By Danielle Capalbo – Contributor
The last time we heard from The Refectory, singer-songwriter Robbie Vozza was commanding a four-piece adept at indie rock earworms, uncommon rhythms and tricky instrumentals: an irresistible kind of prog-pop reminiscent of Pinback. Now as a three-piece, the band is poised to release its sophomore self-titled EP—and while they’re leaner as an outfit, Vozza and company have never hit so hard. Necessity, it turns out, is the mother of reinvention.
What hasn’t changed is The Refectory’s aptitude for uninhibited, unconventional and totally memorable songwriting, or their willingness to veer from heavy heavies to soft softs on a hairpin turn—a journey of gratifying twists in the capable hands of Vozza (guitar), Ben Stokes (bass) and Brian Dicrescenzo (drums). Yet a new dimension of propulsive angst makes itself apparent within the first thirty seconds of opening track “Three Towns Away,” which crushes forward in a catchy swell of sludge, feedback and stoner metal magic. The Refectory still shimmer as they did on Spiral Staircases, but when they pummel here, they pummel.
More likely they’re doing both on this substantial five-song collection of extremes in contrast, perhaps as a means to emulate and exorcise the emotions of self-reflection that underpin Vozza’s lyrics. The hypnotic “Bull in a Zoo,” for instance, begins with a single guitar plucked in sparse and pretty repetition before building incrementally, across seven minutes, toward a hardcore crescendo. “I’m tired, I’m tired of waiting, waiting for you,” Vozza sings in his clear, clean voice. “Pacing, pacing around like a bull a zoo.”
It’s not surprising that expanses of time and space—spent waiting, wondering and working out the riddles of life—are the focus of an EP that clocks in at a continuous 35 minutes. Yet The Refectory never feels longwinded. It feels deliberate, insistent and unhurried instead, awash in elevated details at the meticulous engineering hand of DeCarlo. (The band recorded its own EP live at Mother Brother Studios in Bethel, Conn.) Some of the most delicate moments occur between songs, in beautiful, spacious transitions: from “Three Towns Away” to “Bull in a Zoo,” or “Din” into the slow-grunge “Drove Back.”
Among this heavy collection, “Din” (written largely by DeCarlo) is the most bombastic and quick-changing, a headbanger with corrosive lead guitar that travels the band’s signature peaks and valleys, fueled on yearning, before it builds into a gorgeous, full-throttle ripper. In a powerful wish to the universe, Vozza issues forth: “If I come to find a nameless face that stares at me beyond the glass / Set me out into the woods and let me rest / And let me rest where I can find something real to know and love again / The things I’ve lost were never ever mine.”
“Pretty Rows” is another standout track, an exercise in tension and feeling that epitomizes the band’s overall efforts. “It’s all I’ve swam up stream for,” Vozza croons again and again, as the song struts forward. “A love that’s never felt so pure.” Not until we pass the three-minute mark does the levy burst on that stream, and then it’s not so much a matter of swimming as being swept away.
Listen to The Refectory EP below:
Ever since Dan Manning fastened together both organic and synthetic instruments to create music as Reduction Plan, he has also created a nameless void between its most human and mechanical elements. On his first lo-fi excursions, early standouts such as “An Act of Self-Preservation” dabbled in this moody isolation with sparse minimalism and simple but sturdy songwriting. Later, on 2016’s Child of Light EP, he branched by working with a band and creating sonic experiments. Despite the additional human heat to that music, it still sounded like Manning was singing from far away in some sunless land.
On Somewhere, Reduction Plan takes one step further into the abyss. Starting abruptly with “Without An End”, Manning is slips deeper into this exile, his mind running away over a robotic drum machine beat and turbulent layers of angular reverb. While past releases stylishly used reverb to create desolate atmosphere, an increase in production values slightly colorizes the band’s monochromatic sheen and better handles the near shoegaze level amount of guitarwork.
In addition to headier arrangements, the songs on Somewhere are stronger and more distinct than what has come before. Manning has always had a distinguished croon, but never has it sounded so melodious in its sorrow. On mid-album highlight “Julia” (and one of Reduction Plan’s best songs to date), he weaves a hypnotic vocal like an additional instrument in a wall of sound. Later, he channels the same aesthetics through a rare major key respite on probable new fan favorite “On Your Own” (a rework from 2015’s Paradise LP). Of course, on a Reduction Plan album, its apparent happiness is fleeting as the remainder of the record returns to its regular isolated gloom.
Overall, Somewhere is Reduction Plan’s most fully realized release to date. Looking back at the band’s earliest releases, it seems like the logical continuation of a journey throughout this strange somewhere that Manning has traversed. In other ways, it feels like Reduction Plan’s proper debut. What is less apparent though, is where Reduction Plan will go next when they return from this strange place, if they ever return at all.
Listen to Somewhere by Reduction Plan below:
By Dan Verner – Contributor
I’m a big fan of 80’s new wave. Personally it’s my favorite era of music, and while that era of music has passed, hearing a band release what amounts to homage to genre tropes could potentially be underwhelming. That being said, New Haven new wave revivalists If Jesus Had Machine Guns understand the proper interplay that needs to occur in this style on their debut album Peasants.
At it’s best, the performance is strong and the production is well done. Songs like “Tonight” and “Have You Ever” feature driving percussion, delightfully melodic basslines weaving between layers of atmospheric guitars and synth and a singer that could sit in for Robert Smith or Ian Curtis with no problem whatsoever. This faithfulness to the trademarks of the genre help carry the record from front to back.
At times, some songs give the impression that they were written solo and delivered as-is, rather than developed and edited organically with a band to deliver maximum effect. It can lack a sense of urgency alongside the emotional despair. Some songs just peter out without a constructed ending. It’s a shame given the beautiful instrumental sections throughout the entire album.
As a debut, it’s a promising effort overall. There are glimmers of brilliance like the chorus to “She Didn’t Mean To”… But if IJHMG hopes to properly revivify the new wave movement, it’s going to take more than getting a certain sound down. The familiarity is there, but much like any good revival, it could use more vigorous energy that’s more than evident at their live shows. I have a feeling If Jesus Had Machine Guns will be able to take the sounds reminiscent of the apex of 80’s new wave to exciting new places in the future.
By Dylan Healy – Contributor
Last month, Central CT art-grunge quartet Crag Mask released their excellent debut album, Loom. From the first gnawing notes of “Sleep Eater” to the explosive chaos of the titular closing track, Crag Mask invite you into its post-apocalyptic badlands of anxiety, doubt, and obscured thoughts.
Straying from more conventional songwriting, each track features spidery, intertwining guitar lines and unique structures that shift like tectonic plates beneath listeners. Songs like “Rug Burn” and “Messed” feature shining guitar hooks unwavered by the foreboding blanket of storm clouds approaching above.
Beneath this tempest, vocalist Zack Abramo sings on highlight “Semi Slum” with a grim conviction: “Woke up today / I found myself in a cloud of smoke / footsteps are lingering / I can’t see myself in this place no more” alongside biting guitars, sludge-coated bass licks, and a tight torrent of drums.
Later, on the eponymous closing track, Crag Mask let all hell break loose. “It still looms…” are Abramo’s last words of the record, leaving listeners eerily satisfied. Even after the storm has passed, its visceral impact remains. One questions whether clarity has been achieved or if the lingering obscurity is incessant.
A darkly glazed palette of sounds make up the group’s aptly self-dubbed “villain rock” genre. Crag Mask’s impressive lineup, pulling members of Queen Moo and Vundabar, is accessible enough to accrue strong support throughout the Northeast.
Crag Mask is currently planning for a tour later this year. Listen to Loom below.
by Dan Verner – Contributor
I’m always appreciative of bands and artists that are unashamed of their pop sensibilities, and in that department Bethany indie pop group The Foresters deliver. House Stories is The Foresters second release following Sun Songs and it greatly benefits from a cohesive recording process, as their former album was recorded from multiple studios. The sound is certainly more focused and the songs reflect that. Said songs swing from the manic kinetic energy of “Letterbox” to the halcyonic Kinks-esque psychedelic garage of “Misterman” and “Honk if You Feel Fine” while still maintaining excellent coherence. Instead of the sound controlling the songs, the songs inform their sound… As it should be.
The Foresters have the feel of a family band, which makes sense as three of the four members are brothers. There is an inherent respect for each other within The Foresters performance, each instrument meshes well and the songwriting is brought front and center. My only real complaint is that the sequencing could have been given more thought. “Letterbox” and “Misterman” are back to back and start off the same way, while “Isolate Yourself” is in my humble opinion a more proper closing track than “Kiki and Bouba.”
Overall that’s a middling concern. Each song has an individual feel, and there is not a weak one to be found on House Stories. The Foresters do a masterful job of avoiding predictable formulas where they can, and being confident enough to not obfuscate accessibility with needless wankery or experimentation. Tasteful arrangements abound. I love the piano throughout, the harmonies provide much needed depth, and I want to shake the hand of whoever brought in accordion to “A Winter Plea.”
This is an album any and all music lovers should acquire, it truly has a timeless feel and the mark of a band that knows what they want to do, and sets out unapologetically confident in their abilities.
Written and recorded between his other major projects, S.G. Carlson’s self-titled debut is a confident and cozy collection of lightly strummed internal monologues and urban observations. Released shortly after the end of winter, Carlson’s scattered thoughts and subtle melodies come off like the restless to-do list of someone who has spent the last few months traversing a snow covered city between trips to the library and to the next cup of tea.
At the time of it’s creation, Carlson claims he became inspired by “little human things” like disorganization and destructively wasting precious time. On openers “Pulp” and “In Search Of Lost Time”, Carlson finds himself stuck inside searching between out of order books, lost ambition, and chasing after some ineffable answer to boredom. Later, “The Narcissist” and “How I Got Fat While Living Skinny” inject a lively realization of self-centeredness and betrayal, the latter’s upbeat new awareness sounding like a short glimmer of sunnier weather and happier times to come.
Unlike the heavily layered textures of his work in Ports of Spain or the hot rod fuzz of the more recent Laundry Day songs, Carlson’s indie rock arrangements are more restrained and soft spoken. As this album is his first project that he composed entirely without any significant collaborators, there is a refined control to these songs rather than the desire to capture a live bands’ energy. The acoustic strums are nicely complemented with mid-volume electric riffs, and occasionally a warm key tone will blanket the songs with comfort. While his songs can have a literary wordiness to them, his relaxed delivery makes them more easily appreciated. The songs are catchy, but never go full pop, which totally works considering its introspective nature. On this record, Carlson spent a season of searching for answers and lost time, it will be interesting to see how he can take what he has found back to his other projects.
Listen to S.G. Carlson’s Self-Titled below:
Ever since New Haven singer-songwriter Danielle Capalbo expanded her solo lo-fi outlet to the full-bodied dream pop group Quiet Giant, the band has hit the ground running with their own particular take on indie rock and has never quite stopped. Following the release of their excellent debut Loom, the four-piece has dropped numerous singles (including highlight “Everything”) and has continuously played an impressive amount of shows both in and around CT.
Continuing this prolific streak, Quiet Giant’s new You’re In Heaven EP serves as an opportunity to not just get the seemingly endless influx of new songs out on an as-soon-as-possible basis, but to experiment with influences and try on a few different musical faces. Here, Capalbo and crew take the winning dream pop formula of Loom and diversify its styles, sometimes embellishing its more blissed out space delay, other times evoking a crunchier, more garage-like tendency. That being said, Quiet Giant further asserts its ability to craft both vocal and guitar hooks that linger a lot longer than the EP’s brief running time.
Opener “Heaven” kickstarts the EP with instantly memorable dueling guitars and punchy distortion that recalls a 90s crunch filtered through a little bit of the gritty NYC post-punk scene in the early aughts. This grittier version of Quiet Giant lets loose over the next few tracks–look no further than the crashing crescendos of “Wake Up” and the brooding refrains on “What I Know.” While Capalbo’s breathy vocal usually sits front and center of the music, the muted angst that has permeated her songwriting really escapes on the EP’s hardest hitting song “Outta My Head.” Final track “Knee of the Curve” is a standout that takes these harder hitting sensibilities and brings back some of lead guitarist Will Touri’s most memorable spectral riffs.
Listen to Quiet Giant’s You’re In Heaven EP below: