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Sessomorte, Into the Grey

25 Feb, 2013 Heath Andrews

The electronica music duo, Sessomorte, is comprised of lyricist/vocalist Liliko Ogasawara and musician/producer, Vincent Sirico.   Since their formation in 2001, they have gone on to record three albums, their most recent being 2013’s, Into the Grey.  There are several unique aspects to Sessomorte’s sound, the primary one being the mixing of electronic and live instrumentation.  Sirico’s background as a musician, specifically as a bassist in a progressive metal band, gives him a diverse set of skills he brings to this record.   Additionally, Ogasawara has a distinct style of singing, one in which her lead vocal is often reserved and her backing vocals higher and vibrant.   The combination of all these elements makes Into the Grey a remarkably strong collection of songs.

Sessomorte opens this album with “Roll It,” and instantly the electronica elements of their sound become clear.   The synthesizers, while not overbearing, are intensely moody and create a dark atmosphere that draws upon the late-night musical feel the duo was seeking to create.   Rather than sink into a level of ambiance however, Sirico keeps the song driving forward with a brisk drum loop that turns into a dynamic percussion track by the song’s end.  Along the way the synths periodically erupt in brilliant fashion around Ogasawara’s lead and backing vocals.

The noticeable building up of songs is another wonderful feature of Sirico’s compositions.  “Disturbed” has its own dark atmosphere, but it begins starkly with the intermittent pulse of a synthesizer beating underneath Ogasawara’s voice.  A light guitar riff works its way into the arrangement, in addition to a stronger drum track and increasingly complex layers of vocals and synthesizers.  In and amongst all this is an effectively unsettling lyric in which the song’s narrator discusses her realization that the person she’s with, really is as sick and twisted as he claims to be.

Not every lyric is quite so memorable and this is the one area that Into the Grey finds a degree of fault.  “Anniversary,” despite being short, pointed, and well-produced, goes through a regretfully overdone rhyme scheme where Ogasawara rhymes, “unexpectedly,” “happen to me,” “especially,” and “anniversary,” in four consecutive lines.  It feels like a string of unnecessary words just to work the title into the song and it diminishes the amount of pain and difficulty the singer is trying to convey within the story of the lyric.

This is as bad as the lyrics get though; at worst a few others are forgettable without being notable one way or the other.  “Down” rather cryptically discusses an illicit affair of sorts, but Ogasawara’s voice and the bluesy guitar licks that Sirico plays are more interesting than the words themselves.  This hardly constitutes a problem though since a dedicated listening to the lyrics show that they stand-up fine, they’re just put into an arrangement that is hauntingly captivating.

One of the album’s more exciting moments accompanies the song, “Rock and Stone.”  This is the first song on the album where Sessomorte significantly alters their sound.  Ogasawara sings her lead in a slightly higher key than the tracks prior, revealing a voice that is exceptionally melodic.  Sirico meanwhile, adds more guitars into the arrangement during the opening and later parts of the track.  The sound of this against the synthesizers is actually quite arresting; it grounds the electronica elements with some more conventional sounds.  This has the added benefit too of making the music accessible to listeners who otherwise would’ve avoided this genre.  Sirico’s background of playing in a rock band, particularly a progressive one, could easily be the reason why he’s able to create melodies that are structured, build wonderfully, and can be atmospheric without losing their drive.

Further evidence of this is heard on “In the Game,” and the album’s closer, “I’m Right Here.”  The former of the two pieces sports a catchy little guitar riff that would be entertaining enough as is, but Sirico goes a step further and actually includes a rather strong solo that closes the number in forceful style.  The latter song however opts for a more subdued mood and still manages to make itself distinct through a Spanish guitar sound that picks up halfway through the track and surprisingly fits with the rest of Sirico’s instrumentation.

Into the Grey is an unexpectedly great album, made that way by the talents of two distinct musical personalities.  Liliko Ogasawara brings with her a commanding yet melodic vocal talent while Vincent Sirico does a marvelous job of combining live and electronic instrumentation in an exciting and accessible manner.  This album should be a required listen for any fans of atmospheric electronica music and more importantly, skeptics of the genre who feel the music lacks structure and talent; Sessomorte will prove them sorely wrong.

Review by: Heath Andrews
Rating: 4.5 Stars (out of 5)

 

Delta Twins, The Seasons & The Scars

05 Feb, 2013 Heath Andrews

Coming from Detroit, and bringing with them their hard rocking blues, Delta Twins capture the energy of a live performance and imprint it onto their 2012 album, The Seasons & The Scars.  The twins themselves, Bob Young and Tom Kozanecki have only been playing together since 2009, but have already developed a synergy that sounds like they’ve been a duo for far longer than that.  While their backing band has had many musicians come and go, here at least they are joined by a number of talented artists and all of them have brought their “A-game.”

Kozanecki handles rhythm guitar and does some lead work, while the other half of Delta Twins, Young, serves as lead vocalist and keyboardist, but also throws himself behind the guitar and harmonica.  Filling out the rest of the band is lead guitarist Jake Burdock, drummer Leland McCann, and Kenny Szymanski on bass.  Their skills are all revealed on the album’s opening track, “Big Shoes.”  A rollicking piano intro seamlessly flows into strong guitar riffing, a chugging bass line, and crisp, forceful drumming.  The grit in the guitar riff is unmistakably drawn from the blues, something reasserted within the song’s tightly played, first solo.  It’s the second solo that separates Delta Twins from others as the guitar opens up to unleash a flurry of notes with a down and dirty roar.

Young’s vocals are also dirty; he doesn’t possess a tremendous range, and indeed there are times where he sounds a little strained or as if he’s forcing himself.  Outside of these occasions though, he digs deep and lets lyrics fly with a salt of the Earth gusto that is as true as the music he’s playing.  “On The Night Train” for example, has Young singing about the absence of his baby and how he awaits her return home on the night train.  While the subject isn’t new to the blues, the lyric is sung with a vibrant vigor by Young.  His harmonica playing is also perfectly suited to the track, complimenting the guitars and furthering the song’s theme of a train rolling on back home.

Blues and rock influences come together frequently for Delta Twins and “Quick Fix” is a perfect example of that.  Between McCann’s drums and Szymanski’s bass, the two of them create a Bo Diddley beat over which Young jams on his harmonica and Kozanecki and Burdock chug away on their guitars.  It’s this kind of solid blues-rock that acts as the glue holding The Seasons & The Scars together.   “Live My Life,” “No Love Lost,” and “Blindsided,” all fall into the same category of being punchy rockers that have a stellar amount of quality instrumentation.  Particularly notable is “Blindsided” and how it incorporates the keyboards into the arrangement; an addition that provides a more unique sonic texture to the song, but without removing it from its blues-rock origins.

The one major area of fault that the group runs into is on their longer songs, almost all of which feel like they’re dragged out longer than they should be.  The first instance of this is “Remotely True.”  The song itself is sonically unique; it begins with ominous keyboards and guitars that rattle in the distance.  A sound sample from the film, The Matrix is used after which the song opens up into its ¾ time, extended blues jam.  Young sings about societal woes and what the world is coming to, but at nearly eight minutes long, the point is established well before that, and the instrumentation isn’t always engaging enough to keep the song’s momentum flowing.

This is a greater issue on “Keeper,” which clocks in at over eleven minutes.  There are some wonderful moments on this song, ranging from the exceptional keyboards, to the guitar effects in the extended instrumental passage, and the staggeringly strong solo that everything builds up to.  But that build would’ve been more effective in a more condensed version of the song.  In the notes for this album, the band mentions that some of these songs were based on jam sessions they used to do, with lyrics added afterwards.  Bearing that in mind, it’s understandable why these pieces are the way they are, and based on that, fans of blues jams should find them remarkably enjoyable at the very least.

Aside from the longer tracks, the music Delta Twins churn out on The Seasons & The Scars is consistently strong and exceptionally well performed.  Young and Kozanecki have really hit on something in the dynamic between them.  The amount of energy that radiates off of this album is almost unheard of for a set of studio recordings.  Even if it’s not a perfect record, it’s still one that demands listening to from fans of rocking blues.  And just as important for Delta Twins, this also acts as a reminder to the rest of the world about the powerful music force that Detroit was and continues to be.

Review by: Heath Andrews
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)

 

Mykeljon “World Stood Still”

15 Nov, 2012 Heath Andrews

Auckland, New Zealand’s Mykeljon, has barely let a day go past him without having a musical instrument in his hand, since he was 4 years old.  With that kind of passion from an early age, as well as having an encouraging and musically educated Godmother, Mykeljon found his way into being enrolled at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music in Brisbane.  His studies there in guitar, voice, composition, production, and arranging have all helped to form his 2012 album, World Stood Still.  Mykeljon’s style of composition and playing is unique enough to incorporate several different genres of music, primarily jazz and rhythm & blues, yet still make a cohesively sound album, as artistically rich as it is entertaining.

World Stood Still opens with its title track, one of the more pop oriented songs on the record.  Underneath its accessible melody and catchy hook is a wonderful display of musicianship.  Guitarist Bruce Kerr plays some tight, emphatic solos while also laying down a wonderfully driving bass line.  The song’s hook is propelled through Mykeljon’s vocals, where he displays his talent for harmonies.

The greatest display of his vocal prowess is found on “Surrender to Love.”  Mykeljon begins this tender, acoustic based song, singing in a kind of sultry, hushed tone.  His voice elevates slightly through the verse, but it still maintains its controlled smolder.  But once he hits the chorus and sings, “If I know what love is, it’s because of you…” his voice lifts into his upper register and hammers home the emotional weight of the lyric.  This is emboldened by the soft arrangement which allows his voice to take center stage and is further accentuated by Ernie Semu’s piano playing during the bridge.

The aforementioned ability of Mykeljon’s to combine jazz and rhythm and blues is a recurring theme throughout the album as demonstrated by tracks like, “Sacrifice,” “You Ran Away,” “Bleeding For Your Kiss,” and “Sorrow.”  The former of these four has both genres firmly on display.  The opening for example, features a drum track that places heavy emphasis on the cymbals in a very jazz like style, combined with light piano playing and some jazz guitar licks.  The drums then transition into a consistently steady R&B groove, but that jazz guitar never lets up, consistently providing a smooth intensity until the song’s end.

“Sorrow” on the other hand, establishes its atmosphere not just from the guitar, but from the moody keyboards.  A little after four minutes into this late-night groove of a song, Ambrose Splescia plays a beautiful saxophone part that intertwines itself with some stellar vocals from Mykeljon and some fantastic drumming from Leyton Greening.  The combination of this playing is one of the album’s highlights as it truly draws together all of the elements that are at work within this piece.  And as the saxophone plays out to the song’s end, it leaves you with a sensation that you just heard something special.

The other two songs, “You Ran Away” and “Bleeding For Your Kiss,” don’t quite hit the highs that “Sorrow” does, but they do both feature some remarkable piano playing from Semu.  The former also has a bit of a funk vibe to it while the latter embraces a tone similar to “Sorrow” in how it establishes that late-night groove with its keyboards and deep, resonate bass playing.

There is yet another completely different kind of style of music that finds its way into World Stood Still, a stripped down acoustic rock sound.  This is the tone that, “One Day at a Time,” “Once in a Blue Moon,” and the album’s closer, “Let it Go,” all take, and all three of them work very well.  Similarly to the album’s opener, Kerr handles a good chunk of the guitar work with Mykeljon also holding his own, but it’s the addition of Derek Haggis Maguiness on harmonica that really bolsters the power of these songs.  This extra bit of instrumentation adds a nice blues-pop feel to the tracks which are already comparatively distinct from the rest of the album.  “Let It Go” develops this sound a bit further by bringing in a crisper drum track and piano, though the laidback atmosphere of the song remains as Mykeljon sings, “Let it go, let it go/I see it in your frown, you’re carryin’ it around/Just let it go, let it go.

World Stood Still is a tremendously pleasant album that bounces between genres with effortless ease and showcases all of Mykeljon’s diverse talents he’s picked up over the years.  By surrounding himself with other stellar musicians, Mykeljon was able to lay down a solid collection of performances that captured the spirit of his songwriting.  This is a wonderfully unique album from a unique musical voice that the world can only hope to hear more from.

Review by: Heath Andrews
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)

A Sea With 3 Stars “For Nothing”

06 Sep, 2012 Heath Andrews

Singer-songwriter/musician Richard Ings has been performing and recording since the early ‘90s.  He established his latest solo project, A Sea With 3 Stars, in 2006, and has finally made his way back into the studio to create the debut release, For Nothing.  Despite A Sea With 3 Stars being a solo act, Ings does collaborate with a number of regular musicians on the album, chiefly John Bocelli who plays lead guitar and co-writes a majority of the music.  The one consistent thing about For Nothing is how Ings always manages to craft a lyric that is insightful and thoughtful, and though his vocal prowess is rather limited, he still delivers his creations in an effective manner a majority of the time. Musically, Ings takes some risks every now and then which regrettably don’t pay off, whereas the more conventional songs are quite good.  The end result of this is an album that could be better, but could also be much worse.

Four of the album’s songs, to state it plainly, don’t work very effectively at all; the title track, “Breathe,” “Getting Better,” and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run.”  The former three all suffer from the same problems in that the combination of their stripped down arrangements and the subdued nature of Ings’ voice make the songs feel devoid of energy and emotion.  As an example, “For Nothing” could’ve been a great song; the acoustic guitar riff is strong and well suited to building off of, but nothing is constructed upon it.  Instead, the song repetitively goes through its motions in a listless fashion.

Though the other songs mentioned are not much better, there’s at least something interesting going on in the arrangement of “Born To Run,” which has been turned into an acoustic number with guitar, piano, and violin.  But Springsteen’s original was an anthemic tribute to the power of personal freedom and being released from the chains that shackle people within their own lives.  Ings’ interpretation doesn’t carry those or any emotions with it, creating a similar situation to that which is heard on the other weaker tracks.

Despite all the criticisms about those four pieces, the other two thirds of the album are dynamic, interesting, and incredibly well-performed.  The album’s opener, “Hello, Goodbye” is a surprisingly complex song given that it’s written in 5/8 time and features Ings playing guitar, maracas, the triangle, and the Hammond organ.  Dan Warren’s drumming is intricate and technical in keeping with the odd time signature, while Paolo Minervini’s bass work acts as the glue that holds most of the song together.  Bocelli’s guitar playing shines, and as later tracks reveal; he’s capable of playing in different styles and tones.

“On Our Way” and “The Girl Who Was Just Out of Reach” both showcase Bocelli playing with a chiming, resonant tone.  The atmosphere this sets is quite pleasant and works well with the lyrics that Ings writes.  The latter of these two songs is especially well crafted as in two and a half minutes; it creates a story that can serve as a metaphor for various aspects of a person’s life, with or without women being involved.

A Sea With 3 Stars reveals more of a rock side to its music on “Hit Me Harder.”  Here, Ings rattles off a lyric that crams more rhymes into a verse than your average Bob Dylan lyric.  The quick pace is mirrored by Warren’s drumming and Ings’ acoustic strumming.  Bocelli’s lead functions a bit differently; filling in the gap between verses initially, but then laying down some fantastically played licks over the second and third verses.  There’s even some Stylophone playing thrown in at the end for good measure.

Near the end of For Nothing comes another of the stronger songs, “All That She Wants.”  With an opening lyric of, “She’ll always find someone to **** her,” that’s about as attention-grabbing as you can get.  From there, the story that unfolds depicts a girl’s emotional and physical struggle to find love.  The ¾ time signature and soft drumming accentuate the lyric quite nicely, and Minerverni again shows how stellar of a bass player he is.A Sea With 3 Stars may be the brainchild of Richard Ings, but the successes of the album, For Nothing are based largely on the collaborations between Ings and his fellow musicians.  Ings displays considerable talent as a lyricist and more often than not, is able to bring his lyric to life through his music and voice.  It may not be a coincidence however that the songs that don’t work so well were written solely by him.  Regardless, two-thirds of For Nothing is considerably strong, and it’s this part of the album that brings listeners a unique voice with a unique style.

Review by Heath Andrews
Rating: 3.5 Stars (out of 5)

Dead Smiling Pirates “Harvest on a Hype”

07 Mar, 2012 Heath Andrews

It may be difficult on a person’s first instinct, to take a band named Dead Smiling Pirates very seriously, especially when the first song off their new album is entitled, “Dandruff Killer Punch.”  Rest assured, this power trio from Copenhagen, Denmark has their collective tongue firmly planted in cheek when they rattle off such inanities.  But in-between these little humorous barbs are some seriously exceptional displays of songwriting and musicianship.  This 2012 album, Harvest on a Hype, is the band’s second release, and is a staggeringly good sophomore effort.

Dead Smiling Pirates is made up of drummer Erik Aaberg, bassist and backing vocalist Rasmus Christensen, and lead vocalist and lead guitarist, Kim Burmeister.  The talent contained within this trio is such that with or without instrumental overdubbing, you’d be astonished to hear this much sound coming from three men.  Each song on the album is ripe with roaring guitars, pulsing bass lines, crisp and forceful drumming, and vocal performances which remain harmonic, even when channeling an angry lyric.  More an indication of their talent is their ability to take a seemingly straight forward alt-rock song, and turn it on its head upon reaching the chorus.  Without abandoning the elements of rock, the men of Dead Smiling Pirates manage to craft clever pop hooks that kick their songs up above the usual fare and make them infectiously memorable.

The aforementioned lead-off track, “Dandruff Killer Punch” is a pristine example of what the group is capable of, and what Harvest on a Hype largely consists of.   Here, the lyrics are kind of an odd throwaway, going from the titular phrase into the mention of lollipops and such, but the magic of the song is in the melody anyway.  As the guitars come in and rip away, they launch into a riff that could easily carry them through the song in its entirety, however, once the chorus comes up, the song shifts into a slightly more up-tempo, poppier sound that simply arrests the attention of the listener.  Generally a segue such as this would seem a bit out of place, but it seems entirely natural here.

The title track shows a bit more musical depth as Burmeister adds little flourishes of his guitar into the backing musicianship, underneath the already stellar lead work.  Aaberg’s forceful drumming propels the song forwards, right into and through its double time chorus.  Once again, this change-up is a touch that the song doesn’t need in order to work so well, but the addition of it makes for that much more of a superlative listen.  Speaking of superlative, “Hanging Around” takes the best elements featured on the whole of Harvest on a Hype and compresses them into one piece.  The song is positively dynamic; the change-up into the chorus is the best one of the album and the bass line that Christensen plugs away at holds everything together while still standing out as a great piece of individual talent.

I don’t owe you anything” Burmeister angrily sings on “By The End Of.”  In a perfect combination of songwriting and performance, the intensity of the track grows as it goes along and climaxes in an anguished cry and sledgehammer of a bass part.  It’s followed up by the equally exceptional “What You’ve Done.”  Here, the Dead Smiling Pirates bring us jangly guitars, crisp, quick, and strong drum fills, and another bass performance that chugs along to a pretty quick ¾ time signature.  This is one of the fantastic examples on the album that shows just how much sound the band can generate as a three piece.

The only place where things lose a bit of steam is on the shorter pieces towards the end of the CD.  “Blunder and Polish” and “Concrete Ghetto” don’t take any dynamic turns, they just rock out for two and a half minutes and cut out.  This isn’t to say they’re bad songs by any stretch of the imagination; they’re just not as strong as some of the tracks that precede them.  But they do set the bar pretty high, so even if the weaker songs don’t come close, they still excel in their own right.

Harvest on a Hype relentlessly rocks with barely a place left for a listener to catch their breath.  The songs are strong, the musicianship is consistently remarkable, and Dead Smiling Pirates’ ability to take a song and change it up partway through is wonderfully unique.  The world has enough alternative indie rockers to where things can become indistinguishable from one another.  But this power trio from Copenhagen shows the skills needed to set themselves apart from others, and offer music fans a fantastic listening experience.

Review by: Heath Andrews
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)