All posts filed under: Reviews

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Album Review: The On and Ons, “It’s The On And Ons Calling”

Now THIS is what it’s all about – driving guitars, strident rhythms, crashing cymbals and hooks galore – coming out of Australia, following in the grand tradition of the Hoodoo Gurus, the Stems, etc.  The On and Ons have arrived and their debut album is It’s the On and Ons Calling – and you can damn well bet they are – calling loud and clear to anyone who loves great, classic guitar pop. Starting off with the instantly memorable “All Over Heavenly (You’re My Everything),” you KNOW you’re in for a sweet ride of POP in bold block letters.  It’s all there – just in that first number.  “Goodbye My Love” is a little more subdued but reminiscent of some of the classics you’d find on Nuggets; “Long Ride” is a rollicking, harmony laden piece with a catchy chorus and “Before Our Eyes” has an American-guitar-twang flavor.  “Rockin’ With the Beat” is full-throttle and “Don’t Tear Me Down” sounds like it could easily be a single. There’s no sense of slowing down as “Two Things …

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Album Review: Taylor Upsahl, “Visceratonic”

This 16-year old from Phoenix, Arizona has a sweet and soothing voice yet writes songs with a veteran’s sense of structure and melody.  Taylor Upsahl‘s second release, the cleverly titled Visceratonic, belies her age with a strong knowledge how to do what she does so very well. The opening cut, “Portrait Pattern” is piano driven, with some very nice chord patterns and shifts which immediately make you sit up and pay attention.  “Hopes Too High” has a tasteful acoustic guitar body and a fine rhythm with subtle harmonies on  the vocals; “Sunflower” is a breezy, warm strummed song – stripped down to elegant simplicity with just the one instrument and her voice and “Games” is a standout – acoustic pop and catchy.  And again, shifts and twists in the progression is well-executed. “Rain” is another bare-bones performance – here, just piano and vocals and you can feel the emotion in the waves of her voice; “Golden Rims” is an uptempo pop track and another shining moment – the vocal interplay is perfect for this song …

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Album Review: Darlingside, “Birds Say”

This Massachusetts-based quartet has something different to offer and a very refined sound that makes this new album, Birds Say, a joy to experience from end to end.  Touches of classical music, traditional folk and skillful song structures are the order of the day. “The Ancestor” opens the collection in a very delicate and choral manner that I haven’t encountered in a long time; very warm melody and a group vocal.  “White Horses” is quiet, brushed along by banjo runs played softly and majestic piano and stunning harmonies a la CSN & Y make this an early high point; “Go Back” is another dynamic vocal exercise with some nice uptempo guitar strumming and is as catchy as all get out and the album’s title track, “Birds Say” has some very fine acoustic picking. “The God Of Loss,” with its mournful violin, is another standout and sung in a group manner instead of harmonies; “Do You Ever Live?” has a Turtles-like vocal delivery and although it’s musically minimal, it has a quasi-psychedelic feel and “She’s All …

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Album Review: HUGElarge, “HUGElarge”

The last time I heard two men play with the intensity of a full-bore “band” was Mike Watt and George Hurley doing the music of my (and their) late, beloved Minutemen – until now.  Robert Malta (guitar and vocals) and Matt Norelli (drums) are the “two man power trio” that comprise HUGElarge and they erupt with this debut album of familiar and well-loved covers from the ’60’s and ’70’s.  Even the album art has a coolness that fits alongside the music contained within. Since this album is filled with highlights, the one that grabbed me most is “Who’ll Be The Next In Line”, a most favored Kinks song to me – stripped down to the bare bones and balls – brief and slammed out with gusto; The Standells’ “Sometimes Good Guys Dont Wear White” has a nice feel and a bitchin’ slide guitar solo; The Charlatans’ (by way of Buffie Sainte-Marie) “Codeine” gets a heavy, bluesy treatment and has a lot of emotion in the delivery and Johnny Thunders’ “Born To Lose” has a 100-m.p.h. …

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Album Review: Eszter Balint, “Airless Midnight”

You might recognize Eszter Balint‘s name from the television series Louie, in which she played (during an end-of-the-season arc) the neighbor/love interest to Louis C.K.  But here, the Hungarian-born actress shows her true talent and skill as a singer, songwriter and violinist.  Airless Midnight is her second solo album – her first in a decade (!) and her third overall.  Here, she’s joined by such talents as Dave Schramm and Marc Ribot, and this album is, indeed, a revelation. Opening with “The Mother,” the slow-syrupy almost-jazz groove takes you into a dreamlike state, but picks up the pace and gets you moving; you can hear her violin punctuate verses and links to add an eerie atmosphere.  Her voice is warm, rich and embracing and sets the table for the duration of the album.  Harmonies on this album are supplied by Sam Phillips (!) and are sweet and balanced.  “Let’s Tonight It” is an uptempo rock-stomper with some tastefully dirty guitar; “Departure Song” has a country-folk feel with banjos and “Calls At 3 a.m.” is an acoustic …

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Album Review: Grace Potter, “Midnight”

There are bound to be some very strong and differentiating opinions on this new solo album from Grace Potter – best known for fronting jam-band favorites Grace Potter & The Nocturnals.  I found her by way of my closest friend, whose opinion I trust completely.  She hipped me to them with their self-titled 2010 album and for someone who never paid much attention to the new generation of jam bands, this record stood out and made me a fan. On Midnight, her official second solo album, it’s nowhere near what one would expect as this album is 100% hi-gloss, danceable, radio-friendly pop.  Whether or not that alienates long-time fans who are scratching their heads, thinking Grace Potter has become a glamour-pop-diva, is immaterial.  Taken at face value, this is quality modern pop with all the right touches.  Melodies, hooks and take-your-breath-away vocals.  Keeping in mind, Ms. Potter has a drop-dead powerhouse voice and here, she just cuts and rips right through these songs with an absolute intensity and abandon. The rollercoaster ride begins with the …

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Box Set Review: The Who, “The Reaction Singles, 1966”

This second box set of 45 singles, restored to their original label pressings by The Who for “The Who Hits 50” series, is now playing loudly for the third time on my turntable.  Once again, Universal (the parent company of the various labels The Who appeared on) has done an outstanding job in re-releasing these most critical of singles in The Who’s history and they sound as spectacular and dynamic as one could hope for. 1966 was an important year and a crossroads/major shift in directions for the band.  Growing in leaps and bounds from the speed-fueled Mod band and their initial R&B-style, they’d already had a fair number of successful singles in the U.K. the previous year.  However, Pete Townshend  was growing confident and strong in his songwriting and the newest single, “Substitute” showcased a completely different, far more powerful sound and depth of lyrics.  But this new single wouldn’t be without its headaches.  They’d extracted themselves from Brunswick (Decca) Records, after a skirmish with a song called “Circles,” produced by now-ex-producer Shel Talmy.  …

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Album Review: The Bottle Rockets, “South Broadway Athletic Club”

If you know the music of The Bottle Rockets, you know the winning formula that makes their records so good – Brian Henneman’s gang of guitar slingers play straight-ahead, no bullshit rock & roll with a pop sensibility and a pure American feel (not in a predictable or precious way).  Add to the combination of fine songwriting and playing the masterful production of the legendary/brilliant Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (The Del Lords, The Yayhoos, Roscoe’s Gang, etc.) and it’s the kind of album you get friendly with real fast. And so is the case with the latest in The Bottle Rockets’ canon, South Broadway Athletic Club – 11 fine slices of fresh guitar-driven rock.  Launching you along for the ride with the first track, “Monday (Everytime I Turn Around)”, the structure and melody grab you and strap you in – chiming guitars (do I hear a Ric 360-12?), sweet acoustic breaks, crisp drums, economically tasteful guitar solos – this has “radio friendly” written all over it and damn it, it should be coming out of every …

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POPDOSE EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE: Loveland Duren, “Johnny Boy”

This is something very special; very powerful and totally from the heart.  Memphis legends Vicki Loveland and Van Duren, collectively known as Loveland Duren, release their new single, “Johnny Boy” and Popdose is proud to bring it to you as an exclusive premiere. The writing of “Johnny Boy” began during an annual writing excursion the team takes to Gulf Shores, Alabama. On December 12, 2014, in the tiring last hours of their drive to the coast, they received a disturbing call that longtime friend and Ardent Studios co-owner/producer, John Hampton, had passed away in Memphis. Astonished and shaken, Vicki and Van sat down that evening with a guitar; the night beach sky as their companion helped the song flow out in a grieving tribute to their friend. Their first day back in Memphis, another shock: Ardent Studios founder John Fry, another good friend, also died on December 18th. The entire Memphis musical community was devastated, having lost two giants in 6 days. Mournfully, “Johnny Boy” transcended into a tribute to both men. This July, Loveland …

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ALBUM REVIEW: SARAH MCQUAID, “Walking Into White”

There is something I find immediately and charming about Sarah McQuaid’s voice upon first listen to her newest release, Walking Into White – it’s soothing and embracing and doesn’t sound like what can consider atypical of folk-style performers.  Although she’s U.K.-based, Ms. McQuaid hails from Chicago (!  Aha!), but her style of acoustic playing reminds me of Nick Drake’s way along with the near-huskiness of her voice (yes, yes, I know Nick Drake gets name-checked a lot and so what?  He was brilliant.  Period.).  Nonetheless, her style is very lush and expansive and makes this album something to sink my teeth into. From the opening of the stark/bleak “Low Winter Sun” to the powerhouse of “Where The Wind Decides To Blow”, this is top of the mark song execution.  Her masterful playing on “I Am Grateful For What I Have” (which has shades of Townshend’s acoustic picking style in there) is exquisite and chill inducing.  There is a thread that pulls these songs together, via soundscapes that appear at the end of each track; from …

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ALBUM REVIEW: THE BELLFURIES, “Workingman’s Bellfuries”

Passionate, rootsy rock & roll come right out at you immediately from Austin’s The Bellfuries.  This band, who’s been around for a while, have upped their game with this latest album, the cleverly titled Workingman’s Bellfuries.  A mix of that classic Texas twang, the Sun sound and rhythms that swing has to be good, right?  Right.  Let’s make that clear now.  Simply mix a little Elvis, Marty Robbins, Roy Orbison and a smattering of Buck Owens, Big Sandy and Los Lobos for good measure and that pretty much personifies The Bellfuries’ sound.  Add to that a production quality that brings you right into the late ’50’s/early ’60’s, which sounds natural and pure and it’s a “can’t miss”.  Dig? About the songs, it’s simple:  “Loving Arms” kicks off the album with a good old-fashioned swing that you, indeed, can’t resist tapping your toes to; “Bad Seed Sown” sounds like something Elvis would have recorded and “Why Do You Haunt Me?” is my favorite and the album’s standout with its Tex-Mex feel.  “Make The Mystery No More” …

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ALBUM REVIEW: BIRD, “Figments Of Our Imagination”

Janie Price is the mind, voice and cello (!) behind Bird.  A London-based singer-songwriter, she now graces us with her third album, Figments Of Our Imagination.  Most alluringly about this CD is that Ms. Price plays all the instruments on the album, which was produced by Chris Kimsey (who you may know from his being behind the board for the Stones – yes, those Stones). Ten original songs; all of which have an interesting array of textures, colors and melodies.  On my initial listen, I felt a sense of (a recurring theme) early ’80’s influences – the groove; the electronic timbre – but it all works deliciously. Starting with “Girl Can’t Decide”, which is a mellow yet funky track, you can’t help but be enveloped by Janie Price’s voice and the pure pop structure – a fine beginning.  “Thrill Me” has a Berlin-like feel (think “The Metro”); dark, buoyant keyboard touches and brisk pace; “The Dare” has a brightness, offset by the tension that builds until the chorus, which lifts the song and “Stereotype” is …

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ALBUM REVIEW: STEPHEN KALINICH & JON TIVEN, “Each Soul Has A Voice”

Stephen Kalinich and Jon Tiven have a career and and a list of credits as impressive as one can imagine. Amongst the luminaries, this would include The Beach Boys, Alex Chilton, and so on. Kalinich, wrote lyrics for many of the stronger tracks in The Beach Boys’ catalogue; Tiven has been a music journalist, guitarist, producer and writer and both show no signs of slowing down.  In 2012, they released the masterful 2-CD set, Shortcuts to Infinity/Symptomology, which was a monumental achievement.  While this new album, Each Soul Has A Voice, is a 14 track offering, it is once again, a collection of songs with heart and mind. Some of the guest players include Tiven’s wife Sally on bass and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars (son of Jim, brother of Luther) on drums, Queen’s Brian May, Stax mainstay Steve “Colonel” Cropper, and extra drum appearances by Steve Ferrone and Anton Fig.  Quite an outstanding cast. The beauty and interesting element in listening to Each Soul Has a Voice  is the quality of the …

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BOOK REVIEW: DANIEL MAKAGON, “Underground: The Subterranean Culture Of D.I.Y. Punk Shows”

This is, to a great extent, one of those books I wish was around when I was playing in a band – certainly, when I was 18 and in my first band.  We could have used a guidebook, which is how I view this fine piece of writing by Daniel Makagon, associate professor in the College of Communicaton at DePaul University.  It is not filled with witty recountings of life on the road; no amusing anecdotes about women, drugs or which promoter fucked which band over.  It’s all of it,  but done in a very direct, matter-of-fact manner (little wonder since Makagon is an academic) and I applaud it.  Sometimes, it’s all well and good to read road tales, but if you’re going to go out as a performer, especially in these tiny, makeshift scenes, you really should have a map and a knowledge of the proverbial bear traps out there, as not everyone is altruistic and money becomes the central point of everything.  Yes, it’s vital to have these networks – the “American Underground” …

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ALBUM REVIEW: MALPAS, “Rain, River, Sea”

From the beginning of “Under Her Sails”, there is something immediately soothing about Malpas’ sound, found here on their debut full-length album, Rain, River, Sea.  Essentially a duo, Malpas is the brainchild of producer/engineer Andy Savours and songwriter Ali Forbes.  Atmospheric, melody, rhythm – a strongly danceable sense – it all adds up to an interesting and fine combination. The beauty of “Under Her Sails” notwithstanding, “Where The River Runs” builds in layers and hits a groove when you least expect it, then shifts directions in a manner that works; “Sea Decide” is awash (!) with a warm vintage synth wave into gentle harmony-laden vocals and acoustic guitar and “Promise” is both delicate and slightly haunting in a lovely, simple way.  “The Green Light” is a tight, tense, deliberately understated groove with taut rhythm and again, delicious harmonies; “Charlemagne” has a soundtrack-like dynamic to it, with warm acoustic guitar and subdued vocals and “Here Comes The Rain” is laden with strings and mandolin, giving it a classic English folk feel. A very strong, embracing debut; …

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Review: Big Lazy – “Don’t Cross Myrtle”

Stephen Ulrich and his jazz/rock noir band Big Lazy will take up residency at the renowned Brooklyn joint Barbes starting in a couple short days and there seems like no better reason to take a second glance at the 2014 gem of a record that slipped below our radar here at Popdose, that comeback kid LP, the group’s first outing since 2006, Don’t Cross Myrtle. All you really need to know about Myrtle is that it’s the trio’s best record to date and that’s saying a goddamn lot. But better sounding than “Skinless, Boneless?” More killer than “Tel Aviv Taxi?” Hu-f**in-zzah. The entire thing, like the group’s whole twisted back catalog, is a story of intersections: the intersection of rockabilly and icy-smooth menthol smoke, the intersection of surf music and David Lynch films, that of jazz and beatnik composition, that of big-sky country possibilities and film-noir endings. It’s all in there for the picking. Dive right in. Album-opener “Minor Problem,” with its vaguely Afro-Cuban grooves and lurching upright bass, is menacing, the evil twin to …

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DVD REVIEW: THE STRAY CATS, “Live At Rockpalast 1983/Loreley Open Air & 1981 Cologne”

The Stray Cats were born of the punk era, but with their obvious skills, it was evident from their love of pure rock & roll that  rockabilly would be their driving force. Guitarist/vocalist Brian Setzer, Lee “Rocker” Drucker on standup bass and Jim “Slim Jim Phanton” McDonald took their revivalist style to England from their native Long Island and slowly re-set the world on fire. Thirty-plus years after their initial launch and success, this 2-DVD set reminds you what a great combo the Cats were. Live at Rockpalast brings together footage from two German shows, the first from Cologne in 1981 and the second at the Loreley in 1983. The look and sound of both performances are terrific – it’s a great statement of a band’s beginning and then explosion on the international stage in a short, two-year span. The 1981 show is a band flushed with the drive and excitement to buck against everything happening at the time while the 1983 show shows the band during the frenzy of their now-international success. These are …

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ALBUM REVIEW: Continental Drifters, “Drifted: In The Beginning & Beyond”

There are some bands that everyone should know, be aware of, embrace and revere.  The Continental Drifters are one of those bands.  The subtle elegance and grace that embodies their music – as pure American sounding as one could wish (even their name sounds just right) – makes me happier than happy that Omnivore Recordings has seen fit to release this wonderful double compilation, Drifted:  In The Beginning & Beyond.  A 2-CD set with some fine liner notes by Scott Schinder and recollections by the various members of the band AND 33 songs that take you for a ride of melody, harmony and musicianship that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere nearly as deft and skilled. You probably know their name by virtue of some of the members’ previous outfits:  Peter Holsapple, the master songwriter/guitarist of The dB’s; Vicki Peterson, the guitar powerhouse of The Bangles; Susan Cowsill, who many of us watched as we were all children when she was with her family band, The Cowsills.  But the Continental Drifters are so much …

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POPDOSE PREMIERE: Grey Lands, “Another Lie”

This Hamilton, Ontario-based three-piece makes their introductory bow with “Another Lie”, the first available track from their upcoming debut album.  If it sounds a bit familiar, it’s alright – they wear their influences on their collective sleeve:  Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, etc.  A strong, melodic piece with the right amount of warmth and catchiness to make you want to hear more.  Which is a good way to whet the appetite for the listening audience. Dig on this Popdose Premiere from Grey Lands: http://www.greylandsmusic.com/

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ALBUM REVIEW: EZTV, “Calling Out”

I used these words upon seeing EZTV during their opening slot for The Dream Syndicate a few months ago:  “I have seen the future of power pop and it’s EZTV”.  I immediately drew comparisons with The Flamin’ Groovies, Marshall Crenshaw and Big Star – and I was right.  This Brooklyn-based trio has a richness of scope; they glide from the more uptempo power-pop to the wonderfully Chris Bell-influenced textured dreamy-style naturally and with ease. So it comes to pass that they have delivered on what I thought a recorded document would sound like by them – Calling Out, their debut album, has a dozen pieces of power pop gold, going from one end of the spectrum to the other.  Crisp, clean production, ethereal vocals, melody and structure at every turn – this is a grand slam.  The first cut is an indication of great things to come; “Bury Your Heart” with its acoustic guitar intertwined with a wonderfully chorus-ed/phased guitar and some slightly off-kilter riffs thrown in is a perfect beginning – catchy, memorable and …

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FILM REVIEW: “The Wolfpack”

When you first hear the synopsis behind The Wolfpack, you almost impulsively think it’s a real life horror story:  for fourteen years, a family of six boys and a girl were locked away in an apartment, located in the projects of the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  The Angulo brothers:  Mukunda, Narayana, Govinda, Bhagavan, Krisna (Glenn), and Jagadesh (Eddie), and their sister Visnu—learned about the outer world by watching movies. They had been homeschooled by their mother, Susanne, and kept in a four-bedroom apartment.  Their father, Oscar, forbade the kids and their mother from leaving the apartment – save for a rare and guarded “trip” outside because he had the only key – which immediately spells signs of abuse of one form or another. When 15-year-old Mukunda decided in January 2010 to go outdoors and actually see his neighborhood – against the father’s strict rule – things change.  The Angulo boys begin exploring Manhattan by actually re-enacting scenes from some of their favorite movies (of which their collection was sizeable, as it was all they …

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ALBUM REVIEW: Burnside & Hooker, “All The Way To The Devil”

There must be something in the waters of Chicago, because the Windy City keeps spewing out these wonderful bands who have skill, style and sense – and Burnside & Hooker are no exception.  All The Way To The Devil, their second full-length release, is ripe with tasty guitar hooks, great and lush vocals and melody galore. Starting with the title track, which has some semi-accapella vocals, it segues into “The Graveyard”, which has some neat acoustic riffing but builds into a heavy rhythm and the interplay of Rachel Bonacquisti’s lead vocals and Diana Mayne’s secondary vocals is simply great.  “Someday (I’m Gonna Leave This Town)” is pure American – a combination of folk, bluegrass and odd jazz inflections – all with a mix of guitar, violas and a lot of energy; “Momma Said” sounds like Jet (!) and just rocks at about 100 m.p.h., which definitely throws you for a loop, but this band definitely doesn’t play cute or rootsy all the time and “Rivets” is a low-key but intense acoustic instrumental that makes you …

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ALBUM REVIEW: Insect Ark, “Portal/Well”

Atmospheric, dark, moody – but not in way it can’t be enjoyed.  There is melody within the walls built by Insect Ark, the project directed by multi-instrumentalist Dana Schechter.  This album, Portal/Well is their debut and it’s an interesting experience.  Heavy – both sonically and with its rhythms – these tracks have an icy quality that manage to not leave you cold while listening. The opening track, which is also the title cut, is drums and solid basslines with intense throb until about six minutes in when guitar chords crash; “The Collector” is a claustrophobic piece which is fed by what sounds like controlled guitar feedback and then weaves sustained guitar lines in and “Lowlands” is a combination – at least to me – of guitar shards and feedback drone.  “Octavia”, which clocks in at just over eight minutes sounds like the perfect soundtrack to a European horror film, with quivering, resonating guitar notes that sear in and out; “Taalith” is slow, mean and feels like electroshock therapy and “Parallel Twin” has a paranoia about …

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E.P. REVIEW: Luna Aura, “Super Nova”

Five new songs from Luna Aura, an electro-dream-pop artist, hailing from Phoenix, Arizona.  Light and pleasant, her voice is soothing yet strong and has the right texture to fit these songs. Immediately, with the opening track, “Like You”, there is a warmth that one doesn’t usually equate with the word “electronica” but the gentility necessary is there; “Gravity” is space-y, syrupy and out there and yet, it doesn’t irritate and “Dancing With Your Ghost”, which is the focus track, has a nice quality about it; reminiscent of early ’80’s synth pop – catchy and easily memorable.  The title track, “Super Nova” is far more contemporary with its rhythm and “Trigger” rounds out the collection with some nice atmospherics. And that’s a key element to this E.P. – atmosphere.  The soundscapes are used as just that – soundscapes that don’t distract from the songs themselves.  A very nice piece of summer music.  I predict we will definitely hear more from Luna Aura in the not-too-distant future. RECOMMENDED Super Nova will be released Friday, August 7th, 2015 …