Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Featured Reviews: The Stargazer Lilies, Paragon Cause, TREMENDOUS, Pontus Gunve

October finds the Cromwell microscope focusing on eagerly anticipated new recorded works from artists either previously featured here, or having collaborated with a much reviewed influential source, along with first time entries to this site.  All of these records show musicians taking their creative ideas (many honed through live show performances) and forming them into high-quality studio recordings.

With brand new album “Occabot” set for release on November 1 via Rad Cult Records, The Stargazer Lilies re-imagine their previously established heavy stoner-doom/dreamgaze sound, aided by producer Tobacco (aka Tom Fec) of Black Moth Super Rainbow. Those sound manipulations applied to the bands initial compositions and recordings add a level of distortion and “dirt” previously unheard on SGLs previous works.

Opening track “Magenta Sunrise” is introduced via layered, hummed vocals and ceremonial backing textures. Kim's hushed voice begins with the words “darkness falls” among a the slow-moving, reverential swirl. Anyone raised in a religious environment (Midnight Masses/Church pipe-organs) could certainly connect this sound to those reference points, as the track moves towards it's title line. Percussive undercurrents begin with the second verse as the full, explosive effect of voices and walls of sound-washes lift everything to a heightened state, providing the sonic equivalent of watching the morning sunrise from a perfect visual location. 30 seconds or so of de-tuned guitars serve as an interesting coda to it all.

The second song in “Monsters of Your Thought” is one the band has been showcasing live over the last year. Those experiences witnessed moments of explosive ambiance before giving way to John's slightly-warped guitar tones (captured in this clip here ). The nearly 6 minute official album track, however is introduced with those promised “smudges and saturation” provided by producer Tobacco. The live-in-the-studio feel soon commences (especially the sound of the drums) as the warbly horror-movie sonics are joined by Kim's whispered vocals. Structured around a 1-2-3, 1-2-3 waltz time-signature, the vibe is all “Carnival of Souls” haunted Merry-Go-Round. That's not to say they're aren't elements of “gazey bliss” wafting through scratchy thickets of fog, and much of that can be attributed to Kim's rising melody vocal lines. Elements of David Lynch's Julie Cruise/Chromatics/Au Revoir Simone fanaticism creep into this particular track, suggesting it as a possible contender for future inclusions into that off-kilter world. At approximately the 3 minute mark, a particularly “snakedriven” guitar solo emerges along with now more clearly audible bass guitar, leading the final verses out.

The bands heavy, stoner-rock qualities – so prevalent in their live show – are fully captured here on third track “Foreverless.” It's still wall-of-sound washes, however – tempering those traditional low-toned guitar-bass textures and riffs (so prevalent with “heavy” music) by adding gazey dreampop elements. Kim's vocals are processed to a point that begins to resemble Belinda Butcher on My Bloody Valentine's quintessential “Loveless” tracks. Once again, John steps out with a solo, this time emphasizing a higher register scale. The songs distinctive heavy-chugging riff makes it's presence felt one last time before meeting a clever, studio-enhanced ending.

Elements of MBV-like distorted guitar swells and hushed vocal qualities are further displayed on the five minute mid-point track “Blows My Mind.” Recessed shimmering walls of sound lay a bed for Kim's rising vocal melody, subsequent bass notes and eventual lively crash-can drumming. The noisy, near-shapeless undercurrents are unrelenting while additional melodic vocals layer over top in a slow-motion, dream-like state. A new melody eventually emerges via John's elongated-notes guitar solo, culminating with dive-bombing squall as the other instruments drop out. Kim's synonymous meditation on state of mind (“blows my mind?” “it is my mind?lost my mind?”) ushers in the tracks thundering conclusion.

Things take another turn, with the band dipping into the weirder end of the pool on “Living Work of Art.” Distant rustlings and buzzy synths are met with tambourine rattle as Kim begins her tale that morphs from single to doubled vocals. Production twists are audibly noticed on word endings that quickly dip and truncate. Brief synth notes momentarily flash across the sound path. Along with all that strangeness is a perceptible bass progression and vocal melody that drives it all along as a fully-structured song. While percussion here is electronic (with hisses and pops over any traditional drums) space is created for another Cep guitar foray over the returning bright tambourine shake. The final 30 sections finds John playing an emotionally stirring guitar refrain that is ultimately swallowed up by a swirling radioactive churn.

Deeper levels of de-tuned and warped sonics usher in the six-and-a-half minute sprawl “Dizzying Heights.” Momentary clean guitar strokes emerge, twanging out basic structure while layered voices create an off-kilter balance between distant high notes and intimate whispers. With basic drums lumbering into motion the hazy vocals morph the word “heights” into alternately sounding like “hearts.” Halfway in, John unleashes yet-another blistering squall of mayhem from his guitar that continues to push the envelope on that instruments capabilities. Voices weave back in for one more pass through before the rushing winds return, leading to a final warbly coda.

Irregular auditory compositions continue with the seventh track “Let's Kill Time.” While Kim's vocals start immediately, the initial slow crawling undertow is touched by percussive structure once drums and cymbals enter the mix. An instrumental melody-line comes on warped and twisted, like a vinyl album left out in the sun. Creeping forward at a languid pace, whooshing walls of sound blend seamlessly with ghostly voices and rising melodies that peak, then dive before it all ultimately subsides.

The guiding manipulative hand of producer Tobacco – so prevalent throughout this entire album – is most apparent on the introductory minute of final track “Icarus Sun.” As Kim sings the opening lines, what sounds like a mellotron George Martin might have used on The Beatles increasingly experimental recordings shares space with hand-manipulated tape warping. “Someday – I'll be with the one – in the land of the Icarus Sun,” Kim sings – ultimately reaching a desire that “I will dream that my work here is done.” Bright cymbal timekeeping with slow steady drums and rooted bass notes provide the undercurrent for one more extended note guitar foray. As other instruments and effects drop away, a single bass guitar leads the track to fade-out.

Previous features on The Stargazer Lilies can be found on this site HERE - HERE - and HERE.

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Combining dream pop, indie, electronic, industrial, trip hop and alternative rock with soaring, passionate vocals, Canadian musicians Jay Bonaparte (guitarist/songwriter) and Michelle Opthof (vocalist/keyboardist/lyricist) record together as Paragon Cause. Their latest EP “Lies Between Us” was produced by long-time DaveCromwellWrites favorite Sune Rose Wagner of The Raveonettes (with over a decade of his work covered here). This brand new six song EP has Mr. Wagner's instantly recognizable digital fingerprints all over it, while never obscuring Jay and Michelle's dominant creativity.

Opening cut “Someone Else” kicks off the record with an ominous deep synth-bass line and crack-slap electronic percussion. A fuller one-time keyboard stab ushers in rich female vocals declaring “It’s what you get for listening, listening to someone else.” As that initial stabbing keyboard chord returns, buzzing synth countermelodies emerge, ultimately giving way to inverted vocal melody lines stating “Running just to catch on up, No time for trouble now.” The entire effect is an intoxicating blend of modern doomy synth rock (the NIN model that has been updated by the likes of fellow Canadians Odonis Odonis) and storied female-fronted classical rock like Renaissance. That latter reference showing on minor-key vocal hook “time for hesitation” and particularly via the supercharged chorusing on “It's never gonna be enough.” Those impressive vocals also bring to mind Amy Lee's early work with Evanescence.

A more recognizable Sune Rose Wagner groove is instantly felt on the driving 60's-meets-90-s vibed “Save Me.” Nobody delved into the Beach Boys spirit better than The Jesus and Mary Chain did on *their* classic tracks, and Wagner's own legacy in that regard is firmly etched on rock history. Paragon Cause adds their own unique qualities here via poignant lyrical hook “to the place, to the time, where you believed – Your('re) superior” (holding long and impassioned on those final two words). An utterly catchy and beautiful song that would fit splendidly on the soundtrack of any coming-of-age, romantic movie or tv show (much in the same way Sune's The Raveonettes music was perfectly matched for popular mid-2000's dramatic television series “Gossip Girl.”). Reaching the “you cannot save them all – All for nothing” hook serves to unleash a torrent of flashbacks reminding what made nearly every one of Mr. Wagner's songs so special, via instantly recognizable guitar counter-melodies.

A diverse feeling of styles is woven through the structural song components of “Separate Lives.” Against an industrial slap-sizzle percussive beat and shimmering guitar chord progression, female vocals declaring “your never far” come floating in with Stevie Nicks-like urgency. That opening 30 seconds is suddenly met by buzzing, distorted guitars that provide a fuzzy Rave-On backdrop for the lyrical story unfolding. Icy synths shear through the mix as “ separate lives” and “ different ties” point to “what lies between us,” (revealing the album title's source). Speaking about a devolving relationship that goes from “kinder eyes” to “lies . . . changing forms” and how “everyone sees it – when will you?

Straightforward measured rhythms are offset by half-time counter-melodies on “I Waited.” Vocals come in dramatic fashion, carefully delivering in deep-toned qualities a series of poetic lines seeking answers. “Forgive me for my unbelief” leads to “I can't rely on what I see” further on to “I may not understand nothing.” It all leads to a beat-less interlude of bright-distorted guitar strokes and the vocal declaration that “maybe this time, I'll break the constant” while acknowledging a certain level of “insanity shows through.”

A brief listen-in to the studio recording process (overheard words “you ready to start this?”) kicks off the trip-hop beat for “Kick Me (When I'm Down).” Gentle guitar and synth strings provide rich textured backing for lyrics “wouldn't it be nice if we all played fair.” Those increasingly sumptuous vocals are further enhanced by glistening keyboards, along with a phrasing style that takes everyday words and makes them more musical. For instance “Wouldn't” becomes “hoooodinit” and “absent intentions” becomes “ssssab sint 'tan-chuns” - creatively merging vocals with the swirling sounds around them. Clocking in a over six minutes, this is by far the longest track on this record. With it's twinkling icy shimmer running throughout, elements of The Cure's more epic “Disintegration” tracks come to mind. A nicely textured, lower-toned rhythm guitar enters the mix, adding welcome roughness to it's overall sparkling sheen. “Even with the best of intentions” the repeated musical line goes - “you still kick me when I'm down.”

A back porch, delta-blues, country-vibe permeates final track “Drop Me In.” With sparse toe-tap beat and single hollow-body sounding guitar providing backdrop, sweetly sung female vocals present lyrics stating confidence and hope. The addition of bright tambourine jingle and multi-layered harmonies add composition weight, leading up to a tender mid-point change stating “something's not right, I can feel it.” A gentle finger-picking solo ushers in one more subtle change that asserts “I know you're coming back to me.”

Pick up a copy of this EP in your preferred choice of formats HERE.

A full 12 song LP from this period's combined Sune Rose Wagner sessions will be out in 2020, with the promise of additional collaborations between the band and producer on new recordings following that.

For further background reading, check out this classic Raveonettes album review HERE.

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Emerging out of the UK's growing glam-rock revival scene comes Birmingham's TREMENDOUS. Drawing their influence from the classic 70's era bands like T. Rex, Bowie's Spiders From Mars, Sweet and Slade, the band are now set to release their debut album “Relentless” early next year. Leading up to that has been a series of advance singles, with their latest “Copycat Killer” now available and streaming right here.

The first explosive notes of chugging, crunchy rising guitar chords finds the song-title chorus embedding itself in your ears. “I go outta my head, I go outta my mind” is the initial soulful plea. “Now she's in for the kill, and claws out for mine” lays out a clever feline metaphor. Melding hard-edged guitars with precise pop, the bridge is reached under:30 seconds in with “I bite down on my fear, she climbs my warning sign. Now the cat's out the bag, it's our lives on the line.” More clever cat-related wordplay continues throughout this raucous, good-timey rock song, with the lines “Headlines cry over this milk spiller. With nine lives she's a new shock thriller. Got me chasing my tail and my heart doing time. See this cat's got my tongue and shivers my spine.” A rising chord progression appears behind the chorus in the final :15 seconds that leads into a crisp chunky chord punctuated ending.

The track will be fully available on all the popular streaming services like iTunes and Spotify starting on November 22nd.

Keep up with TREMENDOUS on all their social media outlets here:

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New York City's Pontus Gunve is an accomplished musician, producer, film score composer and large scale art project sound designer. Originally from Sweden, he has been releasing instrumental music as PHWG for over a decade now. With three full albums and a live EP under his belt, his latest work “Black Hole BBQ” has just been released and is now available to the public.

The ambitious and sprawling nearly 13 minute opening track “Shelagh's Quest” (with brief sci-fi story spelling out both the song's and overall album titles meaning in opening frame text) quickly morphs from outer space ambiance to precise guitar riffing and the eastern-style percussion of tablas that has become this artists signature sound. More traditional classical instruments like Cello enters the mix , providing a momentary interlude before PG's sinewy riff emerges once again. At two minutes in, a new melody arrives, adding a circular keyboard line syncopated against an additional guitar figure before drummer Tripp Dudley is showcased. With that an entire rhythmic shift occurs emphasizing muscular trap-kit percussion and heavy metal riffing. It's a glorious section of prog-rock at it's finest, with PG taking solo flight in emulation of role model Steve Vai.

Eric Allen's Cello is formally introduced allowing for that classical musician's momentary star turn. As the pace quickens, PG shows his dual level of guitar work, first the soling, then visual cuts to equally important rhythm guitar work. Splitting the screen into 4 panels, attention is focused on the precise interplay of drums, cello and the two levels of guitars. This incredible quality of prog-rock brings to mind the deep dive done on this site into the similarly accomplished TAUK (which can be found here).

After 5 minutes a softer instrumental interlude is attained with Katie Thode's flute surfacing for both video and audio recognition. Crunchy guitar chords and busy synth lines join the fray, with Modular Synth specialist Ian O'Brien now receiving spotlight attention. Thematic outer-space imagery is intertwined with live on stage footage, allowing for bassist Chris Kelly's ephemeral nod. A significant movement commences with approximately 4 minutes remaining, emphasizing seamless transitions in both audio and visual imagery. The final minutes combine all that has previously transpired here in rapid-fire fashion for a gloriously lavish conclusion.

Find out how to acquire this music HERE.

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