Michael Tolcher‘s music career had an inauspicious start: busking on Atlanta’s Peachtree Street and hawking tapes recorded on a jambox in his bathroom. Years later, Tolcher’s upgraded his game just a little. After a five-year relationship with A&M/Octone Records, the singer-songwriter is now free to fully explore his art. His music is a reflection of these broadened horizons, and ranges from rootsy rock to synth-driven pop. Fine layers synths and drums for a mid-tempo groove that’s got hooks to spare. On Give Me Your Hand Tolcher slows things down for an acoustic, soulful love-song, made for slow dancing. Likewise, Wishing Well is sweet, maybe even saccharine, acoustic balladry. Tolcher can keep his songs sparse, but he also knows how to flesh them out. On Sooner or Later he brings in organ, guitar and drums for a syncopated rocker. Tolcher’s doing it his way, and the results are one-of-a-kind. But we’d still like to see the jambox make a comeback.
Natalie Major is, if anything, well traveled. Raised in Chicago, the singer-songwriter moved to New York at nineteen, and currently resides in Los Angeles. But not all roads lead to major metropolitan areas. In Good Intentions she warns that the ones paved with good intentions can sometimes lead to hell. The song is a nice introduction to Major’s powerful vocals. Pared-down instrumentation”just quiet synths and drums”puts her torchy, soulful voice front and center. On Beautiful Life, Major could be Natasha Bedingfield, singing strident, feel-good mantras against shuffling, acoustic-laden pop. But on Monster she shows her bad side. Chunky, distorted guitars set an aggressive tone without eroding the song’s mainstream pop sheen. I’ve never really seen this side of me / Don’t know how to make it stop, she sings. Our opinion? Don’t.
The members of Ringer T began playing together in middle school, before life led each member to different corners of the country. But diaspora hasn’t slowed them down. With four full-lengths under their belt, the band is holding steady. And the fruits of their long distance relationship are pretty impressive. Walk It Straight is an easy, approachable melody that has a weary sweetness a la Wilco, Grandaddy or Nada Surf. It’s mellow stuff, but still packs an emotional wallop. In The Easy Road the band carefully layers sparse piano and acoustic guitar for a purist approach to longing. Let Me Be Your Man is more plugged in, but not by much. With electric guitars, drums and a male back-up chorus, the band engineers a rousing love song that will rattle your heart. If anything, Ringer T shows that wearing your emotions on your sleeve can be pretty badass.
When Darling Parade couldn’t find a genre that described their sound to their liking, they took matters into their own hands and invented one. It’s called popcore, and for the uninitiated, it sounds a lot like emo-pop”the kind of music you’d expect to find on Fueled By Ramen. And although they may not appreciate the comparison, Darling Parade has a lot in common with acts like Paramore and Flyleaf. Each band softens their aggression with soaring female vocals. On Never Wrong, guitars run wild, alternating from chunky, buzzsaw riffs to urgent peals while singer Kristin Kearns powers through with her impressive pipes. You’ll find this dichotomy of ferocity and femininity throughout all the band’s songs, from the polyrhythmic What You Want to the galvanizing Take This City. Popcore, emo, rock”the label doesn’t really matter. Just crank it up and you just might feel young and reckless again.
Like the French duo Justice, whose single DVNO seems to serve as the inspiration for their name, D.V.N.O. want you to dance. But unlike Justice, the Floridian band isn’t going to lure you to the floor with big disco-electro beats. They do it the old fashioned way, with guitars, drums, and energy that’s off the Richter. You & I Together is a manic jitterbug of gritty guitars, rock steady drums, and adenoidal vocals (think Steve Bays from Hot Hot Heat). Stylistically, D.V.N.O. walks the line between gutsy dance rock and emotionally charged pop-punk, a combination of Taking Back Sunday, The Strokes, and The Black Kids. On the emo end of the scale you have tracks like the turbulent One Last Time. But with Dance With Me it’s back to what the band does best: frantic, percussive rock with a lot of heart. Lovelorn spazzes, manic dreamers”this one’s for you.
Whatever it is about the late ˜60s era of rock and roll, we just can’t seem to shake it out of our collective psyche. Bands like Cream and Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath have endured beyond their years, inspiring endless bands in their wake. The Feens, from Hamburg, Pennsylvania, are one of such bands. Their bluesy, psychedelic rock is bottom heavy with reverb-drenched harmonies to give it lift. Potent stuff. Space Van lures the listener into a heady brew of guttural guitars and psychedelic vocals. Strange kicks off with ropy guitars, settling into a bluesy groove, while Find Another Love adds a funk element into the mix. The Feen’s most ambitious track is probably the dark and stormy Nebula, where guitars gallop helter skelter over scales. It’s RUSH meets Cream”groove-centric prog that takes you someplace you’ve never known. That is, unless you lived through the ˜60s.