Sunday, May 30, 2010

Megan & Liz Striking My 6th Sense

In the week that's gone by since my last post, so many things have happened. Among them, the great Ronnie James Dio, singer for Black Sabbath (in their later years after Ozzy), Heaven and Hell and Dio, sadly died of stomach cancer. Let there be a moment of silence, for the world has lost one of the most amazing artists to ever come forth from metal. Dio will be sorely missed, and his devil horns will live forever in rock tradition.
But let's move to something more positive; something that will lift us up from sadness to amazed acknowledgment of brilliant talent. In the same way that Meg & Dia blew my mind just a couple of years ago when I saw them open for Bowling for Soup, so too this duo is poised to break out onto the acoustic-pop scene with grace and gusto.
Megan & Liz are two talented-beyond-belief twins from Michigan, who for one irrational reason or another are not yet signed to any major label. Listening to the music these girls have up on their Myspace, though, there is a big part of me that wonders if it's even because a label hasn't taken notice. With the raw talent that clearly pours from these sisters, the artist in me says, 'well why do they even need a record label?' They're garnering thousands of hits all on their own, and I'd be amazed if some of their songs didn't go viral.
While Megan provides the majority of the instrumental structure with her skills on the piano and guitar, both she and Liz share songwriting responsibilities and credit, as well as both contributing vocals to the flawless pop arrangements. The talent these girls have is only further exemplified by the intertwining of their individual talents to create a tapestry of color and sound. In fact, their song title "Images Acoustic" seems more like an adjective describing their song-structure and melody than a title for a particular song.
With that, though, let's dive in, so I can show you precisely why these girls got my nod of amazed approval this week.
The first track that's on their Myspace setlist, and the first one I listen to, is "Maybe, Possibly." The song rests seamlessly on a soft acoustic chord progression provided by Megan as she and Liz wrap me in their twin, yet not-merely-interchangeable, voices. As one girl goes up, the other harmonizes and the result is a pop-song that would make Brittany Spears cry because it kicks "...Baby One More Time" in every sense, from style and structure, to performance and execution. As Megan (or Liz, lol, because I can't tell them apart just by their voices) fades in, Liz (or maybe Megan) fades out just slightly; just enough to give the song a surround-sound feeling. This is a simple song. And that's most certainly a compliment. Megan and Liz have taken the simple pop song and simplified it further: just a guitar and two girls who can sing their hearts out. Most definitely the best song I could start with.
The second song I listen to is "6th Sense." One of the things that I love about this song right from the beginning is the driving guitar rhythm that Megan delivers as she and Liz chime in and out, and the voices move so quickly that it's impossible to keep track. That, however, is the beauty in it. I'm so unable to keep up that I get lost in the music, and as the melody bleeds from the speakers, is seeps into and sticks in my ears as clever lyrics rest on the syrupy voices of the twins. One of the other things that makes Megan & Liz different from so many other pop acts out there, and one thing this song certainly benefits from, is a recurring set of lucid, intelligible lyrics. So many pop songs are filled with lyrics about someone's ass, or a fast car, but these make me think deeper, and the wordplay is something that makes the song all that more enjoyable. Absolutely a five-star track if there ever was one. Brilliant.
The last couple songs I'll spoil you guys with here are "Images Acoustic" and "The End." Images Acoustic" is for all intents and purposes the perfect pop song. So rarely have I seen a pop or acoustic act able to make use of the Pixies' loud-quiet-loud dynamic with just a guitar and vocals, but here Megan and Liz do it without even thinking about it. The guitar is a little quite during the verses, but blasts off in melody and feeling as it climbs into the chorus. The change is just sent further into the stratosphere by the crescendo of crashing voices from both Megan and Liz, building on each other to deliver a song that is unforgettable. This will definitely be the song that you can't shake for the next week, and certainly the song you won't want to. The minor bridge in the middle gives the song a twinge of philosophical feeling, before wrapping with the voices of both girls lying perfectly with the guitar notes. One of my new favorite songs.
The latter of the last two, "The End," is the first one I hear where Megan has opted for a piano over a guitar, and after listening to it, I'm glad she did. With ivory notes that serenade as her voice mixes with Liz's, Megan delivers an instrumental track that is short, sweet, and the no-brainer pick for any romance movie soundtrack. There is absolutely nothing I could think of to make this song any better: if you listen to this and can't see why it's raw talent personified, then there's just nothing you can be taught about music.
At first glance, these girls might seem the typical rip-off of an act like Miley Cyrus or Aly & AJ, but after listening to any one of their songs, that thought should be banished from your head. Now I'm not so much a fan of Miley Cyrus or Aly & AJ, though I'm sure they are all quite talented. But what I see here in Megan & Liz is a raw talent that has not been refined by a major record company: this is pure talent and emotion, and the bottom line is, if these girls can do this with no help at all, then it seems to me that the idea of the major record company is obsolete. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe I'm just running my mouth at this point. That's a definite possibility. But my point stands firm: Megan & Liz are the next pop-rock act poised for a viral takeover of the acoustic underground. Mark my words, these girls are gonna be huge.

Sounds Like: Meg & Dia, Vanessa Carlton,, Tegan and Sarah, Michelle Branch, Aly & AJ

Key Tracks: "Images Acoustic," "6th Sense," "Maybe, Possibly," "The End"

Check out Megan & Liz more at: and!/pages/Megan-and-Liz/71493558675?ref=ts

Monday, May 24, 2010

Feelin' Cheap and Deadly with The Biters

Hey all. It's been a crazy week: my brother's birthday, a graduation party for some close friends, band practice, and other assorted stuff that would just bore you. Negotiations are moving ahead with Platform One: we're still trying to figure out the best way to help each other, but I'm sure whatever arrangement we come to, it'll be good for everyone.
Anyway, like I say every week, enough of this stuff that you guys don't really come here for: let's get on to it and let me unveil my new, awesome discovery. Today that unveiling is in honor of The Biters, a garage-rock foursome right out of here in Atlanta. I first came across these guys a couple months ago when they were featured on Comcast's Bands on Demand for local bands right here in the ATL. I thought they were great then, but as with so much music, it took a few weeks for them to really sink in, and I dare say now they have. In fact, I've been listening to these guys all week long, and with melodies and sing-along lyrics like the ones that populate all their songs, these guys are most certainly poised for an underground takeover the likes of which we haven't seen the garage-rock explosion of the early 2000's with bands like The Strokes, The White Stripes and JET. 
Composed in brilliant simplicity of Tuk (lead vocals and guitar), Matt Gabs (guitar and vocals), Travis (bass and vocals), and Joey (drums and percussion), The Biters deliver a blistering punch through the speakers that I haven't felt since the first time I listened to "Ride" and "Get Free" by The Vines. These guys know their instruments back and forth, up and down, and all the freakin' way around: there's no filler track anywhere on their playlist, and every song you hear, you walk away air-guitaring to until your arms are sore.
Case in point: "Hang Around." A classic garage-punk track that just drills through my ears, tearing up every concept I had of garage-rock along the way, "Hang Around" is clearly the choice lead-off single for The Biters' self-titled debut EP, and that's a choice I whole-heartedly support. Tuk's and Gabs' guitar licks are brilliant Vines' style: serrated, melodic, and hardcore until the end. The ear-splitting solo that's followed by a head-banging bridge only serves to further the "hard-rock" grit of this song. Travis's bass, meanwhile, hits me in the stomach again and again, knocking whatever air was left in my lungs out without a break. I like a bass-line that will absolutely destroy and break my bones, and with it tied to a gut-busting set of drum fills by Joey, "Hang Around" boasts all the choice aspects of a song that could easily stay on the charts for a year, if not more. What pushes it over the top, though? Tuk's vocals, backed by Gabs' and Travis's, scream Vines and White Stripes influence, peppered with The Strokes and JET. I fucking love it, and at a crisp, clear 3:00 long, "Hang Around" is the "no frickin' duh" record label choice for any promotional use. "Hang Around" is simply an incredible song that's a complete experience in and of itself. 
Track two is "So Cheap, So Deadly," and with a title like that I'm already stoked to hear what the actual music can deliver. I'm not disappointed at all: reveling in a driving bass-line augmented by classic rock drums and a rhythm taken right of the '60's rock handbook, "So Cheap, So Deadly" sounds as crisp as "You Really Got Me" did when I first heard it years ago. With a vocal style and guitar licks that throwback to the Davies brothers and classic greats like The Kinks and The Who, The Biters hit gold again with this track. The guitar is brain-splitting, and pierces to crucify any sort of misgiving I might have had about good old garage-rock being dead and buried: it's not even close, and with groups like The Biters carrying the torch, it won't be any time soon. There's nothing left to say about this track other than it's simple audio bliss, and to listen to it would be to get your recommended daily dose of rock. A brilliant accomplishment and a seamless triumph: love it.
The last song I'll let myself reveal here (because let's face it, there's no way I can even hope to do these guys justice with just the words I have here, but I'll try) is "Dreamer." At first, as the waves of sound bleed out and into my room, I'm at a loss for what to write: there are no words for this one, but I'll do my best. This feels like what my dad tells me the summer of '68 felt like, everything I could possibly imagine: a melodic, sing-along chorus with lyrics that float you away and a message that makes you happy to live and even happier to rock. Tuk's vocals are raw and meaningful, and his guitar dances fantastically with Gabs' to produce a technicolor vision of rock. Travis's bass lies just on top of Joey's kicking drums to push me full-throttle into oblivion, and when Tuk and Gabs get to the guitar solo, I'm reminded of the way I felt when I heard The Beatles and Cream for the first time: pure audio utopia, and one I never want to stop.
It should seem a superfluous statement by now to say that these guys are amazing: that doesn't even begin to cover it. Bridging the small expanse between The Kinks and The Who, and The Vines and JET, The Biters are fanning the flames of the garage-rock revolution again. It isn't going to be long before these guys get their due, and when they do, their impact will be the same as when The Strokes and The White Stripes burst onto the scene. If you like anything classic rock, or anything garage-punk, it's like this group was custom tailored for you, and I don't see any way you could possibly be disappointed. The Biters' stuff makes me a dreamer again, and reminds me why I fell in love with rock in the first place, and if you ask me, that's the best thing a band could ever hope to do. Absolutely freakin' amazing. 

Sounds Like: The Kinks, JET, The Strokes, The Vines, The Who

Key Tracks from The Biters: "Hang Around," "Dreamer," "So Cheap, So Deadly"

Check out The Biters more at: and  

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

And It's Me Versus the Robot!

It's been a week since my last post (and this feels like a good time in between posts so I think this might become pretty common), and a lot's happened between the last time I posted an article for you guys and now. Among other things, my blog and my name (yes I know, my ego is gigantic lol) were featured in the press kit of a New Rock News 43 veteran group, Irreverents. The quote is also displayed prominently on their Myspace page, so get your butts over there and check it out.
The next thing, though, will totally blow your minds; every one of you. Yesterday on Monday, May 17th, I was contacted by a couple of event coordinators and music marketing managers at the small but prominent, Chicago-based entertainment company Platform One Entertainment. Apparently there are a couple New Rock News 43 fans over there, and they want to sit down on a phone call with me and talk about doing a collaboration between New Rock News 43 and Platform One Entertainment!! Just so you guys can understand what this means, they've worked with clients like Bon Jovi and Fall Out Boy, and brand name clients like Puma, Gibson and Yahoo. In fact, they've also done business with media giants like ABC, NBC, CBS, and others. Actually, they've have also done business with a couple of our own NRN43 veterans: The Flight Station and Holiday Parade. But these guys pride themselves on staying true to an artist's integrity and artistic flavor, so I am really excited to see what kind of things might be able to come out of this. Even if something doesn't materialize from this though, guys, the word seems to be getting out, and New Rock News 43 is on its way up. I will most definitely keep you guys posted, and let you know everything that happens with every step.
Okay, enough of me inflating my own ego, let's get right down to business, and what you all came here for. Today's story I've been listening to for a few weeks just thinking how I'm going to do these guys justice when I write about them. Brought to my attention by my good friend Andy Gruhin (another NRN43 veteran you might remember), Versus the Robot! are a brilliant pop-punk four-piece whose pop-laced ear-catching melodies perfectly exemplify the emotional high that I'm feeling right now.
Out of Columbia, South Carolina, Versus the Robot! is comprised of Charlie Jackson (lead vocals and guitar), JP Tepper (guitar), Jordan Spanske (bass), and Brandon Hollyday (drums).
Now many of you guys might remember VTR as the side-project of Charlie Jackson (at least that's what a blog post on their Myspace page says), but this is not the sound of a group that is just a side-project band for someone who only pays attention to them when he's bored; this is a full-fledged rock band. Their sound is complete and pure pop brilliance, and the demon (or angel) that will stick in your head all night long.
So let me just launch right into it. The first track I listen to is "Waste of Time." Apart from a great melodic start, "Waste of Time" boasts the rhythm section of a song determined not to fall from the radar. As Tepper and Jackson try brilliantly to outdo each other's great guitar notes, Jackson's vocals float high above, as Hollyday's drums drive me further and further, and Spanske's bass raises my blood-pressure in the best, most intense way. "Waste of Time" is a simple pop-rock song that is simply perfect because of the clear, intelligible lyrics and the blasting, sing-along chorus. But this is not a song that can be waved off as some typical pop song from another wanna-be band; Jackson and gang keep me guessing at every turn with interesting bridge play and small riffs that signal the arrival of a whole new kind of pop song: one that is polished and clean without giving up any of the gritty punk-rock rhythms. I know that I'm going to be humming this chorus for the next five days, and that's the minimum on the inside. What I'd do to hear this song live. 
Track two is "The Science Between Us." This song, much like "Waste of Time," is one that finds its bragging rights in a completely catchy set of lyrics that will drill their way through your skull until you have to make a conscious effort not to sing them. I particularly love the overdubbed vocals here: it's like Jackson is everywhere at once, and laid lightly above his guitar, which dances fantastically with the notes hashed out by Tepper, the melody for this song is set and incredible. But that's only half the journey, because as Jackson and Tepper busy themselves with providing the melody and harmonies, Spankse's bass-lines are slight undertones that meld in the best way with Hollyday's run-through drums. What makes so many pop-rock songs sound so sickeningly similar is their lack of real personality behind the rhythm section; here though Spanske and Hollyday do away with the notion that pop-rock songs can't rock hard, and drive this one through the roof. At just a slight 2:45, "The Science Between Us" is the perfect radio single that will have you begging for more as it flies from the speakers. A brilliant effort on the part of the VTR boys.
The last track for me here is "Sick or Swim," a song that embodies deep, intent thought, at least to me. I don't really know why that's the reaction I get while listening to this song, but I don't object to it. The song's message of thinking that it's not "how you sink or swim," but "how you tread the water," is such a brilliant thought that I wish I had written a song on it. Aside from a way creative concept, the lyrical articulation in this song is nothing short of radiantly commendable: Versus the Robot! have certainly outdone themselves with this one. Most artists find it so hard to marry a great concept with music that does it justice, but here VTR do it seamlessly, and I'm impressed, amazed, and speaking as an artist myself, slightly jealous. These guys have way too much talent for anyone to ignore or deny.
I'm gonna shut up right now, because if I go on any more about these guys, I know that I won't do them justice, and the only thing I'm gonna accomplish is spoil the experience for you guys. If you guys want to see what a set of hands-down five-star tracks should sound like, Versus the Robot! is a pretty damn good place to start. Check these guys out now, or you'll only have yourself to blame when you miss out on an audio experience your ears would kill to hear. Absolutely brilliant. 

Sounds Like: Amber Pacific, Boys Like Girls, The All-American Rejects

Key Tracks: "Waste of Time," "The Science Between Us," "Sink or Swim"

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Haunted by Phantom Ratio

It's been just about a week since my last post went up, and as I'm trying to get back into an easy routine for you guys, I decided today would be a good day to show you something new. In fact, new is probably the wrong word altogether: these guys are breeding a sound so old and classic that's it's taken on new life in our day and age. I was too young to truly appreciate the greats of punk-rock in their heyday: Sex Pistols, Ramones, Black Flag, Fugazi, The Germs; these were all groups I missed in their prime, though I love listening to them now. And as I was getting heavily into Nirvana and Soundgarden a couple years ago, I came across the name of a group as I was reading Kurt Cobain's journals: Wipers. I checked them out and immediately loved their style of classic punk-rock and their no-frills approach to instrumentation.
Now, just a week ago, I get a Facebook message from one Brad Davidson, a former member of Wipers who played with them for many years. I was psyched to say the least, and any skepticism I might have originally had was blown away after Davidson asked me to take a short listen to his new band, Phantom Ratio. These guys are as classic punk/sludge-rock as you can get, and there's no doubt in my mind that they're the brainchild of a former Wiper and friends. It's almost as if the Wipers and Melvins got together and had a child: a sick, twisted, demented monster of a kid that loved to play loud, fast, and hard. 
Straight out of San Diego, California, and composed of former Wiper Brad Davidson (bass and vocals), E. Raymond S. (guitar) and Jimi J. (drums), Phantom Ratio just drips from the speakers like ooze from a broken pipeline. The first track I listen to is "Secret Invention," and what a fucking wild ride it is. Jimi J. counts off and clocks in as Raymond S. takes off on a riff that is in every way something I'd expect from Eric Clapton. The brilliance already in this group's cohesive sound is that they are able to marry blues-rock riffs with grunge and punk rhythms. Davidson's vocals are gutteral yet oh so clear, the Mudhoney words of a new generational grunge-rock band. The bass lines are serrated and heavy-hitting, and the drums blast your guts apart as the sharpened guitar riffs cut into you with their demonic feedback, clipping you to tiny little pieces. This song is pure, straight-forward punk rock. This isn't for the weak-hearted. But that doesn't apply to me, and I fucking love it.
Track two's "Screw Your Face Up" is no cleaner than its predecessor, and for that I toast the gods of rock. The feedback, the reverb, and the simple yet powerful drumbeat reminds me of Melvins' "Eye Flies," and already I love it. If you guys are looking for pure, polished pop melody and catchy hooks, look elsewhere, this song isn't for you. But if you're looking for something powerful, hedonistic, and delirious with teenage alienation and disgust, then this track will definitely screw your face up. This is what they play during a montage of slides showing how fucked up the world is, and how apathetic we really are. That's what it means to me anyway. Great rhythm, pumping bass-lines, guitar notes that resonate with you, and vocals that tear you from your apathy, that's what this song boasts, and if you ask me, that's a hell of a lot more than most nowadays. 
I could go on and on. "Gravity" was a frickin' masquerade of blood and guts behind two guitars and a drum kit, but the one I really love is "God Told Me To." A total "fuck you" to everything organized religion stands for (again to me at least), "God Told Me To" is just a total full-throttle forward into the madness of punk rock. Davidson's vocals are grated and gritty, his bass-lines groundbreaking, as Jimi J.'s drums push and pull you in a virtual mosh pit of melody and rhythm. Raymond S., meanwhile, busies himself with shredding his guitar to bits, and by the way the notes are coming out of the speakers, his fingers must be smoking because those riffs are just blasting through my head faster than I could even imagine. The hooks are clear, and as is so rare with a hardcore punk song, this is one that I can hum and air-guitar even after it's done. Brilliant, I fucking love it. 
These guys have so few plays on their Myspace that I don't even think they break 100 plays with all their songs together. That, my friends, is an F-ed up tragedy: these guys are frickin' incredible, and I can only imagine how insane their live shows must be. Waving the banner of everything that the underground is all about, Phantom Ratio are true punks in a modern world where they have become an almost extinct breed. Maybe that's too philosophical, I don't know. I do know one thing: these guys fucking rock and if you don't believe me go listen for yourselves. Punk-rock is alive and well. Long live DIY.

Sounds Like: Mudhoney, Melvins, Wipers, Green River

Key Tracks: "Secret Invention," "Screw Your Face Up," "God Told Me To," "Gravity," "The Growth"

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Burning Up with FERVoR

So it's been a couple of weeks since I last posted, and I do apologize to you guys for that. I'm still recuperating from my car accident, and even as I type now I have a really bad pain in my left arm. I'm sure it'll go away though. I want to just give you all a heads up: your waiting hasn't been in vain. Last weekend I purchased my own domain, so in a few months after I get my site built and up and running, New Rock News 43 will be on a whole new level. Interviews, videos, articles, and whatever else comes to mind, that's what's in store for you guys. So just bear with me a little while longer and I promise that the result will be well worth the wait. But as I've decided you guys have waited long enough for a new group, here you are, a new one to sink your teeth into. And I promise that with these guys I haven't shorted you guys in any way.
FERVoR is an alternative-rock trio from right here in Atlanta, and was also a finalist in the same contest as The Swear to play an awesome show with Three Days Grace, Seether and Chevelle. Composed simply of Low Kung (vocals and guitar), Nate Sturge (bass) and Justin Little (drums), FERVoR has a unique alternative sound that bleeds through the speakers and resonates with my now-satiated eardrums.
I know it's been weeks since I gave you guys anything of consequence, so I'm just gonna launch straight into it. The first song I listen to from FERVoR's playlist is their new single "Habitual." Right from the start, Little's drums rope me in, and Kung's guitar riff and voice set a spark for what will surely be a blazing track by the final minute. Sturge's bass, though, doesn't fade into the background, like so may bassists do today. His notes are clearly present for those who listen for them, and it's no secret that without him, the song would drop out during the verses and bridge. The guitar riffs by Kung are brilliant, simple and totally catchy. With a blast-ahead chorus containing sing-along lyrics and drums that you can't not bang your head to, "Habitual" is definitely one of my new favorite songs for this week. I know I took less time dissecting this song that I have in the past with others, but this song really speaks for itself. An awesome track, and a hit single I'd bet my guitar on, "Habitual" is not a song that will quickly be forgotten by the alternative scene.
The second track for me is "Your Words," a complete departure from "Habitual," yet that's what makes FERVoR so awesomely versatile. The way Kung's guitar fits with Sturge's bass over Little's drums is brilliant in my head. With a stop/start sense of direction in an anthemic chorus, "Your Words" is a mix of raw emotion and musicality that border on the edge of an organized chaos. The only way I could describe this song is with my own term: romantcore (haha, and yes, this is my own term, so when it catches on, you know where it started). A brutal sense of heartache bashed forward from Little's snare and cymbals, and driven to new heights on the backs of Sturge's bass notes and Kung's swaying guitar jams, "Your Words" is one to listen to if you're looking for something that is just completely different from anything out there. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite songs from a new group I've reviewed.
The last track I go after is "Scorpio," and I've already listened to this track ten times over. Kung starts this one with a trippy guitar progression, and soon Little is in on the snare and toms before tearing it up on the cymbals in the chorus. Sturge isn't absent though, and during the times that the song slows a bit for the verses and mini-bridges, his bass notes blast right through your head. Kung's vocals make this one a clear five-star track, and it's one that just resonates with me. Personally, I particularly love the use of feedback in the background. This was the best last song I could listen to right now (though the other two they have up, "The Wake" and "Born Dead," are pretty intense too), and if and when I go see these guys, I definitely hope it's on their setlist.
FERVoR is an alternative underground force to be reckoned with. Trust me, these guys will be so big in the underground in a few months that it'll totally blow your mind. Go out and check these guys out, they definitely aren't one you want to miss.

Sounds Like: Chevelle, Seether, 3 Doors Down

Key Tracks from Life Verses: "Habitual," "Your Words," Scorpio," "The Wake"

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