Liam Sullivan is an accomplished musician based in Leeds, England who’s been writing and performing outstanding music for well over a decade, both as a member of various bands and as a solo artist. He’s a fine songwriter and guitarist, with a vibrant and warm singing voice, and his music is a pleasing blend of folk and alternative rock. I first featured him on this blog last May when I reviewed his lovely folk single “When This is Over”. Written and recorded during the COVID-19 quarantine, the poignant song is a hopeful look ahead toward happier times. Now Liam is back with his latest single “Be Kind“, a hauntingly beautiful and deeply moving song I’m happy to make my New Song of the Week.
Liam wrote “Be Kind” back in 2016 while travelling around Europe, but his lyrics resonate now more than ever as he advocates for kindness and acceptance at a time when many people are feeling anxious, fearful or angry. He states the song “is about getting out of the darkness of the city and finding solace in nature. Using this as a metaphor, it also looks at taking responsibility in relationships and standing up with kindness and not always pointing the finger.”
The opening lyrics speak of someone with a closed mind who doesn’t seem to want to deal with problems: “Meet me in some corner of the dark and distant city. Away from all the handsome men, away from all the pretty. I promise I will listen if you promise not to talk. Don’t talk of indecision and don’t talk of all these thoughts. / I promised my belligerence, you promised to be calm. Just be calm.” Eventually, through the patience and kindness of another, he softens his resolve and opens up to other points of view and toward a common understanding: “Meet me where the trees begin to disinfect the sky. I promised I will live and learn. You promised to be kind. Just be kind.”
Musically, “Be Kind” has a darker, more powerful sound than most of his previous songs, yet still features the stirring melodies, beautiful layered guitars and emotion-packed vocals we’ve come to love in his music. The song starts off as a gentle folk ballad with strummed acoustic and electric guitars and subtle percussion, then gradually builds to a dramatic and stunning anthem, highlighted by bold, fuzz-coated jangly guitars, throbbing bass and exuberant drums. His intricate guitar work on this song is some of his best, and his commanding vocals have a vulnerable fervency that’s really touching. It’s a magnificent song.
There’s a tremendous amount of talent throughout the music world, and I’ve had the pleasure of writing about quite a few truly gifted artists in my five-plus years of blogging. One of the most remarkable of them all is Kristian Møller, a young singer-songwriter, producer and visual artist who’s now based primarily in Copenhagen, Denmark. Not only is he insanely creative and artistically brilliant, he’s also smart, thoughtful, funny and kind. He’s handsome too, though so free of vanity that, unlike a lot of artists who have scores of photos of themselves plastered across their social media accounts, Kristian has almost none. Hence the only photo he provided is the rather spooky avatar of himself that he created, shown above.
I first learned about Kristian in 2017 when he was based in London and a member of the alternative band From the Cave. I featured them and their delightfully eclectic music several times on this blog between November 2017 and April 2019, shortly after which they split up, much to my chagrin. Fortunately, he continued to record music as a solo artist, and over the past three years has released four ambitious, genre-bending albums, beginning in September 2018 with the trippy, experimental work Gamble. He followed with two albums in quick succession in 2019 – Incomplete in August, featuring 16 tracks, and I’m the Fucking Producer in December, containing a mind-boggling 23 tracks! I especially like the title track, a marvelous take down of music producers: “I’m the fucking producer, I’m going to ruin your tune. I take the life out of it, and I make it better, better”, but I digress…
On February 21st, Kristian dropped his fourth album Caldo, an exquisite and loving tribute to his Spanish heritage, specifically, his mother’s homeland of Mallorca, an island in the Mediterranean that’s part of Spain. He explained to me that the album’s title “Caldo” means “broth” in Spanish, adding: “The broth plays a big part in some traditional dishes that my family – and especially my Spanish grandparents – cook.” (He plans to follow up later this year with another album of songs sung in Danish as a tribute to his father’s and his homeland of Denmark.)
The album is nearly epic in scope, running 55 minutes and featuring 18 songs, 14 of which are sung entirely in Spanish, as well as four instrumentals. When Kristian first approached me about reviewing this album, I was a bit apprehensive, as both its length and the fact it was sung entirely in Spanish presented a potentially daunting task. He kindly translated his lyrics into English for me, and once I began listening to the songs, my trepidation quickly evaporated as I found myself thoroughly enchanted by their breathtaking beauty.
Case in point is the opening track “Son Verí“, a beautiful ode to the Mallorcan seaside town where his family has a home: “From the moment I was born, there’s always been a place for me, in Son Verí / In every rock there are stories and thousands of memories that can’t be forgotten.” Kristian’s strummed Spanish guitar is stunning, and his baritone vocals have an earnest vulnerability that’s both comforting and deeply moving. He also creates wonderful, imaginative videos for many of his songs, and the one for “Son Verí” nicely captures the warmth and sun-kissed beauty of his family’s Mallorcan home.
On the next song “Invitación” (Invitation), he continues singing his praises of Mallorca: “I invite you to the view of the cathedral / I invite you to the view of the mountains and the ocean / I invite you to the sun and the nights filled with moonlight / I invite you to the tower of Cala Pi, pa amb oli and olives / We can have dinner together and be joyful people.” Once again, his strummed acoustic guitar work is sublime, only this time complemented by a deep bass groove and a gorgeous atmospheric organ riff.
Besides extolling Mallorca’s virtues, Kristian weaves other subjects such as romantic love, the importance of family, and even his frustrations over the political upheaval that resulted in Brexit, into the narrative of some tracks. On “Tranquila” (Don’t Worry), he sings of his love for another, even though he must leave them: “You know that I’ve enjoyed our time together/ Even though I sometimes lose myself in the things I say, there’s something else that is about to begin / Yet again, I feel the need to make mistakes.” And on “Fuego” (Fire), he compares his passions for – and challenges of – making music with making love: “One hand in hell, another hand in heaven / In the tongue of heat, in the musical notes of pain / The orchestras of the sun live inside of your bedroom.“
Like he did with From the Cave’s music, Kristian skillfully melds together disparate music elements like rock, hip hop, punk and electronic with Spanish folk and flamenco to create his own unique sound. On “Mallorca“, he combines acoustic Spanish guitar notes with a hypnotic dubstep beat to create a contemplative backdrop for his monotonal vocals as he sings of escaping to Mallorca to relieve his stress over worrying about his music career and trying to please everyone: “I’ve attempted it time and time again / I’ve tried it and I always want to be another person just to please everybody / I say “yes” way too quickly / “Yes” – what a load of shit / Here I am, stressed out once again, I need to slow down. Every day I wake up in a hurry to impress / Release yet another song that’s true / I’ve done it more than a hundred times / And so what? In the end, what difference does it make?”
On the rousing “Basura” (Trash), he rails against autocratic leaders like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, and how their divisive rhetoric damages their countries: “People with weird wigs who have presidencies / I want to be better than this / And you can be better than this trash without any shame / We don’t have any other option but to remove these people who don’t have any compassion for the people around them / It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong, they are completely mental.” I love the lively Spanish folk rock vibe and bold, colorful instrumentation and his emphatic vocals. Kristian created a wonderfully trippy animated video showing a fearsome prehistoric-looking creature pulling a large cart containing what appears to be a town square filled with piles of trash and strange robed men with antlers. His avatar stands at a console, controlling the proceedings as they all fly over the countryside, with several plates containing fried eggs circling overhead like flying saucers.
As the album proceeds, the great songs keep coming, including four gorgeous and compelling instrumentals: “Manzana” (Apple), “Agosto” (August), “Aleppo” and “La Casa De Los Abuelos” (The House Of The Grandparents). One of my many favorites on Caldo is “Salsa De Tomate” (Tomato Sauce), a beautiful, uplifting song celebrating the healing powers of food and family: “The plants are growing in your garden and they look like the ones in Son Verí / This black cloud will leave one day / The birds are flying above the wall / We’re people, We’re friends, We’re family.” The song has a powerful, driving beat overlain with enchanting strummed Spanish guitars and haunting flutes that give the song a wonderful Incan vibe. Kristian’s warm vocals are sublime, and the airy, female backing vocals add a nice touch to the song.
“Patatas” (Potatoes) is yet another standout track, with bold strummed guitar notes accompanied by psychedelic synths and snappy percussion that produce a captivating Spanish punk sound. “El Caballero Oscuro” (The Dark Knight) is great too, with its dark, spooky synths, strong driving beat and terrific guitar work. Kristian doesn’t mince words as he tells a lover of his carnal intentions: “I want to be your dark knight / I want to see your face and your ass / I want to return, a tough guy who has a chance of becoming something / In the corner of my mind I’m a good guy who acts way too nicely / And that’s exactly why it isn’t working between us. I’m an animal, In my gut, inside of my medieval soul there’s something else to liberate / Because, I’m the dark knight and today I want to kick it hard.”
The pleasing title track “Caldo” closes the album, summing up its overriding theme of finding solace in the enduring traditions of family, friends and food in a home we love: “Palma de Mallorca /We’re tourists and we’re locals / The broth of life / The broth of tradition / The broth of life.”
I had a lovely chat with Kristian, who graciously answered my questions about his upbringing, career choices and inspiration behind Caldo’s creation.
EML: You are truly multi-cultural Kristian. I know your father is Danish and mother is from Mallorca, which is part of Spain, and I believe you were born in Denmark, is that correct? Where were you raised, and/or did you spend time growing up in both Denmark and Mallorca?
Kristian: I was born in Copenhagen but I spent the majority of my childhood living in Palma De Mallorca. When I turned 12 we moved back to Copenhagen. I’ve been lucky to experience both cultures – the Danish and the Spanish sides – fully. Both my parents speak each-other’s languages fluently so I guess we’ve always had it all very blended together at home.
EML: When you and I first connected, you were living in London. How did you come to live there?
Kristian: Initially I applied for a songwriting degree in Copenhagen, but wasn’t accepted. Then I began looking for other options and we found a songwriting degree in London. I ended up staying in the city for 5 years. I’m glad it turned out that way.
EML: While in London, you had a terrific band From the Cave who played a wonderfully eclectic style of alternative rock with lots of exotic and ethnic elements. I loved your music, and reviewed quite a bit of it before you and your fellow band members decided to call it quits in summer 2019. What made you all decide to end From the Cave, and for you to subsequently relocate from London to Mallorca, or do you now split your time between Mallorca and London and/or Copenhagen?
Kristian: Thanks man. We always loved your reviews and they provided us with a lot of moral support. I think I realized that I wasn’t going to stay permanently in London. It was very expensive to get by. The prospect of a hard Brexit also creeped in on everyone. I realized I could move to our summer house in Spain, without having to pay rent. I felt that quitting everything – including my job at a recording studio – to focus on our own music was a slightly scary but necessary step. There are other aspects to the story that I won’t go into detail with, but I’m very happy that all of us (including past From The Cave members) have been friends first and band-members second. We still keep in touch and I look forward to seeing everyone soon. We really had a great run and so many awesome memories and experiences came from the project. I’m thankful for all of it. I’m now based in Copenhagen but I also spend several months a year in Spain.
EML: Caldo is the first of two albums you’re making that pay homage to your dual Spanish and Danish heritage, and is a kind of beautiful love letter to Mallorca. What inspired you to want to make these two albums?
Kristian: During the 7 years that I lived abroad I found it hard to choose which family I should visit during the holidays. When you have your family spread out over two different countries – and you live in a third place – it becomes a bit tricky. I’m very close to both my families, and it felt wrong not seeing them more often. When I moved to Spain I was finally able to make up for some of the lost time. Eight months later, when the pandemic hit, I had just arrived in Denmark to visit my Danish grandparent. During that stay I wrote the first song of the Danish album which will be released later this year. At the same time, my cousin had been sending me some short stories that he had been writing. They were really honest and beautiful. They took place in our own world, the world of our families. It found it very inspiring to read. In a way I think it also opened a door for me lyrically.
EML: The songs on Caldo are quite beautiful and melodic, nicely conveying images of an enchanting and fulfilling life on Mallorca. Many of the tracks touch on food and its importance to the culture, but others speak of the vagaries of love and passion. What were some of your inspirations for the songs, both musically and lyrically?
Kristian: Thank you, that’s very kind of you. The running theme of food is something – I must admit – I stole from one of my favourite bands: Sleaford Mods. In their album Eton Alive, they use food as metaphor and red thread throughout the album. I think it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. It made me think about the role that food plays in our own family. For us it’s a central gathering point. A ritual where we show love and care for each-other through these traditions. Even meeting up for a coffé has a powerful symbolic value. I try not to be too nostalgic, but I feel like these things are a remedy for coping with the rapid passing of time. At least I feel like daily life is gradually accelerating more and more. This gives these rituals even more importance.
EML: You stated that you wrote, recorded and produced the album in your family’s basement. Did you do everything yourself? A few songs, such as “Salsa de Tomate” have female background vocals. Who sang them?
Kristian: Yes, I did everything here on my own. But I can’t claim that I’ve done it alone. My family have been incredibly supportive throughout the process, and I’ve shared all of the demos and demos and more demos… some more demos…with them on the go. Their company has been fundamental. On top of that my parents paid for some equipment, the guitar that I’ve used on everything on the album, and helped me make the home-studio in our basement. We really went all in on this thing haha! In response to all of that support I’ve given it everything I had. We would go on daily walks and talk through the ideas and the process. The vocals on “Salsa de Tomate” are from my aunt Ñesi. She’s a songwriter herself and she’s preparing the launch of her solo project soon. I’ve heard her new songs and they’re amazing. My two nieces are also singing in the background of the third chorus of the song. My aunt heard them sing the song spontaneously during her recording and then recorded it for me as a surprise.
EML: That was sweet of her! Is there anything you’d like to add that I may have neglected to ask?
Kristian: I would just like to thank you for taking the time to do this review and showing some genuine interest in the project. I really appreciate it and it’s been very fun to answer your questions. I look forward to continuing making music and try to enjoy it as much as possible. Muchas gracias!
Thank YOU, Kristian, for bringing the world some badly-needed joy and pleasure with your beautiful album. Listening to it is an immersive experience, and should be heard in its entirety to fully appreciate the beauty and brilliance of its many musical textures and sounds. In my not so humble opinion, Caldo is a masterpiece, and I implore my readers to do yourselves a big favor by taking the time to give it a full listen, and let its songs envelop you like they do for me!
Last October, I featured Michigan-based artist Au Gres (the music project of singer-songwriter Joshua Kemp) when I reviewed his charming debut single “Nervous”. A delightful melding of indie rock, lo-fi and synth pop elements, the song speaks of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in order to more fully experience the joys of life, love and relationships. I liked it so much, it spent two months on my Weekly Top 30.
Now he returns with his second single “At Home in the Dark“, another stellar and dreamy track, but this time featuring a somewhat edgier rock vibe he describes as “indie pop with teeth”. The song was produced and mixed by Jake Rye at the Social Recording Company, and mastered by Mike Cervantes (the same guys who worked with another Michigan artist Dawning, whose stunning EP Petals I reviewed a few weeks ago). Josh and fellow musician Noah DeLeon played guitars, and both they and Jake all had a hand in programming synths. Brodie Glaza played drums, and Josh’s girlfriend Linsley Hartenstein played the lovely piano in the outro.
“At Home in the Dark” is essentially a sweet love song, in which Au Gres assures his romantic partner that he’ll be there to support and comfort her through good times and bad: “I want to be there when it rains / I want to know you on your bad days, baby / I want to be there when you start to think the wrong things in the right time frame / So I’m on my way to hold you close / If it rains outside we’ll stay indoors with a glass of red we’ll sing in prose / We’ll do what it takes to feel at home in the dark.”
To drive home his message, he and his fellow musicians start with a palette of delicate swirling synths, then layer multiple textures of guitar and percussion to create a lush, emotionally-powerful soundscape. The music swells to an exuberant crescendo in the choruses, highlighted by a dramatic guitar solo in the bridge. Interestingly, the song opens with the same crescendo that later appears in the choruses, putting the song on a strong footing right from the start. Josh has a fine singing voice, and his lovely comforting vocals are perfect for conveying the tender feelings of love and devotion expressed in the lyrics.
With both “Nervous” and “At Home in the Dark” to his credit, Au Gres maintains his perfect score of releasing outstanding singles. I’m confident we’ll be hearing a lot more great music to come from this talented man.
I’ve been watching season two of the TV series POSE, a show about New York City’s underground drag ball scene of the 1980s and early 1990s, and the first episode featured the hit song “Vogue” by Madonna. The drag ball scene was primarily a young African-American and Latino LGBTQ underground subculture in which people – many of whom lived together in groups of friends as members of families in “houses” that replaced their own families of origin from which they were often estranged due to their being LGBTQ – competed for trophies and recognition by vogueing, a style of dance that involved walking and posing like fashion models on a runway.
Released in March 1990, “Vogue” became one of Madonna’s biggest hits, topping the charts in over 30 countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK and the U.S., and was the best-selling single in the world in 1990. With “Vogue”, Madonna brought underground vogueing into the mainstream. Vogueing has since become a prominent dance form practiced worldwide, and many performers, including Beyoncé, Rihanna and Ariana Grande, have followed Madonna’s footsteps by adopting the dance style and incorporating it into their music videos and performances. The song also brought house music into mainstream popular music, as well as reviving the dance music genre a decade after the death of disco.
With its deep house groove and pulsating dance beat, “Vogue” is a wonderful celebratory anthem about escaping one’s problems and enjoying yourself on the dance floor, no matter one’s race, gender or sexual orientation. The music and arrangement were written by producer Shep Pettibone, who had previously worked with Madonna on a number of her songs, and she wrote the lyrics. After completing her work on the Dick Tracy film and soundtrack, Madonna flew to New York and recorded her vocals in a small basement studio on West 56th Street. According to Pettibone, Madonna worked efficiently, rapidly tracking all the verse and chorus vocals in order, and in single takes. He proposed the idea of a rap verse for the middle eight, consisting of namechecking classic film stars and celebrities from Hollywood’s golden age. He and Madonna quickly came up with a list of names, which she immediately recorded. (Wikipedia) The names include Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Joe DiMaggio, Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean, Gracy Kelly, Jean Harlow, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn, Lana Turner and Bette Davis.
“Vogue” was originally intended as the B-side for “Keep It Together”, the final single from Madonna’s album Like a Prayer, but both she and her label Warner Bros. decided it should be released as its own single. And though it had nothing whatsoever to do with Dick Tracy, it was included on the film’s soundtrack album I’m Breathless. I saw the film and liked it well enough to buy the album, but it was mainly because I wanted the song “Vogue”. It’s become my all-time favorite Madonna song – which is saying something, given her remarkable and extensive discography – and also my third-favorite song of the 1990s (after R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”).
The video for “Vogue” was directed by a young David Fincher (who went on to direct such noted films as Seven, Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl). Shot in black and white, the video was inspired by films and photographs of 1920s and 1930s Hollywood, and features Madonna and her dancers vogueing and posing in various choreographed moves. The video has been ranked as one of the greatest of all time by numerous critics and in several polls, and was nominated in nine categories at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards, ultimately winning three. Strike a pose!
I love many of the names musicians choose for their artistic projects, and a particularly good one is Strange Souvenirs, the Berlin, Germany-based electronic/alt-pop duo comprised of brothers Thomas and Matthias Juhnke. In their own colorful words, they “blend influences from 80s new wave, 90s trip hop, post-millennial electronica & indie with science fiction soundtracks, video games and nuggets of nerd culture into a schizoid selection of danceable, delicate and disorienting songs.” Like some other artists I’ve written about, the two seem to prefer to remain anonymous, as I cannot find any photos of them anywhere. I’m guessing they want their great music to speak for itself, which it certainly does!
Strange Souvenirs released their debut single “Scrape” in December 2019, a fantastic otherworldly EDM track they call “a pummeling techno-infused micro-symphony of self-loathing.” They followed up with three more excellent singles in 2020, and are now back with their fifth offering “Pixels”, a captivating song that conveys a similar haunting moodiness of their previous single “The Way I Fell In”. All five singles will be included on their forthcoming album Spontaneous Mutation, due for release in July.
Like many of their songs, “Pixels” was co-written by Strange Souvenirs along with the help of their frequent collaborator Cameron James Laing, a talented producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist who also recorded, produced and mixed the track at The Famous Gold Watch Studios in Berlin. Thomas and Matthias played guitars, bass and sang lead vocals, Cameron played piano, mellotron and did the exquisite orchestral arrangement, as well as sang backing vocals, and Gidon Carmel played drums. The track was mastered by Davide Ruffini.
About the song’s meaning, they explain that “Pixels” “builds around the idea that we’re all pixels in an ever-changing cosmic mosaic, waiting to randomly attract or repel the other particles on our path as we spiral and drift through an equally beautiful and brutal universe. It’s about the shadows of regret lurking in the corners of our lives, inching forward, drifting back, inching forward, drifting back. On endless repeat.”
The song starts off slowly with a gentle drum beat and haunting piano riff, accompanied by airy synths and acoustic guitar notes, all of which set a rather somber tone. The guys’ vocals are equally gentle and understated, at first coming off as melancholy, but with glimmers of optimism that make them quite pleasing as they softly croon “Ghost in the room reaching out for you / A voice from the past you listen to / A shadow in the corner that knows / There’s a shadow in the corner that grows / Times stretches and slows / Doors open and close / Drifting alone…” The music gradually expands into a stirring atmospheric soundscape, highlighted by beautiful mellotron, lush orchestral strings and a fluttering trumpet that gives the song a wonderful jazzy feel at the end.
“Pixels” is a gorgeous, contemplative feast for the ears that transports us to a dreamy, faraway place. I’ve had it on repeat, and find myself enthralled with every listen.
It’s time for another installment of fresh new releases, and today I’m featuring three songs by (in alphabetical order) Ronnie the Bear, Tarraska and The Orphan The Poet.
“Moon Eyes” by Ronnie the Bear
Ronnie the Bear is the music project of Joshua Rukas, a charismatic and silky-voiced singer/songwriter from Grand Rapids, Michigan. A talented and versatile musician, he’s also drummer for punk/emo rock band MUSCLEMAN, as well as a former member of alt-rock band Dancing On Pluto, who I reviewed a couple times prior to their splitting up in August 2018. Last September, he released his stunning debut single “Do You Feel That?“, which I love so much that it ended up on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list. He followed up at the end of October with his wonderful EP Lucid Dreams, and on February 14th he dropped his latest single “Moon Eyes“, a sweet song of young love that’s the perfect tune for Valentine’s Day.
Josh’s music is a pleasing blend of lo-fi alternative pop-rock, hip hop, psychedelic, synth pop and emo that he describes as ‘bedroom pop’, as he composes, performs, produces, mixes and masters all his own music at home. Over a lovely humming synth that sounds like a mellotron, he layers a colorful mix of swirling keyboard synths, crisp percussion, guitar and xylophone to create an enchanting backdrop for his soft, comforting vocals as he tells a lover of his strong feelings of devotion for her: “I want to melt into your arms / Your eyes are bigger than the moon / I’ve got a blanket built for two / I know I’ll find some warmth in you.”
Tarraska is a rock band based in Bournemouth, England. Influenced by some of their favorite bands like Alter Bridge, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Foo Fighters, Van Halen, Tremonti, Five Finger Death Punch and Guns N Roses, their music is a blend of classic and modern hard rock, characterized by heavy riffs, hard-driving rhythms and aggressive vocals. Originally formed in 2014 by lifelong friends Jack Lande and Ben Parker as a primarily acoustic cover band, the duo began writing their own songs in 2016, incorporating more electric guitars and heavier bass into their sound. They started touring around the UK, performing their own songs, and by the end of 2019, they had played more than 300 gigs in all manner of venues – pubs, clubs, restaurants, festivals and at private events. Jack plays rhythm and acoustic guitar and sings vocals, Ben plays lead, rhythm and bass guitar. Shaun Brown assists the duo on drums.
The guys released their excellent debut single “Trailblazer” in May 2020, and followed up in December with their second single “Renegade“. The two singles will be included on their forthcoming debut album, due out later this year. Both songs were recorded and mixed at Absolute Studios and GMMix in Bournemouth by Gareth Matthews, and mastered by Grant Berry at Fader Mastering in Manchester. Like a rampaging beast, “Renegade” storms through the gates with a barrage of fiery riffs and thunderous rhythms. Jack and Ben dazzle our senses with their strong musicianship as they unleash an unrelenting arsenal of guitar power, while Shaun shatters the airwaves with his powerful drum fills. Jack’s commanding vocals hold their own throughout the track with the hard-hitting instrumentals.
Jack told webzine Rock Regeneration that the song “deals with the emotions felt for a forbidden love and serves as a warning against lowering your guard in the face of real but ephemeral desires”. He further elaborates on the song’s press release: “For me, ‘Renegade’ is our most ambitious and musically expansive track to date, incorporating so much of the music we love and outlining what we want the band to become in the future. As for the song itself, the lyric tries to capture the intense and confusing emotions felt when caught up in a whirlwind love that, whilst genuine, may have or lead to destructive consequences.”
The Orphan The Poet is an alternative rock two-piece from Columbus, Ohio consisting of vocalist and guitarist David Eselgroth and bassist Jake Floyd. Though we follow each other on Twitter and Instagram, I don’t know a whole lot about them, other than that they’ve been putting out great music for around five years, and seem to have a hell of a good time doing it. They released their debut EP Terrible Things in 2016, and have followed up with number of singles and a second EP in the years since. Two of their singles have garnered more than a million streams on Spotify: “Terrible Things” with over 1.8 million and “Queen Cobra” with over 1.1 million.
Their latest single “The Moxie” was released on February 12th. The song was written and produced by David and Jake, with the help of frequent collaborator and music producer Matt Squire, mixed by Joe Costable, and mastered by Mike Kalijian. According to a feature article I found in Earmilk, the guys wrote the song over Zoom during the early days of quarantine. The lyrics were inspired by their feelings, their positive outlook on life, and determination and self confidence that are the very essence of the word “moxie”. David confided “There were times when growing up I very much identified as a nerd to be honest. At the same time, I was a confident nerd. Looking back at the song now I’m like ‘oh, that’s what it’s about. This is what it means to me. These are the times that I’ve known I was a big dork but that didn’t change the strut in the step or whatever it was. I could see so much of myself in the lyrics just from my own experiences of being the nerdy kid. He wasn’t in the cool crowd, but he thought he was cool.”
The song is a tasty slice of exuberant alt-pop, highlighted by swirling synths, thumping bass, bold hand claps, and a riotous cacophony of fuzz-coated wailing guitars. David’s intense, spirited vocals are every bit as fun as the music. The lyrics are basically nonsensical, but speak to having a joyous, unabashed confidence: “Crash my car just to cause a scene / I’m gonna flip my spliff like I’m Steve McQueen / Soak my shoes in gasoline, I got these Motown moves from a magazine / (And all I wanna do is) Two step, marmalade, fever shake / I’m like a juiced up, tidal wave, every day (I got it) The Moxie.”
I’ve previously noted several times on this blog of my fondness for dream pop, as I’m a sucker for beautiful melodies, luxurious instrumental arrangements and pleasing vocals. With that in mind, I’m excited to feature the artist known as Dawning, who’s just released his stunning debut EP Petals. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dawning is the music project of singer-songwriter Aaron Senor, who’s quickly making his mark on the Michigan music scene with his gorgeous songs and captivating live performances. All the songs on Petals were written, performed, recorded and produced by Aaron, with the exception of “Rose Hips”, which was co-written by Jake LeMond of the band Michigander, and the guitar solo at the end was performed by Aaron’s father Brian Senor. The EP was mixed by Jacob Rye and mastered by Mike Cervantes.
Released on Valentine’s Day, Petals was initially to be comprised solely of love songs, but Dawning’s approach evolved toward creating something altogether different. “The plan was I’d write each song about a former relationship, tie all those memories up in a bow, put it out, and never write a love song again. ‘Petals’ was always meant to be the carrying out of this, but it never was. Contrary to my plan, most of these are not proper love songs at all, but rather, explorations of feelings I’ve had in the past that I thought were love, but really were not. This has been my effort to decipher what those feelings in fact were, if not love. Embedded in each song is a question: What is the difference between infatuation/having someone make you feel really good, and love? Is it possible to be obsessed with someone romantically, but still not truly love them? Where does physical attraction end and love begin? Why do we seem to sometimes realize how much we love someone only after they’ve gone? I have not presented anything in Petals as a definite answer to any of these questions, because this project was never an essay. Rather, it’s an expression of my own experience, and that mere expression gave me the solace of a satisfactory answer. I hope ‘Petals’ gives you that same solace as well.”
The first track “Bloom” is a lush, dreamy affair with sultry R&B overtones in the vein of artists like James Blake. Using a rich palette of fluttering shimmery synths, crisp percussion and sparkling keyboards, Dawning creates a sumptuous atmospheric soundscape replete with well-placed moments of chirping birds and flourishes of soaring brass. His soulful vocals alternate between ethereal croons and commanding entreaties as he sings of being besotted by a lover: “Love full of color / Skies turning blue / I like the way your eyes always see the world / Everything, all in bloom / You are an ocean / Precipitate / My breath becomes so easy when I drown in you / My little hurricane.”
Dawning dials up the heat on “Liturgy“. With it’s sensuous thumping beat, sultry bass, and that bewitching organ, combined with his silky falsetto and breathy whispers, it’s downright sexy! When I didn’t think he could top the first two tracks, Dawning blows me away with “Rose Hips“. The songs starts off slowly, with pulsating synths and his gentle, plaintive croons, then explodes into a gorgeous cinematic wall of sound, highlighted by Brian Senor’s fiery guitar solo that leaves me covered in goosebumps. His vocals turn more passionate with the music as he channels The Weeknd with a beautiful soaring falsetto.
On the Sufjan Stevens-esque “Rose Lights“, Dawning sings of a brief love affair that didn’t survive the summer. The only sounds we hear are his lovely acoustic guitar and enchanting layered vocal harmonies, yet the song has a vibrant fullness of sound. His echoed breathy vocals evoke a sad resignation as he softly laments “I did you wrong it’s apparent, just know that I always cared but messed it up / Summer love, rising through the month of June / In my life, August came and went too soon / Summer love, falling in and out of you.“
Though it contains only four tracks, Petals is a rich and colorful feast for the senses. Every song is brilliantly executed and sonically beautiful, and I’m really impressed with Dawning’s incredible songwriting, musicianship and vocals. My only criticism of the EP is that I wish it were longer! I guess I’ll have to wait for him to record more music.
I’ve included links for the EP in two formats, YouTube and Spotify:
Alternative rock band COUNCIL have come a long way over the past five years, and have been a favorite of mine since I first learned about them back in 2016. The three-piece is comprised of twin brothers Patrick (bass, lead vocals) and Doug (drums) Reeves, and their younger brother Andy (guitar). Raised on a farm in rural upstate New York, they now split their time between tending the family farm and working on their music in New York City.
Their dynamic sound – which they describe as ‘dark optimism’ – is characterized by dramatic, sweeping melodies, bold instrumentation and anthemic choruses that have seen them favorably compared to Imagine Dragons. Their magnificent debut single “Rust to Gold” received worldwide acclaim, including being played at the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, as well as on American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, World Of Dance and Premier League. The life-affirming song has been streamed more than 11.7 million times on Spotify, and ended up on my list of 100 Best Songs of 2017.
I’ve featured them numerous times on this blog, most recently in March 2020 when I wrote about their single “Savages”. (You can check out some of those reviews under “Related” at the bottom of this post.) Now they return with their latest single “Faded Purple White Trash Royal“, a powerful, socially-relevant song that addresses the self-destructive aspect of pursuing success and/or material things at all costs and how it often leads to always wanting more, yet never feeling satisfied. In an interview with webzine StarryMag, the brothers elaborated about their inspiration for writing the song: “We had been talking about what ambition had cost us personally and what it can cost people trying to always get ahead. It can be a never-ending cycle. Oftentimes, leading to a dark side of ambition which we address. In the chorus we talk about ‘guns, money, sex, drugs’ and how ‘we want it all till the darkside breaks us.’ Ambition can be full of lies, excuses, highs and lows and certainly can be feeding your hidden addictions. At the end of the day, we realized that this blind ambition can leave you alone despite everything you achieve.”
The song starts off with Andy’s urgent acoustic guitar riff, then Patrick plaintively laments at a rapid pace “Even on my very best I’m faded purple white trash royal. I needed you to fill me up and keep me on the dotted line. Now every word is murder and I’m stuck here feeling dead inside.” The music builds to become a stirring anthem in the choruses, thanks in large part to Doug’s forceful drumming and the guys’ soaring harmonies as they all sing “Guns, money, sex, drugs…We want it all. Dirty hearts are dangerous. We want it all till the dark side breaks us.” It’s another terrific song by these talented brothers.