I recently learned about British songwriter Andy Stern when he followed me on Twitter, and reached out to me about his new singles “I Don’t Mean To.” and “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going“. Originally from London, but now living in Herfordshire, Andy has long wanted to be a songwriter, and taught himself to play the guitar around five years ago so that he could write songs. In his bio, he explains “I have always loved listening to beautiful melodies written by the likes of Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Barry Gibb and countless others. Melodies that take you somewhere unexpected. I also love the stark, simple messages that Phillip Larkin expressed in his poems; he can make you think, ‘I didn’t realise I felt that till now’. These people have helped me write songs about my own life experiences and observations. As we go through life our perspectives on love and close relationships change. This is what I try to capture in my songs.”
Not being a singer himself, Andy looks for talented singers who are touched by his songs and lyrics enough to want to sing them. As such, he has worked with established British vocalists like Greg Blackman and Roisin Quinn to help bring his songs to life. Greg has a beautiful and soulful voice, and happily sang vocals on Andy’s latest singles. Nick Kozuch programmed additional instruments and produced both tracks, and played guitar on “I Don’t Mean To.”. Daniel Arbiter played guitar on “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going”.
“I Don’t Mean To.” is a heartfelt song of apology to a loved one, letting them know you didn’t mean to make things difficult, and hoping they’ll give you another chance: “You and me know, we know that we don’t get on too easily. It’s nothing new, Me trying too hard to get through to you. Probably drove you away. I don’t mean to.” The song has a pleasing vibe, with strummed guitars, gentle percussion and delicate synths. Greg’s soft, smooth vocals nicely convey the vulnerability expressed in the lyrics.
The second track “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going” is a beautiful song of love to someone who’s love has sustained him. The track has an R&B feel that calls to mind some of the 60s and 70s songs by Soul groups like The Originals, The Dells and Heatwave, thanks to its languid doo wop-inspired melody. The instrumental work is really lovely, highlighted by intricate guitars, gentle drumbeats that sometimes border on military-style, and smooth organ. Greg’s beautiful vocals sound especially soulful here, occasionally rising to a sublime falsetto that reminds me of the late Donny Hathaway as he croons “And it’s you, makes me see what a wonderful world this can be. Like you open it up for me. Happiness is a gift that you give to me thankfully. Cos it’s your love that keeps me going.”
I’m impressed by the quality of Andy’s songwriting and lyricism, and really like both of these outstanding singles a lot. To hear more of his songs, check out his Websiteand one of the music sites listed below.
It seems a lot of new music was released on June 26, and so far I’ve reviewed three singles that dropped that day. Now I’m writing about yet another one, the latest single “Cigarettes and Regrets” by British alt-rock band The Common View. The young Leeds-based band is a favorite of mine, as I’m impressed by both their outstanding music and unflinchingly outspoken advocacy for social justice. Their lively and melodic style of alternative rock is influenced by elements of indie pop-rock, post-punk revival and rockabilly. Originally formed in 2018 by three University of Leeds students with a shared love of music – Dom Robertson (guitar, vocals), Jose Ignacio Barrera (guitar) and Jacob Lindsay (vocals) – the band now consists of five members, including the three aforementioned guys plus Joe Sykes (bass) and Will McKay (drums).
I featured them three times in 2019, most recently last October when I reviewed their wonderful EP Man on the Moon. The prolific band subsequently dropped another EP If Not Now, When?, as well as three more singles, the latest of which is “Cigarettes and Regrets”. It’s the 16th song they’ve recorded in the less than two years they’ve been a band! And one of the things I love about them is that no two songs sound alike.
“Cigarettes and Regrets” is a rousing rock’n’roll gem with frantic punk overtones that make for a bouncy head-banger. The guys are highly skilled musicians, consistently delivering outstanding instrumentals on all of their songs, and this one’s no exception. I love Dom and Jose’s fast-paced jangly guitars that erupt into a glorious torrent of swirling riffs in the chorus. Joe and Will drive the lively rhythm forward with their throbbing bass line and snappy drumbeats, respectively.
I also like that The Common View has two fine vocalists, and I believe it’s Dom who sings lead vocals on this song. He croons the lyrics that speak of someone who’s cheated on his girlfriend with a one-night stand he picked up at a bar, and regretting his actions the next morning: “You wake up in the morning all full of regret. The taste of her lips like your last cigarette. You don’t know what to say to this girl beside you. Now it won’t be long til your girlfriend is back. And shortly thereafter, you’ll be forced to pack. It’s all coming down, and it’s been your fault.”
The guys made a charming video that features a mix of stop action footage interspersed with humorous scenes of Jose packing up his instruments and himself into his guitar case, and Dom playing guitar and singing the song in various locations throughout the house. About the video, the band said “Our homemade video is a perfect reflection of how hard it is being a band during Lockdown.”
Soft Shelter is a talented young singer, songwriter, guitarist and music producer based in Santa Barbara, California. He writes pleasing indie dream pop songs laced with alt-rock, psychedelic, pop and electronic elements, and featuring thoughtful lyrics sung in his soft, breathy vocal style. Since the release of his first single “Ashes” last November (2019), he’s been a busy guy, dropping a new single or EP every month or so, most recently his three-song EP Judgment Day on May 1st. Now the hard-working artist is back with a lovely new single “Just a Ride“, which dropped June 26. The song was written, produced, and mixed by Soft Shelter, and mastered by Matt Pereira (aka KOMAK). The cool artwork for the single was created by Theo Morrow.
The song addresses the feeling of being blindsided by the discovery that your lover has cheated on you, turning your world upside down and leaving you wondering what you’ll do or where you’ll go next. I like how he uses snippets of voice overs by the late comedian Bill Hicks at the beginning, middle and end of the track. Hicks’ opening line “There is a point—is there a point to all this? Let’s find a point.” really encapsulates the feeling of bewilderment one is often left with at the realization that a relationship we thought was good has suddenly blown apart. Soft Shelter laments in the chorus “I came home and saw you there. You weren’t alone, I had to stare. It’s my time to go, I left at dawn. That life I knew, I’m moving on.” Hicks’ words offer assurance at the end that things will be alright: “Don’t worry, don’t be afraid—ever—because this is just a ride.”
Musically, the song features a rather melancholy but pretty piano-driven melody, accompanied by gentle percussive beats and lovely keyboard synths that soar to a swirling lushness in the choruses. The acoustic and electric guitar notes Soft Shelter injects at various points in the song add a nice textural element that brightens the overall aesthetic of the track, keeping it from becoming too maudlin.
The beautifully-filmed video was directed by Elena Gaeta, and features Soft Shelter performing the song in and atop a gorgeous sage green Mustang convertible as he drives through what I’m guessing is the countryside outside Santa Barbara.
XENNON is a British synthwave artist/producer who up until recently was based in Tokyo, Japan. His music is heavily influenced by the synthesized sounds of the 80s, as well as Japanese game and video culture. He’s also curator of the Synthwave Sounds playlist on Spotify, which has amassed over 40,000 followers. In September 2019, he released his debut album MIAMI COP, a concept work inspired by the 80s hit TV show Miami Vice, as well as the synth-driven pop-rock that was so popular at that time. MIAMI COP tells the story of an alternative Miami circa 1987, where the city is a dystopian world in which technology has advanced far beyond our own world’s, and crime has spiraled out of control. (You can read my album review here.)
Now XENNON is back with “Hilt“, the first single from his forthcoming second concept album Dark of a Distant World. Inspired by the sci-fi and fantasy movies of the 80s such as The Neverending Story and Masters of the Universe, the album will take the listener on a journey to other worlds as we follow Kurt, a boy who holds the key to saving the planet Eternicron, and embarks on an adventure that transcends time and space. Once again, the concept and featured artwork was done by Travis Wright, who continues to work with XENNON on all of his releases and stories.
The song opens with an assertive synth drum beat that provides a strong rhythmic groove driving the song forward. XENNON then layers a colorful mix of swirling, shimmery synths, pulsating percussive beats and lots of crashing cymbals to create a vibrant, optimistic soundscape that has an almost anthemic quality. As the character Kurt, he plaintively sings of his struggles and self-doubt, not sure whether he has the fortitude to continue, but clinging to the hope that through another’s love and support, he’ll prevail. “I’m not sure I’m getting better. Days drag me down sometimes I’ve found. But maybe if here, beside you I stand, with this hilt tight in my hand. I’ll take it to the other side and get out, safe and sound.”
It’s another great song by XENNON, and I look forward to hearing more tracks from his latest concept album.
1. MARIA – Two Feet (1)
2. LEVEL OF CONCERN – twenty one pilots (2)
3. HELL N BACK – Bakar (5)
4. YOUR LOVE (DÉJÀ VU) – Glass Animals (4)
5. CAUTION – The Killers (3)
6. LEMON DROP – Absofacto (8)
7. LOST IN YESTERDAY – Tame Impala (7) 21st week on list
8. IF NOT FOR THE FIRE – The Million Reasons (9)
9. HOW WILL I REST IN PEACE IF I’M BURIED BY A HIGHWAY?// – Kenny Hoopla (10)
10. LAY YOUR HEAD ON ME – Major Lazer featuring Marcus Mumford (11)
11. BLACK & WHITE LOVE – Beating Hearts Club (13)
12. DELETER – Grouplove (6)
13. BE AFRAID – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (15)
14. EXPECTATIONS – Katie Pruitt (16)
15. HONEYBEE – The Head and the Heart (17)
16. LIVING IN A GHOST TOWN – The Rolling Stones (19)
17. PSYCH FILM – Strangely Alright (20)
18. SOMEONE ELSE – Rezz & Grabbitz (21)
19. BLACK MADONNA – Cage the Elephant (12) 22nd week on list
20. HALLUCINOGENICS – Matt Maeson (24)
21. STRANGERS – Mt. Joy (22)
22. FIRE – Black Pumas (23)
23. BAD DECISIONS – The Strokes (14)
24. HEAVEN IS HEART – Jaded Jane (26)
25. REAL LONG TIME – White Reaper (28)
26. LONELINESS FOR LOVE – lovelytheband (18)
27. DON’T LET ME DOWN – Milky Chance featuring Jack Johnson (29)
28. MONSTERS – All Time Low featuring blackbear (30)
29. NOT OK! – Chaz Cardigan (N)
30. SWIMMING CLOSER – HAZY (N)
Terry Barber is an internationally acclaimed singer and actor currently based in New Jersey. With his uniquely beautiful countertenor voice, he has a distinguished career in opera, musical theater and as a recording artist. He’s appeared on such renowned stages as Carnegie Hall, the New York Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera and Moscow’s Svetlanov Hall, and was formerly a member of the classical vocal ensemble Chanticleer. He’s also appeared on albums by Madonna, Chaka Khan and Cyndi Lauper, and has performed with the London Philharmonic. Terry has recorded albums featuring a wide range of genres, including pop, classical, gospel, opera and Broadway musicals. Last year (2019), he released Reimagined: Mercury, a collaborative work featuring covers of many of Queen’s hit songs.
Terry is also active in many social causes, and in 2009 founded the non-profit organization Artists for a Cause, whose mission is to provide support for artists who serve community needs. Troubled by fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine, then the killing of George Floyd and resulting protests and riots, Terry was moved to write his very first song “When the World Falls Apart” to express the powerful emotions he was feeling. He explained that the song “is my response to the current tragedies we are facing. As an artist, I have always known that my talent is my power to make a difference. We all must do more.” I’ve chosen it as my New Song of the Week.
“When the World Falls Apart” is a gorgeous song, with a haunting piano-driven melody, accompanied by sweeping orchestral instrumentals and an anthemic synth drum beat that kicks in halfway into the track. But the real highlight is Terry’s dramatic and stunning countertenor vocals that go from tender to impassioned. He brings goosebumps as he passionately sings the stirring lyrics that speak to the strong feelings of isolation, anxiety, fear and pain so many of us have experienced over the past three-plus months.
To accompany the single, Terry has created a beautiful, deeply moving video featuring images of empty streets and theaters, people struggling with isolation due to being quarantined, and people protesting racial injustice. But there are also glimmers of hope, as shown by images of people helping and caring for others. Terry is donating 50% of the proceeds from sales of the single to the NAACP.
Note: I actually briefly met Terry around 10 or 11 years ago, when I lived in St. Louis. I lived in the historic Lafayette Square district, where his father Terry, Sr. and stepmom Pat also live, and know them fairly well. In fact, Pat was one of the very first people I met from the neighborhood prior to my moving there in early 1995. Anyway, Terry came to St. Louis to perform at an intimate venue, and I had the pleasure of hearing him sing.
Fireglow is a rock and roll band based in Sydney, Australia. Through their fun, upbeat style of 60s and 70s-inspired music and lively on-stage performances, they’ve built quite a local following since forming in the spring of 2018. Making the music are Chris (guitar/vocals), Sean (guitar/vocals), Bruno (bass), Catherine (keyboards) and Frankie (drums). Starting with the release of their first single “Back of Her Blue Eyes” in June 2019, they’ve been on a creative tear, dropping three more singles over the next six months. This past April (2020), they released their debut EP Fireglow II, featuring four new tracks. One of those tracks is “Won’t Forget You“, which they released as a single on June 12, along with a video.
Even though it was released at the beginning of winter season in Australia, “Won’t Forget You” has a sunny vibe that makes it the perfect song for summer. Opening with the lines “She was fresh out of school, and she blew my mind like a virgin stone blowing down the sands of time / Summer sun wasn’t kind, it blistered our skin”, it’s a lighthearted song about the ups and downs of a summer romance. Over a toe-tapping groove courtesy of Bruno’s warm bass line and Frankie’s snappy drums, Chris and Sean layer a colorful mix of rhythm and jangly electric guitars, while Catherine’s ukelele and swirling organ riff adds a nice touch to the proceedings. Chris and Sean’s vocal harmonies are really wonderful too. It’s an incredibly pleasing tune that seems to channel the music of 60s bands like The Lovin’ Spoonful and The Turtles, as well late 70s Tom Petty.
The sweet video shows the band’s playful nature as they perform the song and frolic outdoors in the woods or by the seashore, waves crashing at their feet. It’s clear they like to deliver a little fun with their music.
I was not familiar with the music of Welsh-born and now London-based artist Bryde before my fellow blogger Robert Horvat (whose blog Rearview Mirroris outstanding, so do check it out) asked that I consider reviewing her new album The Volume of Things. Despite Robert’s confidence, after blogging about music for more than four and a half years, I’m still terribly insecure about my writing, and often feel out of my league when it comes to discussing music. I also often struggle with album reviews, as I find capturing the essence of the songs and what the artist or band is attempting to express through those songs can be a daunting task.
With that in mind, as I customarily do for all artists and bands I review, I listened to Bryde’s back catalog to more fully acquaint myself with her music in order to at least try to sound halfway intelligent in my review of her new album. And I can unequivocally state that I was immediately impressed by her strong, deeply meaningful songwriting, exquisite melodies, richly-layered guitar work and enchanting vocals.
Bryde is the artistic moniker of singer-songwriter and guitarist Sarah Howells, who’s been writing and recording music for over ten years. She started out as one half of alternative folk/pop duo Paper Aeroplanes, who together released a number of wonderful singles, EPs and albums between 2010 and 2015. Also in 2015, she began recording and releasing a series of singles and EPs as Bryde, culminating in the release in 2018 of her marvelous debut album Like an Island. The album is a dramatic collection of 13 stunning tracks exploring darker themes inspired by a break-up, all expressed with a heavier and edgier, yet still fragile, alt-rock sensibility. The lead single “To Be Brave” has been streamed more than 3.2 million times on Spotify.
Now she’s returned with her sophomore album The Volume Of Things, which dropped May 29th. The album was partly inspired by the emotional burnout she experienced following the release of Like an Island, which led her to explore a new paradigm of self-healing. She describes the work as “the calm before the storm – before a new calm I’m working towards.” That said, the record sees her return to a somewhat gentler, more folk-oriented approach, though the tracks still exhibit her passionate songwriting and skill for delivering a rousing, guitar-driven rock song.
This is perfectly exemplified on the beautiful opening track “Silence“. The song opens rather tentatively, with Bryde softly crooning “So, I was restless as a child. Full, like a rain cloud, this desire” accompanied by shimmery guitar notes. Then it blossoms into a glorious, exuberant anthem with driving rhythms and lush guitars as she plaintively sings of seeking inner peace and contentment though the love of another: “Can I come in, can I be part of this silence? And leave here with my heart on the outside. Can I come in, can you satisfy this feeling? I want it to be more than redeeming.”
On “The Trouble Is“, Bryde implores to a lover who’s unable to find contentment in life, always feeling that things never live up to their expectations: “I think that trouble is what you want. I think the struggle is just what gets you off. We’re in the same America. Looking for some way to get it right. The things you think to yourself at night.” The song has a comforting vibe, with a wonderful, head-bopping melody, vibrant 80s-flavored synths and a fantastic bass line. But the highlights for me are her sumptuous mix of fuzz-coated and swirling guitars, as well as her captivating vocals that harmonize so beautifully with her guitars.
“Done” sees Bryde confronting someone who’s broken her down and killed her spirit until she’s finally done with the relationship: “…steal all my dreams, insist I ought to have none. Stayed on my hands til they’re numb. My defenses crumble one by one. Stay strong, and stay well. Think I forgot what it was like, this effortless hell. To be here, with you there. Deaden my eyes, poison my mind by daring to dwell in possibility.” She continues with this theme on “80 Degrees“, desperately trying to bring closure to the lingering pain and bitterness over a failed relationship. The biting lyrics are a perfect example of her songwriting brilliance: “And of all the things that you didn’t throw, your fancy gifts were the first to go. Now the charity shops round here know me by name, think I’m insane. / All the things we said we wanted, don’t want them anymore.”
As the album progresses, I’m struck by the superior quality of every track. The hauntingly beautiful “Flies” has a captivating guitar-driven melody that’s absolutely stunning. The music builds to a dramatic crescendo in the bridge – guitars and Bryde’s vocals blazing – then calms at the end as she softly croons the refrain “Negative thoughts divide and multiply like flies.” She taps into her pop-rock alter-ego with the exuberant radio-friendly gem “Paper Cups“. With an infectiously bouncy beat that aims straight for the hips, the song is a delight from start to finish. The chugging, jangly guitars are wonderful, as are her lilting vocals as she sings to someone with whom she’s found comfort: “Call it what you want. Tell me things too loud to hear. Collect all my words in paper cups.” Be sure to check out this cool 360° video.
Bryde takes a darker turn on the haunting, grunge-infused “Hallelujahs” and the moody but beautiful “Another Word for Free“. I love the mesmerizing synths, and her vocals have an almost ethereal quality as she softly croons “Would you be the weight off my shoulders?” She picks up the pace on “Handing It Over“, with fuzz-coated jangly guitars layered over an exuberant uptempo rhythm.
“Outsiders” is another hauntingly beautiful track, and one of my favorites on the album. Bryde bares her heart and soul here, entreating to someone she loves who doesn’t share her intensity of feelings: “And I want something more than whatever it is you came here for. You say that no one knows just what they want, but I do. I do. I want you.” The wobbly, mysterious synths are bewitching, and her breathy heartfelt vocals convey a strong vulnerability and sense of longing expressed by the lyrics.
The album closes with the stunning title track “The Volume of Things“. Bryde sings the lyrics that seem to be about the challenges of being completely honest, both to others and to ourselves: “We shed our coats as the temperature rose like a lump in my throat. A voice drowned out by the volume of things I won’t talk about.” Her gently strummed guitar is positively sublime, punctuated by beautiful notes of twangy guitar. Three quarters of the way into the track, a military-style drumbeat enters as the music swells to a sweeping, cinematic crescendo. It’s a magnificent finish to a truly spectacular album.
I had knee replacement surgery at the beginning of the week, so have felt out of sorts as I contend with the residual pain, swelling and stiffness. That, combined with the continuous stream of bad news on seemingly all fronts, has put me in a bit of a funk. So it was a real joy – a blessing, really – to hear the wonderful new single “It’s You” by pop-rock band The Frontier. It was love at first listen, and I’m pleased to make it my New Song of the Week.
The Frontier is an unsigned indie-pop/alt rock band from Fairfax County, Virginia (west of Washington D.C.). Formed in 2016 by singer/songwriter and guitarist Jake Mimikos, a very kind, talented and funny guy who first released an EP Chaos to Clarity as a solo artist in 2015, The Frontier has released numerous singles and two EPs, most recently Luminescence in June 2019. One of the singles that appears on that EP is “Dark Places” a gorgeous song I loved so much that it went to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 and ended up at #15 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list.
Like many bands, they’ve undergone some changes in line-up over time, and now consist of Jake on vocals & guitar, Eric Boggess on lead guitar, Eric Dolinger on bass and Eduardo Santana on drums. I’ve followed both Jake and The Frontier since 2016, and have enjoyed all of their music. “It’s You” is a catchy and upbeat song of love and devotion sung to someone who’s made his life more worthwhile and complete. I love the exuberant and beautiful melody, and the plucky guitars, swirling synths, galloping bass and crisp percussion are perfection from start to finish. Jake’s vibrant vocals sound better than ever, and I think it’s one of their best songs yet.
The song was released around the time of Jake’s 38th birthday. In conjunction with the single release, Jake made a video featuring contributions of footage sent to him by fans. He explained: “As I get older, and my circle gets smaller, I feel deeply grateful for the people who have always supported me and continue to do so. I doubt this song will change the world, but maybe it will brighten up somebody’s day or mood just a bit. I especially appreciate everyone who participated in the music video. This was perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had putting one together. Thank you for your contributions. This song is dedicated to…you guessed it..YOU! This will be the last song I release under The Frontier for a little while. I’m gonna take a break and focus on myself and maybe do some solo shows here and there.”
Well, the song and video certainly brightened my mood! Thank you Jake and The Frontier.
So many nights I wondered Wondering how long this could take How much time I wasted Thinking about how many more mistakes I could make
Oh oh oh And it’s you I finally found the light Oh oh oh And it’s you because it feels so right Oh oh oh And it’s you until you change your mind Til we’re out of time
So many lies I told myself All of the loneliness I felt It disappears with I’m with you And I know that you feel it too
Oh oh oh And it’s you I finally found the light Oh oh oh And it’s you because it feels so right Oh oh oh And it’s you until you change your mind Til we’re out of time
Ooh, the time I wasted, chasing, waiting Ooh, the time I’ve wasted, chasing, waiting
And it’s you I finally found the light Oh oh oh And it’s you because it feels so right Oh oh oh And it’s you until you change your mind Til we’re out of time
1. MARIA – Two Feet (1)
2. LEVEL OF CONCERN – twenty one pilots (2)
3. CAUTION – The Killers (3)
4. YOUR LOVE (DÉJÀ VU) – Glass Animals (6)
5. HELL N BACK – Bakar (8)
6. DELETER – Grouplove (4)
7. LOST IN YESTERDAY – Tame Impala (5) 20th week on list
8. LEMON DROP – Absofacto (9)
9. IF NOT FOR THE FIRE – The Million Reasons (10)
10. HOW WILL I REST IN PEACE IF I’M BURIED BY A HIGHWAY?// – Kenny Hoopla (12)
11. LAY YOUR HEAD ON ME – Major Lazer featuring Marcus Mumford (13)
12. BLACK MADONNA – Cage the Elephant (7) 21st week on list
13. BLACK & WHITE LOVE – Beating Hearts Club (14)
14. BAD DECISIONS – The Strokes (11)
15. BE AFRAID – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (16)
16. EXPECTATIONS – Katie Pruitt (17)
17. HONEYBEE – The Head and the Heart (18)
18. LONELINESS FOR LOVE – lovelytheband (15)
19. LIVING IN A GHOST TOWN – The Rolling Stones (21)
20. PSYCH FILM – Strangely Alright (22)
21. SOMEONE ELSE – Rezz & Grabbitz (23)
22. STRANGERS – Mt. Joy (24)
23. FIRE – Black Pumas (25)
24. HALLUCINOGENICS – Matt Maeson (26)
25. HALF YOUR AGE – Joywave (19)
26. HEAVEN IS HEART – Jaded Jane (28)
27. BLINDING LIGHTS – The Weeknd (20)
28. REAL LONG TIME – White Reaper (30)
29. DON’T LET ME DOWN – Milky Chance featuring Jack Johnson (N)
30. MONSTER – All Time Low featuring blackbear (N)