Arrows is available at:
23rd June, 2015
Buffalo, New York, U.S.A.
The E.P., A Kinder History, is available from:
Sharon Mok– vocals, guitar
Katie Weissman– cello, vocals
Kathryn Koch– violin, vocals
Dan Schwach– percussion, glockenspiel
Brad Lauchert– percussion
Zack Steinberg– bass
Peter Isaac– trombone
All songs written by Sharon Mok/ Tiny Rhymes
Recorded at GCR Audio (Buffalo, N.Y.)
Mixed/edited/produced by Brad Lauchert/ BadTone Productions (Buffalo, N.Y.).
Mastered by Adam Grover/ Georgetown Masters (Nashville, TN.).
Art by Nicholas Dowgwillo.
ONE of the worst things about music reviewing…
is that sense of predictability: reviewing the same sort of sounds; similar acts and artists- you get to the stage where music becomes stale and formulaic. This sensation is something that has been present lately: that feeling that a lot of the music (that is coming my way) does not break too far from the mould: predictable parables that leave little to the imagination; really does not linger too long. Gladly- and very much distinct from other acts- Tiny Rhymes arrive. A lot of my reviews emanate from the same sort of areas- the U.K. or Canada- yet Tiny Rhymes hail from Buffalo, N.Y.: my second trip to New York (having reviewed Ariana & the Rose) and my first to Buffalo- located in Western New York, on the eastern shore of Lake Erie. Buffalonians (the name given to native dwellers) are a diverse mixture- the population is divided between Hispanic, Black and White (with Asian and Native Americans among the mix). Recovering from economic downturn, Buffalo is a thriving economy (now): technology and financial services are big business; healthcare too- the area is bustling, in spite of economic issues (across other parts of the U.S.). Tiny Rhymes are not what you’d expect (from a band from Buffalo) and are exempt from cliché and stereotype: the group marry Chamber-Pop and Indie-Folk- a hypnotic pairing of dark tones and orchestral undertones. Before I continue my point, a bit of background is needed (provided by lead Sharon Mok):
“I’ve always played piano, but decided to pick up the guitar for this current batch of songs, and set out to create melodies influenced by my childhood experience with both Chinese opera and classical music. While writing and recording in Buffalo, I met cellist Katie Weissman and we instantly hit it off. Weissman’s diverse technique and smooth, dark melodies added necessary dimension to the songs.”
I know there is a lot of music out there; a huge pool of multifarious sounds: the media (and social media) tends to bring us only a select few; there is a lot of compartmentalisation- so much quality goes rushing by. Tiny Rhymes are a band that deserves wider acclaim: a group that dare to be different; break away from the mass of samey bands- their music cannot be ignore or overlooked. Chamber-Pop is a genre (many are) unfamiliar with; maybe some will balk or shy away- unware of what the sounds entail; how good it can be. Having listened to Tiny Rhymes- assessed their E.P. and its wonders- I am now a fan: I would urge everyone to take a sip of the Buffalo clan. Mainstream tastes tend to via towards Pop and Indie: there is wiggle room, yet there is still a rigid leaning towards tried-and-tested sounds. With the growth of Electro.-Pop and Indie music, tastes are starting to broaden: some long-forgotten sounds are resurfacing; great music is coming back to the fore. Tiny Rhymes are not quirky and divisive: their sounds are a concoction of everyday emotion and delicacy; orchestral swathes and pin-sharp vocals- something that is a rarity in today’s scene. I hope that more follow suit; start to learn from Tiny Rhymes: they are getting a lot of tongues wagging (in New York); spiking the public imagination- it cannot be too long before they arrive here. In the U.K. we have some ‘fairly’ similar acts- the likes of Little Sparrow (a solo artist) spring to mind- yet nothing quite like Tiny Rhymes- their brand of song would be celebrated over here. I do hope the group comes to London and play: there are clubs and venues that would house them without hesitation- the capital would love to see them. The group’s E.P. has arrived; a four-track collection that demonstrates a wealth of treasure: stunning beauty and fragility; fantasy and reality- a stunning collection of songs (that linger long in the mind).
When it comes to comparing Tiny Rhymes’ work (with their previous cannon of songs) it is quite difficult- being so fresh from the blocks, the Buffalo group are a sapling sound. The Cape– a single released last year- was replete with romanticism and yearning; jumping strings and crashing waves- a touching story with some stunning images. Since then, the group has not varied their sound too much: they sound more confident and intuitive. Tiny Rhymes started off strongly and impressive: over the course of this year they have cemented their sound; brought in new influence and elements- augmented their beauty and wonder. It is hard to compare Tiny Rhymes to another; few other acts spring to mind- they are a rare breed indeed. Chamber/Folk music does have its patrons, yet none do things like the Buffalonians: few acts are quite as original and ornate as the group. Taking elements from bygone acts; a sprinkling of contemporary Chamber-Pop/Folk acts, Tiny Rhymes bring in their own voice and flair- not wanting to come across sounding like anyone else. If you are new to their music, I would suggest investigating the (genres of music they play) and getting some background: even acts like The Staves and The Unthanks can be traced (to Tiny Rhymes) – there is that similar sense of beauty and tenderness. What makes Chamber-Pop so beautiful is the mixture of instruments: yearning strings and low-high blends- orchestral grandeur and romantic delicacy. If you’re a fan of other genres- and not usually tempted to the kind of music the band plays- I would advise experimentation: they are well worth your time; a valuable addition to anyone’s collection.
Arrows leads A Kinder History; it does so with some tremendous beauty. The song’s initial notes pair plinking notes and tripping dance; a myriad of trickling cascade- a balletic version of a Disney score. Merry and romantic; light and breezy, the listener is welcomed with a warm and intriguing heart- you are never sure quite what is coming next. “If memory of you finds me sleeping…” open the track- the lyrics in the early stages are clever and oblique- where there is a sense of separation and remembrance. Employing some deft wordplay, the subjects of dreams and memories are introduced: our heroine will (not forget her man) until she is dreaming- she wants to re-write a kinder history. There seems to be some regret and lingering doubts: our lead wants her man to think of/remember her; not sure if he will. As I stated, there is some obliqueness and ambiguity: your mind and heart converge down different roads; never 100% sure whether there is resentment or contentment- I guess there is a little of both (in every word). After Dan Schwach’s dizzying glockenspiel; some terrific strings (from Katie Weissman and Kathryn Kock) it’s Mok’s vocal that steps into the spotlight- narrating her tale with stunning passion. Mok’s female companions lend their voice, yet Mok stands out front: that blend of child-like innocence and womanly strength radiates and compels. Superbly delivered- she delineates her words with a real sense for mood and pace- you are hooked in and seduced. The song looks at the present and past: Arrows mixes the physical with metaphorical; exploring love and innocence- a rhapsody of heartfelt emotions. Our heroine looks back at childhood- where she had all the time in the world- and the present- where she and her lover have none. One is never sure whether the relationship is intact or broken; if there is a parting or doubts- the words leave room for interpretation. To my mind, I envisaged two lovers split and fractured: maybe overcome by modern strains and the distance between them; there is that need to return to the past- where innocence and simplicity were so much more favourable. You can sense that yearn and sigh; that need to restart things- make life less complicated and fraught. Never overly-anxious and full-on, each line is delivered with softness and consideration (yet there is plenty of passion and conviction). It is not just Sharon Mok’s show: her cohorts ably support her; adding symphonic lust and immense beauty. In addition (to some mesmeric) backing vocals, each instrument adds huge weight- the strings lift the song to heavenly heights. As the song progresses, the travelogue continue: each party seems to be bound in a different direction; their paths never crossing- perhaps they will meet by chance? With our heroine moving and dreaming- her subject on her mind- maybe they will see one another; perhaps things have finished for good? Friends and companions, that dislocation-cum-break-up mandate is a well-worn subject- yet Tiny Rhymes present it in a very personal and distinct way (never succumbing to lyrical cliché). Before the 3:00 marker, our heroine makes a plea: “Don’t come back for me.” There is that sense of succeeding; letting events take their turn- and giving up on a dream-like meeting. With her voice starting to show its emotions, Mok reaches her impassioned peak- recollection and truth have caused their damage. Wordless vocals enter the fray- as punctuation and sense of relief- and the listener is forced to reflect. You find yourself emphasising with the heroine: wanting things to be different but knowing they never could. Adding lightness to proceedings, Schwach’s glockenspiel comes back in- that candid hop and sweet-natured chime prevents the vocals from becoming too maudlin and weighed-down. Supported by some superb production values- that makes the song sound like it is coming live from a cathedral/large room- you feel as though you are there; yet there is some intimacy to things. The production makes the song vast and impressive yet mollifies too- at times, it sounds like this is a riparian lovers’ call (as though you are being serenaded by the riverside). Quite an impressive and laudable step, it brings Arrows fully to life. In the closing stages, unity comes through: each instrument and voice blends in; the wordlessness augments and swims; the band notch up the offensive- reaching spine-tingling levels. Scene-closing and evocative, the final notes are beautifully escheated- and you find yourself seeking more; continue that superb and entrancing sound.
Applause should be meted out to each Tiny Rhymes member. Mok’s lead voice- and her lyrical direction- are at the forefront. Her soothing and delicious tones are the perfect clothing to an amazing body of work: a song that resonates with all, yet feels deeply personal and special. Her narrative and wordplay is incredible and stunning; her voice constantly engaging and gorgeous- few other leads could achieve such a feat. The strings-and-vocals combination of Weissman and Kock is to be commended: not only exceptional players, their tones fit perfectly (alongside Mok); adding beauty and weight- lifting words and lines to unbeatable realms. Perfectly in-step, the trio work wonderfully off one another- there is a clear love and affection; a natural bond that ekes through in every note. Glockenspiel and other notes are supremely delivered (by the rest of the band). The glockenspiel incorporates delicate beauty and crystal-like fragility; one of the defining aspects of Arrows. When the band unite and weave (in and out of one another) the biggest chills are elicited: the bond they all share makes the song such a thing to behold. Arrows is the perfect lead-off track; a perfect starting-point for A Kinder History. The song showcases the band’s core strengths: personal and relatable scenes; stunning vocals and harmonies- authentic and genuine Chamber-Pop majesty; gorgeous string and percussion. If you need an escape; get your mind off of modern life- investigate this stunning track. It will melt the woes and raise a smile: when it comes down to it, how many other songs do that?
It is great to discover something genuinely wonderful: an act that comes out of nowhere; something unexpected- music you would never (have otherwise) heard. Since reviewing Tiny Rhymes, I have looked into Buffalo’s music: the area fascinates me and I was keen to check out Tiny Rhymes’ colleagues and peers- who the movers and shakers were. Few local acts resonate as hard (as Tiny Rhymes) yet Buffalo boasts some terrific music: from Goo Goo Dolls to Gym Class Heroes, there is a lot of fervent activity. By and large, the music (coming out of Buffalo) sticks to the Rock-cum-Alternative territories- with some Metal and Folk peppered around the edges- so Tiny Rhymes are still quite unique. In such a bustling and developing region, you’d expect some contrast. Let’s hope more acts follow suit: we have too many bands that play it hard and heavy; tend to prefer something more forceful and to-the-point- Tiny Rhymes’ nuanced and uplifting beauty should not be overlooked. Arrows is the perfect starting place- when investigating the group- and their E.P. (A Kinder History) is packed with stunning moments. Oh, Amaranta! Is a tear-inducing sway; it begins with aching strings- the introduction then is overthrown with a beautiful and sighing vocal. With its bare and natural production values, the song has a pastoral sound- a great live-sounding tone that makes each word more authentic and tangible. Bubbling and rising, the song goes through waves and swells: rising like a phoenix, before demurring into the shadows. Relentlessly touching, it is a song that gets under the skin: Mok’s lead vocal is entrancing and impassioned throughout. Gold Mountain is similarly wistful and cooing: in the early stages it boasts similar traits to its predecessors. Before long the group layer in; the sound becomes larger and more atmospheric: it is one of the most evocative takes of the E.P. Putting your mind in the wide open; soaring across the sky, the track is stunningly sweeping; magisterial and graceful- a wonderful thing. Home is the E.P.’s closer- and perhaps an appropriately-titled swansong- which sees Tiny Rhymes sign-off in style. Tender and soft, trembling and honest, our heroine is focused on the door- looking to “run right out.” There is a need for escape; get away from things and start again- find some sense of personal relief. Overall, the E.P. has a consistent and loyal sound: the group do not stray too far from their signature feel; choosing to variate from track-to-track- never breaking away from that core of beauty and ethereal delight. The four tracks are a testament to study and intelligence: a group that sound contemporary and classic; cultured and everyday- able to unite the mainstream with the underground. Baroque-Pop is a genre that showcases many legends- from Belle and Sebastian to Florence and the Machine; Fiona Apple to The Decemberists- and is a very popular (and profitable) style of music. Chamber-Pop manages to take in Baroque elements, whilst employing classical edges: Tiny Rhymes have a keen ear for Folk and Indie; never willing to become rigid and restrained. I have a lot of genuine respect for Tiny Rhymes: in a music world of homogenization, they are separating themselves with distinction- the signs are all very positive. With their E.P. gaining some heated praise, the U.S. newbies will take great solace and heart: hopefully it will not be too long before a second E.P. (or L.P.) is introduced. As mentioned earlier, it would be great to see them (the band) in London: hear that stunning music up close and personal. Arrows is a perfect song for the season: filled with sunshine and warmth, insight and mystery, make sure you do not let it pass by. Having bogged-down in a sea of predictable acts, it is nice to regain some sense of focus and difference: it is my hope some similarly-ambitious acts come my way. If you need a break from the heaviness of Rock and Indie; the staleness of Pop; the rank-and-file acts, then get involved with Tiny Rhymes: a soothing and medicinal balm that counteracts the stresses of modern life. Brimming with talent and beauty; exceptional songwriting and exemplary performances- they are one of the most tight-knit and close groups I have ever heard. Long may their success continue; they have overcome the first hurdle: their music is catching on and growing; their name promoted and celebrated- tiny steps, but vastly important ones. It is wholly conceivable Tiny Rhymes will be playing internationally; creating another E.P. (and many more after); going on to great things. In a music world packed and expanding…
FEW survive to see the day.
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