I never thought I’d be reviewing a song by one of the guys from One Direction, but the gorgeous new song “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles simply blew me away the moment I first heard it. It’s incredibly moving and powerfully anthemic, aiming straight for the heartstrings, and proves once and for all that Harry’s a really talented singer. Now 23, he’s grown as an artist – both vocally and stylistically – and exhibits great on-stage charisma.
The song starts off with a somber piano movement then, with tremendous emotion in his voice, Harry begins to sing “Just stop you’re crying, it’s a sign of the times. Welcome to the final show. Hope you’re wearing your best clothes.” He may be admonishing us to not cry, but boy it’s hard not to! His voice rises to a tender falsetto before the song bursts open with lush, powerful orchestration. The combination of piano, strong percussion and electric guitar, accompanied by Harry’s heartfelt soaring vocals, propel the song to great heights, raising goosebumps along the way.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Harry explained the meaning behind the song: “‘Sign of the Times’ is written from a point of view as if a mother was giving birth to a child and there’s a complication. The mother is told, ‘The child is fine, but you’re not going to make it.’ The mother has five minutes to tell the child, ‘Go forth and conquer.‘”
Watch this awesome performance of the song on the Graham Norton Show
1. HOT THOUGHTS – Spoon (1)
2. LOVE IS MYSTICAL – Cold War Kids (4)
3. SIGN OF THE TIMES – Harry Styles (5)
4. WOLVES – Wide Eyed Boy (6)
5. ON HOLD – The xx (2)
6. LOVE ON THE BRAIN – Rihanna (3)
7. BELIEVER – Imagine Dragons (7)
8. LOST ON YOU – LP (9)
9. HEAVYDIRTYSOUL – twenty øne piløts (8)
10. BLAME – Bastille (12)
11. GREEN LIGHT – Lorde (13)
12. COLD COLD COLD – Cage the Elephant (15)
13. HOW DID YOU LOVE – Shinedown (10)
14. HUMAN – Rag’n’Bone Man (11)
15. SOMETHING JUST LIKE THIS – The Chainsmokers, Coldplay (16)
16. SHAPE OF YOU – Ed Sheeran (14)
17. MIDDLE FINGERS – MISSIO (18)
18. HUMBLE. – Kendrick Lamar (19)
19. NIMBLE BASTARD – Incubus (20)
20. THAT’S WHAT I LIKE – Bruno Mars (17)
Morning Fuzz is an outstanding alternative rock band from Brooklyn, New York that I had the pleasure of discovering when they reached out to me about their new single “Silent Sun.” Not only was I impressed with that song, I also really liked their previous recordings, and became an instant fan. As they state in their bio, their mission is ‘to stay true to the meaning of Rock and Roll [through] powerful songwriting, expansive vocal ranges and captivating guitar riffs that are authentic and pure.’ I think they accomplish that, and quite a bit more with their exciting, hard-hitting sound.
Morning Fuzz was formed in 2009 by singer/songwriter/guitarist Frank Fussa and his childhood friend, bassist Christopher Johanidesz, after the breakup of their previous band Ultra High Frequency (which put out a pretty decent album in 2006). The band released two critically acclaimed EPs (Morning Fuzz and Shadows in the Rearview), but were hampered by several changes in drummers. Eventually, the band would reunite with old friend and previous drummer Jesse Steffen. They also acquired a longtime friend, guitarist Michael Cullari, who completed the band’s powerful dual guitar sound. With their strong lineup in place, they released their excellent debut album Chasing Ghosts in 2013.
In 2016, they released two singles: “Rain and Thunder” and “Invisible Man,” both of which are so good I’ve included their videos below. Be sure to check them out. Today – April 28 – the band drops a brand new single “Silent Sun.” The brilliant song was written by Fussa and the band, and produced, recorded and mixed by Lou Giordano at Water Music Studio in Hoboken, NJ.
The guys are all excellent musicians, wielding their respective instruments like weapons and killing it on every song they play. The instrumentals on this track are no exception, with lots of shredded guitar riffs, heavy buzzing bass and Steffen’s thunderous drums pounding out the hard-driving beat. Fussa has an amazing voice with a considerable range that’s on full display on this track. He passionately sings – at times screaming – the lyrics “The sun is fading now, I watch it paint the sea. I’ll chase you everywhere to burn in a hole in me. We need a tidal wave to push us back to sand. Sometimes we get carried out and dealt the same old hand. I pull a million suns to light this cold dark place. A fire can burn us out but we can’t run away. See that silent sun. Yeah!”
Morning Fuzz has an upcoming show in New York City on May 19th at the Delancey.
UK hip-hop artist Twintwo is one of my favorite rappers. I love his honest, thoughtful song lyrics and wonderful vocal delivery, especially given his British accent that I find quite charming. Hailing from Yorkshire and born Robert Winterburn, the hard-working singer/songwriter records and produces all his own songs. He released a terrific five-track EP Mr. Winterburn in 2016, which I reviewed on this blog exactly one year ago, that you can read here. He’s back with a full-length album entitled Twinwho?, which dropped today, April 27.
Photo by Paul Blinston
Like many rappers, Twintwo writes autobiographical lyrics for his songs as a way of expressing himself though music. A skilled wordsmith, he writes about his self-doubt and the challenges of trying to make it in the music business, coming to terms with being an adult, and relationships – both romantic and with friends – and how they relate to his career choices.
Twinwho? opens with ominous synth sounds as we’re introduced to “Haven’t Changed,” a scathing tirade against those who doubt him and cast aspersions upon his dreams. He rapid-fire raps “Call me the shit, call me the villain. I work on this music ’cause it’s so appealing to prove you’re wrong. Release the song, then you got family asking how you are feeling./ I don’t need a plan B, bitch where’s your head at? What’s with all the negativity? I don’t care if you ain’t feeling me. I’m feeling me. It’s real to me.”
The dark video was filmed in a gloomy abandoned warehouse, the perfect setting for the grim-sounding track.
Moving along, on “This Year,” Twintwo questions whether his life has in fact changed – hopefully for the better, though he doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with some of those changes. He’s not sure why, but last year felt weird – but then so does this year. What he is certain of, though, is that he wants to keep growing as an artist, not remain stuck in the same spot he was then or even now. He sings “This year’s been weird, it’s clear/ I don’t want to be in the same place I was last year, ’cause last year was weird. I sat and I stared, but I don’t want to be in the same place I was next year, ’cause last year was weird.” The track features a lively hip hop beat that has a bit of a carnival vibe.
Now is a good time to point out that he has a knack for artfully choosing some fantastic hip hop beats for his songs that always sound perfectly suited to the lyrics. Employing a somewhat similar beat on the lighthearted track “Pizza Girl,” Twintwo sings about lusting after a girl working in the pizza parlor, even though she happens to be abusing drugs, and he already has a girlfriend. And who hasn’t at one time or another lusted after someone who was wrong for us?
Photo by Paul Blinston
One of the standout tracks is “I’d Be Better,” a song about the difficulties of finding success as a rapper, and comparing himself with friends who chose different career paths by going to ‘uni.’ He questions his goals, while remaining defiant in his decision to push forward with his music: “Oh what I do just to get famous. I’m nameless, brainless, don’t know what my game is. Lifestyle dangerous, but but nothing changes. When you’re doing jack, I’ll be better being famous.” In addition to the compelling lyrics, the instrumentals for the track are really terrific, with lots of piano, percussion and violin. The wonderful video for the song was filmed in Twintwo’s home and around his town, and stars his mum and friends. It tells the song’s story in a lighthearted, endearing manner that’s a joy to watch.
“Not a Cool Guy” has Twintwo bemoaning the fact he’s been spending a lot of energy and money trying to impress his girlfriend, possibly at the expense of his career: “I’m not a cool guy, got no tattoos. Three years old are my Air Nike shoes. I don’t follow trends I’d rather spend everything that I get on a vid just to push more views.” The somber beat and instrumentals are simple but quite effective for the theme and lyrics. He turns deeply introspective, agonizing about his doubts and fears on “Demons.” “I’m seeing demons when I’m sleeping. Am I losing my mind? I think you will find that I’m a goner. I’ll be working hard, I’ll be working on these records. I ain’t seeing friends as much, ’cause this music takes over. Feel like rap’s got me trapped. I can’t seem to adapt.” The dark track features haunting instrumentals and a sinister, disembodied voiceover that perfectly fit its theme.
Continuing on the introspective theme, Twintwo contemplates the rapid passage of time and whether he’s made any progress in fulfilling his life goals with “Time Flies.” The melodic song has a fantastic hip hop beat, accentuated by beautiful mesmerizing synths and awesome strong percussion. The track quickly segues to “Lethal,” which features guest rappers FMA, 12 Gage & DREADNOUGHT. The five and a half-minute long hard-driving hip hop song is a departure from the other songs on the album in terms of sound, though it still addresses the challenges of being a successful rapper in the highly competitive hip hop genre. “Most of these cats go undisturbed. I’m lethal when I got the mike in my hand. It ain’t a problem.” It’s nice to see him collaborate with other rappers, and it’s a great addition to the album. His awesome rapping skills are evident as he holds his own with the others.
One of my favorite tracks is the album closer “Before You Leave,” mainly because of its compelling, bittersweet lyrics. Twintwo sings of the conflicting emotions he feels about losing some of his friends as he continues on his quest to build a career in hip hop, and coming to terms with the realities of how friendships sometimes fade away as we move on. The song opens with a mournful piano movement and sounds of a rainstorm. As the strong hip hop beat sets in, he raps:
“I don’t want to lose them. I wanna keep on top of them. Fuck, I don’t know, I finally had to break the cycle, and now I’ve been going full pace with this music since the start of this year, and this music’s is all about what I wanna do. But what some people don’t realize is that you have to work on it every day. Like it’s not just gonna just fall on your lap. Yeah sure, take a day off, but whilst you’re relaxing, there’s someone working as hard as you. It’s hunger, it just get’s addicting.
I talked to my closest friend about the issue, she said ‘it’s just life, and even though we miss you, you have to keep going, you have to go continue. ‘Cause one day you’ll wake up, then the blow will hit you that you could have tried harder.’
I love my friends, I do. But you gotta put yourself first. If they don’t stick around, I know it really hurts. But you gotta do you. / Thing is, I’m a low maintenance friend and like, you can just text me once a week or once a month or whatever. I still show love and stuff, ’cause I know we’re busy and stuff. And the thing is, you shouldn’t have to really rely on your friends to make you happy, because one day they’re gonna leave you or stab you in the back. It’s just life…everyone’s busy now.”
I love this fantastic album, and am so happy to see Twintwo continue to grow as an artist. He seems mature for his years (he’ll turn 22 in June) and I’m confident he’ll make an impact on the world of hip hop and rap.
I recently had the pleasure of discovering the terrific UK band The Clear when they contacted me about their new single “The Planets.” The Sheffield three-piece plays an incredibly pleasing style of what can best be called “West Coast Dream Pop” (‘West Coast’ referring to my home state of California, thank you very much). Their utterly beguiling sound is like no other artist or band I know of. Among the many positive attributes of their music, the thing that really stands out for me are their sublime harmonizing vocals.
Formed in 2013, The Clear consists of Chris Damms, Jules Buffey and Bryan Day. “The Planets” is taken from their outstanding debut album Patchwork, which they actually released in 2016. In preparing to write this review, I listened to the entire album and found myself enveloped by a dreamy soundscape that’s at once beautiful and spellbinding. Patchwork is honestly one of the best albums of 2016, and I’m sorry I didn’t learn of it until 2017.
In describing “The Planets,” the band states it’s “a quirky analogy of dying love, with stars burning out, and satellites fading and crashing to earth. We like to describe the song’s style, as Nancy Sinatra in 1950’s space!” Indeed it is! The song has a distinct James Bond movie theme feel and, to my ears, sounds most like “The World is Not Enough” by Garbage. It’s a captivating song with a retro 60s vibe that whisks you back in time to an imaginary party at a mid-Century modern home in the Hollywood Hills. With a hint of a Latin beat, the song features lush, soaring orchestration and mesmerizing electric guitar, accompanied by Buffey’s incredibly seductive vocals. She croons:
“Tears in my eyes once again. Torment and lies spell the end. Planets they turn, mine collide. Look to the stars , they burned out long ago. Love is a flame but quick to burn. When satellites fade they fall to earth. Planets they turn, mine collide. Look to the stars , they burned out long ago.”
The brilliant video combines scenes from old science fiction films and TV shows, including 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Trek, with actual footage of early space exploration as well as an orchestra performing. Check it out:
To learn more about The Clear, take a look at their website.
1. HOT THOUGHTS – Spoon (3)
2. ON HOLD – The xx (1)
3. LOVE ON THE BRAIN – Rihanna (2)
4. LOVE IS MYSTICAL – Cold War Kids (4)
5. SIGN OF THE TIMES – Harry Styles (14)
6. WOLVES – Wide Eyed Boy (8)
7. BELIEVER – Imagine Dragons (9)
8. HEAVYDIRTYSOUL – twenty øne piløts (5)
9. LOST ON YOU – LP (11)
10. HOW DID YOU LOVE – Shinedown (6)
11. HUMAN – Rag’n’Bone Man (7)
12. BLAME – Bastille (12)
13. GREEN LIGHT – Lorde (13)
14. SHAPE OF YOU – Ed Sheeran (10)
15. COLD COLD COLD – Cage the Elephant (16)
16. SOMETHING JUST LIKE THIS – The Chainsmokers, Coldplay (18)
17. THAT’S WHAT I LIKE – Bruno Mars (15)
18. MIDDLE FINGERS – MISSIO (19)
19. HUMBLE. – Kendrick Lamar (N)
20. NIMBLE BASTARD – Incubus (N)
Mad Machines is a five-piece band based in Toronto, Canada. Their high-energy music melds elements of Hard Rock, Funk, Punk-Noir and Dream Pop – with a bit of Disco thrown in just to mix things up – and their lyrics are always entertaining. They released an excellent debut EP Re-Humanizer in January 2016 (which I highly recommend my readers check out), and in March dropped a fun new single “Once I Was A Lion.
The band line-up includes Jordan Lassalle (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Raymond Cara (Drums, Percussives, Backing Vocals), Jordan Quinn (Keyboards, FX, Backing Vocals), Neil Culbert (Guitars, Backing Vocals) and Joseph Slegtenhorst (Bass).
Regarding the backstory for the song, Lassalle explained: “Once I Was A Lion is a strange departure of a song for us; it was actually initially inspired by Disney’s The Lion King. I woke up one day with one of the songs from that film in my head and it got me to thinking something along the lines of, ‘what if Simba turned out to be a fuck-up drunkard of a king? Wouldn’t that be funny!’ Since then, the song has evolved; I found myself also writing a reflection piece on how at some point or another, we all feel like kings and queens of our respective kingdoms. It’s a feel-good tune and a real fun pop-rocker to play.“
Indeed it would be, as it’s all that and more. The infectiously catchy song kicks off with a distorted guitar solo, then things bust wide open with crashing drums, heavy buzzing bass and lots of killer bluesy riffs. The guys are terrific musicians! Lassalle’s vocals are wonderful, occasionally soaring into a pleasing falsetto, and backed by his band mates’ harmonizing choruses. He croons the tongue-in-cheek lyrics that can’t help but put a big smile on your face:
“Once I was a lion, yeah once I was king, crushing my problems between my teeth. Ruler of my kingdom with an iron paw. Rolling through the jungle like an atom bomb. All the lady lions used to stop and stare, hoping I would try and take ’em to my lair. Once I was a lion and life was sweet, until she came and took that crown away from me. / They took my fangs, they took my claws. / And I’m the king of the jungle baby. At least I was before.“
Jordan Herbert is a talented, soulful young singer/songwriter from Northampton, UK. In 2016, Jordan’s released his debut EP Roots to wide acclaim, reaching #6 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter charts. Throughout the rest of the year, Jordan and his five-piece band, which includes musicians Harley-Joe Arnold, Jason Smith, Sam Thorne and Tony Young, toured extensively throughout the UK to promote the EP and build a fan base. In February, Jordan released a follow-up EP Just Recently through Spoilt Brat Records (what a great name for a label!) and it’s brilliant and beautiful.
The four-track EP showcases Jordan’s abilities as both a superb wordsmith and vocalist, not to mention the great musicianship of his band. The title track “Just Recently” kicks things off in a big way with exuberant jazzy guitars, funky bass and a healthy dose of drums and crashing cymbals. Jordan vocals are captivating as he passionately croons the hopeful lyrics:
“The way it’s looking now, I’ve been running around, chasing dreams I know that just can’t come true. And I’ve been running around and puttin’ it down, makin’ a sound, standing around with my head in the clouds, I was screaming it loud and I hope you can scream it too. Just recently I’ve, got it stuck in my mind, and I cant let go no no, it’s playing games in my mind.”
Next up is the sublime “How Could You” – to my ears is as close to perfection as a song can be. Floating above what sounds like an extended organ riff with snare drum are delicate guitars of varying texture and nuance, accompanied by Jordan’s intoxicating vocals that reach in and grab hold of your soul. This song is gorgeous. With pain in his voice, he sings:
“How could you still end up getting it wrong, movin’ along without you. See lately, I’ve been thinking about you lately. Is there something that can save me? ‘Cause I’m done and I’ve quit foolin’ around.”
The pace quickens at around four minutes, with a flourish of guitars and vocals that are at once both sad and beautiful. The video for the song is fantastic. Shot in black and white and directed, produced and edited by Pete Cobbe, the video shows Jordan singing the song with his guitarist playing beside him in front of a black background. They’re the only things visible, conveying a poignant sense of aloneness.
“Don’t You Worry” brings a return to the upbeat jazzy vibe of the first track, with an irresistible groove and funky guitar riffs. This song is just begging to be performed in a nightclub! Things take a more serious turn on the lovely folk-infused ballad “You,” a bittersweet song about trying to hold on to a relationship that’s falling apart. “When you feel like you’re not strong, just know that I’ll keep on holding on. When I’m fallin’ I keep calling I can’t get through.”
Just Recently is a terrific EP, and I give it two big thumbs up! Every song is wonderful, and with only four songs, it leaves me wanting more. Guess I’ll have to wait for Jordan’s next release.
I was nominated for a Daily Song Challenge by fellow blogger and friend Lisa Amaya, who has a wonderful blog Life of an El Paso Woman. If you don’t already follow her, do check it out.
The rules of the challenge are:
Post a song a day for five consecutive days.
Include the name of the song and a video.
Post what the lyrics mean to you. (Optional)
Nominate 1 or 2 bloggers each day of the challenge.
My song choice for Day 2 is California Dreamin’ by the Mamas & Papas. The song was written by ‘Papa’ John Phillips, who was inspired to write it when his wife Michelle was feeling homesick for California. They were living in New York City at the time, and she missed the sunny Southern California weather. All four members of the band – John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty & Cass Elliott – harmonized beautifully on their songs, and especially so on California Dreamin’. Everything about the song is perfect – the arrangement, lyrics, vocals and instrumentals, most notably the gorgeous flute in the song’s bridge. It’s magic, really, and literally one of my top five favorite songs of all time.
Even though I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the song really resonated with me. I still vividly remember as a little kid hearing it on the radio while riding in the car with my family from our home in Santa Clara up to San Francisco. We were going to “The City” to watch the Chinese New Years Parade in Chinatown, but things weren’t looking very promising, as it was a gloomy day with rain in the forecast. To this day, I think of that trip to San Francisco whenever I hear California Dreamin’ – and yes, it ended up raining on our parade! LOL Many years later I spent 17 years living in St. Louis, which has a lot of cold, gloomy weather in winter. I often found myself California dreamin’ during those periods.
All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray. I’ve been for a walk, on a winter’s day. I’d be safe and warm, if I was in L.A. California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
OnesteP is an alternative heavy metal band based in Kiev, Ukraine that plays hard-hitting rock with a message. I reviewed their excellent debut single “In War We Rust” in February, which you can read here, and they’ve now released a four-track EP Haunting Satellites. Formed in 2011, OnesteP consists of Siddy on vocals, Eugene Sikoza on guitar & production, Taras Kolomoiets on guitar, and Bogdan Korol on bass. (The band also has a session drummer.) Strongly influenced by the great bands Korn, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, their intense music style is both fierce and melodically beautiful – always a winning combination in heavy metal. Having two guitarists plus a bassist also gives their music an incredibly powerful, complex sound that reaches all the way down into the core of your soul.
For their EP, the band stated they wanted ‘songs with deeply emotional lyrics about existential malaise and trends in modern society,‘ and do they deliver! The first track “In War We Rust” is a blistering protest against war, its lyrics a searing attack on mankind’s inability to change its behavior or take any responsibility for continuing to engage in wars: “Your satellites are haunting me and making me blind and I’m losing sight. Now look around and find your waste that you’ve made of this another site.”
The instrumentals are as powerful as the lyrics, with razor-sharp shredded guitars, bone-crushing bass, and thunderous drums that are hallmarks of OnesteP’s sound, and setting the tone for the entire EP. Siddy’s impassioned vocals are almost terrifying as he screams: “Crawl! Dig em’out! Fall! Pick em’ up! Destroy! Build it up! Got bored? Heat it up!”
The ferocity of the music remains at full throttle on “Cold Revenge,” with the added bonus of rapping vocals, both clean and hardcore (that are also employed on the other two tracks “Illusion” and “Torment Chapter”). I love the melody on this track, and the guitar work is outstanding. So too with “Illusion,” where the instrumentals and chord change-ups are quite good. I especially love the melodic flourish at the end of the track. On “Torment Chapter,” dramatic, menacing synth chords compete for our attention with thunderous shredded guitar riffs and an exuberant hard-driving beat, making for a great song. Hell, they’re all great songs, and Haunting Satellites is a terrific EP.