Tycho Alba: Similar but Not Quite Like Tycho

Coming all the way from Colorado to grace The Replay Lounge is Tycho Alba. I’ll admit I couldn’t help but make a horrible wordplay on the artist Tycho in the title of this article. In reality the only similarities they share are something with Tycho in their names and tend to create ambient music.

Tycho Alba captures ambient music vibes and mixes it with atonal vocals (though I suspect at times the singer just missed the pitch) and synth elements reminiscent of 80’s electronic music. At times they varied on this by pulling from disco or jazz (and in one song power chords) in order to create a sound that I can only really describe as both playing into ambient music and a new wave revival. They also go as far as to create dissonance within their music while not compromising the tranquility of the music. One song in particular featured a very staccato rhythm with the smooth, connecting elements of ambient melodies. However, one of the pitfalls of ambient music is its monotony, and Tycho Alba can’t escape it. There were times where the songs sounded too much alike where, had they been played consecutively, I would have figured was a long song. However I think this band’s aware of this pitfall and at least came prepared to keep the audience’s attention.

As I’ve said in other reviews I find it hard to review an ambient performance. The point of the music is to be relaxing and trance-like. Playing at a venue that tends to be lively proves challenging, especially for music that provides a relaxing atmosphere. It can put a show at odds with the surroundings. These guys were able, from what I could see without a crowd, show some enthusiasm with their music They also joked a bit with audience and engaged further with special effects. At least, I think fog machines fall under special effects. Either way they used it, and boy did it release a lot of fog! The audience didn’t seem to mind, though.

The audience, in fact, seemed somewhat engaged. As I noted they gathered closely around the stage so I had a hard time watching the performance. There was a bit of cheering and applauding throughout, and it seemed fairly consistent with the exception of one or two songs. As I said, playing ambient music live can be tough, especially at a lively venue.

Overall Tycho Alba are able to add to ambient music by incorporating at times very dichotomous elements. Even though they still fall into the trappings of performing ambient music at times they still manage to captivate the audience as much as the genre is capable of doing.

 

Technique- 2.5

Presentation-1.5

Audience Interaction–1.5

Brownie Points-0.5

Total-6.0

Putting on a Show with Heidi Gluck and The Pony Show

As of late The Replay Lounge has some act where they play ambient music every time I visit. I’m not sure why that’s the trend, but I found myself catching a band who has Michelle Bacon (locals probably know her from quite a few other bands such as The Philistines). Since I’ve enjoyed other bands she’s played in I felt I was in for a treat. I learned some stuff after the performance when I went to research the band. Based on research it seems Heidi Gluck is a multi-talent solo act who recruited musicians for her live performances. I’m presuming then the songs are written by her and will address that aspect as such. In spite of this being more of a solo work I feel Heidi’s work is both unexpected and familiar.

I applaud Heidi Gluck for tying soothing ambient aspects and gritty alternative rock with vaudeville theatrics. I can’t recall if I’ve heard that combination before and I feel it’s pulled off well. She put a lot of thought into their sound and it’s a welcome change from the typical ambient music I’ve heard at The Replay Lounge lately. The weakest point musically came from not the unique blend, but the pitfalls of being creative: at some point one’s musical influences show up in one’s own work. Unfortunately the influences stand out too much and take the foreground periodically. There were times I felt the lyrics and other parts of musical composition were so familiar, as if they came from songs I’ve heard. I couldn’t tell if that was on purpose, but it detracts from the music for me. Pairing up what I suspect is an issue with composition is while aesthetically and creatively strong, lyrically they’re weak at times. While I do enjoy metaphors comparing love to target shooting –a metaphor fleshed out the entire song – I didn’t feel the juxtaposition lyrically added anything to the music.

I’m giving them leeway in the presentation aspect with some extra points because I had a hard time actually seeing them play. From what I could hear, though, there were moments where we got to see everyone on stage interact with the audience, such as the proud announcement for Heidi (for which I envy you). These little moments help bring out a performance. I do have one thing that I feel goes into this category that is important to note. I’d like to suggest rearranging the set list for venues like The Replay Lounge. In particular, while the audience may have been gathered around, at this venue there’s a lot competing for their attention. You are dealing with televisions, pinball machines, anything that’s going on out on the patio, and sometimes more. Starting off with ambient music when the set list contains other songs that are more energetic and unique are a disservice to the performance.

I couldn’t see how the band performed, but I did see how the audience reacted. The very fact they crowded the stage to watch is great. As I said, though, there’s more to a concert than performing well. It’s not just about great music and looking cool, it’s about actually getting the audience to engage with you as well. They were somewhat engaged early on, which was evidenced by cheering and clapping. It increased more when the music got less ambient and more vivacious.

I think there’s a lot of creativity and ambition in Heidi Gluck and she will go very far. Musically my only input is to make sure the creativity is paired with meaning and authenticity so the work will blend into something deeper and unique.

 

Technique-3

Presentation-1

Audience Interaction-1

Brownie Points-0.5

Total- 5.5

Overkill: 2/19 at The Granada

I’ll admit at the risk of whatever minuscule cred I had I was excited to learn Overkill was still around, as I thought they kind of faded away into obscurity. I was intrigued to learn they were touring and would end up in my neck of the woods. Then again, I’m usually intrigued when the midwest isn’t overlooked. These thrash metal veterans have been around since the 80’s, which is pretty much when thrash began. Overkill managed to avoid one of the things that more established bands suffer: a performance that’s caught in their glory days and presents a stale act. What I caught on stage was a band who didn’t act as some relic to the past, but ones who understood their history shaped who they are as performers.

This band manages to keep the old school elements of thrash metal while still keeping it fresh. It had the typical elements of thrash metal such as blast beats, fast tempos and, well, thrashing guitars. Where they tend to deviate from old school is they are willing to play with tempo and overall structure of the song,. It doesn’t randomly play in either a fast or moderato tempo as thrash metal tends to do. The lyrics, while a bit heavy on the end rhymes at times, delivered the right cadence and tone to match the genre. The music overall was paired with an electric performance.

These guys know how to put on a show. They were able to relate to the audience about their previous time stopping by the area and made it seem memorable. They also reminisced a bit about their time as a whole, but worked it in as a segue to other songs or psyching up the audience rather than ramblings of veteran musicians. This showed me how much thought and experience they have to balance that old school status without it appearing they’re trapped in nostalgia. They did, however, do some stuff that I didn’t like.

Overkill likes to build suspense, and I don’t know if it was because I knew what they were doing or if they overdid it that annoyed me. To me if felt like constant waiting. I was waiting for the set the finish checking things, I was waiting for the fog machine to deliver the right amount, I waited for the frontman to return to the stage after leaving during the interlude, I waited even more for the band to arrive on stage in the first place. I felt impatient and was wondering at some times how long I’d be left waiting again. I think, however, whatever the reason I grew impatient the payoff with the audience was enhanced despite my sentiment.

Everything about this band surged the audience into a frenzy. They were ready to thrash by the time Overkill hit the stage. It even got crazier with a few audience members sending questionable liquids flying. It got so out of hand the band had to ask people to calm down and lay off the flying liquids. Naturally a sex joke was made from it and laughter ensued. This showed me how much influence Overkill had and were aware of it. That is rare to find in a band, even experienced ones. By the end of the set the audience was calling for an encore. If it was an encore or planned manipulation I couldn’t say, but the audience felt like it was one and loved it.

Overkill has taken years of experience as musicians and performers to create an act that is still powerful and emotionally charged. In combining those experiences and willingness to be open to the audience they know the audience will be open to them and enjoy themselves. I’m not sure I can repeat myself anymore so I’ll cut to the score:

Technique-3.75

Presentation-2.75

Audience Interaction-3

Brownie Points-0

Total- 9.5

Nile: 2/19/17 at The Granada

I’ll admit when I first researched Nile and found out they’re a metal band that blends Ancient Egyptian aspects I had my doubts. Based on my personal experience such combinations don’t work out well. It tends to be hoakey or the synthesis is clunky and incomplete. As a Kemeticist with a strong bias I knew it was going to make me a hard sell. When I saw Nile perform, however, those doubts faded and the bias moved in the other direction.

One of things I really appreciate is their blend of Ancient Egyptian aesthetics with metal in a way that felt natural. While most recognize their combination of passages from Ancient Egyptian works, namely the Book of the Dead, I recognized other elements commonly associated with Ancient Egyptian music may have sounded like (no known Ancient Egyptian musical notation survives, so most of the elements of Ancient Egyptian music are guesses). Such elements where instruments mimic the sistrum (I didn’t see one in use, so I’m assuming cymbals were used instead) really tied it together with sparing use in ways that aren’t overbearing and don’t compromise the metal aspects. I personally appreciated how it was a true blend of ideas rather than Ancient Egyptian music randomly interjected into death metal. Everything was meticulous with drawing emphasis to the Ancient Egyptian passage. The rhythm even emphasized certain phrases with accents or employed dissonance to create the necessary build up really complimented the overall work. This is probably the only way Nile deviates from the Ancient Egyptian aspects, as Ancient Egyptians were really big on balance, and anything that could promote discord was avoided. It still works.

Musically Nile really blended the Ancient Egyptian aspects with metal, but on stage they’re metal. I’ll admit the Kemeticist in me hoped they would greet the audience with “em hotep”, but that would be impractical and hamming it up a little. Regardless of my desires Nile still showed a lot of love for the audience. They made a point to not only give a shout out to Overkill, but to Whoracle and pretty much everyone. It even felt like sincere appreciation. They certainly needed grace as, like Whoracle, their songs were subjected to the lights flickering at seizure-inducing rates. They worked with it and brought not only typical metal fanfare of headbanging but fist pounding and getting the audience as excited as they seemingly were.

Nevertheless the music and stage mannerisms were well received by the audience. Almost from the very beginning of the set Nile had the audience wrapped around their little finger. There were metal horns, headbanging, moshing, and just all around moshpit frenzy during the first song all the way to the last. I feel like at any point they could have even persuade the audience to do anything they desired. I can’t remember the last time I saw metalheads act like that at a concert, if ever. I’m genuinely impressed.

Biases aside Nile blends elements that are diametrically opposed elements in a way that brings out the best in both. As performers they deliver in stage persona and energetic enthusiasm that permeates the audience. Here’s how they scored:

Technique: 3.5

Presentation: 2.75

Audience Interaction: 3

Brownie Points: 0

Total: 9.25

Whoracle: 2/19/16 at The Granada

I confess that many times there isn’t a lot of love for frontliners at concerts. There are various reasons for it, which I won’t get into as to avoid unintended insinuations. What I will say is Whoreacle did fit in well with the lineup and justified its presence among well known bands. While they had some grittiness and punk undertones it only helped Whoracle to stand out on their own.

The musical style of Whoracle, while styled as melodic death metal, seemed influenced by punk more than the usual band of this genre. One of the things I noticed was how heavily driven the songs were by the bass. At first I thought it was the usual PA system problems at the Granada (it tends to not be friendly towards metal and punk genres as those genres tend to have music more focused on midranges rather than low ranges) but I was able to rule it out by moving to other spots and with other sets. It is fairly unique to hear that in a metal band, though their compositions overall felt like it didn’t really fit the melodic death metal label. I get the impression they’re still pretty young as a band (not necessarily as musicians) given a clear divide in the music composition (and I’m surprised to see they’ve been around for quite a few years.  More on that later) . The earlier stuff follows a formula of blast beats with punk influence, an abrupt break down, then as abruptly returning to bass and drum laden composition. The newer songs offer smoother transitions and even change up the formula by combining parts of the formula to create a new one, while still maintaining the heavy bass and drum aesthetics. The development of the new music was noticed by the crowd and they seemed to like it as they moshed and overall got into the music more. That said, I feel like being the frontliner wasn’t the only whammy Whoracle had to face.

As I keep stressing being a frontliner, let alone one at the Granada , isn’t easy. Frontliners have to work with a crowded stage and, because they’re the frontliners, a rather disinterested audience. They also had the disadvantage of the engineers trying to match the lights to the rhythms, which doesn’t work well with blast beats. Instead it came off disorienting and headache inducing, and that’s if the person handling the lights can keep rhythm (which they failed to do). Regardless the band tried to make it work once they got comfortable on the very cramped stage. I will give leeway since navigating a stage full of other band’s equipment and your own is difficult enough.  The way it took them quite a ways into their set to allow themselves to get into their own music and even crack a few jokes lead me to believe they’re still fairly green as a band.  It even felt a bit awkward where it felt like they spent more time gathering a feel for the stage and audience rather than being comfortable as artists, which lead me to believe they were newer than what they were.  Now knowing they’ve been around long enough as a band where this should be established yet haven’t done so, I’m not giving them leeway in that respect.

Despite their awkwardness on stage they managed to get the audience to warm up to them. It was gradual but more noticeable as the set went on. The audience responded to their newer music better than the older stuff. Some of that response, however, is factoring in the comfort level of the band onstage. In fact the audience enjoyed the band so much by the end they called for an encore. It also helped the band to have some of their familiar fans cheering them on. I honestly have mixed feelings about it. I suspect most know the band on a personal level (based on some of the shouts where specific names were called out) and were there as moral support; in some respect that makes the audience interaction a bit disingenuous, but I also understand from a performer’s standpoint how that can help a performance to feel like someone isn’t judging you. It also can help the audience warm up to a band that isn’t quite known and invoke some group mentality to cheer them on. Since I can’t discern the real motive I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that it’s moral support.

Until I researched Whoracle I honestly thought they were newer than what they were. I now conclude they either haven’t played on stage enough to develop more experience– in spite of being around for years– or they’re in the process of expanding creatively.  Once they develop their sound a bit more and get more experience on stage I think I’ll see them around much more. On that note here’s the score:

Technique: 2.5

Presentation: 1

Audience Interaction:1.5

Brownie Points: 0

TOTAL: 6

 

 

Picking It Up…Again

I’m sure all 8 of my readers wondered what happened to me and why i dropped off the face of the earth.  I’ll keep the sob story short and vague.

Life showed up and it took longer than expected to handle it.

I pretty much have it under control now and will go back to reviewing in February.   Watch my blog for upcoming posts.

In addition to that I’m toying with something I’ve considered back in the early 00’s: web videos.  That will be delayed for a minute as a seek out a camera to handle my brand of ugly and sort out the content of said videos.  Right now I’m considering my musician spotlight posts as well as a few other ideas.  Your input is also welcome.

This post is short, but I figured to the point is best for this matter.  Keep watching for more posts and see you soon!

 

 

 

Album Review: “Schemata” by Ideamen

Ideamen got a hold of me recently and asked if I wanted to review their upcoming album. Having never reviewed an album I’ve wanted to go that direction, though admittedly I wanted to have a better understanding of music production before I tried. I decided to take a crack at it anyway. My knuckles are cracked, my brain is semi-activated, and I have matcha ready. Let’s do this.

ideamenschemata

Ideamen’s second album “Schemata” is a mix of jazzy swings mixed with the carefree demeanor of radio rock with hints of progressive elements throughout. The album at times is satirical, commentary, free-spirited, but always cohesive about conflict inherent to the human condition. Though at times some of these elements serve to be rather cacophonous and disadvantageous aesthetically, the catchiness at times makes up for it. I’ll break it down with each song to demonstrate what I mean.

 

The album starts off with “Prologue” and “Red in the Sky”. The listener is offered an interesting introduction that mixes the sound of space-age effects, dark tones, and with little warning into a light, alternative style. I feel in many ways “Prologue” certainly does its job an not only an introduction but as an overture. For the rest of the track the tone switches from the light, faced paced to the dark, slower, somber tones albeit with little transition between the styles. I’m not sure why this is, though I suspect it’s to serve as something of dualistic themes or at least alludes to some conflict where transitions could muck up some of the expression of said conflict. The reason I think the latter has to do with some of the dissonant chords used throughout the second song. Regardless it doesn’t lend much to the pieces other than a sense of clunky songwriting.

 

The third song “Momenta” is a contrast to the possible themes in the previous two songs. I found it lyrically lacking, as I felt it resorted to some cliché expressions offset with phrases seemingly social commentary in nature that don’t quite fit together. I could overlook the lyrics as everything else made it catchy and entertaining. It starts off as well with the same space-age effects but then breaks into driving beats and bright toned chord progressions. Unlike the previous two songs there are more transitions and the space music effect progresses as both a theme and as a transition at times. It gives the impression one is moving towards something (which I suspect is what the song was trying to do given its title).

 

I personally felt “Running Home” was the song that showcases the styles where this band feels most at home. The song starts off with an easy jazz riff that, while continued as a theme through the song, didn’t feel too contrived or forced. Other themes such as the distortions were well placed to add to the song and overall feel of the album. It felt like more of the space-age effects were more purposeful rather than arbitrary placed for how cool it sounds. In fact, more with this song felt purposeful: there were drum beats to draw emphasis to certain phrases sung; the transitions were less abrupt and awkward; the guitar distortions even compliment the space-age effects; and while the lyrics were cheesy at times they were catchy. If there was any song from the album that would get radio air play it would be this one.

 

In a way “Bad Apple” feels like a song meant to compliment “Momenta”, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. It has the similar genres blended, they have a similar tempo, similar elements of combining cliché lyrics with something slightly more, similar stylistic changes in the middle of the song, all of which gives it the same feel. Even though I noticed these elements there are some major differences. The time signature is more complex (or at least more noticeably complex) than “Momenta” seems to have. It also, to me, evokes the earlier theme of conflicting ideas. I see this with the opening bell in the beginning of the song, not to mention the increasing tempo in the song whenever the lyrics take an aggressive tone. To me it evokes more of the idea of conflict with how chaotic the song gets towards the end, which is something I really enjoy.

 

While the other songs left some impression on me I’m kinda disappointed with “Two Complaints”. Everything that the song seems to have going on with it should leave me more satisfied that what I am objectively, even though I enjoy it on a personal level. I do like that something more is developing with the conflict of two ideas, which to me seems like it’s about freedom versus “order”, dreams versus reality (at least that’s what I’m thinking. I’ve been wrong before, and this would be no exception) type of stuff. Beyond that I did like how the sense of resolve in the song is complimented with power chords. I also enjoyed the bookending, though I’m not sure what purpose it serves within the song. I guess a few more listens on my part will make things come together…

 

Where “Two Complaints” was lacking “Off Is A Crime” makes up for it. The first thing I noticed and loved are the complex rhythm and time structures of the song to emphasize how things are “off”. I also enjoyed how the song bookends the phrase, “Do what you want, I’ll be watching.” It’s done quite well and changes meaning compared to when it’s used in the beginning. There was something that I’m iffy about with this song. I’m not sure what the tons of sociopolitical commentary was supposed to do, other than denounce the current pop culture. Admittedly while fun to criticize it’s overdone. I do appreciate, though, how they comment on how it’s not easy to break free from the everyday trappings used to distract us. Regardless the elements of progressive rock combined with sociopolitical commentary lend a bit of a Frank Zappa feel to the song.

 

In continuing the repetition of themes “Brainchild” is an elaboration of the “Prologue”, only now the listener has a stronger understanding of what’s going on musically and through storytelling. I’m not sure there is much to add to this song as I pretty much covered some of it already. I will say it does expand quite a bit with the synthesizer and space-age effects. It also takes this opportunity to inform the listener the exact nature of the Brainchild and the role it plays in the dystopia where the aforementioned musical effects emphasize. In this way it comes off like “A Night at the Opera” and “The Epic of Zektbach”, which is effective for this song. By doing so the song is expanded into a rhapsody and ties together storytelling with the musical concepts bouncing around the album. In this respect the song fully captures the heart of the album.

 

It seems the album takes a creative turn and deviates almost completely from the themes presented. The song “Downtown Crier” takes on a radio alternative feel but with stronger vocal harmonies and more focus on chord progressions. The darker melodic tones of this song really convey the sense of confusion and angst in the lyrics. The song otherwise keeps it relatively simple which works very well given how complex the previous song was. It gives the listener a chance to appreciate the song for what it is.

 

The off-key moments followed by a return to harmony sums up “This Dog Rolled Over and Died” as the album returns to some of the original themes of conflict. Added to this litany of themes is the constant reminder of the ease of surrendering, as well as how easily things end. The dissonance of chords, harmonies, and themes result in an overload of cacophonous sounds. Ultimately this creates a feel of disconnect and inertness with bouncy interludes, which makes the song catchy and enjoyable.

 

Minor keys and funk converge and create an interesting song called “Into the Sunrise”. That’s not the only thing this song offers to make it interesting and layered. Melodic and exotic tones compliment the funk and alternative influences in this song. This is another song which I would expect to hear on the radio, though not as likely as “Running Home”. In a lot of ways this song compliments the aforementioned song topically, especially in the ways how the lyrics mention experiencing life rather than living vicariously.

 

Ending the album is “Dead Utopia”. The listener is treated to grandiose movements tempered with alternative melodies and experimental sounds. The album wraps up things in a way which allows the listener to effectively figure out how everything resolves in a grand, yet subdued (compared to the rest of the album anyway), finale. While it does convey the nature of the song’s quiet, casual resolution I’m not sure if that’s really how the album should end. On one hand the opposing idea of grandiose movements and at times suppressed volume capture the sentiment of surrendering to the outcome well. It’s as if the speaker is coming to terms with things, if only with himself. It doesn’t come off as quite a monologue nor a soliloquy given the way the music builds up in movements and at times volume. On the other hand I think there are too many dualistic ideas going on where such endings deserve a stronger statement aesthetically. I’m not sure all the themes were properly resolved in this manner. If that’s intentional, then I think it needs to be more pronounced in the lack of resolution. Otherwise the album ends softly and almost in a dissatisfying manner.

 

The album “Schemata” combines styles one expects to hear on the radio and less conventional forms of music adding sometimes tongue-in-cheek social commentary. The repetition of themes and musical forms reflect on the current issues of – as I see it – dependency on technology and social media while ironically building an album around the very things denounced. In this way the album comes off as self-aware as well as aware of social issues of disconnect. Unfortunately in trying to convey these very issues through at times disjointed transitions and bombarding the listener with these concepts repeatedly it grows tiresome and at times unclear in its message, especially in the beginning. If this is the desired result then Ideamen accomplished this well. Otherwise listeners who don’t put much stock into what some no-bit music critic thinks will enjoy it for its social commentary and experimental elements. The sometimes awkward dissonance on multiple levels throughout the album provides its own charm that most listeners can enjoy.

 

 

Rating: 3.25/4

 

 

You can find “Schemata” and other tidbits by Ideamen on their website, facebook, twitter, and other sites.