16 Flowers by Struck Last May

posted in: Music Review, October 2008 | 0

16-flowersSTRUCK LAST MAY
16 FLOWERS

2007 Hill deg Maria Records
Purchase: strucklastmay.com
Review by: Steve Ruff

Struck Last May’s offering 16 Flowers was released in 2007 and is the latest brainchild of Michael Knott. Rick McDonough is the second half of the band here, and Michael and Rick play all the instruments with Michael carrying the majority of the vocals and McDonough backing him up. This was a fully packaged release that can only be labeled as experimental.

This was another concept album that Knott has become known for. A quote from the liner notes says, “The record, 16 Flowers, is a journey loosely based upon a fictional couple who encounter emotional peaks and valleys as they experience each other, as well as the world around them”. It is a concept that is not always apparent as each song on the album could actually stand on its own. However, one can loosely follow the story as it goes along. My favorite track on the album would probably be #14 which has the same name as the album. Michael’s voice accompanied by an acoustic guitar and the crisp clean sounds of the strings are something that I have always enjoyed.

If I had to classify this release I would definitely call it alternative. The genre and the term has been somewhat lost through the last 20 years, but this album is an alternative to anything that you have probably heard. It cannot really be pigeonholed safely into any other category. Mike and Rick’s voices on here can be called instruments as well as you can hear Michael whimpering like a dog and playing guitar with his voice on “Fraidy Cat”, buzzing like a bee on “Pollen”, and all the background noises, shouting and whispering heard throughout the album. The abundant keyboards and distorted sounds cannot be defined and labeled, there’s an amazing variety of sounds that come out of this album. The best description came from Michael himself when he said, “It’s like Sesame Street meets One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.”

All in all, this was a great new sonic experience. The rumor is there is another Struck Last May project coming soon and I can’t wait. If you don’t have this one you can purchase it through Michael’s website found at http://michaelknott.com

A Wingless King by Writ on Water

posted in: Music Review, October 2008 | 0

a-wingless-kingWRIT ON WATER
A WINGLESS KING

2008 Cyrus Shade Recordings
Purchase: writonwater.com
Review by: Matt Crosslin

Writ on Water makes their second comeback, re-releasing all of their old albums and finally releasing a fully realized second full-length album.  Of course, some great material has been released since 1992’s Sylph, but those were demo collections and EPs.

So the big question is – do they actually sound good, or like a bunch of has-beens trying to capitalize on nostalgia?   Take Sylph and think about what that band would sound like today if they had about 10 albums out, releasing one about every 2-3 years after Sylph.  That is exactly what A Wingless King sound like.  Even though they went on hiatus a couple of times, you can’t tell that at all.

Or, of course, you could just go to their MySpace page and listen to some tunes.  Like Jeff MacKey said in the interview, Sylph was an album that had an arc to.  Some of the songs worked great on the CD, but not individually.  A Wingless King is more song-driven.  There are still several ambient numbers like Sylph had, but also several songs that can sound great as stand alone tracks.  I can say, without a doubt, that I like A Wingless King more than Sylph.

From the first track, you can tell that this is music made for a journey, created so that you can just sit back and let the notes envelope you.  Ambience, distortion, echoes, hooks, nostalgia, and mystery all mix together to create a sonic refuge – perfect for relaxing after a long day (or maybe even setting a good mood for a new day).  “Ancestor” has a plodding rhythm section surrounded by music that is at the same time aggressive, dreamy, intense, and nostalgic.  This song is followed by “The Laughter Ceases,” a track built around some fancy bass guitar work and minimalist vocals.  This is one of those albums that just oozes coolness because you can tell everyone involved didn’t care about trendiness, but making an artistic statement.  Non-modern Western-pop music influences also abound on this album, a definite plus in my book (see “Rain Over Unmapped Sea” for some almost Eastern-sounding vocal inflections).

This music is a little different than most of what is out there – so check out the tracks on their MySpace page.  If you like those, you will like the whole album.  Don’t forget to pick up their back catalogue while you are at it.

Comatose Soul by Michael Knott

posted in: Music Review, October 2008 | 0

comatose-soulMICHAEL KNOTT
COMATOSE SOUL

2005 Blonde Vinyl Recordings
Purchase: michaelknott.com
Review by: Steve Ruff

This album dropped sometime in 2004 and I didn’t actually get it until 2005… I wish I had heard it sooner. This is probably my favorite Knott solo album. Actually, Michael is backed up here by a bunch of guys that are really talented. Andrew Prickett plays guitar, as does Shawn Tubbs, Frank Lenz is on drums and percussion, as well as several others that play on the album as well. If memory serves me correct, Shawn Tubbs was in the original Violet Burning line up… anyway, back to Mike Knott.

This album is full, coming in at thirteen tracks. The music here is solid and the lyrical content is some of my favorite. The themes are diverse, but the lonesome and heavy hearted tracks are abundant. The music ranges from what I would call ‘rock n roll dirges’ (Comatose soul, The Down, Pale) to more pop oriented tracks (Pusher, Lollipops & Daises, Finding Angel) and some acoustic influenced stuff as well (Boxcar, Frequency). The song Gold sounds like it has a pretty heavy Beatles influence and Cruz ‘n Ride sounds like it could have come from the Aunt Bettys era.

Again, the lyrics on this album really stuck with me. Knott sounds very introspective on this release, but you can never really be sure who he’s singing about. Michael has always had the uncanny ability to write poignant songs about the everyday events that we see, and that most would probably not even notice. Check out the lyric from the title track:

“If I could reach through these eyes, and hold the very part of her that the world has broken…
I wish I had hands
I wish I had hands to heal this life
And I wish I had strings
I wish I had strings to tie high
This comatose soul”

This record was my favorite purchase of the year when I got it. If you don’t have it you can still scoop it up from Michael’s website (http://michaelknott.com). Buy it, plug it in, take a deep breath and enjoy…