19 June 2015

Emerald Park - GO!GO!GO!

That cover looks like the colour blind tests that I took in school (and failed, hence I never became an engineer as I wanted to as a kid - no-one would want me to wire stuff obviously).  It is also a bit hypnotic, isn't it?  Well, I feel that it is - this is the latest by Emerald Park; Hailing from Malmo, Sweden the band have been making waves with their last release which was called 'For Tomorrow'.  Now, I will be honest as I always am and admit that until the last few days I had no idea who these cats were; but I received an email about them and when I looked into them I have found that they have been previously produced by Ola Frick who is of course from the wonderful Moonbabies.  His name attached to this immediately help with the interest level on my part, also if we receive any requests we do like to review the acts (for better or worse) as they made the effort to contact us - I still live in dread of some acts contacting me (not this band I would like to add), but this is not the time or place to discuss that).  Having given their back catalogue as listen, I have found that the band fall into the fields of electronica, indie and pop; they are also changeable in the same release, but without moving too far from their own sound.  So let’s find out how GO!GO!GO! sounds.......

Starting this mini album is the title track "GO!GO!GO!" which reminds me a little bit of HelloGoodbye and their song "Here (In Your Arms)" but with the added bonus of a better set of vocalists, musical ability and emotion.  It has a strange mixture swimming underneath the surface in places; I can hear Depeche Mode, I can hear Erasure, I can hear Clannad and I can also hear in this mix a slight bit of post punk noise that gives the song a subtle feeling.  The condemnation of commercialism expressed on this song is subversive with asking people to bring their modern comforts and a fire is going to be started; the fact I am reviewing this on a laptop is not lost on me either and song takes on a new feeling.  A really interesting opening to this album which is followed by "Liberteens" that starts off with sound that reminds me of The Cardigans before it is swiftly swapped with a song that would take pride of place in any Imogen Heap album.  It is a beautifully painted picture about memories, love and looking over ones' shoulder towards the past.  It holds a dream like quality about it, moving slowly to makes its point and not being in a hurry to get there.  I like this number despite the chorus not quite reaching the spot the way the verses do, but this is a personal taste and does not detract from the song and minimal elegance.  "Hamburg" is a different beast though, it is darker and the hunt for a place to go and for the music to flow.  It seems familiar from the outset and I cannot put my finger on why, but the sound reminds me once again of Depeche Mode & Erasure however it is mixed in with the sound of Muse and the song "Stardust" (or the atmosphere that is created by that particular song for me - there is still something else in there as well which is evading me).  It is the jewel of this album, with the night being the back drop it also makes the listener focus on the nights out that they would have experienced when things fall into place and good times are experienced.  The bass sound rumbled in my head for ages afterwards, still trying to finger out what else is going on here as it; however it is very hypnotic and delivered beautifully.

"Guiding Light" starts with the background noise of a city or town (not near a main street, but it is an urban noise) and then the band ask people to sit down and take their medicine.  The song seems to be about keeping someone sedated due to either a medical condition or helping someone through the door which we must all flow through at one point.  It is also have the feeling of love, regret, despair and it feels like a vigil; they are awaiting the inevitable ending and it is hard not feel uneasy during the number.  When music can make that happen, it is a sign that the band have done their job well as it does stay with you.  Musically it follows a similar pattern to the rest of the record, but that is some dark waters on that number - well played Emerald Park, well played.  After that emotional roller-coaster comes the first single to be released off the album called "Wolf" which talks about something which you cannot sense, but you know that there is something out there and it is watching you and waiting.  Out of all the songs on the album, it is the one which does not quite reach the level of the rest of the album, maybe the emotional heartbreak of "Guiding Light" drained me to breaking, but I cannot be scared of the wolf and its approach.  It is well played, full of great production, the band sound as good as they have in this album; the track just does not connect with me which is a shame.  The penultimate track is called "Blue" and starts with a piano scale and a lament about getting ones' shit together and head to sleep, a sense of unease and restlessness is the prevailing theme.  It sounds like a lullaby and that tiredness is really strong.  It is another minimal song, but that does not apply to the drama for me; the lyrics are beautiful (with lots a swearing so sadly not a radio hit), the sombre nature of the tune also gives it a lasting effect on the listener.  Well played once more Emerald Park, well played.  Ending the album with a dose of energy is "Graduation Failed" which would have been my choice of first single for this album, it has a jumpy vibe and is very catchy; it is holds the audience and contrasts for the listener as the lyrics are at odds with the happy nature of the music.  I like this kind of subversive pop song and it gives this album a brilliant closing track.

This is an album that is out of time for me, not in a bad way but with the music being (overall) very happy and a bit cheerful; yet the lyrical content is dark and not to be taken lightly.  The time when this type of album was most revered was the 1980's and early 1990's, so for that reason it feels like it is against the tide of modern music - and it is because of that sort of thing that I really found myself falling for its charms.  It is very hard not to like a band that gives the listener a lesson on how to feel uncomfortable in places, whilst making music that can still make the sunshine.  It is a clever album that makes you think, it is one that could also be played when you just want to concentrate on the music and leave the lyrics to the side and you will have just as rewarding an experience.  I like pop albums like this, they make the world more interesting.

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track - Hamburg

You can purchase the digital album of the album from Amazon here (it is out on 23rd June 2015)

You can follow the activities of Emerald Park on Facebook here

You can hear some of their music (as well as this release) on Soundcloud here

You can also hear lots of their music on Bandcamp here

If this release comes out of Spotify, Deezer and other platforms, I will update the links here; but if you can get the release (especially from their direct sources) it will help the band directly.

18 June 2015

The NX - Night Heavier

Recommendations - a great way to hear new music.  It is because of the good reports I have heard about this band that I am currently review their latest EP.  The NX are from Sunderland in the North East of England and according to their information on Facebook they have just came back from a hiatus; they have also shared the stage with such bands as Deaf Havana, Job For A Cowboy amongst others.  At the moment, there has been a bit of a buzz going on with this band and I wish I could write more about them but sadly I do not know that much more about them.  But that have never stopped me before, so now it is time to see how this EP has turned out...

Starting the EP is "Lonnie Johnson's Greatest Hits", it starts in a swirl of energy, riff and flat out power; musically if you are familiar with the styles of Glassjaw and GU Medicine (and by extension, Cavorts) you will hear a song that is very much in the vein of that hardcore punk/metal.  It sounds like a fight is being fought through your speakers.  It is a bruising number which has a great groove in the middle of the song that sinks its hooks into and really does not want to let go.  The next track is called "The Great Unwashed", this is a much more measured attack form the band and the word attack is really appropriate with this number.  Once more it is more hardcore smash 'n' roll punk to the side of the skull, it slows the groove down to a stop/start pace in places and that dirty bass sound is really impressive.  The penultimate track of the EP is called "The Day It Rained Forever" and it starts off with a quick paced drumming and moody guitars, a slightly echo on the clear vocals which gives way to the hook line of the song - One of the pills will make you tick, whilst the other will only make you sick.  Just drink in that sentence, it has been stuck in my head for ages afterwards.  It makes a decent noise and sounds like a wounded animal towards the end of the song - vicious once again.  Ending the EP is "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" which does end this release with the sound akin to a bomb going off in close quarters, it is very feral and damn right dirty.  The hardcore formula mixed with a sick slab of groove is fantastic and ends this EP with a bang.

As debut release, this ticks all the right boxes; it is short, sharp and explosive, there is no rest in the songs and they have a lot of energy, it sounds incredibly fresh and sounds different.  The last part is key here, there are a lot of bands who are doing the rounds that sound similar to what is really popular; there is very few bands who are brave enough to try something different.  Much like Waheela, Druganaut and We Are Knuckle Dragger, these guys are just doing what they want and it does not matter whatever else is going on as they know they are onto something really good.  Being selfish I do wish this was longer, but that just means I am hungry for more.

4.5 out of five - This is really good, just short of perfect

Top track - The Day It Rained Forever

You can purchase the EP on Amazon digital here

You can follow their activities on Facebook here

You can stream the EP on Spotify here

You can stream the album on Deezer here

Tremonti - Cauterize

When I first saw the cover of this album, I was a little curious as to what lay beneath the frankly fucked up image.  It is a strange picture no matter how you cut it; look at it – the man in the sky looks like the sun in a Watership Down spaghetti western nightmare and what is up with the burning boat?  But I wanted to find out what it was all about, as I do like to play album cover roulette.  Now I will do something different here and admit my early impression of the album before I start the blog (it will make sense, stay with me people), I did listen to the album before I started the blog and my first thought was that this band really wish they were part of either Creed or Alter Bridge.  Then I did my usual research afterward and I found out that this is really is the case for once, as this is the solo project of Mark Tremonti (hence where they get the name) and this is the second album released under this name.  Now, Mr Tremonti has sold out many arenas around the world, sold many albums as well – with Creed and Alter Bridge the western hemisphere of the planet has rushed (in places) to hear the music he has help created.  But side & solo projects are difficult beasts to manage; do you move too far and create a different style from your main project and risk alienating your original fan base and give caution to the wind, or do you stay so close to your original sound that it seems pointless do the side project.  Either way is laced with danger, especially when you name the band after your family name.  So let’s find out how it has done…..

Starting off the album is “Radical Change” which sounds like Strapping Young Lad meets Creed, but without any of Devin Townsend’s charm, wit or originality; the opening riff is impressing and would have made the fifteen year old me very excited – but I am not that age anymore and speed is no longer the only thing I look for in music.  Also, it chorus and bridge take so far removed from that crunching riff and it is that part where the Creed sounds comes through.  Whilst I would like to note that it sound well produced, well played and tight (is it pro-tooled?) I would also state that the last statement is not the same as saying that it is something I like; it is too clean in places for trash & speed metal.  The follow up song “Flying Monkeys” is now Metallica meets Alter Bridge (at least it is a difference), it is in the same pace as “Sad but True” from the ‘Black’ album from the metal legends (ironically it was also the second track from that album), but with that distinctive sound that comes from the guitar of Mr Tremonti.  Now I did chuckle at the title (watched the Wizard of Oz too many times as a child not to) and I must say that it is an improvement on the first song.  It sounds more solid, the riff has more texture; also the bass/drum combination just appear to make more noise.  However, I cannot get past the vocals of Mr Tremonti (who is also the lead singer here) and the fact he sound like as certain Myles Kennedy and it does not truly mix well for me on this type of track; the style and delivery when compared to his other work are just too similar for me when it needs to make a track that people can mosh to and it detracts from the song for me.  Again, not that it is a band performance is poor (quite far from it – I will get to this point again later) but when it is a new project do you not do something different to the day job?  Ok, time for track three – “Cauterize” comes out with the trash metal opening and then erupts into a classic rock dream which I am sure will make a lot of people roar is pleasurable unison; for me it takes that opening and pretty much destroys the good momentum that could have come from it.  It is beginning to sound like the main project cannot be forgotten for this side project – one part of me is thinking that it performed well, but the other part is shaking its head as they keep taking the opportunity to make it more soulful, wistful and it just crushes (for me) what could have a been a great slice of trash metal.  The fade out (whilst well played) reminded me of “My Sacrifice” by Creed again (not really a surprise if I am honest) and it felt like there was not letting go.

“Arm Yourself” does nothing to change the mixture of trash riffs being mixed in with Alter/Creed styling; you really have to either admire or despair at their commitment to the cause here – there is a trash metal band in here trying to get out, but it keeps getting trapped by this need for the soaring vocals of Mr Tremonti as the notes try to escape the void and float like an angel during a daring escape from the pit of hell.  I will be honest again, it is not a bad song by any stretch of the imagination and it could have been so much more with a slight change here and there to the song (it needed a bark instead of a clone of his other main singer, the atmospheric bridge in the middle is also not really needed); but once again it is down to personal tastes and I cannot fault the performance as it does not sound muddy, shite or tuneless - it just could have been better.  “Dark Trip” marks the mid-way point of the album and it plays straight into the normal Alter Bridge territory with an epic sounding number that will have their faithful wondering why it was not kept for one of those records.  In some ways it is against the spirit of the album in a way, it is the first song that does not have that trash element about it and this tale of a failing relationship just feels as doomed as its subject matter.  However, it does have the best solo of the album and once more the performance is not faulted – the song has just found its way into the public eye via the wrong record.  The sixth song is “Another Heart” and the mash up of trash/hardcore metal and Alter/Creed is back on track.  To say this is a bit preachy is like saying that FIFA is just in a little bit of a mess, the opening lines about being judged by God (or any deity of your choice I guess) is the band placing a Christian theme on this confused number.  I really am sounding like I am going around in circle, but like the rest of this record so far it is well played and bereft of any appeal for my personal tastes.

Starting with strange guitar sounds “Fall Again” and much like “Dark Trip” it is on the wrong record – this is another Alter Bridge song in all but name (yes I know this album contains Mr Tremonti, but still you would have thought a side project would have been for tracks that did not fit that mould).  Much like “Dark Trip” the feeling that it is not on the right record makes it feel so out of place, also like every other song on the album you cannot fault the dedication to the track or performance.  The next song starts with the sound like a hurricane coming, a full metal riff war and by the time “Tie the Noose” gets to the chorus you have the familiar pattern of opposite styles trying to fit into one number; I keep thinking that they have had some that have just been like the day jobs, why not one that just trashes the place?  The penultimate song “Sympathy” sadly does not fill that role for me.  In fact it really changes something of the pattern of the album, it is Third Eye Blind meets Alter Bridge and whilst it might not be cool to say this I have to admit that this song actually makes a lot of sense.  Do not mis-read me, it is a number that should not appeal to me in any way; but it works really well and has a spark that has been missing from 90% of this record.  It (almost) steps out into a new territory for the record and does not actually sound confusing.  If the album had have been more like this, it might have been a more interesting prospect (but one that I would feel confused about liking).  “Providence” ends the album and starts with an acoustic guitar and we are back in the Alter-Creed field of this record when the band kicks in fully, but this dramatic number is another number that you cannot really fault for the band; the drama is there and it sound well-polished, but there is also that feeling that you know it would have been slightly better if it was done with a different vocalist and it just me feeling a bit non-plus about the whole affair.

Now I am not going to say this is an awful record, I cannot do that as it has been well played (probably pro-tooled a lot) and there is nothing wrong in the sound in general terms.  But there is a lot of it that just sounds a little too confused for comfort.  Is it trash?  Is it post-grunge?  It is a messy affair of both if the truth be told.  When you have been in one of the biggest bands in America (whether you personally like them or not, you have to admit that Creed and Alter Bridge have been big acts) it must be hard to leave your normal style behind as you are known for that genre of music.  You can feel that desire to be and try something different, but it also has mixed into it the fear of moving out of their own shadow as well; it must be a curse in some respects because (for better or worse) they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t (which in this case they seems to lean to the later more often than not).  I also think that this should have been with a different vocalist, Mark Tremonti can sing and has a fine set of lungs, but he does not have the bark that this needed in places on this album.  If you are doing speed or trash metal, you need a bark and not a voice that could charm demons and angels alike.  I will not say this is a poor album, it would be a fools errand to say otherwise as they can play their instruments very well and the songs are not bad; but there is nothing for me to get passionate about here either or (which is probably more accurate) there is nothing here for me to get angry about either.  As I stated more often than I wished on this blog, two styles were clashing on the vast majority of the songs which bring a sense of confusion and as if the band did not know what they wanted to do at times (and not in a Zappa way).  I have read (afterwards I may add) that it is a successful union in styles, but it does not feel like it here.  Both are played really well, but the marriage is not a happy one. Another thing about this record is that it also feels so safe that it could almost come with a PC union rating that can be sold to a minor in Wal-marts supermarkets around the world.  An album that is trash or speed metal should not feel safe, have we not learnt from the ‘Black’ album off Metallica.  Due to the fact that the most middle of the road track on here made the most sense here, it makes me feel it is not for me and I can accept that.  I do not hate it, I am just non-plused by it. If you enjoy this, great; if you hate it, great - you are at least getting something more out of it than me, sorry Mr Tremonti.

3.5 out of ten - Not for everyone but played well

Top track - Sympathy

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can follow the progress of Mr Tremonti and his work (including this band) on Facebook here

You can stream the album on Spotify here

You can stream the album on Deezer here

The album is not on Tidal at time of review

10 June 2015

Muse - Drones

A concept album following the protagonist's journey from abandonment to indoctrination as a "human drone" and eventual defection?  A return to their earlier sound of just their three instruments?  They have finally lost their collective marbles?  These are just some of the things I have heard about this album from Muse.  Muse are from Teignmouth in Devon, UK; to say they are one of the biggest rock bands from the UK is an understatement.  Whether you agree with that statement is neither here nor there, you cannot decide the size the act.  This is their seventh album and it is (as mentioned before) a concept album about someone who becomes part of the machine and eventually gains freedom via rebellion.  Now the concept album from a mainstream band is something that will have some people running in terror towards the hills in terror, some will welcome it with opened arms; now for me Muse have been a band I have both loved and hated in equal measure, some of the blog crew love them, so detest them - the main thing is that they always get a reaction.  So, what is my reaction to this records?

“Dead Inside” starts the album with a 80’s feeling (thankfully not in the same way as the recent Brandon Flowers album), the bass acts as a synth, the drums have been stolen from Queen (think “Radio Ga Ga”) and the story is set out the vibration of the album; the scene about being empty, sinking into the crowd and losing oneself to oblivion.  It was also the first single released off the album as well.  Musically, there is enough rock going on here and it is really interesting opening; there is only one problem, the lyrics feel as if they have been crushed into the lyrics in places.  It is as if they are trying to get lots of information out at once, but with a limited amount of space; but it is still an interesting opening.  Following on is the segue track called “[Drill Sergeant]”, it is over very quick and leads straight into “Psycho” which tells how the main character is being changed into a killer by the aforementioned drill sergeant and the effects on the life of the person.  Musically it has a slice of Alice Cooper in here, it reminds me a bit about one of his concept albums called ‘The Last Temptation’.  It is a catchy number, rocking when required and letting the spaces breath when required.  Lyrically it feels more rounded than “Dead Inside” and moves the story along on the right direction.  The fourth track is called “Mercy” which has keyboards that remind me of the track called “Starlight” which was released from the ‘Black Holes & Revelations’ album.  It is from the classic rock vein that they have been delving into for years and it does share a similarity to Queen in places, but doesn’t all OTT rock to a certain degree?  Personally I think this song is really good and is one of the tracks of the album as the protagonist is beginning for his soul.

“Reapers” was in danger of being a new version of “Danger Zone” from the Top Gun soundtrack when it first opened, but the solo at the beginning steers it away from that fire-pit.  The feeling of despair that comes from the lyrics and is laced over the guitar as it shreds in forms that should not be known to mere mortals is quiet good; once again, it feels as if some sections of the album has been shoved in to the verses instead of having a bit of careful editing; but again it is a decent number.  Next is “The Handler”, the story is how the protagonist is under the control of his handler who he fears and must obey; I actually like this song a lot – I should not like it at all, but it works.  It is not over the top, reaching for the grandest stage or aiming to dominate; it is added to the texture of this story.  The lyrics keep it simple, the band sound tight as a drum here and it keeps my interest throughout.  Also on repeat listens you hear other things, the guitar effect reveal more, the bass has extra layers and the drumming is very impressive – another great song here.  “[JFK]” is next which is another segue track that goes into ”Defector”, the guitar riff at the beginning grabs your attention straight away as the main character has broken free from his chains and is not on the other side of being controlled.  In it, the protagonist taunts his former keepers and gives a damming report on their current status; now musically, this is Muse doing another song which goes a long way to cement those Queen rumours that dog the band on a regular basis – but as I mentioned before, doesn’t all OTT rock ape Freddie and Co after a while?  Also, who cares when it sounds this good?  Sure, Mr Bellamy does not have the vocals of Sir Mercury, but he still nails this song.  The solos that rain down on the listener are spot on and the song goes a long way to make this album more solid, giving more support to the story as it unfolds.

As this album approaches its endgame, the sound of riots open the next song “Revolt”; a sense of despair and hopeless against the former chains of repressions, whilst he is being told he can move forward with emotions that he did not have before.  It feels a little hammy if I am honest, the music is back to the 80’s OTT I have mentioned before and it does have that concept album cliché of have two separate sections for each voice (despair is slower, offering hope is faster).  It is decent, but not a track for me if I am honest.  “Aftermath” starts with a slow atmospheric opening, the lyrics are tired but hopeful; the protagonist has found someone to love and defend, giving him something to defend (which is all he has known before, even in repression he was defending something) and he no longer feels isolated in the world.  Music is (for the most part) gentle and thoughtful; but like every good ballad-esque number it erupts after a bit with the sound of guitars moving over the listener and match the base of the song comfortably.  Now I have always been a sucker for this type of song and this is no exception, it maybe cheesy again but I still think it is very good – even the Dire Straits beginning (being from the North East of England, that tone is like the sound of home) just melts the heart; it is a great number, cheesy but great.  The penultimate track is called “The Globalist”, it is also the longest track of the album at just over ten minutes in length; the first few minutes are a mournful solo over a military style drum beat, the lyrics show the final decent to a devastating war in which everyone dies (pretty much) and the journey to that moment when the fires fall down from the heavens.  Once those final codes are given to the protagonist, the music picks up and you can hear a countdown going along in the back ground.  It is a prog fest on this number, if you are not into that type of music then it will not be a very entertaining piece; for prog fans, it is almost an interest and brave song.  As the ending of the song shows the main character showing his love the destruction he has brought to the world, showing the end of the world as a gift of freedom.  It could have been shaved by a few minutes, but it ultimately achieves its goals of making a dramatic statement as the world comes to an end. Ending the album is “Drones” and this is the sound of haunting voices mixed together about being killed by drones, your family being killed by drones and how even in your home that you are not safe.  I think that this is a song that would work better at the end of a stage play, but after you have destroyed the world then isn’t the voices of the dead haunting you a fitting way to end this story?

So, how has the cookie crumbled?  Well, it is still a good Muse record that will enchant a lot of people and it is another example that the band are not afraid to take risks even when they are on the cusp of (as the mainstream press will say) of cracking it in America.  This is not the return to basics that the band have previously advertised, their experience that they have acquired since they first came to the attention of the world with the Muse ep from 1998; it also feels a bit too cheesy for my own personal tastes and the music itself would have been better suited if it was actually for a stage play.  It does feel like it has been released in the wrong format, but maybe it can be made into a play in the years to come.  I also think that some of the lyrics have been forced into the songs rather than the organic way round or a slight re-write; but overall the story does flow and suits the music – slightly cheesy.  It is a good release overall, ambitious, cheesy, OTT and brave; it might improve with age but for now it is just a good release with some decent numbers and a good story.

7.5 out of ten –
This is good and well worth a check

Top track - Mercy

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Muse website here

You can also follow their activities on Facebook here

You can stream the album on Spotify here

You can stream the album on Deezer here

You can stream the album on Tidal here

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