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

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: 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

Mint Leopard is Ready to Pounce

Cincinnati’s Mint Leopard (@MintLeopardOG) consider themselves a psych-jazz rock n’ roll band and based on what they have released thus far, they live up to the hybrid description. Formed earlier this summer, the quartet of lead vocalist Jaxon Hughes, drummer Justin Van Wagenen, guitarist Alex Masset, and keyboardist Ben Bob Hammer have been getting their feet wet with live shows across their hometown and surrounding areas. They recently released the single “Progress in the Evenin’” and even created a music video for the track. Based on first impressions alone, the foursome should have a bright future ahead of them.

The video, directed by Hughes, was conceptualized and executed with sheer brilliance. Based on its premise and production, it would fit right in with the playlist of The Cool TV and MTV2’s 120 Minutes, when the latter network still aired the program. Released this past July, the video is primarily set in the desert, with three guys in business casual outfits searching for Hughes. The song is a melting pot of pop-rock psychedelic greatness that crosses over multiple decades. It would fit like a glove on playlists in the 1970s and 80s. With several acts in the 2000s inspired by music from 30 to 40 years ago, the track is just as relevant today as it would have been back then. Hughes’ harmonic vocals gel perfectly with the slick guitar and synthesizer work of Masset and Hammer. Van Wagenen’s drum work caps off “Progress in the Evenin’” giving the listener approximately four and a half minutes of a non-stop jam session.

Mint Leopard is seeking to expand its horizons beyond being their local territory and they are well on their way in doing so. The group looks to tackle Ohio’s capital, known for its diverse and embracing music scene. Cincinnati has produced good talent across different genres such as 98 Degrees, Pay The Girl, and Motherfolk. With upbeat on-your-feet tunes in their arsenal, Mint Leopard has an excellent chance to succeed anywhere.

*Photo courtesy of the band’s Facebook page

Artist Showcase: Corina Corina

Oakland, California native Corina Corina (@CorinaCorina_) has demonstrated she’s a fierce player in today’s independent music scene. Having resided on the other coast in Brooklyn, NY, Corina is well on her way to garnering attention from the mainstream with her angelic, soulful voice and genuine songwriting. Having two full-length solo records under her belt in under half a decade along with an acoustic blues side project demonstrates Corina’s strong work ethic and dedication to building her brand with her musical talent being the driving force.

Corina Corina’s 2012 debut The Eargasm is a melting pot of pop, hip-hop, and R&B goodness mixed into an LP worthy of the paying public’s attention. A video was made for the first track ‘The Familiar’, which would fit right in on the I Heart Radio’s Top 40 playlists alongside offerings from the Iggy Azaleas and Demi Lovatos of the world. Corina Corina’s main focus musically is providing beautiful vocals on the album’s bevy of upbeat tracks that match the instrumentals like a glove. In addition to The Eargasm’s up tempo songs, she carries herself quite well on the record’s ballad ‘Royalty’. It is crystal clear Corina can write, produce, and perform across multiple genres and with this record in the right hands and heard by the right ears, she should have a career in the industry in some capacity for decades to come.

Co-produced by the highly regarded Willie Green, the album is riddled with tunes worthy of airplay on Top 40, hip-hop, and R&B stations. The key is these tunes have substance behind them, which cannot always be said for the major label offerings of today. ‘The Wrong Direction’ is a warning to females to avoid the pratfalls of the mainstream media’s images of women. ‘Baby Don’t Sell Yourself Short’ are words of wisdom as advised by Corina’s father, but the lesson is one that everyone can relate to. These two tracks along with the album’s first and last songs have the greatest potential of taking Corina over the hump from underground to the next breakout star. On the other hand, much like other underground artists, without major label support Corina has the creative control that other artists sometimes lose. Writing, producing, and recording the record sans corporate backing led to a fantastic debut effort that indie music lovers need an earshot of.

Corina Corina’s sophomore effort, The Free Way, dropped last year and was bankrolled by the public through an Indiegogo campaign. Much like her debut album, Corina and Willie Green served as Executive Producers maintaining that creative control and authenticity that can be lost with major label involvement. Although many of the record’s tracks have potential for airplay at Top 40 and R&B stations, The Free Way’s standouts are ‘When I Say’, ‘Time’, and ‘Last Night’. There is something for everyone on this album and casual fans of pop and R&B will not be disappointed.

Consumers can expect smooth collaborations, tight hip-hop beats combined with on-point raps, upbeat tunes to get dancers in the mood to move, and lyrics from the heart and mind that have a purpose. Combine these elements with Corina’s angelic vocals and pop music lovers will get something that holds up to the mainstream offerings of Taylor Swift and Charli XCX. Give independent music lovers credit as their support in making this record a reality contributed to the ability of Corina and Green to create the kind of record they wanted to. This cohesive duo gave it the basics to make it professional, yet not overproduce it nor include soulless, hollow songs just to fill quotas.

Corina Corina continues to tour all over the country in support of her two brilliant works, however, she is also involved in the two-piece act Max Caddy. In fact, the final tune on The Eargasm titled ‘Me and Those Dreaming Eyes of Mine’ is a Max Caddy song included as a bonus track. Do not let this artist’s pierced and tattooed exterior fool you. Corina has come to play as a pop, hip-hop, and R&B artist and with the ability to write and produce material it makes her a valuable asset in an industry that is not always known as female-friendly. Being multifaceted and having the results to back it up gives Corina leverage to do things on her terms, which is a win for music, artists, and fans alike.

*Photo by Gubi Chiriboga and courtesy of corina-corina.com.

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