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Kathryn Berry, On The Edge of Infinity

30 Mar, 2016 Alec Cunningham

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“One The Edge of Infinity” is the first single from Canadian finance-manager-turned-musician Kathryn Berry off her upcoming EP, set to be released later in 2016. Berry began writing the track in Canada as a songwriter’s challenge and finished the song all the way down in sunny Florida, where she met Australian musician Stephen Jacob, who helped her complete the track.

Berry has beautiful raspy undertones to her voice that give her music a strong resemblance that of Natalie Merchant or Jewel. They’re the type of vocals that couple incredibly well with an orchestra. And not only does this song include strings, but it includes brass instruments as well, really amplifying the energy and mood of the song. While that may seem like quite a few elements at work in a single piece, this track was made with her vocals in mind the entire time. The instrumentation is toned down and pushed to the side when necessary, allowing her vocals to take center stage and making every element come together quite nicely.

The track begins softly and builds as the song progresses, bursting with a little more liveliness at each subsequent chorus, and the strings add just the right amount psychedelic energy to the song’s sound.

While some could construe her lyrics to mean that she’s singing about drugs, this track is actually an ode to meditation and about coming into focus with a higher state of being. She describes being on this so-called edge of infinity, singing, “Alice in her wonderland, Lucy in the sky with her diamonds. Where dagger words are popsicles that twist into rainbows.”

Berry’s vocals are something to be experienced, and I’m sure they’re even more impressive live. There’s no doubt her new EP is going to go down in the books as a successful release.

Review by Alec Cunningham
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Troy & Paula Haag, Migrate

14 Oct, 2015 Alec Cunningham

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Husband-wife duo Troy & Paula Haag are back at it again with their second full-length folk release, Migrate. In that their first full-length album was only released in 2012, they are fairly new on the music scene. But their music has such a nostalgic feel to it, you could imagine that they’ve been playing for quite a while.

“A Tale In Hard Times” is the first track off the album. They integrate peppy melodies into their work, which is what makes their tracks so memorable. Their use of vocal harmonies is on point as well; there’s not too little, and not too much at the same time. Troy works to provide lead vocals while Paula chimes in during key moments to compliment his sound. Together with their instrumentation, the duo is able to create quite a moving set of tracks.

The album is rooted in acoustic guitar work, and they utilize the style to the fullest through a focus on guitar picking, such as in “Touch,” where the guitar is a primary focus of the track. The final track, “Lies & Cries,” is another example of this. Because it’s an entirely instrumental track, the duo’s musical talent is put on display. However, it might have worked better situated between two other tracks instead of as a conclusion to the album.

Troy’s upbringing also happens to play a huge part in their music. Because he was born in Hawaii, there is a slight island feel to their songs. This appears most in tracks like “Another Tale In Hard Times” and “Used Up.”

“27” is perhaps one of the most memorable tracks on the release. In it, Troy sings of how so many celebrities have died at the age of 27. In the chorus he sings, “Death by misadventure; death by screwin’ up,” and goes on to list some of the ways they have met their fate.

There are a lot of interesting lines in their work. One line in particular that stands out can be found in “Cries & Lies.” Troy sings, “Like any good tale, would you rather be covered by truth or covered in glory?” What’s more, is that you even get a little history lesson while listening. In “This is How it Feels,” for instance, Troy references Madame Bovary. There’s even a track called “Emily Dickenson’s Daughter.” “27,” which references literary figures such as William Blake and Robert Frost, is another example of this.

Although Troy and Paula are only a duo, you can hear everything from mandolin and harmonica to piano and clarinet, which is another reason this album is such an interesting one. The songs draw parallels to 60s folk music. They’re like a 21st century Peter, Paul and Mary. But at the same time, there’s something modern about their music as well; they cite acts such as Iron & Wine and Gillian Welch as some of their influences, and by supplying their songs with peppy melodies, they find a way to traverse multiple genres.

The Century, the duo’s first album, was a purposefully stripped down release. Migrate, on the other hand, was composed as an exploration of both their studio abilities as well as their musical style. The duo has done some growing in the past few years, and what has resulted is an album that’s even more enjoyable than the first.

And while male/female duos are a dime a dozen, when they’re done right, they can really stand out. Troy & Paula are one of these acts. Their vocal harmonies are what really solidify this release. Put Migrate on the top of your list of albums to listen to; you don’t want to miss this one.

Alec Cunningham
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Vinyl Floor, Vaudeville

16 Feb, 2015 Alec Cunningham

vinylfloorAfter much avail preceding a successful second release, Denmark alternative rock trio Vinyl Floor has come back with their third album, Vaudeville, a name that comes from a French term meaning “voice of the city.” Made up of two brothers and a longtime friend, the album is comprised of contemplative lyrics that often verge on the darker side.

While the majority of the tracks see Thomas Charlie Pedersen as vocalist, there are four where drummer Daniel Pedersen steps up to take the lead. Their husky vocals often give the band a punk rock sound while at the same time calling to mind the solemn vocals of Morrissey.

The band joined forces with Sweden’s Vindla String Quartet on the album, providing another layer of sound on multiple tracks. In that the album often deals with darker subject matter, the strings provide an added layer of emotion the album wouldn’t be able to attain with basic instruments alone. One of the strongest tracks the strings contribute to is “The Abyss,” where the strings carry a strong presence on the second half of the track and contrast exponentially well with the song’s deep vocals.

Their second album, Peninsula, was entered into the official ballot of the 2012 Grammy Awards. Though it was not nominated, the fact that the album was submitted whatsoever speaks volumes about the quality of work these guys are able to produce.

Their upbeat tracks are the most successful. “Fallen Leaves,” for instance, is a far more effective track than the album’s subsequent one, “Basket of Kisses,” which is by far the release’s most subdued track. Adversely, “Fallen Leaves” is both melodically as well as lyrically successful, allowing listeners to become invested in the album from start to finish.

“Colorblind” takes a step back into the classic rock spectrum by immediately being reminiscent of Pink Floyd with its dreamlike sound, though it also carries a clear parallel with the melodic rock band Matchbook Romance, namely the band’s 2006 release, Voices. As is proof with this track alone, the band dabbles in a number of styles throughout the course of the album ranging from progressive and punk to alternative and even ambient at times. Those these styles sometimes converge on a single track, they are most often showcased in separate tracks.

“Sensational Freedom Country Estate” was a track originally recorded for their previous album, though they eventually decided it didn’t fit in with the rest of the tracks. Compared to the rest of the album, this is one of the group’s heavier rock tracks. Finally, two versions of “Angel of Crime” appear, the second being a bonus track that concludes the album. The latter version is a short one minute instrumental that perfectly complements both the original track and the album as a whole.

The theme seems to be darkness and struggle, which fits well with the band’s musical style. Whether it’s in “Fallen Leaves,” where a failing relationship is compared to the falling leaves of autumn, or “Colorblind,” in which they sing of the nightmares of the mind, grave subject matter abounds. And though the instrumentation does well to provide continuous intensity, it would be nice to hear more breaks both during songs and in between songs to show off the sound and add even more emotion to the release.

Despite a few bumps in the road, Vinyl Floor manages to encompass quite a range of musical styles and ideas in a limited amount of time. No matter what style of rock you identify with most, you’re guaranteed to find one that fits your style within these 13 tracks on Vaudeville.

Review by Alec Cunningham
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Wabi Sabi, Alive and Orjazmic up in the Tin Roof

21 Aug, 2014 Alec Cunningham

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Working to show the true aptitude of an artist, live albums can either be a hit or miss. Luckily for the funk-pop group Wabi Sabi, they have the talent to back up their recent release titled A Live and Orjazmic up in the Tin Roof. This two-disc release, made up of eight tracks on the first side and seven on the second, has such a crisp quality about it you’ll forget you’re listening to a live release at times.

The group began in 1999 as Damian Cartier (And His My Newt Orchestra). After a few years, the group transformed into a seven man outfit and altered their musical outlook and sound, which spurred them to change the name of the group to Wabi Sabi. Upbeat from the very start, these guys don’t take any time coaxing listeners into their sound. They throw you in full force and introduce you to their overflowing talent; there’s an impressive piano solo at the end of “Beliefs” and the trombone, trumpet, and saxophone show up at the ideal time on every track. They carry a smooth, suave sound, making them seem well-rounded as a group, and they play with a range of genres, even adding a touch of ska quality about it with their playful lyrics, use of brass instruments, and lively atmosphere.

“Life After (A) Death” is softer than most of the other tracks because it is led by a piano and it deals with the idea of where we go after death. Due to its gentler qualities and the heftier subject matter it addresses, this is a different side of Wabi Sabi than the rest of the disc portrays. It’s odd to hear this type of song precede one about spontaneous drug use though. Although “Rolling (Along)” is an entertaining song in and of itself, its placement on the album is questionable. Lead singer Damian Cartier sings about going to a party, being given a pill, and going for a wild ride. He sings, “. . . Then everyone was dancing and the fish began to smile. The futon started chanting, so you hugged it for a while.”

The second disc is a bit different than the first, being less structured and sometimes reminiscent of the crazy life of a carnival, especially with tracks such as “Spida” and “The Skar.” These are more like B-side tracks. There’s nothing wrong with them, but you have to be careful they don’t lose your attention since it seems to be more of a jam session for the musicians than anything else. “Song 4 Mother” clocks in at over 14 minutes and carries only minimal singing for that length of time. The majority of the track is the group jamming together. It’s also the same for the final track, “Apples,” though it only spans eight and a half minutes.

With each member being busy with their own line of musical work, Wabi Sabi remains on the backburner for this group, which is a shame given quality of work they’re able to create as a group. A Live and Orjazmic up in the Tin Roof is a very fun album, though perhaps the guys should have stopped after the first disc. Some of the group’s most memorable tracks include “Bait The Hook,” “Lady Lush,” and “Life After (A) Death.” It’s impressive Wabi Sabi was able to formulate such a quality release out of a live recording, but that serves as proof of how musically inclined they really are and of how well they perform as a group.

Review by Alec Cunningham
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Spicy Folk/If Fishes Were Wishes

16 Jan, 2014 Alec Cunningham

After meeting in 2011, the acquaintanceship of Raven and Lee, now the acoustic duo referred to as Spicy Folk, quickly grew into a relationship. They began creating music, and in 2013 they released this debut album of theirs titled If Fishes Were Wishes. The two chose their name on account of the type of music they create. Their sound is a mixture of folk, contemporary, and rock, which is how they came to dub their sound as “spicy folk.”

Raven serves as the group’s singer and lyricist while Lee works as Spicy Folk’s guitarist and songwriter. Neither of these two began their musical career with this release, however. The talent and knowledge gained from their earlier musical ventures has been able to season this album with the amount of flair it has. Because Lee’s father was a classically trained guitarist, Lee practically had no other choice than to join his father within the music industry. You can sense his training in the level of guitar picking each of these songs consists of.

They have chosen to introduce themselves with a track called “Stars Aligned.” The song is about a waitress and a customer in a diner who are both in a lull in life and thinking that there’s got to be something more to life than what they have now. Then they meet each other and their lives change forever. Raven and Lee have put an interesting twist on the track in that the first verse is sung from the woman’s perspective and the second verse is sung from the man’s.

Each member shares vocal responsibilities throughout the album, and by doing this they are able to do much more in the way of writing. For instance, instead of making a track one dimensional by only conveying the lyrics from one perspective, they are able to be multi-dimensional by utilizing both male and female vocals to tell the story from two perspectives. They do this multiple times in this release, including within the tracks “A Sailor’s Tragedy” and “The One I Want.”

There is a very poetic way about how each of these songs have been written. They have been able to grab the attention of listeners by utilizing words that are descriptive and that evoke a colorful imagery. With track titles such as “Stars Aligned,” “Something ‘Bout You,” and “The One I Want,” it’s easy to tell that the basis of this album is centered around the ideas of love and relationships. In fact, this entire album contains tracks about love. There is a good deal of variety throughout the album, though. For example, “Something ‘Bout You” carries a smooth island sound while “The One I Want” is more rugged rock and roll.

They also manage to convey variety on a lyrical level. “Your Guide” sheds light on their eccentric album title. The duo sing in unison, “If fishes were wishes I’d bathe in the sea of your love.” In “A Sailor’s Tragedy,” the idea of love being torn apart by a sailor out at sea serves as the first lyrical layer of the song, but it also acts as a metaphor for any other relationship that has been ruined because of distance between the couple.

Apart from the trumpet work in “Something ‘Bout You,” this album is an entirely acoustic one. This release still manages to convey ample flavor, however. Raven’s vocals are strong and delicate, much like those of Celine Dion and Dido, while Lee carries a strong British accent similar to David Albarn of Blur or Liam Gallagher of Oasis. Together with Raven’s robust vocals and Lee’s remarkable guitar work, these two have created an album to be remembered.

Review by Alec Cunningham
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)