Music Review: Breaking Laces – When You Find Out

Hi all!

Sometimes it’s tough not to reflect on the musical influences in my life. Most came from my exploration of music in high school and college, but I’ve done what I can to keep open to new voices. That said, it’s bands like Toad the Wet Sprocket, Better than Ezra, The Presidents of the United States of America, the Indigo Girls, The Nylons, Heart, The Police, Sting, and others that make up a good chunk of those influences (yes, my tastes run to the eclectic!). Notice the glut of bands with big releases in the 1980s and 1990s…

So I’m always encouraged when I listen to my radio and find that new bands are coming up through the ranks that sound quite a bit like some of my favorites. Breaking Laces came into my consciousness when I heard “God in Training” in the car. Their sound takes acoustic pop and a bit of electronics but doesn’t stop there. With a bit of Better than Ezra, a little Maroon 5, some Snow Patrol, and some of the layered vocals and lyrics of Toad the Wet Sprocket, I was hooked. The mix of folk influences, humor, and a pop sensibility I haven’t heard for a while just works for them.

When I was offered a chance to hear more, I jumped. Breaking Laces’ album When You Find Out offers a cool mix of styles that varies enough to provide a rich musical landscape. The shape of the album explores the gamut of relationships, from breaking up, to moving on, and finding new love. It crests and falls with a life all its own, but each song can stand on its own. I love it when bands remember that assembling an album is more than just collecting a bunch of songs!

Brooklyn-based Breaking Laces is the trio of Willem Hartong (singer/guitarist), Rob Chojnacki (bass), and Seth Masarsky (drums) that has somehow managed to play more than 500 shows in 5 years around the country. Their hope was to take some simple pop songs and “make them bigger than life,” according to Hartong. And I think they’ve done that in spades with these 12 songs.

It starts with a breakup in “What We Need.” As Hartong sings “at least you know we tried / time to leave / and I will take this bit of sorrow if it’s all I have to borrow…” With a mix of acoustic and electric guitar, a steady drum beat, and a bass line that drives it from start to finish you can feel the angst as the relationship ends.

But it was “God in Training” that initially caught my attention and is still one of my favorites on the album. The quirky quality to not only the lyrics, but how it’s sung and the simple arrangement just sells it. “But once I quit my paper route / she’ll want my body…” The song goes on to talk about being “loved in foreign nations” and “mobbed whenever I go out” as he says “hey mom I’m gonna sing four tracks down in my basement…” It made me smile – the disconnect of youth captured beautifully.

From there we move to the questioning lyrics of “When You Find Out.” What happens when she finds out he’s in love with her? “What will happen next if things don’t go my way? I’m up I’m down, my thoughts confounding everything I say when you find out I’m in love with you…” We’ve all been there. How do you tell the target of your affection how you really feel? And the pop sensibilities of the band shine through with an arrangement that’s just enough without going overboard.

The album goes on from there, but I won’t spoil it. There’s something special about the way these songs are constructed and I hope Breaking Laces goes on to record many more albums. Please pick up When You Find Out at your favorite music store (online or brick-and-mortar) and support these guys!

Also be sure to check out their website at BreakingLaces.com!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up When You Find Out from Breaking Laces here:

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Music Review: Matt Duke – One Day Die

Hi again!

In 2009, I heard Matt Duke‘s music for the first time. With one song from his acoustic album – Acoustic Kingdom Underground – he made me a fan before I heard anything else. That song – “Kingdom Underground (Acoustic)” – merges the beauty of Miltonesque poetry, a beautifully simple pick and strum pattern on an acoustic guitar, and his amazingly expressive voice as it builds and builds. Instead of justifying God‘s side of the story, Duke rewrote it from the Devil‘s standpoint. The Fallen waits for the seventh day when God takes a break. “Evil hides amidst the shade / Evil keeps for evil changes… Woman, please / I can give you what you need / All the answers that you seek / Just pick the fruit right off the tree…”

Since then, I’ve been eagerly waiting to see what Duke’s passion would create next. I listened to the non-acoustic version of Kingdom Underground and was fascinated by his social commentary and the lush arrangements. Most of all though, it was his passion that was evident in all he did. Where would he go next?

I was pleased to see that in One Day Die, that social commentary weaves all the way through the new album. Lost youth and innocence is just the beginning. Could it be the current economy and job market? The lost hopes and dreams of generations young and old? What motivates him to write these impassioned pleas for hope and justice in an imperfect world?

Whereas it was the clean acoustic arrangements that attracted me to his music initially, in One Day Die it’s the mix of acoustic, pop, and rock that conveys yet another level of sophistication this time. Even his use of distortion is a deliberate twist used to illustrate a point in “Kangaroo Court.” He doesn’t overuse such artistic license however, keeping many songs with clean arrangements and beautifully simple musical choices. The duet in “Love You Anymore” weaves guitar, piano, and a steady beat to build and build. Harmonies and intertwined messages speak to the strained feelings of a relationship.

Each song tells a tale and the tales vary widely, from love and broken hearts to life’s injustices. Styles are used not just to offer a soundtrack to the stories, but to reinforce the feel Duke was going for.

Like with “Kingdom Underground,” the lyrics for “Kangaroo Court” tell of Duke’s intelligence behind the scenes. Not only can he perform with passion and talent, but his social commentary cries out amidst the distortion (like he was singing over a loudspeaker or bullhorn)… “It is not your fault / it doesn’t matter / You say objective? I think I know better / You people keep swapping one agenda for another / Give them what they want / it doesn’t matter / I’m in a kangaroo court…” This could be applied to damn near any political scenario we face today and far too many lawsuits clogging our courts.

He follows that up with “Love You Anymore,” which is completely different. A piano and vocal duet with Cara Salimando, this song speaks eloquently about the end of a relationship. “There are two that lie beneath these sheets / it might as well be three with all of the space between… I said ‘I love you’, though I knew I didn’t love you anymore…” A very different Duke here, telling of two lovers drifted apart but not yet aired their decisions to the other. The piano, drums, and guitar along with the pairing of voices tells the story as much as the words themselves.

And “Needle and Thread” tells the story of a road trip to reclaim old glories and heal a broken heart. “For now, the waking world can wait / so sing your blues away / and hope for better days. / Pick an old song and we’ll dance in the dark / it’s that needle and thread to stitch up my broken heart.” This is an upbeat rock anthem I can imagine being heard on many a road trip as we go seeking to fill in the holes left behind by loves lost and the potential of decisions never made.

These three songs “Kangaroo Court,” “Love You Anymore,” and “Needle and Thread” for me show the growth of Matt Duke over the last few years. These are songs sung with passionate about experiences he’s had along the way and they’re just the tip of the iceberg for the album. But though he’s gained experience, he hasn’t lost his talent for weaving intelligent lyrics and different musical styles to tell his stories like a troubadour of old. One Day Die is a great journey from tale to tale and I hope Duke continues to tour, live life, and tell these stories for years to come.

Check out One Day Die at stores on March 29, 2011!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these great albums below!

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Music Review: Lee MacDougall – If Walls Could Talk

Hey there…

When the Beatles came to the United States in 1964 to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York, could anybody have predicted the wave of British acts going viral in America? The British Invasion brought us groups as diverse as The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and Dusty Springfield. Now fast forward nearly 50 years. Since the invasion continues today with acts like Bobby Long coming out of London’s booming acoustic movement, could there be others waiting in the wings?

Of course there are more acts and they’re not waiting long! Lee MacDougall is the latest musician to come out of the London open mic circuit and find an audience outside the U.K. MacDougall’s link to Twilight‘s Robert Pattinson hasn’t hurt his popularity in the States either. His song “Falling in Love for the Last Time” from his self-titled EP (and on his new album) garnered a ton of attention from Twi-hards when word got out it was written for Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. But we’ll get more into that song in a bit…

The eleven-song album is If Walls Could Talk and it was just released to coincide with his U.S. tour dates with his friend Rob Hargreaves on guitar and backing vocals. Every song seems well grounded and written about relationships and life. The best part for me was the innocence and passion in each lyric, which seems very genuine. Hopefully he has better luck with the ladies than these songs suggest, considering that some of the girls in the songs seem to lie, cheat, and lead him on every other verse!

It was when I hit the second song on the album – “She” – that I found myself really engaged. On the surface, it’s about a girl who has self-esteem issues due to an abusive father. “She’s beautiful I know / but she doesn’t know / she can’t shake her heartache / her teenage dream has gone to waste / She’s beautiful I know / but she doesn’t know that’s the case…” He wants to get her out of the house and is willing to put himself in harm’s way to do just that. But the upbeat, almost happy beat and guitar strums neatly obfuscate the tragic story in the words.

A few songs later is “Falling In Love for the Last Time” and I can see why it might have been adopted by the Twilight community as Bella & Edward’s love song. It’s a warped love story about a girl the singer can’t have even though he’s in love with her and she knows it. She uses that little fact to torture him a bit. “I want to tell you a tale about a mess that I’m in / and it all starts with a girl / and she’s breaking up my world / she’s got these big green eyes and they’re as wide as the moon / yeah they can take you to bed without ya leaving the room / I would kill just to be her man / she’s too cool to give a damn…” With a lazy, walking beat on a snare and a few strums on a guitar, you’re drawn into the story.

And before the end of the album, he explores more self-esteem issues in “This is My Story.” “Flatter me and I will be yours forever / get too close and I’ll run…” It’s a classic tale of that person who attracts all the attention but doesn’t feel comfortable in his own skin. “This is my story who knows how it ends / each page a memory of lovers and friends / always a dreamer my life has no plan / I know I’m not perfect / my mum says that I am…” Hasn’t everyone been here?

The arrangements are straightforward with mixes of guitar, piano, and drums. But it’s the lyrics that really captured my attention. The stories woven into poetry and sung with such conviction. That conviction should make him an instant favorite with anyone who loves a good love song. The ability to convey such an emotional connection with each song will go a long way to win MacDougall more than a few hearts on his current U.S. tour.

For more information about Lee, his music, or his tour, be sure to check out his homepage at LeeMacDougallMusic.com. I look forward to hearing more from MacDougall in the future! The album is currently only available on his tour, but hopefully a few tracks will find their way onto iTunes soon.

(This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.)

–Fitz

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