Ryan Bonner & The Dearly Beloved
Monsters in the Hallway
With his subtly epic folk ballads and mournful where-is-she-now lyricism, Ryan Bonner successfully secures his musical style with Monsters in the Hallway. Despite beautifully arranged backing by a full string section and xylophone embellishments, Bonner and his band, the Dearly Beloved, never lose the pleasantly lonely feel of an honest singer/songwriter pouring out his heartfelt poetry to whomever lends an ear.
The opening track "September" frames the album, introducing the band's trademark blend of orchestral bowed strings with honky-tonk pedal steel and banjo. The six-song EP's climax, "Rise," sits fourth in the track listing. A steady rolling bass beat opens into the soaring chorus: "The moon will fill your heart/By God we will start/To see the darkness in your eyes," sings Bonner. After the pop/country bliss of "Rise" and the big cymbal crashes of "Marlene McQueen," Bonner reminds us with closing track "Another Reason" that he's a country balladeer at heart — one with a clean sound and potential well beyond the Lowcountry's confines. (myspace.com/ryanbonnermusic) —Stratton Lawrence
Pretty Little Things
Led by the songwriting and quirky creativity of multi-instrumentalist Jason Dodson (formerly of The Bullets and April Invention), post-punk/indie trio Jack of Knives already sound gritty and seasoned on their debut album Pretty Little Things. Bassist Khalid Smalls (of L. Brown Odyssey) and drummer Nick Jenkins (of the Western Polaroids, Morimoto, and Run Dan Run, among other gigs) add fierce rhythms and accents across the board — from the nervous and lumbering opener "Freeze" to the quick-paced, fIREHOSE-esque "Bandits."
Dodson's jagged brand of roiling rock complements his yelpy singing (a heavily vibrating, slightly flat, Bowie-meets-Peter Murphy kind of thing). Most of the 12 songs on Pretty Little Things burst out of speakers with punk-fueled energy. Recorded at Dodson's own Kniveland 2 Studios, the production is stripped to the frame — but is far from cheap sounding. Dodson's razor-sharp guitar tone tangles nicely with the intricate and syncopated rhythmic patterns — some of which are truly frightening.
If the first half of Pretty Little Things resembles the weirdest art-punk of the '80s, several songs on the last few tracks slow down, spread out, and get a little more psychedelic. The waltzy "Spies" swings with tons of extra organ in the mix. The mid-tempo "Smoke" bounces with an alt-pop vibe (minus the Knives' noodly T. Rex guitar work). The airy and concise acoustic ballad "Happy Hour" sounds like a different band altogether. It's an odd mix from front to back. (myspace.com/jackofknivesband) —T. Ballard Lesemann