Monophonics’ New EP Is A Surprisingly Enjoyable, Worthwhile Covers Collection

Courtesy: Transistor Sound

Covers records are a dime a dozen in this day and age.  As this critic has pointed out so many times before, covers records are more often than not among the most unnecessary releases that an act of any genre can produce.  That is because they are by and large, little more than contractually obligated space fillers.  In other words, nine times out of ten, they are little more than compilations that are thrown together for the purpose of fulfilling contractual obligations.  The end result is – again – more often than not a presentation that smacks of laziness and lack of concern for the overall product.  Of course even among those masses, every now and then a diamond in the rough will come along and reveal itself.  Enter Monophonics and its latest record, the six-song EP Mirrors.  The record’s title is fitting as it is a sharp reflection of a bygone era that was, honestly, among the music industry’s greatest.  The songs chosen to create that sharp reflection play directly into that reflection, and will be discussed shortly.  Their arrangements also play into that reflection and will be discussed a little later.  The record’s sequencing puts the finishing touch on that sharp image.  When it is set alongside the noted songs and their noted arrangements, the end result is a record that will appeal to music lovers across the board.  To that end, it proves overall to be one of this year’s top new EPs.

Monophonics’ latest record, the six-song EP Mirrors, is a rarity of a record for a covers collection.  That is because unlike so many covers compilations out there today, it is a work that actually comes across as something worth hearing rather than just another contractually obligated space filler that lacks any effort or heart.  In other words, it is a collection that deserves to be heart by music lovers throughout the musical universe.  This is proven in part through the songs that were chosen to make up the record’s body.  The songs in question come from the 1960s and ‘70s, which are among the music industry’s greatest eras, beginning with a cover of Seals & Croft’s 1972 hit ‘Summer Breeze.’  From there, the record moves into a powerful, soulful take on The Invincibles’ 1965 hit single ‘My Heart Cries.’  Originally the song was a b-side to the single ‘It’s That Love of Mine.’  The third of the record’s six entries is an updated, yet still impressive, take on ‘Beggin,’ from Frankie Vallie and the Four Tops.  The record’s fourth offering is a cover of ‘Lying’ and its fifth is an infectious, horn-driven take on The Nu People’s 1969 hit single ‘I’d Be Nowhere Today.’  The band closes out the record with a spot-on take of The Mamas and The Papas’ timeless single ‘California Dreamin’.  While most listeners are likely familiar with that song and likely ‘Summer Breeze,’ not as many people might be familiar with ‘My Heart Cries,’ ‘It’s That Love Of Mine,’ ‘Beggin’ or even ‘Lying.’  To that end, it’s clear here that Monophonics’ members put a lot of time and thought into choosing the songs for this record.  They clearly didn’t want to just go the route of covering a bunch of familiar tunes.  Instead they wanted to cover largely, songs that would opener listeners’ ears and in turn their musical horizons.  Kudos are in order for that effort.  What’s more, the songs aren’t just one format or another.  ‘Summer Breeze’ opens the record gently with its laid back composition, which will be discussed shortly.  From there, the EP moves more in the direction of R&B with ‘My Heart Cries’ – which is one of this critic’s favorite numbers from this EP – before moving more in a rock/soul hybrid sound in ‘Beggin.’  ‘Lying’ is a nice blues rock work that conjures thoughts of Jimi Hendrix (even though it obviously isn’t a Hendrix cover).  ‘I’d Be Nowhere Today’ is a nice soulful tune that sounds (thanks to its arrangement) like it came right out of the 1960s.  The band’s take on ‘California Dreamin’ is a nice bookend to the record, as it compliments the disc’s opener quite well with its own laid back instrumental, almost hip-hop infused arrangement.

Looking at everything noted here, the bigger picture of the songs’ importance to the EP is this:  For many Monophonics fans, these covers may well be their first introduction to the songs that formed so much of the foundation of today’s music industry.  It showed a great tribute to those songs and their creators to have these songs, which again are not all just the standard hits.  The fact that the band wanted to cover as much musical ground as possible here with six different formats shows that the band wanted to ensure listeners’ engagement and entertainment even more.  The band wanted to keep things interesting for listeners and for itself.  Keeping all of this in mind, the songs chosen for this record make clear that they were not just chosen by a toss of the coin.  There was a lot of time and thought put into their choice, thus making them key to the EP’s presentation.  The songs themselves are only part of what makes the record so enjoyable.  The songs’ arrangements are important to the record, too.

From start to finish, the arrangements presented in this record stay largely true to their source material.  Of course there is some variation here and there, but by and large the arrangements pay tribute to their source material.  That’s not to say that the variations are bad.  As a matter of fact, if one were to take the variations in the band’s take of ‘Summer Breeze’ and set them next to the original song, one would not be able to deny the positive impact of those variations.  Monophonics’ cover opens with a flowing vibraphone line versus the toy bells (or something similar) used in Seals & Croft’s original.  The update is actually a step up from the original.  The band’s bass-driven, hip-hop infused updated arrangement couples with the old school guitar sound to make the whole instrumental presentation wholly engaging. Much the same can be said of the band’s take of ‘My Heart Cries.’  Singer Tiffany Austin’s falsetto delivery is right up there with the falsetto in the original’s vocals.  On that same note, both deliveries conjure thoughts of Diana Ross, being so high, yet so controlled.  That is a strong, positive statement.  Between that, the subtlety of the bell ring, the guitar riff (even stylistically) and horns, its clear that the song stays true to its source material.  It just makes it even stronger than before.  It really is a powerful new arrangement that will entertain listeners across the board.  The band’s cover of ‘Beggin’ pays homage just as respectably as any of the other songs included in this record.  From the keyboards to the sound of the drums (not just the drum line, but the very sound of the drums) to the vocals and even the minute addition of the tambourine, so much can be said of what makes this song another strong entry from the band.  All things considered, the band’s efforts make the song sound like it came right from the 1960s and easily rivals its source material.  So again, kudos are in order for the band here.  Between the success of that cover, that of the other noted arrangements and those not noted, the whole of the record’s arrangements does just as much as the songs themselves to make this record a surprisingly worthwhile covers collection.  It still is not the last of the elements that makes the EP an enjoyable effort from Monophonics.  Its sequencing puts the final touch to its presentation.

The EP’s sequencing is important to note in examining the record’s whole because it clearly keeps the record’s energy stable from start to finish.  Things start off gently with the ‘Summer Breeze’ cover before getting really emotionally in-depth in ‘My Heart Cries.’  Even as powerful as the motion is in this song, the emotional energy still maintains the laid back vibe established in ‘Summer Breeze.’  That was very good thinking, especially considering how much the record’s energy picks up as it moves into the cover of ‘Beggin.’  That energy is pulled back only a little bit as the band makes its way through ‘Lying’ and into ‘I’d Be Nowhere Today.’  The band’s cover of ‘California Dreamin’ brings the record’s energy full circle, right back to that laid back vibe presented in ‘Summer Breeze.’  The use of the guitars and solid time keeping couples with the subtlety of the keyboard accompaniments to make this arrangement so powerful in its simplicity.  It’s a strong presentation, yet still somehow laid back even with its power, making for a nice, solid finish for the disc.  It’s one more example of the thought that was put into the record’s sequencing.  In essence, it really does bring everything full circle here.  Between the thought put into the EP’s sequencing, the effort put into paying homage to the songs’ source material and the thought put into the songs’ choices, the whole of these elements makes the record one of the most surprisingly worthwhile covers collections to come along in a very long time; a collection that is a wonderful reflection of the songs chosen and the era from which they came.

Monophonics’ recently released EP Mirrors is one of the most memorable and worthwhile covers collections to come along in a very long time.  It is a six-song, 24-minute record that is a wonderful reflection of the songs chosen for inclusion in the record and the era from which they rose.  That is evident in the very choice of songs.  At least two of the songs are relatively well-known, while the record’s other four compositions are nowhere near as well-known, nor their artists.  That serves as a great starting point for some enjoyable music history lessons.  The arrangements show just as much time and effort as they stay true to their source material while also stepping up those originals even more.  At the same time, the arrangements still manage to sound like they came right from the 1960s (and 70s, since one song rose from the 1970s).  The record’s sequencing ensures just as much as the song selection and arrangements, listener engagement throughout.  That is obvious in the stability of the songs’ energies.  Keeping in mind all of these noted elements, they come together to make Mirrors a wonderful reflection of Monophonics’ talents, the songs chosen for the record and the era from which they came.  It is available now.  More information on Mirrors is available online now along with all of the band’s latest news and more at:

 

 

 

Website: http://www.monophonics.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/monophonics

Twitter: http://twitter.com/monophonicsfunk

 

 

 

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The Burning Of Rome’s New LP Is One Of 2012’s Sleeper Hits

Courtesy: Surf Dog Records

The Burning of Rome is a breath of fresh air in the music industry today.  This San Diego, California based band mixes elements of college rock with psychadelia, dance, and something almost impossible to pinpoint for a sound that’s seemingly different from any other band out there today.  On its new album, “With Us”, the band has separated itself from the masses even more with its eclectic mix of sounds.  It starts off sounding like any other college rock band.  But it only gets better from there.  Things really start to pick up on the album’s third song, ‘Cowboys and Cut Cigars.’  This is a solid, straight ahead rock song with great driving guitars and drums.  The song’s chorus sections mixed with the guitars and drums really drive the song.  Together, they’re bound to make this an instant hit for the band.

‘Norman Bates’ is an equally intriguing track.  Some may argue, but the way the song opens, there’s almost a touch of The Mamas and the Papas’ ‘California Dreamin’ in it.  From there though, things pick right back up with another song that’s bound to be a major hit in ‘Wake Up Edamame.’  The chorus sounds like Van Halen’s ‘Janie’s Crying’ while the guitar work has more of a grunge tinge.  The combination of the two makes for quite the interesting listen.  The band keeps the energy moving after ‘Wake Up Edamame’ in the form of the quirky ‘Island.’  The vibe of this song is a prime example of that sound that’s seemingly different from anything out there today.  It’s something that simply can’t be compared to any other band.  Any comparison that could be made would be difficult to find as it is such a unique sound.

The band continues setting itself apart from anything else out there today both in terms of college rock and the mainstream across the remainder of the album.  Songs such as ‘Opus for Sleepwalking’, and the equally bizarrely titled, ‘Why Can’t I Stop Killing My Friends’ make this record stand out amongst the crowds even more.  And then there’s what seems to be a tribute to the classic 1960 Roger Corman cult classic, Little Shop of Horrors in the song, ‘Audrey II.’  It takes audio from the classic movie and sets it against its own semi-eerie carnival-esque musical background for a song that simply cannot be compared to any other act out there today.  And ‘Opus For A Sleepwalker’ maintains that eerie vibe too, mixing electronics and guitars together for something that would conjure thoughts of a very dimly lit carnival funhouse.

It goes without saying that considering all of this, one has to wonder about this band.  But the thing is that as different as the band’s sound is on this record, it’s actually surprisingly catchy.  It won’t be an instant hit.  But it will grow on audiences with each listen.  It may not make most critics’ lists of the year’s best records.  But it definitely can be noted that this record is one of the year’s sleeper hits.  Anyone looking to break away from the musical norm and is open minded enough may actually find themselves enjoying it.  “With Us” is available now.  It can be downloaded via iTunes at http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/the-burning-of-rome/id215256207.  The band will be performing tomorrow night at the famed Viper Room in Los Angeles in support of the newly released album.  To keep up with any new tour dates and all the latest news from the band, go online to http://www.theburningofrome.com, http://www.facebook.com/theburningofrome, http://twitter.com/theburningofrome, http://www.youtube.com/burningofromemusic.

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Meat Loaf’s “Hell in a Handbasket” is a musical heaven

Veteran vocalist, Meat Loaf, has scored a hit once again with his new album,  “Hell in a Handbasket.”  The singer’s eleventh full length studio release features what is arguably some of his finest work to date.  Each song on the album follows the common theme of everything that’s gone wrong with the world, and how it’s led to the world going to “Hell in a Handbasket.”  But in a larger scheme, one could argue that this album is really a concept album of sorts.

“Hell in a Handbasket” could be argued to be a concept album in that it opens and closes in a near story-like fashion.  The album opens with the song, “All of Me.”  Meatloaf starts off singing to his audience, “This is my anger/this is my shame/These are my insecurities/This is my fortress crumbled ’round my feet/Take a good look baby/This is all of me.”  He sings of a person who is frustrated with what people had caused him to become.  That leads into songs full of social commentary in the likes of ‘The Giving Tree’, ’40 Days’, and a cover of Tom Cochran’s ‘Mad Mad World.’ 

For all the commentary in “Hell in a Handbasket”, the album does have some more positive moments.  It also includes songs of life and love.  They come in the form of the amazing southern rock styling of ‘Live or Die’, ‘Our Love and Our Souls’, and what is arguably one of the album’s best songs, ‘Stand in The Storm.’    Meatloaf brings along country superstar Trace Adkins, Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath and hit rapper, Lil’ Jon along for the ride in this arena anthem.  Meat Loaf sings, “Somebody’s gotta stand in the storm/In the lightning when it pours/be strong enough to lean on/show you what a backbone’s for.”  This one leaves absolutely no doubt as to what its about.  And being that it’s one of the album’s closing tracks, its placement on the list is no coincidence.  It leads straight into ‘Blue Sky.’  ‘Blue Sky’ is the exact antithesis of ‘Stand in The Storm.’  It’s much softer both musically and lyrically.  This is the point where the story’s character is beginning to come to a realization.  He sings, “Have you a heart that beats/Heave you a breath to breathe/and have you veins that bleed/have you a brainthat dreams/Is it so hard to see that/we’re all the same machine/Don’t we all live and die/under the same blue sky?”  That’s his character asking, don’t you realize we’re all just human?  We’re all the same.  It’s a perfect lead-in to the album’s closer, ‘Fall from Grace.’

‘Stand in The Storm’ and ‘Blue Sky’ lead ultimately to the story’s main character coming to the revelation that no one is perfect in ‘Fall From Grace.’  And although nobody’s perfect, that’s okay.  He sings his epiphany, “No one is safe/You can fall from grace/In so many ways/One step forward two back/You can’t run away/From that empty space/You will find your place/When you run away/We will all fall from grace.”  Again, this is self explanatory.  The more positive vibe brought from the piano directly contradict the more uneasy feeling of the album’s opener.  That song, too, was led by a piano, only in a more ominous tone.  So it’s a perfect closure to this musical adventure.

“Hell in a Handbasket” isn’t necessarily a concept record.  But considering how it opens and closes, and the material that fills the album, it could be argued to be something similar.  And while concept albums in general tend to get a bad reputation, Meat Loaf’s new album is one great record, concept album or not.  One could even go so far as to say that in the bigger picture of albums due out in 2012, “Hell in a Handbasket” is a sleeper hit.  And it’s also one of the year’s best.

“Hell in a Handbasket” is available in stores and online now.  Meat Loaf currently has no tour dates scheduled.  Though he did recently perform on Leno.  To get more information on Meat Loaf’s upcoming plans, fans can check him out online at http://www.meatloaf.net, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MeatLoaf, and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RealMeatLoaf.