Top 30 Songs for August 29-September 4, 2021

  1. DEVIL – Two Feet (1) 4th week at #1
  2. STARGAZING – The Neighbourhood (2)
  3. LIKE I USED TO – Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen (3)
  4. MISSING PIECE – Vance Joy (8)
  5. SATURDAY – twenty øne piløts (9)
  6. MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) – Lil Nas X (4)
  7. SOLAR POWER – Lorde (6)
  8. CAN WE GO BACK – The Frontier (5)
  9. WE ARE BETWEEN – Modest Mouse (7)
  10. STOP MAKING THIS HURT – Bleachers (11)
  11. TRANSPARENT SOUL – WILLOW featuring Travis Barker (12)
  12. LAST TRAIN HOME – John Mayer (17)
  13. EVERY WINDOW IS A MIRROR – Joywave (15)
  14. ENNUI – Dawning (16)
  15. WELCOME TO THE PARTY – Jack Droppers & the Best Intentions (10)
  16. BE A WOMAN – DeLaurentis (18)
  17. STICKY – The Maine (14)
  18. BAD DREAM – Cannons (20)
  19. WHAT YOU SAY – Cold War Kids (21)
  20. TAKE THE L – Roadkeeper (22)
  21. WRECKED – Imagine Dragons (23)
  22. THE ANGEL OF 8TH AVE. – Gang of Youths (24)
  23. MINE FOREVER – Lord Huron (25)
  24. MARTYR – Oli Barton & the Movement (13)
  25. I WANNA BE YOUR SLAVE – Måneskin (26)
  26. TAKE MY MONEY – Ships Have Sailed (27)
  27. MAKING A FIRE – Foo Fighters (29)
  29. NOTHING2 – Strange Souvenirs (19)
  30. DISTORTED LIGHT BEAM – Bastille (N)

Drawing on Scars with Jodie Reid – Single Review: “Take It”

Music collaborations between artists seem to be more popular than ever, especially with recording and production technology that makes long-distance collaborations possible. A fine example is the new single “Take It” by Atlanta-based music project Drawing on Scars and South African singer-songwriter Jodie Reid. It’s their third collaboration together, following “Here Comes Some More” in November 2020, and their haunting single “If Only for a Little While”, released this past April.

Drawing on Scars is the creative brainchild of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Will Thacker, who for the past decade has collaborated with vocalists from across the U.S. and beyond in the creation of superb alternative rock songs. Generally, Thacker writes and performs all the music, and the different vocalists write the lyrics, which they then interpret in their own distinct style. The result is an ever-changing music repertoire that always sounds fresh and unique. Since 2019, Drawing on Scars has dropped nine singles, the latest of which is “Take It”. I’ve previously reviewed two of them, “Rewrite” and “Pressure”, which you can check out by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this post.

Jodie Reid has had music in her blood since childhood, writing her first song at the age of 12 and playing her first live performance while in college, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours in Music Performance in 2018. With her strong songwriting and emotive vocal style firmly planted in a sweet spot between a pleasing lilt and impassioned wail, the Johannesburg-based artist has garnered accolades and a growing base of fans. In just two years, she’s already released three albums, most recently Robust Rebellion in July, for which Thacker performed the bass and drum parts.

“Take It” is about choices, namely the difficulty of having to decide which is the better option or road to take, which can sometimes become a paralyzing burden on both yourself as well as those around you. Reid, who wrote the lyrics, elaborates: “‘Take It’ is about a person’s inability to choose a course of action; wanting the best of both worlds but lumbering along without direction. It explores the effects of indecisiveness in close relationships and was inspired by the phrase ‘one lump or two?’ commonly used when a host is offering their guests beverages.

The song blasts open with a barrage of scorching riffs and pummeling rhythms, before catching its breath as Reid’s vocals enter the proceedings. Sounding a bit like Paramore’s Haley Williams, she ruefully sings “Limp in as I struggle to lift the weight that your shoulders seem to carry, just by your indecisiveness. One lump or two? Given time I just might erase the burden that you bear, or maybe I’ll just yell in frustration waiting for you to choose.” Thacker’s a fine musician, and his hard-driving jagged riffs and chugging rhythms return with full force in the choruses as Reid passionately implores “Oh, tell me how do you take it? When you can’t decide which road you’re going down? Oh, tell me now do you fake it? When someone’s trying too hard to figure you out? One lump or two?

It’s a powerful rock banger, and with three very different but equally outstanding singles to their credit, Drawing on Scars and Jodie Reid make a highly successful dream team. I hope they’ll continue to collaborate together on many more songs.

Connect with Drawing on Scars: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / YouTube
Purchase on  Bandcamp 

Connect with Jodie: FacebookTwitterInstagram 

Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

Jake LeMond – Single Review: “Miles”

Jake LeMond is an earnest, hard-working and talented young singer-songwriter and musician based in Detroit, Michigan. With his skillful songwriting and impressive guitar work, combined with his professionalism, kind and generous personality and good looks, the gentle-voiced fellow has been making a name for himself on the crowded Michigan music scene, both as a solo artist and as guitarist for pop-rock bands Michigander (with whom he recently performed at Lollapalooza in Chicago) and Hickey Eyes, as well as a frequent collaborator with a host of other acts.

Jake’s music is a pleasing style of indie folk, with heartfelt lyrics brought to life primarily with his nimble guitar work and sweet vocals. He released his excellent debut single “5 Months (Up in Smoke)” in January 2017, and in the years since he’s dropped several more outstanding singles. His latest is “Miles“, a stunning love song released on July 28th, and for which he today premiered a wonderful accompanying video. About “Miles”, Jake explains “I wrote this song in about an hour the day after I got back from a month long tour, and it’s about being far away from someone you really care about.”

The song is gorgeous, with lush layers of strummed acoustic guitars, backed by gentle synths and punctuated by heavier guitar notes perfectly paired with bursts of percussion that provide drama as the track unfolds. The arrangement and recording production by Ben Fisher are flawless, as are the mixing by Jake Rye and mastering by The Foxboro. Jake’s soothing vocals are beautiful too, turning more impassioned as he longingly croons “I’m miles, and miles, and miles away from you.”

The delightful video shows Jake searching for something through a vintage collectibles shop, then he suddenly spots a child’s rocking horse. After a bit of back and forth with the guy working in the shop (also played by Jake), he leaves and is shown doing a number of unpleasant odd jobs to earn the money to buy the horse. He returns to the shop, buys the horse and places it in the back of his old white pickup. The video ends with him riding the horse, as if he’s on his way to see his loved one.

Connect with Jake:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase:  AmazonBandcamp

Top 30 Songs for August 22-28, 2021

  1. DEVIL – Two Feet (1)
  2. STARGAZING – The Neighbourhood (4)
  3. LIKE I USED TO – Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen (5)
  4. MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) – Lil Nas X (3)
  5. CAN WE GO BACK – The Frontier (2)
  6. SOLAR POWER – Lorde (9)
  7. WE ARE BETWEEN – Modest Mouse (7)
  8. MISSING PIECE – Vance Joy (10)
  9. SATURDAY – twenty øne piløts (11)
  10. WELCOME TO THE PARTY – Jack Droppers & the Best Intentions (6)
  11. STOP MAKING THIS HURT – Bleachers (12)
  12. TRANSPARENTSOUL – WILLOW featuring Travis Barker (13)
  13. MARTYR – Oli Barton & the Movement (8)
  14. STICKY – The Maine (15)
  15. EVERY WINDOW IS A MIRROR – Joywave (16)
  16. ENNUI – Dawning (17)
  17. LAST TRAIN HOME – John Mayer (19)
  18. BE A WOMAN – DeLaurentis (20)
  19. NOTHING2 – Strange Souvenirs (14)
  20. BAD DREAM – Cannons (23)
  21. WHAT YOU SAY – Cold War Kids (24)
  22. TAKE THE L – Roadkeeper (25)
  23. WRECKED – Imagine Dragons (27)
  24. THE ANGEL OF 8TH AVE. – Gang of Youths (28)
  25. MINE FOREVER – Lord Huron (N)
  26. I WANNA BE YOUR SLAVE – Måneskin (29)
  27. TAKE MY MONEY – Ships Have Sailed (30)
  28. SINNER – Young Decades (18)
  29. MAKING A FIRE – Foo Fighters (N)

New Song of the Week – GUARDRAIL: “Social Meteor”

While Chicago-based rockers Guardrail don’t take themselves too seriously – they describe themselves as “the world’s first Diet Punk band, just a combination of ‘pop’ and ‘punk’ that uses Splenda instead of real sugar, and because of that, until you get used to us, we’re going to leave a bad taste in your mouth” – they’re quite serious about making the best music possible. Their hard-hitting, high-energy style of rock is a happy blend of punk, pop and metal, which on some songs reminds me of such acts as Green Day, Blink-182, Sum 41 and even the Beastie Boys. Formed in 2014, the band has undergone several changes in lineup, and now consists of Kevin Andrew (lead vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar, vocals), Alyssa Laessig (bass, vocals) and Doug Brand (drums). (Ken is also guitarist for Chicago bands The Million Reasons, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog, and Wild Gravity.)

They released their debut EP Wordswords in 2015, which they followed two years later with Par at Best. Since cementing their current lineup in 2018, they’ve released several singles and in September 2020, dropped their third EP Yikes. Now they’re back with a new single “Social Meteor“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. True to form, Guardrail delivers a relentless barrage of jagged riffs, chugging bass and explosive drums to drive home their timely message of our cultural addiction to social media, and its pernicious effect on our sense of identity and self-worth.

Kevin and Alyssa sing the biting lyrics with forceful intensity, powerfully expressing their exasperation with things and feelings of helplessness to do anything about it: “There’s real human contact beyond my fingertips, but I couldn’t give a shit. There’s an object unidentified approaching me (Oh wait!), it’s just my self-doubt and uncertainty. Why can’t I come back down? I’m stuck in the stratosphere. My lack of satisfaction left me stranded out here. How should I know what they expect from me? I’ll just write another paragraph and run away from my fear.”

“Social Meteor” is a rousing banger of a tune, and I think it’s one of Guardrail’s best songs yet. The fun video shows snippets of each bandmembers individually performing the song, as well as serving as judges of a low-budget talent show.

Connect with Guardrail:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple Music / Napster / Soundcloud / YouTube

5ON5 – Single Review: “Runaway”

5ON5 is a collaborative music project based in Berlin, Germany, and consisting of four distinctly unique artists who’ve come together to make music that, in their own words, is “a little new, a little naughty, and a bit different.” The quartet itself is a bit different, its members spanning two generations and coming from very different music backgrounds. The brainchild of Max Koffler, a singer-songwriter, musician and producer with over 20 years of experience in the music industry, and who’s previously released two albums Taboo and GAMES as a solo artist, the project also includes singer-songwriter and producer $INAN (aka Sinan Pakar), rapper and visual artist Maxx B, and singer Yumin. Their unusual name 5ON5 was born out of Max’s music label sonsounds, and reflects their eclectic mix of music genres and styles, including EDM, synthpop, hip hop and alternative rock.

Over the past year so so, Max and $INAN have been writing songs for their upcoming EP, which the group then came together to record. The first single is “Runaway”, actually a ‘maxi-single’, featuring an original version of the song, along with a special party remix. Drum production was performed by Steve van Velvet, and piano by Hansol Cho. Both tracks were mixed and mastered by Jeson Huang.

The song is infectious as hell, with a wonderful uptempo groove that finds its sweet spot between dubstep and EDM, though the beat most definitely compels our hips to move. Things start off with a simple keyboard riff, then a dominant pulsating bass line enters, putting the track on a solid footing. As the song unfolds, 5ON5 gradually layers a rich palette of swirling synths, lovely piano keys, crisp percussion and edgy surf guitars to create an enchanting soundscape awash in colorful textures and sounds.

But as good as the instruments are, the contrasting vocals and pleasing harmonies of the four members are the real highlight for me. Max’s echoed vocals are sung mostly in a higher register just below a falsetto, giving his verses a mysterious, almost otherworldly vibe. $INAN mumble raps his verses, then with near-perfect harmony, he, Max, Yumin and Maxx B sing the chorus “Would you run away from me, away with me, away with me, would you run away now?

The cool animated video shows the band members walking through a landscape by both day and night, fleeing from troubles and ultimately emerging free and into the light.

The party remix was created by Max, and to my ears sounds pretty similar to the original, other than having a somewhat sharper and cleaner sound with sparser synths. The accompanying video is similar to the main version, except that it’s produced in dark blue hues.

Stream “Runaway” on SpotifyApple Music

MACHINA X – Single Review: “Belong to the Night”

Electronic future-pop duo Machina X (pronounced Mac-in-a) have been making music for more than four years, yet have never actually met in person. Annie lives in Yorkshire, England and works in education, and Cyrus is a musician/producer living in Myanmar. The two met through an online songwriting course in 2017, and after a few collaborative projects, they officially formed Machina X in early 2018. Together, they create a refreshing and distinctive style of what they call ‘electro-eclectica’ that spans across multiple genres, fusing drum and bass beats with ambient, dreamy psych-pop. They’ve recorded both their original songs as well as terrific covers of such iconic songs like Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” and Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”.

Their songs have garnered airplay around the globe, both on internet and FM radio stations, including a BBC Music Introducing Mixtape appearance on BBC Radio6Music this past January. They were named Exile FM’s New and Emerging Artists of 2020, 3rd Best Electro Act by Radio Wigwam, playlisted on Best of BBC Upload 2020 and selected three times as ‘Fresh Favs’ on Fresh on the Net, which resulted in their song “Closure” being featured on Tom Robinson’s Introducing Mixtape in February 2021.

Their latest single “Belong to the Night” is one of five tracks that will be included on their next EP, which the duo state will be “a conceptual and very reflective collection of songs – an emotional jigsaw that draws some parallels with the five recognised stages of grief, journeying through different emotional states. ‘Belong to the Night’ focuses on nostalgia, with it’s dream-like piano intro and soft vocals tapping into an in-between state of something that was, but is no longer.”

The hauntingly beautiful song is awash in shimmery synths, sparkling piano keys and gentle break beats, all creating a dreamy atmospheric soundscape, but with a melancholy undercurrent befitting the bittersweet lyrics. Annie’s soothing vocals are bewitching as she wistfully laments of a relationship lost but not yet come to terms with: “I just wanna feel, feel the way it was before. But life’s forever changing – we both know. Time, she finds new ways to slip away, through our fingers. / We don’t wanna find all the precious things we have destroyed. But maybe it is just a matter of time. And happy endings only happen to other people. I don’t wanna see you cry in the rain. I don’t want to see you belong to the night.” Annie and Cyrus’ ethereal vocal harmonies in the choruses are particularly captivating.

For the time being, their music is available for streaming or purchase only on Bandcamp, while videos of several of their songs can be seen on YouTube.

Connect with Machina X:  FacebookTwitterInstagram 

Stream/download their music on BandcampYouTube

THE ZANGWILLS – Single Review: “Never Looked Back”

The Zangwills (from left to right): Ed Dowling, Adam Spence, Jake Vickers, Sam Davies. Photo by Steve Forrest.

I seem to be stuck in the UK, as I’m now writing my 9th consecutive review about a British act. But as I’ve stated many times, there’s so much incredible music talent in the UK, and today I’m thrilled to feature Cheshire-based indie rock band The Zangwills. Though they’ve been releasing music since late 2017, I wasn’t familiar with them until their PR rep reached out to me about their latest single “Never Looked Back“, which dropped on Friday the 13th of August. Contrary to the infamous date, it was most definitely my lucky day, as I’ve fallen head over heels in love with this band. To prepare for writing this review, I listened to their entire back catalogue of songs and can emphatically state that I love every single one of them. Their exciting, highly melodic music is outstanding, with a maturity of songwriting and musicianship as fine as many top big-name bands around today. As they say in Britain, these guys are dead good!

The Zangwills are Jake Vickers (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Ed Dowling (bass), Sam Davies (lead guitar) and Adam Spence (drums). Formed in May 2017 while in college, they cite David Bowie, Arctic Monkeys, The Cure, The Rapture and The Strokes among their influences. And while those influences can be heard in their music, their sound is still uniquely their own. Thanks to their high-quality music, charismatic, high-energy live performances, and Jake’s distinctive vocals, they’ve amassed a growing army of loyal followers throughout northwest England and beyond. They’ve opened for such acts as Yungblud and The Charlatans, and have performed at festivals like Dot 2 Dot, Focus Wales, Sound City and Wychwood Festival 2019. Their fantastic debut single “New Heights” has been streamed nearly half a million times on Spotify, with several other singles garnering over 100,000 plays.

“Never Looked Back” was produced and engineered by Mark Winterburn (5 Seconds of Summer, The Script, Plan B, James Arthur, Don Broco), and mastered by Ben Booker (Bob Dylan, Elton John, PJ Harvey, Scissor Sisters, 5 Seconds of Summer). The band states that the song is about change, “highlighting the cyclical nature of human life, and the ‘limbo’ between the stale and the fresh, and perfectly balancing out the anxiety caused by change and anticipation of a more positive future. While the verses describe the narrator’s bleak acknowledgment of an inevitable situation, the hook and the refrain illustrate a newfound hope.”

The song is utterly breathtaking, highlighted by a dramatic pulsating beat overlain with gorgeous cinematic keyboards and thunderous percussion, and punctuated throughout by piercing trill-like flourishes that raise goosebumps. The layered jangly and shimmery guitars are spectacular, and together with the aforementioned synths and percussion, burst forth into an explosive spine-tingling soundscape. Jakes fervent vocals are equal parts captivating and chilling, backed by glorious soaring choruses that send the song into the sonic stratosphere. He passionately laments about a relationship that’s deteriorated to the point that there’s no going back: “I don’t know how to spot the truth in that bag of smiles you gave me. There was still a frown or two, and through trust, I’m sat here sifting through. There’s not enough to swallow, and there’s far too much to chew. And now I see in ways I’ve never seen before. So I took that vision by the waist and I danced it to the door. And I never looked back.

“Never Looked Back” is a magnificent song, both brilliantly arranged and flawlessly produced, and instantly one of my favorite songs of 2021. The Zangwills also now rank among my favorite indie bands, and I’m so happy to have finally discovered them.

Connect with The Zangwills: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

EML’s Favorite Songs – “California Dreamin'” by The Mamas & the Papas

One of my favorite songs of all time is “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas (it ranks #3 behind Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and the long version of the Doors’ “Light My Fire”). It’s also unquestionably one of the most perfect songs ever recorded. Everything about it is magical: the simple but emotionally compelling lyrics, stellar arrangement, captivating instrumentals – most notably the haunting flute in the song’s bridge, and the gorgeous call and response vocal harmonies of the four band members – John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty & Cass Elliott. Literally everyone I know who’s ever expressed their opinion of this song loves it.

Though they were only together as a band from 1965-68, The Mamas & the Papas released five studio albums and 17 singles, six of which made the Billboard top 10, and have sold nearly 40 million records worldwide. They were immensely popular, and are considered one of the defining music acts of the mid 1960s. The most striking aspect of their music were their incredible vocal harmonies.

“California Dreamin’” was written by John and Michelle Phillips in 1963 while they were living in New York City during a particularly cold winter. Michelle was feeling homesick for her home state of California (she was born in Long Beach and spent her childhood and teen years in Los Angeles and Mexico City). At the time, John and Michelle were members of the folk group the New Journeymen, which later evolved into the Mamas and the Papas with the addition of Denny Doherty and Cass Elliott.

The song was originally recorded by Barry McGuire, with John and Michelle singing backing vocals, and members of the renowned Los Angeles-based session musicians The Wrecking Crew playing instrumentals. Impressed by the Mamas and the Papas, who had recently signed with Dunhill Records, label executive Lou Adler had the track re-recorded with Denny singing lead vocals and paired with the same instrumental and backing vocal tracks, along with a stunning alto flute by Bud Shank and a guitar introduction played by P.F. Sloan. The song was released in December 1965, and ultimately peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 the following March.

Even though I was a California native who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the song has always strongly resonated with me. I still vividly remember the time I heard it on the radio as a kid while riding in the car with my family from our home in Santa Clara up to San Francisco in February 1966. We were going to “The City” to watch the Chinese New Year’s Parade in Chinatown, but things weren’t looking very promising, as it was a gloomy day with rain in the forecast. To this day, I think of that trip to San Francisco whenever I hear “California Dreamin’”, and yes, it ended up raining on our parade. Many years later, I spent 17 years living in St. Louis, which has a lot of cold, dreary weather in winter, and often found myself California dreamin’ during those periods.

All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk, on a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm, if I was in L.A.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

Stopped into a church I passed along the way
Well I got down on my knees and I pretended to pray
You know the preacher likes the cold, he knows I’m gonna stay
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day
If I didn’t tell her, I could leave today
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day

Though this video of the Mamas & the Papas performing the song for the TV show The Hollywood Palace has them doing a pretty poor lip-syncing job, it does show them in their prime.

Top 30 Songs for August 15-21, 2021

  1. DEVIL – Two Feet (1)
  2. CAN WE GO BACK – The Frontier (2)
  3. MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) – Lil Nas X (6)
  4. STARGAZING – The Neighbourhood (7)
  5. LIKE I USED TO – Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen (8)
  6. WELCOME TO THE PARTY – Jack Droppers & the Best Intentions (3)
  7. WE ARE BETWEEN – Modest Mouse (4)
  8. MARTYR – Oli Barton & the Movement (5)
  9. SOLAR POWER – Lorde (9)
  10. MISSING PIECE – Vance Joy (11)
  11. SATURDAY – twenty øne piløts (13)
  12. STOP MAKING THIS HURT – Bleachers (16)
  13. TRANSPARENTSOUL – WILLOW featuring Travis Barker (20)
  14. NOTHING2 – Strange Souvenirs (15)
  15. STICKY – The Maine (17)
  16. EVERY WINDOW IS A MIRROR – Joywave (18)
  17. ENNUI – Dawning (19)
  18. SINNER – Young Decades (10)
  19. LAST TRAIN HOME – John Mayer (23)
  20. BE A WOMAN – DeLaurentis (25)
  21. BED HEAD – Manchester Orchestra (12)
  22. FOLLOW YOU – Imagine Dragons (13)
  23. BAD DREAM – Cannons (28)
  24. WHAT YOU SAY – Cold War Kids (29)
  25. TAKE THE L – Roadkeeper (30)
  26. HIGHER POWER – Coldplay (24)
  27. WRECKED – Imagine Dragons (N)
  28. THE ANGEL OF 8TH AVE. – Gang of Youths (N)
  29. I WANNA BE YOUR SLAVE – Måneskin (N)
  30. TAKE MY MONEY – Ships Have Sailed (N)