Review: So Long, Stargazer’s ‘Look Up’

Columbus, Ohio’s So Long, Stargazer (@solongstargazer) is a young, energetic quartet consisting of Chase McCants (vocals, synthesizers), Kristin Green (vocals, keyboards), Nick Wray (drums), and Tommy Davis (guitars).  Founded two years back, the group played live to get the word out, which served as anticipation for 2016 debut LP titled Look Up. The album is unlike anything that has dropped in recent memory, making it one of the standouts on the indie music radar.

The record is the epitome of variety, featuring both McCants and Green sharing lead vocals on some tunes and then one or the other handling lead on others. Look Up comes with a late 1990/early 2000s sound to it, when radio was more diverse and bands could chart across multiple genres. The band deserves a great deal of success now, but had they released this album about 20 years ago SLS would be in the same conversation with Blessid Union of Souls, Sarah McLachlan, Keane, Anna Nalick, among others. That is great musical company to be in and they would have skyrocketed up the charts along with said acts.

For instance, the second track “Rewind” could do well on today’s Hot AC chart. The way all individual parts just melt together makes for a tasty musical grilled cheese sandwich. McCants’ canary-like vocals are on display here and blend in with Green’s keyboard work, Wray’s on-point drumming, and solid guitar play from Davis. On the other hand, carried by its vocals “Wreckage” is a spot-on tune that would fit at R&B stations. If only two minutes longer, “Drink the Sin” would slay on Hot AC or CHR Pop stations, giving SLS one of its more crossover tunes in today’s times.

Two decades ago, there was more diversity on the airwaves and that is where the bulk of Look Up would have fit like a glove. McCants, Green, Wray, and Davis should be commended for making the music they feel like making despite what industry big wigs choose to currently peddle. Here is hoping they can breakthrough and attract the attention they deserve. Even though the album is rock solid, their live events are a sight to behold and in this era of hip-hop, electronica, pop, and folk rock will be what carries them forward.

Further diversifying the album, Green gets to show off her singing chops on tracks such as “From Detroit to Toledo”, “To the Hour”, and “Weightless”. These tracks could do damage on AC and Hot AC stations with the right record company behind them. If/when either vocalist is ready to fly solo, those records are going to be in high demand on the scene.

Listeners should not let the LP being 14 tracks deter them as the different song lengths on Look Up balance out the album rather nicely. So Long, Stargazer’s musicianship is undisputed, however, due to the album’s hodgepodge and the current radio state a record company will have to work hard in marketing it. Outside of staunch metalheads, the record has just about something for everyone, which makes it appealing to fans who like multiple genres. The downside is by being so difficult to pin down to one radio format, major labels may not be up for the challenge. That would be a shame as the record is superb musically top to finish, but business is about calculated risks so it would be great for a label to step up and give these hard-working lads a chance. As far as the record goes, the listening public ought to follow suit.

 

Photo courtesy of the band’s website

Review: Two Years Later’s ‘Say It To My Face’

Columbus, Ohio’s alternative rock act Two Years Later (@2YLBand) ambitiously released two records in 2016 with the latest (and third overall) being Say it to My Face. As evidenced by the title, the record is themed as a revenge record with songwriter/lead vocalist/guitarist Jamie Rogers exacting payback against those who wronged her by way of melodic pop-punk music and a few ballads mixed in. In turn, these tunes can be relatable to others who have experienced similar dilemmas and seek healing, which they can also get through Rogers’ creative venting. Fans are forewarned that although disappointing relationships and/or life experiences are the norm on the album, one-third of the tracks is a departure of what they have heard on prior albums.

The title track is a brilliant clap-along 40-second intro to the album that takes one right to “#sorrynotsorry”, which was featured on the band’s first record. With its solid guitar and drum work, it is a rock anthem would fit right in on Alternative radio stations’ playlists. “That’s Not Ladylike” calls out the contradiction of women’s current beauty standards and Rogers’ vocals are on fire as she awesomely rants about the hypocrisy within mainstream and social media.

Say it to My Face’s fourth track, “Linger”, is different from Two Years Later’s trademark sound as it is reminiscent of the Santana and Michelle Branch collaboration “The Game of Love” sped up a tad. The song is one to salsa to and has potential to be a crossover hit across multiple formats. “Tonight, Tonight” is a standard part of Two Years Later’s playbook with sheer brilliance on guitar from Chandler Eggleston (also the tune’s co-writer), banging on-point drumming out of the group’s co-founder Zak Toth, and bombastic bass work and backing vocals by Mike Johnson. It is one of the album’s headbangers, making it a crowd favorite at live shows.

Yet another popular song at concerts that made the album is the call-out “Let Me Down Easy”, in which Rogers expresses self-depreciation for falling for false charms all the while chastising the culprit for his cons. Those not familiar with Two Years Later’s work should be warned that although Rogers writes and performs PG songs, this one contains strong adult language. Without approval of a radio edit, the song will not see the light of day on terrestrial radio stations. It makes those who love it obligated to hear it by attending a show or buying the album, but that is only a benefit to Two Years Later’s economic success.

An atypical track from Two Years Later, “California is Calling” slows the album back down as the ballad explores escaping a bad experience through an entire change of scenery. It also criticizes the antagonist’s actions and insufficient compensation attempts as the protagonist moves on with her life. Formerly a concert exclusive, “Never What You Wanted” is on millennials’ soundtracks as it deals with monkey wrenches getting in the way of society’s life manifests. The final tune on Say it to My Face is “Lullaby of Bitter Things”, which showcases Rogers’ vocals with some wicked ukulele playing. If the group wishes to take a huge risk, they can release it as a single and see it soar up the Adult Contemporary chart gaining them even more fans.

The band is on indefinite hiatus from touring and recording as for the time being, principal songwriter and lead singer Rogers is focusing on electronic/acoustic side project Kitty Pause. Thus, casual and diehard fans need to stay interested in the group’s work as it may encourage a reunion sooner versus later.  Much like Say it to My Face, when Two Years Later does return they will come back with a vengeance.

Open Your Mind to Conway’s Open Your Eyes

Quintet Conway (@conwayband) has paid their dues by touring across the U.S. in support of their unique take on pop-punk. Their most recent EP Open Your Eyes will get listeners’ attention as the Michigan five-piece demonstrate a great effort into recording it with its recurring main idea of relationships gone awry. This makes the band and their music more relatable to everyday people who can find solace knowing they are not alone in being broken.

 

The first tune ‘On Your Own’ is a song of love gone awry with splendid arrangements and spot-on vocals. It seems clear the band has spent some time listening to Simple Plan, A Day To Remember and The All-American Rejects for inspiration. It is an anthem that the heartbroken and neglected can relate to. The EP‘s longest track ‘All Wrong’ is another tune with the same imperfect relationship theme. Some of these songs will likely hit close to home with listeners who have experienced what the songwriter(s) have. It is often that the worst situations make the best stories.

 

Much like the previous two tunes, ‘Currents’ has surefire hit written all over it and maintains the album’s continuity of imperfect social situations. From start to finish, this track is their best chance at obtaining a Top 10 Alternative Chart hit off this record. Coming in at under two and one-quarter minutes, the finale ‘Meant To Seem’ is an ideal ending to the EP with solid musicianship on display and poignant lyrics such as, Sail away from the safe harbor / Catch trade winds to the east / Cause every part of me knows I should leave / But that’s not happening.

 

Open Your Eyes is a commendable effort from Conway as it cannot be easy to take dark subject matter and turn them into danceable, headbanging, songs. Although the lyrics are grim, the vocals and musicianship are on point and high energy from beginning to end. Another thing that is amazing is how they have managed to fly under the radar for so long. It is in every pop-punk fan’s best interest to pick up the EP and check the band out live. Their tour kicks off in Columbus, OH tomorrow, November 17 before they head back to their home state for a show and head west. Conway is in possession of four coping mechanisms for today’s depressed and confused youth and this EP along with their back catalog going unnoticed is a travesty.

Aiming For Average: Miles Better Than Their Name Dictates

Aiming For Average (@Aiming4Average) is a pop-punk quintet from Berwyn, IL (a western Chicago suburb) proving they do not live up to their tongue-in-cheek name. They are actually better. The group was founded in 2011 and has two records currently on Bandcamp (Icebreaker, which was released in 2014 and Blueprints the following year). Given what they have provided thus far on both EPs, the band is well on their way to joining fellow pop-punk groups A Day To Remember, Allister, and Taking Back Sunday on Active Rock radio and with a label deal.

 

The five-piece act consists of lead vocalist Nik Maniotis, guitarists Chris Perez and Christian Castillo, drummer Ruben Lopez, and bassist Zak Vhrel. On the seven-song release Icebreaker, the group primarily stays in high gear with heavy guitars and blazing drum work. The second track, ‘Sorry Not Sorry’, is a headbanging bitter love song relatable by anyone whose heart has been broken. The album’s final song, titled ‘3 Years, And All I Got Was A T-Shirt’, is another jaded relationship track in the band’s repertoire. With most tunes on Icebreaker being at warp speed, a standout track is their ballad ‘Man On The Moon’ in which Castillo gets to reveal his voice as the second coming of Chris Carrabba’s. This is their cigarette lighter/cell phone waving song at live events and the band will have ladies eating out of their hands after this is played.

 

On the four-song EP Blueprints, Aiming For Average keeps it short and sweet with fine results. Each track will have its place on rock radio, however, their best chance for a hit is the opening track ‘Feedback’, which is a brilliant toned down song similar to ‘Man On The Moon’. ‘IOU’ is another tune that will be pleasing to not only radio listeners, but to those who get to hear it live. The band has recorded themselves two fine pieces of work that at some point are going to attract the attention of labels big and small. Able to tour the Midwest this year, these guys are doing fine on their own, though.

 

Not only are Aiming For Average above-average musicians, they seem like swell gentlemen. Per Facebook, the group has raised money and performed on behalf of Autism Speaks and have had several write-ups recognizing their talent. Their summer tour is underway with stops in Shickshinny and Lansford, Pennsylvania on June 16 and 17, respectively. The big show of the week is on Saturday, June 18 as part of Columbus, Ohio’s Pride Weekend. Thousands of tourists will invade the capital city and once the marching and parading is over, Woodlands Tavern will feature three hours of in-your-face live music. They will be joined by indie rock darlings Sam and The Barbers and fellow pop-punk outfit Two Years Later. It is in one’s best interest to catch the band when they can and sample the music for themselves to confirm how good they really are.

Sam and The Barbers Definitely Make The Cut

Indie rock trio Sam and The Barbers (@samandbarbers) have provided a sample of what they have to offer the industry on their new four-song EP End of the World and alternative music’s future is great shape because of it. What vocalist/guitarist Derrick Walter, drummer Brett Williams, and synthesist Paul Strawser have constructed demonstrates a bright outlook for them in the years to come.

The band’s name is an ironic one as at no time since their inception has any band member been named Sam and none of them are or have been hair stylists. According to their October 2015 video interview with the university’s publication The Lantern, the band is named for American composer Samuel Barber, who Walter noticed had a noun for his last name and thought it was a good idea to keep the same band name format that has worked for Katrina & The Waves, Huey Lewis & News, among others.  The Columbus, OH band was formed by high school friends and former Ohio State University undergrads Walter and Williams. During their college stint and after several lineup changes, fellow student Strawser joined and magic has been made ever since. That has resulted in positive feedback for their high energy, spot-on live shows around town and now critical acclaim for the EP released just this year.

End of the World has potential radio hits across the board all the while maintaining musical integrity sometimes lost in mainstream music. The opening track titled ‘Everyone Here’ is a synthesizer and drum driven tune that has teenage rom-com soundtrack written all over it, and that is a good thing. Walter’s guitar-playing comes in about 90 seconds into it and takes the track to another level. His solid lead vocals give it a boost to create some static on the Alternative and Adult Rock radio charts.  The EP’s title track is a faster-paced synth-laden track that should also not be ignored by rock radio and by alternative music lovers.

It is End of the World’s middle two tracks that with the right people backing them will make Sam and The Barbers well-known. ‘I Promise I’ll Never Promise Again’ is a high-energy modern rock track that exudes influence from Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys, and the like. ‘1982’, written by Walter, is a fun throwback that has a 1980s new wave vibe to it yet has enough relevance to be a surefire Top 10 Alternative smash and cross over to CHR Pop stations (you know, the ones that carry Ryan Seacrest’s ‘American Top 40’).

During their live shows, Sam and The Barbers have included a handful of other catchy rock tracks along with a unique take on the Talking Heads tune ‘Once in A Lifetime’. The next chance alternative rock enthusiasts can see and hear the hoopla for themselves is Saturday, June 18 when they invade Woodlands Tavern to open a show featuring Chicago pop punk quintet Aiming For Average and local rockers Two Years Later. It is in modern rock fans’ best interest to become familiar with these three upstanding and talented gentlemen before their careers explode and they become inaccessible.

Review: Captain Kidd / Clubhouse / Personal Public (Skully’s: 4/8/16)

This past Friday night, three of Columbus’ up-and-coming indie rock groups took to the Skully’s Music-Diner stage not only to entertain the sea of concertgoers who braved the elements, but also to support a fantastic charity. Proceeds went to the non-profit Music Loves Ohio, which makes disadvantaged youths’ dreams come true with scholarships, songwriting workshops, and more.  Early into the evening, the doorman had a wad of cash in his hand and given the crowd’s size  by show’s end, thousands had to have been donated.

Spunky quintet Personal Public (@PersonalPublic) kicked off the night to a great sized audience for a nine o’clock start. All five guys seemed to be having fun performing their array of catchy, yet thought-provoking alternative rock songs. Their sound is a fresh mishmash of Kings Of Leon, Parachute, and Knox Hamilton, who are three acts that have earned respect within the genre. The coolest part of their set was the bassist showing off his drumming chops off stage in front of the crowd. Not to be outdone, Personal Public’s actual drummer took to the standalone kit on the concert floor and did his thing. Furthermore, the fact that the week prior these guys played the same gig as national alternative acts Declan McKenna and Best Coast demonstrates Personal Public is getting the right ears to hear them.

Clubhouse (@clubhouse_music) had big shoes to fill and this group held their own with no issues. These guys stood out with a hybrid of the romantic 1980s sound combined with the hooks and harmonies found in today’s alternative music (think UB40 + The 1975). Their music is cool enough to dance to by oneself, but it strikes the heartstrings enough that couples can be affectionate to it, too. It seemed quite obvious due to what Clubhouse brings to the table musically and aesthetically, they had the female-heavy audience from the first note. This is a band that is not too far from where Personal Public are in terms of opening for nationally known artists. On June 11, they will participate in LaureLive, a festival outside of Cleveland that features O.A.R, Grace Potter, Red Wanting Blue, to name a few.

Despite setbacks with the singer/guitarist’s monitor, once headliners Captain Kidd (@Capn_Kidd) started playing the mob quickly forgot about the snafu and hung onto every chord these guys cranked out. These gentlemen were spot on from beginning to end and their indie dance style caught on with ladies and gentlemen alike. Their best known tune, “Freaky Love”, was played next to last and sounded just as great as it does in the awesome video with over 26,000 YouTube views.

When the night was over, fifteen musicians had given their time, effort, and energy to execute something special. Those who witnessed the greatness exuded this past Friday were left wanting more. Perhaps Columbus festivals’ big wigs were in attendance for a prime scouting opportunity as these bands deserve to be considered for spots. If they were not, then they missed out on good music with a fun crowd for a great cause.

Review: WATM’s Get Busy Living…

Columbus, Ohio’s We Are The Movies (@weare_themovies) have something special with their sophomore EP Get Busy Living… due to be released next Saturday March 26 digitally. That very night, the band will release the CD in their hometown at the Scarlet & Grey Café as part of 99.7 The Blitz’s Local Stuff Showcase. This show and the accompanying record are proof of fantastic things happening for this well-deserving group.

Although it clocks in under 90 seconds, the opener ‘Always the Rule (Never the Exception)’ starts off with a bang with Mike O’Leary and Tim Waters’ solid vocals and Bryan Overholt’s high-energy drum work. If it were a half-minute longer, it would be an amazing single in the same vein as Blur’s ‘Song 2’. It has a chance as a track that could be included in a movie montage, though. ‘The Story So Far’ exudes Overholt’s superb drumming in addition to magnificent guitar play from O’Leary, Waters, and Dan McMillan. The tune also possesses O’Leary and Waters’ spot-on vocals, which will remind pop-punk fans of the genre’s all-time greats Hawthorne Heights, A Day To Remember, and Allister.

The third track ‘Happy EX-Mas (War Is Over)’ has Overholt’s great drum play with its standout guitars not far behind. It is a headbanging, sing-along tune that can be successful on rock radio stations. The song should resonate with listeners due to its lyrics that include “We all want something to believe in, but give me something real like happiness.” Song four is ‘The Best Revenge is Living Well’, which is about utilizing the power of positivity to combat negativity. It makes wonderful use of Stephen Goldstein’s bass skills and the track has great potential as a radio single with in-sync drum work, guitar play, and vocals. With the rise in cyberbullying and social media shaming, the song has a great message as a response to haters.

‘Temporary’ is the EP’s longest tune coming in at near six minutes and is starts off as a ballad with beautiful acoustic guitar work before the group turns up the heat. It could be a radio single if they edited a chunk of it, but that would butcher the track and it is best left alone. The record’s final song ‘By a Thread’ starts off the same way as ‘Temporary’ and is an alternative radio prospect with O’Leary and Waters’ essential singing leading the way.

For next Saturday’s album release show, We Are The Movies will play alongside four other fantastic local groups Absolute Hero, No Dice, The Scratches, and Heroes Like Villains. The gig will be free to the public, but great alternative music lovers will want to bring their wallets to support these groups. Although WATM was founded approximately four years ago, with the musicianship and songwriting exuded on Get Busy Living… show the band members have been honing their craft for much longer. With the new EP and a spot on The Vans Warped Tour in Alaska, great things are in store for the gang for years and years to come.

*Photo courtesy of wearethemoviesband.com