Unchained Music Blog

Unchained Music Blog

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.       

Friday, June 15, 2018

Black Bluebirds - Like Blood for Music (2017)

Written by Drew East, posted by blog admin

Black Bluebirds opens Like Blood for Music with the track “Love Kills Slowly” and it sets an early tone that the following nine songs underline without ever repeating itself. The unique confluence of keyboard color and guitar on this song and album as a whole throws a vivid veneer over essentially straight forward rock song structures and gives Like Blood for Music a fresh sparkle we don’t hear from many young bands today. Despite the relative youth of the outfit, keyboardist and vocalist Daniel Fiskum, guitarist and vocalist Simon Husbands, and drummer Chad Helmonds play with enormous confidence from the outset and it never lets up over the course of Like Blood for Music. “Strange Attractor” shifts things up a little, but still keeps up a straight rock approach, albeit stylized, that deserves to snare a significant audience.

“Life in White” is the album’s most memorable shot at that point for evoking what they refer to in their press materials as a distinctly cinematic vision for music that will impress all but the most cynical. It’s the best example yet too of Daniel Fiskum’s unique writing talents; his themes aren’t particularly cheerful, but anyone looking for some rose-colored vision of human nature is advised to pursue their listening pleasures elsewhere. Despite the sometimes thorny emotional tone of the material, “House of No More Dreams” gives, I think, an ideal example of how the band surrounds those messages with musical landscapes that, nonetheless, appeal to the imagination. The song is an intelligently orchestrated rock track organized musically around Helmonds’ drumming with Husbands’ guitar and Fiskum’s keyboards flashing over the surface.

“Hole in the Day” is a sharp contrast to the earlier tunes, probably closest to the earlier “Life in White”, and the change in singers gives Like Blood for Music a very different flavor than we’ve heard with many of the earlier songs. It serves, as well, as a perfect track for showing off how completely the band’s songwriting understand the fundamentals necessary to making a great song. “Soul of Wood” is one of the most incendiary blasts of rock the band serves up on Like Blood for Music and drummer Helmonds makes a mighty impact with his thunderous, yet fluid, performance. Fiskum and Jessica Rasche are particularly effective singing together on the song “Don’t Fall in Love” and the patient tempo has undeniable urgency.

For me, “My Eyes Were Closed” builds on the earlier “House of No More Dreams” with an even more gripping arrangement. Simon Husbands’ guitar is a centerpiece of the song, but the vocals are equally effective at conveying a near epic quality for this track. “Legendary” feels like a coda of sorts for what has come before, but that’s not to run the song down – instead, it’s one more indication of the great construction defining Like Blood for Music. Minneapolis’ Black Bluebirds’ album is a powerful reminder of what the style is capable of in our modern era.