Top 30 Songs for September 30-October 6, 2018

1. CLOSER – IAMWARFACE (1)
2. NATURAL – Imagine Dragons (2)
3. DIZZY – The Million Reasons (4)
4. NEVERMIND – Dennis Lloyd (5)
5. GOLD RUSH – Death Cab for Cutie (3)
6. GHOST – Badflower (8)
7. WHEN THE CURTAIN FALLS – Greta Van Fleet (7)
8. BETTER NOW – Post Malone (9)
9. BURN THE HOUSE DOWN – AJR (10)
10. ALL MY FRIENDS – The Revivalists (11)
11. JUMPSUIT – twenty one pilots (6)
12. SOMETHING HUMAN – Muse (13)
13. CRAZY – From Ashes to New (15)
14. CITY LOOKS PRETTY – Courtney Barnett (18)
15. PANIC – Agency Panic (19)
16. TIDAL WAVE – Portugal.The Man (20)
17. BODY TALKS – The Struts (21)
18. SHE’S KEROSENE – The Interrupters (22)
19. RIDE OR DIE – The Knocks featuring Foster the People (14)
20. IN MY MIND – Draft Evader (24)
21. FEELS LIKE SUMMER – Childish Gambino (25)
22. LIVING IN THE FUTURE – Dawes (12)
23. LOADING ZONES – Kurt Vile (30)
24. SIT NEXT TO ME – Foster the People (23) 51st week on chart
25. NINA CRIED POWER – Hozier featuring Mavis Staples (N)
26. SUPERWOMAN SWAY – Brett Vogel (27)
27. 44 – Oli Barton & the Movement (16) 18th week on chart
28. FEVER PITCH – Rainbow Kitten Surprise (17)
29. UH HUH – Jade Bird (N)
30. HAPPIER – Marshmello, Bastille (N)

JENNIFER DOLL – EP Review: “With Everything”

Jennifer Doll is a young singer-songwriter from New Jersey who, in her own words, strives “to make music that makes me feel how my favorite songs make me feel.” She released her debut EP The Crystal Hours last November (2017),  and was recently featured on a remix of electronic music composer Manipulant’s “What Good are the Stars” (which I reviewed). Now she returns with a brand new EP With Everything, which dropped on September 21 via WEATNU Records. On her Instagram page she posted her feelings about its release: “I am so excited – and slightly melancholy – to finally be releasing this EP. These songs were written between graduation and starting life, but most of those days are now behind me. They are now yours. Take care of them.”

Jennifer Doll

And what powerful and emotionally compelling songs they are. Jennifer has a fascinating sound and vocal styling that, to my ears at least, sounds like the product of a collaboration between Phantogram, Lana Del Rey and Lorde. She uses intriguing chord progressions and melodies and complex synths to create songs that are fresh and uniquely original. She wrote, produced, mixed and mastered most of the tracks, with the exception of the two remixes, and “Siren Song,” which was mixed by electronic music composer and engineer Almark, who’s vocals are also featured on the track “Cosmo.”

First up is the mesmerizing “Siren Song,” a hauntingly beautiful track about a woman desperately trying to escape her demons. The track opens with sounds of waves washing onto the shore and church bells ringing in the distance, then pulsating synths and a thumping drum beat ensue as Jennifer sings “She had to find a way to get away from the horrors of herself. She had to find a way to keep away darkness as it fell.” Her ethereal vocals start off gentle and breathy, but gradually become more impassioned along with the arresting synths and horns as the track progresses, soaring to spine-tingling heights in the chorus.
 

Jennifer injects a bit of dubstep into the mix on “Secrets for the Dance Floor, ” employing industrial-sounding synths, deep bass and echoed vocals to create a trippy, otherworldly vibe. She sings about the emotional emptiness of being stuck on the endless merry-go-round of partying: “One more drink for some clarity, then throw it back at me, but do we really even care?  One more party, do it all again. Forget as much as we can. All we crave is the end. Can anybody hear it? All the broken dreams and hollow lies?

The gorgeous “Cosmo” features dazzling synths and guitar work that are a lush, glittery soundscape for Jennifer’s beautiful, fervent vocals. Additional vocals are provided by electronic music composer and producer Almark. And “Heavy” is a brooding, yet beautiful track, with deep bass and dark, sweeping synths, punctuated by an enchanting piano trill, xylophone, and an occasionally recurring beat that sounds like a gentle foot march.  Her vocals are dreamy as she croons “Let me go, trust I’m better on my own.

The EP features three bonus tracks, the first of which is “glitter tits,” which speaks to the aftermath of the excessive partying that Jennifer sang about on “Secrets for the Dance Floor.” Accompanied by sparkling synths set to a slow dance beat, and backed by her own vocal harmonies, she laments: “Now there’s glitter on the floor, our remembrance of the night before. Tonight all we have is glitter tits.” Next up is “glitter tits (OneManStanding R3M1X),” a remix by electronic music composer/producer OneManStanding. He takes the same song, but significantly slows down the tempo, drawing it out to more than twice its original length. His synths are more spacey, and Jennifer’s vocals make the lyrics seem all the more compelling at this speed.

The third bonus track is “Cosmo The Little Girl Found (Jigsaw Sequence Remix),” a loose and greatly extended remix of “Cosmo” by Scottish synthpop musician and composer Jigsaw Sequence. At nearly six minutes, this track is the longest and most complex on the EP. Jigsaw Sequence seems to channel the 80’s with his glorious sparkling and pulsating synths, and hypnotic dance beats. Jennifer’s amazing vocal gymnastics are on full display here, breathy and gentle one moment, then piercing and powerful the next, raising goosebumps. It’s a marvelous tour de force.

With Everything is a beautiful, expertly-crafted EP, delivering music that’s innovative yet accessible, with lyrics we can all relate to. Jennifer and everyone involved in its production should be very proud.

Connect with Jennifer on Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase With Everything on Bandcamp / iTunes

STRANGELY ALRIGHT – EP Review: “Stuff”

Strangely Alright Stuff

As all of us who use it know, social media can sometimes be a major source of aggravation, but it also has its rewards, one of which – for me at least – has been to connect with scores of musicians and bands from around the world. With some of them, that connection has run deeper and become more personal for a myriad of reasons, but most often due to the warmth and magnanimity of the artists themselves. One such band is a five-piece from Seattle, Washington with a delightfully quirky name – Strangely Alright. Not only do they play great rock music, they also project a strong message of love and acceptance in their songs, while clearly having a lot of fun in the process.

The band is headed by Regan Lane, who does most of the songwriting and sings lead vocals, Sean Van Dommelen (lead guitar, vocals), Ken Schaff (bass), Raymond Hayden (keyboards, vocals) and Jason Bair (drums). Their wildly-entertaining style of punk-infused rock is inspired by various generations of British iconoclasts such as David Bowie, T.Rex, the Jam, Suede, the Buzzcocks and Supergrass.

They’ve released a number of recordings over the past several years, including their terrific album The Time Machine is Broken in 2013, and a compilation album of singles All of Us Are Strange (The Singles) earlier this year.  On September 20, they dropped a fantastic new EP simply titled Stuff. The band describes the EP as “six songs about love, working together, setting boundaries, the digital age and the change that’s coming.” The tracks were written in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, and speak to “walking the tightrope of acceptance and resistance, of not giving in to the overwhelming forces of hatred and turmoil.” I could sure use some pointers on that subject.

The opening title track “Stuff” speaks out against our materialistic ways, namely, our thinking that acquiring more things will bring us happiness when, at the end of the day, it’s the love and support we extend to others that will bring our lives meaning and a real sense of contentment: “And I have learned through the trials and the times. That I need to look inside if I want to stay alive. All of the things that I gather are things I will leave when I am gone. It’s all just Stuff. It ain’t enough. Without the love in my heart it’s all just Stuff.

I love the silly opening with ukelele and a bit of jibberish, and how it then erupts into an explosion of gnarly and screaming guitars, set to Jason’s infectious hard-driving rock beat that grabs us by the hips and gets our asses moving! The guitar work is so good and, combined with the gritty synths, throbbing bass and Regan’s feisty vocals, “Stuff” is one hell of an awesome rock song!

Building Bridges” is an admonishment for us to work together to build things up rather than fighting to tear things apart. The track starts off with a portion of the famous and moving speech given by Bobby Kennedy at the time of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination: “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country.” It then launches into a thunderous volley of gritty riffs, assertive keyboards and pounding drums that form a lively soundscape for Regan’s fervent, at times distorted, vocals.

The kiss-off song “Wave Goodbye” starts off with Regan saying in an almost smarmy voice-over “Dinner is served,” then organ synths and fuzzy guitars take over as he sneers: “I thought you were my friend but I can see you’ve been pretending from the snide remarks that drip from you tongue.  Walking with a shovel, you’re surprised that you’re in trouble while you’re piling dirt on people you love./  Even when you say you can change. hey, we don’t trust you. Maybe you should just float away./ Wave goodbye.

Strangely Alright takes on misinformation and fake news on “Information Game.” The track has a wonderful T.Rex glam rock vibe, with psychedelic synths and layers of distorted and wailing guitars. Regan’s vocals actually sound a bit Bolan-esque as he snarls: “Liars thieves and pretty faces. TV stars that run the nation. Maybe there’s a quiz at the end. Same old show a different station. Fairy tales and race relations. Cherry pick the good and the bad. The more I see the less I know. The less I know the more I see. It’s clogging up my brain.

Whatcha Gonna Do?” is straight-up rock’n’roll with an irresistible head-boppin’ beat, and one of my favorite tracks on the EP. Keeping with their penchant for quirky intros, the track opens with what sounds like a merry-go-round , symbolizing the circus-like atmosphere we now seem to be living in. Sean’s guitar work is fantastic, as are Raymond’s jazzy keyboards, Ken’s bass and Jason’s drums. And Regan seems to channel early David Bowie on this track as he croons: “Well I vote in the elections and I feel no real connections with the humans that we trust with our lives. Baby baby It just feels like lies lies lies lies. Who hoo hoo hoo. Whatcha gonna do? when it all just breaks in two.

The EP ends on a upbeat note with the psychedelic-rock “Don’t U Know.” The lyrics speak to the optimism of youth, and that change for the better is coming, even though those of us who are older may feel cynical and pessimistic about it: “Well my children tell me that a change is gonna come. Hiding in the sunlight is the truth that we are one. Open doors of freedom. Doors of dialogue. Freight train and I feel it’s coming coming coming.

I have to say that the more I’ve listened to their music, the more I’ve come to love Strangely Alright – not only for their uniquely quirky sound and impressive songwriting and musicianship, but also for their humanity and kindness. Stuff perfectly exemplifies all those admirable qualities that make them a very special band indeed.

To learn more about Strangely Alright, check out their website
Connect with them on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple MusicReverbnationSoundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

LOUIE JAMES – Single Review: “Yellow Doors”

Louie James single

I recently stumbled upon a talented young singer/songwriter from Wakefield, England named Louie James, and was immediately struck by his fresh and honest take on folk rock. He started making a name for himself last year with the release of two stellar singles “Different World” and “Tonight,” and has now returned to grace our eardrums with his heartwarming new single “Yellow Doors.”

The track opens with a tender acoustic guitar riff that quickly drew me in, and once Louie’s soothing vocals entered I was totally hooked. It always amazes me when such a simple guitar riff can have the ability to move us so deeply. Louie’s earnest vocals have a breathy quality that’s pleasing and calming, yet at the same time so powerful. The recurring deep piano chord and whistled chorus are especially nice, adding lovely textures to the track.

The song lyrics speak to his feelings for his new love and how she’s made his life better.  “We’re chasing yellow doors, dreaming of the days. Keeping track the score of when our dark times slipped away. Before she came along, there was a shadow in my life. And I’m glad she stuck around. Made something right.” Take a listen to this beautiful song:

Connect with Louie:  Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes

Top 30 Songs For September 23-29, 2018

1. CLOSER – IAMWARFACE (2)
2. NATURAL – Imagine Dragons (3)
3. GOLD RUSH – Death Cab for Cutie (1)
4. DIZZY – The Million Reasons (4)
5. NEVERMIND – Dennis Lloyd (6)
6. JUMPSUIT – twenty one pilots (5)
7. WHEN THE CURTAIN FALLS – Greta Van Fleet (8)
8. GHOST – Badflower (9)
9. BETTER NOW – Post Malone (11)
10. BURN THE HOUSE DOWN – AJR (15)
11. ALL MY FRIENDS – The Revivalists (16)
12. LIVING IN THE FUTURE – Dawes (7)
13. SOMETHING HUMAN – Muse (14)
14. RIDE OR DIE – The Knocks featuring Foster the People (13)
15. CRAZY – From Ashes to New (18)
16. 44 – Oli Barton & the Movement (10)
17. FEVER PITCH – Rainbow Kitten Surprise (12)
18. CITY LOOKS PRETTY – Courtney Barnett (21)
19. PANIC – Agency Panic (23)
20. TIDAL WAVE – Portugal.The Man (24)
21. BODY TALKS – The Struts (25)
22. SHE’S KEROSENE – The Interrupters (26)
23. SIT NEXT TO ME – Foster the People (20) 50th week on chart
24. IN MY MIND – Draft Evader (27)
25. FEELS LIKE SUMMER – Childish Gambino (28)
26. DEAD TO ME – Reality Suite (22)
27. SUPERWOMAN SWAY – Brett Vogel (30)
28. RED MOON SKY – Face of Stone (17) 19th week on chart
29. UNWIND – John Defeo (19) 23rd week on chart
30. LOADING ZONES – Kurt Vile (N)

FIE! FIE! FIE! – Album Review: “No Light For Lies”

Fie! Fie! Fie! album art

Fie! Fie! Fie! is a gloriously-named alternative rock band who make glorious music. Based in West Yorkshire, England, the band was formed in 2013 by seasoned musicians Daniel Varley and Pete Long, both of whom play some pretty mean guitar. Later joining the band were bassist Avon Blyth and multi-instrumentalist/percussionist Matt Burnside. (Burnside recently departed the band, though he’s played on all their recordings, and Marcus Ambler is a new addition to the lineup.) Daniel sings lead vocals, and the other band members provide backing vocals.

Fie Fie Fie

They’ve released a number of tracks and albums, including Can You Hear This? in 2015, and Live at St. Mary’s and a terrific single “Hit the Spanish Main” a year later. In August 2017, they released a double A-side single “Edge of Space/Everything I Told You”, which I reviewed, then followed with another single “Famous Liars.” This August (2018) they dropped a new album No Light For Lies, which includes all four of the aforementioned singles.

The guys describe the album as being about “Courage, Truth & Love – that there is no light for lies – yet there is light for the truth.” It opens with “Intro Venus,” a brief but captivating instrumental that immediately draws us in with a haunting guitar riff paired with dark synths. Having gotten our rapt attention, Fie! Fie! Fie! proceeds to blow our minds with the stunningly beautiful “Edge of Space.” Oh man, this song has one of the most arresting guitar-driven melodies I’ve ever heard. What sounds like lush synths is actually an effect that Pete put down on one of his guitar tracks, along with an achingly beautiful guitar riff that burns itself into your mind. It stayed with me long afterward, leaving me humming the melody and wanting to hear the song again and again.

Using metaphors of space exploration, Daniel fervently sings about finding enough forgiveness to salvage a damaged relationship, or possibly a damaged world: “Could you find a way, a way to see past this. Past the mess that we both left, could you see through it. Gliding through the stratosphere, could fall off, float away. There’s bigger fears alone up here as we try to find our way.” The song ends with snippets of what sound like old recordings of astronauts speaking from their spaceships, and a final dramatic flourish of distorted guitar.  It’s fantastic, and my favorite track on the album.

Another highlight for me is the fun and bouncy “Hit the Spanish Main.” As it’s title suggests, the song features lots of tasty Latin guitars, but the guys spice things up with jolts of gritty and distorted guitars in the choruses that have the effect of Tequila shots on a beer buzz. Daniel sings about leaving their troubles behind when they reach Panamanian shores: “Got red-faced about everything. Still it all gets better when we hit the Spanish main.” The guys change up the tempo again with the mellow folk-like ballad “Everything I Told You.” The silky layered acoustic guitars floating above a smooth bass line and gentle percussion are sublime, and I really like Daniel’s earnest vocals, backed by a dreamlike harmonizing chorus. Here’s a lovely live performance of the song:

Famous Liars” is a fascinating tune, with sweet acoustic guitars, gentle snare drums and an enthralling background whistle set to a delightful galloping drumbeat. The delicate whispered vocals add a nice bit of mystery to the track. “From the Wreck” speaks to overcoming adversity and moving on with your life, becoming a stronger person for it: “Come on, you’re that long lost mother’s son. Her unwanted Caesarean. Who’s skull she loved to smash against the paisley walls in the living room. / And after all that, and after all this, hearts still beat. Could care less.” The pleasing acoustic guitars seem to give a feeling of reassurance.

The guys shed light on hypocrites and phonies on the Americana folk songs “Bullet Points for the Bullet Proof“: “Your sped-up lines just don’t rhyme, so unctuous and overrated. If you could see past your nose, you’d be better off castrated.So declare your manifesto, then we’ll decide if we’ll abide you or throw you over the side”, and “Bleeding Obvious“: “Who do you think you are telling us not to go far. With your snide remarks and your half-assed retorts. Is it stating the bleeding obvious you made such a stink and a fuss? About whether we have the right. Well our needs are a must.”

The hard-driving “Bloody Lane” is a moving protest song against the senseless jingoism and profiteering that lead to war: “bunkers filled with bankers playing with remote controls. Squares count lives in dollars...”  They close out the album with “Outrospective,” a biting but optimistic clarion call for us to rise up against the tyranny and bullshit being foisted upon us by our so-called leaders and big corporate interests: “They bankrupt and bleed you more. Disrupt their aims, move to settle the score. / You pay your dues, they burn your soul. You’ll run them out, run into the light. Become free, become one. You can’t submit. Cast out the bullshit. / Come out, come on. We are so strong! Get it together, you’re not alone. Morning coming, we are the light!”

No Light For Lies is a wonderful album from start to finish, and every track is stellar, with not a single filler. I’ve had a few conversations with Daniel by internet, and I found him to be generous, thoughtful and kind. I admire this band’s philosophy and dedication to their craft, and love their music and lyrics, so they’ve got a huge fan in me!

To learn more about Fie! Fie! Fie!, check out their website

Connect with them on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase their music on  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon / cdbaby

FROM THE CAVE – EP Review: “Medieval”

Medieval EP Art

London-based From the Cave is one of the most distinctive and special bands I’ve come across, and I know a lot of bands! Their very eclectic style of alternative rock covers a broad range of influences, incorporating punk, pop, shoegaze, blues, funk and ethnic folk elements into their exuberant mix. They debuted with their self-titled EP From the Cave in 2016, and in 2017 began releasing a series of singles, some of which are now included on their new EP Medieval, which dropped on September 10. I’ve previously featured two of the tracks – Halloween and “Cavalier” – on this blog, and am now reviewing the EP.

Band front man Kristian Møller-Munar says the EP is “a big hug to all their influences and puts them in one place where they can express themselves.” As such, each track is totally unique and completely different from every other track on the EP, making for a fresh and surprising listen. In addition to Kristian, who plays guitar and sings most lead vocals, the other band members are Mikaela Lindgren on vocals, keys and percussion, and Josh Scriven on guitar and vocals. Johan Crondahl (bass, percussion and backing vocals) and Anton Vysotsky (drums) also played on the EP, but recently left the band to return to their home countries, so From the Cave is now a three-piece. The bass and guitars for “Medieval”, “Halloween” and “Wasting Time” were recorded by Jules Gulon.

The EP kicks off with the rousing title track “Medieval (Pánico)” a delightful high-energy Latin-rock tune. Fast-paced riffs of scratchy guitars are paired with Anton’s assertive drums and swirling synths to create a powerful backdrop for Kristian’s commanding vocals, which are sung in Spanish, one of his two native languages (he was born in Copenhagen and partially raised in Majorca). The word Pánico signifies that there’s no reason to panic. The guitar work on the track is electrifying, and I love the harmonic backing vocals. It’s a fantastic song, and Kristian said it’s one of the tracks he’s most proud of.

Cavalier” was inspired by a London cabaret bar the band members have frequented, and basically tells a saga of falling in love with one of the waitresses there. The band employs all kinds of exotic synths and strings, including guitar and violin but also possibly zither or mandolin, to create an intriguing Eastern European sound that’s incredibly catchy and marvelous. 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.” I love it!

Next up is “Joshstafari,” a reggae-infused rock song inspired by an encounter Kristian had with a homeless man on the street while living in Hammersmith. The track opens with strange synth noises and a frantic guitar riff, then a rising choral yell signals a change in tempo to a languid reggae beat as Kristian begins to tell the tale of Joshstafari. I love his vocals, which sound so different on each song. Here, he seems to channel a bit of Sting, consciously or not, as if in homage to the early Police reggae tunes. The guitar work on this track is fantastic, speeding up then slowing down as the track progresses. In the bridge, Josh lets loose with a scorching punk-like guitar solo, then everything slows back down to a relaxed reggae beat in the outro.

Kristian has produced brilliant, imaginative videos for five of the six tracks on the EP, which I strongly recommend my readers check out on the band’s YouTube channel. Here’s the one he made for “Joshstafari”:

The hauntingly beautiful “Halloween” was actually my first introduction to From the Cave’s music, and I loved it at first listen. The song was written by Mikaela, and addresses the theme of death in a general sense, as in the death of a relationship or friendship. The track starts off with quiet, mysterious synths and plucky guitar accompanied by gentle percussion and a soft chorus that set a lovely tone. Mikaela’s beguiling vocals enter as the music swells with shimmering synths and layered chiming guitars, and Kristian’s vocals join in, harmonizing beautifully with Mikaela’s. The guitars, bass and drums become more intense as the song progresses, making for a dramatically sweeping soundscape that raises goosebumps. Be sure to watch this magical video:

Maybe Not Today” is a straightforward but upbeat pop-rock anthem about putting off an inevitable breakup of a relationship for another day: “The energy when we’re combined, always leaves me magnetized. So how could we still give it up. Maybe not today oh.” The final track “Wasting Time” is a sunny and carefree-sounding pop song with somewhat darker lyrics about remaining stuck in a less than optimal situation. “There’s a million voices telling me that I’ve got to get away from this empty space.” It’s catchy as hell though, with sparkling synths and jangly guitars, and the lovely harmonizing vocals of Josh and Mikaela are oh so pleasing, a word that perfectly describes the entire EP. It’s absolutely sublime, and a testament to the band’s fearlessness in creating music that strays beyond the alternative rock box. I adore From the Cave.

Connect with From the Cave:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

CHEDDR – Album Review: “Three Sheets: To the Wind”

Cheddr is the music project of Jeff Hines, a talented and innovative composer and producer of electronic music. Based in the state of Connecticut, Jeff has written and played music for over 20 years. But recent improvements in the technology of music production have enabled him to work on this music anytime and anywhere, which has in turn led him to become extremely prolific over the past year, recording and releasing numerous singles, albums and EPs. He released Bear Beat Vol. 1 in October 2017, and Bear Beat Vol. 2 in May 2018, then quickly followed with Three Sheets: To the Wind a few weeks later. In August he dropped yet another EP For the Skies, but I will be reviewing Three Sheets: To the Wind.

Cheddr image

Influenced by Tycho, Bonobo, Emancipator, Gramatik, Ratattat and Madeon, Jeff likes to think of him self as a post rock composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. Encouraged by recognition he’s received from independent music supporters from around the world, he’s continued to produce increasingly more advanced and complex music, which has been featured on music programs in the U.S., UK and Germany.

Before getting into Three Sheets: To the Wind, let me state right here that, though I’ve written about a number of artists who create electronic music, I’m far from being an expert about it and all its microgenres, which can get pretty esoteric and abstract. It seems the more I read about it, the more confused I become, but I’ll try my best to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

The track listings differ between Spotfy, Soundcloud, Bandcamp and iTunes, but I’ll discuss them in the order they appear on Soundcloud for the convenience of my readers. Cheddr kicks off the album with “Falling Into You,” a rather brooding but bewitching chillwave track with fuzzy, almost spacey synths overlying a deep bass-driven beat. Sparkling piano keys and soaring string synths are gradually added, transporting us into a dreamy soundscape we’re hesitant to leave.

As the second track “Unification Theory” envelops my eardrums, I’m struck by his skill at drawing out such interesting and exquisite sounds from his synthesizers, and weaving them together into gorgeous chord progressions and captivating melodies. The intricate sequenced piano and lush strings are breathtaking, and he adds lots of assorted otherworldly synths and deep bass to create a complex and stunning track that’s one of my favorites on the album.

The mesmerizing “Our Hearts are Beating Together” features sampled electronically altered female and male vocals, in a style that Cheddr states are “hypnagogic, approaching vaporwave.” (According to Wikipedia, vaporwave is defined by its appropriation of 1980s and 1990s mood music styles such as smooth jazz, R&B and lounge music, and typically involving sampling or manipulating tracks via chopped and screwed remixing techniques.) In addition to the vocals that chant the title words “Our hearts are beating together,” the track features glittery sequenced piano and lush synths.

Cheddr’s lovely sparkling pianos are a dominant element on the next three chillwave tracks. On “You’ll See,” he adds extra layers of delicate piano over the main riff, along with fuzzy, almost psychedelic-sounding synths. “Reach In” features a throbbing bass line and a mix of glittery and siren-like synths, and “The Winding Road” is brimming with pulsating wobbly synths and lots of plucky strings.

The trippy “Vapors” is the most experimental track on the album. It starts off with a similar vibe as most of the other tracks, with chill piano chords and delicate xylophone synths set to a languid beat, but gradually, Cheddr introduces quirky distorted and spacey synths that change the complexion of the song to one of discordance and unease, as if to symbolize having ‘the vapors.’ It’s a beautiful song nevertheless. The final track “Understory” has a solemn vibe, with a somber piano riff that continues throughout the song. At approximately one minute in, dark synths are added, then a rat-a-tat tat drumbeat kicks in. More synths are added as the pace quickens, then we’re hit with a brief flourish of mournful distorted electric guitar before the track closes with the same somber piano riff that opened the song.

I’ve listened to a lot of Cheddr’s music, and though I do like his Bear Beat Vol. 1 and 2 albums, I feel he really takes things to the next level on Three Sheets: To the Wind. His piano-driven melodies are glorious and more fully-developed, and I love all the lush and varied synths that he uses to create different moods, sometimes within the same song. If you like electronic music, this is an album you should add to your collection.

Connect with Cheddr:  Website / Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

Top 30 Songs for September 16-22, 2018

1. GOLD RUSH – Death Cab for Cutie (1)
2. CLOSER – IAMWARFACE (2)
3. NATURAL – Imagine Dragons (4)
4. DIZZY – The Million Reasons (5)
5. JUMPSUIT – twenty one pilots (3)
6. NEVERMIND – Dennis Lloyd (8)
7. LIVING IN THE FUTURE – Dawes (7)
8. WHEN THE CURTAIN FALLS – Greta Van Fleet (11)
9. GHOST – Badflower (12)
10. 44 – Oli Barton & the Movement (6)
11. BETTER NOW – Post Malone (16)
12. FEVER PITCH – Rainbow Kitten Surprise (10)
13. RIDE OR DIE – The Knocks featuring Foster the People (15)
14. SOMETHING HUMAN – Muse (17)
15. BURN THE HOUSE DOWN – AJR (18)
16. ALL MY FRIENDS – The Revivalists (19)
17. RED MOON SKY – Face of Stone (9)
18. CRAZY – From Ashes to New (20)
19. UNWIND – John Defeo (13) 22nd week on chart
20. SIT NEXT TO ME – Foster the People (14) 49th week on chart
21. CITY LOOKS PRETTY – Courtney Barnett (21)
22. DEAD TO ME – Reality Suite (24)
23. PANIC – Agency Panic (25)
24. TIDAL WAVE – Portugal.The Man (27)
25. BODY TALKS – The Struts (29)
26. SHE’S KEROSENE – The Interrupters (N)
27. IN MY MIND – Draft Evader (30)
28. FEELS LIKE SUMMER – Childish Gambino (N)
29. LUCKY YOU – Eminem featuring Joyner Lucas (N)
30. SUPERWOMAN SWAY – Brett Vogel (N)

CHIO – EP Review: “Unlearned Lessons”

Chio EP

Chio is the artistic name of singer/songwriter Anthony Chiofalo, and this is his debut EP Unlearned Lessons, which dropped in August. The New York City-based artist plays rock music influenced by a whole assortment of alternative, grunge and garage bands, but with a style all his own. He recently had this to say regarding his sound: “People continue to ask specifically what artists my music sounds like. Fair enough, but I’m usually at a loss with that question. I had come up with some answers, but nothing that felt accurate. I also didn’t like to try to fit what I did into some other artist’s slot. That’s missing the whole point of writing original music. I have influences. Tons of them. But I never want to imitate, replicate or steer too close towards someone else’s creations. Otherwise I might as well just play their songs.

Well, to these old ears of mine, I hear bits of the Gin Blossoms, Counting Crows (specifically the vocals of Adam Duritz), and Tom Petty – all great bands I really like, so it would follow I’d like Chio’s music. He wrote all the lyrics and music, arranged all the songs, and played guitar, keyboards and sang on Unlearned Lessons. Jerome Giancola played bass and Justin Hofmann played drums, and both guys produced, recorded and engineered the songs.

About the EP’s title Unlearned Lessons, Chio explains that it comes from a lyric in one of the tracks called “Into the Waves“: “We all still feel it, subtle heat. Unlearned lessons, always repeat.” It’s the final track on the EP, but I’ll discuss it first. He goes on to state: “The song… is about growing up and feeling the pressure of so many different aspects of life, and getting fed up to where you just want to get away from it all. In the chorus, I use surfing as a metaphor for escape, singing ‘I just want to jump into the waves.’  Surfing’s my metaphor, but the line itself represents anything that helps you get away from the seemingly endless challenges we all have to deal with. It seems that until we figure out how to remove ourselves from whatever cycle we’re playing out, and find a way to move past the continuous and familiar problems we face time and time again, there is only temporary escape in whatever you do to get through it. Until you understand why you’re going through the same patterns and what’s at the root of it, your ‘unlearned lessons’ will always repeat.

Using layers of fuzzy and jangly electric guitars, Chio creates a palpable sense of tension, made even stronger with the addition of his own eerie electronically altered backing vocals.

The opening track “The Rebel Inside” touches on his self-image as a badass, at least while he was coming of age, but also that he has a vulnerable side, and his loved one’s hurtful actions may turn him away: “So maybe I’m not as hard as I thought I was at age 15 when I caught my first real buzz. But that don’t mean my mind won’t break when you put my pride at stake. But you seem to see right through me. You’re all that I’ve got and it’s gonna consume me. But I know it’s good to be choosy. Watch out maybe you’re about to lose me.” The track starts off with a gritty, reverb-heavy guitar riff and Chio’s earnest vocals setting a rather dark mood, then the music breaks open with gnarly guitars, humming bass and heavy drums and loads of crashing cymbals. It’s a great rock song.

Out of My Head” is a hard-driving kiss-off song, and Chio’s terrific guitar work is on full display. With bitter resignation, he tells is ex he’s done with her: “I think I’ll take it easy on myself and keep you out of my head. We threw so many words upon each other. Petty things better left unsaid. Now I only feel peace in myself. This moment’s my only future, and there’s no time left for you.” And speaking of kiss-off, he really goes for the jugular on “Haunted“: “There’s a special place in hell for people like you. The ones that take my heart, but don’t see it through. And I’m just vulnerable if you look too close. A sheet in a dark room, but you think that I’m a ghost. Now I’m haunted. I’m haunted by your ghost.” It’s an interesting track, beginning with a funereal organ synth that seems to represent the feelings of being haunted by the death of the relationship. The song then blasts wide open with shredded guitars and heavy drums, intensifying the emotions expressed in the lyrics. I especially like the catchy little guitar riff Chio plays in the choruses.

Chio tackles obsessive, unrequited love on “Long Distance,” where he addresses someone who’s obsessed with a guy she’s never even met: “You know you love him, but you won’t say a word. And if you love him well, why hasn’t he heard. Know the reason why you keep your feelings inside. When you see him, you run and you hide.” I love the Tom Petty-like guitar work on this track.

Unlearned Lessons is a great little EP and an impressive debut effort from Chio that should make him proud. His honest, thoughtful lyrics are written from the heart, and his ability to set them to dynamic melodies and bring them to life with his skillful guitar playing make for some very solid rock songs.

To learn more about Chio, check out his Website/Blog

Connect with him on Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon