Angels and Demons, Space and Time
Produced and engineered by Scott Colburn
As a band based on a narrative concept (a fictitious town that gives the band its name), Seattle’s Hypatia Lake has had uncommon ambition from the get- go, and its third album, Angels and Demons, Space and Time, achieves levels of baroque complexity, lyrical heaviness and sonic ecstasy few dare to approach.
Delicate acoustic folk introduces the first two songs, “Her Tears Are the Footsteps of Angels” and “A Plea to Remiel.” The former resolves into a rousing “la-de-dah” chorus, while the latter builds to a heavy post-Black Sabbath fuzz outro. “Of Brains and Stars” is a woozy, doomy reworking of “House of the Rising Sun” worthy of Nick Cave.
The middle four songs of the album form a chewy nougat center of noise bliss. “The Metaphysician’s Request” is heavy on distortion and whammy bar – a glorious, gnarled proggy rocker. That song and “The Space That Defines Itself,” a bouncy, singsongy, skewed pop tune, both recall the great undersung band Swirlies. Noise/drone instrumental “Upon Their Meeting, They Embrace” is pure ear candy for lovers of damaged sound, and “Your Rate in Time” is like a between-song transition from My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless expanded to a full song.
The album shifts again, to a more psychedelic gear, in its final third. “The General’s Gleaming Edge” is paisley British Invasion-style guitar pop, and “The Patterns of Orion” encompasses whistling feedback, psychedelic guitar soloing and a driving, hypnotic bass line that gets massively heavy at times. The multi-part “YUYM” follows a Bowie- esque intro with nods to both hardcore and Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.” The final, unlisted song features the repeated refrain “I am infinite now” – just as its music is expansive, Hypatia Lake’s lyrics tend toward the metaphysical and cosmic. This is clearly a band seeking to touch the spheres. (Reverb Records)
Produced by The Heavy Souls | Captured
and blended by Tom Meyers | Mastered
by Chris Hanzsek
Sometimes in order to get what you want, you have to take matters into your own hands. This certainly rings true for Seattle’s Thee Emergency with their second full-length release, SOLID. Not to say that their last LP, CanYou Dig It?, produced by industry veteran Jim Diamond (The Dirtbombs,The White Stripes) is anything to sneeze at – it’s just clear that with SOLID, the rambunctious group has created some room to play around and explore its style, minus the input of a big-time producer.
A case-in-point would be the album’s opener, “Call 911.” The first full minute of the track is a seemingly mindless drum solo that rolls into a tumultuous burst of catchy guitar hooks and playful lyrics designed to make you dance. By the second track, “Heartbreaker,” the listener feels like they have stepped out of a time machine set to the year 1975. Thee Emergency flirts with Detroit garage rock, heavy soul and psychedelic influences to create a sound that is the ultimate throwback to (the best of) classic rock ‘n’ roll, but with a fresh, sassy spin. That sass can almost entirely be credited to frontwoman Dita Vox, whose vocals are at once sweet and soulful then emotive and fierce, grabbing hold of each song and not letting go.
From there, the album pushes forward at a steady, albeit highly energetic pace, with epic guitar riffs courtesy of Matt “Sonic” Smith that would be perfect for a fight-to-the-death round of Guitar Hero – heavy, catchy and persevering. The turning point of the album is the beautiful instrumental “This Guitar Says I Love You,” which gives listeners enough time to take a deep breath before absorbing the gorgeous, slow-burning “O Mota,” a definite album highlight. Ultimate fans of true blue rock ‘n’ roll should not pass these guys up. (The Heavy Souls)
Produced, recorded and engineered by Bradley
Zeffren at Chroma Sound in Seattle, WA |
Mastered by Ed Brooks at RFI in Seattle, WA
Kristen Ward exudes a dual personality on her second album, Drive Away, and the Seattle-based artist’s contradictions are apparent from the track titles. At one point, she sings that all she wants to do is “Drive Away,” yet a few tracks later she wails, “I Want to Go Home.” This seeming duality fits well with her alt-country aesthetic, which reflects both an edgy sensibility and an innocent nostalgia for the “good old days.”
The album’s production allows the listener to focus on Ward’s lyricism and – in the tradition of Johnny Cash – she is strongest when she takes on dark subjects. During a verse of “Faith,” Ward tells a child to “draw a sunny picture ... because the way you think can make me smile,” before moaning the chorus: “Faith comes easily / Faith dies quickly.” On the refrain’s last note, she descends to a key that is nearly too low for her range, but that only emphasizes the depth of her despair. Her alto vocals are smooth enough to soothe a bourbon hangover, and her vocal hiccups, runs and other inflections keep the listener’s attention without distracting from her emotions.
The instrumentation on the album is superb and guitarist Gary Westlake uses all his alt-country tricks, such as the wandering double-stops on “All Alone” and The Allman Brothers-influenced licks on “Good Time Man.” Kevin Suggs’ pedal steel provides not only the melancholy atmosphere, but also some of the most memorable hooks (see “Loneliness”). Even Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready makes an appearance on “With You Again.” His screechy leads bring the raw emotion that counterpoints Ward’s subtle delivery.
Though Ward covers familiar territory, there are plenty of exceptional moments that make this album special. However, her setlist could benefit from at least one song whose beat really cooks – all of these ballads fit comfortably in the down- to mid-tempo range, and even the honky-tonk flavored tunes are barely quicker than “Stand by Your Man.” Still, Ward is an exceptional songwriter and singer who takes traditional elements and presents them in ways that convince of their authenticity. (Self-released)
Pretty Swell Explode
Produced by Odd Nosdam
Longtime Anticon sound guru OddNosdam’s latest offering, Pretty Swell Explode, proves why a posse of the label’s artists and experimental like-minds such as Mike Patton have put him at the top of their collaboration lists. Over this two- disc, 17-track compilation of remixes, B-sides, rarities and unreleased originals – many stemming from Nosdam’s two previous albums, 2005’s Burner and 2007’s Level Live Wires – the Bay Area producer whips up an enchanting brew of sampler magic, field recordings, tape hiss and other effects that evoke a range of sensations and showcase his sonic prowess.
Pretty. On “Untitled Three,” one of eight unreleased tracks, Nos taps into shoegaze serenity by rekindling his Burner partnership with Flying Saucer Attack associate Jessica Bailiff, whose sunny but surreal vocals coat blissed-out drones and barebone beats in calm. And the reworking of Black Moth Super Rainbow’s psychedelic “Forever Heavy” features Bailiff’s gentle murmur, somnambulant thumps and lullaby keyboard
tinkers to call a sleepy beauty into light.
Swell. Nos explores ambient soundscapes on the second disc, most notably on Boards Of Canada’s “Dayvan Cowboy,” which stretches into a hypnotic, nine-minute opus of warmth and meditative quiet that may just conjure what heaven would sound like.
Explode. Bursts of glitches, grungy distortion and dizzying echoes on “Freshman Remix” thicken up a dissection of label brethren Thee More Shallows. And the standout “(Growin Up in the Hood) Four Thousand Style,” which mashes a gaggle of bits and pieces from U.K. band Hood, blasts off from a jarring, fuzzy bass into staccato hip-hop beats and blips, sensual synth pulses and lyrical slivers cut from vocalist Chris
Adams for a stunningly intricate collage.
iTunes software classifies the album not as experimental, electronica or hip-hop, but “easy listening.” Considering its totally chilled-out musical rapture, Pretty Swell Explode presents a strong case for fans of sonic euphoria to make room in their record collections. (Anticon Records)
Recorded by Patrick Enzor | Mastered by
Pete Lyman at Infrasonic Sound
The rapid ascent of Greg Ginn’s SST Records to the top of the West Coast punk rock community reached the motherland when his imprint signed Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. in 1986, yet things went awry for the label soon after. Ginn invested his time in the world of the avant-garde and free jazz, and album releases from Henry Kaiser and Elliot Sharp totally rerouted the path his steam engine was gunning down. Fast-forward to now, and groups like Silver Daggers and The Mae Shi are still pulling the strings on Ginn’s behalf and L.A. punk is as arty and experimental as ever because of it.
While No Age has been the poster child for SoCal’s punk scene for the past year, blogs and rags have hyped up Abe Vigoda – fellow chums and one of several house bands at The Smell – as the next big thing, and the band’s ambitious and long-awaited third full length, Skeleton, deserves every bit of attention. Released on Dean Spunt’s PPM label, the album is a fun and smart adventure, packed with so many innumerable twists
and turns that the listener will want to stay lost all day. Songs such as “World Heart” and “Cranes” teem with a Caribbean pulse – something that has been absent from punk rock for quite awhile. Yet, Abe Vigoda adheres to the formula in a wise manner and it’s a welcoming feat.
“Lantern Lights” is by far a standout track, grabbing listeners by the scruff of the neck and plunging them into the young foursome’s frantic universe of Afro-pop guitar loops, trotting bass and busy worldbeat percussiveness. The buried vocals leap in and out of the din of drum clatter and no-wave abrasiveness: “Take one leap / Take two / Tree to
tree / Peak to peak / To meet your family.” It’s audacious, exotic and the way punk rock should be. (PPM)
Recorded, engineered, produced and
mixed by Marty Anderson | Mastered by
JJ Golden at Golden Mastering
It’s with a humming air of gusto that Okay pulls off Huggable Dust. At 18 songs and 59 minutes, the album moves fluidly, never growing repetitive or boring.
From start to finish, Huggable Dust consistently comes through with well thought out songs, all possessing unique characteristics that cross and blend realms within genres through unpredictable arrangements of instrumentation, while maintaining a linear feel.
The sonic signature of Marty Anderson’s vocals draw similarities to the raspy croak of Subtle’s Dose One while possessing a radically different lyrical delivery. Such deliveries are conveyed with a bared openness that, with a sense of melancholy, paradoxically glow warmly in the chest. The production, which features a healthy catalogue of instruments and maintains a refreshing feel between songs, is flawless and innovative. It’s similar to the grand complexities found on Sparklehorse records in
the sense of approaching a studio record as an infinitely malleable piece of art.
Effective vocal doubling helps represent both a vulnerable frailty and gentle confidence. This open-heart exposure creates a tear-jerk reaction as it resonates with the most universally relatable topic: love, and the lack thereof. These complexly decorated yet simple pop songs are garnished with words expressed as breaths of rehearsed dialogue that could never be said, only sung or text messaged. It’s a dialogue of communication between unsure lovers – an attempted explanation to
resolve misunderstandings, explain confusion and convey best wishes. This is exemplified with lyrics like “I want you,” which is repeated in a growing chorus until it crests with “to be happy.”
While in this age, an album concentrated in the theme of love may be cliche, Huggable Dust is threaded with intelligent lyrics and dynamic instrumentation that creates a genuine atmosphere of heartfelt compassion. Innovative as they come, a monumental album has been constructed here. (Absolutely Kosher Records)
-Evan “The Bug” Williamson
I Know What You’re Up To
Mixed by Bryan Cook at Juice Monster |
Mastered by Roger Seibel at SAE Mastering
| Produced by William Gustavus Seyffert
Considering Willoughby’s frontman, Gus Seyffert, studied bass under the tutelage of legendary jazz bassist Charlie Hayden, this album approaches bedroom pop at a subtly different angle.Driving bass takes the spotlight and guitars wallpaper the background. Usually found on stage supporting artists like Inara George and Michael Andrews, Seyffert finally makes his long-awaited debut with I Know What You’re Up To, producing and performing most of the album himself.
The moody Seyffert lists Sparklehorse and The Zombies as influences on I Know What. Both groups have a clear presence, dually noted by the rich analog recording style where everything (chiefly the vocals) is salted by gentle fuzz; but unquestionably, there’s more Sparklehorse than Zombies. The record drips with the former’s sensibilities of pace, sweet doubled male vocal leads and harmonies, and unexpected electronic and instrumental twists. The melody is predictably upbeat, sprinkled by
experimental keys and 1970s sci-fi mood exploration, all situated within a conventional verse/chorus framework.
The lyrics on I Know What have more emotional sway than the humdrum vocal tone. Soft snare brushes and glum harmonics on title track “I Know What You’re Up To” offer frank, murmuring poetry from Seyffert: “I don’t need you to trust me / Just show me what you do / Put your drink on the table / Your lies are coming true.”
With its tempo never exceeding a jog, most songs are dreamlike, patient acoustic meditations. The album is committed to listenability but a critical ear will have trouble getting past Seyffert’s aversion to vocal inflection. Lyrics are delivered in a mild-tempered monotone cadence as the singer harmonizes with himself. Emotional tone is then further masked by the lo-fi analogue crunch. In the end, Seyffert’s vocal style
sponges up more of the Sparklehorse sound.
Songs like the gingerly paced, British-invaded folk of “OK” show a musician with a remarkable ear for hook and harmony. Seyffert is a capable songwriter – his only crutch is over-reliance on his influences. Ultimately, this debut’s sparkling moments point to a maturing artist with the ability to lead and inspire other musicians. (Sargent Records)
Kites Without Strings
Produced and recorded by Dennis Bestafka
Sentinel’s latest offering, Kites Without Strings, follows their 2007 EP, Sequels and Hunches. The album’s dream-pop sound exists enigmatically with a defiance for normal principles: it’s ambient and gentle, but energetic and without silence. Inspired by the band’s exposure to the cultural and natural beauty found in the Bay Area, this mix successfully describes its four members’ experience in living one thing and its opposite.
The eight-track album opens with “Ohlone,” leading in with a catchy pulse of rhythmic drums and synth that builds into a driving chorus drenched in polyphonic vocals. The track starts off the album well, providing an upbeat indicator for the following songs.
Midway through, “Spades” serves as a percussive awakening from the dreamlike wistfulness of the album’s initial half. Drums drive and keys stand out via repeating riffs adding a refreshing zest, while ambient vocals fill where synthetic sounds sat on previous tracks. It feels organic and vibrant, like sunlight breaking dawn.
The album concludes with “Heroine,” a sultry song crawling in Phrygian. The imagery created from Sentinel’s lyrics model the band’s exotic, modal sound, which is especially meaningful as it represents guitarist Dennis Bestafka’s experience as a soldier in Iraq: “There is a tribe on lonely land / Shadows cast the shapes on evening sand.” It’s a profound escapist end to a profound escapist album.
Filled with sumptuous synth, ultra-reverberated vocals and saturated guitars, Kites Without Strings erupts like one long, happy wall of sound. Most of the songs on the album employ a similar upbeat pop vibe, creating a cohesive quality that might make differentiating them difficult. Thankfully, there isn’t a single bad track here, so this little bit of homogeneity proves itself more than welcome. (Self-released)
Lest We Forget
Tracks 2, 3 and 11 recorded at Capricorn
Studios in San Diego | Tracks 4, 12, 13 and
14 recorded at Music Friends in Los Angeles
| Tracks 6, 7, 8 and 10 recorded at Black Box
Studios in San Diego
To proclaim that a band from L.A. “came out of nowhere” may seem a bit farfetched, but amidst little press or fanfare, indie rock newcomers Archways burst onto the music landscape with a mighty full-length debut in Lest We Forget. Led by guitarist Chris Kordash and featuring a cast of SoCal musicians, Archways channel the best of the Interpol post-punk revival and fuse it seamlessly with Coldplay’s pop melodies and, surprisingly, touches of Tool’s technical complexity.
Once the driving drumbeat and dark, throbbing bass grooves of “New Low” kick in, Joy Division’s shadowy pall rises up from six feet under to linger relentlessly over the album’s 14 tracks. Theatrical lyrics (“I heard you settled in the Netherlands / I wish I was there with you now”) starring a lonely someone tortured over love gone astray, coupled with stellar songwriting and vocalist/keyboardist Ray Argyle’s soft croon, revive Jeff Buckley’s haunted spirit, most evidently on “Dumb Down,” which could have been a Grace outtake.
On standouts like “Jinx” and the anthemic “These Bones,” thick bass and drum rhythms falling into prog-like shifts add deeper texture to Archways’ inherent pop sensibility. All the while, choruses in the former track and in the jangly pop powerhouse “La La La” show the band can be as catchy as it is intricate. The record’s only misstep, “Safety of Numbers,” repeats the stale line “Maybe you’re right” just a few too many times.
The album plays out cohesively, with a spooky tick-tock ringing through from the outset of the Dark Side of the Moon-esque clock-striking intro. Considering the gothic overtones and mystique permeating the album, its literary kin could be Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem “The Raven.” It’s clear that on Lest We Forget, Archways have their sights set on their own classic. (Self-released)
Get Your Hopes Up
Produced by Hard Place | Mastered by Brad Vance
The title track of Hard Place’s Get Your Hopes Up introduces the L.A. band’s latest effort with chunky, distorted metal guitar riffs and swirling, synthy keyboards. These soon join with thumping dance beats and together become the backbone to the seductive and compelling vocals of Ashley Huizenga. While the lyrical responsibilities are also shared with guitarist Freddy Cristy, it’s more often than not that the two weave their sonic signature together harmoniously. When they aren’t harmonizing or doing call and response, they take turns backing the lead with shouts to emphasize certain parts of the song – reminiscent perhaps of Beastie Boys or Olympia’s Scream Club.
The album’s feel is that of patronization. The lyrics are simplistic, catchy and sometimes ridiculously cheesy; the music is trashy, but friendly, and sometimes funny. “Mondays Are for Working” wonderfully encompasses this sarcastic tone: the name of the song is repeated over and over, spliced with examples of what sort of work is to be done on Monday. Feeding the house cat, watering the plants, making phone calls, typing emails and pretty much everything else one might have to do on the first day of the week is covered in the course of about three and a half minutes.
The tone and throbbing delivery of Cristy’s guitar supports the majority of the album as a powerful texturing device. It works well juxtaposed with the intensely digital feel of the rest of the instrumentation. This mix of real and synthesized beats provides a mysterious and refreshing change of flavor between tracks. In “Last Goodbye,” there are some incredible dynamics that stand out from the rest of the album: intense digital drum hits, vocoder, reversed sounds, orchestral punches, twinkling keys – and the space between the sounds.
Surprisingly, the album concludes with an acoustic guitar-driven piece. It comes full circle, ending a well-constructed album that suggests an incredible live performance. Coupled with the YouTube videos that Hard Place provides, Get Your Hopes Up is definitely an interesting production worthy of investigation. (World Famous In San Francisco)
-Evan “The Bug” Williamson
Produced and engineered by Scott Solter at
his home studio in Monroe, NC | Mastered by
JJ Golden at Golden Mastering in Ventura, CA
These indie upstarts from the City of Angels may have cribbed their moniker from a lyric on Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me,” but the folk aesthetics with which they barter don’t feel forced. Their sophomore full length, Cicadas, retains a back porch coziness despite the jagged Built to Spill-meets-Wilco guitar riffs on “Silent Picture” and “Satisfied Alibis.” With Scott Solter (The Mountain Goats, Okkervil River) at the production helm, Cicadas matures before one’s very eyes on the swaying “Hand Eye;” it’s certainly the premier track. Subtle flourishes of Hammond organ and steel drums slowly unfold its pop brilliance.
Banter Records is selling The Antiques’ luster by linking the band’s shedding of old indie rock habits for a more diverse sound – their utilization of a wider and more obscure palate of instrumentation, as well as a few member shifts and more serious delivery – with Cicadas’ biological namesake (cicadas shed their exoskeletons to produce their very loud mating calls.) That kind of heavy-handed symbolism feels
especially accurate when listening to the threadbare lyrics of Joey Barro; the lyrical themes of heartbreak and desolation that he tackles are certainly not novel, but Barro’s ostentation-free approach is most comforting.
The band’s mid-tempo numbers slosh Barro’s lead just past the point of languor. Instead of creating a vacuous experience, late-night acoustic numbers “Heritage Fate” and “These Are Old Times” transport listeners to a cosmic version of the Dirty Thirties. “Song: See It In Your Eyes” wipes away the slide guitar dust of “Heritage Fate” for crunchy guitars and a twee chorus. The aural relics only catch up with the band on
the aimless parlor instrumental “Elizabeth.” Despite that evolutionary hiccup, Cicadas pierces the humid Southern night just as well as its insect brethren. (Banter Records)
Recorded and produced by Tim Mooney |
Mastered by Matt Pence in Argyle, TX
There is no doubt that Ryan Auffenberg can write an emotion-packed song. The first and title track on his new album for Evangeline Records, Marigolds, is ripe with feelings of hope and despair. However, his strength as a musician is in his delivery. Auffenberg is able to package a strong message that doesn’t just fit his lyrics, but enhances them.
Marigolds succeeds, in part, thanks to some great production from Tim Mooney (American Music Club). Mooney was able to capture the meaning behind Auffenberg’s lyrics by adding the perfect instruments to compliment each song. In the title track, “Marigolds,” the slow, heavy beat highlights the seriousness of Auffenerg’s lyrics. Mooney also played drums on almost every track on the record, which always increases the chances of getting what you’re looking for as a producer.
A lazy but beautiful ambiance in songs like “Waking Up Alone” and “Dizzy Spells” reminds listeners of a Radiohead hit, while faster songs like “Alright, Okay” and “Undercover” almost reach into the Americana genre. At times, Marigolds may even be compared to efforts by The Eagles, thanks to Auffenberg’s high vocal range and the way he confidently shifts between rock and Americana.
Auffenberg’s romantic writing style is indicative of his creative background. As a former writer and actor, Auffenberg has created an album that really focuses on the heavy moments in life. At the end of the day, Marigolds is a melodic, emotion-packed album that deserves to be listened to so everyone can appreciate the efforts of this talented
songwriter. (Evangeline Records)
The Love Lights
Mixed by Tim Brown
With a singular, fevered guitar strike and the lyrics “I keep my big mouth shut/ When I am home all alone / And at home,” The Love Lights launch into their new album, Young Lions. Glowing with the giganticness of Motown soul, roaring and rolling through all of its 14 tracks, the album’s sound is classic one – renovated and restored by seven talented musicians from the Northwest corner (Bellingham, Wash. to be exact). Different eras are breached as Young Lions dances through classic soul, R&B, Brit-pop and ska.
While the songs support themselves adequately in the moments between the brass, it’s the power of the horn section that makes The Love Lights undeniably compelling. Comprised of Jeremiah Austin and Sarah Jerns on trumpet, as well as Diana Dizard on baritone sax, they work effectively and concisely to create the illusion of a full brass band. Alex O’Farrell’s percussion is tight, orchestrated and ranges from hopping dance to throbbing tribal beats. The succinct punchiness of Jeff Ballew’s bass may remind some of Bootsy Collins; others will be pleasantly surprised by the lead guitar qualities similarly found on Rancid records. His brother, Ben Ballew, plays the guitar, which cuts with precision at the most danceable moments, pulses with surf licks and resonates sensually as the sultry vocals of Rob Stauffer bare a nakedness in their delivery and lyrical content. Following the historically perplexing subject of love, the songs explore intimate relationships, their words simple and blunt, but laced with clever imagery.
The recording defiantly beams the confidence of an impressive live performance and reveals no sleeves in which to hide studio tricks. Additional texture is fabricated with harmonies, yipping assorted percussive toys, as well as the occasional use of keys. In just about forty minutes, The Love Lights present a formidable and impressive album
that absolutely thumps and careens with energy. (Self-released)
-Evan “The Bug” Williamson
Four Way Free
Mixed and engineered by Brian Armstrong
| Produced by Genji Nakano | Mastered by
Drawing from the energetic acoustic scene created by Dave Matthews Band, Four Way Free brings us a unique, fun approach to acoustic rock on its latest album, Deeper. Finding their strength in live performance, these California musicians showcase this talent right from the start on their self-produced sophomore effort. Constructed just like the great live show, Deeper starts with “Introductions,” a song complete with a catchy acoustic guitar riff and the lyric hook, “Everybody’s got a rhythm.”
As Four Way Free moves into the next song, the title track “Deeper,” the band reveals a tight rhythm section led by Larry “Boody” Boodman. His style and nuances instantly hearken the work of DMB’s Carter Beauford as complicated beats are mixed in with splash cymbals. Boodman’s solid drum work is complimented by frontman Genji Nakano’s memorable lyrics, like those showcased in “Gasoline:” “If my desire is a fire / then you are the gasoline.” What sets Four Way Free apart from its contemporaries is
the personal touch Nakano gives the project – he does a remarkable job of focusing the music around the lyrics.
On “Higher Ground,” the members of Four Way Free break into a very impressive a cappella bridge, adding to an already high-energy and exciting song. Incorporating a personal and fun attitude into its music, the group effectively mixes memorable lyrics and positive feelings here with Deeper. Though Four Way Free is not necessarily a jam band, its members sure know when to jam and when to sing.(Self-released)
Wake Up You’re Dead EP
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Josh Perry and Happy Dwarf at Unit 6 Studios
Much of Happy Dwarf’s trip-rock sound centers around Erik Saenz’s soothing guitar riffs and droning vocals. Throw in the intricately woven bass lines of Barron Maxwell and the steady hand of drummer Adrian Neubauer, and you’ve got the mesmerizing abyss that is Happy Dwarf. The L.A. three-piece’s sound is anything but happy – on this new EP, Wake Up You’re Dead, the dwarves take listeners from dancing to nearly dying and back (luckily).
There’s a haunting web spun throughout the album, which collects on the track “The Killing Machine.” This epic song begins with a minute- long intro that would be well-suited for the introduction of a super villain in some futuristic comic novel. It’s sometimes tough to make out exactly what’s being said, but the pain is unmistakable as it builds to a crippling crescendo. The slow climb nears its climax as Saenz proclaims, “Hated / Self-created,” as if to confirm the autobiographical nature of his lyrics. The song soon explodes with a confusing array of screams that stay in your bones. On songs like “When the Angels Cry” and “Shut Them Up,” listeners almost feel as though they’re being sung to sleep by the eerie lullaby of a vivid introspective nightmare, only to be re-awakened by the groovy and upbeat “In Your Harmony.” For those worried they might come out of this listening experience a little more depressed than they were when they went in, fear not. Happy Dwarf finishes off the EP with a cosmic journey through synth and space – the kind of electronica that just makes you smile. All in all, this collection of music is one hell of a ride, and not for the faint of heart. (Self-released)
Flying Upside Down
Produced by Jeff Trott
All songs written by Griffin House
Mixed and engineered by Bob Salcedo at Dr. Babyhead Studios in Manhattan Beach, CA
Griffin House’s latest release draws in the listener from the start with inviting acoustic guitar strings and caressing vocals of “Better Than Love.” House’s lyrics explore the sentimental moments and aching heartbreaks of relationships in a simple, yet deeply meaningful way. The following song “I Remember (It’s Happening Again)” tells of his family members fighting for the country in World War II, Vietnam and Iraq, yet struggling within to find a meaning and end to such conflicts. Reminiscent of a Johnny Cash-style of storytelling, House sings, “I remember, when I was a younger man / We were soldiers fighting in a foreign land / Now I'm older and it's happening again.”
House’s sound borders somewhere on the lines of rock, pop and folk music. Songs such as “Let Me In,” “Live To Be Free” and “One Thing” offer rock tastes similar to Tom Petty or Chris Isaak with organ notes and guitar riffs, while others like “The Guy That Says Goodbye To You Is Out Of His Mind” carry melodies in a folk fashion with acoustics and gentle piano keys. “Flying Upside Down,” the title track of the album, begins with House’s call for help and slowly builds alongside repeating violin strings and up-tempo drums. House’s flight ends with him whistling to the sounds of a falling violin.
The longest song of the album “When The Time Is Right,” slows down the pace, almost freezing time and holds tight to those moments between lovers, urging them that, “When the time is right, don’t hold back.” The song continues to grow and unfolds into an ethereal sound parallel to songs from Coldplay and Sigur Rós. Flying Upside Down draws its influences from House’s upbringing, past relationships and musical aesthetics, bearing to the listener the naked voice and heart of a soon-to-be classic American songwriter and musician. (Nettwerk Music Group)