Music Emissions Latest 5 Star Reviews Feed This feed gives you the latest Albums receiving 5 stars reviewed on Music Emissions en-us 260 Music Emissions 79 60 <![CDATA[1. The Cry! - Dangerous Game Us Edition ]]> After the recent spate of articles and proclamations on rock music's health, or lack thereof, it's refreshing to hear a debut from young musicians revealing the lie behind that tired diagnosis with each chord. This American debut from Top Shelf Records, Dangerous Game, isn't setting out to remake the wheel, but it does look to reshape and reinvent. The Cry write and play like a band intent on pouring old wine into new bottles and reminding a new era exactly what five guys with guitars and attitude to burn are capable of.

The punk influence in "Smirk" is immediately apparent, but sailing that ship isn't a particularly impressive or audacious move alone. It is clear that they have a firm grasp on what this sort of music requires, but the truly impressive thing about The Cry's songwriting is its focus and melody. You can spin all the Ramones, Rancid, New York Dolls, et al, you please, but while it will certainly leave you familiar with the genre, it can't teach you melody and economy in songwriting. The band slashes through the song's changes but never cheats the listener. You won't miss the guitar solos, crazy fills, or vocal pyrotechnics heard from other outfits. Instead, The Cry plays "Smirk" with steady verve and zero self-indulgence.

"Discotheque" kicks off with perhaps the purest all-out rock and roll riff you'll hear in sometime. Though no one could label them a roots act, The Cry is taking things back to first principals. The image is there, the same preening youthful rebellion we've heard in countless other acts, but the melodies and riffs are at the bedrock for this band. "Hangin' Me Up" is five star pop punk with an irresistible tempo and energetic, careening guitars. "Waiting Around" initially kicks off as a retro-flavored light blues before the song turns into a forceful mid-tempo track. There's less melody here than heard elsewhere on the album, but The Cry show convincing rock and roll chops, particularly a rollicking guitar solo.

"Sleeping Alone" brings the band back to their melodic forte. The intense drum and bass duet starting the song draws you in like a thrilling movie opening. The intro is crucial in priming you for the show to come. However, the entire song has a confident stride and uncluttered songwriting that makes it an album highlight. The band slows things a notch with "Nowhere To Go" without any noticeable loss of energy. This song may be a variation on a well-worn theme, but that doesn't matter when the songwriting and playing harbor such urgency. Another side of The Cry emerges on "Last Thing That I Do" with the inclusion of acoustic guitars. However, the promise of a ballad soon fades as the music locks onto a stuttering, infectious groove spiked with biting guitar accompaniment.

The faint studio chatter and shuffling heard in the opening of "Modern Cinderella" is a great touch. The entire album has a very "live" feel, as if it were cut with all five members on the floor and banging out each song, so this added bit of sonic detail reinforces one of the album's strongest qualities. It wouldn't mean anything, however, if the songwriting didn't reach a high standard. This is a musically stylish and funny little rocker with personality to burn. Those last words are one of the keys to this band's success. The music is there, the songwriting has ruthless focus, and the vocals are seamless, but there's more. Full-blown rock star charisma leaps out at you from the first song on and utilizes everything in its arsenal to win over the listener. With Dangerous Game, The Cry succeeds. Spectacularly.

<![CDATA[2. George Ezra - Budapest ]]> George Ezra Barnett has an amazing voice. 

When I heard his "Budapest" for the first time here in Italy in February I couldn't believe my eyes: I thought the singer would have been a grown Afro-American man and I found out that was a young British boy, born in 1993.
He's completely obsessed with Bob Dylan and you could tell, just listening to his songs: he seek out earlier American folk and blues artists... now you can understand why I thought he was totally different, don't you?
"Budapest" is a catchy song that could have been written also some years ago: it reminds of the ancient blues atmospheres, when the musicians were used to improvise their music, creating incredible songs without knowing very well where they were about to go.
Wikipedia tells us that "the song was co-written by Ezra with Joel Pott and produced by Cam Blackwood. The single was released on Columbia Records and distributed by Sony Music, and peaked at number three on the UK Singles Chart. "Budapest" has also been a major hit for Ezra in Austria and New Zealand, topping the charts in both countries, while additionally reaching the top ten in multiple other countries, including Australia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, and Switzerland."
In "Budapest" you can find an amazing mix of blues, folk and rock that will make you wanna listen to it always one more time... clapping your hands and shaking your head to its rhythm.  
<![CDATA[3. Goste - Eugene ]]>  Brooklyn native goste's second EP, Eugene, solidifies the promise shown by the multi-instrumentalist and composer on his first release, 2013's EP Deleted Scenes. His approach has few precedents in the electronic genre - rather than embracing sampled passages as the anchor of his material, goste is unafraid to place his own surprisingly soulful vocals out front. Moreover, his subject matter reaches far beyond the traditional limits of electronica. This relatively fresh take on the genre smacks of the visionary. Any form destined to last needs mavericks who arrive on the scene determined to stretch its parameters and take the audience with them. Each of the six songs on this release testifies to goste's talent and ambition.

 "Hold On, Let Go" visits standard subject matter for any song in popular music - lost love and the ensuing grief. Perhaps this sort of fare in songs seems trite to some. How can yet another variation on this moldering chestnut have any meaningful impact? Clichés are quite real and can cripple a work of art, but goste avoids their drawbacks with his literate writing and the husky, emotive power in his voice. The electronic backing, interspersed with slivers of acoustic guitar, is an unique synthesis of modern and retro sensibilities. When goste sings, "You're the reason I don't sleep at night", it serves notice that "Loaded Like A Pistol" will reach a place the fine preceding track did find. The moody backing has a minimalist slant never cluttering the mix and strong percussion. This song doesn't play so much like the electronic music goste is renowned for, but instead sounds like layered, highly sophisticated pop with a distinctly theatrical sensibility.

 Hazy acoustic guitar strumming opens the first few seconds of "Omar's Ghost" before forceful drumming switches the song's gears. As with the preceding tune, "Omar's Ghost" never impresses itself on me as an electronic tune. This song moves more in the direction of outright rock music, if anything, and succeeds magnificently in that arena. There is a relaxed swing in the drumming while still flashing enough strength to push the song towards its conclusion. "Single File" finds goste moving back to traditionally electronic territory while stamping it with his own point of view. The socially conscious lyrics are biting and goste's vocal embodies every bit of their visceral fury without ever falling into parody. "Volcanoes (Slow Fade)" has a stronger experimental edge than the preceding numbers. On initial listen, the track may sound disjointed or unsettled, but the song's structure quickly reveals itself to attentive listeners. The illusion of a song dissolving into chaos is one of goste's greatest achievements with this composition. When things seem on the verge of breaking down completely, the music reconstitutes itself and takes another interesting turn.

 Fuzzy, languid guitar kicks off the post-modernist blues "Won't Be Long". goste demonstrates intimate familiarity with the genre's countless tropes, but more importantly, the music has that same sure hand guiding the song. It is a ragged blues, intentionally so, and goste's weary vocal is perhaps his best on the album. This is a powerful closer to a focused, startling work of imagination. There are no limits or boundaries for artists like goste and Eugene is the final evidence listeners will need that the probable next step for goste, a full-length work, will be the realization of his enormous potential.

<![CDATA[4. Mark Lanegan - Phantom Radio ]]>

 Mark Lanegan's new release from Vagrant Records, Phantom Radio, isn't a "grower". The album's ten tracks sounded full of invention and atmosphere from the first listen. An unified work surging with surefooted lyrical and musical instincts, it specializes in riveting juxtapositions. Lanegan's withered, quasi-prophetic bluesy slur crossed with the keyboard-laden arrangements gives the songs a surreal, hallucinatory air. The "close" production helps accentuate a claustrophobic tightness in the band's presentation. This music abrades and washes over listeners while Lanegan's doomy rasp whispers in your ear.


"Harvest Home" is a pulsing, relentless opener. The duet between the guitar and Jack Irons' persistent backbeat doubles down on the choruses, but otherwise the song never crescendos. Instead, it sustains a bubbling energy from the first note to last. Lanegan's lyrics are suggestive without ever weighing things down with too much prosaic detail; multiple passes through this song left me with the same abiding impression. I kept imagining it as an abandoned lover or husband, sleepless, pacing the floors. His wife and children are gone. The idea of reaping a harvest and a home seems vague, indistinct - until Lanegan sings it here.


"Judgment Time" has a spare, haunting air that doesn't soon leave the memory. Lanegan employs religious imagery to excellent use in depicting a fallen world and his role as a witness to its descent. His voice is a rather miraculous instrument. For years, I'd hear it and think, no one is really supposed to like this. His range is narrow and contracting with each year. He slurs when he should enunciate and sometimes elongates lyrics in ways no professionally trained singer does. There are cracks running the length of his voice that give everything a distinctly raw edge. That's the point, however, and I'm always thankful for it. This vocal communicates - any blurriness in the lyrical content is clarified in the rough-hewn emotion that surrounds every phrase. The minimalist accompaniment is cloud-like, a wisp of sound briefly coalescing around Lanegan's performance, and serves the song.


The juxtapositions mentioned earlier are prominent in "Floor of the Ocean". Over what bravely veers close to pure pop, Lanegan delivers one of the album's richest lyrics with breathtakingly sensitive phrasing. The band isn't spinning gold from straw however. The layered backing isn't a hodgepodge of pop tropes redeemed by a strong vocal. This is dense, nearly orchestrated music crafted to frame the true center of the song - its singer. "The Killing Season" features another dark lyric rich in detail, but ultimately enigmatic. Lanegan clearly works from a tradition inviting the listener to discover their own meanings if they wish while never revealing much of the song's inciting incident. Once again, Lanegan's band plays subtle, atmospheric backing for the singer while he offers up a work reminiscent, in some ways, of similar efforts from Leonard Cohen.


Those juxtapositions continue with "Seventh Day". It has a stronger vocal melody than other tracks and its seemingly carefree delivery is in stark contrast with its content and throbbing, yet inviting, backing. Once again, the music is geared towards serving the song. There are no solo spots, no flashy percussion, or gaudy keyboard sheen. The sophisticated pop backing, Lanegan's playful singing, and another lyric heavy with ambiguous detail helps make this another memorable outing. "I Am The Wolf" fades into view on a cloud of sensitive acoustic guitar. This is another of the album's strongest lyrics as Lanegan casts himself in the role of "wolf" with dramatic depth and moments of genuine poetry. A lot of late nights leap to memory when I listen to Lanegan and this song is no different. His spectral moan and the spare accompaniment play like the gloom falling hours before a late night suicide.


"Torn Red Heart" briefly flirts with self-pity, but never repelled me. Instead, I feel lines like "You don't love me/what's to love anyway" suggest unguarded moments Lanegan lets stand and ranks among the album's most vulnerable moments. It doesn't matter if the vulnerability is sincere or artifice for the song. The music incorporates synth horns that darken while adding melodic depth. A rare guitar solo near the song's end is another highlight. Synths and even Mellotron appear in the musically inventive "Waltzing in Blue". The band weaves an ethereal swell from its array of electronic threads, but Lanegan's vocal is, as ever, the central instrument. This is even more clearly the case in the penultimate track, "The Wild People". This pseudo-Bohemian paean to spiritual cousins of Jack Kerouac's "mad ones" reminds me of a Sam Peckinpah western where the flawed hero carries enormous guilt for a dissolute past. The music takes a more traditional approach than many of the preceding songs but, like every song on this album, the addition of strings is a surprising touch that further enriches the song.


The Sam Peckinpah reference is probably much more appropriate, however, for the album's closer. "Death Trip To Tulsa" This pulsing journey through an American Grand Guignol of horror smacks of a drug binge gone awry - everything has dissolved into murk and even Lanegan's voice, immersed in digital effects, sounds glazed-over and desensitized to the song's subject matter. The musical backing approximates the lyrical content. It moves deliberately and its persistent pulse, buried under layers of electronic wash, takes on a hallucinatory air by the song's conclusion.

Without question, this one of the year's best albums. Lanegan is one of the finest writers working in popular music today for two important reasons - his near-complete command over his craft and his unerring sense for strong collaborators. These two attributes make the recent years of stylistic experimentation not merely possible, but compelling. Phantom Radio is, as the saying goes, "all killer, no filler" and Lanegan's best work to date.

<![CDATA[5. Only Ones - Another Girl Another Planet / As My Wife Says ]]> If I had to answer the question, "what is the greatest pop song of all time?" in truth my answer would have to be this one. "Another Girl Another Planet" may have been a drug song from the repertoire of drug songs from the addled mind of Peter Perrett, but there is no denying this song's quality. That melody sticks in your head after one listen; after three you can recite the words off-by-heart; after five you can even do it in Peter Perrett's nasally whine. If I could play a guitar I could probably play the whole thing with my eyes closed by now, so many times have I heard it.

This is simply pure pop pleasure. From the moment the bass and rhythm guitars start rolling to that opening verse, you know you are in for something special. Throw in some drum work made classy by its simplicity, and then break it up in the middle with a wonderfully clever guitar solo which will have you twitching your legs across a floor, and you know it lives up to all its promise. Yes, this is the perfect pop song. Don't take my word for it, just go out and get your hands on it and enjoy.

<![CDATA[6. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - Tears Of A Clown ]]> There are times when a song just fits the bill almost to perfection. Maybe it is the moment, or maybe it is the way you feel about things generally, but after you have heard it you can hear no wrong against it. "Tears of a Clown"is one song which this description fits precisely. I can't pinpoint when I first heard it (it would have been a long time ago) but once heard, this is a song which is always in your heart and never forgotten.

Like a lot of the great Motown classics, it is just so simple. Yet the clever lyrics express the sentiments exactly. Empathy is an under-rated quality in lyrics, but there is no doubt that this song evokes an empathic response from the moment Smokey starts to sing. You just know what he is going through, even if you have never been there yourself, you understand and you feel his pain.

I have always been drawn closest to those songs which provoke an emotional response in me. That is why I will always be drawn to songs such as this. This song is the perfect example of its kind, and fully deserves all the plaudits it gets.

<![CDATA[7. B-Movie - Remembrance Day/institution Walls ]]> One of the finest tracks ever recorded, B-Movie's "Remembrance Day" remains a stunning example of post punk perfection. Instantly recognisable by that sharp synthesiser sound and backed up with the chopping guitars and the soaring vocals, this 1981 release deserved far more fame and recognition than it ever got. It was later reissued in an extended and remixed form which was not half as good, lacking as it did, the almost painful immediacy of the original. Other versions which turned up on albums and compilations later also lacked the spark of this original. B-Movie never did anything any better than this. It still finds time on my turntable even after 30 years. It is, when all is said and done, a quite amazing record.

<![CDATA[8. Modern Eon - Child's Play / Visionary ]]> Modern Eon were a post-punk outfit who produced one underrated album and then passed into the oblivion which was to prove to be the final resting palce of so many of their contemporaries. Yet of their small corpus of tracks, "Child's Play" stands head and shoulders above the rest as one of the greatest unheralded post punk tracks of all time. In my view, "Child's Play"was a masterpiece of musical construction. Plaintiff, childlike vocals, a ripping sax solo, and just listen to those cascading guitars in the background, this track had it all.

Hailing from Liverpool, Modern Eon brought with them a long pop-music tradition. After initial highly praiseworthy reviews from the critics for "Child's Play", the band could have expected much better. Yet it was destined to fail. As usual, with the radio only playing mainstream crap they were bribed to play by the record companies, this song was never going to get a look in. It was played on a couple of late night shows where I picked it up, but nothing more than that. If ever there was a case for the dismantling and deregulation of the content of the mainstream radio, the failure of this track to become a hit is all the proof you need.

<![CDATA[9. Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead/boys ]]> Way ahead of its time, I feel it has suffered somewhat through being associated with the founding of the Goth craze. Bauhaus were (initially at least) not Goths but post punks. As such, I am pretty certain they did not intend to have this track linked so inextricably with the gloomy despondency of Goth-kids. Nonetheless, when it became so, they abandoned themselves to Gothicism, something to which Peter Murphy was ably suited.

The song has a dual edge. It is almost tongue in cheek in that it deliberately mixes the real Bela Lugosi from the characters he played on screen. Peter Murphy's voice rises to an eerie wail as he chants the refrain -

"Bela's undead"

It is clever and amusing and played with just the right amount of doom and gloom. But it remains, even all these years later, an excellent single. And despite being over nine minutes long, it does not in any way drag at all.

<![CDATA[10. Casely And The Jank - Gentrified: The Collection 2014 ]]> It was easy, once upon a time, to believe pop music couldn't carry adult concepts and subject matter. Pop specialized in "billboard" music, complex emotions often simplified to absurdity, and placed little premium on musical subtleties. Growing up, however, gives those listeners license to appreciate duos like Casely and the Jank as viable artistic forces rather than self-righteously disdaining anything that, god forbid, has a danceable beat. Like the similarly titled Brick: The Collection 2014, Gentrified offers ample evidence why the music these two men are recording deserves worldwide hearing. Rarely has a musical unit managed to strike such an even balance between the melodic and cerebral. Little is laid out explicitly. However, Casey and the Jank engage the listener's imaginations with their evocative textures and thoughtful lyrics.

"Stomp Your Feet" is a tightly constructed opener with stripped down musical backing. It leaves space for audio clips underpinning the track. Various speakers reflect on the need for music, art, and songwriting in brief quotes. Casey and the Jank position the clips well against the vocal and add another sonic texture into the mix. The second song, "Life Is A Cycle", admirably communicates fundamental truths without the baggage of weighty texts and sets them in an appealing musical context. Another upper-register vocal masterfully phrases over the throbbing tempo and cuts through the mix like quicksilver. "People" has a light funk edge and fuses an assortment of disparate styles to superb effect. It is breathtaking to hear Casely move effortless from his strong falsetto into coolly confident, fluid rapping.

Casely demonstrates more of his ample vocal chops on "Don't You Leave". The lyric explores familiar territory, but Casely invests the experience with a resonant sensitivity that reaches far beyond cliché. Superb vocal arrangements drive many of the songs on Gentrified and "Stand" is no exception. A simple backbeat, discreet keyboard sheen, and spare melody are the foundation for the vocal's gentle exhortation. There isn't a hint of histrionics or imitation. Like many other songs on this album and its companion piece, Casely and the Jank have no clear antecedents. The style and uncluttered sophistication they bring to their unique fusion of varied musical elements is continually impressive. "Grind" is the album's first full-on foray into hook-laden pop music with its percolating tempo and memorable refrain.  "Hey Girl" is an intimate, acoustic-driven piece played as a duo. The deft rhythm playing and vocal play off against each other well and the song's positive message touches on shared experiences in an artful way.

The strong emotion and fragile intimacy in "Love Me" will leave a mark on all but the most jaded listener. As the preceding track avoided the theatrics common to love songs of this strain, "Love Me" does the same and its lyrics will ring true with many. Many of the lyrics in this collection are literate without ever slipping into obscurity and brim with wisdom, compassion, and bravery. "Love Me" is one of those songs. "The Blame Game" is another track with overt pop leanings, but the duo never makes these choices at the expense of their artistry. "She's Money Hungry" has a certain amount of sly, rueful humor and a nod to the blues that never seems tired or forced. There's a light funk edge returning in "Feels So Good" that works with its appealing message to create more stylish, uniquely conceived pop song. None of the preceding tracks belongs to a single genre and "Feels Good To Me" is no exception. There is a strong sense of craft detectable throughout every minute that distinguishes it from the empty formulas passed off as exciting new music. The album's final song, "We're Living The Life", is an appropriately exultant finale that pulses with inexhaustible energy. An appealing Latin flavor fuels the songwriting, particularly the percussion, and the inclusion adds immeasurably to the tune.

The album concludes with a spoken word piece entitled "Epilogue". Acoustic guitar augments this brief bit of musical theater bookending the album and imparting a satisfying sense of unity. The spoken word text accompanying the guitar eloquently restates the duo's artistic vision without ever coming off as heavy-handed or pretentious. This is key to the duo's success. Despite the breadth of their ambition, Casely and the Jank never use a sledgehammer when a chisel suffices. Their rare discernment as performers and songwriters bodes well for their work to come.

<![CDATA[11. Casely And The Jank - Brick: The Collection 2014 ]]> Ambition. Unless your ambition is to enrich your bank accounts and those around you, the entertainment industry frowns upon it. The arbiters of public taste will tell you that certain formulas are proven draws in music, movies, books, and television. The purchasing public doesn't care one iota to see or hear anyone work out private neuroses as performance and cares even less for artistic exploration. Offer them something comprehensible, clichéd, and visually appealing and they can sell it. Casely and the Jank, fortunately, are resisting those forces and the result of their persistence and ambition, Brick: The Collection 2014, is more evidence for the merits pursuing your vision.

The first track on the release, "Rage With The Machine", immediately introduces novice listeners to an essential component in their approach. This vivid synthesis of electronica, blues, hip-hop, and rock is steadied by subtle percussion. Despite its obvious musical merits, it is clear this is intended as an introductory piece to the album, but I must admit mild disappointment with the text for the spoken vocal. From a songwriting point of view, it is a strength that Casely and the Jank possess structural inclinations like opening a thematically unified work with a bit of necessary scene setting. However, the combination of the text and its delivery flexed too much muscle when it needed to relax.

"Tonight" is stylish hip-hop played straight with evocative rhymes full of late night parties in the city. The appealing groove is further sweetened by the backing vocals. The album takes a complete 180-degree turn with the next song. "I Am" is built around acoustic guitar and, I'm willing to guess, began life on that instrument. However, Casely and the Jank once again live up to their ambition with this unique confection. Various instruments are laid over a minimalist backbeat and a furious guitar solo even punches its way through the pop trappings a little past the halfway point.

The sharp funk edge on "With You" is somewhat reminiscent of Prince in his Dirty Mind period tinged with Michael Jackson's vocal showmanship. An atmosphere of breathy yearning pervades the song that gives it unexpected intimacy - it sounds like it is close to you, warm, and quickening your breath. "Shame On Me" is a highlight with another intimate, sensitively phrased vocal. Perhaps the most impressive quality of these cuts is how sturdy, even unified, these songs are despite their nods to a cross-section of genres. One of the things giving this omnivore-like command of musical voices added spark is the personal narrative point of view. It doesn't matter if there's a shred of autobiographical truth in it for the performer. The emotive theatricality of the vocal is well tuned with the moment, used as a chisel instead of a sledgehammer.

"Dressa" is driven, in equal parts, by its wonderful melodies and infectious tempo. However, it does mark another moment when I wish Casely and the Jank employed live drums on a track for the added firepower. The percussion track creates a strong counter melody of its own and, like many of the preceding songs, is the foundation for everything. The duo's strength for arranging is apparent throughout Brick and this is no exception. The final track, "Confrontation", is a gentle acoustic based number belying the implications of its title and built around an elegantly simple, looping guitar pattern.

Casely and the Jank are far from content with the idea they have to bottle their vision and sell it alongside the dross choking our modern marketplace. They don't have to say it outright. Instead, they communicate it with a restlessly creative vision respecting no arbitrary boundaries and exhilarated by the freedom to explore and recast universal truths in startlingly inventive arrangements. This is a supremely talented duo with no appreciable limits to their potential.

<![CDATA[12. New Order - Ceremony / In A Lonely Place ]]> Shortly after Ian Curtis's suicide and with little material of their own to release, New Order put out this Joy Division cover. The sound is still reminiscent of Joy Division and the band had not yet adopted a style of their own. The result is probably one of their finest singles. What makes it even more impressive is that the B-Side is even better. Though they later hit the highlights with "Blue Monday", they never really got much better than this, and the further they drifted from their post punk roots the more of an anonymous outfit they gradually became.

What I will say is that this is a fantastic single, and in my view the B-Side, "In A Lonely Place", is probably one of the best B-Sides ever produced. Rating: 10/10

<![CDATA[13. Cold Blue Water - Cold Blue Water ]]>

Cold Blue Water's self-titled EP is a gritty shot of music you rarely hear much anymore. This retro-aimed blues outfit plays in two distinct configurations. The first is a four-piece approach with guitarist Andy Bs pulling double duty as vocalist and Hammond B3 players Brian Swislow and Mike Finnigan. This lineup has chops and soul to burn. Their emotive approach to blues music eschews flash in favor of feeling. Brass players Don Hammerstedt, Russ Thallheimer, and Keith Mckelley on trumpet, sax, and trombone respectively also augment the band. This setup finds the band veering into a sleek, modern take on a sound popularly defined first by Stax Studios.


The first cut on the release, "Catfish Blooz", further establishes a rich vein running through the album - modern interpretations of traditional blues themes. The title and significant portions of the guitar playing echo the blues classic, "Catfish Blues", made famous by Muddy Waters and subsequently covered by Jimi Hendrix and Canned Heat, among others. Andy Bs' guitar sound is warm and Bs' rich, resonant vibrato further elevates his strong lead work. His vocals lack some of the requisite grit in a song like this, but he is a strong singer with capable phrasing.


The listener's first sample of the band's expanded lineup comes with "Da Doodle", a lively jazz-inflected "jump blues" with more scintillating guitar work from Andy Bs anchored by the rhythm section's skilled and steady hand. "So High" is a slow blues crawl essentially providing a forum for an extended guitar/organ workout. Mike Finnigan's Hammond playing bubbles, slashes across the song, and brims over with vivid originality. "Led Boots" is virtuosic in its quick-footed ability to careen from one musical theme to another and the band shines collectively and individually. Drummer Ty Dennis is a tight timekeeper for Andy Bs' muscular blasts and seamless rhythm work while bassist Brad Cummings answers the guitarist with low frequency salvos. A highlight of the release and, arguably, its finest moment.


The final song, "Blue Rain", is another top shelf instrumental that shows off the band's mastery of the form. Their free-ranging creativity is reminiscent of the Allman Brothers Band at their artistic zenith, but Cold Blue Water is far from imitative. They turn these echoes to their own uses, like the release as a whole, by striking such a rare, even balance between blues and jazz influences. This skill and their songwriting talents leave little doubt that a full-length release from the band will be an important album.

<![CDATA[14. Leonino - Naked Tunes ]]> Naked Tunes is the latest offering from Leonino, Chilean legend Jorge González's latest project, and a glistening ten-song collection. The musical imagination, sensitivity, and lyrical skill defining every track will impress any serious fan of sophisticated songwriting. Tedious labels like world music do not apply here. Leonino's unorthodox approach is not the product of some alien sensibility without a reference point in mainstream culture. Instead, the songs here are the result of vision translated into form, synthesizing its influences into a distinct and assured voice.

"I Think We Should Be Friends" is a playful, upbeat plea with a beaming pop sheen. It has a warm strut that, initially, sounds a little stiff, but a dazzling array of instrumental touches fleshes out the track. The subtle, achingly intimate "Don't Change Your Mind" is full of such genuine, quivering vulnerability that you may feel like turning your eyes away from a private scene. The backing vocals reinforce the quasi-hymnal quality in "My Time Is Gonna Come", but the band never plays it as an overwrought roof-raiser. Instead, the song moves with a surprisingly slinky grace. "My Love Will Set You Free" is such a perfect follow-up, its first line dovetailing neatly into the concerns of the preceding song. This deceptively simple bit of sequencing is satisfying and ranks as one of the album's most lyrical moments.

A steady pulse dominates "Not A Sound". The pulse morphs throughout the song, beginning as a strictly acoustic thud before phasing into a jagged buzz. The song's foundation is acoustic, but González enriches the relatively minimalist core with backing vocals and other subtle instrumentation. "How Many Times Did You Save My Soul?" has a rather unwieldy title, but it clearly points to González's laudable dedication to his art. The song certainly suggests a personal interpretation is appropriate, but that's a fool's game to pursue much. Instead, it echoes the level of intimacy encountered in "Don't Change Your Mind" while incorporating aspects of the hymnal in much more pronounced way than in "My Time Is Gonna Come". The vocal arrangement on "It Wasn't Meant To Be" is another highlight on the album. The call and response between the choral voices and González's half-whispered ruminations is memorable.

The simple, beautiful guitar melody opening "After the Big War" sweeps the listener into this misty, fragile track. Another superb vocal arrangement carries the day, but the song has numerous strengths. One cannot help but admire how there is such a seamless fusion of traditional elements with a modern presentation. "Down By the River" accomplishes the same feat with droning backing vocals adding an experimental flavor. Naked Tunes concludes with "There Is a Light", a glorious closer with beautiful vocals redeeming suggestive, but unfortunately obscure, lyrics. It is largely a cappella and the addition of piano a little more than a minute in deepens the musical experience. Even with its occasionally vague lyrical content, much of the song is moving and evocative.

Leonino is a rich artistic experience with cross genre appeal. This isn't a work aiming to acquire a tidy label. It is a living expression of one man's hopes, fears, and experience. No one ever had a shelf or category for albums like this and we're a better world for it.

<![CDATA[15. Vok - Tension ]]>  Icelandic trio Vök's EP from Record Records, Tension, is an once-in-a-lifetime encounter. This isn't an evaluation of talent, but instead, listening to thirty seconds of the music convinced me I have never heard anything like it before and never will again. Popular music is a graveyard of tired tropes and formulas still propped up today because, with the right beat or melody, those well-established tales of love, woe, and lust resonate with our lives and fatten bank accounts. You live with it. What you live for, however, are bands that perform with passion and couldn't sound like anyone else if they tried.

 The distinguishing musical feature of the collection is apparent on the first track, "Við vökum" (The Makers), where Vök accomplishes a seemingly effortless fusion of high pop and electronica. Threading the often cold, disaffected voice of the latter with strong and direct melodies produces compelling results - rather than posing two modes with distinctly different aims against one another and creating from the resulting tension, Vök uses the electronic elements as a fragmented, digitized orchestra reinforcing the melodic content.

 "Before" is the result of focused songwriting and stylish sophistication, but vocalist Margrét Rán shines brighter. Her astonishing range coupled with a sharp instinct for emotive phrasing contrasts dramatically with the minimalist backing. The title track, "Tension", is an excellent meditation on thwarted passions refusing to fade. By structuring the tune to alternate between musical moods of distinctly different shades, Vök shows off an understanding of dynamics usually heard in talented rock bands. The simplest of song dynamics, however, require compelling musical passages to work. The chorus for "Tension" darkens noticeably into a brief, clanging march perfectly embodying the song title.

 "Ég bíð þín" (I'll Wait For You) is a languid piece with the same fragile, half-sketched out melodic approach heard in the opener. This has a more insistent rhythmic pulse unpinning the light instrumental touch. Tension closes with "Á ný" (Again), a slowly unfolding tune that plays into the album's established strengths. Songs like this accrete their effects; overtime, the minimalist approach impresses a mood on the listener's mind that unifies the experience and each bar, chord change, and brief instrumental break become colors in a larger whole.

 If you value challenging music that will likely prompt you to rethink your ideas about pop music's potential, Vök is a band for you. There are emotional, focused, intelligent, and compose with an artistic maturity beyond their years.

<![CDATA[16. Great Escape - The Great Escape ]]> Take a little bit of that incredible atmosphere you can find in the music that made Jimi Hendrix immortal; take a little bit of the amazing Adele's melodies that made her known worldwide; add the hypnotic Janis Joplin's attitude towards lyrics and music... and just a pinch of The Dead Weather, the Beatles, The Black Keys, the Stones and Jack White, just in case.

Shake everything with total commitment, authenticity, great talent, undeniable creativity and baffling spontaneousness: you will obtain The Great Escape's debut self-titled album.

Nine tracks that will lead you in the greatness of the West Coast's most talented heart: it's amazing to know that Kristian Nord (drums and production) and Malte Hagemeister (guitars and production), are originally from Hamburg, Germany, while the voice that will conquer you belongs to Amie Miriello, from Connecticut.

How did they meet and decide to create this indie band? Reading their bio you can find out that “the three L.A. transplants quickly realized they had a shared vision: together, they wanted to create an update to that 60s, 70s sound when rock and pop music was still raw and unpolished”.

After the first listening you can perfectly guess which atmosphere they wanted to create, without needing to read any further information.

While listening to tracks like “
It's Getting Better”, “Rebel”, “I Just Can't Help Myself”, “I Want It All” or “Let's Go” it feels like we could travel back to the 60s just with a song (or two!). It's such a powerful sensation that you will need to listen to the entire album more than three times in a rush to be fully satisfied and in the right mood for a dance to the grooving rhythms. you will find in tracks like “Put It On Ice”, “All I Think About”, “The Secret Song” or “Don't Wake Me Up”.

Just three more words: don't miss it!

<![CDATA[17. Patrick Joseph - Moon King ]]>

Pittsburgh native Patrick Joseph's second full-length release, Moon King, finds the singer/songwriter honing his considerable composing chops to a gleaming edge. The songs benefit from evocative production that enhances, rather than overwhelming, the music. Distinct pop sensibilities pervade the material and strike a strong contrast with Joseph's weathered, vulnerable baritone.


There is a muted, genteel despair threading through the album tempered by Joseph's melodic talents. The balance is apparent on the opening track, "Bound to Break", a simmering confection that rides an abbreviated piano riff and dynamic vocal to memorable effect. "Piece of Your Love" is a brisk shuffle with light production touches that imbue the track with an added dramatic quality. "Foot in the Door" is the superb title track from his last EP release and stands out here as well for its sturdy construction, sharp lyrical content, and superbly phrased vocal. The bridge concludes with a wonderfully understated crescendo followed by a strong guitar solo.


"Setting Sun" is a quavering, atmospheric pop-folk track anchored by a threadbare tapestry of guitars, piano, and ghostly percussion. Joseph's sense of humor appears with the rollicking "Better Off Alone", a song full of smirking lyric clues scattered throughout gently poking fun at the subject matter. The languid jazz stylings present on "Such a Long Time" are another highpoint of the album and illustrate one of Joseph's essential strengths. His musical choices are such that they are always running the risk of affectation, but the honesty in his songwriting and the surprising maturity of his singing nullify any potential pretension.


"Pale Skin" has a cluttered, appealing alt-rock vibe with its busy percussion and clattering guitars. Joseph's songwriting subverts expectations in often interesting ways and his reluctance to release mounting tension in "The Last Laugh" is a good example. Ultimately, the refusal defines the song as something different, unique, and leaves a lasting impression. "The Sidelines" opens with a hazy, minor-key piano melody that transforms into bright, mid-tempo verses. Joseph's voice marvels with its range of emotive colors and the smoky restlessness in this vocal rank among the album's best. The album's final song, "I'll Believe Every Word", has a fragile, stripped back approach relying almost entirely on Joseph's voice and piano and is an ideal closer.


This album is a work of significant artistry and discernment with rare, close balance between its musical and literary quality. Highly recommended.

<![CDATA[18. Sleaford Mods - Chubbed Up + ]]>

Sleaford Mods refer to their music as "electronic munt minimalist punk-hop rants for the working class and under". I couldn't contrive a better description if I tried. The duo of Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn have pulled together an unique sound emphasizing conversational and anecdotal lyrics with modern, hip-hop and dance influenced backbeats. The stripped down production enhances the album's take-no-prisoners vibe; every song comes swaggering out of the speakers, bass-heavy, sporting an edge of menace.


The spirit is pure punk. Even if the approach has such sharp individualism cutting through it, echoes of The Clash are rife in the first two songs, "The Committee" and "Jobseeker". Both songs bristle with pointed contempt for the system and have a light ska music lilt. "14 Day Court", however, finds Williamson channeling his best Johnny Rotten for a scathing and often hysterical denunciation of modern English society. A tough street poetry comes through on "Black Monday", suspicious of everything, and is complimented well by the accompanying shuffle. The duo's often profane humor dominates most of "Jolly Fucker". Williamson and Fearn don't suffer from the abundance of adult language in their songs because it is so clearly part of the duo's persona. It whitewashes any potential for offense.


"Tweet Tweet Tweet" surprises from the outset. I was prepared to dislike such a simple rhythm, but the vocal performance is compelling again, the band peppers the music with a handful of distinctive flourishes, and the simple rhythm lodged itself in my memory. "Who Killed Bambi?" is another scathing broadside aimed squarely at the self-important and deluded. The verbal firepower Sleaford Mods deliver is considerable, but it is just as much about the attitude informing their sneering, sniping delivery. This is firmly grounded in a specific culture, but the attitude will resonate with the disenfranchised from London to Omaha.  


The venomous "Pubic Hair Ltd" is a shocking bullet aimed straight at the heads of Johnny Rotten and other music legends. It's a much more traditional song than other tracks here and sports a memorable chorus. This is pure punk ethos at work and a spit in the eye challenge to either stay connected to what's real or else stop wasting people's time. A memorable song. The album's closer, "Fear of Anarchy", is another memorable song. The percolating bass and bare bones percussion are, once again, the foundation for another swaggering rant disguised as a song. 


Sleaford Mods are possessed with swagger, intelligence, and a steadfast refusal to take the trappings of this world seriously. This is vital, entertaining music.]]>
<![CDATA[19. Ravens Moreland - Occupy The Earth ]]>

 Ravens Moreland hails from Long Beach, California and features veteran musician and songwriter Bruce Moreland, a former member of Concrete Blonde and Wall of Voodoo, among others. Occupy The Earth is the band's fifth album and the album's production has clarity, a refreshing lack of clutter, and a warm, immediate sound. The band's occasionally gritty subject matter might test some listener's tolerance, but this is a group capable of balancing seriousness with humor, often within the same song.


I'm not comfortable with slapping labels on the band's music, but their post-punk leanings are evident on the album's opener, "Dead MILF". This isn't three chords jack-knifed in an amphetamine rush with a snarling lead singer. Instead, it recalls artists like Nick Cave with a stronger pop sensibility rounding off the sharp edges of the song's subject matter. The band's unusual choice to cover Norman Greenbaum's favorite "Spirit in the Sky" is a surprising highlight. The band avoids slavish imitation and, in particular, Bruce Moreland's idiosyncratic vocal re-imagines the song for a modern audience.


The guitars in "Lord of Flies", one of the album's few outright rockers, have an unstated, gurgling menace that will grab you immediately. "Accumulated Power" is another strong track with a fluid groove and a stylized vocal that sounds like the aural equivalent of an overstuffed mouth - words dribble, slur, and spit from his mouth. The tribal-flavored percussion in "Unfortunate Disaster" draws the listener in and highlights another hallucinatory, late-night vocal from Moreland that sounds like a woozy shaman. The penultimate track, "Get On Your Knees", has steady, percolating power and inventive lead guitar. Occupy The Earth concludes with "Velveteen Palace", another rocker with a catchy tempo and an inventive quasi-stop/start arrangement.


This album excels on the back of its songwriting, arrangements, and individual performances synthesized into a stronger whole. You'll hear few albums this year as surprising and interesting.

<![CDATA[20. Artisans - Love And Sleep ]]> Attempts to piece together this five track EP from Australian jangle pop outfit the Artisans is proving to be immensely difficult. It is one of those occasions when I might be tempted to shell out a sizeable sum of money to obtain a copy on Ebay or something similar. And why? Well, one listen to one of the tracks on here "One Look", ought to convince you.

Simply put, "One Look" is the finest piece of jangle pop to have emerged from any non-UK band ever. And I mean that. It has a bouncy and infectious beat which is driven by an underlying rhythm guitar which has powerful backtones. The jangly lead guitar is superb and takes the song to another level. And the refrain is one of the most sing-along-able you are ever going to hear.

I first heard the tracks on this EP on Youtube some time ago and then for some reason, the link was taken down. And so I hunt for it pretty much in vain, though I have managed to grab "One Look" from another video site. So, if anyone has a reasonably priced copy of this going, let me know.

<![CDATA[21. Opeth - Pale Communion ]]> Opeth have carved one of the most intriguing musical paths I've ventured down. With a constant sense of artistic grandeur, frontman Mikael Akerfeldt has led Opeth into waters most bands within their foundational genre wouldn't dare (or care) to navigate. Psuedo-progressive shifts within their tracks are the elemental force that has pushed the band this far, and delving deeper into their relatively softer side seems now to be the primary objective. Their last effort, Heritage, was unlike anything the band had done before; cresting on highs of uptempo rock and dwelling on lengthy passages of melodic tranquility. In comparison, Pale Communion, their newest offering, is a logical next step: while much of the band's aggression (and therefore the pull of the counterpoint between hard and soft) is absent, they've become so adept at doing both that doing either is rewarding.

Where the progression seems to be on Pale Communion is in the melodies themselves; vocally, I don't think Akerfeldt has ever been so consistently in-tune with driving songs forward. His voice has all the range necessary to captivate, but it's the actual songwriting on this record that steals the show. Each track is an exercise in wizened instrumentation, precise songwriting and textural depth that you'd be hard-pressed to find in more than a handful of outfits. "Moon Above, Sun Below" is a centerpiece, moving gracefully across its ten minutes before rising into a climax that rivals anything Opeth have accomplished in terms of pure impact. "Elysian Woes" sounds lifted from the past, overt hints of Damnation in its acoustic angst. "Goblin" is a showcase of newcomer Joakim Svalberg's considerable skills with the keyboard, organ and piano. His addition to the band has continued the trend of the past two albums' in adding depth with seamless inclusion of instrumentation absent in older recordings. "River" is another attention-grabber, as its simplistic acoustic intro belies a progressively tilted jaunt through fulfilling guitar runs and precision drumming. Stick around for the powerful crescendo of "Voice Of Treason", and revel in the dark beauty of closer "Faith In Others", which may be the best track on Pale Communion.

I was on the fence after Heritage, seriously questioning whether Akerfeldt and Opeth had simply run out of meaningful things to say and were ready to delve in a middle ground of 'dad rock'. While still impressive when measuring technical prowess, it lacked the punch and moments of brazen glory that had made the band a household name in the metal community. With Pale Communion, the band does so much more with a similar structure, but you can boil it down in simple terms: Add more of your past, trim the fat, lead the listener along familiar paths and ultimately reward them with the songwriting ability you have always possessed. One of the best record I've heard this year, Pale Communion is an atmospheric world in and of itself, one I'd invite any Opeth fan to enter without reservation.]]>
<![CDATA[22. Gandalf's Fist - From A Point Of Existence ]]> I was first introduced to Gandalfs Fist with their 2011 album, Road to Darkness. That album wound up as my pick for best album of 2011. So, when I heard they had a new disc out, my hopes were high. At first I wasnt sure about this disc, though. The previous one felt a lot like the Dark Side of the Moon era of Pink Floyd, and thats what I was expecting. Well, Road to Darkness was clearly a different beast. It stretches into a lot wider range of musical territory from Genesis to heavy metal to fusion. There are parts that seem like Yes, parts that call to mind Dream Theater. The thing is, its all great.

Ultimately, I decided that it will take time to figure out if I like this disc more than the previous one. It is great, theres no question. While Im not certain about that particular point, though, Im sure this will make my list of best of 2012. Yes, it is that good. It seems that this album would have a wider potential audience, too. I mean, while Pink Floyd fans represented the best bet for potential audience that time around, this one really opens it up to more modern progressive rock fans, while still maintaining a connection that should appeal to those music fans.

All in all, this is a great album. Its highly recommended to fans of both modern and classic progressive rock. Those people will find plenty to like with this release. These guys seem to have plenty of talent for writing great music and performing it. The history of excellence is certainly continued on this release. It will be interesting to see what they come up with next time, but they are certainly establishing themselves as a not to miss band of the new progressive rock era.]]>
<![CDATA[23. Yes - Live At Montreux 2003 Dvd ]]>
I'd have to say that this is probably the best Yes live DVD ever produced. The band is “on,” and everything is captured in the video without a lot of extra editing and video gobbledygook. The lineup here, Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman, and Alan White is considered by most to be the quintessential one. All of the musicians are capable here of attaining, and indeed surpassing, their previous musical glories. These elements add to the power of this set.
Possibly more than anything else the setlist puts this one on a level all its own. We get the classics like the opening “Siberian Khatru,” “And You and I,” “Heart of the Sunrise,” “Long Distance Runaround,” “I've Seen All Good People” and, of course, “Roundabout.” Those have been well documented in live performances before, though. So, while they are great here (particularly “Heart of the Sunrise,” which finds both Howe and Wakeman purely on fire), probably the real magic are the deeper cuts. Among those, “South Side of the Sky” stands out the most. Seldom performed live before this tour, the track is simply a killer. I can remember the day when I kept wishing they would play this awesome piece of music live. Well, they finally did – and what's even better, the video cameras were there to capture it.

Among the other less-often performed pieces we get the title track to the Magnification album, “Don't Kill the Whale,” “In The Presence Of,” “We Have Heaven,” “To Be Over,” “Show Me” (never released on a studio album) and “Awaken.” Of course the musicians get their solo sections, and these are great, too. There is little to detract from this set. I guess the only thing I would have like to see added would have been some bonus features. The truth is, as great as this is, that's just quibbling. If you will own only one Yes concert video, this should be the one. It's a strong video of a killer concert.
<![CDATA[24. Dream Theater - Live At Luna Park Blu-Ray ]]> <![CDATA[25. Motorhead - 1916 ]]> 1916 is one of the better Motorhead albums. I’ve always loved this disc and I’d consider it a “must have” album. It’s got plenty of straightahead trademark Motorhead rockers, but also enough variety to keep it interesting. This new reissue includes a couple bonus tracks, too. That’s just two more reasons to love this set.

“The One to Sing the Blues” is the first song of the disc. Drums open things here and they fire out into a jam that’s part old time rock and roll, part metal and all Motorhead. This screamer really works well.

Another that’s very metallic, “I'm So Bad (Baby I Don't Care)” is a powerhouse number with a catchy chorus. It is classic Motorhead, really. I’ve always loved “No Voice in the Sky.” It’s not that different from the two openers, but somehow it’s just more effective. It’s no frills, fast paced metallic rock and roll.

Imagine Chuck Berry merged with Motorhead. You are pretty close to what “Going To Brazil” sounds like. It’s another screamer and another classy tune on a disc that’s full of both. Some backwards tracked vocals open “Nightmare/The Dreamtime “Then they launch out into a jam that’s based on a song from Lemmy’s stint in Hawkwind. This is really a great mix of the kind of sound Hawkwind does and Motorhead. It’s one of my favorite tunes from Motorhead (of all time). More of those backwards vocals are heard later. This cut is worth the price of admission all by itself.

“Love Me Forever” is a Motorhead ballad. It is exceptionally classy and another that makes this album a “must have” in my opinion. The contrast of mellower and more rocking is exceptional and the piece just works so well.

We’re back into straight ahead Motorhead rock and roll territory with “Angel City.” This is a smoking hot number with a grinding riff. Somehow the arrangement makes me think of Aerosmith at times – think Toys in the Attic era.

“Make My Day” comes next.  This grind is metallic and screaming hot. It’s another killer Motorhead tune on a disc that has no shortage of them. Fierce, furious and raw, the song titled “Ramones” is the perfect Motorhead tribute to the Ramones. It should appeal to fans of both bands.

Next in line is “Shut You Down.” While not a huge change, this powerhouse is classic Motorhead. I could see some people not liking the title track. It’s very different for Motorhead. It’s a mellow tune that has world music, symphonic elements and progressive rock built into it. It’s a thoughtful piece about World War I. Say what you like about it, but I love it and think it’s another that makes this a required Motorhead album.

The first of two bonus tracks, “Eagle Rock” is a fiery, metallic jam that really rocks. It’s a smoking hot Motorhead number. I love the short bass solo on this.  “Dead Man’s Hand” is the second (and final) bonus cut here. Raw Motorhead metal, this is another powerhouse. Although the slowing it down effect at the end is a little odd, it really works well.