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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

True Independent Music Labels

A truly independent music label exists as a self-sufficient operation through their own financing and sales. When one of these labels enters into an affiliation with a larger record company to help distribute or otherwise enhance their venture, they are no longer really an "indie."   No matter how cutting edge or innovative their catalog may have been at the time, they are now actually a subsidiary of a larger company. This affords them distribution advantages and financial clout that the true indie does not have.

 What follows here is focused on music being put out by true independent music labels.

 First up, some recent releases from old friends of this blog, Squirrel Records


Earlier this year the good folks at Squirrel sent me a package that contained this 7" record


The mysteriously named band and it's peculiar imagery was compelling enough right away to dig in, give a good listen and see what this was all about.

Fortunately this accompanying promotional video makes for quick and easy access to the track as well as providing visual enhancement.



A driving snare shot drum beat comes surrounded with enough reverb to evoke comparisons to “Barbed Wire Kisses” era Jesus and Mary Chain. But the pulsating synths that follow point to an earlier period, bringing to mind synth-pop’s first wave in the 1980’s. A distinct, hooky melody line emerges on top of that already lush backdrop, leaving no doubt that vintage keyboard sounds will dominate. Vocalist “Sissy Space Echo” presents an impassioned tale of behind-the-wheel driving impressions that echoes the spirit of “car song” pioneers The Shangri-Las and the dangers ever present. Another layer of keyboards emerge as additional sonic enhancement for the coda section that features a repeated vocal line about “time” and “these dirty streets.”

Another unique feature of true independent record labels - the 7" vinyl single.


Complete with inside liner notes.


The other side of this single serves up a track called "(I'm A) Willing Receiver."  With whip-slap percussion  under a throbbing electronic pulse, verses are delivered in teutonic narration-style as electronically altered amplified guitar sounds create the impression of radio static behind. A chorus of sorts repeats with the lyrics "you don't know I exist" and "you don't know how I feel" which ultimately resolves with the line "but I know you." There's enough mysterious word play throughout - "icy smile - penetrate the glass - look in the mirror - take it in the trash" - to keep you guessing as to the overall subject matter.  The track was recorded and mixed in mono, which contributes to a certain overall nostalgic charm. However there is enough separation between the sounds to approximate the feel of stereo.  Abrasive guitar washes (always welcome) lead it all to a noisy conclusion of crackle and mayhem.


B-side vinyl goodness

More recently Squirrel released a follow-up single from this band again.


The A-Side here is quintessential pop music in the way Bobby Sherman used to make when he ruled the teen airwaves, with a dash of Conway Twitty when those songs dominated the country charts.  Structural similarities aside, the lyrical content and accompanying video presents an homage to the central character of popular 1970's era film "Logan's Run."



The B-Side takes things off into more adventurous directions. With a title that playfully twists off an Echo and The Bunnymen classic, “Bring on the Dancing Horse Meat” pulses with slap percussion and buzzing synths.  Soft upfront mixed vocals sound perfectly placed, putting the right amount of emphasis on those curiously intriguing lyrics. A ripping guitar part emerges in a style that's equal parts prime period Velvet Underground and late 1960’s era Byrds. Unexpectedly, the track morphs into a quicker driving beat, with “choir” patch synth textures and throbbing bass guitar. With “Sissy” singing about listening for bells and the ringing, additional layers of guitars jump into the fray. Ultimately the whole track devolves into frantic raveup of urgency.

Have a listen and hear for yourself



Both 7" singles (among many other things) can be ordered directly from the label's website:

*****
Patetico Recordings is an independent music label based out of Philadelphia under the fervid attention of it's owner Tom Lugo.


In addition to running this label, Tom writes and records his own music as well as engaging in collaborations with others.

The recently released Drowning Dreams is one such project.


Stand out track "Leave It All Behind" emerges slow and gently, like the bubbles rising up on the albums cover.  Precisely placed bass notes establish the full progression, allowing for loose and jammy drums to share sonic space with a single note struck guitar melody that sits perfectly with digital delay "echo" overtone enhancement.  Midway in a piercing guitar solo takes off on top of everything, creating an additional level of excitement that is most welcome.  This added guitar continues to build in intensity as it expands across the sonic field.  The drumming becomes more intense as a result of this inspired guitar work, and you can hear subtle changes in the bass progression.  The overall impression given is that of a basic song idea that blossomed under improvisation and a mutually shared passion for the psych rock sound.

Listen to the track here:



Find out how to obtain this album as well as the full Patetico Recordings discography at this link:


*****
Custom Made Music has been putting out an eclectic blend of releases from both new and previously established recording artists for quite some time now.


Prior entries on a variety of recordings from this label can be found in the archives of this blog as well.


A new 7" single is now available from the band Eartheater

Featured A-Side track “Birds Eye” presents a creative blend of relaxed-groove dual-guitar interplay, fluid bass playing, and light electronic percussion. Vocalist Alexandra Drewchin presents an eccentric story about spies, the need to keep silent, and staying above it all – “high like a birds eye.” At times her vocal delivery takes on the quirky inflections that singers Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries (“Zombie”), Lene Lovich (“Lucky Number”) and even Yoko Ono (everything) popularized. The song structure itself takes interesting turns as a descending progression appears a third of the way in (within the first minute) accompanied by industrial speed-snare percussion and distant siren sound effects. This pattern repeats as a bridge between verses until the final minute of the song. At this point the track veers off into an unsettling movie soundtrack mode, which the accompanying video made for it fully capitalizes on.

 Look and listen here:



Find out more about the Eartheater release on Custom Made here:


And everything that label has to offer here:


You can read a prior feature on Custom Made releases published exclusively on this blog, here:


*****
Another indie label who's work has been featured on this blog over the last few years is the Virginia Beach based Planting Seeds Records.


 New releases have now been delivered to the public with an enthusiasm that presents each artist in the genre best suited to their respective creative output.

Death Valley Rally roll out their first EP on the label with the six song "The Stars Shine Brighter After Midnight."


Lead single "Come On" is fast paced and driving with a fuzz-bass undercurrent that points directly at early Jesus and Mary Chain (and more recently Ringo Deathstarr) as sonic forbears, at least instrumentally.  Unadorned boy-girl vocals sung in tandem move things in other directions, as the honest clarity (no heavy studio autotune correcting here) creates a charming atmosphere.  With the actual EP title showing up as an additional hook further into the song (the song title itself being the first), the band exhibits a knack for catchy phrases, intended to stick in your head.

Have a listen to "Come On" and discover for yourself:



Find out more about this band (including how to order their record) go Here

*****
Another signficant PSR release is the limited edition 7" 45 rpm Vinyl and
4 song digital download from The Young Sinclairs


Titled "You Know Where To Find Me," these label home-state residents have been honing their particular brand of pop music for a number of years, compiling a sizeable catalog of releases (which can be found here ).

The era this band so obviously chooses to emulate is that point in the early 1960's when popular music stood at the crossroads between American standard bearer Buddy Holly and the "invading" influence of The Beatles.

The title track here presents a faithful homage to Holly's spiritual sound while referencing at points the structure and lyrical sentiment of the aforementioned Beatles "Please Please Me."  A sense of unrequited love (for now) runs through the lyrics, after being "left alone" once again. He's leaving it all out there for her - “can’t you see what I want – and what it could be.”

Listen to "You Know Where To Find Me"



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To find out about this release and all the other artists at Planting Seeds Records, follow the link below: 

*****
Speaking of Buddy Holly, the new Suzy Blu release takes on the Texas legend in a truly inspired way.


Building their entire song around a single word sound sample of Holly's trademark "Well" - provides the necessary sonic gravitas for Suzy's own creative flow.  After Buddy's initial "appearance," the track takes on a forceful minimalism of driving tom tom percussion accompanying storyteller vocals.  Guitars emerge into the mix and serve to create an appealing level of tension throughout.  The bigger move, however is a jacked up chorus featuring buzzaw guitar chords, matched throbbing bass, electronic handclap percussion and floating outerspace sounds.  It's all pulled back together with the return of Buddy's "Well."  The cycle repeats with enough incidental sonic variations to hold the listeners interest.  The story being told focuses on the eternal search for love - or at the very least a compatible partner.  While one may "find it easy to lie in the dark" the other challenges them to "play your part."   "Do you want to sink or swim?   Show me how thick's your skin!"  If only Buddy were around to hear this.

Fortunately, you are and therefore can (listen - and look):



Find more about Suzy Blu here:


*****
A new track from Vandana Jain has recently emerged that is well worth checking out.


Creative sound design is woven throughout this masterful recording. Passages appear stark and minimal in places – yet it somehow still sounds incredibly big. Such seductive vocal delivery (and placement) makes for a wonderful headphone listening experience. Lyrically the subject matter addresses the “mask” we all put on every day to function. The point of view presented here takes a candid look at the all too frequent deceptive nature of this practice. Referencing a “wicked smile” that is “crooked and sideways” with “misleading” intent driven by “imposters.” Ultimately the mask is removed when alone, allowing for an unguarded mirror conversation with your own mind. This is the work of a serious electronic musician who’s visual imagery further enhances an overall appealing sensory mix.

Listen to this wonderful track:



Prior coverage of Vandana's live show can be found here:
 
For additional information, links
to all the pages relating to this artist can be found through
her Soundcloud, here:
 
*****

Monday, August 5, 2013

Midsummer Features: Spires, Heaven, Desert Stars, TKTTSM, WRITER

As we find ourselves looking to take advantage of all that summer has to offer here in what is traditionally its steamy final month, five recent features written for The Deli Magazine are now presented for additional exposure.



Though relatively new to the local psych-rock scene, Brooklyn’s Spires have already begun to garner some well-deserved attention. Their song “Candy Flip” (streaming below here) takes direct aim at the late 1980’s “Madchester” era, capturing that vibe and sound with impressive results. Much like the Gallagher brothers looked to The Beatles for a framework to expand on, Spires takes The Stone Roses lead and builds their own playground out of it. “Comic Book” keeps the Manc-style vibe intact, pushing things forward with bigger production values like handclaps, big chorus ambiance and a solid percussive base. Sweet pop background vocals make this track perfect for the next coming-of-age film or tv soundtrack.




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There is a transcendent quality to Brooklyn based Heaven’s latest single “Telepathic Love” - title-track of the psych rock trio's latest album. What sounds like a toy piano serves as the dominant “gotcha” hook, but there is so much more going on. Matt Sumrow’s soft yet sandpapery vocals immediately grab your attention, weaving imagery about having seen “the ugly and the beautiful,” and simply trying to “figure it all out.” Ryan Lee Dunlap adds seamless tandem vocals evoking the 1960’s era style of The Everly Brothers as well as more recent artists like The Raveonettes. There’s a powerful backbeat running throughout, courtesy of master sticksman Mikey Jones, which deftly rides under the more-sophisticated-than-you-initially-think chord progression. “There’s a bridge down telepathic love - the only way to show you” becomes the ultimate resolution of faith and wonder.





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The recent debut album release “Habit Shackles” by Brooklyn’s Desert Stars presents a fresh approach to the ever-expanding psych-rock genre. Years in the making, an unsettling emotional beauty runs throughout the twelve fully realized tracks. “One Good Ear” rides along shuffling snare drum propulsion paired with an undistorted guitar progression before exploding into full band mode. While the lead vocals remain clearly focused here, background voices approximate angels floating in from the heavens above. “Normal Man” quickly evolves from a treated piano undercurrent to ominous guitar textures and cascading vocal layers. In addition to the brand new material, previously released tracks “Boys I Like” and “Past in the Trash” (both having videos made for them) are also featured on the album. The former emphasizes spacious percussive movement under static piano chords, ambient guitar and cathedral voices. While the latter drives on bass guitar, buzzing synths, handclap percussion and dream-pop vocal textures. An unanticipated harmonica solo adds a western flair.




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There is a distinctly appealing quirkiness to the mysteriously named TKTTSM (say “ticketism”) and their self-titled debut album. Meticulously produced tracks emphasize detailed vocal placement over any kind of blurred mix. The cadence and phrasing of singer Johanna Stahley is frequently found residing somewhere between Florence’s Machine and Gwen Stefani’s more angular moments with No Doubt. An off-kilter bar is immediately set with opening song “Calisthenics,” whose lyrics juxtapose recreational chemical consumption alongside the benefits of physical exercise. “Plastic Fantastic” (streaming below and offered as a free download via their Soundcloud) playfully updates the style Dale Bozzio pioneered with 80’s MTV darlings Missing Persons, merging rock instrumentation with a dance singer persona. The acoustic guitar driven “I Wanted To” quickly progresses into heart-tugging dreampop, while the lyrically dense “Edumication” bounces between stream of conscience streetwise rhymes. Deeper track “Porcupine” ambitiously blends elements that at times reflect bits of The Cure, Grimes and even Paramore, making a single genre classification more difficult.





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Brother acts have been a staple of rock music history since the very beginning of it all. From the Everlys to The Kinks' Davies through the JAMC’s Reids, The Black Crowes' Robinsons and OasisGallaghers, a rich tradition has continued throughout each new generation. Enter Andy and James Ralph and their wonderfully named band WRITER to the mix. Celebrating this alignment to the fullest, they’ve titled their debut album “Brotherface,” a lyrically observant, solidly rhythmic guitar rock record emphasizing superior songwriting.

The Digital Album can be purchased here

Leadoff track “Head to Toe” booms with percussive force and well placed buzz-bomb guitars, yet the space left open allows for emphasis to be placed on the voices and the story they tell. “Miss Mermaid” kicks the production value up a notch. The booming, live sounding drums are still there, but guitar layers are introduced and the voices are run through effects, creating an otherworldly sheen. There’s a Ska rhythm guitar progression alternating with a twangy western melody line. The under two minute “Swamp Fire Lake” pairs submerged vocal effects against a swampy delta blues, bringing to mind the rawness of The Kills first album. “Family Dinner” continues the loose tom tom and tambourine percussion motif, this time matched with guitars placing emphasis on the low end bass notes. “Barefoot Art” finds buzzy electronic keyboards pulsing like a telephone receiver left off the hook after the call has ended. Tambourine stands out as the primary percussive motion, providing ample space for the vocal storytelling. “Cash For Gold” pummels like The Velvet Underground through a Jesus and Mary Chain filter. The observatory lyrics “better find some gold and sell it quickly” underscores the instant money grab imagery we are bombarded with on a daily basis. “North Park Fairies” emphasizes clock ticking percussion (with the ever present tambourine) supporting further processed multi-layered vocals in a wide open spaciousness. Album closer “Dry Hands” serves as the big and bombastic finale. Heavily reverberated voices ride atop booming drums and hard plucked guitar notes. The mood is all vibe and texture. With “oh yeah, oh yeah” as the essential lyrical theme.

Here is a stream of the entire album:



The band also has made a wonderful visual stream for the entire album, which can be viewed here


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