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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.

Isaac Vallentin perfects art-folktronica in debut album Hedera

8 Sep

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I’ve not heard a whole lot of folktronica recently, and I miss it. Freelance Whales introduced me to its hypnotizing combination of banjo and synth, and for that I will forever thank them. Of course, there are many iterations of the genre, give or take some instrumentation, depending on how far they wanted to lean on the spectrum of folk to electronic. The Whales took their banjo and kick drum very seriously, but Isaac Vallentin seems to take more pleasure in the manipulation of guitar and harp plucking. His debut album Hedera is gorgeous and surprising.

Vallentin wrote Hedera in San Juan, in an attempt to shake off writer’s block. He overcame it with a vengeance, clearly. Interesting stories are woven throughout the record, with a lot of attention paid to the production. The energy of each track flows into the next; from Stewardess to Peach Boy to the Garden scenes, something is relinquished, yet also replenished. The narrative shows us a haggard character who aims to help those in need, but perhaps feels selfishly used. Another character comes to terms with falling out of love, even though the relationship falls apart without the façade. Vallentin focuses on the idea of time, how it shapes our loves- all four of them.

I know I went on and on in the intro there talking about how great folktronica is, but I also want to throw in how amorphous Vallentin sounds on Hedera. The acoustic instrumentation can’t be ignored, but with that said, there are many more instances where only synths and other digital elements are used to carry the emotion forward. It’s done expertly, and brings to mind Owen Pallett or Glasser, who both exemplify the experimental-pop hybrid style that Vallentin has carved out for himself. The lyrics don’t always rhyme, the time signature isn’t always typical, even the imagery can be shocking at times (“Cloud of Smoke”?!), but the journey is always engaging.

Buy Hedera here. Find more information on Isaac Valentin on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Drunk Tank Pink Sessions – Christoffer Øien New Release Out September 4

1 Sep

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When we last left Christoffer Øien a few years ago, he was coming off the heels of his successful debut Monster, which the Music Court lauded as “expansive folk; it mixes the style of some of Joe Purdy’s slower, lugubrious pieces with a mystical Radiohead flavor.” So, when I received a note from Øien that his new album would be out in September (tomorrow!), I got excited. Øien’s acoustic creations are keen and pastoral; true bucolic masterpieces from the land of fjords and trolls.

With the new album comes the continuation of Øien’s brand of mountain folk, a darker brand of music that is led by deep acoustic guitar tones and Øien’s smooth, quivering vocals. The music, while melancholy, has a unique ghost-like haunt to it; the riffs and Øien’s voice stays with you and not long after listening you find yourself humming the melody to disturb the silence. That’s staying power.

“Drunk Tank Blues,” the quasi-title track features all of the qualities about Øien that entice listeners. It is a slow-moving piece that features a crisp acoustic and dulcet violin. The song, which features a minimalistic almost existential video, matches the lugubriousness of the video, a smooth melody about drunk blues. The song moves slowly, accentuating each verse and string fill with skill.

Another song you should check out from the album is “Future Sounds.” A lighter track, with a riff higher on the fret board, Øien advises the listener about a future that does not look so bright, unless people can “find it in your heart to put a smile upon a stranger’s face … and find love in so many ways.” His vocal is particularly strong on this track, particularly emphasizing his best vocal quality – his ability to reverberate his notes. The strongest part of the song is its chorus, which builds with continuing harmonies and becomes like wonderful melodic message.

Check out his website, Facebook for more information.

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