There’s a literal avalanche of new music being released again, so it’s time for another Fresh New Tracks installment. Today I’m featuring songs by three artists I’ve previously written about – (in alphabetical order) Chicago-based alternative electronic rock artist brett.grant.5, Virginia-based singer-songwriter The Frontier, and Spokane, Washington-based singer-songwriter Johnny Ritchie, as well as Youngy, a Scottish singer-songwriter from Glasgow who’s new to me. All four songs were released today, September 30th.
brett.grant.5 – “Ancient Messages”
brett.grant.5 is the artistic name of singer-songwriter, composer and producer Brett Grant, who’s been active in the Chicago music scene for many years, both as a member of several bands and as a solo artist. Drawing from a wide and eclectic range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to electronic and experimental progressive rock, his sound is bold, unorthodox and fascinating. We’ve been following one another on social media for over five years, and I’ve grown quite fond of him, both as an artist and a human. Since 2019, I’ve written about his solo music as well as that of his band A Million Rich Daughters.
With his new single “Ancient Messages“, he continues to push himself artistically by exploring new sounds and techniques, keeping his music innovative and fresh in the process. Brett told me he actually wrote this song a few years ago while still in college, but lost it when his laptop was stolen. He recently stumbled across an old demo he’d recorded, and decided to rework the track. The song has a dark undercurrent, gradually building from a somewhat unsettling and tentative vibe, highlighted by a droning, pulsating synth bass groove, into a magnificent dramatic soundscape of eerie synths and jagged grungy guitars. The lyrics are rather abstract, but my take is that they’re about a growing emotional chasm between two people in a relationship, and being unable to either reach them or quit them: “And if I reach for your embrace, your questions could I even face? I guess I know I’ll never win. My motivation drips with sin. Decaying from within. Why can’t I exorcise you from the claim?”
The Frontier – “Rather Be”
Another artist I’m very fond of is The Frontier, the music project of singer-songwriter Jake Mimikos. Based in northern Virginia, the talented, gracious and funny guy has released an impressive amount of music since 2015, and we’ve followed each other on social media for nearly that long. Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is incredibly pleasing and flawlessly crafted. As with many singer-songwriters, Jake’s songs are often inspired by personal experiences, and touch on such topics as love, relationships and loss. He lyrics are honest and straightforward, as if he were having a conversation with a friend, and delivered with comforting vocals. I’ve loved all of his songs, and have featured many of them on this blog over the years. Three of them – “Dark Places”, “Can We Go Back”, and most recently “Closer” – have reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30 charts.
He never disappoints with each release, and hits a home run with his new single “Rather Be“. It’s a melancholy but lovely song, with a languid guitar-driven melody, nicely enhanced with lush keyboards and percussive synths. Jake’s guitar work is really beautiful, as are his heartfelt layered vocals. The bittersweet lyrics speak of a relationship that’s broken beyond repair due to one partner’s inability to be faithful and honest “All that you said, was it easy to find the right combination of words in your mind? Well I’d rather be lonely than lied to.”
Johnny Ritchie – “Know Better”
Johnny Ritchie is an engaging and thoughtful young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who I’ve previously featured twice on this blog, when I reviewed his singles “Social Robots” and “Too Much Trouble”. Originally from Indiana, Johnny recently relocated from Great Falls, Montana to Spokane, Washington. With a lifelong love for music, he began learning to play piano and drums as a child, then went on to study Contemporary, Urban, and Popular Music at Columbia College Chicago (where he also met Brett Grant), and in 2020 earned a B.A. degree in Music at Western Michigan University. He now has his own business teaching others to play piano, keyboards and drums, as well as providing lessons in music theory, songwriting and improvisation. He also writes and records music in which he fuses alternative and experimental rock with neo-psychedelia and contemporary jazz to create incredibly fascinating and sophisticated soundscapes.
His latest single “Know Better” certainly fits that description, with a progressive jazzy vibe that’s both pleasing and compelling, in a vein similar to some of Steely Dan’s music. The track, which was produced by brett.grant.5, features a meandering free-form melody and a colorful mix of sparkling synths, gentle bass and guitars, and just the right amount of crisp percussion, allowing each instrument to stand out without overpowering the others. Regarding the song’s inspiration and meaning, Johnny said it not only helped him grow and learn as an artist, but also made him thankful for people who, despite no longer being in his life, were nevertheless influential in his development as a person and an artist.
All of us have people who come in and out of our lives over time, some of whom have a significant impact on shaping who we are. The lyrics in “Know Better” are directed at a woman he was once romantically involved with. Though no longer together, he still thinks of her, and wonders if she ever thinks of him: “Sometimes I wonder if you’re missing me. Or missing the person that I used to be. Well I hope you do, I hope you don’t, ooh. Cause now we’re strangers, though I’ve seen your eyes glow. And we’re strangers who have shared our bodies exposed. Yeah we’re strangers./ I wish you could know me better as I am now. I wish I could know you better than memories. I wish present us could sit down and talk but I’ll just keep wishing we had known better than to fall in love.“
Youngy – “Halo”
Youngy is an artist based in Glasgow, Scotland who recently reached out to me about his new debut single “Halo“. I don’t know very much about him, other than that he was a member and front man of Glasgow indie grunge band Audiotown, who disbanded this past March. Now he’s embarking on the next phase of his music career as a solo artist, and “Halo” is his first single. To prepare to write about him, I listened to Audiotown’s back catalogue of songs, and their songs couldn’t be any more different in style and sound than “Halo”. Whereas Audiotown’s music was grungy and edgy, in the vein of such bands as Alice in Chains, Youngy’s debut track is unabashed synthpop. That’s not a bad thing, at least for me, as I love synthpop, especially when it’s fueled by a strong driving dance beat.
And wow, “Halo” hits right from the start and doesn’t let up. I love this kind of music, so it’s right up my alley. The driving beats, exuberant melody and cinematic instrumentals are all fantastic, and I defy anyone to not get moving while hearing this song. The rather simple lyrics seem to speak to letting loose and enjoying the moment for all its worth: “Living life inside a daydream. No place I’d rather be. Nothing makes me feel so happy. There’s nothing else I need. Smoke rings growing like a halo. Twist up around my head.” Youngy sings in a somewhat gravelly monotone, which I didn’t care for at first. But the more I listened to the song, I think his low-key vocals work well with the mesmerizing music. I look forward to hearing more from him!