Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Kicklighter - The Fascinating Thinking Machine

It’s a rarity in life to be given a second chance, let alone a third or fourth to excel at just about anything, especially for a dream as big as doing that which you love. Yet, for newcomer Everett Young, he’s been graced with chances time and time again and this time he’s taken the bull by the horns and isn’t letting go, living in such a way to avoid any and all regrets as he releases his latest record The Fascinating Thinking Machine.

Young’s life has been a study in multiple failed starts, from an early attempt to learn piano as a child to a flirtation with becoming a pop star in college to get girls, an experiment that failed when he just couldn’t get his mind around the guitar. He managed to release an album in his 30s but the fallout from the divorce he found himself in the midst of drew all of his attention, leaving him little if any energy to promote the album. After a few more stops and starts, Young thought his musical days were behind him until he again decided to give the guitar one last go.
“About 1½ years into it, around 42 or 43 years old, I realized that something unique was happening,” says Everett. “I was getting to the point where I could really play the guitar. This was something that a lot of middle-aged people had tried to do but virtually no one had ever done. About the same time, I went looking for a guitar teacher and in my search I learned that teachers couldn’t relate to me; they had no idea how to teach anyone my age or in my position. The person that helped me the most turned out to be a life coach. He taught me to stay the course, to embrace the adventure, embrace myself, take it day by day and stay in the moment, if I wanted to succeed in playing guitar.”

Drawing inspiration from that experience and leaning on his newfound abilities, Young himself took to teaching the instrument, allowing his wisdom and understanding to help other older learners. But his true passion lay in making his own music and he finally has all the pieces in place for his latest.
The Fascinating Thinking Machine is an album that resonates with singer-songwriter charm, Young weaving together earnest 80’s styled pop templates to complement his intelligent lyricism, a key ingredient for the artist.

“I’m trying to make sophisticated, intellectual pop,” he shares. “I want the album to have deep lyrics and be philosophically stimulating. I want the melodies to stick in your head and be yummy pop melodies — a gourmet meal, not fast food.”
That meal opens up with the moody textures of “Until I See the Sun,” a haunting note leading into a track that opens up into a mid-tempo rocker while “Says A Tender Mind” opts for brighter textures and jangly guitars. “When Howie Dressed Me Down” is a vintage 80’s jam, synthesizers and more merging together to form a perfectly retro vibe while Young infuses his own mojo into the proceedings as “Kid” holds court with a restless sense of wisdom and energy, Young’s vocals rich and pleasantly just touched with grit.

Young’s also possessed by a softer side and, quite frankly, it’s that side that dominates more of this record as tracks like “Building a Robot,” the jazz-influenced “The Sultan of Brunei,” and “Saying Goodbye” show. These find the artist taking things from a more laid-back, acoustic approach and the result is reminiscent of 70s torch songs, the vocals smooth and framed by arrangements warm and subtle. Of special note is “After the Healing,” a song informed by gentle piano and snippets of trumpet that carry along a message of hopeful reconciliation between lovers, a tale just about everybody can identify with.
It’s been a long time coming but Everett Young has finally managed to do what he’s wanted to do for so long, placing his heart and passion into song. The Fascinating Thinking Machine is a solid listen, particularly for fans of 70s and 80s flavored pop and while there are a few moments that beg for just a bit more energy, Young has done a job worthy of hearty applause by Mr. Kickliter, the artist’s high school choir instructor and band’s namesake.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Review: Hillary Reynolds Band - The Miles Before Us

When Hillary Reynolds sings the powerful lines, "Have you ever been to the bottom of a bottle/And wanted just a little bit more," stark instrumentation framing her soulful voice in the intro to the song "Can't Let You Go," you're know you're in for a treat. With their third album, The Miles Before Us, the Hillary Reynolds Band delivers a plethora of these moments, laden with emotion and richly textured with strong Americana that's flavored with elements of folk, country, pop, rock, jazz, and bluegrass. The result is an album that is well worth the listen.

The collective formed when they met at the vaunted Berklee College of Music, coming together over a love of traditional music, and they quickly gelled and took to one another. Now based in Boston, the band has enjoyed a number of accolades and opportunities, performing on the stages of the "Northeast Pennsylvania Bluegrass Festival, Mile of Music Festival in Appleton, WI, the Blue Plate Special on WDVX Knoxville, the EAA AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, and Green Bay's Meyer Theatre and Fox 11 morning show “Good Day Wisconsin.” Further praise has come their way from critics and fans like fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss and they've seen their songs work their way onto the playlists of multiple radio stations while individual members of the band have been afforded the chance to work with "notable artists like Wyclef Jean, Imogen Heap, and The Click Five, and Michael Manring."
All of these accolades come honestly as the Hillary Reynolds Band is a talented quintet, making music that is alternately honest and enjoyable. With Reynolds managing lead vocal duties, she's joined by Connor Reese on guitar, Trevor Jarvis on cello and backing vocals, Jeff Hale on drums, and Chris Mewhinney who shines on electric and acoustic bass. There's a strong chemistry that's evident throughout the whole of the record and it's no doubt due to the strong ties this group shares.
The Miles Before Us starts simply with "Took Me a While," a breezy pop-tinged track with singsong vocals and bright piano and twinges of strings that give it that touch of country and "Pretending I'm In Love" continues that same vibe, Reynolds' vocals smooth and rich and somewhat reminiscent of Norah Jones in its lower registers. "Honey Come Home" marks a shift, the pace slowing to a gentle acoustic shuffle, brushed drums and plucks of banjo and swells of cello lending emotional tones before seguing into the gem that is "Can't Let You Go."
Forrest O'Connor guests on "I Surrender," which opens with a soul-stirring Appalachian a cappella feel before breaking out into a barn burning acoustic jam, mandolin, guitar, and more raging forth with passion while "Braver Than We Think" pulls things back to a gentler, rolling listen with warm harmonies. "What It Is" picks up those sunny melodies and runs with them followed by "Balloon & Kite," two tracks that are playful but are among the few that fail to truly register here.
"Crossing the Line" returns to where the band really excels however, a strong acoustic arrangement providing the framework for Reynolds' voice to shine as "This Love of Ours" makes a case for the highlight song of the album with its powerful instrumentation and lyrics like, "Oh, take my heart when you leave/In the morning/Leave your love on the pillow/So I can love you/While you're gone." It's rich with emotion and makes the best of Reynolds and company. The goodness continues with the stark sounds of "I Didn't Know Who Else to Call," the band working a "less is more" approach that really works while they let it all hang out on the rock-inspired "Keep On Driving," ending things out with plenty of energy and leaving listeners chomping at the bit for more.
And that’s exactly what’s bound to happen after folks give The Miles Before Us a listen. The Hillary Reynolds Band shows here that they’re the real deal and deliver your money’s worth and more, crafting compelling Americana-flavored jams with authenticity and passion. And that’s a formula that will have you reaching for the “repeat” button time and time again.

Review: A Is For Atom - Song For You EP

The best source material for an artist clearly comes from real life and on his second EP under the moniker A is For Atom, New York transplant Mike Cykoski mines his personal experiences for five songs of bittersweet melancholy. While his first recording dealt with the pursuit of love and the deep desire for a relationship, Song For You deals with the other side of that equation, having loved and lost and learning to deal with the consequences. To accomplish this task, the artist draws deeply from the well of experience alongside some powerful literary allusions that work well in his intelligent indie rock digs.

Cykoski's no newcomer to the music world, having been part of a successful Denver band on the cusp of breaking big but, when those streams ran dry, he drew inspiration to pursue a solo career after auditioning for none other than Gavin DeGraw.
“That was the trigger on the path to becoming a solo artist,” Mike reveals. “I was in his apartment and he played many songs on the piano; they were all so good and he impressed me. It was right before he flew to LA to do the showcase that got him a record deal.”

Inspired by a passion for songwriting, Cykoski embarked on his own journey, taking classes at NYU and at Julliard, constantly learning and making the connections that would lead him in developing his own sound and musical signature. That sound has drawn him favorable comparisons to acts like The National and The Flaming Lips but it's still one that is very much his own. And on Song For You he continues to nurture it along, drawing together an eclectic soundscape to stand alongside his cerebral lyricism.
Song For You is undercut throughout with an element of pain, a bittersweet thread running throughout the five tracks even when the musical accompaniment suggests otherwise. "Load Up on Guns" gets things moving forward first, the bright, singalong composition contrasting with the almost militaristic and war-tinged lyric, Cykoski singing about the pain and loss felt through relationships. He brings in some interesting electronic elements to lend something unique while a persistent backbeat presses things forward.

The title track follows and is easily the most accessible and compelling of the bunch. Here Cykoski layers his solid vocal against a subtle backdrop, an almost jazz-influenced hit of guitar running throughout and helping to hammer home the power of the lyric. That lyric was inspired and drawn directly from the artist's life, being the last thing his ex-wife said to him, that he had never wrote a song for you. The poignancy of the lyric permeates the track and even when he employs some dissonant keyboard notes alongside, it rings true.
"Bombs Away" is a bit more upbeat, insistent guitar bridging the track through and through while the lyric builds upon the metaphor of an "all or nothing" approach to love, more war-themed imagery playing into the artist's songwriting. The melody is lighthearted but the lyric heavy as he sings, "War is hell," speaking of the difficulty of love and relationships, the guitar blazing a trail to emphasize the point. Such language carries along on "India" as well, inspired by the experiences of the artist's father and his work at a missile silo during the times of the Cold War. The pressures of the potential dangers and catastrophes inherent in such a position lend themselves powerfully to Cykoski's lament of love and loss, framed in a solid indie rock wrapping.

"The White Dress" is the artist's most cerebral track as he places himself in the shoes of Emily Dickinson's lover, attempting to pen letters back to the legendary poet. The arrangement, driven by piano and infused with flourishes of trumpet and more, is undercut with a sense of pain, the task of matching his lover's words clearly impossible but his task is driven ahead by that love in spite of the circumstances. Infused with plenty of literary references, this one is no doubt one of Cykoski's finer tracks on the EP.
Mike Cykoski's latest, Song For You, is a solid blend of creative instrumentation and solid songwriting. The EP's five songs draw from deep wells and present a somewhat sad but still hopeful look at love and life. And doing so with arrangements that continue to be interesting after the initial listen, Cykoski shows himself to be a force to be reckoned with and is hopefully a voice we'll be hearing from again soon.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: Matty Ride - Self-Titled EP

Summertime is once again upon us and that means it’s time to lock in some killer jams. You know what I’m talking about; they’re the kind of songs that are perfect for cruising to the beach, the top down, hair blowing, and the sun warm on your face as you soak up the rays and good times. And to that end, please allow me to introduce you to none other than up and coming artist Matty Ride and his self-titled debut EP.

Ride comes with a strong pedigree, being born in southern California while being raised in the heartland of Idaho before being invited to Music City, U.S.A. by none other than legendary producer and player Tommy Sims (Bruce Springsteen, Jonny Lang, Garth Brooks) to write and record. With Sims’ tutelage, Ride was exposed to a whole new side of Nashville, a side that would have a large impact on the budding artist.
“I was blown away by the level of musicianship I was exposed to,” he shares. “I was all at once inspired, humbled, and motivated. But I knew that if this was the type of music being created in Nashville, this was where I was meant to be.”
He took quickly to the town and the town took to him as well, seeing his already solid talent increase and grow, his name and work becoming more well known. It even garnered him the chance to work with blues star Jonny Lang, the two collaborating with Sims to pen the track “Breakin’ In” for Lang’s latest album.
But Ride was focused on his own music and his debut captures the man in a nutshell: fun loving, lighthearted, upbeat, and immensely talented.
“That Girl” opens the record up, a bright, danceable guitar groove leading the way while Ride steps into the track with rich, smooth vocals a sound that recalls touches of Maroon 5 and Dave Barnes. His delivery is solid throughout and the hook keeps the toes tapping before bridging into the danceable playfulness of “All Over Again.” Again, solid soul undergirds the proceedings with a chunky arrangement that are bright and breezy. “Come On and Dance” will have you doing just that, Ride tapping into his old school soul for some classic tones, thumping bass notes merging with a smooth and sunny keyboard fill while the artist croons out his lighthearted lyric.
But it’s “First Day of Summer” which really helps to make this a great summertime listen. With guest work from Beta and Fyutch, Ride delivers a track that is pure summer with shiny tones and a danceable arrangement. There’s a nostalgic element to the track, something which is reinforced even more on the music video which features a plethora of 80s related throwbacks from the “Back to the Future” DeLorean, Day-Glo colors, and a riffing guitarist who rocks a classic Stryper shirt. If it sounds like a lot of fun, that’s because it is and with his foils Beta and Fyutch providing a solid contrast, Ride works it like it’s his.

“Hold Me Closer” closes the EP out for Ride and again finds the artist digging deep into the past to showcase a silky soul ballad. The beat is perfectly gentle and the arrangement full of emotion and polished instrumentation as Ride delivers great lines like “I can hear the melody/But I can’t play the song/Once upon a time I knew the words/Nowadays I’m struggling/Just to sing a verse.” But, chances are, once Ride’s music has got its hooks into you, you won’t have any trouble singing along.
There’s a good reason that Matty Ride was tapped to come to Nashville to kickstart his young career and his debut EP showcases the solid talent and potential resting in the young artist. Smooth, polished, and ready for action, Ride takes listeners on a delightful romp through summer love and invites you to come along.

Review: Broken Quote - Foreshadowing Sunlight EP

Music represents many things to many people. For some, it’s a source of fun and partying. For others, music serves to fill in the gaps, pushing back the silence. For rising artist Broken Quote, music has been a lifesaver.

The Houston, Texas native took to music early on, taking to songwriting even before he could read a note or play an instrument, offering him a way to relate to and process the world around him.
“Music opened up a part of me I didn’t even know was there,” the artist shares. “It taught me lessons, comforted me, scared me, challenged me and brought focus to my life, helping me grow as a person. Writing music is how I process my experience."

He soon took to taking up instrument after instrument, learning to play by ear but it was when the artist was diagnosed with a chronic pain condition that threatened to sideline his musical journey. Yet, the artist dug deep and persevered and continued to expand his horizons, learning guitar, piano, synthesizer, sampling, and even steel drums while taking in the influential sounds of artists like Eyedea, Bjork, Radiohead, and Parliament Funkadelic, setting the stage for a diverse musical platform.
That’s a platform that Broken Quote puts to good use on his latest EP, Foreshadowing Sunlight. Here the artist taps into his pain alongside his inspiration and the result is something very dramatic. Playing like an ambient film study soundtrack, Foreshadowing Sunlight presents five experimental tracks that showcase a dark, moody soundscape that seems to resonate from the artist’s daily pain.

“Ghost Train” leads the EP off, programmed beats and an ethereal electronic filter laying the groundwork for gently sung vocals, the occasional twinges of sound that appear providing a sense of mystery along the way. Ambient sounds open “Late Night Ocean,” the slight distortion lending itself to thoughts of being underwater before being joined by some ambling percussion and the surprise sound of steel drums which tap out a bright rhythm that is juxtaposed against the music’s darker landscape.
Broken Quote taps into his piano skills for “Glass Ceiling,” opening with a restless note that merges into a dissonant backbeat and a trippy explosion of sound. Restless and energetic, the song threatens to come into form as something more conventional but then blasts out again into an experimental vibe complete with distorted electric guitar trilling its way through the track. Those elements subside a bit and the steel drums return on “Sparks Water the Seeds,” the artist continuing to show a unique ability with the instrument as he coaxes some compelling rhythms from them while album closer “Mispronounce” is the album’s most conventional track. Here, Broken Quote revisits his earlier lyric, singing around a subtle acoustic guitar embellished by some simple electrical elements that lend it a dreamy quality while his voice, honest and weary, gives it grounding.

Broken Quote’s life has been one of perseverance and hardship and that reflects in his music, especially here on Foreshadowing Sunlight. Yet, despite the darker tones of the artist’s sounds, there is beauty to be found here in the truth and authenticity through which it is delivered. Not an easy listen and definitely not Top 40 material but for those willing to explore and experiment, much like the artist himself, there is plenty good to be found here.