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The Dice “Light To Guide Me”

06 Aug, 2009 Heath Andrews

the-dice_light-to-guide-meOn their debut album, Light To Guide Me, what The Dice do well they do very well, and what they don’t do well…there’s not much of. For a band that spent a lot of time in the pub scene, honing their craft and gathering fans, they sound remarkably polished throughout the album’s 12 tracks. Considering that a great number of bands from in and around the UK can be lumped into an indie-rock or U2 sound alike grouping, it’s incredibly refreshing that The Dice share more similarities with Britpop than anything else.

 

What’s especially pleasant about this album is that no one member outshines any of the others. Charlie Freeman is simultaneously soothing and commanding as a lead vocalist, able to perform his ballads just as easily as the rockers that he’s written. He’s aided by fellow vocalist, Poppy Middleditch creating effective harmonies and filling out the sound of the album in general. Guitarist, John Mackenzie sounds fantastic whether he’s gently playing acoustic or riffing heavily. The rhythm section of Alex Usher Smith and Oli Kindersley (on bass and drums respectively) are slightly more subdued in that they don’t overpower but contribute solid grooves and fills when called for in the songs. Keyboardist Rob Huntington solidifies the group by providing an emotional texture, specific to the song he’s playing on; adding urgency to the quicker numbers and gentleness to the slow to mid-tempo ballads.

 

Really, The Dice is a well-oiled musical machine that when placed into a song will perform the hell out of it. The album kicks off with gentle keyboards that raise into a bluesy guitar riff, ushering in the first track, “Hurricane.” As good as this song is, its the next track, “Control” that exemplifies the talent of this sextet. Freeman rips through the verses like he’s rapping, Fire in her soul/burning a hole/a lonely smile dipped in gold/devil in her eyes, blue blue eyes, and follows it with a “whoa-o-oa” shout-out and biting chorus. The keyboards pulse, the guitars rip, and the beat is flat-out danceable.

 

“Girl Next Door” follows and is really the template for the ballads that follow. Freeman sings of a woman who has “Nothin, nothin’ on the girl next door” set to soft guitars and gentle piano. This is where the bass and drums take on that more subdued role which is neither extraordinary or superfluous…they just work well. If one could criticize Light To Guide Me, it would have to be that the ballads sound a bit similar. This doesn’t prevent songs like, “Keep An Eye On Me”, “Lazy Days”, or “Let’s Stay Together” from being good, indeed some of these songs feature some unique guitar work and keyboard playing, but it does bog the album down a bit when compared to the differing energy that the rock songs have. There’s also a kind of superfluous female backing choir that pops up from time to time on later songs, which detracts from the songs by adding more to the arrangements than needed.

 

Considering that these are the worst of the albums problems, the good obviously outweighs the bad by far. “Alive” is another stand out track, with its infectious opening riff, joyful lyrics, and breakdown that occurs towards the songs end. Even little bits and pieces of this album are pleasing, such as the guitar solo on “Lillies” and the brilliant keyboards of “Falling Down.”

 

Light To Guide Me is an exemplary album, and a fantastic debut, showcasing a consistent versatility and potential for even greater things to come.

 

Reviewed By Heath Andrews

 

Beloved Infidels “Trompe L’ oeil Girl”

06 Aug, 2009 Heath Andrews

the-beloved-infidels_trompe-l-oeil-girlIt doesn’t require an experienced musical ear to recognize immediately that The Beloved Infidels possess a unique sound and style. Based out of Philadelphia, this trio doesn’t sound like they come from the city of brotherly love, with their slightly warped tales of love and definitions of what love is. Trompe l’oeil Girl, their debut album, despite its unique sound is an uneven effort that tries to be too many things at once.

            Singer/songwriter Jackie Doyle is an inspired lyricist with a lot to say. Sometimes she strings together elegant descriptions of life and love, like on the track “Fallen Angels”: “when angels shed their wings, and resume their lives in progress on the ground.” But more often than not, these beautifully brilliant barbs are lost in a swift deluge of excess. It’s almost the lyrical equivalent of a Charles Dickens work; intricately written, but densely written. Doyle’s voice is pleasantly sweet (think Kirsty MacColl) though it lacks the power, emotion, and range to effectively convey the energy of many of the songs. Doyle is virtually the only voice we hear as drummers Phil Fizur and Pete Meriwether (only featured on three tracks) stick to percussion, and bassist/organist/etc. Jim Fisher only contributes vocals sparingly. Though there is some use of Doyle overdubbing her voice to create harmony, there’s not a lot of it. The production as a whole is of a minimalist style, utilizing empty space so as to presumably emphasize the lyrics and vocals. Though it does work towards this end, when the lyrics fall flat, it leaves the listener with little to fall back on.

            One consistently great aspect of this work is the bass playing of Jim Fisher. Fisher’s grooves are nothing less than stellar and add some much needed pep to otherwise bleak arrangements. Fizur keeps a good rhythm but Meriwether shines on the three tracks he plays on, including a great drum solo on the previously mentioned song, “Fallen Angels”. The trio format has Doyle handling rhythm guitar, to which she is adept, but like her voice, never aspires to greater heights. There’s very little in the way of a guitar solo, just some chords that are more forceful than others.

            None of these things are necessarily problems if you enjoy a stripped down mellow sound, but the true problem of Trompe l’oeil Girl is that its unclear what kind of album it wants to be. There’s not enough “power” to be power pop, not enough edge to be “indie rock” and then at times its too surprisingly rock influenced to be consistently mellow. “She’s Just Too Good For You” sounds akin to Elvis Costello’s “Watching The Detectives” at points and like Blondie at others (a likely set of muses as the The Beloved Infidels cite both as influences) but sounds out of place as a rocker amidst more mid-tempo pop fare such as “Accessory Doll” and “Bigger Than Life.”

            The Beloved Infidels are a talented group but Trompe l’oeil Girl is not the best expression of this. For all the good moments that tracks such as “Gasoline Can”, “Hey Romeo” and “This Time Around” offer, the lyrics are too sprawling and arrangements too drab to make for a completely successful pop song, rendering much of the album too ambitious for its own good.

 

Reviewed By Heath Andrews

Holding Out “Playing In The Rain”

06 Aug, 2009 Heath Andrews

holding-out_playing-in-the-rainThere are few things more purely joyful than playing in the rain; carefree frolicking despite the gloom, jumping in puddles just to hear the sloshing splash and see the spray shoot out from underfoot. Holding Out have created an album that evokes much of the same pleasant emotions as the activity it shares a name with. Consisting of guitarists/vocalist/songwriters, Scott Brockett and Kelly Bechtell (whom also handles keyboards) along with drummer Jen Brockett, this Portland trio seem to draw upon a combination of influences from the rock/pop genre. The sound they craft is a a bluesy “roots rock” confection not unlike what the Black Crowes and Hootie & The Blowfish created in the early ’90s, or Josh Kelley has done in recent years.

    Being their debut album, Playing In The Rain has to not only be an accessible, enjoyable album, but also display the band’s talent and potential, both of these goals are easily accomplished. The tone is instantly set by the opening riff of the first track, “The Sun.” Lyrically, the song is light-hearted with a musical arrangement to match. Bechtell’s keyboards churn out a melodious organ sound that backs Brockett’s energetic, soothing vocals. Most of the album doesn’t deviate from this kind of sound. Under normal circumstances, this could make songs bleed into each other without any real difference between them, but Holding Out avoid this trap in several ways.

    Just as Scott Brockett and Kelly Bechtell share songwriting, they too share lead vocals with either member singing their respective songs. Each of them has their own particular flavor of songwriting and vocal style (Brockett being more poppy with a higher vocal timber) but the album doesn’t feel as if it were written and sung by two different people, it’s incredibly cohesive and consistent. A large part of this is due to the musical arrangements, which are stellar and done by the band as a whole. There’s not a great deal of soloing that goes on throughout the album, instead there’s a layering of multiple guitars and keyboards with a steady percussive beat. The listening experience is also aided by the fact that Playing In The Rain doesn’t have a single song that overstays its welcome. Most of the tracks come in, do their thing, and exit before four minutes have passed.

    The real standout song here is “Beauty Queen”, where the aforementioned arrangement coalesces beautifully to an astounding lyric, forming one of the most honest, heartfelt, touching love songs in the rock/pop genre of recent years. Written by Brockett, the song describes a girl who doesn’t quite have it all together (“Sometimes she doesn’t seem prim or proper, and if life was a game sometimes she doesn’t know how to play”), yet is at heart, a beauty queen. Though Brockett’s sincere vocals could hammer this point home, Bechtell sells it with an achingly gorgeous piano refrain and organ backing.

    Other standouts include “It Was Love”, with an infectious opening little guitar riff that descends to the bassline and drives the song and the “ballad” if you will, “Time To Waste”. Then there’s “It’s Over Now”, which is unique amongst the other songs in that there’s a bit more of an edge to it. Unlike the rest of the album which is genuinely happy, the narrator here seems to grow increasingly upset over the fact that the other party of some sort of former relationship can’t accept that things are over. If “Beauty Queen” is Brockett’s tour de force, then this is Bechtell’s. By the time the song meets its abrupt end, the guitar is simply snarling in the mix.

    If the album has any flaw it’s that it brushes with greatness, but doesn’t capture it fully. In combining elements of folk, blues, and rock/pop, sometimes great musical ideas start to form, but don’t always come to fruition. Still, trying to combine these influences in a hybrid can’t be easy, but the band manages it very well with even the weakest songs being above average. Playing In The Rain is a good album in its own right, but as a debut for Holding Out, its even better; a near perfect introduction to a band with energy, potential, and a knack for outstanding musical arrangements.

 

Reviewed By Heath Andrews