MUSIC REVIEWS: Richie James Follin, Arbouretum, The Bicycles, The Howlies, Lily Allen
With vocals that scowl alongside harmonies of full-throated 70s rock and emo leaning country western music, Richie James Follin’s solo album, Battle is a bit of a detachment from the garage punk sound of his other band the Willowz. A wistful slide guitar opens up “Prize” as a disengaged country pop meets a nervous western showdown that starts with Follin’s soft echo vocals, later rising up to the heavens in an inebriated chant-manta. The savage lull of rumbling drums are trance-inducing. The track continues to expand while each instrument grows slowly into a pulsing tribal frenzy. “Colt” lyrically feels like a dark elegy, while acoustic guitar chords can be heard squeaking along the fret board, with high notes plucked and twanging in the distance. Not getting too stuck in his own convention and not breaking entirely from it, “Rose” is a remorseful rhythm and blues slow dance that boasts a heavy hint of western rock and blues. Richie James Follin does a fine job at crafting a stylized usefulness of multi-genre music that at its best moves in and out of lone cowboy allure.
Wailing, melodious electric guitars pulsing over a thumping bass and earth-moving, pounding drums set the blues, root, psychedelic sounds of Arbouretum. Each song feels like a separate journey or a different room of someone’s house. Each track like each new space effortlessly captures an atmospheric energy. The album, Song of the Pearl, is heavy on hazy escapade rock, closely related to a very summer of 70s type of musical enchantment best appreciated at high volumes, while the lyrics are deeply poetic. Lead singer, David Heumann, has such beautifully warm vocals that are iconic at times. “Thin Dominion” is the most righteous gem on the album. The low-end bumps of bass and the tightness of the drums yield a funky, nastily wild delivery. Heumann’s lyrics fall like a heavy rainstorm underneath a promising forecast of coming sun. “False Spring” begins with Heumann’s vocals expanding like smoke over raking guitars; Corey Allender, Daniel Franz and Steve Strohmeier as the rest of the band calmly build the track that later breaks way into a wicked hard rock guitar jam. It seems as if Song of the Pearl was an album released over 30 years ago and is a remastered treasure of some legendary rock band from yesteryear. Arbouretum is now, however.
The album, Oh No, It’s Love is a musical sugar high. Definitely danceable and overly caffeinated, this new release is chockfull of intensely pop flavored tracks that boast a chipper-happy agenda. The Bicycles hail from Toronto, Canada and the quartet is made up of Matt Beckett, Drew Smith, Dana Snell and Andrew Scott. Their music is bubblegum-core with a bit of country western zest. The multi-vocal choral sharing and the upbeat summer sunshine rock shuffling yields giddy results. Cascading harmonic solos burst all over “What A Fool,” while the song moves like a breezy 1950s mainstream radio gem, except for the lyrics which are much more risqué than anything allowed on the radio back then. “Roland” is a super jam shakeout party, a dance anthem where the chorus belts out like a cheer. Sweeping wind-up guitars explode then quickly spill out into a more shadowy tone. “Walk Away (From A Good Thing)” has a nice edge and a more indie rock harmony. The beauty of the song is that it exhales with gorgeous horns and a sweet guitar hook with crazy catchy vocals of sliding “ohh’s.” Definitely fun, uproarious and loud, Oh No, It’s Love is fizzy fun.
Trip and fall into the new, Trippin’ With Howlies. Opening with the upfront “Sea Level,” I was reminded of both the Beach Boys and The Ramones(!), though I liked how it got all messy and barking at the end. The single guitar and vocals opening “Smoke” kept this weird one perfectly in the pocket while “Howlies Sound” is solid modern commercial pop punk.
Things change a bit with the lighter “Chimera,” but we’re back in familiar Howlies groove with the fun “Walk On Home” (this could be a mid 60’s shore band hit) and “Angeline” begins what the CD indicates as ‘side 2’! (gotta love these guys). The next few are fast and furious, 2 min-or-so little gems like, “Whiskey Night” benefiting from the strong vocals of all four Howlies and “Dirty Woman” back in Ramones territory.
“Aluminum Baseball Bat” is one of the longer tunes here, but is absolutely fantastic slow fifties-like heartfelt blues. It features Aaron Woods’ great vocal (he is the drummer as well) and Matt Forsee (bass and backing vocal), Justin Brooke (guitar, piano and vocal) and Brandon Morrison (guitar backing vocal) playing with spot-on restraint. “(Do The) Natural Thing” ends it all with a blistering fast beginning, then the CD’s producer, the infamous Kim Fowley of Runaways/Gene Vincent fame, recites the CD’s back cover liner notes.
Wacky and weird, Trippin’ With Howlies is definitely a must-have debut.
Lily Allen’s sophomore effort It’s Not Me, It’s You, brings with it a feel-good sound, as well as a more mature honesty that usually isn’t found in this genre. Her songs discuss themes of rebirth, fear, and doubt with such wit and substance that it’s hard to believe she’s just 23 going on 24. Although the processed electronic beats may seem a bit excessive at times, Allen’s melodies and catchiness carries the whole album. Some key songs include the popular, delayed Bush-basher “F**k You,” and the song “Everyone’s at it,” in which Allen shows her concern for our antidepressant culture. She gives us the inside and outside look into the situations at hand, and we are simultaneously charmed and amused by her. The album provides both plugged and unplugged versions of the single, “The Fear,” a song that treads lightly but doesn’t go too deep into precious territory. The result is a cohesive mix of songs likely to catch your heart somewhere along the way.