Andrew Steck – Theater

Andrew Steck is a composer based out of Athens, GA – yes, the home of R.E.M. His instrumental work is classical inspired infused with a modern pop sensibility. He’s been putting out albums at an aggressive rate, each with numerous highlights. Like so many others, my 2020 went a bit sideways so I did not get to review the album he released late in the year. Inner Loop / Outer Loop is a complex orchestral ballet – but it is so much more. As chance would have it, I ended up with a few vinyl copies and turned my Dad into a fan. One of the pleasures of moving home to Philadelphia after 18 years in the Pacific Northwest. But I digress – that’s last year’s news. Andrew’s new album is called Theater and is the equal to – if not better than – last year’s album. Conceived as a set of one act plays, each piece stands alone and also contributes to the overall vibe. Having seen my first Broadway show in New York City in over 20 years a few weeks ago (The Book of Mormon, thanks for asking), this record really spoke to me on a visceral level.

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Empiires – Stronger

Empiires are a metal band based out of Dallas, TX. A few singles under their belt thus far, Stronger is the latest tune from the band. Featuring a classic metal sound but imbued with the aggression of Texas metal, this is a band that has a bright future ahead of it. The band is made up of Bishop Booker on vocals, D Paul on guitars, Matthew Gene on bass, and Clay Wise on drums. The band calls Stronger “a rallying cry to anyone who has ever dealt with self doubt”. The track starts out furiously right off the bat, guitars overwhelming the mix immediately. The vocals feel inspired by the greats of metal – Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and singers from that ilk. Lyrically, the song feels like an anthem for empowerment. “What doesn’t kill me / Only makes me stronger”. Great, great stuff. The band locks into a nice groove, just a killer hard rock / heavy metal jam. I’m looking forward to what comes next from this band!

You can follow the band on The Social Network here.

Verdict: Texas Metal Masterpiece

Black Swan Lane – Hide in View

We last heard from Black Swan Lane during the last half of 2019 when they released the stellar LP Vita Eterna. The LP stood out as a highlight in the band’s oeuvre and featured guitar wizard Dave Fielding from the criminally underappreciated bands The Chameleons and The Reegs. At the time I wondered if Jack Sobel and company had backed themselves into a corner – where do you go from here? As it turns out, the world would soon change. The pandemic brought out the best and worst traits of humanity, leaving the world in a frightening polarized state. The last 18 months or so had band mastermind Jack Sobel in isolation, working diligently on the next Black Swan Lane record. An anomaly in the band’s catalogue – this is just Jack Sobel on record. No heralded guests from Manchester, England. No former musical partners. A solo album in all but name, Hide in View is the latest album from Black Swan Lane. And it lives up to the earlier critically acclaimed releases whilst adding some new twists to the sound. The album cover is simply stunning and is a sign of the music contained within.

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Kings of Convenience – Peace Or Love

Kings of Convenience came out of the heralded and forgotten “New Acoustic Movement” of the early 00’s. From the start, I followed each and every move by the duo. I thought of them as Norway’s own Simon & Garfunkel. Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe were special talents, it was clear to me. I missed out on the opportunity to see them live while living near Seattle in 2002. I figured I’d see them next time. 19 years later, it hasn’t happened yet. Fortunately, there’s been strong album after strong album released in the years since their Kindercore self-titled debut in 2000 debut. Quality over quantity though – there’s been         long gaps between albums after the 1st rapid fire releases of the self-titled album, Quiet Is The New Loud, and Versus remix album. In fact, 2021 marks 12 years since 2009’s Declaration of Dependence. Fortunately, the boys have returned with the timely album entitled Peace Or Love. The question was on my mind – would Kings of Convenience continue their winning streak? After a few spins the answer was clear – there is magic in the air.

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David Olney & Anana Kaye – Whispers and Sighs

I remember the 1st time I heard about David Olney. It was a blurb on a music website in January of 2020, saying that he had passed away while playing a concert. He looked out at the audience, said “I’m sorry” and closed his eyes. It seemed like a fitting way for an artist to leave this mortal coil – yet I didn’t explore his music further at that time. Since then, we’ve had a pandemic, I’ve relocated across the US, and the world seems more divided than it did just 18 months ago. Perusing through YouTube one night, a song by David Olney & Anana Kaye was suggested to me and I played it. Again, and again. It spoke to me in a way that few songs do. My Favorite Goodbye was just the tip of the iceberg though – the entire album is incredible.

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