Jesse Ronan: The Life & Times of Chicory Gibbs – A Music Review

Jesse Ronan CoverJesse Ronan, an acoustic folk artist out of Guelph, Ontario, released his full length album The Life & Times of Chicory Gibbs on November 19, 2013. DIY style artists are popping up all over the world now that technology allows us to literally record albums in our own bedrooms, so they are often hit or miss. Ronan proves that you can still bring big sound and talent to the DIY game in this great piece of art.

The album starts off with Old Reggae Album, there is nothing reggae about this track, but that is just a-ok, it’s a beautiful acoustic song with a pulsating organ synth in the background. This song, like many other songs on this album, tells a story. Many artists try to pump messages through their music, or showcase high levels of musicality, and while this song isn’t one that focuses on the music, despite the flawless feel to it, it really does focus on the story and lyrical content that utilizes vocal layering in a professional manner as well.

Jesse Ronan MusicOnce the rest of the album continues you find out where Ronan’s safe place is, usually somewhere between a harmonica intro and a raw acoustic guitar middle. Gemini creates this indie Western feel to the song as it powers through its harmonica opening. It puts the guitar in the backseat, despite the fact that it may actually be the most sophisticated musical aspect to the track. It allows the vocals and the acoustic to be front and take the lead in what comes across as a track that is reminiscent of the band Steel Train.

Flies (Out of My Ears) is a much slower, melodic track with almost an eerie feel to it. The harmonica doesn’t create the happy place we get used to on this album, it penetrates with a haunting presence. Ronan’s vocals are raw. The lyrics are deeper than most. It feels like it would have been a perfect accompaniment track to Matthew Good’s Hospital Music album.

Jesse Ronan LiveBy the time we hit Song in Mind (Part i: new move) I’m a little bored of the harmonica – it starts to sound the same. This piece is all music and nothing more. It’s a lot more experimental as the folksy feel evolves. It would definitely be a piece that probably plays well live, but doesn’t sit well as a recording.

The more this album continues the more you realize it’s an anthology of short stories. It’s very eclectic and each song is connected through the passion behind making the music.  The more you listen to the album the more you want to hear. The more captivating the songs are the more intrigued you are by the content. Cave of Bears has, by far, the most beautiful start to any song on this album, and it holds you captive from start to finish.

Jesse Ronan GuitarRonan seems to approach the music romantically. It doesn’t matter what the content of the music is, you can hear a love for it in the lyrics, in the vocals and in the instrumentation. Ronan doesn’t treat the music as if he were simply going through the motions for a payday, you can hear the purity in his musical style and appreciate some of the stronger songs that are placed near the end of the album including Bless My Friends  and Vision of a Mountain.

Jesse Ronan ArtIt wasn’t until Maiden of the High Hills that I realized how much nature played a role in Ronan’s music. This track has very strong to follow as it’s obvious that their career is only going to blossom and grow from here on out.

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The Steersmen: High Tech Low-Lifes – A Music Review

The Steersmen Album CoverHigh Tech Low-Lifes is the debut full length album for The Steersmen, an indie rock band out of Chicago, Illinois. The duo, made up of vocalist and guitarist Frank Guihan and drummer Kyle Engen, take us on a relatively short, yet emotional journey as they work at bridging the gap between the alternative rock subgenres of shoegaze and nu gaze. High Tech Low-Lifes is the follow up to their 2012 EP, Later That Night.

The album, released on April 29, 2014, starts off strong and carries itself from beginning to end with very few flaws. The first track, Bloomingdale is a quick musical based intro that feeds flawlessly into Upper Gloom which follows all the rules of retro hipster rock, strong rock backing, and muddied, detached vocals that blend into the melodies of the guitar. Making shoegaze is not an easy task because you have to create the perfect level of distortion between the vocalist and the guitars, you have to feel comfortable in the fact that not everything will necessarily sound as cohesive as what you may hear in any mainstream musical genre, and you can’t be afraid of hitting a wall of sound. Right off the bat you can tell that The Steersmen know what they’re doing, debut album or not.

As Upper Gloom turns into Lost Cause the techno rock fusion and amazing drumming take us on a journey followed by a lyrical tale of self-exploration.  The follow-up Hold Tight is driven by intensity, despite following up its predecessor with a significantly slower pace. The sound is more reminiscent of a classic rock ballad and is one of the more memorable ones on the track.

Later That Night is my favourite song on the album. It’s eerie and haunting, despite being an upbeat prog-rock journey. Guihan and Engen are very talented musicians and regardless of whether you like the music or not, you cannot deny that fact.

The Steersmen debut album reminds me of the early days of one of my favourite bands, The Shins. There’s a lot of highlights and a lot to look forward to from their future projects, but as the album progresses some of the music starts to feel the same, some of the lyrics start to feel cheap and easy, yet the duo never let up and still put out a superb psychedelic lo-fi  rock album.  The distorted vocals and the alt-rock fusion create a very niche genre that has its place, yet some will under appreciate the difficulty of creating something like this. I can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeve next!

Overall though, High Tech Low-Lifes is a solid album that deserves attention.

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Tiger Suit: Tourist Attraction – A Music Review

TouristAttractionCoverOntario-based duo, Tiger Suit, is set to release their latest album Tourist Attraction on March 22, 2014. This album sets a new tone for the indie-fusion genre and is one that isn’t easily forgotten. Tiger Suit is comprised of Curtis Maranda and Renee Cross, who have been working together on this musical project since 2010. As Tiger Suit they have released one other album in 2011, and have spent a great amount of time touring through Canada introducing them to a new fusion of world, rock and electronic music. Before I continue I must admit my love for Canadian music, especially Ontario-based bands. It fills me full of Canadian pride to get to listen to new local artists and share them with the world.

Both Maranda and Cross are strong musicians. Each of their tracks starts off strong and carries a unique blend of cultural music into a modern fusion, light-rock setting. Tiger Suit does have some stronger tracks on the album including Lucid Dream which features Renee Cross on vocals and I’m assuming Curtis Maranda on instrumentation. While Cross is a strong vocalist it wasn’t her that won me over for this song, it was the beautiful backing. The melodic piano was soothing, relaxing and something that I wish carried over into every song on the album.

Tiger Suit LiveAnother strong track on the album was My Perfect Reflection which carried itself as a traditional folk song with haunting overtones. It was a song that just stuck with me, while I listened to it and even afterwards. It flowed flawlessly into the following track on the album Sleep Tonight which, similarly to My Perfect Reflection just jumps right into its lyrical content without any musical build-up, something that is very common with many of the tracks on this album, and it contains some of the best vocals on this entire album.

TigerSuitPressKit

Maranda doesn’t have many vocal opportunities on this album, which is a shame because the few songs he does have a chance to share that part of his talent, are very strong, especially All of Life near the end of the album. In fact, the more I reflect on this album, the stronger it gets as it gets closer to the end. That’s not to indicate that the beginning of the album isn’t good, the tracks flow well into each other, but they all sound very similar, a few songs even have a certain lo-fi feeling to them.

One of Tiger Suit’s biggest strengths is its use of musical styles and languages from multiple cultures. It truly creates an orchestral cascade of the musical world around us and is exciting to explore. Tiger Suit comes across as the Canadian Enya for a new generation. Another unique aspect to Tiger Suit’s music is that 10% of all of their performance fees go towards the Sukritham Home, a home for abandoned girls in Kakkur, Kozhikode, India.

Tiger Suit

Tiger Suit will be hosting an album release party on March 22, 2014, at the A.N.A.F. Club in Guelph, Ontario with opening act Jesse Ronan.

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Electrician: Wet and Ripping the Lake in Two – A Music Review

Album CoverElectrician, a low-fi indie duo from California, released their first full-length album, Wet and Ripping the Lake in Two, on February 7, 2014. Fronted by Neil Campau and his partner and bandmate Ellen Avis, Electrician explores themes of love, loss, death and friendship all in a DIY-fashion. Electrician recorded this entire album in a squatted house, where Campau, Avis and their newborn child, Cricket, have been residing for the past year in Oakland, California. As you listen to the album you can hear how personal this project is to Campau. Campau’s life is embedded in this music and especially within the lyrics which makes every second of this album a tribute to his past, present and future. This is ultimately who Campau is in 6 songs. It’s a complete exhibition of his soul and he’s baring it to everyone, everywhere.

While the album is extremely personal, it doesn’t mean that it’s the most amazing album on the lo-fi indie music scene. There are just as many misses on this album as there are hits. The opening track, Our Scalps are Dry, is extremely confusing. It starts off with an overbearing static that remains throughout the entirety of the song. By the end of the song the static has managed to transform itself into a form of musicality and as a transformative performance piece, perhaps this works, but as something that I’m going to throw onto my iPod or onto a CD while I’m driving, it just doesn’t. There are lyrics, somewhere, I can scantly hear them over the buzz of the static, but cannot decipher what is being sung.

Campeau and AvisThe album truly picks up with I Couldn’t Feel Safe, which presents itself in an almost spoken poetry format. There is slight music in the background but it doesn’t add anything to the number. It’s short, sweet and the lyrics are raw. It does, however, set the album up for the third track The Tree Line Receded, which feels like the first real song on the album. There’s an extremely poetic destruction to the music and Ellen Avis really shines on vocals.

That’s How We Do It (Again) is a track where the acoustic guitar grabs you off the top. It’s the first track on the album that seems to focus just as much on the music as it does on the elegiac lyrics. And then we encounter The Cave That It Lives In. This song is nothing more than a drum solo. It’s angst-riddled and I really wish I knew the motivation to this piece. It’s extremely chaotic, yet with a pronounced order underlying all of the chaos. If you could emotionally sum up the entire album in one piece it would be this one.

Campeau and Avis and CricketThe album closes with You Can’t Kill Everyone and it’s by far my favourite song on the album. This song is really fueled by its musical background and killer lyrics. Campau is an extremely talented singer and I’m extremely interested to hear his opera, as he is classically trained. The song’s lyrics are simple but deep. Its message is depressing yet truthful. Its portrayal is just a whole lot of fun.

Overall the album is solid. It’s full of talent. It will definitely do well on the indie music scene and as it’s only the first full-length album for Electrician, I’m excited to see what else they have in store down the road. They are just about to embark on a tour across parts of the United States and then a month in Italy. Take the time to check them out!

ElectricianCheck out Electrician’s Website here!

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Young Coconut: I Got a Vibe – A Music Review

I Got a VibeI know it was only a few days ago that I was writing about Kitchener’s solo rock/punk/funk musician Young Coconut, but here I am again, with a different album of his. The album I reviewed last week, On Vacation, was one of his earlier works so I figured it would be fair to review something more recent. His latest album I Got a Vibe came out in January 2013, so approximately 3 years after On Vacation, and it’s a very different album.

On Vacation was an album that was having a hard time finding its place in any specific musical genre. I Got a Vibe gets rid of the eclectic mess of genres and really does find itself in a core rock state of mind. While Young Coconut is a solo act he definitely shares the limelight in this album by bringing in many other talented musicians to aid him through this project. They all help add a much more polished sound than his previous albums, while still holding true to his indie-garage roots.

Young CoconutThe album starts off with Pity Junction which is the perfect example of how Young Coconut has evolved as a musician. In his previous works he would mix genres into a song and it would sound muddied and unbalanced, with Pity Junction we have a rock background with jazz and country overtones, yet everything is held together from the beginning to the end of the song. The Right Foot is just so damn fun and catchy. It has a Flight of the Concords feel to it and was the one track that I would constantly go back to listen to repeatedly.

It should be noted that for the most part Young Coconut’s lyrics have deepened through the years as well, no longer is he singing about Justin Bieber in a weirdly obsessive way, yet he’s still able to write lyrics that are very tongue-in-cheek, playful and most importantly intelligent.

Sumotuwe is another one of my favourites on the album, but maybe that’s just because deep down inside I have a weird guilty pleasure for mixing country and hip-hop together, which it does around the 2:30 mark. Torch Bearer, which follows Sumotuwe, is by far one of Young Coconut’s most polished rock songs on the album; unfortunately, I just found it to be extremely generic in its sound. I felt like it was an homage to Rush which just kept missing the mark. Another song on the album that just didn’t mesh for me is called Lazy Liars, it just felt off tempo and a little scattered and I had a hard time really finding myself in the music.

Young CoconutOther notable and fun tracks on the album include Bye Bye Ninja and Give to Get. It is however, the last song on the album, Cat’s Pajamas, that is indeed one of my favourites. I accidently listened to this song first when I checked out the album and definitely fell in love with it the moment it started playing. This was not the same Young Coconut that I had been listening to the week before and actually put him on my radar as a musician that is a serious contender in the indie-garage band market, and one that I will definitely be following from here on out.

Young Coconut’s Website

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Adam Astbury: From Here We Can See Forever – A Music Review

Adam Astbury CoverBritish indie pop-rock artist Adam Astbury’s second feature length album, From Here We Can See Forever, hit shelves on December 9, 2013, and what a breath of fresh air it is. Astbury hails from Leeds, UK and over the past 2 years has now released two studio albums, one EP and the single Balloon Hearted Boy which appears on his current album. From Here We Can See Forever definitely steps up the indie scene’s game as Astbury exudes a professional sound, an intense musical talent, and an emotional range of lyrical expression.

Astbury ProfileMusic is supposed to elicit an emotion. It’s supposed to connect you to a person, an event, or ultimately the medium (artist) who is baring themselves in front of you. Adam Astbury does this. I’ve only listened to his album a handful of times, never met the man, and yet I feel like I know him. I feel connected to him through his music. The feeling I get when I listen to this album is the feeling that keeps me looking for new bands and artists all the time. As I’ve been writing this review and going back over and editing it I find myself constantly being distracted because I have the album playing on repeat in the background.  I just keep getting so caught up in the album that I have to stop, close my eyes and just soak in the music.

Astbury Playing

The first time I listened to this album I was instantly hooked. I was sitting at work, had my headphones in my laptop, turned to a co-worker and said: ‘you need to hear this.’ When I pulled out the headphones and let the laptop speaker take over we both just sat there and soaked in the rich melodies and profound depth to the music. In that instant two new Adam Astbury fans were born.

Recording Session

The first track on the album is Living in Colour and it’s a great start to a great album that continues to get better with each song. Living in Colour features Sarah Lloyd on vocals alongside Astbury and he gives her room to shine throughout the entirety of the song. Throughout the album it is clear that Astbury has a great voice. It is controlled and yet has a great vocal range that allows him to really take a lead and keep it, yet there’s something humbling about the way that when he shares the mic with a featured artist, you know he is giving them his spotlight and it doesn’t faze him in the least bit.  Just by listening to a single song on this album you can tell that Astbury is truly in this profession for the musical integrity, and not for any personal gain. The other album featuring an artist is the final track on the album I Guess It’s Over Now which features Lucy Mizen, who I’m assuming has some relation to Dan Mizen, the amazing producer on this remarkable album.

Astbury NightOther notable tracks on the album include the already mentioned single Balloon Hearted Boy whose acoustic opening sucks you in and holds you until the last beat. My favourite song on the album is Vaccine. I don’t fully know what it is about this song that gets at me, but lyrically it tugs at my heart strings, musically it just stays with me. It’s haunting, yet hopefully optimistic and manages to make me as, an individual, feel very much like the music that Astbury is deconstructing: stripped down and raw. Making Rain Clouds is another favourite as it adds a brassier touch to the Astbury feel. I wish there were more songs that incorporate the brass band backing, but I’ll definitely take what I can get!

AstburyThe more I listen to this Adam Astbury album the more I want to see him live. His musical styles (not his vocals in this example) are very similar to that of Chris Carrabba, formerly of Dashboard Confessional and currently of Twin Forks. As someone who has had a blast every chance (and it’s been multiple times) I’ve had to see Carrabba live with either band, I just imagine that Astbury would carry the same energy, professionalism and fun-going spirit that would make a small, intimate concert in a local bar, by far one of the greatest musical events I would ever attend. Adam, if you ever read this and ever end up touring Canada, please make a stop in Ottawa and play at Zaphod Beeblebrox, it is by far the perfect venue for you! I’ll show up and bring a crowd!

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Stream some of Adam Astbury’s songs here