ARTHUR KAY – EP Review: “Arthur Kay”

Arthur Kay

Arthur Kay is a renaissance man of sorts. The hard-working and versatile Norwegian musician has been a prominent figure in the Oslo music scene for the past decade. In addition to being frontman for galactic jazz-pop band Dr Kay and his Interstellar Tone Scientists, Kay has worked or collaborated with indie rock band The Switch, Norwegian rapper Ivan Ave, and neo-psychedelic pop-rock band Orions Belte, among others. Becoming a veritable whiz kid on synths and keyboards while still a young child, Kay had mastered Ray Manzarek’s iconic “Light My Fire” organ solo by the age of eight.

Now Kay has recorded his first solo effort, a self-titled EP Arthur Kay that’s scheduled for release on October 11 via Jansen Records. In advance of the EP release, he’s unveiled the first single “Holiday Pay“. The upbeat song is a celebration of the Norwegian institutional policy of employers being required by law to pay a certain percentage of last year’s wages as holiday pay during the Summer months. Like the title would suggest, the song has a bouncy dance beat that evokes a blissful summer day at the beach. Kay artfully employs a mix of sunny keyboard synths, an irresistible dance groove, and touches of jazz and funk to create a breezy track that just makes you feel good. Kay’s smooth vocals are pleasing as he sings about the joys of having nothing pressing on his schedule: “The rush of sweat pants, and lazy mornings every Sunday. Of waking up too early Monday, knowing where I’ll be the entire day. Holiday day, holiday pay, that’s the life that I chose, OK.”

Kay has produced two versions of the song, a 6:13 minute-long ‘single version’ featuring some terrific instrumental runs that would have made it a great disco song back in the late 70s or early 80s, and a shorter 3:42 minute-long radio edit.

The EP will feature four other tracks, the first of which is “Say It Out Loud“, an exuberant jazz-infused tune with an infectious strutting beat. If this song doesn’t get you moving, nothing will! Kay’s jazzy synths and intricate keyboard work are sublime, and quite impressive. It’s no wonder he’s in such demand by other artists wanting him to play music for their songs. The lyrics speak to his adoration for his love and how, even though he’s hurt her in the past, she’s the one that sustains him: “You are my power. You are my one. You are all the things I love under the sun.”

Next up is “Higher Ground“, a languid, ethereal track with hazy atmospherics and glittery synths that make for an enchanting listen. The bittersweet lyrics lyrics speak to coming to terms with the fact that the only way to survive is to completely avoid the one you want but cannot have: “A higher ground is all there is, and all that’s left for me to do. This blankly stare at empty space, and concentrate on simply just not calling you. Take a stand, as a peaceful man, and make my way from A to B./I’ll keep on falling. I’ll keep on getting through. And all I have to do is stay away from you. That’s everything that’s left of what was me and you.

On “My Love is an Only Child“, Kay seems to channel James Blake, with stunning piano work, delicate synths and soft, layered vocals. With a sense of sad resignation, Kay croons the poignant lyrics that seem to touch on the fragile nature of his love: “My love is an only child. No he can’t come play outside. Won’t go running around with scissors. That’s the point that you’ve been missing.” It’s a really captivating track.

Standing on Shoulders” starts off with a beautiful piano-driven melody as Kay sings about growing up with childhood fantasies and dreams of being a hero, going on adventures and saving the world: “I was mad with desire, stoking a fire, singing my songs of a savior far away. The savior was older and wiser than me. He held all the answers and sway. His feelings could be what he’d like them to be, but never did he run away. ” Suddenly, the music transitions to a lively Latin-infused beat, with exuberant synths and percussion added to the mix. Kay acknowledges that his childhood dreams were made possible by being able to stand on the shoulders of others who were there to support and nurture him: “Well, that savior was me, but now age 33, I have the hopes of my youth now following me. / I’m beginning to see that my savior was also just standing on shoulders and reaching for dreams that were living inside an adventure that’s made just for people like me.

Arthur Kay is a lovely and immensely enjoyable little EP by this talented singer-songwriter and musician. He’s a great lyricist and composer, skilled at crafting songs with thoughtful, introspective lyrics, memorable melodies and beautiful instrumentals.

Connect with Arthur on Facebook
Pre-order Arthur Kay on Bandcamp

Top 30 Songs for July 21-27, 2019

1. I SEE YOU – MISSIO (1)
2. BAD GUY – Billie Eilish (2)
3. MISSED CONNECTION – The Head and the Heart (3)
4. ALLIGATOR – Of Monsters and Men (5)
5. OLD MAN’S WAR – Roadkeeper (6)
6. DOIN’ TIME – Lana Del Rey (10)
7. ESCAPE – Ships Have Sailed (4)
8. ROOM TO BREATHE – Made of Eyes (9)
9. I’LL BE AROUND – Morning Fuzz (7)
10. FALLING WITH STYLE – Heist At Five (11)
11. COMING UP FOR AIR – Mars Motel (12)
12. RUBBING SHOULDERS WITH THE DEVIL – Revolvers (13)
13. WHEN AM I GONNA LOSE YOU – Local Natives (14)
14. DARK PLACES – The Frontier (8) 20th week on chart
15. STRANGE KIND – Blair Dollery (18)
16. UNDER THE COLD LIGHT OF THE MOON – Crystal Cities (19)
17. HERE WE GO – Ben Priory and Charlie Pereira (20)
18. 3 NIGHTS – Dominic Fike (22)
19. CRINGE – Matt Maeson (23)
20. HELP ME STRANGER – The Raconteurs (25)
21. FEAR THE FUTURE – IAMWARFACE (15) 20th week on chart
22. STILL FEEL. – half alive (16)
23. SAW LIGHTNING – Beck (17)
24. FOUR WINDS – Unquiet Nights (26)
25. GO – The Black Keys (28)
26. RAGGED TOWN – Second Player Score (30)
27. THIS LIFE – Vampire Weekend (N)
28. BOOM – X Ambassadors (N)
29. BLOW – Ed Sheeran, Chris Stapleton & Bruno Mars (N)
30. BROTHERS – Harroland (N)

New Song of the Week: RUSTY SHIPP – Breaking Waves”

Rusty Shipp BW Single

I’ve been following Nashville rock band Rusty Shipp for two years, since the release of their highly-acclaimed monumental album Mortal Ghost in June 2017. Over the year following the album’s debut, the band produced a series of superb and fascinating videos for several tracks off the album, two of which (“Treading Water” and “SS Naronic”) I featured on this blog. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) They now return with a fantastic new single “Breaking Waves“, the first release from their forthcoming album Liquid Exorcist, a concept work about sea mine terrorism due out later this year.

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 highlighted by a dark, immersive sound, heavy riffs and haunting vocals. Like many bands, they’ve undergone some changes in lineup since forming in 2014, and now consist 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 Andrew “Speedy” Speed on bass.

Rusty Shipp2

“Breaking Waves” is a grunge-surf-rock song in keeping with the band’s nautical theme and, as explained by front man Russ T. Shipp, “was meticulously crafted to get stuck in a human being’s brain. The song sounds like Nirvana trying to play a Beach Boys song right after hearing ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. Shipp adds “‘Breaking Waves’ is the catchiest song we’ve ever made. Lyrically, it’s more philosophical and describes the battle between technology and nature in a tortoise-and-the-hare-like metaphor where mankind’s mightiest technology won’t stand a chance in the long run against the simple, steady erosion of the ocean’s immortal waves (i.e, nature) breaking it down. I think that’s for the best, and humanity is better off not waiting for centuries of erosion before it’s returned to what’s immaterial and most important – its soul.

The powerful track features the band’s signature heavily-textured guitar work, with layered riffs of gnarly and distorted guitars, all combining to produce an intense, dynamic soundscape for Shipp’s resonant vocals. Newton and Speedy keep a solid rhythm with pounding drumbeats and a humming bassline, while Apperson and Shipp deliver scorching-hot riffage. He was right about crafting a catchy melody, as this one remained stuck in my head long after hearing the song. It’s a great song, and is accompanied by a wonderful music video shot on an actual submarine. The video was produced by Ashley Henry, directed by Aaron Scott, filmed by Jason Hassell, and edited by Jonathan Terry. It features scenes of the band performing the song, interspersed with scenes of them trying to stem water leaks that imperil their safety.

Breakers on the sea, advancing steadily
Little by little taking territory
The armies will erode till Pangaea’s covered over
And the Earth is once again formless and void

Breaking waves crashing on your accolades
Break you down, water torture down the drain
One by one till your soul is what remains
Break you out, breaking from the breaking waves
Break it down and wash it away
Breaking from the breaking waves

Simple H2O crushing your machines
Ships and submarines breaking down to smithereens
The breakers won’t desist clinging to your wrist like exorcists
Feeling for the pulse of a human being

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

TRUE THE GRAY – EP Review: “Bledstone”

True the Gray Bledstone

True the Gray is a metalcore band from Denver, Colorado, consisting of Peter Vaughn (guitars, clean vocals, percussion, keys & overthinking to a fault) and Scotty Wilson (growls & screams, guitars, percussion & weed). They’ve been friends for years, and played together in the now-defunct Denver metalcore band Me Against Sunrise prior to forming True the Gray in 2016. Inspired by some of their favorite bands like Slipknot, Wage War and Polaris, True the Gray make relentlessly aggressive yet melodic metalcore rock. They cheekily describe their sound as “great background music for wine and cheese board parties and satanic rituals.

True the Gray2
Scotty & Peter

In 2016, they released a very respectable debut self-titled EP True the Gray, and followed up in May 2018 with a powerful, face-melting single “Greet Your Tragedy”, which I reviewed. That October, they dropped a three-track EP In A Wake, and last month (June 2019), they released their latest effort Bledstone, a five-track EP serving up more of their signature punishing wall of sound, dark lyrics and fearsome vocals. The EP was produced and mixed by Peter and Scotty, and mastered by Mike Kalajian. Tanner Lichty played bass (and mixed and mastered “The Old Haunt”), and drums were played by John Baptiste Maukbuke.

Kicking things off is “The Old Haunt“, which opens with what sounds like a stylus being placed onto a worn record album before an onslaught of raging guitars and pummeling drumbeats ensue. Scotty savagely growls the lyrics that speak to man’s inherent evil nature, and our internal struggles to conquer that evil in the hopes of finding our better selves: “There is a piece of everyone’s heart that is wicked from the start. But there’s a reason to feel we were placed here to heal and contrive new working parts.” As the song unfolds, Peter fervently sings “A way to cross the line. A face an image of lies. And through thoughts he finds a side. Through thoughts he finds the sight.” But alas, goodness is not to be found, as Scotty bitterly laments “And in conclusion a sweet delusion of fortune and good faith, but as I have no doubt, nothing works out for the bold and the brave.

With nary a break in the action, “Lionize” explodes with a furious barrage of staccato riffs, crushing bass and hammering drums. It’s an exquisite track, both beastly and beautiful, and my favorite on the EP. The guitar work is spectacular, and really showcases the guys’ impressive musicianship. At the two and a half minute mark, everything calms down momentarily as we’re treated to an enchanting melodic guitar interlude before ramping back up for a dramatic finish. Peter and Scotty’s contrasting vocal styles complement and mesh together quite nicely on this and other tracks.

The guys unleash their sonic fury on “Dreamstealer“, a near-epic song with searing lyrics spoken from the perspective of a godlike figure to humankind. Angered by the mess they’ve made of earth and themselves, god concludes that the only solution is to flood the earth again, as was done in Biblical times: “I’ll fuckin’ turn the tide again. Let a wave take away your precious land./ You failed me. You all fell from my grace. So spineless. Empathy; I have none for the weak. Your price to pay. I gave you life. You meant everything to me. I’ll miss your sight. But you weren’t meant to be.” The heavy, distorted guitars and percussion fade out at around 4:40, transitioning to an atmospheric soundscape of haunting ethereal synths lasting another full minute, symbolizing the somber aftermath of such a global cataclysm.

Eon” blasts through the speakers with a relentless volley of machine gun riffs, frantic guitar runs and jackhammer percussion. Now it seems the devil is the one ready to settle some scores, and accordingly, Scotty’s vocals are more savage than ever as he screams “I will open the sky, I will watch as your demons die! With certainty the moon will bleed and light our darkest nights!” Once again, Peter’s clean vocals provide a dramatic contrast to Scotty’s metalcore growls. True the Gray continue to lay waste to the airwaves with their intense metalcore mayhem on the final track “Deadwood“. The song’s meaning isn’t totally clear to me, but my take is that the godlike figure is telling mankind that he/she is no longer their god: “These hearts left hallowed. My feelings shallowed. And I’ll turn away. I can’t be the one you follow.” Scotty and Peter’s vocals have never sounded better, and raise the hairs on the back of my neck from start to finish.

Bledstone is a fantastic and well-crafted little EP. Despite it’s relatively brief running time of only 19 minutes, it’s a raging beast of unabashed ferocity and brilliant metalcore grooves. True the Gray continue to grow in terms of their songwriting and performance with each release, and Bledstone is clearly a step forward for the talented duo.

Connect with True the Gray:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify /  Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp

MISSIO – Album Review: “The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man”

MISSIO

It’s not often that I love an entire album at first listen, but that was exactly the case with The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man by MISSIO.  I was literally stunned by this brilliant and totally original collection of songs the instant they hit my eardrums, and the last time I can remember that happening to me was four years ago with twenty one pilots’ Blurryface. As far as I’m concerned, The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man is a certifiable masterpiece, and hands down the best album of 2019. I can listen to it over and over, and it knocks me for a loop me every single time.  It was released this past April, and I’m finally getting around to sharing my adoration for it.

MISSIO’s unique and eclectic sound is a glorious mash-up of alternative electronic rock, hip hop and dream pop, drawing the best from all three and more to create some of the most exciting and meaningful music I’ve heard in a while. Based in Austin, Texas and comprised of singer-songwriter/producer Matthew Brue and songwriter/producer and instrumentalist David Butler, MISSIO burst onto the music scene in 2017 with their outstanding debut album Loner. The album generated several singles, including “Middle Fingers” (my first introduction to the duo) and the mesmerizing “Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea”.

Their name, originally chosen by Brue who first named his solo act MISSIO, comes from the Latin word for “mission.” It had special meaning for him, as it represented the period in his life when he was recovering from addiction, and he even had the word tattooed on his arm. Many of the tracks on the latest album deal with drugs, emotional pain, and the struggles of overcoming addiction in general. The songs were written by Brue and Butler, with assistance on most tracks by Dwight A. Baker, who produced and mixed the album. Several fellow Austin musicians also contributed to some of the tracks.

The album kicks off with “Underground“, a killer track that instantly hooked me with its irresistible hip hop beat, infectious melody and trippy vibes. The way MISSIO incorporates a rich array of synthesizers, instruments and textures to create a dense, sweeping soundscape is really impressive, and I absolutely love Brue’s distinctive vocal style that registers in the higher range, just below a falsetto. He earnestly croons of his frustration that success and money haven’t brought the happiness and peace of mind he expected: “I’m down. I should be on top, but I’m always underground. Things are lookin’ up, but I’m making myself drown. My anxiety and money just compounds. I’ll be right here, just waiting underground.

Next up is “Temple Priest“, a bombastic orgy of trap heaven. In the parlance of today’s youth, this song is fucking SICK! The track opens with Brue shrieking “That’s why they call me temple priest, muthafucka!“, then we’re hit upside the head by a volley of grinding industrial synths and crushing trap beats. Brue snarls the lyrics that (according to his tweets) speak to his feelings about “American religion and all the judgmental assholes out there. Find truth on your own terms. Don’t ever feel forced to believe something because of your upbringing. Don’t listen to artists/celebrities forcing shit down your throat either.” Amen to that! The track features some fine guest vocals by Austin rappers Paul Wall and Kota the Friend. It’s one of my favorites on an album filled with favorites!

Before I’m able to fully process the brilliance of “Temple Priest”, MISSIO unleashes “Rad Drugz” on my senses, and I’m now giddy from the sheer pleasure of listening to such music excellence. Its exuberant, hard-driving EDM beat and infectious melody sharply contrast with the blunt lyrics about being hopelessly addicted to drugs and the highs they bring. Brue laments “Come on let’s be realistic ’cause I am not a role model. I’m just trying to get through my day. I take for granted the best that I’ve been handed. And not to make excuses, but what would help is my medicine./I can’t get enough. Too high to get up. I keep fucking up my life with rad drugz!” The dark and violent video shows the guys partaking in a brutal torture experience provided by the Rad Drugz Corporation, seemingly wanting to undergo pain and suffering as a form of sado-masochistic punishment for their addiction.

By the time “I See You” arrives, I’m helplessly in love with this magnificent album – and band! What a gorgeous song this is, at once sad yet hopeful, and brimming with emotional intensity. Lush, swirling synths and beautiful piano keys provide a dreamy backdrop for Brue’s stirring vocals. The heartwarming lyrics can be interpreted as being directed either to a loved one or to oneself, reassuring the intended that they are understood, supported and loved despite their shortcomings. “I’m alone with you, you’re alone with me. What a mess you’ve made of everything. I’m alone with you, you’re alone with me. And I’m hoping that you will see yourself. Like I see you./Even when you cry, and even when you’re shy, you mean everything to me. Even when you lie and even when you hide, you mean everything to me.” “I See You” is currently enjoying a long stay atop my Weekly Top 30, and is one of my favorite songs of the year.

MISSIO strikes a chord with me on the provocative “P.O.L.I.T.I.C.S.“, a denunciation of the divisive political climate in America today. To a rapid, head-banging beat, Brue sings “I don’t drink the Kool-Aid ’cause I’m out of my mind. /I don’t need your attitude, your tone is rude. Did your mama give you that mouth?/ This friendship is worse than P-O-L-I-T-I-C-S.” The breakdowns, deep bass beats and synth manipulations on this track are fantastic. “Dizzy” is a dark, trippy number, with distorted industrial synths, deep bass and pounding drumbeats. The lyrics speak to the irresistible seduction of substance addiction, no matter how bad it is for you: “I’ve been feeling self-destructive but I love it. I can’t help myself. Your taste is so seductive. I’m feeling dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, dizzy.

The great songs just keep on coming. “Misfit Lunatic” serves up heavy industrial synths and some deep-ass bass drops, and the seductive little Middle Eastern synth melody is a nice touch. Another favorite is “Audi A4“, a deliriously uptempo song about the joys of driving down the highway with the windows down and blasting your favorite tunes. “Music makes my heart beat on its own. Cancels out the issues back at home. I like to roll the windows down ’cause you know I wanna make a scene. Gotta press repeat of some Snoop D-O double G!

Keeping the vibe on an upbeat note, “Shimmy” is a sexy trap song about getting drunk and getting it on. “3 A.M., the room is spinnin’, we should do some sinnin’. You know I wanna, wanna. Make this feeling last forever, we should be together. You know we’re gonna, gonna.” The song was co-written by MISSIO and Austin hip hop duo Blackillac, who also provide some terrific vocals.

Things turn introspective on “Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To?“, a beautiful but bittersweet song that touches on the struggle couples experience when they drift apart. Man, the lyrics are so fucking relatable, describing feelings I’ve certainly felt more than once myself: “I am lonely when you’re in the room. And I’m tired, too. It’s the distance that’s dragging us down. I’m not blaming you. It’s like we’re screaming with no sound.” The dreamy synths give the track an 80’s new wave vibe reminiscent of songs by The Psychedelic Furs, A-ha and Joy Division. It was co-written by MISSIO and Austin indie rock band The Wind and the Wave, who also provide lovely vocals that harmonize beautifully with Brue’s.

One of the darkest songs on the album is “Black Roses“, in which Brue delivers a scathing denunciation to an abusive mother and adulterous father: “I am your son, you are my mother. I’m on my own, you’re not my lover. Don’t tell me how to live. I am your son, you are my father. You led us like lambs on our way to the slaughter. Who do you think you are?/ I am your son, she’s not my mother. You think she’s perfect, to me, just another. Do you think it’s okay? But I am your son, for worse or for better. Despite the fact that you a homewrecker. I guess that’s who you are.” The menacing synths and thunderous percussion perfectly dramatize the anger and resentment expressed in the bitter lyrics.

The powerful title track “The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man” was inspired by a time MISSIO were driving in a snowstorm in Washington state. Despite feeling exhausted and his voice sore, Brue marveled at the beauty of the landscape he saw from the window, and quickly became grateful for what they had achieved with their music. The words “the darker the weather, the better the man” came to mind as he thought about his introvertedness and tendency to self-sabotage. According to Butler (as quoted in an article by Substream Magazine), the message they wanted to convey in the song is “Sometimes the world might deal you a rough hand, but if you can find purpose in [dark] times, to make yourself a better person and come out all the better for it, then that’s pretty much the best place you can be in.”

The album closes with the hauntingly beautiful instrumental “Esperanza En La Oscuridad“, which is Spanish for “Hope In The Darkness.” It’s a dramatic and stunning composition that feels almost spiritual, with glittery synths that build to an explosive crescendo, bringing chills to my body and tears to my eyes, before calming down to a whisper at the end. It’s a spectacular conclusion to a spectacular album that I cannot gush about enough. As I stated at the beginning of this review, The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man is one of the finest albums I’ve heard in a very long while. MISSIO is one of the most innovative and creative music acts around today, and they’ve earned a spot among my favorite bands, quite possibly of all time.

Connect with MISSIO:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Google Play / Amazon

Top 30 Songs for July 14-20, 2019

1. I SEE YOU – MISSIO (1)
2. BAD GUY – Billie Eilish (3)
3. MISSED CONNECTION – The Head and the Heart (4)
4. ESCAPE – Ships Have Sailed (2)
5. ALLIGATOR – Of Monsters and Men (6)
6. OLD MAN’S WAR – Roadkeeper (8)
7. I’LL BE AROUND – Morning Fuzz (9)
8. DARK PLACES – The Frontier (5)
9. ROOM TO BREATHE – Made of Eyes (12)
10. DOIN’ TIME – Lana Del Rey (18)
11. FALLING WITH STYLE – Heist At Five (13)
12. COMING UP FOR AIR – Mars Motel (14)
13. RUBBING SHOULDERS WITH THE DEVIL – Revolvers (16)
14. WHEN AM I GONNA LOSE YOU – Local Natives (20)
15. FEAR THE FUTURE – IAMWARFACE (7)
16. STILL FEEL. – half alive (10)
17. SAW LIGHTNING – Beck (11)
18. STRANGE KIND – Blair Dollery (19)
19. UNDER THE COLD LIGHT OF THE MOON – Crystal Cities (22)
20. HERE WE GO – Ben Priory and Charlie Pereira (23)
21. BELOVED – Mumford & Sons (15)
22. 3 NIGHTS – Dominic Fike (28)
23. CRINGE – Matt Maeson (27)
24. HELP ME STRANGER – The Raconteurs (29)
25. HURT – Oliver Tree (17)
26. FOUR WINDS – Unquiet Nights (30)
27. PATIENCE – Tame Impala (24)
28. GO – The Black Keys (N)
29. ECHOES – Ignite the Fire (25)
30. RAGGED TOWN – Second Player Score (N)

New Song of the Week: THE MILLION REASONS – “Secrets”

The Million Reasons Secrets

Chicago rock outfit The Million Reasons has been a favorite indie band of mine ever since I first heard their magnificent song “Dizzy” almost exactly one year ago today. I featured the song on this blog, and loved it so much it ended up at #10 on my list of Top 100 Songs of 2018. They followed “Dizzy” with another fantastic single “Battle of Sound” in early November 2018, along with a humorously charming video. (I reviewed both singles, which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.)

The guys now return with a brand new single “Secrets“, which finds them taking a somewhat darker tone than their previous songs. Drummer Colin Dill explained: “We wanted to surprise people with a darker, heavier song than expected. We are all a little angry about the current state of affairs and this song represents letting people into the frustration that can be hidden deep down.” Besides Dill, The Million Reasons is comprised of Scott Nadeau (lead vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar), Mike Nichols (guitar), and Jason Cillo (bass). They’re all phenomenal musicians, consistently delivering arresting melodies, killer riffs, tight rhythms and powerful vocals. “Secrets” was produced by guitarist Ken Ugel along with Adam Beck, and mixed by Ugel and mastered by Nick Stetina.

The song starts off with a somber, bluesy guitar riff, moody bass line and pounding drum beat as Scott sings the first verse with his beautiful, understated vocals:

It’s hard to keep the days in line
And it’s hard to tell the time
When your mind is far away from here
When the light begins to fall
And your thoughts begin to stall
What do you do to entertain yourself?

Follow me a little deeper, and I’ll show you all my secrets that I keep inside
Follow me a little deeper, and I’ll show you all my secrets in this state of mind

Suddenly, Scott’s vocals erupt into an angry wail as the music intensifies with a barrage of gnarly and distorted guitars, chugging bass and tumultuous drums. He passionately rails against the current socioeconomic conditions in America (and elsewhere) that keep a sizable percentage of the population stuck in financial limbo:

Welcome to the modern age
Where there’s no jobs, no decent wage
But that’s OK
You can have some debt for free
All the problems of today
(They) never seem to go away
And the light
Is still so far from me

Follow me a little deeper, and I’ll show you all my secrets that I keep inside
Follow me a little deeper, and I’ll show you all my secrets in this state of mind

The song ends on a bombastic note, driving home the frustration and anger the band feels about this subject with powerful ferocity. It’s another winning song from The Million Reasons, offering further evidence that they’re an immensely talented band who are skilled at producing exceptional music with compelling and relatable lyrics. I love these guys, and look forward to hearing more from them soon.

Catch The Million Reasons at one of these upcoming shows:

July 19 – Beat Kitchen, Chicago
August 3 – Wedgestock 2019, Middlebury, Indiana
August 9 – Cubby Bear Wrigleyville, Chicago

Connect with The Million Reasons:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

Top 30 Songs for July 7-13, 2019

1. I SEE YOU – MISSIO (3)
2. ESCAPE – Ships Have Sailed (1)
3. BAD GUY – Billie Eilish (4)
4. MISSED CONNECTION – The Head and the Heart (5)
5. DARK PLACES – The Frontier (2)
6. ALLIGATOR – Of Monsters and Men (8)
7. FEAR THE FUTURE – IAMWARFACE (6)
8. OLD MAN’S WAR – Roadkeeper (11)
9. I’LL BE AROUND – Morning Fuzz (10)
10. STILL FEEL. – half alive (9)
11. SAW LIGHTNING – Beck (12)
12. ROOM TO BREATHE – Made of Eyes (16)
13. FALLING WITH STYLE – Heist At Five (18)
14. COMING UP FOR AIR – Mars Motel (19)
15. BELOVED – Mumford and Sons (14)
16. RUBBING SHOULDERS WITH THE DEVIL – Revolvers (21)
17. HURT – Oliver Tree (7)
18. DOIN’ TIME – Lana Del Rey (30)
19. STRANGE KIND – Blair Dollery (25)
20. WHEN AM I GONNA LOSE YOU – Local Natives (28)
21. BURY A FRIEND – Billie Eilish (13)
22. UNDER THE COLD LIGHT OF THE MOON – Crystal Cities (26)
23. HERE WE GO – Ben Priory and Charlie Pereira (27)
24. PATIENCE – Tame Impala (15)
25. ECHOES – Ignite the Fire (20)
26. MAYBE, I’M AFRAID – Lovelytheband (17)
27. CRINGE – Matt Maeson (N)
28. 3 NIGHTS – Dominic Fike (N)
29. HELP ME STRANGER – The Raconteurs (N)
30. FOUR WINDS – Unquiet Nights (N)

New Song of the Week: DEF STAR ft. J SLAY – “Bang Bang”

Bang Bang

Regular readers of this blog know I seldom feature rap or hip-hop music, but I have a good opportunity to remedy that situation by selecting the newly-released single “Bang Bang” as My New Song of the Week. The song is a collaboration by Chicago-based hip-hop artist Def Star and rapper J Slay, and if I was 20 years younger, I’d say it was pretty dope. Sadly, at my age, I’d feel like a dope using that word, so I’ll simply say it’s a great tune. The track was expertly produced by Chicago music producer and beat maker Clark Make Hits.

The song opens with an ominous keyboard synth, then once the beat kicks in, Def Star begins rapping the verses that speak to making it as a successful rap artist.

You’re gonna go, proceed with caution
You’ll probably get carsick
Grab a salad and toss it
We always on drip
Leaky faucet
Everywhere we go, we break the scene
We turnin’ that flow into dough, til we break the bank
Bang bang

But then he discusses the demons and self-doubt that can sometimes engulf you, hindering your path forward:

Not even psychiatrist can get in it inside my head
Isn’t this like a trip
Can anyone remind the kid
When did I buy the ticket to this ride again
I’ll be talkin’ to God again
All about my demons
And why did I invite ’em in
I was thinking it would be nice to see a little bit of light again
Take a deep breath, drink some water, take a multi vitamin
Givin’ it all I got
It’s all I got left
It’s my ticket outta here

J Slay joins in on the action in the second verse, rapping about resolving to keep on pushing forward against the odds, and issuing a warning to those who might dare to stand in the way:

Def and Jay got more to say
The more they hate
Our coordinates are set to destroy your day
No more hiding from the pain that I face
Embrace it
We break the bank
Explosives, detonate and cause wreckage
Important message
We drippin’ water torture methods are more than ready
You’ve done just stepped on a hornet’s nest
For more or less, rippin’ it apart until there’s no more left

Though fairly sparse, the moody music and languid beat are both excellent, providing a captivating backdrop for Def Star’s honest, introspective lyrics, beautifully expressed through his and J Slay’s rap verses. Def Star is a terrific rapper, and his flow and delivery are flawless. I like how his and J Slay’s vocals nicely complement each other. Good job guys!

Connect with Def Star on Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / Pandora / YouTube

THE OCEAN BENEATH – EP Review: “The Ocean Beneath”

The Ocean Beneath is a British electronic music project based in Leeds. Influenced by bands such as Gunship, HVOB and Talk Talk, they combine 80’s synthpop elements with modern recording techniques, analogue synthesis and huge melodic grooves to create music that sounds retro, yet fresh and now. This EP has been a labor of love for them, working extremely closely with producer Grant Henderson and lyricist/vocalist Nath Jackson to create a first-rate musical offering. The songs were recorded at Loom Studio in Leeds, and mastered by Katie Tavini.

The EP features five tracks, three of which are instrumentals and two with vocals by Nath Jackson. The first track “Wake Up” is a trippy instrumental, with spacey, psychedelic synths set to a languid, strutting beat that almost borders on trap. The intricate, pulsating synths have a sci-fi quality at times, giving the track a cool, mysterious vibe that’s almost mesmerizing. It nicely conveys images of that hazy state we often feel upon waking up from a deep sleep.

Next up is “Transcend“, a gorgeous track that calls to mind some of the wonderful 80s songs I loved by A-ha, New Order and Depeche Mode. More of those marvelous spacey synths abound here, but this time they’re delivered with a bouncy, upbeat tempo and accompanied by additional sweeping synths that form a lush soundscape for Nath Jackson’s stunning vocals. He wrote and sings the encouraging lyrics about overcoming one’s fears and uncertainty, and opening oneself up to all the experiences that life offers: “The secret’s hidden in you. Stop and take a look around. You never know what you might have found. Open up, and soak it in. Watch it as your time begins.” I love this song.

The blissful mood is abruptly interrupted by an unsettling, deep-bass synth accompanied by sounds of distant ambulance sirens on the brief but complex instrumental “The Meridian“. The ominous sounds are suddenly replaced with a beautiful interlude of glittery synths before ending with a return of the sirens.

Setting Sun” is a spectacular track, and probably my favorite on the EP. Everything about it perfection, starting with an enthralling EDM beat that grabs me squarely by the hips, transporting me to a dreamy place from which I want no escape. The pulsating, psychedelic synths are darkly beautiful and lush, and have I mentioned that infectious dance beat? Jackson returns to grace our ears with his warm, sensual vocals that are absolutely captivating. I really love his voice! He sings of someone trying their damnedest to avoid committing to love: “Well you may be the last one standing. The devil’s on your tail but you keep on graspin’. Sail your dreams out to the sea. Pull them on the line and bring them home to me. A love line and watch it shine. And I won’t stop until you are mine. You don’t know what you’ve become. And you can’t hide behind the setting sun.”

The brilliant video produced for the song is trippy and beautiful, showing Jackson’s handsome face superimposed with a colorful mix of psychedelic, tech, vintage, urban and nature imagery.

The final track “Nocturnality” is another instrumental, with a powerful, thumping dance beat and intricate, sweeping synths that remind me a bit of the great dance music of European composers Cerrone and Giorgio Moroder that was popular in the mid to late 70s. And, like the music of those composers, “Nocturnality” is fairly long, running nearly six minutes. It’s a wonderful, melodic track.

The Ocean Beneath is a superb little EP and a terrific debut effort for this talented music project. One of the things I especially like about it is that each song sounds and feels entirely different, making for a fascinating listening experience. Some electronic music albums and EPs can become numbing after awhile, when one track after another sounds pretty much the same, but this one always surprises with every listen.

Connect with The Ocean Beneath: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play