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The Album Leaf – A Chorus of Storytellers (2010)

A Chorus of Storytellers by The Album Leaf

We may not be far into 2010 yet, but if “A Chorus of Storytellers” isn’t going to make the ‘best of’ lists at the end of the year, that would really surprise me. As we are used to with The Album Leaf, the album is filled with melancholy, emotions and various soundscapes. They don’t try to make it more than it is, they just deliver. “A Chorus of Storytellers” is even more impressive than its predecessor “Into The Blue Again”, which already was an album that deserved both thumbs up.

The songs are rich and full and draw you in a little more by each note that enters your ears. The band uses subtle electronica and interesting sound bases to build up the songs layer by layer, and everytime they add a layer to the song it becomes more intriguing and more captivating. The real beauty lies in how they can still keep the songs simple and provocative. That is where the real secret of this band can be found, cause that is why the songs are so suitable to connect to and to be taken in completely.

“A Chorus of Storytellers” consists of 11 songs that each have their own feel, yet all of them have The Album Leaf signature. From opener Perro to closer Tied Knots, this album is one solid peace of musical excellence. Highlights would be Blank Pages, Stand Still and especially Summer Fog. I will also have to mention Until The Last as one of the album’s strongest tracks.

You can see I already mentioned quite a few tracks on this album, which shows it’s hard to choose what is my favorite. While I think the epic feel and solid and direct interaction Summer Fog creates is the very peak of this album, there is so much more music to enjoy on this album. Even though this band isn’t very big on lyrics, the music really speaks to you, and in the end music is emotion, something The Album Leaf is getting loud and clear!

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Helen Earth Band – Our Own Ghost City (2009)

Helen Earth Band - Our Own Ghost City

I crossed paths with the pleasant rock & roll of Helen Earth Band because of an unsuspected e-mail. I was curious and let the music do its magic. And I must say that I liked what I found very much. “Our Own Ghost City” is a tight CD with spunky, passionate rock & roll and solid deliveries.

There are 13 songs that offer variety, energy and creativity. There are more uptempo songs, there are really catchy songs, there are songs that are more paced down, so whatever way you like. The songwriting may sometimes be a little conservative, but the band makes up in enthusiasm and execution.

“Our Own Ghost City” is an album that I play in my stereo with pleasure and while I imagine the album doesn’t completely capture the band’s live energy and passion, it still manages to excite me and make me want to listen to more Helen Earth Band songs.

So, will this album mean a breakthrough for Helen Earth Band? I doubt it. But it may very well open up new doors to new paths that might lead to a breakthrough. The album draws you in a little more with each listen, which is definitely a good thing. With a little growing and more experience I have a feeling this band can become a much more prominent name in the modern music industry.

Starting off with Shakencutt, the album is off to a pretty good start. The pointy rock & roll track mixes energy with paced down tempos and that contrast really works for the song. Fifteen Sixteen is one of my favorite songs on the album and I think it might have some radio potential also as it is quite catchy and when played a tiny bit faster it would make a splendid live song too.

Speaking of good live songs, Planemo, is very suited for live performances. It has energy, it has a very cool groove and it actually quite danceable too. One of the album’s top tracks. The smoother Life As A Passenger is very interesting and shows a more melodic side of the band that really comes forward nicely. They continue with Loud Enough To Locate which has a few really cool hooks and recognizable little parts in the melody. At first sight it may not be the most logical choice for a single, but I think it could actually do quite well.

The band shows a little more alternative powerpop/rock & roll sound on Empty Hand and it works very well. Great rhythm, good energy, excellent track. Would love to hear this one live. (We All) Talk With Knives isn’t my favorite on the album, but I have to admit it has a smooth flow and is actually quite catchy. Personally I think this track misses a little punch and excitement compared to some of the other tracks on the album. And Lullaby, which is up next doesn’t really keep me captivated either. It’s a nice change of pace and I do appreciate the build up and I like the vocals, but the song itself isn’t the most memorable on the album, even though the song’s finale is quite impressive.

The next song’s ironically called The Silence, because the spunky rock & roll track is played with balls and I love the energy in this song. It has a good groove and a nice rhythm and once it gets going, it is very convincing. The title track, Our Own Ghost City, is a track that grows on you. It took me several listens to hear all the subtleties and musical avenues in this song. The almost epic build up is impressive and the song is growing in energy with every note. One of the album’s highlights.

The more emotional laden Seventeen was one of the songs that I instantly liked. It might be an instrumental intermezzo but it does reach out to the listener, which is what it’s all about. I Won’t Wake Up is one of those tracks that I think would come across a lot better when you hear it live. I can hear the song’s potential but I am not entirely sure it is coming out entirely on the album track. The final track, Retain, I like. The clapping along in the track really helps to get the rhythm in your head and the strong vocal performance and overall feel of the song make for a suitable ending to this interesting album.

In short, “Our Own Ghost City” is a very promising album by a band that has all the goods and can deliver on it. To be commercially successful, the band might need to polish up things slightly here and there without losing themselves and their sound in the process. The groovy, laid-back rock & roll feel the band portrays on the album is something I appreciate a lot and I’m hoping the band will take a few risks on their next release and with a bit of luck and the right amount of promotion I think there might be cause to open the champagne sooner rather than later.

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Dynamite Walls – Stay Awake [EP]

Stay Awake by Dynamite Walls

Dynamite Walls is a cool indie rock band from San Diego. Their previous album “The Blinding Lights Above” was a great listen and I’m very curious to hear what they can show us on this brand new EP.

“Stay Awake” features 6 well-balanced songs with a pointy edge and fun attitude. While it’s only a short album it still shows variety and creativity. But most of all I think it just shows a lot of musicality and class.

The EP starts out with the uptempo That Girl (Out of Control) which is a nice pointy pop/rock song that would make a good radio single. It’s fun to listen to and to sing along to. (or shout along to if you’re not such a good singer, haha). After that we hear the title track Stay Awake which took me a little longer to really get used to. I like the cool indie vibe to this song. It kind of feels like the song is pushing itself along, which is not a bad thing. It gives the song kind of a special signature sound that grows on you if you take the time to sit down and listen to this. A true album track.

Obvious radio single Kiss & Ride is up next. It was on the previous album also, but sounds even better this time. The chorus is amazing, as it just takes you along. It’s like The Fray mixed with a little Jimmy Eat World and then topped off in the Dynamite Walls specialty. I really enjoy this song. Blood On My Hands is probably my least favorite track on this EP, yet I still am really feeling it. So that’s a sign this is quite a strong EP. The song’s very uptempo and carries along with a steady beat and infectious rhythm. It would make a very cool live song.

Mystery is a song that some people might need some time to get used to, with its insanely cool indie sound and mysterious vibe. However, that’s the part that immediately intrigued me. And as it leads into the more melodic chorus, the song comes to full bloom. I like the raw edge to it as well as the changing rhythm throughout the song and the way this thing is such an organic and interesting whole.

The EP ends with Ain’t That Special which was also the closer on their previous album. It was a splendid way to end that album, and it still is a splendid closing track. The acoustic track just gives you that sense of close connection. And the raw but excellent harmonizing vocals are just a thing of beauty. At some points it reminds me of early Beatles a little bit. Might take a little imagination, but I can hear it.

“Stay Awake” is an excellent follow-up to “The Blinding Lights Above” and Dynamite Walls is a band that is very close to a break through. The music is commercially attractive (especially That Girl and Kiss & Ride) and it has a cool and somewhat original groove to it, that could really speak to people. With the right kind of marketing and promotion I feel there’s a very bright future for this band. I know I will be keeping an eye out for what will happen with Dynamite Walls. And so should you!

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Republic of Letters – Painted Hour
Spring/Summer 2010
Independent Release

Republic of Letters - Painted Hour

Click on image to preview tracks

A few years ago, Republic of Letters impressed me with a nice debut EP called “Spirt or a Ghost”. It only contained a few rounded, well-written indie pop/rock songs, slightly reminiscent of bands like Feeder, Switchfoot, Snow Patrol, Idlewild and the likes and I could already hear enormous potential in this young band back then.

They now return with their official debut album, “Painted Hour”, which is pretty much as perfect as a debut album can be. All the songs have an emotional connection, lyrical and musical depth, passionate performance and the album fits together like one big package.

The band has a strong live reputation in the San Diego area. They bring a high level of musicality and sophistication and mix it with emotion, energy and enthusiasm. It’s a combination you’d like to see in every single band. But there are only so many bands who can really pull off this kind of quality. Republic of Letters in one of those few bands.

Lost Chord
The opener, Lost Chord, is an uptempo pop/rock song that would make a killer radio single. The chorus is easy to remember and easy to sing along to. There is a lyrical depth that makes you interpret the song whatever way you please so it is a song that many people can connect to. The music has the right intensity and it’s one of those tracks that might just speak to you if you are willing to listen.

Stories
Stories is a more anthemic track, with highly intense vocals. There also is a certain rawness to this song which makes it an excellent live song as well. If you listen really well, you might hear something reminiscent of old school U2 even. It has the same atmosphere and epic feel to it.

Entre Chien Et Loup
Uptempo again with Entre Chien... It’s a song that grows on you more and more everytime you hear it. It has a recognizable, yet quite alternative edge. The exact right mix of pop, rock and ‘indie’ that will speak to the fans of the respective genres. The tempo, combined with the passionate performance of the song makes this song a dark horse when it comes to possible radio success.

Long Way Down
Long Way Down is one of the album’s best songs. Great guitar work and vocally close to perfect. People will tend to disagree with this statement, but it’s the little trembles and breaks that make it perfect to me. It just adds so much emotion. And a lot of the song’s strength lies in the timing. It is spot on all through the song. From the sing along chorus to the intense bridge, this song just has it all.

Running From
On Running From, Republic of Letters eases a little on the intensity. The keys are a nice feature in this song as they provide good support for the vocals. Lyrically it probably is one of the strongest tracks on the album, and it’s another song that no one will have trouble connecting to. The way the verses lead up to the recognizable chorus, make this song yet another one to be proud of.

Karma
This song needed a little time to convince me. From the grungy intro Karma leads into an alternative indie track that makes an amazing live song. While the chorus is actually quite catchy and the high intensity and uptempo characteristics of the song will make it stick, it is not really an obvious choice to release to radio. Its alternative edge and grungy feel are quite specific for radio airplay.

Painted Hour
The title track is my absolute favorite on this record. It has a steady beat and melodically it is simply wonderful. The lyrics speak to me and musically it just reaches me. “and I’m just a shadow amongst the few on this one way road”. That’s just sheer brilliance. Everytime I hear this song I am deeply impressed.

Sounds of Fury
I just love the drums in Sounds of Fury. And also the way Venti sings “the sounds, the sounds, the sounds .. of fury now”. There’s a certain tension, a certain excitement in this song. It makes for an incredible build up and a powerful performance of an excellent indie song. I can imagine this to be an excellent live song also.

Endless Drive
Endless Drive might be slightly more pop-oriented, yet it still has that distinct alternative edge (or indie feel if you will). It’s quite round in its melody and the more often I hear it, the more I can see this as a radio hit. It reminds me of other things I hear on the radio, perhaps only better.

Runaway
If there is one track on this album that I connect to a little bit less it probably is Runaway. But the rhythm (I love the drums) and the excellent vocals and energy, make me wonder about the live version of this song. There’s a bit of mystery within this song that is masterfully contained so you only get a peek of it and remain interested in the song.

Kate
This song is the one that I have the biggest emotional connection to. The first time I heard this one I actually shed a couple tears. It reminded me of certain times, places and events in my life. Things I hold dear but things that caused hurt as well. In a way it connects these things for me and the passionate, powerful yet subtle performance of this song completely speaks to me. And everytime I find a band that writes a song like this, a song I can connect to so much, I know that this is a band that I will be a fan of for the rest of my life.

This review might be a little colored because I am very taken by this band’s music. But I would say that it is just that what makes music special. The personal connections and emotions that you feel with music. The memories, the feelings, the way it makes you look at things. It’s that personal bond you forge with certain music that makes it special to you. With “Painted Hour” I have made that rare connection that you can only make with a limited amount of albums. And this is why I feel this album is one that should be heard. Because I hope that others will find the same understanding and comfort in it that I do.

On top of that, the album is very sound musically, and for a debut album it is highly impressive. Excellent debut!

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Republic of Letters, an alternative/indie rock band hailing from San Diego, CA, are releasing their official debut album “Painted Hour” in 2010. I’ve had the privilege of hearing the album in advance and I promise you that after their very impressive EP “Spirit and a Ghost”, this new album is one of the best debut albums I have heard in years. Their sound should appeal to fans of bands like Switchfoot, Snow Patrol, Coldplay, U2, Fiction Plane, The Killers, Saybia, Idlewild, Feeder, Jimmy Eat World and bands with a somewhat similar sound. The songwriting is of very high quality and the emotional layers are plentiful. With certain radio hits “Lost Chord”, “Painted Hour”, “Sounds of Fury” and possibly “Kate”, they have an album that is both artistically complete and commercialy viable. One of the best young bands I have the privilege of knowing and calling my friends, Republic of Letters is bound to break through in the year to come, and it very well might be an international breakthrough.

If you’re in the San Diego, CA area, be sure to check out this amazing band, because they bring an added electrical and energetic spirit to their live shows that is very impressive. It’s a bonus experience you will not forget.

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