Unchained Music Blog

Unchained Music Blog

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Yam Haus - Stargazer (2018)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

Yam Haus began playing together during their high school days and the four piece, hailing from Wisconsin, has since relocated to Minneapolis in an attempt to discover a more visible platform for their burgeoning musical ambitions. Their debut album Stargazer is a varied, fully realized collection that should easily put them near the forefront of the indie scene and promises to give them a foothold on the mainstream scene. The album opens with its title cut and the mix of synthesizer sounds with bright, snappy guitar lines. It’s a a recurring musical motif for Yam Haus and few of the songs on the release equal the level they reach straight out of the gate.

“West Coast” and “Kingdom” explore that sound even more thoroughly. Yam Haus never intend to remake the songwriting wheel; much of the album’s writing concerns itself with interpersonal relationships. However, they deliver the subject matter with such stylishness and a personal touch elevating the material several notches. Naturally, there’s a strong pop influence running through these songs, but it blends well with their two guitar sound courtesy of lead singer Lars Pruitt and second guitarist Seth Blum. The nuanced interplay between the rhythm section of bassist Zach Beinlich and drummer Jake Felstow is another crucial piece of the band’s musical puzzle that makes this opening trio fly.

“Too Many People” has a surprising gospel influence, a sound that the opening songs never indicate is coming, but they sound perfectly at home navigating through the song’s affectations. The different keyboard sound they bring to bear with this track is the song’s crowning touch. They take a sharp stylistic turn with the track “Right Now, Forever” and the acoustic musicality of the song stands in marked contrast to the band’s pop inclinations. Once again, however, they never sound uncomfortable with this and give us an intimate, considered performance ranking among the album’s best.

Synthesizers regain prominence in the mix with the track “Bad News”, but the most compelling part of this song is the vocal melody and Lars Pruitt does an excellent job getting under the skin of the cut thanks to his superb phrasing. “Carry Me Home” has a dream-like lightness of touch and wafts by listeners on the back of glistening synthesizer lines and Pruitt’s sensitive vocal rendition. Yam Haus won’t soon be confused with a hard rock act or anything of that ilk, but they turn in a resounding guitar-centric performance with the song “We Are the Storm” and sound quite convincing moving guitar to the fore.

The finale “Something Better” isn’t an exclusively acoustic tune and the synthesizer adornments add a lot of color to the composition. It’s a meditative, intelligent closer to Stargazer that underlines the band’s diversity while reaffirming their core strengths. It, likewise, points the way towards a future for the band where obviously all things are possible. Yam Haus possess all the tools to stick around for years to come and the ride will undoubtedly be entertaining.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Astronomique - Sharp Divide (2018)

Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin

The ten track, nearly forty minute full length release Sharp Divide from Minneapolis’ Astronomique is as rich and varied of a studio album as you can hope for in 2018. This isn’t slight; the depth on display from this four piece band is completely modern while still recalling iconic acts and halcyon eras in music history. Logan Andra Fongemie’s vocals and synthesizer playing are keys to the success of this collection, but her main musical partner guitarist and backing vocalist Sean Hogan contributes much to the band’s vivid tapestry of sound. Their music has been labeled as space-age electro psych-pop and it’s as good of a description as you’ll find for what is, essentially, a potpourri of musical creativity. Sharp Divide gains a lot, as well, from the contributions of bassist/backing singer Preston Saari and drummer Mitch Billings. Their fluid, slightly funky spice added to the band’s mix gives these songs an added idiosyncratic quality that makes them stand out from the pack.

Much of Sharp Divide is distinguished by the rhythm section performance without Billings and Saari obscuring the other musical elements. Their contributions to album opener “Forefathers” helps give this track the sort of necessary ballast that a first song deserves. It’s impressive how artfully Fongemie and Hogan integrate vocals, synths, and guitar over the firm rhythm section work – their touch is light, but unmistakably stamped with energy and great timing. Sharp Divide’s third track, “We Disappear”, is one of the best expressions of a dominant theme on the album and has a steady mid-tempo push that rarely relents. The upper register synthesizer contributions to the track bring a little extra flair to the performance and the lyrical material is among the finest heard on Sharp Divide.

“Losing Our Control” is another album highlighted by a tight, lively melody line and enormously sympathetic performances from each of the band’s four musicians. One of the most impressive factors making Sharp Divide such a success is the consistent unity of the band’s performances and rarely do they sound so completely on the same page as they do with this track. Hogan’s guitar work, in lesser hands, would serve an ornamental purpose, but his additions to “Losing Our Control” are colorful and nuanced, never overwrought. The title song has similar merits to recommend it. “Sharp Divide” is the strong musical statement we’d expect from an album title track and elicits one of Fongemie’s best vocals. The lyric, as well, expands the band’s established range with some particularly evocative imagery that always remains accessible to listeners.

“Smoke” is cut from a slightly different cloth than other songs on Sharp Divide. The band clearly focuses more on invoking a mood with this number without ever sacrificing their approach to crafting durable, coherent songs. The same penchant for evocative imagery explored in the title song recurs here with similarly strong results. “Bleed Me” definitely has a dark tone, but the musical mood never bogs listeners down in despair and, instead, tempers the mood. The melancholy atmosphere of this song embodies the album as a whole and stands among its strongest tracks. Sharp Divide is a work of vital musical creativity that Astronomique will work hard to surpass.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Sky Orchid - Oculus (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

The duo of Sky Orchid has built a pretty sturdy reputation in just 10 years’ time.  They haven’t always been Sky Orchid either as the core members of this group (brothers Gabriel and Daniel Traknyak) spent some of the earlier era kicking around with other members.  Now they are the sole composers and players on all of the outfit’s studio music.  With live jaunts extending across their native Kansas, into Texas and even a recording trip to Nashville, Tennessee, they’re at that precious area of where they are just a step below of breaking into the mainstream.  Their debut Oculus features 10 pensive tracks with a lot of dynamic mood shifts and sea changes in volume.  It very well could be the album that will break them into a household name. 

Crunching, crumbling open “The River” is centered on Daniel’s steady tom/kick march and ambient percussion while vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Gabriel paints the picture with thick hues of piano-synthesizer, vibrato twisted soul vocals and later slashes of dizzying electric guitar.  No singular motif or idea is explored and the song is in debt to its own variety.  There’s a theatrical quality to the tension and release offered here which becomes unifying theme of the record itself.  “Sneakers” bridges Cure-like ambience with a 90s industrial/rock crunch that goes from sweeping, cleanly chorded patterns and trip-hop drum thumps to full on digitally altered alternative rock as it breaches the midpoint segment with a fierce stab of electricity.  Gabriel’s vocals rise and fall appropriately crafting careful melodies throughout for one of the release’s many standout tracks.  The vivid “In the Fire (Part 1)” radiates and glows in an array of gorgeous, sparkling indie guitar licks and a boiling tribal drum attack that spirals out into a chorus that ensnares your attention span with a metal-weaved net.  It’s one of the record’s prettiest pieces but it rewards all eardrums with a tough, densely layered sonic attack.  The reverse is true of the stripped-down, bare bones “Wildfire” that encompasses only spare percussive taps, acoustic guitar work and gutsy vocals.  There’s a payoff of well-orchestrated rock dynamics but largely this is a mood-piece with a lot of simplistic textures on offer.  Sky Orchid changes things up again on the surging industrial-tinged, pop-rock charge of “I’ll Stop the World (Part 2)” with its fervent drumming, fuzzy guitars, heightened tempos and powerful vocal bravado leaving a lot to stick to the ribs. 

The album’s second half shows no quality drops.  “Lex” again toys with overcast indie guitar melodies that turn to drama-rich rock later on, “Breathe Easy” incorporates funky keyboard bass and ska-inflected guitars for a real upbeat romp (with its companion piece “Take it all” using some of the same elements), “Yesterday” dials down the mood into a night-black percussive, piano driven hymnal and album ender “Fortify” remains on the darker side of life.  All-in-all, Oculus is a smash that should put Sky Orchid on the map for a long time to come.  Hopefully a major label will take notice and give these guys the push that they so very much deserve.  

Monday, June 25, 2018

Rhett Repko - Thnx For The Ride (2017)

Written by Aaron Ellis, posted by blog admin

The new EP release from singer/songwriter and guitarist Rhett Repko, Thnx For The Ride, strengthens the talented young man’s position as one of the most promising artists on the indie scene today. He has the chops, musical discernment, and charisma capable of carrying him far beyond the cozy confines of independent music and experience mainstream success on a wide scale. The songwriting has a level of intelligence and emotional strength suggesting such success would never compromise his musical vision, but there’s little question, as well, that Repko is a first class musical entertainer. His band mates on Thnx For The Ride are a major reason why the EP succeeds in a way we ordinarily associate with full length albums. Repko has undoubtedly fine tuned these songs before recording them, but he’s successful at sustaining an off the cuff quality with the snap of an inspired first take.

Repko comes thundering out of your speakers for the opener. The EP’s title song is, largely, unfettered pop rock, but the band changes gears into a loping tempo at well chosen points in the performance. Lead guitarist Stefan Heuer’s playing has an effects laden texture, but it nevertheless reinforces the tight grasp of fundamentals behind his work. “Please Don’t Laugh” is a strong follow up with a similar slant, but the composition is much leaner than we hear with the title song and Repko restrains his predilection for changing things up and keeping listeners off balance. It’s much more cut to form than the first track, but still stands out as something uniquely his own.

“It Ain’t Coming From You” will rank as the EP’s pinnacle for many listeners. This is a passionate, inspired rocker with each band member responding to the track’s obvious potential. Repko sounds like he’s drawing from personal experience for these songs, but it never means they come off as obscure or too intimate for listeners. Instead, he shows a talent for making the personal universal in a way any adult listener will connect with. Heuer’s guitar playing places a bold exclamation point on the song as well. “Maybe I’m Weak” brings acoustic guitar into the mix and those sections of the song gallop and pulse with the same urgency we hear in the rockier sections. There’s some nice vocal harmonies on this song making it a little more commercial than earlier songs.

“And I Told Her So” immediately seizes the moment with Dan Gallagher’s hook-y bass line and drummer Tom Bryant brings extra muscle to the song’s bottom end. The lyrical mood harkens back, in some respects, to the earlier “It Ain’t Coming From You” without ever risking imitation and it’s a certain contender for the EP’s best track. “Make Me Right” has sparse guitar lines snapping from the first and Bryant’s drumming lays down a pace Repko clearly relishes. He slows things down a little for the song’s chorus, but remainder romps with rambunctious paunchiness.

Rhett Repko’s Thnx For The Ride is a seven song EP without a single filler cut and a laser focus on winning its audience over. The enthusiasm for the material matches up nicely with its quality and Repko’s recruited some top notch playing talent to help him realize his artistic ambitions. EP’s can often seem like holding actions between full length releases, but not Repko’s,. His second studio release of 2017 will win over many and sounds like far more than just a distraction.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Joshua Ketchmark - Under Plastic Stars (2017)

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

It all started with the debut of MTV for singer/songwriter Joshua Ketchmark.  Being turned onto the channel during its birth, the volley of new music videos emerging for the first time sent Ketchmark in a search for his mother’s old acoustic guitar.  Soon he was writing riffs, then he was writing songs and finally he started jamming with his friends at rehearsals at his own house and around the neighborhood.  That boyhood dream is now 12 albums strong with a firm foothold in the music world that has introduced him personally to Melissa Etheridge, 90s rockers fuel, megastar producer Michael Beinhorn and even the members of KISS!  You can’t write a much better rags to rocking story than Ketchmark’s and his is even better because the whole thing is based in reality.  

Under Plastic Stars is the culmination of a decade plus long music career that just keeps getting better and better.  Across the dozen tunes heard on this recording, there are many different moods, textures and instrumental variances to be found.  The traditional rock band format is used on certain tracks, while others play out as vintage singer/songwriter affairs fronted by nothing more than vocals and an acoustic yet other songs bring in harmony vocalists, organs and keyboards to complement Ketchmark’s shifting compositional style.  These are all original cuts and Joshua has really proven himself at this juncture to be a more than capable songwriter.   

Pieces such as the lucid opener “We Were Everything” and its combination of acoustic folk and light rhythmic groove, the gorgeous Nashville style vocal duets and American gothic organ of “Lucky at Leavin’,” and “17” along with the Dylan-esque “Harm’s Way” all operate mostly on slinking moods, soft instrumentation and huge melodic vocal hooks that paint vivid, storytelling pictures of love, loss and life from Joshua’s introspective point of view.  Sometimes it’s the beauty of the soft back-up vocals and the way Ketchmark harmonizes or the glistening gleam of an old rustic organ playing a haunting passage that gives each of these compositions their robust flavor.  There’s an organic development and unfolding to each track with just the right amount of tricks added to the musical foundations to make their memory last a lifetime.  

There are no weak links to be discussed when viewing this album as a whole and it’s as a whole that it is best experience with the songs forming an arc that only gets stronger with repeated listening.  The riff-y and rockin’ “Get Out Alive” even electrifies the guitars for another change of pace while its sister track “Saturday Night” manages to retain the rock attitude while digging into the meat of the track with solely acoustic instrumentation.  

You never know what each new track will bring on Under Plastic Stars and that’s part of the allure.  In a sea of cookie-cutter artists Joshua Ketchmark stands as a true original making his mark on the musical landscape at large.  With superb songwriting and fantastic instrumental work, there is no reason that Ketchmark shouldn’t be a household name in just a few more years of time.