On the Culture Front: Music from the Underground, Part 13

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Staring into Nothing melds the epic structure of prog rock with the tuneful moodiness of new wave. This creates a rich sonic backdrop for the band’s pointed social and political commentary on their upcoming album “Power.” The title of one of the tracks, “School Daze,” might suggest a hedonistic anthem to be blared while cutting class, but it’s actually an indictment on the public education system and the mandated common core material that must be taught. “Teacher, teach us now / What we should believe / Teacher, teach us how / to behave like sheep,” flows with the faintest echo of Pink Floyd’s hypnotic qualities. “Obey” warns of fascism with the slick sheen of an 80s ballad. The lyric “Following orders can’t be wrong” is a big hint at the theme and then the chorus comes: “all of the ways that we obey or simply look away.” Much of the album is quite engaging, but I can’t help but wonder if a subtler touch would give it greater resonance.

Experimental Australian artist Jacqui L contrasts light and dark sounds on her conceptual album, “Planet Parallel 5.” Her soft voice is often supported with thick metal chords that roar in the background. “I want to be a cowboy; I want to be a princess” she sings on “I’ll Covet,” one of the quieter tracks on the album. The lyrics detail a protagonist with expansive desires that constantly contradict. “I want to be bohemian; I want to be filthy…rich.” The slight pause at the end brings a welcome bit of humor to this otherworldly album – Jacqui L is actually an alien character the artist created. It’s the subtle moments that work best though, including the slow-burn hypnotic blues introduction of “Could Be.”

Connecticut-based musician Kris Heaton has opened for Stevie Ray Vaughan, Greg Allman and Leon Russell. His recently released album,“World Gone Mad,” has a rock nostalgia vibe with a 80s pop synths and blazing power chords. The lyrics aren’t revelatory, but he sings them with a searching raspy belt that brings to mind Bruce Springsteen. “One Thin Line” is perhaps the most moving song of the album on which he sings about the fragility of life: “One thin line between here and the other side.”

Lachi’s “Living a Lie” is the kind of baroque hip-hop song that you expect to hear in a swanky urban club, the kind where someone twice your size carefully scrutinizes your entry. The singer’s opened for Questlove and collaborated on songs with Snoop Dogg and has a nice set of pipes that soar to the forefront of the song. “I am the truth / two parts vermouth,” she belts gently in the opening moments. While alcohol as truth serum is a well-worn observation, I’m guessing the lyrics weren’t written to be scrutinized. She outsources the rapping to Styles P and their voices contrast nicely, but I could do without the egregious EDM flourishes that punctuate the chorus.

The Rightly So sing smooth uplifting folk songs with acoustic guitar flourishes and an appealing earnestness that flows through their often-rhyming lyrics. Based in Buffalo, NY, duo Gregory Zeis and Jess Chizuk have a knack for crafting songs that remain light even as they sing lines like “you can burn in a brush fire” or “crash this car.” One of my favorites, “Hurry Up,” is a seize-the-moment anthem sung with guttural passion by Zeis with Chizuk providing supporting “oohs.” Guitar solos arise organically throughout the album, and there’s a deep sense of cohesive interplay throughout. The love song “Wine and Shine” contains some of their best lyrics as Zeis compares a woman he loves to different kinds of alcohol. The first chorus begins, “she hits hard like a whiskey, she’s smooth like gin.” As he continues, it becomes apparent that this is a fleeting and painful love. “A love that leaves you with a hangover in the morning,” Zeis croons.