We shouldn’t always question as to whether or not projects from over a decade ago should see the light of day. Well, we should sometimes but in the case of Deadpan Darling (Fake Four Inc.), I’m open to it. This is a collaboration between both Ceschi Ramos and Blue Sky Black Death (Televangel & Kingston 88 Ultra) the artists worked on 15 years ago. The songs on the self-titled release have never been shared because over the years “hard drives were lost, songs were erased & the project was presumed dead.” This year we’re the fortunate ones. Here we get a different look at Ceschi with production that suits him. It’s versatility and we see it here. “Laugh Track” is a standout. The sweet somberness of the music is pretty tasty and Ceschi’s lyrical content, yeah, many of us could use that on a daily basis. Even with “Mistaken,” BSBD uses a more electronic dance-oriented backdrop, and Ceschi, well, he kills it! This is possibly my favorite track off the release but that’s not to say there aren’t any other gems around. “Sand Francisco” roots around that dance energy while “10 Things” bounces with a fervor. Yeah, maybe a follow-up is in order for Deadpan Darling.
Some artists come with extensive resumés, others come out of nowhere to surprise audiences all around. But on occasion, the former takes precedence over the latter. That is unless an artist is a stand-out with music that’s stunning.
This brings us to Shoot Out The Cameras (12XU), the new release by John Sharkey III. It took me a moment to focus here because I did recognize the name and it forced me back to Clockcleaner, the 3-piece punk band from Philly that released four albums, most notably 2006’s Nevermind (Reptilian Records), which I still have! The band released material between 2004 – 2009 before disbanding, although I’m not sure if the group continued to perform past 2008. Given the group’s past history, I expected more of the same from Sharkey. This release couldn’t be further musically from his past than it is. While it may be a shock to the system for some, here we find a completely different sound emanating from the music he delivers on this release. This is a beast of a different kind altogether.
Sharkey’s voice is alluring, along with his musical constructs; it’s captivating. For the album, Sharkey handles acoustic & electric guitar, Hammond organ, as well as handling some percussion. He’s mostly assisted here by co-producer Nick Craft on guitars and backing vocals with additional musicians on a couple of songs. The percussion mentioned, there’s hardly, if any, throughout but this isn’t a standard folk offering, not by a long shot. His vocal delivery, his tone, is reminiscent of the masters. Those crooners that didn’t show too much effort in delivery but always found magic in performance (Sinatra, Wayne Newton, Neil Diamond, etc.) Believe me, I’m going somewhere with this. Like those artists, Sharkey doesn’t need to try hard to get a certain feel, a perfection that his voice wraps every song with. Take a listen to “Picking Roses” and tell me if I’m wrong. The organ in the distance just accentuates everything there. There’s a country-esque aspect to his songs but they’re not easily pigeonholed as one thing. Folk and the rock enthusiast that he is permeates through many songs. “I Found Everyone This Way” seems to be my go-to, revisiting the track over and over as the harmonies caress the effortless guitar play here. It’s soothing while “Death Is All Around” could easily be found on western soundtrack because it suits the aesthetic in spades. The guitar notes are plucked eloquently throughout and when Sharkey sings that “death is all around me” it feels real.
I can’t help but get a feeling of nostalgia when we get to the lengthy “Shooting Out The Speed Cameras.” Here Sharkey’s voice slightly resembles Layne Staley, not so much in tone but in delivery circa Unplugged. The darkness surrounding the music itself, as distorted guitars swirl around cascading its notes adds to its appeal. We can slice through the heavy thickness in the air with ease. This one right here is probably one of my favorites. There’s balance here though, as a song like “Tell Me Tell Me” is much more soothing and leaves me wanting more. Much more. There’s even a moment when you forget there aren’t any drums throughout. When the songwriting is this good, yes, they aren’t required or needed.
I can go on and on about Shoot Out The Cameras but there isn’t anything more I need to offer up about John Sharkey III aside from the fact he relocated to Australia some time ago. But there aren’t any barriers to music, and if there were, this album would smash them all down easily. This is by far, one of the best albums of the year! I dare anyone to challenge that.
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There are moments when you see that someone’s not breaking any new ground but it doesn’t mean they’re not necessary. Parents once thought Hip Hop a passing phase, until it became the cultural & billion-dollar phenom that it is. The same could be said about metal and hardcore. People won’t understand it but that’s only because they don’t want to.
Enter: Thirdface, a quartet out of Nashville, TN. The band unleashes its debut Do It With A Smile (Exploding In Sound) and is surely set to make heads turn. The band – vocalist Kathryn Edwards, bassist Maddy Madeira, guitarist David Reichley, and drummer Shibby Poole – keep the same energy from start to finish, delivering bombast of intricate compositions. Whether you’re a fan of this style of music, you’ll find it fascinating just for that alone. Kathryn Edwards, not of RHWOBH fame, howls like a demon-possessed as the rest of the band follows through with vindictive and powerful deliveries.
“Grasping At The Root” has Shibby Poole opening with a standard hardcore delivery before the band morphs the beat around, twisting the rhythm almost unrecognizable before they piece it all back together in unison. They change the rhythm itself once again, molding it to the content of the band. It’s impressive, abrasive, and challenging. Tracks are brief but the point comes across dramatically. I won’t pretend to understand what Edwards is singing through her growl but her path isn’t one I’d want to cross if she had disdain for my face. It’s frightening at times but captivating.
Thirdface will remove your conception of what a hardcore metal band is supposed to look or sound like with Do It With A Smile. And I’m sure as soon as you hear that bassline on “Villians!” you’ll be as hypnotized as I was.
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Reinvention sometimes proves difficult. That is of course if you’re not Sean Tillmann, the frontman for 90s noise band Calvin Krime as well as the guitar-popness of Sean Na Na. While the coffin isn’t quite closed on Sean Na Na, Tillmann has focused a majority of his time with his super pop alter-ego, Har Mar Superstar.
I’ve been fond of Har Mar Superstar but sometimes that was just in passing. Did Tillmann reach his limits? I wasn’t sure if calling it a day was in the cards for the Har Mar Superstar. With that said, we have Roseville (Love OnLine), the 7th full-length release under the moniker. He opens with “Solid Ghost,” beginning with Beach Boys-like melody and shooing it away within a psychedelic bubble-gum pop fervor. Ok then, I’m in. Piano, keyboards, fun & upbeat drum work, horns exploding; this is what real dreams are made of. Tillmann sings of love and he completely kills it! Literally, this song has played about 10 times before getting to the rest of the album. It doesn’t get better than this. Or does it? Yeah, it actually does.
While he’s matched contemporaries in the past with previous projects, here he’s joined a different class of songwriters. Frankly, he sticks his feet in multiple genres here; from direct pop to dance because frankly, “Where We Began” has me bouncing off walls as horns reverberate all through the track and the rhythm sinks its proverbial teeth in ass. Mine to be exact. The song isn’t about perfect instrument placing – although it does – it’s about evoking emotion which is does from beginning to end. We can all come to understand that Tillmann under his Har Mar Superstar persona is no damn fool. With “Another Century” he wrangled up a couple of special folk in soulstress Kam Franklin of the Suffers, as well as singer/guitarist Jackie Venson whose nimble fingers can be heard here. But the song itself, it’s a soul-searing masterpiece that again has him genre-hopping but allowing the album fluidity. But Franklin’s voice is silky, as she shares space with Tillmann. It’s fiery and I can’t help but imagine the Purple One’s influence all over him. I’d like to hear more of him like this.
Har Mar falls back on dancey rhythms with “Sleight Of Hand,” filled with harmonies, keyboard washes, and those horns we’ve all come to love. But it’s the late 70s trippiness of “Neon Aglow” that catches my ear, blowing like a breeze tossing candied barbs at you. It’s a light & jazzy R&B joint that you might find humping Kenny G in a backseat. This is so ILL it’s beyond belief. That’s soon followed by “Hearts Have Misspoken,” which is a hodgepodge of 80s-infused sounds. The grandiose number shifts from one direction to the next, propelled by synths that leave listeners nostalgic.
We need to address the elephant in the room that was my faux pas regarding Har Mar Superstar’s limitations. I was deathly wrong! What we can do here is file it under Prince, Phil Collins, Earth, Wind & Fire, Elton John, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon…man, just list Roseville as an album that should change your way of thinking as to what pop music should sound like. Har Mar Superstar is that bitch that shouldn’t be f’d with.
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There’s a lot to take in on Leandrul’s debut album Psychosis Of Dreams (Handmade). The brainchild of one Crosby Morgan, the Seattle-based artist fills her album with a wide array of sound and imagery. Densely populating the album, filling it with an unimaginable 17 tracks(!), there’s so much emotion emanating from the depths of her soul.
Leandrul is what some might consider an artist that utilizes electronics to construct her songs. Others may feel she’s a singer/songwriter that straps on an acoustic guitar. Both would be right as Morgan creates both, occasionally separate and other times in unison. Opening with the strummed notes of her guitar on “2010,” her ethereal voice carries the song far & wide, giving a semblance of what Leandrul is. But isn’t. She is a clever songwriter that remains unaffected in whichever way her music is delivered. “Broad Hall” gives a different look altogether, layering harmonies, over electronic bass notes and beats, recalling the 80s/90s but doing it her own way. It’s sweet and inviting.
I’m drawn to the other side of her mind here on “Death By Nerium,” a sad, somber number allowing her breathy vocals to ride the current of her hallowed guitar. Her plucking is delicate while her vocals, oh that voice, reaches deep in the hearts of men to captivate as only this chanteuse can. It’s heartbreaking and breathtaking all at once. Morgan flips from one moment to the next with ease as the electronic movements of “Holiness” should make everyone skip a beat as her lyrical dexterity utilizing love and faith shouldn’t be ignored. Couple that with backing church-like harmonies allows it to be fruitful and plenty. In the manner Leandrul delivers both acoustic and electronic, no one should mind it considering how seamlessly it’s done and how delicate Morgan can be within both. I find myself drawn to and repeatedly listening to “August,” again, solely Morgan and guitars and for a moment I get lost within it.
There’s obviously so much more left to tackle on this release, whether it’s the upbeat “Saved By Lizzy’s Taste In Music,” where she name drops artists who allow her to be herself or “Therapy” where Morgan comes to grips with herself. It’s all quite fascinating, imaginative, and real.
Throughout Psychosis Of Dreams we get a dose of the space Crosby Morgan finds herself in and she’s able to convey through Leandrul. The flesh is pulled back and we get a deeper look into her mind and emotions here. It’s not an easy task to accomplish and it’s actually quite brilliant.
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