What I’m Listening To: Easton – H&H

Written By Simon Chisholm

Easton is a band made up of a group of friends. It’s a project that is ongoing, a fun interim between the busy lives of it’s members. ‘H & H’ was released independently in the US summer of 2010. I was drawn in to this band by Elliot James, a former member of ‘Hey Monday’. This is a collaboration of five talented and passionate guys doing what they love, and loving what they do.

The first interesting thing about this E.P. is in the title, ‘H & H’. Looking at the track listing we notice that there is two tracks entitled ‘H’. As dramatic, film inspired instrumentals (an introduction and an interlude) the ‘H’s act like bookends, separating the tracks and also cleansing the ‘auditory pallet’. This interesting concept lends the song titles to the name of the E.P. ‘H & H’. An interesting concept.

The production and engineering on this release is fantastic. All of the elements are full sounding and strong. The songs have been crafted to allow each member to show skill. Each instrument plays interesting parts that compliment each other and contribute to a thick, full, busy and moving texture.

I love the drums sound, it is sharp and full. They manage to fill up a lot of the texture. They are very busy, playing beats that utilise most of the kit and smashing out copious amounts of fills. Elliot’s drumming is most definitely the backbone of the tracks.

The bass is strong and powerful, supporting the groove supplied by the keys. The keys and synthesisers add a lot of ornamentation, and flits in and around the other instrumentation without getting in the way.

All of the tracks are likable and are an enjoyable listen. The songs are high energy and fast moving, with a sense of urgency in the vocal style. The boys make use of interesting rhythms and grooves, creating catchy hooks and danceable anthems. There is constant movement in the harmonic change, using altered riffs and passing notes. There is some evidence of experimentation with sounds and electronics in ‘H(1)’ and ‘H(2)’

The acoustic and bonus tracks are a nice inclusion, filling out the E.P. and adding interest and highlights to the dynamics of the band. The B-Side ‘Bittersweet’ is a track that contrasts to the rest of the songs. It features a number of vocalists, who I assume are all of the band members and possible guests.

Easton are:

Elliot James, Marc Ryan, Chris Martin, Skyler Mondell with help from Jeremy Michaels

Released Independently in 2010. Produced by Easton and Co-Produced by Matt Laplant.

Get H&H here: http://easton.bandcamp.com/

What I’m Listening To: Easton – H&H

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What I’m Listening To: Tegan & Sara – The Con

Written By Simon Chisholm

I know I’m late to the party, but sometimes it takes time for music tastes to evolve, and to save enough money to purchase music; but the cost of music is a discussion for another time and place. An old friend showed me some of Tegan and Sara’s music years ago, and also personal hero Hunter Burgan (of AFI) is friends with and has recorded and performed with the girls. Now that I’ve had a chance to listen hard to this album, I wish I jumped at the chance years ago.

‘The Con’ is not your usual brand of pop music. While the hooks and choruses are catchy, and the harmonic progressions are the typical intervals, it has a disjointed quality. There are times when the melodies and the arrangements are more erratic than is traditional.

Lyrically, the songs are open to personal interpretation by the listener, and that’s beautiful. While the melodies are easy enough, in order to follow the lyrics correctly, further interrogation of the CD booklet is required. Not all together a bad thing, delving deeper into the words can be enlightening, highlighting lines you would never have picked otherwise, or altering the phrasing and flow of the ‘story’. The songs translate a lot of personal expression of emotions and feelings.

The main instrumentation are two harmonised voices of Tegan and Sara and their two steel string acoustic guitars. There is an intensity to the execution of the guitar parts; a combination of the performance and the timbre of the instruments themselves. As well as that, most of the songs also make use of full rock band accompaniment playing interesting polyrhythms a lot of the time. There are synthesisers throughout the tracks that add a cute quality to the accompaniment.

The vocals are executed with a sense of intensity and passion. While the main vocal seems desperate, the backing vocal seems as though it’s not bothered by the course events. It’s almost like a conversation is taking place between the two vocal tones. I love the harmonies in the vocals and their use of counter melodies. I also like the urgency in ‘Are You 10 Years Ago’ and that it is underlined by a second slower vocal line. At times the girls sing in falsetto, and when they do is sounds almost like a kettle whistling.

http://youtu.be/soJtF3F5t2k

The guitar tone is very percussive. Having been mic’ed in such a way that a lot of plectrum noise is captured. It is also a quality of steel stringed guitars. Some guitar motifs have an almost western quality

I really like this album. Pretty much every track made it on to my ‘notable tracks’ list and given the fact that there are 14 tracks that is saying something.

Released in 2007 by Sire Records . Produced by Christopher Walla, Tegan Quin and Sara Quin.

What I’m Listening To: Tegan & Sara – The Con

What I’m Listening To: Me’Shell Ndegeocello – Bitter

Written By Simon Chisholm

A good friend recommended Me’Shell Ndegeocello to me after a discussion about bass guitar and grooves. I don’t know if I chose the best album to reflect what we were discussing, but it still put an amazing artists on my radar. On this album, Me’Shell is Bitter.

The album title is very descriptive of the overall tone of the album, and the first track (an instrumental) acts as an introduction into the ‘Bitter’ state of mind that the album stems from. While the tone is negative, the lyrical subjects revolve around relation ships including; finding, wanting, and being in love, losing love and remembering love. The album isn’t dark however, at times our protagonist is full of love and happiness.

Overall, this album is easy to listen to. It has a laid back, relaxed classic R’N’B sound with Jazz influences. There is also a funk and soul element present, through heavy use of hook line repetition.

The vocal performance throughout the album is deep, flowing and mostly slow. Yet don’t think the performance is lacking, what has been delivered is exactly what the songs called for.

While the vocals are the focal point of each track, large sections of the songs are instrumental, making the instrumental motifs a central element. The accompanying instrumentation is sparse and groove orientated, with heavy utilisation of ostinato by all instruments.

Me-Shell is an accomplished bass player and the bass lines that feature on this record are fun and groovy. The kind that a bass player delights in jamming. Songs like ‘Satisfy’ particularly show off Me’Shell’s bass chops.

Featured on this work are a number of compositional devices that are not used in a scarce capacity. They include riffs, lick, ostinatos, motifs, fills, ornamentation, harmonics, solo sections, movement and arrangements. The musicianship present is highlighted by the perfect execution in the performances.

My favourite track is ‘Beautiful’, simply because it sounds pretty and creates an interesting soundscape with the layering of ostinatos.

Released 1999 by Maverick Recording Company.

What I’m Listening To: Me’Shell Ndegeocello – Bitter

What I’m Listening To: Emma Louise – Full Hearts & Empty Rooms

Written By Simon Chisholm

Emma Louise is a young independent artist from Brisbane. Her folk pop tunes are mind blowing-ly beautiful. At only 19 years old Emma Louise has already achieved more that us ‘bedroom musicians’ could dream of. At 15 she had already won two Q Sing Awards for her song writing, and she has played support for aussie heavy weights Sarah Blasko, Bob Evans and Boy and Bear with upcoming support for Josh Pyke. This release marks the next step for this young singer songwriter, and is the first of many more to come.

Emma Louise was suggested to me by a friend, and boy am I glad he made that suggestion! This E.P. is captivating from start to finish. These four songs take you on a ride over galloping melody lines, emotional tensions and breezy textures.

Emma demonstrates a large vocal range. Her galloping, free-feel approach to the melodies is playful. The freedom of the vocal is perfect. There is a complimentary mix of chest voice and falsetto, and it’s a good falsetto! ‘Bugs’ boasts some beautifully airy backing vocal ‘ooh’s’. There is some creative use of lyrical repetition.

Emma Louise has crafted the songs with an uncanny way of matching lyrical tone to the instrumental and  harmonic tone. One of these ways includes varying the textures when the vocal enters and exits.

The accompanying instrumental performances are skilled and well executed. Within the instrumentation there is a large amount of dynamic range, meaning that the ebb and flow of the music is both more dramatic and more complimenting of the tone of the tracks. The percussive elements littered throughout are fun, and well placed.

The standout track for me is ‘1000 Sundowns’. This was the track suggested to me. Historically, this track has stuck with Miss Louise since her time at high school. It is slow, sad and moving. There is an electric guitar arpeggio accompanying a symmetrical vocal contour. The harmonic movement of the track seems to have a swaying feel to it. The song is about a lost love, and Emma really gets into the mood, the vocal is strained and you can really hear the pain in her voice.

Overall, the E.P. is populated by honest, heartfelt, easy to listen to compositions. After listening you are left relaxed and smiling. The only bad thing worth mentioning is its too short! I await the next release with interest. Kudos Miss Louise.

‘Full Hearts & Empty Rooms’ released independently through MGM in 2011.

Produced by Mark Myers.

What I’m Listening To: Emma Louise – Full Hearts & Empty Rooms

What I’m Listening To: Ari Herstand – Your Eyes

Written By Simon Chisholm

Ari Herstand is an independent multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter based out of L.A. I came across this track somewhere on Tumblr. It was accompanied with a caption something along the lines of ‘love this song’, or ‘so me right now’, which piqued my interest. What are social networking sites for if not to share music that moves us?

This is one of those truly beautiful songs that stop you in your tracks. The overall effect of the track is relaxing and emotionally moving. The mix is very spacious and airy, which supplies that element of relaxation.

The song tells the story of a relationship. It is a melancholy recount of the trials and tribulations in the search for love. The lyrics  communicate angst, frustration and heartbreak. The track concludes with our protagonist showing acceptance.

The instrumentation is sparse. The main instrumentation is the vocal and piano with a steel string acoustic guitar. As the track progresses, the texture and intensity builds with the aid of adding instruments. We hear a string interlude and a weeping accompaniment, as well as a female vocal and, towards the end, a classic rock band. The piano motif in the conclusion of the song is pretty. It is nicely timed and executed.

Ari’s vocal is almost strained. It sounds as if Ari is in pain or trying to sing quietly so as to not wake someone. It has an intense, breaking quality that implies emotion, that he is choked up over the events he is recounting.

Deep underneath the mix is a low rumble and click, what I would identify as the sound of a vinyl record. The quality that give a vinyl record its ‘warm’ sound.

The arrangement, instrumentation and movement of the track mimic the turmoil and emotion of the relationship. As the story unfolds the track builds into full rock band instrumentation including groovy electric guitar solo. The arrangement is a progression. The structure is made up of a number of different sections building to the conclusion. I’ve labelled them thus: Intro/ Passage 1/ Interlude/ Passage 2/ Build-up/ Conclusion.

The performance is not virtuosic, but it is crafted ingeniously from start to finish.

Sit down and listen.

Ari is known for his live looping performances, check out the one below.

‘Your Eyes’ appears on the album ‘Whispering Endearments’ released independently in 2008 by Proud HoneyBee Productions.

What I’m Listening To: Ari Herstand – Your Eyes

What I’m Listening To: Patrick Stump – Spotlight (Oh Nostalgia)

Written By Simon Chisholm

Being a rather obsessive Fall Out Boy fan it would have been wrong and disrespectful to overlook the solo projects of singer Patrick Stump. Stump had taken it on himself to work on the music he wants to work on, writing, recording and producing all of his work by himself. Let’s look his first single off of his debut E.P. ‘Truant Wave’, Spotlight (Oh Nostalgia).

The track is introduced with a marching snare and an octave left hand piano oom-pah. This is threaded throughout the track, creating a sense of movement, and affords a kind of bright, positive tone. The underlying synthesizer leads passages fill the higher frequency spectrum, providing interest, and breaking up the possible monotony that we have know and hate about pop music. The uplifting chord progression is introduced right away and continues throughout the track.

When the vocals enter, Stump sings in metaphors and other lyrical devices in order to tell a story of a character that is feeling downtrodden and struggling. Instrumental elements enter and exit breaking up the sections, creating interest.

The bar of silence before the chorus enters provides a sense of suspense and dramatics, leading up to the inspirational lyrics in the chorus. The backing vocals break the monotony of the one line hook of the chorus. The infectious hook line acts as a resolution to the feelings and tone established in the first verse, as if the character has found a solution and moved on be the best they could be.

The second verse features some of the more annoying quirks in Stumps vocals trimmings. It bugs me when he tries to sing like a computerised bassoon. The second verse also features a few light backing vocal ornamentations, making the track seem to build up as it progresses. The character’s (or a second character) insecurities return in this verse.

The pre-chorus and chorus is repeated as before, except with a little more vocal ornamentation. Enlightenment is found once again for our protagonist/s.

The bridge is definitely the climax of the track. Given that this section consists of only an organ, several vocal layers, and simple percussion, it is also a bit of fresh air. The message conveyed in this section seems to be that no matter how hard of a time you seem to be having, you can make it through. The line ‘shine alight on me’ implies to me that the message also includes the fact that all you have to do is ask for help, and it will be freely given.

The last chorus of the song is repeated a number of times while Patrick improvises with the melody, chanting the hook “You could be your own spotlight’.

The lyrics are inspiring and hold a deeper meaning at times and are delivered with an easy flow.

The single is accompanied by an inspirational video which is definitely worth a look.

Released 2011 by Nervous Breakdance Media. Produced by Patrick Stump.

What I’m Listening To: Patrick Stump – Spotlight (Oh Nostalgia)