I just love Lord Huron’s music, and their beautiful “Mine Forever” remains at the pinnacle of my Weekly Top 30 for a 3rd week. Imagine Dragons’ “Wrecked” and The Zangwills’ “Never Looked Back” hold at #2 and #3, and Roadkeeper’s “Take the L” climbs a notch to #4. Four songs enter the top 10 this week: Two Feet’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” and Adele’s “Easy on Me”, both of which leap nine spots to #5 and #6, respectively, Glass Animals “I Don’t Wanna Talk (I Just Wanna Dance)” and WALK THE MOON’s “Can You Handle My Love??” The jolting and raw “Survivor” by Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats took a while to grow on me but now I love it, and it jumps eight spots to #16. Debuting this week are three great new songs: “Love Love Love” by My Morning Jacket, “Good Friend” by dwi, and “Starts With You” by Shimmer Johnson.
Soda Cracker Jesus is the solo music project of the wildly imaginative and enormously talented singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane, who’s also become a regular of this blog. The Tacoma, Washington-based musician has been actively involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene for nearly 40 years, with his hands in many projects, including serving as front man and ringmaster for psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright, whose music I’ve written about numerous times. Earlier this year, he created Soda Cracker Jesus to express his more punky power pop side, calling the project “the spiritual and creative personal space that he goes to just be his musical self, a space where no matter which creative juices flow, whatever sonic creations are born, he knows that they come from an honest and personal place.”
Regan’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. With an undying sense of optimism, he creates music that looks to the future, but also understands the power of the past, and that duality helps shape his unique and signature sound. Since April 1st, he’s released four singles, beginning with the foot-stomping power pop banger “My Anthem”, followed by “Drug My Soul”, “Kill it Tomorrow”, and now his latest single “Kaleidoscope“. I reviewed the first two singles, which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post. He released “Kaleidoscope”, along with a lyric video, exclusively on Bandcamp, on October 27, but the song will be officially released on all music streaming platforms November 2nd.
The song has been beautifully described by Mark Platt of online radio station Radio Candy as “Lennon-meets-Bowie-meets-Peter Gabriel in a dark alley“, which I cannot argue with, as I definitely hear the ghosts of John Lennon and David Bowie. Regan states that the song was influenced by “late-era Beatles psychedelia and Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett years”, which is strongly evident in the beautiful, though somewhat spacey, atmospheric soundscapes. The soothing, ballad-like feel of the song is a departure from the harder-driving punk and power pop sound of Soda Cracker Jesus’ previous singles, and I like it! I love the lush, shimmery synths and gorgeous keyboards, which were played by Lee Gregory, as well as Regan’s chiming guitar notes. The subtle bass was played by Ray Hartman, and backing choruses were sung by fellow Strangely Alright bandmember Sean Van Dommelen. Regan produced the track, which was mastered by his longtime collaborator Todd Ensminger.
Regan wrote “Kaleidoscope” after his father passed away. He told me “My dad and I had a complicated relationship, but before he passed we were good. This song is about the emotions and feelings that come with that. I think anyone at any age can relate to dealing with loss. I don’t usually bare my soul but this is as close as it comes.” The lyrics are filled with meaning, but written with enough ambiguity so that each listener can interpret them as they see fit. In spots, the lyrics display a youthful innocence that seems to come from a child’s perspective: “I sure love my bicycle. It takes me where I need to go. And all the raindrops let me know the wind is at my back.” But later in the song, the wisdom that (hopefully) comes with age is apparent: “Father’s ghost has let me knowI’m okay, we all get broken. What we get is just a token of what we give away. Kaleidoscope inside my head. Reflections of the hope I have. I look back but now is where I stand.”
Lowry Lane is an earnest, thoughtful and talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Regensburg, Germany. Born Paul Friebe, and inspired by “the naive and bold simplicity of Andy Warhol, and the sobering and disillusioning insights of Hunter S. Thompson“, he named his solo music project after English painter L.S. Lowry as a way of exploring his “musical self discovery, which aims to recklessly unfold the inherent conflicts he finds within himself and in the world around him.” He names an extensive and eclectic list of artists and bands as influences for his melodic and complex style of alternative rock, including The Smiths, Fugazi, The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Libertines, Joy Division, The Cure, Nirvana, Wavves, Pavement, The Strokes and Kurt Vile.
I learned about Lowry four years ago when he followed me on Twitter, and was immediately impressed by his debut single “Find A Way”, a superb track with strong Nirvana elements that I liked so much I reviewed it. He followed with another fine single “Why Bother” in early 2018, and had planned to release a full-length album later that year. However, his struggles with personal and financial issues, as well as trying to juggle university studies with making music, led Lowry to put the album on hold, though he continued writing and recording new songs. Happily, he finished the album, which he’s named Lonely War, this past summer, and began releasing a series of new singles in anticipation of its release. One of them, “Angel Falls”, I reviewed in September.
Lonely War features 14 excellent tracks touching on dark topics like relationship troubles, personal loss, addiction and mental health, while still offering glimmers of optimism. In preparation for reviewing the album, I asked Lowry some questions about how he got into making music and his creative process, which he kindly took the time to answer.
EML: Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions Paul. I’ve been a fan of yours ever since first hearing your debut single “Find A Way” four years ago. I know you started out playing with other bands while in your teens, and decided in 2017 to branch out on your own as a solo act. I’m guessing that, like many musicians who’ve played in bands but later go solo, you wanted to make music entirely on your own terms, am I correct?
LL: Thanks for having me and for the kind words, Jeff! Making music on my own terms definitely played a large role in starting a solo project, in a way it has really streamlined the whole process of decision-making. It allowed me to focus more on my musical instincts when it came to songwriting. But there were also other, more practical aspects, that played a role. Many of my band mates at the time were taking university and or work a lot more serious than I ever did, so there was this really great disparity in terms of free time available between us. I also felt the great desire to get a lot more involved in making music and to take on other roles as a recording and mixing engineer and as a producer. Lowry Lane was an opportunity for me to work on these things day in and day out for the last four years. In the long term, however, my hope is for Lowry Lane to evolve into a proper band, like we saw happen with projects like Wavves or Bass Drum Of Death.
EML: You’ve cited as influences for your music such iconic acts as Nirvana, The Pixies, The Cure, Sonic Youth, The Strokes and Fugazi, as well as more current acts like Kurt Vile, Surf Curse and the aforementioned Wavves, and I can definitely hear elements of their music in your exciting and wonderfully eclectic sound. This may be a dumb question, but how do you go about incorporating those many elements into your songwriting?
LL: I think that’s a really interesting question, albeit a tough one to answer. I think a lot of it happens unconsciously. And a lot of it probably comes down to being shaped by what music you listen to in your youth and throughout your lifetime in general. For me, those bands and their music just feel deeply ingrained into my sense of self. The way it usually works for me in practice is that a certain song or an element of a song takes my mind on some kind of journey. They remind me of a place I’ve been, a dream I had or a situation or feeling I’ve lived through. Then I just let that mood guide me through the whole process of writing, recording and mixing.
EML: Of all those acts, who would you most like to have the opportunity to open for at a concert?
LL: Honestly, opening for any of them would be a dream come true, so it’s impossible for me to decide. Realistically, I think opening for Lunatics on Pogosticks or Gringo Star one day would be amazing!
EML: You’re an accomplished multi-instrumentalist who I understand plays all instruments on your songs. As someone who plays no instruments whatsoever, I find that to be an incredible and admirable talent. Has your ability to play so many instruments been mostly or entirely self-taught, or have you had some musical training?
LL: I took a few guitar lessons at 14 or 15, when I started playing guitar, but other than that I had no musical training in the traditional sense. But there are so many other ways to learn music that I just didn’t really feel the need to take lessons. I’ve been very lucky to have met a lot of amazing musicians over the years. I regularly jam with my friends at our rehearsal space and I learned so much simply by playing together with great musicians. At some point I just started banging around on the drums before and after our jams, got a few tips and tricks from our drummers and just kept practicing for a few years. And then there’s of course the internet. I learned a lot of stuff from message boards, blogs, and YouTube videos, too.
EML: I’ve reviewed a number of other German musicians and bands over the years, all of whom write and record their songs in English. I’m guessing that doing so opens their music up to a potentially wider audience, right? What is the German music scene like these days?
LL: The potential audience for English lyrics is a lot bigger, that’s true. And it’s also the language of music that a lot of us here have grown up with. I very rarely listen to music with German lyrics (with the exception of Isolation Berlin). I’m not really that informed about the German music scene in general, but the indie music scene, at least here in Regensburg, is very small. Most professional live musicians I know make their living from teaching and playing at weddings, fairs and festivals. We have a few small venues here, like Alte Mälzerei, where you can regularly see cool indie and underground artists, but a lot of places closed in the last years, even before Covid-19. And there are a few places that used to have open stage nights, which were really fun sometimes, but I don’t know if they’re still around. The scene is much bigger in cities like Berlin, of course. Usually, when I want to see a band from overseas, I have to drive to either Munich or Berlin. And at that point there’s really only a few concerts a year I’m even considering going to. It’s great for seeing amazing indie bands at really small venues, though!
EML: I love your new album Lonely War. As with many singer-songwriters, your songs are often inspired by your own experiences. Many of the album’s tracks address topics like failed relationships, loss and mental health, while still offering glimmers of hope and optimism. Has writing these songs been cathartic to you on any level?
LL: Absolutely! Making music is by far the best emotional outlet I have. Every song on the album has some personal story behind it. Be it about my on/off relationship, the difficulties between me and my parents, substance abuse or simply the ongoing journey of finding myself. And writing about that stuff can really help you reflect on things and heal. Psychotherapy has also helped me a lot with improving my mental health and also with finally finishing the album.
EML: The Covid pandemic prevented artists & bands from performing live for much of 2020 and early 2021. Do you have any plans to tour or do live shows to promote your new album?
LL: Not at the moment, sadly. I would love to play live again (it’s been years..) and I hope I can get a band together sooner than later, but we’ll have to see.
EML: Is there anything I’ve neglected to ask that you’d like your fans and my readers to know about you or your music?
LL: Well, I’d like to say that I’m definitely planning on putting out new music much more frequently in the future. Also, Matthew Agoglia from The Ranch Mastering did an amazing job on the album!
So let’s get into the album, shall we. Lonely War is fairly long, with 14 tracks and running over 51 minutes. It opens with “New Waves“, a gentle rock track with a mesmerizing guitar riff that instantly reminded me of the Smashing Pumpkins’ iconic song “1979”. When I mentioned that to Lowry, he told me I was spot on, as the song was definitely an inspiration for “New Waves”. The poignant lyrics speak of looking back on past events, some good and some bad, that shape who we are today, also realizing that time marches on in a continuous stream of waves: “New waves form. I know you from before the storm. Don’t regret a thing. Despite our struggle, memories of you keep me warm and out of trouble.” He has a fine, mellifluous singing voice, and his vocals here are especially pleasant and soothing. The same goes for “Tuesday” a lively song with a wonderful garage rock vibe, highlighted by jangly guitars that border on surf.
One of my favorite tracks is “Angel Falls”, a glorious hybrid of new wave and punk, with elements of Joy Division and early The Cure. I love Lowry’s psychedelic and jangly guitars that are perfectly layered over a chugging bassline, assertive drumbeats and ominous swirling synths, all creating a dark, almost menacing soundscape The lyrics seem to describe someone who’s losing touch with reality, and possibly having a mental breakdown or experiencing a drug overdose: “Messy wiring, Flashing images, Neurons firing, Hidden messages, Thoughts expiring, Brain cells in distress, Oh so tiring, Oh so limitless./ Voices in the walls, Haunting silent calls, Echo through the halls, Another angel falls.“
“Ghosts” is another favorite, both musically and lyrically. The interplay between Lowry’s jangly grunge-like guitar riffs and strong bass notes is really wonderful, and I love his plaintive vocals. The lyrics are spoken to a former loved one, expressing regret and sorrow for the mistakes he’s made that caused the relationship to fail; “No excuses in the end. I know I failed you as a friend. Torn apart with every tear. You’re in my heart, but you’re not here.” “White Noise” is a rousing rock track with fast-paced gritty riffs, punctuated by a blistering little solo in the bridge.
Lowry taps into his love for grunge on several tracks. “Comfort Zone” is a dark song about feeling of pain and ennui, highlighted by trippy psychedelic guitars and his monotone vocals as he drones “So much comfort in my pain. Every morning feels the same“. The Nirvana-esque “Boring” is yet another favorite, as I love the fantastic mix of jangly and grungy guitars. The song speaks to feelings of dissatisfaction with a partner he’s done with: “Never coming back again. I always hated all your friends. I don’t want to stay with you another day, boring. That’s okay, you never had a chance to run. I just don’t think that I could take it any longer. I know I’m not the only one.” And on “Super Silver Haze“, he uses a mix of grungy and psychedelic guitars and synths to create a dark and trippy vibe.
Midway through the album, Lowry unleashes “Black Hole“, an intense track featuring a relentless barrage of reverb-soaked, super-gnarly guitars, accompanied by spooky synths and a droning bassline. His calm vocals contrast sharply with the menacing soundscape to great effect. “Water” lightens the mood markedly, with a bouncy melody and beautiful chiming guitars, but “On MyMind” brings us back to a darker reality. Similar to “Ghosts”, the lovely but mournful song is an honest confession of regret for the hurt and pain he’s caused: “Goodbye friend, I guess it’s time to move on and draw a line. And I know you know I would make it better if I could. Kill the pain I put you through. Fix our broken hearts with glue. You are always on my mind. I was wrong and I was blind.”
Lowry closes the album on a decidedly more upbeat note with the final three tracks. “Easy” is a pretty song with a bit of a Beach Boys feel, thanks to his sweet, echoed vocal harmonies and jangly surf-like guitars. “Sea of Tranquility” is an outlier on the album, in that it’s an instrumental only track and, running 6:48 minutes, far longer than any others. Featuring a repetitive strummed guitar line, and accompanied by airy, somewhat spacy synths, pleasing piano keys and a pulsating bassline, the song has a languid, relaxing vibe, as suggested by the title. The Green Day-esque closing track “Here” has a lively post-punk feel, with a rousing melody, snappy drumbeats and colorful frantic riffs.
What more can I say about Lonely War other than that I absolutely love everything about it! I love Lowry’s songwriting and poetic lyricism, his brilliant musicianship – especially guitar-playing – and his beautiful vocals. He’s done an impressive job with the album’s arrangements, recording and production, and once again, credit must be given to Matthew Agoglia for his expert mastering.
The juggernaut of new music releases continues without letup, so I’m compelled to post yet another installment of Fresh New Tracks less than a week after my last one! Today I’m featuring songs by two acts with rather unusual but terrific names that are new to me – Toronto-based electronic/indie pop band Cherry Blaster and Los Angeles-based sad-punk band Cuffed Up – as well as Nashville-based noir pop artist Notelle, who I previously featured on this blog in September 2019.
“New Age” by Cherry Blaster
Toronto, Canada-based artist Cherry Blaster is the brainchild of singer-songwriter Iulia Ciobanu, who creates an eccentric yet accessible brand of bedroom pop, with vocal stylings that call to mind such artists as Mitski and early St. Vincent. From what I can tell, she recorded music as a solo act for the first four years or so, beginning with the release of her debut single “Rosary, Mon Cherie” in January 2017. She followed with her debut album Sleep Depraved that September, and in the years since, has released several more singles. This year, Cherry Blaster expanded to a three-piece with the addition of musicians Scott Given and Tasker Hull, and on October 20th, they dropped their new single “New Age“. Recorded by Tasker Hull, and artfully mixed and mastered by Turner Wiggington, the song features quirky, sci-fi electronic sounds layered over skittering beats and subtle synth bass. Iulia’s soft vocals have a dreamy and otherworldly sing-song feel that perfectly complements the music.
“New Age” is about navigating the transition from your 20s to 30s, a milestone that causes great emotional angst for some (for me, turning 50 was a rough milestone). Iulia elaborates “Whether the bigger source of this fear was external or internal, as I approached my thirties, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my ‘time was up’ as an aspiring musician. One morning in my late twenties I woke up from a dream in which my silver hairs were turning pink and I was struck by the image. I turned this into a song that extended the dream into an alternate reality where I could transform myself into a forever young cyborg. Over the next few years, the song’s deeper meaning about self-acceptance through aging coalesced with the original idea to result in an all-pink, soft-sci-fi music video that ended up being shot the day before my 30th birthday.”
The imaginative video, created by Isaac Roberts, Mick Robertson, and Alex Filtsos, and filmed in mostly pink and white hues, brings the song to a surreal life.
Cuffed Up is a four-piece band from Los Angeles who play an exciting and emotive style of music they describe as “sad punk”. Formed in 2019 by guitarists/vocalists Ralph Torrefranca and Sapphire Jewell out of their shared love of the British post punk scene, they were soon joined by bassist Vic Ordonez and drummer Joe Liptock to complete the lineup. Their bold, edgy sound has been favorably compared with the likes of 90’s bands Sonic Youth and The Pixies, as well as modern day acts Wolf Alice and IDLES. They released their debut double-A single “Mother/Father + Small Town Kid” in July 2019, then had the good fortune of opening for Los Angeles alt-rock band Silversun Pickups in a series of shows in 2020. They subsequently followed up with a single “French Exit” and a self-titled EP. Their songs have garnered support and airplay on renowned Seattle station KEXP and Los Angeles NPR station KCRW, as well as BBC radio in the UK, and they’ve also been featured in NME, DIY Magazine and The Line Of Best Fit.
On October 22, they dropped their latest EP Asymmetry, via Royal Mountain Records, along with a dark but entertaining video for one of the EP’s tracks “Terminal“. Featuring four tracks, the EP was produced and mixed by Brad Wood, and mastered by Hans DeKline. “Terminal” was inspired by Ralph’s experience with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), as he explains: “I suffer from serious OCD that is borderline crippling at times. I wanted to write a song that projects the anxiety and irrational thoughts that my body and mind go through during my worst ‘episodes’.The first chorus is a cry for help. It’s the dark place where my mind goes when the health OCD is at its worst; I’m convinced I’m going to die today and the universe has already decided this for me, and I have no control over this. The final chorus is when the irrational thoughts are pulled back down to earth and I manage to ground myself through meditation.” Musically, the song is highlighted by a rousing mix of jangly and gnarly guitars layered over driving rhythms, accompanied by Ralph and Sapphire’s soaring vocal harmonies.
The video, directed by Ben Mehlman and filmed by Colin Oh, shows the band performing the song wearing hospital gowns, with a guest appearance by Brian Aubert of Silversun Pickups as a doctor who treats each band member/patient, but ends up leaving them all in worse shape than he found them. About the making of the video, Torrefranca notes: “”Brian had such a great vibe to be around! He turned our long shooting day into a really fun hang and played the doctor perfectly.”
Notelle (the music moniker of singer-songwriter Stephanie Middleton) is an immensely talented and hard-working artist based in the music city of Nashville. Since she began working in 2014 with DJs and music producers around the globe as both a songwriter and featured vocalist, her collaborations have accumulated more than 23 million streams on Spotify alone, have appeared on numerous Spotify and Apple playlists, and garnered millions of plays on YouTube, as well as coverage on Sirius XM Radio and EDM.com.
Beginning in 2018, Notelle started focusing more on her solo career, blending her love of dirty, chest-compressing low end and rhythmic, percussive synths with her beautiful otherworldly-sounding vocals to create her own sound she calls “nightmare pop”. In less than four years, she’s released an astonishing 14 singles, one of which, “Beyond the Grave”, I reviewed in 2019. Her latest single is “Turnover Rate” a dark song she describes as “the alternative love child of Nine Inch Nails and Mutemath”. She combines eerie industrial synths with jagged riffs of gritty guitars and chugging bass to create an ominous soundscape for her enchanting vocal drones that sound a bit like Alice Merton singing a Billie Eilish song.
The lyrics are sung from the perspective of a former victim witnessing someone’s self-destructive and self-protective patterns. Notelle elaborated to the music blog Lefuturewave on her inspiration for writing the song: “I’ve known people throughout my life that refuse to grow. They’re self-centered, self-serving, and self-destructive. Everyone knows someone like this, so I’m not unique in that – but I’ve known my fair share. Some of them I’ve dated, some of them I’ve stayed away from, but this song is really about watching those people continue their broken cycles of living, you know? Like wash, rinse, repeat their toxicity. First, they find a community, convince everyone that they’re kind, or compassionate, or a genuine person, but eventually, that facade cracks. Then instead of sticking around to mend the relationships they’ve so casually broken, they burn the bridge to the whole lot of them and start over with a new group of people—every couple of months, every couple of years, every couple of seasons. It’s astonishing really.” And so, I must add, is this song!
Sparralimb (is that not a great name?) is the musical brainchild of British songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rick Whitehead. Based in Lincoln, England, the creative and busy artist has been involved in a number of other projects, including post-rock band Plains of Silence, alt-rock band The Saboteurs (who I’ve previously written about and are now on hiatus), and now defunct rock band Tripswitch. As Sparralimb, he’s released several singles over the past five years, but became more active beginning this past May with the release of his single “Too Far Gone”, featuring vocals by Jamie Armstrong, a fellow former member of Tripswitch. He’s since followed with three more singles, the latest of which is “Little Agonies“, which officially drops on all music streaming sites October 31st.
Drawing inspiration from the music of The Cure, Deftones and Tool, in “Little Agonies”, Sparralimb has created a darkly beautiful alternative rock song with strong progressive elements. The song once again features vocals by Armstrong, as well as bass performed by Geoff Standeven, Whitehead’s bandmate in both Plains of Silence and Saboteurs. Standeven’s gorgeous pulsating bassline provides a moody foundation for the track, over which Whitehead layers an intoxicating mix of chiming and droning guitars, accompanied by subtle otherworldly synths and looped drum fills. It all makes for a magnificent and mesmerizing soundscape for Armstrong’s haunting whispered vocals that are at once both beautiful and chilling.
The lyrics are somewhat ambiguous, but seem to speak of coming out of a hellish period of mourning over a lost love, or possibly a lost band:
It's a cold day and the fiery gates open my way
It's a cold day yet the smoke blocks my way
My fear floats away
It's a cool day my thoughts of you just fade away
It's a cool day just a memory of warmer days
My fear floats away
Hands of glass holding lies, holding sands of time
Wake me up let me know that I'm still alive
The rather surreal video, filmed in black and white and edited by Sparralimb, shows a man’s hands in several configurations, such as extended with sad face emojis on each fingertip, tapping out the beat, or clasped together, mimicking a person’s mouth singing the lyrics.
Lord Huron hold the top spot for a second week with their stunning “Mine Forever”, and Imagine Dragons’ poignant “Wrecked” moves up to second place. I think it’s one of the best songs they’ve ever done. Climbing four spots to #3 is the cinematic beauty “Never Looked Back” by British alt-rock band The Zangwills, who I first learned about this past August when I reviewed the track. Otherwise, all the songs in last week’s top 10 remain in that esteemed group again this week.
This is also an exciting week for debuts, with five new entries. My favorite artist Two Feet has released another fantastic, smoldering single “Don’t Bring Me Down”, which enters at #14, replacing his song “Devil” which spent four weeks at #1. This is his fifth song in a row to appear on my Weekly Top 30, giving him an unbroken run of 52 weeks. My favorite female vocalist Adele dropped her first new music in six years with her emotion-filled “Easy On Me”, which enters at #15. Kacey Musgraves makes her first appearance on my Weekly Top 30 with her heartfelt single “justified”, which debuts at #27. I have mixed feelings about the new collaborative single “My Universe” by Coldplay (a longtime favorite band of mine) and Korean band BTS, but I do like it well enough for it to enter my chart at #28. Last, but certainly not least, is “Love in October” by L.A.-based duo Ships Have Sailed, which debuts at #30 and replaces their previous single “Take My Money” after its ten-week run. Two of their singles, “Escape” and “Breathe” have reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30.
Ewan Patrick is a talented and thoughtful singer-songwriter from Edinburgh, Scotland who’s had music in his blood for much of his life. He studied contemporary classical composition at Napier University in Edinburgh, then earned a graduate degree in Music Production at Leeds College of Music. He’s also played in many bands over the years, performing extensively across the UK, including at a number of major music festivals. More recently, Ewan has recorded some of the songs he’s written over the years that he says “never quite found their place in any of the bands I’ve played in.“
In October 2020, he released his first double A-side single “Retrospect/Hurricane”, then followed this past February with a second double A-side single “Feels Good To Be Alive/Two Hearts“, which I reviewed. Now he returns with his debut full-length album Forever Love, featuring 10 wonderful tracks touching on the universal subjects of life, love, loss, family and current affairs. The four previously-released singles are included on the album, along with six new songs, all of which beautifully showcase Ewan’s outstanding songwriting, performance and production skills, as he records, mixes and masters all his music by himself.
His songs are a pleasing mix of acoustic, folk rock, piano ballads and anthemic rock, nicely sequenced in a way that gives the album a balanced, fresh-sounding flow. Ewan has a strong, clear and beautiful singing voice too, which sounds great on every style of song he sings. The album opens with “Feels Good To Be Alive“, an uplifting rock song about recognizing the things that really matter and that, despite one’s problems, life is still worth living: “Nothing’s working but I’m feeling carefree. I’m still hurting, yet it doesn’t bother me. Why? Because I’m still alive. It feels good to be alive.” The song starts off low-key, with his acoustic guitar accompanied by gentle percussion, then explodes into a torrent of electric guitar and crashing cymbals for a dramatic finish.
Next up is “Hurricane“, a rousing guitar-driven rock song about standing up against oppression: “No longer hiding in the shadows. No longer afraid of speaking up. The winds of change are gradually building, and we’re looking just like a hurricane.” Another politically topical song, and one of my favorites on the album, is “Not Invincible“, which Ewan says was written during the first lockdown, after the murder of George Floyd last year in Minneapolis. It’s a hauntingly beautiful track, with sweeping cinematic synths, highlighted by mournful piano keys and stunning guitars.
Like the opening track “Feels Good To Be Alive”, several songs explore various aspects of making the most of our time on this planet, and successfully navigating through both good times and bad. “Law of Life“, which sounds like a song that could have been recorded by Tears For Fears, addresses the inevitability of change. Ewan gives us something to think about: “It’s a law of life. Can’t fight the changing tide. What will you sacrifice? Will you be left behind? Are you looking forward to a better past?” On the beautiful piano ballad “Be Strong“, he encourages us to remain steadfast and resilient in the face of those changes: “You wait a lifetime, and then one moment can change your life. So many questions, keep searching for answers that aren’t easy to find./ Be strong, you’re stronger than you’ll ever know.” And on the bittersweet folk-rock track “Retrospect“, he speaks to the heartache and pain of moving on from a relationship that’s ended. “To say goodbye is the hardest part, but like the continents we drifted apart. The broken promise brings a tear to our eyes as we kiss for the very last time.”
Then there are the songs that are the most deeply personal for Ewan. The title track “Forever Love” is a lovely piano ballad written for his young daughter, and expressing the joy she brings him: “And every day you give me is a little miracle. Cause you’re my forever love.” Along a similar theme, the poignant “You Don’t Get A Second Chance At Life” is a conversation between a parent and child, in which the parent offers advice for living their best life: “So fall in love. Try to be kind. But speak the words that are on your mind./ Spread your love and share your time. Leave all your dark thoughts far behind. You don’t get a second chance at life.” The hard-driving rocker “The Call of Home” is a heartwarming ode to his beloved home town of Edinburgh: “Around every corner, another vista to break your heart. We’ve been apart far too long. I feel the call of home.” His guitar work is particularly good, a colorful mix of shimmery notes and thunderous riffs.
Perhaps the most personal song of all is album closer “Two Hearts“, which Ewan composed while writing his own wedding speech. He recalls “I was not for a minute trying to contrive a love song for my future wife but it just kind of happened.” The song is appropriately beautiful and heartfelt, with him singing of his love and devotion, and how his bride has made him a better man. “You took my hand. Made me a man. You’ve made me better than I’ve ever been. Come walk with me through hopes and dreams, and together we’ll take the world head on. Two hearts will beat as one.” It’s a fitting song with which to end this wonderful, uplifting album.
Forever Love is a first-rate, meticulously-crafted work, and a very impressive debut by this talented musician. I hope we’ll be hearing more great music from Mr. Patrick soon.
It’s been a while since my last installment of Fresh New Tracks, and truth be told, I’ve been rather hesitant to do more of these posts, as I suspect a lot of artists don’t appreciate sharing the limelight with others. That said, there’s just so much great music being released nearly every day, and my time to write posts and reviews is limited, so combine them I must.
For my latest installment, I’ve chosen new singles by three of my favorite indie artists, all prolific musicians who possess really beautiful singing voices – Australian singer-songwriter G. Samedi, American singer-songwriter The Frontier, and Canadian-American singer-songwriter Shimmer Johnson. I’ve previously featured each of them on this blog numerous times, and love their new songs so much that I have to share them.
“Rearview” by G. Samedi
G. Samedi is the music project of Sam Dawes, a remarkably talented and dangerously charismatic singer-songwriter from Sydney, Australia. He’s also lead vocalist and songwriter for the wonderful soul/funk/jazz/pop band Thunder Fox, who I’ve written about several times as well. He has a distinctive soulful and silky vocal style that effortlessly glides from smooth, sultry croons to a plaintive falsetto and back again. Drawing from R&B, soul, trip hop, electronic and alternative rock elements, Sam creates moody and sensuous soundscapes for the expression of his bold lyrics addressing the darker and more introspective aspects of love and relationships. He writes all his own music and lyrics, records and programs all instruments, sings all vocals, and produces and mixes all tracks. The only think he outsources is the mastering.
While still actively involved with Thunder Fox, who will be releasing their second album next month, Sam began recording and producing some of his songs as a solo artist in early 2020. In less than two years, he’s released an astonishing 10 singles, one of which, “Icarus”, I reviewed this past May. His latest is “Rearview”, which dropped October 16th, and it’s another stunning & dreamy track. I love all the colorful instruments and sounds he incorporates into the song, highlighted by sparkling synths, enchanting organ, and a mix of shimmery and gnarly guitar notes. As always, his layered vocals are smooth, sensuous and incredibly emotive.
Regular readers of this blog know I’m a huge fan of The Frontier – aka Jake Mimikos, who’s based in Fairfax County, Virginia. Jake is an enormously talented guy with a kindness and sense of humor to match, and I’m quite fond of him both as an artist and human. Since 2015, he’s released an impressive amount of music both as a solo artist and as a band under The Frontier moniker, and we’ve been following each other on social media for nearly that long. Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is always incredibly pleasing and flawlessly crafted. As with many singer-songwriters, Jake’s songs are often inspired by personal experiences, and deal with love, relationships and loss. He prefers to write lyrics that are honest and straightforward, as if he were having a conversation with a friend. I’ve loved all of his songs, and have featured several on this blog, most recently “Shattered”, which I reviewed this past July. Two of his singles, “Dark Places” (from 2019) and “Can We Go Back” (from earlier this year) reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30, while “Sleep” (released in late 2020) reached #2.
On October 15th, he dropped his latest single “On the Other Side”, a beautiful song with heartfelt lyrics directed at a former romantic partner that’s hurt him, and who he now wants to try and get over: “Gotta get my head right, gotta get you out of my mind. Tell me what it feels like on the other side.” About the song, Jake told the blog Cool Top 20 “The music for this song came to me, oddly enough, when I was creating a video on Tik Tok. At the time, I was just messing around and posting little videos of me playing with my looper pedal. One of the loops I created had this really cool lead part over this simple progression. When I heard it I knew instantly I wanted to develop it a bit more and turn it into a song. You can hear the lead guitar part over most of the song in the background. It’s really simple, but to me it was the coolest thing hearing it come together.” It sounds very cool indeed Jake!
Let’s kick the mood into high gear with a hot new dance-pop song, “Starts with You” by Shimmer Johnson. Originally from Edmonton, Canada and now based in Los Angeles, Shimmer has an incredibly beautiful and resonant singing voice. Her clear, pitch-perfect vocals are strong, but with a raw vulnerability that beautifully conveys the subtle yet powerful emotions expressed in her heartfelt lyrics, enabling us to connect with her songs on a deeply personal level. In addition to her amazing vocal talents, she’s also a fine guitarist and pianist, and has collaborated with several songwriters and producers to create an impressive repertoire of outstanding songs over the past few years. She started out singing Country songs, but eventually transitioned to a more adult contemporary pop sound.
I’ve featured Shimmer several times on this blog, most recently this past June when I reviewed her powerfully moving single “It’s Fate’s Turn”. Her latest single “Starts with You”, released on October 15th, sees her venture into dance-pop, and I absolutely love it! Co-written by Shimmer, her husband Corey, and Ted Perlman, the song features an infectiously upbeat dance groove guaranteed to have even the biggest wallflowers on their feet and swaying their hips. It’s essentially a song of love that starts off with the singer feeling a bit unsure about her new lover’s intentions: “All alone feeling emptiness. She’s leaving. He won’t see me. What I need, I can’t breathe” but ends up with her feeling happy and secure: “He does see me. What I need to be free (Feel this moment). He helps me see all the things I can be.” I love the funky little Nile Rodgers-like guitar riff and Shimmer’s smooth, breezy vocals. It’s a great track that’s already one of my favorites of her many songs, and I’m certain it will be a hit.
One of my favorite songs from the 1990s is “Constant Craving” by silky-voiced Canadian singer k.d. lang. A mezzo-soprano, her gorgeous and clear singing voice is as close to perfect as any female vocalist I can think of. Born Kathryn Dawn Lang in 1961 in Edmonton, Canada, she’s had a successful career as a solo artist, and has also collaborated with the likes of Roy Orbison, Tony Bennett, Elton John, The Killers, Anne Murray and Ann Wilson, among others. She started out as a country singer, but eventually transitioned to a more pop-oriented sound. She’s won Juno and Grammy Awards, and is a long-time animal rights, gay rights, and Tibetan human rights activist. Lang has been openly lesbian since 1992.
“Constant Craving” was co-written by lang and Ben Mink, and is included on her beautiful second album Ingénue. The song was released in 1992 and won her a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1993, as well as an MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video. The song peaked at #8 on the Canadian singles chart, but only #38 on the Billboard Hot 100, which is a travesty. I think it should have been a #1 hit, and is my favorite song of 1992, a year that pop music went over a cliff as far as I’m concerned. (Some of the biggest hits that year were “I’m Too Sexy”, “Baby Got Back”, “Jump” [by Kriss Kross] and the insipid Boyz II Men snooze fest “End of the Road”; those four songs alone dominated the top of the Billboard charts for 29 weeks, more than half the year! Enuf said…)
The stunning song features lang’s beautiful vocal harmonies layered over strummed and twangy acoustic guitars, accompanied by a gentle accordion riff and delicate xylophones that give the song both a slight country and charming French vibe. In fact, the unusual award-winning black and white video produced for the song, and directed by Mark Romanek, presents an artistic recreation of the premiere of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot in Paris, 1953.
As for her inspiration for writing the song, lang later told the producers of Balletlujah (a 2014 documentary about lang and the portrait ballet based on her life and music): “I was sitting at my house at my typewriter, and in my head I heard the phrase ‘constant craving’. When I wrote it, I felt it deeply, but I honestly can’t tell you what I was craving at the time. Sex? Love? Something cold to drink? I don’t remember. As a Buddhist I struggle with desire, but sometimes I just embrace it. Acknowledging it, contemplating it, and making friends with it is one of my lifelong journeys.”
Even through the darkest phase Be it thick or thin Always someone marches brave Here beneath my skin
And constant craving Has always been
Maybe a great magnet pulls All souls to what’s true Or maybe it is life itself Feeds wisdom To its youth
Constant craving Has always been
Craving Ah-ha Constant craving Has always been Has always been
Constant craving Has always been Constant craving Has always been
Craving Ah-ha Constant craving Has always been Has always been Has always been Has always been Has always been Has always been
As a blogger who writes about new music, I’m continually inundated with submissions from artists, PR firms and record labels, all wanting me to review their music offerings. There’s no way I can possibly write about or feature even a tenth of them, so must carefully pick and choose those I feel are standouts, or that resonate with me in some way. And so it was when I received an email from a nice man at Nice Marmot PR about Canadian artist dwi – aka Dwight Abell – and his debut album Mild Fantasy Violence, which dropped October 1st. Though several days passed before I was able to give the album my undivided attention, once I did I was hooked on this exquisite and beautiful work. I’ve listened to it multiple times since, and love it more with each play. The songs are brilliantly written and executed, with such compelling lyrics and memorable melodies, many remain stuck in my head long after hearing them.
Based in Maple Ridge, a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, Abell is also bassist for Canadian alternative/power pop band The Zolas. When the global pandemic shut everything down in March 2020, he decided to create his solo music project, which he dubbed dwi after the first three letters of his first name. With time alone (albeit with his wife and two young children), he had a chance to reflect on his own life and insecurities, as well as the crazy world around him, which led him to create this deeply personal record. Influenced by some of his favorite acts like The Beatles, The Cure, Oasis and Damon Albarn, dwi’s music is wonderfully refreshing and innovative, spanning with ease across a wide range of genres and styles.
Released via the label Light Organ Records, Mild Fantasy Violence explores feelings of disconnect from the normalities of relationships and society, touching on such topics as childhood, friendships, addiction, politics and environmentalism. “It’s about using extremes of both escapism and deep self reflection to come to terms with everyday life” Abell explains, adding “There’s so much I want to say about this album, but I honestly think everything I want to tell you about it is already in the songs. I’ve been dreaming about this moment ever since I heard Oasis for the first time at the tender age of 10.”
The album was artfully produced, mixed and engineered by James Younger, bassist of Canadian synth-rock band Yukon Blonde, who also played bass on “Intuitive”, as well as synths on some tracks. Abell played all other instruments except for drums. In listening to his songs, two of the most immediately striking aspects of dwi’s sound are his outstanding guitar work and quirky, endearing vocals that remind me at times of Declan McKenna or grandson, yet are uniquely his own. Then there are his disarmingly pointed lyrics that are so honest and relatable.
This is immediately evident on the first track “Intuitive“, a bouncy tune with a sort of hip hop beat, highlighted by a blaring distorted guitar riff. The song opens with noises one might hear at a party or bar as dwi bemoans his jadedness and ennui: “You said you brought the good shit, but I can’t taste the difference no more.” Later in the song, he expresses his desire for a hooker, knowing that nothing’s gonna come of it: “Senorita of the night. You’re stuck in bathrooms practicing your lines. I wanna love you but both my hands are tied. I wish I wasn’t so intuitive all the time.”
His skill for writing a great melody is showcased on the darkly beautiful “Reverse Engineering“, which to my ears has a strong twenty øne piløts feel. The song is really terrific, with elements of hip hop, alternative rock and dream pop, and I love the glittery synths, lovely piano keys, twangy guitars and snappy percussion, not to mention dwi’s wonderful vocals. And on the brilliant title track “Mild Fantasy Violence“, he ventures heavily into electronica to create a futuristic soundscape as a backdrop for the lyrics about addiction, using video games as a metaphor. He explained to Colleen Flanagan of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News that the song “is about someone who has an urge to play a video game and by the end of the song they are completely sucked into it. I love it lyrically and I love the progression of the song. It’s kind of like three songs in one. The first half of the song describes the struggle. The second half is like you are going through this tunnel and you’re getting all these warnings thrown at you. By the end you’ve just escaped and you’re inside this thing that you really didn’t want to be in but it’s glorious nonetheless.”
“Freak N Out” speaks to the emotional trauma many have experienced as a result of both the Covid pandemic and the destructive political divisiveness of late: “We’ve poisoned the well again but that’s old news I guess. The news is division of class and races no.” The hauntingly beautiful and sweeping orchestral and psychedelic synths and bold jangly guitars are fantastic. The dark and trippy video, directed by Sterling Larose, shows dwi seemingly losing touch with reality – i.e. freaking out – as he dances about in a wet field on a rainy night while interacting with a giant rather scary-looking teddy bear.
The album’s vibe makes an abrupt turn with the deliciously-upbeat, radio-friendly track “Good Friend“. The lively but poignant pop/rock song is about “discovering that a friend had been struggling with something dark and wishing you knew more at the time so you could help them through it” explains dwi. Against a backdrop of hard-driving rhythms and frantic riffs, he plaintively laments “Had I known you were broken inside. Had I known you were empty inside. If I was a good friend, I’d a known better. If I was a goodfriend, I’d have done better.” It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.
“On the Weekend” has a languid, doo wop sound, with a wonderful mix of reverb-soaked jangly and distorted guitars, accompanied by swirling synths and gentle percussion. The lyrics seem to speak to wasting time with momentarily pleasing, but ultimately unproductive, pursuits like porn and watching strippers: ” Oh porno on the weekend helping the time go a little slow. Well I was in a daze until I finished, deleted the history but it wasn’t my history.” That x-eyed teddy bear makes a return appearance on the quirky surreal video, in which dwi performs the song with a backup band and a host of characters doing weird shit.
On the catchy “Summer’s Shut Down“, another radio-friendly tune, dwi laments about his ruined summer thanks to Covid, and how he misses his friends and fun times: “Just like a hunger strike, but at least with that you can put up a fight. My only vacation is staring at my laundry trying to figure it out. I guess my summer shut down.” The musically complex “Balance” sounds like a song that could have been recorded by the Talking Heads. I adore the bouncy groove and, as always, dwi’s guitar work and vocals are superb. The album closes with the achingly beautiful “Soon“, another of my favorites. Oh hell, they’re all favorites, as I love the entire album! The bittersweet lyrics seem to speak to feelings of disconnect and that something’s missing in your life, but remaining optimistic that things will be better soon: “I’m always home, but I’m never quite there. Like a lion’s roar that’s too loud to hear./ Soon. Hold my breath for me./ This land was grey, but the weather has changed.”
Mild Fantasy Violence is a brilliant and beautifully-crafted album filled with wonderful, outstanding songs. It’s an impressive debut effort, and a testament to dwi/Abell’s strengths as an imaginative and innovative songwriter and musician. He should be very proud of what he’s accomplished here, and I thank him for gifting us this lovely record.
Abell will be touring Canada in November with The Zolas to promote their latest album Come Back To Life, as well as perform his own songs. The tour starts in Montreal on November 4, and will finish in Victoria on the 27th.