I’m going away for two weeks in a few days so I wanted to put another submissions post together to avoid falling even further behind when I return home sunburnt and jet-lagged, both of which are pretty much guarantees. If you’d like to send anything over for consideration when I do get back then please feel free, there’s a few ways to do so listed on my contact page.
Kyle Cox – The Plan, The Mess (Album) American singer-songwriter Kyle Cox’s debut isn’t set for release until the 30th September, but its been in my inbox for a while now, and it’s taken me a while to get round to reviewing it. Given the time I’ve spent with it (and the time I’ve put off writing about it) I’ve become familiar with it, and after numerous listens it’s grown on me immensely – although it’s plenty enjoyable first time around as well. I took my time with it because I listen to the singer-songwriter genre a great deal, and I wanted to give The Plan, The Mess an honest write-up without drawing too much from my experiences with similar artists. Cox’s style is familiar; these are heartfelt acoustic songs with an occasionally gritty edge, but on his full-length debut he also does enough to make his songs stand out against the hundreds of musicians similar to himself. When I listen to a record like this one I want it to stand out; I want it to leave an impression on me which might perhaps make me favour it over releases of a similar nature. The Plan, The Mess did that, and that’s perhaps the highest praise I can give it, in a strange sort of way. Across it’s almost fifty minute length Cox’s debut delivers memorable song after memorable song, and it starts strong with jaunty lead single I Ain’t Been Lonely, Until I Met You, an immediate highlight as you’re quickly introduced to Cox’s humbling, raw vocals and his honest, almost quirky approach to songwriting. There’s an upbeat feel to the song well complemented by sarcastic lyrics about the way love can often break down a tough exterior, and it’s a playful track to begin a record which is often contemplative in a darker sort of way. The Plan, The Mess is reflective in nature, but there’s also a charismatic spark to it, shown in the riffs of second bluesy track You Got Something or the feel-good chorus of Sometimes You Know. It makes for a listen which is incredibly endearing, well made for easy listening; it’s easy to connect with, and it’s even easier to enjoy. There’s slower tracks like the acoustic, sentimental Old City Train and the thoughtful, charming No Future, which looks forward with love despite it’s title as Cox sings ‘Well I may have no future, but I have you here…no matter where you’re going, it’s who you’re going with‘. It’s Bonnie & Clyde without the crime, and it has a strong American feel to it, as does a lot of the record, although it isn’t quite Americana. Honey, Let’s Run Away also follows an escapist narrative, and it’s arguably the records strongest track, at least in my eyes, beginning washed out and echoing, western, before perking up after a minute or so. It’s a duet primarily, and the song really benefits from this approach, with a charming sort of chemistry existing between the two vocalists as they share a dialog about a blissful retreat from a life uninspired, finding solace in each other’s company. It makes a change from Cox leading on his own, and like closer Let My Love it’s different, and perhaps stands out for that reason. As the final track played on I had to double-check that I was still listening to The Plan, The Mess, and found myself both surprised and impressed when I confirmed that I was. Let My Love is a slow, spacious song; a drifting, expansive finale as Cox croons his way through some empathetic lyrics. There’s an absence of guitar, but it has that same abundance of heart, and it’s an interesting, experimental, and wholly fitting way to finish a record which seems to adopt a number of tones and styles throughout but always sounds incredibly genuine and rooted – very down to earth. These songs matter to Cox, and as a result he makes them matter to a listener, with the twelve songs featured coaxing an audience in. You feel them in a sense, and this warm, cocoon-like feel that’s inspired by a minimal, occasionally simplistic approach is often one of the main draws of the genre, and I really caught that feeling on The Plan, The Mess. I hope you know what I mean, otherwise that might sound like a very odd point, but I enjoyed Kyle Cox’s debut because it was rich in almost every aspect, and it communicated itself almost effortlessly (again, hopefully that makes some sort of sense).
I loved The Plan, The Mess and it’s a release I would definitely recommend when it’s eventually released on September 30th, which also happens to be my birthday (two reasons to mark the date, although the first should be your priority). If you’d like to get a feel for Cox’s music before his debut full length is released you can stream I Ain’t Been Lonely, Until I Met You below, with the rest of his material available through Bandcamp. [8.5]
FFO: Newton Faulkner, Chuck Ragan, Gregory Alan Isakov
Heavyweights – Keep Your Friends Close (EP) Originally formed with the aim to record a pop-punk version of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, but now settling for the much more credible aim of being your new favourite band in the genre Heavyweights hail from Baltimore, like All Time Low, and their style isn’t a million miles removed from that band. The five songs that make up the bands second EP following 2013’s The Sound Of Running Out take influence from the bands who saw the genre come to fruition in the 00’s, (Yellowcard and New Found Glory to name a few) and there’s an energy in them that is reminiscent of some of All Time Low’s earliest songs, namely their Put Up Or Shut Up EP. These tracks are spirited, catchy and memorable, and the EP as a whole is generally solid, and it sets the band up well for whatever comes next. Keep Your Friends Close definitely shows potential, but it begins with a doubting spoken word sample in It’s Not Pretty, But It’s Us, questioning the likelihood of a breakthrough. It’s an understandable notion, but the tracks that follow the opener do more than enough to ensure that Heavyweights won’t stagnate. After those initial ten seconds or so It’s Not Pretty, But It’s Us leads into sixty seconds or so of punchy, traditional, charged pop-punk with some equally traditional lyrics – not that keeping things traditional is an issue. If you’re a fan of the genre then you’ll very much enjoy Heavyweights’ music, and if you prefer a slightly nostalgic take then you’ll definitely enjoy it. Second track Dior 99 begins with plucky bass before it again kicks off, pop-punk riffs aplenty fuelling a more aggressive track lyrically. As vocalist David Heilker shouts / sings ‘And I need this like I need a gun to my head / I wrote you off and wrote you onto his bed’ it’s particularly memorable, and his delivery suggests he means every word. Like this track in particular the EP is very strong lyrically, well expressed similarly to the likes of Take This To Your Grave, and it comes partly from having a few contributing songwriters, with guitarist Eric Navarro sharing the pen. Like Fall Out Boy there are also two vocalists present, with drummer Kurt Spiess featuring regularly, and at times there’s some great back-and-forth moments between the two. There’s plenty of memorable lines, and these are often accompanied by an infectious backing; everything comes together very well, and for a second release Keep Your Friends Close sounds confident, and it’s much more likely to inspire and affect a listener as a result of its buoyant sound and lyrical depth. Third track Bonfire offers much of the same, whilst fourth track Bunkbeds focuses more on melodic vocals, featuring Mike Hayden of Count To Four, without losing any of the spark. The band’s style is familiar perhaps, and it definitely isn’t groundbreaking, but on tracks like this one it’s easy to overlook; these songs are difficult to resist, and the best of them all is perhaps the EP’s closer Anna Marie, which begins slightly more mellow, light compared to preceding tracks, and its more personal as a whole, an open letter of sorts to its namesake, and it’s a fitting end to the EP, showcasing a more reserved, but just as rousing version of Heavyweights. Keep Your Friends Close isn’t set for release until September 9th, a few weeks after this will go up, but you can listen to the charismatic Dior 99 via Heavyweights’ Bandcamp page, where you can also pre-order an EP which is well worth listening to. 
FFO: early Fall Out Boy, Yellowcard, Knuckle Puck
dæphne – Family Vacation (Demo) Debut releases, especially demos, very rarely sound this good, and although it’s around seven weeks old at the time of writing this that doesn’t make Family Vacation any less deserving of your time, and if you’re a fan of varied emo then up-and-coming Boston four-piece dæphne could well be your new favourite band – I know they’re mine. Family Vacation has the soothing, melodic sections traditional of the genre, but it also some fuzzy, brasher moments in the style of shoegaze. There’s a good mix of sounds here, and although at times the shifts between hazy and heavy are slightly awkward the demo ultimately sounds better in light of its variety. It flickers and dances between dense and dainty, ebbing and flowing in a way pleasingly reminiscent of bands like Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate). Opener Winona Ryder showcases both sides to the band’s music, and it’s instantly likable once its opening barrage relents to melody and some thoughtful lyrics. For an opening track on a debut release its accomplished and fairly adventurous, five minutes or so of warm, rolling instrumentation and high-pitched vocals spread out across several peaks and plateaus; a spacious, absorbing listen which ends emphatic. Following track What Summer Felt Like Behind Your Bedroom Door is similar, a pensive song featuring some gorgeous ribboning guitars initially, and it bides its time, content to drift, and just as it seems likely to blossom into something fuller it subsides to an even gentler pace, comforting and cosy in nature. Towards the end it does pick up significantly, becoming thick instead of flaky, but it does so without losing that isolated sort of charm to match its lyrics and title. It’s mainly down to the vocals of Alexa Johnson, who doesn’t climb with the instrumentation but instead melts into it, making for an unusual but welcome effect as she echoes through the noise, fragile in comparison. On songs like this one, as well as the shorter Driving Down A Country Highway Blasting Weezer and grand, expressive finale / lyrical highlight Miscalculating Future Experiences, Family Vacation has a lot going for it, but what I did really like about the band’s debut – and it’s perhaps an odd comment – but the bass in particular stands out. Emo as a genre has never been too reliant on the bass guitar as an instrument; a few bands don’t even bother with it (Nai Harvest, Two Knights, Empire! Empire!), but on tracks like Winona Ryder, during a sublime bridge, it’s prominent, and I found that refreshing even though it’s a small detail in terms of the bigger picture. As you’d expect of a demo there’s a few rough edges and shaky moments, but there’s more than enough potential here to suggest that these are solely rough edges and nothing more. Smoothing out transitions like those on the opener shouldn’t be too hard a task considering dæphne sound more than capable, and I can’t wait to hear more from the band in the future; they’re onto something here, and as far as debuts go Family Vacation ticks all the right boxes. You can stream and download it below, and I’d definitely recommend doing so. 
FFO: Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate), Football Etc., Free Throw
Azwel – From Now On (Album) Taking influence from the likes of Belle & Sebastian and Blur I went into From Now On unsure of what to expect, only being overly familiar with a few of the artists referenced in Jason Perillo (the man behind Azwel)’s email. Brit-pop isn’t a genre I’ve devoted a great deal of time to outside of occasionally reading about it in the odd, doting copy of NME; those days seem long gone, so if you miss the genre you’ll undoubtedly enjoy Azwel’s nostalgic yet modern spin on it. If like myself, you don’t much care for the genre, you might still find plenty to enjoy here, the nature of the record makes it tough to resist, even for skeptics. From Now On is perfect for easy listening, these are warm and likable songs which carry a distinct charm – they’re laid back and wistful, happy to wander, and there isn’t a great deal of emphasis on energy. None of these songs go above and beyond to make a mark, although there’s clearly a great deal of craft behind them, and From Now On is a lazy-sounding record which isn’t particularly lazy – ‘casual’ would be a fitting adjective. It’s a gentle, soothing experience you can invest in without diving too deep, be it during the pleasant imagery of opener Alone In The Park or the uplifting chorus to War Against Innovation, on which Perillo reminisces without sounding weighted. It’s jubilant, as is the much more dynamic, almost rocky Don’t Take It For Granted, which peaks for what it arguably the records high point. The Fifth Of May is just as catchy, and it has a real sunshine sound to it, a contrast to All The Things To Come and In A Desperate Way, with these two closing songs much softer, delicate in nature, blossoming as a result of some gorgeous instrumentation. Despite slowing things down considerably both are still affecting, albeit in a different sort of way, and they end From Now On on a dainty sort of high, relaxed and relieving. What I’m really getting at, in a wayward sort of way is that as a whole, From Now On is a pleasure to listen to, delightful and thoughtful, with honest heart behind it. I enjoyed it a great deal, and if you’d like to try it for yourself you can stream and download it below. 
FFO: R.E.M, Alex Day, Cocoon
Cans – Blood, Sweat & Beers (EP) I didn’t get sent a whole lot of background information for this release, if any, but I can confidently say that a good amount can be gleamed from the EP’s title, although said title might not quite prepare for the pop-punk background to Cans’ release. The band’s music is gritty and aggressive, but it also has a bounce to it associated more so with the pop side of the genre rather than the punk side. It makes for a slightly unusual sound, but it works, as rough vocals are yelled out alongside spirited instrumentation. There’s a hardcore edge to songs like the shorter Sweesh, which could well inspire a pit, whilst following track New Places is a relatable song about escape, encouraging vocal crowd responses to lines like ‘I’ve been watching as the days went by / Can’t wait to get out of this fucked up town’. It’s cathartic, and it’s very easy to connect with, and there’s more than enough energy here to fuel the occasions that the EP’s title implies. Closer Shipwreck is much more adventurous and sees the band experiment, throwing in soaring guitars during an emphatic finish, whilst opening track Weak End begins with a misleading Back To The Future sample and then launches into a personal and emotional track which instantly introduces the punk aspect to the band’s music, a solid opener to kick off a generally good EP. Blood, Sweat & Beers was recorded in a basement, and you can tell; the EP is rough, but this rough edge actually complements Cans’ style – think Trash Talk jamming The Upsides on a regular basis, if that’s a fair leap. If that sounds good then you can stream and download the EP below; it’s an interesting take on a genre that thrives on this sort of energy. 
FFO: Capsize, Fights & Fires, Gnarwolves
Brokehead – Six Minutes Of Music (EP) It might have a fairly uninspired title, but the music that Six Minutes Of Music contains (all six minutes of it) is anything but lacklustre. Brokehead’s style of post-hardcore is passionate and personal, and throughout the two tracks on this EP there’s some real thought behind the music. Lyrics are confessional and troubled (the email I received name-checked La Dispute, and this definitely holds true upon listening); vocals are shouted and pained, and the instrumental side of the EP is loud without necessarily being abrasive, again similar to La Dispute. There’s a focus on the lyrics, and the music is shaped to accommodate that focus, but it does so without ignoring other factors. Opening track Here I Am begins with a meandering opening instrumental eighty seconds or so, prominent bass and mellow drums as guitars weave before vocalist Kenny Miller begins to bear his soul. His lyrics read like an open letter, and they’re very well written, capturing his own self doubts acutely and expressing them well (‘Call it a harmless exception to my delusional ingenuity / or a blatant obsession with the dissonance between my intentions and what you see.’) They aren’t exactly lines you’ll be likely to yell back at shows, but listening to them they hit hard, and they’re undoubtedly the strongest aspect of the band’s music, although there isn’t much wrong elsewhere. Second track Just After The Sound again begins slow, building to something, and once it kicks in it’s controlled yet slightly chaotic as melodic guitars unfold over crashing drums and more deep, striking lyrics (‘thinking about suicide to pass time between footsteps and alarm sound’). Six Minutes Of Music suggests that Brokehead are definitely a band worth watching, and you can stream or download the EP below. 
FFO: La Dispute, Touché Amore, Pianos Become The Teeth
Nepotism – Animals // The Howl (Single) The second single to be taken from (currently) unsigned band Nepotism’s debut EP Black Sheep Animals // The Howl is a dark, brooding and atmospheric indie-rock track, shadowy in nature. Like it’s video, this is black and white music – it’s hard to imagine it stirring up colorful visual images through its audio. Echoing vocal effects feature during verses featuring lyrics with bleak, regretful overtones before a chorus which is almost anthemic if not for slightly jaded production holding it back. For an unsigned band the track is understandably gritty, it doesn’t quite pack a punch, although its chorus is more memorable than you’d expect upon first listen, and the band could well be onto something if they are picked up. If you’d like to stream the track you can do so below with its fitting video accompaniment, and the band’s EP can be found here, with Animals // The Howl available as a ‘name your price’ download here. 
FFO: dressmaker, Pearl Jam, AFI
Alexeï Kawolski – My DC Offset Fields (Album) The email that accompanied My DC Offset Fields described the release as ‘GlitchDoom’, a term I haven’t come across before but actually fits quite well with the overall sound of said release, and further description stated it as ‘looking for beauty in darkness, for hope and love in a post modernized world.’ A fairly bold statement, but again, it does sort of fit. My DC Offset Fields offers 37 minutes worth of electronic music, intricate and expressive, with darker tones often illuminated by blips and synths. It’s an interesting listen, and unusual experience, with Spliced Life and You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense (ready to self-destruct) being highlights. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it, there were tracks I found absorbing and others I found quite boring, but there’s clearly a great deal of care and attention gone into its production, which I definitely admire and envy. My DC Offset Fields is rich, and although the music it contained isn’t a style I’m particular interested in it might be spellbinding to those with a greater love of the genre. You can stream the opening track below, with the record set for release August 26th. 
FFO: The Algorithm on a Sunday, Fuck Buttons, indie game soundtracks
James McKean and the Blueberry Moon – The Redeemer (Single) The Redeemer is the first single to be taken from James McKean’s upcoming full-length No Peace For The Wicked, and upon listening to it it’s easy to see why he’s toured and worked with Ross Palmer, who I featured in my last submissions-based post. Like Palmer’s music McKean’s is slow and thoughtful, dark where Palmer’s was quite buoyant, and his lead single is a brooding, creeping track which is spurred slightly by plodding instrumentals and McKean’s own harsh, deep, and slightly dejected delivery. He puts some genuine purpose behind his vocals, and the lyrics of the song, without being outstanding, are generally good, fitting with the reflective, explorative nature of the song as he sings ‘I’m the stranger in the street / I’m the redeemer’. The single also comes with two B-sides; a cover of Tim Hardin’s Black Sheep Boy and one of McKean’s originals, Tomorrow Never Comes, both of which are fairly good. The Redeemer isn’t really the sort of song I’d normally listen to, so my short review of it might not apply if you’re a fan of music of this nature – I’m more of a Frank Turner kind of guy, so if you’d like to give the song a listen you can check out the curious, video for the song below, and download it through McKean’s Bandcamp page.