Category: Reviews

Review: Cheem Fly On Technical, Melodically Intricate ‘Downhill’

Cheem - Downhill (2017)

Cheem’s new record Downhill shows a tangible progression of maturity for the Hartford emo-pop punk five-piece. Since the release of 2016’s Making a Planet, the band has been impressively prolific in both the amount of shows played as well as songs written (even releasing a dope split with their CT peers Budris).  Downhill features an ample 15 tracks, all of them embracing the band’s technical prowess and dual vocal approach.  

As it is an unashamedly emo-revivalist record, the band pulls from all of the genre’s qualities across the emotional indie-punk-pop spectrum. Opener “Freakazoid” strikes the first two components as an introduction to the record. A post-adolescent flail of angst, irregular song structures, and various guitar textures, all its sound and fury serve as a perfect primer for the bigger highlights that will follow.

Early single “Kate”  can easily stand with their Making a Planet tune “Joy Division T-Shirt” as one of the group’s best songs.  Featuring one of the album’s most memorable vocal melodies, it strikes a balance between its soft spoken verses and raucous chorus.  “Instar” follows suit by showcasing the band’s technical prowess and multi-part songwriting chops.  The latter features an especially brief and borderline experimental pause of harmonies before jumping back into full gear with danceable rhythm guitar that the band sometimes employs.

Throughout the remainder of the record, the band refrains from making obvious pop songs and instead pursuing more challenging punk compositions. In addition to the band’s obvious technical virtuosity (in pretty much all facets but hot damn those drums), Downhill is very much a studio record. Every song is so decked out with various little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it textures it encourages repeat listens just to catch them all.  Fortunately, with such a dense sprawl of emotional and textual energy, the band plays it tastefully by keeping many of the 15 track tunes between two and three minutes.

Listen to Downhill by Cheem below:

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Review: Laundry Day Elevates Sprawling Elm City Indie Rock With The Company of Friends

Laundry Day - It's Cool, It's Whatever (2017)

While Laundry Day’s new album It’s Cool, It’s Whatever is technically the New Haven slacker rock band’s debut full-length, many of these songs have been in the band’s live rotation for some years now. Since the release of their 2014 self-titled EP, the extra time and countless shows the band has played has given the group time to refine these songs both stylistically and performance wise.

Singer-songwriter Alex Burnet has oft stated that while he serves as the group’s principal vocal and songwriter, each member of the group contributes to the songwriting process in a way that couldn’t be achieved otherwise. It shows. Burnet’s lyrics and melodies often have a simple but substantial charm about them that is nicely complimented by the holistic approach these songs take. 

This is most evident when listening to the fully produced reprise of previous EP standout, “Seven Seas”, where the band expands on Burnet’s suburban and dreamlike juxtapositions of “monster makeup” and “minivans” with warm harmonies, a light touch of hi-hat, and the company of friends. 

Much credit goes to drummer Alexa Ambrose, whose style of playing brings out particular accents that give the album a much more live sounding presence. Both opener “Candy Wrapper” and closer “Joanne” have a rollicking momentum which bestows the otherwise very New Haven album with a universal road-trip-across-America drivability. 

In addition to providing vocal harmonies, guitarist Sam Carlson (who dropped a sweet solo record earlier this Spring), offers a grungy contribution “Blunt Guts.” The track gives a similar voice to his concerns about suburban aimlessness but with a more angular hot rod crunch that better suits Laundry Day.

While this fully realized iteration of Laundry Day packs more distortion and punch, late album highlight “Driveway” is a solo acoustic number from Burnet that resonates in its own way. Burnet, who has refrained from saying much beyond the album being born of personal strife, lays it all out here for all to see. In a series of both particular and vague images and events, there are few songs in recent memory that seem so solitary, so reflective of years gone by in a mere momentary flashback.

That being said, this quick isolated moment only accentuates the album’s clear sense of comradery and the power of chemistry found between friends–something that helps elevate the quality of Laundry Day’s brand of indie rock from other like-minded guitar bands.

Listen to It’s Cool, It’s Whatever by Laundry Day below or on Spotify here.

Review: The Refectory – The Refectory EP (2017)

The Refectory - The Refectory EP (2017)

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:

Reduction Plan Finds Solace In The Abyss On Somewhere LP

Reduction Plan - Somewhere (2017)

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:

Review: If Jesus Had Machine Guns – Peasants (2017)

If Jesus Had Machine Guns - Peasants (2017)

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.

Review: Crag Mask Forge Obsidian Rock On Loom LP

Crag Mask - Loom (2017)

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.

Review: The Foresters – House Stories (2017)

The Foresters - House Stories (2017)

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.