Oh Man Wow – s/t

Some of my favorite bands are the ones that avoid easy characterization. Indie band Oh Man Wow have just released their debut album, and this fits that description perfectly. The band is made up of Bryan Ray on vocals / guitar, Joy Maydak on bass / guitars / keyboards, Fred Jeske on guitars, Sam Schauer on guitars, Jerry Pellizzer on drums, David Ziegler on guitars, and Roy and Rich Randall on guitars. A collaborative project, the album varies in sound with a wide array of influences. For me, it finds that sweet spot most commonly heard in the 70’s – where hard rock, metal, prog, and power pop melt into one. The album was produced by Joe Maydak and mixed / mastered by Jordon Zadorozny (of Blinker the Star fame). It’s an impressive debut that is more than the sum of its parts.

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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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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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Death Threat Cassette – Use Your Delusion

A few years ago, I got it into my head that wearing a John Mellencamp shirt to punk rock shows would be the most punk rock thing ever. Of course, it is kind of silly coming from me – an unabashed John Mellencamp fan and settling (mostly) comfortably into my 40’s. But I was really proud of the thought and put it into motion. I tested this theory of being uncool by wearing my Mellencamp shirt to a Mudhoney show in Seattle. Of course, I ran into Mark Arm (Mudhoney singer / co-founder) randomly, had a brief conversation with him, and realized that I wasn’t cool enough to own my uncool. Or something like that anyway. This story came to mind as I was listening to my review copy of the third Death Threat Cassette album. Use Your Delusion features a song called John Mellencamp & the Infinite Sadness – not only one of the best song titles in history, but it is also the best song on the new album.

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Sunstack Jones – Golden Repair

Kicking off reviews for 2021 in February, bypassing January completely, in the midst of a snowstorm the likes of which has not been seen in these parts in ages. Fitting, really. What better company than that of an old friend? I am speaking of the new record by England’s Sunstack Jones. A group that is equal parts Americana and British psychedelia. All these things and more. The band enjoys a loose association with The Verve’s Simon Jones (no relation), who has lent his recording techniques to the latest records by Sunstack Jones (no relation). All joking aside, this is a fruitful collaboration that has drawn out the band’s strengths. Paul Den Heyer once again is involved in the final mixes, giving the new album a familiar vibe from previous albums. That being said, Golden Repair is the finest album yet from Sunstack Jones. Not many bands can say that at this stage in their career.

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