PICTURED: Green Seagull’s latest album is reviewed this week.
by Alan Sculley, Last Word Features
This latest batch of reviews is headlined by the welcome return of Secret Machines, but there’s plenty to like about the other albums in these selections culled from the latest releases.
Awake in the Brain Chamber
After releasing three solid albums with epic space-aged psychedelic-tinged songs between 2004 and 2008, Secret Machines appeared to have ended with the departure of guitarist Benjamin Curtis. Sadly, the guitarist died from cancer in 2013. So it’s a pleasant surprise to Awake in the Brain Chamber. While Secret Machines are now technically a duo of founding members, singer/bassist/keyboardist Brandon Curtis and drummer Josh Garza, Curtis says his brother’s influence is all over the new album. Indeed, Awake in the Brain Chamber still has its psychedelic elements, especially on arena-sized rockers like “A New Disaster,” “Everything’s Under” and “Dreaming Is Alright,” which boast the trademark sonic swirl. But the new album on occasion leans a bit further than the band’s earlier music toward moody Cure-ish pop, with the songs “Everything Starts” (which features Benjamin Curtis on guitar) and “Talos’ Corpse” especially evoking that dark and dreamy sound quite effectively. Although this eight-track release has a couple of songs that just meander, Awake in the Brain Chamber is a start to what looks like an unexpected second chapter for Secret Machines.
Originally veteran pop-rocker Ryan thought for his new album, he would re-do songs he had written for his former bands of some three decades ago, the Rudies and Jupiter Jets. But the project instead evolved into a mix of what Ryan calls really new and really old songs. It seems like the right move, as Even Time nicely showcases Ryan’s considerable talents as a songwriter and guitarist. The songs have a good amount of range. There’s the brisk rocking pop of “Next Time Around,” “Breakaway” and “Let It Out,” the pleasantly frisky folk-pop of “I Want to Go” and a title song that makes good use of some orchestration. There’s even some ska and reggae injected into the otherwise rocking “Make It Through the Night.” While the industry values youth, Ryan displays the kind of advanced musical skills that take years to develop – showing that sometimes there’s no substitute for experience.
Green Eyed & Bitter
Rike is the duo of singer Nike Sellmar and guitarist Rickard Johansson from Stockholm, Sweden, and Green Eyed & Bitter is their debut album. All of this comes as quite a surprise: Sellmar and Johansson sound like they could just as easily be from the Midwest, considering their sound is pure Americana and Sellmar sings in English without a hint of a Swedish accent. But what really matters is the major talent this duo appears to possess. Green Eyed & Bitter sounds like the work of seasoned songwriters, not a duo on their first album. Sellmar is a standout vocalist, with a lovely, clear tone and plenty of range, and the vocal melodies throughout this album make great use of her talents. Musically, the album ranges from the rootsy, banjo-inflected “Don’t Make Me Shout” to the bluesy, fuzzed-up rock of “November,” with some fine mid-tempo material and ballads in between. There’s not a weak track here, making Green Eyed & Bitter not only a strong candidate for best debut album of 2020, but an album that will rank among the best Americana releases of 2020.
The Making of You
With the vocals of Anna Sheard anchoring the songs, one could imagine Snowgoose as Judy Collins with a more rock-and-pop, full-band approach or Dawes with a female vocalist. If you like what those comparisons suggest, The Making of You should be on your list of albums to stream. The folkier side of the group’s sound is well represented on the group’s second album. “Goldenwing,” “Counting Time” and “Deserted Forest” are folk-centric songs that attain genuine beauty in their melodies and accompaniment. Meanwhile, “Hope” and “Everything” show the group is equally adept with poppier, plugged-in material (which makes sense considering Sheard’s songwriting counterpart is Jim McCulloch from the Soup Dragons and BMX Bandits). The only issue I have with The Making of You is that it arrives eight years after the group’s debut album, Harmony Springs. That’s far too long a gap for a group that is making albums this good.
There’s nothing remotely cloudy or dark about Green Seagull on the London-based group’s second full-length album, Cloud Cover. This is a sunny pop album that often leans toward the lighter side of pre-Sgt. Pepper’s ‘60s pop. “Dream You’re Living,” “Made To Be Loved,” “Paper Cut” and “Simeon Brown” are among the songs in that vein. A few songs get a little derivative, but for the most part, the songs work because they’re highly melodic, well crafted and have lots of instrumental and sonic ear worms planted within them.