July 15, 2015
It is very likely that you aren’t yet familiar with Brian Zilm. This independent musician from Illinois has been honing his craft as an alternative songwriter for some time. In 2015 he saw it fit to release his official debut full-length record, “Ferdinand”. Zilm is heavily influenced by the grunge era but also draws from contemporary alternative pop/rock acts like Better Than Ezra (Tom Drummond actually produced “Ferdinand”!) and Lifehouse. In several of the songs on “Ferdinand” these influences are quite apparent but on others they are more subtly applied. A constant on the record is Zilm’s tendency to maintain a true alternative edge in his songs, whether he veers out more towards a pop anthem, a folky outing or a rocker.
The record starts of with Car Crash which slowly builds up. Zilm’s grungy vocals give the song pair well with the almost industrial sound of the song. When the song comes to full bloom it’s sonic and edgy and sets a strong tone for what’s to come. Fall Away’s sound lies somewhere between Better Than Ezra, Dishwalla and Third Eye Blind. Near the end it has an instrumental break that is very reminiscent of the late 90s and this practice really does need to make a comeback in popular music.
I’m not quite sure what Back In Two reminds me off but I swear I heard something similar before. Regardless, it sticks in your head quite well and all the awkward kids are moving on this, just like we used to back in the day. Groovy as hell.
The Goo Goo Dolls-esque intro to If It’s You is a bit of a misdirect because it develops into a song that is somewhere in between Carbon Leaf and Nada Surf but more toned down. It occupies the same empty space between mainstream and alternative by maintaining that edginess. Lead single Undertow is a more mellow track that relies much on Zilm’s vocal delivery. There is a sort of purposeful awkwardness in the vocals that provides additional depth to the song and brings the words out to the foreground.
When listening to On Your Way there is an unmistakable influence from Lifehouse’s Stanley Climbfall-era. The post-grunge nature, the anthem build-up and even the passionate “you’re on your way” sounds reminiscent of Lifehouse’s Take Me Away. The similarity in sound could be a good thing for Zilm as it may help him reach audiences of similar artists and bands. Having been a Lifehouse fan for years, that audience would be a good way to start. And based on what I’ve heard so far, there should be a good amount of interested listeners waiting for him there.
Somewhere To Fall Apart is probably my least favorite song on the record. It’s solid but I’m constantly waiting for the song to go somewhere and it never really does. The folky I Will Be Home is a bit of an odd duck on this record but it also provides a nice breaking point in the middle of the album. It shows versatility and actually gives Zilm a chance to showcase his vocals which fit this style remarkably well. If there’d ever be a folk-grunge genre, Zilm should immediately sign up, because he’d be born for it. I Will Be Home is a sincerely performed breath of fresh air on “Ferdinand”.
Walls is another excellent track that has more depth in its arrangement. Whether or not it was intentional, the slight hesitation in Zilm’s vocals as he starts certain phrasings works magically.
We then reach Last Day Of My Life which is probably the strongest track on the record. The balance between alternative edge and melodic appeal is perfect and reminds me of Seven Mary Three’s heyday. It’s the track I keep coming back to as the vocals are intriguing, the arrangement is subtle and the melody is very pleasant.
The final two tracks close out this debut record in proper fashion. Perfect Dream is a little quirkier than the previous songs but it’s a nice little tune. Breaking Point is pleading song that reflects on personal flaws and the trials of love, which we can all relate to.
Brian Zilm may not be a finished product yet but with “Ferdinand” he takes us back to the age of post-grunge and alternative pop/rock of the late 90s and early 2000s. “Ferdinand” is a solid and cohesive album that can stand testament to a promising start of a career for a musician that doesn’t compromise and stays true to himself and his influences. Well done, Brian Zilm!
All The Roses
2014 is a busy year for Ben Kramer. In the summer he released his debut EP "Let Go" and in november of this year he drops his 2nd EP: "All The Roses".
The EP has two distinct parts to it that came together unintentionally. The brighter songs opening the record and the moodier songs closing it represents a nice contrast of looking at the same thing in different perspectives. You can pair Sailor and All The Roses, Wayward Love and Colder Tonight and also Brother and The Quickest Bird within this contrast.
Sailor opens the EP and immediately you hear a difference compared to "Let Go". Kramer's vocals come out clearer which is especially clear for the chorus in which Kramer proclaims to be "...whole again..". The build up is a little reminiscent of Bear's Den or Mumford & Sons songs both in instrumentation ebb & flow and vocal arrangement but it absolutely holds its own. On Wayward Love Kramer plays with the rhythm and the timing which makes for a very interesting song which slowly becomes catchier and if the vocals would drown out a little less the chorus would make for a nice sing along part.
Brother is an impressive track. Musically it's kept pretty basic for the most part with a focus on the vocal delivery. It's by no means flawless but it's honest and fragile and it will be felt. And therein lies it's strength. When Kramer sings "...Oh don't tear us apart / Oh run to father's broken heart..." you can reall feel it.
We now enter the moodier part of the record with All The Roses being the counterpart to the opening track. It has a rich arrangement that produces a full sound. On his previous release, Kramer also had one moodier song on which his vocals didn't quite come out as well but only a few months later he shows he is very capable to fit these darker tinged songs to his vocal palette and the title track may very well be my favorite track on this new EP.
"...hold it up, hold up the heart you won tonight.." sings Ben Kramer on Colder Tonight. Well, if he keeps up this quality of songwriting and delivery, he's definitely won me over. Again, Kramer keeps the arrangement fairly subtle and lets his delivery do the talking. Lyrics like "..So I'll let you smile, I'll let them think you're still alright / Because I'm a little colder love, a little colder on my arm tonight..." should speak to almost anyone.
On The Quickest Bird, Kramer picks up the pace a little and while the start of the song comes of a little rushed it finds its groove fairly quickly and settles in to a nice little song. Not the most remarkable one on the record but not a bad song either.
"All The Roses" is a little inconsistent but it delivers on the promise Kramer gave us with "Let Go". Especially All The Roses and Colder Tonight are really good songs. Ben Kramer writes and sings what he feels. Because his sounds and stories come from within they come across as authentic and believable and shy away from becoming cliché. With this EP he won't necessarily garner a massive following but he takes a step towards establishing his name and shows he is honing his craft as a singer-songwriter as we can see him step it up a few notches compared to "Let Go". I'm convinced there's a bright future for this kid if he gets the chance to develop his talent and work with experienced people that can guide him along the way. And here's to hoping he will get that chance because it would be a shame to waste a talent like Ben Kramer.
Communion / Caroline
After the release of two impressive extended plays, British nu-folk-folk outfit Bear’s Den recently dropped their official full-length debut. The album is called “Islands” because the songs themselves can be seen as different islands in a greater whole. On it, we can hear the band’s banjo-infused, folk-inspired indie sound, though it may, at times, be less folky than their track record would lead you to believe. Bear’s Den holds its hands on the reins and doesn’t go off in predictable climax-choruses or veer off into anything too experimental. After a number of years of honing their craft, the band found their niche and it shows on “Islands”.
The record starts off with the cinematographic Agape. Both lyrically and sonically the song provides you with an image. When you listen to the song and close your eyes, the scene will almost instantaneously appear in front of you. Combine this with Andrew Davie´s comforting vocals and you have one heck of an opening track.
On The Love We Stole Bear´s Den proves that repetition isn´t always a bad thing. The continuity in the arrangement that lies underneath subtly carries the song, just like the waves that surely but steadily carry sediment to the coast. Thanks to this, the song maintains a strong character, because at times the vocals can get a tiny bit muddy, which distracts from the lyrics. In conclusion, The Love We Stole is a good song, but there are even better songs on “Islands”.
Current single Above The Clouds of Pompeii is one of the highlights on the record. Bear’s Den is known for their literate, cinematographic way of songwriting and this song is indicative for that. Right from the start when Davie sings “We built our home on the slopes/Pompeii beneath/She lay above” to “So my father and my son/As you end what you’ve begun/You’ll lie patient by her side/roses red come lillies white”, the song just reads and listens like a movie scene. The gentle tone of the song guides you through the scenes and the chorus invites you to sing along (“Don’t cry/Hold your head up high/She would want you to”). I’m not sure if today’s market is ready for it yet, but this song would deserve to become a massive radio hit.
Isaac is another standout song on this very strong record. Its fragile vocals are perfectly accompanied by the fragile banjo and guitar. At times the song comes across as a plea and at the same time it is infused with encouragement and hope. In contrast to popular bands like Mumford & Sons, Bear’s Den doesn’t fall into the trap of repetitive songwriting. When you listen to a full Mumford & Sons album, you can almost predict how a song is going to progress. While their songs, individually hold up easily, listening to the same trick over and over can sometimes be a little much. Bear’s Den prevents this by showing restraint. Instead of going off into the seemingly inevitable banjo explosion, the band keeps things small and sincere, which gives the song enormous power.
This middle part of the album continues on a high note with Think of England. Sonically, you can detect a little change here, as percussion and drums step to the foreground a little more. What stays, is the band’s knack for ‘painting songs’. Once again this song progresses like scenes in a movie. The drum arrangements form a canvas on which the guitar arrangements and the vocal tone tastefully create a slight dissonance. This serves as a sonic enhancement for the song, much like a backdrop on which a painting is mounted. What I also really enjoyed was the introduction of horns to give the song more body.
Magdalene was one of two songs (the other was Above the Clouds of Pompeii) that immediately nestled itself in my head. Right from the start the melody grabbed a hold of me and I was humming along, bobbing my head to the melody. The combination between arrangement and vocal sound is tastefully done and while the song comes across as rather simple, it isn’t. And therein lies the strength of this song. The questions of life, love, hope and faith are relatable ones and in combination with the relatively catchy nature of this song, I could see this doing well on certain radio stations.
When listening to When You Break I couldn’t help but picture a baby turtle trying to get out of its shell. The song starts off with a ‘constricted’ (by lack of a better word) first minute but then it starts to open up and turns into a modern indie-folk song that constantly envelopes itself in a shroud of mystery. A couple of times it scales down a little just to break out of its shell again. And very slowly the intensity of the song increases as does the tempo until the very end where the song comes to a calm conclusion.
Stubborn Beast is a pretty solid song but it wasn’t quite as memorable as other songs on the record. The lyrics, once again, paint a picture, which I really like and which is indicative for Bear’s Den but for me the song doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the ones previously mentioned.
We then reach the oldest song of the bunch. Elysium was written around 3 years go but never sounded quite right. The song has very touching lyrics but the band couldn’t make it work initially. They revisited the song and with the addition of horns it grew out to something alltogether different. The lyrics have that wonderful, magical ability to instantly connect to the listener. You immediately feel this song as it literally speaks to you. It builds up subtly and the addition of the horns (thanks to fellow musician and friend Marcus Hamblett) gives the song a rich character and resonating impression that fills up the space between the emotive words/sounds and the willing listener. A perfect example that a song can shine if the pieces fall in the right places.
The album ends with Bad Blood. We get to hear some thrilling vocal harmonies, so do I really need to say more? Well, lets. The song goes on for 5 minutes but if it were twice as long, I’d still hardly notice it would take up that much time. There isn’t a distinct part of this song that makes it stand out but the way it navigates to/through the listener makes that this song is perfectly suited to close out “Islands”. It will leave you with the burning desire to quickly hit the repeat button.
Ben Kramer is a young singer-songwriter from Chicago trying to make a name for himself. In a crowded field of singer-songwriters and rootsy artists it isn't always easy to find that name recognition and spread out your art to new followers. Kramer's first attempt is a 4-song EP called "Let Go".
Kramer lists Tom Odell, Bear's Den and The Head and the Heart as influences (among other artists) and at times you will notice a similar approach in his work. Melodically rich and a focus on the delivery of the songs. On the opening track Let Go Kramer's vocals are incisive and his tone is very pleasant to listen to. The body of the song could be a bit more expressive but you can feel a little tension in the song which is why it holds up.
I'd Never Say has a typical folk-rock intro and carries on nicely which fits Kramer's vocal style to a tee. The song is a little hesitant but promising in its entirety. Mixing and production are a little spotty on this EP but as a beginning artist it's understanding he doesn't have the budget yet. The song however shows a songwriting talent that, if it continues to develop, could be very promising. The use of a subtle beat and a solid melodic vocal arrangement makes for a song that deserves recognition. The Gates has a more subdued character and a darker mood. In the songwriting department it gets high marks again but compared to the previous songs it doesn't match Kramer's vocal style as much. I applaud him for going in a different direction when it comes to the color of the song because it gives the EP a little contrast but in the aspect of delivery, this song stands out the least.
Finally, we hear Who Will I Be? which is a breezier track and I can really hear the Bear's Den influences. The vocal delivery, the visual aspects of the song, the slow but certain build up. Very nicely done. If we don't think about the mixing and producing of the record too much, we can really hear that Ben Kramer has a talent that, in time, could very well bring him out of the shadows into the limelight. His brand of music is popular right now and he has the talent, all it needs is a little more nurturing and experience. "Let Go" is a promising first step and it'll be exciting to see how Kramer develops as an aspiring and ambitious artist.
Over the years I heard a lot of music and for some reason a big portion of the music seems to consist of New England-based singer/songwriters. Brian Jarvis is another one of those singer/songwriters.
Some time ago we wrote a little post about his single On & On, which is also included on this album. Back then we came to the conclusion that Jarvis has the ability to make his songs sound very accessible and very pleasant to listen to. The way he crafts his songs into accessible, extremely radio-friendly pop/rock songs may not be something groundbreaking, but because he does it so well it surely does make him stand out.
With help of Pat McGee-veteran Brian Fechino, who produced “Beautifully Broken”, Brian Jarvis managed to write and record a collection of 11 songs that stick together and hold up as an album.
I’ve been following Brian Jarvis’ musical endeavors for just over a year now and with the coming together of this album and the added maturity to the musical arrangements and the more pronounced lyrics, you can tell he’s made strides in becoming more than just another singer/songwriter. It was already apparent he could write songs with catchy hooks and melodies and there wasn’t much wrong with the quality of his performance either. He just needed a little more depth and a little something that would make him stand out in the massive ocean of singer/songwriters that exists today.
In the past few years, Jarvis has had a lot to deal with, both personally and professionally. These years must have been tough on him, but impressively he was able to turn the struggles and the pain into strength. He decided to pursue a musical career fulltime and worked on improving himself in all musical aspects. With “Beautifully Broken” he certainly achieved that. He gathered the right people around him, focused on his songs and came up with a strong album that features gems such as: Hardest Break, Honestly and Beautifully Broken.
The title track opens the album. It’s an emotional journey in which he sets the tone for the rest of the album. The anthemic feel of the song adds to the build up and the honest performance makes the song relatable and because it is, it can really speak to you on a personal level.
Hardest Break is one of those songs that instantly sounds familiar. The song’s very catchy and not only the sound of the song is familiar. The message is as well. Everyone has had experiences where they felt they couldn’t live up to someone else’s expectations, whether it was family, love or something else. The way the story unfolds in this song, it leaves you open to interpret the context in your own head.
Honestly is a song title that appears on many albums yet never ever sounds the same. Neither does this one. This tune has a little more edge to it. Sharp vocals and and a consistent beat provide for energy and guaranteed foot tapping. It’s a song to rock out to and to dance to at the same time. It shows a little bit of a different side of Jarvis, which is not only refreshing, but gives the album a kick in the behind in the energy department. Very nicely done.
There are more strong songs on this album, but the ones mentioned above are the ones that stood out to me. Though the final track Till I See You Again was one that stuck with me as well. Not so much because of the songwriting, but because of the performance. This song comes straight from the heart and goes straight into your own. It’s an honest, emotional testimony that you can’t help but really listen to. It’s not just about the song anymore, it becomes personal. And when a musician can do that, it shows they have what it takes. In essence, music is emotion, that is why we can really connect to it and get lost inside of it. Brian Jarvis recognizes this aspect of music and manages to incorporate it in his songs. This, to me, is the biggest asset a musician can have.
“Beautifully Broken” probably won’t end up on many best of-lists at the end of the year, but in Brian Jarvis’ journey towards becoming an established singer/songwriter it is a big step forward and it confirms his talent as a performer and songwriter. Maybe he’s not quite there yet, but this record has him well on his way. He shows courage, strength and emotion and it comes together quite nicely.
Brian Jarvis and band make a blend of easy to listen to, ready for radio, easy to market pop/rock. On & On is one of those songs that fit right in with a million other songs you can hear every day. Is it a good song? Yes it is a good song. Does it really stand out? Yes and no. The quality of the performance is actually very high and the production’s fairly decent as well. But the songwriting doesn’t stand out as much. At times it’s predictable and could use a little more imagination. Lyrically it’s okay but nothing exceptional.
I may sound rather critical in my comments but in fact I actually enjoy this song quite a lot. It’s pleasant and it makes you smile. It’s just nothing extraordinary. But it does easily stick in your head and has a certain commercial quality to it that would make it easy to push it forward once radio picks up on it.
For mainstream radio pop/rock fans this is a band that will fit right into your collection of music. I’ve seen comparisons with Sister Hazel, Honestly, Gin Blossoms. But I don’t think Brian Jarvis is quite that far yet. There are certainly similarities in the sound and I would put them all in the same general corner of the genre but where the previously mentioned bands were able to bring something exciting to the songwriting, Brian Jarvis is still looking for that last step to make to compete in the big leagues.
I recently stumbled upon some early recordings by a young man from Scotland. Colin McLeod, better known under his artist moniker ‘The Boy Who Trapped The Sun’, is a promising singer/songwriter who creates music with a subtle, sometimes sentimental undertone without losing sight of the songs’ pop sensibility.
With his first official full-length release, “Fireplace”, he is likely to gain recognition and critical acclaim from many places. Especially for a debut album, it is well balanced and features several excellent songs.
The mellow, laidback feel of the album fits McLeod’s soothing vocals and his lyrics are accessible and relatable. With folky pop songs like Golden and the beautiful Walking In The Dark you hear the basis of this singer/songwriter whose style is similar to artists like Ben Howard, Ed Harcourt, Patrick Park and Joseph Arthur. I wouldn’t immediately compare The Boy.. to them, but just for a point of reference those fall into a similar musical category.
There’s a good balance between the more breezy tracks like Golden, Fireplace, I See You & Copper Down for example and more upbeat pop songs that are quite attractive to mainstream radio like Katy & Dreaming Like A Fool. While sometimes the songs are a little simple, that doesn’t make the album any less. McLeod puts the principle of less is more in practice on some tracks and I would argue it makes these tracks stronger instead of weaker. By keeping it simple on key moments he keeps the songs accessible and catchy. The best example of that may be lead single Katy.
The world is overcrowded with singer/songwriters trying to make a name for themselves. And while there is a lot of talent out there, even a lot of those talented musicians don’t stand out enough to break through. This may be a shame, but on the other hand, it wouldn’t be good for the music scene if only the same and similar would make it to the big stage. The Boy Who Trapped The Sun however does have something going for him. I won’t say that his music is totally new or there has never been anyone like him, but there is a sense of originality and freshness in his music and attitude that shines through on “Fireplace”. With key tracks like Golden, Katy, I See You, Thorn In Your Side & Copper Down, there is a lot of talented songwriting displayed on this album and McLeod knows how to deliver his songs with feeling and conviction. And to be honest, that is where it starts for a singer/songwriter.
“Fireplace” is a promise of talent, maybe even a promise of big things to come for McLeod, but he will have to keep at it and work hard to deliver on that promise. But for now I say chapeau for a job well done and some well-deserved attention for “Fireplace” as it is a more than solid debut that completely validates for The Boy Who Trapped The Sun to get a shot at breaking through to a bigger podium.
Debuting with “For Life”, Bertolf instantly became a success in the Netherlands. The melodic guitar pop & roll was pleasant to listen to and perfectly crafted to do well on the radio. But without becoming a cliché. Therefore, expectations for Bertolf’s sophomore release were high. A respected songsmith and balladeer, Bertolf had his work cut out for him.
With “Snakes & Ladders” he delivers and meets the expectations. His success may very well have longevity to it as he proves on a very solid second release. Catchy songs like Two In A Million and Fortune Changes Overnight are bound to become solid radio hits in the upcoming year.
Overall the sound of the album has become a little less mainstream. Bertolf uses more influences from roots and blues music and doesn’t get into the breezy, folky side of his genre very much. In my opinion this is a good decision as it makes the album cohesive and collective. The tracks fit together well.
As a songwriter, Bertolf definitely belongs at the top. His lyrics are accessible but not cliché and the musical arrangements are not the prefab, formulaic kind you see way too often these days. He knows when to keep it simple and when to add something to the songs and while “Snakes & Ladders” may not be the most surprising album of the year, but it is rock solid.
It seemed Bettie Serveert was slowly fading into oblivion, which would be a shame, because their first few albums were sheer class. And despite all that musical talent and the tight live performances they haven’t been able to recreate that level on their following albums.
But to my surprise, and great pleasure, the band managed to sound fresh and exciting again on the new album “Pharmacy of Love”. The opener Deny All, though it might not win the award for originality, immediately sets the tone with all its energy and conviction. And also on Semaphore, the band plays with that familiar alternative rock sound. And it is all quite catchy to top it off.
Drummer Joppe Molenaar (Voicst) was a good addition to the band as he brings more kick and energy to the album and it makes the songs better. And it lasts all through the record. Only during Mossie, which is certainly a good song, the band’s performance is less intense. It’s a good song, but it doesn’t quite fit with the other songs on the album. But after that you listen to an insane track like Change4Me and you’ll forget all about that.
“Pharmacy of Love” is a very strong album and it will most certainly appeal to fans of refreshing alternative rock. For all intents and purposes, Bettie Serveert is back and they can reclaim their rightful place in the spotlights