Album Review: Funky Circus Fleas-California

389523_251521231574249_1650644918_nFunky Circus Fleas. Heard of ‘em? You should have by now, so pull up your chairs kiddies and sit down for a rock album that makes an impression and leaves you begging for more. The group’s most recent release, California, has the chill backbone of a sunny day jam session, with the edgy accents of System of a Down, and the sonic power and lovability of a classic rock album.

As the album opens, we’re treated with a laid back and lovely first two tracks, The Freezing Process and Betty’s Pen. As we get into the latter track, the band showcases their love of percussion, cool bass and guitar infusions, and the dynamic pipes of FCF’s vocalist. It’s one of the highlights of the album, as you get to experience the equal influences of chill stoner rock and high energy classic rock. Aok follows with a heavy 80’s influence and a great thrumming to surround the piece.

With winding Avenged Sevenfold-esque opening riffs and stadium borne vocals, Out of Sorts plays up to the sensibilities. Suspending time and space for a moment, the track drops an epic bass line without missing a beat. The tribal prevalence of the drums throughout the album continues as a trend here.

Fans of System of A Down will invariably appreciate ironically named Opaque, with a repeated reverie of “You’re so clear”. Fast, rough, and edgy vocals are well complimented by equally edgy riffs and borderline tribal percussion. Taking things down a notch, the track goes for a brief interlude of what could easily be the soundtrack for an out-of-body trip session.

Sonically random Dramamine starts out as a sort of party anthem, complete with group claps and light, straightforward riffs. This quickly transgresses into a chest beating testosterone fest, deep, fast, and accusatory.

Lyrically adopting a more pensive and dark note, Taken gallops in with lines such as “My dysfunctional pathetic mind/has once again betrayed me” and determined claims “You can’t break me”. In a Karnivool meets System of a Down meets hardcore jamboree, this track keeps listeners intent up to the last beat.

Sticking with the theme are tracks Finding Emo, Mr. Positive, and Diary of a Therapist, the quietest of them all. Rounding out the album is the aptly named closing track Thaw, in which we’re treated with a random anecdote and some nifty fun on the guitar.

Overall folks, we couldn’t recommend this album more. The numerous influences and emotions that the album evokes make it palatable to music lovers from a wide range of camps. The only thing left is to wait and see what these guys throw at us next, and we’ll be more than ready when it comes.

Check out the Funky Circus Fleas on their Facebook and be sure to grab California, now available on iTunes and Amazon.

Album Review: Harry George Johns – ‘Post-Breakdown Blues’

268463_387920757961387_284600032_nAll good songwriters draw from their personal experiences, often using their songs as a way of challenging the myriad demons which those experiences often can lead them to confront.   One week in December 2011 not only provided Harry George Johns with enough demons to take several lifetimes to challenge, but with enough lyrical inspiration to fill dozens of albums, never mind just this initial mini-album (as he chooses to call it).

During the time period in question, Johns lost his house, his job, his girlfriend – and, as he candidly explains himself, “pretty much my mind”:  the circumstances brought about by alcohol and drug addiction, the result saw him sitting in a bar in his hometown of Leeds, “with a bag of clothes and my skateboard trying to figure out not what went wrong, but simply where I was going to sleep that night”.  Slowly, with the help of friends, doctors and therapists, he started to rebuild his life – and now, just over a year later, Johns has released a batch of songs written during that time, and thus serving as its soundtrack.

Unsurprisingly, ‘Post-Breakdown Blues’ is a collection of deeply personal songs, mostly delivered via Johns’ voice and acoustic guitar, which is both introverted – such as the laconic, bittersweet opener ‘Drink Myself To Sleep’, which uses cello to add to its morose density – and uplifting, such as the catchy ‘Sleep Is The Cousin Of Death’, or both at the same time, such as the bluegrass-infused foot-stomp of ‘Tie Your Own Noose’.

What is surprising is that, despite their introspection, their darkness, the songs manage to avoid coming across as self-pitying:  instead of feeling sorry for himself and the situation in which he found himself, Johns uses his songwriting skills to look to the future – “OK, I’m here, and this is how I got here… now where do I go, and how do I get there?”  It’s an approach that is refreshing and honest, and makes for an all the more rewarding listen as a result.

‘Post-Breakdown Blues’ will be available as a ‘pay-what-you-want’ download from Harry’s Bandcamp page from February 11th. Go here for more info. 

Harry George Johns also plays the following live dates:

March 7 – Wakefield, The Hop

March 9 – Norwich, Olives

March 14 – Leeds, Sela Bar

March 23 – Coventry, Inspire

April 06 – Carlisle, The Royal Scot

April 20 – Edinbrough, Hendersons @ St Johns

Album Review: Amethyst-Aperture For Light

This two-piece from Belgrade, Serbia, have been making music in a variety of different setups and formats, with other musicians, for over 10 years, giving them the scope and span to marry early influences with more contemporary styles. The 80’s synth sounds taken from their earlier inspirational artists, can be heard throughout, whilst 90’s techno and electronic beat sequences play a big part is several of the higher bpm tracks. The pop-ier vocal styles of both members timelessly incorporates all of the different aspects from the last few decades, leaning both towards a more ambient soft chillout vibe, whilst on other tracks holding a grittier heavier potency.
The vocals compliment each other with a mixture of beguiling simplicity and emotive thrust and a syth-heavy momentum that really drives particulary tracks like ‘When Will You Be Around’, ‘Ride’  and ‘The Land of Glittering Light’ that bring a techno injection into the mix of strong guitar riffs and pop vocals. ‘On and on’ offers an ambient electronica feel to compliment the bassier dance tracks.
Haunting and more mytical sounding keyboard in tracks like this one mixed with old school rock and roll riffs, like in ‘Distinction’, gives this collection of tracks a striking clarity, particularly when mixed with both gritty and innocent sounding vocals.
Taking influence from the likes of Peter Gabriel and Dream Theater, this is a diverse, fun and uplifting album, showcasing the mould-breaking potential of the incoporation of different musical styles.

Album Review: The Badje – Albatross and other Delicacies

424840_10150697793545639_764070616_nWith a band that describes themselves as psychedelic you’d expect nothing less than what you’re going to hear in The Badjes latest album, Albatross and other delicacies.

The album, made up of tracks from their two previous releases, 2009’s Ride Out and Taste Music With Your Ear Tongue from 2011, is a mix of weird and wonderful numbers that sound a lot like a band that weren’t too sure what genre they wanted to go for so took a mixture of everything. The band claim they take influences from 50’s rock and roll, soul, 60’s pop, film scores and even classical and they wouldn’t be wrong if this album is anything to go by.

Opening Track, Child of Nicotine is possibly one of the better tracks on the album with a very catchy chorus with a great potential sing-along  the sort of track that fits in very well with the music that seems to be slowly making its way into the mainstream sound. It’ll get you dancing around your room in no time with its 60’s feel good beats. Likewise with tracks Shiva and Athena which provide a real uplifting feel with some Beatle-esque elements thrown in there too – although this presence of the Beatles is evident throughout the album, a quintessential choice of influence for a lot of bands nowadays, but if it’s going to work then who are we to say it’s a bad thing.

Although these tracks sound really promising for The Badje, there are a few questionable numbers on Albatross and other delicacies which do make you wonder which direction this band want to go in.

Travel Suite is where it’s clear this psychedelic influence comes into play with a very mind warping harmony and a random fog horn noise half way through the track. A song which wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the free love hippy movement at all, but perhaps for 2013 it may take a little while for this song to make a big impact, but perhaps for a summer festival number, they could be onto something big.

The thing that you don’t get to really appreciate in the album is the voice of the bands front man so it’s refreshing and somewhat calming after previous tracks when the album slows down in Love is Electric which shows us much more promising talent that they have to offer vocally.

Although a very confusing and muddled album in places, there are insights into what this band truly have to offer if they maybe sort out which direction they want to go into as a band as whatever they go for, they’re sure to do well.

Album Review: Nerd Table – Chasing The Bronco

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Nerd Table. A charming little punk/grunge band from the mystical land of Ohio. Upon listening to their album Chasing The Bronco, we were thrown against the wall by a sound that’s fairly unique and also pays homage to a lot of bands, too many to mention in fact but try to imagine the mutated offspring of The Offspring, Nirvana and even Beastie Boys.

Nerd Table stand strong and give us a very energetic batch of songs that show no sign of slowing down or hinting at any weakness. Something that adds to the fun, a dark twisted sense of fun that is, is that all the songs reference big news stories from the last few years. Just as an example, Bloody Glove is referencing the OJ Simpson murder cases and the track Bloody Tooth refers to the late actor Corey Haim.

The band shows a lot of promise for the future and if they keep doing what they’re doing with the references to news stories then we can expect the band to stir up quite the ruckus. If you’re the kind of person who reads lyrics searching for meaning or over analyses them, then you may be put off or offended. So consider yourself WARNED. Other than that just try to sit back, enjoy the ride and punch a few people or inanimate objects…the recipe for guaranteeing a musically good time (we don’t condone violence by the way).

Album Review: The Vindickers- Before The Fall

377413_411558254966_1975932461_nOriginally formed in 2008, The Vindickers reformed last year to release their debut full-length album ‘Before the Fall.’ They played at various festivals throughout the summer and having been working on new material for their follow-up record ‘Imba’, which is due for release later this year. From Hastings, The Vindickers gain their inspiration from the likes of Green Day, Foo Fighters and New Found Glory.

The quartet also reflect strong Indie influences in ‘These Love Songs Don’t Make Sense’, which comes across as typically Pop Punk with a mature streak in terms of the infectious melody. The bass and drums are punchy and the guitaring is as rapid as it is in a Green Day track. The band seems very tight as a collective, particularly with regards to harmonising vocals and melodic changes in the track. The Vindicker’s production is also refreshingly interesting, with a tannoy-style opening to ‘Office Goss’, which is an unusual combination of Reggae-influenced sections that form one of the chirpiest Pop Punk songs you will ever hear.

Clearly passionate about what they do, the band’s sound breaks free from the restrictions of Pop Punk and have made sure each track on this ridiculously long, 14-track album is varied. ‘Surrogate’ is heavier, grittier and angrier than other tracks of ‘Before the Fall’ and illustrated a Rise Against style bass led-melody and varied vocals to show off a rapid, furious composition. ‘The Ones That Get Away’ is quite weak vocally speaking, but the musical variety really saves it, showing just how shocking it is that The Vindickers remain unsigned. For a debut album, ‘Before the Fall’ depicts a bright future for a band who are very sure of who they want to be musically.

Opening with a string section, that quickly morphs into the noteable sounds of a battle scene with the clashing of swords, ‘I Wanna Be a Geek’ is basically a piss-take of people who play role-play games, but recognises the fun of it. The song is brilliantly distinctive and shows how well the album flows through the mixture of sounds and styles. ‘A Mind Made Up’ boasts screamed backing vocals, harsh sounds and a swift yet emotional flair.  Considering the length of ‘Before the Fall’ it’s astounding that there doesn’t seem to be filler songs on the record; each track stands alone as polished and nurtured.

‘Bye Bye Mama’ is quirky with its use of sound effects of horses as it commences, showing the band’s charm and want to break the mould. Its Country and Western style and vocal editing is obviously unusual from a Pop Punk band, but with noteable lyrics like ‘So I hit her with a shovel…’, it’s light, well thought-out and considerate to the genre it makes use of. It also proves just how versatile The Vindickers are and portrays the sense of fun running through the album.

With important issues such as drug addiction, which is tackled in ‘Old Friend’ and financial difficulty brought to light in ‘Home’, it’s clear the band put their heart into what they do. As ‘Before the Fall’ comes to a close, the title track makes use of emotions, stringed instruments and musical variety. It proves that the band is more than capable of creating beautiful musical with simply just vocals and a guitar, but also know how to bring about a build-up in a song.

At 10 minutes and 38 seconds in length, ‘The Gen, Of Ease’ is full of breakdowns, great musical skill and a tenacious backbone, proving that The Vindickers know who they are and are well and truly running with it. With a Green Day-esque hidden track, the band keep their listeners engaged from start to finish. Made up of, spoken parts, mobile phones ringing, an impressive guitar solo, the track shows all the possibilities the band have to offer, even evolving into a Dance-inspired piece with synthesised vocals.

The Vindickers may label themselves as a Pop Punk band with various influences, but they’re so much more than that. They’ve really pushed themselves to make their debut record as impressive, diverse and unique as possible and are meant for success.

Their bassist, Smitty, informs us, quite reliably, that he’s “a bellend, not a cunt.”

Album Review: Anberlin – Vital

47203_10151072800901835_130219892_nA lot of people reading this will be unfamiliar with the band so lets do a brief recap. Anberlin are a US rock band hailing from Florida and have this year celebrated 10 years as a band. Vital is the 6th album released in that time with their 3rd album Cities is still classed as their career defining release. Although reasonably successful on their own turf (getting high in the mainstream Billboards 200 charts as well as number 1’s in the alternative chart) on this side of their Atlantic they ghost under the radar.

Vital opens with Self-Starter which displays the typical Anberlin vigor and energy that their fans have expected from them with vocalist Stephen Christian weaving his lyrics over frantic winding guitars before exploding into a huge chorus it finely treads the line between melodic and heavy all at the once. Little Tyrants (which was inspired by last years Egyptian riots) is destined to start all kinds of mayhem on the dancefloors with Christian seemingly channeling the energy of those uprisings with his lyrics about leaders so lost in greed that they are devoid of humanity whilst trying to cling to the power that they crave.

Anberlin don’t just make tunes to make you dance and have a good time they are also one of the most capable bands in existence when it comes to writing ballads which is shown in Innocent which features Christian singing to a recently deceased relative recalling his last experience of the deceased and singing that “You will live on in the hearts of men constantly” its quite an emotional rollercoaster contained in the 4:17 track it leaves you feeling drained.
A constant throughout all Anberlin’s releases have been the last track on the album which is normally the longest and once again Vital delivers the goods with God, Drugs & Sex a tale of a relationship where one of the partners is feeling unfulfilled and having a desire to feel loved again. This track shows just how good Stephen Christian’s vocals are, with his high falsetto vocals coming down the scale almost to spoken word and the vocal interplay he does with guest vocalist Christie DuPree throughout the second verse/chorus section utilising her husky vocals to set himself up as a higher whispered vocals is a definite album highlight.

Overall this album is a welcome return to form from 2010 Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place (which came across as a tad disjointed) and it is clear to me that the return of Aaron Spinkle to producer after a few albums out have helped reignite the spark that makes the band so beloved to me. Although its no Cities beater its hopefully an indication of a band returning to form. The only criticism I have of this album its that there are too many electronic elements thrown in with the music that don’t fit but otherwise I would recommend that everyone gives this at least one listen and that they check Anberlin out when they hit our shores in the next few weeks.

Album Review: Autumn Owls – Between Buildings Toward The Sea

581414_10151091301252157_799439999_nAfter five years together, and two acclaimed EPs (‘Insomnia Lodge’ and ‘On The Trail Of The Disappearing’, both released in 2008), Dublin trio Autumn Owls have finally taken time off from almost incessant live work to plunge into full-length album territory, with this debut opus, recorded in Chicago with Brian Deck, best known for his work with the likes of Califone, Modest Mouse and Iron And Wine.

‘Between Buildings Toward The Sea’ is a strange, haunting experience, inhabiting territory somewhere between ambient indie electronica and dark folk, with its strangely hypnotic rhythms and minimalist song structures.

I use the word ‘minimalist’ advisedly.  While the song construction is, by and large just that, there is also a darkness and intensity to the 12 tracks, layers of related melodies built one upon the other, such as on the dystopian psychedelia of ‘Spider’, which echoes the likes of Syd Barrett, Nick Drake and Jan Garbarek in its use of transient, almost transcendental, harmonies.

There are moments where it is very claustrophobic, such as on the thoughtful ‘Drink The Wine’ and the nihilistic ‘Patterns’ (which also has very faint echoes of Muse, especially in Gary McFarlane’s vocal patterns), and others where it just flows along on a sea of tranquil, progressive ambience, such as ‘Great Atlantic Drift’.

This is not an album which can be described, by any stretch of the imagination, as ‘fun’ or ‘entertaining’:  ‘brooding’ and ‘poetic’ (in places), definitely ‘introverted’ and ‘introspective’ but avoiding the dreaded ‘shoe-gazing’.  Hard-going in places, and probably an album that I won’t revisit too quickly but rewarding and, yes, surprisingly enjoyable (especially when accompanied by a bottle of damn fine cabernet sauvignon…).

‘Between Buildings Toward The Sea’ is out now on the Epitonic imprint and can be bought on Amazon.

For more information on Autumn Owls, visit their official Facebook.

Album Review: Navacross – All the Way Home

navacrossFor an album named after the activities of a certain little piggy going wee wee wee, Navacross’ full length LP “All the way home”, is quite devoid of nursery rhymes. Even in one of their gentler numbers, Clowns, vocalist, Dean Baker’s, gravelly vocals complain that “the world is run by a bunch of clowns”, hardly suitable subject material for singing children to sleep. Another track from the album which is incredibly gentle and soothing that probably would work well as a lullaby is, unfortunately, entitled Open Your Eyes, thus rendering it quite thematically unsuitable. Anyway, the point of this review isn’t to decide which songs would make good bedtime music or not, it is to tell you, gentle reader, why you should listen to it. And you should.

The album is a split between foot-stomping, rocking tunes and soothing, melodic, blues ballads. Album opener, Overload, sets a great tone for the whole record. A Rolling Stones-esque foot stomping, guitar led track with a catchy chorus, which like all the best chorus’ simply states “my brain’s on overload”. This does come across as something of a platitude, but nevertheless, it’s a catchy platitude. The second track, Secret Streets, surprisingly has a slightly gypsy-punk feel to it, in the vein of bands such as Gogol Bordello. This is also the band’s lead single from the album and, judging from their videos on their website, certainly would generate a whole lot of partying live. Despite it’s gypsy roots, it’s certainly very British lyrically, mentioning something about Waltham Abbey.

The longest track on the album, Steer, is by no means a bad song but is possibly slightly less of an instant hit than some of the other upbeat and immediately catchy tracks, such as penultimate number, Too Much. Steer feels like quite a lot of build up which never really get’s going, which is interesting when all of their other songs feel like they’re firing on all cylinders for their whole three minutes average length. Too Much being a prime example of this with another catchy refrain of “I’m alive” summing up the energy of the song in probably the simplest and most effective way possible.

The final track, Lazy Days, is a great short little closer to the album. The great, simple folky bass riff running through the song, makes it feel like a sort of epilogue to the rest of the album which bookends the whole thing very nicely and makes the overall record feel very complete and lends it a positive tone from the Overload at the beginning.

All in all then, go check out Navacross!

Album Review: Lumus – Bacchus’ Curse

LUMUSThis self-released debut offering from Oregon’s Lumus is a sweeping, symphonic concept album very much rooted in the tradition of the likes of Nightwish, Kamelot and Symphony X.

However, unlike most bands of their ilk, this particular quintet’s USP is that their sound is drawn primarily from extensive use of the electric violin, which features prominently throughout: but, unlike many of their European counterparts, who include said instrument merely as an additional piece of over-ornamented orchestration, it is often the violin which takes the lead in building the harmonies and melodies… it’s hardly surprising, though, given that the band take their name from the musician responsible, one Jon Lumus.

As a result of Lumus’ prominence, which brings a refreshingly haunting folk feel to much of the album, much of Dustin Behm’s guitar work is sublimated into the overall sound, rather than taking the lead as on so many European works: he is given his chances to shine, such as on the atmospheric ‘The Cave’, where his shredding work cuts through the folkiness of the main melody like a knife through melting butter, and when he does so he shows himself to be a consummate musician, with the right combination of crunching yet melodic riffs, soaring solos and necessary restraint.

Vocally, Charlotte Camp – who, despite her resonant soprano, comes from a country and jazz background – certainly stands her own against many of her counterparts, showing a range and diversity that is extremely impressive and certainly broader than many other women operating in this particular sub-genre: she may not be in the big league quite yet, but her voice is extremely pleasant and she delivers the material well.

Some of the song arrangements may be slightly off-kilter (‘Lost Child’ jumps about all over the place, with the vocals and main melody not quite matching each other), and by and large they’re nothing spectacular in overall terms of the genre – although the centrepiece four-part title track is ambitious and suitably rewarded for its vision – and the production may be a bit muddy in places, but this nevertheless a fine debut and deserves to be hunted down by fans of female-fronted melodic metal.

Follow the band on Facebook.