JOHN ROJAS – EP Review “Amongst the Glass Trees”

I seem to be on an electronic music kick lately, and today I’m pleased to present another artist making interesting and innovative music in that broad genre – Los Angeles-based John Rojas. The singer-songwriter, engineer, producer and multi-instrumentalist has been a fixture on the L.A. music scene for more than a decade as part of techno-punk band MACHINEKIT (originally founded as Dharma in 2012), whose 2022 album I AM JACK’S LONELY HEART CLUB BAND reviewed nearly a year ago, as well as his work with the bands La Bella, Brainfreeze and Badmouth. He created his own recording studio MachineHouse Audio in 2020, and if all that’s not enough, he’s also a terrific writer who does reviews for the website Tourworthy. 

In late 2022, Rojas decided to start recording music as a solo artist, and released a two track electronic instrumental EP IN THE THICK OF IT last December. Now he returns with his second EP Amongst The Glass Trees, featuring four new electronic tracks in which he further explores his love for electronics and composition, creating a raw sense of overwhelming tension in the process. As I alluded to earlier, he’s a talented wordsmith with a gift for describing his music in much greater detail and with more colorful language than I possibly could, so I’ll simply quote his own words about the new EP:

The sequential trip across the instrumental tracks needs no vocals to convey their lyrical and poetic content as the dark ambient tones submit to elegant arpeggiations layered over earworm bass throbs, and succumb to minimalist piano hiding underneath the skittering programmed beats. This EP is split into four-parts as it embraces vicious modalities that indirectly illustrate the fundamental theme of confusion. The only semblance of the subject is the name of each track that surreptitiously creates one elaborate, yet ambiguous sentence to pose as animated thesis. This four-piece epic is an ambivalent mood changer that non-verbally tells the tale of a lonely man lost within the chaos of fake love, while being influenced by his own skepticism and vanity.”

The EP opens with the title track, which starts off tentatively, slowly building with a subtle throbbing synth bass groove overlain with glitches and bleeps, accompanied by occasional gentle guitar strums. At around two minutes, they’re joined by more pronounced sharp percussive sounds as the track evolves into a fully-formed, dissonant soundscape of otherworldly synths, snappy drumbeats and wobbly bass. Late in the track, the music turns more melodic with the addition of haunting piano keys as we transition into “Inside The Rabbit Hole”. A gentle pulsating groove ensues, punctuated by distant horn-like sounds and occasional jarring blasts of harsh alarm-like sounds, giving a sense of impending danger ahead. Halfway into the track, the tempo increases to a near-frantic pace as the industrial synths become darker and more harsh. Everything comes to a dramatic climax as Rojas adds a heavy percussive EDM beat for the final minute of the track.

The third and fourth tracks – “Lovers Paradise Is” and “An Ocean Full of Brains” – are a sort of couplet with a strong Nine Inch Nails vibe. “Lovers Paradise Is” starts off with a quick, head-bopping beat overlain with more of those trippy glitches and bleeps, which are eventually joined by hypnotic pulsating synths that lend a sense of urgency to the proceedings. Around the three-minute mark, some lovely keyboard synths are added as the tempo calms a bit. The music immediately segues into “An Ocean Full of Brains”, which has a more relaxed, introspective vibe, though the glitchy reverb, ominous synths and rather unsettling piano keys still convey an edgy undercurrent. Halfway into the track, the tempo increases to a EDM dance beat as the droning, glitchy synths continue. The tempo calms down in the final minute of the track as the music gradually fades away, leaving us feeling relieved yet still somewhat uneasy.

With Amongst The Glass Trees, John Rojas has created a darkly beautiful and brilliant little masterpiece. In its 20-minute-long run time, he takes us through a sonic journey that’s both beautiful and bleak, filled with an arresting array of sounds and textures to startle our senses and waken our imagination.

The EP artwork was designed by longtime collaborator, graphic designer Jaydee Perales at Wire Mark Design Studio.

Find John’s music on Bandcamp SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

REBEL TRAMP – EP Review: “Intra Dimensional Frequencies”

Rebel Tramp is the music project of Bob Prince, an imaginative songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist based in Petaluma, California, a bucolic city north of San Francisco. Playing guitar, bass and keyboards, he creates his own unique sound by weaving together elements of blues, hard rock, psychedelic rock and electronic music. In a great interview last August with Marc Schuster for his Abominations blog, Rebel Tramp commented on the vast array of artists who influence his sound: “I’ve played in lots of blues bands and have a huge blues influence. BB king, Albert King, Mike Bloomfield on and on. Also, Hendrix, Jaco Pastorius, John Coltrane, Any Jazz Fusion from the 70’s, Metallica, and Sound Garden are probably my biggest influences.”

In addition to Rebel Tramp, Prince has also collaborated with several other artists, as well as being involved in another music project Amplitude & Frequency, which includes British musician SD Charlton on vocals and Taylor Allum on drums. Together, they put out an EP Urban Frequencies last June.

On February 3rd, Rebel Tramp released his latest EP Intra Dimensional Frequencies, and let me just say that’s it’s a psychedelic trip on steroids! He wrote the EP last year for the Lights And Lines Album Writing Club, a community event in which more than 50 artists signed up for the challenge of writing and recording an album or EP in a month. The brain child of Brighton, UK-based Mike Five, a guitarist, podcaster, and curator of the Off The Record Independent Music Festival, Lights And Lines is a music collective and independent record label whose mission is “to share new and exciting music from the underground with music lovers everywhere.”

Rebel Tramp decided to take part in the competition to – in his own words – “be my weirdest self“, and Intra Dimensional Frequencies was the result. The EP depicts a phantasmagorical songwriting journey, overflowing with wild experimentation and reflecting a strong desire to expand his creative boundaries to their fullest. Well, he achieved that and quite a bit more. Intra Dimensional Frequencies went on to win ‘Best EP’ in the competition, and was later released through the Lights And Lines label.

Most of the tracks are instrumental-only, with sci-fi themed titles like “Deep Space Blues”, “Intergalactic Spies”, “Robotic Fantasy” and “Funky Jupiter”. The lone track with vocals is “Deep Space Blues“, where Rebel Tramp reminds me a bit of Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys and The Arcs), as he sings “There’s a place in deep space, where the roses are red./ I’m gonna sing my blues away.” Musically, the track is a languid bluesy number highlighted by a dramatic mix of tortured psychedelic riffs, gnarly blues guitar runs, sharp percussion and feedback-infused synths.

Intergalactic Spies” sounds like it was recorded at a jam session in heaven between Albert King, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix. Rebel Tramp’s double-barreled fusillade of wobbly blues and screaming psychedelic guitars are truly a thing of wonder, layered over a bed of crushing bass and accompanied by smashing drumbeats. “Robotic Fantasy” lives up to its title, with droning industrial synths, discordant guitars, electronically-generated and otherworldly robot-like vocal sounds, and an abundance of snappy drums and crashing cymbals.

On “Funky Jupiter“, Rebel Tramp uses a colorful mix of skittering keyboards, wobbly guitar notes, funky bass, assertive percussion and lots of fuzzy reverb to create a somewhat chaotic soundscape, though he ends things on a gentle, atmospheric note in the outro. “Same Channel” is perhaps the most melodic of all the tracks, with a wonderful soulful groove, highlighted by glittery spacy synths and dual funky and bluesy guitars layered over an assertive drumbeat.

The final track “Wavetashia“, which was the first single released in advance of the EP, is described by Rebel Tramp as “a psychedelic, blues rock electronic rollercoaster we must be this tall to ride‘”. The powerful combination of crunchy synths, wailing psychedelic guitars, deep throbbing bass, snappy drums and otherworldly female vocals create a euphoric and trippy soundscape. The video he created for the track, using royalty-free video clips from Cottonbros, Koolshooters and Pavel Danilyuk, shows an array of glamorous people getting lost in the music being spun by a DJ.

Intra Dimensional Frequencies is a superb EP, and a testament to the impressive creativity, imagination and skillful musicianship of Bob Prince – aka Rebel Tramp. I’m confident we’ll be hearing more great, innovative musical creations from him in the future.

Connect with Rebel Tramp: Twitter / FacebookInstagram

Find his music on BandcampSpotifyApple MusicYouTube

Top 30 Songs for March 19-25, 2023

Fall Out Boy remain at #1 for a second week with their monumental “Love From the Other Side”, while British band The Zangwills inch up to #2 with their cinematic “Backpatters and Shooters”. Entering the top 10 are “Tropic Morning News” by The National, jumping six spots to #6, “You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do” by Darksoft, moving up two spots to #9, and “Pepper” by Death Cab for Cutie, which climbs three spots to #10.

Three great songs make their debut this week: “I Want You Dead”, a duet by blog and chart favorite Two Feet, along with his fiance Allie Cabal, entering at #26, “Kid” by New Orleans alternative/roots rock band The Revivalists, at #29, and “Paid Off” by another favorite of mine, London-based alternative pop-rock band Oli Barton & the Movement, at #30.

  1. LOVE FROM THE OTHER SIDE – Fall Out Boy (1)
  2. BACKPATTERS AND SHOOTERS – The Zangwills (3)
  3. TROUBLE WITH THIS BED – Beach Weather (2)
  4. PAGES – White Reaper (5)
  5. TRANSMITTER – Sea Power (6)
  6. TROPIC MORNING NEWS – The National (12)
  7. JUST BEFORE THE MORNING – Local Natives (9)
  8. NIGHT BUS – Caitlin Lavagna (4)
  9. YOU GOTTA DO WHAT YOU GOTTA DO – Darksoft (11)
  10. PEPPER – Death Cab for Cutie (13)
  11. SUREFIRE – Wilderado (14)
  12. NEW GOLD – Gorillaz, Tame Impala & Bootie Brown (16)
  13. GHOSTS AGAIN – Depeche Mode (17)
  15. MAYFLY – Callum Pitt (8)
  16. THE LONELIEST – Måneskin (10)
  17. SLEEPWALKING – All Time Low (15)
  18. SOFTEN – Alex Southey (19)
  19. EVERGREEN – Mt. Joy (18)
  20. EYEZ – The Arcs (22)
  21. WEIGHTLESS – Arlo Parks (23)
  22. FLOWERS – Miley Cyrus (27)
  23. MODERNISE – Slow Readers Club (28)
  24. THE WALK HOME – Young the Giant (29)
  25. BLUEBELL WOOD – Frank Joshua (30)
  26. I WANT YOU DEAD – Two Feet & Allie Cabal (N)
  27. SHADOWS IN THE DARK – The Star Crumbles (20) 21st week on chart
  28. THIS IS WHY – Paramore (21) 19th week on chart
  29. KID – The Revivalists (N)
  30. PAID OFF – Oli Barton & the Movement (N)

DARKWAYS – EP Review: “Neon Lights”

I’m a long-time fan of darkwave and synthpop music in all its forms, and so are millions of others it seems, given the enduring popularity and influence of such legendary acts as The Cure, Depeche Mode, Joy Division/New Order, The Psychedelic Furs, Echo & the Bunnymen, Cocteau Twins, Gary Numan and Clan of Xymox, to name but a few that come to mind. Another lesser-known, but every bit as good, act is Darkways, a rather enigmatic act from Barcelona, Spain that’s the solo project of a singer-songwriter and musician named Marc. His music is influenced by his love of synthwave, darkwave and all 80s music.

I first learned about Darkways way back in 2016 when he followed me on Twitter. He’d just released his debut eponymous album Darkways, and as I did for all musicians and bands who followed me back then – when I only followed a few hundred accounts – I listened to his album and messaged him about how much I liked it. He replied with a thank you for having listened to his album and enjoying it. Fast-forward to six and a half years later, he messaged me a few days ago that he’d recently released a new EP Neon Lights, asking me for feedback. Well, it was love at first listen, and I’m thrilled to share it with my readers.

Whereas Darkways had a somewhat more garage rock vibe, with lyrics sung in Spanish, Neon Lights is beautifully-crafted darkwave, with a more polished sound and lyrics sung in English. The EP features five excellent songs, the first of which is the title track “Neon Lights“. The song is darkly beautiful, with swirling industrial synths layered over a sensuous, pulsating dance beat, all of which create a lush cinematic soundscape evocative of a few songs by the Pet Shop Boys (who I also love). The lyrics speak of casting off the bonds of oppression and enforced conformity in order to live a freer, more honest existence “They scorned us and now we want to set the world on fire. They have belittled us. It’s time they see the flames in our eyes. We will not obey.”

I like the night (and the night likes me)” has a faster tempo, led by an urgent driving beat and overlain with shimmery chiming guitars and mysterious percussive synths. Marc’s vocals have a somewhat ominous, drone-like quality that perfectly complements the song’s moody vibe as he sings of embracing and finding comfort in the darkness and danger of the night: “I like the night. Darkness is my only friend.” Along a similar vein, “Dark & Light” speaks to the evil and good that exists within each of us, albeit to varying degrees: “They don’t understand the beauty of dark & light inside us.” With it’s deep, pulsating groove and spacey shimmery synths, the song has a strong Joy Division vibe.

Young Again” is classic darkwave at its best, with a throbbing synth bass beat and beautiful icy industrial synths. Marc’s vocals call to mind those of Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs, only with a Spanish accent. The final track “More than dreams” features a chugging synth bass groove, overlain with swirling cinematic synths and wonderful jangly guitar notes. I really like Marc’s vocals here, particularly the exuberant harmonies in the chorus.

Neon Lights is a marvelous, immensely enjoyable little EP. Darkways recently signed with the RetroReverbRecords label, which will hopefully help bring him the notice he so deserves.

Connect with Darkways:  FacebookFacebookInstagram

Find their music on BandcampSpotifyApple MusicYouTube

“Till There Was You” – from “The Music Man” to The Beatles

I watched the film The Music Man last night on Turner Classic Movies, and was reminded of how much I love the song “Till There Was You”, both the version sung by Shirley Jones in the film, and the later cover by the Beatles. After reading a post by Randy of MostlyMusicCovers blog for yet another blog PowerPop, about the Beatles’ song “Ain’t She Sweet”, I decided to write a post about “Till There Was You”.

The  Music Man, which along with Singin’ in the Rain is my favorite movie musical, began as a stage musical written by Meredith Willson. The show opened on Broadway in December 1957, and became a huge hit, running for 1,375 performances and winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The film version, released on June 19, 1962, also went on to become one of the biggest films of the year and was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. (I still remember seeing it in the theater as an 8-year old kid, and loving it.) The film’s composer Ray Heindorf won the film’s sole award for Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment.

Both stage musical and film were directed by Morton DaCosta, with actor Robert Preston playing the title role of the charming traveling salesman and con artist Professor Harold Hill both on stage and in the film. The film also starred the stunning Shirley Jones as town librarian Marian Paroo, along with Buddy Hackett, Paul Ford, Hermione Gingold, Pert Kelton, and a young Ronny Howard. 

“Till There Was You” appears late in the musical and film, when Marian reluctantly agrees to meet Harold at the footbridge during the ice cream social, a big event in the small town of River City, Iowa where the story takes place (the footbridge was a spot where couples met for romantic encounters). After having previously spurned all of Harold’s attempts to woo her, Marian makes a 180-degree turn with regard to her feelings about him, telling him how much he’s come to mean to her, which she expresses in the song. Jones had a beautiful singing voice, which earlier had landed her coveted roles in the film musicals Oklahoma! and Carousel (she also won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1960 for portraying a prostitute in Elmer Gantry), and her rendition of the song is deeply moving and heartfelt.

Turn your speaker volume up for this movie clip, then be sure to turn it back down for the Beatles’ version:

The Beatles version was produced by George Martin and recorded at Abbey Road Studios in July 1963. It was released that November in the UK as part of their second album With the Beatles, and was also included on their American debut album Meet the Beatles!, released in the U.S. in January 1964 (it was the first album I ever bought, as a 9-year old besotted with the Fab Four). It was the only song from a Broadway music ever released by them. For the recording of the song, Paul McCartney sang vocals, accompanied by George Harrison and John Lennon playing acoustic, classical guitars in a Spanish style over a bolero bongo beat played by Ringo Starr. I like how Paul sings “soar” in place of “saw” in the lyrics.

Interestingly, Paul first heard “Till There Was You” from a 1961 cover version by Peggy Lee, when it was played by his older cousin Bett Robbins. He said that he “had no idea until much later” that it was from The Music Man. The song was part of their pre-recording repertoire in 1962, and they performed it at the Star Club in Hamburg. Also, Meredith Willson’s widow later remarked that her husband’s estate eventually received more income from the royalties of the Beatles recordings of “Till There Was You” than it originally received from the actual play. (Wikipedia)

There were bells on a hill
But I never heard them ringing
No, I never heard them at all
'Til there was you

There were birds in the sky
But I never saw them winging
No, I never saw them at all
'Til there was you

Then there was music and wonderful roses
They tell me in sweet fragrant meadows
Of dawn and dew

There was love all around
But I never heard it singing
No, I never heard it at all
'Til there was you

Then there was music and wonderful roses
They tell me in sweet fragrant meadows
Of dawn and dew

There was love all around
But I never heard it singing
No, I never heard it at all
'Til there was you
'Til there was you

SOLAR EYES – EP Review: “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship”

I first learned about British psychedelic pop/rock collective Solar Eyes in the summer of 2021 when they initially released their fantastic single “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship”. I loved it at first listen, happily featuring the song on this blog. They subsequently dropped an even better single “I See the Sun”, which I loved so much, it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ended up ranking #18 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list.

The Birmingham-based trio is comprised of singer-songwriter, musician and producer Glenn Smyth, drummer Sebastian Maynard-Francis and guitarist Tom Ford (who still records with the band, but moved away so no longer performs live with them). Their music is an arresting style of pop/rock awash in dramatic psychedelic grooves, twangy Western-style surf guitars and dreamy cinematic synths, giving them a distinctly unique sound. Their music has been featured in numerous televised sporting events, including Sky Sports, BT Sport, BBC Match Of The Day and Birmingham City Football Club, as well as traditional alt-rock radio channels such as BBC Introducing Hereford, BBC 6 Music and The Guardian.

In February 2022, Solar Eyes signed to Fierce Panda Records, and as is common with many labels and management companies, they had the band take down, then gradually re-release, their previously released material under the new label. Solar Eyes released their debut EP Dreaming of the Moon in April 2022, which I also reviewed. They re-released “I See the Sun” that September, then followed in October with a second EP Alcatraz, which featured “I See the Sun” along with five new tracks. Now they’re back with their third EP Naked Monkey on a Spaceship, featuring four new songs plus the title track that first introduced me to the band. 

Glenn was inspired to write “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship” after hearing a friend proclaim “life is like being a naked monkey on a spaceship, with no control.” The song is darkly beautiful and mesmerizing, with a Depeche Mode-esque vibe, highlighted by a pulsating bass groove, and featuring lush, eerie synths, propulsive drums and swirling riffs of psychedelic guitars. I love Glenn’s gentle droning vocals that have an almost sensual, otherworldly quality.

The cool animated video for the song was created by Birmingham-based videographer, lighting and visual design producer Matt Watkins, who’s also created videos and produced visual design & lighting for live performances by numerous acts, most notably Gorillaz.

Their signature twangy Western-style guitars make an appearance on “Lucifer’s Child” a dark cinematic gem about a devil woman who spreads evil and darkness wherever she goes. Glenn calls out her evil nature: “They schooled you well in the art of deceit. It’s second nature to your evil dreams. She sends the light, the light away“, then warns “But don’t you mess with me again.” The track ends in a discordant flurry of fading distortion in the outro.

Next up is the hauntingly beautiful “Someone Else“, a departure from their usual harder-driven style, and an instant favorite of mine. The multi-textured guitars and dreamy synths are gorgeous, as are Glenn’s melancholic but lovely vocals. About the song, he explained “I’ve been tinkering around with ‘Someone Else’ for years. Initially I wrote it after reading the book ‘Marching Powder’ – I’m sure Brad Pitt bought the rights to it and was going to do a film about it, so I was ready to jump in with it if needed, haha. But as time went on it sort of took on a life of its own, with that feeling that you’re turning into someone else, someone you’re not… going down a dark path. The path of least resistance. Blaming others and then a realisation it’s all on you.”

After the relative calm of “Someone Else”, we’re launched headlong into “Roll The Dice“, which the band calls a “tub-thumping call to arms in the midst of these troubled, rubbled times, top loaded with that Chemical Brothers/Primal Scream mashed-up sound, with the drive and swagger of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club as well as a sly nod to the sonic mysteries of Messrs Morricone and Pizzorno.” The video, created by Tom Wagstaff, features surreal black and white kaleidoscopic images interspersed with scenes of a young woman dancing in a bucolic park setting.

The final track “Rabbit Hole” is a psychedelic trip of ominous swirling synths, distorted guitars and spacey sound effects layered over an almost sinister stomping beat. Glenn’s echoed vocals have a menacing, otherworldly feel, perfectly complementing the songs overall spooky vibe as he drones “I’m going down rabbit holes. Looking for what, I don’t know. To know the answers. I’ll keep on searching, I’ll find a cure. I’ll find a lover, won’t that be cool./ I’m on a trip to a different world.

When I first wrote about their music more than a year and a half ago, Glenn told me he’d written lots of songs he was eager to get out into the world. With Naked Monkey on a Spaceship, Solar Eyes now has a total of 16 songs to their credit, all of them superb. I can’t wait to hear what they still have up their musical sleeves!

Glenn and Sebastian are currently in Austin, Texas, where they’ll be performing their songs at the legendary South By Southwest music festival.

Connect with Solar Eyes: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Find their music on Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 24 – 9fm, Callum Pitt, Refeci ft. Shimmer Johnson

For my latest edition of Fresh New Tracks, I’ve chosen three great new singles from a group of very talented acts I’ve previously featured on my blog: New Jersey-based indie artist 9fm, British singer-songwriter Callum Pitt, and Canadian-American singer-songwriter Shimmer Johnson, in a stunning collaboration with Danish electronic artist Refeci, who’s new to me.

9fm – “Lesson Learned”

9fm (short for Ninth Floor Mannequin) is the music project of hyper-creative New Jersey-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jarrod Pedone. Drawing influences from some of his favorite artists like Paul Simon, Fleet Foxes and James Blake, Pedone melds elements of folk, alternative rock and synth pop to create fascinating songs with a pleasing, often otherworldly vibe. He’s also a huge fan of the classic TV show The Twilight Zone, as well as the more recent Twilight Zone-influenced British sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror, and many of his song lyrics are based on particular episodes of those shows. I’ve written about his music several times over the past five years, most recently in May 2021 when I reviewed his brilliant EP First One, Ninth Fifteen.

Now he’s back with a new single “Lesson Learned“, which was inspired by The Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last”, which first aired in November 1959. Starring Burgess Meredith as Harry Bemis, a frustrated bank teller who loves books but is surrounded by people who do all they can to prevent him from reading them, “Time Enough at Last” follows him through a post-apocalyptic world after a nuclear war has destroyed everyone and everything around him. The season one episode became one the most popular of the entire Twilight Zone series.

For the recording of the track, Pedone played all instruments, as well as handled the mixing and mastering. The beautiful artwork for the single was created by Jordan Campbell. Like many of his songs, “Lesson Learned” has a dark undercurrent, highlighted by an aggressive stomping beat and fuzzy cinematic synths. His echoed vocals have a haunting, ethereal quality that suits the subject matter quite nicely as he croons “Ooooh lesson learned, and it took too long. Who’d have known to take what you can while you can’t see the end of the story. Do what you would if you could but while you still can. And when there’s a will, find a way, ‘cause it won’t just stay waiting stay waiting.

Connect with 9fm: Twitter / Instagram
Find his music on SpotifySoundcloud / iTunes / Bandcamp 

CALLUM PITT – “Fraction of a Second”

Callum Pitt is a thoughtful and talented singer-songwriter from Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England. Inspired by the music of such artists as Elliott Smith, Julien Baker, Adrianne Lenker, Sufjan Stevens, The War on Drugs and Fleet Foxes, he creates, in his own words, “indie-folk with a grand, orchestral, chamber pop sensibility plus an alt-rock edge”. His music is characterized by lush harmonies, captivating melodies, and honest, meaningful lyrics touching on subjects like depression and anxiety, and social and political unrest, delivered with his soft, pleasing vocals. Since 2017, he’s released an impressive number of singles as well as a four-track EP Poisoned Reveries in 2019. His beautiful second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed more than two million times on Spotify, with several other singles garnering over 100,000 streams. I’ve previously written about three of his songs, most recently last November when I reviewed his beautiful single “Mayfly”. The song is enjoying a long run on my Weekly Top 30, where it currently sits at #8.

Now Callum returns with his latest single “Fraction of a Second“, a heartfelt song about the night he came perilously close to losing his mom, dad and brother to a motor vehicle accident. It’s the third single from his forthcoming debut album In the Balance, due for release on June 2nd. The song has a melancholy yet hopeful feel, and features a buoyant drumbeat overlain with delicate sweeping synths, beautifully-strummed guitar notes, lovely piano keys and vibrant strings. As always, Callum’s smooth vocals are comforting and warm as he sings of his gratitude that his family safely survived the crash: “And I don’t know what I’d do, if that truck had taken all of you, I think the moon may disappear. But a fraction of a second kept you here.”

Connect with Callum:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Find his music on  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / Bandcamp / Amazon

REFECI featuring SHIMMER JOHNSON – “Essence”

Refeci is a brilliant Danish DJ and electronic house music producer who’s been making music since his mid teens, both as a solo artist and a collaborator with numerous musicians and vocalists. Now 23 years old, he’s released an impressive amount of music since 2016, and five of his singles have garnered many millions of streams on Spotify alone.

Shimmer Johnson is a singer-songwriter and musician with the voice of an angel. Originally from Edmonton, Canada with professional ties to Los Angeles, Shimmer has an incredibly beautiful and resonant singing voice. 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 several years. She started out singing Country songs, but eventually branched out into adult contemporary pop, rock and dance music, all of which she manages to handle with ease. I’ve written about her numerous times on this blog, and one of the songs I’ve featured, her terrific dance single “Starts With You”, went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30.

Refeci and Shimmer recently teamed up to create a captivating dance song “Essence“, released through the LOUDKLOUT label on February 17th. Refeci’s pulsating dance beats are overlain with hauntingly beautiful piano chords and gauzy atmospheric synths, creating a mesmerizing and sensuous soundscape for Shimmer’s enchanting ethereal vocals that transport us to a dreamy, faraway place. The simple lyrics speak to the importance of remaining true to oneself: “Don’t ever ever doubt your life. Make a wish and just believe. Find the path that’s right. It’s the essence of life.” The fascinating music video produced for the track features scenic footage of such diverse locales as China, the Sahara Desert and Cape Town, South Africa, interspersed with scenes of people of different ethnicities and cultures expressing a range of emotions.

Connect with Shimmer:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Find her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Bandcamp

Connect with Refeci: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Find his music on SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudAmazon Music

Top 30 Songs for March 12-18, 2023

The first time I heard “Love From the Other Side” by rock band Fall Out Boy, I knew it would be a number one hit. And sure enough, in just four weeks it’s reached the top of my weekly chart (it’s also currently #1 on the Billboard Alternative Airplay chart). I love hard-driving rock songs with symphonic elements, so “Love From the Other Side” is right up my alley. It’s their first song to ever top my chart (as well as any Billboard chart), and I can say with certainty that it’s already my all-time favorite song by them. Their first new music release in four years, the song is the lead single from their forthcoming eighth studio album So Much (for) Stardust, due for release on March 24th. The song marks a return to Fall Out Boy releasing music under the Fueled by Ramen label.

The lyrics are filled with meanings open to interpretation, but overall, they seem to address the band’s internal struggles with their own stardom and success. According to a comment on Genius Lyrics, “The song [and] music video have a general theme of a new beginning. The last release from the band was ‘Mania’ from 2018. ‘Mania’ didn’t resonate very well with the audience, and the band didn’t release anything after 2019 outside of some collaborations. The ‘apocalypse’ is the failure of Mania and the following silence, with the new album being ‘the other side’ and a new beginning for their career, popularity, and music style.” ‘The apocalypse” can also likely be construed as a reference to the Covid pandemic. The imaginative video features band member Pete Wentz as an old man, reading a fantasy story to his granddaughter.

In addition to “Love From the Other Side”, there are so many fantastic songs out now, many by veteran artists and bands. The gorgeous “Transmitter” by Sea Power climbs four spots to #6, “Tropic Morning News” by The National rises five spots to #12, “New Gold” by Gorillaz, Tame Impala (who’s now recovering from recent surgery to repair a broken hip), and Bootie Brown jumps seven spots to #16, and “Ghosts Again” by Depeche Mode leaps 13 spots to #17.

Four songs make their debut this week: “Flowers” by Miley Cyrus finally enters my chart at #27 after having just spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Though I think she has a pretty good singing voice, I’ve never been much of a fan, as some of her slutty antics really turned me off. But after giving the song a careful listen the other day, it finally clicked with me and I have to concede that it’s a good song. With “Flowers”, Cyrus makes her very first appearance ever on my chart. The other three debuts include the boisterous “Modernise” by English rock band Slow Readers Club, at #28, the beautiful “The Walk Home” by one of my favorite American pop-rock bands Young the Giant, at #29, and the enchanting “Bluebell Wood” by English singer-songwriter Frank Joshua, at #30.

  1. LOVE FROM THE OTHER SIDE – Fall Out Boy (3)
  2. TROUBLE WITH THIS BED – Beach Weather (1)
  3. BACKPATTERS AND SHOOTERS – The Zangwills (4)
  4. NIGHT BUS – Caitlin Lavagna (2)
  5. PAGES – White Reaper (5)
  6. TRANSMITTER – Sea Power (10)
  8. MAYFLY – Callum Pitt (8)
  9. JUST BEFORE THE MORNING – Local Natives (9)
  10. THE LONELIEST – Måneskin (6)
  11. YOU GOTTA DO WHAT YOU GOTTA DO – Darksoft (13)
  12. TROPIC MORNING NEWS – The National (17)
  13. PEPPER – Death Cab for Cutie (15)
  14. SUREFIRE – Wilderado (16)
  15. SLEEPWALKING – All Time Low (14)
  16. NEW GOLD – Gorillaz, Tame Impala & Bootie Brown (23)
  17. GHOSTS AGAIN – Depeche Mode (30)
  18. EVERGREEN – Mt. Joy (20)
  19. SOFTEN – Alex Southey (22)
  20. SHADOWS IN THE DARK – The Star Crumbles (11) 20th week on chart
  21. THIS IS WHY – Paramore (12)
  22. EYEZ – The Arcs (24)
  23. WEIGHTLESS – Arlo Parks (25)
  24. ANTI-HERO – Taylor Swift (18)
  25. DANCE FOR ME – Sam Rappaport (19)
  26. SAIL AWAY – lovelytheband (21)
  27. FLOWERS – Miley Cyrus (N)
  28. MODERNISE – Slow Readers Club (N)
  29. THE WALK HOME – Young the Giant (N)
  30. BLUEBELL WOOD – Frank Joshua (N)

MARTIN SAINT – Album Review: “Radio Murmurs”

Martin Saint is a Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist based in Montreal. Active in the local music scene for many years, he’s also currently the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of Montreal-based alt-rock band The Ember Glows. He’s released a fair amount of music as a solo artist, including a spoken word EP Fly Tales in 2019, an album One Word Away in January 2020, an EP Last New Year’s Eve in March 2021, and this past November, he dropped an excellent cover of Leonard Cohen’s song “The Law”, which I featured in a Fresh New Tracks post. Now he returns with his second album Radio Murmurs, featuring eight exquisite tracks, most of which deal with various aspects of love, relationships lost, and emotional well-being.

About the album, Martin explains “This new collection emerged during the pandemic with the specific intention to produce a full-length album. The goal was to achieve a result similar to David Bowie’s ‘Low’ album, with half the record featuring more accessible pop hooks and the other half more atmospheric and texture-driven. As always, lyrics aim at standing for themselves outside the music, as a major cornerstone of the ensemble. Glimmers of Nick Cave, Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Simple Minds and The Doors infuse most of my work and ‘Radio Murmurs’ displays these references a little at a time.”

For the album’s recording, Martin enlisted the help of several musicians and vocalists, including fellow The Ember Glows members Richard Bunze, Kevin Hills and Dan Stefik on a couple tracks, Guillaume Thoreau, who played Mini-Moog on “Scenes from Cars”, singer-songwriter Ursa Minor for the duet on “I’ll Be Your Stranger”, Delphine Dupont for backing vocals on “No Hard Feelings” and Sarah Emilie for backing vocals on “Last Lights” and “No Hard Feelings”.

There’s a lot to like on Radio Murmurs, particularly the darkly beautiful and mysterious aura of many tracks, lush arrangements, outstanding instrumentation – especially the gorgeous chiming and jangly guitar work, and Martin’s poetic lyrics. The album kicks off with the splendid “In the Universe“, a stunning song highlighted by the aforementioned chiming guitars and affecting piano keys. Martin’s smooth vocals, which remind me at times of the late, great Scott Walker, are pleasing as he plaintively asks a friend for their love, comfort and support: “Will you sit by my side, and be the last face I see. Will you run and hide when the gods take back what they’ve lent me?

On the lovely duet “I’ll Be Your Stranger” with Ursa Minor, Martin sings of the loneliness and ennui he (and many of us) experienced during the Covid lockdowns, hungry for love, empathy and companionship: “Exiled at home in digital solitude. Time is crawling and I swing from mood to mood. When all that I want is to hide naked in bed./ I’ll be your kind stranger. Passing by for a minute or more. The one you won’t need a mask for.” Ursa Minor’s ethereal vocals both contrast and complement Martin’s quite nicely.

Last Lights” is an outlier, thematically, with lyrics addressing historic socio-political strife and the rise and fall of authoritarian regimes: “Invaders’ songs fill the old streets. Join The Party, march to the beat. Smokestack steel fuels the strife. Sad Slavic eyes bound for exile. And nations rise from relic. Nations fall brick by brick.” Musically, the track has a mesmerizing synth-driven groove reminiscent of some of Depeche Mode’s songs. I’m not sure what “Wet Road” is about, though its lyrics speak of driving in the rain at night with a loved one, with mention of the album’s title: “Exits fly by, mile by mile. The engine purrs. Over our silence, the radio murmurs. In the soft rain, the velvet night is rocking me. In her foggy bliss she cradles me.” I really like its mysterious vibe, highlighted by sharp, eerie synths, sparkling piano keys and deep bassline.

The Double” is a great tune, with an arresting toe-tapping beat accompanied by a throbbing bass groove, otherworldly synths and delicate jangly guitars that are simply fantastic. Martin’s doesn’t have a strong voice, but his vocals sound particularly good on this track. “No Hard Feelings” is one of my favorite tracks on the album, with an opening strummed guitar lick that immediately reminded me of Oasis’ great classic “Wonderwall”. The lyrics speak of a couple in the final throes of a relationship that’s over, saying their last goodbyes to one another without acrimony: “Happy rest of the road is what you meant to say, I saw it in your smile. No binding words to relive old days, this is our last mile. We can try but we all know it’s not the same. But no hard feelings.”

Wide Open” has a strong Simple Minds feel, as the song has shades of their song “Alive & Kicking”. Kevin Hills provides some great fuzzy bass on this track The lyrics are directed toward someone who’s fallen far down and letting them know that, despite their self-destructive behavior, your door is still open if they need a friend: “How low have you now sunken, friendless, broke and broken? What are you now reaping that you have long been sowing? Where have we watched you take your long road to perdition? When did your last mistake become your next decision?

Martin saves the best for last, as the stylish and sultry “Scenes from Cars” is my favorite track on the album. The song’s captivating music is courtesy of a fake pedal-steel sound by Dan Stefik’s guitar and Mini-Moog synths played by Guillaume Thoreau. Martin’s smooth croons have an ethereal sultry feel as he touches on various romantic and non-romantic scenarios between people while driving in cars: “Sunday morning drive. A family of five or a weekend dad and child. Backseat in the dark. A teenage hand pushed hard. Love is still a bridge too far. Predator and prey roam lost highways or city streets today./ Lovers in a car. A loner in a car.” It’s a superb ending to a very fine album.

Connect with Martin:  FacebookInstagram 

Find his music on Bandcamp / SpotifyApple Music

Top 30 Songs for March 5-11, 2023

Beach Weather maintain a firm grip on the #1 spot for a third week with their languid and sultry “Trouble With This Bed”, while their monster hit “Sex, Drugs, Etc.” also spends its 25th week on my chart. Both songs are featured on their wonderful new debut album Pineapple Sunrise. Welsh singer-songwriter and actress Caitlin Lavagna‘s “Night Bus” holds at #2 for a second week, and Fall Out Boy‘s hard-driving cinematic gem “Love From the Other Side” continues its rapid climb, moving up five spots to #3. Entering the top 10 are the beautiful “Just Before the Morning” by Local Natives, at #9, and “Transmitter” by Sea Power, at #10.

The lone debut this week is “Ghosts Again” by legendary electronic band Depeche Mode, which now essentially consists of Dave Gahan and Martin Gore. The song is their first new release since the death of co-founder and keyboardist Andy Fletcher last May. About the song, Gahan said it “captures this perfect balance of melancholy and joy“, while Gore noted it has “such an upbeat feel to it“. The duo has intimated in interviews that the song is a sort of tribute to Fletcher, touching on the fragility of life and the possibility of an afterlife, namely, that everyone will eventually turn into “ghosts again”. (Wikipedia) With “Ghosts Again”, the duo leave no doubt they can still deliver a stellar song after more than 40 years.

  1. TROUBLE WITH THIS BED – Beach Weather (1) 3rd week at #1
  2. NIGHT BUS – Caitlin Lavagna (2)
  3. LOVE FROM THE OTHER SIDE – Fall Out Boy (8)
  4. BACKPATTERS AND SHOOTERS – The Zangwills (4)
  5. PAGES – White Reaper (5)
  6. THE LONELIEST – Måneskin (3)
  8. MAYFLY – Callum Pitt (10)
  9. JUST BEFORE THE MORNING – Local Natives (11)
  10. TRANSMITTER – Sea Power (12)
  11. SHADOWS IN THE DARK – The Star Crumbles (6)
  12. THIS IS WHY – Paramore (7)
  13. YOU GOTTA DO WHAT YOU GOTTA DO – Darksoft (15)
  14. SLEEPWALKING – All Time Low (16)
  15. PEPPER – Death Cab for Cutie (17)
  16. SUREFIRE – Wilderado (20)
  17. TROPIC MORNING NEWS – The National (21)
  18. ANTI-HERO – Taylor Swift (13)
  19. DANCE FOR ME – Sam Rappaport (14)
  20. EVERGREEN – Mt. Joy (22)
  21. SAIL AWAY – lovelytheband (19)
  22. SOFTEN – Alex Southey (25)
  23. NEW GOLD – Gorillaz featuring Tame Impala & Bootie Brown (30)
  24. EYEZ – The Arcs (27)
  25. WEIGHTLESS – Arlo Parks (28)
  26. SEX, DRUGS, ETC. – Beach Weather (23) 25th week on chart
  27. STICK SEASON – Noah Kahan (24)
  28. TONIGHT – Phoenix featuring Ezra Koenig (18) 21st week on chart
  29. KILL BILL – SZA (26)
  30. GHOSTS AGAIN – Depeche Mode (N)