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.

With Album Release Upcoming, Cadence Blues Band Has Nothing to Cry About

The Cadence Blues Band (@TheCadenceBlues) may be a newcomer to the Columbus music scene, but their style and sound prove they have an old school mindset. There is already a buzz surrounding the trio as their EP The Seed officially drops next Friday, November 11 at a live show at The Shrunken Head. The young, psychedelic bluesy rockers have the talent to make a good run on the festival and dive scene, which means steady coin for years to come.

The EP starts off moody and haunting courtesy of the over five-minute piece titled ‘No Need’. This tune is a vehicle for vocalist Tony Gregorc to show off. It is the record’s ultimate campfire hippie anthem. This should be no surprise to its growing fan base as per the band’s Facebook profile, the group lists Hendrix and Zeppelin among their influences. One who pays attentions to the song’s lyrics will understand how relevant they were 50 years ago and now, especially with Election Day creeping up.

The pace picks up with track ‘So Damn Excited!’, a hybrid of blues meeting classic rock. If Q-FM 96 ever added this song into its rotation, it would fit into the playlist flawlessly. That stations’ avid listeners are people who thrived in the bar scene and Columbus needs to have throwbacks show millennials how it’s done.

‘Makenna’ is notable for drummer Ty Phillips-Bond’s on-point percussion, but of course he does a solid job from top to bottom on the album. Gregorc’s range gets put to the test on the track, despite this being The Seed’s shortest song. Taking the speed down a couple of notches is the song ‘(More Than) Just a Word’, which sounds like a sped-up ballad that people can move their bodies to.

Lastly, ‘How to Be a Rolling Stone’ is a genius mashup that demonstrates a 1970s attitude with 1990s arrangement. The song is so brilliant, it would be deemed a hit in both distinct decades. Gregorc and bassist Steve Simeon’s vocals are sheer perfection on the album’s final track.

When The Cadence Blues Band takes the stage in one week’s time, if the audience close their eyes and open their minds they will think they are back at the original (and best) Woodstock. They will be joined by solid opening acts Mystic Mamba and Punchdrunk Tagalongs. Per the group’s Twitter bio, Cadence describe themselves as, “A high energy, groove inducing, retro style blues-rock trio formed in Columbus, OH that creates soulful songs with a message, and performs them with feeling!” It is crystal clear The Seed captured this and a whole lot more, but that the live show will be even groovier.

Critique: Kid Runner’s Wake Up Now

Kid Runner (@kidrunnerband) sent out a wake-up call to the music world, so to speak, in the form of their second EP Wake Up Now. Dropped this past October, the unsigned Columbus, OH quintet have delivered a series of tracks that stand up in quality to anything from Passion Pit, OK Go, Walk The Moon, and Fun., who perform a similar routine. If they had the same resources available to them those bands have, Kid Runner would hold their own on late night TV shows as well as the Alternative and Top 40 charts.

The opening track, which happens to be the title track, is disappointing in that it is relatively short but is a nice instrumental intro nonetheless in the same vein of The xx. ‘Thinking Out Loud’ is a would-be hit with fans of Sheppard with strong male and female vocals on display. According to their Soundcloud page, it is the EP’s second most clicked track behind ‘Move’. Speaking of which, ‘Move’ is the track that has earned the group local success as a winner of Radio U’s daily ‘Battle of the Buzz’ competition. Furthermore, the song is also licensed for use on MLB Network. The band also released a video for ‘Move’ that is equally as relevant as major label artists’ videos using a fraction of those groups’ budgets. These two tunes on their own ought to be enough to garner Kid Runner the industry-wide attention they are due.

Wake Up Now has three more tracks that have their own flavor and showcase the five-piece’s creativity and talent. ‘Breaking Away’ is a tune in which the lyrics imply it is a song about destorying figurative shackles and escaping a toxic situation and/or person. It is the EP’s most serious song and one that proves Kid Runner’s wide songwriting range. Even hair metal bands churned out the occasional ballad and life commentary with favorable results. ‘Killin’ Me Now’ is pop brilliance from start to finish with the incorporation of keyboardist Frances Literski’s backing vocals to compliment the strong drum and keyboard work. Litterski’s dove-like vocals are also included in “Higher”, the record’s most dance club-friendly tune.

Alt-pop music lovers willing to take approximately 30 minutes to check out Wake Up Now will experience proof Kid Runner is going places figuratively. Literally, the group is expanding their horizons outside of their local confines opening for Civil Twilight in Pittsburgh on May 28 and playing at Cincinnati’s Burnbury Music Festival on June 5. Those gigs are followed by a return to Columbus on September 5 for the Fashion Meets Music Festival. Alternative and indie music’s true believers and supporters must not miss out on a chance to hear Wake Up Now in addition to their self-titled EP. If this band has the success they have demonstrated they deserve, the alternative and pop rock genres are in great shape for years and years to come.

*Photo courtesy of the band’s Facebook page

Artist Showcase: Pseudoname (presented by DX Entertainment)

Pseudoname (@PseudonameBand) is an American musical act that is the brainchild of A.J. Gatio and Zac Ingle. Founded two years ago in Cincinnati, the duo has quite the following for an independent musical group on Twitter alone. Having over 5,000 followers among various sites is a good start and the group is just going to bring in new fans as they start to play live. Right now on ReverbNation, Pseudoname is the 20th ranked Alternative act in Columbus, OH. It is because of their solid originals and brilliant covers that they get to show what they have on the live stage on Friday, October 24 at King Avenue 5 in Columbus (just two miles southwest of the Ohio State University campus).

Along with ReverbNation, Pseudoname’s music is available for indie music lovers’ pleasure at multiple sites.  The group posts several of its tracks on YouTube with lyric videos.  “Fly” is a radio-ready track that is among the elite tunes in their repertoire. “Black Dress” is another track that is available for listening on YouTube in addition to the Summer Single Series on Bandcamp. The two-man band is also superb at performing other band’s singles.  English band The 1975 had a hit in the States earlier this year with “Chocolate”, however Pseudoname’s version is right on par with the major label act’s version.  “Robbers” is another well-done cover that hopefully will make the band’s playlist next month.. All of their tunes should be a hoot to hear live and in living color.

Pseudoname has other tracks available for one’s listening pleasure as part of the EP Good Love Is On the Way, which is an iTunes exclusive. The five-song album was released this past spring.  Perhaps tunes from this record will be part of their arsenal in six weeks. Also included on the October 24 show is throwback / electronic soloist Nick Frye and an act to be named later.  It is bound to be a fun night of independent music for the low price of $5.00 with a 9:00 PM showtime.  Bring your friends and bring your wallet to the party before celebrating a Buckeye football victory the day after.

Artist on the Rise: The Receiver

@thereceiver  is an American alternative band from Columbus, Ohio that has two full-length records and nine years under their belt. This year, they intend to drop another album and it is sure to match the quality of their previous efforts. The band has been signed to independent label deals and has performed gigs with the likes of Tel Aviv and St. Vincent. Given the critical acclaim of the group, this looks to be a huge year that could open even more doors for them.

The group consists of brothers Casey Cooper (vocals, keyboards, and bass), Jesse Cooper (drums), and sometimes Sean Gardner, who does a bit of everything. Their sound can best be described as sophisticated alternative music that is definitely digitally influenced. With the proper label support and marketing, “Visitor” could have easily been a Top 20 hit on the modern rock charts. “Length of Arms”, the title track to their second record, is more synthesizer-laden but still has a radio-friendly element to it. In addition, The Receiver has had music featured on the now-defunct cable series “Dirt” along with numerous independent films.

In 2009, The Receiver was declared the Best Local Band by the highly regarded ColumbusUnderground.com and for a time was a Band on The Rise on MTV2. Given what the Coopers have displayed thus far, the anticipation for the third record is high. The expectations for the album should be high as well. The group has created some unique and remarkable tunes thus far and a make-or-break record like this one can not disappoint.

They have played over 200 gigs in the last five years, which is a lot for a group on small labels. They continue to play around town to avoid rust and they have three shows in their hometown lined up for next month. Due up on Friday, May 2 is a performance at the soon-to-close Kobo with critically acclaimed Mount Carmel. Indie music lovers should enjoy The Receiver while they can because there is no reason they can not be a huge as fellow local duo Twenty One Pilots and take off touring all over the place. All it takes is one break and given what they have put out thus far, The Receiver have definitely earned a chance to make it big.

Artist on the Rise: The Wet Darlings

@thewetdarlings are an American quartet who currently call Columbus, OH home. The band has been performing self-described ‘indie sludge pop’ for a half-decade. They have released some great music over the years, but from the looks of things this is the year things should take off for this down-to-earth foursome.

The Wet Darlings are comprised of guitar-playing brothers Bill and Joe Patterson, drummer Aaron Bishara, and vocalist/keyboardist/ring leader Jenny Lute. The track “Bicycle” consists of Pixies-esque rock by Bishara and the Pattersons combined with Lute’s alluring voice. Lute is on the list of strong Ohio frontwomen, including ex-Phantods singer Gretchen King, former Frostiva members Leslie Jankowski and Trinae Rose, and Vanity Theft’s Alicia Grodecki.

The band has done right by the hometown fans by playing in central Ohio every so often to make each performance in front of Columbusites meaningful. No matter what municipality one is in, there are some local bands who play too often and try too hard that they wear out their welcome real fast. Ultimately, those artists do not last very long as in a short time the music consumers have seen all there is to see, which may not have been much to begin with. The Wet Darlings are the polar opposite of this. They are a group that, no matter the size of the crowd or venue, give 100 percent effort onstage without coming across as overexposed. In the entertainment business, it is about leaving the audience wanting more. Also, for a group that is highly regarded around the city, they have high standards and put on a stellar performance the rare times they take the stage.

The group is currently recording a full-length record likely due out late this year or early next year. Furthermore, next month the band is heading out on the road for a couple of gigs in New York, the number one media market. Before they do, however, The Wet Darlings have one of their rare in-town performances on Saturday, April 12 with critically acclaimed trio Nick D’ & The Believers. Because they do not play often, indie music enthusiasts need to make a serious effort to attend one of these shows to have a brush with greatness. Please check out the song “Vampires” as featured in the video above to see what you are missing.

New Hollow Is The Future and The Future Looks Good

@NewHollowBand is a trio comprised of Mookie Clouse, Chad Blashford, and Evan West who have just inked a deal with Epic Records, the former label of Flickerstick, Michael Jackson, and Bliss 66. On their Facebook page, New Hollow mentions The Smiths, The Naked And Famous, and HAIM as some of their influences. On what should be a surefire Top 40 Pop and Alternative hit “She Ain’t You”, the group channels successful young-but-veteran band Lifehouse. “She Ain’t You” won the Breakthrough Song Of 2013 Award from Sirius XM’s The Pulse. Based on that song alone, the band should have an excellent 2014 with all new ears hearing their tunes.

New Hollow’s success started several years ago with three consecutive trips to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Sales Chart, all with minimal to no radio airplay. This goes to show the superb marketing the band has been fortunate to have. Now that the group has a deal with Epic, will this translate into full-length CD sales? Only time will tell. It is the one thing that has plagued young bands in years past. Those groups might have had a song or two that received some heavy play on the music video channels and the radio, but the tracks did not resonate with enough paying consumers and the group loses its contract. Sales, sales, and sales are the name of the game these days and these blokes know how to play it.

A sense of the pride about New Hollow is that this is considered a “local” band. Their hometown of New Albany is a Columbus suburb in central Ohio. There has been a bevy of great talent to come out of the area. Watershed, Willie Phoenix, Howlin’ Maggie, Frostiva, The Sun, and Sean Benjamin are just a handful that come to mind. In this day and age, these young men have the best chance to succeed with all the various means to make money. There was no YouTube and iTunes when some of these artists were making their way through the scene. Here’s to New Hollow’s success in the past, the present, and a very bright future based on what has been seen and heard thus far.

Review of OneFortyThree, Ted Stevens & The Third Rail, and Dave Buker & The Historians at The Tree Bar – Columbus, OH 11/15/13

On a brisk Friday night, bands brought their unique and distinct sounds to the venue formerly owned by the late CD 102.5 FM Director Andy Davis. Each one delivered heat showing that high quality music is alive and well at local venues. The future of the independent music scene is looking very bright after seeing and hearing these artists in action. Music aficionados should follow suit and these are acts that deserve the credit for a job well done.

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Opener OneFortyThree (@OHonefortythree) sounds every bit as great live as their digital tracks advertise. Lead vocalist/guitarist Matthew Berger was spot on with the stage presence and had the lively crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. Their female backup vocalist made her live debut with the group and did an exceptional job. Here is hoping the momentum continues and she delivers for years to come. In addition to performing with a new member, OneFortyThree introduced a track performed for the first time, which along with breaking in a new bandmate is not always the easiest thing to do. The entire band delivered music-wise and even provided some comedy, albeit at the expense of the always-in-trouble Chris Brown.

Similar artists: Kajagoogoo, Ben Lee, Ben Kweller

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Louisville-based Ted Stevens & The Third Rail (@tedstevensmusic) was like stepping into a time warp to the 1970s and that is a good thing. The Classic Rock trio is unlike anything Yours Truly has heard live since forever. Stevens pulled off the ultimate rock star outfit with a white polka dot shirt and leopard print sneakers. After the show, Stevens was clad in an awesome leather jacket oozing with uber charisma. Only in rock ‘n roll, people. Drummer Tony Gantt was solid behind the kit in a controlled frenzy and Kirk Kiefer was on point handling bass duties. The band’s catalog would be perfect for airplay on Columbus’ rock station Q-FM 96.3. “Hometown, Hometown” and “Live Forever” are two of the group’s best tracks performed and are available to listen to at their ReverbNation and Facebook pages. Here is hoping Ted Stevens & The Third Rail go on to have more success out of Lousiville than the now-defunct Parlour Boys and local legend Peter Searcy, artists who did not see the chips fall in their favor long-term.

Similar artists: Taxxi, The Black Crowes

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Lastly,  the buzz-generating sextet Dave Buker & The Historians (@DaveBukermusic) performed. The group was recently featured on the local PBS affiliate’s series ‘Broad & High’ and also was highlighted on the city’s premier independent radio station CD102.5. The band’s folksy sound mellowed out the crowd from the high brought on by Ted Stevens & The Third Rail, and it worked to perfection. The musicianship was superb from all six members and even with a crowd that had long filled out, no one mailed it in. This confirms the professionalism of the band, which should lead to landing shows with larger fanfare.

The group recently released What Can You Bring Back To Me?, an LP that took a year to record between two different studios over 100 miles apart. Tracks like “Molecules” and “A Ride Home” are ideal tunes to take one’s mind off of a bad day or to calm a fussy baby. Dave Buker & The Historians have a future in music for the easy listening, family-friendly music lovers and art house film soundtracks. Not everything has to be at turbo tempo to be good music, and these six musicians get that.

Similar artists: Annalibera, So Hard

It is in indie music lovers’ best interest to be on the lookout for these three groups for years to come as their futures seem very bright after brilliant performances. If these artists were so good at a small-sized venue with minimal sound and a tree stump in the middle of the audience, just imagine the possibilities if they receive the privilege to perform at more spacious settings such as Skully’s, the LC Pavilion, and The Newport. The music industry is littered with whitewash and what was heard and witnessed last night is so refreshing one can not wish nothing but the best for all three.

*Band photos courtesy of each group’s respective Facebook pages.

Review of Friendly Faux’s (@Friendly_Faux) Self-Titled Debut Album

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One August night after The Wet Darlings’ concert at Rumba Cafe, a complimentary copy of Friendly Faux’s recently released self-titled CD was discovered. With the nonchalant, coincidental method this record was found, expectations were minimal. After giving it a listen, this band can not afford to give away too many copies as they could make some serious money from the quality of what they have created.
Some songs on the record could be competitive on terrestrial radio airplay.  The ninth song, “All Capslock”, clearly displays the groups admiration for Nirvana. It is easily a song that could be stuck in people’s minds and lead to a resurgence into the grunge scene.  The first track, “Joke On A Rope”, is reminiscent British garage rock and could easily be a favorite of Modern Rock programmers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Friendly Faux provides a variety of tunes that some releases do not give the music consumer. No track is repetitive, leading one to wonder what is coming up next. “When Pluto was a Planet” is a short, haunting instrumental tune out of the playbooks of bands The End Of The Ocean and Audio Explorations. After that, the sixth song “Stop, Drop, & Drool” will remind the listener of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Cadaver Dogs.
“Then Again” may be the most uneven tune off of this album. Although it is a great sounding tune for the CD and for perhaps hearing live at a smoky bar, the constant tempo changes negate this track from being radio-friendly. That is, at least, on a grander scale. CD 102.5 in C-Bus might be able to sneak it on once. The eighth song, “Get Down With The Dregs” is probably at the top of the songs off the record to be very polished and ready for global listening.
Friendly Faux is an effort from a year-old band that is absolutely worthy of a download or better yet, a purchase at a live event. The trio is on tour now with their next show coming up on Monday, September 30 at the remodeledColumbus, OH hangout Kobo. If you can not make it out to hear them in the flesh, go to the group’s Bandcamp page and give it a shot. Both indie music fans and Friendly Faux have something to gain with this release.
*Photo courtesy of the band’s Facebook page