Unchained Music Blog

Unchained Music Blog

Friday, December 22, 2017

Slow Burning Car - Defection (2017)

Written by Jay Snyder, posted by blog admin

Los Angeles’ based hard rockers Slow Burning Car are back with their 4th release, Defection.  Featuring a thick, chunky sound with an emphasis on riffs and infectious choruses, the group draw influences from 90s guitar rock, pop punk and as a result end up with a tough grooving attack that’s somewhere in the ballpark of Nirvana, Chevelle, the Foo Fighters, Incubus and even a little bit of Helmet’s staccato crunch. 

Opener “Alpha Duplicor” strikes fast and fierce with locked-on snare fills, throbbing bass lines and the twin guitar assault of Jesse Damon and Tommy Marcel.  The explosive, granite thick riffs present driving grooves that whip into frenetic leads, harmonic counterpoints and wraparound solos that keep the hooky, fleet-footed aggression always in your face with little let up.  Lead vocalist/bassist Troy Spiropoulos has a voice that delicately balances anger with melody, resulting in a well-tempered delivery that’s a perfect match for the music.  Up-tempo and relishing a catchy 3-chord rush, “Soul Crimes” hovers between a pop-punk/grunge with huge melodic choruses and simplistic yet punchy and aggressive lead guitar trade-offs as both Damon and Marcel are credited with lead and rhythm guitar.  Adam Idell’s thudding, heavily syncopated tom/snare transitions lends “The Orb” a bruising intro that give way to a varied vocal performance meshing gruff, Mike Patton-esque stream of consciousness, glistening high-register melody and quirky, auto-tuned back up harmonies.  Influences can be felt from Faith no More, Incubus, Queens of the Stone Age’s robo-stoner rock and even Bad Religion as the wall of riffs launch into wailing punk rock solos. 

“Devil in the Room” turns its namesake into an instantly memorable chorus with the dueling vocal styles again making use of alien vocoder support vocals while incendiary power chord riffs and pulsing rhythms refuse to lay off the throttle.  Troy unleashes a buoyant, walking bass groove in “The Sunday Derby’s” brazen build-up that sees Idell laying into his kit with sheer reckless abandon.  Thanks to spitfire vocals (with a rousing segment of megaphone enhanced, auctioneer styled spoken word), a ferociously high-octane polyrhythmic percussive stomp and psychedelically-kissed hard rock guitar work this composition is an easy album standout that presents a metallic, unpredictable twist to traditional pop-punk structuring.  Grungy punk with big, bright uplifting guitar riff/lead shakedowns played out atop palm-muted rhythmic churns is the order of the day on the single-worthy “You Can’t Stay Here” gives early 90s Offspring a run for their money in the hook department. 

Taking the record for a left-turn “Bedtime” is a gorgeous acoustic strummer that nary rises above a whisper, flowing directly into the folky, similarly aligned “Chrysanthemum.”  An even stranger composition, the oddly titled “Polar Warden” is a psychedelic drone piece brimming with sampled dialogue, opaque bass grooves, decaying noise guitar, instrumental feedback and all sorts of warped keyboards and guitar pedal effects.  It’s unlike anything else on the album and is a deep, lushly constructed piece that touches on Pink Floyd’s oddball experiments.  Closer “Clouds” couldn’t have been a better choice for a finale; employing a progressive structure that alternates between gargantuan Sabbath riffs and tom-tom heavy, noodle-y guitar freakouts with heavy reverb laid over the vocals casting off some serious 70s prog-rock atmosphere. 

Defection is an excellent album with fine songwriting and some superb instrumental bits.  It’s the work of a well-seasoned band that knows the strength and value of each individual member’s contribution.  Slow Burning Car is simply a fantastic modern rock group that delivers the good all across their 4th impressive release. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

J.Briozo - Deep in the Waves (2017)

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

Hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, J. Briozo is the singer/songwriter introductory album from Jeff Crandall; vocalist/songwriter for Swallows.  At the time of this recording, Swallows was in-between their 2nd and 3rd albums, preparing to enter the studio in order to do some tracking for the next record.  A series of song ideas besieged Crandall and deciding not to waste any time (and with the help of some of his Swallows band mates), Jeff was able to complete his own LP entitled, Deep in the Waves. 

This 13-track record moves from strength to strength as each song reveals different amalgamations of Crandall’s songwriting prowess.  Opening couplet, “Blind” and the title track go for loose structuring and a sort of free-form experimentation that center on acoustic and clean guitar melodies with cinematic accompaniment in the form of keys and warped guitar FX on the former and an assortment of varying stringed instrumentation during the latter.  Crandall’s voice is soothing with the requisite grit that both push the material forward while allowing it to seep and sink softly into your brain.  “Beautiful Mess” streamlines the song-composition for a verse/chorus/verse thematic that brings some soulful acoustic guitars and vocals to the table and an especially introspective (and catchy) chorus.  Keeping the structure while turning the music into a rough n’ tumble, bluesy rock firestorm, “Spinning Out” intertwines grooving acoustic rhythm guitar with fret-burning electrics as the drum n’ bass combo chips away at a craggy, mountainous 4/4 swing.  The implementation of Hammond organ applies some dazzling texture to the song though it’s mixed in the background to leave the traditional rock band format to dish out most of the damage.  All throughout Crandall sings his heart out in a more grizzled, gruff tone than he utilizes on some of the other material. 

“Rain Song” dials down the mood to crystalline clean guitars, economical work on the bass and myriad of strings and ambient sounds.  Something about the song rings of Pink Floyd influence and he even manages to sound slightly like Waters or Gilmour in the process.  A sonic tornado of heavy riffs punctuates “The Big Parade’s” all go, no show attitude and segment featuring a horn section inflects even more tongue tingling spices into Crandall’s recipe.  The stripped down triplet of “Catatonia,” “Las Cruces” and “Blue” are rife with Americana and are akin to the influential folk music from a bygone era.  Meanwhile, the uplifting trip-out of “Firefly” and the dark, rippling beauty contained in “Camera Obscura” are soundtrack piece that layer multiple strings atop the acoustic guitar and world music electronica bedding.  “Santa Cruz” also walks a parallel path, as closer “Sun Sun True” returns to a hot and heavy blues rock crunch that differentiates itself from similar tracks on the album by subtracting the rougher blues vocals for more harmonies than you can shake a stick at. 

Simply put, Jeff Crandall can do no wrong on Deep in the Waves.  J. Briozo is officially on my radar for projects to watch because if Crandall can produce a debut this well-defined, then the sky’s the limit for future releases.  If you like your blues, folk and rock to proudly raise the middle finger to the rulebook, this is exactly the release you’re looking for.   

Monday, December 11, 2017

Ben Brookes - The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon (2017)

Written by Pamela Bellmore, posted by blog admin

Ben Brookes, Portsmouth native, brings a distinctive sense of Englishness to his debut release The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon that we haven’t encountered for some time. He manages, however, to incorporate a bevy of American influences into what he does and the effortless fusion of his influences is crowned by a sense of self that comes through on every song. It’s a rather bracing feat from someone so young, but the artist that emerges from this studio release’s ten tracks is nothing less than fully developed and possessed with musical certainty reaching far beyond his years. His choice to record the album in the Midwestern United States rather than in England reflects his desire for a cosmopolitan sound and he embodies the various strands running through his music with singular and sincere charisma that makes it a highly enjoyable and satisfying experience.

He’s likable in every performance. The longing at the heart of “I Wanna Go Home” comes, as well, a playful edge and few musical artists possess the talent to juggle these disparate elements. Brookes does, however, and never appears to break a sweat while doing so. It has a melody some might find a little childish, but that’s part of its charm and its undeniably catchy. “Asleep in Galilee” is, flat out, one of the finest moments on the release and has some strong imagery distinguishing its lyric and playing out quite nicely against the musical backing. There’s little question after listening to these two tracks alone that Brookes is working with the best possible musical partners, but he obliterates any lingering doubt with the track “Before Sunrise” and the wonderful melody at the heart of the song will please anyone, even the most demanding of cynics. The melody seems to further inspire an already fine vocal and, at risk of cliché, Brookes makes you feel every word of this one. He sings it like he means it.

“Look Through My Eyes” and “Somewhere Around Eight” are the album’s finest rockers. Rockers, in the context of this album, means a much more “visible” presence of electric guitar, but it doesn’t mean long, winding guitar solos or crunchy riffs. Instead, the lead guitar work spikes the songs with added emotional heft and Brookes raises his emotive game as a singer to match the rougher texture. The album’s last song “Shackles” is a great curtain closer for the album and mixes a little of the approach discussed in the rockers with the customary acoustic guitar base defining much of The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon. Ben Brookes’ much more experience collaborators clearly hear the same thing in his songwriting and performances and it’s a testament to his astonishing development that seasoned professionals of such caliber want to join in with this effort. It’s one hell of a ride.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Cyborg Asylum - Never Finished, Only Abandoned (2017)

Written by Larry Robertson, posted by blog admin

Musical projects conceived over computers and not face-to-face can go a lot of different ways.  Frequently the way these types of collaborations go is that the ideas and even the music might be good but there can be quite a large disconnect to the point of distraction.  Such is not the case with Cyborg Asylum.  New York’s David Varga is responsible for the music composition, instrumentation and electronic backdrops while London-based John Tumminia is in charge of the lyrics, vocals and melodies.  Their resulting album Never Finished, Only Abandoned feels like a very complete piece of work composed by two individuals that did the work in the very same room. 

A teetering balance between atmospheric, soundtrack-esque instrumentals, industrial rockers, ballads and utter weirdness; the twelve tracks on the album seamlessly jump from strength to strength.  The police state madness of instrumental intro “Blitz” samples a panicked crowd’s screaming, bomb blasts, machine guns and sirens before diving into a lockstep bass beat with shrill synths, noisy wails and thundering low-end filling out the mix.  It acts as a polar opposite foil to “Synergy” and its poppy verse/chorus structure.  There’s still enough pure white-washed noise to maintain the opening vibe as scraggly guitar riffs, thick beats and a headstrong industrial synth melody wraparound the alternately clean/distorted vocals that carve out unusual rapping verses and sweet natured pop choruses.  “My Metallic Dream” compresses these components with a mid-paced, staccato beat ushering a heavily syncopated guitar riff and a breathless vocal from Tumminia into pure perpetual motion.  A little underrated industrial band from the 90’s called Course of Empire (former TVT alumni with Trent and NIN) strived and achieved a parallel greatness to Cyborg Asylum by building a place where tougher industrial sounds got swept up by huge pop rushes.

The album seems to have a theme or concept; a flow that’s established and maintained by interspersing dramatic instrumentals amongst the more straightforward songs.  Take for example “War Machine” which is almost a blast of crazed 70s progressive rock gone industrial.  Multiple loops stack clattering percussion, forward/backward synths, robotic voices run through distortion and raging heavy guitar riffs one on atop of another turning the “song” into a frantic collage that’s heavy along the lines of Skinny Puppy and Frontline Assembly.  In a complete audio 180, “Weightless” is a killer pop tune with fantastic melodic singing coasts dreamily over a bottom heavy bass/drum grind that’s a nightmarish opposite from the skyward vocal croons.  A climactic run of heavy, dirty 6-string power chords make for a passionate final where, musically speaking, everything and anything goes. 

Another instrumental “Angel of Incidence” experiments with classical strings and 80s metal for a real quirky meeting of minds, “Steampunk Highway” adheres to traditional industrial gear-grind values and “Fragments as Illusion” winds its way through Eastern themed guitar leads, flamenco drum programming and rumbling guitar surgery…  Cyborg Asylum is unafraid of wild-eyed experimentation in their music and the result is magical.

Thomas Abban - A Sheik's Legacy (2017)

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

Coming on like a bat out of hell from Minneapolis, Thomas Abban has written and recorded a debut album masterwork that’s nothing but pure genius.  A Sheik’s Legacy contains that “lightning in a bottle” feel of a great studio work that leads to major career opportunities, dedicated fans and a streak of stellar albums to come.  Not only can Abban play the pants off of any instrument that comes his way, his songwriting skills are dangerously fully formed at this early stage of his career. 

There’s no “formula” to be found on A Sheik’s Legacy.  Abban simply plays what he enjoys and puts no shackles on his songwriting.  This freedom to abstain from a genre choice makes for an exciting rock record, the likes of which aren’t made very often anymore.  Lyrically speaking, the subject matter is equally heavy as Abban starts off with an examination of his own mortally on intro cut “Death Song,” a lively piece which hops trains from pastoral folk to quaint singer/songwriter work to heavy, incendiary heavy rock in its near 6 minutes of run-time.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg on this album.  Second tune “Symmetry in Black Tar” goes through as many mood changes as a Kansas song; sporting an authentic progressive rock vibe with oddball time changes, acoustic guitars, near Latin scales and all kinds of otherworldly compositional strangeness.  Riffs rule the day on the muscular “Fear” which is the kind of tune that 70s guitar rock giants like Mountain or Blue Cheer would have scorched the airwaves with.  Abban keeps the riffs at the forefront of “Aladdin” as well but ventures into a quirky midsection with banshee chanting while the verse/chorus vocals have a lot of pop flavor thanks to plenty of “Oohs” and “Aahs.” 

The album is reduced to a gorgeous, heartfelt simmer throughout its middle portion; acoustic guitars weighing heavy on the minds of tracks such as “Time to Think,” “Horizons,” “Sinner,” “Don’t You Stay the Same,” “Let Me Tell You Something,” “Irene” and “Lord.”  These tunes are not without their swells of bombastic volume but mostly practice cautious restraint.  What keeps them from being “Acoustic Song A,” “Acoustic Song B,” etc. is the fact that each one flirts with a different style from blues to country to pop to folk to rock.  Several veer into stretches of almost world music with the selections traversing from Old West Americana to the Holy Mountain Sinai in a single journey.  Reckless guitar riff abandon returns on “Uh” and curtain call cut “Born of Fire,” the latter of which focuses more on serpentine leads than basic four on the floor blues grooves.  The dynamic “Black Water” is another late album highlight with its utilization of electric organ and a slow, desperate climb from acoustic ebbing to road-burning guitar rock thunder. 

A Sheik’s Legacy lives up to its name crafting an early legacy and career highpoint for its author Thomas Abban.  This is rock n’ roll with soul, passion and purpose that refuses to play to standards, tropes or stereotypes.  It’s rare to find this type of music in the modern guitar-centered pantheon where genre seems to be the key selling point.  A Sheik’s Legacy has nothing to do with genre, it’s just an old-fashioned rock album that meets and exceeds its epic intentions.