There’s been a recent trend of artists producing EPs rather than full-length LPs. The economics make sense, certainly for independent artists, in the context of the continuously evolving music industry. I also appreciate the possibility of getting more frequent, albeit shorter, releases from my favorite artists. I’m increasingly, however, finding the format less than satisfying.
Kingsley Flood’s latest album helped drive the point home. Last year the group released a series of EPs as a ramp up to this fall’s full-length release. The difference between them is somewhat striking. The EPs, while certainly enjoyable, play like a collection of songs, the full-length has a cohesive – and powerful – flow.
Singer-songwriter Naseem Khuri has never been one to shy from tough and often raw topics and he certainly doesn’t on Another Other. The songs shift from social commentary to strained romantic relationships.
“A Ways Away” portrays a world in shambles. “I had a terrible dream, the world was over we were done,” he exclaims before a friend weighs in with a dose of optimism, “don’t you hang your heavy head… cuz we’ll all be back tomorrow.”
He is less forgiving on the musically furious “On My Mind.” The song lambasts social and political upheaval while the singer also criticizes himself for not proactively playing a part to bring about change.
Have you heard another city burned, another mother down?
Another freedom fight, another fighting try to clean a bloody crown
It’s such a shame in this age and day so many hurt
Such a weight I’m gonna shake right after work
He casts his eyes towards social struggles on “The Old Wind.” The song tells the tale of an older shop keeper anchored to the past, lamenting social change and longing for old school values. A fiddle gives it a laid-back Southern feel.
Khuri also speaks to romantic struggles, especially the stresses of worn relationships. “What Am I Gonna Do (With You)” finds him weary as he ponders how to deal with a relationship that seems stale. As with “On My Mind,” however, shows him as frustrated with himself as with his partner.
He is a little more considered, if not hopeful, on “Try.” “I wonder when our habits went from charming to routine,” he sings before concluding, “I think both of us been thinking it, but no one wants to say, hoping trouble would go away.”
Another Other is not an easy listen, but as many have reminded us lately, sometimes the best music isn’t supposed to be.
One may be surprised to learn that this is the first collaboration between Cincinnati-based Kim Taylor and Boston-based Todd Thibaud. Not only do their voices blend beautifully, there’s a warmth between them that makes it seem like they’ve been performing together for years.
That sense of familiarity carries over to the songs that make up their debut release. The collection plays as a song cycle that examines a maturing relationship, viewing it with candor and remarkable grace. Titles like “The Hard Side of Love” and “Beauty and Cost” – “it’s the beauty and cost of loving you,” they sing – give a clear indication that this is no sugared perspective. Rather, it explores the challenges of keeping a relationship strong as time passes.
While there’s a quiet weariness in these songs, there’s a tone of contentment as well. It’s a comfort that comes naturally in a relationship where two people have shared a lifetime of experiences, both good and bad.
The musical accompaniment only adds to the album’s allure. The arrangements are extremely refined, centered around acoustic guitars with subtle embellishments from guitars electric and slide, as well as strings and the occasional banjo. The instrumentation serves to amplify their voices and the words that they sing.
For some reason “Pure Pop for Now People,” a Nick Lowe album title, always jumps to mind when I think of Letters to Cleo Returning with their first new music in nearly 20 years, the group’s connection to that the phrase is as true as ever. Even better – Kay Hanley’s sugared yet edgy voice, Greg McKenna’s power chords and Michael Eisenstein’s glossy guitar solos sound as good today as when the group first emerged.
The band announces their return mighty nicely on “Good Right Here” as Hanley exclaims, “Hello pretty morning, rise and shine.” From there they continue to charm the listener with songs ranging from the synth-laden “Can’t Say” to the jumpy “4 Leaf Clover.” I mean what’s not to like about a song – “4 Leaf Clover” – that proclaims, “you can’t enough love in love, scoop it up and hold on tight, remain afraid, make mistakes and love, love, love anyway.”
I’ve only got one complaint – that this is an EP rather than a full length. Here’s hoping that the band follows it up with plenty of new music. I’ll be waiting.
The Needy Sons sound is something of a mash-up of classic Rolling Stones and late 1980s/early 1990s alternative rock. This is certainly not a surprise considering the band’s pedigree – singer-guitarist-songwriters Bill Janovitz and Mike Gent honed their chops with power trios Buffalo Tom and The Figgs, respectively. Both of those bands came up in the 80s/90s and have drawn some inspiration from the Stones’ scrappier side.
The songs here do, of course, call to mind the work that the songwriters created with their primary outfits. The primary difference here is the explosive interplay and occasional dueling nature of the guitars that Gent and Janovitz unleash on every track. It’s the sound of a power trio turned power quartet.
And let’s give some credit to pounding rhythm section of bassist Ed Valauskas (the Gravel Pit and others) and drummer Eric Anderson, who seemingly goad Gent and Janovitz along to rock and roll extreme. It’s always the quiet(er) ones, right?
The raucous “Red Line,” which calls to mind Jonathan Richman’s classic “Roadrunner,” has been in steady rotation on my personal playlist but when I’m ready for a dose of truly ferocious rock and roll, I head straight to this bruising track. I crank it up and you should too.
The Western Mass quintet continue their transformation from rootsy backwoods folk to nuanced acoustic pop. Their latest album, their first since a 2014 ep, is filled with songs that makes you want to close your eyes and get lost in the song. Most of the tracks have a gentleness to them that lulls in the listener. A more studied focus, something I strongly encourage, illuminates the intricacies of the band’s arrangements, from the diverse instrumentation to the refined harmonies.
Providence, RI power pop trio Velvet Crush released their (shoulda been huge) classic album Teenage Symphonies to God back in 1994. The album, whose title pays homage to the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, garnered some attention but never quite set up the band for extended success. ‘Tis a shame, really, as the group struck the perfect balance of pop catchiness and rock intensity.
This new collection offers a window into two sides of the band’s history. First, the original demos for many of the songs that made the album. Some sound as they eventually did on the official release; others differ enough to give the listener a sense of the magic that occurred when the band entered the studio.
Second are eight live tracks from a 1995 performance in Chicago that give a feel for the sonic fury that the band brought to their live shows.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.