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Album Review: Minus The Bear – “Infinity Overhead”

Infinity Overhead, the fifth LP from Seattle-based indie math-rock band Minus The Bear might be the group’s most mature and eclectic record yet.

Right away, the first sound you hear as track 1, “Steal And Blood,” starts is distorted guitar. Much to the dismay of those who may be yearning for some more Omni-ous synth power, that first sound proudly marks the return of the guitar as MTB’s primary instrumental focus and sets the tone for the rest of the album. However, that doesn’t mean the record is completely void of synths and electronic effects (Oh don’t you worry, there are plenty of those). In fact, the mixture of tones on Infinity Overhead is more eclectic yet balanced as a whole than ever before. It’s clear that over the past decade, the guys in Minus The Bear have truly mastered dynamics and flow within an album. This new product seems to be an accumulation of everything they have learned in that time. The sound is still unequivocally “them,” but in a way that is re-inspired and more “mature.” Continue reading ‘Album Review: Minus The Bear – “Infinity Overhead”’

Jim Wolf Gets ‘Strange, Weird, And Romantic’

Despite the balanced wording of its title, the first installment of Jim Wolf’s Strange, Weird, and Romantic series of EPs is heavy on the romantic, and lighter on the strange, and weird. Over the course of the EP’s three songs of catchy, soulful, acoustic rock, Wolf alternates between confidence and caution as he sings about the various women in his life. While his lyrics gesture towards the stereotype of the continually brokenhearted singer-songwriter who nevertheless gets the girl (think John Mayer), Wolf inhabits this role with a healthy dose of skepticism. He sings about chasing relentlessly after a woman in “Make You My Lady,” but tempers his romantic yearning with the self-aware reflection, “My ego won’t save me.” Small moments of self-consciousness such as these are what elevate Wolf above other male singer-songwriters who often have the tendency to take themselves far too seriously. Wolf understands the game he’s playing when he sings, “What can I say that’s never yet been said?” on the EP’s closing track, “Watch The Pieces.” Even when artists sincerely express themselves, they can easily fall into the trap of repeating the sentiments that have come before. So it is with Wolf’s romantic relationships, which also seem to repeat themselves endlessly in the same format.  When he claims, “I’ve made up my mind / I’m gonna get over you / To break free from this paradigm,” he seems to know that it’s not only art that imitates itself; it’s life as well.

The two successive three-song EPs in Jim Wolf’s Strange, Weird, and Romantic series will drop in the next few months. The EPs will eventually be released as a single full-length in 2013.

Pick up Strange, Weird, and Romantic (Part 1) on iTunes now!

Soundcheck: Rock The Bells Recap

Guerilla Union kicked off their 9th Annual ‘Rock The Bells’ Festival in San Bernardino, Calif.  The two-day event attracted thousands of hip-hop fans to three stages featuring an eclectic mix of headliners, up-and-comers, and old-school favorites.  The blistering heat was no match for the scorching set-list that included Kendrick Lamar, Tyga, Nas, Ice Cube, and Common among others.

Photo by: Ashton Bowles

The first day of the festival was a real scorcher, with temperatures reaching 101 degrees, leaving fans clamoring for shade between sets. Still, 2Chainz’ mid-day performance on the 36 Chambers stage was packed.  Fresh off his No. 1 album debut last week, he treated the crowd to dance lessons during his high-energy set; where he performed hits like “Mercy, “Beez In The Trap”, and “No Lie”.
Yelawolf was the next emcee to grace the stage and was backed up by Psycho White collaborator, Travis Barker on the drums.  The Detroit-based rapper rocked an American flag under his hat and waved middle fingers to the crowd throughout his 30-minute set.
Tyga rocked his noticeably young crowd with a medley of radio hits; showing off his tattoo collection to throngs of screaming girls.  Across the lot, Common delivered a power-packed performance of classic hits including, “I Used To Love Her,” “Testify,” and “Be”.  Dressed casually in shorts and a T-shirt, his subdued set was a welcomed relief from the more eccentric offerings of the day.

Metal Monday: Katatonia’s Dead End Kings

In Katatonia‘s 21 year career, they’ve managed to avoid putting out a single subpar album; even with a slowly rotating cast of members — vocalist Jonas Renske and guitarist Anders Nyström seem to be the only permanent members. On their new Dead End Kings, they’ve even played without Fredrik and Mattias Norrman (yes, they’re brothers) for the first time in about 13 years. It would appear that the supporting cast for Renske and Nyström isn’t of much consequence, as they haven’t skipped a beat with their followup to 2009′s Night Is The New Day.

On recent albums, Katatonia developed a truly unique sound, a perfect blend of sulking heaviness and shimmering beauty. Combining the thick, heavy riffs and chords of Nyström with the clear, haunting vocals of Renske, Katatonia create deeply emotional soundscapes on just about every track of Dead End Kings. Frank Default contributes a lot to the atmospheres and textures that coat many sections of the album, adding some sparse percussion, keyboards, and strings. As on Night Is The New Day, producer David Castillo aptly handles the mixing and production of the album, and the overall sound is second to none.

Perhaps the biggest difference for Katatonia on this record is the songwriting. While the album is not at all a sonic departure, many of the songs on Dead End Kings feature elements that Katatonia have shied away from on their last few releases. The most obvious changes, as heard on the lead single “Dead Letters,” are the inclusion of more groovy riffs (likely to the extreme pleasure of Tool fans). But it’s not just heavier, groovier parts they’ve added, either (granted, it doesn’t get much more heavy and groovy than “Forsaker“). Songs such as “The Racing Heart” and “Leech” show us that Katatonia are also quite capable of moody, somber passages.

Ultimately, Katatonia aren’t adding anything particularly new to the mix, but rather are refining and perfecting what they’d already achieved on Night Is The New Day and The Great Cold Distance. In 21 years, they’ve managed to very slowly evolve into something uniquely their own in all the right ways. When you’re so far ahead of the curve, does it really matter if you’re not constantly making massively different music? I’m not so sure it does. I’ll be happy if Katatonia keep making only slight tweaks to their current formula, as they’re already in a league of their own. One listen to Dead End Kings further drives this point home.

Dead End Kings comes out at the end of August worldwide. You can grab your copy from Peaceville Records’ online shop. Get a taste of the new album below with the lead single from the album, “Dead Letters.”

Kate Tucker Searches For The ‘Ghost Of Something New’

Having grown up in a family of truck drivers, OurStage artist Kate Tucker seems to have inherited from them a sixth sense for the state of the nation. It’s a type of understanding that isn’t based on national polls or facts, but on the accumulation of individual tales that, when woven together, depict the full American canvas. On her latest album, Ghost of Something New, Tucker offers acute insights into the national mood through intimate stories of love gone awry. Melancholy, yet hopeful, the collection of songs is at once a rumination on failed previous relationships as well as a depiction of a country that similarly cannot stop contemplating its own path and past.

In Tucker’s lyrics, descriptions of romantic disappointment continuously spill over into distinctly American despair. When she sings “Baby what you’re saying / It ain’t worth a dime / One more deal on main street / And you’ll be doing time,” the empty promises of a dishonest lover sound unmistakably like the deceitful Wall Street dealings that spawned recent financial crises. Populist rhetoric reminiscent of the occupy camps appears over the rollicking drum beat of “Revolution” as well; the singer asks her lover, “Don’t you want to start it / Start a revolution / Take it down to Houston?” While Tucker’s narrators may cling to the particularly American belief that it is always possible to start anew, they are more likely to ruminate on the improbability of that same dream, falling “back into the distance / Searching for some old ancient truth.”

Like her aimlessly wandering lovers who vainly mine the past for guidance, Tucker’s America can only weakly imitate its own outdated victories. Ubiquitous pop clichés are repeated in strange semantic inversions (“I’m gonna get you over”) and familiar instrumental conventions of folk and Americana emerge from the arrangements like ghostly spectres. Lap steel and harmonica hide in the background mix while weary, fuzzed-out electric guitars languish in gallons of reverb. Over the swell, Tucker delivers her lyrics in a breathy alto, at times no louder than a hushed whisper. While this all may give the impression that Ghost of Something New is disconsolate and moody, the album doesn’t discount hope as an impossible commodity. As the closing track “New Orleans” builds to a climax, its single-note piano line becomes subtly dissonant and faltering, but doesn’t fall apart completely. It holds on until the last moment in order to deliver a final delicate chord. In this moment, missteps don’t seem fatal, and the future isn’t bound inextricably to failures of the past. It’s a muted type of hope, but it exists, and it’s as much as the lovelorn narrators of Tuckers songs can continue to long for.

Download Ghost of Something New at Kate Tucker’s Bandcamp page!

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SoundTrax: Hold Me Closer Tiny Hipster

Listening to good music that other people already know about is totally overrated nowadays. This week, OurStage’s own hipster correspondent Kristin has built us a playlist that’s more anti-mainstream than PBR and lens-less wayfarers. This playlist was developed around the supernatural hipster ability to discover great music before anyone else has the chance to hear it. By studying the hipster in its natural habitat, we can learn about how songs start to become trendy at the earliest stages, and predict what music is on the rise based on what hipsters are listening to currently. SoundTrax’s Hold Me Closer Tiny Hipster features popular music that these groovy trendsetters were listening to months ago, before it was cool (of course) and songs they’re listening to now that’s sure to catch on to mainstream popularity soon enough. As an added bonus, there are also a few tracks that were previously overlooked by conformist popular culture that hipsters have attempted desperately to keep to themselves. Sorry for spilling the beans, hipsters.

Post up in a local coffee shop on your MacBook then work on your Avant-garde screenplay while listening to these awesome tunes by Lana Del Rey, Bronze Radio Return, We Were Lovers, Imagine Dragons, and many more.

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Go Periscope Takes Pop To The Future With ‘Wasted Youth’

Though many current synth pop artists attempt to recapture the vintage electronic sounds of the ’80s, OurStage act Go Periscope aims straight for the future and never looks back. With their new album Wasted Youth, Go Periscope’s Florin Merano and Joshua Frazier have released a dark and pulsating collection of songs that sound like the 21st century. While Go Periscope’s music does contain clear references to the ’80s synth sounds that inspired its members, the songs are more than just conduits for indulgent electro-nostalgia. In fact, Wasted Youth is unabashedly contemporary, with its obvious debts to EDM and dubstep on tracks like “Black Light Masquerade” and “Break Free.” The synth tones are expansive and thick, layering on top of each other to create rippling waves of sound that undergird Merano and Frazier’s heavily filtered vocals.

Yet, for all of its shine and polish, Wasted Youth speaks to the dark and increasingly unstable world around it. For a work that so heavily revolves around artificially engineered sounds, the album contains a significant number of lyrical references to nature. Fire, water, gold, and horses all appear as damaged or endangered elements in the wake of technology, which electronically manipulates the natural world described in the lyrics. Vocal lines are often sliced, rearranged, and panned until they sound like the inhuman sputterings of a dying computer. Clean vocals intertwine with computerized, bit-crunched harmonies that suggest the integration of human and machine to the point of indistinguishability. In the face of the mechanized depletion of the natural world around them, humans can only choose to “live in fantasy,” as the track “Make Believers” sadly emphasizes through the repeated line: “It was only a dream / But it was just like Heaven.” Ultimately, technology doesn’t just enable these escapist fantasies; it makes them necessary in the first place. At a time when people can’t let go of their smartphones and the world is becoming unyieldingly digitized, Go Periscope is making pop music for an uncertain future. Until then, the dance anthems on Wasted Youth implore listeners to party like it’s the end of the world.

You can buy Wasted Youth now at Go Periscope’s Bandcamp page!

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SoundTrax: Festival Frenzy

This week’s SoundTrax is hereby dedicated to all the awesome music festivals this summer. Whether you’ve been to every festival this year, or if you’ve missed them all completely, we’re offering a recap of this season’s standouts and giving you a taste of what’s still to come. Enjoy some of your favorite music from Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Firefly, Kahbang, and many more.

 

Bad Rabbits get things going with their indie pop number, “Neverland,” followed by tracks from Late Cambrian, Passion Pit, and The Dirty Guv’nahs. Later we hear “Be Mine” from The Alabama Shakes, “Lights Please” from J Cole, and “The Zephyr Song” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Also in the mix are The Gaslight Anthem, Young The Giant, and many, many more. Enjoy the festivities!

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Metal Monday: Cool Off With Cold Weather Jams By Black Thai, Voyager, Black Sheep Wall, And More

It’s summer, which means it’s hot. Really hot. In fact, this is one of the hottest summers ever so far. What does this mean? It means what you need now, more than ever before, are some really solid jams to help you keep your cool. Luckily, we’ve got a handful of metal songs here that should definitely do the trick. Lots of slow, heavy songs—perfectly matched for lazing about in the shade on a blazing day. Now go grab a cold beverage because there’s only so much music can do to beat the heat!

SoundTrax: Brats And Brews

We’re starting your weekend off right with a SoundTrax playlist built with backyard barbecues in mind. Call up some buddies, throw some burgers on the grill, and blow up the water wings because we’re celebrating all the weekend warriors out there with 21 tracks about friends, youth, drinking, and just having a good time. We all need to just take a minute to kick back and hang out, so let these summertime jams rock your socks off as you welcome the long-awaited break from the work week. Have an extra cold one for us, will ya? Cheers.

 

Bronze Radio Return warms things up with their summer anthem, “Down There,” followed by the perfect message from The Expendables, telling us to “Let Loose.” After the Foo Fighters, Ballyhoo, and Insolence get things going, we hear the bouncy pump-up “The Circus” by Native June, and some hometown vibes from Authority Zero and Frank Turner. The High, Matisyahu, Pepper, Tim Armstrong, Sam Page, and many more keep things rolling all night to give you awesome summer jams that will keep your weekend rocking.

 

 


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