Field Division | Dark Matter Dreams | Bella Union

Field Division
Dark Matter Dreams

Bella Union
Street: 06.22
Field Division = Fleetwood Mac + Adrianne Lenker + a dash of psychedelia

Des Moines, Iowa, duo Field Division has followed up their splendid 2014 EP, Reverie State, with an equally moving full-length album, Dark Matter Dreams. The latter contains a lot of the dreamy, not-quite-folk, somewhat psychedelic beauty from the EP, but also moves forward to widen the band’s already expansive landscape and deep-reaching influences.

From the onset and at various points throughout, with tracks like “River In Reverse” and “Innisfree (Let’s Be The Peace Now),” there is a sense of the 1970s at the roots, driven by superb guitar play from Nicholas Frampton and the sultry ruminations of Evelyn Taylor. It’s all very Buckingham/Nicks-esque, though the poppiness on some Fleetwood Mac songs can be a bit campier than anything Field Division bring.

Taylor and Frampton exchange vocal responsibilities, too, both taking turns singing alone, exhibiting different perspectives and emotional positions, as well as teaming up for stunning harmonies on light tracks with almost nothing else verbally. One of my favorite songs on the album, “Big Sur, Golden Hour,” is one where they both chime in together. It’s somewhat of a siren song, instead of either one belting it out. It works so well and allows the listener to be fully encompassed by all of the new layers Field Division have discovered, like the strings and precisely plucked, singular guitar chords.

Dark Matter Dreams was written on the road, during which Taylor and Frampton peered into their lives and the ever-changing environments they were facing, both internal and external. The result is an honest look at who they are, who we are and where we all could go together and as individuals while we work through the turmoil. The album is full of life, acknowledging and addressing the past and the present while still remaining focused on what is just around the bend, probably a lot like writing an album on the road would be.

I feel the truest song to that motif, and the most gripping on the album, to be “Farthest Moon.” It is truly something to behold. Again, there are mesmerizing harmonies, backed by rich tiers of sound that—at the end, when they all come together—permeate the space with something that feels hopeful, powerful; a simple solution for a complicated problem.

And then there is “Siddhartha,” an instrumental that brings almost as much of the total package as “Farthest Moon” does. It is catching and stirringly beautiful—a complex piece of music, though it may be the sparsest on the entire project.

There are so many things to pore over here: the lyrics, the diverse percussion, tambourines, synths, effect pedals, strings and a lot of other eclectic accents. The finished product is strong from start to finish, but I’ll be surely rewarded over repeat listens, as this album most certainly makes my regular rotation. I truly enjoyed it top to bottom. There is a subdued but quite obvious give-and-take between Taylor and Frampton. It is seamless and touching. They seem to be on the same page while thoroughly bringing a ton of stuff from the pages of very different books to enhance what they clearly do so well to begin with. Check out Dark Matter Dreams; check out the EP. Field Division are great and should get a lot of love for a long time. –Billy Swartzfager

Talos | Wild Alee | Feel Good Lost/BMG

Talos
Wild Alee (Deluxe Edition)

Feel Good Lost/BMG
Street: 06.14
Talos = James Blake + Bon Iver

Eoin French is Cork, Ireland’s indie wunderkind and something of a more familiar figure in his home territory, where he’s been building steam for several years. French’s debut album, Wild Alee, comes on the back end of several expansive singles slowly released over the preceding year and picking up greater energy for this perplexing artist. Under the moniker Talos—inspired by his grandfather’s love of Greek mythology—French brings breathy, wispy vocals and wayfaring synths into a beguiling combination. Seventeen tracks gorgeously alight the deluxe edition of Wild Alee, to be released in late June and including the recently released, energetic single “Kansas”—a part of the four Then There Was War EP tracks included in the deluxe version. Unlike many ultra-lengthy LPs, Wild Alee does not fatigue nor feel neurotic. French manages to perfectly play his hand and keep the listener subtly enraptured from beginning to end.

Wild Alee opens unassumingly with French’s signature bright, competent falsetto and a repeating ring of what sounds to be undersea sonar, a sonic reference that returns in the refulgent second track, “Odyssey.” French pulls from the ambient mastery of Brian Eno with the vocal stylings of Justin Vernon. Although the general sound persona of Talos is somewhat popular of late, French manifests it with singular competence. Grand, glowing, heartrending melodies, matched with unusual lyrics evoking nature’s chaotic edges intertwined with complicated human affairs, is the consummate Talos brand. French’s lyricism is ancient and perennial, with strange imagery of the divine, demonic and terrestrial. At times, his wordplay is slightly overstrung and perhaps even shoehorned, apropos to rhyming conventions. Fortunately, the musicality of Wild Alee is utterly strong so as to gloss over any linguistic faux pas. Fans of a more meandering narrative may even find the album all the more enlivened by its verbal esoterica, especially as French uses poetic tools to create cacophony to match the heft of the music. Certainly, the Talos recipe for oddity of word and grandeur of sound can be confidently described as unusually brilliant.

From “Piece(s)” and “In Time” to “Kansas,” French shows he can wander a wilderness of soft ambience and raging currents with deft musicality. Tremendously strong chorus melodies, bridges and tastefully infused pop hooks marry with ear-enrapturing electronic trickery in “Contra” and “This Is Us Colliding” among their brethren. In the third act of the album, smooth R&B sensations take hold in “Landscapes” and align with the beautiful counterpoint to all-instrumentals in “Wetlands.” The deluxe-edition single, “Kansas,” perhaps embodies the overall ethos of the Talos sound, with diffusive softness suddenly and gorgeously disrupted by grandiosity in beats and vocal layering. For listeners unaccustomed to the soundscapes of Talos’ multifaceted pseudo-genre, “Kansas” serves as a resplendent entry into that world, and perhaps more accessible to wider pop audiences than supposed predecessors such as Bon Iver. “D.O.A.M” closes Wild Alee with heavy synths and wonderful weirdness, a blend French serves up brilliantly. Wild Alee is playful one moment and pensive the next, with the treat of melodic and synthetic mastery and French’s lucent vocals. This is an album for meditation, celebration and satiety in all arenas. –Paige Zuckerman

Protomartyr | Consolation E.P. | Domino

Protomartyr
Consolation E.P.

Domino
Street: 06.15
Protomartyr = Preoccupations + MC5

Here we are being propelled into another summer, and Protomartyr have delivered a beautiful, angry flower growing out of a shithouse world. Protomartyr’s Consolation EP contains four dynamic new songs: “Wait,” “Same Face In A Different Mirror,” “Wheel Of Fortune” and “You Always Win.” Modern aggression makes you want to punch the wall—Protomartyr make you want to drag your fist across the bricks. Using that post-punk wall of sound with relentless guitars and brutal upfront percussion, Protomartyr have always sounded like the raw, Detroit, MC5 Kick Out The Jams–era rage shoved through a late ’70s post-punk London filter. What comes out the other side is a perfect storm of pleasantly complicated, stressed-out bliss.

The band is made up of Joe Casey (vocals), Greg Ahee (guitars), Scott Davidson (bass) and Alex Leonard (drums). All are in fine form here, especially Casey—his vocal style falls somewhere between that old-school post-punk baritone and a Pogues, mid-career Shane Macgowan snarl. Kelley Deal from The Breeders provides vocals, hums and purrs on the final two songs. Her vocal talents are perfectly placed to counterbalance Casey’s guttural growls—the same way her sister did with Black Francis when she was with The Pixies.

A full album may be preferable—however, this EP provides a brilliantly perfect feedback loop of realization, alienation, rage and a universe-always-wins apathy. The first track, “Wait,” is simply the struggle of keeping your head above the filth. On the song “Same Face In A Different Mirror,” you realize that no matter what happens, or wherever you place yourself, you are always the same person. The track “Wheel Of Fortune” is the match that hits the powder keg—the song ignites pretty quickly. The song is about a cult-like, Judgment Day cleanse, with Casey and Deal repeating the same doomsday phrase: “Water as commodity / All is comedy / Acts of God / Acts of purse-milking apostles / Pull yourselves up your bootstraps is impossible / I decide who lives and who dies.” This rhythm goes on for five verses. “The flea / The fetid pool / The sinkhole / The asshole / Who thinks he thinks / He thinks he knows all answers / Wrath for sale and it is always Christmas / I decide who lives and who dies.” You see the pattern here.

The final song is an “I don’t give a fuck any longer” anthem—the cosmic shrug after being kicked in the teeth. “The future feels like the past / I lost all my keys / The lock has defeated me / You win again.” Casey gives us another repeated phrase announcing defeat to the universe. “45 pills and no routine / Perfect days of polite company / Pull that sheet right over me / You win again.” We are all locked up in our self-imposed cages with no chance of escape. Don’t worry, this album isn’t about defeat—it’s not about understanding the world, either. It’s not about fixing the fucking thing, or wanting to for that matter. It’s not about hating the people around you, or finding love during the times of our destruction. What it might be about is understanding who you are, being human and keeping your head above it all. Whatever existential nonsense I can come up with, in the end, Protomartyr’s Consolation is a legitimate album and a must in the summer-record release cycle. –Russ Holsten

Visigoth | Conqueror's Oath | Metal Blade

Visigoth
Conqueror’s Oath

Metal Blade
Street: 02.09
Visigoth = Manilla Road + Iron Maiden + Atlantean Kodex

It’s been a while since this album was released, so I’ve been lucky to have quite a few listens under my belt. Other than giving my humble opinion on the second album from SLC’s heavy metal crew Visigoth, I do want to address a couple things. One of them is what I came across browsing the web for reviews. The other the massive importance lyrics play—not just in metal, but in all music.

One thing is certain: There is no such thing as the sophomore slump for Visigoth. I actually enjoy Conqueror’s Oath significantly more than their debut, Revenant King. This is mostly due to a massive amount of riff candy, guitar solos that don’t repeat themselves and a rhythm section that is not just a background for guitars and vocals. I was getting the hooks and incredibly crunchy guitars stuck in my skull halfway through the second listen. So with this storm of all the instruments pumping come the lyrics. In heavy metal, a catchy riff is just as important as a catchy chorus or potent lyrics. With Conqueror’s Oath I actually recognize and remember songs by name better than the debut. I won’t name particular song highlights, since it would pretty much be the entire album.

While skimming other reviews online, I came across a strange theme. Visigoth has been accused of, for a lack of better words, “forced cheesiness.” Fuck, they’re not Steel Panther. The only read I can get on this critique comes from the bands love for, vast knowledge of and huge influence from metal and rock from the ’70s and ’80s. I do see some ways that a listener could confuse an influence from a specific sound and interpret it as “cheese”. In the end the influences are there, but I don’t find them straight ripping off a style. Find me a band from the ’70s or ’80s in the metal-rock realm that doesn’t sound cheesy. –Bryer Wharton

serpentwithfeet | soil | Tri Angle

serpentwithfeet
soil

Tri Angle
Street: 06.08
serpentwithfeet = James Blake + Rabit + Arca

“I know you feel too old. But if you whisper, only I will hear you.” From soil’s opening lines, the album’s main themes are present: sensuous desire, sacred intimacy and our hesitance to find these releases. As serpentwithfeet, Josiah Wise sings about these weathered concepts in a fresh, unique way. While many of his techniques have precedents (Al Green, Madonna and Frank Ocean among them), he assembles them in an independent manner. The music and stories on soil exist in the liminal space where eroticism becomes comfortable romance, where a one-night stand turns into a life-changing relationship.

Across the whole album, the music is exponentially stranger than on Wise’s debut, blisters. The sounds are more grotesque, the vocal effects more jarring and the jittery paranoia aligns much more with his peers on Tri Angle. Even against other experimentalists like Lotic or Katie Gately, Wise’s music feels completely out-there. Thankfully, he has a knack for legitimizing even his strangest excursions. “wrong tree” initially sets out as one of the most baffling cuts here. Its hook is a campy, barbershop-style bounce that seems wildly out of place against the message of misread cues and mixed signals. The track ends with a mash of layered vocals, chopped samples and melismatic ad libs, turning a goofy musical idea into one of the most rewarding bits of sound design on soil. He takes the shared embarrassment of the music and lyrics and finds a common ground where they both have emotional meaning.

Beyond its draw on choir and gospel music, soil is rich with religious and spiritual references. Instead of creating a dissonant irony between religion and his queer desire, Wise finds a way to elevate both to glorious heights. Just when you might be convinced that “cherubim” is some sort of Christian avant-pop tune, Wise starts to sing about how good the inside of his lover’s mouth tastes. Wise’s sexuality is his devotion, and his faith cannot be removed from the romances in his life. Instead of directing his prayers to a god, he calls to his lovers and friends for guidance and salvation.

Strangely, then, it’s fairly unclear as to who the subjects of these tracks are: Wise could just as well be singing about a string of a dozen lovers as he could about one individual. This ambiguity is ultimately irrelevant. The importance of these songs isn’t in the objects of desire themselves, it’s about their effect on Wise. The love interests are present in their absence (“messy”), their ex’s kisses (“fragrance”) and their lasting impressions on Wise (“invoice”). Rarely (if ever) does anyone ever take center stage. Every moment is filtered through Wise’s experience and memory. Selfish, maybe, but nonetheless honest.

After a string of cuts that get increasingly darker and more tortured, the final track, “bless ur heart,” closes the album on a conclusive, self-referential note. Wise wonders, “When I give these books away, will my ink betray me? Will my psalms seek the company of lonely breaths? Will they inspire lovers to kiss with mouths they don’t have yet?” After mercilessly baring his soul for the last half-hour, Wise wonders what the point was. He’s incredibly serious and sincere, and his ultimate worry is that his words will get lost in translation. He thus closes his album with a praise: “Boy, thank you for showing me how to be gentle. I have courage to share your love boldly.” The trials and tribulations detailed previously left Wise changed for the better. Hesitantly, he offers his experiences to the public in the hope that they’ll give others the same chance. –Connor Lockie

Snail Mail | Lush | Matador Records

Snail Mail
Lush

Matador Records
Street: 6.08
Snail Mail = Frankie Cosmos + The Raincoats + Flying Nun Records

In the summer of 2016, singer/songwriter Lindsey Jordan, then aged just 17, released the EP Habit, a handful of sparse, sometimes jangly, ofttimes forlorn tracks under the moniker Snail Mail. Between 2016 and 2017, Habit was in constant rotation in my tape player, its six tracks growing on me with each listen. I kept praying, please, don’t break up, please let there be a follow-up. The space between 2016 and 2017 was dreary and awful for a lot of us, and Habit quickly became one of the only things I could turn to when I needed to draw my mind away from everything. At the time it just felt so perfect. Fast-forward one calendar year and my feelings are the same, but I’ve been left wanting more.

This month, Snail Mail return with their first full-length album, Lush, having signed with the legendary Matador Records. Jordan is joined by bassist Alex Bass and drummer Ray Brown. From what we heard on Habit, Jordan’s songwriting showed a natural propensity for both blissful, poppy tunes and scant, introspective numbers, and just as Habit lent favor toward the latter, Lush does the same in Jordan’s now-familiar pragmatic, casual and languid manner.

After a brief, ingénue intro track, the album’s first single, “Pristine,” comes into focus, Jordan’s steady voice accompanying the rhythm section as she moves deftly between chords, tranquil as she laments, “And if you do find someone better / I’ll still see you in everything tomorrow / and all the time.” This mood and subject matter is one comforting certainty that Snail Mail offers us. “Don’t you like me for me? Is there any better feeling than coming clean?” she continues, the album’s lyrical content staying humble and vulnerable, never waxing poetic or overwrought.

“Heat Wave,” Lush’s fourth track, begins in somber fashion with Jordan sorrowfully singing, “Woke up in my clothes / Having dreamt of you,” before an almost Nels Cline–sounding fuzzy lead breaks through the fog and the track finds its tempo. “And I hope that the love that you find / Swallows you wholly / Like you said it might,” she sings defiantly, but with an air of acceptance, before ending with the words “I’m feeling low / I’m not into sometimes.” Such sparse and real lyrics checker the album, making Lush instantly relatable and accessible, with Jordan seemingly keeping no cards hidden, but delivering experiences in a subtle and spare manner.

Lush’s fifth track, “Stick,” is the only song carried over from the album’s two preceding EPs, and is revisioned simply and beautifully. Lush treads the same ground as Snail Mail’s Habit and Sticki EPs, but was produced and recorded perfectly. Where most artists would naively opt for overproduction and enhanced theatrics after signing with such a large and prolific label, Snail Mail instead retain their unique voice and character. Jordan’s voice is brought foremost into the mix while her guitar, sometimes swirling and other times pensive, sits just below with the rhythm section, tastefully threaded as the backdrop for the album’s 10 tracks.

“Golden Dream,” the seventh track, begins with the promise of another bedroom pop masterpiece much akin to “Pristine,” but is broken up sporadically with a whirling chorus before ending abruptly at the track’s climax. The following tracks follow familiar patterns: A mix of upbeat pop numbers delicately mixed with slower, cathartic songs.

Juxtaposing the halcyon of summer and easier times against uncertainty, resignation and the ennui of a lackluster life in the doldrums of an American expanse, Lush is a striking overture and a completely honest collection of songs, the sort of songs that continue to grow over time, like the leaves on trees that eventually offer shade from the overhead sun, a welcome repose to the glaringly bright episodes we have in life. –Ryan Sanford

Cold Cave | You & Me & Infinity | Heartworm Press

Cold Cave
You & Me & Infinity

Heartworm Press
Street: 06.01
Cold Cave = Suicide + Diary of Dreams   

For over a decade, Wesley Eisold, who first made a name for himself with hardcore punk acts American Nightmare and Some Girls, has unleashed his brand of relentless electronic music with the aid of Amy Lee under the moniker of Cold Cave.

While musicians may strive to blaze their own trail, few artists are born in a vacuum. Cold Cave are a Frankenstein’s monster when it comes to defining their sound. You could simply call them a post-punk electronic outfit, but that sells them a bit short. Cold Cave aren’t a band living off the fumes of nostalgia. The past is certainly present as Eisold’s baritone vocals fall somewhere between Joy Division‘s Ian Curtis and The Sisters of Mercy‘s Andrew Eldritch, with a hefty dose of lyrical nihilism from The Downward Spiral–era Nine Inch Nails. The music, however, is something of a shapeshifter that pulls influence from different electronic genres and eras, and that’s on full display with their latest release, You & Me & Infinity, a four-track EP.

The proceedings begin with the electronic rumble of the title track, a soaring epic that is a mix of noise and pulsating synths. The sound feels rooted in the dark, mutated and disfigured dance music that came out of Europe in the late ’90s as industrial acts like Evil’s Toy, Covenant and X-Marks the Pedwalk became increasingly interested in packing the dancefloors and goth acts like Rosetta Stone and Clan of Xymox started to adopt a more electronic approach. It’s strangely euphoric despite being built upon a foundation of melancholy. A true “us against the world” anthem.

“Nothing is True but You,” the second track, is an (en)chanted spoken-word duet. Its musical base is a hypnotic grinding of distorted bass and minimal synths floating beneath the vocals. There’s something about the vocal delivery and lyric that makes the song feel like an outtake from The Sisterhood‘s Gift release or a Floodland demo with Lee playing the part of Patricia Morrison.

This is followed by the release’s pop-friendly “Glory,” a previously available digital single with a Power, Corruption & Lies–era New Order vibe that also finds Eisold channeling a bit of David Bowie at his most wistful in both the vocal delivery and lyric. The concept could have gone horribly wrong, but turned out to be the beautiful and unexpected lovechild of “Temptation” and “Heroes.” It’s possibly the most hopeful track the group have ever recorded. It still features a narrative that finds Eisold abandoning his current surroundings, but at least this time he’s not going on alone.

The EP closes with “My Heart is Immortal,” a sister song of sorts to “Nothing is True but You” with the repetitive and cinematic aspects of the witch house genre pushed further into the forefront. It’s the most basic, primal track on the release and echoes aspects of early Soft Cell and late ’70s punk-influenced electronica. It’s the only track that feels like a B-side, rather than a single or featured album track, but I suspect that its rough edges will make it a favorite in certain collections.

You & Me & Infinity is an intriguing 20-minute journey into darkness laced with the romantic hope of happiness found by running away with someone you love. –ryanmichaelpainter

Eartheater | IRISIRI | PAN

Eartheater
IRISIRI

PAN
Street: 06.08
Eartheater = doon kanda + Lolina

“I like to customize my style. You can’t buy this, suck my bile.” These lines show up around halfway through “Inclined,” one of the singles from IRISIRI. In barely a dozen words, Alexandra Drewchin exposes a lot about the album: abhorrent of consumer culture, committed to a self-made aesthetic and drawn to a specifically medieval sensibility. Thankfully, IRISIRI is just as strange as this line and these themes would predict, as its music is an uncompromising take on the melding of songwriting and experimental sound design.

The bulk of the album’s front half consists of shorter, more abstract compositions. The music floats along in the form of a warped collage, pinning sounds from different places, genres and centuries against each other. “Not Worried” mixes delicate banjo plucks with incessant electronic drums, while “Curtains” is a harp cadenza accompanied solely by rave synthesizers. In any other context, these far-reaching experiments would feel too scattered to reach a sense of cohesion. The more she enters musical territory that seems contrary to standard practice, however, the more the similarities between these sources merge.

Towards IRISIRI’s back-end, the music stretches into expansive tracks. “Switch,” with its ghostly choir and eerily spacious drum programming, offers one of the first moments of weightless ease on the record. This respite ends once the alien funk of “Trespasses” begins. Easily the most abstract cut here, Drewchin fills the space with an alternating combination of buzzing synths, cavernous percussion and solemn, chant-like singing. In the same way that OPN’s R Plus Seven and Holly Herndon’s Platform found spiritual depth in the shallow world of the Internet, Drewchin reinvents religious ecstasy for a secular society. Replacing those albums’ kitschy sheen is a disturbing physicality. Drewchin’s voice alone pushes the limits of the human form: It shrieks at the top of its range, it groans and cracks at the bottom. The body behind the music never fades into the ether—it’s always present and breaking in full focus.

After these two longer, more subtle tracks, Drewchin elevates her energy to thrust the album into its final moments. “MMXXX” boasts a Moor Mother feature, and fittingly rejects the temperate atmospheres of earlier tracks in favor of thumping, direct music. From the sirens and breaking glass that open it, the duo present a feeling of distress and action. Drewchin’s squeals and shouts are wonderful, but Ayewa’s contribution is the real star. Lines like, “Gravity can’t limit me and my orbit,” and “You can get your arms and your legs ripped from your body then handed back to you like ‘Keep the change, traitor,’” perfectly fit the violently grotesque, medieval-turned-cosmic personality that IRISIRI oozes.

The following track, “C.L.I.T.,” is easily the most outwardly aggressive track on IRISIRI. The pile of bright distortion is the perfect backdrop for Drewchin’s refrain, which could be the mission statement of the whole album: “Yeah, I rejected the culture. Do you blame me? No.” Delivered in a passionate, boastful cadence, it feels like Drewchin’s victory lap. It’s the anthem for when she stands atop a mountain of skulls as an accomplished warrior.

Drewchin’s twin releases from 2015, Metalepsis and RIP Chrysalis, suggested that Drewchin’s solo music would lean toward experimental folk. Here, any predictions fall flat, and the result is an album that exceeds the expectations of her or any other artist. Track after track, listen after listen, IRISIRI eludes conventional analysis or understanding. Antithetical to history and conformity, Drewchin’s music imagines a world where this music is the convention, not the outlier. It’s unclear whether this takes place in the past, the future or the alien present. Regardless this grimy, transcendental music is glorious. –Connor Lockie

Regan Ashton | …And the People You Always Have With You | La Escalera Records

Regan Ashton
…And the People You Always Have With You

La Escalera Records
Street: 03.18
Regan Ashton = (Frank Turner + early Against Me!) x (Johnny Cash/Johnny Paycheck)

Ever since I came into this scene, Problem Daughter have always been the band that sonically stood out to me the most in the Salt Lake punk rock salad bowl, due in part to Regan Ashton’s unmistakable, raspy and melodic drawl. As I’ve come to get to know Ashton over the years, I’ve learned that he is someone who has been in some dark places emotionally and mentally. He’s managed to create amazing songs out of it, whether it’s with Problem Daughter, his acoustic solo material or his veering into the realm of country.

Worlds definitely collide as Ashton’s love of punk, folk and country all shine equally on this record. Tracks like “Scumbag” and “Junkyard Parakeet” are folk songs that have a banjo, piano and harmonica with added country twang. Both are covers from local folk artist Erin Tooke, aka TK Vanderbilt. If you don’t know who he is, do yourself a favor and look him up. For the last decade, he’s penned some of the best folk/punk hybrid songs in SLC. “Anywhere But Here” gives off a hoedown vibe, with its upbeat and dance-inducing rhythms reminiscent of Jerry Reed. “Failed Author” takes more of a downturn in tempo, with the harmonica and bottleneck guitar driving home the traditional country-ballad approach.

Ashton informed me that the tracks he sent in were not the master recordings, but I assured him that if they sound the least bit rugged, it will just enhance the integrity mirrored in old-school country as well as punk rock. It’s amazing how many similarities there are in these two genres: The songs deal with personal stories driven by emotion, they can have a political edge in most cases, most purists agree that a lot of the veracity was lost when the genre garnered mainstream accolades, and most will agree that the best advocates for both genres are those who are considered “outlaws.” As his debut solo album, Ashton has done an impressive job making a record that accentuates his abilities as a standalone musician while not forgetting his roots. –Eric U. Norris

Talia Keys and the Love
We’re Here

Self-Released
Street: 04.20
Talia Keys and the Love = Hozier + Amy Winehouse + Joshy Soul and the Cool

Oozing with an unapologetically soulful voice, Talia Keys never fails to give me goosebumps while delivering upbeat, dance-worthy tunes. From the first notes of “Shake It,” it’s clear that Talia Keys has a strong stance on contemporary issues and an equally strong voice to back up what she is saying. Talia Keys and the Love draw inspiration from a handful of genres and ideas, specifically soul, blues, reggae and even a little hint of gospel and hip-hop, especially in “Love Is” and “Closed Mouth.” While almost every song in the album is structured in a blues format, this seems to only play to what Talia Keys is vocally able to achieve, and the simplicity of the instrumentals makes the solos in each track—specifically keyboard and guitar—really shine.

Title track “We’re Here” is a personal favorite—it’s a sort of rallying cry for feminism and queer representation but can be applied to any resistance movement. It’s a catchy, reggae-inspired hook that makes it one of the more memorable tracks of the album. “We’re here to fuck shit up” is a simple idea that is expanded on in this track, and becomes a pervasive and powerful statement that encapsulates the feel of the entire album and ends it on a powerful note. Even with “Broken Cities,” which is about the problems in America’s inner cities, there is a hopefulness that something can be done in the lyrics that ultimately makes it a positive message and highlights Talia Keys’ strength as a songwriter. For me, the only critique is that songs like the opening track “Shake It” don’t seem to have some of the same power and gusto as later tracks like “Love Is” and “Burn.” However, I think with We’re Here, Talia Keys and the Love show off their soul sensibilities with hints of blues, reggae and even pop, all while sending a positive, inclusive message that could stand to be played a little louder in the current political climate. Not only does We’re Here showcase how soul, as a genre, is extremely relevant in current social issues, but it also shows off the musicality of Talia Keys and the Love’s strength as a songwriter and performer. –Ali Shimkus