Reviews by ReviewYou
Even Bigger “Kaboom!”
Chicago trio Even Bigger continue chopping off 3-minute hunks of straightforward punk-pop on their second EP of 2011, Kaboom! Their first effort, In Actual D, was an uneven but endearing release with a couple of great songs. On Kaboom, the band exhibits an enormous and rapid amount of growth in the realms of recording and songwriting. There’s a consistency to the record that could be due to the common theme of the songs: relationships. The band finds their hard-charging but sophisticated style a perfect fit for the emotional content, and this EP’s 20 minutes simply fly by.
The band’s anthemic style is intact, as are the trademark dual Matt vocals, courtesy of Matts Hart and Myers, respectively. Hart seems a bit more in focus this time around, though Myers voice is one of the more remarkable aspects of the band. Together they’re an unstoppable bullhorn, blaring missives about broken hearts over Ray Losch’s primordial punk drumming, but it’s not all about females. The opening track, “Damn Boy,” makes that clear. “Damn boy/you are ugly/is how my father said I love you” sings Myers in his deceptively personable manner. The song is reminiscent of The Hold Steady’s working class sermons, where often uncomfortable subject matter is unfurled over a snarling barroom blend of punk, rock, and pop. Oddly enough, Craig Finn is one of the few vocalists to whom one can compare Myers, though Myers’ style is smoother and less belligerent. His gushing vocal on “Christina” is as sweetly reverent as they come, while his work on “Cowboy Song” is held fast by a gripping narrative.
Myers and Hart amp up the big riffs on “Wrong Before,” creating a fuzzed out piece of California rock glazed over with Midwestern resolve. “This Life” has the poppy punk positivity of a Bad Religion number, and “Raygun” finds Hart letting loose with some genuine growls to get his point across. He’s most effective on the dynamic and emotionally charged “Man Like Me.” As usual, there’s not much variation among the tunes. “Hinges” is about as typical as the band’s songs come, and the songs can be indistinguishable at times. But the guys have found their center in the musical universe, and they’re orbiting and evolving at a perfectly reasonable pace. Kaboom expands on Even Bigger’s foundation in innumerable ways. The sound is better, the songs even catchier, and more chances are taken with regard to the construction of the album. It’s no stretch to say that the band’s name sums up every aspect of this unfortunately short EP. It’s bigger and better in every facet.
Review by Bryan Rodgers
Rating: 3 Stars (out of 5)
Tim-Ryan O’Kane “The Monster’s Kiss”
Brooklyn songwriter Tim-Ryan O’Kane prefers the limitless palette of the recording studio to the atmosphere of a live show, and his considerable vision is laid bare for all to experience on The Monster’s Kiss. The EP-length release is a brief yet expansive listen full of highly interpretive lyrics, dramatic musical moments and studied song construction. With the help of multi-instrumentalist and producer Miles Kennedy, O’Kane crafts a hard-hitting and substantially emotional song cycle that still manages to rock.
Conceptually, the album centers around the dreams and deeds of a serial killer named Buddy Olsen Rowley, who apparently has a habit of murdering prostitutes. It’s definitely not going to rock your next party, or make for conversational background noise. This is an album to be digested in isolation and accompanied by the liner notes, which offer not only the lyrics, but a thin narrative between songs. Musically, O’Kane leans toward the theatrical rock grandeur of Muse, the introspective mull of Radiohead, and the constantly shifting prog-rock of Porcupine Tree. Opening track “Lullaby” conveys the twisted wishes of the protagonist for his victim to “be beautiful” as a contemplative introduction gives way to a thrumming, Flaming Lips-style bass groove and lush synthesizers.
The rest of the album is comprised of five “R.E.M.” segments, apparently intended to represent the killer’s schizophrenic dreams. “Running from the Swarm” lands firmly in Alice in Chains territory, with O’Kane droning drearily over a menacing, dark bed of acoustic guitar and percussion. It’s tough to pin a style on each song, though, as the grungy darkness of “Running from the Swarm” is cut with a sudden flash of pop hookery that belies the rest of the tune’s sound. “Dis(Re)membered,” with its robotic vocals, and “Teeth Falling Out” veer toward electro-pop, with dance-rock drums anchoring melodies that are alternately catchy and caterwauling. A squall of dense guitars slices into O’Kane’s airy Thom Yorke-like phrasing, turning the track on its ear and shifting the mood from desperation to anger and back again. “Trying to Fly” sets foreboding piano figures against a collection of industrial hums and pings, achieving an undeniable emotional effect. The gnarly guitars and spooky vocals bring to mind the work of Trent Reznor in Nine Inch Nails.
At the end of the dizzying, convoluted journey, the main character finds his name cryptically intoned in anagram by “his love” during an intense driving dream that is manifested in the buzzing horns and bold chorus of “Driving with a Stranger.” We’re left to discern whether she’s the one lying dead beside him or another object of desire. The titular monster’s kiss in question turns out to be the farewell kiss given to dead victims by murderous main character.
O’Kane crafted The Monster’s Kiss in such a way that the listener is obligated to pay full attention, and the storytelling is loose enough that the narrative doesn’t weigh down the music. The concise length and highly interpretive nature of the album do well to display the tact and talent of its creator.
Review by Bryan Rodgers
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Lawrence Genova “Aviano”
Lawrence Genova’s Aviano is yet another in an increasingly auspicious line of artistic contributions being made by those who have served in the Middle East and survived. Genova, like most of these folks, imparts darkness on his work, be it the result of something that happened in Iraq or a preexisting condition of moodiness. That’s not to say that Aviano is some twisted result of PTSD, or that Genova is inspired only by that portion of his life. Far from it, in fact, Genova has been writing music for over a decade. The effect of the war experience is just one of many layers that the listener will peel away during the album’s genre-defying journey from start to finish.
There’s a contented resignation to the album’s ten songs. Genova dwells on subjects like heartbreak and betrayal, yet at the core of his sound there persists a faint, accepting smile in the middle of the swirling darkness. Album opener “The Last Scene” finds Genova affecting a Thom Yorke-like ache over a thudding beat and weary piano, and to call the song homage to Radiohead wouldn’t be a stretch. Genova reaches for the same forlorn-yet-fun feeling as the influential band. Drummer and sound engineer Mark Tarlton helps Genova achieve the bass sound and mesmerizing backdrops necessary to convey his downtrodden ruminations, building eerie electronic crescendos on the vitriolic “Strassendiernen” and the cinematic “The Other Paths.”
None of the studio magic would mean a thing without strong songs, and Genova has plenty. Aviano is the culmination of years of writing and absorption by the introspective songwriter, and the diversity of the material shows the benefits of time and tinkering. “Be On Your Way,” with its retro rock downer vibe, and “The Devil All Along” find Genova briefly shunning the electronic whir in favor of natural drums, plunking bass and acoustic guitar. “Here’s a story of pain and glory,” the latter song begins, and he may as well be talking about the duality of his own creations. He proves himself a hell of a player, if not a virtuoso, deftly handling all instruments except drums. His electric guitar solos, such as the one that ushers in “The Underestimated One,” are a bit rudimentary but hardly unpleasant. By the time Genova and Tarlton are done imparting their will upon the songs, the listener won’t notice a few average guitar runs. They’ll be too busy soaking in the dreary, shoegazey wonder of tunes like “The Underestimated One,” with its regal piano interludes and European feel, and “In My Bowl,” which matches hopeless lyrics with druggy minimalism and quivering guitars.
There are weak points, such as the awkwardly constructed “Paint the Sky for Me” and the admittedly satirical “Fall on Me,” which is clever but unfortunately unappealing. Also, “So Far Away” is sung with an off-putting, mumbly playfulness. The finish is a fine one, though, as the album ends with vibrant, psychedelic piano pop in the form of “The Other Paths.” There are a thousand bands in the world trying desperately to sound the way that Lawrence Genova sounds naturally, and the intensely personal material on Aviano will make them wish they could muster such emotional immediacy.
Review by Bryan Rodgers
Dawn Harden “A Lifetime”
Dawn Harden incorporates a stunning variety of influences on her debut album, A Lifetime. The broad categorization of the album is R&B, but there are enough stylistic dalliances sprinkled throughout to fill a record shop. World music, soul, jazz, slow jam and even Latin touches fill out the spaces between Harden’s arresting vocals. The album was recorded in France and it reflects Harden’s vocal duality, with both English and French lyrics included in the liner notes. 9 of the album’s 10 songs are originals sung in English, the lone cover being a sparse, simmering rendition of Jacques Brel’s woeful classic “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” Brel’s emotionally devastating style definitely has an influence on Harden’s songwriting approach, but there’s no way anyone will mistake this for a French record on first listen. Harden may hail from France, but her soul and voice are globetrotting sorts.
A stellar group of musicians back Harden on A Lifetime, and their sophisticated, subtle approach is perfect for her expressive singing. The band manages to impress without overstepping their boundaries, as evidenced by the contemplative piano and gentle percussion of the opener, “Traces.” Patrick Pernet, who handles piano as well as arrangements and programming, is joined by improbably named bassist Bisou Bass and guitarist Olivier Tshimanga to form the crux of the sound. Bass brings a classic jazz style to the mix, and Tshimanga helps conjure some of the album’s more exotic tones. Tshimanga has almost as much control over the sound as Harden, though he’s just doing his job as part of the whole. There’s no ignoring his lively picking on “Seeing is Believing,” where he urges the song along with sharp flurries of acoustic fingerstyle guitar. He’s so invigorating that Pernet can’t resist dappling the song’s final bridge with an inspired bit of playing himself.
“Traces” finds Harden blending harmonies influenced by American gospel music with a crackling slow soul groove made pop, and she’s got lyrics to match. There’s pain, loss, regret, and blues aplenty in nearly every song. If Brel is her muse, she’s done him proud as far as letting the hurt out for everyone to hear. The bitter resignation of her vocal in “A Lifetime” is palpable, and her voice is reminiscent of stylistic archetypes like Anita Baker, Sade, Toni Braxton, and Vanessa Williams. Harden is perhaps earthier and absolutely more open-minded from a stylistic standpoint than those artists. It’s hard to envision Baker or Braxton taking a perfectly good R&B tune like “Until You Came Along” and peppering it with jovial percussion, African-influenced melodies, and restrained singing until it sounds like something Paul Simon would approve of, and that’s just what Harden does.
Pernet, for the most part, only adds to Harden’s success, but there are a few moments that beg for genuine, un-synthesized sounds instead of his production. It is unclear exactly which moments he and Harden are responsible for, since she is credited with the vocal arrangements and he with the musical arrangements. In any case, there are a few flaws. “Will You Be There” is a bit top heavy with melodrama. Backing vocalist Melvin Clairault’s contributions to the album could be stripped away and the experience wouldn’t suffer, rendering him mostly superficial. “Traces” contains a completely unnecessary cramming of vocals in between vocals, and the flash of over-produced embellishment only takes away from Harden’s lyrics and singing. There are a few stabs of synthesizer here and there, as heard in the beats of “Enough Love” and the otherwise enjoyable “Your Own Way,” that belie Harden’s natural voice. Minute as they are, the minor imperfections detract slightly from a remarkable, inventive debut. For Harden, the path of least resistance in the studio is going to be the one that allows her voice and worldly inclinations to shine, and here’s hoping she takes it soon.
Review by Bryan Rodgers
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
I Have a Bomb! “What Happened Here”
Aesthetically, I Have A Bomb treads in punk territory. Without hearing the music, listeners could form an opinion based on face value. There’s a questionable, unwieldy name, a cartoonish-yet-edgy album cover, and a fervent social stance, all fair indicators of punk dalliance. But upon first listen to the St. Louis band’s debut album, What Happened Here, it becomes abundantly clear that punk is but one of many influences that drive their sound. Portions of the album are reminiscent of modern “pop-punk” and metal bands, but the prevailing sound is decidedly more metal and old school. There’s a prog-rock tinge to dynamic, epic songs like “Pandora” and “Salvation” that brings to mind adventurous acts like Porcupine Tree, TOOL, and System of a Down. Other tracks have a churning, thrashy element that smacks of Metallica and Testament. The punk colors shine through in bruising, lyrically charged tunes like “Take the Shot” and “Chaotic Melody,” which bring to mind Bad Religion, Fugazi, and Minor Threat. Even Soundgarden and Pearl Jam have a dab of color in the band’s sonic palette, exhibited in particularly swirling selections such as “Entropy.”
The band takes a big conceptual bite with the opening track, a collage of atmospheric guitars and nuclear dread called “Countdown.” It’s an interesting and thought-provoking piece, but also somewhat ham-handed, an immediate banner statement of a band striving greatly to attach meaning to their work. The album’s first proper blast of music, though, is encouraging. “Take the Shot” is a gloriously riffy chunk of molten radio metal with a message. Exactly what that message is, other than the requisite “bad things are happening” worldview, is often difficult to discern. Guitarists Sam Lovsey and Tom Williams build an impenetrable wall of guitar on nearly every track. As the album moves through more gargantuan guitar creations, like the schizophrenic tempos in “Innocence and Vigilance” and the dense grind of “Holy Hands,” front man Adam Reynolds doesn’t get any more legible. To say that he sounds a bit like Ozzy Osbourne at times is both a credit to his inspiration and an indicator of his enunciation. The listener knows that Reynolds is raving and railing against injustice, war, corruption, abuse, and the like, but understanding every word is difficult. More likely, they’ll get an intermittent sampling of Reynolds’ thoughts: a “break a wall” here, some life affirming stuff there, a dose of desperation around the bend. The impact of the songs is lessened, since the singing conveys as much information as a spotty cell phone call, where the recipient gets the gist of the sentiment but not the ever-important details. Fist-pumping rockers “Who Am I” and “Chaotic Melody” beg to be singalongs, but are probably better suited for air guitar devotees since the lyrics are foggy.
Even if the band were to get their point across, it would take them a while to get there. The Pink Floydian introductions of “Salvation” and “Countdown” add more time to a lengthy experience, though the skippable, vocally atrocious “Cataclysm” will shave a few minutes off of the listen. Apropos of nothing, and in stark contrast to the furrowed vibe of the previous eleven tracks, a perfectly fun version of “I Got My Mind Set on You” rounds out the album. In the context of the album, the song probably should have been trimmed in the interest of cohesion and brevity. But it is also one of the album’s livelier moments and a needed palate cleanser after 54 minutes of pummeling prog-metal. I Have A Bomb have the means to make a real impact in the music world, but they’re going to have to speak more clearly next time.
Review by Bryan Rodgers
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)