms. Is ‘Applegate Drive’ worth grabbing next week? Let’s dig into it and find out.

Typically when I recieve content to review from indie artists and bands, I receive disjointed emails of erratic MP3’s and disorganized Dropbox folders. I’ve learned over the last several years that the scene is many things, but it’s rarely tidy and organized. I must laud Milan Hendrik EXP in that regard. I received an early copy of ‘Applegate Drive’ presented beautifully in a high quality DDP player. The presentation, though, is accented more importantly by the production. This album is mixed and mastered in a grand fashion.

Milan Hendrik EXP, as the name suggests, is a creative vehicle for vocalist/bassist Belle Hendrik and guitarist Barry Milan. They’re also joined by John Hill keys, but they often perform as a duo and I doubt think I’d be amiss by arguing Milan Hendrik EXP is primarily a two person effort. Their collaboration seems close and personal, and the music does echo that. There’s a camaraderie here that’s lovable and immediately engaging. The first two songs on the album, ‘Looking at the Moon’ and ‘Dominican Republic,’ are rocking powerhouses of strength and prowess, tearing through the soundscape with a notable ferocity. The latter, though, is especially lovely.

‘Highway Blues,’ the third track on the album, is where Milan Hendrik EXP begins to flourish. It’s such a killer blues rock track that’s even infused with some gospel and Americana elements. Hendrik has the feel of Lucinda Williams in her prime, harnessing an intense drive to propel each song forward with an unmistakable passion. As a song, I’d align ‘Highway Blues’ with Bob Dylan’s ‘Blind Willie McTell,’ an outtake from ‘84’s ‘Infidels’ with an eerily similar flair. The title track follows with a stellar introduction of blues harp, something that really rounds out the blues rocker’s atmosphere.

‘Bad Bad Boyfriend’ takes the blues that ‘Highway Blues’ and ‘Applegate Drive’ flirt with and amplifies the style times ten. It’s a bombastic execution, perhaps even the most explosive on the album. I can’t stress enough how much blues fans are going to enjoy this record in the indie scene – ‘Bad Bad Boyfriend’ is unlike anything I’ve heard in the scene for a very long time. ‘Couldn’t Get (My Christian On)’ follows up with a frank, but excellent delivery that toys with gospel influences in a very tongue-in-cheek manner. Personally, ‘Couldn’t Get (My Christian On)’ will be the song I return to most on ‘Applegate Drive.’

‘Sista’ is a song that causes the listener to grab for the nearest phone flashlight or lighter. It’s definitely the kind of tune that will have audiences uniting under a sea of tiny lights. It’s a soothing, enjoyable track, and definitely offers a sonic contrast to ‘Murry River Song,’ the traditional-esque song that comes next. That song sounds a bit like a folklore piece – a rather dark one that experiments with minor keys. In fact, this theme runs strong toward the end of the album, and is again presented with ‘London Town,’ another song that seeps traditional influence.

‘There’s a Light’ is an elegant ballad as ‘Applegate Drive’ closes in on its final moments. It’s the weaker track of the collection simple due to its trope-driven lyricism, but considering the remarkably high bar its predecessors set, it’s a weak link that still proves fairly hardy. (One must laud the album’s good lyricism through most avenues.) After two tracks like ‘Murry River Song’ and ‘London Town,’ you could also argue that the lighthearted feel of ‘There’s a Light’ is also desperately needed. That feeling doesn’t stay long, however, since ‘Fine Line’ explodes like an atom bomb in your face for the finale. It’s a track that sounds like Heart wrote and performed it. But no, it’s Milan Hendrik EXP’s tune. (Heart is awesome, though, so that’s a high compliment.)

‘Applegate Drive’ is truly extraordinary. It’s an album that dominates the listener’s attention with a diverse, terrifically performed palette of songs and emotions. Every one of the eleven tracks has its place, and there’s no fat to be found – nothing that could have been trimmed. It’s a razor sharp collection that sets a new bar for blues rock in the independent music community. So, yes, it is very much worth grabbing on the service of your choosing come Monday!

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