Suburban Vermin – ‘TV Head Nation #2’

The 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 return our gaze to Suburban Vermin, a punk trio we’ve featured semi-regularly here on the site considering their prolific 2017 release schedule. These rapid releases, though, can be attributed to a time of political strife and unrest. The band’s new music tells the continuing story of King TV Head, a fictional character in a dystopian future that is, frankly, eerie similar to President Donald Trump.

On October 20, Suburban Vermin will release the next issue of these recordings, ‘TV Head Nation #2.’ Like the releases that preceded it, it’s short and sweet, clocking in with two songs. The EP, however, is a much meatier endeavor than it may appear, with the band also releasing a 22-page comic book to accompany it amongst other items like trading cards, papercraft figures, and a board game.

As always, I’d highly recommend reading the comic issue before digging into the music. The beauty of these releases, and a quality that persists through this latest edition, is that they’re multi-medium efforts. Like a good set of liner notes, the comic enhances one’s perspective of the music beautifully. It’s also chock-full of fantastic moments, such as the story’s protagonist telling King TV Head she, “voted for her… y’know, the non-warlord.”

‘Different Note’ is one of the most musically cohesive singles Suburban Vermin has ever released with the lead vocalist in fine, aggressively angst-filled form. That is complemented by the band’s best instrumentation to date with ‘Different Note’ boasting absolutely thunderous electric guitar and percussion performances. The mix and master of the track is notably stronger than previous releases in the ‘TV Head Nation’ series, too.

One thing worth noting is that ‘TV Head Nation #2’ is the least outwardly political of Suburban Vermin’s releases. ‘Beat Before The Breakdown,’ a Clash-esque, highly punchy punk piece, offers some intriguing social commentary about Suburban Vermin’s frustration with modern America. Their protests feel more exasperated, and I suspect their commentary of the Trump presidency will continue to cascade into further disappointment and confusion as Trump becomes a more divisive figure by the day.

While it doesn’t take as aggressive shots across the bow at Trump like its predecessors, ‘TV Head Nation #2’ offers some of the highest quality music Suburban Vermin has released. The comic is one of their best, too, finally introducing King TV Head in person and ending on a dramatic cliffhanger. Check it out October 20, it’s a wonderful entry in this little continuing series of EP’s that has me looking forward to the finale near the end of the year.

https://suburbanvermin.com

Press Release – ICESQUAD – August 30, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PRESS RELEASE – AUGUST 30, 2017

ICESQUAD Debuts Anthemic New Single, ‘Go Live’

ICESQUAD, one of the hip hop community’s most dynamic collaborations, has released their highly anticipated new single. Entitled ‘Go Live,’ the hard-hitting, explosive new track highlights the trio in fine form following their successful 2016 debut album, ‘Metamorphosis.’ The single is available now on all major digital music platforms to stream and download.

Consisting of Popp Da Rippa, Blaze The Lion, and Rommel Tha Youngsta, ICESQUAD represents three vital characteristics the music industry is in dire need of: integrity, character, and excellence. I.C.E. Popp Da Rippa, the founder of I.C.E Squad Entertainment, draws upon his experience as an industry veteran and a man of faith to help bring inspiring, substantial music to the label.

‘Go Live’ was produced by Maestro, mixed and mastered by Red Spyda, and executive produced by Lamont Popp Nanton himself, making the new single a powerhouse, all-star effort. The social media-influenced song is an anthemic, unforgettably infectious track that perfectly captures what is so superb about ICESQUAD: quality production and fantastic performances.

Fans can connect with ICESQUAD on all social media and ‘Go Live’ is available on all platforms now. Stream the single above on Soundcloud, and see relevant information below for booking and appearances.

http://www.icesquadent.com

http://www.facebook.com/icesquadtherapgroup

http://www.instagram.com/icesquadrap

https://twitter.com/ICESQUADRAP

Publicist: Laurell Battiste | 786-475-7035 | laurell.icesquadent@gmail.com

Anton Cullen – ‘Warfare’

The 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 Anton Cullen, a multi-instrumentalist and producer hailing from Dublin. The veteran musician has experience in a bevy of genres, but most recently, he’s turned his focus toward EDM. Cullen has a full record in the works due out before the end of the year, but leading up to that record he’s been unveiling a series of intriguing new singles. The first of which, ‘Breaking Through,’ is already out. The second, ‘Warfare,’ was just released. Let’s delve into it and see if it’s worth including in one’s indie music collection.

Cullen describes ‘Warfare’ as a piece “inspired by the mental, emotional, and spiritual battles that often take place in one’s mind, as opposed to an external, physical war.” Entirely instrumental, ‘Warfare’ is a bombastic piece that clocks in at three minutes. There’s a fiery, intense nature to the track, something that’s accented by understanding the song is a journey through chaos and one’s own internal strife.

More often than not, EDM that comes across my desk is lackluster and particularly boring: the rises and falls are predictable, the music feels void of emotional context, and it’s all fine and good for the dance floor, but missing some key elements of worthwhile artistry. This, of course, is due to the indie community for the genre being absolutely inundated – singer songwriters and hip hop artists suffer similar issues. Cullen breaks the mold of his counterparts, I’d argue, with ‘Warfare’ having several layers of depth.

The beats on ‘Warfare’ are fantastically original, beautifully complemented by the driving, aggressive nature of the synthesizers that cascade around the soundscape of the track. Cullen doesn’t get bogged down in ostentatious over-production; the snappy run-time of the track suites it, and Cullen’s composition feels sharp and consistent because of it. One can’t help but notice that Cullen clearly has a vision for his music. That’s immensely vital and will serve him well as he moves forward. Too often, indie EDM is aimless. This isn’t.

‘Warfare’ is a strong indicator of Cullen being an EDM producer to keep tabs on in the independent scene. Frankly, there aren’t enough of them. The production quality of ‘Warfare’ is incredible, even down to the promotional materials like the simple, but elegant visualizer video linked below. Give it a spin, EDM fans. You have an album to look forward to later this year.

https://facebook.com/antoncullenmusic
https://soundcloud.com/antoncullenmusic
https://twitter.com/anton_cullen

https://youtu.be/TaH7cSnU3Vo

Alien Skin: Exploring ‘1980 Redux’ (Exclusive Review + Interview)

The 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.

Review

In this morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we dive deep into the fascinatingly beautiful sonic world of Alien Skin, the moniker of George Pappas. Pappas, who came to fame in the 1980s with the Australian band Real Life, now spends his days crafting synth-heavy music inspired by the likes of Kraftwerk and David Bowie. His last album, ‘European Electronic Cinema,’ was a hit here on the Spotlight, and thus, we’re back to dig into his newest creation: ‘1980 Redux.’

‘1980 Redux,’ as described by Alien Skin, is “besotted with 1970s Berlin-era Bowie, enchanted by pre-Victorian Mary Shelley, while contorting and shape shifting into the geometric world of 1980.” Pappas’ immense desire to capture and preserve the kind of music that inspired him early in his career is admirable, especially since he digs his heels deep into the experimental nature of that 80s synth-rock period.

The opening to the album, ‘1980 You Were a Boy,’ feels similar to the tracks on its predecessor, ‘European Electronic Cinema.’ Pappas’ soft, surreal crooning vocals are back, and they’re back with a familiar soundscape of bouncing, eccentric synthesizers and samples. ‘1980 You Were a Boy’ is lyrically sparse, moving its focus toward creating an enveloping, danceable atmosphere. An automated female voice is introduced as a piece of the instrumentation, too, a mainstay of the album moving forward.

That automated voice is actually incorporated much heavier on the more complex ‘I Am Adam,’ a track that seeps with Laurie Anderson influence – a parallel I drew last time I delved into Alien Skin’s music. “I am Adam of your labors,” Pappas sings in allusion to Mary Shelley’s original ‘Frankenstein.’ (The Frankenstein Monster argues in the novel that he should be treated as a biblical son of sorts rather than a fallen angel.) It’s a rather beautiful, if not somewhat inherently saddening piece from the perspective of the Monster.

The mood stays somber, too, with ‘Sad Ghost’ following, a tune that takes a look at the endless afterlife of a young girl from the Victorian era killed by her master. The track is spine-tingling with a heavy, quick-paced synthesizer beat that paints a sonic picture of impending dread and misfortune. It’s a mesmerizing sound, one that seems to capture the lonely life the “sad ghost” now lives.

  'Frankenstein,' or 'The Modern Prometheus,' is the original Mary Shelley novel that inspired Pappas.
‘Frankenstein,’ or ‘The Modern Prometheus,’ is the original Mary Shelley novel that inspired Pappas.

The unique synthesizers on ‘This Fantastic Voyage’ sound like a culmination of bright synths, an organ, and perhaps, bagpipes. That’s arguably the beauty of Pappas as a composer: yes, everything is synthesized, but the palette he paints with is surprisingly versatile. ‘This Fantastic Voyage’ is uplifting, scoring the beginning of an adventure. ‘I Need Voltage,’ however, follows with a dark, eerie composition that thrives on its peculiar nature.

Much like the trilogy and artist that inspired it, ‘The Berlin Trilogy’ is highly experimental in nature, perhaps even more so than anything else on ‘1980 Redux.’ With the snappy percussion and hap-hazard piano and brass-esque sessions, Pappas’ vocal delivery sounds more like spoken poetry in beat form that singing. The track tells the story of three “artisans” working in the studio in Berlin, alluding heavily to those pasty, white figures being David Bowie, Brian Eno, and Tony Visconti. It’s one of Alien Skin’s most memorable songs, perfectly capturing the ethereal, unworldly nature of the Berlin Trilogy and its creation.

‘Atoms Dangling Endlessly’ is another high point for the record, proving that Alien Skin’s most long-form musings prove to be capable of being completely enthralling. The world that ‘Atoms Dangling Endlessly’ creates is stunning, slowly growing and building around the listener as Pappas’ synthesizers continually expand. On tracks like ‘Atoms Dangling Endlessly,’ Pappas’ Eno inspiration is abundantly obvious.

  One of those long Berlin Trilogy era evenings with David Bowie and his collaborators.
One of those long Berlin Trilogy era evenings with David Bowie and his collaborators.

Unexpectedly, a ballad enters the fray, too, with ‘Walk on Water’ highlighting Alien Skin’s most accessible piece of music on ‘1980 Redux.’ One may not necessarily go down the street humming ‘1980 You Were a Boy’ or ‘The Berlin Trilogy,’ but you will be doing that with ‘Walk on Water.’ It’s one of the most emotional moments of the record, noticeably avoiding too much cliche and finding the perfect amount of authenticity within its stargazing sound.

Avant garde inspiration flows through ‘In a Film,’ making it a less accessible jaunt than its predecessor, but no less rewarding. In fact, the final three tracks are similar in this regard. ‘The Playground of Syd Barrett,’ like its inspiration, is a weird, off-kilter journey through surreal lyricism and ‘Dark Star’ has a dark, celestial feel that evokes the final scenes of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ more than anything.

‘1980 Redux’ is a departure from Alien Skin’s last record, perhaps, in the sense that the songs are more cohesive than they’ve ever been. Pappas has perfected his sound, and it shows. The amount of creativity and experimentation Pappas infuses in that sound is frankly, incredible, and it makes his records a must-listen for fans of 1970s and 80s synthesizer music. It’s inspired, somewhat nostalgic music that still has a very valid place in the contemporary independent music scene. ‘1980 Redux’ is a remarkably good LP in the scope of Alien Skin’s impressive catalog.


Interview

Your new album, ‘1980 Redux,’ is inspired largely by Berlin-era David Bowie, which by way of his influence, connects you to other electronic musicians of the era like Kraftwerk. Much of that music was political at the time; even Bowie was fascinated by the unstable nature of German politics at the time. A quick look at your album art shows some potential political influence. Can you can expound upon that?

The Berlin era Bowie-Eno period is one that has fascinated me for much of my life. It is a period that permanently resides in the back of my mind, always cast in shadow, narrow, dark, damp alleyways and grey foreboding skies. The West Berlin of the late 1970s was brimming with the aroma of street vendors selling kebabs and the stench of coal briquettes, the chief heating fuel of the day. This grimey area of West Berlin with the ever present Wall, was the one experienced by Bowie, Iggy Pop and perhaps other contemporary artistic ‘misfits.’

  Pappas as the Thames, circa 1990.
Pappas as the Thames, circa 1990.

David Bowie in particular was turned on to Teutonic electronic music while he lived there after a disastrous, deleterious lifestyle in LA circa 1975. He breathed in his new home city’s vibrant street life, not clad in glamour but ordinary garb and daily habits. He had no car, rode a bicycle unnoticed, he dressed down and had a tiny selection of attire in his wardrobe, one pair of jeans, and roomed with Iggy Pop. He was very far removed from his Ziggy, Aladdin,White Duke, etc… alter-egos of previous years. He dropped the personas and engaged himself in the most musically experimental period of his life with the Berlin Trilogy albums: ‘Low,’ ‘Heroes’ & ‘Lodger.’ All amongst my favorite of his.

He helped usher in electronic music firstly by his very public support and declaration of love for Kraftwerk and for allowing their cold, voltage controlled spirit to enter his own work, together, for the most part, with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti. This in turn dovetailed with and helped fuel the confidence of other synthesizer focused alternative British bands of that nascent period, acts such as the original pre female Human League, Ultravox with John Foxx, Cabaret Voltare, Gary Numan etc. These were exciting times.

  David Bowie in Berlin, 1977.
David Bowie in Berlin, 1977.

Those times were also very politically turbulent, but aren’t they so today? I think we are in a far more precarious position today, internationally, than we ever were back in the 1970s. History has proven the world survived the 1970s, the cold war and onwards. As for today, history remains unwritten. The iconography I used in the artwork is simply imagery that, to me at least, has a connection with that era, including the IBM mainframe computer, the cold war and Reagan/Thatcher rightward scaremongering and sabre rattling. Have we improved much? Well, at least computers are now tiny!

If I had released the album in the early 2000s I may have had the 9/11 Twin Towers on the artwork. I just wanted something that I found confronting and connected the music with the times. For me that era climaxed circa 1980, musically, and hence the title of the album.

In 2016, the Independent Spotlight named your last record, ‘European Electronic Cinema,’ as one of the finest indie records of the year. How have you progressed your sound further to create sonic landscapes on ‘1980’ different than its predecessor? Furthermore, how as the Alien Skin evolved over the course of nine records?

It was an honour for anyone to put to print that an album I created was one of the finest indie records of the year. I take everything with a pinch of salt but I am nonetheless grateful someone committed that to print. ‘1980 Redux,’ whether a casual listener can detect or not, is worlds away, most of it anyway, to whatever I did previously as Alien Skin. I purposely worked with a different method. I won’t go into technical detail as it bores most people, but the way I produced the songs meant they were always going to end up sounding the way they did.

  Real Life in 1997, Pappas on the far left.
Real Life in 1997, Pappas on the far left.

I wanted to create an album that referenced my  electronic roots. I didn’t wish to produce a faux 80s album. That would have been pointless; it would probably have sounded lame and I would have failed. I simply wanted the spirit and memory of the era which I lived through (this is an important distinction as other people often try to do this but ironically weren’t even born at the time) to encourage and colour the songwriting, arrangements and sounds.

If I listen to my albums from 2008’s debut ‘Don’t Open Till Doomsday’ to ‘1980 Redux’ my music has evolved in a very perceivable way to me. Again, to a casual listener he/she may not always pick up on the developing approach found in successive albums. I have traveled from sci-fi, funereal, melancholy and many atmospheric moods and emotions to more upbeat, yet in my opinion at least, always somewhat left of center.

I find the unusual to be far more interesting and therefore some people find what I create difficult to categorize, assimilate and perhaps stay clear of it. Alien Skin is not electronic enough for the dance crowds, or sing-a-long enough for car rides or sedate enough to replace piano-only mood music while drinking a cocktail late at night. I can add another dozen things it isn’t, but for those that love it, it means everything, and to those fans I am always grateful and receptive.

  Syd Barrett, the original frontman of Pink Floyd and inspiration for Pappas.
Syd Barrett, the original frontman of Pink Floyd and inspiration for Pappas.

There are several allusions to your cited influences on the record, but perhaps most noticeably, ‘The Playground of Syd Barrett.’ What about Barrett captures you enough to homage him on the record? Was early Pink Floyd a definitive influence for you?

Syd Barrett was the reason I first found a love of Pink Floyd. It took me years to really appreciate the post Barrett Floyd, even glossing over ‘Dark Side of the Moon.’ It’s okay because I do now love that album and all of Pink Floyd’s work and have for years and decades. They were such an innovative, brilliant band that I don’t need to add anymore than what’s already been written about them over the past 50 years. Love em!

But Syd, well Syd had such an extraordinary mind. His songs in those early years were and are a beautiful delight and I rejoice listening to them still. I love his imagination, an almost childlike demeanor in song. I loved his voice, a voice that instantly attracted me to The Legendary Pink Dots, as Edward Ka-spel often sounds like him. I called the song ‘The Playground of Syd Barrett’ because that’s how I perceive his imagination, like watching children imagining scenarios in a playground and playing them out. His mind was a playground of boundless, out of the box imagination, imagery, chaos and melody.

  '1980 Redux' is available everywhere to stream and download now.
‘1980 Redux’ is available everywhere to stream and download now.

You say that the new album is a “celebration of all things electronic and analog.” Does that mission extend to the actual production of the record? Did you utilize a mixture of both analog and digital equipment?

I purposely only used analog generated synthesizer sounds and beats but recorded digitally on computer as most of us do. If I wanted to go all analog, which is a big call and an expensive one, well, that would have seen me get nowhere as I couldn’t do it. Perhaps Depeche Mode or someone of that ilk could if they wanted to, but not me. I worked within my means, but all the sounds could have come from gear that was designed, played, sequenced and recorded back in 1980!

http://alienskinmusic.com

https://www.facebook.com/alienskinmusic

Charles Luck & Tino Red – ‘Pray’

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 Charles Luck of the Black Astronaut collective, a frequent recurring feature here on the site. Like much of his more recent work, Luck has partnered with another Black Astronaut talent, Tino Red, to write and release their newest single, ‘Pray.’ Dropped four days ago and written by both Luck and Red, the new single digs into some hefty subject matter.

Luck’s lyricism, in particular, often has two sides: intense levity or elegant poetic prose. More often than not, his work lands on one end of that spectrum or the other. On ‘Pray,’ Luck and Red explore a rather destitute landscape of hopelessness and societal strife. The two songwriters solemnly refer to areas like the South Side of Chicago as “barren gallows of pain” in a country where “hope was sold and us hopeless souls got roped and rolled into the hole again.”

Red’s performance is terrific, perfectly capturing his frustration with the social issues ‘Pray’ highlights. A faith, of some sort, seems to keep Red sane, because a solution to these problems is never addressed on the track. Truthfully, one can’t expect a solution. To draw lines back to Chicago, the city attempts to put endless bandaids on violence, crime, and impoverished communities with little opportunity – a bandaid just can’t mend a gaping wound.

“I swear I promise the fright when your rights aren’t right and the size of your pride starts shrinking,” Red sings on the song – a really profound, terrifying lyric. The rights of people living in communities like that depicted in this song aren’t right. Though ‘Pray’ uses religious themes to offer solace in a hectic world, it’s arguably a protest song above all.

The production is jammed with electronic-rock themes, akin to Imagine Dragons or the like. (As the RapPad page actually suggests.) It’s very explosive and immediately catchy, even if it’s not the most artfully memorable execution of music production in the Black Astronaut catalog. ‘Pray’ has a unique drive to its sound, though, energizing, if not angering the listener about the distressful circumstances it depicts.

I’ve gotten a lot of politically inclined music across my desk in the last week due to the (more) volatile nature of the United States recently. Even if it wasn’t intentional, Luck and Red’s new tune actually fits into that overarching narrative of fighting seemingly unending, wrongfully empowered forces of ill-will in the world. Check out the song above.

https://soundcloud.com/blackastronautx/pray

Dried Arrangement – ‘Sunset’

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 Dried Arrangement, the artistic moniker of Phil Cole, an Australian singer songwriter who has released a slew of records since his 2008 debut. One of his more recent efforts, ‘Sunset,’ is a fascinating excursion through dream pop musings quite unlike anything else in the independent scene right now. With a contemporary, yet classic quality, the seven song collection is one worth delving deep into. Thus, let’s do so!

‘Blip,’ the introductory track, calls to mind, perhaps, Oasis. Dried Arrangement boasts a very surreal, bubbly dream pop style that’s certainly evocative of some of Oasis’ biggest hits. The hints of soft, subtle synthesizers add a beautiful layer to ‘Blip’ and its sonic complexity. The song opens the album with a very strong, well mixed and mastered production, an element that is a mainstay on ‘Sunset.’

That ethereal style of Cole’s, however, doesn’t stagnate as one might expect. ‘Sunset’ brings an entirely new aural landscape into focus – a slightly-tinged funk riff highlights a song that embodies more wanderlust and experimentation than its predecessor. From the dynamic intro and outro to the superb instrumentation and lyricism, ‘Sunset’ is an immensely satisfying track.

‘She’s Like an Alien’ digs Dried Arrangement’s heels deeper into experimental territory. Quite truthfully, Cole’s vocal delivery and the song’s unique structure are both heavily reminiscent of Robyn Hitchcock, a high compliment. ‘She’s Like an Alien’ could be a tune right off of ‘Element of Light’ or ‘Globe of Frogs.’

While most of the tracks on ‘Sunset’ are “love songs” in one way or another, one must laud Dried Arrangement’s ability to keep the ideas throughout the record consistently fresh. The melancholy ‘You’re so Blue’ reaches out to a lover to attempt to help them along, whereas Indian-influenced, ‘How’d the Wheels Fall Off’ explores the unpredictable nature of life and how it impacts relationships in strange ways. (Cole cites plenty of Beatles influence, so the spurts of sitar are clearly inspired by George Harrison’s similar musings.)

The quirky ‘She Breaks Things’ is surely the album’s strongest lyrical effort, recounting the youth of a feisty woman who leaves a trail of wreckage in her wake. Cole does a rather excellent job of combining sharp, witty lyricism with memorable, singer songwriter pop hooks. That’s a difficult task. The percussion on ‘She Breaks Things’ seems to often fall out of tempo with the rest of the instrumentation, however, a rare but noticeable misstep on the record.

While ‘She Breaks Things’ is the strongest lyrical endeavor on ‘Sunset,’ the finale, ‘Way Back Home to You,’ is the mightiest instrumental outing. Vocal harmonies, a harp, and the perfect mix of electric guitar and synthesizers all culminate into Cole’s most stunning soundscape. It’s an elegant finale, a worthy send-off to a terrific EP of tunes.

‘Sunset’ is one of the stronger pop-oriented singer songwriter EP’s we’ve dug into here on the Spotlight in recent memory. Dried Arrangement’s EP is consistently compelling, remarkably well written and performed, and well worth your time. Spin it below.

http://www.driedarrangement.com

https://soundcloud.com/phil-cole-songs

Elmont – The Self-Titled Debut EP

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 Elmont, a four-piece alternative rock band I previously lauded in December for having one of the stronger debut singles in recent memory. That single, ‘Home,’ was an early insight into their six song self-titled EP, a record that’s now complete and has a release date set for September 2. Here on the Spotlight, we received early access to the EP. Is it worth marking your calendar for? Let’s find out.

With a strong early single like ‘Home,’ Elmont had a high bar set for themselves. Fortunately, it’s immediately clear on the EP that they’ve not only reached that bar, but exceeded it in several ways. The introductory track, ‘Waiting on a Phone Call,’ harnesses a perfect suaveness that ties together Elmont’s brand of alt rock. The slick production is, similar to ‘Home,’ incredibly strong, and the lead guitar musings have hints of Southern influence, drawing parallels to, perhaps, the Allman Brothers or the like.

The beauty of this EP, though, is that the sound evolves throughout. After ‘Waiting on a Phone Call,’ ‘Falling’ arrives, a song that seems to draw stronger lines of lineage toward Modest Mouse in its instrumental style than the Allman Brothers. The lead vocals are in fine form on ‘Falling,’ too, especially when the band seeps in as back-up. ‘Falling’ also boasts the album’s strongest solo – it’s the kind of guitar solo one can listen to all day long. It’s so intensely smooth.

As the album progresses, the musical prowess of Elmont progressively builds, perhaps most notably showcased in ‘Nothing in Particular,’ a song that’s built around a brilliantly original guitar hook. The percussion pieces on this album are fantastic, too. All of the cohesive instrumentation that builds the band’s sonic tapestry lends further weight to the notion that they’re a tier above most of their independent alternative rock counterparts.

The centerpiece and most vital element of this self-titled record, however, is ‘Apartment.’ This sparse track which only utilizes a softly performed electric guitar and sporadic acoustic piano is stunning. It’s beautiful; it’s mystifying; it’s Elmont’s early-in-career masterpiece. After listening to the song a dozen times over, I still find myself in awe of the gem. It’s a somber break-up song, one that isolates the songwriter in a heartrendingly relatable way. ‘Apartment’ houses breathtaking performances worth listening to on repeat all night long.

‘Drama Queen’ is immensely satisfying, even despite following the album’s best track. It continues a running theme on the album, a relationship that fell apart, but in the case of ‘Drama Queen,’ that relationship’s elements are dissected as the woman falls into a similar pattern with another man. Typically, albums that linger too long in the despair of a fallen relationship suffer from those meanderings, but tunes like ‘Apartment’ and ‘Drama Queen’ thrive on their relatability and human nature.

‘Home’ closes the album, as excellent as it was when I originally reviewed it eight months ago. Oddly enough, ‘Home’ originally gave the impression that Elmont would have a folksy focus in their sound. That isn’t the case, though, as the song ended up being their only track of that nature. It suits them to have the song as the finale, though, and I’d love to see Elmont explore more folk and acoustic stylings in the future. ‘Home’ and ‘Apartment’ are indicative of a band that’s even more diverse than a simple “alternative” band. Check out a detailed run-down of ‘Home’ here.

‘Elmont’ is the perfect EP for the band to deliver on the heels of ‘Home.’ It’s superbly produced, beautifully performed, and teeming with authenticity. My only recommendation for Elmont would be to continue innovating with their sound. Continuing experimentation and boundary-pushing is a must for a band like this to continue to excel at what they do. As long as Elmont continues to do so, they’ll be well worth keeping tabs on.

Mark your calendar for September 2; ‘Elmont’ is an EP worth downloading when it arrives. If you’re local to the Dallas area, head on over to Hank’s Bar in McKinney, Texas that night, too, for the release party and performance. Connect with the band below:

http://elmont.bandcamp.com

https://www.facebook.com/elmontmusic

https://www.instagram.com/elmontband

Black Astronaut – ‘The Walrus, The Ninja, and The Gypsy From Sydney’

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.

One of the most frequent features here on the Independent Spotlight is Charles Luck, the driving creative force behind the Black Astronaut hip hop collective. His release style, at least until now, has consisted primarily of dropping random singles every few weeks, some incredibly thought-provoking, some incredibly loony. Now, Black Astronaut has released their first full EP, an endeavor entitled ‘The Walrus, The Ninja, and The Gypsy From Sydney.’

Essentially a concept record, ‘The Walrus, The Ninja, and The Gypsy From Sydney’ tells the story of an insomniac that takes a heavy dose of Ambien and enters a bizarre world of equally bizarre characters. This alone marks a massive creative departure for Black Astronaut, which is prone to releasing strings of unrelated singles. The opening track of the EP, ‘Staring at the Ceiling,’ introduces the story perfectly, however, and sets a strong stride for the short collection.

‘Staring at the Ceiling’ features and was co-written by InZane, one of the more notably excellent hip hop artists that Luck collaborates with at Black Astronaut. The eerie track feels like it’s right out of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as InZane muses about the ceiling staring back at him in the dark of night, unhinging his inner demons. If the concept of insomnia could be embodied into a single track, it would be ‘Staring at the Ceiling.’ (Granted, the song is also jam-packed with vivid insanity.)

‘Pawn My Kidneys,’ a track featuring Vedo, introduces the comical world the EP’s main character falls into after succumbing to his sleep aid. Frankly, the song makes absolutely no sense. The man loans his kidneys to the gypsy and the ninja, both who live in Sydney. He also wants to ride a dinosaur, and at another point, he confuses David Cameron’s penis-in-a-pig scandal Tony Blair and a dog. It’s a fever dream of a track, which in truth, is probably why it’s so hilariously fun.

‘Jipped By The Gypsy’ is, of course, fairly culturally insensitive. The track actually delves into a lot of questionable subject matter, albeit with a fantastic production backing it. At one point, Vedo even admits to the perverted nature of the subject matter, but insists that Black Astronaut pushing the envelope is what will get audiences to listen as they re-invent rap. Even though Black Astronaut is a perennial favorite here on the site, it’s worth noting that shock-and-awe showmanship rarely equates to longevity.

The next track, ‘Who Is The Ninja?’, is peculiar, recounting an array of sexual explorations, perhaps even with the ninja? Truthfully, nothing is fully clear on the song. Much like its predecessors, I imagine it’s the kind of material to arise out of a clouded Ambien-induced haze. That’s the central notion around the entire album, actually, and it continues onto the stunningly-produced ‘I Am The Ninja.’ It’s nearly impossible to follow the lyricism; it’s essentially stream-of-consciousness internal banter.

The final track, ‘Coming Home,’ utilizes a Guns N’ Roses ‘Paradise City’ sample, which surprisingly, isn’t kitschy or ridiculous at all. (Usually GNR is both.) “Rising from the couch like a phoenix from its ashes,” InZane raps on the track – a perfect send-off to a surreal EP. As always, Black Astronaut’s usage of a well-known sample is wonderfully executed, too.

‘The Walrus, The Ninja, and The Gypsy From Sydney’ is unlike anything else Black Astronaut has released. It’s very erratic, often confusing, and it doesn’t shy away from being entirely politically incorrect, if not even borderline offensive. The dream-induced narrative is, however, somewhat followable. This is an EP one will listen to and catch new lines each time; it’s not meant to be memorized or quantified. It’s ridiculousness in six crazy tracks. That’s its charm and why it’s worth tuning into.

https://soundcloud.com/blackastronautx/sets/the-walrus-the-ninja-and-the