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Arkells – Michigan Left

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Oftentimes, 80’s influence in music becomes a ham-fisted attempt to recreate what the artist THINKS the decade sounded like. Soaked in nostalgia and synth, the music becomes more about imitation than homage. On their sophomore effort Michigan Left, Ontario-based quintet Arkells falls back on catalogs of 80’s past to intertwine with their organic rock sound as musical nods without sticking to paint-by-numbers arrangements. One can hear Hall & Oates and Springsteen influences, but Arkells kicks it all up with anthemic choruses well suited for stirring live performances.

Opener “Book Club” is blue collar paean goods, with floaty chords taking the listener on a car ride with a local townie friend. The local theme continues with the  provincial “Where U Goin,” going the Hall & Oates bouncy soul route, with Max Kerman taking  on John Oates’ deep hiccup on lines such as, “Nobody likes to t-t-talk about it.” There’s some Ben Folds-esque jaunt in there, hip syncopation marrying two decades of styles. Title track “Michigan Left” throws in Kerman’s love of baseball while concluding the three track hometown opening act in a scenic sweep, recalling the exubercance of “In a Big Country” with the song’s harmonies.

The second act hits on familiar relationship themes in the five tracks “Coffee,” “On Paper,” “Kiss Cam,” “One Foot Out the Door,” and “Bloodlines.” An endearing conversational song, “Coffee” is complete earworm and pitch perfect with lyrics like “No, no really, this one’s on me. I’ll let you get the next time we go out for coffee.” The following track “On Paper” makes for a darling companion piece. “Kiss Cam” takes a bittersweet, guitar heavy stroll through Hall & Oates type harmonies, adding a heavy dose of indie-rock hollers. “One Foot Out the Door” adds chilly synth in an airy, meditative Police-esque manner and has perhaps the most visceral set of lyrics within this section, striking a nerve with images like “This time she really tried – came home and the place was decorated. Put his pictures in frames, even ones of his friends that she hated.” Ending the act is the deceptively buoyant and colorful “Bloodlines.”

Closing the album are the rollicking “Whistleblower,” one last anthem that incorporates ghostly call-and-response, and the escalating “Agent Zero.” Both make for an introspective third act, a raw and vulnerable lyrical conclusion disguised by the strong instrumental arrangements. “Agent Zero” in particular catches one off guard, starting off icy and downtempo before opening up into a cheery rock hymn.

Arkells has quite an exciting time ahead of them following their Juno Award for 2012 Group of the Year. Touring alongside The Maine, you can catch them in on May 18th at the House of Blues.

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Transistor-on Takes “The Way Back Down” on EP

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Transistor-on calls their goods “fuzzed out reverb music,” and in the spirit of post-rock, EP The Way Back Down is full of that melodious texture and sensation. Recorded at The Cottage with Damon Moon, The Way Back Down is a mere four tracks. But those songs make a satisfying sampling of a band with a big future ahead.

Atlanta duo Joey Piersante and Chris Armistead offer up a hazy fugue state that is the blueprint for this coming summer, showing that they can run with the best of the lo-fi crowd with their unique rhythms and finger-picking. The minimalist use of instruments that whip up the dream poppy wall of sound succeeds in taking the listener in a layered, chill journey.

Tracks like “Calling Out” and “Solar Flare” are so catchy (the former with its title refrain; the latter with its main guitar melody), that they etch onto your brain and trick you into thinking these are songs that have been around for maybe 20 years or so already.

Reviewers are throwing out comparisons—and they’ll continue to—of Transistor-on to Explosions in the Sky. The similarities are there for sure; both bands share a genre, after all. But saying only “they remind me of Explosions in the Sky” overlooks the fact that Transistor-on are stepping out in earnest on this EP, sounding comfortable in their skin without being jaded. Plus, having smoky vocals on the tracks adds to the spacey miasma and mystery that serves as the overarching feel of the record. The singing on “Empty Planet,” for example, highlights the track’s slow burn into its rocking guitar-driven crescendo.

Though the last piece on The Way Back Down is called “Exit,” by no means is that a harbinger of the band’s future. Transistor-on closes with a sure-footed tapestry of distortion and crisp rhythm, wrapping up a consistent and skillful release that definitely marks their arrival.

The Way Back Down is available to stream on SoundCloud or for purchase on iTunes. The gorgeous photo cover by Richard Casteel.

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Muse “Drones” Review

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Emily Hearn Saves Time in a Bottle on “Hourglass”

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Emily Hearn’s sonic journey on Hourglass shows that she is a woman coming into her own, figuring out the knots of past heartache, the bliss of newlywed life, and the passage of time.

Time acts as the overarching narrative on the record; Hourglass spans the two years following the Athens, GA native’s debut Red Balloon and 2013 EP Promises. “We fall in or out of love as time moves us,” she explains. “We learn life-changing lessons as time goes on. We figure out how to handle important relationships as time shapes us. We decide who we want to be and what we believe as time reveals our priorities. And ultimately, we grow older as time goes by.”

Hearn sings wistfully “Oh, to be young, and to have time” on the third track “Oak Tree,” longing for the naïve feeling that time would never move forward, or at least not so fast. She frets over seeing her parents age so quickly. The existential worries of a twenty-something come delivered in a package of a catchy, infectious chorus and clap-along-able melody.

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