New Music: Friday Roll Out! Chris Brokaw, Danielle Durack, Pearl Charles, Grandbrothers, Wolf Eyes, Blank Hellscape, Baby Boys

Seems life differs from one week to the next. At the start of 2021, if you’re not living feeling on edge, you’re probably not living at all. Of course, we all have those friends who tell us we shouldn’t be so focused on the state of affairs because then we’re at risk of losing what’s right in front of us but…. EVERYTHING is right in front of us! No, we shouldn’t bury our heads in the sand, we all do need to be very aware and take it all in. If we don’t then we’re really at risk of losing the way of life we’ve always expected. Some may throw up false freedom flags claiming masks impede them going about their own lives. Ok. They may even claim that taking certain things away the President is the first step to censorship. No. Social media outlets have chosen to not allow lies to further dominate their platforms. Again, their platforms. The government isn’t banning what he says, it’s just the social media platforms. And Pornhub, which confuses me.

But guess what? We’re all still here, and we have to figure out how we can work through things together. Am I hopeful right now? Yes, yes I am. Do I think it’s going to take work and there are people that won’t think twice about not putting it in? Definitely. Some people just seem to thrive on separation and hate.

I’ve been listening to a few things the past couple of weeks and falling in my lap is a split release between Wolf Eyes and Blank Hellscape (12XU). If you don’t know the experimentalism of Wolf Eyes, I suggest attempting to play catch up although you may not make it. Since 1997, Nate Young, later joined by Aaron Dilloway, have been bridging the gap between experimentation and noise, and completely fucking with senses. Listening to the almost 19 minute long “Winter Sunday” moves in dark crevices, blackened alleyways, clearing a path for chaos. It enrages, drawing on the deepest and darkest thoughts one has, allowing them to fester in the foreground. Repeat. Austin three-piece, Blank Hellscape ups the challenge with its frenetic “Concrete Walls” and this is bananas AF! The rhythm is stuck on repeat, layered with guitars as vocals eventually make their way through. The band grabs hold of a rhythm, alters it somewhere around the 7 minute mark for a stroke of hellish majesty. The group has almost 20 minutes to work here so of course they challenge the senses, exploring much with distortion and percussion. Yes, I’m in, completely.

As it happens often, I encounter WTF moments, and this time it’s in the form of Minnesota’s Baby Boys (Grand Jury Music) with its single in “Cannonball” that’s going to be difficult to remove from memory. No, that’s not a good thing as the members harmonize together over a looping, and ridiculously simple electronic rhythm. If I had a drill, I could probably purge it from my head. Fortunately it doesn’t last long and the band quickly strikes down with notes on “Duke And The Cash.” This is more like it! The band can harmonize alongside its guitar as the rhythm’s infectiousness doesn’t slow down from beginning to end. Sure musically the band rings a bit of early Dave Matthews Band but who cares? It’s well worth the time and effort listening to the song over and over. The band is 1 for 2 here, let’s ust wait and see what they plan on doing in the future.

We should all sometimes question if things will ever get better than this. I know I ask that to myself again and again, even more so this past year. I’m left with hope, although I do wonder how much good that will do. But then Germany’s Grandbrothers make that left turn and release its third album in All The Unknown (City Slang) that helps me realize that it isn’t just a pipe dream and yes, things will get better.

Like many, I’ve been plagued with doubts and no expectations from our leaders who’ve seemed to drop the ball from the beginning but as I said, Grandbrothers come through with the assist in the form of its third full-length release. Erol Sarp and Lukas Vogel make up the ‘brothers and every sound we hear, emanate from Sarp’s piano as Vogel programs an array of sounds. The members have latched onto an aspect of music that’s been unmined and is the epitome of originality.

The album begins unassumingly enough as “Howth” builds around just a few notes but once the landscape is set, it’s fascinating peering through windows to see what’s inside. It shares similarities to Inception, as streets wind and turn, collapses and shift into something different. Yes, it’s an alternate medium but you get my drift. The duo digs into the emotionally charged title track where its pace is tense and the imagery surrounding it is rivetingly frightening. A literal sign of the times, all captured in one moment here. It’s frightening but also tearful as it takes such an emotional journey, listeners will be left wallowing in their own feelings.

But it’s “Shorelines” that I’m drawn to. As the song quickly crescendos, its unyielding beauty creates a soothing calm, much like water breaking and rolling on a beach, as the wet sand crunches beneath bare feet. Its melody strikes addictively, and you won’t want to be released by it. I myself want to hold on for dear life and “Auberge” quickly follows suit. This tender piece allows me to let go and gives me the respite I so desperately need. With plinking notes strewn throughout and Vogel expanding on it with his own computer-generated prowess, the song itself transforms into the expanse of the universe itself.

As I listen to the uplifting “Silver,” I’m left thinking that one instrument can make a difference. Given the additional programming gives the assist but this is truly insanity. All The Unknown moves through a variety of emotions and the Grandbrothers have taken an early start at setting the bar higher than most.

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There’s no other way to begin this. I’m left wondering why it’s taken so long for Pearl Charles to connect with me, or even why it’s taken three years to release Magic Mirror (Kanine) her sophomore full-length release. Given, this is my discovery of the young Pearl, in a musical ocean mired with so many vocalists/songwriters that attempt at regurgitating bland soundscapes that I’ve exhausted myself with. No, Pearl Charles is something else altogether.

First, we’d have to get past the elephant in the room, although that tusky friend isn’t attempting to hide in a corner. Magic Mirror is appealing but it’s also retrofitted, or rather retrofied. Sure there are semblances of pure iconic pop – much like ABBA, The Carpenters, Carol King, and even June Carter – but the music and Pearl Charles’ delivery is astounding. From the opening infectiousness of “Only For Tonight,” my mind’s eye imagines this 70s-like journey, filled with an array of instrumentation for such a grandiose sound emanating from headphones and speakers. Do I even imagine a video directed by yours truly letting every know, how and where their clothing should sway? Yes! I may even insert myself to become the dancing queen here because, in this fantasy, everyone loves me! I jest but this is the song’s enticement, it calls and shouts to all who will listen. The magic doesn’t end there though (no pun intended).

Pearl goes through a number of songs here and while she cleverly adopts a sound that’s sweetly 70s-inspired, she firmly holds onto her own identity. “What I Need” is a different look that may have taken a look at a Grease actress for inspiration, as the song is filled with loads of backing harmonies that are both sensual and haunting as slide guitar slinks through this track all throughout. And then “Don’t Feel Like Myself” is delivered with such urge and sadness, much like a controlling brother and sister duo, and here the piano, string arrangements, coupled with that same slide, draws out emotion that may not even have been there. It even has me not feeling like myself to an extent. But the title track is where Pearl remains completely captivating as she sings over a sole piano and when she sings “Magic mirror what can I do? I’ve been lost inside of you / I’m a magnet for your twisted point of view / my eyes are red, my heart is blue” the confusion seems obvious and melancholic, but she holds it all together. Magic Mirror closes with “As Long As You’re Mine” where she once again flips the script, and while her personality and identity are evident, the organ use and tone of the song are much different. This is an amalgamation where her interpretation of Soul is literally turned on its head and she makes great work of it.

There’s no stone left unturned on Magic Mirror, and Pearl Charles remains unapologetically nostalgic while at the same time captivating on every single song here. Easily a departure from both mainstream & indie which allows her to rise above any and all contemporaries. Yeah, I love Pearl Charles.

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Everyone knows that when it comes to newcomers, I always take it with a grain of salt. There’s a lot to live up to from the artists that have come before them, so I’m always left wondering if an artist has something new to bring to the table or the virtual party. This is something left for contemplation often.

Along comes Danielle Durack, out of the deserts of Phoenix, Arizona and it seems she’s not so new and just a little seasoned. Back in 2017, she released her debut, the 8-song Bonnie Rose which was followed up two years later with the 7-song Bashful. Sticking to what seems to be a release schedule every couple of years, Durack releases her new No Place (Undertow). As she makes her way from track to track, I’m unable to locate any missteps, instead, finding an album that’s distressingly amazing.

Fortunately, I have no comparatives to put Durack’s album up against as she lays clever folk-inspired numbers alongside pop gems, but I think I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. She opens No Place with the harmonious one minute long “Mistakes” where she offers up her voice alongside a lone guitar strumming, or rather picking, on a few notes. It leads the way into “By Now” where the background sounds layered underneath the acoustic guitar creates watery imagery as eddies pull and tug on melodies as she wistfully delivers her sweet lyricism, again springing in harmonies as drums eventually make their way through the song. It seems almost gradual but when it hits, it’s as striking as a Damien Jurado number (this will probably be the only comparable reference I make here). But Danelle Durack is pretty far from being a one-trick pony and offers up an assortment of surprises.

Her “Broken Wings” unexpectedly plays a bit with dynamics. The pattern of quiet charm is disbursed as the power grows. It’s unassuming at first when the beat drops with slightly louder guitars in tow, but as she wraps her words around the throat of a lover while being a glutton for punishment. It hits even harder and we just don’t expect the song to crescendo and quiet back down the way it does. It’s a formula others may have worked previously but Durack cleverly works it her own way. She continues to surprise with the piano-driven “There Goes My Heart,” which is sparse musically but hits every right note as Durack delivery is the centerpiece here leaving her bloodied heart on her sleeve. A one-sided love affair or an unrequited love? Every listener can interpret this their own way, all I can say is it’s drenched in tears and beauty.

No Place has much to offer fans and music listeners in general. Danielle Durack is able to channel all the pain and heartbreak into her songs or she can rock definitively with the best of them. In any case, the 25-year-old singer/songwriter is destined for great things. No, I mean really great things. If her music is any indication, the sky doesn’t even have a hold on her. The universe is wide open.  

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Chris Brokaw has been recording solo material since the turn of the century. Of course, I was a fan of his previous work with both Codeine and Come and lost touch with his music since then. He’s amassed an expansive catalog of material and last year released 13 songs that could have probably filled an album had he chosen to. But this is a new year and Brokaw has released the new album, Puritan (12XU) which is different than any of his previous band work.

Throughout possibly half of Puritan, Brokaw takes a mid-tempo approach, enveloping his songs in distorted guitar play with a backing band, his hazy voice drenching track after track. The other half though is a bit quicker paced, mostly loud, and definitive as an album Brokaw is clearly involved in. The opening title track blends both moments as Brokaw allows his guitar the freedom to wash through the song, much like he’s done in the past with Come, layering his guitar. But at times also doing the same with his voice, and overdubbed backing vocals, which works well. It’s not trivial or added as an afterthought, it’s a part of the song itself. His slower, quieter moments on “Depending” and “I’m The Only One For You” are just as inviting as we get more of his gruff vocal delivery, accentuated by his guitar play we’ve all come to love. But on the brief “I Can’t Sleep” and to a lesser extent on “The Heart Of Human Trafficking,” it seems there’s a misstep with standard guitar rock play, the latter having more to offer from its noisy effectiveness. But Brokaw finds redemption with the feedback-laden “Periscope Kids.” The noisiness of the song itself provides its own melody and when you set your speakers to 11, it’s fantastic!

Former bandmate Thalia Zedek makes a couple of appearances here on acoustic-driven “The Bragging Rights” where it opens with her lead vocals and gives another side of both artists, showcasing the ability to draw strength from quietly strumming as they do from loud and powerful guitar play. But it’s on the closing “The Night Has No Eyes” where we realize yes, for lack of better words, both musicians are the shit! The vocal harmonies they piece together are amazing as is the dual guitar play that meshes together like they’re always supposed to be together, much like Guru and DJ Premier. Puritan closes leaving me in awe with this one track but the album is a good reintroduction to Chris Brokaw, and that’s something we all need.

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