Thursday, February 18, 2021

Advanced Study on New Audio And Video Releases

As we continue on into the early parts of a new year fraught with uncertainty, questionable information sources and increasing attempts at deception – four must review features bloom here in the ever-expanding DaveCromwellWrites universe. The act of writing is a solitary pursuit that requires inspiration to make it work. The artists covered here have provided ample amounts of that, allowing sentences to spark and flow from a rewarding listening experience. With that, we dive in to the mid-February 2021 DCW reviews.

Pulling together a collection of songs written and recorded over the past two years, Indiepop veteran Tom Lugo has now released his latest Panophonic album “AWAKENING.” The Philadelphia based musician has been running his own independent Patetico Recordings label for a number of years now, putting out a steady flow of albums, EP's and singles with a variety of bands and collaborations.

Under his Panophonic brand, Tom works as a solo artist (with only one single collab on the final track), writing everything, playing all guitars, bass, drum programming along with producing, mixing and mastering the tracks. Quite an impressive feat, even in these more accessible home-recording times. Opening track “Shine” comes out blazing, with razor-sharp slashing guitars, counterpoint bass melody and synthetic hissing high-hat percussion. Vocals are pitched low, reverberated and delivered in that William Reid style heard on early Jesus and Mary Chain recordings. After 45 seconds the chorus erupts with additional guitars layering over a sea of vocals creating the blissful sensation more aligned with the band Ride.

Follow-up cut “Drive” changes gears with bright, chiming acoustic guitars leading the way. The drum track is fuller and more traditional trap-set oriented, while an extended note melody line emerges out of the mist. Vocals come on in middle register tone and romantic-pop phrasing with key phrases like “we'll forget all the pain as we drive it away.” Third track “Evermore” introduces tinkling glass-bottle textures as the introduction to what eventually evolves into a bass and acoustic guitar progression. Vocals are processed and delivered with a careful diction not unlike much of John Lennon's work. There's even bits of Beatle-y bass and 'Walrus' inspired rising cello approximations sprinkled in. “For the rest of our lives, living like it's paradise,” is the repeated hook refrain.

Ethereal dreamgaze guitars leads the way into the mechanized beats and floating melody-line of “Formless.” A strong bass guitar progression provides more solid footing for the MBV-inspired vocals and overall feel of this composition. “Never gonna let this go,” combines spacious atmospherics, buzzy, syncopated paired bass and guitar melodies with rat-a-tat percussion. A pervasive sense of melancholy is felt throughout the verses, bringing to mind Neil Halstead's classic Souvlaki-era work with Slowdive. “Radiate” continues with the overall dreampop feel, bringing together swirling, phased guitars and easy groove trip-trap percussion. Vocals are purposely less-defined, buried behind the sheen of effects and layering.

A wall of distortion envelopes the opening chords of 7th track “Solitude.” Clean, straightforward bass guitar and drums soon emerge, along with a distinct pop melody on guitar. The Jesus and Mary Chain influence returns as Tom once again does his very best William Reid homage on vocals. While Jim Reid has always been the better singer between those influential brothers, one can't deny a certain charm to the occasional track Willy has put his voice to. Tom has done his homework here, with most impressive results. The “last one on earth” lyrical theme touches on the sobering topic of mass annihilation.

Resigned” momentarily dips into an ambient percussion pool, with that quickly overwhelmed by peculiar guitar figures. As the track progresses, an overall meditative feel emerges through the lyrics, vocal delivery and amorphous guitar wash. A stand-alone bass guitar figure provides the opening tones for “Nothing that we can't do.” Bright tat-tat-tat snare drumming and hissing cymbals soon join in, with FX'd open-note guitar chords filling out this progression. Measured vocals mark out the songs theme, eventually giving way to extended amped-up gazey guitars, busier drums and that ever present dominant bass line.

Final track “Unhinged” serves as the only collaboration on the album with indie pop singer/songwriter/producer Dani Mari of the band Primitive Heart writing the lyrics and handling all vocals. Acoustic guitar is brought back for the brief intro, before a fuller compliment of guitars, bass and percussion sets the stage for Dani's voice. Gentle phrasing is applied over lighter-touch brush-stroke percussion on verses, before multi-voice harmonies and sheering guitars signal an emotional lift. “Maybe I was wrong – maybe I was right” is the repeated, thematic phrase hook that leads this dreamy song (and album) to it's conclusion.

The album is now available on all digital platforms, including this one:
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Another influential underground music label frequently found recommending artists in the CromwellWrites mailbox is Los Angeles based A Strangely Isolated Place. Their recent release “Iridescence Of Clouds” by Illuvia is a marvelous sonic journey that immediately called for a deeper listen and exploration into the audio world created there. Serving at the solo project of Swedish musician and composer Ludvig Cimbrelius, all of the tracks were written and performed by him. Working in the ambient instrumental genre often referred to as “drums and bass,” a wider array of drone, electronica and modern-classical techno is also explored.
The essentially album-title referenced opening track “Iridescence” slowly rises out of the mists with billowing delicacy. With each passing minute of this 8 minute composition (nearly all of the eight tracks are 8 minutes or longer – creating another form of symmetry) additional elements are added to the rushing waves of ambience. Flute-like melodies emerge along with quick-paced percussion rising up from underneath, only to submerge, and then repeat the cycle over. “Sea of Crises” shares a similar slow-rise-from-the-depths intro, which allows the composition to breathe at it's own pace – a luxury afforded to it's eight and a half minute length. When the bright keyboard chord make their way into the mix along with speedy, rippling percussive undercurrents, a sense of kinship can be felt with the incredible body of work Tangerine Dream alumni Ulrich Schnauss has innovated.

The gentle ambient introductions continues on “State of Emergence,” with it's start-stop pulsing from some seemingly distant locale. Cymbal rushes, deep thumping beats, wood-clack-approximations and ticketty high-hats are the percussive forces sharing space with brief vocal samples and a variety of keyboards. Extended flute-like notes brings to mind the modern-era chillwave of Tycho (minus the static predictability).

Veil of Mist” is something of an outlier on the album, as the only cut clocking in under 8 minutes with it's more modest 7:26 length. Measurements aside, there is a distinct stylistic change here with emphasis placed on angular percussive elements suggesting dub and jungle patterns. While steady textures create a slow-moving background, floating vibraphone and sampled voices glide in and out of the mix.

Natural elements (wind – waves) appear to share sonic space on the opening to “Titicaca,” along with swirling synths. A motorik timeclock (or is that a heartbeat) pulse emerges from underneath, counterbalanced by speedier ticking percussion. This two-separate-speed pace takes further hold, with the initial slow-moving keyboard pattern offset by hyper-drive beats. “Wanderer” places early emphasis on icy synths and twinkling edges on those pulses before voice-enhanced jungle drums and bass shatter the serenity with busy chaos. Deeper, lower-toned keyboards enter the mix, along with rapid-fire arpeggio riffs, all serving to expand the sonic spectrum.


An even slower, more deliberate build-up is experienced on “Nirmala II.” With subtle natural-sounding components like dripping drops and twittering birds, it's not unlike early 70's prog-rock band Yes and their imaginative intro to “Close To The Edge.” While that band came in thundering after a minute with fragmented jazz-like figures, this track holds off :30 seconds (or so) longer to introduce quick-paced percussion and other mysterious tones. The effect and sensation is remarkably similar, although no actual prog-melody opus eventually reveals itself here. It's as if that three minute intro (total time) goes on here blissfully for over eight and a half minutes (and even ends in similar fashion).

The final and longest track on the album (something of an outlier as well, coming in at a scandalous over 9 minutes) “Sky Beyond Sky” materializes out of cloud swells and distant regal horns. While a casual listener might be tempted to make comparisons with the “new age” music of an artist like Vangelis, overlapping compositional layers posit it closer the slowly disintegrating variations of Brian Eno's “Discreet Music.” As for the song's theme – what exactly IS the sky *beyond* sky? Outer space? Heaven? With this album of brilliant, seamless compositions, a soundtrack is now provided to contemplate all of those heavy questions.

The album can be acquired here:

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Another recently released album finding it's way into the DCW realm is the retro psych-pop “A Dream Without Color” by Long Island's own The Crushing Violets. The record features six new original songs as well as a cover of the 1966 hit “A Groovy Kind of Love.” Placing emphasis on vocals and storytelling over any kind of extended instrumentals, most songs clock in under three minutes in length, with one each cracking three and four minutes respectively.

There's a charmingly nostalgic feel to opening cut “Sugar Cookie Sunday,” with it's uncluttered intro guitar chords and simple-pulse bass-drum beat. Vocalist Antanina Brooks delivers lyrics with a diction and nuance that taps into Patti Smith's style. Harmonies emerge, with tambourine and organ filling out the quickly developing sequence. Subtle wah-wah pedal guitar adds the element of “psych” for the title-line repeated chorus on this vocal-emphasized pop song.

Embers” comes on with a grittier feel as the chunky guitar chords weave around a busier bass-line and percussion. Antanina digs deeper into the NY poet muse with lyrics about “when the darkness haunts you,” and “shadows speak your name.” The song's progression and overall feel has an early-era David Bowie feel to it – akin to someone off of “Hunky Dory” or “Man Who Sold The World.” The track's final 30 seconds serves up it's high-point coda (title-check lyrics “embers in the flame”) and a quality guitar solo behind the vocals.

A thoughtfully measured bass-guitar figure and singular keyboard stroke produce necessary foundation for the slower-paced “Topaz.” Introspective in both chord selection and lyrics, room is carved out at points for some tasty, soulful guitar runs. Poetic references to being “lost inside a dream,” “velvet skies,” “sun on melting wings” and “pools of rain” all contribute to a sense of mystery and wonder. “Spirit Box” evolves out of a bass-drum emphasized beat where the vocal line and heavy guitar riff mirror each other in cadence and melody. Bluesy guitar figures are set loose and a chorusing effect can be detected on various vocal passages. A quieter bass guitar and drums only passage leads into chiming guitars on top until the concise track's final notes.

Guitarist BP Brooks takes a vocal turn on the arpeggio chord driven “Day After You.” Providing the lead vocals on this gentle ballad, Antanina joins in with harmonies throughout. Drums eventually make their way into the mix just past the tracks mid-point, as the two vocalists sing “yeah when I dream, you'll be there.” In contrast, “3 Days” serves up a raw, swampy blues progression, once again built around Antanina's vocal storytelling. Cinematic lyrics like “you're feeling suicidal, reaching for the gun” suggest a film noir scenario. BP's guitar is given room to shine here on the albums longest track (over 4 minutes) with some blistering blues licks. That's followed by a well-constructed descending-riff turnaround and more tasty guitar soloing.

Selecting a song to cover is often a personal one (as there is every song ever recorded out there to choose from) and this band applies their touch to The Mindbenders 1966 hit “A Groovy Kind of Love.” Updating the opening riff guitar sound from the original's clean chime to a chorused, buzzier haze, the tempo is also slightly reduced. Reaching the classical music hook “when you're close to me, I can feel your heartbeat” additional guitars and harmonies add a richness that the original only hinted at with it's simpler, studio-hired generic female backing vocals. Guitar riffs also replace the echoed “groovy kind of love” background voices (a considerable improvement to that 60's era cheese). The central guitar solo is also much improved here with slide and wah-wah work tapping into all the greats who ply those six string tools. Fun Fact: The melody to this song is from the Rondo from Muzio Clementi's Sonatina, Opus 36, No. 5. Even though Toni Wine and Carole Bayer Sager claim full songwriting credits, they mainly wrote the lyrics and just slightly modified Clementi's music.

Listen to and find out how to acquire this record here:

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One more artist finding their way into the CromwellWrites mailbox is the Italian-based music project Dead Rituals. After releasing an impressive second EP back in October of 2020, band driving force Andrea Caccese now shares an intimate acoustic take on one of those tracks “When The Lights Are Out.” Recorded live and solo in a Brooklyn stairwell when the artist lived there for a time back in 2016, the natural ambience of that spacious enclosure are all the effects needed.

Where the finished product recording on the EP enhances this composition with synthetic keyboard pulses, cymbal rushes, full-band guitar, bass and drums – gentler acoustic fingerpicking and voice are the only musical elements providing support. While both versions work quite well respectively, it's interesting to note there is hardly any tempo change between them. That is to say they are both performed at the same pace, despite having what appears to be a four year difference between them.

Another noteworthy track appearing on that EP, accompanied by a thought-provoking video is “Broken Memories.” This brilliant track projects a feeling of prime era The Cure music with its driving bass-line, powerful tom-tom drumming and piercing open-note guitar figures. With three distinct hook-laden sections, the smooth and introspective vocals complete this carefully crafted song. Ethereal female vocals arrive at the tracks mid-point, lifting emotional content further. A dreamy ambient section ultimately emerges, leading the song out to its conclusion. Adding a final element of unsettling mystery is the creatively realized video associated with it. Well worth a listen and viewing – check it out here:

Find out how to pick up the latest Dead Rituals music here:

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