Friday, February 18, 2022

Compiled Reflections on New Studio Music Releases

New independent music labels and old friends provide the catalyst for this months comprehensive DaveCromwellWrites reviews. Heading down unfamiliar paths can often lead to surprisingly pleasant discoveries. At the same time, checking back in with previously covered artists whose work continues to burn at a high level confirms those original impressions. Taking all of that into consideration, we now dive in to the mid-February 2022 reviews.

Finding their way into the DaveCromwellWrites universe is Kool Kat Music label's new release “Wish I Could See” by Cheap Star. Fronted by Swiss-French musician Remi Vaissiere (who wrote, sings lead and plays guitar on all the songs) there is a distinct 'Americana/Powerpop' vibe running through it all. This is in large part due to the artists long-time relationship with seminal late 80's/early 90's Posies frontman Jon Auer. Brought in to produce and mix the record, Jon also plays a variety of guitars and keyboards on nearly all of the tracks. The Posies connection doesn't end there as respected drummer Brian Young (a member of that band during their major label years from 94-98, before moving on to The Fountains of Wayne and then The Jesus and Mary Chain) delivers outstanding percussion on every one of these new songs. The star cast doesn't end there however, with Brendan Benson (The Raconteurs), Gary Louris (The Jayhawks), Matthew Caws (Nada Surf), Roger Joseph Manning Jr. (Jellyfish) and the legendary Mitch Easter all contributing to a number of tracks. With that tantalizing introduction, what follows here is track-by-track commentary on each and every song.

There's an easy, slow shuffle groove on opening track “Lifetime,” with chiming guitar figures and prominent deep-thump drumming. Over that hypnotic pattern, Remi's sandpaper-soft vocals introduce a stream-of-conscious story recounting “looking for a sign,” being “happy as a child” alternately tempered against “love hurts” and how “you're gonna learn in your lifetime.” Precision harmonies emphasize and punctuate dramatic moments, as do additional layers of sonic enhancements that feel like strings (but could be keyboards or even extended note guitars). Follow-up cut “Flower Girl” comes on quicker right from the outset, with it's driving progression and orchestral FX'd guitars. Poetic lines surrounding the need for the songtitles subject matter, whether “in the dark” or “singing with me in the park” defines an elusive object of desire. Rhythmic changes emerge early and subsequently repeat, emphasizing a descending pattern that offsets nicely against the initial straightforward pattern. Additional lush vocal layers of “I want you” on the song's outro create one more romantic pop element. 

You Don't Want To Change” builds off a solid percussion backbeat with acoustic guitar and piano notes delicately intertwining over top. Remi's vocals come across in a more intimate manner, with less effects and a deeper level of sincerity. “Do you ever get that way?” he asks on the first change, followed by “I'm happier somehow.” The initial sentiment “I just want to take you back” ultimately morphs into a repeated “I just want to take it back.” Piano becomes more prominent as the song progresses, defining a rising melody leading out to the ultimate conclusion.    Fourth track in and the album title piece, “Wish I Could See” launches off some heavily echoed tom-tom drums, twangy guitars and good-timey handclaps. “On another day, in another town” kicks off a story of searching curiosity, guiding towards a hooky chorus “I wish I could see - on the other side – I wish I could see.” While coming in at a brisk (and radio pop friendly) 2:21 in length, the artist manages to drop in an ambient instrumental breakdown before an unanticipated “will you marry me” choral vocal coda.

Holding On” turns up the nostalgic charm with it's descending guitar pattern, syncopated snare drum beat, tambourine rattle and Roger McGuinn/Byrds Rickenbacker-style chime. “You never tried enough – you never had the force,” serves up just one lyrical snippet pointing towards somehow falling short. Dual layered lead and sugary background vocals (especially on the chorus) create an idyllic sensibility. A tasty (if ever so brief) guitar solo emerges two-thirds of the way through, providing additional weight to the pathos running through this entire composition.   “Move Away” leans more on a traditional chugging rock and roll rhythm, while pitching vocals down into lower, measured pace delivery. “I – never take it easy – never throw you away – for you I try” serves up the opening lyrical foray. Heavier guitars join in with subsequent passes, as do piano notes descending with gentle counter melodies. Ghostly background vocals emerge with a melodic purpose of their own, creating an almost soulful feel to the proceedings. The final ten seconds serves up guitar feedback and scratching noises for an unexpectedly odd closing.

More than one could hope to expect is packed into the one minute and 46 second “Under The Synapse.” Another impressive, straightforward drum pattern kicks it all off, as bass-heavy guitar rumble rides roughshod over top. While references to nerve impulses and neurotransmitters may have factored into some of the lyrics (and at the very least the song's title) an audible hook of the line “that's ok with you” is clearly discernible. Ten seconds (or so) of mandolin strumming on the outro adds a nice finishing touch.  Home recorded acoustic guitar and distorted Rhodes keyboards figure prominently on “In Your Head.” With a tambourine rattle keeping time on each snare shot, an inverted, angular riff serves up the tracks primary melody line. The vocals are softer and more intimate, with background harmonies used more sparingly (though just as effectively) on the end of key words (“head, heart”) and over the outro guitar solo.

Slow Down” opens with Remi's voice and acoustic guitar only, creating a pensive ballad effect. Once the drums kick in the track immediately morphs to power-ballad, with banjo accompaniment adding a slight southern country feel as well. “I've been dreaming that you were right – about the place I call my own – the things we've never shown” is how one key harmonic passage goes. The final half-minute features a blistering guitar solo from the iconic Mitch Easter, adding one more glorious element to this emotional piece. The albums final (and longest) track “What It's Like” builds off of a staccato drum pattern, shaker percussion and snaking guitar suitable for a detective story. “You don't understand, what it's like” serves as the essential harmonized vocal hook. The final minute lays out a tasty blend of deep bass, synths and electric guitars for a fitting coda to this wonderful album.

Listen to these songs and find out how to acquire this album here:

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The music of Dead Leaf Echo is no stranger to this site, having covered their recordings and many live shows for over a decade. Notwithstanding some personnel changes one could hardly be surprised at over that length of time, the current lineup has been relatively steady the last few years. Recently completing their first Latin America tour, a new six track EP is now available. “Milk.Blue.Kisses.And.Whalebone.Wishes” is the mysterious and poetic title, serving as something of a hybrid to the songtitles on it. A full track-by-track review follows below.

Opening cut “Milk.Blue.Kisses (Foil in Motion)” dives right in with swirling guitars, hard-edged bass and deep-echo stare drum shots, forging the same impeccable slow-build pageantry The Cure so masterfully generated on their “Disintegration” album. While emotive vocals commence, the undulating wash of gazey ambience continues to swell, extending across the entire sonic space. Like most gazey dreampop, lyrical content tends to serve more as another instrument, rather than traditional storytelling vehicle. However, based on the overall songtitle, there's something romantic going on here, with the audible reference to “your body” being a “perfect foil in motion.” An icy, rising texture adds further weight to the overall measured pace, leading out to its conclusion.

Follow up track “Blue.Unto.You” applies echo-fx on single struck guitar notes to emphasize an initially angular pattern, while choruses wash all around. It's ambient, mysterious and delicate all in one, with a particularly engaging bending guitar tone for good measure. Those ethereal moments are soon met with harsher percussive strikes, establishing a center-point for additional higher-pitched intonations. The singular guitar textures return, this time with a three-note descending pattern, that shifts upward on the second pass through, culminating on a resonant full guitar chord. As one might expect on a fully instrumental composition over four and a half minutes in length, increasing amounts of subtle aural elements emerge.

Bright shimmering atmospherics, jagged tom-tom rhythms and a driving bass-guitar undertow power along third entry “Kisses.Silence.” The contrast of higher register sheen against a pulsating bass and drum rhythm expand its auditory depth-of-field for maximum advantage. While some glistening notes are held for extended periods, other rising melodies emerge, while additional bass-guitar patterns snake off in other directions. A change section develops past the midway point, where electronic “voice” approximations accent rhythmic changes against cymbal-oriented percussion. With bass guitar tones emphasizing Simon Gallup-style “gothic rock,” instrumental passages are set free to float over top.

Tambourine shake, plucked bass and chorused guitars introduce center-album positioned “And.Projecting.Windows.Of.Ice.And.Misconduct.” Deep tom drumming commences on the second passage through, providing an alternate percussive rudder under distinct melodic changes. Moving away from above-reviewed tracks Cure references, the feel here is more early Cocteau Twins, and the extended vocal-less ambience of those recordings. Midway through, forceful snare drum shots and tom fills thunder across and lead into a ringing bell texture. More percussion is layered on with urgency, while a bassy counter-rhythm modulates back and forth. As things get more cymbal-heavy, it all rises to an celestial apex before a subtle tempo change advances to its conclusion.

Whalebone” continues the frosty sonic luster, probing deeper into Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd-style atmospherics. A lovely melody emerges amid the roil as ghostly percussive clacks rise and fall inside of it. Majestic guitar chords are strummed slowly and with purpose, further advancing a haunting melody. It all adds up to an elevated sensation encompassing an opulent audio experience.

Check out these tracks, including how to obtain the entire Dead Leaf Echo catalog here:

Previous features about the band on this site can be found here - here - here - here - here and here.

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In March of 2021, Austin, Texas heavy-groove blues-rockers The Dizzy Bangers received a detailed analysis here on their current-at-the-time track and video for “Under The Sorrow.” Nearly a year later the band is back with a brand new song “Painted Bruises,” showing off an advanced level of musicianship and lyrical mastery within the heavy rock genre. Once again the DaveCromwellWrites audio annotator finds itself aimed directly at the heart of this creative release, for another worthy review.

Glistening guitar chord open the track with a gentle touch, before a busy melodic bass and cymbal accents join in. Those quieter moments are short-lived as fuller band instruments mark out a forward progression via syncopated full-trapset percussion, rumbling bass and snaking lead guitar lines. Initially hushed vocals convey lyrics depicting a manipulative seductress who can “hypnotize even the best of you.” Shifting into higher register for subsequent vocal lines suggest a level of mania encountered, and how there's “nothing you can do.” Hitting the first chorus is a powerful shot with all three musicians coming down hard on this hook that goes “no she'll never pay for anything she's done - yeah she'll get away with everything she's done.”

With additional verses unfolding, the story reveals a struggle with someone who “don't sleep for days” and is “hearing things again.” As friends implore you to “walk away man,” because you're dealing with an “evil one” who's “will be done,” the mind control takes hold “when it's all a blur.” An intense rhythmic instrumental break rolls out here at the song's midway point, with strident guitar licks alternating against drums and bass throttle. The rhythm section thunders hard as guitar leads soar over top. Classic blues-rock power trios come to mind at this point, with those guitar lines executing a fluid style, while adding a growling edge to the tone. The same qualities that legendary musicians like Leslie West and his band Mountain electrified audiences with back in the 1970's.

Reverting back to that initial soft-vocal style on the final verse lines “from a steel cage looking out, how could this ever be,” morphing once more to higher register harmonies and eventual song title line reveal. The final chorus explodes with a combined vocal passion and rhythmic intensity that brings to mind early-2000's era power-rockers Deftones (who are still going strong today). Specifically where heavy, locked-together shifting drums, bass and abrasive guitar rhythm provide accents, hooks and emotional center. Emphasizing superior chops with intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics.

Check out this incredible track right here:

Connect with The Dizzy Bangers via their Official Site, on Facebook and Instagram

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