- VIRUS – Vanity Fear (2)
- CAN I BELIEVE YOU – Fleet Foxes (1)
- FIRE FOR YOU – Cannons (4)
- CAN YOU FEEL THE SUN – MISSIO (5)
- THINK I’M CRAZY – Two Feet (3)
- SKIN AND BONES – Cage the Elephant (8)
- TROUBLE’S COMING – Royal Blood (9)
- DIRTY – grandson (10)
- LEAVE ME ALONE – I DON’T KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME (11)
- MARIPOSA – Peach Tree Rascals (6)
- THEREFORE I AM – Billie Eilish (12)
- HEAT WAVES – Glass Animals (13)
- 1ST TIME – Bakar (14)
- SHAME SHAME – Foo Fighters (7)
- THE ADULTS ARE TALKING – The Strokes (16)
- SOFIA – Clairo (17)
- COLD – Chris Stapleton (18)
- LEVITATING – Dua Lipa featuring DaBaby (N)
- HEADSTART – Jade Bird (23)
- VISITOR – Of Monsters and Men (15)
- BROKEN PEOPLE – almost monday (24)
- SATISFIED – Skar de Line (25)
- SLEEP – The Frontier (28)
- ALL ABOUT YOU – The Knocks featuring Foster the People (29)
- IS IT TRUE – Tame Impala (20) 22nd week on list
- SURVIVIN’ – Bastille (22)
- ARE YOU BORED YET? – Wallows featuring Clairo (19)
- SHAME – Saboteurs (30)
- THE BANDIT – Kings of Leon (N)
- FIRE – Two Feet (N)
For my latest installment of recent releases, I’m featuring four scintillating new singles by international artists (in alphabetical order) Favourite Daughter, Lazer Squad featuring Melotika, NAYAD and Alex Southey. Three of them – Favourite Daughter, Melotika and Alex Southey – are Canadian, Lazer Squad is German and NAYAD are Swedish.
“Long Distance” by Favourite Daughter
Favourite Daughter is the music project of Toronto-born and now Montreal-based singer-songwriter Julia Kennific, who’s just released her terrific debut single “Long Distance“. Drawing inspiration from such artists as Courtney Barnett, Hayley Williams and Julien Baker, she creates her own unique brand of infectious indie pop/rock through catchy melodies, honest, vulnerable lyrics and emphatic vocals. Julia wrote and sang vocals on the song, with assistance by Sam Eastman on guitars, Sam Donald on bass, Kate Markle on synths, Edward Scrimger on drums and Gabrièle Côté-LeBreux on percussion. The track was produced, recorded and mixed by Steven Gibb at Lites Down Studio, and mastered by Richard Addison at Studio Trillium Sound.
Julia elaborates on her impetus for writing the song: “I wrote ‘Long Distance‘ on an unplugged, rented electric guitar during a blackout on a night off from an opera gig I was doing in Halifax in the summer of 2019, in tears after a frustrating phone call with my then-girlfriend. We were spending a four month stretch away from each other while I travelled for work. Neither of us were communicating well, and our daily check ins became monotonous. Both of us kept up the charade that we were good, while allowing fear and resentment to build up, which ended up costing us the relationship entirely. It’s about trying to keep up appearances that everything’s fine, while running from the inevitable.“
The rousing song features lively rhythms and chugging guitars, creating a cheerfully upbeat but anxious vibe that builds as the song progresses. It all works beautifully to convey feelings of running away from one’s problems, yet knowing you’ll have to face up to them sooner or later: “So it’ll feel like I’m dying till it doesn’t anymore / I’ll rebuild again, Lord knows that I’ve done it before.“
“Eternal Eclipse” by Lazer Squad featuring Melotika
Lazer Squad is a versatile and talented electronic artist and producer from Germany who creates EDM, Synthwave and Nu-Disco music. He began his music career over 15 years ago as a drummer for a punk and metal band, as well as playing and touring with numerous bands as a backup musician, eventually transitioning to electronic music. In 2020, he wowed critics and fans alike with his excellent debut album Undead Nightmare, which he then followed with a series of singles. His latest effort is “Eternal Eclipse“, a mesmerizing EDM track featuring sultry vocals by Montreal-based singer-songwriter Melotika, a hard-working and charming electro pop artist for whom I have a special fondness. She’s released quite a lot of music over the past three years, and I’ve had the pleasure of featuring some of it on this blog. She will soon be dropping her debut album Dancing Without You.
“Eternal Eclipse” serves up an infectious EDM groove that aims straight for the hips, giving us three and a half minutes worth of joyous escapism. The timely lyrics describe what it feels like to be stranded in the middle of a global crisis with a loved one: “Everybody’s trippin’ out / Taken back, shaken up / Nobody even knows my name / Thinking about tearing down, and I’m singing a song. Singing alone. What can I do without you?” Have a listen and prepare to move those hips!
“Holy Lakes (Dusk)” by NAYAD
Stockholm-based duo NAYAD create dreamy psych lofi pop, which they humorously describe as “Tame Impala, Lana Del Rey and ABBA had an orgy and the result is us” – a pretty spot-on characterization of their gorgeous sound. Last summer, they burst onto the Swedish music scene with their breakout Swedish-language single “Ingen vet”, then followed up with the English-language “Don’t be mad if I don’t come along”, gaining airplay on Swedish National Radio and other radio stations. In November, they dropped their third single “Holy Lakes (Dusk)” a stunning track celebrating their love of nature. Although the single is now more than two months old, I’m featuring it now because they just released a beautiful video for the song.
The song is utterly captivating, with achingly beautiful piano keys, accompanied by stirring atmospheric synths creating an enchanting soundscape for their sublime vocal harmonies. About the fascinating video, they provide a bit of enlightenment: “NAYAD loves mother earth. We immediately had a clear picture that the video for ‘Holy Lakes (Dusk)’ would be a journey through lakes and mountains, because that is the theme of the song. We used an introductory film to national parks around North America and cut it together with other goodies we have collected over the years.” Much of the imagery they used includes old footage of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks.
“Rosie” by Alex Southey
Alex Southey is an indie folk singer-songwriter and musician currently based in Toronto. He’s released quite a lot of music over the past few years, including two albums: Christmastown in 2019 and last year’s You’re Not Just a Body to Me. Since that release, he’s dropped three singles in advance of his forthcoming third album …And the Country Stirred, due for release on February 5th. The latest of these three singles is “Rosie“, a hauntingly beautiful and deeply personal love song to his erstwhile hometown of Vancouver. Alex sang and played guitar, piano and the soaring string arrangements, Kenny Feinstein played fiddle, and Tommy Drinkard played pedal steel and mandolin. The track was produced and mixed by JUNO Award winner John Critchley and mastered by Aaron Hutchison.
About the song’s title, Alex elaborates: “Who is ‘Rosie’? I had been wanting to write about a place, but knew that I’d have to personify it. I was trying, failing, at growing rosemary naturally on my balcony and I began to find the word alluring. I fused it with this personification concept and it became the name of the person when in reality, the song is a love letter to Vancouver where I was born. I feel a sort of mysterious attraction to Vancouver. The city sells itself well, but has its pitfalls: rain all the time, darkness, basements, high price of living – it can all seep into you. For a long time, I was giving something to it and it didn’t give me anything back.” In his sublime and plaintive vocal style, he croons of his mixed emotions: “Rosemary, I can stay away / You say it well, then you take it away / Got no problem, follow up / You’re the one I say I’m from.“
It was a nice surprise to see The New Radicals perform their iconic 1998 hit “You Get What You Give” at today’s virtual “Parade Across America”, one of the events celebrating the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The song was one of my favorites of the late 1990s and, even though I was already in my mid 40s when it was released, its uplifting yet culturally rebellious lyrics strongly resonated with me. I also loved it’s exuberant vibe and fantastic melody.
The song also meant a lot to Joe Biden’s son Beau, who considered it an inspirational anthem that gave him strength and solace during his battle with the brain cancer that eventually took his life in 2015. In an article for Entertainment, Tyler Aquilina quoted a passage from President Biden’s 2017 autobiography Promise Me Dad: “During breakfast, Beau would often make me listen to what I thought was his theme song, ‘You Get What You Give’ by the New Radicals. Even though Beau never stopped fighting and his will to live was stronger than most — I think he knew that this day might come. The words to the song are: ‘This whole damn world can fall apart. You’ll be OK, follow your heart.”
The Biden inauguration committee invited The New Radicals – who broke up in 1999 just months after “You Get What You Give” was released – to perform less than a week before Inauguration Day. “If there’s one thing on Earth that would possibly make us get the band together, if only for a day, it is the hope that our song could be even the tiniest beacon of light in such a dark time,” band frontman Gregg Alexander said in a statement.
For their Inauguration Day performance, Alexander (wearing an identical hat to the one he wore in the song’s music video), dedicated their performance to Beau Biden and to the new administration, saying in a pre-taped introduction, “When we heard that ‘You Get What You Give’ was a Biden family anthem, we pledged that if Joe won, we’d get together and play our little song, both in memory and in honor of our new president’s patriot son Beau, and also with the prayer of Joe being able to bring our country together again.”
In addition to the song’s special meaning for the Bidens, it also served as future Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff’s (Kamala Harris’ husband) walk-out music during the 2020 campaign.
Wake up kids, we’ve got the dreamer’s disease
Age 14, we got you down on your knees
So polite, we’re busy still saying please
Frienemies, who when you’re down ain’t your friend
Every night we smash their Mercedes-Benz
First we run and then we laugh ’til we cry
But when the night is falling
You cannot find the light, light
You feel your dreams are dying
You’ve got the music in you
Don’t let go
You’ve got the music in you
One dance left
This world is gonna pull through
Don’t give up
You’ve got a reason to live
We only get what we give
I’m comin’ home baby
You’re tops, give it to me now
Four A.M. we ran a miracle mile
We’re flat broke but hey we do it in style
The bad rich
God’s flying in for your trial
But when the night is falling
You cannot find your friend (friend)
You feel your tree is breaking just bend
This whole damn world can fall apart
You’ll be OK, follow your heart
You’re in harm’s way, I’m right behind
Now say you’re mine
Don’t let go
I feel the music in you
What’s real can’t die
You only get what you give
You’re gonna get what you give
(don’t give up)
Just don’t be afraid to live
Health insurance rip off lying
FDA big bankers buying
Fake computer crashes dining
Cloning while they’re multiplying
Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson,
Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson
You’re all fakes
Run to your mansions
We’ll kick your ass in!
Don’t let go
One dance left
The fun video for “You Get What You Give” was filmed in the Staten Island Mall and directed by Evan Bernard. Alexander said he chose this setting because he saw the shopping mall “as a metaphor for society—a fake, controlled environment engineered to encourage spending”. The video shows a band of marauding teenagers, led by Alexander, wreaking havoc in the mall, terrorizing adults and moshing in the food court.
Justin Beynon is a musician and singer/songwriter based in Aberdare, Wales who I recently learned about when he reached out to me about his just-released debut album In Motion. Music has been a major part of Justin’s life since his childhood, and he’s played an active role in the Welsh music scene for the last 30 years. As a member of numerous bands over the years, he’s been featured on several albums, as well as collaborated on many projects as a session musician. He’s also taught guitar and piano for the last 24 years. Several years ago, he built his own home studio and began learning how to use new technology so that he could record the backlog of songs he’d been writing over the years. Last year he decided to produce his first solo album, and got busy recording songs in his home studio, singing and playing all the instruments himself, other than on four songs that he recorded in a studio with the help of a friend and former bandmate Meirion Townsend on drums. The tracks were then mixed and mastered by Matthew Evans.
Justin elaborates on the things that inspired him to record and release the album: “Long before this pandemic was even on the horizon, I had experienced some of the most difficult and emotionally challenging years to date. As a result, I began to feel my passion and drive for playing and creating music slowly ebb away. Things got really difficult. I wondered if I was done. But, as has been the case so may times in the past, music came to my rescue. This collection of songs started life as two separate EP’s but with a common thread, that life is constantly ‘in motion’, regardless of what gets thrown at us.
Putting this album together has been my way of navigating a very difficult time. It was a big step forward for me as a writer, to have the freedom to work to my own timescale and have the tools to record myself, without the restrictions of studio costs etc. It was also my first step in releasing my own music under my own name rather than a band name. I called the album ‘In Motion’ as it seemed an appropriate title to a life and body of work gathering momentum over time, from the past and into the future. It’s been my way of making sure that these songs don’t live and die in my head. I hope that whoever hears them will find something positive in them.”
Well, I must say that after listening to In Motion, I’ve found plenty to like. First off are Justin’s engaging and catchy melodies. As someone with no musical aptitude whatsoever, I’m always impressed at how musicians are able to write great melodies and bring them to life with thoughtful arrangements and masterful instrumentation, which brings me to the second aspect of his music. Justin is an excellent guitarist, seemingly at ease playing a wide variety of styles ranging from folk, country and Americana to blues rock. He’s also a fine pianist, as evidenced on the opening track “All Inside” and the beautiful “All the Way Through”. Then there are his intelligent, heartfelt lyrics that speak to us in deeply meaningful ways which are expressed through his wonderful, no-frills vocals that remind me at times of the great Tom Petty.
He hits the ground running with the aforementioned “All Inside“, a rousing folk rock song that seems to speak to a relationship that’s failed due to a break down in communication and trust. Justin starts things off with his strummed acoustic guitar, then layers assertive piano keys and a driving bass line to add emotional depth to the song as he plaintively sings, “You’ll land, just like you did last time. You’ll stand, by keeping it all inside / Tell me, the reason for your disguise. Help me by keeping it all inside.” His blistering electric guitar that enters in the bridge and continues through the end of the track ends things on a high note.
Justin taps into his more soulful side on “The Walkover Rule“, laying down bluesy riffs over a mellow and funky groove that make this one of my favorite tracks on the album. He really channels Tom Petty on the next three tracks. The first, “Who Delivers?“, is a lovely, contemplative song where he seems to question the existence of faith: “Everyone’s talking like they know something. Like they found God. It’s probably nothing. Everybody knows somebody who delivers.” On the Beatle-esque “Another Universe“, he sings of hope and healing: “Until the sun comes out and warms the air like it was nothing. The day’s begun, start it all again. The fire and the rain will wash it all away into another universe.” And “The Sticks and the Stones” sounds like the best song Tom Petty never recorded, with a mix of jangly and twangy slide guitars that give the song a wonderful country rock vibe.
The melancholy “All the Way Through” is another of my favorites, as I’m a sucker for beautiful piano melodies. With only his haunting piano keys and stirring strings as a backdrop, Justin sadly laments to his partner of her unwillingness to make their relationship survive: “There’s nothing I can do to get you back inside the simple life. It’s perfectly entwined, and the love we’re trying to find is true. I really wanna see this all the way through. I’ll take it to a place where there ain’t any rules. I’m all out of luck.”
The mood picks up considerably with “Cheap Coat and Broken Wings“, a lively folk rock tune with some great Southern rock guitars, and on “One Long Kiss Goodbye“, with it’s exuberant toe-tapping melody and wonderful mix of jangly, chiming and gnarly guitars, accompanied by sparkling piano keys and snappy drumbeats. “Paper” is a particularly beautiful track, thanks to Justin’s shimmery guitar work and earnest vocals, enhanced by what I’m guessing are his own backing harmonies. The song seems to be a continuation of the sentiments first introduced on the opening track “All Inside”: “I don’t want to leave it all to chance. Do you want to wait for something greater? You’ve always lived with flashing lights. All of your dreams wrote out on paper.” He closes things out with “The Things That You Do“, a pleasing Country rock song with more of his terrific guitar work, and lyrics whose meaning I can’t quite figure out, but seem to speak to a loved one who takes him for granted: “The reason I fight ain’t over you. It’s not about the things that you do. I try, and I try ’cause of you, and you alone.”
To sum up, In Motion is a very fine, well-crafted album, and a wonderful debut effort from this remarkably talented musician. I’m truly impressed by Justin’s songwriting, musicianship and vocals, as well as his outstanding production abilities, and he should be very proud of what he’s created here. If you like an eclectic mix of folk and country infused with elements of blues, rock and pop, then you will enjoy this album.
Tobisonics is the music project of Toby Davis, a longtime alternative electro-pop artist, composer, songwriter and music producer based in Luxembourg. For several years, he used his creative vision and talents mixing, mastering or remixing other artists and bands’ music, but starting in late 2018, he decided to create his own musical works as Tobisonics. About his moniker, he explains “All Tobisonics really means is Tobi sounds. And that’s how I think of myself, as a noisemaker, rather than a musician.”
Costi is a London-based hip hop artist and rapper who describes himself as an “Emcee slash poet who mixes spoken word with hip hop music.. plus a little guitar.” He’s been featured on Fresh on the Net – Fresh Faves 316 and the BBC Introducing Mixtape, and has been involved in numerous musical collaborations and projects, including as one half of the hip hop/electronic music duo One Line to an Angle, who released a terrific single “Cassette Tape”, along with several remixes, last October.
I’ve previously featured Tobisonics three times on this blog, most recently last October when I wrote about his single “Military Industrial Complex“, a politically-charged electronic track featuring two important and diametrically opposite speeches by Presidents Eisenhower and Trump. (You can read my previous reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the end of this post.) Angered by Trump’s incendiary Rose Garden speech last June, in which he threatened a harsh government response to the Black Lives Matter protests, Toby decided to contrast Trump’s menacing words with Eisenhower’s 1961 Farewell Address warning of the need for perpetual vigilance to safeguard the liberties of the American people against the military industrial complex and include them in his song. Though the song resonated with listeners and music critics, and received radio play on Amazing Radio US, KGUP FM, and scores of respected independent radio shows, Toby later confessed to having mixed feelings: “I feel ‘Military Industrial Complex’ was artistically successful but, in terms of its application, it failed. I wanted to engage with traditional voters on the right, instead I just ended up just preaching to the choir.”
With that sentiment in mind, he decided to create a new song that would tackle populist nationalism not with clever comparisons, but with hope: “I wanted to inspire hope and remind people of a time when we believed we could be one race of humans, a better people, a great people, a global people.” He teamed up with Costi to collaborate on a song they titled “Eye of the Storm“, an electro-synth retro-wave anthem of hope to raise people up after all the stress, worry, fear and pain of 2020. The single will be released on all music platforms on Wednesday, January 20th, in recognition of Joe Biden’s Inauguration as the 46th President of the United States. It’s the first of four collaborative music projects Tobisonics has planned for 2021.
For the song, Tobisonics sampled President John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech, along with lyrics written and sung by Costi. The track opens with Costi singing the chorus, followed by several verses alternating with the repeated chorus. Musically, Tobisonics employs a powerful thumping synth bass beat, accompanied by ominous swirling industrial synths that seem to mimic bombs dropping from the skies, while Costi raps the biting lyrics with an impressive and commanding flow. At the two-minute mark, Kennedy’s speech enters, followed by the chorus. In the fifth recitation of the chorus, Costi’s lyrics are interspersed with the most famous lines of Kennedy’s speech:
The future’s bright that’s the neon lights
(And so my fellow Americans)
Demolition man put your dreams on ice
Said it’s going down if you’re seen on sight
(what your country can do for you)
Countdown started and we leave tonight
(ask what you can do for your country)
The song ends with the often-overlooked second part to Kennedy’s most famous quote: “My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man”, driving home the strong unifying message Tobisonics and Costi desired to great effect.
Click on this link https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/tobisonicsandcosti/eye-of-the-storm to pre-save the track.
- CAN I BELIEVE YOU – Fleet Foxes (1) 3rd week #1
- VIRUS – Vanity Fear (3)
- THINK I’M CRAZY – Two Feet (4)
- FIRE FOR YOU – Cannons (5)
- CAN YOU FEEL THE SUN – MISSIO (6)
- MARIPOSA – Peach Tree Rascals (2)
- SHAME SHAME – Foo Fighters (7)
- SKIN AND BONES – Cage the Elephant (9)
- TROUBLE’S COMING – Royal Blood (10)
- DIRTY – grandson (11)
- LEAVE ME ALONE – I DON’T KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME (12)
- THEREFORE I AM – Billie Eilish (13)
- HEAT WAVES – Glass Animals (14)
- 1ST TIME – Bakar (15)
- VISITOR – Of Monsters and Men (8)
- THE ADULTS ARE TALKING – The Strokes (19)
- SOFIA – Clairo (20)
- COLD – Chris Stapleton (22)
- ARE YOU BORED YET? – Wallows featuring Clairo (16)
- IS IT TRUE – Tame Impala (17) 21st week on list
- BLOODY VALENTINE – Machine Gun Kelly (18)
- SURVIVIN’ – Bastille (21)
- HEADSTART – Jade Bird (23)
- BROKEN PEOPLE – almost monday (24)
- SATISFIED – Skar de Line (27)
- MY WAY, SOON – Greta Van Fleet (26)
- MOOD – 24kGoldn featuring iann dior (25)
- SLEEP – The Frontier (30)
- ALL ABOUT YOU – The Knocks featuring Foster the People (N)
- SHAME – Saboteurs (N)
One of my favorite American indie bands is alt-rock quartet Roadkeeper, who since forming in 2018 have released a string of exceptional singles. Based in the eastern Texas city of Tyler, the band consists of songwriter/producer John Hetherington (vocals, synths, rhythm guitar), Trevor Tull (lead guitar), Nick Cogdill (drums) and Daniel Griffith (bass), all long-time friends. Roadkeeper is completely independent and self-produced, doing their recording, producing and mixing in John’s studio, and releasing their songs on their own label Equal Temperament. Blending dreamy shoegaze and dramatic psychedelic rock with complex melodic structures, they craft lush soundscapes that are a perfect backdrop for their intelligent, socially conscious, sometimes political, and always topically relevant lyrics that give us something to think about.
I’ve featured them three times on this blog over the past two years (you can read my reviews under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this article). I love all their songs, but two that stand out for me personally are “Old Man’s War”, a beautiful track about anxiety and worry over things, both real and imagined, and “Downs”, stunning song about impostor syndrome and not finding one’s place within the cultural and sociopolitical milieu. “Downs” went to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ranked #15 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list. Now they’re back with their 7th single “Enemy Mine“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. While still featuring their dream rock elements we’ve come to love from Roadkeeper, the song is darker and more sonically intense than their previous singles, befitting the politically-charged lyrics.
The band doesn’t shy away from making their progressive-leaning views known, and states that the song “is about the far right radicalization of vulnerable young people in the U.S. by white nationalist professional pundits who are fed viewers and readers by algorithms on social media and YouTube. There is an organized effort to convert impressionable young people into radical white supremacists and encourage them to undertake radical action against marginalized people and progressive political movements. ‘Enemy Mine’ is about the dissonance between the perceived realities of radical white supremacists and that of everyone else.”
The track opens with ominous cinematic synths that build for nearly a minute, then pounding drumbeats ensue along with wailing guitars, only to calm back down as John begins to sings the verses in his beautiful falsetto. John and Trevor’s blend of jangly and psychedelic guitars are enveloped by shimmery synths, while Daniel and Nick drive the rhythm forward with their thumping bass line and aggressive drums. Everything erupts into an electrifying crescendo of wailing guitars, screaming synths and explosive percussion in the bridge, continuing through to the end of the track for a powerful climax to a gorgeous rock song.
Even words we never say Turn their heads from soft to something strange Waiting on some kids to sign on Twisting up their roots to point their sharp to Zion Their undeveloped brain’s distastes For things they’ve never seen are set in place It’s such a shame Bitter little loners Look to those who look like them to find themselves Born without a purpose Led to think they’re worthless until now Feed their doubt Give them some kind of god to worship Weapons always find their way to Enemies’ front lines Spreading lies, blacking flags Even if they hesitate there’s No way that they’re ever coming back Safe behind the soft glow waiting Self appointed sergeants have their backs Faceless basement Terrorist replacements Holy war, hiding places The worst of them will steal our words
The dramatic video, produced by Robert Woodward, shows digitally-altered footage of recent political protests juxtaposed with old footage of 50’s films, atomic blasts, space exploration and scenes of the band performing the song.
It’s been a while since I last posted the first of what was supposed to be a weekly, or at least occasional, digest of newly-released singles, but as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Now that the holiday season is behind us and we’re well into a new year, lots of new music is being released, far more than I can keep up with! This week I’m featuring three new releases by (in alphabetical order) Neil and Adam, Shimmer Johnson and Zero Azimuth.
“Bright Light” by Neil and Adam
Neil and Adam are singer/songwriters Neil McCloskey and Adam Hilligardt, who hail from suburban St. Louis, Missouri (where I lived from 1995-2011). Friends since high school, the duo have been making pleasing and melodic folk/pop/rock music on and off for several years. They were one of the earliest acts I featured on this blog, back in August 2016 when I reviewed their beautiful uplifting single “Everything is Alright”. They followed up with a couple more singles after that, and have just released “Bright Light“. It’s their first new single in three and a half years, and it’s great to have them back.
In their own words, “Bright Light” is a “powerful and heartfelt love song that touches on the struggles of intense feelings and emotions.” Over an infectious toe-tapping beat, the guys layer a mix of strummed acoustic and chiming electric guitar notes over Adam’s warm keyboards and sparkling synths, creating a lovely backdrop for Neil’s wonderful plaintive vocals. He implores to a loved one of the depths of his feelings, feeling frustrated by her unwillingness or inability to open herself up to love: “Scared of the bright light that’s burning in your heart / Waiting for the fist fight that rages in your heart.”
“Love is Possible” by Shimmer Johnson
Singer/songwriter Shimmer Johnson has such a uniquely beautiful singing voice that it’s puzzling to me she has not yet become a major star – though her 2017 single “Pride” has been streamed more than 239,000 times on Spotify. Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, she started out writing and recording Country songs, but wanting to broaden her musical horizons and take advantage of her amazing vocal talents, she relocated to Los Angeles a few years ago, and has been working with songwriters such as Michael Jay, John West, Richard Bergman and Relik Gregos. A fine guitarist and pianist, Shimmer writes and sings compelling and lovely songs about life and love that we can all relate to. Her clear, pitch-perfect vocals skillfully convey the subtle yet powerful emotions expressed in her heartfelt lyrics, allowing us to connect with her songs on a deeply personal level.
I first featured her on this blog three years ago in February 2018 when I reviewed her single “Getaway”, and am now pleased to feature her latest single “Love is Possible“, which dropped January 5th. It’s a beautiful and hopeful pop ballad about the healing power of love. Shimmer’s silky vocals are comforting as she earnestly croons to a loved one that their love will endure through good times and bad: “I’d rather be safe and one with you than by myself. Two hearts as one they beat, I’m not by myself. Just a leap of faith in the stormy days, love is possible.” It’s a wonderful track.
“Go With the Flow” by Zero Azimuth
Zero Azimuth is a young artist I’ve been following for a while who’s just released a great new single “Go With the Flow“. I don’t know a whole lot about him, other than that he’s an affable singer-songwriter named Adam from Columbus, Ohio who makes pretty good music that incorporates elements of alternative, indie rock and grunge. He released quite a bit of music in 2017, including two EPs Ex Post Facto and Quaint, as well as several singles, then went quiet for a couple years before returning in May 2020 with his terrific single “Same Evil”.
On January 4th, he dropped his latest single “Go With the Flow”, a song about trying to not let others’ indifference get the best of him. He starts off feeling a bit sorry for himself with the humorous lyrics “Oh hey there pretty baby, would you like to come over? I’m taking a bath, how ’bout you throw in a toaster.” But he eventually comes to a sober sense of resignation that he’s every bit as worthy a person as they are: “No one wants me. I’ll work on myself and give you all a goodbye kiss / And I’ll go, go with the flow, cause I think I know something they don’t.” With its mellow, alt-pop vibe and lively guitar-driven melody, the song reminds me of some of the music by Duncan Sheik and Blink-182.
Ever since first hearing their stunning and critically-acclaimed debut EP Who’s Gonna Save Us Now in early 2017, I’ve been a huge fan of Sydney, Australia-based dream rock band Crystal Cities. With a lush, melodic sound they describe as “like Death Cab For Cutie had a War On Drugs with The Beatles” – all bands I love – it’s no wonder I would love their beautiful music too. The supremely talented and strikingly handsome trio consists of Geoff Rana (vocals, guitars, keyboard), Jared King (bass, backing vocals) and Daniel Conte (drums, percussion). I’ve previously featured them three times on this blog, and ranked their gorgeous single “Under the Cold Light of the Moon” at #10 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019. Their outstanding debut album of the same name, recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, also received widespread acclaim.
It’s an understatement that 2020 presented significant challenges to musicians around the world, and like many artists and bands, Crystal Cities have had to make the most of a difficult situation by being creative in terms of how they record and release new music. Accordingly, they made the bold decision to self-produce, record and engineer their second album Hold Me Close Hold Me Tight, as well as release it as ten individual singles, one at a time. Bassist Jared King explains their thinking behind this move: “I think content and momentum are two very important things to be aware of in the streaming-age. Releasing multiple songs all at once is wasted potential in my eyes. We’ve worked so hard on each and every track on this album so why not let each one have it’s time in the spotlight rather than getting lost in the noise of an entire album release all at once.”
Last August, they released their first single “Don’t Speak Too Soon” (you can read my review here), and followed up over the next few months with “Got My Back to the Wind” and “Shadow of a Doubt”. On January 1st, they dropped the fourth single “Jenny, How Were We to Know?“, and it’s another beautiful gem in an unbroken string of superb singles. The song has a somewhat dreamier vibe than the previous three singles, more in the vein of their earlier songs. But as to be expected, the beautiful melody, swirling guitar work, subtle bass and thumping drums are flawless, and I love Geoff Rana’s warm, pleasing vocals.
The song seems to speak about desire and the uncertainties of love, but the lyrics are intentionally ambiguous. Rana elaborates: “The meaning behind this song is something I’ve chosen to remain a mystery. Being a music artist in 2021, we’re encouraged to share every little detail about our lives with our audience. While this has opened up many opportunities for artists to have unique and personal interactions with fans – something which we encourage and take full advantage of in Crystal Cities – there are some things that perhaps should be kept to ourselves in order to set boundaries and protect and respect the privacy of other people… In this instance, I want the context of this song to be left up to the listener’s own interpretation.”
Have a listen to this captivating song:
- CAN I BELIEVE YOU – Fleet Foxes (1)
- MARIPOSA – Peach Tree Rascals (2)
- VIRUS – Vanity Fear (4)
- THINK I’M CRAZY – Two Feet (5)
- FIRE FOR YOU – Cannons (6)
- CAN YOU FEEL THE SUN – MISSIO (9)
- SHAME SHAME – Foo Fighters (7)
- VISITOR – Of Monsters and Men (3)
- SKIN AND BONES – Cage the Elephant (10)
- TROUBLE’S COMING – Royal Blood (11)
- DIRTY – grandson (14)
- LEAVE ME ALONE – I DON’T KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME (15)
- THEREFORE I AM – Billie Eilish (16)
- HEAT WAVES – Glass Animals (17)
- 1ST TIME – Bakar (18)
- ARE YOU BORED YET? – Wallows featuring Clairo (8)
- IS IT TRUE – Tame Impala (12) 20th week on list
- BLOODY VALENTINE – Machine Gun Kelly (13)
- THE ADULTS ARE TALKING – The Strokes (23)
- SOFIA – Clairo (24)
- SURVIVIN’ – Bastille (22)
- COLD – Chris Stapleton (30)
- HEADSTART – Jade Bird (25)
- BROKEN PEOPLE – almost monday (27)
- MOOD – 24kGoldn featuring iann dior (19)
- MY WAY, SOON – Greta Van Fleet (28)
- SATISFIED – Skar de Line (29)
- IDENTICAL – Phoenix (20)
- BURN THE VISION – Amongst Liars (21)
- SLEEP – The Frontier (N)