In Fear and Faith’s self-titled album is the first full-length to surface from the band since Imperial in summer of 2010. In between, In Fear and Faith released a symphony-based EP, Symphonies, utilizing a combination of woodwinds, brass, choir, and screaming, among other devices, to create a unique sound. In Fear and Faith is a return to the band’s true roots as metalcore, though it retains many of their distinctive elements they have picked up, as well as introducing new ones.
Like In Fear and Faith’s other albums, the lyrics of the self-titled album revolve around a single theme: mankind’s self-created apocalypse. The intro number opens with sounds of gunfire and helicopters, setting the mien of the entire album, which takes place after the world has been destroyed. The lyrics as a whole leave something to be desired, feeling a little weak in originality and employing several cliché phrases such as “I can’t last without the ones that left me/I regret the times I couldn’t see” in Last Man Stranded and “If I fall asleep, please don’t let me dream/I keep on wishing that I’ll forget those awful things I’ve seen” in Dream Catcher. However, there still are several standalone notable lines that will leave strong, positive impressions on the listener (“I’m just a sliver of the system that feeds on broken men;” “Now my lungs are filled with a creeping dose of bitter disgust for the world I used to trust”), although these pop up less often. The interesting personification of Earth in You Had Your Chance is also refreshing and a good attempt to separate the band’s lyrics from that of others in the metalcore genre.
Musically, In Fear and Faith is exceptional. Singer Scott Barnes displays an incredibly powerful voice that feels more confident than that in the songs of the band’s previous albums. Furthermore, while the band continues to encompass their unique blend of symphonic elements (seen in the ending of Self Fulfilling Prophecy as well as other tracks), other pieces experiment with electronic sounds in auto-tune and melody. The metal and screaming are not lacking in the album either; in fact, Look What You Made Me Do is one of In Fear and Faith’s heaviest tracks, and the breakdowns in some of the songs, such as A Creeping Dose and A Silent Drum, are satisfying. The album’s eighth track, Enigmatic, is actually entirely piano (played by the band’s keyboardist, Ramin Niroomand, an expert in the self-proclaimed “pianocore”) and symphony, its eerie tunes somewhat reminiscent and yet contrasting to the band’s original sound.
Since the release of this album, In Fear and Faith has been relatively silent regarding new work. So, if you’re looking for a relatively idiosyncratic band in an otherwise invariable genre, be sure to check this album out and listen to a few of their interesting tracks. It is, holistically, a symbol of their incredible talent and growth as a band.
Standout Tracks: “Look What You Made Me Do”, “A Creeping Dose”, “Self Fulfilling Prophecy”, “The Calm Before Reform”
2. The Calm Before Reform [ft. Dave Stephens of We Came As Romans]
3. A Silent Drum
4. Look What You Made Me Do
5. Soul Survivor
6. A Creeping Dose
7. It All Comes Out (On The Way Down)
9. Dream Catcher
10. You Had Your Chance
11. Last Man Stranded
12. Self Fulfilling Prophecy
holo pleasures is the sixth release by lo-fi pop project, elvis depressedly and marks the first time under this moniker that there has been a full band effort. The trio that contributed to the record includes Mat Cothran on vocals, drums, and guitar, Eric Jones on guitar and bass, and Delaney Mills playing all the keyboard parts. Like most of Cothran’s work, there is the familiar lo-fi analog comfort layered on top of warbling vocals to create unparalleled mellowness and melancholy.
The first track, okay, a pop number, encompasses Cothran’s simple yet poignant lyrical style including the lyrics, “I remember becoming winter, haunted by light, true love turned to sickness in my body, stayed up all night.” The album has the some of the same vibes as Coma Cinema, Cothran’s other outfit, however what sets them apart is the difference in the coherent aesthetic of the albums. The harmonies and hooks of this release contain a medley of droned keyboard, blown out guitar strumming, and muted percussion followed by refrains such as “If there’s a cool spot in heaven, I know you’ll get in” in weird honey and “Always real, always right, always alright” in pepsi/coke suicide. The six songs that run a total of twelve minutes are meant to be listened as one in order to gain the full experience of the record.
Mat Cothran and his band members are always constantly progressing and a new release is never far away, or from any of the groups in the scene such as Julia Brown, R.L. Kelly, and Pussy Wizard. The casette form of this release is currently sold out, but you can still pick up the 7″ vinyl in either blood red or swamp green from Birdtapes, or give it a listen over at the Bandcamp page.
Standout Tracks: “okay”, “weird honey”, “pepsi/coke suicide”
“never quit, there’s always a reason to try.”
2. pepsi/coke suicide
3. inside you
5. weird honey
6. thinning out
Released: January 16, 2012
I am surprised by the absence of publicity for Ambassadors and their most recent record Litost. In 2006, the band started to get going, when unfortunately their keyboardist Casey Harris ended up in the hospital, needing a kidney transplant to survive. During that time, the members separated temporarily and Sam Harris went on to write much of what is now Litost.
This release appeals to indie rock fans as it provides both calm tunes such as Litost, and head nodding tracks like Unconsolable. The standout feature from this album is the raw emotion implemented in the songs, as I have always been a fan of vocalists who mean the words that are being sung. Once word spreads about this album, people will acknowledge this underrated band, and help propel them to the recognition they deserve.
Standout Tracks: “Falls”,“Unconsolable”,“Lay Me Down”
5. (O Death)
6. Lay Me Down
7. Caged Animals
Released: March 30, 2012
Forming in late 2010, Castlecomer finally unveiled their debut release on March 30th, 2012 and did not disappoint. Armed with their high-energy shows, combined with their flawless five part harmonies, Castlecomer are one of the most exciting indie bands that Australia has to offer.
Castlecomer began their journey as a band by posting videos of both original songs and covers on YouTube including Mumford and Son’s The Cave, and Passion Pit’s Take A Walk. These fantastic videos led to fans around wondering, and near begging them to release an album.
On March 30th Castlecomer finally released their six song EP entitled, Danny’s Den. Tracks include songs that are found on their YouTube channel, as well as songs that have not been heard before. The EP is not what was first expected, as on YouTube all of the songs were played acoustically with a strong focus on the harmonies, however on the album there is a lot more use of electric guitars and drums, but this does not take away from their harmonic melodies. Even though it was different to what I was accustomed to, it was still successful, selling 1,200 hard copies, and 1000 digital copies. These five boys from Sydney are starting to make a name for themselves.
Fans, much like me, are eagerly waiting the next EP to be released, as they have only posted more covers such as Coldplay’s Till Kingdom Come and The Lumineers‘ Ho Hey. But they haven’t released any new material, so no one knows what to expect. Luckily there shouldn’t be a long wait as they have already finished the recording for the second EP, and it is due for release sometime in early 2013. If you enjoy indie folk bands with spot on harmonies, Castlecomer is a band to look out for. Check out their Facebook and YouTube pages!
After his sensational debut album Every Kingdom, Ben Howard’s newest release The Burgh Island EP has not disappointed. Though fans have come accustomed to the smooth, acoustic, folk songs experienced in the album, The Burgh Island EP demonstrates a darker side to his songs, highlighted by the use of the electric guitar rather than his usual acoustic self. Yet the gritty, and albeit, gloomy sounds does not take away from the emotion and soul that is put into the lyrics and songs themselves. The songs were all inspired by his memories from surfing the beaches of Burgh Island, which leads to question, why create a darker tone for the songs?
Though fans and listeners would agree that the sound of this EP is completely different, it does not mean it’s a bad change. The opening track “Esmerelda” begins with eerie sounds, which grow more powerful as the song progresses through the beats, perfectly complemented by the rasp in his voice. The second track “Oats In The Water” on the other hand uses the electric guitar differently by creating a more bluesy electric sound, thus producing a more calming and memorable vocal melody. My personal favorite track of this album is the final one appropriately titled “Burgh Island”. This track most resembles the style of songs portrayed in the album Every Kingdom. Much like Ben Howard’s popular track, “Black Flies” it’s a mostly calm song throughout, but has a powerful punch in the middle and near the end. Though it is not as catchy, it will definitely be a favorite to those fans of Every Kingdom.
This album also excites me as it demonstrates that Ben Howard doesn’t have just one style, but illustrates that he has a variety of styles, leaving fans wondering, what will he do next? For those following Ben Howard, he will be touring in New York, New Jersey and Virginia, for a week beginning February 11th with another of my personal favorite bands Mumford and Sons.
Standout Tracks: ”Esmerelda” ”Burgh Island”
2. Oats in the Water
3. To Be Alone
4. Burgh Island (feat. Monica Heldel)
Released: February 19, 2013
Label: Captured Tracks
Beach Fossils sophomore record Clash The Truth is set to be released on February 19, 2013. Following their self titled release in 2010, Beach Fossils became well known for their catchy Jingle Jangle styled guitar riffs in songs like “Sometimes” as well as their electrifying stage presence. After several members moved on to side projects, Dustin Payseur began writing Clash The Truth ”determined to capture the urgency, human flow and spontaneity of the live performance.” This goal for the record has shown to be a trouble for many bedroom recording styled bands. Many lo-fi bands have spectacular albums, but the dreamy and somber melodies don’t always translate to a live show. Yet with this presence of urgency, Clash The Truth doesn’t lack in energy throughout every track. The excitement in the tracks give off a punk rock experience with a shoe-gaze styling.
The progression of Beach Fossils sound in Clash The Truth is near perfect, they translated the lo-fi bedroom recording style to a well tuned studio project. I initially had some fear that their highly praised vibes would lose their originality, yet the album beautifully captures Dustin’s vision. Clash The Truth is much more instrumentally complex than the records before; with each track standing out more individually, yet still creating one complete record. This is most prevalent in songs like “Sleep Apnea” that bring in a more acoustic presence whereas “Caustic Cross” has more energy and power in the guitar. Another great addition to the album is the development of the drums. The drums are much more established in the album, “the drums were recorded live in a room with Dustin on bass to give the album a driving and energetic force.” In previous records the drums have a presence but appeared to be very simple, I never found myself mesmerized by the beat.
While this album is one of my favorites, and well deserving of a listen, there are some weaker points to the album. Oddly enough, I felt the title track along with the previously released track “Shallow” didn’t live up to the rest of the album. When Shallow was first released a year ago, it wasn’t as enchanting as songs like “What A Pleasure”. It generated no anticipation or excitement for the rest of the album. The title track is a nice melody that eases into the rapid pace of the album, yet I felt a lack of connection with the song. It has a catchy aspect to it, yet that wasn’t a highlight for me.
Following the release of Clash The Truth, Beach Fossils will begin touring through the US and Canada. All of the tour dates can be found on their Facebook Page. The song “Careless” is available for free Stream or Download below.
Standout Tracks: “Sleep Apnea”, “Crashed Out”, “Generational Synthetic”
1. Clash the Truth
2. Generational Synthetic
3. Sleep Apnea
5. Modern Holiday
6. Taking Off
8. Burn You Down
10. In Vertigo [ft. Kazu Makino]
12. Caustic Cross
14. Crashed Out
Released: August 24, 2012
Label: Poison City Records
Purchase: Poison City Records
In the past year, I have become very fond of the wave of bands coming from Australia, with a folk-punk aesthetic. In particular, The Smith Street Band, a five piece band from Melbourne whom I interviewed earlier this year which can be found here.
Their sophomore record, Sunshine & Technology, released on August 24th, has had high expectations after their first LP No One Gets Lost Anymore which didn’t have a single track that disappointed. Self-described as “Folk Party Punk” with the most honest lyrics I have ever heard, Wil Wagner, does not take the same approach to his songwriting as many current day bands do. Instead of arrogantly trying to make his lyrics appeal to every listener, he writes very personally about emotions, mishaps, parties, and his views of society. In “I Want Friends”, he howls out social commentary and a way to live life through “exist[ing] between the margins, not between the lines.”
Sunshine & Technology is more band orientated than their debut album, as opposed to solo songs With added guitars and drums, each song now is much fuller and definitely written with the entire band in mind. The beloved, distinct Smith Street Band sound with their addictive folk melodies, backed up by punk-esque sounding guitars and a rhythmic drum beat is present in this release. My personal favorites alongside “I Want Friends” which I mentioned previously, are “Tom Busby” and “Don’t Mention The War” for their sound and Wagner’s lyrical genius. “The things you loved started gathering dust years ago. You know more than anyone would give you credit for, we’re killing ourselves to live the best life possible.” (Tom Busby). The final song that allows the album to end with a bang, “Don’t Mention The War” escalates to a cohesive masterpiece with each instrument playing loudly as Wagner cries out above everything.
The Smith Street Band are first doing a national tour of Australia which has already commenced, followed by a nine day stop over in China for six shows and then a month in the U.S. Tour details can be found on their Facebook page, and the Poison City Records website.
This album, alongside their debut album, are my version of the 90′s generation’s Nevermind by Nirvana. Sunshine & Technology is an album not to be ignored, and is sure to receive critical acclaim. It can be purchased in mp3 format from iTunes and in CD and vinyl record from the Poison City Records website. You can also listen to a free stream of the album here.
Standout Tracks: “I Want Friends”, “Tom Busby”, “Don’t Mention The War”
1. Sunshine & Technology
2. I Can’t Feel My Face
3. I Want Friends
4. Why I Can’t Draw
5. Stay Young
6. What’s Changed
7. Tom Busby
8. Young Drunk
9. When I Said Us I Meant Them
10. Don’t Mention The War
Frank Ocean‘s Channel Orange is a nightmare of an album to review, not because it’s a bad piece of work or even because of the circumstances that surrounded its release (read: Frank Ocean broke the ice about his still unclear sexuality just days before the album’s release with a painful recounting of his failed relationship with a man — a huge no-no in the heteronormative R&B world). Instead, the difficulty of reviewing Channel Orange lies in the fact that its such an intimate experience that it probably shouldn’t be dissected out of respect for Ocean. That emotional purity and the special way that Ocean seems to deliver it make Channel Orange an engaging and heartwarming listen from start to finish. He may be bisexual, but his pains and murmurs of unrequited love ring true to a much wider audience (it’s no wonder that he found success early on in his career writing songs for Beyoncé).
Interestingly enough, what makes Frank Ocean so particularly endearing may or may not even be the music he manages to make; his wit, charisma, and uncharacteristic nonchalance for someone with so much pain inside him carry him more than far enough. Perhaps even more interesting though, is that this doesn’t even matter in the grander scheme that is Channel Orange. From the bittersweet reminiscing of ”Thinkin Bout You” to the outpour of regret and contemplation on “Bad Religion” to the ten-minute magnum opus that is “Pyramids”, Ocean spins a tale of desperation and heartbreak so real and so personal that we can discover exactly who Frank Ocean is, regardless of what we may or may not have heard about him. “This unrequited love, to me it’s nothing but a one-man cult and cyanide in my styrofoam cup. I could never make him love me,” he explains to a non-suspecting taxi-driver on “Bad Religion” — and suddenly, we know he has some secrets about his sexuality. On “Pink Matter”, he questions, “What do you think my brain is made for? Is it just a container for the mind?” — and we feel both his mind and brain at work. When Ocean’s flawless falsetto accentuates the hook on “Thinkin Bout You” and he croons, “Or do you not think so far ahead? Cause I’ve been thinking ’bout forever,” we feel Ocean’s nostalgia for the past he loved and the future that never was, all in the present tense. Over the course of the album’s intentionally sparse 17 songs, we discover much about Ocean while at the same time, he encourages us to discover more about ourselves as he carefully pieces each vignette together and invites us to reflect alongside him.
Ocean is far from what you would normally expect from an R&B star, but he does represent everything that you’d hope to find in one. That, perhaps, is much more important.
“I’m f*cking great at rapping,” Das Racist frontman Himanshu Suri boasts with quite a bit of gusto on lead single “Michael Jackson”. If these words were uttered on past mixtapes/albums Shut Up, Dude or Sit Down, Man, there would be little to object to. But since they entered our ear canals by way of Das Racist’s studio debut Relax, more must be said.
For some reason, the rap duo seem to have lost quite a bit of the wittiness and charm that made their first two efforts stand out so much. For the most part, Heems unfortunately sounds quite sluggish with his rhymes, failing to deliver quotable after quotable like on Sit Down, Man’s “amazing”, “hahahaha jk?”, and “rapping 2 u”. Instead he chooses to rattle off seemingly incoherent thoughts in a raspy, grungy-sounding voice, leaving us wondering what exactly happened to the sharpness he previously displayed. His partner and long-time friend, Kool AD (aka Victor Vazquez), on the other hand, sounds much the same and provides ample reminders of what made us fall in love with Das Racist in the first place.
The social commentary is still there, the glitchy beats are still there, and the genius is still there. The magic, however, is gone. Everything is still seemingly intact though, so what makes Relax sound so detached and uninspired compared to the rest of their catalogue? Who knows? Heems, Kool AD, and Dapwell probably don’t even know.
Perhaps it’s a change of focus. As Heems says on what is perhaps his best verse on the album (on opening track “Relax”), “Juvenile shit / I ain’t really tryna rap about / I don’t remember from b-b-ba b-blackin’ out / These days, I’m mostly focused on my bank account / I ain’t backin’ out until I own a bank to brag about.” Making music that sells is certainly different from making music that shines.
Or maybe it’s the fact that Das Racist have already, well, ‘made it.’ The hook for album standout “Power” tackles this issue head on: “It’s too easy. Even if I told you about it, you probably wouldn’t even believe me.” Bursting onto the scene from literally nowhere with the ridiculously infectious and utterly confusing “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” and then securing collaborations with the likes of Diplo, Boi-1da, Roc Marciano, and El-P on their second release. And everything was released to critical acclaim. It kind of reads like a script, one where we got to watch the trio hone their art while enjoying huge amounts of success along the way. Perhaps things were way too easy.
Fortunately for us, however, Das Racist don’t stray too far away from their fundamental skeleton. Play the record for anyone familiar with the group and it’ll be clear that it is indeed a Das Racist record. The repetitiveness and non-sequiturs on “Michael Jackson”, the danciness of “Booty In The Air”, the posse-cut “Power”, the unabashed self-referencing on “Selena” – everything is still distinctly Das Racist. The only difference is that altogether the whole record feels less densely packed with references and much less technically satisfying. Even production by Yeasayer’s Anand Wilder and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij fail to make a big impact – without looking at the credits, it’s hard to even tell what songs they worked on (“Middle of the Cake” and “The Trick” respectively).
There’s no need to take these reviews seriously, though. A group like Das Racist obviously isn’t out searching for approval from critics; all they need to do is take everything in stride and just relax. Then, finally, they can come back when they’re ready to put together a more inspired effort.
We’ll be ready.
Standout Tracks: “Michael Jackson” and “Power (feat. Danny Brown & Despot)”
Released: July 23, 2011
Over the past several years, a new species of alternative rock has emerged, characterized by bands that embody a “technical-meets-catchy” approach to making music. Last year, several more high profile bands of this ilk released full lengths; Circa Survive‘s Blue Sky Noise, Tides of Man‘s Dreamhouse, and PMtoday‘s In Media Res all garnered strong critical and consumer reception. So perhaps it’s surprising that, thus far, similarly-styled albums have been so rare in 2011. Yet even so, Artifex Pereo‘s Ailments and Antidotes is an undeniable testament to the sub-genre’s well-being.
Ailments and Antidotes opens with “The Baker Act”, a track that demonstrates both the band’s musical aptitude and frontman Evan Redmon’s impressive vocal range. Arpeggiated guitar leads introduce Redmon’s high, emotive tenor, soon swirling into an ambient section complete with twinkling piano, before an organ glissando transitions the band back into high gear for the chorus. It’s the same “loud-soft-loud” formula many of these types of bands thrive on (and often over-utilize) but the execution and instrumentation is so precise that the track involves, rather than bores, the listener. The lyrics are really the only negative (albeit a minor one); Redmon emotes, “Your poison is the scent that saturates the air/Grab your clothes and head for the back door before the devil knows you were here”, and though poetically phrased, the sentiment is a bit trite. In fact it’s difficult not to recall Anberlin‘s “The Feel Good Drag” (“Your lips, your lies, your lust/Like the devil’s in your hands”), because the songs are so extremely thematically comparable.
The next three tracks are all heavier tracks, similar in sound to “The Baker Act”. Of these, it’s “Suburbanite Sprawl” which excels the most. The groovy guitar riffs are reminiscent of The Chariot in the noisier parts of the tune, and snaking bass fills and sychopated drumming demonstrate the rhythm section’s capability. Redmon is at his most versatile here, soaring into the upper reaches of his range with ease. However, at this point, due to the congruent sound of the first four tracks it’s easy for the listener to infer that the rest of the record will be more of the same.
But the catch is that such an assumption would be incorrect. The middle portion of the record focuses the band’s talents on much more ambient, softer tracks. It’s this that gives Ailments and Antidotes the variety so many albums of this manner (including Artifex Pereo’s own debut EP, Am I Invisible) lack. And what’s more, the added variety doesn’t at all detract from the quality of the record. Because, despite the difference between tracks like “Butcher Hands” and “Mrs. D” and tracks from the first, heavier section of the album, it’s clear that the same band composed this entire collection of songs. Not to mention that Artifex Pereo are more than competent at performing this softer sound. In fact, “Devil and Water” is probably the best song on the record, bringing to mind the ambient sections of Circa Survive’s Juturna with its noodling guitar lines. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also the lyrical apex of the record; Redmon tells of an unhealthy relationship, singing, “Loathing you proved to be inadequate, so I will love you in my sleep and this will be less of a burden on me.” It’s hardly a novel concept, but the word choice and vocal delivery cause the words to ring startlingly true.
Yet, perhaps in an effort to avoid boring listeners with a heavier musical taste, Artifex Pereo revert back to the sound found at the beginning of Ailments and Antidotes for the album’s closing two tracks. While neither are as memorable as “The Baker Act” or “Suburbanite Sprawl” both hold their own and finish the album nicely. It’s interesting that in a scene where so many bands utilize the “loud-soft-loud” formula to writing music, nary a single one has crafted an entire album in the same format, as Artifex Pereo have done here. And Ailments and Antidotes certainly proves it is a blueprint that, when followed by a skilled band, can be very successful.
Standout Tracks: “The Baker Act”, “Suburbanite Sprawl”, and “Devil and Water”
Note: Evan Redmon is no longer the vocalist of Artifex Pereo. You can check out a video of the band playing an acoustic version of “Edgar Suit” with his replacement, Lucas Worley, below.