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Zonnis – Rise Of The Sheep – Album Review

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Unlike the White Stripes, Victoria, British Columbia’s Zonnis use the married couple aspect of their band to elevate the music, rather than hiding it, creating a dynamic that allows a lot of fun lyricism to mess around with. On their latest record, Rise Of The Sheep, they mix country, blues, rock and more with their clever lyricism and unique vocals, so is there any reason to judge the album by its cartoonish cover?

The album opens on some country-twanged blues with “Too Little Too Late” with some lively brass and percussion to liven the sound. Unfortunately without a twist on the blues sound the song ends up being more forgettable than the playful lyrics, deserve. The lyrics do however elevate “Up Dawson Creek Without A Paddle” where they give an engaging and humorous account of rural life.

A dark honky-tonk guides the booze anthem of “Drinkin’ In The Dark,” while the lyrics tell a cautionary tale about where it can take you. Despite a bit more variety than the start of the record, Zonnis reliance on classic musical frameworks leaves a bit to be desired. On “Fly With Me” their sound moves in the right direction adding some choice keyboards and a clarinet to make a chorus that’s undeniably memorable, especially with the “Get High With Me” that end each chorus. Using these instruments save the duller verses later in the song, and keep some tone when the vocals turn to a rasp.

The sound switches back to a more classic country on “Moonshine,” where the lyrics tell a playfully dark tale about how much liquor can affect your life and the way people blame it. The melodies themselves are easy listening for country fans but may prove less accessible to others. The dark swing of “The Ghost Song” with its added strings provide a great ambiance for a spooky tale from beyond the grave, with Andrea’s vocals going from operatic to Alison Mosshart at times.

Coco Loco” finds the band once again running familiar grounds musically, but the delivery of the lyrics and vocals overall give more edge to the track than other derivative tracks on the record. Brian Setzer’s soul possesses the fast rock of “Party Boots” making it arguably the most upbeat and danceable track of the record. This undeniable energy and the way the band absolutely nail the style make it one of the highlights of the record.

Reggae is just another style the band tries on “Springtime Fever” which provides another amazing vocal performance from Andrea. Despite this however the reggae sound feels quite out of place on an album primarily leaning to country and blues. “Just A Little Piece” is the last of the band’s derivative tracks, offering a track that would have great live energy but once again does nothing to change the game. The album closes on the sombre “Home Is Where The Heart Is” that delivers great emotional weight through its instrumentation and vocals, and despite its minimal variety, its choruses deliver a satisfying close to the album.

Rise Of The Sheep boasts some great talent all around from Zonnis but it often sounds like something you’ve heard before, leaving half the record feeling stale next to the more original tracks. Andrea’s great vocal work, the lyricism, and the other half of the record prove there is more to Zonnis than meets the eye, but less derivative writing will be needed to prove that to a wider audience.


Waiting for Sunday – The Windsor Effect – Album Review

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It’s rare for technical bands to also be the quiet ones, but some pull it off. Waiting For Sunday bring a smooth yet brooding sound on their record The Windsor Effect, with songs ranging from a Counting Crows feeling to Coheed and Cambria without the distortion on some of the riff heavy tracks.

There’s an instant air of mystery to album opener “Pebbles Become Stones” with the exotic tones to its many flourishing guitars. The band showcases a broad reach of technical talent in one song that sets the bar high for the rest of the album. The bass goes into overdrive on “Last Call For Safety” with licks and grooves alternating every phrase of the song. The song’s percussion heavy bridge gives it an even more exotic feel that brings it back into the main groove excitedly.

The Love Is Gone” takes a much darker feel, choosing to go for a brooding build instead of the sprint of the record’s start. Despite some anti-climactic choruses the frenzy of rhythms that end the song make for a passionate end to the song. The band switches to an acoustic-pop sound on “Tell Me That You’re Mine” which at times also means a few cliché lyrics as well. However the hit heavy switch to distortion gives final chorus of the song enough oomph to keep it from feeling out of place.

Long Live The Strong” runs on an attitude filled riff that’s matched by its vocals. The song has boasts a spine-tingling cut before the solo, and the race to the bottom at the end of the solo builds the song’s excitement perfectly. There’s a sombre cloud over “Wanted” with the hushed vocals and almost muted way the  guitars are stroked. The bridge adds an emotional set of violins to compliment the added vocals create a climactic middle to the track.

Borderline” opens with quiet xylophones, almost sounding like the Madonna track of the same name in the process. What follows however is a drum-thudding song that lets its instruments build slowly and push the emotional heft of the track. After a harmonic-heavy intro, “Chasing Youth” flows into a classic blues jam, so classic however that it could be any blues track. The stripped-back bridge is a nice touch but the song’s lack of originality keeps it from standing out without the energy of a live performance.

Seasons Are Dire” nails its acoustic tone beautifully, with each note ringing perfectly, with each additional piano and banjo just adding to this beauty. It does suffer at times from its lack of variety giving little to keep you hooked beyond its great sound. There’s a vibrant joy to “Details” especially as it lands on each of its powerful choruses, kicking the energy up again and again.

Oh, The Night” mixes some of the album’s best riffs and grooves on a very stripped back track, resulting in a track that almost feels like an acoustic version of a much more exciting track. Nevertheless, the vocals are catchy and the grooves drive the track well. The organ hovering over “My Scripture” fits the tone perfectly, elevating the track’s dark and serious sound.

The Windsor Effect is an impressive outing for Waiting For Sunday, the band have a technical prowess and smooth sound that make their songs easy to enjoy. At times however some repetitive verses, and a lack of variety hold the album back from being a consistent listen. It would also be interesting to see the band experimenting with other sounds as the mix of keys and pedals that open and close album make for its more interesting moments.


Tumbler – Come To The Edge – Album Review

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While many bands focus on rock or folk, there’s some that like to meld the two in interesting ways. British band Tumbler play folk that reveals some amazing sonic variety and edge over-time, and on their record Come To The Edge, play to many different levels of this mix. But does the band authentically mix the sounds or try on different hats with mixed results?

While the cliché poetry lyrics may be deceiving, there’s a lot of originality under the hood on “Black Sheep.” Between the clever vocables, surprise distortion and vocal dubs, the track offers something to lovers of folk and rock alike. The band trades their mix of tones for rhythmic playfulness on “Don’t Take Much” as well as some song-writing mixing and matching. Light touches of synths and subtle distortion bring this mix alive making a somewhat bland track into a unique and catchy one that takes turns right before it grows dull.

The band moves to bright pop on “Falling” but not without falling into its trappings. Despite great production and some good hooks, the song lacks an edge and at times feels a little generic. Tumbler moves back to their catchy folk-rock on “Nothing To Hold You” where they craft a great crowd sing-a-long jam with some great euphoric moments. The brass the band whips into the second half and crowd vocals push it to be a song certain to get people dancing and singing at any live performance.

Things move to a modest shuffle on “Sweetest Thing” with soft vocals and catchy vocables. The sprinkles of harmonica, spoon-like percussion and xylophone make it a light and happy song that can begs for a smile. “Week” moves beyond a start too frictionless for its own good to build some great hooks for the band,

Winter Cold Heart” is a mixed bag, providing some of the band’s best sonic moments both vocally and instrumentally. The problem lies with the often repetitive acoustic guitar and drum section that never seems to go anywhere, leaving a clash of tones that doesn’t always work. The driving note of “Diamond In A Drawer” jumps from guitar to keys beautifully, highlighting the fact that each instruments best moments are on the track. The track also presents some great melodic shifts on keys that give the song a powerfully unique appeal to it.

While absolutely beautiful in its recording, performance and melodic choices “Joanne” is just far too edgeless and almost cheesy in its angelic sound. “In Safe Hands” provides a relaxing, echo-laden track whose calm lulls you in to a happy drone.

There’s a brutal sadness on “Dial” and while its guitar might seem simple at first, it slowly builds from glistening arpeggios to viciously shredded solos. Through these moments and the synth at its close the track hits every emotional note with surgical precision. Almost out of nowhere the closing track “Freedom The Cry” is an epic rock closer, mixing pieces Oasis and Foo Fighters among others. The track sounds like it’s virtually from a different album instrumentally but lyrically at times feels sourced from a motivational quote list.

Overall Come To The Edge showcases a lot of talent from Tumbler but at times it feels they haven’t really landed on a sound. This does give a lot of variety to pick and chose from but also moments that just feel too much in one sound that doesn’t work. Overall though the amount of raw talent behind the sound and ability to jump from them leave the band poised for a stellar album once they decide on a sound.


Captain Fantastic – Movie Review

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Captain Fantastic – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy eOne Films

It can be tricky reviewing a film that, while technically well-done from a production standpoint, has some confused ideologies. Captain Fantastic seems like it wants the audience to agree with the main character’s ideas of parenting and teaching, but he’s at no point sympathetic and he’s completely out of touch with reality. Admittedly, he wants no place in society, but it’s when dragging in children who have no choice, that’s when things become a problem. This is a film where one is more likely to root for the “antagonists” than the so-called heroes. Director/writer Matt Ross clearly put a lot of thought into the arguments being presented, but it’s hard to agree with the themes.

Viggo Mortensen’s hermit father Ben is somebody who is confident he is doing the right thing for his offspring. However, it’s clear from the outset he’s just molding them to become copies of himself rather than individuals with real childhoods and bright futures. A lot of his actions are completely self-serving and only exist to fulfill his own desires and delusions of the world. When he starts talking about the dangers of the outside world and decreeing capitalism, he doesn’t sound like a reasonable person, but is instead a lunatic with allusions of grandeur. His children come across as far more smarter than him, not because of the history lessons and adult-leaning books he has made them read. Rather, they are smarter because they want to explore and try new things outside of their huts and rabbit hunts.

The only sympathetic character is Frank Langella as Ben’s father-in-law Jack. His actions are completely understandable and it’s difficult not to root for him to win custody of Ben and his late wife’s children. Captain Fantastic thankfully never paints him as a moustache-twirling villain. Unlike Ben, Jack operates within the law and has every legal right to be their guardian. One is almost confused if Matt Ross intended Jack to be an antagonist or not, because he is actually the hero of the story. The children seem like they’re thrust into this situation, but the actions of some of them seem to change on a whim, depending on what the plot demands of them.

From a pure filmmaking standpoint, Matt Ross does a decent job of making something that feels straight out of the early ‘70s counterculture movement of cinema. The actors are all strong. Langella gives the best performance of the bunch, but the children deserve credit for bringing some form of naturalism to their roles. One of the better scenes is a funny one in which they pretend to be a religious cult. Despite the way his character is written and the sheer unlikeability of Ben, Mortensen never goes too over-the-top with his portrayal. He makes it believable he would feel so strongly about his system of parenting, no matter how wrong-headed it is.

Captain Fantastic is a film where one’s enjoyment will depend on whether one agrees with the actions of its lead. What one may consider damaging to a child’s psyche, others will see as perfectly suitable in raising a young mind. There’s just something confusing about what Ross wants to say here and whether he 100% agrees with Ben’s point of view. Some viewers may wish the ending did turn into a heated court case for custody. That’s certainly the most realistic route the film could have taken. Captain Fantastic certainly fits into the stereotype of Sundance movies that are maybe a little bit twee and a tad full of themselves.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


 iacon and nano神社 (✪㉨✪) – Spectre – Album Review

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Movie scores tell a film’s story through their sound, but what if there was no film to pair them with? Concept albums have done this for years with lyrics, and synth-pop artists like Kavinsky have dipped their toes into the instrumental waters of this realm, with pop interludes. Florida’s iacon & nano神社 (✪㉨✪) have taken the deep dive on the album Spectre, going for an ambient, cinematic story of a man’s out of body experience following a terrible car crash, telling their narrative using each song as a scene, and telling the story through sound, the album goes where few dare tread.

The album opens on the noir, narrated mystery of “Midnight Drive” with sultry saxophones, and a drone of engines to move the song along. The words speak of a man lost with nowhere to go and end with him meeting a possible end to his road. As things move to the calm but uncomforting “Transcendence,” the echoing pianos and heartbeat like drums keep the audience in a haze. The sounds, as the title suggest, feel like the narrator is passing from this life to another.

As the song starts to open up on “Arrival” it’s unclear with the damp mechanical sounds where the narrator has arrived, hell, a hospital or perhaps in some ways, both. “Visitation” offers up a much brighter feeling, shining a light of hope for the narrator but not offering up much variety for its nearly seven minute run time.

There’s a booming sense of life on “Reunion” as if something is about to happen as the song builds, and lingering thumps and police sirens shed a hint at the narrator’s fate. Ironically “Discovery” offers anything but an answer on the narrator’s fate and plays out similar to “Visitation” in terms of its interlude-style sound.

Remembrance” offers us glimpses towards an answer through powerfully recorded sound-bites and a demented drum loop that drives the track from top to bottom. There’s a heavy sense of dread surprisingly on “Solace” as it moves from each solitary piano note in a dark sea of synths to another. The track feels more like a decent into darkness than a peaceful thought.

Opposite to this is “Serenity” which takes things on a brighter path on a powerful drone of synths oscilating back and forth. This brings things to the album closer “Exit” which moves from a scary mechanical chug to an almost heavenly set of chords, before finally revealing the narrator’s long awaited fate.

Overall Spectre is an intriguing experiment in sonic storytelling, but not without some issues. An interesting start and finish is marred by a middle section with far less going on to keep the listener engaged, and on a record that demands the listener’s attention to follow the narrative, this poses a problem. Nevertheless, the record proves that sound driven storytelling can be done comprehensibly, and with the proper pacing, they could be on to something truly innovative.


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