Deni Gauthier – He Said She Said

Deni Gauthier is a longtime friend of Down the Line, and the fact that he released a new album should be enough to get you to go out and buy it. Well, unless you are in Coronavirus lock-down, then you should be going online to buy it ASAP. Gauthier’s work has always been lush, complex, and deep… but this release really takes it to the next level. Didn’t I say that for the last album? Well, Gauthier has done it again. To my ears, this release reaches back a bit more to the 80s/90s alternative music he obviously loves, while still keeping a firm hold on a modern pop sound (the non-annoying version, that is). It also feels like it rocks a bit more than past offerings, which really works well in the overall soundscape he is weaving here. The lyrical content is familiar but deep, with Gauthier looking at love and relationships through various lenses of hope through pain, reflections of loss, hard lessons learned, and determination to keep going even through life’s imperfections. I believe this is also available in CD and vinyl formats as long as the U.S.-Canadian border is open-ish. But oddly no cassette version, despite Gauthier’s love of that format (as evidenced by his Instagram feed).

[2020 Independent | Purchase:]

The Huntingtons – ¡Muerto, Carcel, O Rocanrol!

So many times I tell myself that I need to probably be done with punk rock, because I am getting up in age and I don’t deal with teenager issues or youthful angst anymore. But then bands like the Huntingtons come along and remind me that punk rock is so much more than the small boxes I put it in. Like they proclaim in the opening song “I’m Too Old to Care!” The question becomes: are they too old to be recording loud, fast music? The definitive answer is “not by a long shot!” I don’t know how a band can put out a ba-zillion albums decades ago and still find a way to pull off another one over a decade later. But at the same time, there is noticeable growth from past offerings as well. The catchy Ramones-influenced sing-along choruses are still there, as well as the fast-paced driving guitars. But there is also a sense that the band as a whole is at the next level. You can get this one in digital, or go to Burnt Toast to get the vinyl version with a bonus 7-inch. Trust me, you will want the bonus disc.

[2020 Burnt Toast Vinyl | Purchase:]

Vicious Cousins – All Disappearing

One day I suddenly wondered why I had not heard any new releases from Kissing Cousins in a while. I looked around and found out that sadly, they had broken up. However, Heather Heywood and Amanda Siara from Kissing Cousins did form a new band, and this ep is their first output. Described as “heavier and spacier” than Kissing Cousins, I would say all fans of their former band should check this out. The overall feel is experimental in nature, metal in instrumentation, punk in attitude, and doom in all the right places. This all comes together in ” We Are Wolves” – one of my favorite tracks – but really, there is not a dud song on the whole ep. It seems like this was only released digitally, but a vinyl version would be sweet (if anyone out there is listening to me). I can’t really find any current information about this band online, so I don’t know if they are still active or not. It would be too bad if this was it.

[2017 Chain Letter Collective |]

Stranger Kings – Blue

Nearly five years after gracing us with their debut Red, Strange Kings have returned with an even more impressive follow-up in Blue. The all-star line-up of Holly Nelson, Herb Grimaud, Brady Esquivel, and Campuzano bring the echoing, dreamy, driving alternative rock that we have come to know and love from them. The band describes their music as “Cali-gaze rock and post-punk bass,” and that really fits their sound the best. If it sounds like they are going for a retro 80s approach, then the mention of Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Club on BandCamp confirm this. Starflyer 59 fans might also want to note that Jason Martin makes a guest appearance on lap steel in this album. The Lassie Foundation fans will note that this band was basically formed when that band broke up. Fans of good music should just take note, period. This one was unfortunately not released in vinyl like the last one was, but it sure would fit that format well. I find myself saying that a lot this issue. But you can still grab this one digitally or on CD.

[2019 Northern Records | purchase:]

MAP – History, Mystery, and Gifts: Writer’s Block, Pt. 2

For those that missed it, this is the follow-up ep to 2017’s Hello Singularity: Writer’s Block, Pt. 1. Both releases are current digital-only eps that you can stream or buy at many of your favorite digital music outlets. If you have been a fan of MAP, this ep continues their development as a band into even tighter levels of awesomeness. For those that aren’t already fans of the band, MAP is an alternative rock band that does the whole dreamy / melancholy modern rock sound very well. MAP front man Josh Dooley has been a member of bands like Pony Express, Starflyer 59, and Fine China. A mixture of those three bands is kind of a good starting reference for the sound here as well. The only problem is that this kind of music screams for the vinyl treatment, and it is not like MAP music has never been released on vinyl. I would even settle for a cassette release just to hear this kind of music in a more natural format for it. But for now, it looks like these will be digital only, and VBM indicates that CDBaby is the best place to get those digital files.

[2019 Velvet Blue Music | purchase:]

The Blamed – The Church is Hurting People

The Blamed are back with their first full album in 17 years. The biggest question most people will have is what style will this be? Skate punk? Hardcore punk? Emo? The Blamed has moved through a wide range of styles. While I would say this emo-leaning hardcore punk, you still feel many of their other influences throughout the disc. Shouted gang vocals, angular break downs, metal pounding, punk attitude, and many other styles are thrown in the mix. But don’t think this is a disjointed album – they manage to mix everything well enough to keep it a cohesive whole. The title of the album has you wondering if they are going to take a hard-hitting look at the problems within the church that many turn a blind eye to. The first spoken word track gets into some both-side-ism that doesn’t really examine the very real power inequalities in our world today. It’s great to say we are all the same, but it doesn’t help to not acknowledge that different sides on various issues exist because of power dynamics. I can’t find a copy of the lyrics, so I don’t know which way they go. Hopefully they eschew the both side-ism that has generally protected the Church from any real critical examination. But no matter what the lyrics say, the music is a killer return to form of The Blamed. I can’t wait for my vinyl copy to arrive!

[ 2019 Indie Vision Music | Purchase:]

Starflyer 59 – Young in My Head

Wowsers! If you have not yet heard the new Starflyer album by now, I suggest you find YouTube and check out a couple cuts. It truly is a return to Jason Martin in his finest form. This one is as strong as Buckley`s cough syrup. And it holds up to repeated listening.

First thing you will notice with this album is the minimal artwork aka Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter. Yup, it fits well. Cowboy on a horse on the front, Joshua Tree-type design on the back. Heck, the album was even recorded in California.

Then you hold up that cd or vinyl, put it on, and are taken for a ride for the next 10 songs. There are no throw-away cuts. It holds up as a consistently as a lush recording, meshed with probing introspection. It’s not complex at all … guitar, bass, drums (his son plays them), keys (TW Walsh), and vocals. Interestingly, fans of SF59 have attempted to read into the lyrics like they are personal messages, even suggesting Martin might be retiring his music career. I hear the autobiographical nature of the lyrics but that is as far as I take it.

One thing I wish for with future SF59 albums (and I do hope there is!) is more variety in song compositions. The last two albums came at us with strength and consistency in the shoe-gaze rock format. It’s hard to imagine them any other way. But I will hope the next project is a departure from this sound. Throw us a curve ball, Jason Martin, and we will be fine trying to make the catch.

[2019 Tooth & Nail Records | Purchase:]

The Ocean Blue – Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves

While many thought that The Ocean Blue’s 2013 comeback album Ultramarine was a one-off release, it seems the band had other plans in mind. It took them a good six years to get the next album out, but Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves proves that The Ocean Blue still has a lot of momentum to keep going into at least another decade of existence. The title track opens the album with that classic dreamy indie alt rock sound we all love, but with a noticeable touch of growth over their last album. The Ocean Blue are really masters at tapping into the past while reaching for the future. They know how to keep the fans of old happy, while adding something new for those that want growth as well. I see many people picking “Love Doesn’t Make It Easy on Us” as a favorite track, and that is a great pick. It reminds you of the great days of Modern/College Rock while mixing in some modern shoegaze as well. “All the Way Blue” has all of the makings of a future The Ocean Blue classic. I love the way the slightly haunting piano mixes with the bass and electric guitars. Also love the interesting mix of playful and melancholy in “The Limit.” I could give a play-by-play list of what I like about each song, but you should really should check it out for yourself. You can find it on most digital/streaming services, as well as on CD and vinyl as well. I got the vinyl version and that really seems to be best medium for it if you ask me.

[2019 Korda Records | Purchase:]

Mike Indest – 4 Track Diaries

Returning to ancient times when a pair of Goliaths battled to control the vast expanses spread before them, these two behemoths named MySpace and Facebook, I discovered a four song EP on Myspace of intriguing electronica featuring a duo including male and female voices. I found it very compelling, and the lyrics very introspective without falling into an ‘Emo’ or ‘Goth’ impression. These four songs proved personally compelling, and I contacted their page. From this action, I met and conversed with Mike Indest, the songwriter, composer, and main singer of Motonaut. We developed a friendship as I continued to follow and appreciate his skills as a songwriter.

His latest release, 4 Track Diaries, collects simple versions, perhaps early demos, of much of his material released elsewhere. This includes songs from the Motonaut EP in pared-down versions. The music is fun to hear in this context, and definitely pleasant to listen to, often entering sounds reminiscent of the MOOG development music of the late 60s through the 70s. Much food for thought, offering contemplation on struggles and brief-yet-satisfying glimpses of the divine.

1. “Tendencies” – a ukulele number examining the path of a woman until she finds, “everything she thinks her heart is looking for.” A nice opening song, using a synth sound I fail to identify, yet I guess to be a KORG monotron. There’s a bass drone utilized with this, as well as an instrumental solo.

2. “C-Instrumental” – Utilizing the aforementioned, unidentified synth instrument. A bright melody with an interest back-beat. The intriguing synth use continues throughout the record. The synth and ukulele continue throughout the album.

3. “After All” – Are there any answers, after all? Added tambourine.

4. “Sister Big Boobs” – This song is about an attractive church lady, distractingly endowed. It’s an engaging and honest portrayal discussing the struggle between religious concentration and temptation (editors note: the song never blames the woman for how she looks. Mike is too intelligent for that). Mike Indest told me an interesting side note on this song. If I recollect the details well, it goes something like the following. While The 77s (or Michael Roe) were working on a GoFundMe (or some funding site) project, someone purchased the option for Mike Roe to sing any song. This song was requested, yet the recording never occurred or never found release. I, for one, would have enjoyed hearing the performance. Alas.

5. “Sirens” – One of the tracks found on the Motonaut EP. “I sing along with the sirens. As they lead me to destruction.”

6. “One of Them” – “They flatter themselves in their eyes. And I feel like I’m one of them. Do you see me as a man after your heart? Or do you see me as one who cursed your name?” Examining cultural hypocrisy in the church, and self-examination.

7. “Inside Jokes” – A carnival feel to this tune, appropriate and likely intentional. Relationship of friends in a musical project reaching for success. “Staying up all night long. Listening to Art Bell and trying to write some songs.” R.I.P. Art Bell.

8. “I Guess We’re All Gonna Find Out” – “When you’re stuck between the now and the not yet, does it all start to make sense?”

This being a 37-song album, descriptions of the first eight will hopefully compel the curious to check it out for themselves at the Bandcamp site for Mike Indest, where much (all?) of his music is offered for free. Mike has much to offer with thought provoking lyrics and well-constructed music.

[[2019 Independent | Download:]

2Minute Minor – Snake That Ate Its Own Tail

The old school punk banner is still waving strong on 2Minute Minor’s new album. Or is it a double sided ep? You see, the first five songs were recorded with their old line-up, while the last 6 were recorded with a new line-up. That is also how they break up the two sides for the 7-inch vinyl. Yeah, this whole album fits on a 7-inch vinyl, so they are fast, short songs. Glad to see 2Minute Minor singing about love and unity among fellow humans – we need more of that. The song “Wesley Willis” is about a legendary figure in the Chicago music scene (NOT the lead singer of this band as I mistakenly thought at first) featuring an appearance by Omar “Bulldog” Higgins of Negro Terror. Omar has unfortunately passed away, but you should find his band’s music and check them out. They are awesome as well. The last song – “Snake That Ate Its Own Tail” – is the one that seems dial in an old school punk / crossover sound the best. Maybe on purpose? Anyways, glad to see 2Minute Minor still going, and I hope we see more music from them in the future as well.

[2019 Zap Records | Purchase:]