Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gang Of Youths Is An Emerging Artist

Gang Of Youths
Expect to hear more from Gang Of Youths frontman David Leaupepe in the upcoming year. The talented singer/songwriter from down under is fresh off being named one of the best live music acts of the year out of Sydney and winning bronze in The Vanda & Young Songwriting Competition, which raises funds for Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Australia.

The song that gave Gang Of Youths the win is Poison Drum, one of several singles recently released stateside. Instrumentally, the track is underscored by punchy percussion and even-handed rhythm. But what makes it stand out is Leaupepe's raspy vocals, which give it a nostalgic concept rock feel.

The lyrics are smartly written for six-plus minute track that lends both hope and morbidity to standing on the front end of your entire life without having any money. It immediately resonates with a struggling middle class crowd, even if there is an irony in that Leaupepe doesn't relate to it like some of his listeners might.

While much of the inspiration has been siphoned out of his and his band's personal experiences (and perhaps influenced while they took in the hipster fringe of Nashville), the lyrical mysticism in the writing comes from a broad range of sources. The title, for example, was taken from a documentary on Chernobyl. It fits so well because it brings in his feelings of being disconnected and even alienated.

Gang of Youths drops Benevolence Riots into the mix.

In keeping with his heady lyrical themes, Benevolence Riots is a song about trying to cope when your own mental faculties are under siege. To hear Leaupepe describe it, Benevolence Riots is about meeting morality with defiance and beating grief by grabbing onto life with real urgency.

The song was inspired by a girl he fell in love with when he was 18. She was very sick and forced to move back home to receive specialized care. While the song is surprisingly courageous, it ends abruptly, like many of those stories do. Not everything has a happy ending. Sometimes it's haunting.

Other tracks that make up the band's growing repertoire are the beautifully brooding Riverlands and the lesser known pop rock Evangelists that was released last year. The latter misses out on the grit that is quickly becoming an identifiable trait to the music that Leaupepe and company continue to work (and rework) again.

PE 2014 Man TessabitCase in point: Gang Of Youths originally relocated to the United States to record their debut album The Positions with producer Kevin McMahon (The Walkmen, Swans) before mixing with Peter Katis (The National, Frightened Rabbit). That was in 2013. The album will be released in March 2015, several months behind schedule, unless Leaupepe pulls it back again for yet another pass.

In sum, McMahon and Katis aren't the only ones with their fingerprints on the work. Aside from Jack Moffit (The Preatures) who produced The Evangelists and Poison Drum before the album work, Chris Collins (Tigertown) is also credited on Benevolence Riots. There may be more tweaks too.

And then there are a few unreleased tracks floating around too. Overpass is one of those rarities that is worth a listen. The raspy acoustic ballad makes for a compelling listen, even in its demo state. It wouldn't take much to transform it into a sing-along show closer with bandmates Joji Malani (guitar), Max Dunn (bass), Jung Kim (guitar, keyboards), and Samuel O'Donnell (drums), It won't be long before we see what, if anything, comes of it.

Benevolence Riots Rankles 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Take your pick between Poison Drum or Benevolence Riots. Either one is a promising introduction to to what ought to be a memorably addictive alternative album in March 2015. What makes it all the more compelling is that this band has only been together since 2012, which means most people thought of them as a scrappy inner-city band just a few short months ago. No one thinks so anymore.

Benevolence Riots, Poison Drum, and Evangelists are all up on iTunes. Riverlands is also available, but only as a video. You can also find the band on Facebook. Follow them if you can get past the ALL CAP madness. The band will begin an Australian tour in January. We'll cover the album too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Front Porch Step Plays Whole Again

Front Porch Step
There aren't many holiday EPs that can preserve their shelf lives after the season, but that is what makes Whole Again by Front Porch Step a stunning four-track set. Only one of the tunes, I'll Be Home For Christmas, is a cover of the classic and brilliant original by Bing Crosby. It's a no-nonsense solid showcase of Jake McElfresh's vocal talent. He joins some cover greats.

Aside from the classic cover, it's the remaining three acoustic originals put out by McElfresh to kick off his first headline tour that are timeless. The emotive musician from Newark, Ohio, reinforces his ability to deliver impassioned lyrics accompanied by the twang of well-played punk acoustic.

Whole Again is a sharply written set of acoustic originals. 

The EP opens with A Lovely Mess, an unapologetic admission of trying to be a better person for the one he loves. Like the title suggests, the lyrical imagery isn't idealistic. He sees neither himself nor her as perfect — just perfect for each other — to make their union a lovely mess.

The song does a solid job at capturing the sentiment without being sappy. It also tempers some of the helpless infatuation and devastating loss that made up much of the material in his debut album Aware. All in all, McElfresh is all about punk intensity with a classic singer-songwriter consideration.

In this one song, McElfresh also proves that he has much more material waiting in the wings. Sure, he might only know a little more than six chords, hate playing acoustic, and consider most of his music as poems put to a chord progression, but he also manages to be authentic when he sings about human frailty, missteps, and longing for something better.

The second track, Heaven Sent, underscores what he does best — matching a light acoustical melody with heart-wrenching lyrics. It's a breakup and regret it track with some teeth, made even more memorable with the addition of guest vocalist Ace Enders. The delivery between the two vocalists turns the track into a duet of understanding loss.

vault sessions videoWhole Again is considerably stronger, starting off as another sorrowful tale about a relationship reaching a crescendo of completion. The sorrow on the front end is empathy over what the girl endured as someone who attempted suicide. But what makes the track truly stand out is the awareness that as much as he helped her through a difficult time, it was she who really helped him become whole.

At times, Front Porch Step feels like blues brought into a modern format, and there may be some basis to it behind the music. McElfresh was first introduced to blues and country by his father before his parents split. The separation took a toll on what he describes as an especially troubled childhood.

Eventually, he found straight edge as a means to find direction in his life. But where his wholeness truly seems to have taken hold is when his Island Of The Misfit Boy video introduced him to hundreds of kids who feel the same way and an equal amount of kicking him in the ass to say life isn't nearly as hard as they have it.

Whole Again by Front Porch Step Hits 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

McElfresh clearly has some growth ahead to diversify his material and delivery, but that isn't the real point of his music. What makes him such a worthwhile listen is that you can hear that he truly loves life now even if he had to come through some hardship to do it.

The idea that he is still wants to write about where he came from, giving other wayward kids someone to relate to and perhaps find some hope for future, is admirable. But perhaps even better, McElfresh never thought for a moment that his record would sell. Pure Noise rightly felt otherwise.

You can download Whole Again from Front Porch Step from iTunes. Whole Again (EP) is also available from Amazon.  You can find the Front Porch Step library of music at FYE. For upcoming shows, visit Facebook.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Red Rising Ascends As A Sci-Fi Thriller

Every civilization experiences four periods within its life cycle — rebellion, ascension, decadence, and decline. The Golds, the genetically enhanced and augmented society that dominates a future caste system civilization, have enjoyed several generations of ascension and decadence after shrugging off Earth's dominion and then conquering it. The worlds they have made afford them every luxury.

To stave off decline, they have also created an academy that accepts the only the finest of their children with the intent to prime them as future sovereigns. With little explanation or instruction, the teens are taken to an expansive countryside where they are divided into feudal houses. There, they will establish their own criteria for leadership within their house and work to conquer all other houses. 

The stakes are impossibly high. Those who thrive during these barbaric and often brutal trials will be given the most coveted positions within their government. Those who do not risk being shunned, mutilated, or even killed. That latter point is made on the first day, when half of the students are purged.

Red Rising is an immersive debut destined to become a classic. 

The oppressive society created by author Pierce Brown provides the perfect backdrop for a story that is even more compelling. What sets the novel soaring is that it doesn't follow just any Gold teen through the trials and tribulations of the so-called academy. Instead, it follows Darrow, a tragic protagonist from the lowest caste — tribes of miners who work far below the surface of Mars under the mistaken belief that they are planetary pioneers toiling away for the good of mankind. 

What they don't know that is that the Golds have long since terraformed and populated not only Mars, but also virtually all life-sustaining planets and moons in the solar system. In fact, it is the material that Darrow's people mine that has helped fuel the outward expansion of the civilization that had long declared democracy and equality among the greatest lies ever invented. 

Shortly after Darrow suffers a devastating personal loss, he is thrust into the hands of a secretive underground insurgency backed by high Reds — people who belong to the same caste as Darrow but serve the Golds above ground. Hand picked for his uncharacteristic tenacity, he is then biologically retooled and mentally trained to blend in as the Golds he has come to loathe. Once inside their ranks, his mission is to become a manmade Messiah capable of toppling the oldest and most powerful civilization in human history. 

The task is easier said than done as Darrow discovers that he not only needs to stand out to earn an influential position after the academy, but also survive a cruel and unforgiving test that resurrects the feudal system. Not only will his physical prowess and mental acuity be tested, but also his faith in himself and loyalty to his own cause as he struggles under the pressure of duality.

A couple graphs about author Pierce Brown. 

Like many would-be writers, Pierce Brown found himself taking on any number of jobs that were one off from what he really wanted to do. This included working as a social media manager at a startup tech company, toiling on the Disney lot at ABC Studios, doing time as an NBC page, and giving up sleep as an aide on a U.S. Senate campaign.

All the while, Brown also invested most of his free time writing a science fiction fantasy that seamlessly blended his fascination with building forts (and setting traps) as a youth and his insights into the oddities of the political system that only paid campaigners are exposed to. The self-described science fiction nerd is now in a position to become a science fiction super star for a story that creeps up on you for its storytelling.

Red Rising By Pierce Brown Captures 8.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although sometimes criticized for its violence, the novel successfully straddles the young adult/adult science fiction market with a protagonist who is a teen but rarely seems like one (beyond his bravado). Never mind that the story sometimes gets bogged down in self-analysis or that the writing isn't always all that crisp — it's the well-drawn characters, page-turner story, and willingness to sacrifice characters who become fan favorites that will eventually hook most science fiction or fantasy fans.

You can find Red Rising: Book I of the Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown on Amazon. Red Rising can also be found on Barnes & Noble or downloaded from iBooks. The audiobook is narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds, giving Darrow a Scottish accent. Best of all, there is no wait for the second installment. It's slated for January. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cracker Cuts Berkeley To Bakersfield

Cracker by Bradford Jones
Berkeley To Bakersfield overcomes some unevenness across 18 tracks as David Lowery splits the difference between creative tugs into equal parts. One side covers hedonism and hypocrisy, giving Cracker its historic alternative bite. The other side moves its country underpinnings into the foreground, making what would otherwise be called a standalone country album only one part to the whole.

Much like the album's title cities, Berkeley and Bakersfield don't have much in common other than existing in the same proximate space. Even the lineups are slightly different. The Berkeley half of the new album from Cracker sticks with the band's Kerosene Hat lineup with David Lowery, Johnny Hickman, Davey Faragher, and Michael Urbano. The Bakersfield half mixes in guest musicians that include the likes of the Matt "Pistol" Stoessel and Luke Moeller.

It's difficult to say which is better at points, even if Lowery puts more passion into the country side of the package. It's either that or perhaps the album merely hits upon the great divide between the pinch of urban living and possibilities of rural openness. It's almost hard to say.

Berkeley To Bakersfield splits its punk vibe with country roots. 

What isn't hard to say is that Lowery and company have become masters of writing and recording songs with little regard to who might listen to them. Don't get me wrong. It's not that Cracker produces music with a blatant disregard for its fans as much as its fans know they'll only produce music that they enjoy performing day in and day out.

CountryOutfitter.comAnd what makes Berkeley To Bakersfield so ineffable is, with the possible exception of Waited My Whole Life, that the underlying lyrics split right along with their respective styles. One is clearly more populist while the other is libertarian. The only tie that binds is how many are built on characters. 

El Cerrito, for example, was inspired by a taxi driver rant in San Francisco. There is Almond Grove guy behind second track on the Bakersfield side too. The album is loaded with them, different voices that complement and contradict each other while the band delivers them all faithfully with judgement. 

Highlights from the double album include the folk rock opener Torches and Pitchforks and punk-infused Beautiful on the Berkeley side, country-rock roamer Almond Grove and sentimental Where Have Those Days Gone. After pulling up those four, dig into the more polarizing moments delivered up by songs like March Of The Billionaires, which is semi-satirical stab at the super rich, and California Country Boy, which dispels the Golden State's stereotypes with pedal steel. 

The one track that lands in the middle is Waited My Whole Life. Not surprisingly, it originally started out as a Bakersfield track until the band shifted the instrumentals to have more soul. The resulting track seems to straddle the line as effortlessly as many California county borders do.

Through the entire double album, Cracker does what few bands could by running a gauntlet of topics, tones, and styles tied together by a couple of guys who have known each other for 35+ years. The effort makes the album a tribute to their respective influences and summarizes the band's illustrious career. 

Berkeley To Bakersfield By Cracker Crunches 7.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Alternative fans will find a few gems on the Berkeley side while the country crowd will have a slightly easier time on the Bakersfield side. But mostly, the people who will find real merit in the music are open-minded Cracker fans who have always appreciated the band's split punk-country sensibilities. 

You can find Berkeley to Bakersfield by Cracker on Amazon or download the double album (priced as a single album) from iTunes. You can also find Berkeley To Bakersfield and other releases at F.Y.E. Find out more about Cracker on Facebook.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Eeries Roar Past Some Cool Kids

The Eeries
Maybe one of the hardest things about being a musician is knowing when to start over and, more importantly, who to start over with. There are dozens of breakout bands that bust up out of the starting block because some members aren't ready to wreck themselves on the road most take to get there.

It's also why singer-songwriter-guitarist Isaiah Silva didn't want just anyone who was trying on the musician moniker for the first time when he founded The Eeries. After investing 16 years in music, some of it as a cathartic sense of self-expression to help him survive a turbulent childhood, he wanted to surround himself with seasoned players. Who can blame him?

"We've all had our bands and worked our assess off touring and sleeping on hardwood floors for 120 days out of the year in a shitty band, in snowy weather, with a trailer driving from fucking Colorado to fucking North Dakota for 15 hours, drinking NoDoz," says Silva. "We've all done session work for other bands. We've all been hired guns. Each of us has done it all. That's how I knew these were the right guys."

Those guys include guitarist Brandon Sweeney, drummer Nadir Maraschin, and bassist Eliot Lorango. And not only had they lived music, each of them was also keen on reviving the golden era of guitar-driven alternative rock with an urgent swirl of punk-infused dream pop. It's a great wake up.

After spending two years together, their first real break came when alternative rock radio station KROQ sampled Cool Kid as a new music feature. The initial spin landed it on another prime time spot where listeners voted it up to earn a place on the station's official playlist. It was just like that until Interscope scooped them up (but not before they already finished recording a self-produced debut).

Cool Kid has turned plenty of ripples into waves. Check out this live session via Jam In The Van or live via Late Night with Seth Meyers. Either cut will easily prove the band deserves a deeper listen.

The track tackles the common angst-filled inspiration of being on the outside looking in — a relentless feeling that is especially poignant in an era when it's cool to be uncool. Or maybe it hits home simply because nobody really knows what cool means anymore. It's all as artificial as Aspartame.

Not wanting to miss out on the momentum of the lyric-light but pointedly poetic single, Interscope green lighted the first five tracks (including Cool Kid) on self-titled EP. The four new tracks make the case that The Eeries aren't one-trick ponies. The self-titled EP rips through an impressive set of perfectly balanced rockers that were recorded analog style, live to 2-inch tape in Los Angeles.

Rhapsody TrialThe tracks all stem from personal events, ranging from what happens when you live most of your life on the road or fall in love with someone or unexpectedly break it off. Silva writes down whatever life throws at him and then matches it to the right melodies. And then they lay it down raw, flaws and all.

The rundown on the EP is inspired, with no wasted minutes. Girlfriend fires up some prickly dance punk with a nod to the 80s. Love You To Pieces resurrects some garage grunge with an art pop twist. Shine On, a favorite track contender, blends in some psychedelics. Overrated dances around a Beatlesque inspired mashup of melodies, making the perfect bookend to a memorable EP.

The Eeries EP Rocks Out 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The Eeries EP is easily the best EP debut of the year. The band makes it even better because they self-produced it before they were signed. Add in some old school production savvy and it isn't hard to see why The Eeries haven't cut an EP as much as they have a career. It will likely get better from here.

You can find The Eeries EP on Amazon. The tracks can also be downloaded from iTunes. Interscope Records was smart to snap them up, adding a little more indie diversity to their growing alternative rock roster. The full-length album is anticipated to land in early 2015. The band is currently putting the finishing touhes on their work.