Silver Circle – The Monstercat Mix

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 Silver Circle, a Virginia-based DJ that has an extensive new EDM mix out for a Monstercat mix contest. Earlier this year in January, I delved into a different mix of Silver Circle’s and lauded his remarkably creative knack for making a fascinating dance mix with a slew of interesting sampling decisions. Does Silver Circle reach, and hopefully exceed the bar he set for himself back then? Let’s dig into the new mix and find out.

I’m going to embed the mix above, which I’d very much recommend listening to if you plan to vote for Silver Circle in the Monstercat contest. It’s a long listen, yes, but I’d argue Silver Circle’s talent makes it a consistently compelling one. The first major sampling is of Hellberg’s ‘The Girl,’ but in the first two minutes the mix elegantly transcends past that sample into an incorporation of Pegboard Nerds’ ‘Hero,’ an undeniably infectious, anthemic track.

That, of course, is what Silver Circle has a tendency to do better than most DJ’s – he can jam his way through track after track in a mix with complete control over the soundscape. Each transition is seamless and the mix feels like a piece of art unto itself, which is a high compliment, I’d argue.

At the five minute mark, the Monstercat mix explodes into a massive dubstep piece that’s accentuated by intense, industrial-like synthesizers. Project 46’s ‘Signs’ is the next major piece of music to be highlighted, and it’s an interesting contrast to the bombardment of dubstep stylings that preceded it. Again, though, it feels organic in its introduction, and as quickly as it was introduced, it fades away into the most bombastic instrumental section of the mix.

The ten minute mark, I’d argue, is where things start to get really interesting. Silver Circle starts to briefly utilize an actual orchestral piece – fully equip with a choir that sounds like they’re scoring a scene in ‘Braveheart.’ The final notable sample of the mix then, after an extensive EDM phase, is a return to ‘The Girl,’ which makes the mix feel like it’s truly come full circle.

In January, I remarked that Silver Circle does club DJ’s jobs for them – they just have to queue up his incredible mix and let the dance floor move. I stand by that analysis, and I think this is a mix very worth a few moments of your time to vote on in the Monstercat contest. Connect with Silver Circle below and vote at the voting link!


Correigh – ‘Under The Influence’

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 Correigh, a female vocalist from the UK that performs and collaborates with her musical partner Ben Amesbury. She has a new EP that dropped several months ago called ‘Under The Influence,’ a four track collection of covers doused in Correigh’s unique style. The music was debuted in Ibiza over the summer and throughout an array of other notable venues. How does Correigh stack up to her indie music counterparts, though? Is the EP worth your download? Let’s dig into it and find out.

‘Don’t Panic’ makes a bold statement right out of the gate by covering a Coldplay track. Putting aside the fact that Coldplay is one of the more divisive acts amongst music fans, Correigh’s rendition of their track is rather splendid. It’s a highly atmospheric romp through slick electronic orchestration and lovely vocals. Correigh commands excellent presence over the soundscape, and it’s arguably more digestible and intriguing than Coldplay’s original track.

‘Chop Suey’ follows, a System of a Down cover. Again, Correigh manages to separate herself elegantly from the original track, carving out her own unique space to explore the subject matter. For a cover of a heavy metal act, Correigh’s ‘Chop Suey’ is surprisingly mellow. The vocalist is accented by electronic orchestration that really embraces a level of brevity – it centers itself around Correigh’s performance and works to not overpower her. It keeps her music from sounding over-produced, I’d argue.

Out of all the tracks on the EP, ‘We’re On Our Way’ makes the most stylistic sense for Correigh. Lana Del Ray is somewhat similar in vocal style and cadence, so the track is, as I expected, a natural fit for Correigh. Her interpretation of the tune is very soulful, which in truth, surprised me given Correigh is billed primarily as an act for big party festivals. Typically music within that community is inundated by intense production, losing track of its emotion.

Correigh closes her EP with ‘Black Moon,’ the best track of the four. This is a Wilco cover on an electronic album with a female vocalist. How absolutely, fantastically cool is that?! More so, ‘Black Moon’ is a rather obscure Wilco tune in the grand scope of the band’s catalog. Correigh handles it masterfully, offering a fantastic rendition that’s a massive contrast to the original recording.

‘Under The Influence’ is an excellent pop-oriented electronic record with intriguing covers. I’ve never heard Wilco, Coldplay, System of a Down, and Lana Del Ray all so perfectly in harmony with one another. If you’re a fan of any of those acts, you owe it to yourself to check out what Correigh is doing. There will be a link to the album stream below…

Countless Thousands – ‘You’re Goddamn Right’

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 afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Countless Thousands, a punk rock band located out west in California with a new six track album that dropped yesterday. That fresh collection of songs, entitled ‘You’re Goddamn Right,’ is one of the more fascinating entries into the indie scene this fall. Is it worth picking up? Well, the people who crowd-funded it certainly think so. Let’s dig into the half dozen songs and determine why Countless Thousands should be on your radar.

The introductory tune on the album, ‘The Asskicker’s Union,’ was also released with an original music video. You need to watch this video – it’s absolutely remarkable. It took the band over a year to produce and includes over 4,000 photographs. Now, that kind of commitment would be heartbreaking if the song wasn’t as excellent as its visual counterpart. Fortunately, it absolutely is.

‘The Asskicker’s Union’ is a complete explosion of personality. Lead vocalist Danger Van Gorder commands the soundscape with sheer intensity and the lyricism is quirky, relatable, and surprisingly excellent. Countless Thousands walk a line between pop music and punk rock, and in doing so, they’ve actually carved out a very unique space they can occupy. This is clean, fun, unadulterated, pure rock and roll with a lovable twist.

(One could argue this sound does harken back to the early 2000s – bands like My Chemical Romance defined themselves as “pop punk,” and that’s sort of what this is. I’d argue it’s much more tolerable for someone outside of the niche, though.)

‘We’ve Got A Dress Code’ is a very well produced track, but it is filled with endless tropes. It’s very much the early 2000s “I don’t fit in at school” anthem that observes very stereotypical social cliques within that setting. It may resonate with high schoolers, but older listeners will probably get lost in translation. (By older, I mean anyone 20 and over.)

‘Excellent Horse Like Lady,’ on the other hand, feels entirely different and especially refreshing. The lyrics are absolutely hysterical, and they’re backed by one of the best compositions on the EP. In fact, I’d argue ‘Excellent Horse Like Lady’ is the most dynamic track on the album. It thrives in its extended five minute space, and everything from the off-kilter lyricism to the searing electric guitar is fantastic.

‘Only Child’ is another excellent track that lives and breathes on the bizarre lyricism. “My sister is an asshole,” Van Gorder croons in the tune, and while it’s hilarious, you can tell there is a harsh, potentially relatable situation at the root of it. It isn’t just a track about siblings disagreeing; it’s a track about siblings having serious strife in their adult lives.

‘Webster’s Dictionary Defines Marriage As’ is, as one may expect, a very interesting commentary on marriage and the superficial nature of certain elements of the institution. ‘Gang Fight’ follows, an amusing account of a local gang fight that was clearly written by someone whose impression of gang violence is closer to ‘West Side Story’ than Chicago’s south side. Either way, it’s a rocking affair, one that would actually work well in musical form. (In fact, these songs could literally all be part of a musical.)

Countless Thousands is highly personable, immensely entertaining contemporary pop punk rock. Out of the six tracks, ‘We’ve Got A Dress Code’ is the least redeeming, but by and large, it’s an excellent effort full of fantastic tunes worth checking out.

Soft Ledges – Their Debut Album

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 morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Soft Ledges, an indie rock duo from Chicago that has their eponymous debut album set for release November 18. Consisting of Shelley Miller and Chris Geisler, Soft Ledges boasts immense multi-instrumental musical contributions from both members. That, of course, makes the bombastic nature of these songs even more remarkable. Let’s dig into them and determine if they’re worth your time this November.

Soft Ledges kicks off their first album with a tune called ‘La Niña.’ It’s arguably one of the most compelling introductory tracks on an independent album that I’ve heard in 2016. The track is an eerie, bluesy, even soulful explosion of indie alternative rock with Gothic stylings. Miller’s lead vocals pierce through the soundscape with remarkable elegance.

‘La Niña’ also sets a precedent for Soft Ledges as a musical entity. Yes, they’re a duo, but goodness, their sound is much larger than that of two people. ‘Tear Me Down,’ for example, follows with a hard-hitting landscape chock-full of thick bass riffing and erratic percussion. I’d argue there’s a punk influence to the way Soft Ledges approaches songs like ‘Tear Me Down’ as well.

In contrast to its predecessors, ‘Orion’ is a much more subdued affair. It’s a melancholy, poetic excursion that marks some of the stronger lyricism in the collection. The tonal shift is welcome, too, especially after two tracks of sheer intensity. It’s not often indie acts that explore experimental and shoegaze-esque territory also have solid lyrical content.

‘Deer Fly Blues’ is completely doused in atmospheric reverb, aligning itself with ‘noise rock’ in its latter minutes. (It is a long effort, at six and a half minutes.) The structure of ‘Deer Fly Blues’ is reminiscent of Lou Reed’s ‘Heroin.’ It begins with a more rigid, traditional structure, and it slowly devolves into a noisy cacophony as it reaches its finale. (Or evolves, I suppose, depending on your preference toward noise music.)

‘The Bells and You Beneath’ is an intriguing effort, largely due to its instrumental composition elements. It has some particularly searing displays of electric guitar, which banters perfectly off a thunderous percussion section. Miller’s vocals, however, do seem to be mixed forcefully. She doesn’t occupy the soundscape like previous tracks, but rather, she sounds mixed ‘outside’ and above it, if you will. The result feels slightly less organic than its predecessors.

‘Long Way to the Ground’ is one of the undeniable peaks of ‘Soft Ledges.’ The track is simply stunning. The composition is a bit folksy in nature, combining soft acoustic percussion with a sparse, wonderfully effective electric guitar. Miller’s vocal performance is haunting. The ethereal nature of the track is sure to send a chill down one’s spine.

‘Seven Stories’ furthers the aforementioned punk rock parallel. The track even sounds like a tune off the cutting room floor of Patti Smith’s ‘Horses.’ I’d be surprised if Miller hasn’t derived some influence from the Godmother of Punk. In fact, the following song, ‘Highlight Reel,’ sounds like some of Smith’s later creations as well. (It’s also an especially fascinating tune that explores long, drawn out droning instrumentation.)

Another song on ‘Soft Ledges’ that explores the duo’s sonic diversity is ‘Don’t Wait,’ a soulful track that aligns nicely with ‘Orion’ and ‘Long Way to the Ground.’ ‘Don’t Wait’ is a song that could be performed by Norah Jones, which is a notable contrast to my Lou Reed comparison earlier. Soft Ledges has versatility in spades, which is of the utmost importance in an inundated indie rock scene.

The closing of the album, ‘Ladder,’ is one of the more emotionally poignant endeavors in the ten song collection, thus rounding out Soft Ledge’s sound in a superb fashion. I’ll make one more parallel: ‘Ladder’ sounds like Soft Ledges listened to a fellow Chicago-based band, Wilco, and took a cue from them. The instrumentation of ‘Ladder’ is evocative of ‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.’

This is a spectacularly good debut album. In fact, it’s arguably better than some albums seasoned performers put out long after they’ve made their appearance on the scene. One of the signs of a powerful musical act is the ability to expand prowess across an array of styles. This album does that very well. I’d love to see Soft Ledges continue to expand and grow their artistry. This is an act that should never bother getting comfortable with a specific sound.

Check out the album when it drops; it’s very much worth your time!

Press Release – The Blue Ribbon Four – Oct. 23, 2016



The Blue Ribbon Four Preparing To Release Their Sophomore Effort In 2017

After nearly four years since their debut studio album, The Blue Ribbon Four is about to explode back onto the independent music scene with a bang. In the first quarter of 2017, the four-piece rockabilly outfit will release their highly-anticipated second album. The wait, of course, will be well worthwhile.

Since the release of ‘Honky Tonk Boogie’ in 2013, The Blue Ribbon Band has grown in remarkable new ways. They’ve written new songs, they’ve played new venues, and they’ve toured Germany and the rest of Europe learning a great deal along the way. Their upcoming collection of music contains fourteen brand new recordings. Two singles, ‘Mademoiselle My Belle’ and ‘Sawgrass Chopper,’ are due out in the weeks preceding the full album.

(The B-side of ‘Sawgrass Chopper’ will be ‘Honky Tonk Boogie,’ a re-interpretation of the titular track on The Blue Ribbon Four’s previous album. It will not be on this full record.)

This record is sure to have you moving from the pounding rhythm of ‘Let’s Boogie’ to the ever-so-contagious licks on ‘Sawgrass Chopper.’ The Blue Ribbon Four’s honky tonkin’ piano style reaches new heights on tunes like ‘Forty Miles To See My Baby,’ an excursion that boasts a mean country fiddle. ‘Dream A Little Baby,’ on the other hand, offers a softer ballad that’ll delight fans in an entirely different way.

The hot jiving rhythm of ‘Mademoiselle My Belle’ is sure to please fans of The Blue Ribbon Four, and honky tonk country selections like ‘Forty Miles’ and ‘It’s Hard To Play’ help further concrete the band’s authentic and entirely original sound. Even after seven years together, the group’s sound is as fresh and compelling as it ever has been.

This album is an elegant sonic portrait of The Blue Ribbon Four’s talent and versatility. The selections these cats have recorded showcase their musical prowess in a fascinating new light. Whether you’re at home, at your nearest record hop, or at one of the band’s live shows, you’re sure to be entertained!

These new songs were recorded live in three days at Lightning Recorders Studio in Berlin, Germany. Parts Records will release the album through Broken Silence distribution, thus making it available on all major digital platforms, including Amazon and iTunes. Connect with The Blue Ribbon Four below for further updates!

Those Shadow People – ‘Twenty Years’

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.

Recurring and subscribing readers of the Independent Spotlight may very well already be familiar with Those Shadow People, an eclectic indie rock outfit from Denver that we’ve showcased twice in the past. The last time we explored their work was in February when they released ‘Light Siphon.’ Now, they’re back with a new endeavor entitled ‘Twenty Years.’ Does it stack up to their previous work? The bar is quite high, after all. Let’s delve into it and find out.

Before listening to ‘Twenty Years,’ I first decided to read the comic included with the collection. As per usual, Those Shadow People have included a short twenty-four page comic with their release. The companion piece, as I had hoped, is one of their finest yet. The art is absolutely beautiful, and the peculiar story of the group known as “Those Shadow People” remains a fascinating one to unwind.

The title of the EP, ‘Twenty Years,’ is a reference to Sarah, a character in the comic attempting to stay off the radar with her father, Dr. Saber, in the New Mexican desert. She hasn’t seen her mother in twenty years since she’s been occupying a dimension of sorts called ‘The Shadow Realm.’ That is soon to change, however, as Sarah presses her father to help her connect with her mother.

The first track on ‘Twenty Years,’ ‘Let You Go,’ is an explosion of everything that Those Shadow People has always excelled at. The music is chock-full of well-organized synthesizers, compelling percussion, and thick, funky bass lines. The soulful lyricism and vocal delivery of ‘Let You Go’ is astoundingly good, too, and I love the ethereal atmosphere Those Shadow People have crafted on the song.

The surreal sonic imagery of ‘Twenty Years’ extends past ‘Let You Go’ as well, most certainly occupying ‘The Last Time,’ a heavily reverberated jaunt through some of Those Shadow People’s most razor sharp composition. ‘The Last Time’ may very well be one of the very best tracks they’ve ever put out. Musically, it’s a roller coaster, one that’s reminiscent of, perhaps, Josh Homme’s compositional style on the last Queens of the Stone Age album, ‘Like Clockwork.’

At this point, it’s also worth noting that I re-read the comic while listening to the EP. I’d recommend doing this as well. There’s something about the aural quality of the music that enhances the visual experience of the comic. No matter where you’re at in the comic, the music on ‘Twenty Years’ feels somehow relevant to what’s happening in it. It’s like having a “scored”  reading experience, if you will, and it’s absolutely intriguing.

‘The Machine’ a slightly more experimental track, toying with psychedelic and funk stylings. In some ways, it feels like a tune off the cutting room floor of a Flaming Lips session. It may be a less digestible experience than its two predecessors, but it’s also short, snappy, and musically to the point. Considering a much softer, more elongated track follows, ‘The Machine’ is a well placed piece of music in the sequence of the EP.

That longer piece is the title track, ‘Twenty Years.’ Of any of the tracks, this is the one that feels most like an aforementioned “score.” It’s entirely instrumental, focusing itself around whooshing synthesizers, waterfalls of electric guitar riffs, and minimalistic piano noodles. In truth, it’s probably much longer than it needs to be. There isn’t enough musical variety throughout ‘Twenty Years’ (the song) to fully justify a near six minute run-time. With that said, it is easy-listening and that time passes nicely.

‘Can’t Come Back’ is a track that I imagine would be playing as Sarah falls through the Stargate-esque portal toward her mother in The Shadow Realm. There’s a definite sense of finality to the track, as it concludes the album and this latest entry in the comic book’s story. Does this mean Sarah can’t come back from The Shadow Realm? What becomes of her father, and how will she react to finally seeing her mother after two decades?

Needless to say, ‘Twenty Years’ leaves you on your toes in anticipation for the next ‘Shadow People’ entry. I adore this band’s creative culmination of visual and aural artistry. It makes them, to this day, one of the most fantastic acts showcased here on the Independent Spotlight. ‘Twenty Years’ is due out Wednesday, October 26, so be sure to pick it up. It’s worth having in your collection.








James Conor – ‘Entry Point’

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 morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on James Conor, a singer songwriter currently residing in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Today, Friday, October 21, Conor is releasing his debut EP, an aptly titled record called ‘Entry Point.’ The four song collection is well crafted, arguably more so than most indie artist’s first outings. Is it worth adding to your collection, though? Let’s dig into the music and find out.

Conor introduces himself with ‘Best Friend,’ a sharply executed tune that mixes pop sensibility and production style with a quirky brand of lyricism. It’s a lovely song that maneuvers its way Conor’s musings about how important his best friend is to him. It has a bright timbre and quality that’s reminiscent of, perhaps, Queen’s ‘You’re My Best Friend’ or the White Stripes’ ‘We’re Going To Be Friends.’ It’s relatable and very personable – an excellent introduction to Conor’s songwriting style.

‘Not Anymore,’ a more soulful excursion, is a stronger lyrical outing than its predecessor. Despite its upbeat presentation, the subject matter is somewhat more melancholy. Conor delves into a relationship that he’s clearly making a decision to move away from, and in doing so, finding betterment for himself. Like ‘Best Friend,’ ‘Not Anymore’ has an inherently human quality to it. These are songs we’ve all felt in some capacity.

In some ways, ‘Beautiful Lady’ feels like a spiritual partner to ‘Not Anymore.’ Both are songs about someone causing internal strife for Conor. The root of that conflict, however, is very different in the songs. In ‘Beautiful Lady,’ Conor is pining for a woman that can’t be his. It’s a powerful track, even though Conor doesn’t get into why the woman isn’t available. That doesn’t matter much, though, I’d argue, because anyone who has longed for someone unavailable will find similar emotions at play here.

‘Chillin’,’ a live recording that closes ‘Entry Point,’ is actually one of its finest moments. Conor performs on acoustic guitar and a kick-drum, one of his standard solo performing set-ups. The stripped down nature of the lyricism and performance is absolutely fantastic. Conor feels much looser than any other track on the album, and his comfort is noticeable. The organic feel of the song is splendid, and a strong indicator that Conor is an act worth checking out live if you can.

‘Entry Point’ is a rather exceptional set of four recordings. For a debut album, I’m astounded at how finely tuned James Conor’s music already is. I’d love to hear a full album of it. Furthermore, I’d love to see that album explore more of Conor’s bare-bones performance styles, akin to ‘Chillin.’’ Check out this EP; it’s on iTunes Amazon, Spotify, and other services now. It’s worth your time.

Facebook: @James.Conor

Twitter: @James_Conor

The Links – ‘Sucreland’

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.

Returning and subscribing readers of the Independent Spotlight may very well already be familiar with a Louisiana-based outfit called The Links. Since April of 2015, I’ve showcased their music several times here on the website. By and large, the band has always proven to be remarkably eclectic and prolific. From the first time I delved into their music with a record called ‘Shopping Cow Funk,’ to the last entry for a short collection called ‘Rap Song EP,’ I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by the band’s music.

Now, The Links have eleven new songs available on an album entitled ‘Sucreland,’ which dropped last Friday. Is this latest entry in the group’s catalog worth picking up? How does it stack against its predecessors? There’s also a burning question to be answered: what genre and style have The Links opted to pursue this time around? (We’ve seen them explore funk, rock, folk, electronic, hip hop and more in the past.)

‘Sucreland’ aligns nicely as a follow-up of sorts to ‘Rap Song.’ Chronologically, though, I’m not sure where it falls. ‘Sucreland’ was a project that began in 2015, so it may have came before or during the sessions for ‘Rap Song.’ Like that EP, though, ‘Sucreland’ bases itself firmly within the realm of experimental alternative rock. In many ways, it’s the band’s most fleshed out project as well.

‘What Does It All Mean?’ is a very accessible first song. The Links actually dabble in blues a bit, and that blues slowly evolves into a thicker, more complex landscape of surreal alt rock. It’s especially well performed and produced, but that’s also become a staple of The Links’ work. The Links are undoubtedly one of the most fine-tuned acts I’ve ever showcased on the Spotlight in regard to the production of their releases.

The band carried over ‘Rap Song’ from the last EP, which was an excellent idea. It was the strongest track of the three songs showcased in that EP last April. It remains a compelling recording to me because The Links combine a few very peculiar elements together within it: metal, screamo musings, alternative rock, and funk-inspired compositional elements. Their enthusiasm and prowess make all of that work together, surprisingly, and that’s one of the hallmarks of a great deal of their music.

‘Into the Sky’ is another intriguing track. It works particularly well near ‘What Does It All Mean?’ because both of the tunes are doused in a very mellow atmospheric jam style. The track lives and breathes on the back of its instrumentation; the lyricism is sharp, too, but the performances are the most key element. On ‘Waste of Time,’ a similar aura is apparent, but it’s accentuated even further with the collision of alternative crooning and metal screaming.

Briefly touching on that screamo style of vocals, it’s worth noting that The Links use it very sparingly. As such, it’s very effective as well, and it also won’t deter listeners who aren’t fans of that type of sound. The Links have done this with hip hop in the past as well, actually, by injecting small doses of other genres into their alternative rock.

‘What Do You Expect’ is one of the finer songs on ‘Sucreland.’ It’s an epic display of musical intensity throughout, and the final moments are absolutely stunning. Guest vocalist Savannah Jaine steals the show. When the instrumentation falls down to an acoustic guitar and shaker backing her, it’s a magical affair. I’d love to see The Links incorporate her a bit more in the studio in the future.

‘Pretty Little Sucre Jam,’ a short interlude, evokes the sound of a mid 1960s Cream jam session, a stark contrast to the track that follows, ‘Modela,’ one of the more melancholy efforts on the album. The lyricism on ‘Modela’ is one of the finer displays, too, and the electric guitar solo is absolutely captivating. Jordan Marola remains one of my favorite vocalists in the independent scene for his emotional range. He can maneuver from a whisper to a passionate scream, and I love that.

‘Hot Christmases’ borders on punk music in some ways. It’s an explosion of disarray. It’s organized chaos for the most part, and it’s definitely the hardest hitting piece of ‘Sucreland.’ The heavily reverberated ‘Underwater Lemmings’ is a nice reprieve from that intensity when it follows – a good case of smart sequencing.

In contrast to some of the songs that are more punchier affairs, tunes like ‘Rap Song’ and ‘Hot Christmases,’ ‘Rock Cobbler’ is a more lengthy experience that hodgepodges a lot of what ‘Sucreland’ explores into a single track. Oddly enough, the best part of the song comes at the four minute mark when the electric guitar takes center stage. It’s minimalistic in nature, but also absolutely wild and frenzied.

In truth, the only track on ‘Sucreland’ that doesn’t feel necessary is its finale, ‘Ethor.’ The song meanders a bit, and after the dynamic ‘Rock Cobbler,’ it feels somewhat aimless in direction. It’s still a solid tune. In fact, the weaker links The Links’ music are usually stronger than a good bunch of other act’s strongest. But ‘Ethor’ could have been left on the cutting room floor.

‘Sucreland’ takes everything there is to love about The Links and their sound and heavily amplifies it into a full album experience. As I expected, the band’s newest effort is one of the must-listens in the indie scene this month. Check it out below.

Faith Elle – ‘Kissin On My Tummy’

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 Faith Elle, a rising independent artist that’s putting her own twist on soul and R&B. Her latest studio endeavor, ‘Faith Elle Spring Fling Mixtape,’ is available as a free download now. The lead single off that record, a tune called ‘Kissin On My Tummy,’ also enjoyed a recent music video release. Is the single worth adding to your collection, and does it make a case for the rest of the EP? Let’s dig into it and find out.

Out of the gate, I do want to throw a shout-out to Jamar Alston, the person who shot the video for ‘Kissin On My Tummy.’ It’s a very well shot video and arguably one of the better indie music videos of the fall. Shooting in the evening like Alston did is a very hard thing to do, and he pulled it off remarkably well. I’ll embed the video below and it’s worth a spin.

‘Kissin On My Tummy’ isn’t anything new, but that’s not a bad thing at all. It’s a soulful excursion through Elle crooning some rather lovely lyricism. She has a beautiful voice, and it’s well suited to soul and R&B. ‘Kissin On My Tummy’ has a cute hook, and it holds its own nicely as a fully-realized effort. It’s a bit cheesy, sure, but it’s performed with such conviction that it’s more endearing than anything.

The production is sharp, too, and Elle is backed by a simplistic, but effective soundscape of soft piano and equally minimal beats. I see so many independent soul artists douse their productions in too much reverb and accent them with overbearing synthesizers. In doing so, those acts become cringe-worthy parodies of themselves. Elle’s tactful production prevents the same from happening to her. It keeps her authentic, as does her excellent video.

‘Kissin On My Tummy’ is a charming single very much worth listening to. It’s a free download, and worth your time if you’re a fan of soul music. There’s not a whole lot of decent soul and R&B in the indie community. Connect with Faith Elle below!

Snapchat: FaithElle1

Donnie Young – ‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost’

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.

As an independent music critic, there are two genres of music I receive above all others: hip hop, and folksy singer songwriters. As a result of this, each of those artists must rise to a particularly high bar to escape the noise of their respective scenes. A certain aura of authenticity is necessary to that. While leaning more toward country and rock stylings, Donnie Young is an artist that certainly occupies that latter community of singer songwriters. His debut album is ‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost.’ Does it cut through the noise?

Young’s sound is nothing new. It’s a self-described “mixture of country, rock, blues, and folk.” That doesn’t stop his music from excelling within its own sphere, though, and ‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost’ is a superb example of an artist honing a well-tested sound in a mostly original way. Young performs most of the guitar parts and all of the lead vocals, and the rest of the instruments are performed by previous bandmates of Young’s. All of them are in fine form throughout the entirety of the collection.

‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost’ opens with its titular track, a folksy Americana tune that’s accented nicely by Young hopping into the backdrop of the main vocal with a series of harmonies. The production is sharp, focused largely around acoustic instrumentation, shakers, and brief, but effective harmonica sections. Most importantly, ‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost’ is very well written, and sets a solid stage for the music that follows it.

‘Smile’ begins to evolve Young’s sound further, utilizing piano, sparse electric guitar riffing, and upbeat melodies. There’s a Nashville-esque twang to Young on the track, but I’d argue his sound is more akin to the midwestern songwriters you hear out of states like Colorado. (Which would make sense, since Young does spend half of his time there.)

‘It’s Always the Weekend ‘Round Here’ further completes an electronic manifestation of Young’s sound that was hinted at on ‘Smile.’ The rowdy track is thickly produced with bright timbre electric guitar jamming as Young maneuvers his way through a series of lyrical tropes. In contrast to the insightful songwriting of ‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost,’ ‘It’s Always the Weekend ‘Round Here’ sounds more like a Jimmy Buffett track gone awry.

Fortunately, the kitschy nature of ‘It’s Always the Weekend ‘Round Here’ is short lived. ‘Sorry Baby’ is a much better tune, one with some searing blues influence, both musically and lyrically. The lyrics are playful as Young casts aside a lover with a suave wave of the hand. ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ follows, offering Young’s longest excursion on the record. The Rolling Stones cover is a nicely written song, but the seven minute length of the tune does prove problematic due to its meandering nature. Nevertheless, the guitar solos are particularly excellent, reminiscent of Neil Young’s performance style in the early Crazy Horse days.

‘Soulshine’ is an interesting track. It offers Young’s second cover on the album, this time borrowing from Warren Haynes, and the acoustic-focus of the composition is exactly what the songwriting was clearly begging for. ‘Never Take You Back’ is similarly executed, focused squarely on a minimalist production and performance. Young is at his very best in these types of situations.

There’s nine songs on ‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost,’ and then there’s ‘TW Funk.’ Young trades in his acoustic guitars and harmonica in favor of dance floor synthesizers, eighties-style lyricism, and overbearing bass lines. I can appreciate the bold creative direction of ‘TW Funk,’ but it’s not a particularly ‘good’ track. It’s an awkward synth-pop dance track in the middle of an Americana record. Its presence just doesn’t make any sense and it seems more like a novelty than anything.

‘Get out of Town’ is a track I’ve had come across my desk in a bunch of variations over the last year or two – the whole “the world is becoming more divided and aggressive and I just need to get into my escapism as soon as possible” vibe. It works for Young, but the lyricism prevents it from being an overly compelling track. In comparison, the finale, ‘The Woman Song,’ plays with a bunch of country cliches, but doesn’t take itself seriously. As a result, it’s a much more enjoyable track. (On the physical CD’s, ‘The Woman Song’ is a hidden track.)

‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost’ is better than the vast majority of debut albums from any genre. Young has some truly excellent tracks: the title track, ‘Smile,’ and ‘Sorry Babe’ to name a few. There are some weak points, too, like ‘It’s Always the Weekend ‘Round Here’ and ‘TW Funk.’ That’s okay, because it gives Young room for improvement on his sophomore album. I suspect he’ll get notably better with each release, and he’s an artist very much worth keeping tabs on.