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Kyley Styles – “One Short of a Six Pack”

In anticipation of writing this review I checked out Kyley Styles’s Facebook page and was immediately struck by the line accompanying his profile pic: “Life is tough. Write a song.”  What struck me upon seeing this is the context it gives the EP’s lyrics which focus primarily on the perils of human relationships. That isn’t to say that they are dry, boring or the sort of navel-gazing drivel we get from some indie/alt acts – Styles presents his view of the world with tongue firmly planted in cheek but still manages to touch the heart.

The EP gets off to a kick-ass start with the infectious “Eye of the Beholder”, a groovy hook-laden tune that reminds me of little-known Canadian indie act Barstool Prophets, who had some brief success in the mid-90’s with the song, “Paranoia”. Stylistically (bad pun intended) these two tunes are of a kind and that is definitely a compliment. In fact, this track would have been my choice for release to radio, which is not to say that “Halo”, the track that was released to radio, is unworthy. It’s simply true for me that “Beholder” is a whole body groove out, head-banging, air-guitar, sing-along endorphin rush.  That, my friends, is worth the price of admission, especially at $4.99 from iTunes!

The balance of the EP is equally satisfying in different ways, although the tone softens somewhat on tracks 2, 3 and 5. Upon first listen I have to admit to being a little confused about what genre Styles fits into; however, on several repeat listens this became less and less of a concern due in large part, I believe, to the fact that Styles is the songwriter and the band all wrapped up in one: with the exception of drums on track 1 and Uncle Bill’s violin, Styles plays all the instruments on the EP himself. As a dabbler in home recording and a hack at multi-instrumentation I can tell you that is no small feat. Being the single creative force behind a project is really, really risky: when it works it can be magic but when it doesn’t…

Fortunately for Kyley Styles it works perfectly: to this ear the key weapon in the Styles arsenal is his ability to create memorable hooks. Lots of us can play a few chords, hum a melody, add a lyric and call it a song but few can weave the elements of a great song/great performance/great recording into an emotional experience that is memorable. What strikes me most about Styles’s songwriting ability is his sense of phrasing and rhythm, key elements in creating a memorable hook and it’s the hooks that, well, hook us (my editor is cringing).

The bottom line is that I love One Short of a Six Pack, and that is saying something coming from a middle-aged metal-head who doesn’t list indie/alt rock amongst his top 3 genres. Head on over to iTunes and invest $4.99 in some endorphin-firing rock ‘n’ roll. You’ll be glad you did.

p.s.  Once you buy the EP make sure you head over to the Kyley Styles website to download the accompanying .pdf EP booklet. Do that Here.

Kyley Styles - "One Short of a Six Pack"

Taylor Cochrane – “Cleaning Up”

When one of our favourite artists comes out with a new EP, we usually expect to love it. We know they’ve got talent and we know we like them, so we also know the album will be great. In the case of Taylor Cochrane and his new EP Cleaning Up, we are left very, very happy. He’s come a long way since the release of his first album, Acoustic, last year, and with a ton of development and maturity behind him he’s solidified his reputation as one of Calgary’s best artists.

Cleaning Up is a huge step for Taylor. Now with a full band behind him and rich, well-developed songwriting his music seems even more special. Acoustic was a great introduction to Taylor as a comedic wordsmith: he’s able to tell a story with clever lyrics, puns and endless double entendres, and whether he’s looking to cause laughter or tears, he can do either without much effort. Cleaning Up continues this trend of fantastic (and at times absurd) songwriting but in a more mature, rounded way. He can easily be compared to such singer-songwriters as Jack Johnson, Ben Harper or Rob Sumwalt, and with equally strong vocals and instrumentals behind him on this album, he’s on a completely equal playing field.

The five tracks are all fantastic and a great representation of Taylor’s unique songwriting and vocals. He has a great way of writing songs you can dance to. Listen to “Victoria”, for example: right away you’ll picture a choreographed dance routine featuring a pretty girl. Who knows why, but the bouncy toe-tappiness is perfect for this image. Same goes for “Simple Song”: the rhymey, bouncey nature of the song has the perfect beat for an easy airdrum. Just try to listen to these tracks without tapping to the beat — impossible!

Taylor’s biggest strength is his simplicity. Simplicity is surprisingly hard to come by: so many songwriters try so hard to be “unique” or “artsy” that their songs are impossible to listen to, but Taylor avoids this problem by writing songs that make sense. You can actually sing along to these tracks (or at least listen along — why cover up Taylor’s great voice?).

Everything Taylor does just gets better and better, and now that he’s off on a new western tour it won’t be long before he comes out with something even more exciting. If you get the chance, see him on stage. Visit his website and follow him on Facebook for more info about his tour and upcoming releases, and remember to buy his album! He’s known as one of Calgary’s best for a reason.

Taylor Cochrane - "Cleaning Up"

Alkatine Is Here To Stay

For the past year, the name Alkatine has been gaining strength around the Calgary music scene. And for good reason: the rock band has been taking the city by storm, playing high-energy shows and earning legions of fans with each turn. With the buzz they’ve already created and the exciting prospects for the near future, Alkatine doesn’t need a crystal ball to see that they’re on their way to huge success, something that just seems to follow them everywhere they go.

2011 has been an exciting year for Alkatine. Typically playing two shows per week to great crowds, the guys have been all over Calgary and beyond, reaching huge milestones and accomplishments for young guys barely out of high school.

By late June, Alkatine is already beaming over the success they’ve had this year. “We’ve already done a lot,” says drummer Doug Pocasangre. “Playing Beerfest was huge. That was amazing, getting to play there. … We’ve had shows outside of the city, Canmore, High River, [and] we’re doing Vancouver in the summer. … And we just got Penny, too, like eight days ago.”

“Penny” is the band’s new van, a white beast of a girl that seems more like a small apartment on wheels. It is in Penny that the boys are discussing music, the band, and the future on a warm Thursday evening, just hours before jumping onstage at Calgary’s Dickens Pub. The band’s energy is contagious, and the conversation is punctuated by laughter, flowing smoothly from one topic to the next. Taking turns throughout the banter are Doug, lead vocalist Brady (Ripper) Riplinger, guitarist Kurtis Lovas, and bass player Blair Lilley. These guys are fun, and they’re so open and inviting that it’s hard to not love them. Practically finishing each other’s sentences, they show incredible chemistry and a strong connection rarely found among four people.

On how they came together, the boys are thankful. “Me and Doug started playing together in grade nine … in guitar class,” reflects Kurtis. “And then it just built from there. We had a band, we had a few gigs. … It broke up, and then we recruited Blair on bass, took him away from sports and converted him to music.”

Brady adds, “Then by the grace of something Kurtis and I met each other and just formed something that I think is so hard to find anywhere else… It was too good to be true.”

“It was a solid fit,” agrees Kurtis. “We were all so comfortable with each other.”

The way they look at it, their relationship is like a big happy marriage, and as a thoughtful Brady suggests, the boys have been lucky to come together in such a fateful way.

Regarding their success, however, “lucky” might not be the word to use. Alkatine’s success is well-deserved, and has been earned over months of hard work. In the works now is their first album, to be released later this year. The album has been a labour of love for the group, and they are in no rush to force its completion. “We’d rather put out good quality than just something to listen to,” stresses Blair, and while the band knows that fans are excited, they are taking extra time to finish the process. As Doug emphasizes, “We want to be proud of it, not just produce something that’s half-assed.”

At the same time, fans have a reason to be excited for the release of Alkatine’s first album. They’ve enlisted the help of Calgary producer and recording engineer Brad Taylor, who has also worked with Alkatine’s friends and other well-known local band Black Phoenix Orchestra (BPO). Brad’s approach to recording fits right in with Alkatine’s style, and they have been working hard to perfect and polish the band’s first official release. “Brad’s a cool guy. … You can’t really work with somebody you can’t hang out with, but we can go to the bar and have drinks and it’s cool,” says Doug, adding that Brad’s efforts and patience have pushed Alkatine to create an album they’re proud of. The guys all agree that they have been lucky to connect with Brad, and look forward to the final product. “The wait is worth it,” promises Kurtis.

In the meantime, Alkatine has a lot going on. They’ve got shows booked throughout the summer, including a mud-wrestling show at The Blind Beggar during Stampede and a western road trip at the end of July. They’re also opening for Throne of Vengeance on August 5 when the metal band returns from their cross-country tour. Fans of Alkatine have a lot to look forward to this summer, and the band is ready to prove why they’re seen as the next big thing.

Despite this year’s accomplishments, the boys are still humble and modest, and are proud of their success, if not a bit surprised. But lead singer Brady is quick to point out that they’re not done yet: “We’re in this for life,” he says, a slow smile stretching across his face. “And we’re not going to stop.”

Check out Alkatine by visiting their Myspace page or Facebook, and stay tuned for more information regarding the release of their first album.

Kaptur – “Thousands”

There are few new artists who are capable of releasing a great first album. While many albums are good, they are usually missing the precision and smoothness that will typically come only after a few recording attempts and years of practice.

“Thousands”, the first studio release from new artist Kaptur, is an exception. The five-track EP is near perfection, an unexpected surprise that restores faith in new music and pure talent. Jumping onto the surprise ride is the additional fact that Kaptur is only one person: Riley Jensen shows incredible and enviable skill by singlehandedly performing each song, personally playing each instrument on the EP and showing off a phenomenal voice that is – somehow – both soothing and invigorating. Jensen’s talent defies all explanation, seeming incredibly sophisticated and flawless for a young man of only 22.

With the help of Toronto recording engineer Josh Korody, Kaptur has created a fantastic collection of songs that shows the influence of such acts as Radiohead, Matthew Good, and Death Cab for Cutie. These are songs that can be listened to again and again, liking more each time, and the medium-rock sound can find a place among many tastes. Jensen’s voice is just cool – there aren’t many singers like him out there, and that just adds to his appeal.

The only negative side of the EP is shockingly obvious: it is a tease! Yes, it’s just an EP, but it’s an EP so good that the small taste of Kaptur’s music is just plain mean. At only $4 (correct – $4) Kaptur’s album is a steal. “Thousands” can be streamed and purchased here, and check out Kaptur’s Facebook page for more details on live shows in the Niagara Region and future releases.

One listen and you’ll be hooked. Enjoy with a drink in hand, dreamy thoughts, and reluctant patience for Kaptur’s next release.

Kaptur - "Thousands"