KENDRICK LAMAR/SZA – Single Review: “All the Stars”

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I’m absolutely head over heels in love with the gorgeous new song “All the Stars” by Kendrick Lamar and SZA. The track is one of many fantastic songs featured on the soundtrack for the monster hit film Black Panther. A stylistic departure for Lamar, the song is highly melodic, with lush sweeping synths and orchestration, set to a captivating dance beat. His vocals are mesmerizing and powerful as he sings the biting lyrics about duplicity and betrayal:

Love, let’s talk about love
Is it anything and everything you hoped for?
Or do the feeling haunt you?
I know the feeling haunt you

Tell me what you gon’ do to me
Confrontation ain’t nothin’ new to me
You can bring a bullet, bring a sword
Bring a morgue, but you can’t bring the truth to me
Fuck you and all your expectations
I don’t even want your congratulations
I recognize your false confidence and calculated promises all in your conversation
I hate people that feel entitled
Look at me crazy ’cause I ain’t invite you
Oh, you important?
You the moral to the story, you endorsing?
Motherfucker, I don’t even like you
Corrupt a man’s heart with a gift
That’s how you find out who you dealin’ with
A small percentage, who I’m building with
I want the credit if I’m losing or winning
On my momma that’s the realest shit

And SZA blows our minds with her beautiful, soulful vocals. She passionately sings about her inability to resist another’s charms despite the fact he’s no good for her, always putting her faith in love and the stars:

This may be the night that my dreams might let me know
All the stars are closer, all the stars are closer, all the stars are closer
This may be the night that my dreams might let me know
All the stars are closer, all the stars are closer, all the stars are closer

Skin covered in ego
Get to talkin’, I get involved, like a rebound
No control, no off switch in the way that you bringing me down
It’s a turn on, get it away from me
Know you mean wrong, keep away from me
And it’s all wrong, get it away from me, yeah
I just cry for no reason, I just pray for no reason
I just thank for the life, for the day, for the hours and another life breathin’
I did it all ’cause it feel good
You could live it all if you feel bad
Better live your life
We are running out of time

The video for the song is positively stunning. I started to describe it, but it’s so complex and filled with such extraordinary imagery that you just need to watch it for yourself and form your own opinions. Prepare to be amazed!

LOW STANDARDS, HIGH FIVES – Single/Video Review: “Silent Decor”

I love when bands come up with offbeat or quirky names for themselves, and one of the better ones I’ve come across lately is Low Standards, High Fives, an alternative rock oufit from Turin, Italy. Formed in 2012, the band has continually evolved to shape their sound and musical direction. They expanded to a five-piece by 2016, and now consist of Ame Ray (guitar, lead vocals), Lore Frezza (bass, vocals), Luca Cravero (guitar), Endi Sassano (guitar, vocals) and Karl Lèmon (drums). Having three guitarists gives their music a heavier, fuller sound.

Low Standards High Fives

In January, the band released their hard rock single “Silent Decor,” which will be featured on their upcoming debut album Are We Doing The Best We Can? The album will be released through UK/US label Engineer Records on March 31st, and the band is making “Silent Decor” available as a free download via their Bandcamp page.

The band delivers aggressive riffs of grungy, jangly and shredded guitars and lots of crashing cymbals, anchored by a heavy bass line. Ray wails the lyrics about meaning nothing more to someone than just an ornament:  “So here’s what you need. A silent decor. Ornamental / What am I here for?” It’s a terrific rock track.

The unusual video shows a man thumbing through albums at a record store and choosing one titled “Silent the Kobras,” and in the next scene is shown holding the album over his head. The video segues to the band wearing wigs and performing the song at a club as the heavy metal band ‘Kobras.’ After the show, Ray gets out of their van to take a leak, and disappears without a trace. Nine months later, he’s shown lying naked in a field, then slowly gets up and stumbles off.

Connect with the band:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase their music on iTunes or you can download their previous EP’s for free on Bandcamp

FROM THE CAVE Release a Brilliant Video for “Cavalier”

From the Cave Cavalier

London-based From the Cave are quickly becoming one of my favorite indie bands. The amazingly talented quintet play a unique style of alternative rock that seems to incorporate an eclectic mix of funk, pop, shoegaze, punk, blues and Gypsy influences. They released their self-titled debut EP From the Cave in 2016, and in 2017 began dropping a series of new singles. Last fall I reviewed their beautiful “Halloween” and the gorgeous video they produced for the song (which you can read here). They’ve just released a new single “Cavalier” that will be included on their upcoming EP, and have produced a fantastic new video for the track.

The five-member band consists of Kristian Møller-Munar on vocals and guitar, Mikaela Lindgren on vocals, keys and percussion, Josh Scriven on guitar and vocals, Johan Crondahl on bass, and Anton Vysotsky on drums. “Cavalier” is a delightful love song with a rousing Gypsy dance vibe. The band employs all kinds of synths and strings, including guitar and violin but also possibly zither, cimbalom and/or mandolin, to create an intriguing Eastern European sound that’s incredibly catchy and wonderful. Kristian’s vocals are captivating as he expresses his frustration that the object of his desire keeps rebuffing his romantic intentions. “I could be your cavalier if you like me. I’m sitting by the cabaret but you don’t mind me. / But angel, I’ve been waiting for long. Still I’m writing you songs.”

Like their two previous animated videos, this one was also created by Kristian, who’s clearly a skilled and highly imaginative videographer. The trippy, psychedelic imagery is intensely colorful, and tells the story laid out in the song. It starts off in a cabaret, where the band is performing the song. Suddenly the cabaret seems to be swallowed by a creature, then we’re taken into a series of tunnels that are possibly the creature’s insides. We quickly return to the continually shape-shifting cabaret, in which the protagonist appears to be floating aimlessly, possibly symbolizing his sense of futility and feeling adrift in the situation. It’s brilliant and I love it!

Connect with From the Cave:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase: Bandcamp

 

RUSTY SHIPP Release New Video for “SS Naronic”

Nashville rock band Rusty Shipp released their monumental album Mortal Ghost in 2017 to wide acclaim. Over the past several months they’ve been producing videos for different tracks off the album, and last November they released a terrific animated video for “Treading Water,” which I reviewed. They’ve now released an amazing new video for another track “SS Naronic,” a dramatic song about a ship that sank on February 19, 1893. The band chose today for the release to commemorate that fateful event.

Rusty Shipp calls itself a “Nautical Rock’n’Roll” band, with a sound influenced by the melodic chord progressions of The Beatles, the surf guitar of Dick Dale, the grunge rock of Nirvana, and the heavy metal of Led Zeppelin, among others. Their music is characterized by a dark, underwater sound, haunting vocals, and heavy riffs. The band consists of singer/songwriter and front man Russ T. Shipp (literally his birth name) on guitar and vocals, Elijah Apperson on lead guitar, AJ Newton on drums and Michael Craft on bass.

Rusty Shipp2

The SS Naronic was a steamship built in Belfast for the White Star Line. Eight days after leaving Liverpool for New York on February 11, 1893, the ship was lost at sea, along with all 74 people on board. According to Wikipedia, the exact cause of the ship’s sinking was never determined. However, messages found later that had been written by passengers and placed in bottles once they realized their ship was sinking seemed to indicate that it hit an iceberg. Rusty Shipp based their lyrics for the song on some of those actual messages. A particularly poignant line is “Oh god please tell me there is more than this, that this cold abyss is not the end.” Another is “Cattle and charcoal jettisoned to save the boat. But we won’t stay afloat.”

The hard-hitting song features intense, gritty guitars, heavy bass and lots of crashing cymbals, perfectly conveying the horror of the awful tragedy. The superb illustrated animation video was created by Hein Zaayman of Vohnic Music LLC, the same artist who illustrated the Mortal Ghost album cover. The brilliant use of sepia tones gives the video an historical feel.

Connect with Rusty Shipp: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / YouTube
Purchase: iTunes / cdbaby / Bandcamp

DAN FARRELL – Album Review: “Colliding Planets”

Dan Farrell Album

Dan Farrell is a singer/songwriter based in London, UK. A multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, bass and keyboards, as well as produces all of his tracks in his own home studio, he refers to himself as a “one man band.” That said, in his bio he explains “My main instrument is guitar which I play left handed – but with the strings strung for a right handed person. Consequently all the chords I play are upside down. Strange, but true.” It sounds complicated to me, but Dan manages to coax some pretty phenomenal sounds from his six-string.

He welcomed 2018 by releasing his third album Colliding Planets, an ambitious work featuring 15 tracks that dropped on January 12. Collectively, the songs on the album draw from a myriad of influences and genres, including rock, jazz, blues, country and pop, and a few tracks seem to include them all! Dan cites the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Queen, the Bee Gees and Amy Winehouse as some of his favorites, whose influences can clearly be heard on several tracks.

Dan Farrell

He kicks things off with “Salt of the Earth,” a rousing, foot-stomping country rock track. I like the aggressive drum beat, and Dan’s spirited guitar work make for an incredibly upbeat song. “She’s Still Drivin‘” keeps the energy flowing with a lively rock’n’roll tempo and Dan’s jangly guitars. After hearing just these two tracks, it’s clear he’s a skilled axe man. The sounds of a racing engine are a nice touch.

Tom Petty’s influence is evident on “Dreams of a Dreamer.” It’s a great song, with heavily strummed guitar set to a slow drumbeat. I love the added keyboards and guitar riffs. Dan sings about a woman he desires, but circumstances prevent anything from ever happening:

You’re thinking about me, it brings on a sigh
I’m wishin’ for something that we can never try
The dreams of a dreamer are making you sweat
Are making your heart beat a little faster

One of my favorite tracks is “Revealed in a Kiss,” a languid, jazzy affair with gentle guitars and sensuous horns that conjure up images of a romantic slow dance extending late into the evening. Dan’s smooth vocals are wonderful. “Don’t Blame Me” is a bouncy pop-rock track with jangly guitars and lush keyboards. Piano and keyboards take prominence on the lovely ballad “Get Inside Their Soul, and the bittersweet “The Blue Bar” has a country rock feel, and reminds me a bit of Bob Dylan’s “Knocking On Heaven’s Door.” Dan sings of the passage of time and how some achieve their dreams, while others watch theirs turn to dust: “I used to share the same dreams that made us all survive. I used to have the same hopes that kept us all alive. / Then the revolution took it all away.”

“Another great track is “One Like You,” a fun rock’n’roll song about wanting to stay home with the object of his affection rather than go to work: “Well you know I got to go and earn a buck or two. But I’d rather spend my time with one like you.” Like all of Dan’s songs, it has terrific guitar work, and the lively trumpet and keyboards make for a really upbeat number. Dan turns introspective on the country rock track “Let It Go,” a song about letting go of the dream of being with someone he can never have and just moving on.

Just Because” is a mellow, upbeat song about not feeling guilty about indulging in the simple pleasures in life: “There doesn’t have to be an explanation for everything we do, every sensation. Sometimes it’s nice to do a lot a nothing. It’s good to go and treat yourself sometimes.” On the beautiful, uplifting ballad “I Tried,” Dan sings about believing in someone and encouraging them to take the right path in life. “I’ll always wish you well ’cause I believe in you. The road we choose is up to us, and sometimes life can make a fuss.”

One in a Million” has a sophisticated vibe with jangly guitars, soulful keyboards and jazzy horns. Dan wistfully sings about how things in life don’t always turn out the way you’d hoped: “The higher you climb the further you fall. You think you’re doing well standing tall. But then your best-laid plans they come crashing down. That youthful innocence you had is on the ground. One in a million has that perfect sound. Went and lifted my feet right off the ground.”

The catchy “The Man I Want to Be” serves up bouncy riffs, and in his gravelly vocals, Dan sings about how’s he matured into a better man. “Leave My Mark” is a rousing guitar-driven rock song, with a riff that channels the Rolling Stones’ hard-rocking “Start Me Up.”  Keeping with a Stones theme, album closer “You Only Know When You See” has a bit of a “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” vibe.

Colliding Planets is a fine, well-crafted album that showcases Dan’s exceptional guitar work and skill for writing catchy melodies and intelligent lyrics about life that we can all relate to.

To learn more about Dan, check out his Website and connect with him on Twitter
Stream his music on Spotify / Reverbnation / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on cdbaby / Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

MELOTIKA – Single Review: “Unaware Part II [Blindside]”

Melotika single

Melotika is a Toronto, Ontario, Canada-based electronic indie/pop project consisting of singer/songwriter Mel Yelle and DJ/producer Jackman Jones, also known as Mista T Dot. Last year they released two singles “Downtown Summer ft. Krosst Out” and “Unaware,” and on January 30 they dropped a sultry new track “Unaware Part II [Blindside].”

According to Mel Yelle, it’s a continuation of the theme expressed in “Unaware,” and open to interpretation. My take is that “Unaware” is about struggling to maintain one’s identity in the face of a relationship that’s unraveling. In “Unaware Part II [Blindside],” she’s confronting the person who blindsided her, telling them she no longer cares, is moving on, and so should they:

Quit callin’ when my make-up fallin’ and I wonder why you’re not alone? 
Big ballin’ and I see you stallin’ while your trippin’ at the mall 
Go getter, why you even bother? When it’s just so clear you see 
No better, doesn’t even matter, no it doesn’t really matter to me 

If you want it! Can you start it! You’re a getaway! 
If you thought it! And you need it! Do it anyway! 
Jumpstart, we won’t be apart; to the unknown 
If you want it, and you need it I won’t ever want you alone 

Blindside of the future, blindside it’s my nature 
Don’t want any part of it, so much more to see 

Mel Yelle

Born and raised in Montreal, Mel Yelle’s rich, smoky vocals remind me at times of fellow Quebecois Celine Dion, with whom she also bears a striking resemblance. Combined with Jones’ sultry hip-hop beats and mysterious echoed synths, together they’ve produced a track brimming with sensuous grooves that raise body temperatures and aim straight for the hips. It’s a marvelous song.

Melotika will be releasing their first EP in March. To learn more, connect with them on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes or Bandcamp

Top 20 Songs for February 18-24, 2018

1. PAIN – The War on Drugs (2)
2. LIVE IN THE MOMENT – Portugal. The Man (1)
3. SOBER UP – AJR ft. Rivers Cuomo (4)
4. SAFARI SONG – Greta Van Fleet (5)
5. SCARY LOVE – The Neighbourhood (6)
6. LOS AGELESS – St. Vincent (7)
7. ONE FOOT – WALK THE MOON (3)
8. TWO HIGH – Moon Taxi (8)
9. ALL ON MY MIND – Anderson East (9)
10. WORLD GONE MAD – Bastille (11)
11. HAPPY HOUR – Weezer (12)
12. RUN FOR COVER – The Killers (13)
13. ALL THE STARS – Kendrick Lamar ft. SZA (14)
14. BORN FOR GREATNESS – Papa Roach (16)
15. I ONLY LIE WHEN I LOVE YOU – Royal Blood (10)
16. SIT NEXT TO ME – Foster the People (15) 24th week on list
17. YOU WORRY ME – Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats (20)
18. GOD’S PLAN – Drake (17)
19. BROKEN – lovelytheband (N)
20. &RUN – Sir Sly (N)

Drake gives away nearly $1 million in his new video for “God’s Plan”

Hip hop superstar Drake released a new video today for his latest single “God’s Plan,” which is currently #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and numerous R&B, Hip-Hop and Rap charts. At the beginning of the video, a caption states “The budget for this video was $996,631.90. We gave it all away. Don’t tell the label.” The video goes on to show Drake buying groceries for everyone in a supermarket, surprising random people on the street to whom he gives money, buying toys for kids at a mall, surprising a family with a new car, making donations to the Miami Fire Department, a women’s shelter, and more.  Within hours, multiple videos were made by others showing people’s reactions to the video.

While one could argue that it’s all for publicity, it was still a nice thing for Drake to do. It’s certainly money well-spent, generating more good will than simply a million-dollar’s worth of ads.

Here’s the official music video:

UNQUIET NIGHTS – Single Review: “Promise of You”

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I receive a lot of requests from artists and bands wanting reviews of their latest music or to be featured on this blog, and it’s fun to discover some great new music I would not have otherwise heard. So it was my good fortune when Luke Mathers, frontman of the indie rock band Unquiet Nights, reached out to me with their new single “Promise of You,” which officially drops tomorrow, February 16th.

Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Unquiet Nights began in 2006 as a solo project for Mathers, who writes all his songs, plays guitar and sings. He began recording tracks for what would become the first Unquiet Nights album 21st Century Redemption Songs, then relocated to Italy in 2010, where the album was finished. Mathers eventually brought Italian musicians Matteo Bussotti and Francesco Piciucchi on board, and Unquiet Nights officially became a band. In 2015 they released a second album Postcards in Real Time, an outstanding work that I strongly recommend my readers make an effort to check out by using one of the links at the end of this review. Mathers moved back to Northern Ireland in 2016, though he still plays with Bussotti and Piciucchi, and has been working on new material for a third album.

Unquiet Nights Luke

“Promise of You” is the first single, and it’s a hard-rockin’ beauty! It starts off with a drawn-out electric guitar note, then an explosion of gritty guitars and fuzzy bass rain down, propelled by a crushing drumbeat that really gets the blood pumping. The track grows more intense as dramatic synths and layers of jangly and shredded guitars are added, building to a pulse-pounding crescendo. The instrumentals are phenomenal, and Mathers fervent vocals perfectly convey the unbridled passion he feels for another, and the exciting promise of a romantic entanglement.

It’s a fantastic track, and a promising (no pun intended) sign that Unquiet Nights will be delivering another stellar album for our listening enjoyment.

Connect with Unquiet Nights:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase on Bandcamp or iTunes

THE TRIMS – Album Review: “Julian Street”

Trims album

San Jose, California-based indie post-punk band The Trims have been making great music for nearly a decade. Formed in 2009 by singer/songwriter/guitarist Gabe Maciel, The Trims also includes Billy Brady on drums and Mark Sharp on bass. Their on-stage charisma and skill at creating catchy, high-energy grooves have built them a huge following in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.

They were one of the first bands I featured on this blog back in October 2015, and in August 2017, I reviewed their fantastic single “The One I Want.”  They’ve now released their second full-length album Julian Street (named after a major thoroughfare running through San Jose), which dropped in January, delivering ten superb tracks that showcase their exuberant guitar-driven sound.

The Trims photo

Julian Street starts off big with the exhilarating “Turn Out the Lights.” Our ears are instantly hit with an onslaught of Mark’s gritty bass and Billy’s hammering drumbeats, setting the stage for Gabe’s frantic riffs of chiming guitars. It’s clear their aim is to have us on our feet and dancing within seconds. With his fervent vocals, Gabe sings “Turn out the lights. Bring back the summer before our youth is gone.” On “Nobody Else” Gabe sings of his never ending devotion and not wanting to love anyone else.

Now is a good time to mention how much I love Gabe’s marvelous vocals and his signature guitar style, which seems to meld surf, punk, rock’n’roll and doo wop elements into a highly satisfying, upbeat sound uniquely recognizable as their own. Another thing is how well the guys play together, totally in sync with each other to create a tight sound.

Dying (Just to See Your Face)” and the lead single “The One I Want” are perfect examples of what I’m talking about, with intricate, fast-paced riffs of jangly guitars and a frenetic, heavy drumbeat. “Bedroom Mirror” has layers of multi-textured guitars over a funky bass line and drums that Billy seems to hit at 100 beats per second. The man is one hell of a power drummer!

The guys slow it down on the lovely acoustic ballad “Gone Away.” Gabe strums a melancholy riff on his guitar as he sings: “All we have is this moment to release what’s inside. All we have is tomorrow. I’ll be home in time. Tomorrow has gone away.” I really like this mellower sound which they do quite well, and wish they’d make more songs like this.

I Wish I Could Say” has Gabe wanting to apologize but unable to: “I would like to tell that I’m sorry for the stupid things I wish I’d never done./ I wish that I could say that the worst was over. I wish I could tell you nothing’s wrong.  But now I see I was mistaken. A fool who never seemed to care.”

Mark’s bass is prominently on display on the melodic hard-driving tracks “Hands of Time” and “You Tell Me.”  Of course, Gabe’s awesome guitar work and Billy’s skillful drumming are on-point as always. Album closer “Balam in Love” features generous synths that nicely complement the gorgeous guitars and throbbing bass, creating a bit of a new wave/punk-infused vibe. Gabe tells a lover that their relationship is over and he wants out: “There’s nothing more to say. This is the game you play. Just let me go.” It’s a brilliant track, and one of my favorites from this excellent and thoroughly enjoyable album.

Connect with The Trims:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify or Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp or iTunes