2014 July

So Blonde by EMA

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EMA (real name Erika M. Anderson), released her second solo album in April, titled “The Future’s Void”. EMA’s debut solo album “Past Life Martyred Saints”, was widely praised by the music press and enjoyed a lot of success despite minimal marketing. So there was a bit of anticipation built-up for her follow-up release. EMA moved out to L.A. from South Dakota at the age of 18 to pursue a music career. She played in two different bands prior to her solo career – Amps for Christ and Gowns. Her debut solo album came out in 2011. Her latest album is based around the theme of identity, and how a constantly online world can impact one’s sense of self. EMA was known for baring her soul on her debut album. “The Future’s Void” still has some sense of intimacy, but the subject matter has EMA taking on different personalities and how they can be impacted by cyberspace. There are a lot of electronic sounds on the album, but there are also acoustic guitars and even stark piano backgrounds on some tracks. This is the type of album you can get immersed in, whether it’s focusing on the different sounds and the music or listening intently to her lyrics and the implied meanings behind them. It’s an interesting album, and I’m sure it will impact people in different ways.

“So Blonde” – This is probably the catchiest song on the album, the one where the chorus can get stuck on a loop in your head. And it doesn’t really sound like anything else on the album. The big drums on the beginning of the song and the casually strummed acoustic guitar provide a nice background for EMA’s vocals. This song sneaks up on you. It may catch your attention a little bit the first time you hear it, but not have a major impression. Then suddenly after hearing it a few more times, you realize that simple chorus and how EMA sings the words just gets stuck in your head.

High School Lover by Cayucas

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“High School Lover” is more uptempo and locks into a really nice groove. This song really grabbed my attention from the very first listen. I don’t understand why this isn’t on heavy radio rotation, side by side with “Get Lucky” as a dominant presence on the airwaves.

Cayucos by Cayucas

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Cayucas is Zach Yudin, who released his debut “Bigfoot” a few months ago. I have to admit I was initially intrigued by the name of the band and the first track on the album “Cayucos” since Cayucos, CA is a seaside town in central CA by San Luis Obispo where I’ve been vacationing since I was a wee little lad. Yudin definitely pulls a lot of influences from the ‘60s in his music, which gives it a timeless sound. On this album Yudin collaborated with producer Richard Swift, who added a lot of the original instrumentation to go replace the samples Yudin had assembled. You’ll hear plenty of influences in this music – including the Beach Boys, Vampire Weekend, the Animals and The Shins. Fun stuff and definitely meant to enjoy during the summer.

“Cayucos” is the lead track on the album and a great introduction to the Cayucas sound. You’ll hear the heavy reverb on the vocals, jaunty percussion and the laid back guitar strumming. The beat really drives the track along, and it’s hard to keep your foot from tapping along.

“Secret” by Rival Sons

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“Secret” is the third song on the album, “Great Western Valkyrie” has a big-time retro vibe, especially with that keyboard sound in the mix. Again, the formula isn’t all that different, as the band continues to ride that riff on this song as well. Buchanan’s vocals are more intense on this track, as he keeps singing about the secret he’s going to tell you, because he knows that you’ll keep it. Guitarist Scott Holiday gets some nice solo time on this song and Robin Everhart on the bass keeps this track rolling along. Great scream at the end of the song by Buchanan as well!

Open My Eyes by Rival Sons

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Rival Sons released their new album “Great Western Valkyrie” last week, and it’s a nice return to the form they showed on 2011’s “Pressure & Time”. Hailing from LA and forming 6 years ago, these four guys have a very retro-rock style, and show elements of Led Zeppelin and other classic rock acts. The band is highlighted by the vocals of Jay Buchanan, who has a great voice for this guitar-riff driven music. Their debut album came out in ’09, and helped them get opening slots on tours with Alice Cooper and AC/DC. Their second album “Pressure & Time”, was the first time I had heard the band (thanks to Henry for the recommendation). Classic Rock magazine named it the #2 album of the year and it had a lot of great tracks on it. Their popularity grew and by the time they released their 3rdalbum in 2012 they were now playing in Europe and charted in the top 20 in several European countries. I wasn’t as big of a fan of the 3rd album “Head Down”. However, “Great Western Valkyrie” is a very solid effort and has some really good songs on it. They do mix in some slower songs with the rockers, but I’m only including a couple of the louder tracks.

“Open My Eyes” is track #6 and starts off with very Zeppelin-esque crushing drums and guitar effects, before the main riff gets unleashed. The song sounds great right there, but then Buchanan’s vocals kick in, and he sounds great on this song. The band does a good job slowing the music down, right before they launch into the chorus, which is simply huge both in instruments and vocals. And that’s all the elements you need for a truly epic rock song. As I like to say, just ride that riff to its fullest.

Bad Self Portraits by Lake Street Dive

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I was turned on to this band through iTunes from their free single of the week. Upon first listen of the track I immediately was hooked to the folky/soul vibe that the song presented. Sadly I didn’t know much information about the band, so I googled them to add some content about them. It’s a four person band, with two males and two females; all four of them met while attending school in Boston. They have been together since 2004 and have released 5 albums to date. Their band name actually comes from a street in Minneapolis, where many dive bars are located (the drummer is from Minneapolis). The most recent album, ‘Bad Self Portraits’ was released in February 2014. In hearing the lead single, I got the impression that this band would have had a big hit if this song was released sometime in the 60’s. They have a strong lead singer, Rachael, who brings you in with her unique voice. Also, the track is laced with a pounding drum line that carries Rachael through the course of the song. I just watched the video for the first time and I was pleasantly surprised to see that an upright bass was on the track, along with a bass guitar. All in all, I think the track is solid and I have a feeling that in the Jazz circuit this band would do really well. One of the band members has been quoted as saying, “We want our music to sound like the Beatles and Motown had a party together.” This track, definitely fits that statement. Enjoy!

Lay Me Down by Sam Smith

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A few weeks back, I dropped a song by the group Disclosure and Sam was the featured artist on that track. During that write up I don’t believe I provided a lot of info on Sam, so I’ll provide a few highlights about him. Sam is from London and is fairly new to the music scene. He first made some noise in 2012 when he was featured on Disclosures track ‘Latch’ and since then he has gone on to be featured on Naughty Boy’s single ‘La La La.’ Thanks to the exposure from these two singles, Sam has made a quick name for himself and an album from him was in high demand. On June 17, Sam will finally release his debut album in the US. I’ve been waiting for this album to be released and I’m ecstatic to finally download all of his tracks. He released his debut album in the UK on May 26, so thankfully I’ve been able to hear a few tracks. I was debating between 2 of my favorite tracks and decided with ‘Lay Me Down’ because the acoustic version really lets you appreciate Sam’s voice. This song was the first single to be released in the UK, but here in the US it has yet to hit the airwaves. If any of you watch SYTYCD, this song was featured during one of the auditions last week; Sam also performed this song live on SNL (his first American TV performance) and that is the video that I’m providing to you today. The song starts off with a one note piano lead in as Sam begins to sing. For the first minute, the song continues in this manner and then during the chorus Sam lifts up his voice as the piano accompanies him. What I enjoy most about this song is the chorus, you can hear the passion come thru Sam’s voice as he sings “Can I lay by your side, next to you.” Overall, I think this track is pleasantly simple and focuses solely on Sam’s voice. If you enjoy this track, I’d suggest checking out another single titled ‘Stay with me.” Enjoy!

An Island by Chevelle

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This week I’m featuring Chevelle and a couple of tracks off of their 2014 release “La Gargola”; easily one of the best albums I’ve heard so far this year. Chevelle formed almost 20 years ago in Chicago and was comprised of three Loeffler brothers – Pete (vocals, guitar), Joe (bass) and Sam (drums). Joe is the youngest and was only 14 when they started playing events and clubs. Their first album came out in 1999. Their second album in 2002 “Wonder What’s Next” actually went platinum due to its second single “Send the Pain Below” which reached #1 on modern rock and mainstream radio. After their 3rd album was released, Joe left the band in 2005. He was replaced by Dean Bernardini, and while he wasn’t a brother, he did happen to be their brother-in-law. The personnel change was a positive boost for the band since the internal bickering that had been taking place was now no longer an issue. “La Gargola” is the 4th album by the current line-up and 7th overall from Chevelle. It’s unusual for a band to still be improving seven albums in, but Chevelle has stepped things up their last two albums with producer Joe Barresi. He has elevated their sound to a new level. What I like about “La Gargola” is that not only is every song stellar (no filler), but the band does a great job with both their harder tracks and the slower more ambient songs as well. The changes in tempo, style and aggressiveness make the album enjoyable to listen to all the way through, again and again. Once the last track finishes, you want to go right back to the beginning and listen to it again.. It’s a great example of why the “repeat” mode exists!

I’m including 3 of their 10 album tracks. I had two but decided it would be good to include one of the slower tracks as well so you can hear the different facets of the album.. And I must give a shout-out and thank you to Braden for alerting me about the album coming out. He had asked me if I had heard the new Chevelle yet, and at the time I had never listened to any Chevelle before. I had been missing out.

“An Island” stands out with a really memorable guitar riff that makes it immediately likable, plus the bass is playing right along with it to create one big monstrous riff. My brain just latches right onto that groove and is off for the ride. Besides that, there are some nice tempo changes throughout the track to mix things up. They even manage to take the intensity up another notch during the last minute of the song. There is plenty more to talk about, but for now just focus on the guitar/bass locked in jam on this track.

I Guess I Know You Fairly Well by Band of Skulls

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This song starts out with a much slower tempo as Marsden’s vocals are pretty isolated with his guitar during the verses, but the choruses burst out and take it up several notches before slowing down again for the verses. With just more than a minute left, the band ramps up the music and Marsden plays a few nice solos until the songs wraps (along with a few words and many “woo’s”).