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CD Review: Squonk “Pneumatica”

There are musical acts that you follow because of their music. There are those acts that you follow because of the way they present themselves onstage. And then there are those acts who take the time to create a persona that ends up mixing the two ideas together to create a band or solo act that is pure entertainment. Bands like Trans Siberian Orchestra, Insane Clown Posse and Mushroomhead, even Katy Perry are just four examples of musical acts that give the listener more bang for their buck when it comes to seeing them live in concert. You can add Pittsburgh’s Squonk to that list! 

Squonk is five-person musical ensemble that combines several different elements into the complete concept of the band. Along with a musical style that borrows liberally from many different Prog Rock bands, there are artistic and technological sides to the band that come from the stage show that helps to add so much dimension to the band’s music. The results are something that brings to mind the experience of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. 

Twenty-five years ago, composer Jackie Dempsey teamed up with visual artist Steve O’Hearn. The two began the whole concept that would become Squonk Opera (the original name) in the middle of a junkyard. Pretty soon, an entire band would be formed. Along with keyboard player Jackie Dempsey and artist/musician Steve O’Hearn (who plays the electric bagpipes, flute and other instruments of more unusual nature), the rest of the band consists of: lead guitarist David Wallace, bassist Nathan Wilson and drummer Kevin Kornicki. Together, the entire ensemble combines to take Dempsey’s compositions and create Progressive Rock songs that will make any lover of the style very happy.  

The Progressive Rock feel in the music of Genesis would help to influence many bands that would come after them to help push the creative juices of those bands that were and still are looking to create something different form the everyday feel of current musical trends. One such band that is influenced by Genesis in a major way is Squonk. And while Genesis’ music was progressive, it was the stage show for the band during Gabriel’s stint with the band that truly helped to change the way concerts would feel. And Genesis is one of the biggest influences to Squonk’s musical outlook, helping to shape the music of Squonk as well as influencing the feel of the live shows of the band.

While the stage show is rather important to what Squonk does artistically, that stage show would be nothing without the music. But just like the stage productions that accompany the music, each show’s music is different. Each album of music contains its own sound, feel and message. The reason for the songs being so different is because each album is a reflection of a certain time period in the band’s existence, much like a time capsule. And each album comes with songs with a storyline all its own.  

But because it takes time to create not only the music as well as the album itself, but also the stage show to go along with that musical collection, Squonk goes years between release dates for new albums. In fact, band is currently on the road (which is where I first heard about them a few years ago) in support of their latest release, 2014’s Pneumatica.

Just like the previous albums from Squonk, each song that appears on Pneumatica is related to the others in a manner of concept. Each song continues a storyline that flows from one track to the next. At least, that would be the situation if the tracks on this particular album had lyrics. Without the lyrics, what brings the tracks together is a similar song title along with similar musical themes that run through the tracks. But that is what really separates Pneumatica from the band’s other albums. 

The Pneumatica release finds Squonk venturing into territory they had yet to touch. This album features songs that are strictly instrumental. In fact, with the previous albums from the band, the ensemble went by the moniker of Squonk Opera. But with this album being nothing but instrumental tracks, the band decided to drop the “Opera” from its name as there would be no need to indicate lyrical content of any kind. Hence, the use of the moniker SQUONK.  

Even though Pneumatica from Squonk contains no words and therefore cannot actually be considered a “rock opera” because of missing the “opera” part of the category, the release is still a concept album. As such, the band treated this album in much the same way they have the other releases in their discography: by creating an introductory track that acts like an overture.

The track in question that kicks off the Pneumatica release is called “Inhale”. “Inhale” begins with a strong drumbeat and keyboard combination. Eventually, the track builds to include the entire quartet. The track is rather unusual as one of the main components of the music is the inclusion of the bagpipes from Steve O’Hearn.

As soon as “Inhale” comes to a close, one of the more “progressive” of the album’s tracks begins. The song “Floating” contains a musical approach that combines a generous amount of Rock and Roll with basically the same amount of Jazz influence. The resulting combination is a track that alternates between a gentle yet driving feel to the music and much lighter and laidback approach to the music. As you listen to the track, there are passages within the song where the listener can almost feel themselves begin to lift off and float away.

On the track “Head of Steam,” a heavier feel to the music is revealed. The track takes on a stronger Rock and Roll feel as the track features a combination of Rock and Roll and a slightly laidback version of Heavy Metal. The energy from this two-minute track creates one of the heavier moments on the release. It also makes the listener wish that the track was actually longer than its two-minute playtime.

“Whrlwinding” is yet another track from Squonk that is worth checking out. With this track, Steve O’Hearn’s bagpipes make a return as the track ends up feeling like a Rock and Roll track with a very Celtic flavor or vibe to it. Part of the reason for that Celtic feel is because of the addition of the keys from Jackie Dempsey that give more emphasis to the bagpipes by actually doubling the feel of that instrument.

With the track “Breathe,” the Pneumatica album seems to hit a place where a transition is needed. That is what “Breathe” feels like: transitional music. The track begins with one of the most melodic approaches of the entire release because of the keyboards from Jackie Dempsey. The track starts off rather low-key but builds slightly throughout the four-minute playtime.  

One of the more unusual moments on the current release from Squonk comes on the track “Skitter and Blast”. While most of the music created by the band contains a Progressive Rock approach, that style of music takes on a slightly different vibe on “Skitter and Blast”. While still containing the Progressive feel, the music also seems to pick up a generous amount of Ska influence. The Progressive Rock/Ska combination on the track ends up creating one of the most unique tracks on the album.

Although a lot of the music from Squonk seems to be flavored by the influence of the music from Genesis, the band makes a rather shocking change on the track “A Cloud of Gray”. This track still contains the ever-present Progressive Rock genre of music, but now the music takes on the feel of something from the band Gentle Giant. In fact, “A Cloud of Gray” feels as if it the track would have fit right in on the British band’s Octopus album. The track finds both guitarist David Wallace and keyboard player Jackie Dempsey sharing the spotlight on this track. That might be the reason why the track feels as if it would have been a Gentle Giant track since both the guitar and the keyboards are focused on.

As Pneumatica from Squonk began with the track “Inhale,” the band brings back the music of that track for the final song on the 2014 release. But since this is now the end of the release instead of the beginning, “Inhale” has now become “Exhale”.The sandwiching of the release with the same melody really helps to make Pneumatica feel like an album with interconnected songs.

While it contains no lyrical content, Pneumatica from Squonk feels like a Rock Opera from the beginning all the way through to the end. If you like Progressive Rock or are a fan of Rock Operas, Pneumatica from Squonk is an album that won’t disappoint! And if you get the chance, go see the band in a live setting, as they are one of the best live acts out there today.

For a taste of the music side of Squonk, check out the song “Floating“. 

To purchase a copy of Pneumatica from Squonk, click on the album cover below:

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Reviews & Suggestions

CD Review: The Innocent Bystanders “Attractive Nuisance”

Take influences such as the style of Jackie Wilson, the sound of the sax player from Buck-O-Nine, Wild-&-Innocent-era Bruce Springsteen, a little Grace Slick, some Phil Spector influence and blend everything together. What you end up with is the base for a band from San Diego that calls itself The Innocent Bystanders.

The band consists of Steve Berenson – drums & percussion, Jessica LaFave – tenor saxophone, Ben Nieberg – acoustic guitar & lead & background vocals, Kath Rogers – lead & background vocals, Donny Samporna – electric 5-string bass, Steve Semeraro – electric 6 & 12 string guitars & vocal on Working Man’s Daughter and Kaimi Wenger – electric piano & Hammond B3. Together, the band combines various influences to create a sound that is all-inclusive and varied which gives the music an ever-changing feel.

With the size of the ensemble being what it is, it’s easy to understand just how it is that the band’s sound and style could contain that many influences weaving throughout it. The reason for the wide array of influences comes from the fact that the various members of the band come from different time periods, meaning they all grew up in different eras of music. And the musical influences from those time periods seeped into the feel of both the lyrics and music, helping to create a style which can only be described as timeless.

The Innocent Bystanders formed mostly as a live band, to play out in live settings. But recently, the ensemble walked into a recording studio where several songs written earlier in the lives of several of the band members were finally given the respect they deserved. These four songs now form the first EP to come from the band. The release from The Innocent Bystanders is entitled Attractive Nuisance.

Attractive Nuisance from The Innocent Bystanders begins with the track “Gotta Get Outta Here”. As the song begins, you can hear all of the various elements that the band admits to having as influences. The lead-off track begins with the sound of Kaimi Wenger’s Hammond B-3 and other instrumentation that gives a slight hint at a Ska feel to the music before that Ska feeling is swallowed up by other influences that help to create a Rock and Roll feeling to the music. Because of the initial Ska influence, the musical blend on the track helps to create a rather full-bodied feel to the music as various influences all float within the music that makes up “Gotta Get Outta Here”. The track blends together rather obvious musical influences such as Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen & the E. Street Band. And from the very first track of the EP, The Innocent Bystanders prove they have a lot of different influences that make up their music.

The Innocent Bystanders continue their new EP with the track “Highways”. The song begins with a strong bassline from Donny Samporna before the rest of the band joins in on a song that blends together influences from the mid-fifties with more recent influences. The result is a track that has a dual feel at the same exact time: The track contains a definite Retro feel as the fifties influence mixes together with a style that would be more eighties-based. The track of “Highways” features the vocals of Kath Rogers and the saxophone playing from Jessica LaFave who are truly the standout musicians of the band on this track. The song of “Highways” is a quick-moving track that also contains a beat strong enough to get up and dance to.

With the next track, Donny Samporna once again stands out as he begins this track with yet another strong bassline, just like he did for the song “Highways”. The track “Emerald Eyes” features a straight-out Rock and Roll feel to the music. The track revolves around the sound of the piano with the help of Samporna’s bass as well as Jessica LaFave’s saxophone and the vocals from Kath Rogers. Together, the entire ensemble creates a track that, once again, has a sound and style that feels as if it would belong with songs in the eighties.

The four-song EP entitled Attractive Nuisance from The Innocent Bystanders comes to an end with the track “Working Man’s Daughter”. The energy level is brought down quite a bit with a much softer approach to the band’s sound on this track. That being said, The Innocent Bystanders create a track that contains a stronger orchestral feel than previous tracks. The reason for that orchestral influence comes from the combination of both the piano and the organ. The inclusion of the saxophone also gives the track a rather retro feel to it. The result is a song that feels as if it should have been created by the likes of someone like Billy Joel back in the seventies as it has that type of vibe to it; especially given how mellow the feel of the overall track is. For someone looking for the definite feel of AM radio from back in the seventies, “Working Man’s Daughter” is one track that would absolutely fill that desire.

Taking a listen to the four tracks that make up the Attractive Nuisance release from The Innocent Bystanders, it seems only natural that this release came to be the way it did. As the band itself is mainly a cover group making a living playing cover songs in live settings, the band members each bring different musical influences into the group’s musical makeup. That makeup of different influences ultimately helps to shape the songs that have been written at different times by different members in the group. The blend of different writers matched up with band members with different musical backgrounds that are rather varied by the different age ranges makes for a release that could only be this varied by nature. And while there are many elements shaping the band’s songs, those elements still come together to form an EP that is a lot of fun to listen to.

To check out the music from The Innocent Bystanders, check out the official video to the band’s song “Emerald Eyes“.

The band is also currently promoting their version of the song from the band The Zutons called “Valerie,” a song that has recently been covered by the likes of both Bruno Mars and Amy Winehouse. 

For more information, check out The Innocent Bystanders’ PR firm of Whiplash PR & Management by clicking on the logo for the company. 

 

 

 

 

 

To purchase a copy of the Attractive Nuisance EP from The Innocent Bystanders, click on the album cover below:

 

 

 

 

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CD Review: Stratospheerius “The Next World…”

deninzon
Joe Deninzon live in concert

Russian-born musician/songwriter Joe Deninzon came to the United States as a young child when his parents were hired to be a part of the Cleveland Orchestra. With that early Classical upbringing, it was almost a given that Deninzon himself would end up becoming a musician, which he did. And while he did learn to play the violin, it was Rock and Roll and not Classical music that would eventually draw him into the world of music. And with that Classical music influence, it seemed only natural that Deninzon would find the style of Progressive Rock to be his musical direction of choice.Eventually, Joe Deninzon went on to form the band Stratospheerius.

Drawing from early Prog-rock bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Jethro Tull; Gentle Giant and even Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, Stratospheerius takes the various influences from those bands and creates their own style of Prog-rock while also helping to continue pushing the boundaries of Progressive Rock. That wide array of influences can be found in the music contained in the band’s current release, 2012’s The Next World…

While the band incorporates unusual rhythm patterns and melodic structures just like any other Prog-rock band, the lead-off track from The Next World… “Release,” is one of the most commercial sounding tracks on the album. Drawing more from the likes of Sting rather than Peter Gabriel, “Release,” features a pop-rock approach that incorporates a sound that feels like something from The Police. “Release” is one song from Stratospheerius that could easily find a spot on Album-oriented Rock radio formats.

The following track of “The Missing Link” also finds Deninzon and the band creating a track that feels very commercial. This time, however, Stratospheerius adds a little more progressive feel to their Prog-rock. The track’s music is a little less straightforward and a little more challenging. The ever-changing feel of the rhythm and pace of the song along with a stronger feel of the playing from guitarist Aurelien Budynek gives the listener a lot more substance to the music to enjoy. While the track does contain a strong progressive approach, there is also a lot of melody that fills up the track’s sound.

Of the album’s first three tracks, the most progressive musical approach comes from the song “Tech Support”. The track begins with the unmistakable sounds of a computer. Those sounds then get incorporated into the main body of the music to the track. The band of bassist Jamie Bishop, guitarist Aurelien Budynek and drummer Lucianna Padmore help Joe Deninzon create music that continuously alternates between Ska influences and Jazz-Rock. The speed at which the quartet plays the Ska passages and the way they transition into the Jazz-rock proves just how capable the band is at handling the challenges of playing Prog-rock. “Tech Support” is one of the standout tracks on The Next World… because of the challenging nature of the music.

Along with the widely accepted challenging nature that comes with Prog-rock, one of the other things that make the genre so progressive is the inclusion of other styles into the music that helps to continuously change the way the music sounds. On the track “Climbing,” it isn’t so much about intensity as it is about adding new sounds into the mix. With Joe Deninzon adding a strong folk influence into the music with his violin, “Climbing” ends up being the track on the release with the easiest pace. With the rest of the album being rather intense, “Climbing” is a nice change of pace…if only for one track.

If you get to catch Joe Denizon live in concert, you experience firsthand the talent of the musician and what he can do with the violin. On the track “Gods,” Deninzon puts down the bow of his violin and ends up playing the instrument in much the same way someone else would play the mandolin. With Deninzon “picking” on the electric violin creates a rather unique and interesting sound and it’s that sound that is featured on “Gods”. The track itself features a straight-out Rock and Roll approach. But the violin adds an element to the music in a style reminiscent of an electric guitar but with a noticeable difference that makes “Gods” such a strong track.

On the song “Road Rage,” the band as a whole picks up the energy of the music. The track begins with the electrified sound of Joe Deninzon’s violin as he lays down a riff that sounds very much like a guitar. After a few seconds, the rest of the quartet launches the song into hyperdrive. The quick pace of the playing from every musician in the group creates a tune that would be perfect when included a mixtape for long highway journeys.

The Next World… from Stratospheerius continues with the song “One Foot in the Next World”. Like the song “Release” from earlier in the album, “One Foot in the Next World” once again finds the band creating a track that has a much more commercial, radio-friendly approach than most of the other songs. In fact, the album’s “title track” is the most recognizable song in Joe Deninzon’s library of songs. The track has become a fan favorite.

The Next World… from Stratospheerius is one solid release with strong songs from one song to the next. And with the album already being several years old, Joe Deninzon and the band are in the process of creating a follow-up. But until they release the album that is in the works, check out The Next World… and rock out.

 

For more information, check out Joe Deninzon’s PR firm, Leighton Media. To check out “One Foot in the Next World” from Stratospheerius, click HERE.

Also check out his record label, Digital Nations.

Click the album cover below to purchase a copy of The Next World… from Joe Deninzon and Stratospheerius.

joedeninzonstratospheeri

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CD Review: Cobalt and the Hired Guns “Everybody Wins!”

Cobalt and the Hired Guns

Jesse Alexander, Tomlinson Fort and Mike Roth seem to be able to draw on each other’s musical influences when creating their songs. Having existed for many years as both friends and bandmates, it seemed only natural that they would decide to form a band together. The resulting songs created by their Chicago-based band Cobalt and the Hired Guns incorporate rock, ska, punk, pop even horny rock. This musical combination is alive and well on the band’s latest release entitled Everybody Wins!

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CD Review: Voice of Addiction “Reduce, Reuse, Resist”

Ian Tomele grew up being exposed to the classic punk sounds of Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols and many other influential bands. It should come as no surprise, then, that Tomele would go on to create his own band, a modern punk/rock band called Voice of Addiction.

Earlier this summer, Voice of Addiction went on a mini-tour to release their fourth album entitled Reduce, Reuse, Resist. This 13-song release contains great punk/rock music. Voice of Addiction is composed of not only singer/bassist Ian Tomele, but also guitarist/singer Jeff Walschon and drummer Andy Petty. This trio creates music that could easily categorize as “rock,” even though there are plenty of punk influences in both the music and the lyrics of their songs. The overall rock feeling that exists throughout the music creates music that still has the attitude, but also contains plenty of creativity in the songs. And the band also includes some ska influences into their sound, as well. This gives the music from Voice of Addiction’s music a lot of depth to it.

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CD Review: Eleven Dollar Life “Shatter the Silence”

Chicago, Illinois is the home for one of the most eclectic rock bands in the United States, Eleven Dollar Life. Eleven Dollar Life is a five-piece rock group that has taken many different influences and genres of music and blended them together to create the band’s unique rock sound. This sound was developed by the members of the group who are: Bryan Pray on vocals, Chad Wynes on guitar, Marc Gee on keyboards and vocals, Eli Namay on bass and Kyle Voivodas on drums. Taking styles like grunge, jazz, blues, hard rock and much more, these five musicians help create the music that is unique to Eleven Dollar Life.

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Artists and Bands

The Rock Princess’ Unsigned Pick of the Week is Loudmouth

Loudmouth is a ska/punk band that is serious about partying. 5 guys from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky that play loud, fast, and tight, reminiscent of the early Fat Wreck bands. They do this without sounding like a regurgitation of the past, and without losing their sense of fun or humor. “We like to have fun, and we like to play music, if we can combine those things and make a living out of it, then that’s the life we want to live.” says Mike their guitar player and co-founder.