Short Takes on 4 Songs

GrownUpAvengerStuffVideoGrown Up Avenger Stuff – “Pins

With a slew of accolades, an upcoming album, Eclectica, on the way, and the release of an official video for “Pins”, the members of indie rock band Grown Up Avenger Stuff are keeping themselves in the musical mix.  Deirdre Kroener (vocals), Tyler Thomsen (percussion), Hunter Thomsen (bass), and John Thomsen (guitar) formed the band in 2009 in North Carolina and quickly became known for their super-energetic live performances.  Over the years they have released three albums, the most recent being Sparkleton in March 2013.  The band hit the road to promote that album in 2013 and 2014, playing, and sometimes headlining, numerous festivals, including doing nine shows at SXSW.  Starting this March, Deirdre and the guys will again be on tour in the U.S. as well as Europe.

The band stirs up a storm on the sprawling “Pins”, excelling at generating an exciting atmosphere that would translate totally to the live setting.  The song builds up in intensity and complexity as it goes on, with the verses remaining low-key, but brewing into strong chorus sections.  Deirdre gives a powerhouse vocal performance that’s part hard rock edge and part joyful enthusiasm.  There’s an unfettered release to her vocal delivery – she lets loose and pushes her exclamations out to the point of near-hoarseness.  The immediacy of her emotions is infectious as she presses out the clincher line “The only way to win / is to give in – / and let it go!”  Tyler, Hunter, and John know how to whip it up and then rein it in in support of Deirdre’s vocals with emphatic drum dynamics, cymbal crashes, nimble guitar notes to raw guitar jags, and a changeable bass line.

Official Video:

 

VinceGrantVince Grant – “Melancholia

Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Vince Grant pulls no punches on his recently released EP My Depression Is Always Trying To Kill Me.  He straight-up addresses his depression as a way to reveal, cope with, and hopefully heal from this debilitating and still socially-stigmatized disorder/disease.  Early on in his musical career, Vince moved from Chicago to Los Angeles to realize his musical dreams and ended up busking at Venice Beach.  He then roamed between L.A. and New York, playing in and gigging with various bands, working at a bunch of thankless job to make ends meet, and finally sliding into alcohol and other drugs.  He has since been through a successful recovery and is striking out on his own with this 5-song EP.

On lead single “Melancholia” Vince frankly, but artistically, tackles his issues in a sonically full-bodied song.  Warm, picked acoustic guitar strum and a bright, expansive synth line create a calm center for Vince to open up about, and accept, his plight.  He sings with a gutsy, Joe Strummer-like edge (a touch of desperation, a bit of regret, ever direct) that “She’s always leaving /  – leaving me for dead / She will remain / Melancholia – will remain”.  It’s tough stuff, but it goes down easy due to Vince’s vocals and the absorbing instrumental arrangements, where the lighter synth uplift (from Doug Grean) contrasts with added drum beat (from Keith Larsen), cymbals, and searing electric guitar turmoil (from Doug Grean).

Official Video (Produced and Directed by Alex Nasonov:
  

 

 OceaninaBottleOcean in a BottleTouching the clouds

It’s extremely difficult to create musical minimalism that piques and sustains the interest, but Mancunian novelist, poet, musician, and, for full disclosure, my friend Andy N achieves this on his accomplished recordings as the experimental project Ocean in a Bottle.  His meditative Flight of the Phoenix EP may be, as he describes it, “…a very soft, almost invisible EP…”, but it airily soars and never verily bores.

The lightly plinked piano notes on the eight-track EP are aurally ephemeral, but they leave a more lasting, emotionally relaxed impression on the listener.  Most compositions are just under or over two minutes (with the exception of the almost three-minute “Heartbeat in the heavens”), and the one that catches attention is “Touching the clouds”.  It’s the most reflective of the pieces, changing from bright, quicker piano notes to slower, slightly deeper notes and back again.  Andy N manages to create a contemplative space within the song where the listener can feel that he is mulling over what he is playing and not just going through the motions.

 

 LolaDeHannaLola de Hanna – “Ghosts

The NYC-based by way of Greece songstress Lola de Hanna just released her indie electro-pop EP, The Other Side, and on it she combines world music influences with pop song structures.  Lola has been building up her musical CV over the years, embracing collaborations with Sugar Puppies and Nikolas Christopoulos and AfroNick (as Lola & the Nicks).  But it’s all Lola on the six tracks of The Other Side, from the song compositions to the lyrics and her vocals.  Lola’s vocal tone recalls Alanis Morrissette and her inflection brings to mind Sarah McLachlan.

While the emotional impact of her vocals tends to get swept away on the faster tracks, Lola shines on the lyrics-centric, EP-ender “Ghosts”.  It’s a Sarah McLachlan-like number; a piano-ballad that gives plenty of freedom for Lola to fully express her emotions.  Gentle, reflective piano notes softly hold Lola’s light, contemplative vocal tone as she faces her fears and insecurities.  She intones sweetly, but candidly “When the ghosts come out / No, I won’t hide / won’t be inside…” on the verses.  A slow beat kicks in midway, along with more pronounced doubled vocal lines as Lola lilts her way upwards at the ends of her phrases.  By the end of the tune she declares decisively that “I will live every moment / and I will make a stand.”