NOTICE: This review is going to be rather long, so I've broken it into labeled, easily read and digestible sections for those of you with short attention spans. Despite it's length, PLEASE consider giving it a read.
An Introduction and An Apology For Being a Promo Machine:
For those of you who read my blog regularly (and that is a very low number of people) you will know that I have written about Jory Stultz and his music TWO TIMES prior to this. One was a general "check this out" post where I listed him among other Michigan artists and the second was about his performance with Groove Box Studios.
I make no pretense about it when I say that Jory is a very good friend of mine and I want to promote his work as much as I possibly can. BUT it is also important to know that I was a fan of his music long before we were ever friends and I believe that lends my opinion more credibility than if I were simply hawking my buddy's music as some kind of a favor.
Jory Stultz released his debut EP as a solo artist this past Saturday (October 20th, 2012) at The Avenue Cafe in Lansing, MI. What I intend to use this post for is to review the EP, track by track, detailing it's strengths and weaknesses. I encourage you to read this review and consider purchasing it for yourself.
BUY THE EP HERE
Artist: Jory Stultz
Album: Out A Window EP
Genre: Rock, Soul, Baroque Pop
Produced and Engineered By: Jory Stultz, Dylan Rogers
Mixed and Mastered By: John Krohn
Label: Blue Bow-Tie Productions/Independent
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
1.) Starshine Kids: This is the first song that I ever heard from the EP. I saw Jory play it live and watching him sing it, or really sing anything, is the experience of watching someone totally and completely immerse himself into the words and the soul of a song. When Jory plays, he can get passionate and belt his soulful vocal and slam the keys of his piano but on this song he gently presses the chords and notes, letting the instrument croon it's melody in much the same way he does with his words.
When you listen to the song I think that there is a lot to relate to with the words. The first lyrics are "We flew rockets to the moon... never leaving the van... it was simple, it was stupid, but it was something we could have...". Those words are something everyone can connect with... everyone has been at that point where they're at the pinnacle of child like imagination. Letting themselves slip into games and cutting lose of the tethers that chain them to real life... We've all pretended our steering wheel was the captain's helm of some rocket ship beyond reality.
From there the song takes you on a journey of imagery and melody. It's impossible not to feel what Jory feels as he sings each syllable. His voice is soothing but still powerful and gruff. There is hard grit in his soulful push of a voice as well as soft clear tone... sometimes in the same breath.
2.) Ghost: The opening snare beats of this song are fairly simple. It's the heartbeat of the song that keeps your hands clapping and feet stomping. All of the songs on the EP have a bit of a creeping quality, with melodic and instrumental themes reminiscent of psychobilly bands like Hellblinki, HorrorPops, or even Tiger Army. As soon as the accordion kicks in you can almost feel the theatricality wash over you. I don't want to pigeonhole the music as being exactly like psychobilly or horror punk because the themes and vocals are strong for all types of moods and listeners. The "spooky" element to songs like "Ghost" and "Dark Blue Forest" can't be denied or ignored, though.
3.) Dark Blue Forest: To be perfectly honest, this might be my favorite track on the EP just because of it's sheer originality. It's one of the hallmarks of Jory Stultz's style... he takes chances in his writing and he's willing to do new things. Possibly things that may prove unpopular, but that's what makes his music so compelling. It sounds like almost nothing else. The songs main rhythm instrument and it's backbone is an accordion. The majority of Stultz's material is piano driven, but this one is something different. The eery vibe continues from "Ghost" into this one, opening with notes plucked out on an old chime piano. The notes continue throughout the song adding to it's unique vibe. Additionally, this song, more than any other on the record features Stultz's versatility as a vocalist. The vocals are softer and have a more pop sensibility to them then any other track. Generally his style is characterized by the strained vibrato and belting push that bare the soul of each lyric... this song is different. It tells a story and the soft, hushed vocal carry you through it.
4.) Out A Window: Finally we reach the last and title track for the EP. It's more than safe to say that the EP closes out with a rocker. Slammed piano chords, hard drums, gritty vocals. It churns along like a freight train hitting you hard with every single lyric until the chorus when it positively lifts off into the stratosphere. The lyrics, the melody, the heart of this song perfectly encapsulate this entire EP.
BUY THE EP HERE
I only see two real weaknesses that I think are worth highlighting and they're really nothing against Jory's ability as an artist. The first thing that I think could punch up this recording is better quality. Jory Stultz plays the sort of music that needs huge sounds, huge production, background singers and orchestral texture. This EP is very DIY and it holds back his true potential. I will say, though, that for a budget of what was essentially zero dollars, it sounds top notch. It took a long time and a lot of called in favors but Jory managed to turn rocks into gold here. It's definitely professional quality, it's just that the sound would be better served by more grandiosity in the production.
One more flaw, in my opinion, is that Jory relies a little too heavily on his strained vibrato for emotional effect. He has such a full, soulful tone that he doesn't need it as much as he uses it. I wouldn't abandoned the style but I'd recommend more full and even tone if he wants to make a bigger sound.
With this release, Jory has proven a very strong point. You don't need a million dollars... or even five dollars to make a truly great release. Grander instrumentation, bigger backgrounds, larger drums... all of these things could have made the record better but it would only have improved on what was already a professional quality release. If you have talent and support from a community of friends, anything is possible when making music. Take Jory's EP to heart. It's music and it's stories. Be inspired and make things happen.