Tag Archives: alternative rock

Buffalo Tom’s “Quiet and Peace” Shows a Band Coming to Terms with the Passage of Time

26 Feb

Buffalo Tom is a Boston-based alt rock/power pop trio that rose to prominence in the mid-1980s and stayed there throughout much of the 1990s. Guitarist-lead vocalist and main songwriter, Bill Janovitz; bassist-vocalist and sometimes songwriter, Chris Colbourn; and drummer (and band namesake), Tom Maginnis, had several Top 20 albums in the 1990s. Big Red Letter Day peaked at #8 on one chart in 1993 and Sleepy Eyed reached #4 in 1995. Some songs even were heard from time to time in trendy television programs of the day. Then, life happened and the band took a well-deserved ten-year hiatus.

Buffalo Tom’s newest album, Quiet and Peace, is its third since returning to the music scene in 2007 — and it’s one of the best. The 11-song set draws upon the band’s rich alt-rock heritage and even foundational rock pioneered by 1960s bands such as the Byrds or Buffalo Springfield (the inspiration for the other half of the band’s name) — while updating it with modern melodic elements. Ranging from alt rock and even punk to Americana, Quiet and Peace is an extremely satisfying collection that finds the band examining how the passage of time affects everyone’s lives and relationships.

Track highlights: The album gets off to a searing start with guitar rocker, “All Be Gone.” The lead vocals sound almost Springsteen-like as they soar throughout, backed by rich harmonies. The lyrics examine the album’s theme about the passage of time. “Now my time behind is greater than my time ahead/Save up the minutes like flowers before they’re all dead.”

Track 3, “Roman Cars,” written and sung by bassist, Colbourn, is the first single on the album — and it’s a really good one: melodic folk-rock with guitar and Hammond organ. Buffalo Springfield would be proud!

“Freckles” is a fun and energetic song — an Americana-style toe-tapper that builds around piano, acoustic guitar and drum rim shots keeping time — until it reaches its jammy conclusion.

Track 6, “Lonely Fast and Deep,” is punky and shows off the great guitar work that the band can bring to its songs.

But I’ve got to admit, I think my personal favorite on the album might be the closer, a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York.” It seems sad, lonely and hopeful all at the same time — and the band’s ability to hand off lead vocals between Janovitz and Colbourn, backed by a fabulous chorus of voices, is exceptional. Plus, the lead character in the song is “Tom,” which makes it a perfect cover for the band.

Whether you know Buffalo Tom from its time in the 1990s or this is the first you’ve heard of them, Quiet and Peace is an album you should check out.

 

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The Wooden Sky’s “Swimming in Strange Waters” Captures 2017’s Angst

31 Jan

The Wooden Sky is a Canadian indie rock band from Toronto. The group’s music is a mix of alt-rock and folk-rock, with a psychedelic edge to their music and just a hint of Americana at times. Don’t be expecting banjo and pedal steel guitar, however — the sound is truly guitar-driven rock.

The title of the latest release, Wooden Sky’s fifth full-length album, is Swimming in Strange Waters. It’s adapted from a line from Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi classic novel, Dune. “Survival is the ability to swim in strange waters.”

For many people, 2017 was that kind of year. It saw us thrown into the deep end without a rope or life preserver. U.S. politics turned upside down. In Canada, the citizenry has dealt with a number of crises from oil pipelines to an influx of refugees. Frontman and lead vocalist, Gavin Gardiner, also was facing a number of personal issues in his own life.

This resulted in an album that’s full of energy and angst. There are a lot of big guitars, organ, other keyboards, distortion, and noise. Gardiner has a distinctive vocal style with a notable Southern drawl and a rawness that works well with the band’s almost live, big stadium sound.

Track highlights: “Swimming in Strange Waters” is shimmering and atmospheric with growling and ringing guitars and alternating keyboard layers including a distinctive high-pitched organ. Gardiner’s vocals are similarly growled, reminiscent of Jim James of My Morning Jacket or Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs.

The third track starts off with a drum riff and bass line that’s almost identical to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” The song evolves into an easy-going stroll with a warm folk-rock feeling and some noise layered in.

Next up is “Deadhorse Creek.” This tune is the closest thing to Americana in the set, with Gardiner’s vocals straining until they distort. Harmonized vocals in the chorus take some of the edge off.

On the fifth song, we get to hear Wooden Sky at its most naked, honest and vulnerable in “Born to Die.” Gardiner sings, “Life is just these questions/And we’re never certain why/We were born to die.”

The second-to-last song on Swimming in Strange Waters is “Matter of Time.” This track veers almost to alt-country, with a swingy, relaxed feeling until building to a bigger rock sound toward the end.

If you like bands and artists such as Phosphorescent, Kurt Vile, My Morning Jacket, and The War on Drugs, you definitely need to check out Wooden Sky’s Swimming in Strange Waters.

 

Hot Young Band, Night Talks, Making Waves in SoCal Indie Music Scene

31 May

Dating back to the 1960s, when legendary bands such as the Doors, the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield emerged from the Southern California rock scene, L.A. has always had a sound. This has continued to now with indie artists such as Warpaint, Best Coast, Silversun Pickups, Local Natives, and Jenny Lewis calling the L.A. area home.

In 2017, you can add a new young band to that list — Night Talks — which just released its debut album, In Dreams.

The four-piece alt-rock group fronted by lead vocalist Soraya Sebghati brings a fresh new sound to the L.A. music scene. Sebghati’s versatile vocals range from angelic to edgy a la Evanescence. She’s backed by an outstanding trio of players that includes Jacob Butler on guitar, Josh Arteaga on bass and his brother, Cris, on drums.

In addition to solid guitar-driven foundations, In Dreams’ numbers often include layers of synthesizer — giving the tunes a full, rich ambiance. And always, Sebghati’s confident, expressive vocals distinguish the album from the ordinary.

Track highlights: The album is loaded with songs that could be considered standouts. My four favorite tunes on the album didn’t even include two that the band has released as video singles, showing how consistent the band’s quality is from top to bottom.

“Mr. Bloom,” the band’s second single is an excellent place to start. It’s an explosive, driving alt-rock track that features a sterling vocal performance by Sebghati, backed by sharp roaring guitars and uplifting harmonies in the chorus.

“Black and Blue” features a playful synth-pop melody with a captivating stop ‘n’ go beat. “Glass” slides over to the dreamy side, with its glistening guitar chords and spellbinding vocals. Butler’s guitar work on this track is outstanding as well.

“Jungle” is the band’s latest music video. It’s an ominous-sounding tune with synths that are almost theatrical at times. The album concludes with the title track — a gentle, swaying slow dance that showcases Sebghati’s softer side.

In Dreams is an outstanding debut from a band that promises to be around for a long time.

 

Conor Oberst’s “Salutations” Updates and Expands 2016’s “Ruminations”

22 Mar

Salutations is a revelation. Last year, Conor Oberst recorded a ten-song album called Ruminations that captured Oberst at his lowest and most lonely — full of doubt, despair and despondence over the challenges we all face in life. Oberst’s lyrics were raw and revealing, and he performed the songs using just a piano, acoustic guitar and harmonica to accompany his vocals. But the plan had always been to take those tracks and layer them with full arrangements.

Salutations is the result. It’s alternative rock that veers from My Morning Jacket’s edginess and Dylan-esque folk-rock to crystalline Bright Eyes ballads. The 17-song set includes the ten songs from Ruminations, plus seven new tracks found only on this album.

To create Salutations, Oberst had a lot of help from many accomplished musicians including The Felice Brothers, Jim James, M. Ward, Maria Taylor, and more.

Track highlights: The album opens with a rolling, swaying, world-weary ode in three-quarter time called “Too Late to Fixate.” Oberst’s warbling vocals are accompanied by accordion and a bit of fiddle.

Track 5, “Next of Kin,” is a very Bright Eyes-sounding tune that didn’t change very much from Ruminations. The following track, which is new to Salutations, turns the heat up a notch. “Napalm” has an almost Southern Rock quality. A lightly tripping organ serves as a welcome counterpoint to an edgy guitar and Oberst’s almost shouted vocals.

Track 10, “Tachycardia,” recalls Oberst’s headline-grabbing courtroom travails and health insecurities in general. Again, he relies on accordion, organ and Dylan-style harmonica to accompany the 1960s-sounding number.

My final favorite from the album is “A Little Uncanny.” A raspy electric guitar underlies the biting, cynical spoken lyrics about famous people such as Jane Fonda and Ronald Reagan, and a verse that mentions tortured souls such as Robin Williams and Sylvia Plath and how they dealt with fame over time.

Overall, this is one of Oberst’s most ambitious and interesting works to-date.

 

The Wet Secrets — Another Reason Why Canada Is Such a Great Country

1 Feb

Oh those Canadians! So many bands from north of the border bring a uniquely Canadian attitude to their music: fresh, friendly and fun loving. The Wet Secrets, a six-piece alternative, dance-rock band from Edmonton, Alberta, offer all that and more. So it’s a party!

The band released its debut album in 2005. They followed that with another album in 2007, and then took a break while principal vocalist and songwriter, Lyle Bell, focused on other musical projects and another founder, Trevor Anderson, directed some film festival caliber movies.

In early 2014, they got back together for their third album, and they followed that in 2016 with their most recent release, a four-song EP, I Can Live Forever.

The Wet Secrets’ sound is punky and bold with an in-your-face attitude. The arrangements go beyond typical rock, often including brass and stinging synths in addition to guitars, bass and drums. The combination definitely gives the band a unique vibe.

Most of all, it sounds like they’re having fun — and that’s always a good thing for rock ‘n’ roll.

The four-track I Can Live Forever EP begins with “I Can Swing a Hammer,” a tom-tom driven instant alt-rock classic, with tambourine thrown in for good measure. Like on most of The Wet Secrets’ tracks, all the band members contribute to the vocals, giving the song a big sound with great harmonies.

“If I Was a Camera” is built on a mesmerizing stop-and-go rhythm, with brassy and airy synths and the repeated line, “Take off your clothes!” What else would a camera want?

The closing track, “Quelle Surprise,” features mellow synth swells, swirls and squiggles floating over a pulsing bass line. The whole thing has a 1980s vibe — but incorporates The Wet Secrets’ horns and the always-prominent rhythm track.

If you’re having a party this weekend as part of your Super Bowl pre-game fun, you might want to add a couple of tracks from this fun Canadian band into your mix.

 

Allyson Seconds’ “Little World” Delivers Psych and California Power Pop

21 Dec

Sometimes a dash of goodness, a taste of something uplifting, is precisely what you need. And such is the case with the new album from Sacramento artist, Allyson Seconds. Seconds’ sophomore effort, Little World, features 11 tracks of indie psych-rock and power pop with a generous dose of the California sunshine that’s found year-round in her hometown.

On the album, Seconds plays and sings with an amazing all-star cast of talent, starting with Anton Barbeau. The Sacramento native, who now lives and works most of the year in his adopted home of Berlin, Germany, wrote and produced all of the songs — in addition to performing as a multi-instrumentalist on each of the tracks. Other key contributors include Allyson’s husband, Kevin, of the hardcore punk band, 7 Seconds; Colin Moulding, noted bass player and singer-songwriter for XTC; Kimberley Rew, vocalist for Katrina & the Waves; Nick Saloman of Bevis Frond; and Karla Kane, lead vocalist and singer-songwriter for The Corner Laughers.

Many of the melodies have a Beatles-like feeling. Songs are melodic and catchy, yet also intriguingly complex with effects and unexpected sidetrips into an edgy guitar riff or otherworldly psychedelic landscape.

Barbeau’s lyrics are smart and savvy, with many appealing turns of phrase that paint compelling word pictures.

Standouts include: “Dust Beneath my Wings” — the best on the album — with layers of noise added to Wurlitzer organ, guitar and strings. Seconds’ vocals are simple, throaty and earnest, drawing you into the story. The lead break gets very noisy and psychedelic, with a little Beatles-style backwards talking or singing.

The title track, “Little World,” features a rapid drumbox beat and pulsing fuzz bass, electric piano, and toe-tapping melody. “Octagon” is a simple, sunny ballad that will stick with you long after it’s finished playing.

“Great Blue Heron” is mysterious with multiple musical layers including 12-string guitar, bouzouki, organ, and strings. There’s a bit of a Middle Eastern flavor in places. And don’t overlook the last full track on the album, “Apples Are Falling.” The song has a stately tempo and again, a Beatles-like flavor. Seconds’ vocals are weighty, but warm. There’s a trumpet solo in the lead break. And if you listen closely, you can hear the apples falling from time to time.

By the way, if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and you’d like to see Allyson Seconds live —together with Anton Barbeau, and The Corner Laughers — they’ll be at the Neck of the Woods in San Francisco this Thursday, December 22nd at 8 p.m. Don’t miss it!

 

Great American Canyon Band Releases Excellent Debut Album

9 Jun

There must be something about Baltimore. The same wonderful, vibrant city that produced the dream-pop duo, Beach House, has now launched another intriguing duo that calls themselves, Great American Canyon Band.

Great American Canyon Band consists of husband and wife, Paul and Kris Masson, joined by several other musicians when recording or touring. According to the duo’s website, Paul and Kris traversed across the country for several years — spending time in Athens, Georgia; tucked away in the Hollywood Hills in Southern California; and enduring a cold winter in Chicago. They released an EP in the spring of 2012. But Kris and Paul eventually returned to Baltimore, where they recorded and released their debut album, Only You Remain..

It’s not easy to define the band’s sound in a single statement. The sweeping soundscapes that come and go in the duo’s ten-song set pay homage to the shoegaze genre. But a number of the songs also have an alternative rock edge — with a radio-friendly sound that beckons the listener. The final element is an indie folk influence that can be heard in the comfortable instrumentation used in the arrangements. However one wants to label the sound, it’s compelling music that speaks to the soul.

Only You Remain opens with the positive affirmation of the title track. A rapid bass line provides the song’s driving force. A big, airy cathedral-like chorus returns again and again. Paul and Kris sing the power lead, “Time will only try to break your heart/This world will only try to break us apart/It will never break us apart, break us apart/Will never break us apart, break us apart.”

“Crash” is the lead single from the album. It’s a slow-burn torch song, with Paul and Kris singing to one another, “Don’t let me fall through/As I crash into you.”

The third track on the album is another of my favorites. “Come Home” starts with four slow stanzas of a chorus singing majestic, reverbed “Ahhs.” But then, the duo bolts into a bounding romp that features a great bass line, thumping bass drum, tambourine, and a catchy guitar riff that repeats infectiously.

One other track I’ll mention is “Broken Glass.” This features Kris on the lead. It’s slower and more reflective — with big power chords, organ, and ultimately a huge ending. It definitely leaves an impression.

Only You Remain from Great American Canyon Band is a very promising first full album from a duo with a lot of potential. I can’t wait to hear where their travels take them in the future.