Stone Portal – Stealing Airwaves – Album Review
Well here ya go…Stone Portal is clearly here to ROCK – pun both intended, and obviously unavoidable.
No joke though folks…you wouldn’t be able to miss that fact if you tried – the opening-track/title-tune/lead-single of Stone Portal’s new album, “Stealing Airwaves,” instantly gets the blood flowing and the intensity established. From Ken MacLean’s whip-smart writing, to the wild guitar riffs of Ryan Jones, to the frantic vocals of Ged Cartwright – you can hear things immediately moving in the right direction. As this first track continues to build, you get a genuine sense that it could have been just as effective as a finale cut as it is for an opening one…the way Stone Portal builds momentum and steam throughout “Stealing Airwaves” reveals enough energy and electricity to power your village for the year. At the very least, “Stealing Airwaves” generates enough heat through your speakers that you’ll be plenty warm this winter if you turn it up a little on your playlists…go ahead and give it a try – you’ll find it’s just like your thermostat. You get the point I’m makin’ – it’s a HOT song and these two dudes come out gunning straight outta the gate to make an impact with this record. Assisted in the production by Ryan Jones, and mixed & mastered by Ross Saunders at GloWorm Studios…they’ve got all the right pieces in place to entertain ya.
All-in-all, they kind of remind me a lot of Cool For August, maybe mixed with something like Brother Cane…we’re talkin’ about that kind of melodic-intensity and depth in the Rock you’ll find from Stone Portal. Which is a good thing in my books. Both of those comparisons were to short-lived bands, which is still an unfortunate tragedy to this very day…but that’s on YOU listeners out there not catching on as quickly as you probably should have. Maybe Stone Portal is your opportunity to make things right, you know? LISTEN to moments like around the three-minute mark of “Come Alive” and how kickass that is! It’s like a song that would have fit perfectly onto the Black Fingernails, Red Wine album by Eskimo Joe – another massively underrated band/record that everyone should know word for freakin’ word. This all works extremely well though…I dig the subtle opening, I love the drum beats that signal the intensity to follow, and I can’t say enough about Ged’s vocals…this dude’s an undeniable all-star, and versatile AF. If I’ve got any complaints to be found here, it’s probably that they’ve out-written themselves in the sense that the verse contains more memorable hooks than the chorus does, but that happens sometimes. It ain’t always a bad thing to begin with, and many times, it’s intentionally by design…I look at it this way – as long as there ARE some hooks to be found, then you’re at least setting yourself up for some modicum of success in the court of public opinion, right? “Come Alive” has exceptional hooks in the verses if you ask me…and of course, in a situation like that where everything is front-loaded, anything else that you end up enjoying is gravy. I think a lot of people out there will dig the sheer intensity of Stone Portal and how that always remains a prevalent element of their music no matter what gear they’ve shifted into.
Reminding ya of the supercharged sounds you’d find in bands like Change Of Heart, The Refreshments, Vertical Horizon, or even good ol’ Dazor from our independent scene – “Locked And Loaded” is another stellar example of how Stone Portal is able to propel their music with momentum and sheer sonic force. Essentially, they’re every bit as “Locked And Loaded” with that good-good Alternative sound you wanna find at the heart of their Rock music…Ken’s done a remarkable job of designing these songs to roil & boil – it’s nonstop entertainment y’all, so strap the fuck on in. I’ve been enjoyin’ myself from the moment I pushed play – but there’s not a doubt in my mind that things just went from good to great with “Locked And Loaded.” I know they’ve got “Stealing Airwaves” out as their lead-single, and that “Smoke And Mirrors” followed fairly closely behind…and if they’re being objective…I think they’ll eventually have to conclude that “Locked And Loaded” is stocked full of that magic we consider to be single-worthy sound.
That being said…there’s an argument to be made for that single-worthy status in a great many of these tunes. Like…if you told me that “Turn Around” was gonna be the next choice, I’d probably give you a huge high-five and willingly support that decision. I think…hmmm…honestly, I think on a personal level, “Locked And Loaded” probably appeals to me & my ears a bit more – BUT…if we’re talkin’ about universal appeal and crossover sound…”Turn Around” might have the edge on a bunch of the cuts in this lineup on Stealing Airwaves. At first you might think you’re in for something Oasis-like or maybe even Blind Melon-ish at first in the intro…then the beat kicks in and you realize you’re heading in a different direction…something more in a Country/Rock style, maybe Zac Brown Band or close to that effect…you get what I mean – something that has struck that impeccable balance that appeals to all sides at all times. I listen to a track like “Turn Around” and realize that Ken’s songwriting is highly adaptable…and his future, whether inside Stone Portal or otherwise, is fairly wide-open in this industry. Of course I’m gonna advocate for MacLean to stick it out with Ged…for what I consider to be OBVIOUS reasons – this dude crushes microphones! Listen to the way he sings the very first line of this song…you should be convinced by that alone. Credit where credit is due though…there’s not an inch of this song outta place, and Ged continues to reveal a wild variety of tones & different approaches to his vocals within this one song – and they ALL work out perfectly. I’m tellin’ ya – this dude is as pro as they get. Don’t get it twisted & don’t get me wrong though – MacLean is no slouch by any means…these two have a perfect balance between their strengths, and they’re an incredible complement to each other. “Turn Around” is killer as it IS already…I’m just sayin’ these two dudes have skills that prove they could basically do whatever the heck they want in the music-business…Ken’s songwriting and Ged’s versatility will take them a long, long way. In a just world, that equates to Stone Portal taking right the heck off like they should with a record as well-rounded as this is. I don’t know that this is the world we’re living in, and even the best bands can take a record or two to catch on…but THIS combination of talents is definitely worth sticking with, and well worth your support. I mean…heck, they’ve even got ME onboard with a track like “Turn Around” and I’ve described it as part-Country. Country-anything usually scares me to death and has me running in the other direction…but this is the right amount of ingredients all-around.
It’s just relentlessly impressive y’all. Listen to the way “Coffee” is sung by Ged…it’s awe inspiring. Usually, you find a singer has got ‘their thing’ – whatever that thing may be…and YES…we’re talkin’ SINGULAR. Ged’s got like twenty ‘things’ – and he’s capable of launching them all through the mic at any one time. “Coffee” has the man sounding like he’s a version of Michael Hutchence at times, and at others, closer to something like the dude from Dishwalla, or Cool For August again…and obviously, at others, he’s just his plain ol’ kickass self…whatever mode or gear you find him in, I can promise ya, it WORKS. He’s got soul, he’s got style, the dude rocks hard when the song calls for it…I mean…Ged’s versatility is STAGGERING. “Coffee” is the kind of track that not only has noticeable hooks that land perfectly through your speakers, but it’s got the kind of chops both musically & vocally that would certainly make an impression on those out there within the industry. It’s a head-turner folks…the kind of song that will have you doin’ a double-take…whether it’s for the guest-star on the rap-verse, or the rip of the guitar solo…the perfection in the bass-lines…the stunning vocals…”Coffee” has a bit of it all.
As I understand it, “Smoke And Mirrors” was the second track released in advance of the record coming out…it got released on the 7th of this month, and the album itself is due to hit the internet on October 21st. It’s a GOOD choice. I’m not gonna say that it’s BETTER than the choices I’ve outlined here in the cuts prior already…but it IS a good choice. I’m just a music critic though…so I kinda have to go with my opinion as to what the singles should be or I may as well be out of a job, you know? I’m kidding around. For real though…I do believe there are cuts that “Smoke And Mirrors” have jumped the queue on, but like I was tellin’ ya earlier – I could probably make an argument for the vast majority of this record’s tunes to be singles…Stealing Airwaves is built on single-worthy sound, so any choice ultimately works. I think that the heavier vibe & Blues-Rock influence on “Smoke And Mirrors” likely appeals to a more niche & narrow slice of the potential audience is all…that’s just a sound/style thing – it’s not like the quality of the performances or production drops even one iota. All hands on deck for these tunes from the front of the studio boards to behind’em consistently create quality…and that’s all you can ask for – the rest is letting the chips fall where they may. The main guitar riff of “Smoke And Mirrors” gives this song its best shot at appealing to the people out there…plus it’s got some pretty rad drums too…but I suspect it’s more of a representation of the sound Stone Portal is aiming for, more-so than the others that have already proven to be successful for them on this very record, you follow me? Like…”Smoke And Mirrors” would appeal to fans of Kenny Wayne Shepherd for instance…I ain’t sayin’ that’s a BAD thing – I’m just sayin’ how many people do you know with KWS rockin’ at the top of their playlist is all. Stone Portal does a lot of great things – and this song is included in that. Do I think they do things better than this, or have more universally appealing cuts that would make better single candidates to draw the people out there in? You betcha I do! But these decisions ain’t up to me…I’m just an objective outsider.
I think what we can all completely agree on, whether you’re in the band or out of it, is that “Weathered Ways” is definitely not the single. HEY! Don’t go gettin’ pissed at me for telling you what your ears will conclude in comparison to the rest of the set – I never once said that any song HAS to be single-worthy to be good…and most of you (seven) regular readers know that being accessible ain’t the only measure I assess songs by. “Weathered Ways” is actually quite impressively ambitious and adventurous – it ADDS to the experience of Stealing Airwaves overall, but more like bench-strength on a team, you follow me? What I like most about it is that it’s got real artistic depth to it, one of the best guitar solos you’ll find on the record, and a really unique set of ideas at the core of it all as well – all great things that work both for and against it in their own way. The reality is that it’s much tougher to get the masses onboard with a song like “Weathered Ways” than it is any of the other tracks you’ve heard to this point on the record – again, there’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s hardly what defines good music – it’s just the reality of the situation is all. You are invited and WELCOME to prove me wrong – doing so is only going to enrich your OWN listening experience by making the effort, which will prod your evolution & culture too…and if you don’t think I’d still be WINNING in such an event, you’re completely out of your gourd my friends. “Weathered Ways” is exceptionally well-composed and cleverly thought-out – like I was saying, there’s real art & craft in a song like this…and by definition, that usually makes it a much tougher sell to people.
Case in-point – I’d readily take “Weathered Ways” over “Put Your Love Down” any day of the week on my playlists – but I’d tell ya that “Put Your Love Down” is more universally accessible than “Weathered Ways” every time. You see? Accessibility doesn’t always equate to a great tune. Neither does exceptional musicianship or amazing vocals – you can have both of those things like Stone Portal does and STILL come up astoundingly short. At the end of the day…I ain’t gonna deny that the chorus hooks work pretty well on “Put Your Love Down” – but I would argue that a track like this has next to no new ideas in comparison to the tune that we just heard beforehand. Nothing wrong with that either though folks – sometimes people just wanna turn up the amplifiers and rock on out, or write a love song – or in a case like this, both. What makes a track like this one so much tougher to assess is that Stone Portal has already proven to be capable of so much so many times…and “Put Your Love Down” seems like a track they could have written in their sleep. There’s something to be said for that of course…it’s like Ken could fall out of bed and hit a song – and that’s a handy skill to have at the end of the day. It’s HARD to make Blues-Rock do much that we haven’t heard before in some way, shape, or form…and it felt like Stone Portal did the best they could with the material they had here. The real question becomes, do they settle for that – or do they push themselves to do MORE than good enough? Because no one’s gonna turn “Put Your Love Down” off or even turn it down…but I’d be hard pressed to believe that it’s going to be THE song that everyone returns for a repeat of. From its Jimi-esque riffs, to the Led Zeppelin comparisons you could make as well…in addition to everything else that’s more close to the band’s own sound…I just don’t know that I was convinced they gave us that reason to crave more of this one tune. I could be wrong…I’ve been that in the past before…and if this is YOUR jam, then feel free to turn it UP. I’d be the first to tell ya that the main hooks of the chorus put up a real good fight for my attention here.
Sometimes we make front-loaded records, and that’s just the way things go. You know who else made one that I called them out on? 30 Seconds To Mars. And that same year of their debut record, I saw my tiny little review posted up in their press tent at Lollapalooza while they were on tour. While these two bands don’t have similar sounds, the circumstances are similar…I don’t know that there’s a whole lot of new stuff goin’ on in the second half of Stealing Airwaves – but if you were digging the first half, doesn’t that imply you’d pretty much have to be impressed with the second-half somewhat as well? Honestly, I think it does. “Fear And Fantasy” is a good example to point to in terms of how we’ve kind of heard what it has to offer on previous cuts that Stone Portal has put into this record already…that doesn’t make it a bad tune, it’s just harder to argue that it pushes the album forward any further is all. And you ALL (okay, three of you readers) know that my job is to push you as hard as possible creatively to dig as deep as possible…to tap into that uniqueness. To be completely fair to Stone Portal – it’s really all they’ve left me with – I can’t complain about the way they perform or execute the material – they’ve got exceptional instrumentation and vocals, every single time, track after track. Quality-wise in that regard, they are not gonna be the band to let you down, I can promise you that. Do I think they’ve got a little more in the tank than they’ve shown us in the second half of this record? Yes. Yes I do. But they need time to grow and evolve just like all art & music does. “Fear And Fantasy” still has merit…it’s got great vocals and harmonies in its hooks – and once again, I love the sound of the drums…I dig the effects on the Ged’s voice when they use’em, and the melody is definitely effective. All that’s good – and I’m sure you’ll agree – all I’m simply saying is that Stone Portal has proven they’ve got more to’em than this cut shows us…and the more they tap into what makes them special, the stronger this band becomes overall.
Redemption comes in the final moments in my opinion – “Way Out West” is a powerful tune, and felt like it gave the album a strong reason to return to it at the very end. With Ged giving ya another vocal performance that’s practically a dead-ringer for Kavyen Temperley of Eskimo Joe, and a really smart design to the music that flows between the gentle & intense…Ken’s songwriting here is very similar to something you’d find in Canada’s own Matthew Good – and I dig that depth…it’s got excellent contrast. Beautiful, but hella dark too – you know the kind of music I’m talking about. I’d be taking a close look at the DNA of a tune like this though…tons of appeal to it, but it goes far beyond the appeal of the hooks – this is smart storytelling, burning passion, and real diversity at work in tandem…and it’s bulletproof. Not a bad way to end things off I tell ya…”Way Out West” probably ended up being one of my favorites from this set if I’m being real with ya, and definitely without question one of the best in the second half of the set-list for sure. In fact, I’d probably tell ya that the real blueprint forward is illuminated right here at the end – there’s something remarkably special and unique about “Way Out West” that could serve Stone Portal very well in terms of their direction to follow. The real bottom line here though, is that they’ve got a record stocked absolutely FULL of amazing musicianship and outright inspired vocals – a ton of positives for them to take to that next experience & recording session…because at the end of the day, what’s been started here in Stone Portal is definitely something that NEEDS to continue. Like a great story or television show, you’ll want another chapter & installment of this, if only to find out where it all goes next…Stone Portal proves they’re one of the most capable bands starting up this year.
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