Album review: Signs To The City “Not Made of Miracles”

Album Cover

When Jarrett Lobley’s voice comes in at the beginning of Not Made of Miracles, it’s clear what’s going on here: dark melodies mixed with hopeful lyrics, something potent and austere. The piano-heavy, slow tempo of “Dark Waters” reminds me vividly of Trent Dabbs (an obscure reference, but if you know him then you’ll know what I mean). “There’s something valued in the road less taken,” he begins. “All my efforts will deliver,” and Signs To The City harnesses the sweetness of sour. The songs, although elegant, aren’t too memorable or catchy, which is probably the only thing keeping Signs To The City out of the limelight. Still, you don’t always need catchy. Jarrett, Joel Klassen (guitar), Tim Iskierski (drums), and Earl Pereira (Bass) pepper in tasteful synth layers. The kook is restrained.

“Rockets” showcases the quintessential 2018 pop rock: synth drums propelling a loud chorus and hook and then dropping quickly to instrumental sparsity over the verses. These songs don’t have the oomph that, say, “Unstable” has. This is dignified pop, like mid-career Goo Goo Dolls or latter day U2. “So many have left/ You stayed strong,” Jarrett sings over the hopeful chorus.

The best track, however, is “The Line”, which harnesses vocal harmonies- something Signs To The City often does well- and a hook that, well, hooks. Like some of the best indie rockers out there, the prettiness lies among the rise and fall of intensity and balances grace among the darkness. One fault of this mature, educated band is relying on colloquialisms. Here, they go with, “There ain’t no way out of here,” and if the line didn’t descend otherwise perfectly, I couldn’t let the word choice go.

These songs are overall good in construction, and the production matches the band nicely. Maybe the vein is The Killers or Kings of Leon, but NMOM is a more restrained, patient album than anything those big shots have ever done. More of a fan of 90’s rock than 80’s pop, I’ll admit that I wish Signs To The City would drop the Talking Heads influence and breathe into the next decade. Too much synth doesn’t allow me to take this record as seriously as I’d like to.

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Album review: Spanglish Fly “Ay, Que Boogaloo!”

AyQueBoogaloo

Boogaloo: a type of Latin music drenched in classic construction and mixed with R&B.

With all my knowledge about genres, I’d never heard of boogaloo before. Leave it to the 12-piece Spanglish Fly, hailing from New York City, to educate me by way of Ay Que Boogaloo! (Chaco World Music, 2017). This raucous album is ostensibly a party album. The layers of percussion, multiple vocalists (male and female), uptempo grooves, and oftentimes charming, humorous lyrics, is underneath, a message about multicultural love and about music as a panacea in rough times.

This combination is no easy feat, and while Latin, Afro-Caribbean grooves are generally enjoyed, absolute love for them has, I’ve found, been in part about where you’re from and where you live. Yet, AQB is well-versed in pop (as stated in a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good”- Amy, who also mastered soul and pop).

“Bugalu Pa’ Mi Abuela” opens the album and is also a fabulous introduction to both boogaloo and Spanglish Fly. Immediately, the multiple vocals kick in, sharing responsibilities, and the instrumentation, accentuated by both the steamy horn section, hand claps, and cowbell, help tell the story of boogaloo in the modern age (kind of like, “Not your grandmother’s boogaloo!”).

A few other songs exemplify Spanglish Fly’s awesomeness. “New York Rules”, featuring vocals from famed Joe Bataan, slows the tempo. Joe offers, “Everybody’s playing by the New York Rules/ Everybody’s showing their New York values.” Again, like much of the album, these songs are about boogaloo happening in this time in this place, and here the song shouts out to New York’s “rules” as something amorphous: “The strangers on the B Train nod their head,” Joe says later, painting a picture of music in motion.

“Boogaloo Shoes” is probably the most old school songs in composition. “I tell you how we do,” Mariella Gonzalez and Paloma Munoz sing in tandem; “We’re stepping out tonight wearing our boogaloo shoes.” The playful back and forth of keys, horns, and percussion is super fun, and Matt Thomas’ sax solo is tasteful. “Instead of staying at home/ staring at the screen,” the lyrics continue; “grab your boogaloos shoes and hit the boogaloo scene!”

Yet my favorite song is “Coco Helado”, starting with inviting percussion layers before the clav kicks in. The laidback vibe and simple yet poetic lyrics are lovely (and a double entendre?). The song builds by breaking down, and a spoken word verse by Rowan Ricardo Phillips isn’t long enough to get over indulgent.

One lesser track is “How Do You Know/ Como Sabes”, and its failing trait shows up here and there on AQB, in trying to share a message. Lyrics like, “When you’re a child making your way/ learning your world from what your elders say/ you try your best to fight through your fears,” aren’t bad in their intention; the execution is a little cheesy. They haven’t quite figured this out. Of course, I think a lot of this is in the R&B vocal styling, something I admittedly, as a music critic, don’t get and struggle to critique knowledgeably, so I could be missing something.

Part soulful funk, part traditional Cuban and salsa music, part fun, and part social commentary, Ay Que Boogaloo is really a wonderful album. The band is on their A-game.