Knugu: Quadrilogy

If one thing’s for sure, the production of this four-song EP by Knugu is damned impressive. Not one note or beat is out of place, and the vocals are well balanced with the instrumentation. However, if feels like there’s something missing here. The opening song “Getting Over You” has a nice melody and memorable chorus, but it seems to end far too soon. “Dark Angels” is delicate and crystalline in its guitar work, but lyrically it feels as if it’s running in place (beautiful background vocals, though). The vocals by Knugu on “Ad in Personals” sound a little too dramatic at times, and when he twists some of the notes at the ends of the words at times, it’s a little cringe-inducing. And “Running Back to You” sounds like a nice little flashback to the mid-‘80s. It’s pleasant enough, and the whole thing is supposed to depict “the life of a young American couple in the first decade of the 21st century,” but overall there’s not a lot to hang your hat on here. Perhaps a full-length release could fix this problem next time around. (Self-released)

Knugu MySpace page

John Paul: Belmont Boulevard

John Paul has the sort of musical dynamic that runs through a lot of Paul Westerberg’s best solo stuff. The guitars have a nice twang to their tone, and the rhythms and attitude are very much like the former ‘Mats frontman. Vocally, Paul sounds like a really young Don McLean mixed with Ryan Adams’ rough edges. Very impressive, no matter how you cut it. “21” is a killer song, showcasing all of these elements. “Set Me Up” certainly swings more to the twangy side of the Ryan Adams pasture, and “Chameleon” sounds like a great, long lost song from early ‘90s college radio. Sometimes things get a little CMTV sounding, as on “.45,” which has great potential but almost becomes undone by its arrangement and lyrics. But a song like “Sleepless” quickly remedies that, where Paul’s formula works perfectly. It’s also on this song that he sounds like his own man, and it’s definitely a standout tune. The production is lush and with any luck, John Paul will soon be a recognized name with this nice collection of songs. (Self-released)

John Paul MySpace page

Whitley: The Submarine

Whitley (a.k.a. Melbourne singer/songwriter Lawrence Greenwood) lies at the junction of Nick Drake, Paul Simon, and bedroom-electronic pop acts like the Postal Service and Cassettes Won’t Listen, and his debut effort, The Submarine, is filled with husky-voiced, mostly acoustic goodness for lovers of any of the above named artists. It’s an uncommonly assured debut, one that resists showiness in favor of gently catchy melodies and thinly layered arrangements. At first listen, The Submarine might sound like just another album of wispy navel-gazing from just another indie-pop songwriter, but give it time to sink in – there’s more going on here than may initially meet the ear. Greenwood has a gift for production, and a knack for grafting small, subtle bits onto his deceptively simple songs; plug in your favorite pair of earbuds, and you can easily get lost in the soundscapes he paints here. Toss in a cover of Jeff Buckley’s “Mojo Pin,” and you’ve got an undeniable magnet for the hoodies-‘n’-iPods set, but something with crossover appeal for fans of good old-fashioned singer/songwriter stuff. Whitley won’t kick your doors in, but if you sit still long enough, he just may end up becoming one of your favorite musical discoveries of the year. (Dew Process 2008)

Whitley MySpace page

Mark Geary: Opium

Born in Ireland but a New York City transplant since 1992, Mark Geary has quietly worked below the radar while fashioning an eerily hypnotic musical motif. There’s always been something both confessional and contemplative about his material, a shadowy aura that casts him at a distance. With Opium, his fourth album, Geary takes steps to remedy that elusive stance, thanks to a set of songs that’s beautifully beguiling in its sensual, seductive appeal. The music is framed with his usual hushed ambiance, but it finds its footing in muted tones, plaintive vocals, gentle entreaties and wistful sentiments that soar with a quiet resolve. The delicately percolating rhythms of “See-Saw (Houpacka),” the kinetic urgency of “Not on Your Life” and the easy shuffle of “Tuesday” ensure a steady foundation rather than an aimless drift and an array of organic instruments – acoustic guitars, violins, clarinet, flute and piano – combine to create some lovely soundscapes. Ultimately, this Opium proves as addicting its title might imply. Sonablast Records

Mark Geary MySpace page

Murry Hammond: I Don’t know Where I’m Going but I’m On My Way

It stands to reason that when the bass player of a successful band opts to make a solo album, he’d choose not to compete with his day job. So you won’t find Murry Hammond following the lead of his longtime collaborator Rhett Miller and recording a solo set that suggests his regular gig with the Old 97s is a superfluous sideline. Despite its exhaustive title, I Don’t know Where I’m Going but I’m On My Way offers a rootsy respite, one that shares its foundation with the Old 97s’ alt-country core, albeit at a more essential level. In fact, there’s more than a hint of Johnny Cash in these meditations and ruminations on mortality, spirituality, the railroad and the hereafter. Hammond takes a solemn and scholarly approach to these themes, and if some seem rather solemn and austere, the heartland authenticity remains true to tradition. Happily too, there’s enough sentiment stirred in the folk-like flourish of “In The Shadow of Clinch Mountain,” “Wreck of the 97” and “Life is Like a Mountain Railroad” to provide compelling listening, with acoustic guitar, banjo, harmonium, yodeling and whistling ensuring authenticity. It all adds up to an impressive solo foray and one that also ought to raise the worth of his stock in his regular band as well. (Hummingbird 2008)

Murry Hammond MySpace page

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