Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Rest

The Rest are a seven piece from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

To say that this group possesses a lush, beautiful, emotionally complex sound is to do the usual thing and unintentionally deflate a profound musical experience with verbal expression.

That, in essence, is why reviewing music is so difficult. Musical expression is more fundamental and subtle than verbal expression. Music is the direct expression of our emotional states, the most direct there is. Words are words, abstract, innately intellectual, and ultimately inadequate for this job. But they're all we have.

Concerning The Rest, I have been moved to the edge of tears by the music this band creates. I have been musically involved for over twenty years, and yet there are times when a group comes into my life in such a way that the act of listening is one of rediscovery of the artform; in such moments my perception is born anew.

That is the best way I can describe the effect that this band has had on me.

My relationship with this groups music is confined to the few songs on the player, and yet there is such a rich vein of music to be had that it will be worth anyone's time to listen.

The first track on the player is a song called "Walk on Water (auspicious beginnings)."

The progression of this song is real intriguing, beginning seemingly in the past, with some longbowed tones on the cello and the vocalist, and ending on a note of modernist electronic production and rhythmically intense passagework.

The song is built out of a myriad of elements. The fact that they're a seven piece is quite in evidence here, due to the rich, orchestral quality of the music.
The songs have the flavor of oldschool craftsmanship, considering the way in which the band composes and arranges. There is a very contrapuntal quality to the writing, a real sense of linear development that adds so much personality to music that is already shining so brightly.

Simply put, this orchestra in microcosm is comprised of individuals playing at the top of their game, collaborating with the common aim of creating independent music that is lush and engaging. And they succeed so admirably. Listen to the climax just before the coda on "Coughing Blood"; the way the high point drops away to the strings, and the way they oscillate to the end, winding out like some dying mechanism, is stunning.

Active as an all male unit since 2003, after a time together they gained a female member, which gave them the "womanly touch we were missing."

Their influences from musical and nonmusical standpoints are vast, given the large number of members. Musically, their tastes encompass everything from "Tom Waits to Sigur Ros and everything in between." Extramusical influences include literature, art, photography and the like.

Their goals as a band include reaching as many people as possible and continuous growth as artists. With a pool of talent this large and a visionary scope this all encompassing, their potential seems pretty near unlimited.

Check em out at:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sortiariae Mulier

Sortiariae Mulier is a band from Coppenhagen,Denmark.
Taking their name from a sixteenth century term for a certain kind of witch (Sortiariae Mulier- a woman who prophesies by lots, witch) is an immediate indication of the type of impression that this band conveys.

Coupled with this arcane terminology is the general aesthetic of the MySpace page.
Right in the upper left hand corner is a reproduction of a wood carving depicting what can only be hanging witches. Surrounding the hanging figures are various animals that appear to be familiars a figure in medieval costume sitting on a bench. The rest of the details on the page serve to reinforce the impression that the band gives off, which is one of black magic and doom.

In response to my usual round of questions, the band listed Pelican and Electric Wizard as influences. I can hear the influence of those bands distinctly. I also hear Black Sabbath, in terms of the riff style. Even the distortion has a Big Muff/Fuzzbox type of feel to it, and the band's whole vibe calls out to old school metal.

Sortiariae Mulier is a three piece, and know how to use the relative limitations of that configuration to create a massive, eneveloping sound. The absolutely seamless relationship between the guitar and bass is impressive. On every track of their player, the music is played with such focused rhythmic precision that the end result sounds like some sort of "basstar" or "guitass." I realize that what you just read is stupid, but it's the most succinct way I can describe the sound. Plus, "guitass" is funny in a juvenile way.

This band is something of a chameleon, managing to highlight different aspects of it's personality with each song, while still maintaining a cohesive aesthetic. The last song on the player, "Curled", almost reminds me of a heavier version of Alice In Chains. It has something to do with the shift in dynamics and phrasing that Paul, the guitarist/vocalist, uses, as well as the phrase structure in the riffing style.

My favorite song is "Rigor Dementia Mortis." There is so much attitude in the opening guitar part. Those muted, single picked notes phrophecy a storm. When I listen to it, I can picture myself bouncing around like a maniac at a show. My favorite part of the song is the constant oscillation between halftime and straight up four on the floor rock. The song itself is built out of simple elements, like the rest of the songs on the player. However, that simplicity is utilized for stunning effect, and that is the secret bit of magic that they possess.

Gyngor, the drummer, has a very subtle approach to his timekeeping. He has a deadon rhythmic feel, which allows him to be precise but completely relaxed. His beats are right in the pocket and attacked with precision, but his feel is so musical that it never sounds forced. He is also adept at playing expressively while giving Paul and Sonja (bass) plenty of space.
From their activity stream, I see that they have a couple of shows coming up in the near future. If you are a fan of doom rock with tons of bottom end, see this band. I guarantee it will be a blast.

Check 'em out at:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Richard Jay

Richard Jay is a 16 yr. old musician from Midlands, UK. His music is richly layered and highly synth based. There is something about the end result that is such a throwback to me; it reminds me of good eighties pop music, but filtered through a modern point of view. The end result is music that is quite mature and well-constructed.

Richard seems to have two sides to his musical personality; that could have something to do with the two tracks available on his Myspace player. He has indicated on his profile page that he removed "a load of good songs", so I take it on faith that he has a much more varied output than what is present.

The first track, "Today", is a tightly constructed synth pop tune that shows off his compositional flare. The song is well-written as well as being danceable and infectious. I can imagine that this would be great live. There's so much life to the music that it starts to grab hold of your limbs and move you while you're sitting in your seat.

His ear for the finer details of solid and inventive mainstream writing is highly in evidence. The arrangement is meticulous, as is the production. The boy has gone to school on that list of influences he has written down on his MySpace page, and in the process has found his style; his voice sounds fully formed to me.

For a song that is just under four minutes, a huge amount of musical activity takes place.
His ability to build drama as a setup for the climax is in evidence in the section just prior to the last chorus. All of the prior elements come together transformed into something huge, creating the peak of the whole form. The interplay of voices and instruments possesses a contrapuntal quality, almost fugal in it's construction, before bursting into the aforementioned last chorus.

The fact that the drums drop out for that whole section and only resume their relentless forward motion with the commencement of the last chorus increases the sense of satisfaction we feel upon arriving.

This is terriffic modern earcandy. It's the only way to describe it. It's definitely pop music in the strictest sense of the term, but it has an oldschool sense of craftsmanship. This isn't redundant, disposable proto-musak, but a perfect example of mainstream writing. It's completely accessible and thoroughly satisfying; if all mainstream music possessed this kind of vision and scope, I might listen to the radio more frequently.

The other song on the player, "A Way", represents a more introspective side of Richard's style. On the whole, I am not quite as satisfied by this offering as I am by the aforementioned song. Overall, it feels too short; the song ends just as it's about to develop. On top of that, the style he has chosen never interested me completely.

On the other hand, his ability to construct a singable melody is in evidence here, along with his sense of pacing and knowledge of songwriting in general. I just want a little more substance. In other words, this feels to me like a fragment full of possibility that needs to be realized.

So, for those of you out there who are looking for some high quality pop music, you should avail yourself of the opportunity to check out Richard Jay. Due to his age, one might conjugate their feelings for this young man's music using a future tense, but from what I can tell, he has already arrived.

Check him out at:

P.S.- I don't normally do this, but Richard asked me to include this link. It's for a musician named Calvin Harris. From what I could glean, he is popular in the UK, and he gives a shout out to Richard, who he says is his friend. So, if you're up for it, check out this link:

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sarah Tolar

Sarah Tolar is a veteran of the New York music scene whose technical facility as a composer and singer has resulted in an engaging debut full of warm, masterfully written music.

A New York transplant by way of Colorado and California, Sarah brings an eclectic sensibility to her songwriting. While definitely taking cues from the mainstream of the jazz tradition, she is also influenced by folk music and talented songwriters like Carole King. The end result is music that is thoroughly American in it's aesthetic, but drawing from a wide array of influences.

The first track, "Early Morning Stillness," sets the mood for the album and conveys it's emotional landscape in a very palpable way. When the track begins, we are met with a piano, upright bass, and drums played with brushes. The constant, steady stream of quarter note chords in the piano somehow manages to impart the feeling of the title while at the same time driving the rhythm forward and balancing out the longer rhythms in the bassline.

When we arrive at the next section, and the rhythmic profile and dynamics of the whole band changes and intensifies, it leaves you with the impression of the sun breaking into the sky and pushing the darkness away. The whole effect is beautiful.

My favorite track is "Somethin'". From one point of view, it's a traditional American piano ballad; from another, it's a modern take on a traditional form of songwriting. In terms of instrumentation, the song is deceptively simple, containing only vocals, piano, and a drumset, lightly caressed with a pair of brushes. It's akin to "Early Morning Stillness," but even more simplified.

What the seeming simplicity of the arrangement affords is a space for Sarah's voice to convey the emotive content of the music with a high degree of expression. At the beginning of the track we hear the band, but sparsely. The piano isn't providing accompaniment at first so much as just underpinning the vocals with static harmonies. As the song progresses, the intuitive rhythmic interplay between piano and voice is compelling, playing with the metre in a very fluid way.

Throughout the song, Sarah performs a feat of vocal dexterity, by being simultaneously completely present and in full command while also appearing to be completely alone and in a mode of high introspection, thinking about her loved one. The song has a sense of timelessness to it.

As a singer, Sarah is also accomplished. Her technique is impeccable. She has a full, bright tone that speaks clearly throughout her whole range. Her voice is strong without being overpowering, and she expresses herself fully without any sign of force or strain. Her style is thankfully devoid of that element of excessive breathiness that sometimes creeps into the singing of some vocalists. All in all, she is a consummate professional.

"Big Blue Moon" is an album that will appeal to fans of contemporary pop/jazz who are looking for something other than yet another rehashing of standards. Solid writing combined with beautiful singing combine to produce a stellar debut by a musician who deserves a huge amount of attention. Sarah Tolar is going places.

Check her out at: