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Anglo Ascension

The Sketches

When it comes to vocal capabilities, to a certain extent you’re either born with them or you’re not. Charlie Bernardo was blessed with an incredible voice—one that sounds like the product of English DNA. As lead singer of DC-based band The Sketches, Bernardo brings huge Brit-pop chops to the table. “Strangers”—not to get overly hyperbolic—is perfection. Bernardo’s intoxicating croon, a Lennon-like piano line and frayed guitar lashes combine for a lush, swooning melody. Somewhere the members of Keane are gnashing their teeth in envy. “She Came & Went,” with its cello moans and shaken percussion is superlative Brit folk. “Secret Alphabets” packs the theatrical punch of Queen on its airborne chorus, but begins with a rolling bass that leans more towards Beatles’ “Come Together.” The Sketches may wear their influences on their sleeve, but don’t worry too much about it. The visceral chills their music brings are entirely of their own design.

Funk Soul Brother

Brandon Kelley

Brandon Kelley grew up the son of a preacher man in the deep South. When he became a musician, he didn’t rebel against his upbringing and dabble in the dark side, nor did he succumb to it entirely and bring piety into play. Instead, Kelley took his love of gospel and joined it in holy union with his pop sensibilities. What you get with Kelley is soulful, catchy rock, not far off from Jason Mraz or James Morrison. “Radio” begins with a plaintive piano before breaking into a torrential chorus that lodges itself in your brain after the first listen. “Don’t Ignore” asks the question we all are wondering: Why are shows like Three’s Company no longer on? Organs, acoustic guitars, an ambling bass and Kelley’s drawled, soulful vocals make for an easy, amiable tune. For funkier, Maroon 5-ish fodder, skip to “What I Need” where a shuddering organ, wah-wah guitars and percolating bass build a monster groove. Expect big things from this artist. We do.

Lipstick On A War Pig

Victoria Faiella

Within the first few measures of “War Pigs,” you realize that Victoria Faiella is a force to be reckoned with. Taking on Black Sabbath’s perennial anthem is one thing, transporting it to the other side of the world is another. Under Faiella’s direction, “War Pigs” receives a culture shock, heavy metal turning into mysterious, Middle Eastern exoticism. But this rhythmic, witchy arrangement is sort of a non sequitur. “Love Ashes—Crack the Whip” is pure romanticism, the singer’s voice shifting from the distorted pitch of “War Pigs” to one that’s soft and lilting. Faiella is a nimble picker and percussionist, and both skills are on display on “All Fall Down”—a track that would feel like global folk if not for a string section. As a musician, Faiella’s scope is formidable, her songs transfixing each in their own way. And she can give Ozzy a run for his money. We like her.

Under the Sea


When something’s amiss, different species respond in different ways. Squids, for instance, release plumes of ink. In that regard, they’re not unlike your average human, expressing feeling through pen on paper. And there you have the etymology of the band Squid. Based in Tel Aviv, Squid crafts quixotic rock full of imagery and emotion. “Quicksand” is soft and swaying, lulling the listener with hoary tales of knights, maidens and dragons. “Free” brings a flute into the mix, joining bass and guitars for a turbulent flight into the night. The romance is finally broken with “Junky”—a hypnotic, psychedelic groove—and “Not Used To,” where the band channels their inner Nine Inch Nails for darker electro-rock. Searing guitar peals and clanging digital textures create a primal, ominous landscape. Put it this way, if a squid heard it, ink would be spilled.

The Rare Bird

Dolly Johnston

In the oversaturated marketplace that is the music industry, true originals can sometimes get lost in the crowd. Be glad Dolly Johnston isn’t slipping past your attention. Johnston’s songs are treasure troves of uncommon instruments and complicated arrangements. As a composer, her intellect is undeniable, but her real talent is her ability to make fun, frisky music out of the strangest of bedfellows. Like “Wind At My Back,” where a theremin, a baritone guitar, a computer and some woodwinds join together in a percussive romp that’s part surf music, part tango, part Goldfrapp. “Bang Bang,” with its tambourine shambles, electronic bleeps and ropy guitars, is garage rock go-go for the 21st century. On the subversive “Ghetto Blaster,” Johnston lends her velvety, feline alto (similar to fellow Canadian Emily Haines) to an ode to the redemptive powers of the boom box. “Take a pill, it’s only a song,” she teases. Yeah, but what a song it is.

String Theory


Not all who pick up a violin end up in the orchestra pit. Rock music claims its fair share of classically trained musicians, especially those wielding a stringed instrument. Darlingside has a couple among their ranks, namely a cellist and violinist. The addition of guitars, drums and a mandolin steer the music away from strictly classical into more nuanced terrain. Like, for instance, “Good Man”—grassy folk rock full of high lonesome soul. Or “Malea,” which veers towards experimental string rock. Yawning violin, a cappella breaks, and a torrent of handclaps make for a haunting, curious groove. “The Catbird Seat” is more wistful, cinematic fare built with baying violins and softly strummed acoustic guitars. Darlingside keep a lot of space in their songs, letting the strings tell much of the story. So far, we’re loving what they have to say.

Down With Disease

E.B.B. & F.L.O.W.

E.B.B. & F.L.O.W. is not just the name of producer DeMo and emcee Inf’s hip hop collaboration, it’s also an acronym for their modus operandi—specifically to (make) Every Beat Bang and (use) the Freshest Lyrics On Wax. So the question is, do they? We think so. “Good Time (Dead Broke)” and “Breathe” use pitch-shifted vocals to create a mewling cartoon chorus. If you love the hook in Kanye West’s “The Wire,” you’ll probably like both of these tracks. Mellow grooves and orchestral textures keep the vibe relatively laid back. But just when you think it’s all smooth sailing, a storm breaks out. “Hear That” has a monstrous hook and rattle snake percussion. “Stay hungry like the ‘Outbreak’ monkey … It’s the new black plague,” Inf spits. Highly contagious and pretty sick. Even Dustin Hoffman might not mind the infection.

Rough Material


Words are weapons, but every MC wields his or hers differently. Some use their words to attack social injustices, some use them to attack other MCs. Doughboi, a singer/rapper out of Fort Lauderdale, chose to wield his weapon against close-cut denim. “Tight Jeans (Jerkin’ Diss)” is Doughboi’s verbal assault on “boys wearing ladies pants and stepping outside.” If you’re a lover of skinny jeans, don’t worry. There’s plenty of other material to get behind. “LockdDown” is a sweet, swaying melody about punch-drunk love, topped off with finger snaps, cooing synths and a heaping spoonful of auto-tune. “You Took It All” jumps off with marimba-inspired electronic textures and a clapping beat. Doughboi still needs to work on his pitch, but once perfected he could sound like a young Usher. “Everybody’s Dream” has a hook not too far of from Enrique Iglesias’ “I Like It.” It’s just as catchy, too, minus a few spotty harmonies. We’re predicting that with a little polish, Doughboi could be a contender for mainstream success. We’re looking forward to watching him grow.

Summer Lovin’

Xoe Wise

Xoe Wise’s bio begins, “Xoe Wise is a heart from a dream, a mind from the ocean, a thought from a memory and a musician from the lack of difference between the three.” Thankfully, her music is less inscrutable. Here’s our interpretation: Xoe Wise is a North Carolina singer-songwriter with a talent for beachy, sing-a-long folk songs. Think Colbie Callait meets Elliott Smith. Multi-tracked vocals, acoustic guitars, twinkling keys and shuffling beats permeate her music. “NC 101” is soft and diaphanous, with breezy vocals that nudge the melody along. “Sail” and “Take Me Away” are folksy acoustic pop nuggets that share the same sunny insouciance. But our favorite has to be “My Heart,” a romantic gem where Wises’ lovely voice sails up the scales. Heart from a dream, a mind from the ocean—yeah, maybe. All you need to know is that she’s good. Put on this Carolina girl’s music and it feels a little less like winter.

Still Waters

Pocket Satellite

Pocket Satellite formed over a mug of hot chocolate after an open-mic night. Which seems fitting, given that their folk music is infused with a comforting sweetness that warms the bones. They’re the kind of band you’d expect to find ensconced in a coffeehouse, playing muted melodies that demand full attention from the audience. In “Toy Train” droplets of glockenspiel and yawning fiddles stir up a quiet sort of wistfulness. The poignant “We Chased Soldiers” spins gossamer swaths of melody with delicate boy and girl harmonies. There’s a lot of longing with the UK band, but there’s whimsy too—look no further than “Rocks in Shoes,” where a plucky glockenspiel and acoustic guitars gently bob and sway. Pocket Satellite’s subdued songcraft may soften the edge of emotion, but it doesn’t dull the blow altogether. It just makes the bitter pills a little sweeter to swallow.


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