In a world where we are facing huge changes, with the political landscape going through huge upheavals leaving many with so much uncertainty and concern, it’s a blessed relief that art continues to flourish despite so many other cultural challenges. Sean Dalton’s Yuck is, in the most simple terms, an ideal antidote for today’s disconcerting issues. In total contrast to the new wave of bravado and bluster that saturates politics and the news, with fake news and alternative facts striving to sway our attention away from the more sinister realities, Dalton’s slacker shoegaze turns away from all that and instead offers something entirely different. Locking in to the classic and familiar tones championed by Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, and Pavement, here we are given the chance to hear some tunes that offer no presumption or conceit. Instead, the music is given delicately, even distantly, never forcing itself on the listener but rather inviting you in to look more closely and discover the intricacies that lie within.
Opening with the EP’s title track ‘Yuck’, the slacker jangle leaps out from the speakers in a way that will immediately grab the attention of any college rock fan worth their salt. The nods towards Weezer are there too, with a pop sensibility running through the track’s veins that adds a joyous feel. It’s restrained at the same time, never running away with itself, but lurching forward with a slightly stoned feel despite also having the sense that given half a chance things could suddenly leap into a frenzy at any moment. We almost get there on the song’s outtro, but we find ourselves fading out before we ever get near anything so energetic, and that’s just fine. ‘Tired Bombs’ steps up next and bolsters Sean Dalton’s sound with a confident definition. The guitars jangle, the chords ring out with a sleepy laziness while the drums patter along adding moments of percussive punctuation that spend the whole time submitting to the more dominant tones of the guitars. Dalton’s voice wistfully spills out dolefully before a wonky keys section appears, in a kind of Grandaddy style that once more paves the way for another sleepy fade out. Closing track ‘Only Sleeping’ couldn’t be more aptly named, and also serves to underline the woozy feel that permeates Dalton’s music. The vocals meander along with an almost romantic tone, before cranking things up a notch to get a little yelling in and channelling a little of Quasi’s Sam Coomes.
Yuck manages to offer so much in such a small package. With three tracks, Sean Dalton establishes a trademark sound that never once shies away from his influences, while at the same time makes the sound very much his own. Aggressive indie it ain’t, but these are some real genre tracks that will bring true joy to anyone who finds pleasure in washed out, wonky rock sounds that make no apologies for their semi distracted wanderings and sonic non sequiturs.
‘Now It’s My Turn’ offers big beats, blended with shards of bright synth tones, making this a versatile track for dance and electronica lovers anywhere. The bass line that underpins the track is deceptively simple, holding everything together without overly drawing attention to itself or overwhelming the rest of the song. Unsurprisingly, it’s when the vocals kick in that the listener is pulled in, with the titular refrain “Now it’s my turn” painting a picture of one who may have been waiting their whole life for that one chance. It’s something every human can relate to – we’ve all been waiting for something at some point and some of us might have had the fortune to find it while others end up waiting for an inordinate amount of time and no indication of how much longer it’s going to be. The track’s mid point is where there is a real moment of interest in the music, as things pull back for a moment before lurching forward once more and a brittle sequence of notes are played out which add real texture and contrast to the song’s arrangement. While ‘Now It’s My Turn’ might not be setting out to break any boundaries in the area of dark, synthy dance music, it’s still worth a spin for anyone with a passing interest in the genre.
From it’s opening beats, Echo Point throws out all those familiar and recognisable EDM tropes, laced with an Eighties vibe. ‘Frail’, the album’s opening track channels elements of New Order and Depeche Mode, with its lightly aggressive electronica that runs on top of striking hits of bass which add a darkness that sits in contrast with the more sparkling synths that weave and dance through the mix. The overall tone of the record runs right through, like a distinctive thread holding all the tracks together – ‘A Lonely Love Song’ in particular throbs and flails with its depth of emotion, the rousing vocal acting as a sonic call to arms. ‘I Fall’ brings in a brighter element, this time more in the vein of Angels And Airwaves, a slightly saccharine sweetness on offer and a thundering rave synth that is the staple of all dance floor attractors, while ‘Chair Of Sorrows’ pulls things back to create a more pensive soundscape with its wide, yearning cello notes drawing out the kind of introspection you might expect from Trent Reznor. The magical blend of glacial, shimmering synthesizers with gritty, snarling bass notes is frequently disarming, not least on ‘Black Sun’, where the vocals give a nod towards Editors. The brooding is palpable, at times as if pure emotion might start to slowly seep out of the speakers and any moment. ‘It’s Time To Go’ harnesses the feel of classic Euro-dance, with the urgency of Atari Teenage Riot’s Alec Empire, yet here the vocals are restrained, considered, and delivered with care. Even more so, ‘Silent Deceiver’ is extra stripped back, gradually unfolding into an ethereal, choral performance which eventually sees huge piano chords arrive with a wheezing drum kit that beats along like a committed life support machine until the track finally reaches its final breath. ‘Frozen Left In Time’ is another example of the effective use of shimmering piano on the album, creating a deeply melancholic tone that perfectly matches the long vocal notes which echo out far and wide. The later portion of Echo Point is particularly stripped back, with the penultimate track ‘A Final Scent’ gradually reintroducing the powerful EDM elements that were so prevalent at the start of the album, picking up the pace and adding a perky beat that grabs the attention and draws the listener in to get lost in its sprawling synths that intermingle with the robotic bass and unrelenting kick drum. And so, it is on ‘A Dove For Isolation’ that brings Echo Point to its conclusion – a closing track that draws together all the various elements that have been on show throughout the album and an effective reminder of the distinctive aspects of Missing In Stars’ sound. What makes Echo Point so accessible is the way in which it brings together elements of classic rock with a more underground EDM tone and the occasional moment when things lean towards a gritty industrial sound.
North Dallas four-piece outfit Elmont have just dropped their self-produced single “Home”, with their own distinctive sound immediately making its mark on the alternative scene. Its arrangement offers a special blend of space and finely honed moments for the track to shine and sparkle, with the strings stretching their long notes out while the drums add a kind of punctuation, clearly delineating the key moments along the way. Dig deeper, and there are touches of old school emo going on here, like those moments when Taking Back Sunday or Dashboard Confessional pulled things back for a moment to break out the acoustic tones. What makes ‘Home’ all the more refreshing is that it never falls for the temptation to go back to that folky sound that Mumford And Sons made so popular some years back. Instead, Elmont have carved out their own tone, which honours its influences rather than directly emulating them.
If this is what is to be expected from these guys, then be wise and watch this space for more, as the potential here is big. Work has begun on their debut EP, so we’re looking forward to getting our ears around that to see what else Elmont have got on offer.
Sunterra’s sound establishes itself firmly as soon as it arrives – with a moody, gothic darkness, the blend of crunching guitars and glacial synths immediately fuse together to create a sprawling soundscape of darkness and restrained fury. Opening track ‘Reign Supreme’ sets the stage for the proceedings, guitars screaming from all angles while the vocals delve closer and closer into doom metal territory. ‘Shadow In The Dark’ runs straight down the industrial route, with its opening clanks and groans leading into a delicate and distant piano which creates an isolated feel. Add to that the intimate flute notes, and there is a folky twist to the track which lays down a path towards some huge guitar chords that eventually arrive, ringing out and shuddering the landscape. Certainly, Sunterra aren’t afraid to use a range of dynamics in their music – ‘Lord Of Lies’ is more brutal, with classic metal drums that thunder throughout and industrial bleeps and scratches that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Berlin alternative nightclub. Closing with ‘Shut Up!!!’, Reborn concludes with a real sense of mystery and adventure by bringing together some flirty spoken lines and fizzing, rusty bass notes that splutter and screech to create a grubby underbelly for the sing-songy sections which wander into nursery rhyme territory. At times brutal, at others delicate and considered, Sunterra’s Reborn is a record that offers plenty of surprises and satisfying moments.
Dan Weintraub’s songs aren’t just another set of tunes, they are offered as a memorial in honour of two young people who were tragically killed in a car accident in Northern Vermont. It’s often a fitting way to offer tribute in song, and so here we have a set of earnest reminders that life is fragile and those of us who are left behind have a duty to remember the legacy of others.
‘Janie Like No Other’ doesn’t linger on sadness, but rather channels an upbeat feel that keeps the song looking onwards and upwards. Of course, there is an underlying sense of loss that should be expected, but it is used here in the song to give a strong sense of memory and the impact that people have had on our lives. In terms of tone, there’s some good old fashioned classic rock going on here, at times leaning towards early R.E.M. with splashes of country and flecks of Americana. All in all, ‘Janie’ stands strong as a song that honours memory while also points out that new music will always be made, and it will always tell a story to be passed on to others.
‘Because Love Lasts Forever’ is more restrained in its approach – slower, with lingering, drawn out guitar chords that allow plenty of space for Dan Weintraub’s voice to stand clearly atop the instrumentation and carefully let the lyrics unfold. Here his vocal is more intimate, with a deeper tone and a clarity to his breath that creates a touching atmosphere. Add to that the eerie strings that gradually appear, creating a broad soundscape that invites the listener to step into its world and get lost for a while, allowing the tones and textures to be all there is. Lyrically, it doesn’t get more human than “And You say love lasts forever /
But You aren’t taking my my hand / And I scream at my maker / Tell me why, I demand.”
The third in this set of songs is ‘Light’, somewhat more stripped back with the feel of a classic singer-songwriter’s creation. The lower end of the track’s tone has a deep rumble to it that adds a sense of gravity and weight, allowing the spritely lead guitar to dance effortlessly and the piano notes to jump out with real character.
Dan Weintraub has managed to produce some songs here that could so easily have fallen into a pit of over emotional earnestness, but thankfully his writing and recording methods mean that Songs For Beautiful Souls manages to evoke feelings without making the listener ever feel manipulated in any way. While it can’t be avoided that these songs have been born out of tragedy and pain, it’s a good thing that art can rise up out of those ashes. Thankfully, no matter what we go though in this life, new music will always be created to communicate our stories, and that is exactly what has been achieved here.
Opening with those timeless, powerful, and evocative words of JFK’s space race speech, ‘Lights’ begins with a sense of depth and expectation that is emphasised all the more by the first piano chords which are dark and resonant. Just like that voyage to the moon, Grieve The Astronaut’s music is progressive and expectant, with all its component parts working together like a well oiled machine to carry its passengers successfully to the destination. Raymond Hayden’s lead vocal carries weight that draws the listener in, while Calissa Knox’s sensitive backing vocals add a lightness to the track and glue together the various sections of the song. A recurring theme of hope runs throughout ‘Lights’, not only in the lyrics but also deeply woven into the song’s tone, creating an uplifting feel that takes the moody piano and reworks it into an opportunity to find new possibilities and opportunities. In a way, the track illustrates the way in which things might seem hard from time to time, but it is through working through those moments that we find ourselves stronger and better equipped to handle the new things that lie ahead for us. Certainly, in those times when we need a flash of inspiration, ‘Lights’ just might be the thing to get you there.
There are times when a piece of music comes along that is so perfectly titled in such a way that it not only prepares the listener in advance, but leads them confidently through its arrangement. That’s certainly the case with Pauline Frechette’s ‘A Quiet Walk In The Snow’, which is a beautiful moment of delicate classical music delivered with a cinematic quality. The interplay between strings and wind instruments create a glacial tone that imaginatively frames the imagery of slowly trekking through the driven snow on a cold winter’s day, with melancholic harmonies that add a sense of yearning and progress. The secret to the piece’s beauty is its unassuming nature, never forcing itself but allowing itself to be discovered, with the dialogue between instruments drawing the listener in to investigate the intricacies that lie within. Buried in the wistful tones is a sense of hope, like hidden treasure waiting to be found – exactly the kind of payoff that music in this genre often has to offer for those who are willing to take the time to look for it. David Campbell’s arrangement has a sensitivity to it which allows the composition to really shine, and being a relatively short piece, it’s the kind of music you’ll find you want to hear more than once to fully appreciate it.
Sideways Derby make the kind of music that reaches into the recesses of your mind and drags up all kinds of memories. More than that, it gets under your skin like a kind of sonic leishmaniasis – although it’s a much more enjoyable condition to be afflicted with. Just put ‘Sweet Memories’ on for a spin, and you’ll be immediately transported to another realm laced with smoky blues guitars, country influenced tones, and a gritty, drawling vocal from Joshua Grant that is as soothing as it is captivating. ‘Here To Stay’ cranks things up a notch with its spluttering guitars and insistent kick drum that thuds its beat throughout the track. It’s the attention to detail that gives the track the change to shine, particularly the bouncy guitar twangs and bent notes that punctuate the song along the way. So it is with ‘Little One’ that things get the chance to pull back a bit, with a chiming acoustic guitar and evocative wailing electric guitar notes. Grant’s vocal moves effortlessly through the track, leading the listener along on its journey with a firm hand and a confident consistency. For any fan of gritty southern rock, Sideways Derby offers just the right balance of sounds that will both bring up memories of favourite songs from the past and a refreshing dose of original music.