BLIGHT TOWN – Single Review: “Argument Bargument”

Blight Town

Blight Town are a relatively new five piece alternative/math rock band based in Nottingham, England. Formed just a little more than a year ago, the band consists of brothers Jake (vocals) and Sam Hough (guitar), Will Emmerson (guitar), Scott Taylor (bass) and Joseph Smith (drums). Together, they combine elements of progressive, math, pop and metal rock with powerful instrumentation, complex time signatures and a dramatic mix of screamo and melodic vocals to create their unique and wildly explosive sound.

Last September (2019) they released their terrific debut single “Jejunum”, and on August 8th they returned with “Argument Bargument“, the cheekily-titled second single from their forthcoming self-titled EP, due out later this year. The band states that the song is “A wistful retrospective on the transient nature of modern relationships and the lengths we will go to in order to rationalise our lived experience.”

The song opens with an enchanting strummed electric guitar that gradually becomes enveloped in wobbly reverb, piquing our interest as to what’s about to ensue. Suddenly, our ears are hit with a burst of chaotic gnarly riffs, throbbing bass and aggressive drumbeats as the song evolves into a rousing, melodically complex and discordant banger. Amid some lovely guitar noodling that punctuates the otherwise tumultuous proceedings, Jake’s vocals gymnastics are a thing of wonder as he either sweetly croons or scarily screams the lyrics. At first listen, I found his screamo vocals a bit off-putting, but after a few listens they grew on me to the point where I cannot imagine the song sung any other way. The contrast between his smooth and harsh vocals nicely complements the sense of tension and discord expressed in both the electrifying music and lyrics.

“Argument Bargument” is a brilliant song, and if it and “Jejunum” are any indication, their EP is sure to be  a winner.

Yeah, been throwing pennies down a wishing well
“Oh, what the hell?” I thought
I always knew that I would wish you well
You never wanted an argument, well now you’ve got it
And that’s why they call me the cynicist

Yeah, it’s so quiet
When you go to sleep
But we retire
We get busy, getting busier

Were not leaving, didn’t expect you would show
(Sore eyes, dead brain)
I’ve been reading, I think I’m losing control
(Sore eyes, dead brain)

You know I’d appreciate
Being kept in the loop
Yeah, you know I’d appreciate if somebody could tell me
Why what I did was so wrong

Don’t try to ghost me
‘Cause you don’t see through me
It’s beautiful
It ends too soon

Follow Blight Town:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  SpotifyApple Music
Purchase:  BandcampiTunesGoogle Play

THAT HIDDEN PROMISE – Single Review: “You Can Have the World”

That Hidden Promise single art

That Hidden Promise is the music project and alter ego of British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Lee. Based in Somerset, England, he’s been recording and performing under that moniker since 2011. The talented and versatile fellow writes his own songs, creates all his own music, including beats and percussion, and plays acoustic and electric guitar. He’s produced an extensive catalog of alternative and pop-rock music over the past nine years, often incorporating blues, post-punk, folk, electronic, psychedelic and shoegaze elements into the mix, resulting in a varied and eclectic sound, and delivered with exceptional guitar work and vocals that remind me at times of Bob Dylan.

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I first featured him on this blog in May 2017, when I reviewed his single “All Things, All Will Come”, then again in October 2018 when I reviewed his wonderful all-acoustic EP Drifted Hope. In August 2019, he released a compilation album All Things Here, Till Now (2011-2018), a sort of greatest hits album volume one, featuring 22 of his best recordings over that seven year period, including the five songs from Drifted Hope. Many of the tracks are really excellent, and I highly recommend my readers give them a listen on one of the music streaming platforms listed at the end of this review.

Now he returns with “You Can Have the World“, the lead single from his forthcoming album Who Knows Now?, scheduled for release on September 18. The album was entirely self-produced and recorded between March and May 2020, and Lee explains that many of its songs explore the subject of “trying to understand where we are individually and as a society, hence its title ‘Who Knows Now?‘” He further elaborates “The concept behind the single, is of someone looking into a city and world riven by division, chaos and revolution, whilst seeing the potential to rise through sacrifice and failure and up against a system all too quick to take the credit.”

The song blasts open with an onslaught of chiming and fuzz-coated gnarly guitars, accompanied by thunderous percussion that never lets up for an instant. Lee’s intricate guitar work is nothing short of spectacular as he delivers an explosive torrent of ever-changing textures that go from beautifully melodic to aggressive buzz-saw to screaming distortion. It all serves to create an electrifying and powerful backdrop for his plaintive vocals, driving home the urgency expressed in his biting lyrics. I think it’s one of the best songs he’s ever recorded.

As the city breaks down
I will look across and smile
For a thousand times or more, I’ve seen it die

A silhouette of reflections
A beating heart of righteous rage
Brings us to a point of certain change
And it goes
And it goes
Again

You can have the world
If you’re gonna pay
Though have you got the nerve
To fail again and again
Those who lead won’t keep you down
They may seek acclaim
But it’s clear
If I win, If I fail
In this world
Ain’t a damn thing to do with them

Connect with That Hidden Promise:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music on  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  Tidal / Napster
Purchase on  iTunes /  Amazon / Google Play

AISHIA – Single Review: “Oceans Roar”

Aishia

Aishia is a lovely and talented young singer-songwriter who’s also gracious and kind, a rare commodity in an industry filled with oversize egos. Born in raised in Mumbai, India and now based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, she began studying Indian classical music when she was just five years old, but later developed an interest in western music and started taking lessons from a renowned vocal teacher in Malaysia. Building on her natural vocal gifts, her lessons have paid off well, as she has developed a rich and captivating vocal style.

When she was 11, she became obsessed with the music of Taylor Swift, and started writing her own songs. She recalls “I realised that she wrote and performed [her own songs], and therefore I ventured to do the same. I wrote about everything from my daily life to fantastically fictional tales about love and heartbreak. Most of these old songs will never be published, but they did help me become the songwriter that I am today.” Now 19, she is currently studying music production and sound engineering from Point Blank Music School, London.

In January 2019, Aishia released her enchanting debut single “Aura of Gold (The First Meeting)” (you can read my review here), then followed that March with her similarly-titled album Aura of Gold. Co-written and produced by Malaysian composer and music producer Zameer, the album is a stunning experimental concept work. The two wanted to create a cinematic environment through which its music could successfully tell the story of two people who fall in love, but eventually have to part ways due to events beyond their control. In April of this year, Aishia released her single “Turning Waters”, then followed with “Girl in Violet Clothes” in June. Now she returns with her latest single “Oceans Roar“, a sultry track that explores the feeling of being head-over-heels in love. Once again, the song was produced by her frequent collaborator Zameer.

Together, the two have created a steamy love song that’s a perfect tune for summer. Over a languid, pulsating dance beat evoking the fever of strong sexual attraction, Zameer layers a mix of techno and deep House synths that add to the song’s sensuous vibe. He even includes whoosh sounds to help us imagine waves crashing on a beach. Aishia has a beautiful, emotive singing voice, and here she summons her seductive vocal powers to express the intense romantic ardor described in her lyrical love letter. It’s a wonderful song.

I could find a hundred ways
To tell you how I feel today
Makeup’s on that vintage face
Cycles, hot summer days
I like it when it doesn’t rain
Will you tell me all you want to say?

Glittering wings of light
Starting to take flight
But you know that I’ll be by your side

Cause oceans roar, with your tones
You’re the one I adore
Oceans roar, oceans roar

Found out what I wanted to say
I’ll write it, on a piece of slate
Chalk marks, painted on your chest
Ice creams, frozen popsicles
Come with me to eternal grace
I’ll show you, how beautiful you taste

Connect with Aishia:  Facebook / Instagram / Twitter
Stream her music: Spotify / Soundcloud / iTunes 
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon

EML’s Favorite Albums – ELTON JOHN: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”

One of my favorite albums from the 1970s is the monumental double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John. While I don’t feel it qualifies as a true masterpiece, I think it comes pretty close, and is an album I’d want to have with me on that proverbial desert island. Though my younger sister became a rabid Elton John fanatic from the moment he released his tender and heartfelt debut single “Your Song” way back in 1970, it took me a while to warm up to him and his music. I mean, I liked him well enough, but can’t say I became a huge fan until the release of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (though I now more fully appreciate the brilliance of his early albums like Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across the Water.)

Since its release in 1973, the album has sold over 30 million copies worldwide, and is widely considered John’s finest work. It contains several of his signature songs like “Bennie and the Jets”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Candle in the Wind” and “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”, as well as the epic – and my personal favorite – “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”. The album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003, and ranks #91 on Rolling Stone magazine’s most recent list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, although at the time of its release, the magazine gave it a negative review: “This new record is a big fruity pie that simply doesn’t bake. But, oh lord, how it tries.” Well, that reviewer sure ended up with pie on his face!

Bernie Taupin wrote all the song lyrics for the album over a period of two and a half weeks, then John composed most of the music in three days while staying at the Pink Flamingo Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica. He’d wanted to write and record the songs in Jamaica partly because the Rolling Stones had just recorded their album Goats Head Soup there. Unfortunately, difficulties with the piano and sound system, as well as logistical issues arising from the Joe Frazier-George Foreman boxing match and unrelated political protests then taking place in Kingston, caused him and his musicians to rethink their plans. They ended up recording the album at Château d’Herouville, the same studio in France where he’d previously recorded Honky Château and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player.

Though not a concept album per se, many of its songs touch on disillusionment and a nostalgia for a childhood and culture left in the past. The artwork for the album was fabulous, both inside and out, and vividly displayed in a tri-fold format. The outside cover art was created by Ian Beck, and inside illustrations were drawn by David Larkham, Michael Ross and David Schutt. Here’s a photo of two-thirds of the inside, which features a drawing and lyrics for each track:

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Given all the flamboyance, tabloid sensationalism, fame and infamy of Elton John’s illustrious and colorful career, it’s easy to sometimes overlook the fact that, in addition to being a great composer and vocalist, he’s also an incredible pianist. Perhaps no other song showcases his piano-playing skills than the epic album opener “Funeral For A Friend”. Together with its companion track “Love Lies Bleeding”, the fantastic 11-minute long piece is a grandiose and dramatic melding of classical music and progressive rock, and was reportedly conceived by John as the kind of music he wanted played at his own funeral. I was blown away the first time I heard it, and to this day it remains my all-time favorite of his many great songs. The bittersweet lyrics of “Love Lies Bleeding” tell of a lost love: “Oh it kills me to think of you with another man. I was playing rock and roll and you were just a fan, but my guitar couldn’t hold you so I split the band. Love lies bleeding in my hands.”

Next up are three of his most famous and beloved songs. The beautiful piano ballad “Candle in the Wind” is a sort of tribute to Marilyn Monroe, with lyrics spoken from the perspective of a fan trying to reconcile the myths and legends attached to the legendary and tragic actress. “Loneliness was tough. The toughest role you ever played. Hollywood created a superstar. And pain was the price you paid. Even when you died, Oh the press still hounded you. All the papers had to say was that Marilyn was found in the nude.” (The song was later reimagined in 1997 as a tribute to Princess Diana after her own tragic death.) Davey Johnstone’s guitar work is particularly outstanding on this track.

The stomping glam-rock gem “Bennie and the Jets” is, according to Bernie Taupin, a satire on the greed and glitz of the early 70s music industry. John was initially set against releasing it as a single, as he thought it would flop, but it went to #1 in the U.S. and Canada, and endures as one of his most popular songs and biggest hits. Unfortunately, the song was (and still is) overplayed to death on the radio, and I grew tired of it decades ago, though I still acknowledge its brilliance. The title track “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is probably my second-favorite track on the album, as I love the great piano-driven melody and soaring vocal harmonies in the choruses.

John’s brilliant piano skills are also strongly evident on the folk-inspired “This Song Has No Title”, the exuberant “Grey Seal”, the haunting, cinematic torch song “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” and the dramatic tour de force “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-1934)”, with its bouncy honky-tonk style piano and sweeping orchestrals. “Jamaica Jerk-Off” is a fun, reggae-infused nod to the place where John penned his lyrics, and is one of the lighter tunes on the album. A song that piqued my sexual curiosity when the album came out (I was 19 at the time) was “All The Girls Love Alice”, with lyrics that tell a tragic story of a young lesbian who died in the streets. Though the lyrics are depressing, I love the powerful driving beat, abrasive, wobbly synths and distorted psychedelic guitars that give the song such an edgy and dangerous vibe.

Side 4 is the weakest part of the album overall, keeping it from being a perfect work in my opinion, though none of the tracks are terrible. John and company dial up the energy on “Your Sister Can’t Dance (But She Can Rock’n’Roll)” (probably my least-favorite track on the album, as I’m also not a fan of his big 50s throwback hit “Crocodile Rock” either) and “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”, which I do like, mainly for its hard-driving and edgy vibe, great piano and guitars. “Roy Rogers” and “Social Disease” have an Americana vibe, a genre John has visited many times through his career with varying degrees of success, and he succeeds pretty well here.

The final side is redeemed by the sultry closing track “Harmony”. The song is a piano-driven love song with more of those sweeping orchestrals and John’s wonderful vocal harmonies. He assures his recalcitrant loved one Harmony that she and he are pretty good together and may as well make a go of it: “Harmony and me, we’re pretty good company. Looking for an island in our boat upon the sea.”, ending things on an optimistic note.

Top 30 Songs for August 9-15, 2020

1. HOW WILL I REST IN PEACE IF I’M BURIED BY A HIGHWAY?// – Kenny Hoopla (1)
2. HALLUCINOGENICS – Matt Maeson (3)
3. BLACK & WHITE LOVE – Beating Hearts Club (4)
4. IF NOT FOR THE FIRE – The Million Reasons (2)
5. HONEYBEE – The Head and the Heart (6)
6. HELL N BACK – Bakar (5)
7. PSYCH FILM – Strangely Alright (8)
8. SOMEONE ELSE – Rezz & Grabbitz (9)
9. LIVING IN A GHOST TOWN – The Rolling Stones (10)
10. CARDIGAN – Taylor Swift (N)
11. FIRE – Black Pumas (13)
12. LEVEL OF CONCERN – twenty one pilots (7)
13. STRANGERS – Mt. Joy (12)
14. MONSTERS – All Time Low featuring blackbear (14)
15. HEAVEN IS HEART – Jaded Jane (15)
16. MARIA – Two Feet (11)
17. DON’T LET ME DOWN – Milky Chance featuring Jack Johnson (18)
18. NOT OK! – Chaz Cardigan (19)
19. SWIMMING CLOSER – HAZY (20)
20. IT’S YOU – The Frontier (21)
21. MY OWN SOUL’S WARNING – The Killers (23)
22. CAN I CALL YOU TONIGHT? – Dayglow (27)
23. LEMON DROP – Absofacto (16)
24. REAL LONG TIME – White Reaper (17)
25. MAYDAY!!! FIESTA FEVER – AWOLNATION featuring Alex Ebert (24)
26. WOLVES – MISSIO (28)
27. DOWNS – Roadkeeper (30)
28. LAY YOUR HEAD ON ME – Major Lazer featuring Marcus Mumford (22)
29. ZEN – X Ambassadors, K.Flay & grandson (N)
30. BACK TO HIM – Soricah (N)

IDUNA – Singles Review: “Here We Are Alone”/”But We’re Not Alone”

Iduna

There’s so much terrific music being produced these days by scores of independent and unsigned artists and bands, and it’s a real challenge for them to break through the sheer volume of it all to get their music heard. With that in mind, it gives me pleasure to feature some of the talented ones on this blog in the hopes of giving them a bit of press, and one that I must share with my readers today is Canadian rock band Iduna. They recently released a brilliant double single “Here We Are Alone”/”But We’re Not Alone“, which blew me away the moment I heard them.

Based in Toronto, Iduna consists of Jason Craig (Guitar and Vocals), Trison Boyes (Guitar and Vocals), Tim Saulnier (Bass) and Gabriel Lavoie (Drums). Drawing influence from some of their favorite bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Matthew Good Band, Biffy Clyro and Kings of Leon, they make exceptional alternative rock that’s exciting, hard-hitting and melodic, with thought-provoking lyrics touching on relevant issues such as morality and social justice. Having two guitarists who also share singing duties gives their sound a fuller, more varied dynamic not found with many bands.

In 2017, they released their outstanding debut EP Counterpart, then followed a year later with “Nosedive”, a scathing song of protest against the fear-mongering politicians and news media who spew their bile to keep the public divided and angry. Since then, they’ve released several more great singles, the latest of which is “Here We Are Alone”/”But We’re Not Alone”, which dropped on July 31st. The songs are especially relevant given recent events, particularly the COVID-10 pandemic and accompanying health, economic and political fallout. With the songs, Iduna in their own words seeks to offer “a thread of optimism for those feeling isolated and alone. A rallying cry reminding everyone that we’re all in this together, and a plea for a more inclusive future. Even in moments of isolation or despondency, remember that the world is full of kindhearted souls eager to connect and overcome. Together we are stronger.”

“Here We Are Alone” opens with a nimble bassline solo by Saulnier, then ten seconds in the song blasts through the speakers with a fusillade of raging guitars and explosive percussion.  My god, Craig and Boyes nearly shred their guitars to the breaking point, delivering wave upon wave of intricate, eardrum-shattering riffs. Saulnier and Lavoie drive the massive rhythm forward on its path of sonic destruction with their throbbing bass and smashing drumbeats. To fully appreciate this song, turn the volume all way up!

Craig sings lead vocals here, with Boyes providing strong support with his plaintive backing wails. Together, their raw, impassioned harmonies bring chills as they plead for people to try and come together with more empathy and understanding:

Here we are alone
But we’re not alone
Our link, the bond
Awake in your arms, hollowed

This I beg of you
Please, I beg you to
Give up the ways
That push away and keep us down

Here we are, here we are alone
See the ape has gone and dug a hole

This is not the world
We grew up in
They’re cutting out the youth
From tomorrow 

This I beg of you
Please, I beg you to
Ease the days, lay seeds of change
And lift us all, to lift us all!

The second track “But We’re Not Alone” is a somber, yet hopeful response to “Here We Are Alone”, an assurance that we’re in this together and, if we help one another, we will be OK. The song has a mysterious, almost ghostly vibe with instrumentals consisting of hauntingly beautiful piano keys and orchestral string synths. Craig and Boyes’ vocal harmonies are quite captivating as they intone as if singing a hymn:

Not alone
Here we are
You’re not alone
I’m reaching out to you

Sorrow feeds that show
New hope

Here’s an entertaining behind the scenes video showing the band creating and building the set for their music video.

Follow Iduna:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle Play

FLOODHOUNDS – Single Review: “Something Primeval”

Floodhounds2

FloodHounds are a massively talented and charismatic rock band based in Sheffield, England. Formed in 2013, they’ve built quite a reputation and following with their exciting guitar-driven alternative rock, infused with ample amounts of blues and punk. The band consists of Jack Flynn on guitar and vocals, Joel Hughes on bass and Lauren Greaves on drums. I first featured them on this blog way back in October 2016 when I reviewed their fantastic EP Look What You’ve Started. In the years since, they’ve released numerous singles and have toured extensively throughout the UK, including performances at the Isle of Wight and Liverpool Sound City festivals in 2019, as well as a show in Paris last November.

In May, they dropped their latest single “Something Primeval“, a hard-hitting song about tapping into our inner resolve to survive in this world. I’d somehow missed its release, but finally learned about it on July 30th, when they released a terrific video for the song. I instantly liked it, and as it had been far too long since I’d last written about them, I decided to remedy that situation with a review of this song. With “Something Primeval”, FloodHounds deliver yet another in an unbroken string of outstanding songs with their signature high energy indie rock. All three members are great musicians, and in fine form here. Flynn lays down chugging riffs of fuzz-coated jangly guitars, while Hughes and Greaves drive the rhythm forward with a strong, thumping bass line and assertive drumbeats. Flynn has a clear and commanding singing voice, and I like the way his British accent shines through. His fervent vocals sound particularly good on this track.

The lyrics include references to an array of wild animals to serve as metaphors for both the external pressures and demons that work toward weakening our resolve and making us crazy, and our inner ‘beast’ or strength that we muster to keep our sanity and persevere through life’s challenges.

Is there something Primeval
Buried deep in our core
Give me the wings of an eagle
You’ve got the lions roar

And now you’re getting hungry
You feel the call of the wild
The jungle takes no prisoners
It’s just a matter of time

Cause soon the vultures are circling
The snake is stretching his bite
The buffalo are stampeding
Into the dark of the night

Have you ever felt hunted
Or easily corrupted
Be like the creatures, from tigers, to leeches
They wouldn’t stand for it no

You could be my saviour
But I won’t change my behaviour
Cause in Nature’s Cathedral,
We’re wild, Primeval
So eyes, on the prize,
if you hope to survive at all

Now if you can take refuge
From the driving rain
swim your way through the deluge
Harness the animal brain

Come together, come together
Come together, it’s all primeval now
Come together, come together
Come together, it’s all or nothing now

The video for the song that was filmed in the “Bear Pit” at the Sheffield Botanical Gardens. Directed by Tom Flynn, with assistance by Jeremy Eggar, it shows the band performing the song in the pit, with some cool “eyes in the darkness” scenes.

Follow Floodhounds:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle Play

SOFIA KATSAROS – Single Review: “Aphrodite”

Sofia Katsaros Aphrodite2

Sofia Katsaros is a lovely and engaging singer-songwriter based in Athens, Greece. This past April I featured her sultry dance single “Perfect”, a collaboration she did with Italian composer and producer Chris Keya. Now she returns with a new single “Aphrodite,” an infectious dance pop song that’s both entertaining and life-affirming, with a positive message of female empowerment. For this song, she teamed up with the renowned New York-based producer Alvin Anthony, who produced her 2019 single “With You Here Tonight”. Together, they co-wrote the music and lyrics, and Anthony produced, arranged, mixed and mastered the track.

Acknowledging the myriad difficult times we’re all currently going through in this world, Katasaros and Anthony wanted the song to convey the following message:

Aphrodite, goddess of erotic love and beauty, was one of the ancient Greek gods of Olympus. Love and desire were her powers, and she had a special belt that could enchant anyone to fall in love with the person wearing it. Like Aphrodite, all women are also powerful and should not settle for less than what they deserve, or become victims to abusive relationships. Our goal is to help all women understand they have an inner goddess Aphrodite that they carry inside them. It’s time to unleash your special powers and say NO to a partner that does not respect or treasure you, and say YES to a partner that knows your extraordinary worth and value, and who will treat you like the goddess you really are. Know your own worth and own your inner goddess of beauty, desire and love. Love yourself and let your inner goddess Aphrodite give you the relationship that you deserve.”

Starting with a sensual house-style dance beat that aims straight for the hips, Anthony layers sparkling techno synths, creating an exotic vibe that’s the ideal backdrop for Katsaros’ vibrant vocals as she channels Aphrodite. With an air of cool defiance in her voice, she gives a man who disrespected and tried to control her the kiss off.

Listen up carefully; Show you just how I feel,
You tried to capture me, And tried my heart to steal.
Don’t try and tie me down, And don’t lock me in a cage!
I am a lioness… And I will roar in rage.
‘Cause I’m no match for you I’m wild and mighty
I’m Aphrodite

Loving, the likes of you ain’t worth it no more,
Living, a lie I just can’t bear it no more
I’m fire, I’m much too hot for you to feel
I’m gone, I won’t be there for you babe.

Need someone passionate to show me just how they feel
Need him to capture me and try my heart to steal
Can’t wait to light his fire and be with him all day
I’ll be the spark that ignites his most eternal flame
‘Cause I’m no match for you I’m wild and mighty,
I’m Aphrodite

Katsaros is an active member of the charity LA FAMIGLIA RADIO – CHARITY WEB RADIO LA FAMIGLIA PAIDI. The charity buys food with donations and money they receive from sponsors, and distribute the food to families in need. All proceeds from sales of “Aphrodite” will be donated to the charity in order to help them continue their wonderful work of supporting those less fortunate, in their time of need.

Follow Sofia:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase:  Google Play / Amazon

EML’s Favorite Albums – JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: “Surrealistic Pillow”

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Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane was one of the earliest albums I remember buying as a teenager growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the band was based. I’d loved their two hit songs “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”, but when I heard the album in its entirety at a friend’s house when it was played by her older sister, I was immediately smitten. I loved every song on the album, and had to have my own copy.  To this day, it remains one of my top 10 all-time favorite albums, and I still cherish my copy, now more than 50 years old. I also think it’s one of the best album covers ever!

Originally formed in 1965, Jefferson Airplane became one of the pioneering bands of psychedelic rock, and came to define what was then called the ‘San Francisco Sound’. They released their debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off in 1966 to critical acclaim and decent sales, eventually enough to have it certified gold. It’s a very good album, with songs that were more folk-rock oriented, and inspired by the music of bands like the Beatles, the Byrds and the Lovin’ Spoonful. A turning point in the band’s sound came after the departure of their original female vocalist Signe Anderson in October 1966, who wanted to devote more time to raising her baby daughter. She was replaced by Grace Slick, who’d previously been with the band The Great Society. In addition, founding drummer Skip Spence had earlier been replaced by Spencer Dryden. This new Jefferson Airplane lineup, which would last until early 1970, now consisted of Marty Balin (vocals), Grace Slick (vocals), Paul Kantner (guitar, vocals), Jorma Kaukonen (lead guitar, vocals), Jack Casady (bass) and Spencer Dryden (drums).

Slick’s joining the band proved pivotal to the Airplane’s commercial breakthrough, as her wonderful resonant contralto voice nicely complemented Balin’s beautiful tenor voice, and was well-suited to the band’s increasingly amplified psychedelic sound. In addition, being a former model, her good looks and on-stage charisma greatly enhanced the band’s live performances. She also contributed two of what would become the band’s signature songs – “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”, both of which she originally recorded while with The Great Society (Slick wrote “White Rabbit” and her brother-in-law Darby Slick wrote “Somebody to Love”).

Surrealistic Pillow was recorded in Los Angeles under the guidance of producer Rick Jarrard in only 13 days, at a cost of $8,000. According to Wikipedia, the title “Surrealistic Pillow” was suggested by the album’s “shadow producer” Jerry Garcia, when he commented that the album sounded “as surrealistic as a pillow is soft.” Although the band’s label RCA would not acknowledge Garcia’s considerable contributions to the album’s production, he is listed in the album’s credits as “spiritual advisor.” The album was released in February 1967, and remained on the Billboard 200 album chart for more than a year, peaking at No. 3. Rolling Stone Magazine has ranked the album at #146 on their list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.

OK, enough with the background information. Let’s get to the album. It kicks off with the rousing “She Drives Funny Cars”, and what a great opening track it is. The first sounds we hear are Dryden’s aggressive galloping drumbeats, which are soon joined by Kaukonen’s and Kantner’s dual guitars, and we’re off to the races. Their intertwining psychedelic riffs are incredible, and so is Casady’s powerful bass line. Balin sings lead vocals here, with Slick nicely crooning in the background. Before we can catch our breath, we’re hit with Slick’s verbal assault of “When the truth is found to be lies”, and for the next two minutes and 55 seconds the masterpiece “Somebody to Love” unfolds, pulling us willingly into its maelstrom of explosive psychedelic greatness. The guitar work on this track is positively wicked! The song became Jefferson Airplane’s highest-charting single.

“My Best Friend” was written by former drummer Spence, and is a pleasing folk-rock song with a Lovin’ Spoonful vibe that would have been at home on their first album. Balin and Slick’s vocal harmonies are particularly nice. Next up is the haunting Balin-Kantner penned love ballad “Today”, with gorgeous jangly and chiming guitars and featuring Balin’s fervent vocals, enveloped by a dramatic percussion-heavy wall of sound that would make Phil Spector proud. “Comin’ Back to Me” is a beautiful mellow ballad with strummed acoustic and electric guitars, some of which were reportedly played by Jerry Garcia. Highlights of the song are the haunting flute and Balin’s stunning heartfelt vocals.

As we continue with the album, it’s clear that every single track is outstanding, and that the band had an incredibly diverse and wide-ranging sound. The hard-driving psychedelic guitars on “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” are fantastic and gnarly as hell, showcasing the band’s ability to deliver down and dirty blues rock. They seem to channel the Byrds on the breezy gem “D.C.B.A.-25”, with glorious jangly guitars and more of Balin and Slick’s gorgeous vocal harmonies. The song has a different feel from most of the others on the album, but is one of my favorites. “How Do You Feel” is a nod to the Mamas and Papas, with its pleasing melody, beautiful harmonies and more of those beguiling flutes. And then we have the stunning instrumental “Embryonic Journey”, featuring a tour de force acoustic guitar solo performance by Kaukonen of a song he wrote.

Next up is my personal favorite Jefferson Airplane song “White Rabbit”. Slick has stated she wrote the song as a slap to parents who read their children novels like Alice in Wonderland, then wonder why their children later used drugs. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, she mentioned that besides Alice in Wonderland, her other inspiration for the song was “the bolero used by Miles Davis and Gil Evans on their 1960 album Sketches of Spain,” which was itself inspired by the famous classical composition “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel. It’s the buildup to the crescendo that makes both “Bolero” and “White Rabbit” so wonderful. Here’s a performance of the song on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967.

The album closes with the bluesy “Plastic Fantastic Lover”, with more of those wonderful psychedelic guitars, accompanied by the kind of powerful head-bopping beat I love. It’s a fantastic finish to an album I consider a masterpiece. Although Jefferson Airplane would go on to release several more albums before splitting up in 1972 and going their separate ways with other music projects, none would match the phenomenal success of Surrealistic Pillow.

The album was later re-released with five bonus tracks not on the original 1967 release.

 

1i2c – Album Review: “Lockdown Made Me Do It!”

1i2c

Electronic music seems to be a genre that’s alive and flourishing, as there are lots of artists around the world still making it in all its myriad forms. I’ve featured a fair number of them on this blog, and one of the more interesting – and eccentric – is British composer and producer 1i2c (one eye to see). Based in Stevenage, a mid-size town north of London, 1i2c is the music project of John Whitaker.

Heavily influenced by the music of some of his favorite artists like Jean-Michel Jarre, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Depeche Mode, The Prodigy and Royksopp, he’s an imaginative and innovative composer whose music spans across a wide range of styles within the electronica genre. He’s also quite prolific, having produced a tremendous output of music over the past five years, beginning with the release in January 2016 of his debut album The Great Distraction. Since then, he’s released an astonishing 11 albums, as well as numerous singles and EPs. I reviewed his December 2018 album Winter, (which you can read here), and am now pleased to feature his latest release Lockdown Made Me Do It!, which dropped July 27th. It’s a concept album obviously inspired by the COVID-19 lockdown that’s upended just about everyone’s life over the past five months.

All of his releases have essentially been concept albums based on an overriding theme, with the sounds and titles of each track reflecting an element of the album title. For example, Power Struggle contains industrial techno songs with titles like “Electron”, “Incandescent” and “High Tension”, Horror Show features songs with more of a psychedelic goth and darkwave vibe, titled “Monster”, “Lunatic Waltz” and “Doorway to Hell”, and Winter includes appropriately-named tracks like “Cold Season”, “Chill” and “Deep Freeze”. So too with the tracks on Lockdown Made Me Do It!, with titles like “Confusion”, “Virus” and “Keep Your Distance”. 1i2c states that he wants his album themes to paint visual pictures in our minds, further adding “My journey will continue until I run out of ideas.”

The album opens with “Spirit“, a rather enchanting yet mysterious composition with a galloping EDM beat overlain by lush, spacey synths that call to mind some of the late 70s music of European composers Giorgio Moroder and Cerrone. The song is really pretty in the beginning, but turns darker as the synths take on a harsher, more industrial tone, as if to indicate that something is amiss. The next track “Confusion” confirms that something is indeed amiss, as the melody becomes more urgent, with gnarly industrial synths and an almost chaotic percussive beat that give the song an ominous vibe. Still, there are bits of beauty to be found in the delicate piano keys as well as the almost cheerful sounding xylophone notes at the end.

Trauma” is an interesting track, as it starts off scary and harsh, but soon settles into a mesmerizing dance beat, accompanied by a mix of sharp industrial sounds combined with some lovely synths that make for a darkly beautiful song. As our journey through the extended lockdown continues, we find ourselves immersed in “A Dark Place“. To a repetitive whiplash beat and harsh psychedelic synths, a woman’s haunting voice repeatedly asks “Sometimes I wonder why?“, a question I suppose we’d all like some answers to.

Reality” sets in with a hypnotic EDM beat overlain by pulsating industrial synths that convey a continual state of ennui brought on by endless days of lockdown. Is this the new reality? By now, we’re left feeling like were “Sleepwalking” through life, unable to participate in the many activities involving social interaction that we once took for granted. Musically, the track has more of a rock feel, thanks to electric guitars and more aggressive percussion. The intense, buzzing synths are harsher as well, giving off a decidedly menacing vibe.

1i2c has produced a brilliant video for the song that’s at once funny and disturbing. The video starts off with scenes of bright blue sky with fluffy clouds, then transitions to black and white as he’s shown sitting in the middle of a country road, blindfolded with his hands tied and wearing a bad wig and a shirt on backwards like an improvised straightjacket. He then gets up and stumbles down the road in a sort of macabre dance, as if he’s losing his mind. Didn’t I say earlier that he’s eccentric? He eventually makes his way back to his car, gets in, and drives off. As he drives through the village in the rain, the color returns at the end, as if to possibly signify that all is not hopeless and brighter days lie ahead.

And speaking of disturbing and eccentric, 1i2c delivers both in a big way on “Virus“, coughing and hacking his way through the track, sirens wailing in the background. As to be expected, the instrumentals are deliciously dark, harsh and menacing. To try and avoid catching the virus, one must do our best to “Keep Your Distance“, and the message is delivered by a volley of cacophonous industrial synths and dark, skittering percussive beats, accompanied by creepy sounds of buzzing flies.

The terrific video for this song was actually conceived by Nicolai Kornum. He pitched the concept to Whitaker, then shot some footage for Whitaker to compose the music around. The video stars Whitaker and M. W. Daniels, and was filmed, edited & directed by Kornum. Shot in black and white, it opens with a masked man played by Daniels standing on the sidewalk next to what appears to be a bus shelter, reading the newspaper. An ad for Chiquita bananas on the back of the shelter states “we are bananas”, a cheeky little nod to our current societal state. Whitaker walks up to the man from behind and coughs heavily, then turns and walks away. Incensed, the masked man then follows Whitaker through the streets of London, temporarily losing sight of him in a park. He soon sees him walking and resumes following him to a bridge across the Thames, where Whitaker has stopped to take in the view. The man taps him on the shoulder, and as Whitaker turns around, the man pushes him over the railing and into the river. It’s an extreme measure to rid himself of another potential virus carrier!

Those pesky buzzing flies are back in full force on the album closer and title track “Lockdown“. Once again, 1i2c uses razor-sharp industrial synths and sets them to a pulsating electronic beat to create a sense of foreboding and losing one’s mind. It’s the perfect ending to a brilliant album that beautifully captures the stress and emotional trauma inflicted on society by the COVID-19 lock down. He’s a talented and incredibly creative artist, and I strongly urge my readers to check out more of his works.

Connect with 1i2c on Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes