Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Clark's Secret Identity “Dolce Vita”

Band photo

As I continue searching for new music to share every week, it is always a pleasure to find new talent in so many different genres. It is especially inspiring to find such talent among dear friends. Then, the excitement becomes two-fold: not only sharing good music, but sharing good music from those whose talents you believe in, and those you want to see succeed.

Such is the case this week with Clark's Secret Identity (CSI for short), a Pennsylvania-based band that only formed within the last couple years, but whose bandmembers I have known for a long time and whose musical talents of which I am more than aware. One might think that this gives me a bias towards the music, but to be honest, CSI's unique brand of prog-flavored, avante-garde art-rock is just the sort of thing I'm into. This is vintage prog that brings back the days of Yes, King Crimson, and early Genesis—yet with modern influences ranging anywhere from gothic metal to punk rock.

I have never been much on-board with what is considered “prog” these days—to me, prog does not have a lot of screaming vocals, but maybe I am just old-fashioned. So to hear a vocalist like CSI's Shane Anthony—a singer who actually sings—I like that a lot. I also love prog power-trios (Rush being one of my favorite bands, after all), so to hear 3 guys with such an expansive sound is very exciting to me (the fact that the multi-talented Shane also plays guitar and keyboards while singing is quite the impressive feat—but don't overlook the solid rhythm section of bassist Keith Horning and drummer Matthew Bankes either!). I wrote last year that CSI was one of the bands I was most looking forward to hearing more from in 2016, and as a very tough year in music comes to a close, CSI emerges from the darkness and shines their bright potential straight into 2017.

Their first single (and first video), “Dolce Vita”, is directed by Theresa Gaffney, former frontwoman of Phoenix Reign, another band I have praised on this blog and in other writings. The teaming of Gaffney and CSI is fierce: the band jams in an enclosed area, interspersed with shots of each bandmember standing alone and looking very serious. The fuzzy guitars are reminiscent of ’90s hard rock, but then the xylophone comes in—because it ain't prog without a xylophone!

I also love the band's lyrical content: to me, good prog bands write lyrics that tell stories, open up fascinating imagery in one's mind, and take you outside of yourself. This song, lyrically, speaks to the insanity in the world today, and trying to find the goodness still left behind. Not a bad message considering the hopelessness that has seemed to define this entire year. If this is just a single, then the entire album looks to be very promising indeed.

CSI's debut full-length album, aptly titled The Promise of a Wonderful Future, is available December 6th.

For more information on Clark's Secret Identity, or to purchase music, visit their Bandcamp page.

Extra-special thanks to Matthew Bankes, Keith Horning, and Shane Anthony.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Kingfisher Sky “Winter”

Band photo

Over the last several months since I started this feature, I have discovered a lot of great new music, and I have also had the chance to review the latest material from bands I already like, which is the case this week. However, without going back into my archives and checking for sure, I do not believe I have yet reviewed a cover song. Surely if I am wrong, someone will be happy to correct me in the comments section!

This week's video comes to us from the Dutch band Kingfisher Sky, whose combination of symphonic and progressive musical influences make way for gorgeous melodies steeped in classical, new-age sensibility. The way they bring all these sounds together, it then perhaps comes as no surprise that their choice of a cover song is by another artist also known for fusing together genres so seamlessly: Tori Amos, whose brand of piano-based alternative rock has garnered her massive success and a loyal following to this day.

Musically, Kingfisher Sky is far closer to the spectrum of an artist like Tori Amos than they are to their symphonic metal counterparts, so their attempt at tackling one of Tori's songs does not seem too unlikely a fit for them. Vocally, frontwoman Judith Rijnveld has a similar tone and style to Tori, so I could very easily imagine her doing a very good job on a track that I consider to be one of my favorite Tori Amos songs: the gentle ballad “Winter”, from her landmark debut album Little Earthquakes, released nearly 25 years ago.

The video itself is also as simple and strong as the song itself: the band's new keyboardist, Erik van Ittersum, sits at a piano in an empty room (which appears to be a church or music hall) as the opening notes play, and the camera snakes around him until we catch sight of Judith, sitting alone in a row of chairs behind him, and her vocals begin. She enunciates the lyrics more clearly than Tori does, which is somewhat nice if you do not know all the lyrics! Her voice also lends more of a “Celtic” or folk-style feel to it, which I also like. As the song progresses, Judith gets up from her seat and makes her way to where Erik continues to play. The rest of the video just shows the two of them performing together, but this powerful rendition needs no extra accoutrements, and it was so good that I hope they will officially release this on a future album or single someday.

For more information on Kingfisher Sky, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Ivar de Graaf.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: The Amatory Murder “U & I”

Photo courtesy of Hyato Foto

As my musical travels take me around the world, every now and then I come across a stop right here in the U.S. that makes me take notice. This week it's Brooklyn-based The Amatory Murder, whose brand of pop-flavored alternative is a fun throwback to ’90s rock.

The bands latest video, “U & I”, is a fun, catchy, upbeat song that is markedly different from their darker, more gothic sound; but its still got plenty of attitude! The video alternates between clips of the band either walking along the beach, or jamming on their instruments by the same shore. Later on, they are seen rocking out in a small room before returning to a cool shot of their guitarist ripping a killer guitar solo on the giant rocks along the beach.

Musically, the electronic elements in the music lend a youthful vibe, making this a tune that would sound perfect in a teen movie during the big party scene. (This is a compliment, by the way!) For all my enjoyment of everything rock and metal, I do appreciate the occasional pop-infused song, and this tune has got plenty to keep your toes tapping and your head banging.

For more information on The Amatory Murder, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Scott Genovese.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Aggronymph “Till Life Sets us Apart”

Band photo

During this past year—both while reviewing material for this blog and writing for other sites—I have come across a lot of great talent from around the globe. One band that caught my attention in 2016 that I have not had the chance to talk about here is Aggronymph, from China. Though they consider themselves to be “electronic gothic metal”, I think that description only scratches the surface of what Aggronymph's sound really is. Fusing sounds together from all sorts of different genres from electronica to heavy metal to rap, Aggronymph is one of the most interesting new bands I have come across as of late. Usually, when bands try to combine so many different musical styles together, it becomes a mish-mash of sounds where each is trying to be heard over the others, but none of them ever standing out quite enough. But Aggronymph has this knack for weaving all these different influences together in such a way where nothing feels out of place, and sounds you never expected would work together somehow make for intriguing harmonies that capture your interest. To try and sum them up in the most basic terms, Aggronymph is something like Linkin Park meets Lacuna Coil, but they are anything but sound-alikes of either band.

The video to the title track of their latest EP, “Till Life Sets us Apart” appeals to my love of conceptual videos (i.e., music videos with a storyline) by showing a sad and twisted tale of co-dependency and drug abuse. The video follows a heroin-addicted couple who feed into each other's addictive personalities as they continue to chase the high that they seek. There is even a disclaimer at the start of the video to inform the viewer of graphic imagery. The music is dark and mournful; the band is seen wreathed in smoke and eerie red lights.

For more information on Aggronymph, visit the band's official website.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Lipstick “Cha La Head Cha La”

Lipstick and their mascot, Mr. Cool

Usually whenever the terms “hair metal” or “glam metal” are mentioned, it garners an almost embarrassed reaction, like a shameful secret that no one wants to admit. Yet there is no denying that glam-metal enjoyed its fair share of popularity during its ’80s heyday, whether people want to own up to it or not. Like many other fads and fashions from that era, it may look silly to us now, but there were reasons why people liked it. For all its over-the-top campy approach, hair metal was good old-fashioned escapism. It wasn't trying to change the world or make any statement more deep or profound than having a good time. Sometimes, that's all the world needs, and for a while, hair metal fulfilled that on a musical level quite nicely.

A lot of the things that made the genre so much fun can still be appreciated today; and one band that is proudly waving the spandex flag and bringing the party back into rock music is Lipstick: a self-described “theatrical rock” band from Nashville that celebrates all the outrageous grandiosity and tongue-in-cheek humor that gives hair metal that endearing cheesiness that never takes itself too seriously, yet amasses a certain loyalty from its audience that you don't really see anywhere else. Represented by a giant cat mascot named Mr. Cool, Lipstick writes feel-good tunes that hearken back to the carefree days when you were only seventeen and didn't need nothin’ but a good time. Although their music has so many of these throwback qualities, Lipstick's songs are also in the here and now: one of the songs from their last album is an ode to Conan O'Brien and their shameless self-promotional wish to one day perform on his show.

Another modern element that Lipstick brings to their glam-styled sensibility is their love for anime, something that the hair-metal bands of the past certainly never wrote about! But, as “nerd culture” has gained more traction over the last couple of decades, and metal bands have more openly embraced their D&D-playing demographic, the lines between genres have crossed. Where once it would have been considered “wimpy” or “uncool” for a glam band to ever admit they preferred playing video games to visiting the strip club, now they unashamedly show off their comic book collections and Star Wars memorabilia.

Bringing me to this week's video, Lipstick's latest offering is a cover of “Cha La Head Cha La”, the theme to Dragon Ball Z, the anime series that has spawned a string of video games. The music video itself is quirky and fun: vocalist Greg Troyan is seen flying through the air, and at one point meets up with a guy in a weird-looking mask, at which point they start fighting and shooting beams from their hands. There are flames, explosions, and a giant dancing cat in sunglasses. Good stuff. I am not sure if this is supposed to be a reenactment of the actual Dragon Ball Z theme, but it's so much fun to watch that I really don't care (I suppose I could hunt down the information online, but somehow I don't think I will find anything else this entertaining). However, I did realize how much music videos sorely lack epic boss battles complete with dancing feline mascots these days. That's one thing even the glory days of MTV didn't have going for them.

For more information on Lipstick, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Rob Bradley for his vast knowledge of all things DBZ.