monoblogue music: “This Clumsy World” by Keith Alan Mitchell

The forthcoming release by Keith Alan Mitchell drops June 20.

After a week’s hiatus, monoblogue music is back with this forthcoming release.

From the opening notes of Keith Alan Mitchell’s upcoming solo debut called “This Clumsy World” it’s apparent that the singer-songwriter is at home in the realm of rural American music. That seems a little unusual for a songwriter based in the San Francisco Bay area, but given his Ohio roots it made a little more sense.

Yet while one would think this would mainly be an acoustic set based on the opener Been Buried, that reality is that only one other song, the final track Our Eyes, is of a similar nature. Instead, the majority of tracks have a country feel to them, particularly in the ballads Crossed That Line and Swaying. That song, the album’s longest, features backing vocals from Kathy Kennedy and seems like the song one would punch up on the jukebox just before closing time, when those looking through the beer goggles are seeking someone with whom they’d forget the world until morning.

On the other hand, the more upbeat songs like You Just Disappear or Diamond Blues show some lyrical dexterity as well. The latter is a definite toe-tapper.

A more conventional arrangement is found in Tavern Angeline, which revives the age-old theme of hanging out at the neighborhood bar, albeit with a different musical style (and without its tone of desperation) than say, Don Henley’s Sunset Grill. Mitchell sticks with a full band on the next track, The Feud, and to me that is the highlight of the collection as it reminded me of early CSNY stuff. It’s sort of a dark song, but the piano fade somehow works there as well. And The Low Way works well lyrically as a tribute to the working man.

Being a self-produced effort, though, there are a couple instances where another producer may have improved a song. This is true with Next Time and Every Every, which to my ear have some minor flaws in their arrangement. On balance, though, it’s a reasonably well-crafted collection.

I thought the choice of title was a little strange, as “clumsy” is a world seldom used in this day and age. But the title comes from the lyrics of What It Means To Soar, as Mitchell explained on his website blog:

I started crossing off ideas I didn’t care for and there right in the middle of the list remained “This Clumsy World” – a line from the chorus of “What it Means to Soar.” I have to admit, I can’t remember if I decided while I was in LA, or if I stewed on it for a while longer. But the more I thought about it, it seemed like the perfect title.

I think an album should create it’s own “world.” It should be self-contained and take the listener somewhere – and be interesting and engaging enough that you could sit in front of some speakers and have this experience of going somewhere else, hearing about someone else’s problems – real or fictional – rather than dwelling on your own, and give you a feeling. Hopefully many feelings.

But it’s also clumsy – because the world itself is an imperfect place. Things don’t often go exactly how we want them to, if ever, and rarely are they elegant. Yet it’s the imperfections that make people unique, and randomness plays a huge role in most peoples’ lives – as much as we might not want to admit that.

The album should appeal most to those who like acoustic music, although the tracks with the enhanced band tend more toward country or country-rock.

On June 20 Mitchell is planning his CD release show in San Francisco, but hasn’t laid out a tour to support the album yet. As always, I think you should listen for yourself but if you think it’s worth your effort to buy, perhaps he’ll be inclined to follow.

Update: I received an e-mail from Keith thanking me for the review, and in it he mentioned that Tavern Angelina was inspired not only by Sunset Grill (which was an uncanny coincidence because that was the song I thought of while writing the piece) but also the fictional bar the dockworkers frequented in season 2 of “The Wire.” He has a bit of a connection with the Baltimore area, as some of his family lives in Glen Burnie.

monoblogue music: “Basquiat” by Mangoseed

Mangoseed's debut hits the market May 22.In my eyes, the upcoming release from south London’s Mangoseed, a new entrant in the world music genre, is either going to land with a resounding thud or set the world on fire – it seems like this edgy compilation isn’t just going to settle into mediocrity.

Pointing toward the former is the fact that the album is self-produced, and on first efforts the lack of professional guidance often shows. Because of this, you get seemingly aimless and filler tracks such as Bali Men, Bali Men Interrupted or Interruption (yes, all three are separate tracks on this 15-song compilation.) These almost seem as if they were recorded on a old cassette recorder, although that ambiance works surprisingly well on another brief tune, the almost bluesy I Shoot My Friends. At first listen, I thought The Soul Bird fell into this category but then realized it was intended as an intro of sorts to She Is All.

A second strike against them is the hard time they had finding a drummer – one track in particular, Rise And Shine, seems to my ear to be either a tad too fast or a touch too slow. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but the song just seems off somehow. Now that they’ve settled on Irishman Sam Campbell, that may be rectified in a future release or on live performances. (The remaining band consists of lead vocalist Nicholai La Barrie, guitarist Karlos Coleman, and bassist Richard Hardy. Sometimes it sounds like a lot more than four with the overdubbing, but the live shows have four guys.)

So now that I’ve gone through the half-dozen or so misses on the compilation that could doom a band to failure, let me tell you why they could succeed beyond their wildest dreams. Simply put, a lot of songs are very catchy, beginning with the album’s opening track Lioness. Yes, it has the oversampling common to dub music but its guitar-driven introduction showed these guys didn’t forget how to rock. That same complexity also drives the next song, Careful.

There’s more of a straight reggae influence in the band’s lead single from the album, Brix-Tone. It’s an homage to their hometown of Brixton, and makes for an interesting video.

Track number five, Devil In The Road, is the highlight of the album. To me, it’s the potential best live song, something the band can work onstage and extend to give the feel of a jam band. (Maybe they have in one of their frequent shows about London.) There’s also a high level of energy apparent in tracks like Army Of One, Standing On High, and Thief Head, which all feature a staccato chorus and, in the case of the latter, a bass line which at times I can really get into.

But the band also shows a little something different on certain songs, in particular a little bit of harmony on This Life, where the band sings about being “so far away from you/so far away from me/so far away from all I used to be.”

The overriding question is whether eight good songs are enough to take Mangoseed to the next level, or if they can at least give them some quality time with a producer who can smooth out some of the rougher edges while keeping their authentic sound. Unlike some others I’ve reviewed of late, Mangoseed is one band for whom it’s obvious they’ve grown together in front of live audiences as opposed to experimentation in the studio.

On the other hand, if you’re a student of the dub style and don’t mind the short tracks, you may find that “Basquiat” is just the British import you’ve been waiting for. The last decade or so has been kind to bands who run in that sort of vein, so they may just find a willing audience on this side of the pond. As always, I encourage you to judge for yourself and if it suits your fancy, buy “Basquiat” when it comes out May 22. Enough sales across the Atlantic and the band might follow.

monoblogue music: “Strings & Wood” by Joel Havea

This EP is slated for a May 24 release.

Joel Havea has an interesting story, and he’s not afraid to tell it.

The Australian native, who now calls Germany home, is in the midst of a European tour to both back his upcoming May 24 release called “Strings & Wood” as well as a full-length 2012 effort called “You Make Me Believe.” The May 24 release is a five-song EP and the subject of this review.

Havea is an acoustic guitarist, but his songs have a rich quality to them which takes them beyond the typical coffeehouse singer-songwriter and gives them more of a full-band feel, despite the inclusion of only a little bit of additional instrumentation. I found this to be best expressed on the opening song, Going Gone. It’s a solid tune, with great harmonies and a bluesy vibe to it that should play well on tour.

Track two, Simple Things, takes it a little slower, with the inclusion of a backing cello. Perhaps it’s the voice and the way the song is crafted, but the song reminds me of something a later-stage James Taylor would have done; it’s the impression I get as one who was there for the original, anyway.

Going Through The Motions is more of a slow-developing song, but it eventually reaches its payoff, with great instrumental backing for Havea’s playing – it’s another song which should draw wide appeal. A stripped-down version is featured in the video below, so imagine the song with a little studio work and organ.

After the work of Going Through The Motions, the ballad My Wings brings some surprisingly good harmonies to the mix, along with a uplifting chorus. It also brings back the cello to ably create the mood.

With more of a true singer-songwriter feel, thanks to its harmonies, the final song on the 18-minute EP is Fading Away. As Havea sings, “as the time is slipping by, the twinkle in your eyes is more of a glaze,” one can understand that the song’s subject is indeed fading away from life.

All five songs are well-done, and perhaps they could be the foundation for a lengthier release down the line, as many up-and-coming artists are using this repackaging technique to adapt to the changing market for music. If you’re into acoustic rock, this is well worth the few more weeks of waiting (although you can listen for yourself to it now.)

As I noted at the top of the review, Havea is not afraid to tell his story. This video is a promotional effort for the upcoming release.

From what I understand, Havea has some U.S. dates planned for later in 2014 so if you like what you hear he might just be coming to a venue near you.

monoblogue music: “Half-Life” by Marla Mase

The February EP release from Marla Mase.

I haven’t reviewed a lot of music for this feature, but this album was perhaps the most challenging one to assess so far. There is a lot that goes on in “Half-Life,” which to me came across as a series of moving parts that couldn’t quite come together as a satisfying whole.

From the opening track, Drown in Blue, to the eighth and final ballad with spoken word called Hold Fast Your Dreams, Marla takes us to several varied corners of her performing world – I say performing because several segments and songs rely on her spoken word lyrical talents, including a track called The Heart Beats, with its minimal instrumentation.

Even Drown in Blue is taken in a different direction during the set – from the upbeat, rocking initial track to a shorter acoustic reprise later in the CD. It’s an interesting way to re-interpret a song, a tactic which reminded me of the old Eric Clapton song After Midnight, which found new popularity in a bluesier live release Clapton put out several years after the original.

Mase puts together several ingredients on the title track, which has a more smoky soul feel to start, but works its way into a rocking chorus before evolving again with tasty sax and a spoken word interlude.

But the album has some annoying quirks to it as well – the simplistic, sing-song lyrics of Things That Scare Me (billed as the “2014 Club Version” of the song) seemed to me that of trying to hard to make a musical point rather than just letting things play out.

Backed by the Tomas Doncker Band, comprised of many of the same musicians who backed Lael Summer (whose debut full-length release I reviewed in March) and participate in many other True Groove Records exploits, their instrumentation shines on songs like Bitch in Heat and Gaping Hole, the latter perhaps being the most conventional song of the album with its call-and-response element. The “Half-Life” version is actually the second rendition of the song, which, along with the original Things That Scare Me, was first released on Mase’s 2010 album called “A Brief Night Out.”

Mase has made her reputation as a performer moreso than as a musician – her resume includes other writing, as she bills herself a “writer/performer/producer/singer/songwriter” who “writes songs, plays, monologues, short stories, erotica, blogs, and poems.” It’s obvious that spoken word and poetry looms large in her most recent release, but the problem is that poetry and other forms of writing intended to read and spread a message don’t always lend themselves to good, listenable music. Thousands of people fancy themselves as lyricists – witness the tiresome parade of rhymers and rappers we’ve endured over the last quarter-century – but few know how to craft those lyrics into a workable and marketable song. In the end, that’s what I find as the biggest weakness of this compilation.

As always, though, don’t just take my word for it: listen for yourself. You may come up with a different, more approving opinion.

monoblogue music: “(A)live from the Scrapheap” by Christina Rubino

I didn’t know it at the time, but perhaps slating this review for Easter weekend was most appropriate for the March release from Christina Rubino called “(A)live from the Scrapheap.” A decade ago, Rubino was an up-and-coming player in the New York music scene, working on several projects and eventually finding her way into an all-female Depeche Mode cover band called Violator.

But after a few years of touring and ongoing substance abuse, Rubino backed away from the scene five years ago, and the healing process continues with this barebones, mainly acoustic production.

Listening to the first two songs, The Gateway and Pending the Lost Soul, one may think the album will go off in a folk/bluegrass direction, one which is rather upbeat. But that hopeful feeling disappears and the scars become visible in the next track, Nothing to Gain.

On that track and on the next one, Little Bee in D, Rubino ponders her fall, lamenting at the end of Little Bee that “everything turned gray.” The bleak, relatively stark feeling of emptiness expressed by the album’s cover seems to fit these middle tracks. But if not for these setbacks and tribulations, Rubino sings in Tidal, “I’d have nothing to sing about.”

Redemption begins on track 6, Aria Divina, where she pleads, “God show me where I’m going, and who I should be. Please light the path I’m walking, and help me walk humbly.” It’s not the smoothest path, as Seems and Waiting To Break testify – in the latter, Christina wails, “every time I flip a coin it lands on tails.” But the next two tracks, Stix n’ Stones and Breakout, return to more complex and upbeat instrumentation. Even the finale, Billy’s Song, while it talks about loss, does so in a hopeful way.

Generally recorded with only two or three instruments, “(A)live from the Scrapheap” takes advantage of her collaboration with producer Jerry Farley (who also plays on the album), guitarist Matt Brown, and backing vocals from longtime friend Francine Bianco, who previously teamed with Rubino as a folk duo called Ruby and White.

Yet in this case the music is simply a backdrop, a vehicle for catharsis. While the 11 tracks run a little bit over 44 minutes, they’re the result of what may have been a lost half-decade or so in Rubino’s life. If there’s one thing I took away from listening to this album, it’s that she’s a survivor. Granted, that’s not the most unique of instances, as thousands upon thousands of artists and musicians over the decades have struggled with inner demons for which they found release via addiction to various substances, and many of them didn’t make it back. Christina cites Janis Joplin as her original inspiration, and Joplin was one of those tragedies who died at a very young age.

Rubino, however, is on the road back and the message of redemption is a good one to remember on this weekend.

As I alluded to before, Rubino has toured in the past with various bands but most recently has stuck close by her New York base. It’s not to say she may not try and back her album if it does well – I could easily see her taking the show on the road as she writes additional material. She may not look the part of a vulnerable musician given her tattoos and overall appearance, but she sure sings it.

I’ll cheerfully admit that her style of music isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it was obvious to me that Rubino has poured her heart and soul into this one, perhaps more so than most. As I always say, listen for yourself and see if you agree.

monoblogue music: “All The Rage” by Latimer House

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case looking over the cover of the recent Latimer House release “All The Rage” gives a very good idea of this complex yet strangely accessible collection of ten songs.

Formed by an eclectic assortment of musicians with roots from around the world in 2010, the Prague-based band has put out an album which to my ears was a little bit like good jambalaya is to the palate: something with a lot of flavors you may not expect, but combined well for an overall enjoyable experience.

The base is laid by the opening tracks This Is Pop, Burn, and Eye Can See, all relatively punchy and upbeat songs with a good riff to them. You even get the hint of political commentary in This Is Pop, while Burn introduces a string section to the overall composition.

That addition and subtraction of elements continues through the tracks, something which got me thinking about what was missing. As the collection went on, it seemed like just as I was thinking that a stone was unturned, as if on cue I’d hear it in the next song. When it occurred to me that a song with harmonies was missing, along came Red Hot Sequin Blues and Splash! A slower ballad? Try Your Love on for size. The toe-tapper I was looking for turned out to be Love’s Undermined. Surprises seemed to abound with each track, so listening a second time made me notice things I missed on first impression.

Tasty, complex instrumentation comes in many of the songs as well: the horn of Follow Your Heart as well as Red Hot Sequin Blues, the echoing chorus and cheerful keyboards of Birdcage Walk, the string section revisited on Bubblegum, and even the bass-driven intro to Splash! made for good variation. Bubblegum also provides additional commentary on pop culture in its lyrics.

While all ten songs have enough variation and manage to hold the listener’s interest, perhaps the only drawback I can see is that some may grow weary of vocalist Joe Cook’s somewhat nasal voice and delivery – but then again it’s worked for Bob Dylan for years.

The band is based out of Europe and has had more of its popularity there, but there is a connection to the States as bassist Michael Jetton hails from Virginia. It may not be on their timetable just yet, but there’s always been a market for Europop in this country so an eventual tour here may not be completely out of the question. Right now, though, it appears that Latimer House is simply happy playing music with a good collection of guest artists helping out along the way.

If indeed this is really pop, then Latimer House seems to be keeping it in good hands. This is the kind of danceable, accessible stuff that’s a reminder of a simpler time, and these guys show the pop genre can still be done quite well. As I like to say though: don’t just take my word for it – listen for yourself.

monoblogue music: “Breathe Air” by Plastic Yellow Band

'Breathe Air' from Plastic Yellow Band

If you were to summarize the debut effort “Breathe Air” from South Carolina’s Plastic Yellow Band in one word, it would be “eclectic.” But since I have a review to write, allow me to explain just how I arrived at that conclusion for this month-old release.

The twelve songs on “Breathe Air” fall into a number of different categories, and while the band likes to bill itself as “new classic rock” it’s obvious that songwriter, producer, and vocalist Gerry Jennings got his major influence from John Lennon, particularly his post-Beatles era with Yoko Ono. Instead of the Plastic Ono Band, it became the Plastic Yellow Band. Two of the tracks, Nervous Stuff and Climate Change, were even mastered at the Abbey Road Studios.

To me, that Lennon influence shows most clearly on the 17 1/2 minute three-part epic composition Sunshine that closes the album. For the most part keyboard-driven, the trilogy exists as a storyline of darkness and redemption, with the hopeful revelation coming in the upbeat final portion.

The interesting choice to open the album, though, is the ballad Lonely Place. Ballads have a strong showing on this effort, with other heartfelt tunes being Nowhere and the duet I Want To Feel Your Love with female vocalist Dana Rideout. The latter has the strongest chance at crossover appeal, as does the touching violin of She Let It Down. And if you liked the AOR format of the 1970s Alone (It’s Hard) would probably be the song of choice, since it reminded me of that era.

Those who like more rollicking tunes, though, would be the biggest fans of the album’s second track She’s My Woman, with its southern-fried slide guitar. To me that was the strongest song; one that makes me want to tip my longneck PBR.

Yet Jennings also makes his political feelings known, fretting about the state of the planet. Take as an example this song, Climate Change. The message is pretty obvious, huh?

Yet this outcry tends to make for some interesting music, such as the distortion of Oil Kings, which was also one of my favorites, or the lyrics of Nervous Stuff. Intersecting politics and music isn’t anything new, of course, but in this era of formulaic, play-it-safe pop music lyricism guaranteed not to offend, at least we know Jennings stands for something and has a little passion about it.

Speaking of playing it safe in the music industry and catering to the homogenized mass taste, it’s worth pointing out that Jennings doesn’t have the voice which would get past the initial rounds of “American Idol” or “The Voice.” While he certainly can carry a tune, his voice is just a little bit thin, and that shows up somewhat on the ballads. But the songs he’s written are more or less tailored to those limitations.

Something else worth pointing out is that the band talks about “the tradition of an era when music wasn’t considered authentic unless it was composed and played by musicians.” To that end, they have made some of these songs available in a “play along” format where one instrument track is edited out, allowing aspiring musicians to learn to play those missing parts. Not only is that good for beginning musicians, it makes for an interesting marketing strategy.

At this time it appears Jennings is focusing more on promoting its album via video than through touring, and given the structure of the band itself (three core members plus a host of “guest” musicians who perform on various tracks) that may be the prudent course for the time being. But don’t just take my word for it – you can judge for yourself if he should get the band together and go out on the road.

monoblogue music: “Progtronica” by Gumshen

The 2014 release from Gunshen.

When you think of music from Seattle, it’s likely what comes to mind are grunge acts like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, or Soundgarden. The roots of Gumshen eminate from a band called Menthol James, which mined that hard-rock vein when they released their sole self-titled effort in 2007. So how did they evolve from that genre to the synth-heavy sound they exhibit on their most recent release “Progtronica”?

The way they tell it, a lineup change freed keyboardist and vocalist Ron Hippe to switch from bass to keyboards, although he still chips in with guitar work. But you’d never otherwise guess that the 2007-era Menthol James has become the 2014 Gumshen, putting together five- to seven-song EPs on a roughly annual basis in the interim. “Progtronica” is their seventh release and sixth under the Gumshen moniker.

Beginning with the seven-minute opening track Bell Ringer, there’s no doubt that the band has cast its lot with an electronic, beat-heavy sound. It takes a listen or two to warm up to it, but once you begin to peel the onion they begin to make you think of good comparisons. Gumshen considers their inspirations to be Pink Floyd and early Genesis, but I would add the first Rick Wakefield era of Yes to the mix. This is particularly true on the songs Stipulation and Fragile We Are Castles, which closes the CD. On the other hand, the Pink Floyd influence shines on Fine One to Talk.

Other songs defy comparison. Liquid is an odd romp through almost too-cute lyrics that seems to be the most aimless song on the CD, although it has by far the most Soundcloud plays. The playfulness works better on the track Bait & Switch. Despite there being just six songs, the EP runs over 32 minutes.

Besides the question of whether this would be accessible to the average listener, though, my question would be whether the group is willing to step outside its comfort zone in other ways. I don’t come to this with preconceived notions, since I’m not as intimately familiar with the group as I would be several of those who play in and around this East Coast region.

Since this group has shown a willingness to essentially scrap one musical style for another, one has to wonder if they will break away from their Seattle roots and travel to other places. Of course, in this day and age of instant worldwide access to music it’s possible to make a comfortable living making music for sale and feeding the appetite for new material by simply recording it and putting it out on a site like Bandcamp, and maybe that’s the lot they’ve chosen for themselves. These guys look realtively comfortable.

But this is the kind of release which can find a devoted audience – no, it may never sell out arenas like Pink Floyd or Yes did in their heyday, but if they can determine there’s a market for the music in other places it may be worth leaving their Seattle comfort zone to entertain the new converts. Every reasonably large city (and a number of small ones, too) has their share of bands which make people scratch their heads and wonder why they never went national. So why limit yourself?

If you can get through the one subpar track in the middle, “Progtronica” is a rather enjoyable listen from a band which could make up its own mixtape of rock genres based on its overall body of material. It makes you wonder where they will go from here, in more ways than one.

monoblogue music: “Burden To Bear” by Lael Summer

The 2014 debut release from Lael Summer

Coming in more or less at the intersection of jazz and soul, New York-based Lael Summer made her full-length debut in January with the album called “Burden To Bear,” which served as an extension of an four-song EP she previously released – all of these, including a remake of the Hall and Oates composition Do What You Want, Be What You Are are reprised on “Burden.” The other three previously released songs are I Need A Man, which opens the album, Kiss and Tell, and closing song The Good Fight.

For a first effort from a fairly young singer, it comes in as polished beyond her experience and years. She definitely sounds a little older and wiser than a college senior in her early twenties. “Burden to Bear” is an appropriate title for a compilation which lyrically details the life of a modern young woman – as she describes the songwriting process, “I picked through my thoughts, my dreams, my nightmares, conversations, observations and memories and used the fragments of my life to piece together something I could share with others.”

The diverse range of songs on the album make for interesting listening, but can be jarring at times. The ballad Make You Whole, for example, comes immediately after the anger and bitterness expressed in You’re So Small. The latter song is perhaps the effort at “street cred” with the occasional f-bomb dropped in the chorus, a touch I found unnecessary. Leave the profanity for the rappers. This unevenness is more prevalent among the first tracks: the opener I Need A Man is more funky than the harmony-driven Too Much, while the peppy It’s About Soul comes after the ballad, only to be followed by a jazzy number called In Time. It’s About Soul is a rather anthemic song telling people it’s not about appearances, but about what’s inside.

That can also be said about the album’s back half, which to me has a much better flow. Beginning with track 7, Kiss and Tell, extending through the Hall and Oates cover, and pushing through the tracks What Do I Know (About Love), Look Around, and Unconditionally, the CD is a good definition of accessible adult contemporary music, hitting on all the right keys. The Good Fight, which was a song carried over from the EP, ends the album on a positive, hopeful note. What Do I Know may be the most pop-accessible song; to me even more so than the cover of Do What You Want.

With the influence of co-songwriter Tomas Doncker, the “sultry singer-songwriter” Summer has succeeded rather well in crafting the eleven songs she and her guitarist co-writer into a solid debut release. Doncker also co-produced the album with fellow contributing guitarist James Dellatacoma – no small feat given the dozen-plus musicians who contributed on the various tracks and instruments.

Having set herself up in a number of different musical camps, rather than taking one genre and mining it to exhaustion, Lael has the freedom to select a musical direction or continue to explore. If you’re into the musical genres which could be considered under the umbrella of adult contemporary music, I encourage you not to take my word for it, but listen for yourself.

While Lael hasn’t set up any dates to back up her release just yet, she is making the stage as part of a compilation called the True Groove All-Stars, a stable of artists from her True Groove label. Getting out and polishing her live performances would be the logical next step in her musical progression, and it will be interesting to see if she can be wise beyond her years in that regard.

monoblogue music: “Turn the People” by Monks of Mellonwah

The Australian band's newest release came out March 7.

Coming from Australia, the band Monks of Mellonwah may not be a household name in the United States, but a solid debut release may help them gain popularity on this side of the Pacific. They’re promising a U.S. tour to back their new album, “Turn the People.”

But this newest release serves as somewhat of a compilation, as the 13 tracks were all released previously as part of three separate EPs: “Ghost Stories” came out last June, “Afraid to Die” in October, and “Pulse” in January. Adding to this element is the album’s production by two different people: several tracks were produced by the Grammy-winning veteran Keith Olsen, while others were credited to the band’s guitarist, Joe de la Hoyde. That veteran touch shows, as the tracks Olsen produced seem to be a little more listener-friendly, such as the haunting Ghost Stories and its instrumental intro, or the pop-influenced Vanity. Olsen also lent a hand on the keyboard-heavy Pulse and Escaping Alcatraz, along with the track I thought was the highlight, Downfall. Ghost Stories is featured in the video below, which came out with the original EP.

That’s not to say the de la Hoyde-produced songs are bad, though. While the lead single Tear Your Hate Apart and Afraid To Die are a tad on the ponderous side, as is the moody title track Turn The People, the guitar backdrop shines on Alive For A Minute and Sailing Stones seems to me to have the potential of being a great live song. As well, the final two tracks, the ballad I Belong To You and thematic Sky And The Dark Night – Part 2 – Control give the listener a good final impression of the band. (The original of Sky And The Dark Night was released in 2013 as an eight-minute cinematic EP trilogy.) The potential is there for production to improve with experience, particularly in utilizing some of the unusual outros on this album to advantage.

Fortunately, the arrangement of the tracks on the CD doesn’t follow the order of release, although three of the four original “Ghost Stories” tracks open the album. Songs from the other two EPs are scattered among the remaining ten, with the overall 13-song package coming in at a breezy 46 minute running time. The arrangement sets up the two most pop-friendly songs at the beginning (after the brief instrumental intro to Ghost Stories) with the following six tracks moving the compilation into more of a prog-rock feel before coming back with catchier tunes and the ballad to round out the album.

In their band bio, the group notes that:

The Monks of Mellonwah set out musically not to repeat past styles, yet rather to pave the future for alternative rock. In doing so, they take the preeminent sounds of 70s psychedelic rock and 90s alternative – and blend it into something fresh and new.

In a musical era where the sole goal of pop music seems to be one of competing to come up with the most compellingly annoying backbeat, a group which pays attention to the overall composition is rather refreshing. And while the songs don’t always hit the sweet spot, enough of them do to make this a compelling album worth purchasing if you’re into the progressive rock genre. While this band has picked up critical acclaim along the way, don’t take their word for it – or mine, for that matter. I encourage you to listen for yourself.

As I noted, the band is planning a American tour sometime in 2014, although dates have yet to be announced.