Andrew Farmer & Jazz Special Forces — “Redacted Passages” Listen: www.andrewfarm.org
“Redacted Passages” by Andrew Farmer & Jazz Special Forces is epic in scope. Yes, it’s a concept album. One about things being “covered up,” whether because of lack of recognition, conspiracy, or just the erasure of memory. It can be difficult to tackle such issues without coming across as melodramatic, but there are only a few moments where “Dramatic Passages” is guilty of this.
The opening track, “Calling all the Crazies,” has some questionable lyrical choices. The childish hide and seek phrase “ollie ollie oxenfree” does not make for an interesting hook. This is followed by a verse that mentions the clichéd Shakespearean quote “To be or not to be.” Thankfully, the flagrant lyrical blunders somehow seem to be contained solely within the first track.
It’s followed by a stronger cut, “Said Goodbye to Summer,” which highlights a consistent trend throughout this album — Jazz Special Forces is incredibly strong when it is allowed to go off. Electric violin is not an instrument heard very often, and Farmer plays it very well. It could easily be confused for a guitar, but that’s actually Farmer wailing away as if he’s turned into Slash. The psychedelic violin playing paired with brass solos from Brad Fowler, Shawn Bell and Jon Gerwitz and the very off kilter piano playing from Jake Greenwood is absolutely killer. And that’s not to mention how well Greenwood also holds down the drums during these extended jams. Phenomenal moments like these are the album’s true selling point, and “Redacted Passages” has many peppered throughout.
Farmer’s vocals maintain a hushed cadence throughout the entire album, which works depending on the mood of the backing track. With the quiet guitar and spidery piano on “It Will Be Winter,” his voice meshes well and draws the listener in. But when things get louder on “Our Love is Not for Attribution,” Farmer sounds somewhat bored. The backing vocalists from “Calling all the Crazies” would have been better utilized during this song’s energetic verse.
Before the album closes, there are more strong instrumental passages. “House of Ghosts” has interesting and excellent percussion coupled with a series of great lines from the brass and Farmer on violin. This is also the moment where Farmer pushes his voice to its limit, a refreshing change of pace from his previously muted vocals. “Redacted Passages” ends with a jazz number that seems to be filtered through the white noise of a bustling café, similar to the bar chatter heard throughout Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” As Farmer says, “With so many passages redacted, your lost memory is set in stone.”
— SKYLER ASHLEY
Crystal Drive — “Crystal Drive” Listen: www.crystaldrive.bandcamp.com
Crystal Drive’s self-titled LP has a strong pedigree. The Lansing group’s sole permanent member is George Szegedy, whose last project, the People’s Temple, garnered national attention before its extended hiatus. The Lansing garage rock unit even earned kudos from Lenny Kaye, the original guitarist from the Patti Smith Group. That’s pretty damn cool.
Fittingly, Crystal Drive is an evolution of the People’s Temple’s Brian Jones-era Rolling Stones garage rock. Had the People’s Temple been an actual band in the ‘60s, it probably would’ve sounded like this by ’84. This synth driven sound is extremely in vogue right now: the LP reminds one of the “Stranger Things” soundtrack and Tame Impala’s “Currents.” However, the obvious new wave influence is done tastefully. Thankfully, Crystal Drive is closer to Roxy Music’s “More Than This” than it is The Car’s “Just What I Needed.” It’s Gary Numan in his Tubeway Army days, before he was just a one hit wonder. The single “900” particularly impresses with its lush soundscapes and an earworm of a chorus, while “The Scanner” makes one wonder why Crystal Drive isn’t booked for Europe’s biggest musical festivals. Szegedy’s skills in the production field truly shine here with impressive results, considering that the liner notes state it was recorded entirely in his bedroom. Szegedy also had key help in the lyrical department from Hannah Scott, who helped pen eight of the album’s 12 tracks.
— SKYLER ASHLEY
Worn Spirit — “I Could Disappear” Listen: www.wornspirit.bandcamp.com
The first track of “I Could Disappear” starts with a series of warm power chords and bass drum kicks that very easily fool you into expecting an upbeat rock song. Yet, 15 seconds later it’s enveloped by several other layers of bass, guitar and crooning vocals — like rain overtaking a sunny day.
And, by the way, that upbeat song never comes.
It’s shoegaze in the literal meaning of the term — music to stare at your shoes and mope out to. This singular mood carries throughout the entire EP, which if you listen to uninterrupted can leave you with the impression that you’ve only listened to a single song.
Interlocking guitar parts and thick drumbeats keep the flow steady. But, as soon it begins to drag, it finishes strong with its most exciting song, “Never Ending.”
Some bands like this have two guitar players that merely parrot each other, to garner a greater sense of power through doubling the volume. Thankfully, Worn Spirit instead developed a series of catchy lead riffs over its torrential rhythms. These little melodies give Worn Spirit a vital pop sensibility and are by far the highlight of the EP.
Some listeners might find the lack of range in the vocals or the mood of the music itself as off-putting. But if you’re looking for a solid reverb-soaked session of downer rock that harkens to Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth, look no further.
— SKYLER ASHLEY
Yay High — “Clocked Out” Listen: www.yayhighyayhigh.bandcamp.com Yay High, a three-piece Lansing-based outfit, has released its highest-energy EP to date. The six-track record, “Clocked Out!,” blends the fast-paced guitar riffs reminiscent of early East Coast garage rock with the fuzzy vocal production heard from many of today’s top psych-rock groups. Aesthetically, the band fits right into the “screw the man,” D.I.Y. mold galvanizing the Midwest currently, with standout lyrics
such as, “I quit my job today, I quit my job, made a way now, a billion fucking hours a week, swear to God I’m not gonna get no sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep oh!” Sitting at just under 15 minutes in its entirety, the album’s fast driven instrumentation and Lo-Fi production take listeners to the grungy basement of their friend’s house. This is where they’ll find Yay High buzzing around like bees, playing in black and yellow long sleeve polos. The EP’s initial track, “Plaything,” opens with three clicks of Hickey’s drumsticks before the guitar and bass explode into the forefront and take charge. From there, songs like “Fool,” “I See Blood” and “He Knows” showcase a full breadth of exactly the kind of energy the band is capable of producing.
Stressed out from the seriousness of work and school, Yay High has officially clocked out, turned in their timesheet and seem ready to just have some fun jamming out and jumping around with a room full of their fans.
— JONATHAN SHEAD