- FLATLINE – Two Feet (3)
- NOT DEAD YET – Lord Huron (1)
- SHY AWAY – twenty øne piløts (2)
- WE ARE BETWEEN – Modest Mouse (9)
- METRONOME – Polarizer (6)
- FOLLOW YOU – Imagine Dragons (7)
- SAVE YOUR TEARS – The Weeknd (8)
- BREAK MY BABY – KALEO (11)
- BED HEAD – Manchester Orchestra (12)
- ROSE HIPS – Dawning (4)
- BREATHE – Ships Have Sailed (5)
- WELCOME TO THE PARTY – Jack Droppers & the Best Intentions (19)
- AT HOME IN THE DARK – Au Gres (10)
- HYPOTHETICALS – Lake Street Dive (13)
- CAN WE GO BACK – The Frontier (17)
- TYPHOONS – Royal Blood (18)
- COME FIND ME BACK – Philip Morgan Lewis (21)
- MARTYR – Oli Barton & the Movement (22)
- SINNER – Young Decades (23)
- YOUR POWER – Billie Eilish (24)
- BETTER – Michigander (25)
- BLACK DAYS – Amongst Liars (15)
- WAY LESS SAD – AJR (16)
- CRAWLING KINGSNAKE – The Black Keys (26)
- LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN – Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic (20)
- I NEED YOU – Jon Batiste (14)
- ALL YOU EVER WANTED – Rag’n’Bone Man (27)
- ZITTI E BUONI – Måneskin (29)
- HIGHER POWER – Coldplay (30)
- NOTHING2 – Strange Souvenirs (N)
Alain Dorra is a French musician and composer who creates a unique brand of electronic music, featuring his terrific guitar work in a starring role. His influences include such acts as Tangerine dream, Ashra, Ronny Jordan, Morcheeba, Mahavishnu and Soft Machine, as well as early Pink Floyd and Scandinavian jazz. He’s released quite a bit of music over the past three years or so, and his songs have been played on radio stations across Europe and the UK, including Deep Kulture, WIM radio, PRYSM radio, Décibel radio, Sword UK radio, Radio Three D. and Groover, as well as in London and Paris clubs.
At the end of May, Alain released his latest EP Pelican Spirit, featuring four relatively short instrumental tracks with a total run time of just under eight minutes. But what the tracks might lack in length, his deft guitar playing and the variety of sounds and moods of each track more than make up for it, resulting in a wonderfully engaging little collection of songs. “Mystical Teapot” kicks things off with a thumping EDM beat that immediately has our hips in motion, making it a perfect tune for those sweaty nights at the club. Alain’s shimmery guitar work is fantastic, finding a sweet spot between jangle and funk.
“Blue Desert” has a hypnotic deep house groove, with fascinating funky guitar notes that almost sound at times like horns. As it’s title would suggest, “Galactic Heart” has a darker, more spacy vibe, thanks to it’s strong pulsating beat and funky, psychedelia-tinged guitars. Alain’s guitar prowess really shines on the contradictorily-named “Short Eternity”. His guitar work here is truly exquisite – all jangly and bluesy, and soaked in reverb. The track’s languid, jazzy vibe and otherworldly synths are the perfect accompaniment to the amazing guitars, making this a standout track for me. But truth be told, all four tracks are great, so give this a listen!
Here’s the EP on YouTube:
Since forming in 2018, Dutch indie band Morgendust have been building a loyal following both at home and abroad on the strength of their outstanding brand of alternative rock music. The Zwolle, Netherlands-based quintet is comprised of Marco de Haan (lead vocals, guitars), Ron van Kruistum (guitars, backing vocals), Iwan Blokzijl (keyboards, backing vocals), Dario Pozderski (bass, backing vocals) and Job Noordmans (drums & percussion). All are talented and accomplished musicians with years of collective experience playing in other bands and as session musicians, imparting their music with a maturity and worldliness that comes from having lived on this earth for a while and experiencing the joys and pains of life, love and relationships. Through intelligent, thoughtful lyrics, they tell stories that everyone can relate to, and package them with exquisite rock melodies and beautiful instrumentation.
In September 2019 they released their stunning debut EP Storm Will Come, then followed up in 2020 with a string of excellent singles: “Alien”, inspired by the story of band member Dario, who as a young man fled his war-torn homeland of Bosnia, “Sundays”, a moving song exploring feelings of choking from a lack of freedom due to abuse of power by others, contrasted with a sunny melody, and “Hands”, an uplifting tribute to all the craftsmen and women around the world who take care of us, using their hands to make, build, create and heal. (You can read my reviews of the EP and two of the singles by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.)
On June 11th, they dropped a terrific new single “Easy Way Out“, and today I’m happy to premier the marvelous video they produced for the track. The band says the song is “about former lovers, premonitions and escape routes”, with lyrics inspired by Jonas Wergeland, the main character in the trilogy by Norwegian writer Jan Kjaerstad. Marco explains further: “After reading the first novel, around the end of the nineties, I got in touch with him via email. We had a nice conversation about his books and plans. In this trilogy (The Seducer, The Conqueror, The Discoverer), a man looks back on his life and all the women, music and art that made him the man he is today. A lot of my reading experiences fell in place. You never get out of a relationship easily, you always take something out of it, or with you. At least yourself. It defines you. The mantra ‘Stop wasting time’ has become a motto, but easier said than done… So this song was waiting to be released for another project I did with Ron, a long time ago. Luckily, Iwan brought it back to life with fresh new sounds, but the composition, structure and intention of this song stayed intact.”
“Easy Way Out” was produced by Morgendust, mixed by Iwan Blokzijl (who also created the artwork from a photo by Alain Hermans), and mastered by Erwin Maas. The song has an upbeat retro 80s vibe, with Ron’s animated guitar, Dario’s thumping bassline, Iwan’s colorful, swirling keyboards and Job’s lively drums, all melding together perfectly to create an exuberant wall of sound. Marco has a vibrant and warm singing voice, and his plaintive vocals are especially nice on this track. The guys clearly enjoy making music together, and their playful sense of humor shines through in the fun black and white video showing them performing the song in a very tight space. I love it!
I came to you with nothing but my heart in hand
It took some time to realize, I didn’t understand
I ignored the warning signs in my head
Stop wasting time
I‘ve served all different queens and each one had its flaws
To learn to be obedient in absence of the law
And learn about the warning signs in my head
Stop wasting time
Stop wasting time
You’ll never get the chance
We never agreed to allow
There is never an easy way out
I came to you with nothing but my heart in hand
All this time I realized, I didn’t understand
Living with the warning signs in my head
Stop wasting time
Stop wasting time
Stop wasting mine
You’ll never get the chance again
We never agreed to allow
There is never an easy way out
There is never an easy way out
I first learned about silky-voiced singer/songwriter Shimmer Johnson in early 2018, when she followed me on Twitter. She has a beautiful and resonant singing voice that puts her in the company of other contemporary female vocalists like P!nk, Kelly Clarkson and Sara Bareilles. Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, she started out writing and recording Country songs, but wanting to broaden her musical horizons, a few years ago she relocated to Los Angeles. In addition to her amazing vocal talents, she’s also a fine guitarist and pianist, and has been working with several songwriters and producers. In the process, she’s recorded and released an impressive repertoire of stellar songs.
Shimmer creates and sings lovely and compelling songs about life and love that we can all relate to. Her clear, pitch-perfect vocals are strong, but with a raw vulnerability that she skillfully employs to beautifully convey the subtle yet powerful emotions expressed in her heartfelt lyrics, enabling us to connect with her songs on a deeply personal level. Her 2017 single “Pride” has been streamed more than 239,000 times on Spotify, while her gorgeous 2020 single “Never Be the Same” has garnered 100,000 streams. I first featured her on this blog in February 2018 when I reviewed her uplifting single “Getaway”, and this past January, I featured her single “Love is Possible“ on one of my Fresh New Tracks posts. She followed that single in February with her exquisite debut album Inner Me, and now returns with her latest single “It’s Fate’s Turn“. The song was co-written with Thornton Douglas Cline and her husband Corey, and released via Catalyst Records.
On this track, Shimmer’s vocals sound more emotional and fragile than on many of her previous songs. She sings with a trembling vibrato that quite effectively conveys a sense of both apprehension and firm resolve as she dips her toe into uncertain waters, hoping that this time things will work out. Musically, the song has a languid, hauntingly beautiful melody that’s driven forward by the wonderful interplay between emotive piano keys and shimmery guitars, complementing each other quite nicely in the creation of an enchanting soundscape for Shimmer’s bewitching vocals.
The lyrics speak of never giving up on finding happiness and fulfillment in life, no matter how many roadblocks you’ve encountered and missteps you’ve experienced along the way: “I felt defeated, over and over again. I felt cheated, how would I ever win? Life is hard, when easy becomes the game. Take a spin to bet on a chance of change. You can be wrong a thousand times. Then suddenly, everything’s right. It’s fate’s turn. Don’t turn off the lights. Lessons learned. My lining is in sight. Cause this time it’s real. No one tells me how I feel.”
“It’s Fate’s Turn” is another in an unbroken string of superb singles by this incredibly talented vocalist. I’m confident we’ll continue to hear more great music from Shimmer well into the future.
To learn more about Shimmer and her music, check out her Website
Virginia-based singer-songwriter Andrew Neil (full name Andrew Neil Maternick) is one of the more unique artists I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on this blog. I first wrote about him in November 2019, when I reviewed his third album Freak (which you can read here). Andrew is considered an “outsider” music artist similar to the late Daniel Johnston, and in fact, ranks as the #1 Best Outsider Artist on Ranker, just above Johnston (click this link to see the full list). The now 33-year old has faced a number of daunting life challenges that would have crushed many of us, but his strength and resilience, as well as the incredible love and support of his family and friends, have enabled Andrew to flourish as an artist.
I wrote extensively about his experiences in my previous review, but will summarize here to provide a bit of context. After growing up as a fairly typical kid and high school athlete, Andrew suffered a life-altering event in Spring 2009 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. The injury resulted in two significant changes for Andrew: 1) he began having a series of psychotic episodes, and 2) he started writing songs, despite the fact he’d never had any prior music training of any kind. During a psychotic episode in 2013, he stabbed his younger brother in the arm, which landed him in jail for seven months until his family and attorney convinced the prosecutor that Andrew needed help, rather than being incarcerated.
He was subsequently released and sent to a state mental hospital, where he received excellent treatment and learned to manage his illness. During the three years there, he wrote and recorded around 70 songs, on top of the 250+ songs he’d written since his 2009 accident. Andrew writes his honest, deeply personal songs entirely by ear, first creating the melodies on his rhythm guitar, then recorded songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray would later upload to a computer. Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville. (He now lives independently.) Upon his release, he produced his first album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 melancholy yet optimistic songs he hoped might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. The songs were mastered by Vlado Meller, otherwise they were left pretty much in the raw, lo-fi condition as Andrew had recorded them.
In 2018, Andrew recorded his second album Merry Go Round, this time working with a number of accomplished musicians to help give his songs a more polished, fuller sound, as well as a more alt-rock vibe than his folk-oriented first album. He entered the studio again in 2019 to record what would become his third album Freak, and as he was wrapping up the recording he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He underwent a grueling round of chemotherapy while the album was being mixed and mastered, and he and his family started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for album production and marketing, garnering even greater support than expected. The album, an ambitious work featuring 14 tracks addressing topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity, was released that October to widespread acclaim.
His cancer thankfully now in remission, Andrew began recording songs during the Covid lockdown, this time with only his own quirky, endearing vocals and vintage nylon string Ovation acoustic guitar, accompanied on some tracks by subtle keyboard overdubs. The songs came together as his fourth album Sunny Side, which is being released digitally on June 15th via Tree Heart Records. The album will become available on CD on June 30th, along with a limited press vinyl version scheduled for release in October. The songs have a mellower and more lo-fi folk sound than the ones on Freak. About Sunny Side, Andrew states “I believe the album will appeal to people who really dig the lo-fi, outsider vibe. I hope my music will be recognized as something genuine; something that people can relate to and let them know they are not alone in this jello world.” The imaginative artwork for the album cover was created by Boston artist Daniel Benayun.
The album kicks off with “Gamblin’ Man“, a pleasing folk tune with an allegorical story about a reckless soul who always lives life on the edge. Andrew’s knack for writing seemingly simple yet profound lyrics with a powerful message is exemplified in these verses: “Out in the desert sun I made friends with a scorpion. We talked about how we feel, then I said shuffle up and deal. We played till the sun went down, full moon was wearin’ a crown. I cheated, gave myself some kings. Then I felt how a scorpion stings.”
On the optimistic title track “Sunny Side“, he advises us to not wallow in our problems, but instead try and find something good in every situation: “I buy flowers. She asked what for. Just in case the undertaker comes knockin’ on my door, cause tomorrow’s no guarantee. Let’s take our sorrow, and drown it in the sea. So keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side. Keep on the sunny side of life./ This life is a gift. It makes me high, high, high like a cliff.” He continues along a similar vein with the grunge-tinged “Lemonade“, urging us to make lemonade out of those lemons life sometimes throws our way: “Make lemonade. Realize that we got it made. Make lemonade. Don’t be afraid. Even in hell, be thankful for shade./ Live with love, the world is ours.”
Andrew’s strong sense of spirituality, love and faith in humanity is expressed on several tracks. On “One Big Family“, he sings of how, despite our differences, we’re all human beings deserving of love and respect: “We are one big family. And you have a brother, a brother in me. Tough times do not last. Tough people do. And I feel so much tougher when I’m loved by you. And no one’s perfect yet; we all have flaws. But we still deserve gifts from Santa Claus.” He uses “Heaven” as a metaphor for love and empathy, rather than a biblical place: “Heaven, where hate is not allowed. Heaven, another word for love. Heaven, it’s not below, it’s not above, it’s in your heart.”
On the lovely, nearly six-minute long ballad “Awoke“, he sings of overcoming his past mistakes and feelings of hopelessness by accepting God’s love: “So many nights I wanted to cry. Wanted to fly away. This dream trope has come to an end. Stars explode, but you’re still my friend. And I’m still your friend. Cause I awoke to God’s mercy. We’re all thirsty for love.” And on the folksy final track “Thank The Lord“, he gives thanks for all the things that are important to him, and the positive role music plays in his emotional well-being: “Thank the lord for my friends. Thank the lord for family. Thank the lord for the music that lives inside, inside of me.”
Conversely, perhaps the most poignant track on the album is “Anymore“, where Andrew questions his faith, self-worth and direction in life: “You can lie, and say it’s all part of God’s plan. Cause I don’t want to grow up, I don’t want to grow old. I don’t want to shut up, I don’t want to be told what to do, anymore. I don’t want to give up, I don’t want to go on. Just so tired of being so strong. Don’t know what to do anymore./ You can blame, you can blame me for not being a good man.” Musically, his strummed acoustic guitar is accompanied by some somber but lovely keyboards that create a haunting soundscape for his introspective and melancholy vocals.
“Dog Without A Bone” is about having pretty much everything one could want in life, with the exception of a romantic partner to spend time with. Andrew uses clever and pretty direct metaphors to describe the feeling that something crucial to his well-being is missing: “Got a million reasons to live. I’m giving everything I have to give. Yet I’m so tired of being alone. Just a dog with no bone. A drunk without a drink. A cloud without a sky./ I have a lot, but I want more. Is there someone out there that could make me sore.” And once you’re in a relationship, conflicts and disagreements will undoubtedly arise, which he cheekily addresses on the charming “Kinda Turns Me On“: “When you get so mad, it kinda turns me on. Tell me what I did wrong. Cause baby it turns me on. Honestly, I want to grow old with you. Live the American dream, red, white and blue. Have a bunch of kids, and grandchildren too.”
Sunny Side is a wonderful album, filled with honest, heartfelt songs about faith, love and hope, and I’m confident all of us can relate to at least some of them. Andrew Neil is a thoughtful songwriter with a special gift for getting right to the heart of things in a way that few other artists can – or are even able – to do. I’ve grown quite fond of him, and hope he’ll continue writing interesting and compelling songs for us to enjoy.
- NOT DEAD YET – Lord Huron (1)
- SHY AWAY – twenty øne piløts (3)
- FLATLINE – Two Feet (5)
- ROSE HIPS – Dawning (4)
- BREATHE – Ships Have Sailed (2)
- METRONOME – Polarizer (7)
- FOLLOW YOU – Imagine Dragons (8)
- SAVE YOUR TEARS – The Weeknd (10)
- WE ARE BETWEEN – Modest Mouse (21)
- AT HOME IN THE DARK – Au Gres (9)
- BREAK MY BABY – KALEO (12)
- BED HEAD – Manchester Orchestra (13)
- HYPOTHETICALS – Lake Street Dive (11)
- I NEED YOU – Jon Batiste (6)
- BLACK DAYS – Amongst Liars (16)
- WAY LESS SAD – AJR (17)
- CAN WE GO BACK – The Frontier (18)
- TYPHOONS – Royal Blood (19)
- WELCOME TO THE PARTY – Jack Droppers & the Best Intentions (20)
- LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN – Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic (14)
- COME FIND ME BACK – Philip Morgan Lewis (23)
- MARTYR – Oli Barton & the Movement (24)
- SINNER – Young Decades (25)
- YOUR POWER – Billie Eilish (26)
- BETTER – Michigander (27)
- CRAWLING KINGSNAKE – The Black Keys (29)
- ALL YOU EVER WANTED – Rag’n’Bone Man (30)
- ALL MY FAVORITE SONGS – Weezer (15)
- ZITTI E BUONI – Måneskin (N)
- HIGHER POWER – Coldplay (N)
With her exquisite compositions, innovative music styling and beguiling vocals, electronic artist DeLaurentis is a rising star on the French music scene and beyond. The talented singer-songwriter, composer and producer has had music in her blood her whole life. Growing up in a home with a musician father, she early on discovered her love for music, and learned to compose music using keyboards, analog and contemporary synthesizers and computers. Drawing inspiration from some of her favorite artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto, Max Richter, Brian Eno, Oneothrix Point Never and the great Laurie Anderson, she creates electronic music characterized by bewitching piano melodies and cinematic walls of sound. She also uses synthesizers to manipulate her voice so that it becomes another instrument in itself.
She chose the moniker DeLaurentis for her music project and relocated to Paris in 2015. That June, she released her debut self-titled EP DeLaurentis, an impressive work featuring five beautiful tracks. Since then, she’s dropped several more EPs, including Brand New Soul, Big Part of a Big Sun, and Classical Variations, Pt. 1., as well as a number of remixes. She’s been featured in major French publications such as Trax, Rock & Folk and Les Inrockuptibles, and some of her songs have been used in French commercials. Her single “A Big Part of A Big Sun” was featured in the TV series How to Get Away With Murder.
On June 11th, DeLaurentis released a beautiful new track “Be A Woman“, the third single from her forthcoming debut full-length album UNICA, due for release in September. The single follows two previous singles, “Life” and “Pegasus”, which will also be included on UNICA, a concept album inspired by the strong connection she developed with her machines. Beginning in the summer of 2018, DeLaurentis spent two years in a studio on the Saint-Martin Canal in Paris, working with her synthesizers and computers. In the process, she developed an almost mystical connection between the human and digital worlds, which led to her creation of UNICA, a digital-tale told in ten tracks exploring the emotions between a woman and her machine. She collaborated with Dan Black, Yaron Herman, Daymark and Fabien Waltmann in the album’s production, and experimented in a recording collaboration with the artificial intelligence developed by the Spotify CTRL research lab supervised by SKYGGE on the album track “Somewhere in Between”.
Regarding her inspiration for “Be A Woman”, DeLaurentis explains: “I got the idea for this song after a hypnosis session, where I relived the same scene three times. First in a subjective way, then in a meta position (by being outside the scene, in observation) then a third time by imagining a double, a new version of myself that would take me by the hand, getting me out of this situation and took me to Sunset Boulevard where we would rollerblade towards the beach and the sunset! This double is UNICA, the one I call my digital sister. It was in this state of hypnosis that I first met her. In this initiatory journey, she guided me and whispered to me these words: ‘You’ll be more than kings, more than gods…you’ll be a woman’ in reference to the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling ‘you’ll be a Man, my son!’ but in a feminine version.”
The song opens with an enchanting piano arpeggio, immediately drawing us in as we want to hear more. DeLaurentis’ soothing, breathy vocals enter as she sings of her dream: “And I was there again with him. That cheap cafe. Evenin’. His words were arrows. I was the bird. The walls were green. The lights blurred. I felt that ice rush in my ears. And suddenly someone jus’ like me appeared and she took my hand. And we ran.” The music gradually expands into a gorgeous soundscape of swirling atmospheric synths, strings, hypnotic percussion and deep synth bass, while the piano arpeggios continue moving the song forward. Her vocals are lovely and captivating, and I adore her soaring harmonies in the choruses. It’s a brilliant track.
Header photo by Celine Van Heel
Soda Cracker Jesus is the brainchild of the wildly imaginative and enormously talented singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane. The Tacoma-based musician has been involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene for nearly 40 years. Previously a member of Tacoma punk band Baby Knockors and 80s rock band Strypes, he’s currently front man and ringmaster for psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog. More recently, he helped produce the wonderful debut album Butterfly Hand Grenade for young up-and-coming rockers Stargazy Pie (which I reviewed), and is an active mentor in the successful Ted Brown Music Program, where he helps aspiring northwest musicians hone their craft.
Lane created Soda Cracker Jesus to express his “more punky power pop side”, with music influenced by acts like the Beatles, Kinks, Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope, XTC and more. He’s also been honest and candid on his social media about his former struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, and the happiness and joy that sobriety now brings him. The seasoned artist makes music that looks to the future, but also understands the power of the past and that duality helps shape his unique and signature sound. On April 1st, he released his Soda Cracker Jesus debut single “My Anthem” (which I also reviewed), and today he returns with his follow-up single “Drug My Soul“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The timely song explores the addictive nature of social media, and the alternate realities we can become immersed in if we’re not careful.
Lane further elaborates: “‘Drug My Soul’ is my perception of social media, at least for me. And it can be very seductive. I have a 12-year-old daughter who is very engaged in it, and I’ve seen it be a very good tool for information and exchanging ideas for her, but at times it exerts a pull that is similar to whatever one’s drug of choice is. (That’s based on my personal experience as a drug addict who’s been in recovery for a while.) And I’m no different. I can get lost in that shit if I’m not careful. And the fact that one can create a narrative of a reality that does not exist is weird and fascinating at the same time. I believe when all is said and done we are judged by our actions in the real physical world. As for the recording of the song, I again did all instruments, voices and production. I’m just trying to get better. Another cool thing for me was to play some slide guitar on this track. I played it a lot as a youngster and this was the first time in many moons that I’ve done that.”
As with “My Anthem”, once again Lane serves up a rousing post-punk banger, replete with a crushing mix of gnarly guitars layered over an assertive bassline and the kind of explosive, foot-stomping percussion that really gets the blood pumping. His instrumentation, arrangement and production values are all first-rate. The song opens with an ominous drumbeat and a teenage boy’s voiceover saying “I made a new friend“, followed by a woman (who could be his mother) asking “Real or imaginary?“, to which he replies “Imaginary.” Lane’s colorfully expressive vocals enter the proceedings as the music ramps up to an electrifying, almost menacing soundscape that continues for the remainder of the song. Things end rather abruptly with graphic sounds of a speeding car violently crashing into something. Wow!
All my friends are just pretend
Nothing more than spreadsheets
All my friends won’t let me send
A different point of view
Stumbling down the rabbit hole
Chasing the feeling and all I want is more
Drug My Soul
Fill In the Hole
Sometimes the best things are born of chance encounters, and that’s exactly the case with the new EP The Silent Sea, a collaboration between French artist Clint Slate and Scottish singer-songwriter Iona James. Coming from different worlds, the two met serendipitously in early 2021 after entering a songwriting competition hosted by a radio station. The two hit it off professionally, and decided to write songs and record them together. The four-track EP The Silent Sea is their first in a series of planned releases.
For a bit of background, Clint Slate is the musical alter-ego of French singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gregg Michel. Based in Paris, the versatile fellow has been involved in numerous projects as a singer, musician and actor over the years, and created Clint Slate (a variation of ‘clean slate’) in 2015 to further explore a more experimental side. He’s released three albums, beginning with this debut work Before the Dark, an exploration of his feelings of grief and loss after the death of his father. He followed in 2017 with his exquisite second album Woodn Bones, which was recorded in a single take and premiered in a live performance on the internet with a full band plus choir in a theatre. This past January, he dropped his third album Dragons, an innovative and imaginative genre-blended work inspired by his love of David Bowie’s album Earthling, which was itself based on the idea of a ‘cadavre exquis musical’ (or ‘exquisite musical corpse’). The brilliant album was created virtually and remotely, with the help of two other musicians, bassist Francesco Arzani and drummer Louison Collet. You can read my review of Dragons here.
Iona James is a nurse from Scotland with a life-long love of music. As a young child, she’d sing along with her mum to songs by the Bee Gees, Jackson 5 and Cyndi Lauper, then learned to appreciate classical music while playing in her school band. She later grew to love such diverse acts as Nirvana, Enya and The Cranberries, and began writing her own songs while learning to play guitar. She eventually joined the army and became a nurse, but continued to feed her passion for music by writing songs in secret. Iona made an attempt to satisfy her craving to be involved in music by joining the Scottish military wives’ choir, but it was her father-in-law urging her to do something she loved that finally compelled her to take a songwriting course. Meanwhile, working as a nurse during the pandemic brought anxiety, stress and dread, causing insomnia for her. She found solace in writing songs, and made a new year’s resolution to record one of them, which led to the release of her first single “To the Moon” this past January.
The first track “No Way Out” was released in advance of The Silent Sea on May 24th. The song opens with shimmery strummed guitar chords backed by spooky ethereal synths and handclaps, then Iona’s lovely vocals enter, accompanied by a warm bassline. Her vocals are soon joined by Clint’s as the music expands into a luxurious, moody soundscape, punctuated by jangly guitar and enchanting keyboards. The interplay between Iona and Clint’s vocals is really wonderful as they complement and play off each other in perfect harmony. The powerful lyrics seem to touch on dealing with personal demons and regrets over past mistakes: “Stranded alone, alone in the crowd. Prisoner in my own head. Can’t seem to find my way out. This haunted memory, merry go round. Grasping the last piece of straw. Can’t take this no more.” It’s beautiful and haunting, and I think it’s my favorite song on the EP.
“Tell Me Now” is a pleasing folk-pop song, with an opening guitar riff that sounds a bit like that in the 1978 hit “Reminiscing” by the Little River Band. The sunny, upbeat melody contrasts with the simple, bittersweet lyrics spoken between a couple coming to terms with the fact their relationship appears broken beyond repair: “Loving you was easy, but loving you could be so damn hard. I didn’t know trying to hold on would tear us apart.” “The Ticking Tide” is the longest and most musically complex of the four tracks, starting off with quirky synths that are replaced by a piano driven melody, which gradually evolves into more of a rock feel with urgent guitars and heavier percussion. Lyrically, the song touches on the relentless passage of time, and our powerlessness in its wake. Everything that’s happened in our past continues to shape who we are going forward, but we cannot let those things imprison us: “The ticking tide, waits for no one. Tomorrow is today. The ticking tide it tempts me, I’m drifting away. The ticking tide one day will set me free. Time is an ocean. We’re helpless, but time is in motion, forging us.”
The Silent Sea is a lovely little EP, and a fine debut effort by this talented duo. Iona and Clint are both great songwriters and vocalists in their own right, and their combined efforts have paid off nicely in the creation of these wonderful songs.
The special edition includes the EP, four alternate versions called ‘The Naked Sea’, a Radio Edit for ‘The Ticking Tide’ and the digital booklet.
This is a guest post by Nicole McCray, a freelance writer and self-described word ninja based in San Francisco. Nicole writes articles on a wide and eclectic range of topics, including health & wellness, lifestyle & beauty, music, movies, TV & filmmaking, and animals & pets. You can check out some of her work at https://www.nicolemccray.com/.
Five Up and Coming Artists To Expect Big Things From
Spring and summer seem to be the seasons for emerging musicians, and when live, in-person concerts become available to us again, we can bet that the concert venues will be packed to the doors for fans. The season typically brings us new artists we have never heard of, with headliners performing their trial runs for the well-knowns.
If you’re the type of person who likes to find new music to listen to, something inspirational or comforting, having more time than ever to sift through all the music that’s out there – this past year would have provided a great deal of extra time to do just that. Musicians have had to struggle with finding interesting ways to still be heard, mostly releasing their music to the digital world in music streams and downloads.
Though it is still unclear when fans can be let back in the stadiums in masses, one thing is for sure: the music doesn’t stop. Artists from across the country have used this downtime to do what they do best, and they are ready to share their messages with the world. Here are some up and coming artists that we are sure to expect some great things from.
This name may not surprise those who love Ariana Grande, as Victoria Monét was a collaborator and featured nominee of the Grammy Awards for her work on Grande’s album Seven Rings. Her own R&B style has taken her to some big places as of late. She has been involved in singing and performing from a young age, performing at her church and with youth teams. She took to songwriting in her teens, starting with an exchange of poetry with her cousin, and soon found a passion to write her very own music.
Monét was named Apple Music’s Up Next Artist in February 2020, having released her single “Experience” with DJ Khalid and SG Lewis, for an upcoming album called Jaguar. Jaguar is actually a three-part album series, and part one was released back in August. She has monopolized the Spotify fanbase, having over 3.6 million fans listening in each month, so the next two parts to her album series when released are sure to drive more success.
With the real name of Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho, it comes as no shock that the stage name of Arlo Parks is a name with a much easier roll off the tongue feel. The British singer-songwriter has taken the world by storm with her raw, confession-like style. 2020 was a big year in releasing multiple singles, including those of “Black Dog” and “Super Sad Generation,” and earning the BBC spot for Introducing Artist of the Year. She released her debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams at the end of January, and all twelve tracks have each been streamed over one million times on Spotify.
With influences including Jim Morrison, Sylvia Plath, and Otis Redding, and only being 20 years young, this poet-turned-artist is sure to dominate the music scene for years to come.
Known as “Detroit’s hidden gem”, Siena Liggins not only is making waves with music but also in the LGBTQ community. She is known for both her upbeat and somber music, having multiple moods for multiple projects. She’s developed a large following since the initial release of her single “Flowerbomb” which is a pop anthem for queer girls, exploring infatuation with a love interest you can’t get. Her single “Safeword” saw her take an edgier approach, speaking more frankly about sex. Her debut album Ms. Out Tonight, which dropped in April, has garnered critical and commercial acclaim for its authenticity and fresh hip-hop infused pop grooves.
Siena’s goal to reach people with her music is to make them feel happy. She wants people to enjoy, dance, and feel lighter. We will definitely be seeing (and needing) more of that happy, light feel after all that’s happened over the last year, and luckily she’s partnered with a licensing and custom music production services agency to help get her tracks in front of new audiences. We can definitely look forward to seeing Liggins charm her fans and light up the stage again soon.
If you’re looking for something in a more alternative genre, Easy Life is a great new group for you to follow. The Leicester, England-based band reached the number 7 spot on the UK Albums Chart with their EP Junk Food, these indie artists incorporate a funk-style motif within their music. The idea behind the band’s name is what they call “a form of escapism” in terms of getting away from all of the pressures of what life is to people.
A very deep-rooted philosophy that is brought out in their musical makings, mixing vintage, rap, and even gospel into their rightly entitled Mixtape. Just recently the band released their new album Life’s a Beach that focuses on combining artists’ storytelling with hip hop inspired musical force. Already rising in taste are his couple of new singles from the album such as “Ocean View”, “Daydreams”, and “A Message to Myself”. There will be much more to come from this group in the coming months and you definitely don’t want to miss out.
Melancholy and heartbreak – that’s what teenage and London-based (but born in New Zealand) singer-songwriter Molly Payton brings to the table. Her music is full of rich, band sounds that make her awesome singles “How To Have Fun” and “Going Heavy” seem like more modern rock anthems. This up and comer actually said that she does her best writing while boozed up and angry. In fact, she said though she doesn’t really have a writing process, most of her best songs have been written in just twenty minutes! The powerful vocals she demonstrates are attributed to having had and worked with a great singing teacher, who she claims also helped her gain the confidence to perform since she was terrified on the stage.
Payton’s goal with her music is to help people feel comforted by it, to find solace, and help with moving on from all the hard stuff. She’s actually said that she feels her song should go at the end of movies, when all is happy and the heroine is riding off into the sunset. When the live shows return and grow once again, there is no doubt that Payton’s rise will be ready for it.
There are many moments (especially over the last year) where music has helped us get through. The majority of us have probably spent more time alone in 2020 than any other year, and many of these artists have already had a part in creating new moods and providing some great music for us to turn to in that time. They have all bloomed more in this last year despite the barriers they have faced, so we can be sure to expect and look forward to hearing more from them.