EP Review: Cliffhanger’s “Old Wounds”

The 5-track EP “Old Wounds” is Cliffhanger’s third. Their gritty pop-punk style, reminiscent of ROAM’s early work, is energetic and fun-filled. Even the darker lyrics sound as though they come alongside a mental shrug, and the more antagonistic lyrics sound matter-of-fact rather than vindictive. Interlocking guitar lines provide a vibrant, solid backdrop that races along behind the vocals, reinforcing the sheer breakneck speed of “Old Wounds.”

Each track is fast-paced and high-energy, ensuring that listeners are immediately swept up in the EP’s exuberance, and aren’t let off until the record draws to a close. “Chicago Sunroof” is a mad dash of a song, dynamic guitar riffs and frantic drumming filling in any place the vocals don’t reach. “Barbed Wire” is a high-spirited track that feels like a realization, a fresh understanding that paves the way for “Dead-Weight” to make sense of the situation. “Dead-Weight” is cathartic and freeing, and finishes the EP off in a satisfying, case-closed kind of way.

Favorites: “Chicago Sunroof,” “Barbed Wire,” “Dead-Weight”

Similar to: Øff Guard, ROAM, High Wire

Related – EP Review + Interview: High Wire’s “Different Places”

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Album Review: Rationale’s “Rationale”

Tinashe Fazakerley’s voice is in a league of its own. The man behind the enigmatic moniker Rationale, Fazakerley has no problem flowing effortlessly from velvety softness to soaring choruses, his vocals undeniably the hook that capture a listener’s attention. Thankfully, the vocals are not the only reason to pay attention to the London-based artist’s debut album.

The opening track “Re.Up” is a sensual gospel-influenced duet, swaying rhythms backing the hummed refrain “Ooh, I wanna be your lover.” A study in romance, “Re.Up” already has the feel of a timeless hit, the kind that countless couples will claim as ‘their song’ over the coming years. “Oil and Water” builds on “Re.Up”‘s silvery ambience, synths falling like raindrops in a mesmerizing pattern, contrasted by mournful lyrics.

The album kicks into a higher gear with “Loving Life,” Fazakerley’s vocals ascending to ever greater heights, and light percussion insistently pushing the track into the realm of urgency. “Loving Life” is a grandiose love song, the lyrics tuned to match Fazakerley’s capabilities, and to push the track beyond the calm reflectiveness that Rationale’s electro-soul style tends to induce.

“Prodigal Son” is a step away from the gentler poppy ambience of earlier tracks and towards something more gospel-inflected, Fazakerley’s vocals achieving a new depth of emotion. “Losing Sleep” takes a page from the 80s-pop handbook, centered around a groovy bassline and airy synths. The most radio-ready track on the album, “Into The Blue” sees the dynamic artist bring his shimmering production to bear on something more mainstream, resulting in a spacious, high-flying pop hit.

“Fuel To The Fire” takes on a new resonance in light of recent events, providing a soulful and optimistic look at overcoming the negativity in the world. “Tumbling Down” is a fierce, fast-paced barrage, packed with intensity and power from every angle. The album ends with a stripped-back, acoustic guitar ballad, allowing Fazakerley’s vocals a chance to stand out without competition. “Somewhere to Belong” is a synthesis of the album’s ethos, the conclusion of Rationale’s soulful explorations of love, happiness, and peace.

The most disappointing thing about this album is that only five of the songs are fresh, previously unheard material. Granted, the tracks take on a new meaning when placed in the context of the full album, but Rationale has given just enough new material to tide us over until the next release.

Each of the twelve tracks on “Rationale” share a mesmerizing ambience. Instruments seem to shapeshift under the subtle hand of Rationale’s transfixing production. Synths lend themselves to gentle riffs, then appear as gentle patterns of notes, played like rain drops falling. Each layer of sound is brilliantly intertwined with the others, so that if the listener allows their mind to drift, all that remains is an exquisite and graceful ambience.

“Rationale” is a gorgeous and ambitious release, steadfastly defying any genre and instead creating its own category of gleaming ambience, vivid lyrics, rich vocals, and vibrant emotion.

Favorites: “Loving Life,” “Into The Blue,” “Tumbling Down”

Similar to: Izzy Bizu, NoMBe, Moxi

Listen to “Rationale” here. If you like what you hear, listen to Rationale’s irresistibly dance-ready single “Reciprocate” as well.

EP Review: Deep Sky Objects’ “Deep Sky Objects”

“Deep Sky Objects” begins with “This City’s At War,” a dreamy and determined anthem that starts the EP off strong. “Bones” is a bit more airy and poppy than the rest of the EP, which has a foundation in heavier, more grounded alt-rock. The rolling rhythms of “Desire” and its rougher instrumentals pave the way for “See You When It’s Over”‘s indie rock charm. The album ends with “Crazy New Addiction,” a syncopated, quirky song that at times feels jazzy with its rowdy bassline and peculiar guitar rhythms.

“Deep Sky Objects” feels slightly separated from most of the things that are going on in more mainstream music circles, in a good way. There’s an ageless and eccentric quality to the EP, driven home by solemn vocals and enigmatic lyrics. Add to that wonderfully surprising and often unconventional melodies, an atmospheric bent, and spirited basslines, and it becomes apparent that “Deep Sky Objects” is extremely catchy. The pure foot-tapping appeal of the EP sneaks up on you, but once it hits, it quickly becomes obvious that Deep Sky Objects have concocted something that has an abundance of that je ne sais quoi that makes an album worth listening to.

Favorites: “Bones,” “Desire,” “See You When It’s Over”

Similar to: Radiohead, Midnight Divide, DREAMCAR

Listen to “Deep Sky Objects” here.

Related – Discover: Midnight Divide

Album Review: Arcane Roots’ “Melancholia Hymns”

From album cover to band name to album title, Arcane Roots have mastered the art of the mysterious and slightly eerie. The music of “Melancholia Hymns” doesn’t fail this image.

From the first seconds of the intro track, “Before Me,” you are thrust into a world of half-truths and ephemerality. A collection of synths twinkle like sunlight reflecting off the water, until Andrew Groves’ vocals gradually become apparent and other instruments kick in, pulling recognizable lyrics from the mesmerizing tangle of sound.

“Matter” launches into Arcane Roots’ more recognizable complex rock style, with Groves’ ominous vocals appearing as though they’ve been shouted from far away. These production elements, as well as the abundance of synths on the record, create a tension with the heavy alt-rock sections, and this precarious balance of airy and weighted takes “Melancholia Hymns” further into the realm of enigma. One gets the feeling that the thundering guitars and the wave after wave of synths are covering up the lyrics, hiding them from view.

“Curtains” builds up slowly into a cathedral of soaring vocals and atmospheric synths, and leads a wave of stomping anthems that take no prisoners, segueing smoothly into “Solemn”‘s hard-eged rock. “Fireflies” is ethereal and delicate, leaving behind any hints of rock in favor of desolate vocals and shimmering synths. The album ends with “Half the World,” a sobering seven-minute track built on ambient electronic melodies and lyrics full of hard-earned hope.

On “Melancholia Hymns,” Arcane Roots aim for the stars, and just about get there. The album is ambitious, dynamic, and at its best when the band goes to heights that would normally be considered over the top. Each orchestral swell of synths or extravagant effect feels, rather than excessive, like a building block in Arcane Roots’ elaborate alt-rock symphony. With an array of avant-garde songs that push the boundaries of rock, “Melancholia Hymns” is unrestrained, lavish, and indulgent in the best possible way.

Favorites: “Indigo,” “Off The Floor,” “Half the World”

Similar to: Mallory Knox, Saints Of Valory, Young Guns

Related – Discover: Saints Of Valory

Album Review: Sløtface’s “Try Not To Freak Out”

Sløtface’s debut is a social critique wrapped in crunchy guitars and punchy rhythms. Opening track “Magazine” gives no illusion that this will be another record about love and relationships. It launches straight into a diatribe on body image standards, delivered over dance-ready basslines and crashing drums. And that is what Sløtface do so well: mix the overtly political with the sheer fun of danceable pop-punk anthems.

It’s a rare occurence when a song that directly addresses an issue like sexism also makes you want to jump up and down. But the relevance of the topics Sløtface deal with aren’t overshadowed by their peppy melodies. Haley Shea’s vocals beg, desperately at times, for understanding and for you to truly listen to what she is saying. And though “Try Not To Freak Out” is undoubtedly a chronicle of a young woman’s life, Sløtface do their best to make it accessible to a wider range of people through generous doses of whimsical lyricism alongside their more straightforward storylines. The wonderfully raggedy pop-punk sound of the album won’t drive listeners away either.

From the plucky indie pop atmosphere of “Try” to the ominous, in-your-face energy of “Nancy Drew,” Sløtface spin their own political-yet-carefree take on grunged-up pop-punk, delivering lyrics such as “taking your boy’s club down in one fell swoop” with a reckless enjoyment. If Sløtface are overwhelmed by the state of the world, they don’t show it. They’re perfectly happy to address all the negativity and uncomfortable topics in the world with smiles on their faces, and the knowledge that there are always those days where you can have an adventure in your own backyard.

Favorites: “Magazine,” “Nancy Drew,” “Night Guilt”

Similar to: Bleached, Milk Teeth, Estrons

EP Review + Interview: High Wire’s “Different Places”

 

Pop punk records have a strong tendency to be more direct and less flowery and metaphorical than their emo or alt-rock counterparts. Pop punk just seems to be the perfect genre in which to tell a real-life story, albeit with embellishments and some dramatization thrown in. High Wire stick with this trend on their newest EP “Different Places.” All of the Chicago band’s music is based on real-life events, giving it a grounded, gritty sense of truth. 

“The whole EP is a reflection on self growth that varies from a changing relationship to how you view yourself. The places we start compared to the places we end up or want to be,” High Wire explain. “Different Places” is deeply personal, yet resists the urge to fall so far into a personal experience that it isolates the listener. Because of its story-like format, the EP is easy to follow along with and get caught up in, the same way a good novel is. 

As in any story, the words are important. Unlike most groups, High Wire write lyrics collaboratively. Vocalists Mark Nussle and Cameron Jones do the majority of the writing, but all four members work together to finalize the songs and make sure everyone is satisfied with the end product. Each song tackles a topic that is of personal importance to everyone in the band. This collaboration helps to give “Different Places” its wonderful universality, making sure that the record isn’t too grounded in any individual experience.

Moving on and letting go is a strong theme on “Different Places,” approached in a different way on each track. “Count On Me” is a fiercely catchy, sing-along anthem, euphoric in its resolution that it’s okay to move on. “Empty Room” is a more melancholy take on inevitably losing something while gaining something else. “Different Places” and “Nothing Left To Lose” are pop-punk bangers, propelled by relentless guitars that lend an upbeat energy to the gently melancholy lyrics. “Something In The Way” takes a turn towards energetic, stadium-size pop-rock, and the EP finishes off with “That Was Then, This Is Now.” The last track is a matter-of-fact statement of purpose, that just happens to be layered over driving guitars. It’s a solid conclusion to the somewhat back-and-forth reminiscing of the album, a clear, written-out set of beliefs and rules for the future. This clarity and confidence makes the struggle throughout the EP feel validated, ending “Different Places” on a strong and uplifting note. 

It also happens to be High Wire’s favorite track. The band says “the opening line lays out the theme of the whole song, which is about acknowledging the need to improve oneself, without slipping back into the same pitfalls that led you to destructive behavior in the first place. It’s the most powerful song and really embodies the whole feel of the EP.”

“Different Places” is very clear-cut pop-punk that comes off as more real and less fabricated than most records in the genre. High Wire list Blink-182, New Found Glory, and All-American Rejects, a whole roster of pop-punk greats, among their influences, but they are determined not to sound exactly like any of them. “We wanted it to feel like an alternative record coming out of the late 90s early 2000s. The main goal with this EP was to write music that we would want to listen to that sounds like High Wire,” the band explain. And while if you were going to say which well-known band High Wire sound like, the first name that popped into your head would probably be one of the three listed above, that’s not all there is to the band, or to this EP. “Different Places” is thoughtful and inspiring, but also fun and catchy, hurtling through an array of earnest songs with wild abandon and newfound hope. 

In the end, High Wire’s wish is simple: “We just hope that people connect with the music and enjoy it as much as we have creating it.” And the best way to connect with the music, according to the band, is “blaring it in the car with your friends.” A must for fully enjoying any record. And “Different Places” has plenty of enjoyment to deliver. 

Favorites: “Count On Me,” “That Was Then, This Is Now,” “Nothing Left To Lose”

Similar to: Sleep On It, Knockout Kid, Homesafe

Listen to “Different Places” here.

 

Album Review: Inheaven’s “Inheaven”

Inheaven’s eponymous debut album is a wonderful confection of grunge, punk, and Brit-pop, with a thick sludge of noise as the cherry on the top. Opener “Baby’s Alright” launches things straight into the stratosphere with rumbling basslines and Empire State-sized choruses. James Taylor’s vocals and the swirling instrumentals help capture some 80s-rock spirit that makes the listener feel as though “Baby’s Alright” is the closing track to a classic coming-of-age movie.

On “Treats,” bassist Chloe Little takes over the vocals, each lyric delivered with the authority of a proclamation. The chorus of “I want someone to treat me right” sounds less like a plea and more like a summons, an invitiation for anyone who’s up to the challenge to come and try their hand.

“Stupid Things” is the album’s most openly emotional track, as the vocals lose their disassociation and become sweetly intimate, Little and Taylor trading off on achingly heartwarming lyrics. Next up, “Vultures” is a reckless, fast-paced indie rock banger that thunders straight to a dance-inducing close. “World On Fire” is distinctly political, a shoegaze-inspired attack fueled by rough, swirling guitars.

“Do you Dream” is a nostalgic, cinematic ballad that still crackles with Inheaven’s distinctive Britpop/grunge density. “Do you Dream” is followed up by “Real Love,” which is wistful and hopeful in a similar manner, with a wide-eyed belief in ‘real love.’ “Bitter Town” and “Regeneration” bring a penetrating and resentful perspective to the album, a sharp turn from the sentimentalism of the last few tracks.

The album ends with “Velvet,” a spacious and slow-moving work of pleading and melancholy. With vivid imagery, wretched vocals, and a haze of smooth, eddying instrumentals, “Velvet” ties the album together beautifully.

“Inheaven” is an impressive debut. The album encompasses a wide range of influences, moods, and topics, and proves that Inheaven have plenty to say, and aren’t afraid to do things differently. From the wholehearted indie rock of “Vultures” to the starry-eyed yearning of “Do you Dream” and the poignancy of “Regeneration,” Inheaven present a multi-faceted and intriguing sound. But it is, without a doubt, their sound. The band bring a signature touch of delicate bittersweetness that is quick to melt away into world-weariness, and their grunge/punk/Britpop/shoegaze is a distinct and appealing combination.

Favorites: “Stupid Things,” “Regeneration,” “World On Fire”

Similar to: Milk Teeth, Baby Strange, VANT

Related – Discover: Inheaven