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Album Review: Kelly Lee Owens’ Colorful EP

This may be Kelly Lee Owens’ first EP but she is not brand, spanking new to the music scene. A young producer getting her proverbial musical “sea legs” on the ground, Owens shows great promise for her first release.

For Blurt Magazine:
Label: Smalltown Supersound
Release Date: October 21, 2016

Kelly Lee Owens fully steps into the electronic music fold with her brief yet hypnotic four track EP, Oleic. The Welsh producer has previously worked with other musicians-most notably appearing on fellow UK producer Daniel Avery’s 2013 album Drone Logic-and has since teased the world with tracks released online. Now amassing her songs for her own release, Oleic proves that Owens has a solid springboard from which to launch her musical career.

Repetition is the core of Owens’ sound as swirling effects and pulsating keys continually reverberate and echo, creating an entrancing environment. Unfortunately, not much variety exists in the four songs as the “four-to-the-floor” kick drum is the skeleton of each track. And having the same sonically alluring yet almost indiscernible line “dancing curtains of auroras” utilized in “Elliptic” and “CBM” does not aid in creating different atmospheres. Yet, this infraction is almost completely forgivable thanks to Oleic’s lush production.

With minimalist, down-tempo and bass-ladened dark sounds, Oleic drifts into the realm of deep house and oozes with sophisticated sexiness. The EP includes three original tracks and one reworking of Jenny Hval’s track “Kingsize.” To fully appreciate the depth of Owens’ rework you must listen to the original music-less, 2 minute, spoken word piece. Owens created an entire soundscape and sliced in selected moments Hval’s genteel voice which sounds like soft whispers. An almost lyric-less EP, when Owens does sing her vocals possess an alluring, ghost-like quality that rises unexpectedly and seeps in-between the music.

First single, “CBM,” which stands for “colors, beauty, motion,” is perhaps the best track on Oleic. Well-crafted mellow keys build from a stuttering intro of effects and for the last two minutes of the song, the sound effortlessly changes to bouncing keys that doesn’t lift from the soundscape but permeates just beneath the waves as all the other music slowly trails off leaving the subtle, kinetic effects to carry the track to the end.

Owens has illustrated variety in her previously released singles and displayed that she can weave an array of sounds (her remake of Aaliyah’s “More Than a Woman” is worth a listen). Her earlier material and the sonically rich construction on Oleic is a fine window into Owens’ future LP.

DOWNLOAD: “CBM,” “Kingsize

Listen to my favorite track on the EP, “CBM.”

Album Review: Cross Record’s Wabi-Sabi

 

Cross Record has created such a weird, trippy, creative album that it’s hard to pinpoint…and something tells me, that was the goal.  An ethereal ride Wabi-Sabi is starting off 2016 right!

For Blurt Magazine:

Label: Ba Da Bing Records
Release Date: January 29, 2016

Cross Record, husband-wife duo Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski, returns with their second album; following their 2013 debut #Be Good#, Wabi-Sabi continues in the same vein of hauntingly serene soundscapes. Cross’ airy, wispy vocals, that remain in the realm of a gentle whisper, add to the mellow, organic feel of the album. A quiet affair, acoustic guitar, the occasional buzz of an electric guitar or effects of a keyboard, and muted drums mostly comprise Wabi-Sabi.

crossrecord

Opening with “The Curtains Part” the off rhythm strumming of an acoustic guitar reminiscent of a spaghetti western that cuts in and out sets the tone to this distinctive album. Floating between folk and rock the atmospheric album has a penchant for melancholy as the often droning sounds—whether it be the slow hit of a repetitive tambourine and guitar strum as in “Wasp In A Jar” or oscillating effects as in “Lemon”—hypnotically draw you in. Reveling in the silences between notes, Wabi-Sabi does not aim to hit hard, instead the artistic album tensely remains below the line of escalation. The off-kilter, sometimes jarring sounds on tracks like “Wasp,” “Basket” add a layer of mystery to the unique record. “High Rise” is a song that could easily ascend into a hard driving rock song. The “heaviest” track includes the most drums and electric guitar compared to all others, instead the PJ Harvey-esque track, at only 2:33 minutes, ends on the plateau it reaches mid song.

Repetition and simplicity balance the sadly beautiful sounds on Wabi-Sabi; an eccentric album that will find it’s home with those who seek something creatively different in their music on a mellow, rainy day.

DOWNLOAD: “High Rise,” “Two Rings,” “Wasp In A Jar”

Watch the officially weird video for my favorite track on the album, “High Rise.”

Album Review: Interpol’s El Pintor

OK! I couldn’t go through with an El Pintor-Spanish for The Painter-metaphor as an opener. Just trust me when I say: Interpol is back and they sound amazing! The gents are in form with their latest, El Pintor, and–if I don’t say so myself–have out-shined their last release, 2010’s Interpol. Where I walked away pocketing a few favorite songs from Interpol (2010) I find myself enjoying this whole album, rarely skipping ahead to the next track, a rare feat in this mp3 age.

Press Photo: Matador Records

For Blurt Magazine:

Album: El Pintor
Label: Matador Records
Release Date: September 9, 2014

Four years have passed since 2010’s Interpol and the departure of bassist Carlos Dengler; for their fifth LP Interpol simultaneously maintain their charged, melancholic rock and tread new grounds. El Pintor is the first album without Dengler’s contribution and the first time lead singer Paul Banks plays both guitar and bass; despite the loss of a band member the post-punk sounds remain as beefy, loud and moody as ever.

El Pintor is not Antics or Turn on the Bright Lights, there are not as many immediate hooks and riffs that were present on these earlier releases; instead, the solid music on El Pintor unveils a nuanced mellowing that has taken over the last two releases from Interpol. Thankfully Banks, Daniel Kessler and Samuel Fogarino have perked up since their 2010 album and have created a louder, more upbeat soundscape for listeners…as upbeat as our melancholic trio will allow, this is Interpol after all.

Kessler continues to create a separate landscape with his piercing lead guitar that adds a detailed accent to each track, “Same Town, New Story,”“My Desire,”“Tidal Wave”and “Twice As Hard”are prime examples. Fogarino’s skilled drumming is best heard on “Anywhere”as he changes the fast pace of the song ever so slightly and leads us to a smoother chorus that booms with his drum rolls. The bass heavy “Everything Is Wrong”is one of the catchiest tracks on the album and the words “Everything is wrong, truly wrong”never sounded so appealing. The one downfall to the piercingly loud executed music, Banks’vocals are drowned out but the themes of love, longing, sadness and a sense of foreboding are not lost.

DOWNLOAD: “Everything is Wrong,” “Anywhere,” “My Desire”

Interview: Cold War Kids’ Soul Punk

A brief encounter with vocalist Nathan Willet, discussing his band’s recent EP and their plans for the future.

The number of artists melding blues, rock, pop and soul into one is on the rise. However, many musicians merely reenact sounds from our musical past and often remain in the confines of this paradigm. Enter California’s Cold War Kids: they have manipulated this fine equation to create a sound all their own, injecting a jolt of adrenaline into this evolving genre.

Photo By: Matt Wignall

En route to Anchorage, Alaska, the last stop of Cold War Kids’ short tour in support of their latest EP Behave Yourself, lead singer Nathan Willet took a few moments in between flights to chat. So while sitting in an airport amongst crying children and chattering passengers Willet discussed future plans for Kids ‐ Willet, guitarist Jonathan Russell, bassist Matt Maust, drummer Matt Aveiro ‐ and the recent release of Behave.

However you’d like to define “success” it is fair to say Cold War Kids is on the cusp of it. When the Kids formed six years ago, they did not put the cart before the horse with delusions of grandeur. “We didn’t really know what our hopes were from the beginning.” Willet says, adding, “All we knew is that we liked the kind of music we were playing. Now we’ve kind of come into success and found our place, it’s very much what we’ve hoped for.”

Humbled by the experience, Willet admits, “I’m always amazed ‐ especially with this last record ‐ that people know all the words, even to the old recordings. It feels good, it’s incredible, it really blows me away. Over the last four years of touring it keeps growing and it’s really great.” However, from the other side of the mic, it is easy to see why spectators become enamored by the Kids; one live performance and they will reform naysayers and recruit new fans. (After having personally witnessed Cold War Kids in action, I can say this with assurance. Before the show began a security guard approached and asked, “What kind of music do they do?” After their sweltering performance I had to ask for his thoughts: with a shrug and smile the bouncer admitted, “Oh yeah, they were good.”)

And three EPs and two LPs later, Cold War Kids’ compositions improve with each release. A bridge between Loyal to Loyalty and their upcoming third LP, Behave is a collection of songs that did not make it onto the sophomore release. One listen to the short, four track EP it’s clear that these songs were not cut due to an inferior sound. “The last record had a darker, broodier sound,” Willet explains. “These songs are more uplifting… lighter, so we re‐recorded them and released them on their own so that people would have a different ‘feel’ before the next album.” Indeed a “lighter” affair, Behave Yourself triggers that happy place in your sonic pleasure center. However, Cold War Kids’ music has always incorporated an upbeat tone even when a sense of foreboding lingers; the key to this juxtaposition, Willet’s lyrics.

Whether a contemplative pessimist in “Something is Not Right With Me,” a lovelorn woman in “Every Man I Fall For,” or a thieving church‐goer in “Passing the Hat,” Willet is known for weaving creative, narrative‐styled words that unveil troublesome tales from unique perspectives. But since the band wants to explore new terrain for their upcoming third LP, this may change… perhaps. Willet chuckles as he stammers, “You know, I don’t know yet. I do know that [the lyrics] will be more personal and less narrative…maybe.”

Well, possibly it’s too soon to make a definitive decision on the future creative process. Yet, one thing is certain: for the first time the Kids will be working with a producer throughout the entire process of album creation. Jacquire King, talented mixer to musicians such as Tom Waits, Josh Ritter, Buddy Guy and more, will add Cold War Kids to his roster. “This is the first time we’ve worked with someone who has a say in the songwriting and helps to shape how things are going to sound. It’s going to be a great experience, having his wisdom,” Willet says. “The old recordings were quick and fun, not a lot of overdub. This recording will be a much more lush arrangement. I think that this is the first time we have a high expectation for people to really respond to a record.”

And with the upcoming LP hopefully the Kids will achieve their ambitions. Fans will have faith; the Kids have every element to make this dream a reality ‐ great music, unique lyrics, and a memorable live show. Willet, clearly, has confidence in his and his bandmates’ abilities when he observes, “I think we are incredibly unique as a band especially compared to the mainstream world. I think that our qualities, combining soul and punk, are unique to people and we are forging ground on a musical category that no one is really doing right now.”

Worth noting, too, is the humanitarian side of the band: Cold War Kids let a portion of their recent ticket sales aid those in Haiti ‐ in addition to a benefit concert recently performed in NYC. Also, they continually raise awareness for Water Wells for Africa. Says Willet, “When we were on tour with Death Cab for Cutie we did a running [competition] where we raised money for [the organization].”

Once back in the sunny hills of California, Willet and the Cold War Kids will soon begin work on the third album. So, on this cold day, resting in an airport before taking off for Alaska, Willet gets one final question from BLURT: If you could choose five words to describe your band, what would they be?

Willet’s response after a moment of deliberation: “Soul punk for young souls.”