Thomas Dooley: Two Years

One of the great things about being a modern musician, it that we have at our disposal, a nearly infinite set of tools to which to express ourselves. Yet most of the time the majority of artists squander that possibility. Artists get too caught up in the rat race and forget why they made music.

Whenever an artist creates a song they invite you into their world, and you catch a glimpse of who they are. Maybe you see something that relates to you, an instrument you love, or a stylistic influence you can hear in that artists song. Whatever the case maybe, this song is one of the most beautiful, lush soundscapes, I’ve heard on soundcloud in a very long time.

From it’s beautiful upbeat guitar, that has just the right amount of jangle rock influence. To the phenomenal bass that just doesn’t trudge along by playing the root of each note, but is complex and is just a blast to listen to. Combine that with the beautifully done vocal reverbs, the fantastical percussion, and the layered synthesizers it’s a song that is just fantastic.

Then there’s the guitar solo which has the most perfect guitar tone I have heard in such a long time. It’s one of those guitar tones, that as anybody who love guitar pedals can tell you, you just want to go out and buy every pedal that made that tone.

All of this combines into this whimsical kind of song that can even melt the coldest of hearts. It’s what happens when an artist guides you to a land of wonder, awe, and whimsy. This is a song that you gotta check out, and definitely give Thomas Dooley a follow.

 

The New Pollution: Pushing Back

There’s a reason why there seems to be a generation of kids “Born in the wrong generation.” Turn on any Rock station and if it’s not Dad Rock it’s the exact same band you’ve heard a million times. That Nickelback pseudo grunge sound. Where every guitar sounds like pristine sludge, and every vocal sounds like a guy taking a shit.

Rock music used to be the experimental genre. It was the genre that kept pushing boundaries, going to new strange places that you’d never imagine music would go. Yet here we are stuck between, “I couldn’t make it as a poor man” and “There goes my hero.” Ad nauseum until either we, or the radio industry dies.

Yet there’s still hope. Rock music, as Neil Young sang, “Can never die.” Even though it’s stagnating, there are still bands out there pushing boundaries, trying new things, and approaching music with modern sensibilities. And this, ladies and gentleman, is where I introduce The New Pollution.

So to begin with, let’s rewind to the best period of rock music, the 60’s. Every Rock band you look up to in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s etc. All revere the 60’s and there’s a good reason why. It was a period of unprecedented experimentation. A period where the torch was passed from the experimental avant-garde composers of the 50’s to the up and coming rockers of the 60’s. Where tape loops, layered instruments, distorted vocals, genre bending, etc. were the norm.

Yet something happened, and that period of unprecedented growth soon stagnated. As each decade went on rock music became more and more confined. And who better to explain how this happened than Frank Zappa?

This extends to even the micro-level of music blogs, underground music, producers, etc. Where people are afraid to step outside their own little box, because they don’t want to upset the “taste makers” in who actuality know as much as you or I do about music.

So imagine my surprise listening to this band, a band who is completely unafraid to experiment. The first track Pushing Back is an incredible start to an amazing album. To begin with track opens up with this wild buzz saw of a guitar. The kind wild and crazy sound that you would imagine some band in some rough dive bar in the middle of Arizona playing. From just the tone and how treble-y it is, it immediately distinguishes itself from most of indie rock.

Yet what captivated me was what happened next. Usually with such an in your face aesthetic that the guitar tone provides, a band usually sticks within that narrow sound. If this was any other band, there would be this thick fat bass, distorted guitar, lo-fi vocals, and that’s it. And the rest of the album would all sound like that. Maybe there would be an acoustic guitar here and there. But I don’t have to describe it that much, since you already can hear what I’m talking about, because you’ve heard a thousand times.

So now let’s go to where the song deviates from the norm. You can hear this from the vocals. The vocals are drenched in reverb, and this doesn’t fit that kind of dive bar aesthetic I was describing earlier. Yet it does work extremely well with what follows. And what follows is these synth flourishes, you hear it now and then in the beginning. It adds a little quirkiness but doesn’t really change the song. But slowly and surely everything changes. The dive bar becomes this psychedelic journey as the synths take over, and then it’s at that point everything clicks. The reverbed out vocals fit perfectly and now you understand the song.

It reminds me of really great Jazz. Jazz can be a cacophonous nightmare, if the people don’t know what they’re doing. But when you see a really great Jazz Improv, it blows your mind. Because you will hear the most exotic, fresh, and innovate sounds that you’ve heard. This song like really great Jazz Improv has that since of exploration. The synths are so well musically structured, and are so well paced out. Like in a really great jam session when you just know to show off, or to let someone else show off. The sound just gels together and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this was all recorded live. It just has that energy.

Next we get to Pushing Back-Chinese Hackers Remix. This track has a tongue and cheek feel to it. Since it’s titled as the last song, except it’s a Chinese Hackers remix, and it almost sounds nothing like Pushing Back. It’s one thing to experiment, yet it’s another to have fun with it. When people usually think of experimental art, they think of these super intelligent people who have these crazy ideas. Who work super hard to perfect that crazy idea into something that resembles art.

It’s another to listen to someone just have fun and experiment. Better yet imagine a band onstage playing Improv Jazz. The audience is super serious, the band is incredibly serious, pompousness swirls around in the air like cheap cigar smoke. It’s all very tedious. Then imagine, say Metallica, after they play one of their sets, and they’re getting their guitars tuned they decide to play the Pokemon theme song, because why not. Immediately there’s a tonal shift. I want to go listen to that Metallica song, and I don’t want to listen to that jazz improv group. Because one is incredibly fun, and the other is incredibly pompous.

So when I compare, don’t compare The New Pollution to Improv Jazz. What I mean is that they are able to have the musical complexity that you would find in really heady music. Yet the same time it’s with a tongue and cheek feel, and every track just feels so fun and energetic.

From the soulful trumpet that wails in the background, the groove bass and percussion that drive the track forward, the weird little synth and guitar flourishes, and distorted and mutated vocals. Everything about this track is just this fun musical journey. It’s the kind of song that just let’s you be free. When a song has this anything goes kind of experimentation, it carries with it an everything goes kind of attitude. Which I could imagine being absolute hit being played life. Because after all, who doesn’t want to get rid of false pretensions and just let loose?

Finally we get to Sad Pricks. Which has this Joy Division kind of guitar and bass relationship. Where the bass provides the main melody and the guitar has this more rhythmic kind role. Then the song opens up, with this psychedelic organ. Which is immediately reminiscent of 60’s music. This coupled with the double tracked vocals, provides this great throwback. And what a better throwback to experimentation than invoking the 60’s?

Then the chorus kicks in with this beautiful organ, and great guitar panned to the left. It all is just so fun. Then when the track ends it ends with this out of control guitar solo. That just has so much energy, that you can’t help but listen to this album with a smile on your face. Then of course there’s the added bonus that song is literally titled Sad Pricks. Which again is so tongue and cheek you can’t help but like this.

Yet this review isn’t over yet. Usually when reviewing a band I just plugin their music video at the end, and don’t provide much commentary to it. Yet these guys deserve a shoutout for their music video. If you don’t get the music from the album, the music video will definitely clear things up. It’s so fun, so inventive, and so unpretentious that you cannot but help but enjoy it. Like people always say, “I’ll vote for that guy because he’s someone I can sit down and have a beer with.” These guys just look like they’d be a blast to hangout with. It has that youthful exuberance that you can’t help but appreciate. So I implore you to checkout the music video as well. It’s just as great as the album itself.

So obviously with not only an album review, but a music video plugin. I am going to give these guys my full recc. The album is short and sweet, and it’s got charisma. And let’s be real, if you got charisma and you got great music, well you’re going to go far.

Vinyl Dial: Intergalactic Almanac

I’m a nerd. I know it’s shocking. You’d think a guy making soundcloud music, and writing reviews on underground music would be the captain of the football team. I know everybody is a nerd nowadays. Comic Con is a gargantuan entity. Comic book movies dominate the Box Office. More people watch youtube videos than watch TV. You get the idea.

Yet there seems to be this memory hole of what nerdom once was. My parents–being Gen X’ers–had that, “Hey let’s hangout with everyone,” kind of mentality. And I remember distinctly their friends being super into Spawn, Star Trek, old PC western RPGs, or really adult anime like Berserk or Ghost in a Shell. It was this “adult” kind of nerdiness that kids weren’t allowed to be apart of. It wasn’t squeaky clean, polished, or dumbed down. Kids weren’t apart of it because it was either too graphic, too intelligent, or too mature. Which made it all the more alluring to me.

So when listening to this album, it’s the exact same kind of feeling of uncovering something deeper. Going into unknown places. Exploring something complex and novel. Basically, it was like being a nerd all over again. I mean how can you not like cover art like this?

Vinyl Dial is completely devoted to their concept on this concept album. Which is an incredibly difficult feat to accomplish. Sure David Bowie has done a really great job at making concept albums. So has Pink Floyd. Yet even they will have songs that will take a backseat to the concept, in order to just add a song they really like. Perhaps it’s due to the fact the album is only 4 tracks, and because it’s only 4 tracks there is no filler.

Yet with the artwork above, it’s impossible to say Vinyl Dial made 4 songs because that’s what they were only capable of. Far from it. Everything in this album has that deeper layer, whether it’s the lore of the album, the lyrics, the album art, the musical composition, the vocals–I could go on and on, but you get the point.

So let’s get to the music, because after all this is a music blog. The first track Space Dragon opens up with this amazing drumming. Then when you hear the instruments–each one incredibly complex while at the same time melodic. This is one of those albums where it rewards repeat listens. It’s kind of like those paintings, where depending on your perspective, you can either see a duck or a rabbit. So for one listen you’ll really love the drumming, then the next listen you love the all the different synth textures, then the next you’ll love the lyrics and vocals. Which yes, I know that all the individual elements are supposed to synthesize, and create one sound. These songs are a lot more spacious, and vast. Almost as if you were out in space…

The album reminds me of an anecdote about Einstein that I read on Reader’s Digest. Where a guy met Einstein at a party, and Einstein asked the guy if he listened to Bach. The man confessed that he didn’t have an ear for music, and just sounded like chaos to him. Then Einstein told him that music is like math. Pop music, is like addition and subtraction. Movie scores are like multiplication. Bach is like calculus. Einstein then showed the man different records, and the man finally developed an ear for music. The same thing can be said about this album. Every song is like an entire album, yet when you breakdown and compartmentalize each aspect of it–it becomes incredibly simple and melodic. Which is something that when prog rock gets right is incredibly rewarding.

So when I say it’s nerdy, what I really mean to say, is that it this album requires a certain amount of devotion to music. Yet when you put this devotion towards it, and find all the idiosyncrasies of each track, it’s an incredible feeling. When Vinyl Dial takes you on a journey throughout the vastness of space, lyrically, they accomplish the same feat musically.

So the next song Polyhedral Cathedral, opens up with a spacious pad, amazing bass, rain samples, and the same incredible drum beat. Which reminds of Dark Souls–or anything from Soulsbourne series–where after learning about the mechanics of the individual songs, you immediately are rewarding with this beautiful environment. Everything in this track sounds beautiful, yet there is one instrument that is the rockstar of the whole song.

Which if I’m talking about rockstar, you know it’s going to be the guitar. The guitar is mixed so well into the track, that at first it just seems like part of the ambience, which it is. Yet as the track progresses the guitar starts to take center stage, and boy does it take center stage. I play guitar (badly). So when I hear someone shred I can tell the difference between someone relying on tricks and gimmicks, and someone legitimate talented. This guitar solo is Guitar God worthy. In fact if there was a youtube channel devoted to just the guitarist randomly shredding, it would instantly be a hit. Even if you don’t have the best ear for music, you gotta give props to the solo. Yes this guitar solo is extremely technical, but even the most casual music listener loves hearing a guitar shred.

Next up is Ad Astera Per Aspera, which has this electronic psychedelia in the beginning with a trudging along guitar. Then the track mutates, and warps into something that would be played during a final boss battle for an early 00’s sci-fi game. Which is fitting since this is a concept album, and as a concept album there is a story. A story that is incredibly fun, tongue and cheek, while at the same time being almost Lovecraftian. I’m not going to post any of the Bandcamp, or the lyrics up here. Because it’s so rewarding to see an album that has it’s own lore. Which is truly bizarre, creative, and so forward thinking.

I made the comparison to Dark Souls awhile back, and there is a reason for that. Dark Souls is a game that you don’t really need to understand the plot to enjoy the game–yet if you start figuring out the plot–you instantly want to replay the game. It’s the same way with this album. As soon as you read the write up, or see the lyrics you want to re-listen to the album instantly. To understand what I mean think of the kind of “mood” playlists there are. There are playlists to workout, to study, to get meditate, to get pumped up, etc. But for creative people, or people who just appreciate art, how many playlists have “imagination” playlists? Where the music serves the purpose of using your imagination. There are none.

Every kind of medium has co-opted nerd culture in some way. Whether it’s providing audiences Easter Eggs, room for speculation, ambiguity, etc. Music hasn’t really done that as well as other mediums have. I mean yeah, we have genius, but it’s used for the stupidest humanely possible songs. The bandcamp write up, cover art, and music all just add to this layer of depth. Where if this album ever were to make it really big (which I hope it does) people would be really engaged in it. I would love to see people’s artistic representation of the events that happen in this album, and I’d love to see a community come out of this album. It’s deserving of a devoted audience, not just for it’s music but for it’s presentation as well.

Finally we get to Bad Trip (First King’s ‘Bad Lullaby’ remix). This track is the sonic equivalent of a what machines dream of. It has that organic synth sound. Which is a contradiction, I know, but what I mean by that is that none of the synths feel like they’re the factory presets. Each one feels individualized and hand crafted. Which is applicable to every single aspect of this album. I know I talked about how great the guitar, and drums were in each track. Yet the same would be applicable to nearly every instrument from the samples, the vocals, the bass (which has an incredible groove), and especially the synths. This is the only track without vocals, which is a perfect way to end an album like this. You need time to breathe in the environment and reflect on the soundscape Vinyl Dial has created.

There’s no song in Intergalactic Almanac that feels half assed. Every song is firing on all cylinders, they are giving it their all, and you feel it. Almost any song you listen to, you can hear a bit of creative strain. Where the artist focuses so much on one detail that they forget to look at the bigger picture. This album is like one of those masterpiece paintings, where the more you zoom in the more intricate and complex it becomes, and yet each of those intricate little pieces could be a painting in and of themselves.

I would recommend this album to anybody who wants to truly “lose themselves” in music. The phrase is tossed out a lot, yet this is an album to truly explore. As I mentioned early the appeal of nerd culture was it’s complexity. Anybody who is a creative has the innate desire within them to explore. Yet we often find ourselves stagnant, and self absorbed. It takes albums like this (and pieces of art like this in general) to remind us of why we create. That is to explore, and create. And when an album creates something so worth exploring, then God Damn it explore it!

So I am undeniably going to give this album my recc. You cannot miss it. Vinyl Dial is so forward looking that if you don’t take some ideas away from them, then you’re going to be missing out.

Also as an added bonus here is some additional artwork for the CD release, courtesy of Vinyl Dial.

Lo! Peninsula: AKA Lo Peninsula

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https://lopeninsula.bandcamp.com/album/aka-lo-peninsula

There’s always an existential crisis when it comes to music, and musicians. Which is, what is it about me that makes me want to create music? What drives me to do this? Why can’t I just be a music fan? What is it that separates me, from the average person, who just listens to music?

After all it isn’t cheap. The gear, the promotion of your music, the recording studio fees, the amount of time trying to perfect that one take, etc. It’s essentially a large money pit, that requires you to learn as you go, any mistake is costly, and that’s not even the half of it. There’s an extremely high percentage that most people won’t listen to your music, and it’s not even a question of whether your music is good or not. It’s up to fate, and nothing is more existentially terrifying than leaving something up to fate.

So when Lo! Peninsula writes that, “Our debut EP, AKA Lo Peninsula, is a catharsis of the existential crisis that we have been facing since the band was formed. This is our response to all the trials and tribulations that we had endured since we took our baby steps as a band.” Anybody who makes music immediately understands what they mean.

To begin with Lo! Peninsula’s AKA Lo Peninsula is an amazing album. For anybody who says rock n’ roll is dead, or has quit innovating, I would encourage them to listen to this album. The vocals innovate on the best of indie rock. With it’s production makes it sound like not just a rock singer, but like a voice high up in the mountains singing lyrics that peers out to the horizon–that sees all struggling artists–then articulates everything that they’ve been felt and experienced. For example take the lyrics in Quicksand (Nuffin).

“Drowning in quicksand everyday
Locked in a dreamy haze again
Look how we anticipate
A blizzard in the midst of a sunny day
To celebrate our own defeat”

It’s a song that encapsulates that natures of dreamers and artists–who in spite of all odds–strive for something greater. Something that is so exceptionally different from the regular person who is just solely focused on what’s in front of them, that they forget to look up at the stars. Yet as an artist knows, that no matter how long you stare up at the stars, at the end of the day you still need to pay the bills.

The psychedelic guitars even further illustrate this point. Psychedelia was originally started from artists who were pushing boundaries, expanding their consciousness, and changing the status quo. So what better sound is there to encapsulate the archetypal spirit of the artist than psychedelia? The guitar with it’s psychedelic tones, creates a sound that is not only unique but also celebrates everything that preceded it. Take Sleight of Hand with it’s thundering bass, spaced out guitars, and cool laid back drumming. It not only creates music that is expansive, and conceptual but also music that has a groove; a sound that you could dance to, or just listen to in your room. Regardless of which you choose it’s music that you can lose yourself in.

Yet even if you create the best art in the world and nobody listens to it. Take Evil Favours a song that begins with a melancholy sample of a thunderstorm. With a reflective and introspective sound, it asks questions that most artists themselves. Is it all worth it? Lo! Peninsula reflects on these questions that artists often ask of themselves, and provides an answer.

We broke all the rules
To spend a lonely lifetime together
And tiptoeing down memory lane
To find another spark of love to treasure
Should we be counting on evil favours forever?

We sailed across the ocean
To play our parts along and undefeated
And crushing down the castles in the sand
To find another spark of love to treasure
Should we be counting on evil favours forever?

Oftentimes musicians take for granted that we even have the ability to create. Many people waste their whole lives wondering, “What if?” Yet Lo! Peninsula offers us a hand and provides us with the context that so many artists desperately need, that often it’s not the destination that matters, rather, it’s the journey.

Take the only track that does not feature any lyrics, Flashback Kid. With it’s reflective soundscape, and hopeful upbeat tone; it recalls a period in time when every musician picked up that six string guitar and started strumming away. Each section of the song feels like a discovery, of that time when you found a new chord, bought a microphone, recorded your first song, or bought a new guitar pedal; that feeling you get when you can finally start expressing yourself in a way, that words just can’t.

Finally Final Roar brings the album to it’s conclusion. The track has a false start, then you hear what sounds like a cassette being popped out of a cassette player, like a musician reminiscing on his music, the music that failed to provide a living, the music that cost so much, the music that they poured so much of themselves into, only to get nothing in return. Then the music returns with a reinvigorated energy that sounds uplifting and focused. No, they aren’t going to stop. Because like Lo! Peninsula says,

“Because it’s time for the final roar
To be awake forevermore
Well it’s time for the final roar
To be awake forevermore”

Lo! Peninsula created this album as an expression of the existential questions they faced as a band. Yet, this album not only expresses the indomitable spirit of the artist but that of all humanity. That challenges we face when we no longer tread the beaten path, but blaze our own path; and the triumph of the individual overcoming all obstacles in their path.

For it’s amazing psychedelic sounds, celebration of the human spirit, and everything else that this album has to offer, I give it my full recc.