Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Custom Made Music - Free Electric State - Hypefactor - Last Remaining Pinnacle

Three recent releases from the Virginia based Custom Made Music label have found their way into my music listening sphere, each with their own unique take and update on venerable genres.

Emerging from the fertile North Carolina music scene, Free Electric State presents their musical ideas via traditional rock band structures. On "Yr Last Mistake" Vocalist/bassist Shirle Hale sings in a vocal timbre that falls somewhere between Beach House’s Victoria Legrand and Rush ’s Geddy Lee . The instrumentation is classic guitar, bass and drums that evokes the late 70’s feel of U2 or even the aforementioned Rush . A sweet sonic interlude plateau to half step-up positions the track more firmly in the modern era, however.

Free Electric State - "Yr Last Mistake" from Duotone Films on Vimeo.

Ride cymbal, tom toms and bass drum drives the forward momentum on "A Matter Of Time," while triumphant guitar chords chime behind smooth blended vocals. Buzzing, foreboding ambient textures are provided via the barely-over-a-minute "Blue Outing," suggesting early Krautrock pioneers like Neu! as possible influences.

An angular, syncopated progression, pairing clean and harsher guitar patterns against tandem vocals are the stand out qualities of "All Done Before." Guitar layers take center stage as this one drives hard via a mostly instrumental raveup. "Better Planes" rides a ticketty-tacketty percussive high-hat pattern while guitars chime along aggressively. Lyrics about having a "destiny" hint at song title’s meaning.

"Mt Dream" starts out at a slow, dreamy pace, with rough hewn vocals singing about "drifting down the stream" to the "mountain dream." The intensity builds till it ultimately explodes into full throated bombast. The cleverly titled "We’ll Have A Great Funeral (When You Die)" stomps along pulsing a bass pattern and chugging guitar chords. Roughed up high end guitar textures shatter the stasis, creating an excited listening point that pairs successfully against the more controlled vocal passages. The bass guitar in particular takes a star turn during the end out.

"Angel" drives along a syncopated drum progression, with throttling bass guitar rumble and distorted guitar figures setting up a male vocal turn. "Song of Joy" closes out the album with Shirle singing over a mid-tempo rocker about how "I ain’t crying no more" because "my heart is breaking with joy." 

Find out more about this album and band here:


Hypefactor have been making music for a decade, releasing a number of quality recordings along the way. Their latest project comes as a series of creative remixes to the single "Descriptive."

The bands own single mix pays homage to the Depeche Mode/Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (OMD) school of sonic design. Bringing to mind that quintessential 80’s era of Duran Duran/Howard Jones/Thompson Twins – especially via the percussion sound (the processing on the toms), sequenced background keyboards and bassy keyboard melody lines. However, more modern pulses can be heard, evoking the Swedish electronic music duo The Knife.

"The New Division Remix" is immediately brighter. With background keyboard sequencing still firmly in the 80’s, it’s now even more upfront – like what's heard on The Eurythmics "Here Comes The Rain Again." The male/female vocal lines are presented in tandem at points, and then broken out separately at others.

"Screen Vinyl Image" remix focuses on an initial singular guitar melody line, before trading it off for a buzzy background texture. Softer string pads are introduced into the mix, along with panned left-right drum fills.
"baye + deckard" open their remix with the female vocal standing alone in a reverberated chamber. Both voices (male and female) soon emerge with similar FX textured qualities against sparse instrumentation.

Coming in as the longest track overall, "Clan of the Xy" mix focuses on an icy descending melody line. The vocals are processed and distorted, giving them a robotic quality. A myriad of potential sonic references run through ones mind when hearing this. Anything from Depeche Mode's "Enjoy The Silence" to everything Nick Rhodes, Simon Lebon and Roger Taylor did on their one-off "Arcadia" album (while John & Andy were off doing Power Station with Robert Palmer).

"Teff Teff" slows the progression down to a chillwave meter, while adding an additional female vocal line. The final remix by "Dossier" is more playful, funkier and dance floor ready, especially with the added "Ohhhh" vocal hook.


Last Remaining Pinnacle has been the musical outlet of Custom Made Music founder Dave Allison for over 15 years. Last year guitarist/recording engineer Dave Dembitsky joined on as a permanent member. This latest release - "Visitors" - delivers 8 tracks of gloriously dark soundwaves.

Opening track "7 Dollar Room" propels foward on a JAMC "Blues From A Gun" mechanized percussion track. "Don't want to see you die, don't want to watch you cry, don't want to say goodbye" is the lyrical sentiment expressed.

"Start" slithers along via a heavy, rubbery bass pattern. Guitars fuzz and moan above and below that. The vibe inhabits a place somewhere between The Velvet Underground and A Place To Bury Strangers.

"Lies" is a heavy goth guitar stomper that channels Andrew Eldrich's early Sisters Of Mercy visions. Before there was a "vision thing" - there was a minimal Dr. Avalanche driven, heavy menacing guitar process. Dave & Dave seem to have inheritied this spirit, at least here on this one.

"They Are Lost" presents a dark and ominous take of a "quest for gold" and how these searchers are "twisted and old." Lovely. The rhythm is clacketty-thin, allowing deep guitar tones to take center stage.

"Mantle Rotation 3" builds around a humming undercurrrent, while textured guitar patterns float above. Experimental in that Brian Eno sense. "Everynight" brings back the bombast via thundering tom toms and distortion powered guitar crunch. The jungle drums create lively patterns (which oddly brings to mind AC/DC's "Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be") but the vocals are delivered more from the Ian Curtis/Joy Division school.

Though the state of mind presented in "Students Of The VU" may pay tribute to Lou Reed's legendary and still influential to this day band - The Velvet Underground never sounded this heavy. The deep guitar rumble on display here reside much closer to the aforementioned APTBS and even darker death-metal elements.

"Visitors" situates itself in the more mystical areas popularized by Jim Morrison and The Doors. "I think you're afraid of what you think you'll see," and "I know you're afraid of what you think I'll be" are the ominous, acid-enduced questions. Utimately summed up by the statement "still we walk and continue to dream." 

Find out more about this band here:

And all the artists on Custom Made Music here:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mark Crozer and the Rels - Album Review

On hearing that former Jesus & Mary Chain and International Jetsetters singer/songwriter/guitarist Mark Crozer had a new band and recently released a new self-titled album, steps were quickly taken to acquire these tracks for analysis and review. Having come to expect nothing less than a high quality of songwriting and overall sound from Mark, it comes as no surprise then that is exactly what we have here.

Mark Crozer and the Rels delivers fourteen tracks of impeccably crafted pop music. Regarding the band name, a Rel is a unit of measurement for time on the popular British televisions program Dr. Who. Album opener "War Drum" layers slashing guitar chords, a singular driving bass line and handclap enhanced percussion with harmony vocals that point directly to the authors own self-professed Beatles influence. There's even a "whooo hoooo" moment and harmonica solo straight out of "Love Me Do."

The clever lyrical turn of "I need a Vaccination" (against this lust, you see) gets to the hook with its "Come one, come on, come on gimme a" refrain. It's a chugging driver that has all the makings of a live show pleaser. “Killed By Karma,” has that great tambourine on the chorus and poppy guitar chords that situates itself somewhere between the Kinks and The Cure. What a way to leave this world, indeed.
“Sunshine” is positioned firmly in the "swingin' 60's" of Carnaby Street, Chad & Jeremy, the Cavern club and Merseybeat. While "Brand New World" celebrates the positive joys of each and every new day, drawing a sonic line directly to 1965 and Herman's Hermits "I'm Into Something Good."
“Let’s Go to the Moon” takes the romantic imagery traditionally assigned to that particularly orbiting satellite and playfully laments those "days before pollution killed the sky." It's a more modern sound here and one that resembles closer the music from Mark's International Jetsetters work.

A message to someone once close but haven't had contact with in quite some time is the basic lyrical premise of “Put Those `80s Records On.” Along with an irresistibly catchy chorus of the title line, there's a wistful feeling of things "we loved when we were young."
The touching "You are a Light" presents a message of hope and confidence to someone who has their whole life in front of them. While "Just Another Day" demonstrates a meticulous attention to detail with it's impeccably recorded vocals.

With an "Ahhhhhh, here she comes" vocal section reminiscent of The Beatles "Sun King," “Waiting for June” adds a bit of "Walrus" too with it's pulsing string section. The California coast serves as a launching point for "Deep Caroline," with its Beach Boys tinged 'good vibrations' verses. A big guitar interlude thoroughly modernizes the sound, however.
The more foreboding side of The Beatles catalog is referenced on "A Good Heart." Guitar and piano textures suggest a track like "Cry Baby Cry" off The White Album as something of a spiritual touchstone. Album closer "Bristol Hum" is keyboard driven adding elements of dance music to a classic points-of-reference-around-the-globe lyrical theme.

You can hear 30 second samples of these songs (as well as order the record) right here:

Additional features on Mark and his band The Rels can be found here:

As well as my own feature on his previous band The International Jetsetters, here:

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Pierces - Interview

Alabama raised Allison and Catherine Pierce have made their mark on the New York music scene for over a decade. Managing the ups and downs that a professional musical career goes though in this era has been no easy task, but these talented ladies have done so with impressive class. With four albums now under their belt, their latest "You and I" is at last garnering them the attention they most certainly deserve. 

Presented here in two parts is a video interview I conducted earlier this year.  Additionally, a phone interview was done with the blonde half of the duo, Catherine Pierce – a month or so later.  What follows in print is a combination of the two interviews.  As you can see, both Allison and Catherine graciously answered all questions put to them with wit and sweet southern charm.

During your live shows you exhibit great confidence and appear to be truly enjoying yourself. Do you ever get nervous and worry about performing?
The key to winning the crowd over is to be relaxed and not so self-conscious. I find that meditation helps a lot with anxiety issues. Sure, there have been times when you worry what if nobody shows up. Fortunately for us we have a loyal following whom we can't thank enough.

The first track off of your latest album, '"You'll Be Mine" has harmonies that at times sound like classic 80's pop band The Bangles. Have you heard this referenced before?
 "We pretty much hear every comparison that has two females harmonizing. We've heard Heart, The Bangles, Fleetwood Mac, Abba - even Bananarama!

How did making this latest record differ from the previous albums you've done.
We went for a more natural sound. We learned along the way that some producers want you to sound perfect. They want every note to be pitch perfect. And I think that kind of sucks the soul out of it a little bit. I think it's nicer when you hear more of the humanity in it.

The song "Secret" from your previous album "Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge" is the theme music for the popular television show "Pretty Little Liars." How did that come about?
Someone made a fan video of it on YouTube and readers of that book series kept writing to us to say how perfect it would be for the show. The video they made - they made it before the actual show was on. So there was an odd synchronicity to it all. Then one of the girls who stars on the show suggested it to the producers. She said that this song would be perfect, so they called us up and asked to use it.

What is the songwriting process like? I've noticed that album credits tend to list you or your sister separately and only rarely together in collaboration.

Mostly we write separately. On this latest album we wrote "Kissing You Goodbye" together. Allison had an idea for a melody and we sat down and hashed it out.

It's been noted that you are avid readers. What have you been reading lately?

I've recently read the Steve Jobs Biography. We got Kindles last Christmas from our lovely manager and I keep downloading book after book so now I have, like 20 books lined up to read.



1. Band address:

2. Origins: Birmingham, Alabama, New York City, Los Angeles

3. What it is: For those who like sweet female vocal harmonies and heartfelt lyrics.

4. For those who like: Fleetwood Mac, Simon & Garfunkel, James Levy

5. Relevant info: Performed their single 'You'll Be Mine' on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in March. Headlined shows in New York, Los Angeles, and Austin (for SXSW) and supported Coldplay on their recent US tour.

Other links:

On The Deli Mag:

Published print interview here: