Disc men

Matt Zarley tackles relationships while Adam Tyler delivers smart pop on new releases

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

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2.5 out of 5 stars
CHANGE BEGINS WITH ME
Matt Zarley
Independent

Matt Zarley may be all scruff and muscle, but he has a sweet delicacy to his voice that’s properly displayed on his newest album, Change Begins With Me. He’s the product of Broadway, but it would seem his sights are on the music charts.

Back in May, Zarley previewed his album with “WTF,” a whimsical dance track that pitted an earnestly lovestruck singer against the man who done him wrong. The song is borderline silly, if fun, though the accompanying video was painful to watch.

For the most part, the tone of Change is adult contemporary but by a refreshingly new, gay (and far hunkier) version of, say, Michael Bolton or Phil Collins. Well-polished songs beautifully showcase Zarley’s vocal talents, on songs like “Perfect“ and “Forgive Me (For Not Forgiving You)” which evidence a tenderness that makes it almost hard not to swoon along.

Dance tracks, though, don’t do him justice nor add much to the album. His sexy talk in “Trust Me” is unconvincing. As the fifth song, Change, marks a small decline in making a bigger impression. The previous ballads, and even the album opener “WTF,” are engaging enough, but from “Trust” on, the songs almost disappear.

‘CHANGE’ IS GONNA COME | Matt Zarley is a whole lotta hunk, but surprises with an insightful album about his past relationships.

“Apology” and “I’ll Always Remember” display sweet emotion, but with ordinary skill. This is a shame; the album is well paced before it downshifts at this point. The fault though, is in the music. Lyrics resonate strongly and are probably my new go-to when I can’t find the words to appease an angry or hurt boyfriend.

The title track suffers from cheese factor, but it is less a self-help tune than an admission of bad love-life decisions. Zarley holds himself accountable for mistakes he made as a gay man — I’m not sure I’ve heard that message recorded before.  Sure, “Change” swells into a clichéd climactic chorus, but it’s a fascinating juxtaposition from the lead song.

I’m not a big fan of remixes, but the two bonus tracks of “WTF” surpass the original. The beats are a helluva lot of fun to groove to. Instead of reworking the song into an unrecognizable version, the remixes amp up the rhythm and scale back on some of the gimmickry of the original.

With bumps along the way, Zarley provides a collection of songs that start him in a bad situation and result in a brighter tomorrow … so much so that it may beg for an immediate second listen with some songs making more sense.
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3.5 out of 5 stars
SHATTERED ICE

Adam Tyler
Tiger Bay Records

Adam Tyler describes himself as a pop music geek and it shows on his debut release Shattered Ice. This is a good thing. He sidesteps a lot of easy traps to deliver 11 tracks of wow.
On first impression, Ice opens as any other dance album in the “dime a dozen” category, but quickly, the opening track, “Like a Drug,” moves into a techno-rock hybrid, hitting many correct notes. Tyler gives an onslaught of an opener that is held up by subsequent tracks.

The album leans more into electronica elements, but Tyler treats them with care, layering bass-lines and blippy flourishes into solid sounds. “Music Freak” could have easily been a pedestrian effort, but he saves it by not adding extraneous effects. Tyler has a gift for letting the song build itself rather than throwing everything against the wall to see what will stick.

Adam Tyler studies pop music enough to make some of his own with his debut album ‘Shattered Ice.’ With strong confidence, Tyler makes a stellar impression.

Tyler doesn’t have the vocal strength of Zarley, but he belts within reason and recalls some of the quality of Paul Lekakis. He has enough depth to go slower on the opening of “I Won’t Let You Go,” while offering a healthy set of lungs on the title track. There isn’t a lot of surprise in his vocal spectrum. This provides a particular comfort and even consistency, as his music should keep listeners on their toes.

The blemishes on this album are minimal and perhaps expected from a debut. “Forgive Me” is weak with middle school lyrics. “Touch” is a misguided track that begins with a keyboard track that sounds like a child trying to play ABBA’s “Lay All Your Love On Me.” Here, he makes the mistake of adding a little too much flair, and to a slower beat, it misses the bullseye.

The album recovers immediately with strong tracks like “Taking Back My Love” and “Let Me Breathe.”

Shattered Ice finishes with minimal versions of previous tracks that calm the robust energy down. “I Won’t Let You Go” on piano is a gorgeous ballad and “Forgive Me” fares far better as an acoustic tune than it did before in its electro incarnation. These add to Tyler’s versatility.

For a debut, Tyler seems to have set a goal and met it, which would explain the amount  of confidence in Ice. His songs don’t play as mere musical byproducts in search of superstardom. He has a true genuine sound that pulls you in and when it lets go, you almost wish it didn’t.
Thank goodness for the repeat button.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Put your claws up

SMARTER THAN YOUR AVERAGE BEAR DANCE Mould, left, and Morel like to blowoff some energy with Blowoff — and being at a bear event only makes it better. (Photo courtesy Jeff Smith Photography)

Mixing dance tracks and rock, DJ team Blowoff serves the beats to the bears

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

When the beat drops Friday night at the Big D Bear Dance, expect the furry men attending this year’s Texas Bear Round Up XVI to pack the dance floor tightly (the only way, actually). That’s because the beefy bearish tag team of Bob Mould and Rich Morel debut their popular event Blowoff in Dallas, merging rock and electronica. Oddly enough, they didn’t start out as the go-to guys for ursine events — but they sure fit in.

“We fit the demographic,” Morel laughs. “But really, it just sort of happened.”

“We became this music event that the bears found,” explains Mould. “They liked us and it was a natural fit. There was no adjusting that we made from just DJing initially, but I do think it’s more of a dance night than music night. I play less indie rock than I would.”

The team had met in music circles before, but teamed up in Washington, D.C., back in 2003 for their first gig together. Their musical philosophies merged nicely, but Mould had ulterior motives for the union: The party was really just a way for Mould to meet people in his new hometown.

“I didn’t have any friends and I just had this idea that if we threw a party, I’d meet more people,” Mould chuckles. “I made flyers and just started passing them around.”

What? Mould needs friends? This is the same guy who helmed such bands as Husker Du and Sugar. But he was alone in a new city, and did something about it.

“I knew Rich was there and we got together to write music,” he says. “But now it’s taken on this life of its own. We worked really hard at it and have taken chances with music by mixing rock and low-fi with electronica and progressive house. I think that has been setting us apart.”

The team credits some of their success to their sound. Their newer trance and vocal mixes are less hyper. Sometimes the chill lo-fi indie rock stuff doesn’t go over well, but bears especially those like Mould and Morel are willing to dance to their beat.

“We’re a bit audience specific,” Mould says, ”because people our age like to dance to it, too.”

Mould hasn’t left his rock roots behind. He’s recently performed surprise shows with the Foo Fighters at the request of Dave Grohl and appeared with Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard onstage. Before he became an iconic beardaddy DJ, Mould was already an icon for a new generation of alt-rockers.

“It’s very flattering when they ask for me,” he says. “It’s nice to know people like them are influenced by my stuff. But really, we’re all storytellers, we reinterpret them and the stories get passed on. It’s the legacy of music.”

Mould’s own story will be put to print this summer when his autobiography, See a Little Light: A Trail of Rage and Melody, rolls off the presses.

“It was quite a trip to relive everything, “ he says. “Readers will see an interesting life. It’ll touches on public and private stuff, but no animals were harmed in the making of this book — except me. “

Where Mould ends with rock, Morel would seem to start with dance, but that’s not the case. Morel was kind of a rocker as well and applied his remixes to less dance driven bands like The Killers and The Doors. What Morel did find as that the space where they play is dependent on the tone and with bigger rooms (such as Station 4), certain records are just going to work better.

“Our goal is to get them there on the dancefloor,” Morel says. “Different stuff works, but really, you just can’t make everyone happy. At a certain point, it’s fine.”

Morel thinks what sets them apart, besides the music, is their set up. The team play in hour chunks, tag-teaming every 60 minutes. This gives them time to socialize and get a drink — and the mix-and-mingle contributes to their success.

“We strive for a friendly club experience,” Morel says. “We don’t have a separation from the crowd while playing.”

They’ve done bear events around the country including New York, Provincetown and Chicago, so Mould’s feeling confident that they will tap into the right musical nerve for this crop of Dallas bears.

“I’m planning on doing what I do best,” Mould says. “I hear this is one of the more fun bear events so I can’t wait. I’ll be staying Saturday night so I’ll get to hang out.”

But Mould lives in San Francisco now and Morel resides in D.C. So how do they get ready?

“We show up!” Morel laughs.

This article appeared on the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright