Album Review: We Were The Vexies

Cleveland quintet The Vexies’ debut LP We Were The Vexies is a non-cookie cutter record indie rock enthusiasts will be proud of. Per their Bandcamp page, singer and rhythm guitarist Ray wrote most of the album, which was produced by Jimmy Wilkens and mastered by Gabe Swarts. Rounding out the five-piece are lead guitarist Wilhelm Bruening (and singer on the third track), vocalist/tambourine player Kelly Porter-Santamaria, bassist Michael Oswald, and drummer Matt Ebinger. Together, the group put together an album in which could see some major play with the right marketing.

The Vexies are a clone of no one, which makes their album a delight to hear in a multitude of places. The songs have a happy-go-lucky, free spirited feel to them. For instance, the last track on the 10-song record titled “Two Bullets” doesn’t tell a sun-shiny story but how it is executed by the band is sheer brilliance and will have folks singing along to the chorus on road trips and at live shows.

“Shhh!” is the album’s only tune to be written and sung by Bruening and has a real 1960s surfer rock vibe to it. Porter-Santamaria also has singing duties on this song and helps reinforce its beach party dance feel. Regarding the record’s other nine songs, Ray states on Bandcamp, “Some people can go through life blaming everybody else, but that doesn’t work for me. Facing these flaws and admitting they exist is the only way I can get to them. So I sing about it.”

Other notables from We Were The Vexies are the hoppy surf rock song “Whoa! Horsey”, the throwback “On 2nd Thought”, and “Big Bad Wolf”. The entire record is one that would not be out of place being played in a supermarket, doctor’s office, or local diner. The Vexies have concocted a series of tracks with substance that are soothing despite the grim subject matter. In a twist, because of how easygoing the songs are laid out, listeners will get a sense of pleasure from the songwriters’ pain. It is advised one access the album online or hear these tunes at a live show to get a taste of the storytelling Ray and Bruening have served up.

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Review: Hello Luna – Ghost of You

In April of 2016, Columbus, Ohio-based alternative rock outfit Hello Luna (@hellolunaband) released the well-received debut single “Stitching Holes” leaving aficionados craving more. This year, the band dropped the EP Ghost of You in a sold out PromoWest venue and to solid reviews thus far. For those desiring a throwback to the late 1990s alternative sound with a modern twist, this record is the thirst quencher.

The bookend tracks on the five-song album are the most mainstream Alternative and Top 40 radio ready of the bunch. The first tune is “Sound & Sorrow” for which Hello Luna shot a spot-on video to premiere the song, directed by the company Loose Films. It starts slow with vocalist/lead guitarist Kenzie Coyne playing lightly and crooning and then drummer Michael Neumaier tickling the cymbals shortly thereafter. The song’s middle absolutely rocks listeners’ socks off with superb play from Coyne, Neumaier, and bassist Diego Villasmil before the band takes it down several notches to how the song started.

 

The fifth track “Half Asleep” is the other standout track that with label support will easily climb the charts. All three Hello Luna members play their roles vigorously with the image of each rocking out during the song’s recording. Performed live, this is clearly the most headbanging track of the night. This not a band to mess with and they are not one to miss on tour.

 

The EP’s middle tracks are solid works that fill the album out nicely. The bass-heavy “Empathy” is where veteran musician Villasmil really gets to shine and compliments Coyne’s dove-like vocals well as she repeats the album’s title multiple times. The third tune ‘Underwater” is a favorite live in concert with Neumaier’s drumming syncing up with Coyne’s guitar playing perfectly. As for Ghost of You’s shortest song “Tell Me”, figurative decapitation is mentioned on more than one occasion and Coyne is short and to the point with the guitar and vocals.

 

Hello Luna is back to being a quartet with the recent addition of Eric Morgan, giving them even more firepower when they record again. It certainly gives them a great deal more ammunition when gracing a stage. This four-piece is a hybrid of old school favorites Superdrag and new school favorites Wolf Alice and anyone lucky to hear Ghost of You via CD, live streaming, or in person is in for the ride of their lives.

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.

Review: Libby DeCamp’s Cross Sections

Multi-instrumentalist folk singer Libby DeCamp (@LibbyDecamp) lays all her cards on the table with her 2016 debut solo EP Cross Sections. Not only displaying talent, DeCamp expressed full creative control in that she wrote all six songs herself. In an industry big on hip-hop, country, and Top 40 pop rock right now, DeCamp’s contribution stands out as it is a dialed back, slower paced record for a country drive or relaxation after a stressful day. Listeners will learn quickly DeCamp poured her heart and soul into the EP as well as notice the craftsmanship and authenticity.

The lead-off track ‘Elroy’ starts off with some amazing bluesy guitar work along with DeCamp’s seductive vocals. It is noticeable right away the Detroit singer-songwriter is inspired by Norah Jones and perhaps Jewel. Although the song sounds peaceful, as evidenced from the lyrics the tune is violent in nature as DeCamp sings, I spit out my teeth, now the blood in the sink is boiling back at me.

On ‘Black Suit Man’, DeCamp provides a song which fits right in with the 1920 and 1930s. It is arranged and performed in such a manner that if one closes their eyes, it will be like being transported back in time to that era hearing this on an old school radio or live at Radio City Music Hall.

Cross Sections’ third song ‘Old Witch’ is the record’s most modern sounding track, worthy of radio play on Alternative and Hot AC stations and will have people hitting the repeat button for sure. It is also tied with ‘Charlie’ for the shortest tune on the album. Speaking of which, ‘Charlie’ is a sad song about a man grieving over the loss of a loved one. The organ and accordion work brilliantly as listeners empathize with the man and try to picture the tragic scene.

‘Put the Kettle On’ slows the pace down a couple of notches and is notable for its drum work and, of course, DeCamp’s sultry voice. It would be right a home on the Soundtrack from George Clooney’s hit film ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’. It could work on modern Country stations as a single with some Patsy Cline influence heard within in. The fifth tune ‘Seattle’ is the EP’s longest and would fit a modern-day romantic drama’s soundtrack like a glove. DeCamp has written and performed songs that cross genres, but Cross Sections does not veer all over the place as she elected to travel in just a couple of lanes on the album.

DeCamp got the chance to perform in Ohio recently with Jack and The Bear and has a couple of shows in her native Michigan coming up this month in Detroit on January 12 and Ann Arbor exactly two weeks later. Starting this past November, physical copies of Cross Sections’ proceeds go toward Sacred Stone Camp which fights against the DAPL. Thus, the EP’s buyers can support two causes: clean drinking water for citizens and pure, unadulterated independent music. DeCamp has created a CD gung-ho folk aficionados will want to add to their collection.

Review: Two Years Later’s ‘Dropping Anchor’

Columbus, Ohio’s Two Years Later (@2YLBand) is an alternative pop-punk rock quintet formed in 2013 by principal members drummer Zak Toth and singer/guitarist Jamie Rogers. The duo recruited bassist Mike Johnson and guitarists Chandler Eggleston and Mike Leibrand to fill out the lineup. Two weeks ago, the group made their second album Dropping Anchor available to select fans and on February 20 was released it to online outlets. The official release occurs this Saturday, March 5 at north Columbus’ Spacebar with physical copies available to the public. Given the record’s craftsmanship from top to bottom including Mark Abrams’ mastering and Matt Hagberg’s engineering, the band is ready for the record as well as themselves to go viral. After 20 minutes of taking in Dropping Anchor, the group proves they have the style and substance to succeed.

The EP’s first track, ‘Learn to Let Go’ displays Rogers’ sharp vocals and Toth’s solid drumming skills. The tune is pure pop-punk greatness with fine work from all guitarists. With Rogers as the band’s sole songwriter, listeners will hear songs grounded in a reality that is not all rainbows and unicorns. If one fancies Rogers’ voice on the first song, they will be blown away with what she serves up on ‘You Win’. The song is about the dilemma to sacrifice and concede, even if those are not the ideal things to do. The guitar work is actually more solid here than on the previous tune and each player comes together to concoct a rock radio dark horse.

Dropping Anchor’s third song ‘Pieces’ is pure awesomeness from the arrangement to the lyrics to the musicianship. The theme here deals with experiencing heartache, but ultimately dusting oneself off and moving forward. ‘More Than This’ holds its own on the record as a fantastic song with a fine message put to a wonderful melody. Young people’s empowerment, especially for females, is important in today’s society with the rise of bullying and shaming prevalent due to never-ending technological connections. Whether intentional or not, Rogers has created the next Saturday morning PSA.

Lastly, Dropping Anchor features the surefire rock radio staple ‘Stay with Me’. By far and away, this gem is Two Years Later’s best chance to lead them on the road to fame. #Road2Fame happens to be the group’s first (and already out-of-print) EP from 2014 that lives on in cyberspace. Although consumers will likely compare Rogers to Paramore’s leader Hayley Williams, on this song she comes off closer to highly regarded rock goddess Lizzy Hale.  Johnson’s bass work is spectacular here and Leibrand and Eggleston’s guitar play is on point with everyone else. Toth’s excellence behind the kit is noticeable here and stands out in the final 30 seconds.

Dropping Anchor is a very personal record and all should be grateful Two Years Later and especially Rogers have invited us in to experience it. To promote the EP, the band is taking to the road with stops in Louisville, Charlotte, Cincinnati, and beyond. This band is onto something huge and alternative music lovers will want to join the wild ride.

*Photo by Matt Hamilton is courtesy of the band’s official website