Category Archives: ROCK N’ MAILBAG

ROCK ‘N’ MAILBAG #4: Chris Mess

Welcome to the fourth installment of my semi-irregular series Rock ‘N Mailbag! For a few months now, I’ve been getting solicitations via email from independent artists wishing me to review their albums.  I’m not sure how these people are finding me, but rather than dismiss them, I’ve decided to listen to them and give them a little love.

It’s been awhile since I fired up the old rock ‘n’mailbag so I decided to dip in and see what was inside. Back in March, I got an email from Chris Niccoli who headlines a Seattle-based glam rock band Chris Mess. First off, this band gets immediate points for having a pun-band name. I thought that perhaps that Chris Mess was a person but once I said it out loud a few times I got the joke. The Chris Mess Bandcamp page describes the band as “A bit loud Cheap Trick strut, with a smattering of absurdity and vocal craziness a la Queen, The Darkness, Ziggy-era David Bowie, and The Sweet.” I’d agree with that assessment and say that band’s sound is definitely reminiscent of all the bands mentioned. There’s a fun throwback quality to the band’s sound that I dig.

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Chris’s vocals aren’t quite as wild and crazy as bands like The Darkness, but there’s some high-pitched wailing going on. The CHRIS MESS EP is seven songs, five originals, one cover (David Bowie’s “Suffragette City”), and an acapella version of the first track. The production is clean and modernizes the band’s sound enough so you can tell that Chris Mess is a modern artist and not of the era they’re repping. I really enjoyed “Bong for your Mom,” which has a groove and some sweet harmonies. According to the Bandcamp site, the track is about Seattle’s cannabis scene. I also really enjoyed the manic, unhinged “Vitamin D” though I wished it was just a smidge heavier. The same goes for “Don’t Make Me Hate,” which is an okay track that could have been an A+ effort with a little less Queen and a little more Black Sabbath.

The Bowie cover is a nice tribute, but I have disagree with the band’s description that the track is “revved up.” It’s a  serviceable effort but doesn’t strike me as a particularly juiced-up version of the song. I think Chris Mess would have been better served by paying tribute to The Thin White Duke by perhaps choosing a more obscure song. Again, there’s nothing bad about their version, it just didn’t do much new and (of course) pales in comparison to the original.

Overall, the CHRIS MESS EP is hands down one of the better things sent into the ROCK ‘N’ MAILBAG. The original songs show real promise and the band seems adept at blending their influences together. I’d be interested to see the band live and hear a proper album from this band.

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ROCK ‘N MAILBAG #3: Dot Dash

Welcome to the third installment of my semi-irregular series Rock ‘N Mailbag! For a few months now, I’ve been getting solicitations via email from independent artists wishing me to review their albums.  I’m not sure how these people are finding me, but rather than dismiss them, I’ve decided to listen to them and give them a little love.

I got an email back in January from a Washington D.C. band called Dot Dash asking me if I wanted to give away copies of their single “Shopworn Excuse.”  Their bandcamp profile lists them as a “post punk pop band.”  I’ll be honest, I really don’t know what that means…to me Dot Dash are a pop band, plain and simple.  I can see why folks would have trouble with, the term “pop” has devolved into this really negative Britney Spears-connotation over the past 10+ years.  But that’s what Dot Dash is: they’re a pop band.

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“Shopworn Excuse” is a pleasant, sun-shiny song with just enough jangle to keep it from being too sugary.  The dark lyrics also provide a nice contrast to the fizzy pop.  Dot Dash remind me a bit of Swedish poppers Acid House Kings mixed with Jon Brion Why don’t you do me a favor and give “Shopworn Excuse” a listen and chime-in in the comments section.  I hopped on Spotify and checked out the rest of their album, HALF-REMEMBERED DREAM, and found it to have an even stronger 90’s brit-pop flavor than “Shopworn Excuse” led me to believe. I particularly like “Bloom/Decay” and the hyper-literary”Fiction Section.” I was on the fence about these guys, but the album sold me.  HALF-REMEMBERED DREAM is a great little pop gem, a true diamond in the rough.

Check out “Shopworn Excuse” and chime in with your thoughts in the comments section.

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ROCK ‘N MAILBAG #2: What, Really?

Welcome to the second installment of my semi-irregular series Rock ‘N Mailbag! For a few months now, I’ve been getting solicitations via email from independent artists wishing me to review their albums.  I’m not sure how these people are finding me, but rather than dismiss them, I’ve decided to listen to them and give them a little love.

Pop-rockers What, Really? hail from Italy, that magical boot-shaped wonderland of vino and pasta. Though their email described the band as a “power pop” band, I really don’t think that fits.  The band has a pleasant, low key, indie rock vibe.  They’ve apparently played the International Pop Overthrow Festival in Liverpool and have crafted a nice little EP titled simply WHAT, REALLY?

What, Really? EP

The EP opens with “Ophelia (Among the flowers)” which clocks in just under 3 minutes.  And while it’s not a barn-burner by any means, it grooves fast enough.  The melody is catchy and the vocals are nice and clean. Next is “Dandy Hobo” which is darker and sounds a bit like The Shins with a hint of Jason Falkner.  It’s a good song

“Ninja Expert” has a goofy title but is probably my favorite song on the EP.  This is the band’s best, most fun song.  It reminded me of Canadian indie-rockers Tokyo Police Club with it’s angular guitar riff and shouty vocals. As good as the song is, it feels a bit restrained.  I’ll wager that when playing “Ninja Expert” live, the band really lets it rip. And really, that’s the biggest issue I have with these songs, they feel like a band operating at 90%.  Just a little extra oomph would have pushed these songs into fantastic instead of really good.

The last track “Clouds” is as good as everything else on the EP but is a bit too short and again feels like a restrained effort.  As far as EP’s go from unknown bands, What, Really? have something really good on their hands.  If this was mine, I’d be really proud of it.  That said, for the full album the band really needs to step up with the energy (or hire a producer capable of capturing their energy better, or both). I think they should stop marketing themselves as power-pop and embrace the indie-rock sound that they cultivate.  And honestly, if I were them, I’d buddy up with some Italian Film School kids and let them use their music in their independent film–because I could totally see these songs as the backdrop to some awesome black and white art house flick made by some newbie filmmaker.

As you can imagine, I get sent a TON of crap from all over the globe. What, Really? have a good foot forward, I genuinely hope they pool their resources together and put together a full length album. Based on their EP alone, I would buy an album from these guys.  If you’re interested in checking out WHAT, REALLY? you can go here and download the whole EP for free. 

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Rock ‘N Mailbag! #1: PRIMAL RUMBLE by Gretchen Lohse

Welcome to the first installment of a new series titled Rock ‘N Mailbag! For a few months now, I’ve been getting solicitations via email from independent artists wishing me to review their albums.  I’m not sure how these people are finding me, but rather than dismiss them, I’ve decided to listen to them and give them a little love.

This first installment of the Rock ‘N Mailbag! will be devoted to Philadelphia singer-songstress Gretchen Lohse’s latest album PRIMAL RUMBLE.  A little research shows that Gretchen was in a band called Yellow Humphrey prior to striking out as a solo artist.  Right away I was determined to review this album based solely on the David Bowie-ish album artwork.  Depicting Lohse as a medicine cabinet/astronaut, I was prepared for freaky stuff.  To my surprise, PRIMAL RUMBLE is a gentle folk and jazz tinged album full of quiet reflection.  The album is understated and tastefully produced with interesting, but not overbearing keyboards and a glockenspiel.  

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Gretchen’s voice is soft, but strong throughout PRIMAL RUMBLE and reminds me a bit of She & Him’s Zooey Deschanel.  But whereas Deschanel is at times annoyingly twee and indie, Lohse retains artistic credibility by avoiding clichés and staying interesting (read: slightly strange). Stand out tracks for me were the lopping, gentle ballad “Rings” and the flute-filled “The Cuckoo.” Both of these songs, like the rest of the album, seem both really sad while at the same time being upbeat.  The whole album feels this way, confusing but in a pleasant ethereal sort of way.

Really I only have one quibble with PRIMAL RUMBLE: for album with such a strong title, this album is way too low-key.  All the songs seem to float along at the same temp: slow.  I’m okay with albums having consistent moods, but I would have liked for a little bit more pep.  Just one or two perkier songs would have livened things up.   “The Cuckoo” and “Spider At The Gate” feature unique and interesting musical flourishes, but even these make it difficult to set these tracks apart from one another.  Remember, I’m a guy who has a Guns N’ Roses-themed blog, so take this complaint with a grain of (rock) salt.  I am interested in what Yellow Humphrey sounds like, only to see how Gretchen’s voice works in a larger band setting.

This sort of dreamy folk-pop isn’t my usual cup of tea, but I enjoyed PRIMAL RUMBLE enough to recommend it for people who like She & Him or Joni Mitchell.  PRIMAL RUMBLE is available on Spotify and you can download the album at Gretchen’s Bandcamp website for $6.00.

 

 

HAVE A HOT TIP? WANT ME TO REVIEW YOUR BAND’S SONG/ALBUM? HIT ME UP AT DEFENDINGAXLROSE@GMAIL.COM

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