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Project213 “Fish Tale”

26 Apr, 2011 Michael Morgan

Collaborations normally bring out the best of the artists who share the stage with one another. On Project 213′s album, Fish Tale, Jared Hallock’s group of local artists and musicians thrive in his unique blend of percussive reflections blended in a soup of musical genres: funk, blues, rap, ambient, soul, bluegrass and psychedelia. The ten-song collection is more like fully fleshed out sketches than tightly packed song nuggets. Yet it’s this very attribute that makes them so aurally tantalizing and will thoughtfully challenge listener’s musical appetites.

A sort of funky-thrash evolves throughout some of the tracks on Fish Tale.

The in-your-face and raw “Lipstick Kisses” starts off with shaking bells like a lost spastic Santa Claus and his reindeer, and then morphs into a colorful disarray of funky thrash with a rap tinge.  Its quick shots of unabashed metallic rushes channel 1980’s rock metal outfit Primus.  What is both relieving and refreshing about this song is that it doesn’t wear out its welcome with artistic self-indulgence, going into twenty different directions for ten-minutes; the 2:33 cliffhanger knows when to end.  ”Guns Under The Bed” is another concoction of funk fury sans thrash but more soul and rap-like.  Its Prince-like soulful guitar lick is equally infectious and fiery.  “Guns…” echoes funk-rock heavyweight’s Red Hot Chili Peppers funk-alicious sound and freewheeling attitude.  Lovers of RHCP: leave your guns under the bed– you will want to crack up the volume and put this one on repeat for sure.

“Your Sin” devolves the beats and funk into a spastic distillation of angry rocked out drums and demented vocals looping into a tirade screaming, “I’m going f—–g crazy.”  Soulful spasms are arm-wrestled into schizophrenic wonderment on “Kitty Kitty.”  Its electro-psychedeli-funk exploration has a long, slow and cool blues tirade in the song’s epicenter, with spatters of people arguing during the song. With rubber room-ready lines like “My inner kitty is a lion!” there is a thoughtful groove that glues together the insanity.

The softer, contemporary but equally psychedelic side of Fish Tale fins out on “When Frida Became.” The slow, gloomy piano arpeggios and female gospel wails are a nod to Dark Side of the Moon‘s “The Great Gig In The Sky.”  The dynamics range from a sleepy soul to a raging hurricane-like flood of pianos and gospel screams. Its intense and intriguing music are fit for an epiphanic movie scene where secrets are purged upon viewers, unbeknownst to them.  Beware Pink Floyd fans: a surprise treat awaits on “When Frida Became.”

Given Jared Hallock’s background in percussion studies at school, it’s no surprise that each collaboration has a prominent core of percussion.  “Christa’s Cry” awakens the soul with its cacophonous percussive center of hollow-sounding xylophones and wallowing bass-rhythms, which transform into a hypnotic cascade of repeating rhythms. The playful experiments of rollicking percussions and scaling bass-lines will please listeners and music supervisors looking for background music for their television and cinema projects.  “Play By the Rules” has country bluegrass influences with a throbbing rock beat, accompanied by a fiddle and a bluesy harmonica. It’s aggressive and edgy listening that warrant future listens.

By far, the riskiest, creepiest and most challenging track for listeners on Fish Tale is “Robots in the Ring.” The art-rock sketch includes two conversations going on asynchronously along with patters of intermingled percussion. Its meditative experimentalism will no doubt challenge listeners. Definitely not for all listeners, given its atonal conversations and monotonous rhythm, “Robots in the Ring” is meant for those who appreciate the art rock experimentalism of bands like The Velvet Underground.  For those who recall VU’s “The Black Angel Death’s Song”‘s deadpan delivery, tune into “Robots….”

There is no doubt that Fish Tale is not for everyone (batteries are definitely not included). But for those willing to take on the musical challenge of hazy funk, rock metal and art rock laboratory experiments, and for fans of Pink Floyd and The Velvet Underground, this album is a must-listen for sure.

Review by Michael Morgan
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Feisal Jerrar “Lectroponic”

19 Apr, 2011 Michael Morgan

There is a playful and dynamic dialogue of influences that musically converge in Feisal Jerrar’s debut album, Lectroponic. When it rocks out and disco dances, it grooves and jars the listener into a pleasant submission. However, there are times when the monotony could get a bit boring as the listener might wait for additional interesting musical variations but is left aurally hanging.

There were some moments with great potential on the album that fizzled out when the beats and melody turned too repetitive.  Disco-roller “Retro Fever” has got a sizzling disco beat, muted electric guitar tussles and a spacey backing synth. It’s ideal music for scene-stealing moments in television action dramas. Even as listeners traverse the halfway point of the song, variations on the main theme ran thin. Either the song should’ve winded down or continued to evolve. Instead it chose the former and not the latter.  “Twilight Howling” like “Retro Fever” will have listeners searching for the dance floors. Its disco and handclaps are energetic while its bass underbelly is unavoidably tempting. The withering synth melody lines lace the rhythms and add needful meat to the song’s core. “Twilight Howling,” like “Son of a Gun” will be played on repeat by disco-ambient-electro music lovers everywhere. “Night Watch”‘s hazy experimentalism is a bit repetitious with its high-pitched echoes and percussive rattles that wreak continuous throughout two of the five-plus minutes of the song.

Despite the steam-losing repetition of some of the songs on Lectroponic, there were many more electric and vibrant moments to feast on. “Son of Gun”‘s pistol-punching cracks and boogie are rolled up into a techno-dance jam emboldened by humbling synth doodling and scratchy synth bleeps. It’s playful on the edges and in-between. The musical metaphors wreak havoc on the song’s violent theme of cops and crimes.  The siren-like synths resemble cops chasing down criminals. The organs towards the end are church-like and pacify the song’s criminal past, and the build up of organs and light percussion is buttressed by bullet-like synth strikes. Listeners will dive and loom in the song’s brilliant dynamics. The song has a musical plot and subplots to discover, easily making it one of the best songs on the album, as it explores variations, without falling back for comfort too often on its original theme.

“Surrender” is another case of an ambient tune taking off from where it began, growing into something bigger and more beautiful than when it started.  It starts with a slow bass synth line and undulating cloudy pianos. Shortly thereafter, it launches into a rock beat accompanied by a throbbing and dodging bass. It builds into a series of winding cascading synths. Like most great ambient tunes, the song doesn’t just get stuck on repeat, but evolves and transcends its original motif.  ”Lectroponic” has got the same hypnotic legs as the others but includes a larger mix of sonic slices including some high-pitched synth jams that wriggle around the core melody, as well as interwoven melodies that careen and swell throughout. “Lectroponic” definitely is one of the catchiest and cleverest tracks on Feisal’s debut. Its ambient groove is as dynamic as it is ambitious.

Feisal’s sounds are ideal for cinema-scapes and television action dramas. “Eden Beginning” is as electroponic and cinematic as it gets. Its simmering percussive bass synths and soaring phantasmic synths are ragingly hypnotic and repetitive throughout the entire song. Similar to “Retro Fever,” there was room for variations but the artist stuck to the same monotonous but intense path of electronics and beats. The straight-lines of sound and rhythms are music fit for drama and action movie scenes.  “Neo Beginning” unlike “Eden Beginning” starts off passive-aggressive with partially restrained synth trickles and airy synths. Its impending crash will have the listener cliffhanging until the fall. Alas, it looms on the edges but never comes crashing into a catechism of rhythm and rage. Instead it monotonizes like “Eden Beginning” sticking to a background music formula but keeping it real, intense and equally hypnotic like the other cutting edge ambient tunes on the album.

“Spiral Dynamics” has an infectious guitar groove that repeats and dictates the entire song’s direction. Ethereal synths illuminate the guitar’s singular intensity and elevate the arrangement into the stratosphere. The reverb clubby synths add an edgy flavor to the song’s core. “Spiral Dynamics” is a wonderful example of creating a wondrous map of musical roads around a singular melodic path while simultaneously tearing treads on the tires.

Indian electro-phenom Feisal Jerrar’s debut album Lectroponic is not one to miss.  Ambient and electronic music lovers will unite in agreement over this one.

Review by Michael Morgan
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Revenge of the Platypus “Dreams”

14 Apr, 2011 Michael Morgan

Revenge of the Platypus’ Dreams is not short on psychedelic feel and prophetic and ambient noise.  It is however, short of melodic resonance and vocal appeal.

“Bitch of a Papercut” combines 90’s style mellow-grunge guitars and a raw percussive backing beat with a belly-throbbing bass. The song’s melody is lead by the slowly-sliding guitars. About halfway through, the guitars briefly retreat and the melody is lead by whiny synth sirens.  The orchestrations of brass and synths create a cinematic experience that delicately wraps around the entire song.

There were a few songs on Dreams that have instrumental arrangements that outperform their dissonant vocal counterparts.  “March of the Trees,” a jazzy contemporary progression with swooshy synths mixed in a bossanova tempo, has off-pitch vocals upstaging the crystalline instrumental sequence.  “Pearl,” with its dreamy liquid synth mashup and flute-like synth layers, have vocals that act as dissonant transitional portions of the song.  ”Arcane Monkey,” a quiet sleepy song with a faint low tempo beat and an almost Gregorian chant, contains ringing synths that paint the song’s main portions, giving it a psychedelic glow. If the listener can get over the dissonant vocals, the mellow track could be worth another listen.

When the vocals are not just dissonant, they are also inaudible. “Fear 11,” which starts off in a slow-motion tempo accompanied by quiet synth percussion, pairs a deep baritone vocal with the ambient lining of the song. The inaudible lyrics create a spooky psychedelic air along with the backing instruments.  The psychedelic vocals on “Majesty” are inaudible, while the beats simmer with the deep-notes of the piano. The bridge of the song contains electronic surges that sound like video game samples and cleverly emulate the song’s melodic theme.  The song comes full circle at the end with the lonely bellows of the piano leering.

While the vocals are not an easy pill to swallow, the arrangements and atmospherics are at times highly effective.  “Amb Boom” starts off with a lovely piano line as if it’s ready to soar into the pop stratosphere. The piano is accompanied by a mid-tempo beat and a series of subtle violins and celestial synths. The classic piano is the centerpiece of “Amb Boom.” The recurring piano progression are sonic doors into each new section of the song.  ”Lucky Sweatshirt” is reminiscent of the laid back body-noise synth sounds of Frank Zappa’s psychedelic world of noise and freakishness. Behind the facade is a great arrangement filled with seamless transitions of violin flourishes and harpsichord-like dings. The song sounds like a soundtrack to a lost 70s TV show. It ends oddly with an optimistic country slide guitar melody.

“Spring,” probably the best track of the bunch, starts off slow then builds up with piano, electric guitar and subtle background nature sounds. The lone melody is also goaded on by the developing plot of the metallic and flat synths. “Spring” could be background music for a love story because of its vibrant and fleeting energy.  “Dream Plain” is another mid-tempo mashup of synths guitars and noise rolled up into a psychedelic nugget. The shimmering mandolin and the playfulness of the snares along with the climbing electric guitar licks make for a psychedelic party song.  The vocal incantations work well with the ambient dream-like atmospheric collages.

For lovers of guitar-driven psychedelic music in the same vein as Pink Floyd who don’t mind a muttered and dissonant vocal every now and then, Dreams is a good fit.

Review by Michael Morgan
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

James Collin “mot.ion”

12 Apr, 2011 Michael Morgan

There is a treasure trove of ambient music out there filled with slowly developing musical plots and sparse sound scapes, drizzling with fantastical illusions and dreamy atmospheres.  Throw away the rainfall of slow, mild-mannered, half-baked sonic plots for James Collin’s latest turbo-charged electro-pop-ambient masterpiece EP, mot.ion. Without a doubt this EP will have listeners reaching for the playback button.  It’s not just an unbelievable listen; it’s a sonic road trip.  The repetitive and hypnotic melodies and harmonies, which protrude from electro-symphonic artist James Collin’s mot.ion, are simply unearthly, infectious and designed to aurally delight.  The songs are balanced by delicate synthesizer symphonics, pop-guitar licks fused together into a poetic tapestry of sound unmatched by many artists in his genre.

“A Thousand Feet Per Second” starts off with shimmering synths reminiscent of The Postal Service’s 2003 single “Such Great Heights” which then beget thumping static and stellar synths, quickly jumped by a heavy and gnarly mid-tempo rock beat.  Synth stabs kick in halfway through the song marking the dividing line in the 4:50 worth of groove.  The celestial and spacey textures of the synths and rock beats would make for a perfect car commercial song in the same vein as artists like Paul Oakenfold or Dirty Vegas’s electro-ambient escapades.  The intro track is definitely a contender for one of the best on the five-song EP.
“Kontrol” cleverly builds on a quiet foundation of buzzing-yet-unobtrusive bassy synths lined by a pumping techno bass-beat. Soon after, lush electric pop guitars and effervescent synth strokes color the rest of the song’s throbbing bassy backbone.  “Kontrol” is a fusion of core ambient and pop-electronic elements at their dirty best.  The artist leaves no subtleties or clues for the listener, wasting no time in achieving a massively intense-yet-delightful sonic experience.  Like “A Thousand Feet Per Second,” listeners will not want songs like “Kontrol,” with their repetitive and catchy ambient hooks, to end.  While ambient songs tend to loom on and on sometimes seven to ten minutes in length, James Collin appreciates the power of brevity for whetting aural appetites, with his longest (and probably best on the EP), “Kontrol” clocking in at 6:07.

The synth incantations that reverberate from “Constellation” will leave listeners spellbound.  There is a raw and effusive optimism, which arises like heavy steam out of the thematic variations of melody.  Combined with the crescendo of electric guitars and synth flourishes, it simultaneously seeps and soothes.  “Aube”’s catchy melodic hook starts off without the gloves on and keeps on swinging.  The song could easily have lyrics paired with its gorgeously written composition.  It’s one part love song and another cinematic epic.  “Metaverse,” like “A Thousand Feet Per Second” has both pop-rock and celestial synth elements.  The pop-rock is more in the school of Journey-like synths á la “Separate Ways” or Rush’s “Subdivisions,” but still holds true to its ambient roots, embellishing the critical junctures of the songs, where it builds and falls, sways and turns, with furious synthesizer jolts and jams.

It shouldn’t surprise listeners if the songs from this EP collection get snagged up by a music producer or a big ad-firm looking for fresh ambient tunes for their client’s car products, or, perhaps dream vacation packages.  The vast and glorious sound scapes of the artist’s sounds would also be suitable for cinematic adventures or fantasy films in the same genre as Lord of the Rings or The Neverending Story.  The biggest disappointment for mot.ion is that it’s only five songs.  But there is no doubt that this is one of the best ambient albums for 2010-2011. It will be exciting for fans of ambient and rock fusions to hear James Collin’s March 2011 follow up, move.ment. While waiting for that, download and buy mot.ion, his latest electro-symphonic creation.

Reviewed by Michael Morgan
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Think Like Computers “We Could Be Kings”

01 Apr, 2011 Michael Morgan

Finding the right formula for that elusive hit pop song is always the implicit challenge undertaken by emerging indie rock bands.  It’s the task of finding the hook in the chorus, an engaging melody, or the slow build-up of infectious layers of sound from something singular and atomic to something bold and fresh.  While Kansas City indie rock quartet Think Like Computers’ latest EP We Could Be Kings has moments of engaging melody and memorable arrangements that bring the band’s sound to life, the songs’ formulaic structures become predictable and undermine the distinct pop potential of the songs.

Album-opener “Another Day,” the epic centerpiece of We Could Be Kings, builds its sound out of reverb-laden guitars and celestial synths. The vocals are big, fearless and far-reaching, and could easily be mistaken as a soundtrack for prime time TV shows like Gossip Girl or any other CW teen hit show. The wailing guitar chords in the chorus make this oven-ready pop rock-radio friendly. “Another Day” shows the band’s ability to extend a melodic theme to its farthest and most logical conclusion.

“In The Dark,” the second track on the EP, has a very similar song structure as the previous.  It starts off slow, except this time with piano chord strikes that awaken its main parts.  Once again, the band uses lots of loud guitar wails to pump up the chorus and main verses.  Fans of American Idol-fare like Chris Daughtry or David Cook will really enjoy the pure liquid pitch and tender cries of Think Like Computer’s lead singer.  The arrangements are tight and the lyrics are deeply personal and introspective.  These elements are immovable and magnetic, and will quickly connect with listeners.

While the first two songs build similar song structures, “Forgotten London” rewrites it, beginning with a solemn organ synth and quietly looming bass-line.  Pianos kick in along with an earnest vocal.  The song’s narrative ruminates about a lover across the pond in London.  The refrain (perhaps the best part of the song) succinctly tells the story.  “It’s been so long/Since we found the words to say/Just what we mean/Still we keep holding on to excuses/Just to be/All alone.” Slo-burner “Innocent” carries the pianos from “Forgotten London” into a minor piano progression.  Like the first two tracks off of We Could Be Kings, it slowly builds its layers into a larger epic-like melody.  After awhile, the predictive quality of the song’s structures diminish the record’s novelty, even as the songs begin to sound strikingly similar.  “Come On” applies the same formula as the others, but utilizes the guitars in percussive shimmering beats with slow, swirling layers of bass and drum. “Come On (too little too late)” takes the most risks than the other songs, breaking out at the end with a quick reprisal of the hook.  Had these surprise touches been revealed intermittently throughout the song as extended guitar or piano solos or bridges, “Come On” could be one of the repeat-listeners on We Could Be Kings.

One-minute into “Take The Time to Breathe,” the arrangement arrived at an inflection point where it could have remained down-tempo or shifted into high gear.  With such a gorgeous voice and well-played arrangement, the musical creations of this young quartet from KC could soar even higher than they do.

Think Like Computers’ formulaic songs will sound familiar and will appeal to fans of recent pop radio bad-boy rockers of American Idol fame like David Cook, Chris Daughtry.  There are also strands of Coldplay’s epic balladry.  We Could Be Kings is a great first outing for the rock quartet.  Only time will tell how they will evolve their epic-rock pop sound.

Review by Michael Morgan
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)