NYAH: DISCONNECTED

(EP; INRAGE ENTERTAINMENT; 2020)

InRage Entertainment is a Los Angeles-based artist development company formed by Grammy-winning producer/songwriter Bruce “Automatic” Vanderveer as sort of a proving ground for up-and-coming talents. Hailing from Florence, Oregon, sixteen year old Nyah Vollmar is the first non-Californian signed to their roster. One listen to Nyah’s debut EP, DISCONNECTED, tells you why. The multi-talented teen (she sings, she writes her own music, she dances, she acts) is light years ahead of many singer/songwriters who’ve been in the game for more years than she’s been alive. Are there moments throughout the five tracks that highlight the fact that she is only sixteen (fifteen when the tracks were recorded and, in many cases, younger when the songs were written)? Sure. But, her vocal prowess more than makes up for any cringe-worthy teenage moments.

NYAH (photo credit: JEREMY DAVID CREATIVE)

The opening tune, “Midnight,” is a pumping, ethereal piece of Pop confection with a slight Middle Eastern vibe, particularly in the percussion. Nyah’s vocals are strong and confident, while maintaining a rather wispy quality… kinda like early Stevie Nicks. The number starts strong and finishes the same way. “Empty Spaces” features some nice acoustic guitar and keyboards, lending a more rocking sound to the proceedings. Producer Vanderveer’s multi-layering of Nyah’s voice bolsters the already hefty sounding lead vocals. A brief return after a full stop presents a whimsical, 16 year old’s idea of a “wild” remix (vocals sped up to a chipmunky squeal and otherwise manipulated). Yeah, I know it sounds weird, but it does work.

A Thousand Wishes” is a love story to a best friend, a family member, a planet misunderstood and hurting. The lyrics convey a very mature concept for someone who just turned old enough to drive. A very cool Middle Eastern/Asian vibe in instrumentation and vocal melody lines inform “Legends In the Stars,” a girl-meets-boy narrative, unfortunately hampered by standard-issue Pop-production tropes. The tune, thankfully, is saved by Nyah’s lyrics and flawless vocal performance. Undoubtedly, my favorite track on the unfortunately short EP is “Flowers On My Grave.” An ebb and flow of piano-driven orchestration on the verses and a throbbing Pop Punk intensity on the choruses is the perfect combination for the dark sentiments of the song: “Would you care to be so kind as to lay flowers on my grave/Let them wither, let them fade so I don’t die alone.”

NYAH (photo credit: JEREMY DAVID CREATIVE)

As with any collection of songs, DISCONNECTED is not without flaws. Those flaws, however, are minor and in no way detracts from the whole of the work. Nyah appears to be on the verge of something wholly spectacular and I am definitely excited to see where she goes from here.


BROADSIDE: KING OF NOTHING

(VICTORY RECORDS 7” single; 2019)

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve listened to any Pop Punk music (at least, on purpose) and, granted, Broadside’s new single may be more Pop than Punk but… it’s a’ight. In a totally non-threatening, Radio Disney kinda way. Well… mostly.

BROADSIDE (Ollie Baxxter) (uncredited photo)

The edgier Punk tone of the A-side, “King of Nothing,” while weighted with the softer sounds that are all the trend with today’s Pop music, nonetheless does feature a cool guitar signature alongside some frenetic drumming. Now, to a rocker like me, that sentence would generally set off all kinds of alarms, with the robot from LOST IN SPACE flailing its arms and wailing, “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!,” sending me into an apoplectic frenzy in search of the off button (or, at the very least, the mute button ‘til I could figure out how to get the noises out of my head). And, of course, the tune could have been as disastrous as that, but the drums and guitar are definitely nice touches and Ollie Baxxter’s vocals and lyrics – the chorus warns, “Don’t pray for me/Don’t wait for me/I’m such a mess/I’ve lost all control” – have an urgency that sets “King of Nothing” apart from most of the current Pop radio fare. There are some nice – dare I say, fun – qualities, as well, making the song a rather nice introduction for the Radio Disney kids to the rough and tumble world of real music. And, it still has enough cool for the old school Pop Punk crowd to get behind.

BROADSIDE (Ollie Baxxter) (uncredited photo)

The opening twenty or so seconds of “Empty” had me flashing back to what is undoubtedly the worst Van Halen song ever written, “Jump.” Don’t worry though: The ship was quickly righted, the keyboards aren’t as cloyingly saccharine and the lyrics are far better than that offered up by ol’ Diamond Dave; the drums are rock-steady and the guitars peek out from behind the clouds every once in awhile. While “Empty” is a couple of ticks below “King of Nothing,” it’s still a nice little diversion and quite listenable, falling more into the aforementioned Radio Disney category than its brethren from the other side of the record. As songwriter/vocalist Ollie Baxxter relates, “I wanted to write a dance-y song making fun of how unfortunate it is to be in love, sometimes.” And so he has. Victory Records has announced that Broadside is working on a new full-length, scheduled for release next year; I’m not sure if this 7” single is intended as a preview of the album or if it’s just a stop-gap to hype the fans up for the group’s upcoming tour, opening for Set It Off. Either way, it’s certainly worth picking up at your local record shop.


JOHNNY WORE BLACK: WALKING UNDERWATER, PART 2

(DEAD CHERRY RECORDS; 2014)

Johnny Wore Black

Johnny Wore Black is the musical alter-ego of a stuntman who prefers to be called simply, “Jay” (his most recent stunt work is currently on display in FURY, with Brad Pitt). Considering his day job, is it any wonder that the music Jay creates is adventurous, risky and maybe even a little bit scary? WALKING UNDERWATER, PART 2 (PART 1 was released earlier this year) is a balancing act of hard rock, progressive metal and pop sheen, all laced with a dollop of blues and soul. Jay’s backing band are on point throughout the ten tracks on the album, maybe kicking things up a notch with the presence of bassist (and co-writer on several tracks) Dave Ellefson of metal giants, Megadeth. So, without further ado, let’s get into some of the specifics that make this record so cool.

Johnny Wore Black (Dave Ellefson and Jonathan Cohen) (uncredited photo)

Johnny Wore Black (Dave Ellefson and Jay) (uncredited photo)

The album kicks off with “Firefly,” a progressively melodic blast of hard rock. The track features great guitar work from Pete Mathers and James Coppolaro (a theme we’ll see repeated throughout the album) and a very “progressive” rhythm (it sounds like synthesizer, but there are no synths or keyboards credited). “A Cut Above” has a heftier guitar and vocal sound, as Ellefson’s bass drives the tune along quite nicely. There’s a certain groove that kinda reminds me of mid-era solo Alice Cooper and a stinging, dark progressivity that gives it the feel of a Floydian outtake from THE WALL. With a brighter, somewhat jangly guitar, “Comfy Slippers” features an overall more high-end – bordering on shrill – sound. The song is highlighted by the melodic, slightly jazzy drumming of Simon Hutchby.

Even though the lyrics on this record are, as the second song’s title implies, a cut above, “Fallen Angel” features some of the best: “Like a fallen angel/You spread your wings and cry.” The scope of the lyrics and the music are very theatrical, giving it a definite prog rock concept album feel. “Gift of Desperation,” the final co-write from Ellefson (he also co-wrote the record’s first two tracks), is a heartfelt prayer for forgiveness, wrapped in a very dark, nearly Gothic musical soundscape. Ellefson’s bass has a sort of bubbling quality beneath the atmospheric stabs of guitar doomary. Probably my favorite song on the whole album. The title and ambiguous lyrics of “I Do Dissolve” reminds me of my fave dark romanticist, Gary Numan (an utterly fantastic use of the words “dissolve,” “absolve” and “evolve”). The funky, skittering guitars and bass line also have a quality reminiscent of SHORT BUS era Filter (the one with “Hey, Man, Nice Shot”). “Noise” is, overall, a creepy sounding punk pop thing with some exceptionally eerie guitar. It’s kinda like the Damned’s Dave Vanian or Rob Zombie fronting Good Charlotte or Fall Out Boy (but with better music… so, I guess it ain’t like that at all).

Johnny Wore Black (Jonathan Cohen) (photo credit: MATT BROWN)

Johnny Wore Black (Jay) (photo credit: MATT BROWN)

Shine On” is a spooky, horror movie power ballad. It’s a truly beautiful number with a stirring, charging second half. Sara Renar, a talented Croatian singer of great depth and feeling, guests on the song. “Whose Children” is all about the groove, with evocative guitar, pulsating bass effects-drenched vocals. The sole cover on the album was originally recorded in 1990 by a dance band called Bomb the Bass, with vocals by the song’s co-writer, Loretta Heywood. The band adds heft to “Winter In July,” which, in its original version was a rather lightweight quasi-disco affair. Johnny Wore Black’s heavier, more rocking take still manages to maintain the basic groove of the track. As an added bonus, Ms Heywood supplies her voice to the proceedings. You may have noticed that all through this review, I’ve managed to speak about the excellent musicianship from the band and the guest vocalists, but haven’t really mentioned Jay’s voice. Why? Well, this review features enough redundancies without adding more by talking about what a talented and emotionally adept singer he actually is. Coming in to this thing, I wasn’t sure what to expect; I certainly wasn’t expecting to be blown away, as I was, from the very first note to the final fade.


THOSE DARLINS/DIAHREA PLANET/SPEEDBOATS

(22 February, 2014; OFF BROADWAY, Saint Louis, MO)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

When reviewing a band live, sometimes things work out, sometimes there are a couple of bumps in the road, sometimes things completely fall apart. This review kinda falls into the “bumps in the road” category. Nothing serious, just a matter of… timing. Planning to meet up with some friends, I was at the venue early. It was then that I found out that not only was the door time an hour later than expected, but there was one more band on the bill than anticipated. All of this meant that – besides a 9:10 starting time – I had time to kill… a lot of time to kill! But… you don’t really care about that, do you? You just wanna know about the show. So…

Speedboats (photo credit: DARREN TRACY

Speedboats (photo credit: DARREN TRACY

The “extra” band was Speedboats, a newish hometown group whose sound is borderline pop punk, leaning heavier toward a cool California skater punk/stoner rock vibe. The five-piece has a great sense of self-deprecating humor and energy to burn. There was also a huge case of the nerves on display, as singer Greg Crittenden had some problems with his control. Now, how, you may ask, do I know it was “nerves” and not something else? Well… I watched the boys’ sound-check and he didn’t crack at all. There’s actually so much to like about these guys and this is such a minor complaint that, truthfully, besides the guys on stage, I may have been the only other one to notice. The guitar duo of Sean Gartner (stage right) and Karl Stefanski (stage left… where else?) elevated the music to something way past standard pop punk, particularly on a song so new that it didn’t even have an official name yet. The working title is “Roller SK8 or Die,” which as far as I can tell (what lyrics there were weren’t totally clear to these ears), had absolutely nothing to do with rollerskating or death. Speedboats got the crowd into things early on and set up the evening nicely. I seriously expect great things from these guys in the not too distant future.

Diarrhea Planet (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Diarrhea Planet (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Up next was Diarrhea Planet, a band hand-picked by fellow Nashvillains (?) and headliners, Those Darlins. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I got absolutely blew me away. Imagine… oh, let’s say, Dead Kennedys… with… let’s go with Eddie Van Halen and then multiply him by four. That’s right: old school California punk with four guitar players continually soloing, shredding and finger-tapping like mad scientists. Founding member Jordan Smith handles most of the vocals, but the other guitarists (Emmett Miller, Brent Toler and Evan Bird) all have their moments. With the rhythm section (drummer Casey Weissbuch and bassist Mike Boyle) holding everything together – in the very loosest sense – the four front line guys were allowed to entertain the fans (and, occasionally, each other) with some of the hottest playing I’ve ever seen, including two of the guys finger-tapping in harmony. Absolutely amazing! This band managed to do something that I haven’t seen for quite some time: They had the crowd moshing, bouncing and bringing back that old school punk pit vibe. At one point, they brought the “least punk person” to the stage to prove that “anyone can be a punk.” They gave Ty the mic and 35 seconds to rant, vent and be punk. He started out with a truly epic scream, but was soon lost in the swirling guitar overload. What a fun show! However – and, please, don’t hold this against me guys – Diarrhea Planet may just be the fourth worst band name ever – right behind Panic! At the Disco, Vampire Weekend and Justin Bieber. Since I have absolutely no idea where the name came from, I’m gonna go with this: It’s a geo-political statement aimed at the leaders of the world. Thankfully, the band elevates the music to a level that transcends the horrible noises of the Disco Vampire Bieber. There latest release is called I’M RICH BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS and is available at all of the usual places. Don’t let the name scare you!

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

In Nashville, Those Darlins (as well as Diarrhea Planet) are godlike. In fact, they had a large contingent of their hometown fans front and center at the intimate Off Broadway stage. There were also quite a few folk from upstate Illinois: Chicago and, if I heard right, a suburb called Berwyn. People absolutely love the Darlins… with good reason. The quartet took the stage and the crowd by storm, with the kind of rock ‘n’ roll that has people making five hour drives to see them onstage. Jessi Zazu (who handles most of the vocals) and Nikki Kvarnes continued the guitar showcase, with their own brand of sweet leads and tasty solos. Things seemed to kick into a higher gear with the set’s third song, “Red Light Love,” which – even if you had no idea who Those Darlins are – is a tune that you’re gonna recognize, as it was featured in several commercials for Kia Motors over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, this is where the whole time thing came in to bite me on the posterior: About the time that the band was finishing “Red Light Love,” I received a call telling me that I was needed at home. I love the Darlins, but – and I’m sure they’ll agree – family comes first. I am really sorry that I didn’t have the chance to hear the entire set from Those Darlins. If the rest of the set was as hot as the first three or four songs, I certainly missed a great one!

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Before I go, I’ve gotta say something about the venue. Off Broadway is currently one of the best sounding rooms in Saint Louis. The vibe is awesome and laid back, as are the people who work there. Even though Off Broadway is smaller, the closest comparison I can come up with is the late, lamented Mississippi Nights. If you have the chance, get out to Off Broadway for some live music. Check out their schedule here: www.offbroadwaystl.com.