Magnus is an interesting record. It’s interesting in that it feels very familiar, with nods to Radiohead and other alternative artists. There is just enough experimentation to give the more avant-garde listener like me something to be intrigued by, but there is also plenty of strong, flowing melodic and rhythmic content to stay mainstream for radio. This record from Switzerland’s Rio is a calm, grooving journey that has a little for everyone. Ambient guitars and echo-laden vocals are frequently found throughout.
Overall the listening experience doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but when you make great songs, that really isn’t necessary. Sometimes the familiar is just what we need.
Get Magnus at https://rioriorio.bandcamp.com/releases
Pop punk has been experiencing a renaissance of sorts with the new blink-182 lineup including Matt Skiba. Additionally Green Day has released a timely new record that sends all kinds of nostalgia towards the generation that cut their teeth on Warning and American Idiot.
It is perhaps this nostalgia that first drew me in when I listened to Nothing to Write Home About, an EP from Boston-based Last Letters. Last Letters is the brainchild of Charles Iwuc; a veteran of the New England pop/punk scene. As he put it to me, “my album tends to fall into the emo/pop/rock genre… These songs are completely self-produced and were recorded in my home studio in Boston.”
The songs on Nothing to Write Home About are infectious, melodious, and honestly beautiful. I felt like a teenager again listening to this record; back when Brand New was singing about their ex-girlfriend leaving America for an English boy, and Yellowcard talked about being 18, sleeping all day, staying up all night.
Everything that made bands like the aforementioned great is present here. Make no mistake, Last Letters has a sound of all its own. The music on this EP isn’t formulaic and it has its own identity within such a beloved genre.
Honestly, to get a little personal here, I was having a really awful day when I went to write this review. Doing this review brought me to a better mental state. It brought me back to the good old days, and it felt amazing. THAT is the power of music that matters.
I truly urge you not to miss out on experiencing Nothing to Write Home About for yourself.
Nothing to Write Home About by Last Letters can be found on iTunes and Spotify.
It’s always great coming into contact with brand new bands. In this case I refer to the Indie – Pop/Punk band The Deadnotes. Hailing from Freiburg, Germany, the band consists of Darius (guitar), Jakob (bass) and Yannic (drums). In their debut record I’ll Kiss All Fears Out Of Your Face, The Deadnotes show a mainstream sound with enough edge to get accepted by more fringe punk communities.
Each song on I’ll Kiss All Fears Out Of Your Face has strong melodies, tight grooves, and enough balance in energy to make the record complete. The instrumentals are powerful and a driving force. There isn’t a lot of overproduction, which allows the organic nature of each instrument to really shine. The vocals are aggressive, scratchy, and also melodic. Sort of like a lot of indie bands you’ll hear on the radio these days in the U.S.
Thematically the album, in the words of the band, “comes straight from the heart and hopefully people can identify with while being in a bad way or are struggling with mental health.” It makes sense when you listen through the entire album, as there is rage as well as a push to survive. You can feel it.
I’ll Kiss All Fears Out Of Your Face will release on October 7th. Get your copy when it drops.
The Deadnotes can be found at:
mellowtone is an enigma; just one listen through their music will tell you that. The Swiss band blends trip-hop, ambient, rock, psychedelic, and indie styles to create their sound. Consisting of singer Martina Birbaum, Micro Ackermann (guitar), Matthias Haymoz (bass), Ives Schmidt (piano) and Beat Huber (drums); mellowtone seeks to provide the very sound its name suggests.
On their second record, Broken Rooms, the general flow of the music is consistent with trip-hop and industrial styles, with laid back arrangements that also provide tension when necessary. Birbaum’s vocals fit with the music, simultaneously having a sharp edge and calm delivery. The instrumental arrangements from start to finish on Broken Rooms are dream-like, industrial, calm, and never overpower the listener.
For some trip-hop and related styles are a niche brand. In the case of mellowtone there is enough variety that listeners of Massive Attack and more mainstream electronic acts like Broods or Lorde would enjoy. To have such an appealing sound is an achievement in itself. I can easily add mellowtone to my new favorite acts, as they do everything right.
mellowtone can be found at:
One of my favorite things about being a Los Angeles native is the music scene. No matter where you turn, chances are there is some awesome new music to discover. Today that applies to the DJ, producer, vocalist, and songwriter JAY-R.D. (real name Jason Domantay). His E.P. Santa Monica is a fantastic example of the diversity that contributes to the music of LA.
This record contains elements of hip-hop, downtempo, ambient, worldbeat, and jazz all mixed into one enticing package. The looping melodic phrases are infectious, and the grooves are arguably the most important part of the record. Each song on Santa Monica converges around the central beat generated by various percussion.
Of all the styles that this record shows influence from, hip-hop is absolutely at the forefront. JAY-R.D. himself is, according to his bio, ” a product of the ‘Golden Era’ of Hip Hop, when the instrumentals and remixes on the B-Side of a 12 inch record got just as much play as the main track.”
If I could compare this album to any musicians past or present stylistically, I’d have to go with my beloved Thievery Corporation. Just like the music of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, JAY-R.D. has this knack for creating music that centers you internally. It is really hard to explain, but listen to Thievery Corporation’s track “Sweet Tides.” The emotion that particular song brings out of me was also something I felt with the final track on Santa Monica (“Golden Hour”).
To do that takes a special artist.
Santa Monica can be found at:
In my time as a music journalist I have had the good fortune of coming into contact with some amazing music from Iceland. One more that I get to add to this growing collection is Stafrænn Hákon. Stafrænn Hákon is the stage name of musician Ólafur Josephsson whose most recent release Eternal Horse caught my attention.
Stafrænn Hákon’s music is described as “Alternative, Rock, Electronica, Ambient, Power-Ambient,” and nowhere is this more apparent than on Eternal Horse. Consisting of musicians Ólafur Josephsson (guitar), Árni Árnason (bass), Lárus Sigurðsson (guitar),
Róbert Már Runólfsson (drums), and Magnús Freyr (vocals & guitar); this record is the perfect definition of balance.
Eternal Horse has so much going on at once in terms of sound, but it never overwhelms you. You don’t feel the blended styles trying to one-up each other, but rather working as a cohesive unit. From instrumental explorations to vocal compositions, Stafrænn Hákon presents an album that is just enough mainstream and just enough experimental to draw both schools of thought together.
The music on Eternal Horse can energize you, take you away to another world, calm your spirit, and make you think all at once. When I think of what an alternative rock band should sound like, Stafrænn Hákon presents all of the qualities I look for. Listening to Eternal Horse is a must for any alt rock fan.
Honestly it is a must for any music fan.
Stafrænn Hákon can be found at:
I remember when Gene Simmons, an over-the-hill rocker with a massive tongue, decided to declare rock music as dead. I was pretty surprised since my music journalism has introduced me to some incredible rock groups. Another group I get to add to this list is The Spitting Pips and their 2015 EP You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet!.
Hailing from Rhyl, North Wales (since I’m Welsh here’s my obligatory “Cymru am byth!”), the band describes their style as “Acid Soul Rock n Roll” with influences from the 60’s and 90’s music scenes. You hear these sounds in You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet!, with songs that remind you of groups like the Stone Roses, Primal Scream, Oasis, and others.
This band is not a derivative group, however, as the EP shows that The Spitting Pips are able to take you from the highest of reverb highs, to infectious melodies and grooves. The band is interested in making music that actually matters, in that, it is about good music over writing hits (and yes there is a difference).
Rather than chasing cheap sounds to make a quick chart topper, The Spitting Pips are making songs that are sonically deep and atmospheric. You are given the rock n’ roll sound you crave if you loved the 90’s UK rock scene and bands that were a part of it. The Spitting Pips have earned the respect of bands from that era, touring with Happy Mondays and the Inspiral Carpets (whose singer I interviewed here).
All in all this is a band I highly recommend as another reminder that rock is alive and well.
The Spitting Pips can be found at: