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The Darker Shore (demo)

Formed from the ashes of the short-lived Drago comes The Darker Shore, with a more progressive, experimental bent and a groove-based stoner sound on their three song demo, released through Love Muffin Records. The disc has a heavy, sludgy sound reminiscent of bands like Kyuss and even Black Sabbath, but the tracks are augmented throughout with various secondary influences.

“Against the Dying” gets things off to a quick start with a punk taste to it and is the biggest “rocker” on the disc; its energy is infectious and gets the listener pumping their fist. One listen to this track and you WILL thrash.

“O My Dear” is a splash of cold water after the opener and immediately reels the sound back in with a slow, methodical, brooding sound ripped straight out of Tool’s play book. On the first listen, the two tracks may seem out of place next to each other, but the final track, “T(h)orn”, is a straight up rocker which does a fine job of bridging the gap and bringing the sounds together with its mix of classic riffing and subdued vocals.

The Darker Shore somehow manages to create a well-rounded offering in just three tracks, giving a little something to multiple audiences without watering everything down. Time will tell if this demo will lead to a full-length offering, but keep your eyes on the horizon and keep watching the darker shore.

-Late

The Darker Shore (demo)

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 4.0 stars
****

Lights – The Listening

Lights - The Listening CD cover

The Listening marks the first studio album from Canadian-born Lights, whose voice has been compared to the likes of Vanessa Carlton and whose New Wave style calls to mind images ranging from the serenity of Enya to the power of Tori Amos.

“Savior” gets things rolling and is an enchanting, yet powerful, song of hope with an opening that follows the lilting style of Enya. The heart-wrenching “Pretend”, which is also reprised later on the disc as a piano solo, falls under the sway of that same mood. “Drive My Soul”, with its melancholy poignancy, has a similar ethereal feel to it as do most of the tracks. The title track creates that mood, but with a more synthetic feel to it, calling to mind New Wave acts like Cranes, as does “Quiet”.

“River” is an anthemic arena power pop song, as are tracks like “Ice” and “Second Go”. “Face Up” and “Lions” offer the same energy, but with more of an 80s synth vibe, with the former calling to mind Genesis circa “The Last Domino”.

Lights greatest achievement on this album is her ability to breathe life into what is too often a stale and synthetic genre of music. Whether it’s the juxtaposition of mournfulness and hope on “The Last Thing on Your Mind” or the palpable chill of “February Air”, the music truly is alive. There’s real energy here and it’s a feeling, more than just a listening.

-Late

The Listening

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 4.5 stars
****1/2

Pushing Red Buttons – the butterfly net

Pushing Red Buttons - the butterfly net CD cover

With their Alan Parsons Project-inspired brand of pop rock, Pushing Red Buttons are back with their latest offering, the butterfly net. From the look and sound of it, they won’t be letting up anytime soon.

“Disguise” is a feel-good party-rock number that defies the listener not to bob their head and tap their toes to the beat. That, ultimately, is the main sound of the disc. Its infectious beats run throughout, notably on tracks like “I Won’t Belong”, “Sticking to Your Story” and “Entitled”, although the last one drags and becomes a bit bloated at the end. “New Thoughts” is similarly vibrant, but tracks like it and “Heavy Hand” play more with the heart of a jam band at the corner bar.

The title track and the moodier “Bottom Feeder” are more restrained but no less catchy. The title track, though, becomes muddled in the middle of the track with a disconnected song seemingly shoved into the mix. “It Skips a Generation”, on the other hand, achieves the effect that they seemed to be going for with much better and smoother transitions.

That’s not to say that the butterfly net is a vapid collection of party jams – although “Try it Out for Size” is certainly a charming little ditty. “My Parting Shot” is melancholy and poignant and the harmonization of “Too Late” and the frenetic opening to “Looking All Night” show that these guys aren’t above flexing their musical chops and showing off a bit.

Overall, the butterfly net continues the same light-hearted rock sentiment that Pushing Red Buttons have put forth in the past. The one disappointment may be that lyrically there hasn’t been a lot of evolution. The songs are catchy but at times overly simplistic. If you’re just looking for some background music for the next get-together, though, then this is definitely one to snare before it flies away.

-Late

the butterfly net

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 2.5 stars
**1/2

Willie Basse – The Money Grind

Willie Basse - The Money Grind CD cover

Ex-Black Sheep frontman Willie Basse has launched a new label, New Empire Media, and what better way to do it than with the release of his own newest offering, The Money Grind? Twenty years removed from his time playing with the likes of Slash and Randy Castillo, the question is what he has to offer a scene that he helped to create a lifetime ago?

“Danger Zone” gets the album off to an ignominious start. The lame intro, though, quickly gives way to a rocker ripped straight out of the 80s – a sound that runs throughout the album; just check out “Reasons”. That same lame intro, though, rears its head in a cheesy chorus that marks this arrangement as probably the biggest misstep on the disc – although the lilting sound of “You’re Not There” is in the running and a lot of the disc suffers from some weak choruses and repetition.

“Guitargasm” and the more progressive “Immrotal” show that Basse isn’t content to just try to get by on vocals alone and shine the spotlight squarely on the shredding that made the 80s such a great era for high-powered music. That signature 80s shriek, though, remains the calling card of the Willie Basse sound and tracks like “It’s Over” and “Don’t Waste My Time” show that he hasn’t lost any of that range or power.

The bulk of the disc plays with that same straight rocking mentality. The title track is a gritty call to the blue collar everyman while tracks like “(Love So) Far Away”, the more radio-friendly “Yesterdaze” and “U Can’t Have It All”, which is probably the standout track on the disc, offer up the classic power rock riffing of bands like Dokken with hard-edged vocals reminiscent of Paul Stanley. “Unloveable” is a seedy little sleaze rock number while “Avarie” is the requisite power ballad.

“Po’ Boy” seems a bit out of place as Basse explores an unconventional reggae beat, but the song is well-constructed and the fact that he’s able to pull it off so well sets it aside as one of the highlights of the disc from a songwriting standpoint.

Willie Basse still channels the seedy underbelly of rock the way it was done by bands like Ratt, but he does it with the precision of more visionary acts like Fates Warning – seeking to create something rather than just lay down his life and his view of the streets in music. The one knock on this disc is that there’s precious little here that’s fresh or new – this is largely the same music that he was making 20 years ago. While there’s enough nostalgia here for fans of the sound that are looking for something new for their music libraries but probably not enough for it to translate to the people who missed out on that era of music. With the acts that he continues to work with, though, Basse has seemed to made peace with the idea of staying set in that period, though, and pumping his sweat into that scene – so maybe it really isn’t all about the money grind after all.

-Late

The Money Grind

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 3.0 stars
***

Hydrogyn – Deadly Passions

Hydrogyn - Deadly Passions CD cover

Calling back to the glory days of female-fronted hard rock a la Doro Pesch and Warlock, Hydrogyn unleash Deadly Passions hot on the heels of their critically acclaimed debut, Bombshell, looking to capitalize on all the heat that their first album garnered them while avoiding the ages old sophomore jinx.

After a sinister backmasked intro that bellies the album’s heavy sound and dark design, “Rejection” gets things off to a high-octane shock to the system. This sets the stage for some good old hard rock that runs through tracks like “Your Life” and the blistering “Seroquil”. Determined to show that they can rein that beast in, “On and On” offers a chilling mix of beauty and brutality that gives Deadly Passions its heart along with tracks like “Candles Light Your Face” and the haunting “Shadow”, which could easily be the next great hard-rock power ballad.

The title track is a no nonsense no-holds-barred statement track that shouts loudly and proudly to any doubters that chicks can rock and leads well into the band’s cover of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know”, although that track falls a bit flat, lacking Morissette’s awkward angsty vitriol and is the one glaring misstep on the album.

That’s not to say that the rest of the band hides behind their siren, Julie. One need look no further than the big crunchy guitars on tracks like “Silent Animation”, with also offers up a shredding outro and a heavy as hell bass line, to see that the rest of the guys in Hydrogyn are a lot more than session musicians – this is a true rock and roll outfit.

Deadly Passions is a beast of an album and, more often than not, hits the mark that it aims for with deadly precision.

-Late

Deadly Passions

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 4.0 stars
****

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