Unchained Music Blog

Unchained Music Blog

Monday, July 31, 2017

Quantum Split - America (2017)

Written by Michael Saulman, posted by blog admin

Quantum Split’s two song EP America might be a brief recording, but contains enough power and musical inventiveness for a full length album. The four piece based out of the New York City area has established themselves as a memorable live act thanks to appearances in venues like Irving Plaza and the Gramercy Theatre, but they have branched out and are currently bringing their unique confluence of musical influences to the nation as a whole. Lead singer and songwriter Soleil Laurent is a star in the making whose voice can move from gentle delicacy into lung-busting passion within an eye blink and her band mates are clearly talented musicians with the ability to follow their songs wherever the Muse may take them. They are as equally at home with cerebral, patient musical passages as they are full on guitar workouts.

“America” begins things with some of the aforementioned patient, cerebral development. The melodies coming through during the opening of the title track are played with a great touch and one must commend Adrian Read, in particular, for his first class job of scene setting. Laurent’s voice, when it comes in, has the quality of a lone voice singing in the wilderness and her passion is unquestionable. Just as unquestionable is her skill set – she has ample power, but her phrasing is smart and makes the most of the lyrical content. The lyrics are conversational in tone, but it’s clear she wants to relate to her audience’s experience of living in Donald Trump’s America and the inspiring slant to her message is a welcome antidote to some poison pill in musical form where she blasts and rages, sound and fury signifying nothing, until we lose all interest. Read’s lead guitar work during the song’s raucous second half deserves mention, but it wouldn’t have near the impact it does if it wasn’t for the spot on rhythm section interplay between drummer Anthony Anderson and bassist Ivan Hardy.

“Runaway” has a more downcast air, but it gives Quantum Split a chance to show off a different side of their musical personality. This is a much more “orchestrated” affair than the title cut and the band do an exemplary job of shifting the musical demeanor while keeping it sounding utterly seamless throughout. Laurent emerges from this song as a surprisingly adept blues singer, but she also continues to prove her rock mettle with another invigorating and gripping rock vocal. Despite alternating musical moods, Read’s lead guitar steps much more to the fore here and he throws in a number of hot licks that never distract from the song, but add to it instead. Quantum Split is just the shot in the arm that big time rock and roll needs in 2017 and their socially and politically conscious message never subvert their musical mission.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Russ Still and the Moonshiners - Still Cookin' (2017)

Written by Charles Hatton, posted by blog admin

Genre collisions either happen harmoniously or else devolve into disjointed reminders of how everything doesn’t go together. Guitar rock melded with country in the early 70s, thusly creating the stylistic shake-up “southern rock” or “country rock.”  Flagship bands kept it going through the 80s, but many of them gave in to the pressures of 80s pop; adding new-wave’s synths and Top 100 melodies.  It didn’t work and the genre has since gone underground with a few pockets still taking creative liberties in the early twenty first century.

Russ Still and the Moonshiners are one of those bands to keep the fire stoked.  Led by songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Russ Still, the band is happy to shake the notion that southern rock was just an increasingly smaller audience remembers in the current times.  The Internet keeps it alive, but attendance at these shows is still not what they used to be.  It reflects the fickleness of the marketplace and popular tastes rather than acting as a critical barometer for the style’s enduring value. Opening with the diesel-fueled, guitar lick packed “Promised Land,” the band’s second album Still Cookin’ immediately offers plenty to love for the genre’s purists.  It’s got groove to spare, kickin’ guitar riffs, a telepathic rhythm section and great vocals laying down sing-a-long melodies.  Russ Still and the gang quickly prove that they aren’t a one trick pony as the entire album is packed with songs of this caliber (finely played and produced ones to boot). 

You get the monstrous, winding ballads with acoustic/electric transitions and free-wheeling vocals (“Long Way from Home,” “I Can’t,” and “10,000 Ways.”)  These ballads are beautifully jammed with acoustics, keyboards, huge hooks and thrusts of electric guitar in all of the right places.  Then there are the rockers that follow in the fine tradition of “Promised Land” such as “Glorine’s,” “Goin’ Fishin’,” “Juanita,” the dirge-riff highlight “Workin’ Class Hunter” and high-octane closer “Run Away.”  The songwriting is polished but the tunes have the requisite rough edges to make them fine examples of the genre’s forefathers and hella catchy n’ cool too. 
Still Cookin’ does really nothing wrong and everything right from the first note to the last.  It’s gravelly enough to win over the hard rock crowd and soulful enough to please country fans, which is exactly what good southern rock should do in the first place. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Donoma - Falling Forward (2017)

Written by Alonzo Evans, posted by blog admin

Donoma is a crazed, experimental band from the American Midwest with a free-form poet as a singer.  One minute they can sooth the senses with blues and old classic heavy rock sounds, the next they are a whirling dervish of strange time-signatures and quirky punk rock, then just when you least expect it you get settled down by a complete soft number to be left adrift on a tranquil sea.  This Wisconsin quintet never treads the same ground for long.  Sometimes the overload of experimentation can make for some head-scratching but at the end of the day it’s cool to hear a band just throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. 

There are no limits to just what boundaries Donoma will push.  Opening cut “Sick” could go over with either a rockabilly, country of classic rock crowd; guitars cranked to 11, vocalist Stephanie Vogt burying herself in a throat burning blues snarl, the drums and bass almost metallically aggressive and auxiliary instrumentation providing a dramatic bent.  “Jack in the Box” and “Splinter” have howling, distortion rattled vocals, twitchy off-kilter rhythm and deranged guitar figures in the key of The Jesus Lizard and Surgery which barely seem to fit on the album as a whole but somehow do, then you get a slice of cabaret in “He Loves Me Not’s” lounge jazz grooves and spicy piano or the way “Deep Beneath the Woods” melds those elements with synths and electronic ambience.  Donoma’s smashes through old blues riffs and brain-blasted 70s rock grandeur on outstanding showcases like “Memory,” “Unfortunate One” and “Otherside” where simplicity is embellished over intricacy.  Then there are the smoldering, lighter-in-the-air atmospherics of “Another Light” and “A New Shed of Colors.”  Literally, across Falling Forward’s twelve layered tracks you will find a song to please every type of rock fan as well as music fans outside of the genre who crave something unfiltered and untainted by digital coldness. 

Whether adhering to tradition or breaking it at the kneecaps, Donoma is a one of a kind band that truly don’t sound like anybody but themselves.  There are tracks I prefer to others but this is a record I can listen to from start to finish with modest hope of trying to point an exact bead on what they are doing.  Anybody who thinks that rock n’ roll has lost its will to try anything will be pleasantly surprised with what they find on Falling Down.

Heavy America - ...Now (2017)

Written by Bradley Johnson, posted by blog admin

When it comes to stoned age rock, Massachusetts’ warriors Heavy America don’t reinvent the wheel but they are darn good at what they do.  They are still running on the Flintstone’s brand tire; stony grooves from another era, reverberating guitars pared down on the distortion and leathery rhythms the likes of which will bring any bar full of bikers to its knees.  All of this is apparent from the very first track “Proud Shame” and its brazen retro glory riffs trading shots with the bleary-eyed grunge of forgotten legends Love Battery and TAD.  A slightly less heavy TAD might actually be the most accurate comparison to make when reflecting on Heavy America’s style.  They’ve got that woodsy, weirdo feel in spades. 

That’s not to say that this trio isn’t capable of writing more anthemic fare, balancing rousing vocal mantras with flaming head on riffs and folky accoutrements that are pop enough to inspire sing-a-longs yet tough enough to instill fear (“Bleed Mary” and the lengthy, expansive “Casting Stones” being prime examples of this side of Heavy America’s songbook).  Sometimes the modest, head-kicking rockers prove to be a band’s best friend when executed properly and these guys are ready, willing and able to let dynamics take a backseat to a good beating on the steadfast thump of “Pray for Me,” the lumbering “Goliath” and endnote “Achilles Fail’s” reliance on feral, staccato riffing.  “Sweet Kisses” and “Heavy Eyes” are a showcase for the band’s careful hand at threading together songs that rock sweetly and swim with Mike Seguin’s high-powered vocals.  These tracks are bathed in blues, rinsed in muddy river water and plenty inviting like a homemade apple pie on a window ledge.  “I Can Take It” on the other hand is completely different than anything else on the record; being a formless, psychedelic visage of fuzzy, mouth-watering 70s rock that uses repetition of riffs, weird decaying signal frequencies and heavily processed delay/reverb/phasing washes akin to the heyday of Man’s Ruin Records and that label’s many quirky hard rock heroes. 

…Now is Heavy America’s first long-playing record; the band stepping out of the shadow of shorter single releases and an equally excellent EP.  There is no shortage of good tuneage to be had on this one.  Heavy America only falters in the sense that those looking for a completely cohesive experience might not get exactly that.  Though the songs are all rooted in old school influences, the number of structurally different tunes create more of a collection than a full-fledged seamless experience (with one or two tracks not quite fitting along with the rest), but overall you can’t ask for a much better debut. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dru Cutler - Hometown (2017)

Written by Shannon Cowden, posted by blog admin

Tampa, Florida born Dru Cutler’s latest release Hometown finds this talented singer/songwriter and musician turning out an EP release capable of making a deep impact despite its brevity. This two song set aims to chronicle a relatively universal response – looking back at childhood and youthful experience with a slightly rueful eye, but an equally generous spirit investing those memories with sentiment and an obvious recall for the sights, sounds, and sensations of that formative era in the songwriter’s life. Cutler may now live and work out of the Brooklyn, New York area, but much of the writing on this release artfully invokes a less hurried and more innocent time when hanging out with friends in empty parking lots and daydreaming about the future to come. He’s a fine writer, singer, and player whose songs benefit from a first rate production style and an instinct for bringing just the right amount of musical imagination to bear on the release. Hometown is utterly impressive despite its brief length.

The release’s title number stands apart from similar efforts thanks to a number of factors. Chief among them, however, is Cutler’s writing. It is cut to the bone, never wallowing in unnecessary detail, and exhibits a near scientific exactitude for its subject. Cutler’s mind’s eye clearly examines the innocence, the unadorned pleasures, and emotions looking back conjure over a layered arrangement he, nevertheless, wisely gives room to breathe. The composition weaves a light piano touch around assertive percussion and churning acoustic guitars in a highly musical way. The song’s tempo never gets carried away with itself, but Cutler keeps things busy and energetic while never diluting the song’s musical weight. It’s a testament to his considerable talents that he can dispatch what is, in essence, a light rock song and yet deliver a substantive statement in a form not often renowned for such capabilities.

The second song demonstrates his reach. While some might think the pairing is a little too incongruous, many more listeners will find juxtaposition of the title song’s pop rock style with the near-psychedelic musings of “Infinite Moons”. It isn’t all hazy obscurity however – the same penchant for potent melodic content distinguishing the title cut finds a home here as well. Electric guitar plays a more prominent role here than the first song but, much like the title performance, there’s no moment when the six string assumes a dominant or spotlit role in the mix. Cutler is a composer and performer who writes fully orchestrated efforts aimed at putting over a song rather than individual performances. It pairs up nicely with the title song without ever sounding too far removed from his artistic vision and the vocals, already a strong suit of the first song, are particularly stellar here. Two songs releases usually fail amounting to any sort of meaningful musical statement, but Dru Cutler’s Hometown defies expectations.

Grade: A