Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Shapes on Tape - Ctrl Yr Heart (2018)


Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin
The latest single from Brooklyn based Shapes on Tape, “Ctrl Yr Heart” finds the duo of multi-instrumentalist and producer Adam Kruckenberg collaborating once again with guitarist/poet Jason Matuskiewicz .The duo, working together since 2014, is responsible for some of most gripping music emerging from the indie scene today. Justin Craig’s production frames “Ctrl Yr Heart” nicely with its striking balance between vocals and instrumentation, physicality and polish. The single likely gives listeners a preview of what’s to come from Shapes on Tape’s forthcoming full length Legends in the Process and it is apparent from the first Kruckenberg and Matuskiewicz are growing increasingly confident in their chemistry as songwriters and performers with each new release.

The direct, infectious melody is impossible to dislike. Shapes on Tapes keeps things percolating at an energetic simmer throughout the entirety of this song, but it’s that central and persistent melody you’ll likely remember after even a single play. Kruckenberg has a voice made for this sort of tune – he attacks the lyrics with just the right amount of charisma and brio, never over-dramatizing them, and the performance enhances their effectiveness. The pairing of synthesizer lines with guitar seamlessly counterpoint each other while remaining in lockstep throughout and the live drums give the song appealing swagger. It never sounds strident or rehashed however; there’s a bright uplift to this performance musical devotees and casual listeners alike will appreciate.

Matuskiewicz’s lyrics for the song aren’t broaching new territory, but you hear the finesse defining his work in the spartan economy and focus of his words. Each line seems inevitable, but in a satisfyingly relatable way rather than painfully predictable. Kruckenberg’s aforementioned brio and charisma aren’t his only vocal tools – he, likewise, possesses an emotional voice capable of accentuating the lyrical drama without ever overwhelming listeners. Another surprising turn comes late in the song when a highly stylized saxophone emerges from the mix and takes an impressive instrumental break.

These young musicians working in the Brew-Wave/Ultrapop style are, ultimately, greater than any single label will allow. Kruckenberg and Matuskiewicz’s keen instincts for melody, the tastefulness of their treatment, and arranging talents are considerable, but they bring personality and undeniable musical chops to the table for this new single. It defies tidy categorization. “Ctrl Yr Heart” will score big with anyone who values mastery of pure pop rock fundamentals, concise melodies, and impassioned vocals. It will likewise find favor with anyone who enjoys a physically engaging alternative rock cut that works hard, without ever straining, to connect with a wide audience. Shapes on Tape will reaffirm what their fans already know and likely win over anyone who gives it a hearing. If Legends in the Process, their upcoming full length, maintains this sort of high standard, music lovers can expect a must-hear new release.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Rhett Repko - Thnx For The Ride (2017)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

Rhett Repko’s recording output reaches a new peak with the release Thnx For The Ride. The seven song EP release opens with the deceptively ambitious title song. The song’s subject matter is common fodder for popular music, but Repko and his band move from acoustic flurries, a forceful rock stomp, and near reggae inflections with surprising seamlessness. There’s some interesting electronic laced textures near the song’s conclusion, in lieu of a traditional guitar solo, and the song succeeds thanks to how familiar, yet individual, it comes across. “Please Don’t Laugh” is an extraordinarily strong follow up foregoing the stylistic experimentation of the title song, retaining the same commitment to a strong vocal presentation, and comes barreling out of speakers like an emphatic roar. There’s an especially good guitar solo near the end from Stefan Hauer benefitting, just a little, from some post production gloss.

“It Ain’t Coming From You” begins with a nervy rave up, propelled by the two guitar attack of Repko and Hauer, and given added urgency thanks to the rhythm section of bassist Dan Gallagher and drummer Tom Bryant. The touch is lighter here than Repko serves up on the first two songs, but the third song nonetheless has tremendous energy. Repko continues maintaining his rock edge with the song “Maybe I’m Weak” and it’s hard, if not impossible, to ignore how well his plaintive emotional voice resonates with this singer/songwriter oriented songwriting. The powerful vulnerability behind these songs creates a nice contrast with the rock posture he takes on and the vocal harmonies are particularly effective with this tune. His love of toying with tempos returns with the song “And I Told Her So”, but the song also works as a lean, muscular rocker shorn of the raucousness we hear with earlier cuts.

“Learn Your Name” opens with a fleet footed bass line from Dan Gallagher segueing into a thrashing and churning guitar attack that never risks being too heavy handed and has a stylized gait throughout.. The same passion burning brightly in the earlier songs glows just as fiercely with this number and, increasingly, Thnx For The Ride sounds like a condensed, explosive statement of purpose rather than just some run of the mill rock release. The EP ends on a hard hitting and uptempo note with the track “Make Me Right” and the pop strengths and rock swagger Repko can summon finds ideal expression in the finale’s combustible attack. Rhett Repko proves himself a master of pouring old wine into new bottles, but the seven songs included with this EP proves he’s, likewise, a songwriter and performer with an intense personal stake in his art. Thnx For The Ride never strains credibility, feels immediate, and crackles with genuine inspiration.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Black Bluebirds - Like Blood for Music (2018)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

Black Bluebirds is a Minneapolis based power trio featuring the musical and songwriting talents of Daniel Fiskum working alongside band mates Simon Husbands on guitar/vocals and Chad Helmonds on drums and vocals. Additional contributions from guests Jessica Rasche and Patrik Tanner are important to the success of the release as well. Their ten song debut Like Blood for Music is an impressive and fully conceived effort with a powerful, plain-spoken lyrical sensibility complementing its musical artfulness. The band clearly owes a debt to bands and artists as diverse as David Bowie, melodic metal, and David Byrne, but those influences never come off as imitation – instead, Fiskum and his band mates are quite adept at transmuting those influences through their own skills and experiences into a collection that’s not particularly cheerful, but intelligent and often ultimately triumphant. Like Blood for Music is another fine offering from a Minneapolis outfit, long a hub for musical creativity and Black Bluebirds are poised to join the upper echelon of musical exports from this Midwestern mecca.

Rasche’s voice provides an impassioned and recurring counterpoint to Fiskum’s own on the opener “Love Kills Slowly”. This is a real kick in the door way of beginning the album as Black Bluebirds latch onto an impressive and striding hard rock track for the collection’s initial salvo. It finds its mark. Simon Husbands, as well, unreels some particularly tasty lead guitar bringing a further flourish to the performance. There’s a bit more control exerted over the album’s second song “Strange Attractor” and Rasche returns to parry dramatically with Fiskum’s deep, gravitas-laden vocal. Fiskum’s keyboards impose themselves more on this song than we heard with the opener, but their inclusion does nothing to dilute the aural muscle they are clearly intent on flexing. Black Bluebirds embraces a more progressive, softer edge with the song “Life in White”, a study of addiction’s power, and there’s a hint of grandeur surrounding the song’s atmospherics that makes it especially potent for listeners. Fiskum has a mildly stentorian vocal style, but it’s never so melodramatic or self-indulgent that it mars the performance. The heavy presence of acoustic guitar in the song marks it as a much different proposition than any of the earlier numbers.

The potentially portentously titled “House of No More Dreams” never taxes listener’s patience. It, naturally, opts for a near apocalyptic guitar workout with thunderous drumming laying down a heavy groove underpinning the song. Smatterings of keyboards emerge from the mix. Rasche’s backing vocals return on the song “Soul of Wood” with impressive results and the uptempo thrust of the song is ideal for Husbands to spark with some memorable guitar pyrotechnics. Like Fiskum and Helmonds on drums, Husbands’ never pushes his playing into heavy handed territory and his embellishments on this song make it more torrid, more memorable. The steady groove established in the opening of the album’s finale “Legendary” gives Fiskum’s keyboards a solid foundation and Husbands adorns the track with some almost painterly initial touches from his six string. The song, despite only running four and a half minutes, clearly aspires to be an emphatic final statement for the collection and succeeds. Black Bluebirds’ Like Blood for Music is a mature, yet energetic and imaginative, work that swiftly solidifies the band’s position as one of the best acts to emerge from the Minneapolis scene in some time.  

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Rejectionist Front - Evolve (2017)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

New York City based Rejectionist Front’s second album Evolve picks up where they left off with their debut Shock the Conscious Mass and take things a step further. Fronted by singer/songwriter/activist Michael Perlman, the band sports some obvious music influences they spin in a distinctly modern and individualistic way. It remains an entertaining effort that never presents an out of whack balance between the songs’ primary elements. There’s a dozen songs on this album and they avoid the dreaded sophomore slump thanks to retaining the same focus on the songwriting that made the first album stand out so strongly. Produced by World2Be Entertainment, Evolve has an impressive and forceful sound that, nonetheless, comes across with great warmth and bottom end.

“Ride” is an evocative and superbly orchestrated opener. The band definitely follows the example of ambitious alt rock and classic rock acts with the dynamic thrust of the song, the alternating passages of light and shadow, but they unexpectedly sweeten their musical stew with multi-part harmony vocals that enhance the performance in unexpected ways. “All I Am” is a much more straight-forward rocker with some inspired, even slightly raunchy, guitar playing from Lincoln Prout. Perlman has a tangible vocal presence on both of the first two songs, but the harmony vocals from Prout and bassist Tony Tino are equally crucial on the album’s second cut. “All Is the Same” has a faint hint of Pearl Jam’s influence permeating the tune, but there’s a steady amble to the track that quickly ingratiates itself with the audience. The rhythm section of Tino and drummer Dave Dawson turn in a particularly interesting performance with their work on the song. Perlman’s talent for writing issue-oriented tunes that embrace a very human quality makes his writing resound with a more timeless quality and rarely is that more apparent than on the track “Reclaim”. Dawson’s drumming is strong again and there’s some light strings employed with this number. This is, unquestionably, an anthem in Rejectionist Front’s own distinctive style, but nonetheless recognizable.

There’s some great riffing and transitions making “Flush” fly like it needs to and there’s little doubt why the band chose it as a single release. It’s a turbulent and entertaining tune with the same vocal excellence in a hard rock setting that distinguished the earlier songs. They mix the pensive and raucous on the song “Hold Or Break” and it’s another passionate guitar workout with one of Perlman’s most diverse vocals on Evolve. Rejectionist Front concludes their second album with the song “Inside of Me” and follows much of the same template laid down in the more modulated tracks, but they further refine the technique here with a more nuanced approach. It ends Evolve on the same intelligent note that defines the album’s twelve songs. Rejectionist Front’s sophomore slump proves to be nothing of the kind; instead, this improves on the first album and represents a new peak for their efforts.