Steady Skies rides the line between the arena and the front porch. They’re musicians who dole out poppy hooks and plucky banjos in equal measure; a rock band that flirts with country. Start your introduction with Remember When, a driving melody pushed along by the deep ripple of bass, bright spears of guitars, and the slight country cadence of singer Tyler McCuen. That song’s mid-tempo musings give way to more apocalyptic imagery on the doleful Church Bells. I hear church bells ringing in the city streets / Crowds of people falling on their knees, McCuen sings over wailing guitars. If thinking about the end of the world is too much of a buzzkill, skip to Waiting For. There, existential anxieties”bursting dams and falling skies”are wrapped up in an ambling, country-spun melody. When in doubt, a spoonful of banjo can help the melancholy go down.
Hollywood Boulevard is where legends leave their names. All along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, entertainment icons share the same stretch of concrete: Michael Jackson; Diana Ross; Billy Joel. Just a stone’s throw away, an artist by the name of D. Hollywood (the D is for dirty) is plotting his own rise. A multi-instrumentalist, daredevil, and eccentric, Hollywood’s bombastic personality is inextricable from his rakish style of west coast rock. My Name Is Love is made up of lurching, low-throttle guitars, synths, and Hollywood’s wild child lyricism. My name is love and I’m a liar he sneers. Drums and vocals provide the meat of Chutes and Ladders. It’s lo-fi, extra dirty rock delivered in lashes. But Hollywood’s greatest moment comes in On Fire, an impossibly catchy anthem with big, swaggering guitars. I’m going out tonight, gonna set the world on fire, he promises. We believe him.
There’s something about the music of Really Old Airplanes that reminds one of old nautical towns with their creaking buildings, eccentric townsfolk and a salt-cured way of life. Or maybe that’s just us. But there’s no arguing the fact that the Tacoma band’s music is steeped in a sort of roughshod romance. Armed with an unusual assortment of instruments”ukulele, keyboards, bass, drums, cello and bells”Really Old Airplanes lead you into a world of slightly disheveled, bright-eyed melodies. Perennials wheezes and twinkles with bells and accordion. Singer Kory Mathis delivers a swaying, sing-a-long chorus that could bring a tear to any drunkard’s eye: Shoulder to shoulder, it’s over and we’ve met our end. Pleasantries holds you in thrall with fluid, fluttering strings, horns and croaking keys. Likewise Crown, with its big, swirling constellation of keyboards and harpsichord, casts its own sort of folk magic. Fans of Neutral Milk Hotel, Beirut or Decemberists”you’re gonna wanna get all up on this.
There’s a sort of quiet desperation that permeates the music of Timothy Bracken and yields songs that are pitch perfect for restless nights. The West Virginian manages to conjure a lot of feeling out of just a couple instruments”namely keyboards, acoustic guitars and drums”to create a collection of sleepy-eyed slacker anthems. Overflowing is dreamy, multi-tracked bliss meted out in small installments. Braken’s voice is similar to Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum, especially on You Saw Me In The Light, a twilit dreamscape with skittery beats and reverbed vocals. Baseball fans will love the allegory of Dugout, where Bracken warily navigates a doomed relationship, saying, Guess I better put on my helmet before you throw a knuckleball at my head. Love ain’t easy, but it makes for a good song. If Bracken needs to strike out to keep these gems coming, well, batter up.
“Dugout” – Timothy Bracken
Everyday I is a nice cliffhanger of a name, an invitation to fill in the blank as you will. For the Orlando band, the obvious ending is rock. That’s what Everyday I sets out to do, track by track. Following the Doc Marten footprints of bands like Candlebox, Taproot and Alice in Chains, the band delivers turbulent, angsty alt-rock. The Less I Know kicks off with the clang and crash of drums and guitar, building to a driving chorus that’s ratcheted up by some seriously powerful vocals. The buzzsaw growl of guitars makes Denial equally ominous, but redemption comes in the song’s sailing harmonies. Glory is technically a ballad, but one that will blast your face off. Much of Everyday I’s material has an urgent pitch to it, whipping the listener up into a frenzy. If you like an emotional tug-of-war with your rock, this band will do it for you.
“Denial” – Everyday I
Brandon Kelley grew up the son of a preacher man in the deep South. When he became a musician, he didn’t rebel against his upbringing and dabble in the dark side, nor did he succumb to it entirely and bring piety into play. Instead, Kelley took his love of gospel and joined it in holy union with his pop sensibilities. What you get with Kelley is soulful, catchy rock, not far off from Jason Mraz or James Morrison. Radio begins with a plaintive piano before breaking into a torrential chorus that lodges itself in your brain after the first listen. Don’t Ignore asks the question we all are wondering: Why are shows like Three’s Company no longer on? Organs, acoustic guitars, an ambling bass and Kelley’s drawled, soulful vocals make for an easy, amiable tune. For funkier, Maroon 5-ish fodder, skip to What I Need where a shuddering organ, wah-wah guitars and percolating bass build a monster groove. Expect big things from this artist. We do.
What would it sound like if Elvis Costello started a Cheap Trick tribute band with Led Zeppelin? Boston’s Forest Henderson thinks it would sound like them. We’re not so sure. Listen to Damn the Dogs and you’ll get some rogue elements that can’t be attributed to the above trifecta. A guttural bass rumble and guitars that spit grit kick off the tune, sending the listener into a swinging, garage rock free-for-all that sounds more like Queens of the Stone Age on warp speed. Forest Henderson blends blues, vintage rockabilly, and gleaming pop rock into muscular little melodies, polished to perfection. Tom Petty is a swamp bottom rocker with guitars that sputter and squeal and drums thrash. It’s reminiscent of Last Dance for Mary Jane, only with more bite. The band’s emphasis on groove makes for some great songs to spazz out to. Even Costello would get a kick out of their brand of pop.