Sunday, May 3, 2015

BANSHEEFACE - by Pseudo/Sentai

Hey everyone,

A quick shout out to one of my favorite indie prog outfits, Pseudo/Sentai. They recently released a new album, Bansheeface. It's awesome. Despite always being able to find something I love in music (even in music I don't like that much), I rarely get as excited about a group as I do Pseudo/Sentai. They are doing really, REALLY cool stuff, and I hope you give them a bit of your time and check out this new album. Rich, provocative textures and twists and turns that always please. From a songwriting standpoint, I have never found team Sentai to be lacking. On their last release, There's Always a Fucking Problem, I thought a lot of the tunes were cut a bit short in order to serve the concept of the album's delivery as a whole, and I kept thinking to myself, "I wish this had slightly better production. Well, Bansheeface delivers taut, dense songwriting and excellent, balanced production. CHECK IT OUT.






Bandcamp: http://pseudosentai.bandcamp.com/
Prog Archives: http://www.progarchives.com/artist.asp?id=7500
Bookface: https://www.facebook.com/PseudoSentai


Bansheeface cover art

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Check out CONTAGIOUS by Agora Forte

Hey Everyone,

A prog group from Minneapolis, Agora Forte, just released this single from their upcoming 2nd album Contagious. The song is called "Fractalize."

Listen to it. Love it. Memorize it. See it live if you can.

So EPICALLY proud to know these guys and especially proud of my good friend Joe Marx on lead vocals.

If you are able to, show this band some love. Subscribe on YouTube, like them on
Facebook, etc. And buy their first album (Monuments), too.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pseudo/Sentai: Nature's Imagination Pt. 2




Since the popular music of the 1960s, so-called "fusion" artists have attempted to create new music from already established styles. While sometimes successful, the downfall to this approach is that many of these artists combine such elements in a way that is too restricted by the forms that their original elements came from. This is the anti-thesis of Pseudo/Sentai, and Nature's Imagination: Chapter 2 is a perfect example of this. This album doesn't necessarily qualify as "fusion," per se, but it speaks equally with characteristics from metal, pop, and everything in between--the dense instrumentation would appeal to everyone from fans of Baroque music to Noise Rock, and their melodic sensibility dishes out lines that remind us of groups like of Montreal, The Flaming Lips, I'm From Barcelona, Make Yourself-era Incubus as well as those who appreciate the technical appeal of novel vocal acrobatics.

The Track-By-Track:

1. "Landmark of Vascular Catastrophe"
The first track on the EP opens with synth strings that lull you into a false sense of comfort, and seconds later vocalist Scott Baker and dense supporting instrumentation take you to another musical dimension. The atypical vocal harmonies are both beautiful in their ambiguous tonality and just jarring enough to feel fresh. After this initial dynamic shift, guitarist Greg Murphy introduces a guitar motif that serves as an interesting hook; happy, yet pensive. Subsequently, raunchy guitar chords and synth orchestration comprise a coda that lasts for the remainder of the track. In this instance, the odd compartmentalization of song structure serves as a mini-epic, that, while full of concrete melodies, offers a somewhat impressionist gesture in its totality.

2. "Photoperiodism"
The second track opens with a different aspect of Scott Baker's vocal abilities. Warm, comforting timbre colors the mid-rich guitar tone with interesting results. The vocal melodies aren't composed as hooks in the traditional sense, but rather every melody, repeated or not, balances beauty and catchiness in an attractive equilibrium.

3. "Oil Hurricane"
Track three opens with erratic synth instrumentation that reveals influence from classic video game music. The seemingly 8-bit opus gives way to live vocals drenched in distortion, and eventually tight-toned guitar lines. The last 15 seconds or so are particularly enjoyable as a coda, with a tasteful fade out on melodies that seem random, circusy, and mad-scientist, all at once. The composition as a whole is interesting, but the placement of the track between "Photoperiodism" and "Foliage Flower" seems to break the flow of the EP; it seems that it would be more appropriate after "Landmark of Vascular Catastrophe" or as the EP closer.

4. "Foliage Flower" 

"Foliage Flower" is beautiful. Less warm than the vocals of "Photoperiodism," but equally soothing, Scott Baker's singing shines in this track, and the computerized harmonies contribute valuably to the atmosphere of the track. The song, in my opinion, should have been much longer, as it seems like it is just getting off to a mind-blowing start when it is in fact ending.

5. "Keeper of the Stars"
Track five, is a masterfully balanced composition, and finally gives us a song that approaches the 5 minute mark! The extended bridge section sports interesting and memorable guitar lines as well as well placed bass embellishments. As with tracks two and four, vocals in this song are a highlight of the performance.


Production:

It is clear from the opening synth tones that this album was recorded with Apple's Garageband. Rather than this being a liability, Pseudo/Sentai should be commended for making such a balanced, listenable, and enjoyable piece of audible art with software that is, albeit powerful in an objective sense, widely regarded as a DAW for amateurs. It is no secret that this is an indie production, but these musical DIYers have managed to avoid the typical pitfalls of many homemade albums--they no doubt spend a lot of time dealing with software issues that professional studios do not have to worry about. Most importantly, the palpable dedication to production is coupled with clearly mature, skillful compositions.

Stand-Out Tracks:
The entire album is commendable, but "Oil Hurricane" may prove to be a bit abrasive for some listeners.


Pseudo/Sentai is:
Greg Murphy - Guitar, Bass
Scott Baker - Vocals

Website: pseudosentai.bandcamp.com

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Yuukai Kenchiku (融解建築): Trinoctivm




Coming out of Kyoto, Japan is an excitingly fresh experimental group with roots in jazz, rock, and classical. Yuukai Kenchiku, which translates literally to "melting architecture," does exactly what their name suggests by fusing and tearing apart various structures in their music. One literally gets the feeling of different structures being rammed into one another to create a new whole through their frequent use of syncopation. This offering demonstrates both the creativity and versatility of the group, and if you are a fan of diverse jazz forms, you should probably find something in here that you like, particularly if you're into jazz flute, fusion, or good old saucy bebop.

The Track-By-Track:

1. "Beatnyx"
After a short syncopated introduction, the guitar and flute lay down sick ostinato, which gets warped and complicated by the ensuing bass line's weaving in-and-out relationship to the melody. At 1:33, the piano takes over with a different, but equally hypnotic ostinato phrase, while the rhythm section sticks with its anchoring dotted quarter note phrasing. One might expect a string of such repetitious motifs to lack the ability to draw listeners in, but the effect here is quite the opposite--and at 4:40, when the percussion crashes in with a straight-and-heavy groove, you'll find that you want to shake your head, tap your foot, or swing your hips to the music right until the end. When the flute jumps up to harmonize the closing motif at 7:10, you'll wish that it kept going.


2. "小夜時雨 (Sayo-shigure)"
The 2nd track, "Sayo-shigure" is fascinating. The title means "Nighttime Drizzle," which gives the listener insight into the song's pensive and gentle feel. I use the word "fascinating" because of the organic mixture of elements. During the opening flute passage, until about the 2:00 mark, the note choices on the flute would be as easily at home on a Japanese shakuhachi accompanied by a shamisen as they would in an Impressionist orchestral piece. I don't mean to peg this group with any sort of national identity. Rather, this aspect of the piece demonstrates the best kind of fusion, and, when the bass guitar kicks in around 2:00, you are seamlessly transported into another place--a dark, rainy, New York at 3AM kind of place--which further enhances the mixture of diverse flavors. The slight crescendo at the end is an emotional and satisfying moment executed with class. For such a minimalist composition, "Sayo-shigure" communicates volumes with its efficient melodies and masterfully textured atmosphere.

3. "Meiosis"
 Third and final track on Trinoctivm is full of surprises. More syncopation keeps the record bumping, and the 70s-esque keyboard/flute soloing carry a distinct Jethro Tull feel. The piano interlude at 2:45 is unexpected, but not unwelcome. As it progresses, it evolves into something of a fun-house of melody, exuding a collage of notes and colors that summon images like indiscriminate romps and carefree feelings. With a name like "Meiosis," that isn't all that surprising either.


Production:
Clean, clear, and perfect for this kind of music.

Standout Tracks:
"Beatnyx"
"小夜時雨 (Sayo-shigure)"

Recommended?  YES!


Yuukai Kenchiku (融解建築) is:
Flute: Nami Adachi
Guitar: Hidehito Tamba
Keyboard: Takenobu Takahashi (aka "Hassan")
Bass: Shintaro Kanda
Drums: Kei Akita


                 http://yuukaikenchiku.com/
                 www.facebook.com/YuukaiKenchiku




Semeron: Breathing Scarlet





Released in May 2013, Breathing Scarlet is the 2nd full-length album by the Minneapolis rock group Semeron. The album's tunes are deceptively homogenized--moving from track to track with a cohesive sound, yet at the same time containing a huge diversity of riffs, structures, and textures. From the opening quasi-metal instrumental, to the combination of traditional prog and modern rock on "Our Sky," Breathing Scarlet presents a style that tightly and tastefully balances melody, craftsmanship, technical performance, and a mainstream-conscious mentality.

The Track-By-Track:

1. "Afro Blue"
The opening track, "Afro Blue," is a cover of a jazz standard by Mongo Santamaría. It is only fitting that Semeron, a group that habitually opens their live shows with an instrumental piece, chose this as the album opener. The translation from jazz to metal/hard rock was accomplished without missing a beat, and it seems as legitimate an arrangement as the widely known John Coltrane version of the tune. And while there is no congo improv like the original Santamaría version, the composition highlights some excellent lead work by guitarist Nick Ford.

2. "Can't Take Me Alive"
Semeron follows contemporary convention by using their most accessible tune as the second track of Breathing Scarlet. "Can't Take Me Alive" features a balance between anthemic motifs and compact arrangement. It's also an excellent song to introduce the group's versatile vocal abilities; Adam Hanson and Jeff Gyllen capture and hold your interest captive from the line "tell the law I'm staying" at 0:29. While the breakdown at 1:23 might strike some as somewhat predictable in its placement, the vocal arrangement is full of dynamics, and leads seamlessly into Nick Ford's energetic lead work. All in all, a great single, and a fitting second track.

3. "Cherry Blossoms"
The third track on Breathing Scarlet is an awesome offering, but takes until about 0:47, the chorus, to really kick in. By the time it does, you'll find yourself moving to the 3/4 groove. The brief interlude at 1:20 features a nice sense of melodicism, and the second verse introduces compelling leads under the vocals, making for a refreshing variation on the verse. The clean guitar passage beginning at 2:40 is beautiful, recalling, if only for a brief moment, classic Opeth-esque  guitar licks. Beginning with clean arpeggios that melt into a chord progression that carries the remainder of the bridge, and continuing through the guitar solo, the second half of the song is one of the strongest moments on the album. "Tilled in sun, we are"…classic!

4. "Trees"  
It's a tree from the land of Oz! No, it's an Ent! Or are trees sick of our pollution, and here to fuck us up?! Whatever the reason, in the universe of Semeron, trees are badass evildoers that need to be stopped!  The narrative that unfolds throughout the song is expertly told, and utterly uncontrived in terms of putting a story to song and having it turn out complete. The opening bass draws you into the dark atmosphere of the story, the group vocals pump you up, and the ever-evolving instrumentation supports the somewhat whacky story in a way that works without a hitch. Adam Hanson does a superb job of narrating, and reminds one, in a good way, of Iron Maiden's "Dance of Death." Luckily for Semeron, their story lacks the extra cheese that gets layered on in traditional heavy metal simply by virtue of genre-specific conventions in performance. "Trees" is not the best track on Breathing Scarlet, but is certainly above average. Highlights of the song are the narrative style, guitar work, and killer chorus. Oh, and the sexy tone of the tom drums in the intro.

5. "Honalee" 
By far, "Honalee" is the strongest song on Breathing Scarlet. Featuring a dynamic coda, passionate vocals, and probably the best reference to past musical royalty that I've heard ("Puff the Magic Dragon" if you didn't catch it), the song travels seamlessly through its ebb and flow of dynamics. It also presents one of the most non-waltzy 3/4 grooves I've ever heard, which is a refreshing change from the 2 kinds of 3/4 grooves one hears in modern rock--the "waltzy one" and the "A Perfect Circle one."  "Honalee" contains the strongest performances of the entire album--rhythm section feels naturally in the pocket, the vocals are amazing, and there are plenty of tasty embellishments on each instrument's parts--Adam, Nick, JR, Jeff, and Jesse all shine on this track. Overall, this tribute to the power of childhood imagination found in the Peter, Paul, and Mary song and the bittersweet coming of age addressed in "Honalee" was executed with taste. I can imagine lots of artists trying to do this and not only failing, but failing miserably. Semeron nailed it. As a side note, "Honalee" has become one of my favorite songs--and not just from this album. For a special treat, get "Puff the Magic Dragon" into your iTunes library and listen to the two back-to-back.

6. "Ship of Fools"
I would cautiously label "Ship of Fools" the weakest track on the album. It has a lot of great moments--Adam's performances during the verses, Nick Ford's very emotive guitar solo, and an infectious hook in the line: "They just want / They just need / Someone to call them beautiful." The song is definitely not filler, but doesn't grab the listener's attention like the other offerings on the album.

7. "Crusher" 
While I must admit, in the interest of full disclosure, that I am not really into songs with silly lyrics, the general catchiness and balls-out performance of this song make it memorable and appealing. If it isn't apparent immediately with the stone-age thud of the kick drum intro, this tune is a dancer. It has a great groove that sporadically allows lead guitar work to dance on top and around it, and the vocal hook in the chorus is more than just a little memorable. In addition to the strong groove, one highlight of "Crusher" is the well-crafted guitar riffs; though not boundary-pushing, they fit like a glove and carry the tune in concert with Jesse Farrell's solid drum pounding.

8. "Rain"
The eighth track on Breathing Scarlet is one that I had to listen to a few times before getting into, but is undoubtedly a highlight on the album. For listeners who enjoy mutating dynamics, this song presents an appealing rising and falling dynamic rhythm. Starting at 1:58, the song shifts gear. Ethereal guitar arpeggios give way to a collage of vocal parts and a hypnotically headbang-able syncopated rhythm that serves as a canvas for Nick Ford's lead work. After numerous listens, it seems like the song could have ended strongly without the final chorus, but any way you arrange it, it has an epic close.

9. "Prelude in E Minor"
"Prelude" is tasteful little ditty that serves as the perfect segue into "Our Sky." This track is enjoyable particularly because it has ample breathing room to explore the atmosphere clean guitar passages can provide. If the brief passages of soft guitar work in previous tracks left you wanting more, "Prelude in E minor" is your chance to soak it up!

10. "Our Sky"
After "Honalee," "Our Sky" is the strongest track on Breathing Scarlet. It serves, perhaps predictably, as the album's epic closer, but does not fail to satisfy. Adam and Jeff nail the vocals. What I appreciate most about this track is that, while the originality of other tracks on this album is sometimes partially concealed by song structure, "Our Sky" showcases Semeron opening up compositionally. To be clear, the songwriting here is just as tight as their other songs, and can be appreciated by even those who are typically puzzled when presented with compositions that evolve as they unfold. The net effect of "Our Sky" is uplifting and inspirational, again, thanks largely to the vocal performance of Adam and Jeff. When listening to the album in its entirety, "Our Sky" is the perfect closing track. This is not because it is the "epic closer," but because it completes the picture of what Semeron is capable of as performers and composers.

Standout Performances:
Vocals: "Can't Take Me Alive," "Trees," "Honalee," "Crusher," "Rain," and "Our Sky"
Bass: "Afro Blue," "Trees," "Honalee," "Crusher," and "Our Sky"
Drums: "Afro Blue," "Trees," "Honalee," "Crusher,""Rain," and "Our Sky"
Guitar: "Afro Blue," "Can't Take Me Alive," "Trees," "Honalee," "Crusher," "Rain," and "Our Sky"

Production:
The production on Breathing Scarlet offers a solid, clear, contemporary-sounding mix. My only complaint is that there is a bit too much compression and limiting placed on the snare drum and guitars, particularly the leads. The rhythm guitars hit hard and crunch with the best of them, but the relatively thin lead tones do not live up to the rich treatment of other instruments (especially the lucid and tasteful vocal mixing), and tend to hamper the ability of JR and Nick to shine in lead contexts. It's as if, in the many moments they are shining, some aspect of the production has placed a filter on their obviously strong performances. Despite this one drawback, the overall production is appealing and reveals the work that went into the album.

Stand-Out Tracks:
"Afro Blue"
"Can't Take Me Alive"
"Honalee"
"Rain"
"Our Sky"

Recommended?  YES! Support this band!

Semeron is:
Adam Hanson - vocals
Jeff Gyllen - bass, vocals
Jesse Farrell - drums
Nick Ford - guitar
J.R. Westberg - guitars

Semeron website: semeronmusic.com


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dark Tranquillity: Construct





Dark Tranquillity's 2013 offering, Construct, is perhaps the most diverse album the band has released to date. The listening experience is akin to getting a little bit of their greatest work, a new facet of the group, and the general Dark Tranquillity "feel" all at once. And, before getting to a track-by-track analysis, I will dare to say that this album stands up to their undeniable masterpiece albums Character, Fiction, and Damage Done. The polished and heavy melodicism of those major three albums is present here as much as the goth-tinged clean vocals that graced Projector and parts of Fiction, as is the intensive percussion longtime fans will recognize from Skydancer and The Gallery. This album also showcases my favorite aspect of Dark Tranquillity's style par excellence, which is the ability to create the most ungodly heavy atmospheres without relying on all the metal conventions of their contemporaries--that is, they utilize the fact that they are a band, and not a group of musicians that use triple-rectified guitars as a crutch. I could go on and on about the general stuff that makes this a fantastic album, but let's take a look at specifics…


The Track-By-Track:

1. "For Broken Words"
The first track on the album is a decent opener, and gives the listener an immediate sense of the fantastic production of the album. Stanne's aggressive vocals come through with a richer texture than in previous releases, and do so without losing the harsh quality that give them their characteristic intensity. The song itself is middle-of-the-road in terms of what this band is capable of composing, and, though not what I would call "filler," it does little more than open the album adequately. 

2. "The Science of Noise"
Continuing in the tradition of using an awesome drum fill to kick off a song--as in "Cornered," "The Treason Wall," and "The New Build," to name a few--"The Science of Sound" gets going with a bang. In certain moments, parts of the overall harmonic movement and some of the vocal rhythms are a bit reminiscent of the song "Shadow in Our Blood" from 2010's We are the Void, but the song is a solid offering, and contains many of the hallmark Dark Tranquillity idiosyncrasies like pull-off guitar licks, drum grooves that are equally catchy and well composed, and screamed vocals that somehow exude melodic sensibility despite being atonal and all-out aggressive.

3. "Uniformity"
This is by far my favorite piece on the album. It showcases what a beautiful voice Mikael Stanne really has when he decides to include clean vocal technique. Although they are predictably used for the chorus, his non-aggressive vocals recall Projector, but have less of the harmonically rich cracked-voice quality Stanne used to glissando into notes. Both vocals styles work, but this style is more accessible, and because he is a better vocalist now, it also seems to just work better in general. At 5:31, "Uniformity" is the longest track on the album, and is an intense experience from beginning to end. I don't want to do a disservice to this track by comparing ti to others, but "Uniformity" captures an atmosphere akin to "Iridium" from We are the Void, and to a lesser degree "Inside the Particle Storm" from Fiction.

4. "The Silence in Between"  
The first time I heard this song, I thought that it should have been the track to start the album. It's intro is classic Dark Tranquility, and the energy is infectious to say the least. I don't know that anyone could resist shouting "what if we crumble/what if we fall?" right along with Stanne in the chorus. At 3:32, this track is almost too short, but I suppose it's always a good thing for a song when one wants to hit the "repeat" button over and over again. There are a few moments in the song where the vocal overdubbing, though subtle, is unnecessary, and the cut in dynamics at 2:18 is an abrupt change that could have perhaps been much smoother.

5. "Apathetic"
Track 5 is by far the weakest track on the album. While it sports impressive energy and strong performances from all of the band members, it is the weakest compositionally, and seems to be the most uninspired in terms of arrangement. The lyrics, too, seem like they would be something the band would pen in 1993--not that they had entirely bad lyrics back then (in fact, Dark Tranquillity has always employed a poeticism that I find endearing), it's just that these lyrics, and the song as a whole didn't get enough attention when it was being crafted. It pains me to say this for a group so dear to my heart, but "Apathetic" is the closest thing to filler on Construct. I almost want to delete that sentence, but I cannot deny the truth.

6. "What Only You Know"
Another song that creates an equally ominous and beautiful atmosphere is "What Only You Know." I love the way this track starts--you know the type; the kind of songs that begin with a climax that feels like an old emotion rushing back into memory after being all but forgotten. One of the aspects of the song that I love is the chord progression that borders on major tonality but doesn't quite get there. It brilliantly offers an ambiguous emotional experience, much like a bittersweet memory or the way some people don't allow themselves to be content.

7. "Endtime Hearts"
The heavy intro riff  of track 7 recalls the attitude of Dark Tranquillity's 2002 release Damage Done and offers dynamic counterpoint to the synth that floats gracefully on top. I  also felt the dynamic break at :58 was a bit in the vein of "Lost to Apathy" on 2005's Character, but despite being reminiscent of past Dark Tranquillity awesomeness, the song definitely holds its own, particularly with the tasteful and organic key change at 2:42, and, chiming in at 3:09, the variation of the dynamic break heard earlier in the tune is a welcome evolution in the composition.

8. "State of Trust"
Track 8 opens with Stanne's lush clean vocals, again showing what a talented vocalist he is. While the arrangement of the song is somewhat predictable, I love the tempo change during the bridge section, which makes for a really fresh change compared to the half time groove that would have been the default of most bands in the same context.   

9. "Weight of the End"
The theme riff at 0:20 is interesting in that, in a different context, it could be the sort of entirely blithe motif one hears all too often in heavy radio rock. However, here it serves as one of three feels in the song, making it a crucial part of the song's shifting character; and I love the when the riff becomes the bass line and the guitars evolve into more melodic parts on top of it. The extended coda will be a little long for some, but I enjoyed the extra jamming, as I tend to do when Dark Tranquillity goes atmospheric.

10. "None Becoming"
Sludgy intro with gothic keyboards on top is how Dark Tranquillity tells you the end (of the album) is nigh. This song puts you in a trance much in the way "Iridium" from We are the Void does.


Production:
I absolutely love the production on this album. The band has shown on Character, Fiction, We are the Void, and Construct that a clean, articulate sound is what they want, and each one of these albums has been a testament to that goal and to the undoubtedly massive amounts of work that their studio production teams have accomplished over the years.

Stand-Out Tracks:

"Uniformity"
"The Silence Between"
"What Only You Know"
"Endtime Hearts"
"State of Trust"
"Weight of the End"
"None Becoming"

Recommended?  YES!


Dark Tranquillity is:
Mikael Stanne - vocals
Martin Henriksson - guitar, bass
Niklas Sundin - guitar
Anders Jivarp - drums
Martin Brändström - keyboards, programming.


Dark Tranquillity website: darktranquillity.com


Other Notes:
The special edition of the album comes with two bonus tracks, "Immemorial" and "Photon Dreams." Both songs are excellent and continue the trend of Dark Tranquillity bonus tracks being equal (or better!) quality than their already amazing album offerings. If you're a diehard fan, spend the dough to get the bonus tracks. If it's out of your price range, check 'em out on YouTube. I am sure they're posted, and I'm sure you'll love them.

Music Reviews Starting!

Hey Everyone,

As we posted about earlier, we're going to start doing music reviews on our website so we have an outlet for sharing music that we think people might be interested in hearing about. As our tastes are pretty diverse, we're going to be covering a lot of ground, and not sticking just to rock and rock-related releases.

Just so we can get this thing off to a strong start, we've prepared 3 reviews. After this, we'll be adding a new review monthly in addition to our other content.

This week:

Dark Tranquillity - Construct
Semeron - Breathing Scarlet
Yuukai Kenchiku - Trinoctivm