Seaside Holiday – Grand Tours

Seaside Holiday returns with the follow-up album to their impressive 2012 self-titled debut. Right out of the gate, “Wartime Reflections” strikes a very intriguing balance of electronic and indie rock… or “dream pop” as their BandCamp page labels it. That seems to be a good label: some of their songs lean to the electronica/darkwave side, others lean towards the indie/lo-fi side, but they all have a dreamy atmosphere compiled with a pop sensibility. There is also a good sense of 80s throwback on this one, but not in the cliché sense that many bands are using today. This is more like deep underground 80s new wave throwback of an Erasure B-side remix more than someone trying to be the modern A-Ha. Just check out “Etchings of Yesterday” if you are a child of the 80s and you will know what I am talking about. Throw in the occasional non-standard song structure for good measure, and you pretty much have Seaside Holiday’s sound. They throw a lot of variety into a mix of familiar genres to come up with something unique and engaging. I highly recommend checking this out.

[2016 Independent | Purchase: seasideholiday.bandcamp.com]

Wickeds End – The Grand Decay

Wickeds End is still alive and kicking! I never really thought I would be saying that in 2017, but Glenn Rowlands has defied the odds and come back with multiple albums over the past few years. Of course, this is a newer, heavier Wickeds End. Gone are the thrash hardcore crossover sounds of the 90s – this is extremely heavy and fast thrash / black / death metal. Growled / shouted / shrieking vocals are the norm here, with bone crushing riffs and pummeling bass and drums. This may be too extreme for some of their past fans, but those that enjoy the extreme side of metal will dig this. I know I enjoy it. The lyrics are very right wing hell-fire and brimstone, with many misunderstandings of the liberal enemies they seek to attack. That may be your thing, or it might not, but I personally feel it is better to disagree with the truth rather than tear down a straw man. I know that for many, it is hard to be fans of a band that has such extremely political lyrics, as I struggle with that as well. But I say this just so you will know.

[2017 Independent | Purchase: wickedsend.bandcamp.com]

Lenny Smith – You Are My Hiding Place

Lenny Smith is back with a collection of new recordings of older songs written between 1971 and 2000. If you aren’t familiar with Lenny Smith, you may recognize one of his most well know songs “Our God Reigns.” He is also father to Daniel Smith of Danielson/Sounds Familyre/Steve Taylor and the Danielson Foil fame. This collection of songs continues in the folk/singer-songwriter/alternative music style of past recordings, with a definite “Sounds Familyre” sound thrown in the mix. Of course, Lenny puts his own stamp on the whole sound – maybe it is his unique voice, or the way he arranges the instruments, but you know it is Smith when you hear it. There is a general joyous sound to the music here, and not just because these are worship songs. This is a deeper joy than the typical synthesized joy on many worship albums. And, of course, there is the Smith-family eclecticism here that makes sure things stay interesting and unexpected. Highlights for me include the bouncing album opening one-two punch of “Teach Me, My God” and “Ho! Everyone Who Thirsts”, the rollicking “City, O City”, and the album closer “With All My Heart” that seems to bring out the whole family (or a lot of background singers). As usual, a solid collection of music that feels fresh and innovative in a day and age where those qualities are sorely missed from modern music.

[2016 Great Comfort Records | Purchase: lennysmith.bandcamp.com]

DW Dunphy – The First Thing That Came To Mind

This album encompasses everything I love about modern, independent, underground music. I feel the same freeing elements on DW’s latest release that I was going through during the early stages of the Bloody Strummers album I took part of a few years back. Best I can describe the vibe going on is a blend of Garage Fuzz, 60’s Brit Invasion, Psychedelic Pop, as well as early 80’s to early 90’s Post Punk and a dash of Shoegaze. Spacious instrumentals are scattered throughout this 10 song LP that accomplishes a lot in under 40 minutes. Stand out tracks for me are the Gabriel-esqe, synth heavy, “Commercial One,” the Boom Bap instrumental “Ancients,” “I Get That From You” is a great piece of modern Post Punk, and the Garage-Fuzzy-Reverb drenched riffs on “Cut You Loose.” Great music on a hike in the woods with the dogs and some headphones, excellent for driving the rural outskirts, it’s reflective music start to finish. The First Thing That Came To Mind will be revisited in my vast library for sure and not lost in the “oh yeah, I remember that” file.

There is an ocean of independent artists out there, some amazing stuff when you dig in,  DW’s album is well worth your time, highly recommended! You can find the album on BandCamp, iTunes, and other digital outlets.

[2015 Independent | Purchase: dwdunphy.bandcamp.com]

I wanted to do something different on this review, so I asked DW to discuss the album track by track. I feel an artist can give the best review of his art. So here is the album in DW’s words.

From DW:

Before I dig into these, I feel I should first make everyone aware that, yes, this album will be available on cassette. And not cassettes made by me, my CD player and my TEAC tape deck either. These will be the real deal. It’s exciting and will hopefully exonerate me after the fiasco that was the publicized but ultimately unfulfilled 8-track edition of Test Test Test.

Please Listen Carefully To The Following As Our Menu Options Have Changed 02:15

I wanted to open the record with a poppy, uncomplicated track. The majority of the record is just laden and fraught, and I wanted to start with a drink of water first.

There was a bit of experimentation going on, especially at the bridge. I wanted to put just a light bit of phasing on the guitar. Instead the darn thing went into orbit, but I liked the uplift it gave things, so I left it. That’s my favorite mode for working. I don’t like hammering away at “perfection” because you never get there. Things become mechanical and you resent the process. This track happened fairly naturally and I appreciated not having to sweat (too much) blood over it.

Commercial One 03:43

I’ve never sounded like a pop star and so I’ve never pretended to be a pop star. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to do something or other because it will get me noticed. That’s not how it works, but life is short…much too short to actually attempt explaining this. So this song applies some rather modern pop trappings with a bit of attitude thrown back. “Is this what you wanted?”

The beat was made with an online rhythm generator meant to mimic an old 808. the original intention was to layer real drum sounds over the loops this online generator made, but the emulator’s cycles were always slightly off. The Internet, although it seems to function like a “real time” machine actually isn’t. There’s latency. You can’t witness it until you do something like this and then pair it to a metronome and see how far off you are. So I abandoned the real beats and stuck with the synthetic. Ideologically it actually suits the premise of the song better anyway. Call it serendipity.

Those Who Exalt Themselves Will Be Humbled (Galloping Hooves Of Eternal Hellfire) 03:31

So I wanted to then take that same beat and then throw buckets of ordinance at it. The Biblical verse that comprises the title is best translated as “pride goes before a fall.” I have no idea what inspired me with that one.

The guitar assault probably was inspired by either Godspeed You Black Emperor or Swans. It’s that vanishing point between the note and what the note is meant to express, and then just the volume of the wail. You can have the most eloquent soliloquy about why you are angry, but sometimes it is more effective to simply scream monosyllabic angst. You’ll get your point across.

No Lite 02:19

I love the old punk stuff. This is just some old punk playing in an old punk style. I think I got off a couple of nice verbal barbs in here too. And that was always a neat trick in (particularly) the old U.K. punk songs. Those musicians, as raw-bones as they claimed to be, had fantastic vocabularies and knew how to construct lyrics that were at once rude purges but also had layers of double meaning backing them up. That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate the U.S. variations. I did, but frequently they were exactly what they said they were. At least they were honest about it.

Ancients 04:09

A nice trudge. A marching column. It feels like Spartans gearing up for a battle. There isn’t a whole lot of subtext to be found beyond I wanted a thick-necked instrumental with a meaty guitar sound.

I Get That From You 02:39

Relationships, man. I tell ya. The phrase existed before the song did, and that’s kind of the miracle of songwriting. There isn’t, and shouldn’t be a formula to it. Sometimes the words dictate the music, and sometimes the music calls upon you to come up with words.

In this case, it’s the idea that when a relationship goes sour, what you get from your partner is all the stuff you’d be better off not having at all. You love her but she makes you feel like a microbe. Or, as David Gilmour once sang, “Was it love or was it the idea of being in love?”

The guitar heroics came late in the fourth quarter. The glitchy guitar pattern that’s threaded throughout the song was always there. I wasn’t sure the tune needed that big coda until the first “final” was typed on the mixdown. What I thought might have been overkill now seemed to be missing something. Oh, okay. We thought we were done, but no. A week later the guitar and pedals were back out to put the last kick in those pants.

The First Thing That Came To Mind 04:03

The proggiest song on the album, I suppose. Anyone who knows me knows I love that symphonic instrumentation. They also know that I don’t have the money to contract an orchestra…not even an oboe. So synthetic orchestras had to suffice again. In all I think it still holds up, and I like my solo in the bridge a lot too. I didn’t nail down that Brian May tone like I aspired to, but I think you can hear what my intentions were.

Faith is fragile. We hold on to it because we want to, not because it compels us to. I also think you have to constantly question it for it to be worth anything. Furthermore, you have to look at these things as you, alone, not as an organization. Organizations have an easy way of deciding a little murder is okay for the greater good. Some lies are fine. Some prejudices are forgivable in the grand scheme of things provided we’re all agreeing to this. Sometimes faith requires you to step away from the organization and say, just because the state doesn’t charge you taxes doesn’t confer upon you infallibility. Your status doesn’t make you holy. Sometimes the hive is diseased, and in order to save what you believe is right, true and, sure, holy, sometimes you have to leave the swarm.

I don’t think I’m going to win any Dove Awards for that sentiment.

Aspidistra (The Birds Are Circling) 05:31

This song is really the saddest on the record. I wanted it to be that way. An aspidistra is a plant, it is rooted to the ground, and if the birds are circling above, they’ll eventually come down and rip you apart. Nothing you can do about that. I thought I conveyed that sense of being trapped, of being bound up in situational futility just because of who or what you are.

I also called it “Aspidistra” because that kind of reminds me of the word “asphyxiate.” I remember as a kid my mom would take us to the video store to rent movies. One of the few stores we frequented wasn’t the most discriminating as far as the stock went. They had a lot of b-movies. One of them that I recalled — only from the box — was a movie called Asphyx. It starred the comedian Carol Kane in what, I guess, was a fairly unfunny psychological horror movie. That box haunted me. Here I was, renting Spielberg movies and Disney cartoons, and week after week, there was the box for Asphyx haunting me. You now know more than you actually need to know about me.

Cut You Loose 05:48

This is the oldest song on the record. It was the proper first song, but also the primary backing track dates to around 2013. Why I never completed it back then is lost to the mist of time. I want to think it was divine providence. I had three scenarios in the song and all three circled around the same idea: the disposability of human beings. The first is the job that shucks you away like so much corn husk after years of service. The second is the love relationship that severs ties, as Earth Wind and Fire once sang, after the love is gone. The third is the sickly or aged who only seem to gain proper attention after the death, when it is safe to cry about them and not be burdened by responsibility for helping in any way.

Two guitarists drive the sound of the song, and they arrive years apart. When the track was initially recorded, I was listening to a lot of Lindsey Buckingham. He’s such a great and underrated guitarist. He regularly is overshadowed by people he has worked with (re: Stevie Nicks). But I encourage everyone who loves great guitar playing to revisit his work and listen to what he’s doing. The soloing on the way out, although pretty crude, is me pretending to be Buckingham wailing on the close of “Go Your Own Way.”

Years later I had finally written lyrics and put down the vocals. When that was done, the whole song felt somewhat incomplete. It was good and it was almost there, but I needed an emotional rope to drag the rest across the line. The coda, although sounding nothing like AC/DC, does utilize the string pluck technique Angus Young used at the opening of “For Those About To Rock, We Salute You.”

Transcendental Mathematics (Improvisation) 01:24

This was going to be the end of the album. It is the simplest track and acts as a sort of happy ending to a record that leans heavily on my dark side. It reminds me of a southwestern cantina acoustic trio, plucking out little odes to sunsets and dust, thus that closing statement I presumed it would be. It wasn’t the case.

Your Call Is Important To Us! Please Stay On The Line And A Representative Will Be With You Momentarily. 02:13

What did I say about serendipity? So, I have some very old recording software on my family’s home PC. It has recorded everything I’ve done since 2003 with only a couple of exceptions. And like an old fusspot, sometimes it wants to be ornery. In one of the many final mixes for the opening track, the percussion was dropped right out. I said a few things I regret in a very loud voice, but then I listened to it again. The mood was different. It wasn’t propulsive like “Please Listen Carefully…” It seemed — oh, I don’t know — more thoughtful. It was the wisdom of experience after the knowledge gained from innocence, or having had too many cups of coffee. I went back into the mixing part of the software, intentionally dropped the beat out, raised the synths up and laid down another synth line to give it that extra heft.

I didn’t intend for the record to end this way, but oddly, it seems the record itself intended to end this way. Who am I to argue?

Mike Indest – She’s Gone (One Take Acoustic Demos)

mike-indest-shes-goneRemember the 90’s when 4-track cassette recorders and free time brought out the best in some of our heroes of alt-rock?

Jack Logan, Guided By Voices, Godstar and Palace are some of the pioneers of true DIY indie-rock.

Nowadays, with digital recorders, cheap and good compressors, mics and (God forbid) corrective devices, we seem to be lacking in the inspired sounds of the “get it on tape and call it done” era.

Although Mike Indest doesn’t quite have the nerve to call these songs more than demos, they are moving, honest, inspired and without intention, (just guessing) nostalgic.

I haven’t heard or felt this kind of loose, carefree, fun in an intelligent package since about ’92!

Take a break from the modern polished, masterpiece mentality and check this out!

2016 Independent | Download: mikeindest.bandcamp.com]

And How – SOLO

and-how-soloAnd How has a new “SOLO” album out?

Although And How is already a one-man-band, this album does have the feel of a solo album from an indy rock band’s lead singer.

With very minimal instrumentation and production these songs have nowhere to hide. All of the humanness, subtleties, and detail are uncovered and vividly on display.

Most of the expected chime of electric guitars and background harmonies are on hold, leaving an intimate, quieter, without being precious, kind of album.

These songs question love, faith, ego, afterlife, guilt, friendship, and art with very personal yet universal thoughts and expression.

In the normal And How tradition “SOLO” is FREE to download and listen to on BandCamp.

[2016 Independent | Download: andhow1.bandcamp.com]

Steve Hindalong Sings Out Like Neil Young on Solo Album “The Warbler”

TheWarblerSteve Hindalong is a human who seems to really like other humans. He respects and pays careful attention to their humanness, as well as to his own. This empathetic eye guides the emotional journey of The Warbler. Doubt, resolve, pain, illness, recklessness, joy, grief, comfort, true friendship – these show up all over the album, not as topics but as shared experiences, sung with the authority not of a teacher but of an ordinary practitioner.

As such, most of the songs on The Warbler explore the varieties of friendship in some respect. These range from the frank conversation of fellow religious pilgrims on “Unparalyzed” (But I’m not gonna shut my mind/And I will not close my eyes…Your faith is dark if it makes you cruel), to expressions of deep bonds with spouse and family on “Cloudburst,” “That’s How It’s Gonna Be,” and “For A Lifetime” (So forgive me for being irrational or indiscreet/I’m only gonna love you until my heart won’t beat).

These songs also recognize the need we each have to be a friend to ourselves. This friendship may take the form of self-care and a stand against the unkind voices in our own souls, as on “Outta My Mind” (I’m gonna ride a gondola/To the top of a Swiss mountain/Where the cowbells ring for miles around/I’m gettin’ outta my head before I go outta my mind) or “Lucky And Blessed” (But there comes a time you surely should/Sock that dragon in the eye and say/Hey, there’s room for me in the glorious sky/I won’t be denied/I will not be denied/Gonna flap my wings and fly). Or, it may consist simply in telling our stories as honestly as possible; “Into The Drink” is neither a sermon nor a cautionary tale, but rather an unflinching description of what it’s like to be hell-bent on getting drunk out of one’s senses (Less of a romp than a journey/More of a quest than a lark/I’m goin’ down deep in a hurry/Into the merciful dark…Tonight I’m diving into the drink).

But Hindalong also has a history of writing specific songs for specific friends, and he continues this practice on The Warbler. So, what kind of song do you write when your friend is going blind? Hindalong writes “Jimmy A.,” a song about smoking hand-rolled cigarettes on the roof of an RV and eating sardines from a can while your friend plays guitar. Because that’s what you do when your friend is impossibly ill–you get together and do the good things that friends do together. In “Shellie’s Song,” the grief and helplessness we’ve all felt over a friend’s cancer is broken, briefly, by Christy Byrd’s announcement that Skinny has been just around the corner, shaking his tambourine. It doesn’t feel like a juxtaposition, really; tears to laughter to tears again is the natural progression of living. Sometimes, hope just means the expectation that laughter will come around again.

When it comes to the music itself, The Warbler is a bit like an Alan Parsons Project collection–not in terms of specific sounds used, but in terms of execution. The music ranges from lush singer-songwriter fare to moodier tracks reminiscent of The Choir to (slightly) harder-edged alternative rock. Hindalong is a producer as well as a songwriter, and this is the work of a great producer dedicated to getting the best performances for each song (even though Skinny himself doesn’t take a production credit on the album). While Hindalong writes and sings (like Neil Young, even if not as good) on every track, the other players and instruments have been selected on the basis of their suitability for that particular task, and Hindalong assembles quite the flock of friends for this musical flight (Marc & Christy Byrd, Matt Slocum, The Prayer Chain, Tim Chandler, Lynn Arthur Nichols, and Phil Madeira, amongst others). Of course, Christy Byrd’s vocals ‘steal the show’ every time they show up, which they thankfully do on more than half the songs. The liner notes narrate the album’s journey from studio to studio, detailing who plays what on what and why.

Moreover, both the opening and closing tracks offer ‘fly-on-the-wall’ snippets. “Unparalyzed” opens with Wayne Everett picking out the melody on a music box and commenting on the difficulty of said task, then ends with Hindalong telling a story about Chris Colbert breaking his wrist. “The Antithesis Of Blue” from Shadow Weaver shows up here as a ‘live’ piece, complete with Hindalong practicing a vocal line, checking to make sure engineer Matt Odmark is ready to record, then later calling out solos for Nichols and Jimmy Abegg. With some artists, this inclusion of studio chatter comes across as gimmicky and distracting, but here it sounds like a genuine invitation into the process that delivered the music, as well as into enjoyment of the final product.

The Warbler matches the emotional punch and superb lyricism of Hindalong’s previous solo album, Skinny, and even ups the ante with more musical friends and an expanded musical palette. The music will sound familiar enough to those acquainted with The Choir or The Lost Dogs, but it stands out from those efforts in its use of piano/keys, a brighter and more forward mix, and of course, Steve Hindalong’s voice taking the lead on every track. It’s deep. It’s funny. It’s quotidian. And it’s reassuring in its humanness.

[2016 Galaxy21 Music | Purchase: http://shop.thechoir.net/product-p/cd_1034.htm]

Peter Garrett – A Version of Now

peter-garrett-cover-300x300During the 2002 ‘Capricornia’ tour, Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett announced to his bandmates he was retiring. After many years of being an activist and voice for political and social justice, he had decided to actually seek government office.

He was successfully elected as a representative and held several positions from 2004 through 2013, when he resigned without seeking reelection. His time in office, which included environmental and educational issues, was not without controversies. This can be said of most public servants, but perhaps his previous status as a finger-pointing rock star made him a larger target.

2016. A reflective Garrett is writing his memoir, and during a rush of creativity begins to write songs. One thing led to another and he was in the studio recording A Version Of Now.

First things first. Peter’s voice. It’s an acquired taste, and if you never cared for it, this record won’t change that. I love his distinctive sound myself, and it’s good to hear it ringing just as strong as ever.

Does it sound like a new Midnight Oil record? Not really. Although Oils guitarist Martin Rotsey is on board, the rest of the players are pulled from various Australian bands and bring their own sounds with them. It’s not nearly as layered as the last few Oils albums – it has a simplicity and immediacy to it that strongly lend to the ‘Now’ feel Peter claims he wanted. It has at times a reckless, or better yet, ‘carefree’ sound. It is a rock record, from the loping bass line of ‘Tall Trees’ to the driving beat of ‘Kangaroo Tail’, but not as intense a landscape as a typical Midnight Oil outing. Frequently throughout the album are the background vocals of Peter’s daughters, which is a surprisingly nice touch.

Lyrically, Peter does indeed talk about what ‘Now’ means to him. He talks about his time in politics on ‘I’d Do It Again’:

I didn’t Jump I wasn’t pushed
I went of my own accord to do what I could
I got my hands dirty I had a go
To try and even up the score
I had to leave the show

The refrain of the song repeats unapologetically ‘But if I ever went around I’d do it again’

There are frequent references to his wife, including the love song ‘My Only One.’ Peter seems to be a man reinvigorated, not sitting on past laurels, but ready for the next chapter in his life. He sings of a better world on ‘It Still Matters’ and he often touches on his pride of being Australian, along with several Aussie references that may leave you scratching your head. Take an elevator to ‘that Woolies in the sky’? You can Google it, I suppose.

This record has a vibe to it… it truly seems to have been thrown together quickly to catch a sense of ‘Now’… but that’s a good thing.

Cons? It can be pretty wordy at times, and hard to keep up with, but that’s a small complaint.

Do I recommend the album? Of course. Peter is one of my personal heroes, a man who put his money where his mouth is and came through the other side whole and still determined to ‘breathe and be free.’

I think this record stands as being Peter’s biggest plunge into songwriting, with Midnight Oil’s Rob Hirst being the primary writer for Peter’s voice for years.

Although I like A Version of Now quite a bit, I can’t help feel some excitement that maybe it is leading to a new Midnight Oil record. The band has announced they will tour in 2017, so who knows? Wikipedia ages Peter at 63. Here’s hoping that at least some of us have the same forward-looking zeal and energy at that age… or any age.

Dann Gunn

[2016 Independent | Purchase: petergarrett.com.au ]

And How – Camouflage

AndHow-CamoflagueJust when I started knowing some of the words and was able to sing along to some gems from And How’s Seven, I received a notice that Sean Severson had released another album. I guess that should not come as a surprise since Sean’s M.O. is to release an album every few months.

Before discussing the new record, some of my favorite And How tunes are on Seven, including the melancholy and beautiful “The Caving In” and the perfect song for driving around on one of those introspective rainy days, “Lost On Me.”

Sean gets a lot of play on my computer and iPhone these days since he consistently puts out some well written and well produced albums (and gives them away for free).The fact alone that he isn’t in the fundraising game keeps me engaged in what he’s doing and focused on his art and his vision and not the weird relationships that happen sometimes in the Kickstarter era.

I’ve listened to the new record Camouflage a few times and enjoy it a lot. Stand out tracks for me so far are “Half Way,” and “Day Be New.”

Besides listening for great guitar tones and catchy melodies I think what really draws me in is that Sean sings about things I can relate to. There are few songwriters these days that I can still connect with and Sean always delivers something relatable and challenging.

If you are a fan of The Lemonheads, Toad The Wet Sprocket, The Gin Blossoms, Big Star, Elliot Smith, or you just enjoy great songwriting then head on over to andhow1.bandcamp.com and press play.