Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Friday, June 29, 2018

Dropout Kings - AudioDope (2018)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

Dropout Kings, a six piece from Arizona, are a young band ranking among the last true believers in nu-metal and ambitious enough to attempt doing something new with a largely moribund style. Their debut full length AudioDope is certainly cut from the same cloth as older iconic acts in this vein, ala Limp Bizkit and NWA, among others, but there’s enough individuality and idiosyncratic musical turns in this collection to emphasize where Dropout Kings bring something of themselves to this form. The ten song collection pops from the first and wastes no time relating to its target audience, but there’s never any sense of Dropout Kings pandering for listener’s attention. Instead, they craft out their own distinctive niche with this effort and manage to bring together the muscular attack of hard rock and hip hop together in a potent and unpredictable way.

“Something Awful” opens AudioDope with atmospheric musical accompaniment before vocalist Adam Ramey makes his presence first felt. The lyrical material is definitely uncompromising and never overwrought; even when the hip hop vocals give way to outright screaming, there’s never a sense of a band laying things on too thick for their audience. The song never settles into a traditional pattern and, as such, keeps listeners engaged from the first. An opening like this throws down a gauntlet of sorts; no matter how they pick up the mood from this point onward, you keep listening with the knowledge Dropout Kings can intensify the mood at will. “Burn1”, the customary ode to the joys of marijuana, has plenty of musical imagination to redeem potentially clich├ęd subject matter and the same atmospheric strengths of the opener are abundant with this track. It’s certainly more playful than the opener, but the band throws themselves into the song with the same abandon.

“Going Rogue” is a song about cracking up under the weight of too many demands and the song embodies that mood in every way. The buzzsaw qualities of the guitar work on AudioDope reach a new peak with this song and the vocal pyrotechnics are equally memorable. The album’s longest track “Bad Day” embraces groove for the first time and features some spoken word near the opening before segueing into a hard hitting nu-metal arrangement. Dropout Kings balance the straight-forward hip hop delivery with screaming hard rock vocals better here than any of the aforementioned songs and it helps make this one of the album’s more memorable numbers.

“Scratch and Claw” features some jagged, effects laden guitar lines accompanying the thunderous drumming and another high velocity hip hop delivery. The chorus is one of the strongest on AudioDope and pairs up nicely with the lean verses. The song’s final half dials up the musical fury before returning for some final passes through the chorus. The title song is one of the album’s most impressive achievements and closes the release on a distinctly personal note. The grinding guitars give the vocals an added dose of gravitas and their bulldozer quality illustrates, for a final time, the band’s uncompromising talents for aural assault. Dropout Kings’ AudioDope isn’t a perfect effort, but the band emerges with a clear creative vision and they will undoubtedly expand on it with future releases.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Sky Orchid - Oculus (2017)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

Debut albums aren’t often this long in the making. The gestation and evolution of Sky Orchid, essentially a duo featuring brothers Gabriel and Daniel Traknyak, resulted in seven year process beginning in the brothers’ garage with early incarnations of the band. The initial leg of their creative journey ends here with the release of Oculus, a ten song collection announcing the Traknyaks as one of the more potentially formidable musical units emerging from the indie scene today. Some of these songs are years old while the brothers worked up new material during the album’s recording sessions. Despite the disparate births of these songs, the collection has an overall coherence and has a potent organic sound.

Gabriel Traknyak has an appealing voice. It blends smoky tones with soulful emotiveness quite unlike anyone else working in this style today. The album opener “The River” gives him an early turn in the spotlight as he, initially, carries the song single-handedly with minimum musical accompaniment. The brothers prove themselves to be rather adept at orchestration – “The River” builds in a dramatic way, centered on piano, without ever straining for effect. The opener is one of those recent songs the brothers pair with older material and the album’s second song, “Sneakers”, is as well. The pensive songwriting spirit pervading the first track comes across nicely with this track, but the performance is much more straight-forward than we heard with the album’s kick off number. Gabriel Traknyak excels once again vocally and the arrangement intersperses its meditative cool with occasional flashes of cacophonous musical firepower. Daniel Traknyak lays down some especially memorable drums for this one.

“Wildfire” is an unusually distinctive track thanks to its muted acoustic beginnings and a keyboard rich final quarter. The acoustic guitar work isn’t particularly flashy, thankfully, and effectively counterpoints Gabriel Traknyak’s voice without being obscured. “I’ll Stop the World (Part 2)” has a propulsive rock pulse powered by Daniel Traknyak’s drumming opening the number before reining it in for far more spartan verses. The vocal melody stands out for its idiosyncratic qualities and Gabriel Traknyak’s vocal versatility comes through in a very accessible way. The guitar work in a song like this differs from typical rock songs insofar as it has a much more orchestral slant – there’s no guitar hero theatrics or lead breaks. Instead, it’s another color in a spectrum of shades the duo adeptly incorporates into the larger whole.

The album’s oldest song, “Breathe Easy”, name checks Bob Marley and, indeed, the track comes off like a loving, playful reggae pastiche, but never wearies listeners. Brief bursts of distorted guitar lurk beneath the surface of the mix and Daniel Traknyak’s drumming shines once again. The song’s conclusion may throw some listeners for a loop as the duo all but abandons the reggae posturing for improbable six string shredding and a nearly hard rock finale. The emphasis on guitar continues with the album’s final song “Fortify”, but it’s less incongruous than what we experienced with “Breathe Easy”. Instead, it’s another reminder of the duo’s talent for exploring dynamics in their songwriting and the restraint shown during many of the songs verses juxtaposes dramatically against Gabriel Traknyak’s fiery guitar playing. Oculus is a powerful debut and Sky Orchid’s willingness to utilize the full range of their talents promises future releases will only build on the immense promise heard here.

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.