Music Submissions 11: Sunken Monkey / Drawback / Blis. / The Gallerist / Sleep Cycles / Dicepeople / Ross Palmer

Submission 114Submission 112Submission 11Submissions 113

I’ve been under the weather lately, and haven’t been sleeping more than a few hours per night, so a lot of the reviews were written during late night writing sessions – apologies if it shows. Hopefully I’ll get my shit together in the next few days, and if you’d like to send anything for consideration then, then there’s a few ways to do so via my contact page. For some reason the Bandcamp player I normally embed was causing huge gaps between paragraphs so I’ve had to use the smaller style to keep things tidy. It’s less accessible, but it’ll have to do – I’ll aim to change it at a later date if it stops playing up.

Sunken Monkey – Party Scars (Album) I may spend a fair amount of time writing about music on the internet, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you a whole lot about the music scene in the immediate area in which I live. I know that criminally underrated rock band Failsafe originated from Preston, around twenty minutes away, but that’s about it. Four-piece Sunken Monkey are from Burnley, and being from Blackburn myself I’m sort of obliged to dislike them on some level (Burnley is the Shelbyville to our Springfield), but it’s tough to dislike the music Sunken Monkey play unless you’ve an aversion to loud, fuelled rock music with a beer-soaked edge. It’s an unfortunate possibility. The band formed in the early 00’s and their style is quite nostalgic, reminiscent of say… NOFX and early Rise Against. The music is gritty in a way which both of those bands were, but there’s also an electric bounce to it, see tracks like second song Don’t Dodge A Game Of Dares on which there’s something very Tim McIlrath about the vocals, making statements as much as he sings. Party Scars draws on personal experiences, and perhaps the standout example is fourth track More Beer Than Blood, which, as you can likely gather from its title spins stories of drunken nights and the ensuing events. It showcases some faster vocals over some meaty riffs and a chorus which asks for a crowd call as frontman Spindle calls ‘What time is it?’ to resounding replies of ‘Party time!’Party Scars is generally a good time; it’s technical, fast paced, well executed, and there’s more than enough spirit behind it, something some bands struggle with after a decade or so together (although Sunken Monkey have gone through a number of line-up changes). The title track perfectly showcases that spirit, it’s slightly more reserved, but it still has bite to it, kicking it up a level for the chorus, which again makes use of some great riffs, similar to those that punctuate a lot of the songs here.  Apparently the band put on one hell of a live show, and it’s easy to see why when they’ve got songs like Party Scars in their arsenal, the final chugging thirty seconds are designed for a live environment. The chorus of That’s What She Said would also go down well at shows, it’s very catchy despite only lasting a few lines (‘She said, hey, fuck you / Well fuck you too!’), and it’s a highlight, whilst preceding track Red Raw Stump is perhaps the most impressive track instrumentally speaking – there’s a great sense of cohesion on Party Scars, and this track sees the band at their best, as well as featuring some more thoughtful, reflective lyrics which show a more sentimental side to Sunken Monkey. The acoustic ‘Til Death Do Us Party is a nice surprise, different from the tracks surrounding it, and it again features some more serious lyrics; it’s a curveball, but it’s very well done, offering a breather before closing two tracks Too Old For This Shit and 0 To Pissed (In Sixty Seconds), both of which conjure more booze-inspired imagery, and there’s shades of the Dropkick Murphys in the quick-fire delivery of the anthemic latter. At times some songs sound quite similar, and the production isn’t ideal, but there’s very little to fault here outside of minor niggles. Party Scars is a multifaceted record, it has a lot going for it, and I enjoyed it even though it draws its main influences from a time period I’m not completely familiar with musically. If you are, Sunken Monkey might be a welcome trip down memory lane, and even if you’re as uneducated on the early 00’s as I am you‘ll still find a fair amount to enjoy. Party Scars doesn’t hold back, and it’s a great ride once it kicks off, a fun release in every way with splashes of sentimentality to break things up. Party Scars is set for release 6th October, so it’s a while off yet, but it’s well worth a listen when it does roll around. [8]
FFO: Rise Against, NOFX, PG Steel Panther

Drawback – To Live Honestly (EP) The single paragraph on Drawback’s Bandcamp page states that To Live Honestly, the band’s first EP following their 2013 demo, is about living life to the full, refusing to settle, and although this attitude isn’t entirely clear on To Live Honestly these are songs which encourage just that, and do so whilst mixing elements of emo, rock and grunge. Lyrically To Live Honesty is about moving on, or at least I’m assuming it is. With reflective tracks like Laid To Rest looking back, true to its title, Drawback’s EP is one which is very well written, and excellently executed. There’s some real thought and meaning behind it, and although the optimism I expected from it after reading that Bandcamp paragraph isn’t always obvious, it’s there. To Live Honestly is about coming to terms, an understanding, and across the tour tracks here vocalist / guitarist / lyricist Tim Holmes tries to move forward, and sometimes struggles to do. Emphatic third track Golden Leaves begins with melodic, haunting guitars and opens up to chugging instrumentation, dark in nature before picking up to a charismatic bounce as the vocals enter. It’s upbeat after a daunting first minute, boasting some great guitars and drums before the songs ends with the lines ‘I could just sit for hours and speak of all the times I felt to weak / To swallow the truth, to live honestly / What does that mean for me?’ suggesting that despite the EP’s occasionally infectious tones there’s something not quite right, and it makes To Live Honestly an interesting listen, an enigma similar to the one mentioned in the grunge of opening track Saint Judas, which suffers from weaker production, slightly washed out. The EP ends with longest track Rain, which is slightly slower to begin with, putting emphasis on some poignant lyrics, perking up for a chorus which is breezy whilst featuring lines  like ‘Oh why does it always rain on the righteous?’ and ‘Can I pray your pain away?’  The song ends on a full band crescendo, crashing towards the finish, and it’s the EP’s finest moment, and if you let the song run, its closing drone leads right back into the opener, encouraging a repeat listen. I really enjoyed To Live Honestly, honestly; it’s an absorbing listen with some great instrumentation and vocals, as well as some thoughtful lyrics. It’s available as ‘name your price’ on Bandcamp, and I’d definitely recommend it even though this short review hasn’t been entirely convincing. [8]
FFO: The Sinking Feeling, Dowsing, Dad Punchers

Blis. – Moving Forward (EP) Moving Forward, the fifth EP from Georgia four-piece Blis. was originally released over a year ago, and I was initially hesitant about featuring it because of its release date. However, with the band set to work with Tiny Engines (a label I love) and release a split with Dikembe (a band I love) sometime in the near future I felt compelled to check it out, and I liked what I heard. With me mentioning the two names I just did you might be able to make up your own fairly accurate ideas of what Blis. sound like; Moving Forward is dynamic and emotional, claustrophobic and just as explosive. If you aren’t hooked by end of brilliant second track Forward then you’ll struggle with the EP, but chances are that won’t be an issue, because it’s tough to envision anyone not enjoying it. Opening with the line ‘I wrote a love song, it’s about my friends and how much I hate them’ the song then bursts into crisp, clean, powerful guitars and drums, a great blend, and vocalist Aaron Gossett’s delivery is the icing on the metaphorical musical cake. His voice is distinct, somewhere between Anthony Green of Circa Survive and Brian Warren of Weatherbox (that’s fair right?), and it shines alongside his band’s music, which is cathartic yet climbs constantly. There are melodies littered throughout reminiscent of American Football, and the instrumentation is technical and punchy, with everything coming together most notably on Forward, which, if I’d heard it upon release would’ve been one of my favourite tracks of 2013. Opening track Worst consists of faded vocals over a sole, washed out acoustic guitar, slightly misleading as far as openers go when compared to the following track, and this continues again on third track Dumb And Ugly. It’s a soothing, calming style, stripped back as vocals echo and strummed guitars flicker, and the lyrics are very good, thoughtful and humbling. These acoustic songs do sound slightly odd sandwiched between the math-rock / emo of the other tracks, but they’re interesting listens, and Gossett’s different delivery on these tracks is compelling. Final two tracks Dead In Real Life and Kindergarten Rock return to the contrasting style, brash and technical, with the latter showcasing more aggression as instrumentals crash and vocals occasionally rise to shouts and screams. It’s very well done, as is Dead In Real Life, which is frantic and charismatic, albeit the weakest song lyrically. I’m not sure if any of the above really does Moving Forward justice, but you can stream the EP below to get a real feel of it. It’s also available through Bandcamp as a ‘name your price’ pick-up, as is the rest of Blis.’s discography, which is well worth a browse. [8.5]
FFO: early Dikembe (Chicago Bowls), Waxahatchee, Algernon Cadwallader

The Gallerist – Twine (EP) The Gallerist are a folk-rock trio from Philadelphia, and the music they play has a very American feel to it, one which is tough to describe but seems to breathe life into every heartfelt release across the pond. Maybe it’s the banjo in the excellent Helium or the jaunty bounce of Yesterday’s News Today, but whatever it is it’s plentiful, and Twine carries the same sort of charm I’ve come to expect from artists like The Gaslight Anthem. I said the same thing about the self-titled release from EdTang & The Chops a few months back, and even though I’m an English 19-year old who’s only spent two weeks in the US I can connect to music like Twine despite living a few thousand miles away from its roots. It sounds incredibly warm and inviting to me, and The Gallerist find that sweet-spot and build their music around it; it’s a delight to listen to as the band spin stories of typical dusty American neighbourhoods on soul-searching opener There Anywhere, which sounds upbeat and carefree despite its troubles. It’s excellently constructed, with a generous amount of heart, and the opener sets the bar high, with the four following tracks coming very close. The slower, focused Old Skin drifts initially on minimal instrumentation, flickering guitars and relaxed drums, perking up for an excellently composed chorus brightened with harmonicas, blossoming and unfolding as it climbs to a weary sort of euphoria. Excellent closer Blame expands similarly, and it’s a song that does remind me greatly of Brian Fallon’s style of songwriting, offering a compelling, interesting narrative conveyed with grace and a strange sort of pain as vocalist Mike Collins croons and climbs, with the song picking up towards the end, quite dark as he sings ‘Memento Mori, yeah remember that we’re all gonna drown’, a vulnerability to his vocals as the instrumentation accompaniment matches the tone, a firm contrast to the buoyant opener. Twine can be streamed below, and purchased through the band’s Bandcamp page for $5 currently. [8]
FFO: The Horrible Crowes, EdTang & The Chops, The Lumineers

Sleep Cycles – Hibernation (Album) Sometimes, when my own sleep cycles are frustratingly out of sync like they have been lately I give up on drifting off, and instead I grab my iPod and go for a walk. If I’d taken driving lessons I’d probably go for an ill-advised early morning cruise and watch the sun come up, but I’m restricted to a walk along the canal a few minutes from my house. Hibernation was the soundtrack to that stroll this morning, and it was fitting; a drifting, lo-fi, spacious record which benefits from a bare bones approach. Sleep Cycles is the solo project of Max Holder, and his debut record features eight tracks across twenty-four minutes of stripped back, fairly experimental folk, with some emo shades for good measure. For the most part this is just Max and his guitar, holding his mic between his legs and playing sad songs which are melancholic and heartfelt. Hibernation is a drowsy sort of release in a good way, it’s perfectly designed for the lonely early morning walker like myself; it sounds isolated as a result of its commendably DIY design and it’s restricted nature. It’s a dreamy record, with songs like opener Café Waltz floating along as vocals echo in a way not far removed from the songs ghostly lyrical content. It’s smoke, but that’s part of the charm, and the records biggest strength is the way it toes the line between being there and not quite there, if that makes sense. Penultimate track Pollen Pickers is delicate and dainty, a highlight and the longest track, whimsical as it paints pictures and flickers with little quirks which add to the experience. There’s not a whole lot there, but Holder does very well with what he has, making something quite special out of very little. Production is minimal, but as with that track there’s a lot of nice touches here and there, be it subtle throbbing ambience or the sound of rain on Flinch, it all adds up, with the washed out beats of the delightful Just A Couple perhaps the choice pick. Hibernation might sound opaque in nature, but it’s quite rich when you give it time, and even if it was recorded with a minimal backing it makes the best of it. You can pick it up on Bandcamp as ‘name your price’ and stream it below to get a taste for it. [7.5]
FFO: The Written Years, ‘For Emma’ Bon Iver, making the best of an unideal situation

Dicepeople – End Of Line (Album) With an emphasis on both the audio and visual side of music Dicepeople’s music is all about creating a picture, and their third record in a trilogy, End Of Line, does just that across the records forty minute duration. That picture, however you interpret it to be (for me it was a black canvas frequently illuminated by lights flickering in time with the audio), is composed of dark ambience, brooding synths and swirling soundscapes. Occasionally vocals feature from a number of collaborators, but for the most part this is textured, well-crafted electronica with an edge. Some of these vocal features are slightly hit-and-miss, as is the case on slightly skewed opener Bruised, but in the grand scene of things they take a back seat to the sounds that Dicepeople conjure up. End Of Line is cinematic, showcased on the sparkling Morphia Melancholia and the brooding Death Drone, which was a personal favourite. These songs stir up landscapes to match their soundscapes, barren on the latter and full of life on the former. I normally struggle with electronic releases, but I found End Of Line to be quite unique because of this quality, and although I found myself losing interest slightly (as I often do with the genre) End Of Line managed to just about hold me throughout, and it’s an easy record to lose yourself in if you block out other surrounding factors. [7]
FFO: Fuck Buttons, 65daysofstatic

Ross Palmer – Reassurance (EP) Two years ago Ross Palmer’s heart failed on his 30th birthday, and in those two years or so since he’s bounced back, throwing a lot of time and effort into music, be it producing or playing. A backstory like that would probably guarantee you a TV slot on The X Factor, but thankfully Palmer’s music is more than good enough that he won’t have to stoop so low, and hopefully in saying that I haven’t cheapened his achievements, one of which would be Reassurance. Palmer’s debut solo EP might come later than most, but it benefits from his experience, a glowing four track release of well-written, thoughtful indie. The word ‘solo’ has rarely been more accurately used, everything you hear on Reassurance is the work of Palmer himself, and it feels like a personal release as a result. It’s based around the opening title track, which Palmer originally wrote a decade or so ago at University, and the three tracks that follow it are slightly more recent, although all are written with a similar style, influenced by the late 1900’s, sounding suitably old-fashioned but not negatively so. Reassurance kicks things off minus the implied ‘kick’; it’s a slow, delicate song which floats from start to finish, content to drift as clean guitars chime and Palmer sings in reserved fashion, as sweet lyrics splay themselves out across a spacious soundscape. It’s a very calming track, a contrast to following song That’s Not You, which Palmer played with one of his old bands. It’s more fleshed out, there’s more going on, but it’s still quite fragile despite a rousing chorus. Palmer’s vocals are good, but they aren’t quite as good as they perhaps should be, and something seems to be holding the song back. The same can’t be said about third song Teach Me To Believe, another sweet song lyrically, written for Palmer’s partner, and it’s a charming, heartfelt song which again showcases quite a minimal approach, with Palmer making full use of it. Reassurance ends with its best song in Little Differences, a breezy, upbeat number which features the EP’s best chorus, questioning over some nice drum beats. Taken for what it is, a purely solo effort based around old songs, Reassurance is good, but not quite great. Palmer’s clearly a talented songwriter, and although at times the EP doesn’t offer enough there’s plenty to enjoy, especially if you prefer mellow music with some heart to it. [6.5]
FFO: The Postal Service, Stornoway, slow Jamie T songs


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