Friday, May 26th was one of the biggest days for new music releases I can remember, at least in terms of artists and bands I follow, and from what I could tell, at least nine of them released new singles. Because I like all these artists and their songs and want to show them support, I’ve decided to feature them all in a Fresh New Tracks post. To make it easier on me, as well as not overload my readers with too many songs all at once, I’ve broken them into two separate posts. I published the first one two days ago, and this is the second, which includes Scottish synthpop artist Jigsaw Sequence with British electro-pop artist Machina X, American singer-songwriter Johnny Ritchie, American Baroque pop duo Novus Cantus, Australian soul-funk-pop-rock band Thunder Fox, and Canadian alt-rock band Western Jaguar. I’ve previously featured all these acts on my blog, with the exception of Jigsaw Sequence. And true to my blog’s name, each of these five songs couldn’t be more different from one another.
Jigsaw Sequence + Machina X – “Late to the Party”
Jigsaw Sequence is the music project of Scottish synthpop artist Richard Tracey, and Machina X (aka Annie James) is an electro-pop artist based in Yorkshire, England. The two talented individuals have been making music both as solo artists and in collaborations with others, and recently teamed up to write and record a great new synthpop dance single “Late to the Party.” The song and collaboration marks a resurgence for Annie, after she experienced a bit of a slump, as she recently acknowledged on Twitter: “In the last 6 months I’ve thought a lot about closing the door on making music because it feels so much harder than it did. Thank you Jigsaw Sequence for believing there was more inside, and collaborating with me.”
In contrast to the exuberant, pulsating dance beat and luxurious retro 80s synth grooves, the lyrics are rather bittersweet, speaking of living in denial about a relationship that’s breaking apart, hoping things will turn around. Machina X’s lilting vocals are wonderful and heartfelt as she sings “Behind a mask where no-one sees. Hiding for the sake of sanity, ‘cos hearts like mine bruise easily when they’re washed up on the shore. Late to the party. Always early to leave. Scared by the truth, but always wanting to believe.”
Johnny Ritchie – “Chirp”
Johnny Ritchie is an engaging, intelligent and wildly imaginative young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who I’ve previously featured three times on this blog. Originally from Indiana, Johnny’s now living in 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, 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 giving 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.
Ever-creative and continually willing to push musical boundaries, every new release of his sounds totally original and distinctive. His latest single “Chirp” is an unusual instrumental piece that couldn’t be any more different from his previous alternative psychedelic hip-hop single “Elite Deviance”. Already his fourth single of 2023, with another one on the way in a couple weeks, “Chirp” is the first that Johnny’s both recorded and produced entirely by himself. Featuring a relaxing synth groove, accompanied by deep bass and punctuated by a sharp percussive beat and beguiling piano trills, the song also features delicate bird chirps throughout that lend a charming atmospheric air to the proceedings. Johnny never fails to dazzle my senses with each release, and I cannot wait to hear what new experimental sounds he comes up with next!
Novus Cantus – “Caterpillar”
Novus Cantus is an innovative music act comprised of brothers Alexander (vocals and guitar) and Christian Herasimtschuk (drums and percussion). Based in the Hudson River Valley roughly halfway between Albany and New York City, the duo draw from a broad and eclectic mix of influences ranging from traditional ethnic music like flamenco and Hungarian folk, to classical Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque, to alternative rock, in the creation of their uniquely enchanting and exotic sound. They’ve been performing and recording together since 2010, and have released a fair amount of music. I’ve written about them four times over the past five years, most recently when I reviewed their hauntingly beautiful Civil War-themed song “Georgia”.
Now they’re back with “Caterpillar“, a bewitching song originally written for a children’s concert last year that the brothers decided was too good to not release as a single. The lyrics tell the story of a humble-looking caterpillar who starts out crawling upon the ground and feeding on plants (“and I walked in the cool of the night“), then climbs into the trees to become a chrysalis (“and I slept in the cool of the night“), finally emerging as a beautiful butterfly (“and I flew in the cool of the night“). The most striking aspect of the song for me are the beautiful sounds from a Wot, a Thai pan flute played by Christian. I love how his fluttering notes evoke the sounds of a butterfly’s wings unfolding for the first time. Of course, Alex’s lovely acoustic guitar and warm, emotive vocals, accompanied by Christian’s percussive beats, are really wonderful too.
Thunder Fox – “Feels Like Forever”
Mere words cannot express how much I adore Australian band Thunder Fox. The Sydney-based five-piece is one of the most creative, wickedly funny and insanely talented – not to mention sexiest – acts I’ve ever encountered, and have gushed about them and their music numerous times on this blog over the past four years. Now comprised of the charismatic and silky-voiced Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and Casey Allan (Bass), they skillfully blend generous helpings of funk, soul, blues rock, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. And while their often bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness, their music has a stylish and jazzy sophistication, thanks to their great songwriting and musicianship, including having both a saxophone and trumpet player in their lineup.
They’ve released an impressive amount of music since 2015, including three terrific albums – Mother Machine in 2016, Love at First Sniff in 2019, and Sanctuary in 2021 – the most recent two of which I’ve reviewed. One of the singles from Sanctuary, “Head in the Clouds” reached #4 on my Weekly Top 30, and ranks #47 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list. On their new single “Feels Like Forever“, Thunder Fox channels Prince, Morris Day & the Time and James Brown to create a rousing slab of old-school soulful funk. I love the song’s stomping groove, courtesy of Casey’s deliciously funky bass and Max’s spirited drumbeats, and fortified with Sam’s gnarly riffs, Travers’ hot and jazzy sax notes, and Jesse’s bold trumpet blasts. It’s one of the most exuberant songs they’ve released in a long while, and I love it!
Western Jaguar – “Better Daze”
Hailing from the picturesque Fraser River Valley of British Columbia, east of Vancouver, alt-rock act Western Jaguar was born in 2012 when singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Trainor turned to music to get him out of a low point in his life. With the help of an evolving lineup of musicians, Western Jaguar released three stellar EPs and several singles between 2013 and 2019, including their beautiful song “Disappear”, which went to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 in 2019. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, bringing things to a halt for just about every musician and band, the social isolation gave Jeffrey time to reflect on how unhappy he’d become as a musician. He’d become fixated on, in his own words, “likes, a following, positive feedback…and became hyper focused on making music other people liked.” By the end of 2020, he decided he didn’t want to make music anymore, essentially walking away from Western Jaguar, which he conveniently blamed on the pandemic.
Thankfully, after a long break he came to realize that, just like in 2012, music could once again lift him out of his slump. He decided to resurrect Wester Jaguar as essentially a solo act, and beginning last November, went to work writing and recording songs in his home studio for what would become his new album Oblivion, scheduled for release on July 7th. For the recording of the album, Jeffrey sang vocals and played most instruments, though his former Western Jaguar bandmates Davis MacKenzie Zand played bass and AJ Buckley played electric guitar and drums, and sang backing vocals on two tracks, and KC Roces played electric guitar on a third track.
The first single from the album is “Better Daze“, a poignant song about going through hard times after a tragedy and trying to get back to better days. Musically, the song has an upbeat dream pop feel, with a breezy melody, beautiful chiming guitars and snappy drums. Jeffrey’s clear, pleasing vocals have a hint of sadness as he sings the lyrics about a woman named Suzie, whose fiance Harold died suddenly after a fall in the shower just before they were due to be married. Suzie falls into a deep depression, and with the best of intentions, her father insists she take medication to help improve her mood. Unfortunately, the drugs only make her feel worse: “Suzie’s felt worse since the medicine. Her lungs are burning and she can’t breath in. Her father insists on the vice, it’s the only way for a normal life. But a normal life was lost last June when Harold fell in the bathroom. She hasn’t taken them for 6 weeks. If only it was that easy. Her father asks if she’s feeling well. She gives him a smile though she feels like hell. She wants him to think that she’s okay, even though she’s thinking of better daze.”
It’s a wonderful, albeit melancholy song, and it’s great to have Western Jaguar back. I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the songs on Oblivion.