Head Above Water
It’s been a few years since I’ve seen Brandon Rhyder live but his last studio release Conviction got worn out in my truck’s CD player. So, I was pretty pumped when Head Above Water got to my hands. His sound is lumped in with the Red Dirt and Americana scene. His music is what turns a lot of folks on to him, but the hidden gem of this singer is he’s a phenomenal songwriter, and he continues to impress with this release.
I have to admit, I wasn’t thrilled with the first single, “Rock Angel” when I heard it on the radio. It sounded too commercial for the Rhyder I was familiar with. But… it’s grown on me (and apparently I’m one of the few that it bothered as it hit #1 on the Texas Music Charts in February and it’s still in the top 30).
The title track is a beautiful ballad about being saved. I don’t know if it’s what he intended, but to me it’s a very spiritual song about finding God and trusting Him with the essence of your very being.
“You Can Count On Me” is a great underdog love story. In contrast “Ultimate Deceiver” is about the end of a relationship. “I’ll Take You” seems like a nice follow up to 2005’s “Back Roads” off Conviction. And “Battery” is about visiting the old stomping ground.
My favorite track on Head Above Water is “You Burn Me.” The lyrical genius on this song is worth the price of the CD alone. It’s a bit of a rocker about a former love. “You can burn me with a simple single touch / I get confused and think I’ve never loved this much / and without warning, you come rolling in like gasoline. / That’s why there’s never nothing left of me. ‘Cause you burn me.”
The bonus track, “Queen Of My Roost” sounds like something that Guy Forsyth would release. It’s a ragtime-charged love song that rocks like a “flapper in a 1920s dress.”
Head Above Water was produced by Walt Wilkins. It boasts twelve tracks (and an awesome bonus track), beautiful CD packaging and a “Making of” DVD. I appreciate the lengths bands go through these days to get someone to actually buy a physical CD.
Visit http://www.brandonrhyder.com to see where he’s playing. – Sean Claes
Toby’s back, ladies and gentlemen! With his fourth album, Tonight, TobyMac, formerly of Christian rock legend dc Talk, once again kicks it into overdrive in an explosion of power and excitement. Tonight is distinctively and consistently TobyMac, but with a fresh blend of genres and a gentle remix of the usual Toby style. It’s hard to have a bad day when listening to this album; the beat is upbeat and infectiously happy.
Tonight opens with the booming titular track “Tonight” mixing Toby’s usual hip hop/pop blend with an edge of harder rock and featuring Skillet’s John Cooper for an inspired twist of power and raw energy. The explosion of energy slows down slightly for the hopeful “City on Our Knees,” but bounces right back to the top with “Showstopper.”
Along with the always incredible John Cooper, Tonight also features the talents of Matthew Theissen from Relient K on airy, piano-heavy, and reflective “Wonderin’” and Israel Houghton on the reggae rich “Break Open the Sky.” The contrast and yet familiar connection between the two songs and guest vocals only highlights Toby’s diverse talents and ability to harmonize genres together soothingly.
One of the great things about TobyMac is that he never seems to take himself too seriously. Case in point: “Funky Jesus Music” which is, well, funky. It’s also one of the most fun, party songs on the album. After the party’s over, “Get Back Up” and “Hold On” are the pick-me-up songs of the album with gentle soothing messages of hope and peace.
The best track on the album hands down is “Hey Devil” which blends 80s rock (a new and definitely stimulating direction for TobyMac) with empowering, take-charge lyrics about battling temptation and walking away from it: “Shuffled down the boulevard/ Cut me like a deck of cards/ I thought you had me/ You thought you had me.”
TobyMac’s Tonight is a wonderfully blended myriad of snappy lyrics, grooving beats, soulful vocals and an overflow of talent. Each song is sharply unique and tells an important part of the story, but with the same familiar TobyMac feel. - Rebekah Turmel
Ever since I was turned on to One-Eyed Doll a few years ago by INsite’s Food Editor, Marsha Mann, I’ve loved seeing them live. It’s as much a theatrical experience as it is a rock show. One thing I’ve always been saddened by was the fact that their studio work really never stood up to the performances. With 2010’s Break One-Eyed Doll has finally turned in a studio recording that is as twisted, enchanting and real as their live show.
Break also introduces a new arrangement of One-Eyed Doll, from a two-piece guitar/drum set up to a three-member band. Kimberley Freemen (vocals/guitar) and PJ “Number Three” Evans (former drummer, now bass) are joined full-time by the album’s producer Jason Rufuss “Junior” Sewell (drums).
The first three tracks set the tone on the album. “Airplane Man” is an oddly radio-friendly offering that perked my ears up instantly. With “Beautiful Freak,” One-Eyed Doll proves just why they’ve gotten top honors as Austin’s Best Punk Band in the Austin Music Awards for the last two years. “Murder Ballad” is a disturbingly beautiful love song.
The guitar-driven kick-the-door-down One-Eyed Doll that people are accustomed to hearing doesn’t arrive on Break until the fourth song “See Jane Run.” Songs like the title track and “Suckerfish” also follow the band’s tried and true metal sound.
Of course, storytelling is always a big part of the live experience, and Break features a few personal journey songs. “Cinderblock” tells the story of a 10-year old girl essentially raising herself while dealing with an alcoholic father. And the live staple “New Orleans,” the true story of a boy dying in Freeman’s arms, has been captured well with a heartbeat-like rhythm behind it. Then there’s the dark “Murder Suicide.” The album ends with the six-minute epic ballad “Resurrection.”
The song that is most out of place on the album is also the track that the album wouldn’t feel complete without. Anyone who’s seen OED live knows there’s a humor aspect to balance out the dark undercurrent that runs along most of Freeman’s lyrics. So, a tongue-in-cheek country song called “Redneck Love Song” provides the comic relief on Break.
The title song is my favorite track. It’s a fitting song as “Break” is about coming into your own. No longer being confined by what is expected. “And I gave you silence. I gave you everything. And I’ll break my silence. I’m breaking everything. “ I have to admit, Break is not what I thought I was getting into when I popped the CD in. It’s much, much more.
The production-work by Sewell is great. Long-time fans may object that this album is “too polished” but I think it’s a wonderful representation of this band’s body of work. It’s real. That’s probably the most important thing. The songs are honest and on Break he was able to provide a professional recording without compromising the integrity of the songs.
This could be the album that introduces the rest of the world to One-Eyed Doll. All the pieces are in place. It very likely could, well, break the band. Find out more about One-Eyed Doll by visiting their website at http://www.oneeyeddoll.com/.
Future Eyes, the brand new album from Beijing’s hottest electronic post-punk trio, Snapline, is nothing short of addictive. Cleaner and brighter than their 2007 release, Party Is Over, Pornstar, there’s a bit more emphasis on infectious melodies and textured vocals, over glorious noise. There’s still plenty of compelling sonic experimentation, but it’s subtler and more sophisticated, befitting a band now 5 years old. Though they’re clearly influenced by the late‘70s/early‘80s English bands, Joy Division and Fad Gadget, along with N.Y. pioneers, DNA and Sonic Youth, they could just as easily be compared to a contemporary band such as Radiohead, or a young Brooklyn outfit like These Are Powers - both driven by the same fearless approach.
The record is consistently intriguing throughout with cuts like the somber and mysterious ‘Flu’; an ominously beautiful ‘Part of Solution’; a minimalistic and mesmerizing ‘Sustaining’; and the surprisingly fun ‘Meeting Aliens Is Easy’ and ‘Hot Spot’. But my absolute favorites include the droning, repetitive and inevitably, majestic ‘Aphasia’, followed by the dystopic revelry of ‘From Another Side”. Like all great albums, it ends with an indelible cut, ‘Nothing Exposed’, which along with ‘Flu’ and ‘Aphasia’, offer some of the best examples of singer, Chen Xi’s poetic and evocative lyrics.
Chen Xi (the last name comes first in China) has a dark, soothing vocal style, with occasional fits of passionate wailing that reveal the real emotions behind the restraint. While his lyrics can be abstract and psychological, hinting at widespread social malaise, his live performances are urgent and frenetic, dancing around the mic stand like a tranced-out toddler, totally absorbed in the music and completely captivating. He’s also in charge of the drum machine, dropping to the floor at the end of each song to turn it off and then trigger the next beat. Minor chords, taut, wiry melodies, and artfully executed screeches & squalls are supplied by female shoe-gazer, Li Qing, who Rolling Stone cites as one of China’s major guitar innovators (she also plays drums for another of Beijing’s groundbreaking bands, Carsick Cars). Third member, Li Weisi (also a member of Carsick Cars), stoically holds everything together, with fluid, propulsive bass lines that lend additional melodic support. At a recent live show in Austin (part of the China Invasion Tour), he played the entire set with his back to the audience, perhaps out of shyness or a simple need to concentrate, but with Chen Xi commanding center stage, and Li Qing focused on her effects boxes, somehow it was rather provocative.
Although Snapline is signed to the Chinese label, Maybe Mars, which also owns and operates the Beijing underground music club, D-22, they have a special arrangement with Chicago-based producer and Invisible Records honcho, Martin Atkins (of PIL, Ministry, and Pigface fame). Atkins first saw the band in 2006, while exploring the Indie Music Scene in Beijing (check out the excellent 2010 compilation available from MaybeMars.com), and a solid producer/artist relationship has now been forged with two albums under their belt. On Future Eyes, he strips down the band’s sound, giving each element a clear presence, reinforces the lead vocals, adds several effective back-up parts, and bolsters the melodic instrument lines. He’s managed to create a more sonically balanced, radio-friendly product - without turning it into commercial sap. It’s a delicate balancing act that he pulls off masterfully. While it’s true the group is more volatile and exciting in person, any ‘good’ band always is. In this case, both versions are supremely satisfying. - Marsha Mann
That Was Then, This Is Now
“Hey, would you change your mind today? / If I told you love, things would never be the same” Chasen croons comfortingly to lighthearted pop/rock piano accompaniment in “Leave You Alone” and a sense of peace skillfully blended with a catchy beat sweeps over the listener in a move that is characteristic of every track on That Was Then, This Is Now.
For those of you unlucky enough to not have heard of them, Chasen sounds like the happy marriage of Kutless and Sanctus Real, with an almost wistful, fond glance at Switchfoot. The band is headed up (and started) by Chasen Callahan of Greenville, South Carolina who after almost a decade of leading worship at his local church recruited Evan Silver, Aaron Lord and Jared Barber as full time band members. Shortly after releasing their first record independently, they were nabbed up by INO Records to produce their current album.
That Was Then, This is Now is an inspired mix of hope and harmony with a strong undercurrent of happiness. “Castaway” is anthem about finding a second chance. “Leave You Alone” and “Eyes of Rescue” are different takes on unwavering love and devotion. “Bullet” is a harder rock song that could almost be a battle cry. Chasen is unashamedly a Christian band, but with more subtle lyrics than most and without the whiny preachy feel as well.
The whole CD feels like taking a deep breath of fresh air or drinking a cold glass of water and rings with a true sincerity. Chasen genuinely believes in everything they’re singing; they believe in a hope forever after, in a love forever now. Chasen cares deeply about the words they sing, which lends an approachability and authenticity to the overall feel of the band and shows they’re doing so much more than lip service. Check them out at www.chasenmusic.com. . - Rebekah Turmel
A Girl Like Me
Big Beard Records
There are many different versions of country music. You’ve got the pop-princess version like Taylor Swift, the rock-country of Sugarland, the over-produced American Idol country, and every now and then all of the effects are stripped away and country music gets back to the basics. The latter is what you find on Shelli Coe’s latest A Girl Like Me.
In case her name doesn’t sounds familiar, concentrate on the last name. Yes, she’s the daughter of David Allen Coe, and although she doesn’t have the same outlaw-country sound of dear old’ dad, she has a firm grasp on the classic country sound. Songs about heartbreak. Songs about love. Songs about revenge. Songs about coming into your own.
With A Girl Like Me you get about 45 minutes of 2010-released classic country gold. Coe has a voice akin to Terri Clark, the kind that is a little bit lower then the bulk of female country singers out there. The kind of voice that says “I not only sing this song, but I lived it, and if you try me I’ll wipe the floor with you.”
There’s “Red Lights Flashing,” a jam about trying to let someone down… not so easily. “May Your Heart Rest In Pieces” explores the idea when the heartbreaker becomes the heartbreakee. Flip that last theme and you’ve got “Bryan’s Song.” She wears her heart on her sleeve in “I Love You.” Dean Seltzer joins Coe on a beautiful cover of “Please Come To Boston” originally recorded by Dave Loggins. Incidentally, David Allen Coe had a hit with this song in 1974.
In fact, she tips her hat to her dad in a few other places in this album. She’s got a rendition of the 1978 hit “If This Is Just A Game,” and the album closes with another DA Coe track, “Face To Face.” Both very impressive and keeping with the style Shelli Coe plays. She also has a little fun with one of her dad’s most memorable lines about a “perfect country and western song” on the ballad “Truly.”
My favorite track is the beautiful creeping “Falling At The Speed of Sound.” It’s a beautiful love song on A Girl Like Me. “I’m falling at the speed of sound / I’m so high I can’t see the ground. You’re voice is sweeter than any I’ve found / Falling at the speed of sound.”
From start to finish, I found A Girl Like Me to be a really good listen. Anyone who likes classic bar-room country music will enjoy this as well. For more information on Shelli Coe, visit shellicoe.com. She next plays on May 8 at Austin’s Scoot Inn. – Sean Claes
We Love, We Learn, We Grow
Erick Bohorquez is the guitarist and vocalist for one of Austin’s premiere reggae/dub/Latin bands Don Chani. He is also a new father. Both of these facts are evident in his new project, a children’s release called We Love, We Learn, We Grow recorded under the moniker Lennon’s Song.
Love is the theme of this recording and the impetus of the project was the bath of his son Ishan Lennon (hence the name of the “band”). Musically, the album is carried by a reggae-infused acoustic guitar sound. This isn’t you’re typical kids album, it’s more like a view of the world using the eyes of a child.
We Love, We Learn, We Grow is a true one-man project. Bohorquez wrote composed, produced, mixed, and mastered it himself. He also is a pretty strong promotional machine (which makes sense as in his past life he was a Regional Manager of Marketing and Promotions at Island/Def Jam Records).
When I get an album like this, a side project that is a single persons vision, I usually take a deep breath before I listen because 90% of the time it’s a nice idea, but not fully realized. This one is different though. This is a really moving CD full of original tunes that are child oriented but not too simplistic. And bonus, the lyrics are well thought out and really moving.
Throughout the nine-song 26-minute album, I found myself smiling. The reggae “one love” idea is driven home well in the apropos-titled “Love.” The fun “Growing Up” talks about the excitement of new discovery. “Use You Imagination” bops along with a Bob Marley “Three Little Birds” feel to it. The beautiful dedication to Bohorquez’s son, “Lennon,” is another high point of an album full of great tunes. The instrumental “Wonderful” and “Breeze” are also well crafted.
The song that really gets me going is the fun “Summertime.” It is one of those audience participation songs where Bohorquez gets hands clapping and feet stomping. “Summertime is easy because school is out of session. It’s OK to play all day because life is one big lesson.” My kids are big fans of this track as well.
I hope that Lennon’s Song isn’t a one-off for Bohorquez. Although his full-time band is fantastic, the world needs more original kids songs that don’t make parents want to rip their hair out on the 100th listen. I can see this one being on heavy rotation at my house.
You can find Lennon’s Song in Austin at Picket Fences Baby & Maternity (1003 W 34th St) and Waterloo Records. Also check online at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/LennonsSong. Erick will be playing as Lennon’s Song in June at Lake Hills Montessori. – Sean Claes
Super Lite Bike
Away We Go
A band born from the melding of two local bands, Pocketful of Deng and The War Against Sleep, Super Lite Bike has taken a big risk. They’ve put together a concept album to serve up as their first effort. According to the bio, the songs on Away We Go describe “the story of a girl leaving the planet only to come back and realize that’s her home.”
I’ve got to say, this style of concept-ethereal-sonic-indie rock isn’t usually by bag. It’s got that sound that would be very appealing to the scene in Austin known as the “hipsters.” And, I’ve been told very poignantly that I am not in that crowd (thank you hairstylist at The Beauty Bar). All that aside, I’ve got to say, good music is good music.
The songs are all fully realized with sonic guitarwork and percussion providing the backdrop for the creeping lyrics of Patrick Husband. The entire outfit gives a Talking Heads-meets-Spoon-meets-Ghostland Observatory vibe.
Away We Go leads off with 2:30 minutes of sonic pleasure building up to the kick-off of the chanting “That’s A Lot Of Adhesive.” Carrying on is the organ-meets-guitar jam of “Raise the Colors” then it slows down for instrumental track “The Great Erie” that serves as the intro to the horn-infused “Something With the Spectrum.”
My favorite track on Here We Go has to be “Home.” It’s the seventh track and kind of serves as the epicenter of the journey. Its got a really interesting Queen “Bohemian Rhapsody” type breakdown in the middle. “Can I get back to where I’m from? Will I get back everything I’ve known? Can I tell you everything I’ve learned? Will I ever find my way? ”
From there the story winds down with the very Spoon-esque mind-opening jam “Unbelievable Party!!! Cool” followed by the retrospective “See Change” and the 8-minute dream-finalizing “Let’s See A Jet Plane.”
Super Lite Bike will be releasing Away We Go on May 13 at The Parish. I’d be interested to see how this sound is pulled off live. It has got some really complex technical riffs and mood swings throughout. If they can capture live what they captured on Away We Go the release party will be an epic event not to be missed. I know the album is one that should be heard by anyone who appreciates good music… hipster or not.
For more information on Super Lite Bike, visit http://www.superlitebike.com. – Sean Claes