Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Features: Whispering Sons, Magic Dance, TAUK, apbwas, Papadosio, Milkmen

A steady flow of new music releases arrive daily into this websites multiple email inboxes.  It can be overwhelming at times.  Making a renewed effort to investigate as many of these artists as possible, a select group has been chosen to receive the DaveCromwellWrites treatment.  The artists covered here are not limited to any geographic region or specific musical genre.

Straddling the lines between the darker side of goth-rock and what is more frequently referred to as “post-punk” these days, Whispering Sons are a Belgian group set to release their debut album “Image” this October on PIAS and Smile Records.

There's a distinct sonic lineage that runs through much of this material. While a starting point could certainly be the darker aspects of early Cure (with their seminal “Pornography” album serving as an initial reference point) other equally influential purveyors of late 80's and early 90's “gothic rock” like Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy can also be felt.

Much of that is found in this bands instrumental and vocal delivery.  Like those early pioneering UK bands, bass guitar becomes the dominant driving force, while guitars chime downward, allowing for a deep and resonant vocal delivery.

Opening cut “Stalemate” sees that bass driving everything along through a forceful motion that also acts as the song's melody, while vocals are delivered in a Peter Murphy-esqe cadence over simple and precise motorik percussion.  The guitars aggressively throttle singular notes as dark synths fill in deeper sonics underneath.

 “Got A Light” emphasizes a start-stop percussive beat that leaves open spaces for the rich, deliberately-moving bass guitar figures, chiming guitars and deep, passionate vocals. An anxious undercurrent emerges through lyrical references such as the “need to sleep” (but having difficulty getting there) how “everything seems less like itself” and “there was never meant to be clarity.” Ultimately the question is put forward - “how are you feeling good – and not losing it all the time?”

Alone” has the guitars moving forward to provide the prominent melody line hook this time.  The dominant bass is still very present, as more fractious drum patterns and on-edge vocals (echoing Ian Curtis desperation in Joy Division) create a sense of apprehension.

Lead single “Waste” rises up from pulsing synths and clarion bell guitar strokes.  A sense of foreboding is felt through the carefully delivered vocals.  As the track has yet to introduce any percussion at this point, guitars begin to fill in more defined melody lines.  Lyrics that tell a tale of internal struggles with s+m desires - “ I want to make you scream – the texture of your cries – pleasure me.  My own ideas – it's a perversity – that's slowly – spiraling down in me - and I don't know if I care,” is matched only by the bands intense instrumental delivery.

Check out the lyric video for "Waste"

The album is out on October 19th and can be ordered on vinyl or cd here.

Additionally, Whispering Sons will embark on a lengthy European tour beginning October 10th where they will support both The Soft Moon and Gang of Four at select shows.

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Magic Dance have just released a video for their first single “When Nothing's Real” in advance of the full-length album “New Eyes” scheduled to arrive in early December.  Recently signed to Frontiers Music Srl, singer/songwriter and band visionary Jon Siejka has created a heavy guitar and synth oriented sound that pays homage in part to peak-era 1980's arena rock.  While Jon wrote and recorded much of the record in his bedroom, Kevin McAdams drums were tracked at Virtue and Vice Studios in Brooklyn, with bass tracking at Tone Tent Studios in Stanhope, NJ.

Taking the currently popular lyric video to a new level, words are displayed in quick succession by two distinct alternating type faces against shifting cybernetic “tron-style” backdrops.  Arpeggio keyboards, whip-crack percussion, crunchy arena-rock guitars and rising choral background vocals (blended with sharp synthesizers) set the initial instrumental tone for this story of internalized frustration.  Jon Siejka's voice is rich and powerful, reaching levels attained only by an elite group of rock singers.  The songs production makes further use of these qualities by placing sharp emphasis on select words with a quick, shouted chorus of voices.  Whereby the lyrics “I want this noose to explode – that's wrapped around my throat. 'cause these bones I've cast in stone have shackled me far too long” – use that technique to accentuate the words “explode,” “throat,” and “far too long.” Riding the wave of precision drumming, chugging guitar chords and a sizzling solo, the ultimate question (and central hook) is asked “how can I feeeeeeel – when nothing's real?”

Check out the track here:

New Eyes will be released on December 7th and can be pre-ordered here.

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It's been a few years since the progressive instrumental quartet TAUK were featured here on this site. While an instant appreciation and respect for their impressive chops and overall ability was noted at that time, brand new material exhibits how much their sound has evolved since then.

The band will release their latest album “Shapeshifter II: Outbreak” on Sept 28.   Continuing the thematic narrative of their early-2018 EP, "Shapeshifter I: Construct," concern over the human condition as it relates to society and our freedoms are touched upon through video depictions.

Muted bass pulses, a singular exploding guitar chord and stereo-panned synth shimmering kick off the band's 3rd pre-release single “Checkmate.” As syncopated drumming and piercing guitar melodies fold in with this progression, the accompanying video (streaming below) pans over an open suitcase. With the image slowing moving through a sparse and somewhat squalor room, jazz-inflected guitar lines advance its sonic narrative. An individual is spotted lying in bed while another sits on the couch preparing to watch a video screen (with a mound of popcorn in sight). The camera continues to move, sometimes panning further out or flipping the image upside down. The driving music continues to pick up steam, with quick cut changes coming at an accelerated rate. Those precise arrangements and overall tonal qualities bring to mind a myriad of fusion artists from over the years. Checking off the mental reference catalog suggests a modern day offshoot of Jeff Beck, Allan Holdsworth, Al DiMeola and even some prog-rockers like Yes and Genesis.

As the video continues, the protagonist is seen out in a bucolic countryside, walking past a horse. Quick cuts to interior windows, close-up headshots and more in-bed reclining suggests much of this imagery is the product of dreams. The drumming becomes busier (with impressive snarework) and the melodies take on horror movie tones as the image of our man is seen maintaining his own arboretum that also houses life sustaining fluids like blood. The change comes (both sound and vision) just past the midway point when this individual casts off those elements while a hazmat-suit posse descends upon his house. A plateau of more sustained synth pads, guitar textures and propulsive bass guitar-drums interactions (echoing the brilliant rhythm work of Mike Rutherford's bass and Phil Collins' drumming on peak era Genesis recordings) establishes the soundtrack behind an eventual invasion of the house. Drawing narrative inspiration from your favorite kick ass movie, the homeowner sets out to defend himself. As the music drops into a post-event pattern, we see our hero has lost the battle and the invaders moving through his space. Amid the post-onslaught carnage, the initially shown suitcase comes into view (possibly containing some sought-after content) being taken away.

TAUK is currently on tour, with a big hometown show at Gramercy Theatre in NYC on Saturday, October 6.

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Having last encountered electro witchhouse occultists A Place Both Wonderful and Strange performing at a Subvert Secret Boat Party (a Brooklyn floating “venue” at the crossroads of "Nostrand" and "Nosferatu" avenue) on an appropriate Friday the 13th this past Spring, the announcement of new material released from this collective comes as welcome news.

Their latest EP release “The City Smells Like Cat Spit” brings together four distinct tracks that provide a fuller view of these artists' united vision. Along with the newly recorded tracks, a video accompanies lead off song “Kristae (The Strawberry Girl).” While fans of Siouxsie and the Banshees will immediately “get” the sly title reference, the track itself bears little resemblance (if any) to that classic “goth” recording.

Emerging out of the sound of running water (or perhaps rain), a muted trip-hop beat beat commences, accompanied by carefully dropped in bass guitar notes. Russ Marshalek's vocals begin almost immediately, and are altered with effects and lower register modifications. This creates a sensation of dark mystery, whereby lines like “Kristae has a heart, that kind of falls apart” are enhanced by percolating percussive undercurrents reminiscent of Brian Eno's seminal “Another Green World” track “In Dark Trees.”

Laura Hajek's bass adds a level of warmth to this sonic mix, laying down a steady pattern of notes that creates an alternating syncopated line against the busy percussion. Her whispered vocals soon enter the mix as well and are layered throughout in cascading overlays.

The video itself depicts the band in a similar dream-like state, where images of live playing are woven together with deep hue red lighting and swirling disco ball reflections. The overall impression is as if you're viewing through the prism of a strawberry. With the live playing shots filmed at that very same Subvert Secret Boat show mentioned above, the bands hybrid balance of computer driven tracking and in-the-moment improvisation receives an accurate portrayal.

EP follow-up track “W*tch (Mevius Tour Version)” enlists the production, co-writing, engineering, mixing and mastering skills of fellow like-minded artists Mevius (also covered numerous times here on this site). Rich synth pads and bell-like melody notes share equal space with bright hip-hop influenced percussion. With those 16 and 32nd note high-hat rattle percussive textures momentarily dropping out (before quickly returning), Laura's vocals move front and center for the first lyrical foray. As a subtle male voice quietly rises (then recedes) into the mix, an overall romantic quality can be felt throughout.

Stone (Version)” makes use of spoken word poetry to introduce i'ts initial visual imagery. That's followed by a hypnotic dance-trance rhythm that makes full use of synth enhancements and bouncing percussion. Soft male and female voices are employed in a subdued manner as the track begins to build in intensity. The vocal line “Kristae smells like cat spit” is heard, instantly pulling together this EP's overall themes. This over five minute psychedelic freak out ultimately concludes with additional spoken word statements of mysterious origin.

Closing cut “Hex and the City (Resonata remix)" exhibits the distorted electronic qualities that studio reinterpretations often breathe into existing tracks. Big, reverberated clock-strokes and rattle-y percussion becomes the dominant audio anchor, as voices, synths and other sundry noises compete for attention. Buried within all of that is a slow moving melody that ultimately serves as its hook.

The band is playing a number of select shows in the coming days and info about all that can be found at the usual social media sources, including their bandcamp here.

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Being a big fan of musicians who combine elements of rock, jazz and modern electronics into extended creative works (often referred to as jam or space rock bands), curiosity took hold after a notice about Papadosio showed up. The band has recently released their latest studio album “Content Coma,” and are currently out on a lengthy US tour that has them playing between 25-30 shows till the end of this year.

Having built an ever-growing, dedicated fan base over the years through six studio albums and dynamic live show, this latest release has the band taking on modern-day-problem themes of how to deal with our growing dependence on technology.

Opening track “Write Sing Play Mix” makes immediate use of that technology through electronic percussion and synthetic keyboard melodies. As more traditional bass and six string guitars enter the mix, surprising (and initially unrecognizable) “vocals” begin that give new meaning to the term “computer generated.” Heavily processed through vocoder-like masking (bringing immediately to mind the work of Black Moth Super Rainbow), only the inclusion of these lyrics on social media platforms provides awareness of their existence. “A musical life - big wide open sky - sing to the trees - take a sample of the night - a musical life - people sing sines - making ripples in the night.” The mid-point of this over six and a half minute recording gives room to fuller drummer, a variety of keyboard segments guitar passages and even a flute. There are further occasional breaks where suggestive subliminal messages like “accept it” are dropped in. The final sung “chorus” comes unadorned by any FX's at all.

Follow up track “Distress Signal” brings back the digital blips and bleeps, however the vocals are rendered in the more familiar human form. A dissertation on oil consumption and the potential of World War III, the lyric “we disagree on everything now” becomes an initial, revealing hook. “Liminal Daybreak” emerges slowly via it's mellow, subdued opening. Click clack percussion, gentle syths and jangly guitar slowly builds into a larger mix. The brief, one-line lyric “Dawn on the rise I just opened my eyes” is first sung in standard (traditional) form, followed by a complete reverse rendition of the words “seye ym denepo tsuj I esir eht no nwaD” - presumably created through computer assistance.

It's not until the fourth track “Skipswitch” that the full sense of what this band is capable of reveals itself. Doubling down on the clickety-clackety percussion and rising synths, jazzy guitar lines provide melodies. Traditional piano makes it's way into the mix, adding a welcome human warmth to the cybernetic atmosphere. Even the percussion begins to swing a bit, approximating the sound of tap dancing. Full drums, keyboards and electric guitar all make their presence felt in a series of ever changing segments, suddenly bringing to mind the clever jazz changes of bands like Steely Dan.

Eventually reaching the title track further down as a “deep cut” (does that expression still apply in today's digital age?) “Content Coma” evokes the softer pop vocal style of 80's hits like The Alan Parsons Project's “Eye in the Sky.” Those parallels don't end there, with the previous era's concern over big brother watching us (Parson's has said his work at the time was heavily influenced by George Orwell's 1984)and this current concern over social media' s influence (both positive and negative). While organic drumming powers underneath, retro syths and guitar textures of varying levels push the melody forward. There's a melancholy romanticism permeating this vocal performance and melody, where the message is clearly stated - “Nobody feels alive - * at least you were notified * - we've been conned – living content coma.” The clever lyrics continue with choice (and biting) commentary on the internet life so many of us now live. “Righteous at the right time – only when you're online – think your on the bright side,” and “The love of your life is found, it's too bad you were looking down” speaks volumes about the world we now presently live in.

To find out all of their tour dates, which includes a stop in New York City at Pier 17 on Sept. 28

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Reading the words “post indie rock pop jazz experimental punk” as the description of what a band does is more than enough to entice this writers interest. In fact the only other word not included among favorites is “prog.” But perhaps “prog” and “punk” can never be combined together, as they've always been designated as the antithesis of each other. That said, New Jersey trio Milkmen check off nearly all of the appealing expanded rock genre boxes. The recent announcement that Know Hope Records has reissued a remixed/remastered version of Milkmen's 11 song self-titled debut provides an opportune investigation into their sound.

The opening under two minute cut “Ramus” bursts out with equal parts enthusiasm, frantic chops-laden riffs and screamo vocals. “Johnny Dangerously” expands the previous formula by another minute with chunky (funky) guitar chords, counter-melodic bass and appropriately matched fevered drumming. The vocals continue with that partially sung/partially shouted hoarseness on lines like “somebody get me out of my head – it's a matter of time before I wind up dead.” “I Think I Know” places emphasis on tandem-vocals over an angular, quick cut progression. It's impressive how much fury is packed into a barely over two minute song. “Papa Gable” Gives the drummer some with press rolls and copious fills throughout a (believe it or not) one minute and a half song. “K.O.T.H.” Expands further on some precise and busy drumming, as guitars run roughshod throughout. Kudos to a bass line that holds everything together with it's solid, centrally positioned placement.

Circles Are Square” takes that contradicting title and wraps it in a pop song that embodies late 90's/early aughts Americana rock. “Grahamcracker” kicks that vibe up a notch, with long drawn out vowel vocals popularized by bands like The Strokes (that is until the screamo/emo outro). “Fruit Leather” drops everything down into a “cool cat” jazz mode, with intricate interplay between bass, drums and guitar. “Brown Pants” packs a complex structure of arpeggio guitars, busy drumming and melody-note matching bass under passionate, exasperated vocals. “Indian Red” provides a new melody incorporating all of the structural (and instrumental) qualities previously described. A vocal hook “running, running around in my head” is delivered with the now-anticipated semi-scream emotion. The record's final (and by far longest) track “Foreverday” clocks in at a whopingly excessive 3:22. Powered along by an always-appealing melodic “woooooo wooo wooo wooo” vocal hook, lyrcial storytelling moves to the forefront. Detailing mundane daily activities ultimately leads to a chorus declaring “I think I'd rather be dead – or at the very least, numb – 'cause I'd be lying if I said I was having any fun.”

Check out this high quality video recording of the band doing "Johnny Dangerously"

The record's overall feel and excellent quality is as if a ramshackle (and great songwriting) band like The Replacements actually bothered to practice their instruments more and developed a higher level of individual skill and chops.  A brand new record is expected in early 2019.

Connect with Milkmen at their Facebook Page here, and @milkmenband everywhere else on the internet.

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