Mostecelo,The Last Possible Tense
Somewhere between Tom Waits-eqsue indie-blues ballads and corridos, you'll find the songs on The Last Possible Tense, the new album from Mostecelo's J. Rebeca Suarez.
Self-described as "cross-cultural and darkly comic," Mostecelo's songs are primarily mournful piano and guitar ballads, in the storytelling style of corridos delivered courtesy of Suarez's lonesome moan. But peppered with accordions, trombones and sparse percussion, the songs are richer, darker and less focused on hooks than standard ballads.
The most interesting song on the album is its first: "Holler." Bold blasts of trombone on the downbeats give it a heavy, stomping meter, beneath a lightly strummed nylon-string guitar. With Suarez's wailing blues vocals on top, it sounds like a barker beckoning people into the circus.
The ballads that follow are moody, multi-lingual laments--Suarez is part Venezuelan--to a darkened room. Her unaccompanied piano sounds like it was recorded sitting alone in a dark cavern, and her tenderly plucked guitar sounds of lonely campfires in the desert. It's easy to get sucked into a sound like that, especially if you listen to the album lying on the floor of a dark room, a position that lets the imagination roam.
The fifth track, "Go," feels like the soundtrack to the meeting of two bashful lovers in a silent film. Several tracks later, "Blindside" sounds like their parting. Another standout track is the accordion-and-guitar-focused "Isa's Birthday Song," which conjures up the romantic imagery of old Europe.
But if The Last Possible Tense has a major problem, it's that after the siren-like lure of "Holler," the album never again regains that momentum and feels somewhat empty as a result--one giant fade out, which is a shame because those ballads are entrancing and their starkness would otherwise be a major strength.
Atomic Mama,Bodies in the Sun
Often, when a band takes its material into the studio, it evolves. Not just by the shapes the sounds take, but how those sounds influence arrangements, performances and supplementary parts. Sometimes a recorded song emerges with almost no relation to the song it was when it entered the studio.
That's not the case with Bodies in the Sun, Atomic Mama's debut EP.
Anyone who has seen Atomic Mama live isn't going to be in for many surprises. But Bodies in the Sun chronicles that sound nicely with all its filtered synth sweeps and bass riffs like a snarling wolverine.
But those who haven't seen Atomic Mama may be opening up a can of psychedelic electro-indie whoop ass on their ears. The band uses sparse kick and snare samples for the foundations of a beat, then layers them with percussion and rock riffs.
Nowhere on the EP is that more evident than its penultimate track, "Psychocillin Roboboogie," which starts with two minutes of slowly building percussion, gradually fades in a synth on the high end, and then drops a bass line like a piano from a rooftop.
Another standout is the EP's fourth track, "Never Ending." With a spacious beat and an ultra-heavy bass line beneath a carefully metered vocal wail, it has the epic feel of a sermon. But it's the sort of sermon you'd expect from a televangelist in a dystopian sci-fi film.
If the EP has a flaw, it's in its inconsistency. Half of Bodies in the Sun is universe-bending experiments in pop music, and the other half is flyover tracks primed for the skip button.
For example, the album's final track "WHAT IS LOVE" sounds like a cover of Alannah Myles' "Black Velvet" as performed by Danny Elfman, which doesn't stay compelling for seven minutes, especially when at least four of them are the line, "What is love," repeated over and over again. Its second track, "Another Man," is equally un-engaging, especially when it's sitting next to powerhouse tracks like "Never Ending" and "Psyhocillin Roboboogie," as well as the album's title track. But those three tracks alone make the EP worth picking up.
Naomi Psalm with The Blue Cinema, Stare
Formerly a solo act, singer-songwriter and guitarist Naomi Psalm now works with a full band, The Blue Cinema, comprised of Dan Costello, Mike Tetro, Rob Hill and the occasional synth player. Psalm, a Florida native, provides vocals for her most recent album, Stare.
Psalm's creations can be somber, poignant and even reverent, her talents akin to Sarah McLachlan. On "Dinner's Late," amid meandering guitar track intros, Psalm comes on sounding like Michelle Branch.
But the band built around Psalm sets her apart from the "woman plus guitar" Lilith Fair trope, bringing back the depth of sound so often missing with a solo artist. "Gazing" goes much more country, channeling Shania Twain, while "Ink" stands alone in its more urban feel, with a grainy synth underlying twangy bass--these songs are made whole by the band.
But not every song on Stare is a gem. "Already Hit Send," as the title suggests, is all about how Psalm sent a text message too soon. She sings in a whispery cadence, "In the same room / it's much clearer / in the same room / we connect." From there, the song bleeds into a chorus that's a cliche-riddled dedication to the metaphor, with lyrics like, "Connection lost, mis-under-stood" and "What did you mean / what did you mean?" At least the song doesn't end with, "Do u like me lol?"
Sometimes sappy, Stare could be written off as vanilla, but strong talent is there. In the same way that macaroni and cheese pleases countless folks, Psalm and The Blue Cinema will surely scratch that comfort itch.
James Orr, Tiny Love
It was peculiar seeing James Orr open for Mozam at Neurolux early last month. Not because the acts' styles were completely different, but because Orr has been a regular in the Boise music scene for quite a few years now, and on that night, Mozam was nervously preparing for its first-ever performance.
The scene from that night was illustrative of the current reality that many of Boise's mainstays from the late-aughts are now facing: A slew of young buzz-worthy bands are bogarting all the attention from the city's modest pool of music fans.
With the release of Orr's detailed and ambitious new record, Tiny Love, it's apparent that he wants to remain in the conversation.
The album introduces itself with an assortment of soft, bubbly guitar blips that morph into the basis for the chorus of "Pride & Prejudice," the first, and one of the best, tracks on the album. The song is tranquil but with a tense underbelly. This describes a lot of Orr's new record--his guitar is light and airy, with lots of reverb and delay, his voice is soft and calm, but the pace and key of the songs tend to invoke a feeling of apprehension, like something big is about to happen.
The problem is, nothing big ever really happens. Orr doesn't develop his songs into peaks, and there aren't many hooks for the listener to latch onto. The choruses are, for the most part, subdued and the album lacks energy. The songs mostly just meander along, and right when you think something is about to happen, they'll usually just fizzle out with little payoff.
But maybe Orr doesn't care for big impressions. Where he excels the most is in creating dreamy, soporific soundscapes. "1.15.11" is perhaps the best example of this; it's a tempered, emotional track with Orr's soft baritone atop a warm cello line and steady blanket of his lullaby-like guitar tones.
"Tiny Love Acoustic" is another relaxing tune with melancholy guitar riffs, pensive cello and some touching love lyrics contained in the opening lines, "Someone once described the oceans in your eyes as perfect / I don't even care if I'm stuck drowning there forever."
It's apparent that Orr put a lot of hard work into Tiny Love. The tracks are densely layered, the production is crystal clear, the lyrics and mood are rife with heartfelt emotion, and the record is littered with small pockets of beauty. Still, it lacks the capacity to captivate and pull the listener in. It's an admirable effort but not enough to tap into the excitement generated by Boise's more adventurous up-and-comers.
Like A Rocket, Hey Man
This three-piece--featuring Charlotte, N.C., transplant Speedy Gray on vocals, Z.V. House on bass and Dustin McFadden-Elliot on drums--shamelessly borrows from the best of the British invasion, Americana and Southern swamp rock. But Like A Rocket blends it together with panache, the best example being "Every Time Sweet," on its new album Hey Man, where flute and piano accompany a funky bass line and bouncy drums.
The mid-album "Tea Party!" features chords identical in energy to the Romantics' "What I Like About You," and it also instantly gets stuck in your head. Perhaps intentionally, the following track, "Monkey," smacks of The Monkees. On it, Gray sings, "He's a monkey / he's a monkey in my well," with accompanying psychedelic guitar work.
"Breathe" features piano and leans more toward a somber, acoustic, Beatles-like track, but Speedy takes it a bit too slow with the vocals and leaves the listener hanging. The result feels a lot more like Wings than Abbey Road B-side. Toward the end of the record, the myriad directions Hey Man pulls itself gets a little wearisome.
But Like A Rocket's Hey Man is balanced in its attempt, leaving only a couple less-successful tunes between the other gems, an unassuming release making up in fun what it lacks in flamboyance. While some of the rough edges--the barroom feel of "Woman" isn't getting across--need polishing, the inclusion of jazz flute and their delightfully versatile sound serve the name Like a Rocket well.