Unchained Music Blog

Unchained Music Blog

Monday, January 22, 2018

Blue Apollo - Light Footed Hours + Circles (2017)

Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin

Utilizing multiple musical elements and components, Texan indie-rockers Blue Apollo create an alchemical stylistic experiment on their brief introduction statement the Light-Footed Hours EP.  While perhaps not reinventing the songwriting wheel altogether, this power trio has a firm grasp on light/shade dynamics, tuneful songwriting and textured composition with plenty of layers provided by the stellar production/mixing job as well as by the musicians in the band. 

“Walls” sets the EP aflame with a bone-crunching, rollicking drum beat played with plenty of thump by drummer Jeremiah Jensen.  Asphyxiating yet melodically dense shimmer guitars delve into the winding melodies of 90s greats like Polvo and Shiner (more specifically Shiner main man Allen Epley’s follow-up project The Life and Times) as Rodman Steele drives hard into a slinking bass hook.  All throughout guitarist/vocalist Luke Nassar croons with a trembling gusto that’s perfectly suited to the knife-edged but melodic sound that the band employs as a whole.  There’s a twitching, nervous math-rock twitch to the constant tempo switches but more harmonic indie cadences lend the music a pop sensibility.  A section where the music pulls back entirely allows Luke’s voice to shine brightly before the entire band comes crashing in with a resounding BANG!  Winding, noisy guitar riffs send the song off into the sunset atop a saddle of punk-laden drum slaps that keeps this jam constantly moving forward and never regressing. 

Though “Feeling Right” toys with a bit of the same template it’s much more uplifting and upbeat.  Trading the opener’s faster rushes for a swirling, cosmic mid-tempo juxtaposes soulful r & b bass rhythms with a jazzy Texas shuffle-styled beat that provides a unique contrast to the rocked-out guitar lines filtered through a reggae tonality.  Harmony vocals yield further richness to the track and Nassar absolutely sets this number off with a fiery little guitar solo in the second half while the rhythms entrench themselves deep in the pocket and a Hammond organ provides an emotional hymnal quality.  “Therapy” thrives on a hypnotic pop-structuring that benefits from an oft-repeated, melodic riff pattern kept well-fortified by Steele’s growly bass licks and Jensen’s half-tempo pop punk romper stomping.  Restrained breaks with blinking, diamond-sharp guitar melodies duet with the vocals before the song shoots directly back into its intoxicating main idea. 

“Avalanche’s” bread and butter is the glory-bound, pinpoint vocal melodies and center stage piano concerto which leisurely takes the tune to its near midpoint.  It’s such a beautiful arrangement that you want it to go on forever but Blue Apollo smartly interject nuance and multiple aural change-ups before the track comes to a dewy-eyed close.  Cello, minimalist drum beats, quick swipes of guitar and bass enter the fray halfway through, leading up to a dazzling, riffed-up band jam.  A particular highlight is Nassar’s vintage blues guitar leading and powerhouse riffs while his band delivers the bombastic goods in tandem.  “Meant to Be” is a brilliant singer/songwriter composition mainly featuring Nassar’s glistening vocal melodies and his tender, plucky acoustic guitar work but again looks can be deceiving and the song ends on a completely opposite note from whence it began; leaving “Circles” to close the EP off in a jam gifted with many varied musical accoutrements. 

All-in-all Light-Footed Hours is a diverse EP that excels on every front.  The instrumentation is dazzling, the production airtight, the writing memorable and the performances exploding with emotion.  I could see this release appealing to fans of blues rock, pop punk and experimental indie music which is a testament to the number of different styles that it chooses to tackle

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Man Called Noon - Everybody Move (2017)

Written by Raymond Burris, posted by blog admin

Chicago is a well-known city for all types of art, especially music.  There’s been a slew of interesting, innovative bands and artists that have called the Windy City home.  The list is so long at this point that I could easily dedicate an entire article to naming them all and still fall short.  Making waves over the last few years, Man Called Noon already have two full-length albums under their belt as well as several singles and other various releases.  They’re very prolific for a relatively new band and the three-track EP Everybody Move is the latest stage of their musical evolution. 

Man Called Noon is a tough lot to pin down, musically.  On Everybody Move you will hear traditional rock, pop punk, straight pop, new wave, dance, funk, rhythm and blues and art-house soundscapes converging into a singular, cohesive sound that immediately sells you to their musical cause.  Everybody Move starts off with its namesake track and it’s a real doozy, sweeping the listener right up with its many appealing charms.  Jangly guitar riffs swim with both pop punk and first wave emo influences (think Saves the Day and Jimmy Eat World), although it’s a real aural victory that lead singer Anthony Giamichael’s vocals fall into a more hearty soulful range than the whiny musings of something like say Dashboard Confessional.  The music of some of those emo bands had a lot of good appeal but the vocals were always hit or miss.  Here the from the gut yet overtly melodic nuance of Anthony’s leads paint a formidable catchiness that’s rounded out by co-vocalist Erin Piortrowski’s gentle harmonization.  Josh Fontenot laces a jazzy pocket beat into the thick threads of Dave Aitken’s floating bass lines; their double-dipped congruence falling in line seamlessly with the high-end guitar modulations.  Everything moves along at a pretty steady clip with no parts of the song falling into tedium or syrupy balladry that drags more than it nails the dramatics.  A scorching guitar lead in the track’s second half along with keyboardist Nathan Crone’s saloon shaking piano twinkles fully fleshes this tune into a melodic monster worth its weight in gold. 

Following up on the title track’s speedy surges “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” employs a similar set of swinging tempos, stinging guitar licks and bewitching dual vocals that dance in and out of each other’s melodic qualities.  Piortrowski especially gussies up the choruses while additionally sprucing the verses with an attentive feminine touch.  Driving percussion and tightly coiled bass riffs are given added potency when Crone’s quaking, autumnal keyboards inject an earthy grumble to the song’s scenic peaks and valleys (of which there are many).  The EP fades out on the grungy, dirty punk rockin’ of “One Last Ride” which features the meanest, most snarly aggression on the recording.  Full of distorted, dissonance riffs and rumbling rhythms this baby goes straight for full force while still retaining the unit’s admirable melodic qualities. 

You’ll get a lot of mileage out Everybody Move’s many hooks and anthem-ready musical monuments.  The worst part of this EP is that it’s so short; you’ll certainly want more when it’s all said and done with.  In reality this EP was perhaps kept short out of necessity as it introduces a lot more experimentation into the band’s sound, a new member (Nathan Crone), an increased focus on harmony vocals, a keener eye for melodic songwriting and a large sonic palette that pushes the keyboards to the foreground of the music.  All in all, Everybody Move is a flawless collection that only makes me more intrigued to hear Man Called Noon’s next release.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Michael Askin - Road by the River (2017)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

Michael Askin was once known as strictly a guitar player.  Laying down 6-string work in the bands Divine Sign and My State of Attraction, Askin had a singer/songwriter bug biting him and began composing a big batch of solo tunes.  He finally dropped the first barrage of songs on his 2013 debut Single Step.  Flash forward four years later to 2017 and Michael is three releases deep into a respectable solo career with his newest album Road by the River.  Here he has reached the summit of his vision; a sky-high mountain where folk, country, rock, blues, pop and film soundscapes coalesce into a sonic brew that packs as much melody as it does a gravelly bite. 

The lead-in cut “Road by the River” is the title track and it does a great job of setting the stage for the rest of the EP.  Its nimble country gallop draws some of its blissful, uplifting acoustic boogie from not just country but also bluegrass.  Brush-tapped drumming and roots-rich bass bends are coupled to multifaceted acoustics and just enough electric buzz to give your house foundation a subtle shake while Askin wrings honey from every inch of his vocal chords for the sake of powerful, melodic song construction.  This piece is the literal launch point for every stylistic mash-up to follow over the course of this extended-play’s five glory-bound jams.  What “Nashville” holds back in tempo it makes up for in the sheer number of guitar flourishes present throughout.  Surges of heavy electric walk hand-in-hand with ripping country twangs and suave steel guitars as the vocals and rhythms bat eyes at the blues.  This song could have been beamed in directly from the country rock, heartland Nashville and blues heavies of the early 70s.  It has that same sweat n’ swagger to spare; topped off by Askin’s original, mad scientist crossbreeding of these several different yet musically congruent genres.  Offering up an even crunchier, crispy take on slamming hard country rock, “Sun Going Down” is a storm of impactful power chord riffing, acoustic lamentations, pulsing rhythmic tremors and Michael’s sweat-drenched vocal soul.  It’s hard grooving, atmospheric back break runs off like rainwater into the likeminded swelter of “Hard to Make a Living” and it’s penchant for the same type of multi-instrumentalism.  Hammond organ and prominent synthesizer (especially felt on finale “Last Train”) raise the stakes on the EP’s downright award-winning trio of songs. 

Askin is truly an old soul when it comes to his music and his implementation of ideas that started fading out during the end of the progressive rock era when having an organ player in your band or playing one yourself became a thing of the past as the 80s came into view.  Michael knows how to take his music back to a bygone time without sounding cheesy, no matter how he incorporates these things into his sound.  It’s for these reasons that Road by the River stands out in a crowded 2010s pack where a lot of stuff is starting to sound the same.  Thankfully, Askin’s grand work across his three EPs doesn’t suffer from that problem and his music is well-worth your listening time.

Sarah Morris - Hearts in Need of Repair (2017)

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

Sarah Morris’ 3rd and most recent LP, Hearts in Need of Repair succeeds because it thrives with soul, pulls no punches when it comes to songwriting and has a daring arsenal of instrumentation that mixes the traditional with the exotic and eclectic.  Morris’ lead vocals are the icing on the cake; highly melodic, raw when needed and possessing an excellent range from dirty blues vocalizations to near falsetto.  With a well-oiled band at her side providing guitars, drums, bass, piano, dobro, lap steel and pedal steel, there’s nothing off limits when it comes to the music on display. 

The title track leads the album off and it’s an acoustic-drenched, mid-tempo masterpiece with blue-eyed soul singing, a deep rhythmic foundation and at least three acoustic guitar tracks going.  There’s space around every instrument to make each individual melody stick-out and the nuanced, textured production job by Eric Blomquist, Morris and the band couldn’t have done a better job.  Things aren’t overproduced to the point that there isn’t any edge but everything is refined enough to make a great harmonic impression.  The careening, rollicking “Good at Goodbye” benefits from a flurry of tapping, driving snare drums and some stellar pedal steel playing that whips up a western dust storm when it comes to atmosphere.  A weary, burden-baring blues vibe marks “Cheap Perfume’s” forlorn intro.  Dark electric bass stamps a heavy imprint beneath the shimmering acoustic guitars as the pacing kicks into high gear for the perky country swing that enters at the 50 seconds mark.  All throughout Morris’ lush, organic vocal melodies sending the song into the stratosphere and taking the harmonic component of the band’s music to the next level.

“Helium” is a dreamy, acoustic folk number that employs tranquil harmony vocals behind Sarah’s commanding lead presence.  Its softness is in direct contrast to “Falling Over” and “Course Correction’s” increasing reliance on powerhouse electric guitar grooves and hard-hitting rhythms.  Shane Akers’ dobro and pedal steel enrich the former track with overload of melody and tranquility, providing why it was chosen as the lead single to promote the record.  “Empty Seat” returns to acoustic folk but is much darker than the similarly constructed pieces that appeared before it earlier on in the album’s trajectory.  The heavy, gluey electric guitar and bass riffs make for some warts n’ all blues on “Shelter or the Storm.”  Vicky Emerson adds harmony vocals to Morris’ lead and the result is nothing short of pure magic.  More lap steel accoutrements and a 3rd acoustic guitar played by producer Eric Blomquist brushes shoulders and conjures musical catharsis alongside the heavier riffing.  “Nothing Compares” is another beautiful folk piece while the closing couplet of “On a Stone” and “Confetti” delve deep into acoustic/electric blues unfolded at a slow, forceful tempo. 

All in all, Hearts in Need of Repair is a fantastic aural romp that’s an old soul at heart.  Stellar songwriting, vocals and instrumentation combine into a true force of nature that astounds and amazes at every bend.  Any fan of acoustic and electric blues, country, soul, rock and folk will find one monumental achievement after another in the album’s 11 rich tracks.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Joe Olnick Band - Downtown (2017)

Written by Laura Dodero, posted by blog admin

The Joe Olnick Band adds to its vast discography with their 6th LP to date, Downtown, the follow-up to their prior collection Defiant Grooves.  Downtown truly lives up to its name by sporting a city after midnight motif that makes itself known through the band’s uplifting dark shuffles and shimmies.

Basking in the twilight hour of the evening, album opener “Downtown” ignites the jazz club just around the corner with funky guitar pyrotechnics while a walking bass line dances all over a churchy keyboard hum and a beat that could get a dead man to move.  From this point onward the album goes from strength to strength, displaying the magical chemistry between the band members.  Joe Olnick (guitars), Jamie Aston (bass) and Jamie Smucker (drums) have obviously spent time honing their craft on the stage, jam room floor and in the studio which renders each of these songs into a tight, well-oiled machine.  Second cut “Philadelphia Moonlight (Part One)” places the mood under a full moon shimmer as a snappy, filling and rolling drum groove expands ever onward amongst the swirl of cosmic bass boosts and funky, psychedelic luau guitar licks. 

The low slung, darker still mid-tempo funkadelia of “Food Truck” feels like it’s up to a really fun no good from the very first note.  Somehow the band manages to show superb restraint and dedication to sticking with a groove, waiting for perfect moments to throw in jammy, rocked-out lead guitar bits, slamming bass lines that will step out and around Olnick’s flowing melodies and settle in the pocket that Jamie Smucker’s kickin’ percussion provides.  Impressive, extensive soloing from Joe smooths this composition out to perfection.  “Parkside” reckons of a crazy, outsider era Beach Boys fugue with its odd keyboard flourishes and unusually psychedelic, slightly acerbic FX screeches.  Despite this free-form jazz/noise weirdness, the entire song is built around a rock solid rhythmic shakedown and mesmerizing, fuzzed-out guitar work.
If the first “Philadelphia Moonlight” was a tranquil shimmer, “Part Two’ is transmitted from the heart of the witching hour.  It’s even more akin to a Beach Boys’ freak-out in terms of its instrumental texturing and distinct studio production that highlights each players’ every bewitching note.  “Rush Hour” releases the built up tension of the previous track for a shag-shaking funk rock rumble with a soaring bass line and bluesy, psychedelic guitar leads n’ trip-out keys vying for control of your soul…  If that’s not enough the final track “Sports Complex” takes of all that psychedelic weirdness and buries it beneath insane distortion for a fast-paced take on going completely, instrumentally mad (forgot to mention that there are no vocals on this unique album). 

Joe Olnick and the boys whip up a really quirky frenzy on album number 6.  The songs are varied and the playing tight, making it impossible to guess which direction the music will turn in next.  They’re not afraid to take risks with their sound and because of that Downtown is a 7 track ride that’s absolutely worth taking.