Product Details

Soul Asylum     Change of Fortune     EOne Music

I remember first hearing Soul Asylum in high school when I picked up And the Horse They Rode In On. To this day, very few bands can touch that album and it definitely helped propel Grave Dancers Union to the legendary status it holds to this day. I loved how the band could cover so much musical ground yet still have an instantly recognizable sound. Change of Fortune is no different, but somehow it feels more anticipated due to it having been three years since their last record.

Pirner & Co. kick off the album in classic Soul Asylum fashion with “Supersonic.” While it sounds fresh and new, there is an obvious hearken back to the days when Alt. Rock was bubbling just under the mainstream. It’s midtempo Rock and Roll with just enough angst and emotion to make it sound different from everyone else. “Ladies Man” is another favorite on repeated listens. Pirner’s voice is a bit rough on this one to be honest, but the melody is so damn catchy and the poppy bounce is undeniable.

The title track is a much funkier tune (and perhaps a nod to the band’s Minneapolis roots?) and provides ample evidence that the band can play just about anything. “Cool” takes the funk a little bit farther and finds Pirner questioning what he has to do to be cool enough for the in crowd. The duo of tunes end the album on a great note! While I love most of this album, I really find myself coming back to the funkier stuff over and over.

Soul Asylum deliver another excellent album in Change of Fortune. There are a couple of tracks here that I didn’t care for but when you can cover so many different styles common sense dictates that you aren’t gonna connect with everybody all the time. If you enjoy Soul Asylum then you won’t be disappointed. If you have never heard them before or haven’t bothered to listen since Grave Dancers Union was on the charts, then this is an excellent re-entry point.

As I write this, I am sitting at my desk, totally stunned by the news of Jon Bunch’s passing. I am overwhelmed by emotion for a man I never met, yet whose words and voice meant so much to me. So much.

My first exposure to Bunch’s music was through my roommate Jeff. He was a hardcore devotee in the mid-nineties. One of the bands he loved the most was Sensefield and he played Killed For Less almost non-stop for a long time (at least, it seemed like it to me). Now Sensefield was more of a “thinking man’s” band for sure, but many fans of the old school Victory Records roster (including Jeff and myself) had much love for them.

While I enjoyed Sensefield, my true appreciation for them didn’t develop until after Bunch had joined Further Seems Forever for the timeless Hide Nothing. Bunch’s voice perfectly complimented the music. The emotional strain in his voice as he reached to hit the notes and convey the poetic lyrics immediately resonated with me.

FSF fans are often split over their feelings on that album. I have always felt that this was an age issue. FSF had a young fanbase that didn’t know what to make of Bunch or the poppier turn of the music. I, however, was in my mid-twenties, fairly newlywed, and trying to reconcile the idea that I didn’t have much direction. And what direction I did have just wasn’t working out. Every syllable of Hide Nothing felt like it was written specifically for me. In many ways, it still feels like that when I listen to it.

While I was never able to see Sensefield live, I always figured the chance would come back around. Now, sadly, it never will. Fortunately, I did manage to see the Hide Nothing lineup of FSF a couple of times and they, in my opinion, were at their very best each time. As a matter of fact, the show at the Purple Door Festival just before the release of Hide Nothing is still one of my favorite shows ever.

Part of me thinks that it’s crazy to mourn someone I have never even met. That’s how strange music is, though. It affects you in ways that no one can understand besides you. It meets you where you are at. So, thank you, Jon Bunch, for inspiring me and for singing about the feelings that I could never articulate. I wish I could have told you that in person.  Your race has been run and I pray that you can see who you ARE.

“We live and we learn and we crash and we burn and we’re gone / We take what we know and we learn as we go and we run/ Run until that day, we can see who we are /Have the final say, we keep being who we are / As love lights the way to the last day…. and no one can take it away” – “Hide Nothing” from Hide Nothing

Saint Paul

                  Endless Mike and the Beagle Club          Saint Paul          A-F Records      

Johnstown, Pennsylvania’s Endless Mike and the Beagle Club are a sort of a Punk Rock orchestra. The music is strung along by singer/songwriter sensibilities but, barring a few moments of intimacy, it is full of raucous, fun, inspired collectivist rock. The band is led by Mike Miller, who performs both solo and with a group of up to sixteen members at times. This is my first experience with the band and to say that I have been floored by this album would be an understatement.

What moves me the most about this album is the simple fact that its deeply emotional without all the sadness that usually accompanies such things. Most of this album is upbeat and riotous, not entirely unlike Dropkick Murphy’s more recent material. Mike Miller’s lyrical focus is always sharp though, tackling the doldrums of work, being more than people think you can be, and remembering your connection to lost things. He seems to do a lot of this through a deeply passionate spiritual lens that causes for plenty of introspection when you dig deep.

There really isn’t a stinker on here but my favorite moment is probably “Try to See Your Life As a Whole.” The song sort of bounces along with the acoustic guitar and the vocal leading the way. Some slightly off key background vocals color it as does the dynamic horn section. Miller sings of his experiences trying to figure out who he is as he explores all of the things that make his existence unique. The Rockabilly swagger of “St. Saul” both fun and powerful as Miller declares Saul of Tarsus the man that put “the holy in the Holy Land,” adding a Gospel choir of sorts into the mix to reinforce the point. The more intimate, piano led “Monitor” is soul-stirring to say the least. The common man lyrics are absolutely beautiful because it’s the real life that most of us have felt, or are feeling right now. It’s about finding beauty in the hustle and bustle of life and revisiting those moments that center your soul.

I picked this album for review because of the band’s ridiculous name, but don’t be fooled by the fun name because St. Paul is absolutely the real deal. This is one of my favorite releases of 2016 so far. Not only is it brilliant musically, it speaks to me where I am at. That’s what great albums do.  If you enjoy Suffering and the Hideous Thieves, Dropkick Murphys, Ben Folds Five, They Might Be Giants, or Old Man Markley then you certainly owe it to yourself to check this out.                        

Ave Maria - En Plein Air

Tarja Turunen            Ave Maria- En Plein Air

Let me preface this by saying I know very little about Opera. My knowledge is limited to an unhealthy obsession with Sarah Brightman’s voice and an intimate knowledge of The Phantom of the Opera’s score. What I am is a longtime fan of Tarja Turunen’s body of music. From Pop to Metal, the Finnish powerhouse has successfully delivered it all in a semi-operatic vocal style, so it only makes sense that she would try her hand at an “official” Opera/Classical release.

Ave Maria sounds exactly like you would expect it to. Turunen’s gentle soprano is more dynamic here than it is on her other releases and it is prominently featured overtop of the orchestra on most of the versions represented here. Although I really don’t understand a word she says, it’s surprisingly moving nonetheless. That speaks volumes about both the song/prayer and the voice delivering it. All of the songs are among the 4,000 versions of “Ave Maria” (a traditional intercessory prayer offered to the Virgin Mary) that have been breathed into existence over the years, including a new take composed by Turunen herself.

My favorite here is definitely the “Camille Saint-Saans” version. When cranked at full volume it completely engulfs you. It’s a terribly sad sounding piece and Turunen’s voice is otherworldly. Other highlights include the softly orchestrated “Charles-Marie Widor” version which has a more romantic sound to it and the “J.S. Bach/Charles Gounod” piece, which is much shorter than the others and features hardly any instrumentation, reminding me very much of the powerful simplicity of  the doxology.

Turunen’s take on the prayer is quite interesting as well. It opens with a narrative piece, which puts the song forth as a prayer first and foremost, thus distinguishing itself immediately from many other versions. As per her background, this version is a bit more haunting as well. A soft pipe organ guides the song as Turunen’s voice once again takes center stage. Her restraint on this one is notable as well. It lends a softer feel to the overall piece and makes it slightly less operatic in the end. It’s also got a great pipe organ solo. You just don’t hear enough pipe organ solos these days.

As an outsider, I found this album to be both beautiful and fascinating. It’s certainly not something I could listen to all the time but it’s very calming and goes great with meditation and Chai lattes. If you need a break from the grind, Ave Maria- En Plein Air will take you there.

Paper Gods

Duran Duran    Paper Gods   Warner Bros. Records

Duran Duran are a bit like a chameleon. Throughout the years they have consistently swayed with the wind, riding it wherever it took them. This, of course, led to them being one of Pop music’s premier godfathers. Whether it’s the electronic-laden sounds of Big Thing and Medazzaland or the decidedly more Rock and Roll Rio, Astronaut,  and the wedding album or even the dance hall soul of Notorious, Duran Duran do it all with an undeniable swagger.

Paper Gods most likely lands somewhere between Big Thing and Notorious, falling somewhere along the line that connects soulful and danceable sounds. “Last Night In the City” (Featuring Kiesza) is the culmination of it all with Le Bon’s vocals front and center alongside Kiesza’s almost gospel worthy performance. This is all amidst a backdrop that would make ravers proud.

Nick Rhodes brings the disco groove to the forefront again and again, but it’s most noteworthy on the synth led “Change the Skyline” (Featuring Jonas Bjerre). It’s gorgeous vocal bridge creates a huge, bright melody that speaks joy amidst some programming that even makes old codgers like me want to dance a bit (Please don’t tell anyone that though).

The album’s title track, “Paper Gods,” is unquestionably the highlight of the album. Featuring Mr. Hudson, the song acapellically builds into a soulful, kind of Billy Joel meets dancehouse meets Duran Duran thing. What really gets me though are the lyrics as the Duranies rarely make statements. This song ironically speaks to the fading of all that glitters (aka the paper gods), something the band has traditionally glorified.

As with any Duran Duran album, there are a couple of failed experiments here and an outright stinker or two. Overall though, this is better than either Red Carpet Massacre or All You Need is Now (which were both solid albums), making it the best Duran Duran album in nearly a decade and proof positive that they still have it in them to be leaders in Pop music.

The High [Explicit]

              Candice Pillay  The High   KIDinaKORNER/Interscope

Candice Pillay is a South African R&B singer/songwriter who has written hits for artists like Rita Ora, Tinie Tempah, and Christina Aguilera. She has recently been making waves as a featured voice on two singles from the Compton soundtrack, including “Medicine Man” which also features Eminem.  The High is her latest EP.

Pillay has a really interesting sound. Her songs move slowly but they are very sure footed and, unlike many of her contemporaries, she doesn’t oversing her parts. Her vocal restraint keeps the door wide open for the producers and beatmakers to put their unique stamp on it as well, which is how pop music seems to work these days.

The hauntingly beautiful “Lies” with its club underpinnings is the EP’s most important note in my opinion. The vocal and drum loops really stick in your brain and when Pillay sings a verse it sounds important. The way the beats are laid make the vocals sound important, it makes you want to pay attention, even if the lyrics aren’t offering anything particularly important. “Drinking of You,” has a bit of a Prince vibe to it that is very digable as well. This is probably Pillay’s best vocal performance of the EP, it’s soft eighties flare and pop funk suit her much better than the more club-oriented songs.

Overall, this is an enjoyable EP. It doesn’t rattle the Earth but it does show off Pillay’s talents, leading you to believe that she’s capable of being much more than a bit player when she gets the center stage.

Heretics

Toadies              Heretics

Fresh off the Summerland tour (alongside Everclear, Fuel, and American Hi-Fi), the Toadies return with a brand new album in Heretics…well sort of new at least. Heretics is technically an acoustic album comprised of the band’s previous recordings as well as two new songs (“Belly of A Whale (Dry) and a cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”). To limit it to being an acoustic album though does it no justice at all because the Toadies have pretty much reinvented all of these songs.

As a longtime fan, I was naturally apprehensive of Heretics. The band eases you into the idea though with the new song “Belly of a Whale (Dry)” which is one of the best songs the band have ever released. It’s melodic and catchy and melancholic, just like all of the band’s best tunes. It fits very well into their body of work, but more importantly, it lets you know that the band hasn’t gone all MTV Unplugged on us. “Heart of Glass” on the other hand is a fun attempt at a cover (particularly the attempt to make it sound more like what the lyrics divulge to the listener) but it is probably the low point here for me.

However the highlights here abound. The mandolin and piano led “Tyler” is an intensely emotional reworking that makes me a little teary-eyed every time to be honest. “Send You To Heaven” makes me smile a little with its Country-tinge and suave harmonica work coupled with its snarky lyrics. “The Appeal” takes the album to a pretty raw place with its man vs. religion sentiment presented as a tender offering rather than a challenge.

“Rattler’s Revival” is most likely my favorite moment here though. Despite it being closer to the original than some of the others, the front and center lyrics shine. It’s biting televangelist presentation cross it over into darker Steve Taylor territory and it really sticks to your bones.

Yes, the band’s megahit “Possum Kingdom” is here as well. Yes, it’s still awesome. The drive is a little slower making it more sinister sounding than the original but it’s otherwise intact. You know the band has other songs that are equal to or better than this one right?

Even though I know these songs so well, everything sounds different enough that this album feels new. The spotlight on the lyrics is something that works a lot better than I initially felt it would. It’s obvious the band spent a lot of time re-working these songs to make you “feel it” in a different way. And “feel it” you will. This is hands down my Album of the Year so far.

Hy Brasil        Animal’s Grace

Animal’s Grace is the debut EP from SoCal art rockers Hy Brasil. With a harp and handmade drums among their ranks, the band land somewhere between the atmospheric tones of The Cure and the Goth underpinnings of Sincerely Paul but they also produce a healthy bit of alt rock.

The album’s atmospheric yet fluid “Drive It Like You Stole It” sets the mood quite well. The song is emotive and drowned in reverb with tinges of electronics and a pretty rockin’ harp to fill the gaps. Meanwhile, “Walk Away” and the album’s closer “Chilling Me Softly” more fully embrace the both of those things, making their presence seem a bit more important to the overall sound. The latter is easily my favorite track and certainly reminds me a lot of the oft forgot Sincerely Paul. From its harp solo to its drowned vocal to its distant sound, everything about it is unique and powerful.

“Tight Rope” and the title track travel a little farther into The Cure’s (more recent) neck of the woods. “Tight Rope” has a clearer drive to it than “Animal’s Grace” but they couple pretty well together .“Tight Rope” culminates with a repetitive vocal line laid on top of a chaotic musical jam that leaves you more than ready for the gentle beginning of “Animal’s Grace” with its echo-laden vocal and sparse instrumentation spread across hypnotic rhythms that keep everything moving forward.

Overall, this wasn’t a release that struck me on first listen, but when it came around it REALLY came around and now I can’t stop listening. The only issue I have here is that the songs are so laid back that it’s a bit too easy to let fall into a pleasant background noise. I guarantee you if you get in the car and crank this one way up though, it will reveal a whole other side of itself to you.

grace-and-tony_Phantasmagoric-Cover

Grace & Tony          Phantasmagoric

Tennessee based Grace & Tony describe themselves as Southern Gothic. Their mildy bluegrass-tinged americana folk style is riddled with lyrics inspired by Lovecraft, King, and Poe as well as historical bits (because the truth is stranger than fiction right?!). This is the band’s third album and my first exposure to them.

The album opens with “Adam of Labour,” a catchy and dark ditty told from the perspective of Frankenstein’s creation. It’s really Tony’s baritone voice that turns your head right off the bat. His voice sounds similar to Hugo Ferreira (Tantric) and Brad Roberts (Crash Test Dummies) and given the eclectic nature of the music, my mind immediately started to draw comparisons to Crash Test Dummies later work. This song is catchy as hell and beautifully fluid musically. It’s almost gypsy sound makes it a great album opener.

“72713” is the album stopper here for me though. While a bit more straightforward than some of the other tunes, it’s powerful, near anthem quality and live sound is just astounding. It’s a deeply passionate piece that the voices and strings lead. When the harmonies kick in it goes from moving to intensely emotional. I have a hard time moving past this track, I just want to hear it over and over again.

“A Fever on the Cthulu Queen” is another favorite. Although an instrumental, the music has many movements that make it feel pretty epic. It flows freely from gypsy to jazz to folk to some semi-punk elements that make it intensely interesting, especially the last 45 seconds or so of the song where all the elements really come together and give you that top-of-the-mountain moment. The abrupt stop does bother me a bit though if I’m being honest.

Overall, I really like this album but it’s a bit disjointed. Part of me feels like Grace & Tony are trying to not get boxed in to any style. Another part of me thinks that there was a masterplan and it just didn’t work out as perfectly as intended. Still another part of thinks they are just weirdos like me. No matter how you slice it, if you are looking for something new and fascinating then this is it. If you are a fan of Crash Test Dummies, Dresden Dolls, or Jerome Wincek’s Revelator EPs then you definitely should check this out.

3*

  Malpas      Rain, River, Sea

Malpas makes their full length debut with Rain, River, Sea. The album is a collection of previous single/EP releases and new tracks from mixing engineer Andy Savours (who has worked on release from Sigur Ros and  My Bloody Valentine among others) and his collaborator singer/songwriter Ali Forbes.

The duo cover a lot of ground on Rain, River, Sea and, for me, that works both for and against them. Certainly influences from Radiohead’s classic OK Computer and Kid A era as well as Avicii and, of course, Sigur Ros can be heard here, but it’s Forbes folk channeling of Jeremy Enigk and Thom Yorke vocally that really endear me to this album.

“Where the River Runs” is a highlight here in my opinion and perhaps the best tune on the album. It’s a glitchy pop gem that has both a strong melody and atmosphere. It’s an easy song to get lost in and Forbes voice is completely mesmerizing. The folktronica feel of “Us Afloat” is another great moment that is full of acoustic instruments that feel lost at sea. It has this cool undercurrent to it that makes you feel like The Beach Boys are performing on an island somewhere with EDM producers backing them. I enjoy “Here Comes the Rain” for many of the same reasons, however it’s a much more straightforward offering overall. This is another song that Forbes absolutely shines on.

I enjoyed this album a good bit. I love the atmosphere it has, but the feel of it being a “singles” sounding album interrupts my good vibes if I’m being honest. For the most part, this is a pretty interesting album that will appeal to people looking for something more experimental in the EDM world. There are some great beats, but they are never allowed to overtake the songs, which is a big plus in my book. So, I guess maybe you’d call this song-oriented EDM rather than dance oriented EDM? Either way, I look forward to hearing more from Malpas.