Brandon Chase is one of many young passionate country music artists struggling to make a name for himself in online music. According to his lyrics, he's a world traveler who loves hanging out in the city, but he still believes he's “Country Enough,” according to the song that shares the title with his latest EP.
Unfortunately, this hesitant approach to the material exposes the weaknesses of Chase's tracks. It's country enough all right... but not much more. His music consists primarily of stock pop country ballads crooning about how much he loves his girl, apple pie, capitalism and God.
While there's nothing wrong with liking any of those things – especially with ice cream – it seems a shame he's so quick to disregard the experiences he's gained while out of country. His songs hint at dealing with the struggle of living in two worlds at once, but fail to explore or learn from these problems.
Chase isn't without his virtues. He has movie star looks and charisma that bleeds through his photographs. His voice is clear and smooth, and possessing surprising depth and range when he chooses to deploy it. However, his reticence to really put his heart into his music holds it back. A few moments of real passion, such as his crooning at the end of She's My Kind of Country, hint at unrevealed potential still deep within Chase.
As things stand, Brandon Chase's future success may mostly hinge on his ability to project a unique voice as a country artist who can find more ways to talk about the trails and trials of a 21st Century southern boy. 'Til then his EP probably isn't worth your five bucks unless all you want is a quick fix of disposable country pop.
"This is no ordinary doo" sings Peter Galperin in his song Doggie Gift. Yes, he's talking shit in this ode to ruined shoes. Although Galperin tries valiantly to be ironic and bring profound to the prosaic on his album A Disposable Life, the aforementioned lyric turns out to be the most ironic of all. This is indeed some ordinary doo.
Galperin has a clean and precise singing voice, sometimes over-annunciating in a 70s pop kind of way. As a lyricist he is habitually flinging minor insights that come off as trite. His arrangements might be a hipster spoof on lounge lizardom, but strip away those pleasant vocals and you have the perfect background music for a travelogue video.
Between his earphones, Galperin convinces himself that he's channeling the Uh-Oh era David Byrne on his song Bubblewrap which is the best song on the album. But a few observational witticisms about everyone's favorite stress reliever, set over a marimba with harmonic build does not a Talking Head make. Byrne imbues banal subjects with angst and potentially explosive emotion, like he's one bubble-pop away from loosing it. Galperin sounds like he's writing for Cookie-Jar TV.
When the Sex Pistols sang the nihilistic No Future we felt a real crack in society. Galperin's take in There's No Future is pretty much one snarky comment after another, probably with sips of latte in between. It doesn't help that the rhythm section could be reproduced by a keyboard accompaniment button.
Peter Galperin is a clever guy who would prefer to be a quirky guy. Too smart for this. Unfortunately even his worthy attempts are crushed under the weight of this cheese wheel.
What do you get when you take smooth rasta jams and blend them with the hottest Miami sounds? Shifta.
Exploding onto the scene with a blend of styles that’s breaking out on dance floors worldwide, and with collaborations with world-class talent like Lil Wayne, Shifta could be one of the true out-of-nowhere surprises this year.
Hungover, featuring Lil Wayne, is a perfect place to start listening to the massive sound that Shifta is bringing with huge beats, grinding electronics, and sly lyrics. Lil Wayne contributes some rhymes, bouncing off of Shifta’s vocals to give extra depth as electro-dub effects wind around him. This music is as fresh as anything you’ll hear right now.
Feeling Nice takes the Miami hiphop music sound and brings it to a dub vibe, borrowing production notes from the likes of DJ Khaled and Rick Ross, but fusing it with a deep down ganja vibe. Shifta keeps the 420 flowing on Ganja Shop, a grooving little tune that sticks in the head about a shop where high-grade is all they got. He even brings in a bit of a middle eastern vibe, although the track goes on a bit long.
For the all-around standout in Shifta’s recent tunes, look to Holiday. The mix of Caribbean vibes, modern hip-hop, and outta-this-world beats come together for a song that begs for feet to stomp and heads to bob. With huge charisma, great musicianship, and a seriously hot new sound, Shifta is poised to bring big things to the Miami dance scene.
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Carla Bianco has spent the last few years almost achieving success. There are a host of bright points on her resume … a stint in RENT, vocals on a song for a major Disney movie, and an ASCAP award-by-proxy for a club cover of one of her songs that became a hit. Now, rather than waiting for success to come to her, she’s reaching out for it herself with her new album All This Time. She brings a lot to the table and perhaps it’s not surprising that personal growth and moving onwards are key themes in her music.
“Two months after transferring to NYU, I remembered someone telling me that Jellybean Benitez was always looking for new talent. He was a the producer that discovered Madonna. It was Spring break and I had no money to go anywhere. So I decided to find out where Jellybean’s office was and I waited outside for 3 days. I sat on a pipe on Broadway and 57th street.
I made friends with the Security Guard in the lobby. Claude was his name. He told me Jellybean usually came in around 11 and always wore a black suit and white tennis shoes. The third day came and this guy was bee-bopping down the street and smiles at me. I look at his shoes. White tennis shoes and then I see the black suit. I run in after him into the marble lobby and yell ‘Jellybean’. And it echoes and echoes... He turns around and I say, “Hi, my name is Carla Bianco. I’ve been waiting for you for 3 days. Can I have 10 minutes of your time so I can show you what I can do?” And he stares at me, and finally makes a gesture to come with him.
We go up in the elevator to his office and I sit at the piano and play a song I wrote. I give him my demo. And a week later he calls me to his office and offers me a publishing deal, a management deal, a production deal and for one of my songs to be on his next record. That’s how I broke into the music business. I guess growing up in Monaca, PA proved to be the motivation I needed to go after my dreams.”
Bianco performs very straightforward piano-led singer-songwriter material, although she’s often backed up by adult-contemporary or rock elements. Her experience shines through, with a wide range of delivery. Carla Bianco is the star of this show, and that’s the point.
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Words Are In The Way is one of the standouts of the album, a forward-reaching bit of mostly acoustic pop, lamenting the difficulty in communicating when meaning seems so uncertain. It starts out with a cute echoplex introduction before Bianco’s lilting voice comes in. There’s a great bit of patter part way through that works perfectly with the theme, making for a sweet surprise in the middle.
“At school, I looked for every avenue I could to sing like the occasional talent show or school musical. I remember specifically my health teacher in high school. I was talking to some friends telling them about wanting to move to NY and making it in music. And he overheard and said, “That would never happen, it’s a one in a million shot.” And I said, "Why can’t I be that one in a million?” I’d never been to New York before growing up. I honestly thought Broadway was a street paved in gold".
Bianco’s music reflects some of that naiveté and may at times border on being overly sweet, but she delves into the darker spaces as well. Can’t Call You Anymore is a soulful piece presenting a woman who’s been dumped and is facing the certainty of change with fear. Spare Window takes this one step further, starting out with sparse echo drenched production that feels almost like haunted house piano music, before slowly building to a bright finale as she appears to realize her dark omens may not be dark after all.
Bianco’s sound is polished, straightforward, and practically perfect for the adult-contemporary market. She also has some potential for pop crossover with her more upbeat pieces, especially Words Are In The Way. However, her traditionalism may also hold her back: Carla Bianco’s performance and appeal are subtle, and that type of goodness is often hard to get recognized.
She has a powerful voice and good songwriting skills, complete with evocative lyrics. Carla’s got it all, but might need a bit more razzle-dazzle to get herself noticed.
Dallas duo Fresh Linen wants to take hiphop in a new direction. Fresh Linen’s music isn’t simply hiphop, although it’s got the beats and the rhymes and you could dance to it. It’s a celebration of east coast music tradition going back to the 70s, thrown in a blender, and with some cutting-edge electronics thrown in for grins.
Their brand of psychedelic, rasta-influenced hiphop songwriting brings constant surprises. Few of their songs sound more than somewhat alike, although they’re linked in the duo’s cerebral lines as they weave around analog chip grooves and beats that seem to exist in a cavern, leaving electronic echoes in the distance.
It’s easy enough to get lost in the mind-expanding production to not even notice how catchy their hooks are!
This isn’t just music to listen to in a a smoky room, either. Fresh Linen treat their voices as instruments, bouncing off each other, doing complex overlays, and playing with the soundscape as they groove on through it. Then to switch things up they use a Halloween-like piano line to tie together fro grow, an epic ode to their hair.
From high-level trash talk to The Take Over, which brings the smooth and smokey 70s vibe to modern times with some sleazy sawtooths in the background. It runs on, perhaps, a tad too long, but they sing it with real soul.
While their particular style takes a moment to get used to, there’s a lot in Fresh Linen for a lot of people to enjoy. With sharp production, two great performers, clever lyrics, and a range of influences over the last 40 years across R&B, hiphop, and electronica, they’ve got a lot of appeal.
They’re currently unsigned, but hopefully not for long. With polish, they could be big.
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The Take Over is one of Fresh Linen's more introspective records to date. This breakthrough song was written by the Indiana duo as an ode to family lost and present as well as their clear intentions to rise in the music stratosphere. The repetitious hook doesn't lack. Although fueled with deep subject matter, the record remains melodic and easy to vibe to in its entirety. "A lot of feeling went into the recording of that joint" says Shaun Linen. It was written in the wake of Fresh's fathers passing. "It was a trying time, but I conjured up enough spirit to keep going. A lot of soul goes into this" says Fresh.
One of the best things about following music is that, every now and then, you discover there was a need for something you didn't even know existed. Case in point: Willie Ames.
Ames has exploded onto the scene in the last couple years, apparently trying to fuse Charlie Daniels, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Mark Knopfler into a new kind of Super-Folk. He may well be succeeding. He came out of nowhere four years ago, and is now poised to be a hit on multiple lists at once.
One of many remarkable things about Ames is that, for a man whose music is 90% about a guy and his banjo, it's rather hard to pin him down to one style.
Ames' banjo skills are superb, and frequently stunning. On solo-instrumental tracks, he gets multiple levels of polyphony going, at times keeping three or four lines running in parallel in neo-Baroque exercises. Yet he's just as comfortable about throwing some good down-home finger-picking, or launching into a progressive noodling stretch that would make Steve Howe smile.
The range of his songs, similarly, brings a lot more to the table than one might expect. “Night Owl” is a gritty, slightly sarcastic piece that would sound at home coming from the Drive-By Truckers. Then a few tracks later, “Dance With You” proves a very pretty and satisfying ballad with a hint of English twee... New English twee, anyway.
Ames' lyrics don't disappoint either, combining lyricism and poetic qualities from a dozen sources. “Neanderthal” stood out for me, painting a dark, subtle, and surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a character somewhat like the Beatles' Nowhere Man. On the other hand, his “Human Race” is performed in a nearly rap-like patter, in a track that aspires to be an anti-cynical anthem. His voice flows from gravel to groove as needed, effortlessly.
The non-acoustic tracks feature extremely tasteful, restrained production throughout. A tinkle of honky-tonk piano here, a little bit of echoplex there... it enhances the music in numerous subtle ways throughout, but without ever taking the focus away from Ames and his own performance.
Willie Ames is an amazing new talent begging to be heard, whose only flaw may be that his broad reach will confound marketers. If he can just get a toehold in the public ear, his potential is gigantic.
Ames talks about his experience touring - "The worst part was living out of my car while the best part was experiencing true freedom! From those dark and lonely nights without a shower I woke up knowing I had another exciting road trip ahead of me. To randomly discover the next big city or small town USA! I went where the wind took me and when I got there, I'd find some type of gigging situation.
"I'd perform my tunes for the good local folks and share copies of my original CD while receiving the unexpected joys of a place to stay. I'd sometimes find a sponsored or donated hotel room, and ultimately a shower! The greatest joy was when I realized I had reached all 48 mainland states, as well as Alaska and Hawaii, and that I had toured Canada and Australia as well. Then to wind up back home in southern California and receive several music awards, not only for my musicianship, but also for touring all 50 United States!
"I supported my travels directly from monies received from performance tips, paid gigs, and CD sales, which was a great joy in itself, truly earning it from the music and live performances! You can see I snapped a photo of myself next to all 50 State's welcome signs in the photo album titled "USA State Welcome Signs" at myspace.com/willieames.
If you loved post-grunge, you’ll have plenty of reason to love Sonic Cult. The crunchy rhythmic guitars, straight-up drum beats, catchy melodies, and yearning emotive vocals are all there.
After years of making a name for themselves on the New York live scene, Sonic Cult is getting ready to release their debut album. This blend of artists from four different countries produces a razor-focused, straight-up rock and pop sound that should immediately appeal to fans of alterno acts like the Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, or The Cardigans.
This familiarity is both their strongest selling point and potentially their biggest drawback. Upon first hearing Up and Up, one of their potential singles, my first thought was that it would have been perfectly at home on radio stations in the late ‘90s. The same holds true for much of their material.
Along with the straightforward guitars and drums one would expect from such a band, Sonic Cult adds subtle-but-effective layers of production, mostly involving spacey synthesizer lines and lush string arrangements. This combination of elements gives their music a rich, lyrical, almost orchestral quality. The string arrangements of Undefended are especially evocative, mixing just a hint of Kashmir with a bit of The Cure to create weight and space within the song.
Sonic Cult is led by Ben Lorentzen, with a voice that’s a reedy alto, strongly reminiscent of former Spock’s Beard frontman Neal Morse. Despite sounding slightly weak when he’s alone with the drums and guitar, his voice blends perfectly with the full arrangements and orchestrations of the band. When the full force of Sonic Cult’s sound rises behind him, the results become nearly transcendent.
Sonic Cult’s lyrics are surprisingly upbeat, bucking the trend towards pessimism in serious pop music these days. The entire theme of Up and Up is one of overcoming challenges in life, and similarly, Great Escape celebrates finding moments of happiness in a complex world.
This is comfort music, proudly packaged for a new age. They do a darn good job of it, but their roots most certainly do show. Sonic Cult can be easily recommended to all but the most cynical listeners, and when their album hits, it has the potential to be a true bombshell.
American music fans might not be familiar with Oliver Sean, but that's about to change. This international success and two-time MTV European Music Awards nominee is set to release a pack of new singles in the States, and they're going to open your ears.
Sean is Portuguese by birth, but grew up in Dubai as well as spending time in the UK, but his rock sensibilities are pure American. This worldwide influence shows itself in Sean's superlative collection of new tracks, which blend some of the best of good ol' fashioned rock-n-roll with subtle hints of world music elements to create an intoxicating new melange.
One thing that makes Oliver Sean special is the restraint with which he blends these elements together. Any rocker from the Beatles onwards can throw random sitars or Brazilian drums into a song for effect. In Sean's hands, they act as spice – punctuating moments, bringing them out, and then just as quickly segueing back to more traditional elements. There's a wonderful moment in his Latin-tinged power-lament Alone where for just a few bars, a Middle Eastern guitar comes in for a solo, before moving into a jazz transition that fades smoothly into an electric guitar solo that's pure 80s.
Oliver Sean also has a superlative voice for his songs, which he also writes himself. When he's pop, he has a clear, pure tone that reminds one of John Mayer or John Mellencamp. He's got a surprising amount of soul, though, and is constantly coming up with new vocal tricks to show off. His international hit So Good starts out with a Airoso bit of rhythmic patter that could have come off a Dire Straits single, but with modernized guitars and a hook on the chorus that's totally today.
The rule of the day for modern pop and rock seems to be plundering the past for inspiration and then repackaging it for a new audience. Far too often, bands risk losing their own identity under the weight of several generations. Sean, however, knows how to pick and choose just the right bits to pluck out, producing hugely entertaining pop that feels truly timeless.
If you need reassurance that good old guitar-led rock music isn't dead, Oliver Sean is exactly what you're looking for. When he hits the US shores, it means great things for American music fans.
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One of the most interesting things about the rise of the Internet indie artist is the ability for current talent to take bits and pieces from a dozen different genres and recombine them into something new and interesting. Duncan Daniels exploits this idea in most of his tracks, which run the gamut from rock, to pop, to techno, to chiptune, to alt-country, and with a strong hip-hop influence throughout. Often all in the same song. Blindly in Love exemplifies this by sounding like an alt-country track that got remixed, while being all original.
Duncan Daniels's latest track, Forever, is a pure rocker with just a whiff of country. Lyrically, it follows the standard lost love lamented format, with Daniels recognizing how he messed up his great romance and is now "crying forever, forever, forever, forever" because she's not coming back. However, while the lyrics may be fairly standard, the production and delivery are anything but.
On Forever, Daniels puts forward some of his most soulful delivery, ranging from a mournful near-whisper to big buildups full of passion. Like all great showmen, Daniels' phrasing and vocal embellishments allow his performance to rise above the subject matter without overplaying his hand or burying the lyrics.
Likewise, as with all his tracks, the production is both creative and nearly perfect. It begins with surprisingly heavy, almost industrial drum beats, but as it goes along, strings slowly get introduced. First, so softly you can barely hear them before eventually rising in the final rounds of the chorus to a huge climax, creating a feeling of suspended motion reminiscent of The Verge's classic Bitter Sweet Symphony.
Daniels rarely raps outright, although Superstar is a superb track that combines smoothly-flowing rhymes with production that subtly morphs from a Beastie Boys-like thumping into a full-on trance vibe as the track continues. It's a remarkable bit of creative production, and could send a jolt of creativity into the genre.
His trance\chiptune influence hits its peak in Like This, a strong dance track with quite well-orchestrated chiptune elements that add up to something that could have been at home on the soundtrack to Scott Pilgrim vs The World. The light, airy electronic elements sound like old-school Nobuo Uematsu, combined with great dance beats and a nice guest appearance by Nigerian star M.I
In Ready For Love, his tribute to finding The One For Him, he muses on how love will change his life; but his superfluous use of autotune gets in the way of an otherwise strong track with surprisingly creative production.
None the less, Duncan Daniels' music shows how fiercely unique and innovative indie internet artists can get. For those with wide tastes in music, Daniels can be a breath of fresh air, showing you can be innovative in your songwriting while still sticking closely enough to established tropes to reliably create crowd-pleasing hits.
Don't you miss the days when female pop artists could really show their stuff?
I mean, don't get me wrong, there are a lot of fabulously talented female pop acts today, but it seems like the production has begun to really overshadow the talent. Auto-tuning, especially, has made it difficult to tell the quality acts from the manufactured packages.
That's what made discovering Shara Strand such a wonderful experience. Shara Strand is a throwback to the glory days of the female singer-songwriter, a mix of great voices throughout history, updated with a modern sound that makes her fit in perfectly in the current dance-pop scene. Her new EP, “Born Tonight,” should turn the heads of anyone who thinks that modern pop is in danger of fizzling out.
Shara Strand turns a standard five-song EP into a dizzying display of her musical qualities by including live acoustic versions of the same songs, arranged into sets. Whether you want upbeat, electronic production (courtesy of hot producers D1 Music) or a purely acoustic live demonstration of Shara Strand's voice and keyboard skills, it delivers both in spades.
No matter which 'side' of the album you listen to, Shara Strand's voice is the star of the show. With influences ranging from country to Mariah Carey, she swoops through an amazing range of styles and tones, from the spiritual-tinged I Will Carry You to the outright dance number Jekyll Or Hyde. She's cherry-picked bits and pieces of many of the best female vocalists of the last few decades and combined them into a surprisingly complete package.
On the acoustic side, the standout is her cover of Roseanne Cash's Seven Year Ache, which she turns into a pitch-perfect pop-country lament that would could be a legitimate crossover hit, equally at home on both sides of the music coin. If anything, her voice is only improved by the changeover to acoustic recording. Much like when Lady Gaga drops the production and just sings; stripping away the gloss reveals that Shara Strand is the real deal.
The Internet has made it easy to get into music, and there are a lot of wannabe pop princesses on the field at the moment. Shara Strand reminds the listener that musicianship in the world of dance-pop is not dead, and she stands ready to make a serious impact on the pop music industry.
Cheating Daylight is an independent band made up solely of teenagers. Also worth noting is that the members of the band are two sets of brothers who have been making music together for years. Their music contains the positivity of feel-good bands like Blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World, but their spot-on style is perfect for today's sound. Songs like "Something Beautiful" and "Black and White" will have teenagers' headphones permanently attached to their ears.
Lead vocalist Kyle Crosson has a radio-friendly voice that sounds accessible but noteworthy at the same time. The music almost evokes a late 90's, early millennium feel when grunge was on its way out and music was starting to become re-energized. The songs are contagious and the sing along lyrics like "You can try to bring me down, and I'll be smiling all the way/You can't stop me now/You can throw me to the ground and I'll keep on anyway" will keep fans singing along to the band's hopeful message.
The romance of the music is atypical in today's alternative rock bands, which makes Cheating Daylight stand out. For fans that like it loud but also love a little sweetness in their lyrics, but with a more rocking sound, Cheating Daylight will hit the right notes. It's not political, it's not offensive, and it's not overtly serious; it's thoughtful lyrics backed up by music that sounds honest, raw, and real.
"All We Know" is a record that includes stellar styling from five talented young guys, and real lyrics that don't skimp on emotion. The range of talent and lyrics in the group is rare and refreshing from musicians so young. Cheating Daylight is like an amazing hit of something uniquely different and totally contagious to sing along to, and the guys can really play, too. The music is modern, without compromising on feeling. Cheating Daylight's take on rock is a head-bobbing, sing-along, melody driven yet simple and easy to understand guide to what it's like to be a teenager in today's world.