KIDSMOKE – Album Review: “A Vision In The Dark”

Kidsmoke album

Kidsmoke is an exceptionally talented indie dream rock band based in the city of Wrexham in northeast Wales. On June 19th, after many months of hard work, they released their debut album A Vision in the Dark via Welsh label Libertino Records. Like so many bands, they’d planned to tour over the summer to promote their album, but those plans were dashed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, they decided not to delay the release of their album, and just wanted to get it out so their fans would have some new music to look forward to. And what a beautiful album it is, featuring 11 superb tracks. Their lush and beautiful guitar-driven sound is strongly influenced by such bands as Joy Division, The Cure, Wilco and The National, among others.

Formed in late 2012 by Lance Williams and James Stickels, who’d been friends since their school days, Kidsmoke was named after a song by one of their favorite bands Wilco. They released their first EP Higher in 2013, followed by a second EP So Long, Emptiness in 2015. Various members came and went, but the band finally came into its own with the addition of Sophie Ballamy and Ash Turner in 2016. Since then, the lineup has been Lance on Lead Vocals & Guitar, James on Bass & Vocals, Sophie on Guitar & Vocals, and Ash on Drums. The band continued to release numerous singles, along with an EP Save Your Sorrow in 2017, and had the experience of a lifetime when they performed at SXSW (South By Southwest Film & Music Festival) in Austin, Texas in 2019.

Kidsmoke

A Vision in the Dark opens with “Passenger” a lovely, uptempo song that sets the tone for the album. Its sunny, upbeat instrumentals, highlighted by jangly guitars and snappy drumbeats, contrast with the rather poignant lyrics “I’m moving on to God knows where, I’m dressed to kill the time I’m moving on, I’m a passenger.” Lance explained that the song is “about losing your direction in life, being swept along with the crowd and feeling helpless to stop it.” The song was chosen for NPR’s Austin 100 playlist.

The warm, summery vibe carries over to the next track “Layla’s Love“, with its swirling guitars and dreamy, ethereal melody. Lance states that the song “is a retrospective story of a relationship, where one partner begins to dwell upon the many ‘what ifs?’ we all face.” The male character in the narrative ultimately realizes that, though not perfect, the relationship remains strong and they’re still together: “Baby, the sun won’t rise over you. But I know we are still together. Layla’s love is the only love I’ll never lose.” I love the interplay between Lance and Sophie’s enchanting vocals as they sing “You gave me everything I had (I hope I did). Everything I wanted (you know I tried). But sometimes everything just isn’t enough.” This beautiful song stayed stuck in my head long after hearing it, and is one of the highlights on the album for me.

Kidsmoke continue to deliver the breezy feels on “Colourfield“, with its chiming guitars and cheerful, bouncy bass line, “Higher“, a beautiful reworking of a song from their first EP, and “She Takes You Under“, where they seem to pay homage to The Cure with bouyant jangly guitars and sparkling synths. Lance and Sophie’s vocal harmonies are particularly wonderful here, as well as on the brief but enchanting “Kaleidoscope“. The track is a chorus from an old song the band had previously written but never recorded, and serves as an interlude between side 1 and side 2 of the album.

Another standout track is “Rising Sun“, a high-energy tune with a retro 80s new wave vibe. The fast-paced driving rhythms and exuberant guitars are fantastic, and as always, the vocal harmonies are sublime. The lyrics speak to pushing back against others’ expectations, even when they’re coming from people who are closest to you: “Your days are done. I turn the black to blue. I turn the night to day. I’m the rising sun. I feel your love, I don’t want to follow.

The hauntingly beautiful “Take Me to the River” is another re-imagining of an old song from their debut EP Higher. A fan favorite, Kidsmoke decided to re-record it for the album. The song was featured on an episode of the Netflix series Black Mirror, and is about being led astray from one’s path by negative influences. The bouncy, guitar-driven melody contrasts with the dark lyrics that seem to touch on a relationship doomed by the suicidal tendencies of one of the partners: “If I leave you, I’ll miss you, I’ll never make you mine. We’re sinking fast. We’re running out of time.” The richly layered guitars and pulsating bass are wonderful.

They continue to dazzle us with dreamy melodies and exquisite guitar work on “Still Dreams“, a deeply personal song Lance wrote based on his own experience having to come to terms with a life-changing event that made it hard for him to face the world. He elaborates “The song is about the expectations from family, friends or work to ‘get back to normal’ after something traumatic has happened. The overarching sentiment is about giving people the time they need to heal.”

Kidsmoke slows things down with “Little Easy“, a gentle song of thanks to someone for their love and support: “Little easy. You’ll never know how much you mean to me. You play the part, you play it right.” With its languid beat, mix of acoustic and electric guitars, and lovely vocal harmonies, the song has an early Fleetwood Mac feel, at least to my ears. About the inspiration for the song, James explains “I felt a little bit directionless at the time; I’d moved back home to Wales from Manchester for a job that didn’t work out and I was missing city life. I always aim for emotion in my music, but this one felt a bit more genuine…I just wrote how I felt.”

They save the best for last, closing out the album with “The Bluest You“, my favorite song of them all. Being a lover of music who cannot write a note of it, nor play a single instrument, I’m always awestruck at how people can create such gorgeous melodies, then bring them to fruition with various instruments. What Kidsmoke has achieved with “The Bluest You” is nothing short of spectacular, creating a song of such incredible beauty and depth that it renders me speechless. The glorious swirling guitars are as dreamy as they come, and James and Ash keep the spellbinding rhythm with their pulsating bass line and perfect drumbeats, respectively. Once again, I must make note of the stunning vocal harmonies delivered by Lance, Sophie and James. This song is honestly one of the most beautiful I’ve heard in a long while.

I’m not the only one for whom this song is a favorite. Lance said “This song is a live favourite of ours”, while James noted “This is my favourite track. I originally intended for it to be an instrumental – thankfully I soon decided against that idea. I knew from the moment it was written that it was destined to be the last track on the album.”

The song lyrics address mental health, specifically the effect someone’s issues have on loved ones around them. Lance explained: “It is a fly on the wall look into a household where one person’s depression is affecting everyone else who lives there. The song doesn’t address the feelings of the person suffering with depression, it is a sort of commentary from the viewpoint of the rest of the family.”

I’ve gushed about A Vision in the Dark throughout this review, so I don’t know what more I can say except that it’s an absolutely stunning album from beginning to end, and ranks among the very best releases I’ve heard so far in 2020. Listening to it is an immersive experience, as one gorgeous track flows into the next, keeping the listener in a continuous state of thrall. Other than for the minute-long interlude piece “Kaleidoscope”, the other ten tracks could all be hit singles, they’re that good.

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EML’s Favorite Albums – TEARS FOR FEARS: “Songs From The Big Chair”

Songs From the Big Chair

One of my favorite albums of all time is Songs From the Big Chair by British band Tears For Fears. Released in February 1985, it was their second album and also their most successful from both a critical and commercial standpoint. Even though it contains only eight tracks, with five of them running more than five minutes long, it feels almost monumental in scope.  Every track is brilliant in its own right, and there isn’t one wasted second on the entire album. The band released five of the tracks as singles, including the massive worldwide hits “Shout”, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Head Over Heels”.

I’d first learned about Tears For Fears two years earlier when I heard their song “Change”, one of the singles from their excellent 1983 debut album The Hurting, on the radio. I really liked that song, but shockingly, never heard “Mad World” until years later. That song was a huge hit in Britain, but received practically zero airplay in the U.S. where I live. Two years would pass before I would hear another song by them, and when “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” hit my eardrums, it was love at first listen. The song was actually the third single from Songs From the Big Chair to be released (after “Mothers Talk” and “Shout”), but the first to receive radio airplay in the U.S. in the spring of 1985.

In the creation of Songs From the Big Chair, Tears For Fears moved away from the predominantly synthpop feel of The Hurting, and toward a more sophisticated and fuller orchestral sound that would become their signature style – a style of music that I dearly love. In addition to band front men Roland Orzabal on guitar and lead vocals and Curt Smith on bass and backing vocals, other working members included Ian Stanley on keyboards and backing vocals, and Manny Elias on drums and percussion. Under the guidance of producer Chris Hughes, the new Tears for Fears sound helped make Songs from the Big Chair become one of the biggest-selling albums worldwide in 1985, as well as receive near-unanimous critical acclaim.

The album was originally to be titled The Working Hour, but Orzabal fought to change it to Songs From the Big Chair, inspired by the 1976 television film Sybil starring Sally Field, about a woman with multiple personality disorder who feels safe only when she’s sitting in her analyst’s “big chair”. Orzabal and Smith have both stated that they feel each of the album’s songs had it’s own distinct personality.

The album opens with “Shout”, a bombastic protest anthem that makes you want to stomp your feet and pump your fists in the air. The song was a stylistic departure for Tears For Fears, with explosive percussion, screaming synths and a lengthy killer guitar solo that propelled it straight to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. I love how the song builds to a spectacular crescendo, and it’s arguably one of the most musically and lyrically satisfying songs ever recorded. Next up is the brilliant “Working Hour”, a gorgeous and dramatic song with jazzy overtones courtesy of the soulful wailing saxophone, accompanied by incredible guitar work, sweeping synths and resounding percussion that send chills up and down my spine. Orzabal passionately sings about being a slave to one’s work: “This is the working hour. We are paid by those who learn by our mistakes.”

“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is a truly exceptional song, and perfection from start to finish. It’s also very likely their most catchy, radio-friendly song, though the lyrics deal with a rather dark subject. Smith has stated “It’s about everybody wanting power, about warfare and the misery it causes.” Interestingly, Orzabal and Smith were ambivalent about the song, and initially didn’t want to include it on the album. They felt it’s syncopated shuffle beat wouldn’t fit in with the timing and feel of the rest of the album. That said, I think Orzabal’s intricate guitar work is absolutely fantastic, and I love the powerful driving rhythms and both his and Smith’s impassioned vocals. It’s become Tears For Fears’ signature song, as well as one of the most beloved songs of the past 40 years. It ranks among my top 10 favorite songs of all time, and I never tire of hearing it. 

“Mothers Talk” has a progressive rock feel, with an intense galloping beat as a foundation, over which the band layers a fusillade of cinematic synths, along with a lively mix of jangly and chiming guitars, and lots of unusual sounds. They slow things down on the mysterious and jazzy “I Believe”, a live recording of their song about primal therapy. The highlights here are the haunting piano work and gorgeous sax played by Will Gregory, their touring saxophonist at that time.

Tracks 6 & 7, “Broken” and “Head Over Heels”, play like one long continuous song, with “Broken” serving as both a dramatic introduction and ending to “Head over Heels”, which is essentially a love song. Taken together, they’re a musical masterpiece as far as I’m concerned. The piano riff at the beginning of “Head Over Heels” is magnificent, and the synths, strings, guitars and percussion are all glorious. The song segues into “Listen”, an epic, nearly seven minute-long track of such incredible beauty it almost makes my heart ache. The lush instrumentals and cinematic synths are spectacular, then calm to a peaceful interlude as Curt Smith softly croons the hopeful lyrics “Mother Russia badly burned. Your children lick your wounds, your wounds. / Pilgrim father sailed away. Found a brave new world, new world. Listen…” The song ends with Orzabal and guest vocalist Marilyn Davis chanting the lines “Cumpleaños chica, no hay que ocuparse”, which roughly translates to “birthday girl, don’t worry”. They seem to be telling us that everything will work out alright (though now, some 35 years later, I’m not so sure.)

Songs From the Big Chair is one of the most beautiful and flawlessly-produced albums I’ve ever heard, and is a true masterpiece on every level. Tears For Fears also released a deluxe version of the album featuring a total of 33 tracks, some of them additional songs and others remixes or edits of the eight original songs, as well as a seven and a half minute long interview with Orzabal and Smith discussing various aspects of the album.

I saw Tears For Fears in concert on their Seeds of Love Tour in 1990 (with Debbie Harry opening), and it remains one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. 

FACE OF STONE – EP Review: “Sex, Guns, Race and Money”

Face of Stone3
Marc Palmer & Brad Schecter

Face of Stone is a Los Angeles-based collaborative music project of songwriter, guitarist and producer Marc Palmer and singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Brad Schecter. Each has years of professional experience both as solo artists and with other bands. Marc has been a musician for over 30 years, also serving as lead guitarist for venerable Grammy-nominated L.A. band The Busboys. Brad was previously in Scarred and Blue Embrace, and has also released music as a solo artist, including his acclaimed debut album Live Your Dreams in 2015 (read my review here). With Face of Stone, they combine Marc’s talent for writing hard-hitting guitar-driven melodies and bringing them to life with his prowess on the six-string, and Brad’s talent for penning compelling lyrics, vocal melodies and harmonies, as well as his strong vocals and musicianship. Their mission is to produce their own unique brand of metallic hard rock.

After years of hard work and a few setbacks along the way, Face of Stone has at last dropped their long-awaited EP Sex, Guns, Race and Money, released on the 4th of July via their label Black Grunge Records. The EP is not only hard-hitting and dark, but also socially and politically relevant, exploring subjects like political unrest, sexism, the struggles and mental abuse of love gone wrong, as well as larger themes of biblical significance, and the illusion and slow death of the American Dream.

Kicking off the EP is “Hurry Up and Wait“, an interesting track with a long, musically complex and dramatic intro that borders on progressive rock. After a minute or so, a darkly beautiful melody settles in, highlighted by Marc’s intricate layered guitars and a relentless onslaught of crashing cymbals. Brad’s powerful, resonant vocals express a sense of exasperation as he laments about what seems to be our overall lack of control over the external forces that affect our lives: “Shiny objects don’t just mesmerize. more times they often lie. Too bad it doesn’t matter what we give or if we try. We find out what’s important, hopefully before we die. Through all the pain and sorrow, hurry up and wait.” I especially like the soaring vocal harmonies in the final chorus.

Continuing on a similar theme, “United Shutdown (Sex, Guns, Race and Money)” is a scathing attack on the political and economic forces that have gained power by dividing us and force-feeding us an endless stream of lies and hate. The song is kind of a metal rock answer to Public Enemy’s classic “Fight the Power”, with lyrics strongly advocating us to take back the power: “See what pawns we have become. Surrendered our power, must be undone. Only you can seek the truth. Fight back now or forever be used.” Once again, Marc dazzles us with blistering guitar work as Brad’s commanding impassioned vocals drive home the urgency of the lyrics.

Dark Rocker” is a hard-driving kiss-off song to an old flame he’s fallen out of love with. Brad stated that he wanted the choruses to sound like a Trump tweet: “But something happened to you, I guess you just got old. You never left me, but you’re a dark rocker, not anymore. Sad!” Musically, the song features a frantic, pummeling rhythm that hits a sweet spot between punk, metal and rock’n’roll. Marc’s reverb-heavy distorted guitars are fantastic, and Brad’s colorful, spirited vocals are terrific as always.

Red Moon Sky” was the very first single released by Face of Stone back in April 2018 and it’s a belter. (You can read my review here.) The song blasts open with a barrage of raging riffs, chugging bass and pummeling drums, punctuated by tasty bits of distorted guitar that give the song added punch. Marc’s electrifying riff in the bridge is fire, and Brad’s raw, impassioned vocals bring chills as he snarls the lyrics that touch on the thin line between love and hate that can occur in a tempestuous relationship plagued by bad feelings and distrust: “Not one to deny what you need to feel fulfilled. Just not the one to do it. You’re not someone who is capable of change. No matter what, you stay the same.” The song spent more than four months on my Weekly Top 30 over the summer of 2018, and ended up at #50 on my Top 100 Songs of 2018 list.

The gorgeous “Through the Wildnerness” touches on the story of the Jews’ escape from Egypt. At first glance, it seems like a rather odd song choice in the EPs lineup, but the more I thought about it, I believe it fits in with the overall theme of seeking freedom from oppression. It’s a grandiose song of near-epic scale, with dramatic instrumentation highlighted by a haunting jangly guitar riff, and accompanied by a thunderous mix of chugging gnarly and distorted guitars, heavy buzzing bass and explosive percussion that make for an electrifying listen. Brad’s plaintive vocals are chilling as he sings “Hand of god, delivered us. He will guide the way home today. He brought us out of Pharoah’s land. Destroyed him with his hand.”

Sex, Guns, Race and Money is a great little EP that nicely showcases the immense talents of the two musicians of Face of Stone. There’s a lot of power and intensity packed into the EPs 20-minute run time, and if you like great guitar work and expressive vocals combined with exquisite songwriting, you will enjoy this record.

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Top 30 Songs for July 5-11, 2020

1. HELL N BACK – Bakar (3)
2. MARIA – Two Feet (1)
3. LEVEL OF CONCERN – twenty one pilots (2)
4. YOUR LOVE (DÉJÀ VU) – Glass Animals (4)
5. LEMON DROP – Absofacto (6)
6. IF NOT FOR THE FIRE – The Million Reasons (8)
7. HOW WILL I REST IN PEACE IF I’M BURIED BY A HIGHWAY?// – Kenny Hoopla (9)
8. CAUTION – The Killers (5)
9. LAY YOUR HEAD ON ME – Major Lazer feat. Marcus Mumford (10)
10. BLACK & WHITE LOVE – Beating Hearts Club (11)
11. LOST IN YESTERDAY – Tame Impala (7) 22nd week on list
12. HONEYBEE – The Head and the Heart (15)
13. EXPECTATIONS – Katie Pruitt (14)
14. LIVING IN A GHOST TOWN – The Rolling Stones (16)
15. PSYCH FILM – Strangely Alright (17)
16. SOMEONE ELSE – Rezz & Grabbitz (18)
17. HALLUCINOGENICS – Matt Maeson (20)
18. STRANGERS – Mt. Joy (21)
19. FIRE – Black Pumas (22)
20. DELETER – Grouplove (12)
21. BE AFRAID – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (13)
22. HEAVEN IS HEART – Jaded Jane (24)
23. REAL LONG TIME – White Reaper (25)
24. BLACK MADONNA – Cage the Elephant (19) 23rd week on list
25. DON’T LET ME DOWN – Milky Chance featuring Jack Johnson (27)
26. MONSTERS – All Time Low featuring blackbear (28)
27. NOT OK! – Chaz Cardigan (29)
28. SWIMMING CLOSER – HAZY (30)
29. BAD DECISIONS – The Strokes (23)
30. IT’S YOU – The Frontier (N)

SORICAH – EP Review: “Let the Fire Burn Free”

Soricah

Soricah is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer whose music is influenced by her rich international and multi-cultural heritage. Being of Irish/Mauritian ancestry and having spent various times of her childhood and adulthood living in Ireland, Africa, Mauritius and London, her exposure to a wide range of music and people give her music a unique sound that’s a blending of genres and styles. Formerly a member of the band Rebekah Met Sarah, Soricah has also performed as a solo artist in London and Ireland. She has supported musical acts such as The Palma Violets and renowned cellist Jo Quail, and has been a frequent collaborator with members of The Artist Community of Studio 180, and the East London artistic warehouse scene. She’s also been featured on a number of projects with different artists, and her collaborations have been aired on Freakfm, BBC Radio One and a variety of Irish and International radio stations.

She currently splits her time between Kent, England and Dublin, Ireland, and recently dropped her debut EP Let the Fire Burn Free, featuring four tracks written and sung by her. She also played acoustic guitars on the tracks, and co-produced the EP with Daniel Doherty, who played electric guitar, bass and drums. Gary Molloy played cello and piano, and the songs were mastered by renowned British mastering engineer Pete Maher. The artwork was designed by Valerie Pezeron.

The first track “Waiting” is a beautiful song, with a sultry melody that conjures up images of a beach bathed by warm tropical breezes. Both musically and vocally, the song has a definite Lana Del Ray vibe. A distinctive element is Gary Molloy’s gorgeous fluttering cello, which gives the track a haunting, dreamlike sound. Soricah’s strummed acoustic guitar and smooth, sensuous vocals are complemented by Daniel Doherty’s sultry bass line and crisp percussion. The lyrics speak of intense passion and longing for someone, which Soricah seductively croons “Come a little closer. Feel my body move. My heart is beating faster, waiting for you/ You take me away into the stars is where I’ll stay. Waiting for you, waiting for you.”

Back to Him” is an interesting song, and a perfect example of how Soricah skillfully blends a mix of cultural elements into her music. The song has a delightful, exotic-sounding Latin or gypsy folk melody. The colorful and spirited acoustic and electric guitars are fantastic, and I love Daniel’s distinctive bass line and assertive drumbeats. The lyrics are also interesting, spoken to a lover – either a man or woman – who appears to be confused and conflicted about their sexuality: “You change your faces every day. One minute you’re in love, then you’re running away. Back to him.”

On the title track “Let the Fire Burn Free“, Gary’s vibrant cello takes a starring role, giving the song a lush classical feel, though the lively guitars, bass and drums keep it in folk-rock territory. The song seems to be about freeing oneself from the judgments of others that diminish your own sense of self-worth: “How could you blame yourself, when it was good it was the best. And how could you be such a mess, when you tried to be honest? And how could you cause so much stress, with the family there’s no contest.”

Juliette” is a lovely song of affirmation and self-worth, with lyrics assuring a woman that she doesn’t need a man to make her whole: “And Juliette, you don’t need no Romeo. You’d be better off alone.” The beautiful tinkling piano keys and soaring cello are the musical highlights here, and Soricah’s warm vocals are sublime as always.

Let the Fire Burn Free is a wonderful little EP with four excellent tracks, each having a distinctively different sound. Through a rich mix of stylistic elements and lush instrumentation, Soricah and her fellow musicians have crafted a highly satisfying work.

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New Song of the Week – SAMI CHOHFI: “Dirty Your Soul”

Sami Chohfi

Sami Chohfi is a charismatic and talented singer-songwriter with an international pedigree. Half Brazilian by ancestry, he was born in Sacramento, California, and raised in both Florida and Brazil, before relocating to Seattle in 2001. Since 2008, he’s been front man, lead vocalist and guitarist for alternative rock band Blue Helix, and more recently, has been recording and releasing singles as a solo artist, beginning with “It’s Just Me” in April 2019. His latest single is “Dirty Your Soul“, which along with his two previous singles, will be featured on his forthcoming debut album Extraordinary World, due out later this year. “Dirty Your Soul” is a lovely and uplifting song of hope, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

Sami wrote the song while vacationing in Lisbon, Portugal in early 2019. He explains his inspiration for the song” Walking the streets of Lisbon, I heard a street musician playing a beautiful song. In a crowd of people I was the only one who seemed to be listening. This reminded me of how being an artist can be a lonely journey. When we reveal our souls all we want is to connect with others and be accepted. If I could give my younger self advice, I would tell him this: ‘While life might bruise your body and dirty your soul along the way, you should remember to always find hope in yourself and fight for a better tomorrow’.

The song has a pleasing folk vibe, with strummed acoustic guitar and the faintest of backing synths and percussion. Although not part of the lyrics, at the beginning of the video these words are shown, providing the contextual basis for the song: “Children are born with a pure and innocent spirit. As we go through our journey and face our obstacles, life may dirty your soul.” Sami has a beautiful singing voice with quite a range, as I’ve heard his raw, impassioned rock vocals on some of the Blue Helix songs. But here, his vocals are mostly gentle and comforting as he sings “And if I knew that life would split me in two, maybe I would not have given so much.  Cause it’ll dirty your soul, It’ll dirty your soul.”

The delightful and colorful video was filmed in various locations in India over a period of 10 days during Holi Festival, an annual festival marking the arrival of spring, and a time of forgiveness, renewed friendship and the triumph of good over evil. The video was directed by Alexandre Suplicy, and shows Sami performing the song with his guitar in various locations, including the majestic New Rangji Mandir temple in Vrindavan, the colorful Patrika Gate in Jaipur, and the Old Delhi Spice Market, where he’s in a cart being pulled by a man on a bicycle. Some particularly sweet scenes are of Sami sitting and playing his guitar surrounded by Indian children, who throw bowlfuls of colored powder on him. Throwing of colored powder is a tradition of Holi celebration, which is often referred to as the ‘holiday of color’. Besides English, the video is also available in Portuguese and Hindi.

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ANDY STERN – Single Review: “I Don’t Mean To” ft. Greg Blackman

I recently learned about British songwriter Andy Stern when he followed me on Twitter, and reached out to me about his new singles “I Don’t Mean To.” and “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going“. Originally from London, but now living in Herfordshire, Andy has long wanted to be a songwriter, and taught himself to play the guitar around five years ago so that he could write songs. In his bio, he explains “I have always loved listening to beautiful melodies written by the likes of Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Barry Gibb and countless others. Melodies that take you somewhere unexpected. I also love the stark, simple messages that Phillip Larkin expressed in his poems; he can make you think, ‘I didn’t realise I felt that till now’. These people have helped me write songs about my own life experiences and observations. As we go through life our perspectives on love and close relationships change. This is what I try to capture in my songs.”

Not being a singer himself, Andy looks for talented singers who are touched by his songs and lyrics enough to want to sing them. As such, he has worked with established British vocalists like Greg Blackman and Roisin Quinn to help bring his songs to life. Greg has a beautiful and soulful voice, and happily sang vocals on Andy’s latest singles. Nick Kozuch programmed additional instruments and produced both tracks, and played guitar on “I Don’t Mean To.”. Daniel Arbiter played guitar on “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going”.

“I Don’t Mean To.” is a heartfelt song of apology to a loved one, letting them know you didn’t mean to make things difficult, and hoping they’ll give you another chance:  “You and me know, we know that we don’t get on too easily. It’s nothing new, Me trying too hard to get through to you. Probably drove you away. I don’t mean to.” The song has a pleasing vibe, with strummed guitars, gentle percussion and delicate synths. Greg’s soft, smooth vocals nicely convey the vulnerability expressed in the lyrics.

The second track “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going” is a beautiful song of love to someone who’s love has sustained him. The track has an R&B feel that calls to mind some of the 60s and 70s songs by Soul groups like The Originals, The Dells and Heatwave, thanks to its languid doo wop-inspired melody. The instrumental work is really lovely, highlighted by intricate guitars, gentle drumbeats that sometimes border on military-style, and smooth organ. Greg’s beautiful vocals sound especially soulful here, occasionally rising to a sublime falsetto that reminds me of the late Donny Hathaway as he croons “And it’s you, makes me see what a wonderful world this can be. Like you open it up for me. Happiness is a gift that you give to me thankfully. Cos it’s your love that keeps me going.”

I’m impressed by the quality of Andy’s songwriting and lyricism, and really like both of these outstanding singles a lot. To hear more of his songs, check out his Website and one of the music sites listed below.

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THE COMMON VIEW – Single Review: “Cigarettes and Regrets”

The Common View Cigarettes & Regrets

It seems a lot of new music was released on June 26, and so far I’ve reviewed three singles that dropped that day. Now I’m writing about yet another one, the latest single “Cigarettes and Regrets” by British alt-rock band The Common View. The young Leeds-based band is a favorite of mine, as I’m impressed by both their outstanding music and unflinchingly outspoken advocacy for social justice. Their lively and melodic style of alternative rock is influenced by elements of indie pop-rock, post-punk revival and rockabilly. Originally formed in 2018 by three University of Leeds students with a shared love of music – Dom Robertson (guitar, vocals), Jose Ignacio Barrera (guitar) and Jacob Lindsay (vocals) – the band now consists of five members, including the three aforementioned guys plus Joe Sykes (bass) and Will McKay (drums).

I featured them three times in 2019, most recently last October when I reviewed their wonderful EP Man on the Moon. The prolific band subsequently dropped another EP If Not Now, When?, as well as three more singles, the latest of which is “Cigarettes and Regrets”. It’s the 16th song they’ve recorded in the less than two years they’ve been a band! And one of the things I love about them is that no two songs sound alike.

“Cigarettes and Regrets” is a rousing rock’n’roll gem with frantic punk overtones that make for a bouncy head-banger. The guys are highly skilled musicians, consistently delivering outstanding instrumentals on all of their songs, and this one’s no exception. I love Dom and Jose’s fast-paced jangly guitars that erupt into a glorious torrent of swirling riffs in the chorus. Joe and Will drive the lively rhythm forward with their throbbing bass line and snappy drumbeats, respectively.

I also like that The Common View has two fine vocalists, and I believe it’s Dom who sings lead vocals on this song. He croons the lyrics that speak of someone who’s cheated on his girlfriend with a one-night stand he picked up at a bar, and regretting his actions the next morning: “You wake up in the morning all full of regret. The taste of her lips like your last cigarette. You don’t know what to say to this girl beside you. Now it won’t be long til your girlfriend is back. And shortly thereafter, you’ll be forced to pack. It’s all coming down, and it’s been your fault.

The guys made a charming video that features a mix of stop action footage interspersed with humorous scenes of Jose packing up his instruments and himself into his guitar case, and Dom playing guitar and singing the song in various locations throughout the house. About the video, the band said “Our homemade video is a perfect reflection of how hard it is being a band during Lockdown.”

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Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes / Google Play

SOFT SHELTER – Single Review: “Just a Ride”

Soft Shelter Just a Ride art

Soft Shelter is a talented young singer, songwriter, guitarist and music producer based in Santa Barbara, California. He writes pleasing indie dream pop songs laced with alt-rock, psychedelic, pop and electronic elements, and featuring thoughtful lyrics sung in his soft, breathy vocal style. Since the release of his first single “Ashes” last November (2019), he’s been a busy guy, dropping a new single or EP every month or so, most recently his three-song EP Judgment Day on May 1st. Now the hard-working artist is back with a lovely new single “Just a Ride“, which dropped June 26. The song was written, produced, and mixed by Soft Shelter, and mastered by Matt Pereira (aka KOMAK). The cool artwork for the single was created by Theo Morrow.

The song addresses the feeling of being blindsided by the discovery that your lover has cheated on you, turning your world upside down and leaving you wondering what you’ll do or where you’ll go next. I like how he uses snippets of voice overs by the late comedian Bill Hicks at the beginning, middle and end of the track. Hicks’ opening line “There is a point—is there a point to all this? Let’s find a point.” really encapsulates the feeling of bewilderment one is often left with at the realization that a relationship we thought was good has suddenly blown apart. Soft Shelter laments in the chorus “I came home and saw you there. You weren’t alone, I had to stare. It’s my time to go, I left at dawn. That life I knew, I’m moving on.” Hicks’ words offer assurance at the end that things will be alright: “Don’t worry, don’t be afraid—ever—because this is just a ride.”

Musically, the song features a rather melancholy but pretty piano-driven melody, accompanied by gentle percussive beats and lovely keyboard synths that soar to a swirling lushness in the choruses. The acoustic and electric guitar notes Soft Shelter injects at various points in the song add a nice textural element that brightens the overall aesthetic of the track, keeping it from becoming too maudlin.

The beautifully-filmed video was directed by Elena Gaeta, and features Soft Shelter performing the song in and atop a gorgeous sage green Mustang convertible as he drives through what I’m guessing is the countryside outside Santa Barbara.

 

Follow Soft Shelter on Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google PlayAmazon

XENNON – Single Review: “Hilt”

XENNON is a British synthwave artist/producer who up until recently was based in Tokyo, Japan. His music is heavily influenced by the synthesized sounds of the 80s, as well as Japanese game and video culture. He’s also curator of the Synthwave Sounds playlist on Spotify, which has amassed over 40,000 followers. In September 2019, he released his debut album MIAMI COP, a concept work inspired by the 80s hit TV show Miami Vice, as well as the synth-driven pop-rock that was so popular at that time. MIAMI COP tells the story of an alternative Miami circa 1987, where the city is a dystopian world in which technology has advanced far beyond our own world’s, and crime has spiraled out of control. (You can read my album review here.)

Now XENNON is back with “Hilt“, the first single from his forthcoming second concept album Dark of a Distant World. Inspired by the sci-fi and fantasy movies of the 80s such as The Neverending Story and Masters of the Universe, the album will take the listener on a journey to other worlds as we follow Kurt, a boy who holds the key to saving the planet Eternicron, and embarks on an adventure that transcends time and space. Once again, the concept and featured artwork was done by Travis Wright, who continues to work with XENNON on all of his releases and stories.

The song opens with an assertive synth drum beat that provides a strong rhythmic groove driving the song forward. XENNON then layers a colorful mix of swirling, shimmery synths, pulsating percussive beats and lots of crashing cymbals to create a vibrant, optimistic soundscape that has an almost anthemic quality. As the character Kurt, he plaintively sings of his struggles and self-doubt, not sure whether he has the fortitude to continue, but clinging to the hope that through another’s love and support, he’ll prevail. “I’m not sure I’m getting better. Days drag me down sometimes I’ve found. But maybe if here, beside you I stand, with this hilt tight in my hand. I’ll take it to the other side and get out, safe and sound.”

It’s another great song by XENNON, and I look forward to hearing more tracks from his latest concept album.

Follow XENNON:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play