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Reborn with Katie Grace Helow

20 Nov

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A few months ago, I had to interview prospective interns for a music development agency. I was forced to ask that horribly bland question, “What’s your favorite type of music?” and though I won’t say I’m surprised, I did get one answer more than any other: “Anything but country.” This is clearly a product of the direction that mainstream country has gone, but let’s be fair to alt-country and the underground musicians that keep alive the real art of the genre: country is not dead. Florida native Katie Grace Helow has created a dark and compelling alt-country record with emotional depth, proving not all country is bad.

Past Lives is Katie Grace Helow’s sophomore album, following a more acoustic effort, titled On Time & the Ocean. Her debut was gorgeous in its own right, but her new record has turned up the intensity in every way. The instrumentation is somber, yet powerful, creating the perfect tone for Helow’s commanding voice. The album is comprised of ballads that are world weary, inspired by real life experiences that Helow only felt comfortable sharing in song. The opening track, “Savior or Sin“ features the widest range of Helow’s vocals on the record, which admittedly never reaches any notable highs, but rather has a remarkable depth.This is Helow’s signature sound, one that sets her apart from whatever stereotypical female country singer that you may be thinking of. Though the vocals in “Left For Dead,” the following track, are subtler, they are still just as powerful. This actually could be said about most tracks on the album; her voice is simply impressive.

Helow hasn’t completely abandoned her acoustic sound, with some simpler tracks in the middle of the album. No matter what the backing instrumentation is, whether it be a full band or her singular guitar, Helow still manages to capture your full attention. And I also really appreciate an artist that doesn’t compromise with “radio length” tracks, four minutes and under. A long track is the hallmark of a talented songwriter, and Helow has this in spades. “Scorpion” is an enduring odyssey at seven minutes long, but it has some of the most soothing guitar work on the record. The same can be said of “Live Wire,” though the backing vocals are what haunt in that track. Helow’s good friend Zach Lever contributes to the harmonies throughout the album, and complements the rest of the record perfectly.

When analyzed, Past Lives has all the elements of a talented indie artist. Let’s not make assumptions just because it’s got the word country in it. 

Past Lives is out now. Find more info on Katie Grace Helow on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Soundcloud.

Avoid the highways, just take Sunset

28 Oct

nicholas krgovich

By my estimation, more music has been made about New York and LA than any other areas combined. Both places are enormous cultural melting pots, a huge draw for artists. But even given the vastness of these cities, the art that comes out of them all too often includes themes of loneliness and solitude. This dichotomy is so clear that people around the world feel intimately connected to these cities, even if they have never once visited. Last year, Canadian songwriter Nicholas Krgovich released an album called On Sunset, about life in the city of angels; the kicker is that, despite how emotional and close the record feels to the city, Krgovich never actually lived here full time. The album presents an impartial view of LA, one that likely benefitted from not having been made here.

Krgovich creates a beautiful story on this album, riddled with disappointment and anguish, told through vivid images of nefarious characters, distant relationships, and regret. It all begins with a failed romance in “The Backlot,” and the self pity and hopelessness that come with it.

“I don’t know what came along and tricked me into believing,
That you’re the only one for me”

It feels as though Krgovich, or more generally, our protagonist, is constantly pulled into the social nature of the city, but he doesn’t connect with that scene. First he is absent emotionally, then physically, when he refers to the attention given to Hollywood for the Academy Awards, as if LA has forgotten him. This vignette, and the several others in the following tracks, are best described as fabricated memories. As detailed as the scene and sentiment, remember that Krgovich conceived this project in the Canadian Rockies. A cold, snowed in artist creating a piece about sunshine isn’t a surprising image, but his love for LA reached an unhealthy level. Rather, he had an obsession with the idea of LA, manifested in his songs, which he never put down for the better part of eleven years. This album might as well be dubbed the Boyhood of music.

His obsession did not stop once the album was complete, either. Krgovich dissected the very record he had just devoted a decade of his life to making, and created a sister record, On Cahuenga. It features the same songs with the same arrangement, but it is stripped down to only vocals and piano. Because of how arrhythmic the piano melodies are, I had assumed it was like a remix record, where he simply deleted the other instrumentation on top of it and called it a day. Well, he didn’t. He went back into the studio to re-record the exact piano and vocal arrangements that he had for On Sunset, and the results are chilling. The lyrics are so clear, and the piano gives a darker and deeper dimension to the story.

Together, both records ache with a home-sickness that I shouldn’t even relate to, but, somehow, I miss LA. And I live here.

Buy On Sunset here. Buy On Cahuenga here. I learned a lot about these albums from this Noisey feature, you should read it. Find more information on Nicholas Krgovich on his website, or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Take Solace in Area of Refuge

17 Sep

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We’ve all had those nights, where for whatever reason, we decide to simply lie down and become consumed by music. Those are the instructions I followed quite literally on my first Joanna Newsom listen, just add wine. I also did this when I first heard Vulnicura, a heartbreaking record. And Area of Refuge have created something equally as immersive with their recent Series One LP.

Area of Refuge is a duo, consisting of Christopher Morin and Jahna Stanton. Morin was beginning a career making easy listening music, writing riffs on a classical guitar after his band broke up. He played at an art show and there met Stanton, a violinist. They decided to collaborate and play a few songs together, but those tracks turned into an album, sometimes with the addition of the piano, and on one track, an upright bass, viola, and cello. And despite that seeming like fairly limited instrumentation to work with, all fifteen tracks on this record are genuinely unique.

Morin’s guitar work is delicate but cinematic. “Leap of Faith” shows this off, and also makes abundantly clear how talented Stanton is on the strings as well. It and the violin act as voices, with complementary melodies that warm your heart. In fact, the entire record is comprised of the quiet melodies that are better cherished alone. Each chord rings with beauty, and makes it tough to dislike. The grandest of them all is “Seeds of Aspen,” the tune with the upright bass et al; its composition almost seems to tower above the other tracks, but the emotion of the track that follows is equally as impactful. “Big Bad Luck” has a particular violin chord progression that makes me feel a yearning, as if my soul has opened up but I’m not sure for what.

My favorite song is “Shipwreck,” because it inexplicably reminds me Laura Marling. The guitar strums are very deliberate and methodical, then it slides into something bigger, more meaningful. There is something special about each track here, and because Area of Refuge is giving it out at a pay what you want rate, you have no excuse to download it and listen for yourself.

Visit Bandcamp to listen or download Series One.

Luca Bash – The Single Drops EP Review

10 Sep

Modern-day music seems to have an obsession with big beats and EDM-style euphoric rises and drops. Now this isn’t another of those typical reviews slamming EDM for its major successes over the past few years, but it is an review aiming to highlight the beauty and stripped back simplicity of a musician and an instrument.

Italian Luca Bash is one of said musicians, with his new EP, “The Single Drops”, summing up what the medium of acoustic music is, thought-provoking, emotive music that can connect people with its raw power. This EP is a compilation of the ‘best bits’ of the 2014 releases, “Cyan”, “Magenta”, “Yellow” and “Key Black”, plus an original new tune. It’s a novel approach, which shows sheer confidence from Bash in his own output

Bash and his long-time collaborator Giova Pes have combined to create a soulful experience that reaches out and connects with the listener, bridging the gap from record to artist. Kicking off with the new track, “Your Tomorrow”, from the moment Bash’s gravelly tones kick in, over the heavenly acoustic melody, you can close your eyes, lie back and relax. Again, the sound is exceptional here, with the production values high and the crisp instrumentation really matches Bash’s raspy vocals perfectly. It could be said it doesn’t really evolve as a song, but then when a song is the equivalent of a river trickling, does it need to go anywhere providing it is intensely relaxing to listen to.

Second song “Forever Like Asleep”, manages to sound like something heard on a mellower moment of “The Walking Dead”, a show famed for its country influences. The guitar melodies here are captivating and demand attention from the word go. The vocals here are more pronounced and noticeable too, with the musical breakdowns both intriguing and musically diverse too, it’s Bash and Pes showing us, the listener, that they have more to their musical repertoire. At times the vocalisations are slightly strained, but I really think it adds to the level of emotion in the music.

Next up is, “Dear John”, and is where things start to get slightly repetitive. I do enjoy the instrumentation here, as we break into more rhythmic melodies that resonated with me, but I feel this is a song that would excel live, while on record it’s kind of left behind a bit, as it sounds eerily similar to opener, “Your Tomorrow”. It does grow on me as we develop, but I feel that there’s not a lot more to be said about this track. It has more of a sleepy quality than a relaxing one.

The beginning of “Little Tale” sound like a mystical fairytale of sorts, with its mysterious acoustic background, while Bash’s vocals tend to differentiate from what has gone before which is a relief after the slightly derivative nature of “Dear John”. No here, we do gradually build to some form of climax, which allows Bash’s vocals to be a lot more interesting and diverse in their range. The breakdown halfway through serves as something of a harvester for the emotion that is to come in the latter half, we slow down before eeking out another powerful vocal and acoustic combination towards the end of the song, as the acoustics really take centre stage.

This sweet, but short, EP comes to a close with “Black Swans Walls”, which has more than a couple of American reference points, Dave Matthews-esque guitars swelling in the background and providing a suitable backdrop to a hurried Bash on vocals. It all sounds a lot more positive and upbeat, so rather than relax, it gets you a bit more pumped and bouncy! A great way to end such a short little collection of songs, and a nice emotion to leave with the audience, for sure.

Connections have also been important to Luca Bash. He often speaks of the moment where the adulation of a female fan sent shivers down his spine: “Before the final part of ‘Dear John,’ I make a pause after a B7, followed by a G.
When I reached that point of the song, the crowd was quiet and the silence was incredible. But a young female voice screamed aloud ‘Bravo!’ and, despite the fact that I was playing, I heard her. I still remember the shivers. I was unknown, playing a song unknown as well, but able to give emotions. This is the reason why I still compose.”

That much is clear within Bash’s work, you can tell he aims to connect and give people pleasure in his musical truths and personality. With “Single Drops”, he’s only going to connect to more and more people around the world.

Monks of Mellonwah – Disconnect EP Review

9 Sep

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Following the release of their debut LP last year and accompanying U.S. support tour, exciting Australian band Monks of Mellonwah are back with a brand new EP and Stateside trip to boot.

The alternative quartet has just released ‘Disconnect’ with seven new tunes. It follows a stunning few years for the band, as they took home awards in 2012, for International Rock Band of the Year and Best Indie Rock Band at the LA Music Awards and AIM Awards, respectively. Now though, with Grammy-nominated involved in the production alongside band member Joseph de la Hoyde and A&R Worldwide’s Monte Malone and Sat Bisla producing, they have bigger goals to achieve in the upcoming 12 months.

While 2014 album ‘Turn the People’ was an eagerly-anticipated release after years of promise, ‘Disconnect’ seems them aim to step up through the gears ever so slightly. Opener to the EP, “Never Been Good”, is a bouncy pop tune with a crunchy drum beat in the background built for the live arena and getting audience members to clap along. It’s a strong start and a good pre-cursor of what is to come.

Lead single “Even When It Burns”, is the highlight of the new collection of songs, it has an electrifying guitar riff that accompanies some haunting vocals; as electro-pop goes it’s catchy and has that haunting quality to it. Having listened to it a few times now, it has that essential ‘sticking’ factor, hours after listening to it, you’ll remember its familiar melodies and the chorus of ‘Even when it burns/ the simple things that I know I have learnt’, will be going round and round in your head!

“Show Me Something” has a building quality to it too, that drives the pace slowly but surely with a piano and drum kit. It has a dance music vibe to it too, with echoes of Chris Martin of Coldplay’s falsetto vocals on show too. It probably epitomises what the band are about perfectly in a three-minute pop song- with impressive vocals, catchy drumming and crisp production sound.

And that’s one half down, “Interlude” connects us through to the title track, “Disconnect”, in a Muse-style of theatrics. I’m instantly reminded of The Fray when the song kicks in, but the song develops into more of a love-lorn ballad with a pulsing electronic riff beneath it. It’s a warm, emotive song that strips back a lot of the bouncy tunes before it, and shows the lyrical warmth of the Monks song-writing.

In stark contrast, “Look At Me” opens with a Nile Rodgers-esque spiky guitar riff, throws in some ska drumming and the vocals of British band Don Broco, and a perfect song is made. It feels as though it is a song to be listened to only when the sun is blazing in the afternoon, cloudless sky, and an ice-cold beverage is in hand. It could be argued the song is a bit stagnant in how it really doesn’t develop and maintains that riff throughout, but when a song is this catchy (and yes that’s a word that has been used throughout this review, for good reason!), can you blame it for not going anywhere else?

And that’s almost the end of the road, with closer “Feel It Coming” signalling the end of a short dash of an EP. It is another familiar tale of a journey that sees the band build and build and build to a satisfying musical climax. This sounds as close to an emo-pop-punk as the band manage, with drums that belong to a heavier band during the breakdown late on. But it leaves food for thought, as that’s a possible direction the Monks could eventually take their music perhaps?

All in all, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not “Disconnect” can help the Monks of Mellonwah make that jump up to the top step in terms of musical quality or not. It sounds exceptionally well produced and is diverse enough to suggest that there’s something in the Australians. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out in the future for this promising collective.

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