The Reign of Kindo- Play With Fire

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There’s certainly something to be said about a group of men able to connect so keenly not just to themselves and their own distinct sense of beauty, but also to each other in order to weave a lush tapestry of sound the likes of what they’ve accomplished here. The Reign of Kindo are a special breed of collective musicians, ever humble yet supremely in tune with their abilities, always eager to connect with their fans, and always pushing their own musical boundaries itching to see where their new perspectives and experiences in life take them from one record to the next. With their latest effort Play With Fire the collective seamlessly incorporate new pianist Danny Pizarro Jr  into their world and once again add some subtle tweaks to their sound heard on This Is What Happens to create a lavishly emotional record perfect for your warm summer evenings.

Those wishing for the band to go back to their more progressive, slow burning sound of their debut Rhythm, Chord, and Melody will unfortunately be disappointed as Play With Fire is definitely a spiritual successor to the more pop-oriented, upbeat style of This Is What Happens. The record keeps a brisk pace throughout its runtime driven by another stellar performance by vocalist Joseph Secchiaroli and drummer Steven Padin. The music has a distinct depth to it akin to the group’s debut yet manages to retain a poignantly jovial mood.  Play With Fire accomplishes this through a potent combination of excellent instrumental layering and some infectious hooks mainly by way of the vocals. Personally where The Reign of Kindo has always shone brightest has been in their slower-paced songs and while Play With Fire doesn’t contain as many as previous releases, their vigor has not dropped at all. The band manages to tug at your heart strings as easily and effortlessly as before and combined with lyrics that don’t hide behind metaphors for you to ascertain meaning makes the punch that much more powerful.

An interesting aspect of Play With Fire and further proof of the group’s skillful chops, is the lack of guitar leads. While obviously not completely absent, the guitar is utilized sparingly and usually as back-up for the lead instruments, namely the drums, horns, vocals, strings, and piano. In addition to a healthy dose of trumpet and saxophone, Play With Fire showcases the group’s most diverse array of instruments and by extension the most diverse collection of songs to date. The best examples come way of two Latin/jazz mash-ups, the album highlight “Impossible World”, and “Romancing a Stranger.” The group also explores a wide variety of topics throughout the record as well as producing music which perfectly fits each mood they convey.

The Reign of Kindo are a non-profit organization, they earn no profit from their collaboration yet they still bestow upon the world their biggest, most diverse album in Play With Fire. This record and this band have found a special niche amongst the adult contemporary/pop/jazz/indie scene, a space fit for only them. It’s obvious the group are best friends, not mere colleagues, and every note played in this record cements this fact and whatever legacy they are sprinting toward. Play With Fire is a record suited for any mood, any time of day, for any time of the year, and those willing to sit back and let the music wash over them cannot deny that some emotion in them, however briefly, has stirred.

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Bosnian Rainbows – Bosnian Rainbows

Bosnian Rainbows

I think I can conclude that Omar Rodriguez-Lopez never seems to give up on the music industry…

He has been way all over the place in this world, starting with the post hardcore band in 1996, At The Drive-In, which was a huge success musically and commercially; the perfect example of what great music should be. His next gig with The Mars Volta would also continue to have a lot of benefits, such as the heavily spastic Deloused in the Comatorium, the Latin infused Frances the Mute, and early him more commercial honor (HINT, HINT: the Grammy Award he got for Wax Simulacra). And so, you’d think after 18 years well spent as a professional musician, he’d take a break for a while. NOPE. Instead, in a mounting load of shock, we find out that Rodriguez-Lopez is now working with a new band, Bosnian Rainbows. By seeing what direction he as a solo artist and in The Mars Volta was going in, his newest group’s self-titled debut was both unpredictable and yet so predictable.

The first question arrises: what was so unpredictable? Bosnian Rainbows features a female vocalist. Not that it ruins everything (or anything, for that matter), it’s just very different. By different, I mean it is actually, on contrary, rather fresh. Rodriguez-Lopez was consistently working in bands that had a bunch of vocalists such as Cedric Bixler-Zavala, who often meticulously used very inconspicuously high vocals. Teri Gender Bender, the BR vocalist has a deeper, more mature voice and in certain perspectives, sounds more musically interesting. Her lyrics are fun, upbeat, and in certain ways, clever. This is a case in which unpredictability is very handy, providing pleasant surprises. However, this album can also provide some pretty bad bombs.

For one part, what is unpredictable in a negative way is the current artistic direction that Rodriguez-Lopez is taking with Bosnian Rainbows. In comparison to Nocturniquet, the self titled album’s genres are slightly more divorced than usual. The themes in Bosnian Rainbows, shockingly, lean closer and closer towards an alternative rock, indie, and even electronica at extreme intervals. Cases as these are such: Omar’s musical exploration beyond the usual, whimsical, and muscle-spasm induced psychedelia, prog rock, and post hardcore is rather dangerous. This is going to cost him quite a few valuable points. If there’s anything bright about this mission, in any way, it is simple; at least the album is very consistent. It doesn’t just go straight from pure alt rock to extreme electric fused indie. It combines a few workable genres of music together, making Bosnian Rainbows still sound somewhat exiting. If something still is the same for Rodriguez-Lopez, it is that his guitar playing still speaks and sounds good. He delivers abrasive melodies to an album that desperately needed it.

To sum it up, Bosnian Rainbows is a new dramatic direction for an Ex-Mars Volta guitarist, who has been through a lot, including the band breakup, the return to At the Drive In, and the death of his mother. The album is the sign of the times in his life and for music fans all over the world. To put it simply, before you buy this in any form, ask yourself this album: do you like indie and alt rock a lot? Do you also like electronica? And for that matter, are you adept to artistic contract over the years? If so, then you will probably enjoy this album. For me, personally, it struck a far chord. It felt like Omar was doing this only for the music industry’s benefit. But still, not completely ruined.

3.2/5

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

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I believe that contrast is a good thing. However, I will admit, as of late; I have not been abiding to this principle and indulging enough in variety, despite it being the spice of life. But don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of other forms of music – my issue is merely explaining how great or unique or fantastic an individual artist is in a genre I am unfamiliar with. Albeit in consideration, I have decided to take one step into the regions of music that I would only usually ever listen to through the ‘crème de la crème‘ of that genre: a spectacular artist that stands out from their peers. Thus so, marking a rather peculiar departure from my usual review material in the metal & hardcore department – I am reviewing Bon Iver’s 2007 debut album ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’.

For those unfamiliar with the band or Justin Vernon, the founder and centre of Bon Iver’s creativity; Bon Iver are a culmination of indie and folk; this making them susceptible to absolutely every hipster in the past half-decade to jump on the band’s fresh take on the two genres and pummel all emotion and honesty out of it with an indecent level of brutality. ‘Skinny Love’ in particular having been absolutely skinned of its beauty by many cover performances from indie artists as well as others for commercial use. Putting this aside, For Emma, Forever Ago is the exact antithesis of the initial expectation one might get when looking at the genres from a glance. Looking into its background, you can see why – The dissolution of Vernon’s band ‘DeYarmond Edison’, the ending of a significant relationship & the contraction of mononucleosis in 2006 culminated in Vernon’s decision to isolate himself in a small cabin in Medford in Northwestern Wisconsin. There, he recorded For Emma, Forever Ago single-handed, save a guest vocal appearance on the first track and a supporting musician in the eponymous track.

It is quite difficult to comprehend the significant level of loss one Vernon probably felt at the time (I contracted mononucleosis earlier this year and it was a terribly difficult experience that I still feel the effects of). However, listening to For Emma, Forever Ago, the album just reeks of the melancholy that those incidents embody. The reluctance to re-engage in society, the environment he was in – the endless roads and winter cold, the longing for something beyond where he was at that point in time – the very title itself hinting at this; ‘Forever Ago’ existing in a timeless realm of even dreams or hope. It all comes out through the instrumentation, Vernon’s vocal performance, lyrics and the production.

The majority of songs on the humble 9 track album are simply Vernon’s voice coupled with his acoustic guitar, with the occasional production-feat thrown in to build atmosphere – ‘Flume’ starting the album in some humble beginnings with a crisp guitar tone opening the song before his brilliant falsetto vocals gracefully drift over the melody of the chords. Numerous vocal tracks add layers of mood and emotion to the tone of a song, this having some particularly effective results; ‘The Wolves’ having an absolutely beautiful effect in the middle as Vernon sings ‘What might have been lost.’ ‘Creature Fear’ including some backing vocals to further uplift the choruses and add to the positivity of the song – working very well. All the while, these go hand-in-hand with the honest lyrics that you can tell are written straight from the peculiarly unique heart of Justin Vernon. At times hitting hard with brutal truth in his words: ‘Someday my pain, someday my pain will mark you.’ & ‘Can’t you find a clue when your eyes are all painted Sinatra blue?’ in ‘The Wolves’. Other songs exposing his entire innocence to the world around him, in ‘Blindsided’ he sings: ‘I crouch like a crow, contrasting the snow. For the agony, I’d rather know.’ and some simply being his poetic expressions of acceptance and memory: ‘For Emma’ taking two sides in its lyrical content of a ‘Him’ & ‘Her’: 
‘Him:
For every
life…
Her:
Forgo the
parable.
Him:
Seek the light.
Her:
…My knees are cold.’

All in all, it works well and rarely ever seems out of place; only briefly touching this in ‘Lump Sum’ which appears to lack direction as well as suffering a continuous issue of the album – the production at parts resulting in incoherence. The calm and solemn vocal style of Vernon combined with the numerous vocal tracks sometimes robbing the listener of actually knowing what he’s singing about. Likewise, instrumentation suffers – with acoustic string pickings turning into audible blurs. Atmospheric blurs nonetheless albeit not getting the treatment they deserve necessarily – ‘Blindsided’ & ‘Lump Sum’ being notable examples of this.

However, the majority of tracks remain crystal clear, even to the extent of the listener being able to envision the cabin and that honest, rustic environment; the gentle and continuous strumming of ‘Flume’, the hearty and tired chords that hum in ‘The Wolves’, the vibrant and almost post-rock elements of ‘For Emma’ & the intertwining melodies of ‘Re: Stacks’. The production has its flaws but ultimately allows the album to express its roots and the emotions behind the music at an honest and peaceful level that the album deserves.

For Emma, Forever Ago is one of those albums that works so well because it takes you exactly where the album came from. Listening to it, you can’t help but compare your own emotions to the longing tones of ‘Flume’ & ‘The Wolves’ and then the resonating acceptance found in ‘For Emma’ and its powerful moments. You hear Vernon’s voice, you hear the acoustic guitar and the rustic melodies it carries and you’re there – at that cabin in the woods, the end of it all and the start of something new. Listening to this album won’t change your life or immediately heal a heartbreak, but it takes away the fog that otherwise conceals the path to the future. Rarely ever is it that an album achieves such a profound impact, born from the heaviest of emotions.

‘I toured the light; so many foreign roads for Emma, forever ago.’

4.5/5

Tracklisting:

1. Flume
2. Lump Sum
3. Skinny Love
4. The Wolves (Act I and II)
5. Blindsided
6. Creature Fear
7. Team
8. For Emma
9. Re: Stacks

Sigur Ros-Kveikur

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Sigur Rós-Kveikur

For the uninitiated: Sigur Rós is an Icelandic post-rock/ambient band that formed in 1994 and has since then garnered quite the amount of praise and critical acclaim for their very moody, emotional, epic album pieces.  The band didn’t really get any recognition until the release of Ágætis byrjun and (), the two albums are considered by fans as the bands best work to date. Unfortunately, the band has yet to reach this high critical acclaim again in the time since the release of these two albums. The 2012 release of Valtari was thought of as lackluster and underwhelming by critics when compared to the bands magnum opuses. The band then announced the upcoming release of their next album titled, “Kveikur”, and it was set to be released March 22nd. As you would expect many fans were ecstatic to hear the news but some people were worried; and reasonably so. For one, the band’s last few albums were not up to par of Ágætis byrjun, and (), and second, Kjartan Sveinsson, the bands keyboardist, had just dropped from the band. It seemed very unlikely for the band to come out on top and succeed.

                                                   And yet, somehow they pulled it off.

Right on the first track, long-time listeners of Sigur Rós will realize this album is a very different beast from Valtari; as well as from other past releases. Brennisteinn begins with this harsh electric bass synth and pounding drums that would make you question if you are even listening to the same band that produced something like (). Following that are the easily recognizable, incoherent vocals of lead singer, Jónsi. Yup, it’s still Sigur Rós, albeit, a very different Sigur Rós. Brennisteinn is a bit of a deceiving opening track though. Yes, this album has a different sound from previous releases, an arguably more aggressive and accessible sound, but it isn’t as hard-hitting or, aggressive as the opening track might make it seem. All of the songs still have the post-rock like feel to all of them that returning listeners have come to know and love, but with the addition of shorter song lengths. This is Sigur Rós’ most accessible album to date, without a doubt. For example: catchier melodies, less winding songs, and more active songs, with less ambient sections. Now, some of you might be getting worried, thinking that they have changed too much or, god forbid, they sold out, or something ridiculous like that. This music is definitely not the kind you are going to hear on the Top 20 Hits or what not. It is just easier to listen to, more to the point than previous outings, and has little more pop sensibility to it. The songs themselves are fantastically written and composed, with each song having its own individual sound. Among other positive notes on this album, it’s also got quite the number of standout tracks with little filler. Brennisteinn is the obvious example but just about the entire album is great with the exception of Yfirbord. To me, it felt somewhat underwhelming in comparison to the rest of the tracks on the album but it’s not particularly bad per se, just not great. For me personally the opening track, of course, and the closing instrumental Var, is some of my favorite tracks of the album.

So if any of you have yet to listen to this and are doubtful about the bands future, rest assured. This release does not spell the end of Sigur Rós;  it’s quite the opposite actually. If anything, this album is the beginning of a new journey towards the band’s new sound, wherever that may take us. Wherever that path does end up taking us, I can honestly I’m excited to see what comes next and what new concoction the band has ready to cook up.

Lavinia-Take Shelter

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Lavinia are a creation from a multitude of other bands that have already proven themselves in the post-rock world (Eksi Ekso, On Fire, Caspian), and it would be easy to say that the band have nothing more to show to the world. Armed with an already very accomplished back catalogue of releases from different record labels and bands, Take Shelter could have very easily been a phoned-in record that appealed to the masses of fans that would no doubt devour it up regardless of whatever derivative qualities there might have been. Luckily, that couldn’t really be farther from what happens on the new 7″ from Lavinia. Here they combine despondent Cure-esque vocals with incredibly powerful crescendos that build up from depressive, twinkling guitars. The passion from the two tracks is palpable, and many bands try without success to replicate what is on full display here.

The question that could honestly be asked here is: Is a two track EP worth a purchase, or even a listen? The answer is a resounding yes to both; Lavinia have created two mini-epics that instill a mood that other bands would be hard pressed to invoke within the span of an entire album. The atmosphere can be vast and open one minute, and then spiral downward into a dense forest of contemplation the next. The first track “New Blood” starts off with a somber guitar line that breaks into a more expansive, fuller instrumental affair soon after. The telling part of Lavinia’s formula is that crunchy distortion is not shied away from; rather it is used as an effective tool display full-on aggressiveness in both songs. This leaves the last thirty seconds of the first song surprisingly heavy, but it builds up to that apex wonderfully. The vocals that Nate Shumaker (ex-Eksi Ekso)  provides are unobtrusive to the soundscape created and are in essence another instrument to convey the desperation evident in the music. They create crucial bridges from the more ethereal passages to the heavier aspects of their sound, and certainly add to the dark tone that shines through most of the 11+ minutes of music. While most of the time guitars are the main focus of songwriting for post rock bands, the drums are not only worthy of a mention but also integral to the sound of this band. Alex Mihm (Eksi Ekso) is very active on his drums, pounding away with interesting fills on the more distorted sections but playing his drums more crucially and never overpowering during the rest of the band during constrained parts of songs.

Take Shelter will evoke different emotional responses from different listeners, and it is obviously the band’s intention to create music that is so open to interpretation. Contrary to many post rock acts, this record demands active listening. There are no lulls without a far-reaching and earth-shattering climax following right after it. It is certainly a scenario where everything is in its right place to create an EP where the sum is much greater than the parts making it up. The hypnotizing clean guitar that permeates the atmosphere on “Halo” gives way to a heavy riff akin to Russian Circles, then fades out abruptly for Shumaker’s wretchedly lonely vocals. For such an active record it is very easy to get lost in, and there is a vast expanse in the soundscape created that will certainly put them head and shoulders above many of the genre. As the final notes fade into obscurity on the last song, I can’t help but be excited about what the future of this incredibly talented band will hold.

4.8/5

Tracklist:

1. New Blood

2. Halo

Vocal Few – Tall Trees

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The Classic Crime’s vocalist in a folk project with his wife? Yes, please.

Often, it seems like side projects of vocalists tend not to stray far from the source, but Vocal Few is quite the departure from TCC’s material. I don’t know about you, but when I listen to a side project of someone in a band I like that is still together, I don’t want to hear a replica of said band. There is a variety of instrumentation happening with some wonderful vocal performances throughout, and (aside from Matt’s voice) it doesn’t really have much similarity to his main band. Matt is the dominant one on the vocals here and even though he is the stronger singer (granted he has had a lot of practice over the last 8-9 years) I wish Kristie was utilized a little more. I didn’t think much of her voice at first, but it really grew on me over repeated listens. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have many of her own passages and typically just plays harmony to Matt. Also, when they are singing together, her voice sometimes seems to be further back in the mix than it should, but it could just be Matt’s vocals overpowering hers. Speaking more the vocals, I also wish the two would have overlapped and intertwined their vocal lines, maybe something similar to how bands like Emery handled their dual vocals, instead of only singing in harmony or completely separate from each other. The chorus of “Simple and Free” is a great example of this:

And I don’t mind
(The fact these musical notes)
Haunt my mind
(And resonate from my bones)
Simple and free is what I said…

The parts in parentheses are the background vocals, but Matt performs the entire chorus and overlaps his own voice. Kristie could have easily performed the background vocals to add some more flavor and then, just to spice it up some more, they could have switched the vocals on the chorus later in the song and had Kristie do the main part and Matt in the background. It just seems like a missed opportunity for something of this high quality to be even better than it already is.

The music is typically of a lighthearted nature, but there is a very strong sentiment in the lyrics throughout the EP, and it runs the deepest on “One Day Soon.” It is an absolutely gorgeous song in which Matt lovingly sings about the present and then moves on to the future, as the title suggests, of his baby girl. Kristie is largely absent in the song, except for some harmony parts, and it could have been a nice touch to have her sing the background parts in the chorus (“You will never be alone” is repeated in the background as the main passage goes on) or even have her own verse, but the song is pretty much all Matt’s baby (pun intended, you ask? I haven’t decided yet). “Good Enough” is another beautifully somber song that and has Matt delivering one of the best performances I have heard from him. Kristie also gives a fantastic performance along with him and especially shines in her harmony sections. It’s almost as if she was afraid to let loose on the sections where she sings by herself like she does here when singing with Matt.

Wild I Am is another great song that livens things up a bit after “One Day Soon” and even if the chorus is a bit reminiscent to the beginning of the chorus in “What I’d Give Up” from TCC’s last album, Phoenix, the piano is well done (the staccato on the intro is a nice touch) and the vocal harmonies sound great together (especially since Kristie’s voice is more prominent in the mix). I almost think that it would have made a wiser choice as an intro track and The Road would have been better to finish the EP off, but the choosing of the beginning and ending tracks doesn’t detract from the overall experience.

All the lyrics are handled quite nicely and have a fairly wide range of topics. “The Road” is about how the couple handled Matt being on the road with The Classic Crime, “Simple and Free” speaks on the subject on why they chose music over other career choices, and “Good Enough” talks about the pitfalls of love, their failed relationships in their past, and also touches on how the two have made it as long as they have as a couple. Along with “One Day Soon,” it has a strong emotional weight to it and both are absolute highlights of the EP.

Aside from a few odd choices on how the vocals were handled, this is a wonderful and well executed EP from Vocal Few. Originally, the two only started it up because of Kristie’s first pregnancy and the need of some extra money, but after their first release came to much success (as well as Kristie becoming pregnant again), they decided to keep it going. Whether it’s because of their enjoyment of making music together, the need for some extra money, fans just wanting more, or all of the above; I couldn’t be happier to help support them through their endeavors. Who knows? If they keep popping out kids like this, maybe we will get a full length album one of these days.

4.2/5

Track list:

1. The Road
2. Misunderstood
3. Good Enough
4. Afriad (Interlude)
5. Simple and Free
6. One Day Soon
7. Wild I Am

Release Date: May 21st, 2013

http://vocalfew.bandcamp.com/