November 27, 2011

Artist Feature: The Summer Knights

In recent weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of spending some time with Luke DeWilde and Chuckles O’Neill, the magicians behind San Francisco-based alternative act The Summer Knights. The duo have two releases to date, 2010’s Quest for California and this year’s Kairos EP. Shamelessly inspired by teenage heroes Blink 182 and Nirvana, DeWilde and O’Neill often channel the alternative punk vibe. However, TSK have a few more tricks up their sleeves than their punk role models, as Quest for California features even a Death Cab for Cutie Cover. While the band’s strengths are many, they are young and their work is not without its flaws.

We’ll start with the Summer in a Shoebox, the first song off Quest to California, The Summer Knight’s only full-length release to date. The opening track shows off the many strengths of the duo: aggressive songwriting, catchy guitar riffs, and great drumming. DeWilde dives right in to the album’s opener, Summer in a Shoebox, with one of the strongest guitar lines of the album. He never looks back. The Summer Knights turn up their amps all the way and keep them there. Fellow high-power tracks Seventy Five and You’d Think I’ve Changed are highlights of the LP. O’Neill is a constant presence on the drums, frequently adding some much needed depth to the band's sound sound.

However, Summer in a Shoebox is also the perfect platform to discuss the band’s weaknesses: thelack of a middle range end and limited vocal
explorations. Although DeWilde loves to noodle (and often crafts some great hooks) in the expansive gap between his mid-range vocals and O’Neill’s drumming, his guitar alone is sometimes not enough to fill the void. The Summer Knights are occasionally in need of a middle range. There’s one last thing. DeWilde’s presence at the mic is begging for some flavor.The group’s well-written songs are craving some harmonies, something that DeWilde, no matter how dynamic his performance in front of the mic may be, cannot provide for himself.

However, it is important to remember the big picture. DeWilde and O’Neill are both still youngsters on the music scene, and the amount of growth that we can see already is promising. These guys will do nothing but improve. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes on these two.


November 20, 2011

Tristan Clopet - Name It What You Want It

Tristan Clopet dove into the vast pool of independently recording singer-songwriters earlier this year with his debut LP Name It What You Want It. However, before I say anything about the record, I owe the guy I huge thank you. He mailed up not only a copy of his CD but also a pretty sweet custom t-shirt only to wait patiently while his CD racked up the plays in my stereo. Thank you Tristan, you're a gentleman.

There is a lot to talk about here, but I'll start with undeniably the strongest aspect of Clopet's music: his voice.It's been a long time since I've heard such incredible vocals. Clopet's voice rumbles over the piano's lower octaves in A Chat with My Brain, it gently pulls you through the slower ballad Idiosyncrasies of the Resolute, and it absolutely soars in Hold on Lover, Hold on Girl. The vocals on Name It What You Want It are near flawless. Clopet helps himself out; his well-written songs really help him show off his full range. Although harmonies make only a cameo appearance in the album, you can't find a much sweeter hook than in Summer in Sussex, the dynamic first track. Songwriting is very strong aspect of this album. Simply put, Clopet is a fantastic songwriter. Clopet's genre-bending songs are all absurdly catchy. Small hooks grab you at every turn leaving absolutely nothing feeling boring.

Clopet drives his music forward with a wide variety of percussion, and this leads to the only real problem I can find with Name It What You Want It. Especially on the closing tracks An Introduction… To Forward Thinking and Fife and Drum, Clopet leans on his drums just a bit too much to pull you through the song. Clopet obviously experimented the most with the last few songs and they still feel a little bit raw. Although unfinished, they are certainly not throw outs.

Regardless of the highs and lows of this album, Clopet has one ace that is unavoidable. This guy has great style. Not only are his songs well-written, well-sung, and well-orchestrated, they radiate cool vibrations. We can almost hear him crack a smile as he hits that perfect funky chord. For such a young artist, Clopet's intuitive sense of flair is impeccable. Clopet's verve adds an entirely new level to his work, one that allows you to keep coming back more and more.

Crafty songs, beautiful lyrics, and a great dose of panache characterize Tristan Clopet's debut LP Name It What You Want It. He is, without a doubt, one of the most promising young artists I have heard in a while. Well done, Mr. Clopet.