ANDREW NEIL – Album Review: “Sunny Side”

Virginia-based singer-songwriter Andrew Neil (full name Andrew Neil Maternick) is one of the more unique artists I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on this blog. I first wrote about him in November 2019, when I reviewed his third album Freak (which you can read here). Andrew is considered an “outsider” music artist similar to the late Daniel Johnston, and in fact, ranks as the #1 Best Outsider Artist on Ranker, just above Johnston (click this link to see the full list). The now 33-year old has faced a number of daunting life challenges that would have crushed many of us, but his strength and resilience, as well as the incredible love and support of his family and friends, have enabled Andrew to flourish as an artist.

I wrote extensively about his experiences in my previous review, but will summarize here to provide a bit of context. After growing up as a fairly typical kid and high school athlete, Andrew suffered a life-altering event in Spring 2009 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. The injury resulted in two significant changes for Andrew: 1) he began having a series of psychotic episodes, and 2) he started writing songs, despite the fact he’d never had any prior music training of any kind. During a psychotic episode in 2013, he stabbed his younger brother in the arm, which landed him in jail for seven months until his family and attorney convinced the prosecutor that Andrew needed help, rather than being incarcerated. 

He was subsequently released and sent to a state mental hospital, where he received excellent treatment and learned to manage his illness. During the three years there, he wrote and recorded around 70 songs, on top of the 250+ songs he’d written since his 2009 accident. Andrew writes his honest, deeply personal songs entirely by ear, first creating the melodies on his rhythm guitar, then recorded songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray would later upload to a computer. Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville. (He now lives independently.) Upon his release, he produced his first album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 melancholy yet optimistic songs he hoped might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. The songs were mastered by Vlado Meller, otherwise they were left pretty much in the raw, lo-fi condition as Andrew had recorded them.

In 2018, Andrew recorded his second album Merry Go Round, this time working with a number of accomplished musicians to help give his songs a more polished, fuller sound, as well as a more alt-rock vibe than his folk-oriented first album. He entered the studio again in 2019 to record what would become his third album Freak, and as he was wrapping up the recording he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He underwent a grueling round of chemotherapy while the album was being mixed and mastered, and he and his family started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for album production and marketing, garnering even greater support than expected. The album, an ambitious work featuring 14 tracks addressing topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity, was released that October to widespread acclaim.

His cancer thankfully now in remission, Andrew began recording songs during the Covid lockdown, this time with only his own quirky, endearing vocals and vintage nylon string Ovation acoustic guitar, accompanied on some tracks by subtle keyboard overdubs. The songs came together as his fourth album Sunny Side, which is being released digitally on June 15th via Tree Heart Records. The album will become available on CD on June 30th, along with a limited press vinyl version scheduled for release in October. The songs have a mellower and more lo-fi folk sound than the ones on Freak. About Sunny Side, Andrew states “I believe the album will appeal to people who really dig the lo-fi, outsider vibe. I hope my music will be recognized as something genuine; something that people can relate to and let them know they are not alone in this jello world.” The imaginative artwork for the album cover was created by Boston artist Daniel Benayun.

The album kicks off with “Gamblin’ Man“, a pleasing folk tune with an allegorical story about a reckless soul who always lives life on the edge. Andrew’s knack for writing seemingly simple yet profound lyrics with a powerful message is exemplified in these verses: “Out in the desert sun I made friends with a scorpion. We talked about how we feel, then I said shuffle up and deal. We played till the sun went down, full moon was wearin’ a crown. I cheated, gave myself some kings. Then I felt how a scorpion stings.”

On the optimistic title track “Sunny Side“, he advises us to not wallow in our problems, but instead try and find something good in every situation: “I buy flowers. She asked what for. Just in case the undertaker comes knockin’ on my door, cause tomorrow’s no guarantee. Let’s take our sorrow, and drown it in the sea. So keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side. Keep on the sunny side of life./ This life is a gift. It makes me high, high, high like a cliff.” He continues along a similar vein with the grunge-tinged “Lemonade“, urging us to make lemonade out of those lemons life sometimes throws our way: “Make lemonade. Realize that we got it made. Make lemonade. Don’t be afraid. Even in hell, be thankful for shade./ Live with love, the world is ours.”

Andrew’s strong sense of spirituality, love and faith in humanity is expressed on several tracks. On “One Big Family“, he sings of how, despite our differences, we’re all human beings deserving of love and respect: “We are one big family. And you have a brother, a brother in me. Tough times do not last. Tough people do. And I feel so much tougher when I’m loved by you. And no one’s perfect yet; we all have flaws. But we still deserve gifts from Santa Claus.” He uses “Heaven” as a metaphor for love and empathy, rather than a biblical place: “Heaven, where hate is not allowed. Heaven, another word for love. Heaven, it’s not below, it’s not above, it’s in your heart.

On the lovely, nearly six-minute long ballad “Awoke“, he sings of overcoming his past mistakes and feelings of hopelessness by accepting God’s love: “So many nights I wanted to cry. Wanted to fly away. This dream trope has come to an end. Stars explode, but you’re still my friend. And I’m still your friend. Cause I awoke to God’s mercy. We’re all thirsty for love.” And on the folksy final track “Thank The Lord“, he gives thanks for all the things that are important to him, and the positive role music plays in his emotional well-being: “Thank the lord for my friends. Thank the lord for family. Thank the lord for the music that lives inside, inside of me.”

Conversely, perhaps the most poignant track on the album is “Anymore“, where Andrew questions his faith, self-worth and direction in life: “You can lie, and say it’s all part of God’s plan. Cause I don’t want to grow up, I don’t want to grow old. I don’t want to shut up, I don’t want to be told what to do, anymore. I don’t want to give up, I don’t want to go on. Just to tired of being so strong. Don’t know what to do anymore./ You can blame, you can blame me for not being a good man.” Musically, his strummed acoustic guitar is accompanied by some somber but lovely keyboards that create a haunting soundscape for his introspective and melancholy vocals.

Dog Without A Bone” is about having pretty much everything one could want in life, with the exception of a romantic partner to spend time with. Andrew uses clever and pretty direct metaphors to describe the feeling that something crucial to his well-being is missing: “Got a million reasons to live. I’m giving everything I have to give. Yet I’m so tired of being alone. Just a dog with no bone. A drunk without a drink. A cloud without a sky./ I have a lot, but I want more. Is there someone out there that could make me sore.” And once you’re in a relationship, conflicts and disagreements will undoubtedly arise, which he cheekily addresses on the charming “Kinda Turns Me On“: “When you get so mad, it kinda turns me on. Tell me what I did wrong. Cause baby it turns me on. Honestly, I want to grow old with you. Live the American dream, red, white and blue. Have a bunch of kids, and grandchildren too.”

Sunny Side is a wonderful album, filled with honest, heartfelt songs about faith, love and hope, and I’m confident all of us can relate to at least some of them. Andrew Neil is a thoughtful songwriter with a special gift for getting right to the heart of things in a way that few other artists can – or are even able – to do. I’ve grown quite fond of him, and hope he’ll continue writing interesting and compelling songs for us to enjoy.

Follow Andrew:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp 

Top 30 Songs for June 13-19, 2021

  1. NOT DEAD YET – Lord Huron (1)
  2. SHY AWAY – twenty øne piløts (3)
  3. FLATLINE – Two Feet (5)
  4. ROSE HIPS – Dawning (4)
  5. BREATHE – Ships Have Sailed (2)
  6. METRONOME – Polarizer (7)
  7. FOLLOW YOU – Imagine Dragons (8)
  8. SAVE YOUR TEARS – The Weeknd (10)
  9. WE ARE BETWEEN – Modest Mouse (21)
  10. AT HOME IN THE DARK – Au Gres (9)
  11. BREAK MY BABY – KALEO (12)
  12. BED HEAD – Manchester Orchestra (13)
  13. HYPOTHETICALS – Lake Street Dive (11)
  14. I NEED YOU – Jon Batiste (6)
  15. BLACK DAYS – Amongst Liars (16)
  16. WAY LESS SAD – AJR (17)
  17. CAN WE GO BACK – The Frontier (18)
  18. TYPHOONS – Royal Blood (19)
  19. WELCOME TO THE PARTY – Jack Droppers & the Best Intentions (20)
  20. LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN – Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic (14)
  21. COME FIND ME BACK – Philip Morgan Lewis (23)
  22. MARTYR – Oli Barton & the Movement (24)
  23. SINNER – Young Decades (25)
  24. YOUR POWER – Billie Eilish (26)
  25. BETTER – Michigander (27)
  26. CRAWLING KINGSNAKE – The Black Keys (29)
  27. ALL YOU EVER WANTED – Rag’n’Bone Man (30)
  28. ALL MY FAVORITE SONGS – Weezer (15)
  29. ZITTI E BUONI – Måneskin (N)
  30. HIGHER POWER – Coldplay (N)

DELAURENTIS – Single Review: “Be A Woman”

With her exquisite compositions, innovative music styling and beguiling vocals, electronic artist DeLaurentis is a rising star on the French music scene and beyond. The talented singer-songwriter, composer and producer has had music in her blood her whole life. Growing up in a home with a musician father, she early on discovered her love for music, and learned to compose music using keyboards, analog and contemporary synthesizers and computers. Drawing inspiration from some of her favorite artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto, Max Richter, Brian Eno, Oneothrix Point Never and the great Laurie Anderson, she creates electronic music characterized by bewitching piano melodies and cinematic walls of sound. She also uses synthesizers to manipulate her voice so that it becomes another instrument in itself.

She chose the moniker DeLaurentis for her music project and relocated to Paris in 2015. That June, she released her debut self-titled EP DeLaurentis, an impressive work featuring five beautiful tracks. Since then, she’s dropped several more EPs, including Brand New Soul, Big Part of a Big Sun, and Classical Variations, Pt. 1., as well as a number of remixes. She’s been featured in major French publications such as Trax, Rock & Folk and Les Inrockuptibles, and some of her songs have been used in French commercials. Her single “A Big Part of A Big Sunwas featured in the TV series How to Get Away With Murder.

Photo by Bruno Tognin

On June 11th, DeLaurentis released a beautiful new track “Be A Woman“, the third single from her forthcoming debut full-length album UNICA, due for release in September. The single follows two previous singles, “Life” and “Pegasus”, which will also be included on UNICA, a concept album inspired by the strong connection she developed with her machines. Beginning in the summer of 2018, DeLaurentis spent two years in a studio on the Saint-Martin Canal in Paris, working with her synthesizers and computers. In the process, she developed an almost mystical connection between the human and digital worlds, which led to her creation of UNICA, a digital-tale told in ten tracks exploring the emotions between a woman and her machine. She collaborated with Dan Black, Yaron Herman, Daymark and Fabien Waltmann in the album’s production, and experimented in a recording collaboration with the artificial intelligence developed by the Spotify CTRL research lab supervised by SKYGGE on the album track “Somewhere in Between”.

Regarding her inspiration for “Be A Woman”, DeLaurentis explains: I got the idea for this song after a hypnosis session, where I relived the same scene three times. First in a subjective way, then in a meta position (by being outside the scene, in observation) then a third time by imagining a double, a new version of myself that would take me by the hand, getting me out of this situation and took me to Sunset Boulevard where we would rollerblade towards the beach and the sunset! This double is UNICA, the one I call my digital sister. It was in this state of hypnosis that I first met her. In this initiatory journey, she guided me and whispered to me these words: ‘You’ll be more than kings, more than gods…you’ll be a woman’ in reference to the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling ‘you’ll be a Man, my son!’ but in a feminine version.

The song opens with an enchanting piano arpeggio, immediately drawing us in as we want to hear more. DeLaurentis’ soothing, breathy vocals enter as she sings of her dream: “And I was there again with him. That cheap cafe. Evenin’. His words were arrows. I was the bird. The walls were green. The lights blurred. I felt that ice rush in my ears. And suddenly someone jus’ like me appeared and she took my hand. And we ran.” The music gradually expands into a gorgeous soundscape of swirling atmospheric synths, strings, hypnotic percussion and deep synth bass, while the piano arpeggios continue moving the song forward. Her vocals are lovely and captivating, and I adore her soaring harmonies in the choruses. It’s a brilliant track.

Header photo by Celine Van Heel

Follow Delaurentis:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

New Song of the Week – SODA CRACKER JESUS: “Drug My Soul”

Soda Cracker Jesus is the brainchild of the wildly imaginative and enormously talented singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane. The Tacoma-based musician has been involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene for nearly 40 years. Previously a member of Tacoma punk band Baby Knockors and 80s rock band Strypes, he’s currently front man and ringmaster for psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog. More recently, he helped produce the wonderful debut album Butterfly Hand Grenade for young up-and-coming rockers Stargazy Pie (which I reviewed), and is an active mentor in the successful Ted Brown Music Program, where he helps aspiring northwest musicians hone their craft. 

Lane created Soda Cracker Jesus to express his “more punky power pop side”, with music influenced by acts like the Beatles, Kinks, Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope, XTC and more. He’s also been honest and candid on his social media about his former struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, and the happiness and joy that sobriety now brings him. The seasoned artist makes music that looks to the future, but also understands the power of the past and that duality helps shape his unique and signature sound. On April 1st, he released his Soda Cracker Jesus debut single “My Anthem” (which I also reviewed), and today he returns with his follow-up single “Drug My Soul“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The timely song explores the addictive nature of social media, and the alternate realities we can become immersed in if we’re not careful.

Lane further elaborates: “‘Drug My Soul’ is my perception of social media, at least for me. And it can be very seductive. I have a 12-year-old daughter who is very engaged in it, and I’ve seen it be a very good tool for information and exchanging ideas for her, but at times it exerts a pull that is similar to whatever one’s drug of choice is. (That’s based on my personal experience as a drug addict who’s been in recovery for a while.) And I’m no different. I can get lost in that shit if I’m not careful. And the fact that one can create a narrative of a reality that does not exist is weird and fascinating at the same time. I believe when all is said and done we are judged by our actions in the real physical world. As for the recording of the song, I again did all instruments, voices and production. I’m just trying to get better. Another cool thing for me was to play some slide guitar on this track. I played it a lot as a youngster and this was the first time in many moons that I’ve done that.”

As with “My Anthem”, once again Lane serves up a rousing post-punk banger, replete with a crushing mix of gnarly guitars layered over an assertive bassline and the kind of explosive, foot-stomping percussion that really gets the blood pumping. His instrumentation, arrangement and production values are all first-rate. The song opens with an ominous drumbeat and a teenage boy’s voiceover saying “I made a new friend“, followed by a woman (who could be his mother) asking “Real or imaginary?“, to which he replies “Imaginary.” Lane’s colorfully expressive vocals enter the proceedings as the music ramps up to an electrifying, almost menacing soundscape that continues for the remainder of the song. Things end rather abruptly with graphic sounds of a speeding car violently crashing into something. Wow!

All my friends are just pretend
Nothing more than spreadsheets
All my friends won’t let me send
A different point of view
Stumbling down the rabbit hole
Chasing the feeling and all I want is more

Yeah Yeah
Drug My Soul
Yeah Yeah
Fill In the Hole

Follow Soda Cracker Jesus:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase “My Anthem” on BandcampSpotify

CLINT SLATE & IONA JAMES – EP Review: “The Silent Sea”

Sometimes the best things are born of chance encounters, and that’s exactly the case with the new EP The Silent Sea, a collaboration between French artist Clint Slate and Scottish singer-songwriter Iona James. Coming from different worlds, the two met serendipitously in early 2021 after entering a songwriting competition hosted by a radio station. The two hit it off professionally, and decided to write songs and record them together. The four-track EP The Silent Sea is their first in a series of planned releases.

For a bit of background, Clint Slate is the musical alter-ego of French singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gregg Michel. Based in Paris, the versatile fellow has been involved in numerous projects as a singer, musician and actor over the years, and created Clint Slate (a variation of ‘clean slate’) in 2015 to further explore a more experimental side. He’s released three albums, beginning with this debut work Before the Dark, an exploration of his feelings of grief and loss after the death of his father. He followed in 2017 with his exquisite second album Woodn Bones, which was recorded in a single take and premiered in a live performance on the internet with a full band plus choir in a theatre. This past January, he dropped his third album Dragons, an innovative and imaginative genre-blended work inspired by his love of David Bowie’s album Earthling, which was itself based on the idea of a ‘cadavre exquis musical’ (or ‘exquisite musical corpse’). The brilliant album was created virtually and remotely, with the help of two other musicians, bassist Francesco Arzani and drummer Louison Collet. You can read my review of Dragons here.

Iona James is a nurse from Scotland with a life-long love of music. As a young child, she’d sing along with her mum to songs by the Bee Gees, Jackson 5 and Cyndi Lauper, then learned to appreciate classical music while playing in her school band. She later grew to love such diverse acts as Nirvana, Enya and The Cranberries, and began writing her own songs while learning to play guitar. She eventually joined the army and became a nurse, but continued to feed her passion for music by writing songs in secret. Iona made an attempt to satisfy her craving to be involved in music by joining the Scottish military wives’ choir, but it was her father-in-law urging her to do something she loved that finally compelled her to take a songwriting course. Meanwhile, working as a nurse during the pandemic brought anxiety, stress and dread, causing insomnia for her. She found solace in writing songs, and made a new year’s resolution to record one of them, which led to the release of her first single “To the Moon” this past January.

The first track “No Way Out” was released in advance of The Silent Sea on May 24th. The song opens with shimmery strummed guitar chords backed by spooky ethereal synths and handclaps, then Iona’s lovely vocals enter, accompanied by a warm bassline. Her vocals are soon joined by Clint’s as the music expands into a luxurious, moody soundscape, punctuated by jangly guitar and enchanting keyboards. The interplay between Iona and Clint’s vocals is really wonderful as they complement and play off each other in perfect harmony. The powerful lyrics seem to touch on dealing with personal demons and regrets over past mistakes: “Stranded alone, alone in the crowd. Prisoner in my own head. Can’t seem to find my way out. This haunted memory, merry go round. Grasping the last piece of straw. Can’t take this no more.” It’s beautiful and haunting, and I think it’s my favorite song on the EP.

On the captivating “Believe“, the two admonish us to not live in the past or fall prey to all the noise we’re bombarded with on a daily basis, but to instead remain cognizant of that which is good and meaningful in our lives: “Be free of what you see In the fake news you read. When your heart controls your mind. Embrace what you have, not what you had.” The song is really lovely, with a gentle melody built around watery chiming guitars and delicate percussive sounds. Clint’s vocals sound a lot like Bono’s here (he in fact performs as Bono in a U2 tribute band), and once again, he harmonizes beautifully with Iona’s clear, resonant vocals.

Tell Me Now” is a pleasing folk-pop song, with an opening guitar riff that sounds a bit like that in the 1978 hit “Reminiscing” by the Little River Band. The sunny, upbeat melody contrasts with the simple, bittersweet lyrics spoken between a couple coming to terms with the fact their relationship appears broken beyond repair: “Loving you was easy, but loving you could be so damn hard. I didn’t know trying to hold on would tear us apart.” “The Ticking Tide” is the longest and most musically complex of the four tracks, starting off with quirky synths that are replaced by a piano driven melody, which gradually evolves into more of a rock feel with urgent guitars and heavier percussion. Lyrically, the song touches on the relentless passage of time, and our powerlessness in its wake. Everything that’s happened in our past continues to shape who we are going forward, but we cannot let those things imprison us: “The ticking tide, waits for no one. Tomorrow is today. The ticking tide it tempts me, I’m drifting away. The ticking tide one day will set me free. Time is an ocean. We’re helpless, but time is in motion, forging us.

The Silent Sea is a lovely little EP, and a fine debut effort by this talented duo. Iona and Clint are both great songwriters and vocalists in their own right, and their combined efforts have paid off nicely in the creation of these wonderful songs.

The special edition includes the EP, four alternate versions called ‘The Naked Sea’, a Radio Edit for ‘The Ticking Tide’ and the digital booklet.

Follow Clint:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music

Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

Follow Iona:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream her music:  SpotifyApple Music 

Five Up and Coming Artists To Expect Big Things From – Guest Post by Nicole McCray

This is a guest post by Nicole McCray, a freelance writer and self-described word ninja based in San Francisco. Nicole writes articles on a wide and eclectic range of topics, including health & wellness, lifestyle & beauty, music, movies, TV & filmmaking, and animals & pets. You can check out some of her work at https://www.nicolemccray.com/.

Five Up and Coming Artists To Expect Big Things From

Spring and summer seem to be the seasons for emerging musicians, and when live, in-person concerts become available to us again, we can bet that the concert venues will be packed to the doors for fans. The season typically brings us new artists we have never heard of, with headliners performing their trial runs for the well-knowns. 

If you’re the type of person who likes to find new music to listen to, something inspirational or comforting, having more time than ever to sift through all the music that’s out there – this past year would have provided a great deal of extra time to do just that. Musicians have had to struggle with finding interesting ways to still be heard, mostly releasing their music to the digital world in music streams and downloads.

Though it is still unclear when fans can be let back in the stadiums in masses, one thing is for sure: the music doesn’t stop. Artists from across the country have used this downtime to do what they do best, and they are ready to share their messages with the world. Here are some up and coming artists that we are sure to expect some great things from.

Victoria Monét

This name may not surprise those who love Ariana Grande, as Victoria Monét was a collaborator and featured nominee of the Grammy Awards for her work on Grande’s album Seven Rings. Her own R&B style has taken her to some big places as of late. She has been involved in singing and performing from a young age, performing at her church and with youth teams. She took to songwriting in her teens, starting with an exchange of poetry with her cousin, and soon found a passion to write her very own music. 

Monét was named Apple Music’s Up Next Artist in February 2020, having released her single “Experience” with DJ Khalid and SG Lewis, for an upcoming album called Jaguar. Jaguar is actually a three-part album series, and part one was released back in August. She has monopolized the Spotify fanbase, having over 3.6 million fans listening in each month, so the next two parts to her album series when released are sure to drive more success.

Monét at Spotify

Arlo Parks

With the real name of Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho, it comes as no shock that the stage name of Arlo Parks is a name with a much easier roll off the tongue feel. The British singer-songwriter has taken the world by storm with her raw, confession-like style. 2020 was a big year in releasing multiple singles, including those of “Black Dog” and “Super Sad Generation,” and earning the BBC spot for Introducing Artist of the Year. She released her debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams at the end of January, and all twelve tracks have each been streamed over one million times on Spotify.

With influences including Jim Morrison, Sylvia Plath, and Otis Redding, and only being 20 years young, this poet-turned-artist is sure to dominate the music scene for years to come. 

Arlo at Spotify

Siena Liggins

Known as “Detroit’s hidden gem”, Siena Liggins not only is making waves with music but also in the LGBTQ community. She is known for both her upbeat and somber music, having multiple moods for multiple projects. She’s developed a large following since the initial release of her single “Flowerbomb” which is a pop anthem for queer girls, exploring infatuation with a love interest you can’t get. Her single “Safeword” saw her take an edgier approach, speaking more frankly about sex. Her debut album Ms. Out Tonight, which dropped in April, has garnered critical and commercial acclaim for its authenticity and fresh hip-hop infused pop grooves.

Siena’s goal to reach people with her music is to make them feel happy. She wants people to enjoy, dance, and feel lighter. We will definitely be seeing (and needing) more of that happy, light feel after all that’s happened over the last year, and luckily she’s partnered with a licensing and custom music production services agency to help get her tracks in front of new audiences. We can definitely look forward to seeing Liggins charm her fans and light up the stage again soon.

Sienna Liggins at Spotify

Easy Life

If you’re looking for something in a more alternative genre, Easy Life is a great new group for you to follow. The Leicester, England-based band reached the number 7 spot on the UK Albums Chart with their EP Junk Food, these indie artists incorporate a funk-style motif within their music. The idea behind the band’s name is what they call “a form of escapism” in terms of getting away from all of the pressures of what life is to people. 

A very deep-rooted philosophy that is brought out in their musical makings, mixing vintage, rap, and even gospel into their rightly entitled Mixtape. Just recently the band released their new album Life’s a Beach that focuses on combining artists’ storytelling with hip hop inspired musical  force. Already rising in taste are his couple of new singles from the album such as “Ocean View”, “Daydreams”, and “A Message to Myself”. There will be much more to come from this group in the coming months and you definitely don’t want to miss out.

Easy life at Spotify

Molly Payton

Melancholy and heartbreak – that’s what teenage and London-based (but born in New Zealand) singer-songwriter Molly Payton brings to the table. Her music is full of rich, band sounds that make her awesome singles “How To Have Fun” and “Going Heavy” seem like more modern rock anthems. This up and comer actually said that she does her best writing while boozed up and angry. In fact, she said though she doesn’t really have a writing process, most of her best songs have been written in just twenty minutes! The powerful vocals she demonstrates are attributed to having had and worked with a great singing teacher, who she claims also helped her gain the confidence to perform since she was terrified on the stage. 

Payton’s goal with her music is to help people feel comforted by it, to find solace, and help with moving on from all the hard stuff. She’s actually said that she feels her song should go at the end of movies, when all is happy and the heroine is riding off into the sunset. When the live shows return and grow once again, there is no doubt that Payton’s rise will be ready for it. 

There are many moments (especially over the last year) where music has helped us get through. The majority of us have probably spent more time alone in 2020 than any other year, and many of these artists have already had a part in creating new moods and providing some great music for us to turn to in that time. They have all bloomed more in this last year despite the barriers they have faced, so we can be sure to expect and look forward to hearing more from them.

Molly Payton at Spotify

PARIS ALEXANDER – Single Review: “Lost in the City”

Paris Alexander is a singer, songwriter, composer and electronic music producer based in Brighton, England. He recently dropped a mesmerizing new single “Lost in the City“, which I like so much that I have to share it with my readers. Co-produced by fellow Brighton singer-songwriter and producer Eirene at Alexander’s Blue Door Music Productions, the track is the third single from his forthcoming album Renaissance, due out later this year.

The talented musician has been a long time collaborator with Eirene, as well as Norwegian coldwave/post-punk artist Antipole, with whom he co-wrote, sung on and produced three albums together (one of which, the 2017 release Northern Flux I reviewed). Alexander and Antipole have also worked together on projects with other artists, remixing songs for such acts as Clan of Xymox and She Past Away. Additionally, Alexander has worked with London electro-psych band Leg Puppy on some of his music.

Starting with an assertive stomping drumbeat, Alexander layers a hypnotic bassline, moody swirling synths and bold jangly guitars that immediately make me think of The Cure. Some of the guitar work was played by Simon Meek, with added drums by Martin Meadows. Alexander’s deep baritone vocals have an ominous haunting quality, nicely conveying a rather dystopian vibe befitting the dark lyrics about the cold and anonymous aspects of urban life – how despite living amongst lots of people, we can sometimes feel very isolated and alone. The combination of living in a densely built environment with little or no natural spaces, and feeling overwhelmed by technology, only serves to exacerbate one’s sense of isolation and disconnection, of feeling ‘lost in the city’.

We’re lost in the city
Going nowhere so fast
We’re lost in the city
Little do we care
We’re lost in the City
Techno, nostalgia, round cars, designed beer
We’re lost in the city

Our brains are gone
Lost to receivers, transformers, flat screens
We’re lost in the city
Strobe light flashing away
Inner world far from here
A world of rich hue

Get lost in yesterday
In the city or in our minds
Hang on to the thread of hope
We’re desperate to find……(repeat)

We’re lost in the city….(repeat)
Lost in the city

The darkly beautiful video was filmed in black and white by Eirene along, and in the vicinity of, the Thames River in historic South East London. The black and white tones and brooding skies beautifully enhance the darkwave elements of the music. Particularly interesting is that the scenes are all nearly devoid of people, adding to the overall sense of coldness and isolation expressed in the lyrics.

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Top 30 Songs for June 6-12, 2021

  1. NOT DEAD YET – Lord Huron (3)
  2. BREATHE – Ships Have Sailed (1)
  3. SHY AWAY – twenty øne piløts (2)
  4. ROSE HIPS – Dawning (4)
  5. FLATLINE – Two Feet (11)
  6. I NEED YOU – Jon Batiste (6)
  7. METRONOME – Polarizer (8)
  8. FOLLOW YOU – Imagine Dragons (9)
  9. AT HOME IN THE DARK – Au Gres (12)
  10. SAVE YOUR TEARS – The Weeknd (13)
  11. HYPOTHETICALS – Lake Street Dive (14)
  12. BREAK MY BABY – KALEO (15)
  13. BED HEAD – Manchester Orchestra (16)
  14. LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN – Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic (7)
  15. ALL MY FAVORITE SONGS – Weezer (5)
  16. BLACK DAYS – Amongst Liars (17)
  17. WAY LESS SAD – AJR (18)
  18. CAN WE GO BACK – The Frontier (20)
  19. TYPHOONS – Royal Blood (21)
  20. WELCOME TO THE PARTY – Jack Droppers & the Best Intentions (22)
  21. WE ARE BETWEEN – Modest Mouse (28)
  22. ENEMY MINE – Roadkeeper (10)
  23. COME FIND ME BACK – Philip Morgan Lewis (24)
  24. MARTYR – Oli Barton & the Movement (25)
  25. SINNER – Young Decades (26)
  26. YOUR POWER – Billie Eilish (27)
  27. BETTER – Michigander (30)
  28. MY EX’S BEST FRIEND – Machine Gun Kelly featuring blackbear (19)
  29. CRAWLING KINGSNAKE – The Black Keys (N)
  30. ALL YOU EVER WANTED – Rag’n’Bone Man (N)

FROZEN FACTORY – EP Review: “The First Liquidation”

I’ve recently featured more international acts on this blog than ever (in the past few months I’ve written about artists & bands from South Africa, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, England, Wales, Germany, Italy and Denmark, as well as a compilation album featuring artists from across Europe), and today I’m pleased to introduce my first ever act from Finland, a wonderful band called Frozen Factory. I learned about them when band vocalist Stephen Baker reached out to me about their new EP The First Liquidation, which dropped May 28th.

Formed rather spontaneously at the end of 2018, the Helsinki-based group has undergone numerous personnel changes, and now consists of founding member Tomi Hassinen on bass, Stephen Baker (who’s originally from England) on vocals, Mici Ehnqvist on lead guitar, and Marianne Heikkinen on drums. Influenced by some of their favorite acts like Alice In Chains, Iron Maiden, Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine, they create moody, complex and melodic alternative rock with strong undercurrents of progressive, grunge, symphonic, metal and dream rock. This seemingly contradictory and eclectic combination of stylistic elements makes for some incredibly compelling and darkly beautiful music that’s a joy to listen to.

They released their marvelous debut album Planted Feet in June 2020, then followed with a series of singles from December 2020 to May 2021, which culminated in the release of The First Liquidation. Interestingly, the EP almost never got made, as Frozen Factory originally planned to drop a few one-off singles before moving on to focus on their already-written second album, to be released later this year. But they were having so much fun creating these new songs that ‘a few singles’ eventually grew into to a five-track EP, which then ballooned to become what the band describes as “an EP with a suspiciously high number of tracks.” It now features eight tracks, six of which are fully fledged songs, with the other two serving as intro and outro. Because it runs less than 30 minutes in length, the band feels it doesn’t quite qualify as an album, hence their insistence in calling it an EP. The songs were co-written by Stephen and Tomi, with Tomi also flawlessly producing the EP.

About the EP, Stephen explains: “We’re extremely proud to present this record to you. In between our main records we wanted to spend some time practising our craft using some strong songs that didn’t match the theme of our previous or upcoming albums. It’s been even more rewarding than we imagined in terms of fun and from how much we’ve learned making these songs. This record takes a brief look at human-to-human relationships, expressing some thoughts on empathy or lack of, and telling a couple of true stories. We think you’ll enjoy the emotive true-to-life direction of the record and the expanded use of sound design. We’re active with talking to those who follow us, especially on Instagram, so please come and say hi and join our mailing list on http://www.frozenfactorymusic.com.”

In listening to the EP, what first strikes me is that, despite its relatively short run time, it feels almost like a rock opera or an epic musical in the vein of Les Misérables. This is partly due to the music’s complex and cinematic arrangements, but also the sounds and interludes used between songs that work to tie them together. Also, Stephen’s gorgeous vocals have a rich and commanding timbre that make them perfectly suited for the more grandiose orchestration. (As a side note, he recorded his vocals in a tiny home sauna that he converted into a sound booth, so as not to disturb his family and neighbors. Because it heated up very quickly within the enclosed space, he recorded vocals in his underwear.)

The opening track “The Alternative Missed” starts off rather ominously, with dark, cinematic synths and distant choral vocals, followed by sounds of footsteps in snow and a door opening and closing as someone enters a building. The ominous music returns along with Stephen’s vocals earnestly singing the profound lyrics that seem to speak of a fallen leader, and setting the tone for the EP: “And once his head’s spun with truth and fiction. The wise lament lest they ignore his final diction. And languish their judgement or vanquish indeed. His theatre has vanished and with it his heed. And we all miss the man that he could have been.”

The song immediately segues into “Au Contraire“, a lovely, melodic song with lyrics in both English and French. The song continues with the theme introduced in the previous track, namely what seems to me to be the duplicity of a hubris-afflicted leader who disregards the suffering of his/her citizens: “Fait accompli. The value of the public’s clear. Raison d’être, to earn for you through their blood, sweat, and tears. Objet d’art, the walls of that cathedral stand, Vis à vis, now aligned with your contempt for those who truly need.” Stephen beautifully sings the English and French lyrics with ease, accompanied by guest vocals by French singer Madeleen singing the choruses. The whistling at the beginning of the song, as well as the warm organ and accordion notes and gently-strummed guitars give the song an intriguing French flair.

One of my favorite tracks on the EP is the anthemic “Hour of Need“, with its stirring piano-driven melody and dramatic soaring choruses. The song’s arrangement and execution are first-rate, nicely showcasing the exceptional musicianship of all four band members. I don’t know who plays piano here, but it’s stunning, and I love Stephen’s plaintive vocals, backed by Marianne’s hauntingly beautiful harmonies. The poetic lyrics are somewhat ambiguous to me, but my guess is that they speak to the current fears and strife facing many of us, urging us to remain focused on the big picture, and make the best of this one life we’re given: “In our hour of need, we’re adrift endlessly / Always remember this journey’s but once. Don’t cast it away. A sound destination sits on the horizon. Keep above the waves.”

Frozen Factory taps into their metal sensibilities on “Old Money“, which has a frantic, almost punkish vibe, both musically and lyrically. Mici rips through the airwaves with his blistering guitar work, while Tomi and Marianne keep the pummeling rhythms moving forward at full throttle. Stephen’s rapid-fire vocals sound fiercer than ever as he launches into a diatribe against the wealthy elite and how they keep the rest of us financially enslaved: “Some are born in, with every way out they could wish for. Others are born out, with no way in. Yet many search endlessly for an open door./ Their old money. Their old kings and queens. Their bloody tricks. They’ve had us on our knees.”

I have a special fondness for female drummers, and this video shows Marianne working her magic.

They then show their softer, more introspective side on the poignant ballad “Two Dads“. The touching song is about a man on his way to work who encounters a homeless man begging for a handout. He fumbles through his pockets, only to discover he has no change to give him, and thinks about the fact that they both have children who they’d give their life for, and how fate and luck have put them in such differing life circumstances: “His face says that he knows, my growing dread has been shown. He’s sensed me thinking of my son. We’d both die to save a cherished one. I can’t begin to comprehend gifts only received by the few lucky kids. Ought’a run to my job, can’t be late, no I won’t miss my stop. After leaving I ponder my time. Could have gone to get cash, my career would survive.”

When You’ve Grown” is equally poignant, with lyrics spoken internally from a father to his child who’s growing up so fast, thinking out loud about how he will miss them as they are now, yet looking forward to knowing them as an adult too: “I feel I will miss you when you’ve grown. That child you are today, it’s sad that we won’t meet again./ I’d never hold you back. Never hope for that. I’ll be proud to see the grown-up that you will be.” The song starts off slowly, with eerie synths and a far-off gently pounding drumbeat that’s soon replaced by somber piano chords as Stephen wistfully sings. Halfway through, the music and Stephen’s vocals turn more dramatic and impassioned, with heavier metal-rock guitar and percussion, before calming back down at the end.

The powerful and haunting rock anthem “You” is another strong track, with outstanding guitar work, sweeping keyboards and thunderous percussion. Mici’s fiery guitar solo and Stephen’s impassioned vocals are fantastic, leaving me covered with goosebumps. The lyrics seem to speak to a leader of some kind who’s waging a valiant but continuously threatened effort against tyranny: “You build us up, and you’re torn down. We suck the gun aimed at you. Target of the noose. You call injustice by its name. And you won’t stop until it’s better. Though you’re sick of the lies. You give yourself for our lives. Enduring the pressure.”

The EP ends on a somewhat optimistic note with “An Improbable Flame“, a brief, rather dark-sounding track that opens with harsh sounds of radio static, eerie thumping drumbeats, ill winds and breaking glass, which are eventually replaced with a somber piano movement. Stephen speaks the hopeful lyrics that perhaps we’ll do better next time: “A flame is improbable in a storm that’s unstoppable. Yet it is not the storm but the greed that tips the candlestick. To light for one a second wick, only to snuff their blessing out. Yet when gifted another time and place, perhaps this soul won’t make the same mistake. But share instead that flame around, til’ the winds blow not amongst the circled crowd.

In another review of The First Liquidation for Finnish webzine Kaaos, a writer criticized the eclectic nature of the music and songs, commenting that “the listening experience leaves you wondering what the band really wants to be: serene, flexible British pop, gloomy Gothic rock, or post-grunge world pain?” He couldn’t be more wrong, as I think the variety of styles and sounds of the songs are a real strength, keeping the EP sounding fresh and surprising, rather than boring and predictable. Every track is superb, and I found that I grew to love each song with repeated listens, as the music is so complex and rich, and Stephen’s arresting vocals such a joy to hear. The First Liquidation is an exceptional work on every level, and I’m now a committed fan of Frozen Factory.

Here’s the EP on YouTube:

And Spotify:

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Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

Purchase:  BandcampAmazon