SINK SWIM – Heights EP

In the summer of 2012, Californian emo/alt-rock outfit Sink Swim issued their debut EP. While it didn’t really push their chosen genre’s boundaries, it featured a few really enjoyable songs. Although their follow-up release ‘Heights’ has their original sound at the centre, it does more than just pick up where they left off. With previous producer Robert “Bob” Curtin at the controls, you can be assured that – once again – it sounds great, but this time around the band have really toughened up their overall sound.

That toughness is evident right from a minute or so into opening track ‘Tides’. Following a brief intro of multi-tracked guitars, coupled with a familiar emo-ish vocal line, the band move into an already agreeable tune, but its during the post-chorus section where things really pick up: the guitars adopt a shrill shredding sound and the drums tackle brief spells of double bass pedal driven beefiness. To counterbalance this harder edge, Dane Petersen’s usual vocal style gives way for something far more metaiiic, shifting the overall mood farther towards the lightest end of metalcore. A little more accessible on early listens, ‘Move Me’ finds Sink Swim experimenting with quirky time signatures, something particularly obvious with regard to the guitar riff. Jake Lopez’s playing is busy, almost jazzy in tone, showing influences from the burgeoning math-rock scene; the rest of the band fall in line behind him, eventually settling into a pleasant alt-rock groove. The off-beat time signature re-appears on what passes as a chorus, but never becomes intrusive. As if ‘Take This To Your Grave’ era Fall Out Boy jammed with Wot Gorilla? on a Foals number, the results are both quirky and enjoyable.

Settling for something more straight ahead, ‘Perfect On Paper’ is a guitar-driven rock number which exploits the band’s influences from the louder end of the emo movement. Gang vocals lend a huge whoah, providing most of the main hook while slightly grubby sounding guitars take the weight of the melody. This isn’t as interesting as some of the EPs other material, but, perhaps, provides the strongest link with the band’s earlier work.

The other pair of tunes do not showcase anything particular different to the styles present in the previous numbers. Perhaps this EP’s weakest offering, the title cut is a weighty emo-ballad that somehow seems twice as long as it actually is, while ‘Pull Together’ – another mid-pacer, has a much better melody, lifted by some decent ringing guitar lurking in the back and a guest vocal from Love, Robot’s Alexa San Roman. Broadly speaking, both tunes are okay – and given a sense of gravitas via Bob Curtin’s production – but neither inspires quite in the way the band are capable when they really push themselves (as with ‘Tides’, for example).

Between their two releases, Sink Swim have honed their sound into a sharper, tougher, animal that hits the perfect balance between math-rock aggressiveness and alt-rock tunefulness. Although it tails of a little towards the end, there’s more than enough to recommend this EP to fans of math-rock and the lighter end of alt-rock. …And to those already familiar with Sink Swim: if you liked ‘Elements’, chances are you will love ‘Heights’.

January 2013


‘Telegraphs’ is the debut EP by alternative pop/rock band Belmont Lights, although strictly speaking, it’s the band’s third record, as they’ve previously released two other EPs in 2010-11 under the name The Pennant.  Since “The Pennant” was unlikely to have been in homage to British TV director Pennant Roberts, Belmont Lights is a change for the better.  It sounds sunnier, more American and, well, just more like a band name.

It doesn’t matter what a band is actually called, of course. The real test is in the music.  Here, the shiny vocal pushes things rather more toward the pop market – as does the band’s boyish appearance – but even so, Belmont Lights have a couple of enjoyable tunes up their collective sleeves.

Things start out rather well with lead single ‘Halfway’, as Belmont Lights tap into something inspired by the poppier end of the piano rock movement.  During its intro, the pianos lay down a great melody, before frontman Isiah Blas starts to sing.  With a strongish (yet slightly filtered) vocal, he carries a reasonable tune, before a simple drum line carries the bulk of the tune’s weight.  What gradually unfolds is something that sounds as if it has the makings of a radio hit: a reasonable hook, a timeless whoah and a crowd-pleasing vibe pulls together the better elements of bands such as Fun. and The Fray.  Slightly tougher, ‘Young & A Memory’ adds ringing guitars to the overall mix, while retaining most of the elements which made ‘Halfway’ enjoyable.  The pianos take more of a back seat, so the guitar-led moments show a slightly different aspect to the Belmont Lights sound. Once again, though, huge whoahs are on hand to ensure this tune has a relatively memorable hook.

Despite the first couple of tracks showing promise in an adult pop sense, ‘Telegraph’ soon runs out of steam.  The weakest number, ‘Don’t Touch’ is a very vocal led piece, which utilises a world of electronic beats and vocal effects.  No amount of mid-paced moody beats and studio trickery escapes the fact that this sounds like a boy band track in a very thin disguise, while ‘Let Me’ represents the kind of empty, thoughtless pop that Maroon 5 would turn into a worldwide hit.  A little better, ‘Battle’ has touches of The Killers in its approach, with even more beats and vocal choirs befitting of 30 Seconds To Mars making up at least half of the track’s base.  While this is generally okay, it is seldom any more than that, and Belmont Lights have already proven they are capable of far better.

Some people enjoy music as a sunny backdrop and never ask to be challenged by it and that’s fine – those people will probably love this.  Based on the first two numbers, Belmont Lights are not without reasonable song-writing chops, but for the more discerning listener, most of this EP just doesn’t reach its full potential.

September 2012

SINK SWIM – Elements EP

‘Elements’ is the five song debut EP from LA based band Sink Swim.  Their solid mix of pop-punk, emo and alternative rock (with a stronger leaning towards the latter) already guarantees the band will have an audience, since the end result sounds a lot like other bands of a similar ilk. While almost instantly familiar, these guys are musically really tight, with the bass playing being particularly noteworthy.

From the beginning of the first track ‘Beneath Our Sleeves’, there’s a strong feeling that this still young band is incredibly professional, especially considering their relative lack of recording experience. Following a brief drum roll, the band crash in at a high speed; the chiming guitars being the first thing to hit the listener, before a brilliant rattling bass makes its presence felt.  In the alt-rock/emo tradition, the lead vocals have a fairly light style, but they are presented with some great backing harmonies to round things out. By the time the chorus rolls around, the lead vocal utilises much longer notes (tempered with plenty of studio filters), things are a little smoother and more alt-rock than pop-punk. The end result – still with multi layered vocals and maximum jangle – makes for a more than reasonable opening statement.   ‘Losing Sleep’ is punchier all round – again retaining that great bass sound (courtesy of great studio skills from Bob Curtin at RiseUp Recordings).  If you can tear your ears away from that brilliant bass, the guitars shift between pop punk rhythms and solid alt-rock chiming, providing a solid base for another filtered vocal. Topped with an enjoyable chorus, sounding as if written with the live circuit in mind, ‘Losing Sleep’ is the EPs best track.

While the next two tunes don’t break too far from a familiar formula laid down by those first two numbers, ‘Breeze’ warrants a special mention since it’s quirkier rhythmic elements stand out, while the staccato guitar riffing is of a kind which never goes out of style.   Although the chorus isn’t as instant as it could have been, the whole package is very accessible.  Between this track and ‘Losing Sleep’, the EP is worth checking out [but then only if you are already fond of alt-rock/emo-ish stuff, of course… Sink Swim are probably unlikely to win over those who remain so far unmoved by the sub-genre].

The closing number, ‘Last Year’ slows things down.  While it’s mix of acoustic and electric guitars (again, very much in a ringing style) and emotive voice with a crying edge doesn’t make it hugely different from the tunes which have gone before, the extended arrangement shows a slightly broader musical range.  Thanks to a very multi-layed sound, bought together (again) by really live-sounding bass work, it’s near-six minutes doesn’t drag, even though this could have just as easily clocked in at half the length.  This is testament to strong musicianship and equally strong melodies.

With five brilliantly produced tracks boasting strong performances throughout, ‘Elements’ is a debut EP which has a very professional air.  If you’ve ever had a passing fancy for Something Corporate, Relient K et al, it is likely Sink Swim will hit the mark for you too.

June 2012


The Great Valley was originally formed as an imaginary band by brothers Louis and Nick Matos when they were 11 and 13 years old.  They dreamed of playing music in front of real audiences and like other people with drive and self-belief, The Great Valley eventually became a reality.  ‘Ruthless’ is their debut full-length, although the idea of full-length is relative, since this releases eight tracks barely scrape twenty-six minutes.  Still, if you’re looking for a bunch of chorus driven numbers which provide more quality than quantity, then this does the job.

While the songs are strong, those who dislike the use of auto-tune as a stylistic choice (as per Fall Out Boy, New Found Glory, Relient K and many others) may find themselves struggling to enjoy The Great Valley at first, but if you can make it past that, there are some enjoyable (albeit very similar sounding) songs featured here.  By the third track, it becomes possibly to ignore the vocal filters and auto-tune elements – and The Great Valley’s emo-pop-rock starts to get under your skin.

‘Yesterday’s chorus vocals utilise a crowd-pleasing whoah – the kind at the centre of ‘This Is War’ by 30 Seconds To Mars, but unlike those guys, The Great Valley have the good sense not to include them on every song. Combine those with some decent guitar chimes and the album gets off to a good start.  The arrangement is as solid as Louis Matos’s drumming style; less auto-tune on his lead voice would have given the track a more organic sound, but such auto-tuning almost seems de rigueur in the world of emo and post-90s pop-punk.  ‘Sweeter Side of Life’ is not a great departure from The Great Valley’s previous works, the end result is tight, with another great use of harmony vocals and driving, staccato-ish chords from Nick Matos.  Many of these elements are also featured effectively during ‘Like We Do’ – a track which, thanks to a huge hook and elements of angst, create something which stands one of the album’s true gems, despite featuring little in the way of musical variety from anything they’ve offered previously.

The title cut is a great slice of sugar-driven pop-punk with a firm emphasis on the pop elements, delivering a sound heavily influenced by New Found Glory (yes, with a similar use of auto-tune throughout).  Musically speaking, though, this hits the spot with its crunchy guitar chords and crashy drums providing the heart.  The Matos Brothers’ voices blend well throughout, although that’s hardly surprising with the help of studio tweaking; a couple of moments featuring an almost call-and-response style work well.  The track is topped by Nick’s slightly spiky but very short guitar solo.  ‘Me, Myself & Time’s verses provide a slightly more off-kilter rhythm than some of TGV’s other numbers and also includes a gratifying lead guitar during its intro, but pretty soon, things settle into an all too familiar groove.  In spite of this, vocal harmonies, a tough yet bouncy guitar riff and very strong chorus pull together extremely well, in what’s undoubtedly the album’s strongest offering as far as song writing is concerned.  It’s a number which could rival Sum 41 at their peak.

Despite being very formulaic, and completely lacking in variety after the first couple of numbers, somehow, ‘Ruthless’ still manages to be very agreeable.  It really helps that it’s an album loaded with fantastic hooks and solid playing.  If you’re a fan of this style of rock, this all leads to a very pleasing experience, but for everyone else, The Great Valley are likely to appear to be dismissed yet another identikit emo/pop-punk package.

March 2011

RELIENT K – Is For Karaoke

What was the deal with everyone and their dog putting out covers records in the summer of 2011? Within the space of a few months there were a bunch of really high-profile covers albums released, and pop-punk/alt-rock band Relient K added themselves to the ever growing list with the release of their ‘Is For Karaoke’ EP.  A few months later, with the addition of some new artwork and a further seven tracks, that EP became an album.

Of the fourteen covers featured on the full-length release, the most interesting  is a take on ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’, which replaces the pop tones of Cyndi Lauper’s original with lots of muted punk-pop guitar chords.  The Wallflowers’ ‘One Headlight’ has a hint of Relient K’s own style too, as they turn up the guitars a little, but since they don’t stretch the boundaries any farther it’s a case of “play it once, file it away, forget about it”.  For everything else, though, it’s as if somebody’s clicked the off-switch on “creativity” and Relient K work their way through the rest of the tunes just  about as faithfully as they can muster.

If you’re going to listen to Relient K play works by Tears For Fears, Tom Petty and Toto with a workman-like, almost Karaoke disc clarity, surely your time would be better spent with the originals?  Even the band’s more left-field choices – ‘Interstate Love Song’ by Stone Temple Pilots’ and ‘The Distance’ by CAKE – have no real imagination behind their reconstruction.  In the case of the latter, they’ve even reproduced the trumpet sounds as closely as possible… Matt Thiessien’s vocal doesn’t have the slacker cool of CAKE’s head honcho John McCrea but, to give credit where it’s due, John Warne’s bass sound is quite cool.

Elsewhere, you can experience tunes by Weezer, Third Eye Blind and Nada Surf played without any sense of adventure; and there’s even opportunity to hear ‘Doctor Worm’ without any of the quirky, nasal charm which makes They Might Be Giants so distinctive.  For those who are still interested by this point, tunes by Gnarls Barkly and Justin Bieber are handled just as (un)imaginatively, while the bulk of Toto’s ‘Africa’ could possibly even be a karaoke disc, just with some extra guitars thrown over the chorus.

‘Is For Karaoke’ may be well played, but most of it is played so straight, it serves no real purpose.  It’s not bad – just hopelessly unimaginative.  Relient K have recorded some great tunes in the past (with ‘Come Right Out and Say It’ being a pop-punk classic), it’s such a shame they couldn’t stamp some of their own style onto this selection of cover tunes.   Still, for its faults, it’s still preferable to that Puddle Of Mudd covers record.

October 2011